Saturday, December 05, 2009

SPORTS >>’Rabbits top Seminoles, pack for trip to Little Rock

Lonoke defensive back Todd Hobson had two interceptions on Friday night.

Leader sportswriter

OSCEOLA – Lonoke earned its ticket to the 4A state finals through the air in a 28-7, semifinal victory over Osceola on Friday night at Seminole Stadium.

Senior quarterback Michael Nelson was responsible for 419 of the Jackrabbits’ 448 total yards, and he provided 347 of those with his right arm. Nelson went 20 of 39 passing for all four Lonoke touchdowns, and the Jackrabbits silenced the Seminoles except for one late special teams play with 8:34 left in the game.

“Words don’t describe this,” fullback Morgan Linton said. “This has been our team’s dream ever since I can remember. In ninth grade, we won out 9-1. When we left that last game in junior high, we said we were coming to War Memorial.

“Back when we were in pee-wee, I think we were 36-1, and we said we’re going to War Memorial. Words can’t describe how bad we’ve wanted that.”

Lonoke (11-3) will play for the 4A championship next week against Shiloh Christian at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Shiloh Christian ended Bald Knob’s unbeaten season, 48-7, in Friday’s other semifinal.

Lonoke already had the game in hand by the time Osceola got its late score on a 75-yard kick return by Tony Dancy. Nelson had just connected with Brandon Smith for an 11-yard touchdown pass set up by an interception and 38-yard return by Todd Hobson into Osceola territory.

It was Hobson’s second interception of the night.

The Jackrabbits had their chances to blow the game open in the first half, but came up empty on three trips inside the Seminoles 20. Their first drive in the second half had the same result, but Nelson and company came up big on three of their next four possessions.

“The guys were moving the ball and doing good things,” Jackrabbits coach Doug Bost said.

“It was just that when we got down there, we weren’t punching it in. That cost us some games earlier in the season, and that’s all we talked about. When we get down there, we have to score.”

Lonoke finally broke through the red zone to finish a 10-play, 38-yard drive when Nelson found Blake Dill for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 4:01 left in the third quarter. T.J. Scott’s extra-point attempt was blocked to leave it at 13-0.

Darius Scott ended the Seminoles’ ensuing trip into Lonoke territory with an interception in the end zone. Scott returned the ball to the Lonoke 36, but a chop-block penalty pushed the Jackrabbits back to their own 13.

That drive eventually stalled at the Osceola 45, but three straight incompletions by Seminoles quarterback Baylor Winston gave the ball right back to the ’Rabbits at their 20.

From there, it took only two plays for Nelson to complete a screen pass to Scott, who broke a tackle at the 35 and another near midfield before streaking down the right sideline for a 78-yard touchdown.

Nelson passed to Hobson for the conversion that gave Lonoke a 21-0 lead.

“That was our game plan coming in,” Bost said.

“We had film on them, and people weren’t able to run the ball on them. We knew we were getting man-to-man coverage across the board on all the receivers, so we worked real hard to where if you could fake them inside and go outside or vice versa, we needed to make some plays there.

“I’m sure we missed some, but they were sending six or seven at Mike every time.”

Lonoke first scored on a 15-yard pass from Nelson to Linton with 3:53 left in the first quarter. Linton took the screen pass from the right side and bulled his way through the middle of the field for the score, and T.J. Scott added the extra-point to make it 7-0.

Scott led with 4 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. Hobson had 7 catches for 50 yards, his two-point conversion and his two interceptions.

Smith, held to 29 yards on the ground, had 5 receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown.

Dancy had 17 carries for 56 yards for Osceola (11-2-1), while Kelton Jacobs got most of the Seminoles’ remaining 184 yards with 76 on 17 rushing attempts.

Shiloh Christian (12-1) is the defending 4A state champion, with its only loss to 5A school Greenwood in Week 3. The Saints ended the ’Rabbits playoff run last season in a 47-7 rout, but Linton was not worried about history after Friday’s big victory.

“Anyone is beatable any given night,” he said.

SPORTS >> Lions exterminate Hornets in Classic

Searcy’s Casey Wilmath drives toward the basket during Thursday’s game with Bryant at Searcy.

Leader sportswriter

Searcy took care of its pest control issues in the Jungle on Thursday night.

The Lions beat the Bryant Hornets 51-35 in the semifinals of the Bank Classic at Searcy’s home gym, otherwise known as “The Jungle.”

The Lions (3-2) scored more in the first five minutes than in the entire second half, jumping out to what turned out to be an insurmountable 40-15 lead at halftime.

Improved Bryant defense in the third and fourth quarters broke Searcy’s early momentum, and a pesky performance by Hornet junior K-Ron Larry helped pull Bryant within 47-35 with 4:27 left to play.

Larry led the Hornets with 17 points, but Searcy junior forward Jamal Jones’ game-high 19 points proved to be the difference as he scored most of them in the first half. Jones hit six field goals in the first quarter alone and followed in the second quarter with a pair of three-pointers to account for all but two of his 19-point total.

Defense was just as strong as the offense for the Lions in the first half. Bryant found every passing lane clogged and every Hornet ball handler was swarmed, resulting in turnovers that led to easy transition points for the Lions.

“We had a big game at Batesville and had a big lead early,” Searcy coach Jim Summers said. “And they kept chipping away in the second half and we kind of got tight and let it get away. We tried to improve on that, and I think we did in some ways.”

Summers told his team at halftime that, with a 25-point lead, if the defense could keep Bryant under 25 then Searcy would win.

Mission accomplished.

“We held them to 20 in the second half, which is a good point total when we’re playing a 7A school,” Summers said.

“Offensively, we shot it like crazy in the first half, and you’re not going to do that in a night for a full game. We fell a little flat, but the kids played hard enough to win the game, and that’s what we wanted.”

Bryant’s only lead came in the opening minute when Larry hit a mid-range jumper for the first score. Searcy senior forward Luke Hoffman quickly turned that around with back-to-back three-pointers.

Jones scored inside with 4:13 left in the first quarter to put the Lions up 8-5, and sophomore Dezmund Stegall extended the lead to 11-5 with a basket with 3:27 left.

Jones got the transition game going for Searcy in the final two minutes of the first quarter. Searcy pressured Bryant at midcourt to force errors, leading to quick points for Jones.

He put in a lay-up off a steal and assist from junior Casey Wilmath to make it 17-8, and Jones got the home crowd energized with a steal and dunk for a 19-7 lead with 1:35 left in the quarter.

“We’ve really been putting a lot of emphasis in the preseason on defense and half-court man-to-man,” Summers said. “We haven’t let them play anything else. We haven’t played any zones or match-ups yet. We’re still trying to get better in our man-to-man.

“I think we’re really playing good half-court defense right now. In the second half, we didn’t shoot it well, but our defense could carry us.”

The Hornets struggled with more forced errors in the second quarter, which led to only four second-quarter points. In an effort to shake things up, the Bryant staff benched its entire starting five midway through the quarter and brought in reserves.

Jones showed off his scoring versatility in the second quarter. After doing most of his damage inside early, he moved behind the three-point line for a pair of successful shots to go with a three-pointer each for Stegall and Wilmath. Senior post Larry Kilpatrick came off the bench to contribute all of his three points during that stretch.

Jones’ game-changing performances over the past year have not gone unnoticed. Summers said Jones is receiving recruiting interest from Ole Miss, Missouri State, Southeast Missouri State and Portland State.

“He totally campaigns himself,” Summers said of Jones. “I’m willing to help kids any way I can, but he’s already getting some looks. Those guys know how to do it; no matter where you’re at, they’re going to find you.”

Wilmath added 12 points for Searcy while Stegall and Hoffman each had six.

Searcy will take on the winner of Thursday’s North Little Rock-Wynne game in the Bank Classic championship tonight at 7:30 p.m.

