Saturday, September 12, 2009

SPORTS >> Old formation boosts Hornets by the Falcons

Leader sports writer

The North Pulaski Falcons kept it close for one half before Oak Grove went back to its traditional offense to post a 27-7 victory at Bobby Tiner Stadium on Friday.

The Hornets (1-1) spread the offense out in the first half, which resulted in a pair of miscues. But they went back to their tried-and-true wing T set in the second half and shut down the Falcons’ offense to take control.

“We sold everything to stop their power running game,” Oak Grove coach Mike Buchan said. “We kind of played basic with our pass defense because we were more concerned with that. Their fullback is about 260 pounds, and I don’t think we have anyone that big on our entire team.”

The Falcons’ only score came in the second quarter when junior Darrius Washington returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown with 1:24 left until halftime. Matt Ingersol added the extra point to make the score 14-7.

For first-year North Pulaski coach Rick Russell, the small steps taken by his team were welcomed.

“We didn’t make as many mistakes tonight,” Russell said. “We had another interception, and they ran it back for a touchdown.

We have to quit making those types of mistakes. Our kicking game was better and our defense played a little better.”

Oak Grove running back Trooper Tolbert had a solid night for the Hornets with touchdown runs of 42 yards and 9 yards.

Sophomore defensive back Mikele Summons had the biggest defensive play of the game with an 89-yard interception return for a score with 1:38 left in the first half, and quarterback Duramis Sam started off the night with a 1-yard sneak for the other Hornets touchdown.

“We started running more trap and straight dive in the second half, and it worked out for us,” Buchan. “North Pulaski played hard and played physical, we just went back to our basic offense and was able to wear them down some.”

North Pulaski quarterback Syheim Barron was 7 of 15 passing for 105 yards. Darrious Cage had two receptions for 42 yards, while Arlando Hicks had 3 catches for 23 yards. The Falcons had 214 yards of total offense, while Oak Grove had 317 yards, 257 of which were rushing.

The Falcons, 0-2, and will play host to Little Rock Christian and standout running back Michael Dyer next week.

Dyer and the Warriors beat Oak Grove in the kickoff classic thanks in part to a late, touchdown-saving tackle by Dyer, considered one of the top college recruits in the state.

SPORTS >> Hogs take rest, Red Wolves will be wanting one after ‘Huskers

Leader sports editor

Arkansas and Arkansas State don’t play each other — and we all know they should — but the state’s major-college football programs at least walked the same side of the street last week.

It is probably the last time this season they will have much in common.

The grid-Hogs of Arkansas thumped Missouri State 48-10 in the season-opener at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium while Arkansas State’s Red Wolves clobbered Mississippi Valley State 61-0 at ASU Stadium in Jonesboro.

Missouri State and Mississippi Valley play in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as NCAA Division I-AA, while Arkansas and Arkansas State run with the big boys in the Football Bowl Subdivision once known as Division I-A.

The Arkansas Schools did what they were expected to do against a smaller opponent — win big — and neither team did anything to discourage fans’ hopes for a conference title, postseason bowl bid or both.

This, however, is where Arkansas and Arkansas State part ways.

While the Razorbacks enjoy a weekend of rest before their SEC opener with No. 21-ranked Georgia, the Red Wolves will be at No. 22 Nebraska today as part of the Sun Belt Conference’s annual, take your medicine weekend.

While the Razorbacks have really yet to show how much they have improved from last year’s 5-7 run in coach Bobby Petrino’s first year, fans can at least, without much ridicule, expect the Hogs to be in the game with Georgia if not win it.

Nebraska, on the other hand, will most likely leave the Red Wolves and their fans howling.

The Red Wolves threw a scare into No. 4 Texas, of the Big 12, in the 2007 season opener and they upset the Big 12’s Texas A&M at Kyle Field to start last year. But, while improving against schools from the bigger conferences, Arkansas State has never beaten a ranked opponent and there are few reasons to expect things to change today.

Last week Nebraska roughed up Arkansas State’s fellow Sun Belt member Florida Atlantic, 49-3. Florida Atlantic, under veteran coach and former national championship winner Howard Schnellenberger, lost 28-14 to Arkansas State last year but finished 7-6 and beat Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl.

If Arkansas State is 14 points better than Florida Atlantic this year, that means the Red Wolves still lose to Nebraska today by margin in the neighborhood of 30 points.

But Arkansas State won’t be alone in its long afternoon. Fellow Sun Belt member and defending champion Troy is at No. 1 Florida, Florida International travels to No. 4 Alabama, Ohio is at North Texas, Kansas State is at Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis is at Middle Tennessee and South Florida is at Western Kentucky.

It’s a good sign Sun Belt schools are able to draw major college powers into home-and-home contracts these days, but it may yet be awhile before the scheduling translates into consistent victories.

Since the Sun Belt was founded as a football conference in 2001, its members have gone 26-235 against major college, non-conference opponents. In honesty, that’s a rough count, my eyes got a little blurry when I went through the old standings and some of the scores were so hideously one-sided I couldn’t stomach a recount.

Why do Sun Belt schools and their counterparts in lesser leagues like Conference USA put up with the yearly beatings?
Money, of course.

They call games like these “guarantee” games because the larger school pays a prearranged amount in order to have an early season opponent it can handle. It happens at all levels of college football, and Arkansas State has made a similar deal or two to play schools from smaller divisions, like when it hosted Central Arkansas back in the late 1990s.

The guarantee games still exist for the Arkansas States of the world because those schools don’t yet command the huge revenues that come with network television packages and the advertising money they generate. The Sun Belt is working on that and can now get an occasional game on ESPN2 or, more regularly, on one of ESPN’s regional spin-offs.

But Arkansas State is still a long way from the spotlight, and until the Red Wolves are regularly seen on TV, until they have to remodel ASU Stadium to hold 70,000 plus because the gate is consistently that good, Arkansas State will have to make its money the hard way, with afternoons like this one.

But hey, today’s check is for $750,000, and the Red Wolves will make a record $900,000 for their Oct. 3 game at Iowa.

That’s a little something to howl about.

SPORTS >> Offenses dominate as Jackrabbits hold off Badgers

Special to The Leader

Exciting match-ups that go down to the wire are the norm when the Lonoke Jackrabbits and Beebe Badgers hook up in Week 2 of each football season, and Friday night was no letdown.

Lonoke held a slim margin throughout the second half and held off Beebe 40-30 at James B. Abraham Field.

The first half saw four lead changes in a game that featured almost 900 yards of total offense. The Jackrabbits took advantage of four Badgers turnovers and racked up 531 yards of offense to edge out their Highway 31 rivals.

Beebe tried to key on Lonoke standout running back and college prospect Brandon Smith, forcing the Jackrabbits to be more versatile.

“They stacked it up pretty determined to stop Brandon so we had to find other ways to go with it,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “That’s what we looked for and I thought we did a great job of it tonight.”

One of the ways that Lonoke went was to the air, and Beebe had no answer. Jackrabbits quarterback Michael Nelson completed 18 of 32 pass attempts for 297 yards and three touchdowns, all to receiver Todd Hobson, who had his own monster game.

“Hobson played great for us on both sides of the ball, and Michael, what can you say? He’s a leader and he’s just a winner,” Bost said.

Hobson finished with seven receptions for 131 yards and three scores and came up with two first-half interceptions. Smith also finished with 202 total yards, including 188 on the ground on just 18 carries.

While Beebe did a decent job of bottling up Lonoke’s super back Smith in the first half, it didn’t take Smith long to get going in the second half.

Smith took the handoff on the first play of the third quarter and went 65 yards on a sweep right for a touchdown that gave the Rabbits a 27-16 lead. It was the first two-score lead either team held in the game, but it didn’t last long.

The first five possessions of the second half resulted in touchdowns, but the scoring abruptly stopped with 11:00 left in the fourth quarter as both teams stalled. Beebe, which had turned it over on two of its first three possessions, turned it over twice more in the final period to halt any thought of a comeback

Beebe moved the ball well, but turnovers plagued the offense while missed tackles drew the ire of Badger head coach John Shannon.

“I’m just disappointed because I thought we would come in here and play better,” Shannon said. “We had a good week of practice and just didn’t bring it here. Actually I thought we got better offensively. We have to take better care of the ball, but we did execute our offense and showed a lot of improvement there.

“We are just going to have to start tackling better. That was the biggest disappointment in this game.”

Shannon remains optimistic, despite multiple mistakes in the first two games.

“The 1978 team started 0-3 and went on to the final four,” Shannon said. “We’re just going to go back, build on the positives and work on the things we didn’t do well before conference starts.”

Beebe finished with 330 yards of offense, including 177 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries by fullback Adam Griffis.

Lonoke improved to 2-0 and will battle Central Arkansas Christian next Friday. The Badgers return home to face the Vilonia Eagles.

SPORTS >> Red Devils grab win

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville showed its good hands and seized a 31-21 victory over Vilonia in the home opener Friday night.

