Saturday, April 17, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Piazza tosses initiated act

When a lawsuit challenging the initiated act that outlaws adoptions and foster parenting by unmarried couples was assigned last year to Circuit Judge Chris Piazza, the religious groups pushing the law had to be happy. Piazza, an old prosecutor, is known as a no-nonsense, law-and-order judge who never tries to break new ground.

But they were not so happy yesterday. Judge Piazza ruled that the act was unconstitutional because it infringed upon the privacy of individuals and punished a group of people who happened to be unpopular, gays and lesbians.

Judge Piazza was right, but for more reasons than the narrow ones that he cited. The real beneficiaries of his decision are not gays and lesbians and other unmarried couples who want to adopt or rear a foster child but the abandoned, neglected and brutalized children who had no chance to have a nurturing home. Now, many more of them will.

The issue has bedeviled Arkansas for a half-dozen years since the Human Services Department under Gov. Mike Huckabee declared that same-sex couples were unsuitable parents and forbade them from fostering or adopting needy children, even though hundreds of children were going unloved or else warehoused in uncaring homes where couples fostered them for the small cash assistance they received. When the courts struck down that prohibition as exceeding the state’s power under statutes, the Arkansas Family Council came back with an initiated act in 2008, which the voters approved. The sponsors sought to avoid the discrimination issue by banning both same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexuals from being parents.

Judge Piazza destroyed the argument rationally. Arkansas courts have long recognized a right to privacy under the Arkansas Constitution that is more certain than the privacy doctrine ascribed to the U. S. Constitution. The Arkansas Supreme Court had ruled that the privacy right protected all private, consensual and noncommercial acts of sexual intimacy between adults — that is, all consensual adult activity but prostitution.

So under Initiated Act 1, if an unmarried man and woman want to adopt a child or take a foster child, all they have to do is either marry or move apart and they can be adoptive or foster parents, Judge Piazza observed. But a gay or lesbian couple can’t marry and be parents because Arkansas law forbids their marrying. Judge Piazza found it troubling that the act targeted one politically unpopular group for exclusion from being parents.

Yes, but both sides in the dispute agreed on one question and so do we. The welfare of needy children is a legitimate concern of the state government. The Family Council insisted that those children could only be helped by limiting their parents to married heterosexual couples. Never mind that there is a shortage of such families, caring and suitable ones anyway, who want to adopt troubled and disabled children or serve as foster parents. Although Judge Piazza ruled in their favor on the federal claims, the defenders of the law could not prove that gay and lesbian couples or other unmarried couples provided unhealthier home environments than other couples. The preponderant studies actually showed there was no difference in outcomes for children reared by gay and lesbian couples.

The Family Council will appeal the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, but no one should have any doubt about the outcome there. All the precedents of the past two decades suggest that the justices will put this ill-considered law out of its misery and give these desperately needy children a small lease on a happy life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

TOP STORY >> Student’s nightmare over

Foreign exchange student Felicia Kasselback is all smiles with her best host parents, Debbie and Phil Taylor of Cabot.


Leader staff writer

A Cabot family has opened its house and its hearts to a foreign-exchange student who was thinking about packing her bags and returning to Europe after two troubling stays with host families in Arkansas.

Felicia Kasselback, 18, of Stockholm, Sweden, enrolled in a foreign-exchange student program with 10 of her friends from Stockholm to attend high school for a year in the U.S.

Even though they will not get credit for their year here — they will have to repeat their senior year when they return to Sweden — the exchange students looked forward to studying in the U.S. and making new friends.

But for Felicia, the excitement of studying in America came to a screeching halt almost as soon as she landed here.

Her nightmare began the day after she arrived in Arkansas last August. She landed in Little Rock at night after a 19-hour flight.

Felicia was scheduled to spend a year with a host family in Camden, which included two daughters—one Felicia’s age and the other younger.

She recalled the horrible conditions she found when she awoke that first morning. “The host family’s house was messy and nasty,” she said. The photos of the home that were e-mailed to Felicia when she was in Sweden didn’t show any of the filth she found when she got here.

She said the Camden home had holes in the floors. The house had mold in the bathroom. The kitchen was messy. Old food was left out on the counters. Clothing was scattered everywhere.

“They didn’t care. All they did was watch television because they said it was too hot,” Felicia said.

She said the family did not have much money and bought cheap, unhealthy foods. She bought her own food, including fruit and yogurt.

Kasselback’s mother told her to give it some time. She stayed two weeks. Felicia said the house got dirtier and messier.

She took photos of the condition in the house and e-mailed them to her mom. Her mother forwarded the photos to the foreign-exchange student program.

The exchange program contacted Felicia a day later and told her help was on the way. The next day, the student-exchange program sent a student coordinator to the house.

Felicia said the exchange program called the host family and told them she was leaving.