In other Bank Classic games, The Searcy Lady Lions advanced to the semifinal with a 63-24 rout of Little Rock Fair on Tuesday.

Searcy played Wynne Thursday to determine who will face Jonesboro in tonight’s championship game at 6 p.m.

The Beebe Lady Badgers lost their second game of the tourney to Batesville, 52-28, on Thursday night. The Lady Badgers will face either Pine Bluff or Fair in a consolation game today at 10:30 a.m.

SPORTS >> Quartet does job in Falcons victory

Aaron Cooper goes up for a jumper against Cabot’s Christian Armstrong.

Leader sportswriter

North Pulaski spread the wealth and the court in its 56-44 non-conference victory over Cabot on Tuesday night at Panther Pavilion.

The Falcons (5-0) put their speed and quickness to good use in the second half, starting the third quarter with a 7-0 run to take an 11-point lead with 5:50 left in the period. Balanced scoring also helped North Pulaski.

While Cabot (2-1) relied mostly on senior guard Alex Baker, with help inside from post Christian Armstrong, North Pulaski countered with four players who finished in double figures.

Baker led all scorers with 22 points and Armstrong finished with 11 for Cabot while North Pulaski seniors Duquan Bryant, Aaron Cooper, Kyron Ware and junior Bryan Colson all scored 10 or more.

“I feel pretty good, because this is what we worked on,” Falcons coach Raymond Cooper said. “The intensity level was there. I don’t expect to blow people out. Like I told them, I don’t care what the score is — one point, five points — I look at how you play it. The points and the score will take care of themselves.”

Bryant led the Falcons with 16 points while Cooper scored 15, Ware finished with 12 and Coulson scored 10.

“That’s what we want. We don’t want one guy with 30 points,” Cooper said. “We want it to be balanced. We don’t want a scouting report coming that says, ‘okay, you stop this guy, you stop them.’ We want you to know that if you stop one thing, we can do something else.”

The Panthers kept pace with the Falcons in the first half, but the deeper North Pulaski bench and full-court brand of basketball began to take their toll in the final two quarters.

“Tonight, we got after it,” Cooper said. “We talked and we rotated. We did the things that we practice on. And that’s what I’m looking for, because we have to continually get better. We keep finding things that we’ve got to improve on. The guys have got to stick to it and buy into it. Tonight, they followed the adjustments.”

Bryant got the Falcons started in the second half with a pair of free throws, followed by an inside basket assisted by Ware to give North Pulaski a 25-17 lead with 6:52 left in the third quarter. Ware then converted a three-point play to extend the lead to 11.

Aaron Cooper sunk his only three-pointer of the second half with 1:43 left in the third; the rest was all Bryant.

Bryant held off the Panthers’ rally in the final minute of the quarter with his inside play.

A three-pointer by Darin Jones cut the lead to 31-24, and a mid-range jumper by Baker with 1:05 left in the third made it 31-26.

Bryant answered on the next trip with a putback of his own miss and a free throw just before the end of the quarter to give the Falcons a 35-28 lead.

North Pulaski returned to its full-court press to start the fourth quarter, and got the turnovers that fed a 12-2 run.

SPORTS >> Wildcats put hit on Harrisburg

Harding Academy’s Stephen Davis makes a tackle on Zach Pretty on Friday.

Leader sports editor

SEARCY — It was cold when the game started, but Harding Academy didn’t put it on ice until the fourth quarter.

Harding Academy overcame a 12-6 halftime deficit for a 20-12 victory over Harrisburg in the 3A state quarterfinals at First Security Stadium on Friday night.

As temperatures plummeted to near freezing, Wildcats quarterback Seth Keese completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Ford with 9:21 left in the game, then Keese ran 37 yards for a score with 1:59 left and the defense held on for the victory.

“You get down to eight teams, they’re all going to be pretty good,” Wildcats coach Roddy Mote said. “We knew it was going to be a tough ballgame. We just hung in there, we didn’t relax, we just kept playing.”

After thumping Paris 43-13 in the first round, Harding Academy found itself in a much tighter game Friday.

The Wildcats, down by six at halftime, grabbed a fumble to end the Hornets’ first possession of the second half, but Keese threw an interception. Harding Academy had another drive stall at the Harrisburg 15 after a holding penalty erased a touchdown, and the third quarter ended up scoreless.

But a short punt set the Wildcats up at the Harrisburg 50 in the closing seconds of the quarter, and Harding Academy went the distance in eight plays. Keese had completions of 8 yards to James Dillard and 7 yards to William Hardin before he found Ford for the touchdown.

“We played strong. Even though we were behind, we knew we could come back,” Keese said.

Joshua Spears, who missed a field goal in the first half, kicked the extra point to give the Wildcats their first lead since the first quarter.

“We haven’t kicked a lot of field goals but he’s done a great job here the last couple weeks with our point-after touchdowns,” Mote said. “You just don’t relax and he gets another chance and he’s able to hit the two PATs.”

Harrisburg drove to the Harding Academy 39, picking up a fourth down conversion along the way, but Dillard hit receiver Jake Streeter in the left flat for a 3-yard loss on third down, and a delay of game penalty and a pass breakup by Tyler Gentry stalled the Hornets’ drive, and Harrisburg chose to punt on fourth and 18 with 5:14 left.

“Obviously you want to use the clock to your advantage and that’s what we tried to do,” Mote said.

The punt looked at first like a good decision as Harding Academy started at its 18, but Keese rushed for 7 and 8 yards and had completions of 15 yards to Hardin and 25 to Gentry before running 37 yards up the middle to make it 19-12 with 1:59 to go.
It was a play that, by Keese’s account, Mote drew up on the sideline.

“The way they were playing us defensively, we kind of schemed it,” Mote said. “Being able to draw things up is one thing but being able to draw it up and execute is another thing and the kids did a great job of executing coming out of the timeout.”

“It was a great call,” Keese said. “We had the center blocking on the nose solo and it was just a wide-open hole. I didn’t get touched.”

Another extra point by Spears provided the final margin, as Harrisburg drove to the Harding Academy 28 but had the drive end on an incompletion as a diving Turner Norsworth couldn’t catch up to Zach Davis’ sideline pass.

“To hold that offense to 12 points I think is a remarkable job,” Mote said.

As it has become a perennial player in the late rounds of the playoffs each season, Harding Academy and its spread offense have established a reputation for throwing the ball. But on Friday, it was the ground game that pulled the Wildcats through.

Keese was the leading rusher with 183 yards while Lecrone had 79, and Harding Academy had just 68 passing yards.

“That’s just part of the game plan, people maybe mistake us for a passing team,” Mote said.

“I don’t know if teams have really been noticing, but we’ve average about 200 yards rushing all year,” Keese said.

Harrisburg took its 12-6 halftime lead on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Davis to Streeter in the first quarter and a 4-yard pass from Davis to Norsworth with 16 seconds left.

Harding Academy got its only score when Keese kept on a 1-yard run for the 6-0 lead with 9:53 left in the first quarter. The Wildcats suffered Spears’ missed 26-yard field goal in the second quarter.

All conversion attempts failed in the first half while Harding Academy gained 179 rushing yards as Keese picked up 115 and Lecrone gained 64. Keese was 2 of 8 for 20 passing yards in the half and Davis was 11 of 12 for 104 yards and his two scores.

“They’re very explosive offensively, they’ve had big plays,” Mote said.

Friday, December 04, 2009

TOP STORY >> Charges grow in federal inquiry

Leader staff writer

The federal drug, weapons and public corruption case against a Cabot man who faces life in prison if convicted continues to grow.

U.S. Attorney Jane Duke of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Thomas J. Browne, special agent in charge of the Little Rock Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced this week that Ralph Francis Deleo, 64, of Somerville, Mass., has been added to a pending indictment against George W. Thompson, 64, of Cabot.

