Friday, December 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Hospital offering diabetes counseling

Leader editor

More help is available to people with diabetes and their loved ones now that White County Medical Center has announced that it will offer an insulin-pump support group. The group will be open to everyone. Participants don’t have to be on a pump to join. People of all ages are welcome, including children, and parents, spouses and relatives of pump users are also invited to join.

“The insulin pump is programmed to work like a pancreas,” said Julie Smith, a certified diabetes educator at WCMC who will run the group. The pancreas is the body’s organ that produces insulin, a hormone critical to metabolizing food. Smith trains users on four different insulin pump models.

“The way it works is it gives a small amount of basal insulin all the time to maintain normal blood sugars,” she said. Users are constantly connected to the device, which is usually about the size of a pager.

Pumps also secrete insulin on a user’s demand to cover meals. “(The) pancreas reads the amount of sugar in the blood stream and gives the proper amount of insulin based on that,” she said.

Today, technology imitates much of what the diabetic body is unable to do. Glucose monitors read sugar in the blood and many pumps automatically calculate how much insulin to give based on a monitor’s reading.

Patients with Type I and Type II use insulin pumps.

They are more commonly used by people with Type I, previously known as juvenile diabetes, because their pancreases no longer produce insulin. Patients with Type II, previously known as adult-onset diabetes, either don’t produce enough insulin or their bodies don’t respond to the insulin they are producing.

But Type II patients who are injecting insulin through syringes can consider a pump for treatment.

“(Pumps) are the best way to control blood sugar,” Smith said. Benefits include fewer complications that diabetics risk if they have untreated, chronically high blood sugars. Such complications include neuropathy and kidney and eye disease.

Smith decided to form the group after a member of a diabetes support group at WCMC asked if starting one for people with insulin pumps would be possible.

“Most people have gotten trained on them,” Smith said about the pumps.

But there’s often more to learn about the sophisticated equipment. She wants the support group to be an outlet for patients to expand their knowledge on the pump’s use and to share their experiences with each other.

Smith said most insurance plans cover the pump.

The next support group will meet at 2 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 11 in the No. 4 north conference room. For questions and more information, call Smith at 501-380-3455.

TOP STORY >> Heroic Sylvan Hills principal honored

Sylvan Hills High School principal Danny Ebbs was declared a hero by the Red Cross after he gave CPR to a motorcycle accident victim, saving the man’s life. 

Leader staff writer

Sylvan Hills High School principal Danny Ebbs said he didn’t hesitate for a moment to help when he came upon an injured man lying facedown in the interstate on a blistering hot day last July.

He and a buddy were driving down I-540 near Fayetteville on their way back from a golf tournament – “to relax a little before school started” – when they saw the man sprawled in the middle of the highway beside a demolished motorcycle. It looked like a hit-and-run. Cars were swerving wildly, and a crowd had gathered on the shoulder, gawking.

“There was a huge line of cars on the shoulder, and no one was aiding the man,” Ebbs recounted. “Women were crying. There was a lot of observing, but no one was helping. I told Bill we needed to stop and see what we could do.”

Ebbs’ swift action in administering CPR is credited with saving the man’s life. He and his friend Bill Barnes were among 24 Arkansans who on Nov. 3 were honored at the American Red Cross’ annual Faces of Heroism celebration in Little Rock.

Ebbs claims that he did what anyone else would do, if they had the necessary expertise in first aid and CPR. As a former coach and physical-education instructor at Henderson State University and Arkansas Tech, he was required to know both. So, as Barnes directed traffic, Ebbs assessed the man’s vital signs and injuries – a broken arm, broken leg and a neck so swollen that the man was barely breathing. At the hospital, it would be determined the man also had six broken ribs and a punctured lung.

He spent five days in intensive care.

“I cut the strap on his motorcycle helmet to open up passageways and got his helmet off, then a retired nurse stopped,” Ebbs said.

Together, they rolled the very large man over so that Ebbs could begin CPR.

“At that point, he had no pulse,” Ebbs said.

The nurse cradled the man’s head in her lap while Ebbs performed CPR. Then emergency vehicles began arriving, as Ebbs finished a second set of compressions.

“By the time he was loaded in the ambulance, he was breathing on his own,” Ebbs said.

“We talked about what happened all the way back to Little Rock,” Ebbs said.

Looking back on that day, Ebbs says he acted without “a second thought.” He insists that what he did was nothing special or out of the ordinary.

“I am not an exception; I feel like a lot of people would do the same thing,” he said.

Exceptional or not, Ebbs’ actions saved the man’s life.

“I got a call that night from his wife; she told me, ‘You just saved eight children’s grandfather.’”

TOP STORY >> Clark’s letter faults the teachers’ union

Leader staff writer

The board president of the Pulaski County Special School District sent out a two-page letter Friday to teachers, parents and patrons to “clarify what has been in the news.”

Additionally, lawyers for the district and the teachers’ union, the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, met with Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday morning over the union’s breach of contract lawsuit.

In the long letter, Tim Clark blames PACT for the current problems and the Dec. 10 one-day walkout. “The teachers’ union may have called the strike to send a message to the school board (nearly 700 teachers walked out on their students), but the overwhelming message received by the board and the public was that the union’s focus was not on our students,” he wrote.

“I have been asked how teachers can consider a walkout when so many Americans are unemployed. This is hard to understand in a tough economy where jobs are scarce for many people.”

Clark continued, “We don’t believe the way the union is negotiating is best for our district and students. To approve an 80-page contract without reading it would have been irresponsible.”

He said the board members had only a short time to review the new contract with an expert. “I think the union overstepped its bounds by insisting that something be ratified when we had only 90 minutes apiece to review it with our professional negotiator.”

Clark further blames the union for costing the district money that would have been spent on the students. “Attorney’s fees over the lawsuit initiated by the PACT against the district will certainly be an additional expense; these additional expenses for the district and for PACT itself represent money that would be better spent on our children,” he said.

He added that the hiring of 20 permanent substitutes doesn’t constitute an added expense for the district. “We will spend that money one way or the other due to teacher absences.”

Clark said in an emergency meeting last week the board did agree to pay substitutes $100 a day if the teachers have another walkout or go on strike. “This will help recruit quality individuals and more of them.”

The board president said the district does value its teachers. “Not recognizing a union as a collective bargaining agent does not take away whatsoever from recognizing how hard teachers work each and every day and how much they are valued. That is why — even after we voted to decertify the union — we wanted to give teachers the two percent raise and additional insurance benefits.”

Clark’s letter never addresses that the board decertified the union because of remarks that a bus driver made at the Dec. 8 meeting that were perceived by the board as threats.

TOP STORY >> Thunderbirds to appear at air show

The Thunderbirds, the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, will headline the Little Rock Air Force Base Air Show next October.

For the first time in five years, the Thunderbirds, the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, will headline the Little Rock Air Force Base Air Show, which is set for Oct. 9-10 next year.

This is the Thunderbirds’ first performance here since 2005. The team has local ties to the area; Hot Springs native Maj. Rick Goodman flies the team’s Opposing Solo as Thunderbird No. 6 and Capt. (Dr.) Thomas Bowden, a former base flight surgeon, is now the team’s flight surgeon, or Thunderbird No. 9.

The open house gives the base the opportunity to showcase its mission as the world’s largest C-130 training base and dazzle spectators with amazing aerial and ground events from all branches of the U.S. armed forces from varying eras.

In what is known as a “combat capabilities” exercise, the base’s own C-130 aircraft will show what they do in combat: paratroopers will jump in an exciting display of military power and they’ll drop heavy equipment and other cargo.

The 2010 open house and air show also coincides with the base’s 55th year of existence in central Arkansas. The base officially opened Oct. 9, 1955. Little Rock Air Force Base pumps more than half a billion dollars annually into the local economy.

The open house and air show are free and open to the public. Base officials anticipate more than 200,000 people will attend the October event.

Updates to the 2010 open house schedule, including the air show line up, can be found at

For more information about the Thunderbirds, visit

TOP STORY >> Cabot woman turns 100 years old

Lillian McCurry of Cabot turned 100 years old last Saturday. She is seated next to Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and her children, Allen Truett McCurry of Maumelle, Bernice Burns of Cabot and Laquita Wisner of Star City. 
Leader staff write

Lillian McCurry of Cabot celebrated her 100th birthday last Saturday with family and friends at the home of her daughter Bernice and her husband Lawrence Burns.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams made a visit during the celebration and proclaimed the day as Lillian McCurry day in the city.

McCurry’s other children are another daughter, Laquita Wisner of Star City, and a son, Allen Truett McCurry of Maumelle, who all came to wish their mom a happy birthday.

Lillian McCurry has nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Lillian McCurry was born Dec. 12, 1909. She was the seventh child of Hila and Alvis Luker. She had 20 brothers and sisters. McCurry has only one living sister, Versal Messer, 88, of Oklahoma City, Okla.

She grew up on a 750-acre farm at Luker’s Corner in Yell County near Plainview. The farm was self-sufficient. On the farm were apple and peach orchards. The family raised sheep and horses. They grew corn and cotton.

McCurry went to Yell County schools up to the eighth grade, the highest grade taught at the school.

McCurry married the late Rev. Allen McCurry in 1927, when they were both 18. They were married for 46 years.