“The mother got upset and starting screaming at me,” Felicia said.

She packed her belongings. The student coordinator took Felicia away. She stayed in the coordinator’s Camden home for three days.

The host family wrote insulting messages on Felicia’s Facebook page. She had to change her password. She said she was frightened.

The family sent back the gifts Felicia had given them and wrote nasty letters.

She said the host mom harassed the student coordinator to the point that the coordinator was afraid for Kasselback’s safety.

She was moved to a second student coordinator’s home in Beebe, where she stayed four days.

Felicia’s next stop, her third week in the United States, was to live with a host family in Enola (Faulkner County). The parents had two sons—one was Felicia’s age and the other was a pre-teen.

“The house was huge and gorgeous. It was clean,” she said.

She said the host parents were older, quieter and laid back. Felicia attended Mount Vernon High School for three weeks.

Then, for the second time, she wished she were back home.

She noticed the father was always watching her. He went into her room and wouldn’t leave her alone. He would ask inappropriate questions about her relationship with her boyfriend in Sweden. He also started touching her feet.

Felicia said she was scared. She contacted the foreign-exchange student coordinator in Beebe and called her mom.

She was afraid all communications might be broken off and she wouldn’t be able to contact her parents.

For the second time, she moved back into the student coordinator’s home in Beebe for three days and tried to find another host family, possibly in another state.

Felicia then found the break she had been praying for.

The student coordinator’s parents were friends with Debbie and Phil Taylor of Cabot.

The Taylors had opened their home a year ago, when the coordinator needed help placing Lara Schirmer, a German foreign-exchange student.

She, too, had difficulties with her host family. Schirmer had signed up for a semester in the U.S.

Originally, the Taylors were going to let Schirmer stay at their home for a few days until a new host family was found, but they decided to let her spend four months at their home and finish the school year.

Schirmer is coming back to the U.S. to visit the Taylors for five weeks this summer.

Debbie Taylor said they have never applied to be a host family, but she offers protection, mothering and love to the exchange students who need help.

Felicia, who has stayed with the Taylors since September, is a senior at Cabot High School.

In the spring musical “Aida,” she was in the cast as a handmaiden for the princess.

“I thought the musical was really fun. I had really good teachers,” she said.

At high school in Stockholm, Felicia is focused on economics and business. She said she would like to be a lawyer.

She says of her new host mom, “We are always together. We are very good friends. She is a nice, wonderful person.”

“It is great. It is like home,” she added.

She says of her new host family, “They know when I am homesick. They let me talk to my parents.”

Debbie Taylor said, “I protect her as my own child. There are no miles between our hearts—we are connected.”

“We have been blessed with a home we are able to share,” she added.

Phil Taylor said all that is required for a host family is to give exchange students a roof over their head and a place at the table and treat them as part of their family.

Anything the Taylors do, Felicia participates in.

Debbie said it was a blessing to have Felicia during the holidays.

Debbie said, “For us it is an honor to host an exchange student in the home. I don’t take it lightly.”

Phil said, “We do spoil her rotten, and she does the same back.”

For spring break, Jenny Kvarby-Engvall, 17, Felicia’s friend since junior high school, visited Cabot. Kvarby-Engvall is an exchange student attending high school in Melrose, Wis.

She and Felicia grew up in the same neighborhood in Stockholm.

They went on a Caribbean cruise with the Taylors’ son, Josh, and his wife Tiffinie, who is the daughter of Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams.

TOP STORY >> Rice verdict brings joy to farmers

Leader senior staff writer

A Lonoke County jury may have awarded Randall Snider and 15 other area rice producers nearly $50 million in actual and punitive damages Thursday afternoon, but by Friday morning he was back on his tractor “pulling levees” on the 700 acres of rice he farms.

To no one’s surprise, Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of Bayer, the $8.7 billion a year international conglomerate on the paying end of that judgment, will appeal, according to one of its lawyers.

That appeal will be to the Arkansas Court of Appeals or the Arkansas Supreme Court, according to Paul Byrd, managing partner of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton’s Little Rock office, which represented the plaintiffs.

It took the jury just two hours and five minutes to find that Bayer CropScience was negligent in safeguarding the rice crop from its experiments with genetically modified rice in and around 2000.

This was the fourth judgment since December against Bayer for the rice contamination, Byrd said, and the second that included punitive damages. It is by far the largest judgment of the four, with the other three cases totaling less than $5 million.

The actual award in this case was $5.9 million in actual damages and $42 million in punitive damages.

Lonoke County plaintiffs in that suit include Randy Schafer, End of the Road Farms, Shafer Planting Co., Wallace Farms, Robert E. Moery, Kyle Moery, Carter Farms Partnership, Robert Petrus, Randall Amaden, R&B Amaden Farms, Randall J. Snider, S&R Farms, A.S. Kelly and Sons, Neil Daniels Farms, Little Twist Land Co. and Garner Land Co.