The Red Devils got a strong rushing effort from Keith Mosby to hang onto their lead late in the game, and they recovered three onside kicks, with two leading to points, as they took a non-conference victory over the Eagles at Jan Crow Stadium.

“We’re tickled to death to play at home, had a lot of good football going on out there tonight,” Coach Mark Whatley said. “The kids managed the game in some critical situations.”

Mosby, a running back/linebacker, rushed for 85 yards and two scores, and returned an interception for the first touchdown of the game.

“The coaches already told me I had to play both ways,” Mosby said. “I had to suck it up and had a good game.”

Vilonia closed within 24-21 on Zachary Mitchell’s 46-yard touchdown run with 7:51 left in the game. But the Eagles attempted their third onside kick of the night, grabby lineman Donald Harrison got his third recovery, and Jacksonville drove for Mosby’s decisive, 4-yard touchdown run with 3:01 left.

“I tried to make our offense understand that’s kind of a slap in your face when they give it to you at the 50 every time,” Whatley said of the onside kicks.

Whatley said Harrison isn’t part of the “hands” team he uses when expecting an onside kick, but Harrison said he was ready.

“They were trying desperately to get something going,” Harrison said. “I just knew I had to catch it.”

Thanks to the final onside kick, Jacksonville started at its 47 and marched for Mosby’s last score, with no play gaining more than 11 yards. Mosby carried on four straight plays to close out the drive and fought in for the touchdown after a Vilonia penalty halved the distance.

“Man, when you got your linemen doing every block, you’ve got the holes and there it is, the green in front of you,” Mosby said.

“We went to our big package out there,” Whatley said of the late-game offense. “They stepped up and played some football.”

The Red Devils (1-1) led 17-7 at halftime but the Eagles cut the lead with Zachary Mitchell’s 7-yard touchdown run with 3:26 left in the third quarter. Jacksonville responded with a 70-yard scoring drive featuring completions of 12, 10 and 9 yards by Logan Perry with Mosby bashing in from the 10 for his second score with 11:04 left in the game.

Vilonia (1-1) came back with a 65-yard scoring drive that ended when Mitchell broke free for a 46-yard run that pulled the Eagles within 24-21 with 7:51 to go. But Harrison grabbed the third onside kick and Jacksonville took command with its last touchdown drive.

“First home game, feels great,” Mosby said.

Things went badly for Vilonia on the fourth play of the game as quarterback Eric Ebmeyer, under pressure from defensive end Nick Nowden, tried to shovel off a pass that went directly into the hands of Mosby, who returned the interception 32 yards for the score with 10:09 left.

The teams traded fumbles, then Vilonia drove 53 yards and scored on Larry Lewis’ 5-yard run to tie it 7-7 with 3:16 left in the first quarter. Lewis had a 13-yard gain on the drive and Jacob Wiedmaier picked up 13 on a carry to give the Eagles first and goal at the 4.

Vilonia tried to surprise Jacksonville with its first onside kick, but Harrison made his first recovery for the Red Devils. That set up a 56-yard scoring drive capped when Price Eubanks kicked a 31-yard field goal to make it 10-7 with 11:53 left in the half.

Mosby had gains of 10, 7 and 6 yards during the possession and Perry completed a 16-yard first-down pass to D’Vone McClure.

Vilonia’s next possession ended when Griffin Nelson missed a 39-yard field goal low with 7:08 left.

With time running out in the half, Jacksonville went to its hurry-up offense. Mosby bounced outside for a 23-yard gain, Devon Featherston made a diving catch of Perry’s 14-yard pass for first and goal at the 7, and a play later Perry hit McClure on a 6-yard scoring pass and the 17-7 lead with 34 seconds left.

Jacksonville’s Jacarius Jordan intercepted Ebmeyer for Vilonia’s third turnover of the half and returned it 48 yards to the Eagles 14 with 4 seconds left. But Eubanks missed his 31-yard field goal attempt wide left as time ran out.

Perry finished 15 of 17 for 140 yards for the Red Devils while Mitchell led the Eagles with 101 rushing yards.

SPORTS >> Panthers run over Bears

Leader sports writer

The Cabot Panthers and Sylvan Hills Bears were headed in the same direction on Friday. Unfortunately for the Bears, that direction was into their own red zone.

The Panthers dominated from kickoff to final buzzer in a 35-7, non-conference rout at Panther Stadium. Sylvan Hills (0-2) struggled with only 16 yards of offense in the first half and 50 for the entire game.

Moving the ball came a little easier for Cabot (2-0) with 236 yards in the first half and 342 for the game.

Cabot coach Mike Malham called off the dogs for good with 1:32 left in the third quarter when junior fullback Spencer Smith bulled his way from 1 yard out for his third touchdown to give the Panthers a 34-0 lead, and kicker Logan Spry made it 35-0 with his 10th consecutive extra point of the season.

“The offense did what it needed to do tonight,” Malham said. “That second group didn’t move the ball quite as good as the first group, but everything went like we hoped it would. They’re 5A and we’re 7A, so we have a few more kids to choose from. And coach [Jim] Withrow does a good job over there.

“They gave us fits last year, but they don’t have as much ammo as what they did last year.”

The Panthers held Sylvan Hills to minus 5 yards in six plays during the first quarter. That looked like it would be the team’s yardage for the first half until Bears senior Ahmad Scott ran the ball down the right side for 20 yards to end the second quarter.

The only positive in the game for Sylvan Hills was a fumbled fourth-quarter punt by Cabot that gave the Bears their best field position of the night. Sophomore Willie Johnson fell on the ball at the Cabot 43 and it was the first time all night Sylvan Hills found itself in Panther territory.

Senior quarterback Jordan Spears took advantage as he directed a five-play drive that netted the Bears’ only score.

Cabot already had the momentum at the end of the first quarter, and the addition of senior running back Michael James in the offensive backfield gave the Panther faithful more to cheer about.

James sat out the season opener last week against Jacksonville because a preseason shoulder injury, and saw limited time on offense and defense, as well as special teams coverage, Friday.

“James got some work tonight; Spencer looked good back there,” Malham said. “We’re pretty deep at running back. We’ve got six guys that are all capable. I wish we had a little more depth at the line. But everything is on course.”

The Panthers took the first possession of the game and lulled the Sylvan Hills defense to with seven straight running plays before unleashing a 31-yard touchdown pass from Seth Bloomberg to junior tight end Rod Quinn with 8:26 left in the first quarter.

Bloomberg set up the play with a convincing fake to Smith. The Bears defense bought the fake and clogged the middle to stop Smith, which allowed Bloomberg to roll back and air it out to a wide-open Quinn at the Sylvan Hills 3.

Spry added the extra point to make it 7-0.

Cabot struck again in the opening period with a six-play, 45-yard drive. Bloomberg took the ball inside the red zone on a 23-yard option keep up the middle for a first down at the Sylvan Hills 8.

From there, it took a 6-yard run by Jeremy Berry and a 2-yard run into the end zone by Hunter Sales to increase the Panthers’ lead to 14-0.

Smith finished out the half with a touchdown runs of 9 and yards, which brought the varsity offense’s playing time to an end as the Panthers wrapped up their scoring late in the third.

Sylvan Hills caught its break on the fumbled punt by Spencer Neumann with 5:40 left that set the Bears up inside Panther territory. Spears connected with Taylor Clark for a 10-yard pass play, and handled the rest from there with three rushes. His final run was an 8-yard keeper for the touchdown with 2:04 left.

Anwi Filat added the extra point for the final margin.

Neumann, a senior, spent little time on the sideline as he led the defense from his middle linebacker slot and also had three rushes in the second half for 20 yards.

Neumann was also on every special teams play, including punt returns. He had a 24-yard return in the third quarter in which he broke four tackles and cut across the field. His only miscues were a bobbled punt that still ended up in Cabot’s hands and his fumble that led to the Bears’ only score.

“He does so much for us,” Malham said. “He’s been returning punts for us since he was a sophomore, but maybe we should look at that because he’s on the field so much. He’s just a tremendous kid. He’s smart and a hard worker, and I wish we had a bunch just like him.”

Smith led all rushers with 15 carries for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Bloomberg was 3 of 3 passing for 50 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers finished with 14 first downs, while Sylvan Hills had, all in the second half.

Cabot will play at Little Rock Hall next week, while Sylvan Hills will be at North Little Rock.

EDITORIAL >> Moving closer to real reform

The scope of the reaction to possible health-care changes should have been expected considering how many people in America have a relationship to the medical system. An active debate about government’s role in our lives is after all a bastion of our country’s democracy, as President Obama said in his address to Congress on Wednesday night.

During his speech, the president enforced his role in shaping the reform debate when he weighed in on the dispute. Much of his speech was dedicated to refuting untruths that have entered into public perception about proposed reforms. The callow views that have inspired those deceptions persisted even as the president spoke, when Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina jeered him.

Instead of responding with similar unpleasantness, Obama took the opportunity to invite to the bargaining table those who have been perpetuating myths in an attempt to block reform. They’ve been allowing the spread of lies while the partisan divide stalls Congress. Many of those who have encouraged myths of rationed care, which insurance companies practice, and death panels must be fortunate enough never to have experienced the loss of insurance or inability to pay for medical care even as most bankruptcies are caused by unaffordable medical bills.