McCurry attended Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia for two years.

She taught school in Gassville during the Second World War.

After teaching a few years, McCurry helped her husband in his mission work. Allen McCurry lead congregations in Yell County, Perryville, Monticello, Searcy, Conway and Little Rock.

Her husband led congregations for 46 years until retiring in 1975. They moved back to Plainview, where he preached at a local church. Allen passed away 18 months later.

Lillian lived in Plainview by herself for 27 years until moving to Cabot Manor Nursing Home in 2003.

She was always active in church. For 53 years, she taught Bible studies. She also organized women’s missionary societies, teaching Bible classes.

McCurry also sang in the church choir.

She also ministered to the congregation.

Sunday mornings, she greeted and welcomed each church member. She asked about their well-being.

After her husband’s passing, she taught Bible studies to adults each Sunday night for 13 years.

According to Bernice Burns, her mother “believed that education and Christianity went hand in hand, one helping to spread the other.”

Her mother once said, “I am so glad I have spent my life telling people how to get into Heaven.”

“She told us lots of stories. When our dad was gone out of town to preach, we would climb in her bed and she would tell us stories until we went to sleep. They always had a moral and the good guys always won in the end,” Burns said.

McCurry had an ear for music. She played the guitar and the piano. She taught her children how to sing and play music. When she was 90 years old, she wrote the music and lyrics to “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! What a Savior.”

Burns said her mother has had a healthy life. She loved fresh vegetables from her garden and ate little meat. McCurry would take an afternoon nap and went to bed by 9 p.m.

McCurry did not smoke or drink alcohol and she limited her caffeine intake. She believed in eating three meals a day and no eating in between. McCurry thought of sandwiches as “snack” foods, Burns said.

“On days that we walked home from school in the cold weather she would always have cookies made or maybe a hot sweet potato to hold us over till supper. She loved sweets and made lots of pies,” Burns recalled.

Burns recalled how her mother was a strict disciplinarian.

“Sometimes when we complained about our household chores, she would say in a ‘singing’ voice, ‘Do your best, take a rest and sing yourself a song.’

“If we didn’t start doing the job immediately without complaining, we would get the switch on our legs. She was not a hard mother; but she had a strong understanding of what was right and what was wrong and taught her children accordingly,” Burns said.

Burns is a retired registered nurse who worked at Rebsamen Medical Center until the 1990’s. Her sister is a retired junior high history teacher who taught classes in Pine Bluff.

Her brother Allen is a retired school principal. For 33 years he was principal at several schools, including Pinewood Elementary and Murrell Taylor Elementary in Jacksonville.

EDITORIAL >> Quorum court drops the ball

Is incompetence too strong a word? Let’s make it lack of diligence. The Pulaski County government — in this case the library system — must dig itself out of a hole owing to the bumbling of county officials. To be specific: County Judge Floyd “Buddy” Villines and the quorum court.

The Arkansas Supreme Court in a ruling that anyone should have anticipated said the county had illegally collected more than a million in real and personal property taxes in Little Rock last year because the quorum court did not formally levy a library tax that had been approved by the city’s voters in the time that was required. So the county will have to find a way to give the money back to the property owners, and the library will have to curtail some programs or lay off employees for a spell.

The quorum court tax levy is a mere technicality that the county judge thought was not very material. After all, the city’s voters had overwhelmingly approved the library millage at a December 2007 special election. Why not just start collecting it in the new year? In lieu of an ordinance from the quorum court, Judge Villines ordered the higher tax rates that had been approved by the voters and when a few taxpayers filed a suit, the county argued that it had complied substantially with the law, just not that little technicality. A circuit judge agreed to let it slide, but, unanimously, the Supreme Court said it could not overlook the law. As redundant as the formal quorum court levy seems to be, it has been the law for many years.

The quorum court had already adopted an ordinance levying all the ad-valorem taxes for 2008 when the special election occurred and it would have to adopt a new ordinance within 30 days to reflect the 1.5-mill library increase or else the collection would have to wait until the quorum court enacted its tax ordinance at the end of 2008 and then start collecting the tax in 2009. Now the money will have to be refunded and the tax will stay on the books a year longer.

This is a venial transgression by well-meaning officials who were merely implementing the voters’ wishes. But it is part of a bothersome lack of diligence by county officials. How many do we need to mention? Here are the freshest: the close call on the county use tax in which a snafu nearly cost the county millions (the Supreme Court let it slide on a technicality, 4 to 3); the hiring and promoting of Ron Quillin, a man unqualified for the job and with a criminal record, who got caught stealing from the county when he was the county controller; and years of misjudgments and bungling in the endless jail crisis.

We have an idea that the omnibus pay increases this fall for all county employees, including quorum court members, will prove to be another. We will be fortunate if county officials are not saying “oops” again a year from now.

SPORTS >> Abundant Life takes some lumps in split

Abundant Life point guard Mike Stramiello works the lane in a recent game.

Leader sportswriter

The Abundant Life teams split with England in a pair of non-conference games on Tuesday night at Abundant Life Schools.

The Owls had three players in double figures and beat the Lions 58-43, but a 30-point performance by Lady Owls junior post player Carmyn Sharp was not enough as the quicker Lady Lions won 63-50.

Owls coach Tim Ballard used a 10-man, two-squad rotation in the first half and eventually used all 16 players on his roster. Abundant Life jumped to an early lead and never looked back against an England team that has struggled with a number of injuries.

“We have two non-conference games this week, and I wanted to use those to work on some things,” Ballard said. “Their coach told me he didn’t feel like his team was as strong as it usually was, so we used a lot of subs in both halves.”

George Herring led the Owls with 16 points, while post Garrett Southerland scored 12 and Mike Stramiello had 11 as Abundant Life improved to 15-3. The Owls played at Atkins on Friday and will take part in the Christmas Classic basketball tournament at Memphis Overton High School on Dec. 28-30.

The Lady Owls rallied to within three scores midway through the fourth quarter Tuesday, but England twins Janeka and Jameka Watkins scored a respective 21 and 18 points to lead their team to victory.

The game provided a gut check for Lady Owls junior forward Sydney Venus, who collided with an England player midway through the second quarter and suffered a loose tooth and a bloody lip. Venus sat out the remainder of the half but returned in the second half to score 13 of her 14 points.

Venus’ gutsy performance reminded Lady Owls coach Justin Moseley of Venus’ older sister Andrea, who started at guard for Abundant Life for three years and graduated last spring.

“I know coach Ballard was working with her over there at one point,” Moseley said. “He told her, ‘You know, your sister would already be back in there.’ So I think that gave her some motivation. She came back in the second half and played real well; I’m proud of her.”

England took a 30-18 lead at the half and led 43-33 at the end of the third quarter.

“They have three guards who are super quick,” Moseley said. “Really their whole team has good athletes. We had to be real careful with our passes because of their quickness.”

The loss dropped the Lady Owls to 9-7.

With a one-point loss to Guy-Perkins last week and a respectable showing against a dominant 3A England team, Moseley said the Lady Owls have shown steady improvement.

“It’s nice to have won nine games already — there were a lot of years where I wasn’t able to do that,” Moseley said. “But the competitor in me looks at three or four of those games and says we should have won them. But I’ve learned over the years that every win is precious.

“The girls are starting to know their roles. We don’t have great shooting; we need that to open up a little.”

The Lady Owls were also at Atkins on Friday night, and will take part in the Bauxite High School holiday tournament Dec. 28-30.

SPORTS >> Deferred decision hurts Red Wolves

Leader sports editor

Arkansas State football coach Steve Roberts has held on to his job for at least one more year.

That’s good for Roberts. Bad for Arkansas State.

It’s not that Roberts is a bad coach — I think he’s a pretty decent one — it’s that Arkansas State is about to use a time-honored recipe for making the whole soufflé fall.

It was a bad enough sign last week that the university felt compelled to announce Roberts, who has two years left on his current contract extension, would be staying around. If Roberts weren’t on shaky ground, there would have been no need to announce he was staying; he just would have done it.

Arkansas State chose to break the news in the cowardly fashion programs ordinarily use to deliver bad news like player suspensions — through a press release.

Of course, the school used the same release to announce offensive coordinator Doug Ruse was being let go, so maybe there was bad news after all. Then again, after the Red Wolves’ offense finished near the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference in most major categories, some fans might not think that news was so bad.

Here is what the press release didn’t say but what was on plain view between the lines:

“We at Arkansas State know fans are disappointed in the Red Wolves’ 4-6 record this year and are generally frustrated with the team’s inability to get beyond six victories and one Sun Belt championship in coach Roberts’ eight seasons.

“However, to release coach Roberts and buy out the remainder of his contract now would be a costly measure for a program like ours, which still has to schedule non-conference games against major college powers like Nebraska and Iowa in order to pull down six-figure paydays to help us pay the bills.

“Rather than buy out coach Roberts at the full amount of his base salary now — which multiplied by two years would cost us $280,000 plus, possibly, guaranteed booster money — we are giving him one more year. If we feel a buyout is necessary after next season it will only cost us half that amount as stipulated by the terms of the contract.

“However, to demonstrate we are concerned, proactive and tuned in to fans’ desires we are cutting loose coach Ruse and keeping our fingers crossed that will placate the base.”