The two are charged with possessing with intent to distribute, more than 500 grams (more than one pound) of cocaine, conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and using a telephone to facilitate a felony drug transaction.

The maximum penalties for possessing with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine and conspiring to do the same are normally not less than five years and not more than 40 years imprisonment, and a fine of not more than $2 million.

Those penalties will apply to Deleo if he is convicted.

Since Thompson has two previous convictions for drug trafficking (one federal and one in Arkansas) the U.S. attorney has given notice that it intends to seek statutorily enhanced penalties against him. Thompson, who is in the Pulaski County Jail, faces enhanced penalties of not less than 10 years and not more than life imprisonment and a fine of up to $4 million.

The maximum penalty for using a communication device in a drug crime is not more than years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than one year of supervised release.

Two North Little Rock alderman, Cary L. Gaines, 63, and Samuel Gaylon Baggett, 58, also have been added to the Thompson indictment.

Gaines is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for a kickback scheme involving contracts and projects for North Little Rock. The profit from the scheme was allegedly intended to pay gambling debts owed to Thompson.

Gaines also is charged with making a false statement to FBI agents regarding conversations he had with Thompson concerning the preparation of Thompson’s tax returns.

The maximum statutory penalty for conspiring to commit wire fraud is not more than 20 years imprisonment. The maximum statutory penalty for making a false statement to federal investigating agents is not more than five years imprisonment. Each offense carries a potential fine of not more than $250,000.

“Public corruption strikes at the heart of good government,” said special agent in charge Browne. “We will continue to commit our resources in the FBI to rooting out corruption at all levels of government. We encourage anyone with knowledge of such abuse by public officials to contact our Public Corruption Hotline at 501-221-8200.”

Duke concurred, “Citizens have a right to expect, and in fact, demand, honest services from their elected officials. Municipal bidding procedures are purposely designed to protect the public health, safety and treasury in the awarding of government contracts. It is intolerable when public officials attempt to circumvent these procedures for the financial benefit of themselves and their friends.”

The charges against Baggett relate to Baggett’s role as a federally-licensed firearms dealer. The indictment alleges that Baggett sold weapons to Thompson even knowing that he was a previously convicted felon, that he didn’t keep accurate records as required and that he made false statements to agents with the FBI and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officers investigating the case.

The maximum statutory penalties for knowingly transferring a firearm to a felon and for aiding and abetting a felon in possessing a firearm are not more than 10 years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine and not more than three years of supervised release.

The maximum statutory penalties for false record-keeping by a federally licensed firearms dealer and for making a false statement are not more than five years imprisonment, not more than a $250,000 fine and not more than one year of supervised release.

Both Gaines and Baggett are tentatively scheduled to appear for plea and arraignment at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15 before U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Ray.

This investigation was conducted by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Arkansas State Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura G. Hoey.

Thompson was apprehended in Bangkok, Thailand, where he presumably fled to avoid arrest.

He made an initial appearance in Los Angeles on Nov. 6 and was returned to the Eastern District of Arkansas in the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service.

The charges against him were not made public until he was arrested. He was arraigned before federal Judge Henry L. Jones, Jr. on Tuesday.

Deleo waived identity and probable cause hearings. He is being transported to Arkansas in the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service.

TOP STORY >> Cabot armory starts

Leader staff writer

A decade-long dream became a reality Thursday morning with the groundbreaking for a $10 million armory in Cabot.

Among the 100 or so guests were Arkansas National Guard personnel; representatives from city, county, state and national government; civic leaders; business leaders; construction workers, and several of the veterans who first said Cabot needed an armory.

The participants in the groundbreaking ceremony donned hardhats and dug into a bed of soft dirt put down for that purpose while cameras flashed to balance the light from the morning sun. But even as they lined up with the other guests for the hot beverages that were served to help chase away the chill, a heavy equipment operator with Nabholz Construction revved up a backhoe and the real groundbreaking got under way.

How long construction will take was answered twice during the ceremony. One estimate, from project architect Steve Elliott, was 12 months, which means it would be completed before Mayor Eddie Joe Williams is out of office.

Although Williams didn’t start the process of getting an armory in Cabot, he made it a priority and worked with the state and Rep. Marion Berry to get funding.

That success would have likely been a plus in a second campaign for mayor, but Williams has opted instead to run for the state senate seat now held by Bobby Glover.

The second estimate from Maj. Gen. William Wofford, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, was 12 to 18 months.

Elliott, who spent 28 years as a guardsman, told the audience that he had been to armories all over the country and they are all much the same.

This one will be somewhat different, though, he said. It will have a glass front symbolizing that it is open to the public and its rock wall will be made from Arkansas stone.

Both of those elements are part of a passive heating system.

And to further cut the cost of energy at the facility by 25 to 30 percent, a geothermal heating and cooling system is part of the design.

“This is truly a great day for the Arkansas National Guard, but it’s an even greater day for Cabot,” Wofford said.

The economic impact to the area should be about $1 million a year, he said.

The mayor concurred.

“This is the biggest and best thing that has happened in Cabot in many years,” he said.

Williams gave credit to the veterans who began the effort and then insisted that he keep it moving forward. Veterans he recognized were former Mayor Joe Allman, David Hipp, Fred Campbell, Bill DeVoss, Wayne “Moose” Cullins, Gary McMillan,
Charles George, Don Elliott and Jason Carter.

All he needed to find was 15 prime acres in the middle of Cabot on highly visible land that included roads and utilities.

He thanked Gov. Mike Beebe and Sen. Bobby Glover for providing state money to pay $150,000 of the $399,000 purchase price for the land, and Berry for helping with funding for the building.

He also thanked Dr. Tony Thurman, Cabot School District superintendent, for producing the high-achieving students needed to serve in today’s military.

The 35,000-square-foot armory, officially called a readiness center, will have a classroom large enough to hold 100 soldiers and a kitchen large enough to serve 350.

The facility will be home to F Company, a Forward Support Company (FCS) for the 2-153 Infantry Battalion.

F Company is one of six companies spread over 11 armories in northeast Arkansas that report to the 2-153 Infantry Battalion Headquarters in Searcy.

F Company is responsible for re-supplying food, water and other essentials to the infantry battalion.

They also provide transportation, maintenance and mess services for the infantry battalion. F Company recently returned from a year-long deployment in Iraq along with the rest of the battalion.

EDITORIAL >> Billionaires' death tax

The U. S. House of Representatives took the first serious step toward fiscal sanity in eight years Thursday, and how pleasing it is to observe that Arkansas’ representatives made us proud — well, three of the four did. They voted to reinstate the estate tax next year, which will prevent a big surge in the federal budget deficit.

It was not a politically easy vote because the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and various rich men’s lobbies had succeeded in persuading many Americans — most of them by some accounts — that the federal government was going to tax away the poor widow’s mite through something called “the death tax.”

The estate tax has been on the books for nearly a century, but under an omnibus tax bill passed by Congress in 2001 it is scheduled to go out of existence next year, then to return in 2011 at the 2001 rates.

A Republican public-relations consultant came up with the idea nearly 20 years ago to refer to the estate tax as “the death tax” because it would lead everyone to think that the government was going to tax away much of the inheritance they intended to pass along to their heirs.

Here is the truth of that matter. Last year, only three of every 1,000 deaths in Arkansas left estates large enough that even a penny of estate tax would be owed. Under the bill passed by the House Thursday, that number will shrink even more, maybe to one in every 1,000 deaths.

No tax would be owed unless the net value of an estate exceeded $3.5 million, or $7 million for couples. The tax would be owed only on the part of an estate over $3.5 million, or $7 million.