Health care is a doubly tumultuous issue because people who are forced to deal with their or their children’s illnesses must take on the additional stress of paying inordinate sums of money for it.

Because so many people are unable to afford adequate care, broad and even unexpected coalitions have formed, from business groups and the AARP to the alignment of religious conservatives with the health insurance industry.

The Liberty Counsel is one such group. Churches and religious talk radio hosts are using the organization’s talking points as a rallying cry for opposition to health-care changes, many of which the president sought to discredit during his address to Congress.

The group, whose aims include preservation of family values, is unnerved by the prospect of a small part of the health care package that would allow government to make decisions of the delivery of care that insurers now make.

Other points of the group hone in on the beliefs of religious people by preying on their fears of population control through fallacies such as the creation of a child- limit law.

Reticence abounds but the problem remains as simple as it was a century ago: people are dying or staying sick because of lack of good care. Illness is costing more to our economy than it has to. It’s that way because emergency care is more profitable to the health-care industry than preventive care.

Hospitals are struggling because they have to subsidize care through charity programs which also rely on tax dollars for support because as a country, we can afford to help the poor. If we refused, many would lose their jobs if they were unable to receive health care at emergency rooms when they get sick. The cost to the public is enormous but our money isn’t being put to good use.

Even more waste results when preventive health-care needs are not met. That waste results in loss to the gross domestic product every year because our work force is not getting adequate health care to keep it competitive.

The National Business Group on Health, which represents employers, believes $150 billion a year is spent on obesity-related illness. As managed care works now, doctors are not reimbursed for education that could teach obese patients how to change their lifestyle habits and be healthier.

Preventive education, and screenings for illness, should occur before health problems develop into expensive crises including heart attacks and strokes.

President Obama hasn’t plowed ahead with such ideas as the promotion of preventive care without first consulting the minor or major players alike. He demonstrated Wednesday night that he has a clear understanding of the health-care system’s problems and solutions needed to repair them. He’s gifted with the ability of understanding complex problems.

He straightforwardly explained to Congress and the American people the health-care system’s failings despite pressure from his critics, whom he seems intent on finding agreement with.

The president can repeatedly offer compromises but he will be rebuffed. The opposing party will stick to condemnation, hoping it will squash momentum without offering their own solutions to problems plaguing the health-care system.

If the resounding welcome the president received when he entered the joint session is a sign, Congress shouldn’t have much more trouble getting health-care legislation passed this year. For more than five minutes, he was met with straight applause and cheers from senators and representatives.

President Obama’s health-care strategy exemplifies democracy: Let the Senate and the House craft a bill as is their duty in the legislative process. The president has proven his dedication to reforming health care through his willingness to compromise and seek bipartisanship on disputed reforms. But ultimately, it isn’t the president’s job to coalesce congressional personalities.

EDITORIAL >> Listening to the president

The great presidential brainwashing has come and gone and we are left to contemplate whether it will produce a nation of automatons waiting on the state to take care of them, as Republicans and even some school leaders said was President Obama’s goal.

As anyone who took the ample trouble of watching or reading the president’s talk to schoolchildren knows, it is a nonsensical question. It was a nonsensical fear to begin with. All the anguished cries about socialist brainwashing suddenly stopped when the White House released the text of the speech in advance to try to stem the spreading anxieties of parents. It is unseemly that he needed to do it.

The president’s message, every word of it, was what every last American parent, conservative or liberal, black or white, wants his or her children to hear and absorb, although we are sure some parents do not want them to hear it from a black man.

The message was that each of you is responsible for your life and your success or lack of it. You do not have any excuses — not race, parentage or poverty. You can make of your life whatever you want, but it’s up to you. So starting right now you need to study and work hard, and stay away from drugs and other temptations. And do not take one failure or even a succession of failures as final, but keep striving.

They were the same unexceptionable ideas that President George H. W. Bush tried to impart in a similar speech to the nation’s school kids in 1991, although Obama’s almost certainly had a greater impact on children. Bush I was as earnest as Obama but, bless his heart, his gifts were not in moving people to believe and act. Barack Obama’s are, although they have not been much on display in recent months in the great health-care brouhaha.

Coming from a man of color, of mixed parentage and of hard upbringing, his message has uncommon relevance, especially for the millions of children whom we’ve come to describe as “disadvantaged” and who make up a huge quotient of the failure of American schools, especially ours in poor Arkansas. We had thought that the highest advantage of Barack Obama’s election was its unmistakable lesson to children everywhere that your race, your heritage, your parents, your neighborhood or any other circumstance are mere excuses. Children have unusual obstacles to overcome, but they will fall to striving, intelligence and will.

So we were eager for the president to do exactly what he did. Too many kids need an antidote to the pessimism and hopelessness of their circumstances. They don’t get it at home, on the streets or from their peers. How much the president’s eloquent lecture helped we can only hope.

The furor over the speech, stirred by a desperate political party, is the disheartening thing. They said it was unconscionable for a president to “indoctrinate” children in his alien philosophy and many school officials barred the speech in their classrooms and parents took their kids out of school that day.

No one protested when Bush I set out to do it in 1991 or Ronald Reagan in his final days in office in the fall of 1988. Yes, some Democrats protested Bush’s speech after the fact because they thought it had been staged through C-Span viewing not for the children but for its impact on the public at large in advance of the election. The protest was foolish then. Reagan’s speech to the kids was, indeed, political — he said youngsters should stand up for America’s enduring values, which he said were low taxes, capitalism, weak government regulation and removing American barriers to products from other nations. He wanted America’s kids to join a tax revolt. But no one complained.

The richest irony of the week was that the superintendent of schools at Arlington, Texas, barred Obama’s little classroom chat in his schools but emptied the classrooms for a day so that children could attend a speech by former President George W. Bush at Cowboys stadium. Bush was fond of staging classroom settings with children in his eight years. He did several in Arkansas. His wife, Laura, incidentally, praised Obama’s speech.

Why were they so scared? He would spread socialist propaganda, said the Florida Republican chairman, echoing the right-wing TV and radio commentators. We confess that we still don’t know the basis of the alarums about socialism this summer. We have never heard or read where Obama wanted the government to control the means of production in the United States.

Oh, but what about the government bailout of financial institutions and two U. S. automakers and the government’s taking an equity stake in them? Isn’t that creeping socialism?

Those are probably the basis of so much angst. Most Americans, especially anti-corporate Democrats, didn’t like bailing out the fatcats. But it was not Obama but George W. Bush and his treasury secretary who called for and passed the $700 billion bailout of the banks and AIG in September 2008. The congressional leadership of both parties went along, fearful that the loathsome step might be necessary to avoid a global financial crash. It was the Bush administration, in December 2008, that gave General Motors and Chrysler their first $17 billion from the treasury.

If there is a modern-day Eugene Debs, it’s George W. Bush. He doesn’t deserve the label either, although for entirely different reasons we think kids’ minds are just a little safer in the presence of Barack Obama.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

TOP STORY >> Beebe picks state head for schools

Leader staff writer

Gov. Mike Beebe announced Friday afternoon he is recommending Tom Kimbrell of Cabot for Arkansas education commissioner. He replaces Ken James, who resigned in July to head a private company that works with schools.

The state Board of Education is expected to consider Kimbrell’s hiring at its meeting Monday morning. If the vote goes as expected, the governor will confirm the hire at 10 a.m. Monday in the Governor’s Conference Room.

Kimbrell is the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Contacted in his office Friday afternoon, Kimbrell said if he is approved, his first speech as the new head of public education in Arkansas will be to the Rotary Club in Cabot, which meets at noon Tuesdays at Colton’s Steak House and Grill.

Matt DeCample, the governor’s spokesman, said although the board has authority to hire and fire the commissioner, it works closely with the governor, who has approval rights.

Over the past week or so, most of the board members have met with Kimbrell, Decample said.

“The governor’s top priority was to find someone who shares his vision and standards for school achievement,” he said.

The job requires someone who can work with a wide variety of groups. Kimbrell’s current employment has prepared him for that, DeCample said, adding, “And frankly, he’s an easy guy to get along with.”

Kimbrell, 47, has been an educator for 25 years. He has been superintendent of both the Paragould and North Little Rock school districts.

His wife, Tina Kimbrell, is in her fourth year at the Cabot School District. She started as head of the district’s pre-K program but is now over federal programs. The couple moved to Cabot in December 2005.

Kimbrell says he is for local control of schools, but it is his vision and the governor’s to see “the right people in positions to help schools get better.”

That doesn’t mean state control, he said, but participation from more people.

“The key is getting the right people in the community involved,” he said.

Kimbrell was elected in May 2005 as the second executive director of the 30-year-old Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators.

Although he has not yet been hired, Kimbrell addressed criticisms that were showing up on news blogs just hours after the governor’s announcement.

He is for local control of schools, he said, but he wants those local officials to be concerned about kids getting an education that will make them able to compete.