I don’t recall that releasing and replacing coordinators has saved many head coaches’ jobs in football; it sure didn’t work for Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee.

But Arkansas State has still managed to send a few strong signals with this move.

First, it has let the rest of the Sun Belt Conference know the program is on uncertain footing.

Opposing coaches can now say to recruits: “You don’t want to go to Arkansas State. The coach could be gone after next year.

You don’t want that uncertainty.”

The university is in effect saying the same thing to Ruse’s prospective replacement: “Sure, take the job, but bring your life jacket.”

Finally, the school is telling Roberts he has to turn it around in one year after losing a four-year starter at quarterback, a likely early-round NFL draft pick at defensive end, the Sun Belt’s all-time field goals leader and the Red Wolves’ second-leading all-time rusher.

What a short memory Arkansas State has.

Just a few years ago the school did not extend the contract of men’s basketball coach Dickey Nutt, who got the team to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament final in 2007 but went 10-20 in his lame-duck season the following year. The outcome hastened Nutt’s foregone fate, and Arkansas State forced him out with four games left in 2008.

The level of talent the precariously positioned Nutt was able to draw late in his run left new coach John Brady a team that lost its final 10 last season. Brady, the one-time Final Four coach at LSU, is beginning to sort out the mess he inherited, though it remains to be seen if he can turn things around entirely.

No coach is to be spared second-guessing, and after losing five games by four points or fewer this year — including the 30-27 home loss to Troy in the Sun Belt opener — Roberts is due his fair share.

But Roberts is also the guy who heightened the expectations with which he is now saddled. Before his arrival, a malaise hung like ground fog over a program that had won six games just once at college football’s top level and was 13-43 under previous coach Joe Hollis.

Unfortunately, six victories has become the bottom rung of the expectations ladder in the Sun Belt and everyone, quite understandably, wants his team to be Troy or Middle Tennessee, both 9-3 this year. Charlie Weatherbie was recently fired at Louisiana-Monroe when he had the audacity to win only six games for a program that until recently was considered one of the Sun Belt’s bottom feeders.

Don’t sell Roberts short. He has recruited some fine talent through the years and may just be able to make the Red Wolves a surprise contender next season, but either way it shouldn’t have come to this.

Costly or not, either extend Roberts as a thank you and a vote of confidence for what he has done so far, or clean house and begin the rebuilding the school is saying it thinks it might have to undertake a year from now.

And I’m not sure, if I’m Roberts, whether I’d want to work much longer for such a wishy washy employer. If I’m Roberts, whether I win next season or not, I’m using this year to send out some resumes.

SPORTS >> Devils navigating a learning curve

Jacksonville senior guard Deshone McClure goes up for two at North Pulaski.

Leader sports editor

Defending 6A state champion Jacksonville is still trying to find its rhythm with a relatively young roster.

The Red Devils, who had their rematch with crosstown rival North Pulaski on Friday night, entered the evening 2-4 after a 1-3 showing at the Wampus Cat Invitational in Conway last week.

Highlights for the Red Devils included a 65-55 victory over Sylvan Hills that ended the Bears’ six-game winning streak and a strong showing against 7A Conway, which won 63-60 on a last-second shot.

But, representative of Jacksonville’s early inconsistency, the team followed the Conway game with a flat performance as Fayetteville won 60-31 and sent the Red Devils to a fourth-place finish.

“Mentally it took all we had to try to beat Conway and we’ve got to pace ourselves,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said.

“That’s what we’ve got to learn.”

It is understandable if the Conway game drained Jacksonville somewhat. Joyner said the Wampus Cats outrebounded the Red Devils 15-5 in the first half, and then Jacksonville rallied to outrebound Conway in the second half.

“They have steadily improved every game,” Joyner said. “You look at Conway. Conway is probably going to be right at the top five in the state. We nearly had them beat and they hit a buzzer-beater to beat us.”

Outside expectations may be high after Jacksonville’s victory over Little Rock Hall in last year’s state championship, but Joyner said he has no such expectations himself. Steady improvement is all he is looking for at this point.

“They are working harder than I anticipated them working,” Joyner said. “They work really hard in practice and they’re willing to learn and they want to be good and that’s helping us a little bit, because you don’t have a whole lot of jealousy going on right now. At least I haven’t seen it.

“We have juniors who are yielding to a couple freshmen and a sophomore.”

Joyner knew entering the season that his team would be smaller than it was last year and would need to pick up the tempo and get a group rebounding effort to compete.

“We knew all year the lack of size, in our conference, is really going to kill us,” Joyner said. “The tallest guy is 6-2, 6-3. That really hurt us in the tournament. We have to rebound by committee and box out by committee.”

A mainstay has been senior Deshone McClure, representing most of the Red Devils’ returning experience.

But even McClure, averaging close to 16 points a game, has had to make adjustments while teamed with younger players, Joyner said.

“He knows he has a young team and he’s trying to do everything he can do to pull them together,” Joyner said.

“He was forcing the ball and making some bad decisions because he was trying to do it all himself. Now he’s accepted the fact that these guys are young and we have to keep encouraging them and keep coaching.”

Encouraging and coaching have turned out to be two of McClure’s more noteworthy skills this year, Joyner said.

“He’s really grasped the fact that we’re going to be young and make a lot of mistakes,” Joyner said.

Joyner noted a recent game in which McClure was on the bench for a breather and was the first one up to congratulate his teammates during a timeout. A college recruiter on a recent visit noted the same thing, Joyner said.

“He wasn’t talking about the 26 points he scored,” Joyner said.

If there have been any surprises so far, Joyner said, they have been mostly pleasant ones. Everything else has gone about how he expected.

“Par for the course baby,” he said. “It is like I was a fortune teller or, what do you call it? A soothsayer. It’s been exactly the way we mapped it out and said it was going to be.”

SPORTS >> Lonoke trio seeking final title trip

Lonoke senior guard Ashleigh Himstedt shoots over a Cabot defender in the Lady Jackrabbits’ season opener at Hall.

Leader sportswriter

As freshmen, they were expected to do nothing more than support the upperclassmen on the court.

As sophomores, they were only expected to help in the rebuilding process and, as juniors, to build on the success from the year before.

But Lonoke seniors Asiah Scribner, Michaela Brown and Ashleigh Himstedt face considerably higher expectations this season.

Scribner and Brown have started for coach Nathan Morris’ Lady Jackrabbits since their freshman seasons and have started in three straight 4A state championship games. Himstedt has started the past two years and in the previous two state title games.

With three finals appearances and three state runner-up trophies to their credit, the old term “unfinished business” creeps up on the trio quite frequently these days.

The 2008-09 season unfolded much like the previous two, with the Lady ’Rabbits kicking into higher gear once the postseason arrived. They finished second to Bald Knob in the 2-4A Conference as the Lady Bulldogs swept the regular season series, but it was the Lady Jackrabbits who swept the district and regional finals.

“We play hard when we have to,” Brown said. “We know what to expect and we know what we have to do to get where we want to go.”

It was the Shiloh Christian Lady Saints who sent Lonoke home without a title for the third straight year in March. It was a back-and-forth game, just as the Lady ’Rabbits experienced in their previous two finals appearances.

But in the end, the Lady Saints took the big trophy and sent Lonoke home with a 27-7 final record.

“History judges teams,” said Morris, in his fifth year. “I see them finishing off as one of the top teams to come through here, especially those three together. Sometimes I bring that up in conversations with people in town just to see what their take is on it.”

Scribner and Brown first visited Hot Springs’ Summit Arena, the annual site of the state finals, in 2007. They were freshmen on a team that featured another strong senior trio in Calisha Kirk, Kristy Shinn and Jenny Evans.

The opponent that year was old 6AAA Conference rival Central Arkansas Christian. The Lady Mustangs rallied to defeat the Lady ’Rabbits with the help of a few officiating calls many fans recall as questionable.

Lonoke fell just short of beating Huntsville in 2008 and again to Shiloh last spring, but with one chance left to reach the finals and reverse the end results of the previous three years, the Lonoke seniors do not want to miss out.

“I think it’s going to be hard – it’s always hard,” Scribner said. “But we always find a way to do it. We’ve never not went, so we wouldn’t know what it was like not to go now. It would be pretty tough, so expectations are probably very, very high considering we’ve been three years in a row.”

Himstedt had the talent to make the move to varsity as a freshman, as Brown and Scribner did, but Morris held her back to serve as the leader on the freshman team. That separation from her long-time support group allowed Himstedt to develop her game and pick up some leadership skills along the way.

“It was hard,” Himstedt said. “I had always played with them, so I was nervous playing in junior high by myself. But I think I got stronger when I played by myself without them, and it helped them as well.”

The other piece to the Lady Jackrabbit puzzle is junior shooting guard Cara Neighbors. Neighbors led the team in scoring last year and has emerged as a complement to the senior trio.

“We’re like the quad-squad; that’s what we call each other,” Himstedt said. “We just play so well together, it’s like we were meant to play together.”

“Everybody is good at something,” Scribner said. “When it’s all together, it’s like it’s perfect almost. But if one person is not doing what they normally do, it throws the whole routine off because each one of us is good at our own thing. When we’re all together, it’s like this great mix.”