Two more suits involving Arkansas rice growers are scheduled, one in St. Louis for June and in Desha County in July, Byrd said.

Some of the rice crop in Arkansas and else where was contaminated by the unapproved, experimental, genetically modified rice strain Liberty Link 601. It was just a trace of contamination—.06 percent—but it was sufficient to crash the market for Arkansas’ long-grain rice.

Bayer sought to develop a rice strain resistant to its own herbicide so it could be used directly on the rice without damaging it.

Even if Liberty Link 601 had been approved by the USDA, neither the Japanese nor members of the European Union—two of the largest consumers—will buy genetically modified food.

“In 2006, rice (stocks) were at a 23-year low,” Snider said. “Everything was lining up for us to do really well.

“We were ready for harvest,” said Snider. “All our money and inputs were made. The markets just shut down on us. The price dropped and we lost the export market.”

“We’re glad we made a stand,” said Snider, a third generation Carlisle rice producer.

Asked if he thought the Bayer defense team was talking down in its summation to the Lonoke jury of six men and six women, Snider said. “They understood enough. They got the message. I think justice was served.”

In closing arguments Thurs-day, Scott Powell for the plaintiffs showed the jury that USDA standard for handling experimental, genetically modified plant seed was to ensure “no release into the environment,” not a standard of “low-level” released.

He then projected on a screen copies of Bayer emails, letters and documents showing that the handling and controls for Liberty Link 601 and other experimental Liberty Link varieties was inadequate and that Bayer knew it without correcting the problem.

The Liberty Link 601 was tested at nine sites, including at the LSU rice station.

Bayer employees wrote of “shipping transgenic material without authorization, that (experiment) management was antagonistic toward stewardship” and that there had been “obvious foul-ups and lost samples at our lab levels.”

“I do not think the project is under control,” wrote one.

Powell told jurors that it was negligent or reckless to perform the experiments with the Liberty Link rice “in Louisiana, the mouth of the major rice breeding area in the nation.”

Some documents suggested doing the experiments at a site 75 miles from commercial rice production.

“They know how do it (responsibly) if they wanted to,” Powell told the jury.”

“If you let this stuff go, be prepared to buy the U.S. rice market,” one expert advised Bayer.

In his closing, Dick Ellis, lead attorney for Bayer, warned the jury about confusing documents pertaining to other Liberty Link experimental rice seed with those pertaining to the LL 601, the contaminent.

He called those documents “red herrings” dragged across the tracks of the truth by the plaintiffs to throw jurors off the scent.

“Travel back in time to 2000 and 2001,” said Ellis. “Measure the negligent circumstances not by today’s standards, but the standards then.”

He said the actions of Bayer and its agents showed “the care of ordinary persons under ordinary circumstances.

“Perfection is not the standard in this case,” he said.

“This is about market damages, not about safety,” he said.

“The alternative to perfection is doing nothing,” he said.

He characterized the attitude of the farmers as: “You let it out and I made record profits and I want more.”

TOP STORY >> Cabot reserves water with CAW

Leader staff writer

The commission that runs Cabot WaterWorks approved Tuesday night the purchase of the last 7 million gallons a day water allocation available in Lake DeGray to ensure that Cabot has water for its residents into the next century.

But the commissioners said during the same meeting that they will not participate in the Lonoke-White Water Project at Greers Ferry Lake until they are provided with accurate information about the cost and other pertinent factors.

Lake DeGray has a total allocation of 152 million gallons a day, most of which is held by Central Arkansas Water.

Tad Bohannon, the commission’s attorney, said the commission is not agreeing to buy water. The U.S. Corps of Engineers, which controls the lake, doesn’t guarantee the quality or availability of water from the lake. But what Cabot WaterWorks does get for a purchase price of $455,000 and an annual maintenance fee of $4,000 is water-storage capacity in the lake.

“This is not an agreement to buy water. You’re buying a jug to hold water,” Bohannon said.

Central Arkansas Water, which formed a decade ago through the consolidation of the water departments of Little Rock and North Little Rock, holds the first right of refusal on an allocation of 120 million gallons of water a day in the lake.

That water source will not be tapped for 50 years. But the plan now is for Cabot to get its water from the lake through lines that will be built by CAW.

Cabot currently gets its water from wells located between Beebe and Lonoke, but a line to connect to CAW’s existing sources, which will supply Cabot with water in the near future, is under construction.

Bill Cypert, spokesman for the commission and a candidate for Cabot mayor, said very few people in the room would be alive when the water from Lake DeGray starts flowing, but he added, “I think it is prudent that we lock this up.”

Chairman J.M. Park, a retired banker and lifelong Cabot resident who remembers when water to bathe in was a luxury, agreed with Cypert. It is critical to ensure a long-term water supply, Park pointed out.