He is not a proponent of school mergers unless there are fiscal or academic reason they should merge, he said.

And no, he does not favor school administrators over teachers. He comes from a family of both, he said.

He started his education career as a classroom math and science teacher and a coach in the Pocahontas School District.

Although his wife is in administration now, her first love is pre-K.

Kimbrell received his doctorate degree from Arkansas State University in 2003.

TOP STORY >> NAACP says district’s policies racist

Leader senior staff writer

In a letter it sent Wednesday to school board president Tim Clark, the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP charged racial bias exists in the disciplining of Pulaski County School District teachers.

In his letter, R.L. Aaron, chairman of legal redress for the group, charged that Clark “allowed (Teachers’ Union president Marty Nix) to blatantly direct comments toward us, as the NAACP, without objection,” that President Barack Obama was referred to disrespectfully as “Obama” and that parent Bonnie McDonald was “silenced” when she charged the district with racism and complained that the president’s speech to school children was not mandatory and was aired in only a handful of PCSSD schools.

Clark and board member Gwen Williams — herself a black woman — took exception with Aaron’s charges and rebutted them one by one in letters of their own.

When McDonald’s angry tirade well exceeded her allotted five minutes at Tuesday’s board meeting, Aaron said Clark silenced her. He wrote, “I thought you were going to beat the head off the gavel.” (Bonnie McDonald was misidentified last issue as Candice McDonald, her middle school-aged daughter.)

Two members of PCSSD security force closed in on her when it appeared she would not leave the podium voluntarily.

Clark wrote that “Ms. McDonald certainly violated the five-minute rule” for members of the public to sign up to speak.

Williams went further. “As for Mrs. McDonald, she … not only went over the time limit, she became rude and disrespectful.”

Williams wrote: “I did not agree with the superintendent leaving it up with the principals to air the president speech or not to air the speech. This did not give Mrs. McDonald the right to present her comments in the fashion that she did.”

Clark, in his response, wrote: “No one in the Pulaski County Special School District receives ‘lashes.’ We discontinued that practice years ago. ’’

“To my knowledge, our employees have never received ‘lashes,’” wrote Clark. “May I suggest that state law and the desegregation plan of the district guide you when you choose to engage in other investigatory matters regarding the district’s students or employees.”

Williams wrote, “ I am not sure where you heard that we give lashes, corrupt [sic] punishment has long been disallowed in this district. Furthermore, to even suggest that we give lashes (as was given in the past) is offensive to me and every board member, past and present).”

Clark said that Nix’s comments were not inappropriate because she did not “call your name, the name of the NAACP, the name of a board member or even employees of the district.”

He said other presidential administrations have been known by last names — Reagan, Bush I and II, Clinton.

“Be sure that it is not you, sir, who are creating racism where it does not exist, ” Clark said.

At the meeting, Clark, a new father, had thanked people for cards and gifts. “I hope that no gifts were accepted from union members that might give the appearance of inappropriate relationships or influence future decisions in union issues,” Aaron wrote.

Referring to the implication that gifts from union members could influence his voting, Clark wrote, “I will never allow my position…to determine my relationships.”

In her letter, Williams wrote, “I find it offensive that you would suggest Mr. Clark received gifts from union members in exchange for future decisions in union issues. You need to understand that these are not just employees to us, they are also friends and our extended family.”

TOP STORY >> More food to become available

Leader staff writer

A food pantry in Beebe will be able to help more people thanks to a new energy-efficient, walk-in freezer.

Fellowship Bible Church in Cabot helped Mannafest Blessings food pantry secure $6,500 through the Arkansas Rice Depot to purchase the eight-foot-by-10-foot freezer.

The walk-in freezer replaces 12 home refrigerators Mannafest Blessings was using to keep fresh meats, vegetables, milk and juices chilled.

“It is a godsend. The electric bills were astronomical, $700 a month that my husband and I paid. Every penny that is donated goes to purchase food,” Sue Davis said. She directs the pantry with her husband Frank.

The freezer was delivered to the pantry last week and will be installed and running by Thursday.

Mannafest Blessings pantry warehouse is located at 405 Priest Road and is housed next to the Davises’ home. The pantry has been at the location since 2006, when the Davis family moved there from Cabot after raising their children.

Mannafest Blessings’ volunteers will be out on street corners in Cabot on Saturday, Sept. 19, collecting money to support the food pantry.

The couple started helping hungry families in 2001 when they began feeding people out of their cupboard in Cabot.

“We were missionaries to Mexico,” Sue Davis said. “My husband had a heart attack and had to come back. We were ready to retire, so we retired and started helping two families. In three months time, we were helping 10 families.

“We really concentrate on the elderly,” she continued. “We work with several churches in Cabot, Beebe, Ward, McRae and Jacksonville.”

The name Mannafest Blessings is a reference from the Bible, when God sent manna, or unleavened bread, to feed the Israelites. The word manifest means to show or appear.

The pantry is a nonprofit organization that operates through the help of volunteers.

The food pantry works with the Arkansas Department of Human Services in Lonoke County along with police and fire departments to assist hungry residents.

Churches also come to the pantry to pick up boxes of food. Church members deliver food to elderly residents.
The Davises also help the needy who drop by the pantry.

“We are seeing people we never thought we would see. Due to the economy, one or the other in the family has lost their job and are having to ask for help. If they come and they have a need, we try to accommodate them,” Davis said.

In July, the pantry helped 565 families. Then in August, Mannafest Blessings saw that number drop to 365 families. Davis said the number averaged 1,200 people last month. She expects the numbers to increase near Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Members of Fellowship Bible Church are planning to construct a waiting room and an office at the food pantry. The church will supply the funds and labor.

Beebe resident Etter Chriswell said Mannafest Blessings helped her family during their time of need.

She and her son Richard walked into the food pantry for assistance. Chriswell is disabled and her sons, Richard and Brian, are searching for work.

“They do a very good job. We have seven in our family. (The food) will last for a month depending on how fast we eat,” Chriswell said.

“They pray for us,” her son Richard added.

Food donations are accepted at Mannafest Blessings along with monetary donations. They will also accept good working appliances, refrigerators and stoves to distribute to needy families.

TOP STORY >> Appeals court says complaint must be heard

Leader staff writer

A Sherwood elementary counselor will get her day in court, thanks to a recent decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Donna Humphries, a 26-year education veteran, received her doctorate in administration in 1996.

Since then, she has applied for about 16 administration positions, and in at least a dozen cases was she claimed she was passed over for either much less qualified or totally unqualified candidates despite the districts written policy that it would “make special efforts to employ and advance women, blacks, and handicapped persons.”

Humphries’ attorney, Mark Burnette, said the appeals court decision, filed Sept. 3, is a victory for Humphries in that she will get to present her case in front of a jury now. “Unless the district decides to settle,” Burnette said.

Some of those unqualified hirings that Humphries complained about in an August school board meeting are among the reasons the district is on accreditation probation. Last year the district had close to 80 staff members working in positions that they were not certified, licensed or qualified to fill, according to Deborah Coley, an administrator with the district. She added that it was down to less than 40 people now.

Humphries filed a reverse discrimination complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006 and then went forward with a federal lawsuit. District Judge Susan Webber Wright issued a summary judgment in April 2008 in favor of the district, not allowing Humphries a jury trial.

She appealed that ruling to the 8th Circuit Court in April.

Burnette said the case is not just about discriminatory practices against whites, but all races.

Humphries has shown that the district has a long-standing practice of biracially pairing administrators, meaning if the principal is white, the assistant principal will be black and vice versa. So if a black person wants a position where there is already a black, chances are the district has, in the past, discriminated against that person by hiring a white.

Statistically, according to the appeal court, the pairing of black and white administrators is twice as high as the required number to be considered discriminatory.

The appeal court’s opinion, written by Circuit Court Judge Raymond Gruender, states, “Viewing facts in the light most favorable to Humphries, a reasonable jury could conclude that the district has a policy of pairing assistant principals with principals of different races. Humphries has met her burden of raising a genuine issue of material fact about whether there was a specific link between the district’s failure to promote her and the district’s affirmative action policies.”

The appeals court reversed the “district court’s grant of the district’s motion for judgment with regard to Humphries’ claims that the district discriminated against her when it refused to promote her to the assistant principal positions.”

The court also reinstated her state law claims so the federal court can reconsider whether to hear the state law claims along with the federal law claims.

But all the news from the appeals court was not good for Humphries.

It sided with Humphries over the assistant principal positions, but felt she had not exhausted all the proper channels in her complaint that she was discriminated against in her efforts to get the district’s director of counseling services position.

Humphries still has a grievance filed against the district through the teacher’s association that will go before an arbitrator later this fall.

“I’m not doing this for me,” she told the board in August. “We have so many good people who have tried and tried for these jobs and have been passed up. These are loyal hard working employees and they are not being rewarded. Very capable people are not getting jobs.”

Humphries told the board that there are at least seven administrators who are not properly licensed and unqualified.