Representatives Vic Snyder of the Second District, Marion Berry of the First District and Mike Ross of the Fourth voted for the bill. Snyder and Ross said it would restore $14 billion to the treasury starting next year and also give people some assurance about estate planning.

The tax rates and taxable thresholds will not be shifting every year as they have under the law passed by the Republican Congress and signed by President Bush in 2001. That law accounts for nearly half of the monumental $1.4 trillion deficit this year and several trillion dollars of the national debt.

Alas, Rep. John Boozman of the Third District stuck to the script. Explaining his vote against the bill, he said it was unfair for the government to tax hard-working people’s assets on their death and prevent their leaving assets to their children. He said it would mean people having to sell family farms and businesses to pay the taxes on their benefactors’ deaths.

It sounds frightening, but there is no record of people having to sell family farms to pay estate taxes, even when the taxable threshold was much lower.

The Republicans continue to raise the old shibboleths that the estate tax amounts to double taxation (a person pays income taxes on his fortune as he accumulates it and again upon his death) and that the tax is unfair to those inheriting the wealth.

Again, most of large estates have never been subject to income taxes because it is unrealized capital gains from the appreciation of stock and real estate.

If it is not subject to the estate tax, that income is never taxed even. The person inheriting the assets pays no income taxes upon them, unlike the unlucky family that has to pay state and federal income taxes upon all their income.

Now we must await the Senate. Senator Blanche Lincoln has been one of the loudest foes of the estate tax, claiming that it forces people to sell family farms to pay estate taxes. She has never been able to identify a single such instance.

If an estate is large enough to owe a tax, the heirs have 13 years in which to pay it. They will have 15 years under the House bill.

Senator Lincoln has gotten religion since voting for the mammoth tax cuts for the wealthy in 2001. Before that, the nation was running big budget surpluses and within a year of their implementation it was running big deficits.

Let us hope that her concern for the nation’s fiscal health now outweighs her concern for the handful of Arkansans who inherit vast riches each year.

We hope Governor Beebe and the Arkansas legislature take notice. Arkansas needs to restore its own estate tax, which it repealed after Congress phased out the federal tax.

If Congress restores the federal tax, Arkansas could collect a portion of it for its own depleted coffers by simply passing its own levy. It wouldn’t cost the taxpayers anything; Washington would in effect simply transfer a portion of its taxes to Arkansas.

In politics, you don’t get many choices so easy.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Huckabee our worst governor?

Leader editor-in-chief

Who is Arkansas’ worst governor?

Is it Orval Faubus, who defied federal authorities in 1957, when he wouldn’t allow nine black students to attend Central High School in Little Rock? He brought shame and ridicule on the whole state, but at least no one was killed.

Or is Mike Huckabee our worst governor ever? He freed both Wayne Dumond and Maurice Clemmons from prison. Between them, they killed six people. That should put any governor into a hall of shame.

Can you think of an Arkansas governor with a worse record? Can you think of a U.S. governor with a record like that?

Imagine having your name bracketed between Clemmons and Dumond for the rest of your life. Can Huckabee ever put the victims’ suffering out of his mind? Or their families’ suffering?

He’s an accomplice in the murders, and yet he won’t accept full blame for these atrocities.

He is still blaming others, including his own appointees to the Post Prison Transfer Board and the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

All they did was carry out his wishes for these criminals.

He keeps saying no one objected to Clemmons’ release. But many did: The parole administrator signed a form objecting to his release. Prosecutors objected the few times they were notified about his impending release.

Back then, the victims of his crimes didn’t even get a chance to object, but Huckabee didn’t care.

Huckabee freed these killers who committed the most terrible crimes. But he acts as if he were an innocent observer instead of an active agent in a bloody tragedy.

He will not say it: These six people wouldn’t be dead if he’d kept Clemmons and Dumond behind bars.

He won’t say it because he’d have a nervous breakdown if he confessed publicly. But in the middle of the night, or when he’s exercising on his treadmill, or when he’s eating his grapefruit, or when he’s making a speech on how he could make America a better country, it must hit him like a jolt to the electric chair from an executioner.

He had brazenly promised Dumond he’d get him out of prison. The governor wrote him a “Dear Wayne” letter and kept his word: Huckabee went before the parole board to help Dumond. Although Huckabee denied it for years, board members have confirmed that he did push for Dumond’s release.

As a condition for his parole, Dumond was eventually exiled to Missouri, where he killed two women, although he was tried and convicted for one murder.

People in Missouri are still wondering why they accepted Dumond. Folks in Washington state are asking themselves the same question: Who let Clemmons in, or his getaway driver, a thug named Darcus Allen?

He also drove the getaway car after a Little Rock liquor store robbery where two people were killed. Allen served less than 10 years, about the standard term, give or take a year, for violent criminals like Clemmons and Dumond.

You’d think Huckabee would have retired from office after Dumond let him down. But a year later he commuted Clemmons’ sentence to time served. The sociopath then continued his crime wave in Washington state, where he killed the four police officers in a coffee shop just outside McChord Air Force Base.

Why did Huckabee act this foolishly and risk his future political career? It was part naivete, part arrogance — he thought he could get away with it, and he did, for a long time.

Huckabee went nuts over his pardons and commutations, while most governors around the country knew it would jeopardize their careers if the public found out they were freeing rapists and killers.

He had hoped Arkansans wouldn’t catch on.

A Huckabee-friendly Arkansas Democrat-Gazette downplayed his pardons. The national media fawned over him. It took journalists like Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times, Ernie Dumas, Gene Lyons and a couple of others — we’d do an occasional expose ourselves — to unmask this fraud.

Dumas says there were some pretty bad crooks and mossbacks as governors in the 19th Century and a couple of cretins in the 20th, such as Tom Terral and the right-wing J. Marion Futrell, but they didn’t leave a trail of blood.

Huckabee’s pardons have raised the death count to six, which is why he’s our choice for Arkansas’ worst governor ever.

There’s really no competition: Isn’t it time he retired from public life and devoted his life to prayer and reflection?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

TOP STORY >> Hey, Mike, who signed Clemmons’ clemency?

Leader editor-in-chief

Mike Huckabee’s political aspirations — and perhaps his radio and TV and publishing career — came crashing down Sunday evening, when law-enforcement officials near Tacoma, Wash., realized that the man who killed four police officers earlier that day was a thug Gov. Huckabee had released from prison in 2000.

This was the same Maurice Clemmons we wrote about back in 2004 after we interviewed prosecutors who were furious with Huckabee’s over-the-top clemencies.

Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley predicted Clemmons would keep committing more crimes, but Huckabee believed Clemmons had undergone a real religious conversion and dismissed Jegley as a crank who wasn’t even a good prosecutor.

“I’ve been dreading this moment,” Jegley told us Sunday night, when it became evident that Clemmons had killed the police officers.

Two days later, an alert policeman in Seattle fatally shot Clemmons near a stolen car as he was about to fire the gun he’d stolen from one of the dead police officers.

The Arkansas thug was born in Marianna — Curtis Vance, Anne Pressly's killer, is also from there — but Clemmons was raised in Seattle before he made his way back to Little Rock, where he committed a series of violent crimes, not just a couple, as Huckabee keeps saying.

Clemmons wound up in Seattle because of his Washington roots but, his religious conversion long forgotten, kept on breaking the law, including sexually assaulting a young relative.

Huckabee now says prosecutors should have stopped him from commuting Clemmons’ 108-year sentence to time served. But he seldom notified prosecutors about his intention to grant clemency to violent criminals.

The few times he notified prosecutors and they objected, “he paid no attention,” Jegley told us. ”He went ahead and did it.”

There’s only one signature on Clemmons’ clemency papers: Huckabee’s.

If he hadn’t commuted Clemmons’ sentence, the police officers would still be alive and the man who gunned them down would still be in an Arkansas prison because he wouldn’t have been eligible for parole until 2021.

