Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SPORTS>>Success, scandal head list

Compiled by Todd Traub and Jason King

Abundant Life boys basketball coach Tim Ballard was a no-show at his team’s biggest game of the year, but the ensuing scandal was worse than the loss the Owls suffered in the first round of the 2A-East regional at White Co. Central on Feb. 25.

It also became The Leader’s top sports story of 2010.

Ballard, also the principal at the tiny parochial school in Sherwood, had been suspended the day before the game and he was arrested March 5 for sexual assault, revealing a pattern of alleged sexual misconduct dating back several years.

The suspension came after a former student sent an e-mail to school superintendent Russell Eudy and a concerned party made a call to the Sherwood Police Department regarding a different young girl.

Officials at Abundant Life did notnotify authorities when Eudy received the e-mail on Feb. 24. Instead, they placed Ballard on paid leave pending their own investigation.

But when the boyfriend of another former student with whom Ballard allegedly had relations contacted Sherwood Police and suggested Ballard was already on suspension, police launched an investigation.

Ballard was freed on bail shortly after his arrest and appeared in court for his preliminary hearing May 24 when he pleaded not guilty on five counts. His trial was set for Oct. 27 but was pushed back until the first of the year.

Ballard will be tried on four charges of second-degree sexual assault and one charge of first-degree sexual assault, which is a Class A felony.

The arrest report stated in detail how, on numerous occasions, Ballard allegedly kissed and fondled a student. The report outlined a relationship that went back several years and progressed through the student’s time at the high school.

When news of the investigation broke, 20 young women came forward with reports of abuse or misconduct by Ballard. The statute of limitations has run out on all but two of the alleged victims but it is believed many of the 20 will testify at Ballard’s trial to help the prosecution support a behavioral pattern.

It was later revealed that over time, numerous complaints about Ballard had been made to school administrators. One dated to 1999 and another had been received the previous fall.

Ballard was a popular figure with students and a respected coach across the state. He had taken the Owls to the 2A state tournament the two previous years and appeared to have his team ready to compete for a third trip when he was suspended the day before the regional qualifier, which, under assistant Chris Horton, the Owls lost in double overtime.

Ballard helped several of his basketball players secure scholarships with smaller universities and he was also the high school track coach.

Beebe baseball

Led by pitcher Griffin Glaude, the Beebe Badgers earned the school’s first boys championship in a major sport since 1941 when the Badgers beat Monticello 6-2 in the 5A state championship at Fayetteville.

Glaude, then a junior, pitched a career game with 11 strikeouts, four walks and four hits and an RBI double at the plate. On the mound, Glaude held Monticello hitless from the second through the fifth innings.

It was just the fourth state tournament appearance for the Badgers (25-7), though it was their third straight, and their first appearance in a state final.

Beebe’s last major sports championship was in basketball in 1941.

Glaude (10-2), the MVP, struck out seven in the first three innings.

Lonoke misses final

The phrase “there’s always next year” carried the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits through three unsuccessful trips to the state finals from 2007-2009.

When seniors Asiah Scribner, Michaela Brown and Ashleigh Himstedt reached the final stretch of their high-school careers last spring, it was their last chance to claim the prize that had eluded them in three close championship losses.

But this time Prairie Grove shut the door on the Lady Jackrabbits as it took a 35-32 victory in the 4A state semifinals at Cherokee Village.

The potential go-ahead basket by Lonoke’s Cara Neighbors was waved off because of an offensive foul with 24 seconds left, and Prairie Grove won it on free throws.

The loss was the high-school swan song for seniors Scribner — now a freshman with the UALR Trojans — Himstedt and Brown.

Coaching carousel

Rick Russell was no stranger to Jacksonville football when he took the reigns of the program in the wake of Mark Whatley’s departure to join the staff at Springdale.

Russell had been a Jackson-ville assistant for 15 years, many of them as defensive coordinator, before leaving the program to become head coach at crosstown rival North Pulaski for 2009.

When Whatley’s departure opened up the Red Devils job, Russell returned to Jacksonville and improved the team’s regular-season record by four victories. Jacksonville finished 6-4 and beat Sheridan in the first round of the 6A playoffs before losing at Pine Bluff.

To fill the vacancy at North Pulaski, the Falcons promoted offensive coordinator Terrod Hatcher, who Russell described as a “shut down corner” when Hatcher played for Russell at Jacksonville.

At 21, Hatcher became the youngest head coach in the state and the Falcons gave him his first victory when they beat Crossett 38-13 on Oct. 22.

Searcy ups, downs.

The faulty light standards that forced the 2009 Lions to play a few more road football games were only the prelude to a wild 2010 for Searcy athletics.

On Feb. 9 the auxiliary gym roof collapsed under the weight of winter precipitation, which put space at a premium for basketball practices, physical education classes and other athletics, but things seemed to improve from that point.

The structure was estimated at $1.25 million, minus the uniforms and equipment stored inside.

The girls basketball team reached the 6A state championship, losing 51-42 to Watson Chapel on March 13.

On May 7, the boys and girls soccer teams each won 6A state championships.

The boys took their fourth consecutive championship with a 4-0 victory over Mountain Home while the girls beat El Dorado 3-1 to win their third championship in four seasons.

The Lions baseball team powered to the 6A state championship but, with sore-armed ace pitcher Dillon Howard regulated to position work, Lake Hamilton rolled to a 9-1 victory in Fayetteville on May 21.

The Lions football team reached the playoffs for the second consecutive year and the boys basketball team is off to a solid start behind Ole Miss signee Jamal Jones.

Sitzmann, UALR

Former Cabot standout Kim Stizmann wrapped up a record-setting career in style as the UALR Trojans reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time and scored a first-round upset of Georgia Tech.

Sitzmann finished her career as a four-year starter as UALR’s all-time leader in assists (430), steals (128) and three-pointers (115). Against Georgia Tech she led UALR with 21 points in the 63-53 victory before the Trojans took a second-round loss to Oklahoma.

Sitzmann got a tryout with Nolan Richardson’s Tulsa Shock, of the WNBA, and has been playing overseas.