She told the board she has been blackballed and it has destroyed her career. “I’ve got a doctorate, yet I’m still in an entry-level position. We tell students to go to school for advancement and better jobs and then it doesn’t happen when we continue with our education,” Humphries said.

She asked the board to do two things. One, start an investigation into hiring practices and make the necessary changes to get the best and most qualified people. Secondly, to have all unqualified administrators to step down and reopen those job positions.

“Again, it’s just not me. So many people have been done dirty,” Humphries said, adding that she and others were not happy with the district’s hiring practices of nepotism, the good old boy network and picking girlfriends over qualified candidates.

Burnette said he should receive a schedule notice soon from the district court listing new dates for Humphries’ case.

TOP STORY >> Fair plan is ready, city says

Leader executive editor

Jacksonville officials on Friday were putting the finishing touches on a proposal to bring the state fair to the outskirts of town.

City officials will submit a proposal next week to the state to move the fair from Little Rock to 400 acres on Wooten Road off South Hwy. 161 and I-440, an area that Jacksonville has annexed.

The site is near the Rixie Road exit at the North Belt Freeway in south Jacksonville and is near Hwy. 67/167.

City officials will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Monday at city hall to announce their plans.

The deadline is Tuesday for submitting sealed proposals for locations for the new fairgrounds.

“It’s almost like this land was created for the fair,” said Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher as he was about to sign off on the proposal on Friday. “We’ve got the premier spot for it. We can’t wait to present it.

“I can see the Ferris wheel driving past there,” he continued. “It’s centrally located, it’s accessible and there’s no congestion.”

Much of the land is owned by Entergy, while some of the property is privately owned.

Fletcher sounded confident that the land could be offered to the fair board at a fair price. He said the site meets all the criteria set by the board:

At least 250 acres with access and visibility from a four-lane highway;

Suitable terrain with minimal disruption to wetlands;

The land is within 35 miles from the old fairgrounds;

Available utilities.

“It will be easy for people to access,” Fletcher said. “That should increase attendance.”

The mayor said many people have told him they haven’t gone to the state fair in recent years because of traffic congestion there.

State fair officials are seeking bids from communities within 35 miles of Little Rock and possibly replace the fairgrounds off Roosevelt Road, which they say has become inadequate.

“We’re centrally located,” Fletcher said. “We’ve got the perfect land. It’s the most logical place for the fair to come here.”

Fletcher said the city would have the same special relationship with the fair board as with Little Rock Air Force Base.

“We’ll tell the state fair commission we’d be good partners, just as we’ve been with the base,” he said. “We’ll go the extra mile.

That’s the kind of people we have here. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The fair board decided it was time to look around for more room, at least “350 contiguous acres,” according to the request for proposals, with adjoining land that could be purchased later.

The board is working with Thomas Engineering Company of North Little Rock and Mike Berg Company, Buyer’s Real Estate Agent of Little Rock. Their ideal site would be flat but not in a wetland, accessible and visible from an interstate or four-lane highway with utilities available.

Several other area towns, including North Little Rock, are planning to bid on getting the state fair to move to their area. Carlisle was the first to submit a bid. Little Rock is hoping to make more land available to expand the fair.

Cabot expressed an interest in the state fair, but it lacks suitable land.

If a new site is selected, the new fairgrounds will likely cost $100 to $150 million and it could be completed in three to five years.. Funding would come from bonds and long-term loans and fundraising by the dormant Livestock Association Foundation.

Ralph Shoptaw, general manager of the fairgrounds, said beer sales are an important part of the income.

The fairgrounds are 70 years old and are too small, critics say.. There isn’t enough room for parking and the 33,000-square-foot Hall of Industry needs to be at least 100,000 square feet to accommodate some of the businesses that have been turned away because of lack of space.

Then there is difficulty in getting to the fairgrounds, located in an older, deteriorating part of the capital city.

The 10,000-seat Barton Coliseum is considered outdated. An arena would be built at the new site.

Attendance at the state fair has doubled in recent years from about 200,000 to about 400,000. But Fletcher thinks more people would come to Jacksonville, which he said has a better location with less congestion.

Conway, Pine Bluff and Benton are also interested in getting the state fair. The board will also consider proposals submitted by private land owners.

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this article.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

TOP STORY >> Air base still counting on improving C-130s

Leader senior staff writer

Congress and the Pentagon may shoot down Boeing’s $2.8 billion avionics modernization contract for 222 Vietnam-era C-130 E’s, but the Arkansas National Guard still expects to receive the first two of those planes for further testing by December 2010, according to Col. Jim Summers, the 189th Airlift Wing commander.

Summers said Tuesday he had read news accounts that the upgrades could be cut, but “I’ve not seen anything official. Nobody has told us the program is in trouble.”

Bloomberg News reported last week that the Air Force proposed canceling and cutting back several programs in its next five-year budget plan, including the C-130 E avionics upgrades.

It would reportedly save the Air Force about $345 million in 2011 and the full $2.8 billion through the end of 2015.

Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon ordered the Air Force to cut $24.2 billion from its existing $632 billion five-year plan.

The avionics modification program puts state-of-the-art digital cockpits on 40- and 50-year-old aircraft — cockpits that are more similar to the new C-130Js than the analog cockpits they replace.

Testing so far has been at Edwards Air Force Base, Summers said.

The 189th Air Wing is known as the C-130 schoolhouse. Crews there teach the instructors who teach pilots and crews for U.S. military and allies to fly so-called Legacy C-130s.

Two crews already are qualified to fly as crew members on the converted planes, Summers said.

“We will begin formulating the curriculum,” when the wing gets the two upgraded models it’s expecting, Summers said.

Current plans call for Little Rock Air Force Base’s C-130 schoolhouse to begin training for the enhanced C-130s in 2014.

Summers said that most training for the new C-130J is likely to be done on simulators on the active-duty side of the base.

While those planes will be assigned to the 189th sooner, they will undergo yearlong depot maintenance elsewhere before arriving at Little Rock Air Force Base. After that, crews from the 189th Airlift Wing will begin operational testing and evaluation, including low-level flights and airdrops, he said.

Boeing currently is authorized to build 10 percent of the 222 avionics-modernization kits needed, according to Summers.

He said if the entire program were scrapped, the advanced avionics would be stripped out of the three planes already converted and they would be converted to their original condition.

Summers said he couldn’t speculate how the loss of the program would affect the mission of the 189th Airlift Wing, but that the overall mission would remain the same — teaching those who teach pilots and crews to fly the C-130E, which dates back to the 1960s, and the C-130Hs, which were manufactured in the 1980s and the 1990s.

Both of those planes are in use around the globe, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The C-130 is the premiere medium-sized, medium-distance air- lifter for personnel and material in the world.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

EDITORIAL >> A health plan that will work

At long last we come to the day when everybody lays their cards on the table in the great health-care poker game — or everyone who even pretends to be a serious player. We should be so fortunate that it will end the most reckless propaganda war in the nation’s history, but we do not count on it.

President Obama will spell out the broad designs of a universal health-care plan that he would like to see in an address to a joint session of Congress tonight. To avoid what everyone thought was Bill Clinton’s fatal error in the 1994 health-reform disaster when he presented Congress with an elaborately detailed plan, Obama has been consistently vague on what he thinks would work and that he would sign into law, starting even in the presidential campaign in 2007 when he sketched the most conservative plan of all the Democratic candidates. He left it to Congress to produce the details of a plan. He said only that it should pay for itself without adding to the deficit, cover nearly everybody and curb the skyrocketing cost of health care, now far away the highest in the world.

The result of his strategy was that he was blamed for every imaginable horror that the insurance companies and right-wing broadcast gabbers and bloggers cooked up and spread across the land. There were to be Obama death panels, Obama rationing czars who would cut grandma off Medicare, Obama taxes, a gargantuan Obama deficit. Although he had not written or dictated a word of them, the voluminous bills drafted by Senate and House committees were said to be part of Obama’s plot to bury his evil designs in a sea of verbiage. At rallies and town halls, people carried signs condemning “Obamacare.” Any harmless remark of the president at a public forum about giving people choices about their care was twisted into a sinister plot to deprive people of medical care, the opposite of his purpose.

So today he will tell the country what he would like for Congress to do. There will be a real Obamacare for the foes of health reform to attack although he is almost certain to leave Congress some options on how to achieve the goals. He has telegraphed much of it. He will want Congress to mandate that everyone except the very poor purchase health insurance so that all will have access to medical attention and the vast cost-shifting to current insurance holders for unreimbursed care will end. He will want restrictions on private insurers to prevent their rescinding or denying coverage for people with chronic diseases. The government will subsidize the health policies for people with wages too low to buy it, and Medicaid will be expanded to catch more people at the bottom of the scale. People who already have health insurance would not be touched except their premiums probably would be lowered over time. Those who would be required to buy insurance could search an exchange for a policy they liked and could afford. One or more of the insurance plans in the exchange could be low-cost, government-administered plans.