No one expected Clemmons would be captured alive, except maybe Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey of Little Rock, who had pleaded with Clemmons to turn himself in.

Humphrey is also a minister, like Huckabee, and had pushed for clemency for Clemmons. Several other ministers had successfully intervened on behalf of criminals who had supposedly found religion and turned their lives around.

Huckabee may not have realized it, as we wrote a while back, but prisoners knew how to get on the governor’s good side. It was Huckabee’s religion test. It was a sure ticket to freedom: Tell him you’ve found religion.

He was Mr. Softie, a soft touch for anyone who professed to have found Jesus — or given him a generous campaign contribution.

This is the second time a parolee killed people outside Arkansas after Huckabee let them out of prison.

Arkansas prosecutors had warned Huckabee repeatedly that he’d wind up with blood on his hands if he continued his generous commutations. He’s responsible not only for the four deaths in Washington, but for two murders in Missouri committed by another Arkansas ex-con.

He lied about his support for Wayne Dumond, who was paroled at Huckabee’s prompting, although he denies it, despite all the evidence that proves he connived to get the rapist released.

As we’ve said before, Huckabee thought Dumond was railroaded by the Clinton “machine” and lobbied publicly and behind the scenes on Dumond’s behalf.

At a highly unusual meeting with the parole board — no other governor had made an appearance there in recent memory — Huck said Dumond had gotten a raw deal and pushed for his earliest release, saying Dumond had been in prison too long.

Parole board member Charles Chastain disagreed, telling the governor, “That’s what happens when you rape a cheerleader in a small town.”

Dumond was paroled to Missouri, where he killed two women, although he was tried and convicted for just one murder before he died in prison.

Did Huckabee apologize? Not really. But he suddenly stopped issuing clemencies after we publicized the worst of his commutations, including his intention to release a murderer named Glenn Martin Green, who had kidnapped an 18-year-old woman from Little Rock Air Force Base and raped, tortured and killed her in ways you wouldn’t even imagine.

Green beat her with Chinese martial-arts sticks, raped her as she barely clung to life, ran over her with his car, then dumped her in the bayou just over the Lonoke County line.

Yet Huckabee felt sympathetic toward Green because a minister spoke well of him. But the publicity over the proposed clemency ended Huckabee’s long streak of mindless commutations and pardons.

The Legislature forced his hand and demanded that he explain why he was freeing hundreds of inmates. But he never gave a reason, apart from his conviction that they’d been reformed.

He soon left office and ran for president, winning a lot of votes and becoming a successful TV and radio talker and author.

Has he once asked himself, during his climb to fame and fortune: “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

TOP STORY >> Snyder sees progress, harsh debate ebbing

Leader senior staff writer

“I think (the health-care debate) continues to move in the right direction,” Second District Congressman Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, said Tuesday.

“The ball moves down the field. As debate proceeds, I think the bills are getting better and the public is getting more comfortable,” Snyder said. “The positive benefits of big changes are becoming more clear.”

Snyder, a Democrat, said the biggest challenge is to make the case to people who have health-care insurance and like it. He said they must understand that without reform, their insurance will get continually more expensive.

He said that many of the broadcast advertisements are designed to scare senior citizens.

“A robust public debate is going on and from the beginning of the August recess, it’s been clear that there are people out there who in the spirit of trying to defeat reform, are willing to distort reality — talking about death panels. The AARP is not stupid,” Snyder said.

The American Association of Retired People (AARP), the American Medical Association and other hospital and health groups have endorsed the reforms currently being debated.

And without reform, particularly under the weight of baby boomers, “Medicare as it stands now is not sustainable. We have to figure out how to make it safer, reduce medical errors and hospital mistakes.

“We’re not going to cut service to seniors or take away their choice of doctors,” Snyder said. “We’re going to improve services and save tax dollars to make it sustainable.”

He said the Congressional Budget Office estimates the changes would add five years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.

“The opponents look pretty sorry because their arguments are so weak in advertisements,” he said.

Snyder applauded President Barack Obama for being deliberative in plotting the path forward in Afghanistan.

“I’ve seen more uses (by Republicans) of the word dither, it must have polled well,” Snyder said.

Their arguments fell apart when retired General and Secretary of State Colin Powell praised Obama for taking his time.

“The president came in, and in March he sent in 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan,” Snyder said. “In May, he replaced the leadership and brought in one of the top generals, (Stanley) McChrystal, asked for an assessment and gave him 60 days.”

Snyder, who chairs the House military affairs subcommittee on oversight, said that committee held three hearings, heard from 12 witnesses, and “they were all over the court in terms of the direction we should take.”

“If this is what the president is hearing, no wonder it’s taking a while.

“He’s getting diverse view- points. I applaud his taking his time. It’s a pretty long-term commitment, going in a new direction.

“It’s clear that from the end of 2002 until 2008, we had severely under-resourced and undermanned the war in Afghanistan.

Now we’re having to make up for the poorly managed war.

“It’s too soon to think we can’t help them,” Snyder said of the Afghans.

Snyder said the future of the C-130 avionics-modernization upgrade program, which would put state-of-the-art electronic cockpit instrumentation in older-model planes, is still undetermined.

The Air Force wanted to cut the program, which has already cost $8 billion in development by Boeing, but the Defense Department wants it in the budget.

“Everyone recognizes the C-130 will be a crucial part of national security for decades to come,” said Snyder. “We’ll see come the first of the year.”

TOP STORY >> Santa will visit area at Christmas parades this weekend

Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus took part in last year’s parade in Ward. It is hoped they will be back again on Saturday.

Christmas parades are happening this weekend in Jacksonville, Sherwood, Beebe, Ward and Austin.


Santa’s coming to Jacksonville at 1 p.m. Saturday in a brand new sleigh accompanied by three area school bands and a slew of floats, dancers and gymnasts.

Laura Peeples of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce is excited about this year’s parade. “It’s our 52nd year. The parade is a great way to get in the Christmas spirit by watching all the children have a good time and celebrate the holiday season with their friends and families,” Peeples said.

The parade will probably last about an hour and a half and will begin at the corner of School Drive and Main Street and will end at Main and Second streets.

“Something new in the parade is Santa’s sleigh,” Peeples said.

The sleigh was built and decorated by Dave and Joy Kinman along with Blake Walker, Dalin Kinman, Don Horton and Jimmy Huffman.

“They have put many hours into the making of this wonderful addition to the parade and I will be so excited to see the looks on the kids’ faces when they see the sleigh with Santa coming down Main Street,” Peeples said.

The school bands include North Pulaski High School, Northwood Middle School and Jacksonville High School. The bands will entertain with classic Christmas music as they travel down the parade route.

There will be two different dance schools and one gym from central Arkansas that will take part in the parade activities as well as beauty queens from the Cityfest and Miss Jacksonville pageants.


Beebe’s Christmas parade will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The event is sponsored by the chamber of commerce. This year’s theme is “Christmas Stories.”

Parade floats will be judged at 5:30 p.m.

Awards will be given in four categories: civic, commercial, educational and religious.


Ward’s Christmas parade will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Participants will line up at 4 p.m.

After the parade, there will be a tree-lighting ceremony at city hall.

Following the ceremony, refreshments will be served in the city gym with an auction hosted by the Back Alley Youth Center.

Entry applications for the parade are available at the reception office at Ward City Hall.

For more information, call 501-843-7686.


Sherwood’s Christmas parade will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6.

This year’s theme is “The Stars of Christmas.”

The event is sponsored by the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce. For more information, call 501-835-7600.


Cabot’s parade starts at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13 with a theme of “A Red, White & Blue Christmas.”

The grand marshals will be Cabot veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert-Storm and Iraqi-Freedom.

The Arkansas Military Vehicles Preservation Association will have a number of jeeps and vintage military trucks in the parade.