The four have also played summer AAU basketball together on the Arkansas Flash — along with players from the Nettleton/Texarkana/North Little Rock area — with Morris as coach.

Scribner, who signed with UALR earlier this fall, has had a good start, averaging close to 16 points per game.

The conference schedule can be a grind sometimes, the 6-0 post player said, but the challenges presented at the start of postseason play more than compensate.

“That’s why we have those down times,” Scribner said. “In conference, you do the same thing over and over again. You play the same people over and over. But when district and regionals and state roll around, you get something different, and it kind of pumps you up knowing that you get to see somebody different, and you know some different schemes are coming.

“It’s going to get you where you’re trying to go.”

Brown said the conference run toughens the Lady Jackrabbits for the postseason.

“We think it’s going to be hard,” Brown said. “We feel like conference is harder than regionals and state. We have a bunch of tough teams like Stuttgart and Clinton, and we just had a close game with Batesville Southside, so it’s going to be tough.”

After signing with UALR, Scribner quickly learned that being courted by an NCAA Division I program perks up people’s interest more than she expected.

“I had no idea it was going to be what it is,” she said. “It’s a Division I school and everything, but coming from Lonoke and just being who I am, I just didn’t think there was going to be as much attention around here as what it has been.”

While Scribner serves as inside presence at the low post and Himstedt is the perimeter playmaker, Brown is the one who holds it together as the starting point guard.

“Some of the younger players, it’s hard sometimes to get them on our level of what we expect,” Brown said. “That’s what we’re trying to do now. We already know what we all do together; we’re just trying to get everyone else on the same page.”

Morris said he knew he had something special in his trio when he first saw the group in eighth grade and he has enjoyed watching them grow over the past five years. He said he hopes he has something to do with their progress and is looking forward to seeing the girls go on to college.

“It’s really the reason why we coach,” Morris said.

All three are successful in the classroom as well. Brown will graduate in one of the top three spots in her class, with Himstedt and Scribner not far behind in the top 10.

“I tell people all the time that they’re better kids than they are basketball players,” Morris said. “And we know they’re all good basketball players, so that tells you what I think about them as kids.”

There’s no denying the big outside expectations Scribner, Brown and Himstedt face, but for the girls themselves, the only expectation is to win the next one.

“We just play to win – that’s all we do,” Brown said. “We don’t worry about who’s next, we worry about that game and then we move on and worry about the next game.”

Morris relishes the prospect of reaching the state championship game a fourth time, and especially enjoys the opportunity to serve as coach for such an elite unit.

“We feel like we’ve got something left out there to prove,” Morris said. “Certainly, what we’ve done these last three years and what these kids have accomplished have been huge. Not many people get to go through that. I can’t think of another group of kids I would have rather went through this with than them. I tell them that all the time, but those three have been special.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> Group seeks toys, cash

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Christmas Alliance and Cabot Christmas for Kids are doing more this year than ever before to provide food and toys for needy families in the Cabot School District.

Enough food baskets were packed Saturday at the old Knight’s store on Main Street to provide Christmas dinner for 800 families, which is up about 150 from previous years. That should be enough to take care of everyone already on their list and others who have not yet applied, said Cheryl Moore, secretary-treasurer of Cabot Christmas Alliance.

However, Cabot Christmas for Kids needs toys and cash to buy more toys to provide for the 1,300 children already on their list.

Bill Holden, who has collected toys for children for 33 years, said this week that Cabot Christmas for Kids, the organization he heads, spent $11,000 over the weekend. He knows of $370 that children have collected at one of the Cabot schools. But that isn’t enough to meet the need this year.

“I don’t know where the rest will come from, but the Good Lord always seems to provide,” Holden said.

Almost all the money to fund the toys program comes from Cabot firefighters, who recently raised $9,600 from their annual Fill the Boot drive, where they stand at main intersections with their boots in hand asking motorists to give what they can.

School children also help and every school in the district as well as several area businesses, such as Kmart, Dollar General and Centennial Bank, have dropoff boxes for new toys, Holden said. But this year, with the need greater than before, it simply hasn’t been enough.

But it’s not too late to help.

Holden, director of custodial services for the Cabot School District, said cash may be dropped off at the school warehouse at 310 G.P. Murrell Drive all week until 4 p.m. Friday.

“If they send a check in the mail, it won’t get to us in time,” he said.

Distribution of food boxes and toys starts at 8 a.m. Saturday. Those who signed up early will receive a letter with instructions by Thursday.

It’s not too late to sign up.

To apply for food, call 501- 628-2706.

To receive toys, go by the school warehouse and fill out an application.

Distribution for those who apply late and don’t receive instructions in the mail starts at noon. Identification and proof of address, such as a utility bill, is required.

To have new toys picked up to give away to needy children, call 743-3560 or 941-8351.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Huckster revisited

We can’t keep doing this, but someone has to clean up when Mike Huckabee goes on the record. The former governor was in Little Rock on Monday to promote his latest book and told more whoppers about Maurice Clemmons, the young man whom he freed from prison and who embarked on a crime spree that ended last month in the murder of four police officers in Tacoma, Wash. The day before, Huckabee appeared with Greta van Susteren, a sister commentator on the Fox TV network, in one of the year’s most baffling and misleading discussions of health-care reform.

Huckabee’s distortions and errors on van Susteren’s show might be forgiven because van Susteren exhibited no clue about health-insurance issues herself — she confused Medicare with Medicaid — and Huckabee obviously has been too busy to inform himself about the legislation before the U. S. Senate. But the mistakes about Clemmons’ clemency do not beg for understanding. It is a record of his own actions and he has insisted that he reduced the young man’s multiple sentences only after carefully researching all of Clemmons’ criminal history. He has no excuse for getting the facts all wrong.

He said he set Clemmons free not out of a sense of mercy or because he believed Clemmons’ jailhouse conversion to Christ or the sincerity of his prayers but because he thought the judicial system had treated the fellow unfairly. Clemmons was guilty only of youthful indiscretions — a burglary and a robbery at the age of 16 — and if he were a white boy, Huckabee said, he would have been put on probation, fined $1,000 and given 20 hours of community service. Instead, the judges and juries handed him 108 years in prison for two minor felonies. Given the same array of facts, he would make the same decision every time, Huckabee said.

It is certainly true that young black men tend to be treated more harshly than whites for the same offenses and Clemmons’ race might indeed have been a factor, but Huckabee’s recounting of the history is worse than misleading. Clemmons was 17 and 18 when he committed most of the crimes. He did not get 108 years — a life sentence — for burglary and robbery. He was tried five times and convicted for multiple felonies each time. Some of the sentences were concurrent and others consecutive.

He would have been eligible for parole for the last of his crimes in 2021. The judges and juries might have been influenced by his violent behavior in the courtroom and in jail awaiting his trials. He had not been a model prisoner either when Huckabee turned him loose. Clemmons’ prison record, which Huckabee has said he thoroughly researched, included battery, sexual assault, theft, drugs and weapons. Just more youthful indiscretions. As soon as Huckabee freed him, Clemmons returned to violent crime and soon to prison again. Still, Huckabee’s parole board, the same one that had done his bidding seven years earlier on the rapist and murderer Wayne Dumond, set Clemmons free again in 2004.

Huckabee invited you to say what you would have done with the same facts — but his facts, not the facts.

Where do you start on the bewildering repartee on health insurance? The only thing that was clear was the couple’s objective, to make the Senate health-insurance bill frightening. Van Susteren had Huckabee on her show to describe the dangers to the states of the health bill, particularly the latest (and now abandoned) proposal for the extension of Medicare to uninsured people as young as 55.

She did not know the difference between Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly and permanently disabled, and Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, and Huckabee was only mildly helpful on that, but then he muddled the issue hopelessly.

Because some people are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare and the government coordinates their coverage, Huckabee announced that the extension of Medicare to people as young as 55 would practically bankrupt state governments because it would mean that the states would have to pay a big share of the extra costs. Medicaid, for which states bear a small share of the cost, would have to pay for the coverage for low-income people in that age group, the governor explained.

Huckabee was wrong. Only uninsured people could buy into Medicare and they would have to BUY into the program with full premiums, not Medicaid help. Even if he were right about that, he was wrong. The federal government will pay the full cost of all expanded Medicaid coverage through 2016 and the states after that will pick up less than 10 percent (Arkansas currently picks up 24 percent) — a huge economic bonanza for states like Arkansas. Even when the state share was far less favorable, Governor Huckabee leaped at the chance to expand Medicaid. He added 100,000 to the government rolls and said it was his proudest accomplishment.

Van Susteren didn’t ask him, as she should have, whether like the Clemmons case, he would do it again today.

TOP STORY >> Tuskegee legend at holiday reception

Milton Crenchaw of Little Rock (left), an original Tuskegee airman flight instructor, visits Sunday with Col. Greg Otey, the 19th Airlift Wing commander, during the commanders’ holiday reception at the Little Rock Air Force Base Conference Center.

Leader Executive Editor

A tall, elderly man stood in a far corner in a large banquet room at Little Rock Air Force Base on Sunday afternoon during the holiday reception hosted by the wing commanders.

The older gentleman stood in front of a Christmas tree near where a small band played holiday music.