Obama apparently will say, as he has in the past, that he would prefer that there be a government option to force the insurance monopolies to offer policies at competitive rates but that it is not essential. Finally, there should be mechanisms to curb the escalating costs of medical care. We hope that the president will spell out clearly what those should be. That has been the source of hundreds of fabrications and rumors, such as killing off the elderly, Ted Kennedy and Sarah Palin’s baby.

Shorn of the lies and distortions, all of that sounds like exactly what the American people have said for years they wanted.

Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas’ Second District, who has been a key player in the development of the legislation (not positively in our view), took the occasion to announce that he would be against a government option but otherwise supportive of comprehensive legislation. He thought that the handful of insurance companies that have divided the American market could be counted on to give the tens of millions of captive new customers that they will inherit a fair and competitive price for insurance without much government involvement.

Ross, Republicans and the insurance companies have said the companies could not offer premiums as low as the government’s because the government would not have to collect money from people to cover underwriting costs or profits for shareholders and executives. They are afraid that people who would buy insurance for the first time would all buy the government policy. (Under all the bills, people and companies with existing coverage could not buy the government plan or any private plan in the exchange.)

To the extent that their concerns are real, we tender a solution for the president and Congress. Do not mandate the insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions or to keep people who develop chronic illnesses, but forbid the government to deny them coverage in the public option. The insurance companies would not have to raise everyone’s premiums to cover the sickly but the government would have to set high enough rates to cover all of the chronically ill. That would give the insurance companies a huge competitive advantage on rates. It’s the American way. Shouldn’t that be all they really want?

TOP STORY >> Circulation for paper at all-time high

The Leader continues to lead all area newspapers in circulation. The twice-weekly Leader and the mid-week Extra shopper have a combined circulation of 32,647, making it by far the biggest newspaper in the area.

That number is a 50 percent increase over the last 22 years, when The Leader was started as a free-circulation newspaper with 22,000 distribution. It is now a combination paid paper (12,499) — that is, more than half of our 1987 circulation is now paid for by subscribers (thank you very much) — and an additional 20,156 Extras are mailed Wednesdays directly to homes of non-subscribers.

That is why we’re the largest and most honored weekly newspaper in Arkansas.

While The Leader’s circulation has increased over the years, daily newspapers have lost about a third of their readership.

Although a Little Rock newspaper recently trumpeted its readership numbers in this area, placing The Leader in the second spot, those numbers are very misleading. The Little Rock newspaper did a telephone survey of newspaper readership in the region, but it counted its Sunday readership from Jacksonville all the way to the Missouri border to claim it’s No. 1 — but it under-counted our numbers by about 80 percent.

The Leader leads its circulation area from Sherwood to Searcy, where our readers and advertisers live and work and rely on us for accurate and useful information.

The Leader also publishes the 8,000 circulation Combat Airlifter, the official air base newspaper.

“Our readers and advertisers know we reach the most people in our circulation area,” said publisher Garrick Feldman. “We may not have readers in Pocahontas or Mammoth Springs, but when it comes to north Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties, no one can touch us.”

In this area, almost everyone reads The Leader. We thought we’d toot our own horn, because if we don’t, who will?

The Leader staff thanks you for your support.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD approves budget for year

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District Tuesday evening approved the $232 million 2009-2010 budget, making up an $18 million revenue shortfall by using $11 million carried over from last year’s budget.

The budget is $16 million less than last year’s. Projected revenues for this year are $231 million, down from $251 million from last year.

A new state law prohibits transfer of money from operating funds to building funds.

Witsell Evans Rasco Architects submitted preliminary drawings to the board for a new Jacksonville Middle School and also one new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

The board approved using about $1.4 million of stimulus money to begin the planning process for those two schools.

Both are on the 10-year facilities plan, contingent upon passage of a new bond issue or finding other construction funds.

Elden Bock of Witsell, Evans Rasco, told board members that the new Arnold Drive-Tolleson replacement would be built along the lines of the Chenal Elementary School.

Described as the new north Pulaski elementary school, it is tentatively tucked in next to North Pulaski High School and near the back gate to Little Rock Air Force Base. It would accommodate 650 students in 90,000 square feet and would likely be two stories.

The proposed new Jacksonville Middle School would fit neatly into the space currently occupied by the former Jacksonville Girls Middle School, just off Main Street near Hwy. 67.

Bock said it also would lend itself nicely to a two-story treatment. “That would give a nice presence to the street,” he said. The building would likely be about 145,000 square feet and would be designed for 1,050 students.

A proposal to eliminate coordinators of music, art and Title I federal funds was not reflected in the unanimously approved budget and had not been acted upon by press time.

The deadline for submitting that budget to the state Department of Education is Sept. 30. But on the heels of several special-called board meetings in the past few months, the board approved its budget at this regularly scheduled meeting and expects to submit it to the state on Sept. 15.

Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver and interim Superintendent Rob McGill did much of the heavy lifting on the new budget, but several of the board members reviewed the budget proposal at a workshop held last week and some had concerns about eliminating the coordinators of those programs.

Farver said that next year there would be no carry over funds to bail the district out and said board members will need to locate new revenues or make more drastic cuts for the 2010-2011 budget a year from now.

McGill has said he was investigating offering patrons an opportunity to vote on a new $40 million bond issue. Stephens Inc., the district’s financial adviser, is crunching numbers to see if the district can pay another $3.2 million a year in debt service to pay off that bond over a 27-year period.

There was brief discussion of a proposal to get “conversion charter-school status” for Harris Elementary School as a science and technology immersion and also to expand the STAR Academy, currently housed in the old Jacksonville Girls Middle School building. Each approved school would get $450,000 toward equipment and programs.

Donna Houston gave a rundown of conditions at College Station Elementary School, calling it old and unsafe.

Finally, Candice McDonald, a black woman with three children in the district gave a loud, long and passionate speech detailing the anger she felt that the district didn’t require students to watch President Obama’s speech to school children, but made it optional.

She said it wasn’t optional when white presidents spoke and the schools had to watch.

“I have seven children, I’ve been married 27 years and I live in Jacksonville,” she said. She has children attending Arnold Drive, Jacksonville Middle School and Jacksonville High School.

“I’m a descendent of Jacksonville and a descendent of slaves and I started to bring my chains, but my husband said put those back,” she said.

McDonald said she called every school in the district and in nearly every case the white principals didn’t allow or require the students to watch and the black principals, some of them anyway, did.

Finally, board president Tim Clark told her she had spoken far longer than her allotted five minutes, and she left the podium as security guards moved in on her.

TOP STORY >> Senior center celebrates 35 years

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Senior Center celebrated two milestones this year on Friday. The senior center is now 35-years-old and the senior center building at Victory Circle is 25-years-old.

Close to 200 seniors, city officials and civic leaders enjoyed lunch and reflected on the center’s history in honor of the occasions. The Jacksonville Senior Center was incorporated in 1974, and the building on 100 Victory Circle was opened on May 20, 1984.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher spoke before the luncheon. He said the senior center is a place to continue to grow relationships and connect with the community. The center helps meet the social needs of seniors.

The mayor spoke about the future of the senior center. He said he would like to have safe rooms built into the center that would give Jacksonville residents a place to seek shelter during severe storms.

Ida Casson, 90, has been coming to the senior center at least once a week for the past four years to play table games and for fellowship. Casson has lived in Jacksonville for 10 years.

“I like the whole atmosphere. It is a comfortable place to come. It is clean.

“There is warmth and concern with the people who work here,” Casson said.

Deirdre Reed said, “The staff is very helpful and cordial. They want to make sure we are taken care of.”

Ben Rice was board president of the Jacksonville Senior Center when the new building was constructed 25 years ago.

“There were a lot of elderly people living in the neighborhood. It seemed logical to place it here,” Rice said.

“Every success has a lot of parents. I think it applies here,” Rice said.

According to past newspaper accounts from 1984, the Jacksonville Senior Center cost $650,000.

A $400,000 Community Development Block Grant helped fund the construction. First Jacksonville Bank and First National Bank of Jacksonville each purchased $125,000 in low interest bonds. The Gray family donated the property.

Records for establishing a center for seniors began in 1968 with the social concerns committee at First United Methodist Church of Jacksonville.

The senior center was incorporated in 1974. It was known as the Jacksonville Elderly Activities Program. The center was located in a single-wide mobile home on Martin Street near where Splash Zone stands today. Then-Mayor James Reid and the city council were able to expand the program by adding more mobile homes to the center.

Bart Gray Jr. spoke to the audience before the lunch and reflected on the center. He talked about how its location in the Sunnyside Hills addition has been important to Gray family history.

Gray’s father, Bart Sr., and mother, Anna, lived in several homes in the Sunnyside addition. Bart Gray Jr.; his brother, Thad, and sister, Ginger, grew up in the neighborhood.

Gray said, “After World War II, our father and mother wanted to be in the theater business. They had a choice between two communities that had theaters for sale. They chose Jacksonville as home.

“The theater burned not long afterwards (in the late 1940s). They had established a number of friends in their new hometown.

One was Tot Slavens, who was the redeveloper of Sunnyside Hills addition, as well as the Sunnyside shopping center.” he said.