TOP STORY >> Two area schools are making gains

Leader staff writer

Harris Elementary School and Jacksonville Middle School are among schools across the state that saw the most improvement last year based on benchmark and other annual state tests.

In its final report on the 2009 benchmark and other tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act, the University of Arkansas’ Office of Education Policy focused on schools making the greatest gain from 2008 to 2009.

Harris Elementary, located on Hwy. 161 just south of Sherwood, was in a three-way tie for fourth-most improved elementary school in the state in the area of mathematics.

In 2008, the school had just 29 percent of its students scoring proficient or advanced in math. It jumped 19 percent in 2009 with 48 percent of its students making the grade.

The top elementary school in the state in math was Lucilia Wood Elementary in Marvell, improving 33 percent.

Harris was the most improved school in the central region.

In the area of literacy, Harris once again made solid gains, landing in a two-way tie for seventh best in the state and third in the region.

In 2008, 28 percent of Harris students scored proficient or advanced in literacy and that jumped to 44 percent in 2009.

Lucilia Wood was the top gainer in literacy too, moving from 14 percent to 59 percent proficient or advanced.

Jacksonville Middle School was the fifth most-improved middle school in the central region in literacy, moving up 11 points from 50 percent proficient or advanced to 61 percent.

The middle school’s girls campus improved 39 points on its end-of-course algebra scores, making it the fifth-most improved in the state and second in the region. In 2008, 55 percent of its students scored proficient or advanced in algebra, while in 2009 that figure jumped to 94 percent.

Federal law requires all students to be 100 percent proficient or advanced at their grade level or subject matter by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

Based on correct answers, students are rated as advanced, proficient, basic or below basic.

An advanced student, according to the grading scale, needs little help, is working above grade level and is ready for the next grade.

A proficient student is working on grade level and needs help from time to time. A proficient student is also ready for the next grade.

A basic student may or may not be working on grade level and needs help correctly completing grade-level work. According to state lawm, a basic student can be retained.

A student working at a below basic level is having extreme difficult with grade-level work and needs lots of assistance. The student may also be retained.

The mission of the Office for Education Policy, since its inception in 2003, has been to look at pressing issues through the lens of academic research and disseminate its findings to educators, policymakers and other stakeholders around Arkansas.

“Every once in a while, however, we think it is okay to stray from issue analysis and simply share some good news. Throughout this report, we have highlighted outstanding schools in Arkansas,” said Bentley Kirkland, one of the authors of the report.

TOP STORY >> Where is your alderman?

Leader staff writer

Two aldermen in Sherwood have disconnected or wrong numbers listed on city or county Web sites for their constituents to contact them, and none have e-mail addresses listed.

After some residents complained about not being able to talk to city officials, The Leader placed calls to aldermen in Cabot, Sherwood and Jacksonville using phone numbers posted on city or county Web sites.

The numbers listed for Sherwood Aldermen Keith Rankin and Dr. Steven Fender were “disconnected or no longer in service.”

No phone numbers are listed for Sherwood aldermen on the city Web site; only their home addresses are listed. But the Pulaski County Clerk’s Office maintains a list of aldermen’s phone numbers on its Web site.

The listing, however, is outdated because it still lists David Henry as an alderman. Henry opted not to run for re-election last year and Kevin Lilly has been the alderman from that ward since January.

The number listed for Rankin on at least two files on the county site, 835-9629, has been disconnected or is no longer in service. A check through local phone books and Yahoo! People Search produced the same phone number.

Another number listed under Rankin’s full name, Richard Keith Rankin, 835-7593, was also disconnected.

The city clerk has a work number and e-mail address for Rankin and the mayor has a cell-phone number, but how do citizens connect to him?

Fender’s number, 834-0474, also listed in a number of locations on the county Web site, was disconnected or no longer in service.

He can be reached through his chiropractic service, which is across the street from Sherwood’s city hall complex.

All the other Sherwood aldermen either answered their phones or had answering machines that identified themselves.

“I’ve never failed to call someone back,” Alderman Becki Vassar said.

Alderman Sheila Sulcer echoed the same sentiment. “I return all my calls and always try to be available.”

Butch Davis, another Sherwood alderman, was appalled that citizens couldn’t get hold of city officials. “If someone has a complaint, we’ve got to be available to listen to it,” he said.

All of Jacksonville’s aldermen seem to have valid phone numbers on the city Web site. All listed e-mail addresses except Reedie Ray.

Ray’s phone had voicemail that identified him. Kenny Elliott’s phone message, although personalized, didn’t identify him.

Kevin McCleary’s voicemail only repeated back his phone number, and Avis Twitty had no message machine connected to her phone.

Alderman Bob Stroud said he had some problems a while back when he switched phone service.

“My last four numbers were 7784, but the new company couldn’t give me the four, so now my numbers are 7788,” Stroud explained, so for a little while some people were getting a wrong number instead of reaching him, he said.

The only Cabot alderman who was unreachable on the number given for him on the city’s Web site was Tom Armstrong.

His number was a fax machine belonging to a traveling nurse.

In the nine months that Julie Barnes and her husband, Michael, have had their phone number, she says only about five calls have been for her.

“We are getting all sorts of calls and faxes, including ones for Armstrong,” she said, adding that on a recent vacation they had to turn off the fax machine. “If we didn’t, we would have run out of ink from all the faxes.”

Armstrong has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Phone numbers for the rest of the Cabot council checked out, although both Eddie Cook and Jon Moore had answering machines that only gave out the phone number and not their names, making it hard for residents to know for sure that they had the right number. Rick Prentice also had an answering machine, but it gave his name.

Moore said he thought he had a personalized message on his phone. “I’ve got a new I-Phone and haven’t figured it all out yet,” he said.
Moore said he would put a personalized message on his phone quickly because he didn’t want to miss any calls.

Alderman Eddie Long said he was available 24-7 on his phone. “I just came back from my daughter’s wedding in Alabama,” Long said Monday, “and I took three calls while down there. I don’t hide.”

Ann Gilliam said, “I always answer my phone, I can promise that.”

Lisa Brickell, who called back after a message was left on her machine which had a personalized message, said the number listed on the city Web site was her “home, cell, everything” number and she always calls people back.

EDITORIAL >> Huckabee self-destructs

A few days ago, Republicans were more apt to view Mike Huckabee as a suitable candidate for president than any of the other prospects, including Sarah Palin, whose book tour was eclipsing his own. Today, that is mere history.

He will not be Arkansas’ second president or even his party’s nominee.

That is a crass way to think about the tragedy in Tacoma, Wash., where an ex-convict from Pulaski County who had been freed from a life sentence by Huckabee executed four young police officers who were having coffee before beginning their patrols.

But there is an insatiable desire to assess accountability when these things happen, and our former governor cannot and did not escape his large share of it.

Huckabee survived Wayne Dumond’s murders and made himself the knight of the powerful religious wing of the Republican Party, but the blood of six innocent people cannot be charmed away.

(You remember Wayne Dumond, who murdered two women in Missouri after Huckabee made him eligible for immediate parole from Cummins Prison.)

Huckabee’s boss, Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, can explain to him how this works. Ailes, the media consultant to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, came up with the Willie Horton ads, which doomed the presidential campaign of Gov. Mike Dukakis in 1988.

William Horton (Ailes changed his name to “Willie” so that people would know that he was a black man) committed rape and robbery while he was on a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison.

They tested that knowledge in focus groups and found that it turned voters against Dukakis, so they saturated the airwaves with ads of a black man walking through swinging cell doors.

Dukakis didn’t personally furlough Horton. Huckabee personally granted clemency to Dumond, Maurice Clemmons and others who resumed their criminal careers. There is a sympathetic and tragic side to Huckabee’s own fall. He never wanted or expected the men he liberated — 167 in his 10 years as governor — to resume their crime sprees.