He stood tall and erect in his elegant dark suit and gray tie. He looked like a former ballplayer from the old Negro Leagues — maybe Buck O’Neill — but he had the self-confidence of an ex-pilot, and maybe that’s why he was at the base for the reception.

You knew he was somebody significant, an historic figure, even if you didn’t recognize him. You introduced yourself to the gentleman, and he gripped your arm, as if he were about to give you an important history lesson.

Sure enough, he did.

He said his name was Milton Crenchaw, and he was from Little Rock. He became a pilot 70 years ago.

Crenchaw said, “Tuskegee airman.”

He was a civilian flight instructor down in Alabama in 1940 and helped train the nation’s first black airmen who distinguished themselves during the Second World War.

“Do you know how old I am?” he asked.

Crenchaw will be 91 years old next month, but he still looks like he could fly a plane. His vision seems as good as it ever was, and even with music in the background, he could hear you just fine.

He’s relaxed, grabs some food and sits down at a table. He’s having a good time, and he doesn’t mind the attention.

The wing commanders — Col. Gregory Otey, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, and Col. C.K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing — thank him for coming to the reception.

They know he’s a pioneer pilot who trained the nation’s black pilots in the early war years. He was there after the Second
World War as the Air Force was beginning to take shape as the first integrated branch in the military.

The Tuskegee airmen included not only the pilots and their crews, but also their support team and their instructors. Crenchaw is the last living Tuskegee flight instructor.

He graduated from Dunbar High School in 1937 in Little Rock and was attending the Tuskegee Institute in 1939. He learned to fly and gave up his studies after Sen. Harry Truman sponsored legislation in Congress letting black pilots serve in the civilian pilot-training program.

He signed up immediately and trained pilots at Tuskegee and Maxwell Fields. According to “Wings of America,” a history of the Tuskegee airmen, “Charles A. Anderson, pioneer Negro pilot, has been chief pilot since the school opened. At the start he was assisted by Milton Crenchaw, Charles R. Foxx and Forrest Shelton. Instructors Foxx and Crenshaw have since been promoted to squadron commanders.”

Crenchaw was 20 years old.

The Tuskegee airmen started training in 1942, just months after America went to war. The all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron was soon formed, commanded by Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who was promoted to general after the Korean War. (His father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., was the country’s first black general.)

Nearly 1,000 airmen had graduated from the Negro Air Corps pilot-training program. They flew more than 200 bomber-escort missions and thousands of sorties over Europe, destroyed hundreds of German aircraft and received hundreds of air medals and more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

According to an Air Force history, “450 were sent overseas for combat assignment. During the same period, about 150 lost their lives while in training or on combat flights. These black airmen managed to destroy or damage over 409 German airplanes, 950 ground units and sank a battleship destroyer.”

The Germans, amazed that black pilots could fly in combat, called them “Schwarze Vogelmenschen” — “black birdmen.”

A couple of years after the war, President Truman ended segregation in the military. The Air Force, which was formed in 1947, was integrated immediately and the other services followed.

Crenchaw was later assigned to Fort Sill, Okla., and to other military bases and then returned to Little Rock, where he taught aviation at Philander Smith College. His father, the Rev. Joseph Crenchaw, helped found the NAACP in Arkansas.

Milton told us about his grandfather, a slave who fought in the Confederate Army with Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forest, the Confederate general who founded the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War.

Milton remembers meeting Forest’s great-grandson, Nathan Bedford Forest III, an Army officer who joined the Army Air Corps and became a lieutenant general. He was the first general to die in the Second World War, when his plane was shot down over Germany.

Crenchaw has received many honors over the years. He was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2007, Gov. Mike Beebe honored him for his historic contributions as a Tuskegee flight instructor.

Also that year, Crenchaw was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, and the Tuskegee airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush.

You’d think Milton is ready to take it easy, but he’s working on his autobiography with Edmond Davis, to be called “Airkansan: The Legacy of Milton Crenchaw .”

He’ll probably autograph copies for you at Little Rock Air Force Base.

TOP STORY >> Tom Armstrong has many friends

Jerry Cole and Sandy Hicks visit with Tom Armstrong (center) during a benefit dinner that was held Saturday to help pay for his expensive treatments. 

Leader staff writer

Friends of Cabot Alderman Tom Armstrong held a barbecue fundraiser Saturday night at the Cabot Middle School North cafeteria.

The dinner raised about $4,000 to help pay for travel expenses associated with brain cancer treatments Armstrong has been receiving. Since September 2008, Armstrong has been battling glioblastoma.

“The fundraiser is much appreciated,” said Tom Armstrong.

His daughter Kristal Armstrong said, “I am very grateful since I see the struggles my parents go through on a day-to-day basis since my dad can’t work anymore.”

Armstrong went to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., for radiation treatments and experimental chemotherapy treatments every 28 days until October. He now goes to the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas every two weeks for intravenous chemotherapy treatments.

There wasn't a closer location that offered the chemotherapy that is required according to Armstrong’s daughter, Angie Hoschouer. Family members or relatives accompany Armstrong during his travel for treatment. Hoschouer said her father’s tumors have shrunk and are stable.

“It was very expensive paying for gas and rooms they needed to stay in. With the economy the way it is, it is very expensive,” Kristal Armstrong said.

When Tom Armstrong went to Florida for treatment, the family spent four days on the road and three days at the Mayo Clinic.

Now that Armstrong is going to Baylor, it is only two days of travel and a one-day stay at the medical center.

Hoschouer said, “I have the best parents in the world. Our family is honored that people care about our family enough to do something like this. “My mom has been amazingly strong. We are trusting God that he will be completely healed. Dad has not complained one time ever about this.

“It helps that there has been such a support system of friends and people in the community. Every day at least 10 people ask me how he’s doing and say they are praying for him,” Hoschouer said.

Armstrong retired after being full-time in the Air National Guard after 28 years. He was a boom operator during in-flight refueling on KC-135 Stratotankers.

He recalled a time when he refueled the Thunderbirds.

“They were going to an air show and needed to refuel on the way. I got the privilege to do it,” he said.

After retiring, Armstrong worked for the city a few years as the city code inspector. He then opened his own business doing home inspections until his battle with cancer began more than a year ago. He has been on the city council for eight years.

Armstrong was born in the Garner area and went to school in Beebe. He has lived in Cabot for 22 years. He has been married to his wife Melanie for 37 years. Besides daughters Angie and Kristal, they have a son, Jason.

For the benefit dinner, Charles Ward cooked the barbecue and made the sauce. His wife Cathy cooked baked beans.

Ward said, “I’ve known Tom a long time, a really good friend. I like to help people. We are just fortunate enough to do so.”

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams estimated that 150 people ate dinner at the middle school cafeteria or took carryout home.

“We are thrilled everyone came out,” the mayor said.

Those who want to help out or contribute to Tom Armstrong’s travel expenses, can stop by city hall or mail a check to City of Cabot, c/o Tom Armstrong, P.O. Box 1113, Cabot, Ark., 72023.

TOP STORY >> Teachers union files suit

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers sued the Pulaski County Special School District in Circuit Court on Tuesday for breech of contract, the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the two sides.

“This is very disappointing,” said interim Superintendent Rob McGill. “The board made some tough decisions. We’re educating students every day.”

“We discovered the suit about 7 o’clock,” said McGill.

“We believe that the board did have the right to do what it did. We’re confident…the judge will also agree to that.”

McGill said he thought teachers were unlikely to strike while the matter is in court.

He said the district’s attorney, Jay Bequette, told him “we should be able to win the case.”

Sixth District Circuit Judge Tim Fox will preside over the suit.

The board made many irrational decisions and violated the old contract, still in effect, PACT President Marty Nix said.

After seven months of contract talks, negotiators for both sides had agreed on a five-year contract retroactive to the beginning of this school year, union teachers had ratified the contract and entered the board meeting a week ago Tuesday expecting the board to ratify the contract as well.

But the board refused to sign off on the contract by a 4-2 vote.

Union spokesmen reacted angrily, prompting the board to call a special meeting later that same night. Board members stripped both PACT and the support staff union, PASS, of recognition as the employees bargaining agents.

The board called another special meeting Wednesday afternoon to give employees the raises and benefits they sought, but still declining to ratify the contract.

Thursday morning, teachers walked off the job, leaving only about half the teachers working.

Nix promised not to strike this week—finals week.

After the walkout by about half of the district’s teachers, the school board moved to hire 20 “academic interventionists” or full-time substitutes to work in 20 of the district’s schools.

The move will give teachers more time for lesson planning, and to be on hand when substitutes are needed, according to PCSSD spokesperson Deborah Roush.

An average of 110 teachers are absent from work every day.

Roush called the hiring of the interventionists “a very-well streamlined process.”

On Friday, dozens of certified teachers who had expressed interest in working as teachers or substitutes were notified of the job openings.

By 7 a.m. Saturday, they were at district headquarters to fill out paperwork, she said. Applicants were interviewed by a panel of three and their credentials were checked.

They filled out background check information and by Monday afternoon, they were at work in the schools, Roush said.

Those teachers are being paid $180 a day. Regular substitute pay is $55 a day for non-certified and $75 a day for certified teachers.

At a special meeting Friday, the board raised pay for substitutes working strikes to $100 a day.