Gray continued, “It was in the Sunnyside Shopping Center that Tot built for our family what became the Graco Theater.

Through this friendship with Mr. Slavens, our family was able to acquire the whole Sunnyside Hills shopping center.”

“Over the years this center included a grocery store, a barber shop, a beauty shop, City Lumber Company, a service station, a five and dime store and an office supply company. This location was the heart of this part of our community,” he said.

During the early 1970’s, the Gray siblings formed GBT. They acquired many pieces of their parents real estate properties including the Sunnyside Hills Shopping Center and the Graco Theater.

According to Bart Gray Jr., GBT offered to donate the Graco Theater to the city to improve the senior program.

The city along with the community did not renovate the old one-screen movie house but built the Jacksonville Senior Center on the property. The center officially opened on May 20, 1984.

Today, the Jacksonville Senior Center provides a place for senior adults to socialize, have a hot meal and stay active.

The center participates in a meals-on-wheels program which delivers an average of 200 meals a day and 45,000 meals a year.

Another program the center has is called telephone assurance. Phone calls are made each day to seniors at their homes to make sure they are okay.

The center is largely funded by the city of Jacksonville, CareLink and United Way. The center holds fund-raisers to support its programs. There is bingo at 6 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month.

There will be a chili supper at 6 p.m. on Oct. 22. There is a $15 annual membership fee at the center, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday.

TOP STORY >> PART II: WAR MEMORIES, Japanese-Canadians sent to camps during WWII

Leader staff writer

Maki Dennis and her husband Donald, who live in the South Bend community near Jacksonville, had a personal interest in hearing a recent lecture at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History about Rohwer and Jerome, two Japanese-American internment camps in Desha County during the Second World War.

Hundreds of internees were buried there during the war.

Dennis and her family were forced from their home in Canada and into an internment camp a few months after Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Canadian government passed an order that called for families of Japanese descent to be interned.

She talked about her internment after the latest installment of the War Stories lecture series, where former McGehee Mayor Rosalie Gould spoke about Rohwer and Jerome.

Japanese-Canadians were moved to a 100-mile area of the British Columbia coast.

Maki was 12 years old when the Royal Canadian Police came to her family’s 10-acre berry farm in Port Haney while her father was working. On March 4, 1942, more than 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were told they had 24 hours to pack their belongings.

The Canadian government sold the prisoners’ homes, property and businesses to pay for the internment, according to information from

Her family, along with many other Japanese-Canadians, were temporarily held at Hastings Park race track in Vancouver.

Maki said at the track her 10 brothers and sisters and her mother were housed in a room with four bunk beds for her whole family. Her father was separated from them.

There was no privacy. Soon the Japanese-Canadians were moved eastward into one of five internment camps in British Columbia away from the coastline.

“From there we went to Lemon Creek for three years. We were there until the war ended,” she said.

The camp was still under construction when the Japanese-Canadians arrived. The Lemon Creek camp had a population of 5,000 people. She described her family’s house as small with three rooms.

Eight or more people lived in each house, but her family stayed together.

There was no electricity or even a radio.

“They were still building houses there. There was no insulation, no door to the bedroom. My dad had to build double-decked beds,” she said.

“We couldn’t go to school until the school was built. That was in March 1943. Most of the teachers were (out of) high school.

They didn’t have degrees,” Maki said.

Three families had to share an outhouse and a community bath. Maki said a group came to the camp and sold apples, fruits and vegetables until the families started growing crops next to their houses.

“Lemon Creek was way out in the country. It wasn’t fenced in but you had to have a permit to go out. It was like a small town.

We had three grocery stores. There were programs at the school and bazaars,” she said.

“My dad for $2 a day would chop wood for the stoves at the camp. There wasn’t much to do. We played softball and baseball at school,” she continued.

Dennis recalled one summer during their internment when they picked apples for a month. Another year they picked hops.

“It was terrible, because your fingers would get sore,” Maki said about harvesting hops.

She said not much exists now at the Lemon Creek internment site.

There were several different internment camps in Canada.

Some of the younger men were put in road construction camps.

There were self-supporting internment camps where 1,161 internees paid to be housed at leased farms.

Men who complained about being separated from their families or violated curfew were sent to prisoner of war camps in Ontario.

In 1945, the Canadian government forced the interned Japanese-Canadians to choose between going to Japan and losing their Canadian citizenship, or move to eastern Canada.

When the war was over, Dennis’ family did not return to British Columbia.

They lost their farm to the Canadian government.

Dennis said her father told his children he had family matters to take care of in Japan.

She said her father wanted the family to leave Canada. The family moved to Inae, Japan, where they tended a rice farming business.

Dennis went to school until the eighth-grade.

In Japan, she enrolled in Army education classes, taking typing, English and shorthand. When she moved to the U.S., she earned a high school diploma and took classes at Little Rock University.

In 1948, Maki met her future husband, Donald Dennis, a North Little Rock native, in Osaki, where the 24th Army Division was stationed. Maki was a typist for the division chaplain.

Donald was a chaplain assistant and then became a chief clerk in the chaplain office.

“My tour of duty ended in 1950. I arranged for Maki to return to Canada. She stayed with friends and relatives until I got discharged,” Donald said.

The couple married in July 1950 in Chatham, Ontario. The couple lived in Windsor, Ontario, for three months.

Donald worked for the Ford Motor Company, which transferred him to work in the United States, but he couldn’t take Maki with him.

The quota for ethnic Japanese allowed into the the U.S. was full.

“We had to stay in Windsor until Sen. Fulbright told us his special bill was passed by Congress,” Donald said. “Fulbright said in a telegram to contact immigration officials.”

The bill allowed servicemen to live in the United States with their wives of Asian descent.

Maki became an American citizen in 1954.

The Dennises moved to North Little Rock. They have lived at their South Bend home since 1962. Donald Dennis worked 21 years at Arkansas Power and Light.

He retired from Remington Arms after working there 19 years as a machinist.

Maki has worked in Jacksonville for many year at TG&Y and elsewhere.

She has worked part-time for the past 16 years at Chamber’s Drug as a service clerk.

They have four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Maki said she had a connection to Arkansas before she moved here. An uncle living in Los Angeles during World War II was sent to the internment camp in Jerome.

After the camp closed, he went to Colorado to work in the coal mines.

“A lot of people had a hard time,” Dennis said about readjusting to life after internment.

“They had to fight discrimination. They are doing all right now. Time heals.”

Maki has three sisters and one brother, who still live in Japan. Two brothers and two sisters live in Canada.

Two of her brothers have passed away.

In 1988, Canada apologized for forcing their citizens into internment camps and blamed the government’s actions on racial discrimination.

The Canadian government provided $21,000 Canadian dollars in compensation to Japanese Canadians who were interned.

Maki still has that letter.

SPORTS >> Falcons face Hornets, try to improve

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski will be trying to build on the bright spots when it travels to Pulaski Oak Grove on Friday.

At least there were some bright spots to be seen.

The Falcons, in their first game under new coach Rick Russell, suffered a 40-7 setback to Dumas at Falcon Stadium last week.

Though the score didn’t show it, North Pulaski was able to move the ball at times, but penalties and turnovers cost the Falcons scores.

The defense was able to keep Dumas’ college-prospect quarterback Darion Griswold off balance and the Bobcats’ spread offense out of synch.

One Dumas score came on a 98-yard interception return and overall the Falcons’ defense allowed just two legitimate scoring drives despite working against a short field most of the night.

An up note for the Falcons came late in the game in the form of an 80-yard touchdown drive.

Running back Billy Barron, 5-10 245 pounds, scored on a 12-yard run after posting some hard-nosed carries throughout the drive and Mat Ingersoll kicked the extra point.

“The plays that went wrong didn’t go wrong because of lack of effort,” said Russell, who debuted as head coach after traveling across town from Jacksonville High, where he was defensive coordinator.

“We have kids who want to be out there playing hard,” Russell said. “Those are things that you can correct.”

There is a chance Oak Grove may not be impressed by Barron, however, considering the running back they have already seen.

The Hornets are coming off their season-opening, 28-22 loss to Little Rock Christian in the Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Oak Grove had to try to contain back Michael Dyer, the Little Rock Christian standout and the state’s top recruit.

Dyer rushed for 187 yards and four touchdowns and made a game-saving tackle on defense. He clearly looked healthy after dealing with ankle injuries that slowed him in 2008.

Oak Grove is coming off a 7-4 season and a first-round playoff loss to Warren under first-year coach Mike Buchan.

While the Falcons had to contend with the passing of Griswold and Dumas’ spread offense last week, this week they will have to concern themselves with the Hornets’ run-oriented wing T led by strong-armed quarterback Deramus Sam.

It was a screen pass from Sam to Shaquille Spearmon that almost gave Oak Grove the game in its season opener, but that’s when Dyer appeared to drag down Spearmon and save a touchdown after a 41-yard gain.

Oak Grove marked its first winning year in four tries last year while North Pulaski has won just 10 games this decade.