He acted always out of Christian charity, he said. He said he knew that the politically safe thing to do was to rarely use his clemency power, as Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Beebe seldom did, but the Bible instructed him to be compassionate and to forgive.

We never quarreled with his compassion but with his judgment. If a convict could get the governor’s ear and convince him that he had found Jesus and turned his life around or he could get a preacher to intercede with the governor, he was apt to go free.

Clemmons, who killed the four officers in Tacoma, wrote Huckabee in 2000 that he had discovered Jesus and he prayed that God would move the governor to reduce his 108-year sentence to time served.

Huckabee never said whether he sought God’s guidance, as he often did, or whether he assumed that Clemmons had gotten through to God. Cell conversions have a magnificent history in Arkansas.

Many will remember James Dean Walker, Arkansas’ most celebrated criminal before Dumond. Walker, a Las Vegas thug, was in Pulaski County on some criminal errand in 1963 when he killed a cop after a chase down Hwy. 165 toward England.

He found Jesus in prison, developed a big ministerial following and while on a prison furlough to witness for Christ he escaped and started a new life of crime in California.

We would be more sympathetic if Huckabee had followed the biblical injunctions about bearing false witness and accepting blame as devoutly as he did those about charity and forgiveness.

Instead, as he did with Dumond, he blamed everyone else: the boards he appointed that recommended clemency for Clemmons and carried out the governor’s wishes, prosecutors, the Pulaski County judge who supported Clemmons’ plea over the objections of victims, the prosecutor and the parole administrator, and judges in the state of Washington who let him go free in the midst of a crime spree.

To tell his side, Huckabee on Monday arranged to go on the Bill O’Reilly show, where his friend questioned him ever so gingerly. He fudged the details, claiming that Clemmons had gotten those 108 years in prison for only two crimes (there were eight).

He explained that he had been moved by Clemmons’ account that he was only 16 when he did some of the stuff and that he had turned his life around. He said he grieved for the families of the dead officers, but O’Reilly would not let him accept responsibility, not a bit.

O’Reilly said it was the fault of prosecutors and the judges in Washington who let him go free on bond. He was furious with them. It was the failure of the criminal justice system in two states, Huckabee said.

That’s it! The system is to blame. So now Huckabee can wash his hands of it and continue his book tour.

SPORTS >> Wildcats are stoking home fires in playoffs

Harding Academy receiver Tyler Gentry tries to shake a tackle on Friday night.


Leader sportswriter

Harrisburg has the potential to be the toughest test to date for Harding Academy when it plays host to the Hornets in the 3A state quarterfinals at First Security Stadium this Friday.

The Hornets (11-1) suffered their only loss to eventual 3-3A Conference champion Rivercrest, 44-28, in Week 4. The loss wound up making Harrisburg the conference’s No. 2 seed.

The Hornets advanced through the first round with a 56-42 victory over Jessieville and made the quarterfinals by beating Harmony Grove 34-7 last Friday.

“They’re a real good football team,” Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said. “They have a good blocking and running game, and they have talented receivers. They’re really aggressive on defense.

“They’ve played against several run-oriented teams in their conference and did well.”

The Wildcats (11-0) ended three weeks of inactivity and the Paris Eagles’ season on Friday with a 43-13 rout in the second round. Harding Academy took early control as Paris hurt its cause with five fumbles, two of which were on kickoffs following Wildcat scores.

Harding Academy, like all teams in the 3A classification, had to wait a week for Lamar’s playoff eligibility issue to be resolved through a court decision that reinstated Lamar for the postseason.

Any concerns about Harding Academy — which also had a first-round bye — being off for so long were quickly put to rest last week when quarterback Seth Keese connected with Tyler Gentry for a 63-yard touchdown pass in the first 30 seconds of the game. Landry Shipman then recovered a fumble at the Paris 27 on the ensuring kickoff to set up a long touchdown run by Keese with 10:56 left in the first quarter.

“I know the kids were ready to play,” Mote said. “We wanted to go out and play hard, and I felt like we did that. We had a few blown plays and some penalties, but we were able to create some turnovers and capitalize on them.

“It was just good to actually play.”

Keese and the Wildcat offense have turned in hefty numbers through the first 11 games. The junior quarterback has completed 142 of 214 pass attempts for 2,146 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He also has 685 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 92 carries.

That puts Keese just behind leading rusher Ben Lecrone, who has 688 yards and 12 touchdowns on 99 carries.

Gentry tops the receiving category with 42 catches for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns. James Dillard is the Wildcat who comes close to Gentry’s numbers with 26 receptions for 344 yards and two scores.

“I’ve felt like we’ve been pretty balanced,” Mote said. “You get in certain situations where you have to try and attack a defense, and sometimes it’s the running game and other times the passing game that is productive.

“You don’t always get big plays in the game; it just turned out that we had some against Paris.”

The Wildcats’ undefeated run through the 2-3A Conference has given them home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

There has been debate recently over the real value of playing at home but, home or away, Mote is just glad to still be taking the field — any field — on Friday nights.

“We enjoy playing at home,” Mote said. “And it’s good to get the opportunity to do that. But basically whatever situation we’re in will be good. If we have to play on the road, that’s okay too.

“It’s just great to be in the playoffs. Sometimes there are factors you just have to overlook and just go play.”

SPORTS >> NLR rallies by Abundant Life

Mike Stramiello tries a reverse layup against North Little Rock on Monday.

Leader sportswriter

David did not slay Goliath on Monday night, but he sure gave him all he wanted.

Abundant Life, from the 5-2A North Conference, led 7A Central powerhouse North Little Rock from the second quarter, when there was 4:35 left, until there was 4:48 left in the third. But a 14-point third quarter by Charging Wildcats forward Reggie Bryles changed the momentum as North Little Rock won 62-53 in the first round of the Searcy Bank Classic at Searcy High School.

The Owls (10-3) fell behind early but rallied in the second quarter. Senior post Garrett Southerland tied it 18-18 when he made a three-pointer with 5 minutes left in the half, and Abundant Life went on to a 31-23 lead at halftime.

But the Wildcats outscored their smaller foes 29-14 in the third quarter, and got big breaks in the final two minutes when the Owls got good outside looks but their shots fell short after it had become a two-possession game.

“We had some roll out on us,” Owls coach Tim Ballard said. “And they hit everything in the third quarter. They had a huge third quarter; we kind of adjusted to their three-point shooting a little late.”

Bryles, who had just three points in the first half, began his heroics with 7:41 left in the third quarter when he hit the first of the four three-pointers he made in the period. He then followed a Southerland jumper that made it 32-26 Owls with another three-pointer that closed the gap to four.

Senior guard Cameron Slayton answered with a three-pointer for Abundant Life, and Southerland scored on an inbounds play, with an assist by Mike Stramiello, following another North Little Rock three-pointer to keep the Owls in front 38-22 with 5:56 left in the quarter.

“We didn’t know them well enough to know he could go on a streak like he did,” Ballard said of Bryles’ third-quarter performance. “We know now if we have to play them again.”

North Little Rock went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 38, and a floater in the lane by post player Mike Malvin gave the Wildcats their first lead of the second half with 3:59 to go in the third.

Bryles added two more three-pointers as the Wildcats began to pull away, taking a 52-45 lead into the final quarter.

But the Owls didn’t quit in the last 8 minutes. The Wildcats expanded their lead to nine, but free throws by George Herring and another three-pointer by Southerland cut it to 54-50 with 5:47 left, and a three-pointer by junior guard Ryan Johnson made it a one-point game with 5:08 to go.

North Little Rock threw the ball away on its next possession, which gave Abundant Life a chance to reclaim the lead. But a missed three-pointer and two missed free throws by the Owls led to an inside shot by Malvin for North Little Rock.