SPORTS >> Championship eludes seniors, but memories are preserved

Michael Nelson hands the ball to Brandon Smith in Saturday’s championship.

Leader sports editor

Michael Nelson was one of the last to take off his helmet.

Nelson joined his teammates in a hearty rendition of the Lonoke fight song following Shiloh Christian’s 56-20 victory over the Jackrabbits in the 4A state championship at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

But Nelson kept his helmet firmly in place, maybe to hide tears, maybe to keep from admitting his high school football career had finally come to a close.

Further up the field, Lonoke running back Brandon Smith was answering the umpteenth question about his 140 rushing yards and a touchdown in a performance that, it is hoped, will earn Smith yet more attention from college recruiters.

The two are probably headed in different directions in their post-high school careers, but together they were instrumental in getting Lonoke to where it stood, on the artificial surface at War Memorial Stadium as one of the last two 4A teams standing.

“It’s exciting,” Smith said. “It wasn’t a perfect ending but I still had fun. I was gladI was here to play one last game.”

The undersized Nelson, 5-7, in his first years as the varsity starter, found an added dimension as a runner this year, and if his footwork hadn’t opened up the offense, who knows if Lonoke would have gone as far?

Smith, already getting offers from NCAA Division II schools and flirting with the possibility of playing major college football, has been a mainstay most of the season and without his yards, again, the Jackrabbits might have missed the championship boat.

“I knew what kind of capabilities they had,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost of his upperclassmen. “And here they are at the state championship game. Great group of seniors.”

Nelson was beating himself up for five interceptions thrown against an aggressive, smothering Shiloh Christian defense.

“We knew we had to be balanced to open up the pass,” said Nelson, 5-19-5 for 136 yards and a touchdown. “We ran the ball pretty successful and we had a couple big plays. We got down there and I threw a pick and, really, they’re a heck of a team, they fly to the ball.”

It was Nelson’s 666 rushing yards and seven touchdowns that may have made the difference in Lonoke’s season. The Jackrabbits sat at 2-3 in the early going and were on the verge of falling apart as a team.

But a return to basics and Nelson’s reliance on his feet, to go with his 2,062 passing yards and 19 scores, helped open things up as the Jackrabbits began the nine-game winning streak that got them to the championship game.

“All the seniors are leaders, not just one, but many leaders,” Nelson said. “We got the team together, we said ‘Hey, let’s just go out and have fun.’ That’s what we started doing. We got on a winning streak and people started believing.”

Against Osceola, in a 28-7 victory in the semifinals, Nelson was superb, with 72 rushing yards and a 20-of-39 passing performance with four touchdown passes to four different receivers.

Nelson’s new dimension kept teams from crowding the box against Smith, an 1,800-yard rusher who proved fast enough to beat Shiloh Christian around the end several times Saturday night.

Not that Smith couldn’t pick up some hard yards on his own. It’s one of the reasons Henderson State, and the other Division II schools, have shown healthy interest and he and Bost are hoping some SEC schools follow suit.

“He’s going to go somewhere. He’s too good not to,” Bost said.

In the meantime, Smith and his classmates found plenty to take with them from Saturday’s game.

“We didn’t back down,” he said. “We didn’t lay down like most people thought we would.”

SPORTS >> Lonoke goes public, finds silver lining after defeat

Leader sportswriter

There was some sense of disappointment from Lonoke immediately following Saturday’s 56-20 loss to Shiloh Christian in the 4A state championship at War Memorial Stadium.

But there was also a sense of triumph and jubilation.

The Jackrabbits held their own with one of the state’s more dominant private schools for three out of the four quarters, proving many wrong who predicted Shiloh Christian would have the 35-point lead it needed to trigger the mercy rule in the first half.

“We’re still public school state champs,” senior lineman Tyler Breashears shouted after receiving the Brandon Burlsworth award for best offensive lineman.

The Saints’ domination over the past two seasons, along with that of the 5A Pulaski Academy Bruins — who won a state championship last year — has opened the door to a debate across Arkansas as to whether or not private schools have an unfair advantage.

The Arkansas Activities Association held a vote over the summer to decide if private schools should have their own playoff system separate from the public districts, but the measure narrowly failed.


Jackrabbits senior Brandon Smith proved able to compete with the state’s best by rushing for 140 yards and scoring both of Lonoke’s offensive touchdowns.

Smith set the tone for the ’Rabbits on the first play with a 15-yard run up the middle followed by a 9-yard carry to the right side as the Jackrabbits threatened on their opening drive.

A Saints interception ended the drive at Shiloh Christian 13.

Saints coach Josh Floyd said he was content with putting a stop to Lonoke’s passing game even if it meant not being able to key in on the all-state running back.

“He’s a great player,” Floyd said. “We tried to bottle him up in the backfield, and even then he broke some tackles. Anytime you can make someone one-dimensional, it obviously helps, and that was the goal.”


Sophomore Tommy “T.J.” Scott’s name gets called most often during kickoffs and extra points, but the Lonoke kicker/linebacker led the way defensively against Shiloh Christian with eight solo tackles and eight assists for a game-high 16.
Scott made two of his three extra-point attempts while the Saints broke through to block his final attempt in the third quarter, and Scott had one kickoff for a touchback.

SPORTS >> Cheers beat tears for scrappy Lonoke

For the most part, Lonoke enjoyed its championship visit to Little Rock.

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits didn’t look like the dead team walking I’d read, and written, about in the runup to Saturday’s 4A state championship game.

And they didn’t look any worse for wear after their 56-20 loss to the almighty Shiloh Christian Saints at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

In their Thursday workout at the stadium and during post game ceremonies Saturday, the Jackrabbits simply looked like a bunch of young football players happy to be in their 15th game of the year.

This, after all, was a team that was teetering on the brink of irrelevancy earlier this season. The Jackrabbits, under first-year coach Doug Bost, were 2-3 before starting the nine-game winning streak that got them to War Memorial.

Lonoke had to win three of its four playoff games on the road, gambled on taking two intentional safeties in a playoff victory at Warren and was counted out before it even got to Osceola, where Lonoke posted a dominant, 28-7 victory in the semifinals.

So it’s no wonder the Jackrabbits looked relaxed as they strolled onto War Memorial’s turf for their allotted, two-hour practice last week.

A few players let loose exuberant howls at the cobalt sky, their breath hanging in the air like dialogue balloons.

As the workout progressed and they warmed to their jobs, some Jackrabbits began to jettison the hoodies and extra sweatshirts they had worn under their pads for warmth.

The most important issue of the day seemed to be whether or not the team would be allowed to wear its home purple jerseys to the pep rally, while on the sideline the Jackrabbits even indulged in some gallows humor.

“Eastern Michigan was not an opponent that should have been on our schedule,” one player said as the talk turned to the Arkansas Razorbacks.

There was a pause. Someone mumbled something.

“Yeah, they should have played Shiloh, maybe you’re right,” was the response.

But the Jackrabbits weren’t about to let anybody— not even Arkansas — stand in for them in their state final appearance, even if it was against the mighty Saints, who won their sixth championship and second in a row.

Any young player, especially one without college football prospects — the case with most of the Jackrabbits — would rather play in a one-sided championship loss than not play in a championship at all.

“Most people said we were going to be mercy-ruled in the first quarter,” said senior running back Brandon Smith, highlighting one of the night’s moral victories. “Instead, we kept them from scoring in the first quarter.”

Several centuries ago, it seems, I played for a team not unlike Lonoke. Well, minus the winning record.

Our little town of 1,600 sat in the south Illinois cornfields. If we had 40 players, counting freshmen, it was a banner turnout. If we won three games, it was a banner year.

There were no Shiloh Christians on our schedule, but we did line up every year to take our 20 licks from public school powers like Marshall, Arcola, Casey and Oblong — yes Oblong, which, on one frigid October night gave us a well-rounded beating in the vicinity of 70 to nothing.

I’m not kidding.

We had no mercy rules up on the Midwestern prairie in those days, and I remember getting crushed on a kickoff late in that game as my blockers were pretty much exiting stage left. I looked up in time to see my opponent’s helmet filling my view like the approaching moon in the window of an Apollo spacecraft.

And I knew even then I wouldn’t trade any of it, not even the pain. I would rather have lost 10 games every year than not played at all.

That may be what people don’t get in the public-versus-private school debate, and we won’t resolve that debate here.

Someone smarter than I will have to figure out how to address the fact Shiloh has more resources, deeper pockets and a talent base restricted not by geographic borders but by the willingness of parents to pay tuition.

I only know that Lonoke looked like a team happy to have been one of two left in 4A, even if the other team was Shiloh Christian.

There were more smiles than tears in a post game that was more party that post mortem.

The Jackrabbits had a laugh as they chanted, “Public school champs!” following the team handshake, and they celebrated wildly when Lonoke’s Tyler Breashears was announced as the winner of the Burlsworth Award for best offensive lineman.

Breashear’s teammates were so caught up in pounding him on the helmet and shoulder pads he could barely get loose to accept his trophy.

For Shiloh, it was yet another knee and a prayer as the Saints knelt with the ball, ran out the clock and huddled up to thank God.

For Lonoke, it was back to the grain elevators and silos of eastern Lonoke County. But what a trip it had been.