“We have a lot of positive things to build on,” Russell said. “Our offensive line did a good job staying on their blocks and our backs ran hard every play.”

SPORTS >> Red Devils bolster ranks, meet Eagles

Leader sports editor

At first it looked as if Jacksonville was going to be even more short-handed against Vilonia than it was in its season opener against Cabot.

Instead, the Red Devils are going to be closer to full strength.

Jacksonville is looking for its first victory in its home opener at Jan Crow Stadium on Friday night after losing 35-6 at Cabot on Sept. 1.

The odd schedule, which was arranged for a statewide television broadcast, gave the Red Devils the past weekend free to fine tune, but the workouts nearly cost Jacksonville its quarterback, junior Logan Perry.

“A lot of it was trying to get healthy,” coach Mark Whatley said. “We had a big scare. Logan thought he’d broken his wrist on the first play of a scrimmage.”

But Perry should be able to go against Vilonia, Whatley said, and Jacksonville is also anticipating the return of receiver Devin Featherston, who sat out the opener with an ankle sprain.

“It’s going to allow us to stretch the field a little more,” Whatley said. “He’s got good speed, good hands. He just lets you stretch it. Plus he’s a returning starter. He’s been there and he’s made plays in the past and we look for him to make some more.”

Whatley said his players responded well after their one-sided loss at Cabot, which plays in the larger, 7A classification while Jacksonville competes in the 6A-East.

“We’re tying to get better; that’s what this time of year is all about,” Whatley said.

Whatley said the focus, other than staying healthy, has been on trying to eliminate mistakes like the early turnovers and penalties that put the Red Devils in a hole against the Panthers.

“We’ve got to get more consistent on the offensive side of the ball,” Whatley said. “Our focus and attention to detail is going to have to be better if we’re going to be competitive.”

With its double wing offense, Vilonia resembles Cabot in a few key ways, Whatley said.

“We’re playing a good football team,” Whatley said. “They do things very well. They’re a lot like Cabot in that they get a whole bunch of bodies at the point of attack.”

Whatley said Vilonia’s offense, like Cabot’s dead T, relies on a punishing ground game, misdirection and very little passing.

“Same kind of mentality as far as ball-control offense, they try to out-physical you; I guess that’s a word,” Whatley said. “I think they threw it twice last week.”

Whoever the Red Devils are facing, it is far too early to re-write the playbook, Whatley said.

SPORTS >> Beebe brings winning streak, ground game to rival Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

One of the longest-standing local rivalries will continue its tradition at James B. Abraham Field on Friday when Beebe invades Lonoke.

The Badgers had opportunities to win their opener against Greenbrier last week, but a late fumble deep in Panther territory took them out of contention while Lonoke got 235 yards from running back Brandon Smith on its way to a 27-0 victory over Pulaski Robinson.

The Beebe-Lonoke series dates back nearly 50 years, but Beebe has owned this decade. Lonoke took victories in 2000 and 2001 to cap a seven-game winning streak that began in 1995, but Beebe ended that streak with victories in 2002 and 2003.

The last victory for Lonoke came in a 34-26 shootout in 2004, while Beebe has won the last four in a row.

“Any time Beebe and Lonoke get together, it’s a big game,” said Beebe coach John Shannon, who is 2-0 against the Jackrabbits since taking over in 2007.

“Even when I played here 25 years ago it was a big rivalry,” Shannon said. “We’re only 20 miles away from each other; their kids know our kids and vice versa.”

The previous two coaches at Lonoke had a combined 1-6 record against Beebe. For first-year Jackrabbits coach Doug Bost, a victory against Lonoke’s closest rival in his first year at the helm would be an achievement.

“I was talking to some guys who used to play for us, and they said that 2004 was the last time we beat them,” Bost said.

“Before that, who knows? But Beebe has definitely had our number. We would love to close out the decade with a win against them; it’s something to shoot for.”

The Jackrabbits got it done on the ground last Friday with their 27-0 shutout over Pulaski Robinson. Smith, a senior, ran wild with three touchdowns against the Senators’ defense despite playing less than three quarters.

“The first thing for us is trying to stop their running game,” Shannon said of Smith. “You know they want to get it in number 5’s hands. They’re a spread team, but 60 to 70 percent of the time they’re going to run out of the spread. We want to try and make them one-dimensional and, hopefully, we’ll do a better job of that this week.”

Greenbrier ended a six-game skid against the Badgers last week with an offensive performance that netted 428 yards. Almost 300 yards came through the air for the Panthers, something Bost hopes his team can emulate.

“I think we need to get more from the passing game,” Bost said. “We had 240 yards of passing in one half in our scrimmage against Oak Grove. Of course, Robinson got the film from that game and really concentrated. They had guys pinned back deep but hey, it opened up the running game. We’ll see how Beebe plays us.”

The Badgers had 330 yards of offense last week against Greenbrier. But drive-ending penalties, and a costly fumble with less than four minutes left took them out of contention. Such mistakes are what concern Shannon.

“Overall, for us to play as bad as we did and still pick up that many yards wasn’t too bad,” Shannon said. “But we’ve got to get those silly things fixed. The offensive line played stellar, but we have to fix some things and get better.”

The Jackrabbits lost an early interception but committed no further turnovers in their victory over Pulaski Robinson, but they did have some issues with penalties.

“We had three personal fouls that backed us up about 45 yards or so,” Bost said. “You don’t really like to see mouthing and that kind of stuff going on, so we’ll definitely talk about that this week. But I thought our offensive line came out and really executed. Defensively, we were flying to the football.”

Bost said, like last week, his pass defenders will have to worry more about run support when they face Beebe this week.

“Playing Robinson last week helped us,” Bost said. “They only threw six passes and completed one. That helped us prepare for Beebe. They’re just going to get in that dead-T and pound, pound, pound. They are very effective at running that offense, that’s for sure.”

SPORTS >> Panthers set to battle regrouping Bears

Leader sports editor

Hopes, apparently, are high as Cabot prepares to play host to Sylvan Hills at Panther Stadium on Friday.

Cabot coach Mike Malham hopes his reconstructed offensive line continues the strong play it showed in the Panthers’ 35-6 victory over Jacksonville on Sept. 1.

“I hope that’s a sign to come and not a fluke,” Malham said.

Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow is hoping a different team, at least in spirit, climbs onto the team bus for the trip to Cabot than the team that suffered a 31-7 setback to Malvern in Friday’s season opener.

“I’m hoping we can learn from it and come back with a little bit of enthusiasm and passion to play,” Withrow said. “We just kind of showed up and went through the motions, which is pretty surprising for your first game. Lots of mental mistakes and things that could be corrected that would have kept us in the game in all three phases.”

The Bears only managed 108 total yards against the Leopards, gave up 93 yards and three touchdowns to Malvern back Dontail Henson and suffered a critical roughing-the-kicker penalty and a fumble.

“I do like our skill guys but they made some mistakes as well Friday,” Withrow said. “Turning it over and they dropped some balls.”

Withrow said he was going to move some personnel around to get some bigger bodies on the offensive line to contend with Cabot, of the larger 7A-Central Conference. Sylvan Hills plays in the 5A-Southeast.

Malham, on the other hand, was pleasantly surprised at how well his six new offensive linemen performed against Jacksonville. Behind the blocking, the Panthers rolled up 328 total yards and had 17 first downs.

“There weren’t as many mistakes as I thought there would be,” Malham said. “For six new faces they did a pretty good job.”

With senior fullback Michael James sitting out the opener, junior Spencer Smith shouldered the load with 110 yards and three scores on 22 carries. Malham said Smith brought a strong preseason effort, which included a benefit game against Lake Hamilton, into the regular season.

“He had looked good in practice, he had looked good against Lake Hamilton,” Malham said. “So I was pleased he looked good in a real game. He’s just a junior and that looks good for next year too.”

Malham expects James to get some repetitions this week as he eases back into action.

James gained 1,261 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last year.

“James dressed out Monday,” Malham said. “He’s been cleared. We’ll see how it feels. If things bother him we’ll pull him out.”

James’ presence may be an extra headache for Withrow, but it’s all about getting as much competition as the Bears can stand before their conference schedule begins.

“If you can compete with them and hang around it helps you down the road,” Withrow said.

“We’ve kind of never backed down from any of it and that’s kind of been the philosophy here. But we also understand that shoot, they’ve got 1,300 more students than we do,” Withrow added.

“That’s the deal. It’ all non-conference; we’re just trying to work on stuff and get better and get ready for conference,” the Sylvan Hills coach said.

Malham is also looking for experience to grow on and is waiting to see his defense against Sylvan Hills’ spread.

“We’re going to see a lot more of that throughout the year,” Malham said. “Defensively, we’ve just got to play our base and know our responsibilities and where we’re supposed to be and everybody fly to the ball.”

Malham expects the Bears to put eight or nine on the line of scrimmage to stop the Panthers’ dead T offense. But he said that won’t change Cabot’s approach.

“I don’t know if we’re as athletic as Malvern,” Malham said. “But we’re going to do what we do best and that’s try to pound it and if they get sucked inside, get outside on the option.”