Bryles iced it with 1:55 left when he hit the last of his six three-pointers to finish with a game-high 20 points.

Southerland led the Owls with 17 points, with 11 for Stramiello. Herring finished with 9 while Johnson and Slayton each had 8.

For the Wildcats, Malvin had 15.

Benton 52, Beebe 30

The Badgers suffered their first setback of the season as Benton took a 52-30 victory in the first round of the Searcy Bank Classic on Monday night.

The Badgers (1-1) tried to compete for rebounds, but the larger Hornets had their way inside. That was especially true on the offensive end in the second half.

Sophomore forward Brandon Jones led the Badgers with 10 points. Junior guard Scot Gowen, who played football this fall, scored seven points and was 5 of 8 from the free-throw line.

SPORTS >> Cabot will have many cleats to fill next year

Quarterback Seth Bloomberg (8) is one of several key players Cabot must replace next season.


Leader sports editor

At least Cabot won a playoff game this year.

That may be little consolation to the Panthers as they head into the offseason, but it will have to do until the 2010 version of the team takes the field.

Springdale Har-Ber knocked Cabot out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year, beating the Panthers 14-10 on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left at Panther Stadium on Friday.

The loss followed Cabot’s second-round, 38-7 victory over Conway the previous week. It was the first playoff game the Panthers seniors had won, and now the group departs leaving several large holes in the roster for coach Mike Malham to fill.

“I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in losing a game you had won there until the end,” Malham said. “That’s just the way it goes. These seniors had a good career; they won 26 games in three years, which isn’t bad. Went to the playoffs all three years, two conference championships and a final four this year.

“But you can always look back and say it could have been a little better but that’s the way it goes.”

Among those scheduled to graduate in the spring are three-year starting quarterback Seth Bloomberg; linebacker Spencer Neumann, the school tackles leader; fullback Michael James, the unofficial all-time rushing leader in 7A; kicker/defensive back Logan Spry, who gave Cabot its 10-7 lead with a 25-yard field goal on Friday; defensive backs Joe Bryant and Alex Bray; halfbacks Matt Bayles and Hunter Sales; nose guard T.J. Bertrand and two-way linemen Jay Turpin, Taylor Wright, Jay Verkler, Cody Beeler, Cole Lockwood, Walt James and Robert Evans.

And that’s just a partial list.

“This is a good group of seniors,” Malham said. “Five or six of these kids have been starting for three years. We’re going to miss them.”

The Panthers have sophomores Hayden Faught, Robert Morris and Zach Craig listed at quarterback, along with junior Zach Brown. And it remains to be seen who will surface to contend for the job from the junior high ranks.

Cabot has several backs returning to run in the Panthers’ dead T offense, including fullback Spencer Smith, who rushed for over 1,000 yards while James was banged up at times this season, and halfback Jeremy Berry, who had significant playing time this year.

James missed the start of the season with a shoulder injury and missed further playing time because of a sprained ankle. But he became the workhorse late as Smith suffered an ankle injury of his own.

James entered the Har-Ber game needing 98 yards to surpass Fort Smith Southside’s Daniel McGee for the 7A career rushing record of 3,697 yards. Unofficial statistics gave James exactly 98 yards Friday and the official count was 102, which assured him of being the all-time leader.

“I think that got him there,” Malham said.

Neumann, who also saw time at halfback this year, surpassed the 307 tackles he needed for the all-time Cabot record in the first-round playoff game with Conway.

“It was a lot of fun and I’ll always remember this,” said Neumann, who said he was leaning toward accepting a scholarship offer from Central Arkansas. “It’s a blast. I just hate how it ended.”

The blot on Cabot’s regular season was a stunning, 35-7 loss in the mud at Bryant in Week 8, but the Panthers bounced back to trounce Van Buren 55-14, then won a back-and-forth season finale at Russellville 26-24 to take the 7A-Central and earn a first-round playoff bye.

The Panthers outscored their opponents an average 15 points. The offense averaged 27.5 points a game while the defense allowed an average 12.0.

Against Har-Ber, the Panthers allowed fewer than 50 yards rushing and showed a willingness to gamble with two fake punts, both unsuccessful but harmless.

“I didn’t call the perfect game. Nobody’s going to call the perfect game and nobody’s going to play the perfect game,” Malham said.

Spry was nursing a pulled quadriceps muscle and was replaced on kickoffs by Zach Wood, but he had no problems on his successful field goal attempt.

“He’s been clutch all year right there,” Malham said of Spry.

Cabot will be a spectator as Har-Ber plays Southside for the state championship, then the Panthers will get back to work as they prepare for next season.

“When you get down to the top four teams, the top eight teams, anybody can win it,” Malham said. “You’ve just got to play well at all times; you’ve got to have a little luck. I don’t know, it wasn’t meant to be.”

SPORTS >> Osceola is Lonoke’s Little Rock road block

Leader sportswriter

If the 4A state playoffs had a disco theme, Lonoke’s fight song could be the Bee Gees’ classic “Stayin’ Alive.”

Staying alive is exactly what the Jackrabbits have done through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Another week of survival in the semifinals at Osceola this Friday will earn the Jackrabbits a trip to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for a shot at the state title.

Lonoke (10-3) earned the No. 3 seed out of the 2-4A Conference after losing early league games to Heber Springs and Bald Knob, but it did earn a first-round playoff game at home against Clarksville.

The Jackrabbits easily beat the Bulldogs 48-21 to advance to the second round, but have dodged one mishap after another the past two weeks.

Lonoke’s second-round matchup at Warren went to the wire, with Warren falling just short on a long field-goal attempt at the end to give the Jackrabbits a 28-26 victory. Lonoke then had to come back from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter at Malvern last week to beat the Leopards 21-20, making it eight straight victories for the Jackrabbits.

“The defense hung in there,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “The defense held them inside the 5 and made them turn it over on downs one time and kick a field goal the other time, which was huge for us.

“I knew when it was 20-7 that we had a shot to make it 21-20, and that’s how it turned out for us.”

Osceola (11-1-1) is three games up on Lonoke in the winning streak category. The Seminoles tied Blytheville 22-22 to start the season and lost 18-3 to Dumas in Week 2, but have since won 11 straight.

Their unbeaten run through the 3-4A Conference gave the Seminoles their second consecutive league title and the conference’s No. 1 playoff seed.

“I’ve been telling everyone their skill guys look like Jamaican sprint runners and their linemen look like Russian shot-put throwers,” Bost said. “They’ll line up in that wishbone and run straight at you or try to get to the corners with a sweep. They have four guys on the line that are 300 pounds or more, and other guys that can run.”

A touchdown pass from Michael Nelson to Morgan Linton, followed by a late touchdown run by Brandon Smith gave the Jackrabbits just enough points Friday to advance, but it was the revitalized play of the Jackrabbit defense in the second half that stopped the Leopards after they scored two touchdowns in the first half.

“We made some minor adjustments,” Bost said. “But mainly we were just missing tackles. We didn’t have near the missed tackles in the second half. This week, we’re going to have to tackle well, because if you miss those guys, they’re going to be gone the other way quick.”

Friday was also an inopportune time for junior defensive tackle Antwane Wilkerson to suffer a wrist injury. Wilkerson, at 265 pounds, is the Jackrabbits’ biggest lineman.

Bost did not think the injury was significant enough to keep Wilkerson off the field and said Wilkerson didn’t have medical treatment over the weekend.
Lonoke’s close calls, clutch rallies and defensive stops of the past two weeks have tested the Jackrabbits in almost every imaginable scenario, which should help with Lonoke ahead, Bost said.

“I think that’s good,” Bost said. “Every time we’ve encountered those situations, we kept fighting.

“When you get this far into the playoffs, those situations are a good thing to have experienced. It can really help us out this time of year.”