Good game? Maybe not quite. Good times? Definitely.

“It was still fun for us,” Smith said. “We enjoyed ourselves. We were just happy to be one of the last two teams competing for a state championship.”

SPORTS >> Wampus Cats edge Falcons in overtime

Leader sportswriter

The North Pulaski Falcons lost their first game of the season in the championship round of the Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway High School on Saturday.

Host Conway needed two overtimes and solid shooting from the free-throw line in the late going to hand North Pulaski an 87-79 loss, which dropped the Falcons to 7-1.

North Pulaski advanced to the finals with a 55-54 victory over Fayetteville in the semifinal round on Friday. Late steals by Aaron Cooper and Bryan Coulson secured the Falcons’ victory over the defending 7A state champions.

But the Wampus Cats took advantage of foul trouble for the Falcons big men and won the rebounding battle to win their own invitational.

“We got killed on the glass,” North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper said. “And our bench guys have got to step it up. The Conway game exposed us. Their bench guys got in there and played hard — we’re not getting the same effort.

“We need those guys diving and getting rebounds. It’s putting too much stress on our core guys, and it’s causing them to get into foul trouble.”

Senior forward DaQuan Bryant fouled out in regulation, while Bryan Coulson and reserve post Alonte Mitchell each picked up his fifth personal foul in the first overtime.

“We had five guards on the floor for that second overtime, and they pulled away,” Cooper said.

Senior point guard Aaron Cooper led the Falcons with 28 points, with 10 for Coulson and nine points for Christian Knight.

In the Fayetteville game, the Falcons’ 35-25 lead at intermission quickly evaporated at the start of the second half. The Bulldogs used methodical, Princeton-style play to close the gap and eventually take a one-point lead in the final minute.

Fayetteville had the ball with a chance to go up two scores when Cooper stole the ball and was fouled with 8 seconds left. He hit both free throws to put the Falcons up by one, Coulson thwarted the Bulldogs’ final attempt at a back-door play when he stepped in front of the pass for a steal just before the buzzer.

“They changed their offense and were burning us for lay-ups,” Cooper said. “We finally settled down and started playing better defense. We held them scoreless for the last three minutes of the game.”

Kyron Ware led North Pulaski with 19 points. DaQuan Bryant had 15 points, and Cooper finished with 12.

With eight games played, Cooper still wants to see more improvement on the defensive front.

“Defensively, we have got to get tougher,” he said. “We try to get too fancy and steal all the time. We need to be a little more patient with our defense.”

SPORTS >> Cobras knock off Wildcats in semis

Harding Academy’s Seth Keese looks for an open receiver on Friday night.

Special to The Leader

FOUNTAIN LAKE —Fountain Lake’s football team is headed back to the state championship game – but with a change of venue.

Mark Makin ran for 186 yards Friday night to lead Fountain Lake in a 42-10 rout of Harding Academy in the Class 3A semifinals.

The Cobras (12-1) play Prescott, a 42-28 semifinal winner at Rivercrest, this Friday at Estes Stadium in Conway.

It’s a rematch of a quarterfinal game last year in which Fountain Lake beat Prescott 22-21 on the road.

A year after losing to Charleston at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, Fountain Lake coach Tommy Gilleran sees a difference with this edition of the Cobras.

“They’re just more focused this year,” Gilleran said. “This year’s seniors have kept everybody on track and made everybody not get astray. “

Although he was disappointed with his team’s finish, second-year Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote praised his Wildcats for winning 12 games and the 3A-2 conference.

“We had a great year and ended up being one of the final four teams in the state,” Mote said. “It just hurts. You get in the playoffs, you make a run for it, and if you don’t win it all, that’s the way you feel.”

The Wildcats suffered a failed fake punt in the first half and were held to 74 rushing yards. A week after running for 216 yards against Harrisburg, Seth Keese totaled 11 rushing yards and completed 14 of 30 passes for 226 yards and an interception.

SPORTS >> Saints march over Jackrabbits

Lonoke’s Justin Smith (85) tries to get to Shiloh Christian’s Mitchell Roberts.

Leader sportswriter

It was a one-score game had the second quarter not counted.

Unfortunately for Lonoke, it did.

That’s when Shiloh Christian did the bulk of its damage to claim the 4A state championship with a 56-20 victory over the Jackrabbits on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The Saints (13-1) marched to 35 second-quarter points and capitalized on five interceptions on their way to a second-consecutive state crown, their sixth in school history.

“Some of our best guys are over there sitting on the sidelines right now,” Saints coach Josh Floyd said. “It wasn’t easy; I think everybody expected us to do this, but a lot of people don’t realize how many obstacles we had to overcome this year. Our guys made some big-time plays, and they also did something with it once they got the interceptions. We had a lot of yards after the catches.”

For the Jackrabbits, it was their first state runner-up finish to go along with a Class AA championship in 1994.

“They are a great group, and I love them,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “We knew coming in that we couldn’t go three and out. We had some first downs, but turnovers got us. You can’t give the ball up to them.

“They play such good defense back there, I mean, that’s why they’ve won all that they have. They’re doing things right up there.”

Lonoke (11-4) held Shiloh Christian scoreless in the first quarter and threatened to take an early lead when it drove inside the Saints’ 20 on the opening possession of the game.

But Colt Thomas pulled down the first of five interceptions for Shiloh at his 13 and returned it to the 43.

A blocked punt in the first minute of the second quarter led to the first of the Saints’ five scores before halftime.

Sam Harvill got a hand on Michael Nelson’s punt after Nelson was forced to adjust to a low snap at his 5-yard line. The scramble for the ball pushed it into the end zone where Jake Scott finally retrieved it for Shiloh just before it rolled past the back boundary.

Jackrabbits senior tailback Brandon Smith led all rushers with 22 carries for 140 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run down the right side with 13 seconds left in the third quarter for Lonoke’s final score.

Smith also scored the Jackrabbits other offensive touchdown on the same side of the field with 7:40 left in the second quarter when Nelson hit him on a screen pass at the Lonoke 44. Smith shed his defender and took it all the way to make it 21-7.

“He’s a great player,” Floyd said. “I felt like we contained him most of the night, but the thing is, if he gets out in the open field, he’s hard to bring down. So we tried to bottle him up in the backfield, even then he broke some tackles.”

Smith had 207 all-purpose yards.

“He ran hard for us,” Bost said. “He had some good yardage for us. He’s a competitor, and he came to play tonight. He did a great job for us.

“I’m going to miss all my seniors. I’ve known them since the seventh grade and coached them.”

The Saints tacked on two more touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier hit Chris Bryant for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 3:55 left, and Frazier called his own number from 6 yards out to cap an eight play, 41-yard drive with 10 seconds left.

Frazier was named the game’s most valuable player with 131 rushing yards and two touchdowns while completing 19 of 28 passes for 236 yards and two more scores.

Frazier’s biggest mistake of the night resulted in six points for Lonoke to start the third quarter.

Frazier fired right into the hands of Jackrabbit defender Jordan Lynch on the first play of the second half. Lynch returned the interception 56 yards for a touchdown with 11:45 left in the third quarter and Tommy Scott added the extra point to make it 35-14.

The Saints posted offensive numbers similar to their season averages with 29 first downs, 541 total yards and eight touchdowns, but a number of Jackrabbit defenders turned in strong performances along the way.

Scott, aside from his kicker duties, led the Jackrabbits in tackling with eight plus eight assists, while senior Brandon O’Bannon had six tackles and six assists. Wesley Plummer and Smith each had six stops while Jason Terrell had five.

Nelson was coming off a career night against Osceola the week before, but the Shiloh Christian defense made sure there was no repeat by saturating the backfield with defenders and sending two linebackers most of the night.

The pressure forced Nelson to act quickly, and the defenders were able to take Lonoke receivers out of the mix for easy interceptions. Nelson finished the game 5 of 19 for 136 yards and a touchdown, but the Saints’ ability to grab the five picks was one of the deciding factors.

“I felt terrible, no excuses,” Nelson said. “We gave them a game. A lot of mistakes. We knew if we turned it over we didn’t have a chance and that’s my fault. We turned it over and they just got all the breaks.”

Lonoke finished with 293 total yards and 13 first downs.

“We’re a team that never gives up,” said senior lineman Tyler Breashears, who was awarded the Brandon Burlsworth award for linemen after the game. “We went in the locker room and said this game ain’t over. We were in there talking about how much fun it was. We weren’t talking about the score or pointing fingers.

“We had a lot of mistakes – it just fell in their favor tonight – it usually does. We are the 4A public school state champs, and this is the greatest thing that’s happened in 15 years at Lonoke.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Senators aid reform effort

Not long ago, we lamented that unlike the creation of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the great social advancements of the 20th Century, Arkansas’ Washington delegates were not playing a helpful role in spreading health protection to nearly all the American people. The two congressmen representing our parts and the environs east of us voted for a progressive health-insurance bill, but the other six delegates took a powder or else seemed to be working against reform. They capitulated to the fears stirred by the insurance companies and the fanatical wing of the Republican Party.

This week, we can be more sanguine. Sen. Mark Pryor and, yes, Sen. Blanche Lincoln were in harness with their party and actually played a pivotal role in fashioning what is likely to be the compromise that makes health-insurance reform a reality. They were part of the Gang of Ten, the senators who were assigned to work things outs, and Pryor especially was credited with yoking the moderates and liberals to a plan that would break the stalemate. His old man must be proud. David Pryor sometimes played that part to perfection for two decades.

Pryor and Lincoln still do not compare to the giants of the past. Senator Joe T. Robinson of Lonoke, the leader of the Senate, powered Social Security to enactment in 1935. Rep. Wilbur D. Mills, who hailed from Kensett about 35 miles to our north on Highway 67, wrote the final Medicare-Medicaid bill in 1965 and shepherded it through the House of Representatives. In both 1935 and 1965, all the rest of the Arkansas delegation voted for the bills.

Sure, it was easier in those days. Republicans fought Social Security and Medicare, too, but they were not so bent on seeing a Democratic president fail that they would use the Senate’s unlimited-speech rule to prevent majority rule.

The precise lineaments of the compromise have not been revealed while the Congressional Budget Office calculates a price tag. All we know is that in lieu of the controversial “public option” — a set of voluntary government-sponsored insurance plans that would compete with private insurance companies for the business of individuals who do not have insurance — the uninsured would be offered an array of privately run but government-supervised insurance plans similar to those available now to federal employees, including members of Congress.

The uninsured from 55 to 64 years old could buy a policy from an insurance company with some government help if their incomes were low enough (and the insurance companies could not refuse them coverage), or else they could buy into the Medicare system. The government would not pay for their care like it does for those 65 and older, and the Medicare premiums might be so high that most of the currently uninsured could not afford it. It basically would be a plan for the chronically sick who have been cut off by the insurance companies — the people who need help the most. For the government to break even, as the proposal apparently requires, the premiums may have to be steep.

Far better would be a public option that could use its market power to drive down medical costs and force monopoly insurance companies to offer competitive premiums to employers and individuals. But that appeared undoable because Sen. Lincoln, a couple of other Democrats and the independent Joe Lieberman said they would join the Republicans and prevent a vote on a bill that included competition for the insurance industry.

Without a public option, little in either the Senate or House health bills would work to stop the spiral of health costs, which makes the U. S. health-care system the most expensive and least productive in the industrialized world. Both bills include a number of pilot projects that might someday show the way out of the predicament in the same way that pilot farm programs a century ago eventually led the nation out of the farm and food crisis. But the Medicare buy-in for the pre-elderly and the smorgasbord of government-sanctioned but privately administered medical policies that Pryor and Lincoln helped fashion are modestly better than carte blanche to the insurance industry. They do afford a small measure of market competition, and that is good.

If they produce a comprehensive health bill, albeit one with very modest goals, our senators will deserve a medium-sized footnote in the history books. For our times that will have to be good enough.

TOP STORY >> Buck Stops Here feeds the hungry

Traci Berry, owner of The Buck Stops Here, prepares venison summer sausage. 

Leader staff writer

The Buck Stops Here deer-processing shop not only helps to put food on the tables of hunters, but it also ensures that hundreds of Arkansas families won’t go hungry.

The Gravel Ridge business, 15509 Hwy. 107, participates in the Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, which gives deer meat to food pantries across the state.

The store provides butchering services for deer, elk and wild hogs.

Owner Traci Berry has had the shop for 16 years and has participated in AHFH for the last eight years.

Every year she donates approximately 3,000 pounds of meat to the program, which works like this: Hunters will come in to the shop and sign a transfer ticket as required by law, and Berry or one of her staff will ask if customers would like to donate a portion to AHFH. If hunters agree to participate, they have to fill out a short form.

Donating meat is free. But it costs about $10 for Berry to prepare the meat, so a donation is appreciated to help cover the cost of labor, she said.

“This all goes locally. Es-pecially in this economy, it’s a great way that people can have a direct impact on families in central Arkansas,” Berry said.

Ronnie Ritter, president of AHFH, says that small business owners like Berry are the backbone of his organization. About 50 meat processors across the state are involved.

“Four ounces is what we consider a serving,” he said. That adds up to about 12,000 meals that The Buck Stops Here donates annually.

Over the years, Berry’s shop may have provided about 96,000 meals to people who need it the most.

“We try to keep everything local,” Ritter said. That means hunters in the area can help local food banks, pantries and other charity groups.

The shop’s most popular item is summer sausage, but it also prepares steaks, jalapeño-cheese sausage, Polish and Italian sausages.

It also offers taxidermy services.

Berry is glad to help families in need. This year she decided she would start a new program to ship her summer sausages to servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s something from home,” she said.

This newest initiative is still in the early planning stages. Berry expects that the program will be ready by next year.

She hopes that it, too, will be successful.

Ritter says that AHFH plans to participate in Berry’s military program.

“I think it’s a good idea that can remind servicemen of home,” he said.

Lonnie’s Meat Market in Cabot and Cabot Meat Market also participate in the AHFH program.

For more about The Buck Stops Here’s services, or how to donate, call 501-834-HUNT (4868).

TOP STORY >> PCSSD prepares for strike

Leader senior staff writer

A fight and rowdiness at Jacksonville High School on Thursday and rumors that teachers were taking home their personal belongings Friday in preparation for a strike may have prompted the fourth special PCSSD meeting this week—a meeting Friday in which the board took measures to attract more and better substitute teachers with increased pay.

Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, has promised there would be no strike during finals next week.

The board voted to hire 20 full-time “academic interventionists” at $180 a day to help give regular teachers more prep time, but also to be on hand in the event of more job actions or a strike.

Those 20 jobs will cost the district about $459,000 between now and the end of the school year.

The board voted to reward each of the 669 teachers who worked during the walkout with $50 bonuses—as long as that’s legal, according to board president Tim Clark.

The pay for substitutes was raised to $100 a day from the current pay of $55 and $75 so that in the event of a strike, it will be easier to find substitutes.

The fight and food fight at Jacksonville High School (see sidebar) may have occurred because most of the school’s teachers took a day of personal leave to support their union, resulting in 250 students sitting hours on end in the gym.

Following the incidents at the high school, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said he asked interim Superintendent Rob McGill to have the district be more prepared for future job actions by PACT.

Except for the arrests, and subsequent release, of the six Jacksonville High School students for fighting and throwing food, school during the district-wide, one-day teacher walkout Thursday was pretty uneventful, according to McGill.

Friday after the walkout, school appeared to have returned to normal, according to Deb Roush, the PCSSD spokesperson, but Thursday, 669 of the district’s 1,361 teachers took a day of personal leave.

About 200 of them protested, some with signs, in front of the administration building on Thursday morning in freezing temperatures before moving to the Arkansas Education Association building where they decided not to extend their action.

The teachers and support staff got most of the money and benefits they sought when the board held a special meeting Wednesday.

“It’s not about the money,” Nix said at the protest. She said the union wanted three things—recognition of the union, ratification of the contract that all but the board had signed and for the board to “follow process.”

While half the teachers stayed away from the classroom Thursday, all bus drivers reported for duty and there was no disruption in the safe and timely delivery of students, according to Gary Beck, who among other things is the transportation supervisor.

The district had notified mayors and police departments to watch for stranded children in the morning at bus stops, but the warning proved unnecessary.

The Pulaski Association of Support Staff, which represents bus drivers among others, voted Thursday evening not to undertake a strike or walkout.

For a variety of reasons, including a perceived threat against the family of board president Tim Clark, the board voted 4-2 to cease recognition of the unions. Clark, Mildred Tatum, Charlie Wood and Danny Gilliland voted the union out. Bill Vasquez and Gwen Williams voted against the motion.

Then, at an emergency board meeting Wednesday night, the four attending members—Clark, Tatum, Wood and Gilliland—voted to give employees the 2 percent pay increase they had agreed to during negotiation and to pay full health-care premium for the employees “as a gesture of goodwill.”

Those are the same four board members who attended the Friday meeting where the substitute pay increase, the academic interventionists and the bonuses for teachers who taught despite the job action were approved.

The 2 percent raises were in addition to the regular increases for longevity.

The members of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers unanimously voted Wednesday to stay away from school Thursday, and authorized Nix to call a strike if necessary.

During the one-day walkout, 81 percent of students attended school, while half the teachers were not in the classrooms.

Out of a total enrollment of 17,860, 14,460 students were in class. Of the 1,361 teachers in the district, 669 were at work.

Fifty-four percent of all elementary school teachers came to work.

At Homer Adkins, which is a pre-kindergarten school, four of the five teachers came to work.

At Arnold Drive, only six of 18 teachers came to work.

At Pinewood Elementary, all 24 teachers came to work, while at Sherwood Elementary School, three teachers out of 25 attended, and at Sylvan Hills only four out of 31.

Among middle schools, about 35 percent of teachers reported to work, including 24 of 62 teachers at Jacksonville.

At Northwood, only 10 out of 53—that’s less than 20 percent. At Sylvan Hills, 23 of 58 teachers reported to work.

Exactly half of the district’s high school teachers came to work.

At Jacksonville High School, 34 of 82 teachers showed up. At the Star Academy, four of five came to work.

At North Pulaski High School, 27 of 65 teachers reported for duty and at Sylvan Hills High School, the number was 26 of 66.