Although the purchase has not been finalized, Cabot also holds a 1.2145-million-gallon-a-day allocation in Greers Ferry Lake through the Mid Arkansas Water Alliance. That allocation is always included when proponents of the Lonoke-White project to bring water to the area from Greers Ferry Lake talk about available water.

But Cypert, speaking for the commission during the Tuesday meeting, said Cabot will not give up its allocation to anyone, especially the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority, of which Cabot is a member.

Cabot might consider leasing the allocation to a city or water association but for no more than a year at a time, he said.

The Lonoke-White project has been ongoing for 15 years, but before construction can begin, about $50 million in funding must be locked down.

The most recent plan has been to use federal money funneled through the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, but whether federal money can be used for the project is unclear because for the most part the water is not needed immediately.

Immediate need is a condition for the federal funding.

Even if the funding is approved, Cypert said Cabot won’t participate without answers to questions the commission has asked for almost four years: How much will the project cost? How much will it cost to operate and maintain? And how will members without MAWA allocations get water?

He said during a later interview that following Bohannon’s advice, the commission threw the water-purchase agreement for the Lonoke-White project into the trash.

As one of the largest members of the project, Cabot wants a weighted vote. The smaller members should have equal power on the board, he said.

Aside for needing water in the future, the attraction for many of the project members such as Beebe is that all 11 members have an equal vote on the board of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority.

Beebe pulled out more than a decade ago because the projected cost of the water was more than it was willing to pay, but also because it had no voice on the board of Community Water System, the association on the lake that controlled the project.

Since that time, a lawsuit has given control to project members wh0 organized as the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority which is run by a board made up of representatives from all the participating entities.

Woody Bryant, chairman of the board of Grand Prairie Water Association and the project manager for the Lonoke-White Project, said Friday that he was aware of Cabot’s concerns and reservations about the project. If Cabot pulls out, he believes the project will still move forward.

He said progress is being made toward finding the answers to Cabot’s questions. And as for funding, federal money distributed through the state is still very likely, Bryant said.

“The good news is they haven’t turned us down,” he said. “They just haven’t accepted it yet.”

TOP STORY >> PCSSD looking to new start as it fills vacancy

Leader staff writer

It was a homecoming Thursday for Charles L. Hopson, who was selected to be superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District.

The Arkansas native worked early in his career in the district and is a deputy superintendent for Portland, Ore., schools.

The vote at an emergency meeting to hire Hopson, originally from Prescott, was unanimous. Hopson’s start date and salary are yet to be determined in contract negotiations.

Hopson said immediately after the board vote, “I am deeply honored and humbled to be elected superintendent of a district where I started my teaching career. The vote in solidarity symbolizes that the time is now for the district to move forward in reconciliation and healing for the needs of the students.”

Hopson said that in coming back to PCSSD as superintendent is a way to give back to “a district and state that have given me so much.”

Hopson’s strong personal reasons for taking the post may provide the added incentive needed to stay for awhile to address the challenges faced by the district, the third largest in the state with about 17,000 students. He said he is “in it for the long haul.”

“I was at my last district for 20 years,” he said. “You cannot do this work in a hurry. Jobs like this are sometimes viewed as a steppingstone.”

In recent months, there have been several sources of tension, instability and distraction for district personnel, the board and school patrons: The board vote in December to decertify the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers as the bargaining agent for district certified personnel and a subsequent court challenge to that action; an investigation into allegations of racial insensitivity on the part of acting Superintendent Rob McGill and then the leak of the investigators’ report, possibly by a board member, triggering yet another investigation; the month-long hearing in federal court on the district’s compliance with its desegregation plan, the outcome of which may profoundly impact the future course and geographic configuration of the district.

On top of all that, back in March, one of two finalists withdrew her application days before the board was expected to make its pick for permanent hire for superintendent. Rather than hire the other, McGill, the board voted to reopen a national search once the court hearing concluded. A few days after that, McGill accepted an offer to head a charter school in Maumelle when his contract with PCSSD runs out at the end of June.

The board voted last week to again interview Hopson, who had been among the four top applicants selected for consideration back in the winter. The remaining candidate has since accepted another job offer.

To get the district back on track and focused on educating children, Hopson said that his priority in the first 100 days on the job will be “listening and building the capacity for trust” and “being sensitive to a lot of hurt and pain” around issues to do with the teachers union as well as “other areas where people have concerns about educating the children.”

His plan is to visit every school and sound out staff, including clerical and custodial workers, about their “aspirations and what we can be.”

“I call it a gap analysis,” Hopson said. His plan is then to return a set of recommendations to the board from “a grassroots perspective.”

“The worst thing we can do is assume what we see at this level is an accurate assessment,” Hopson said, alluding to the tensions in recent months around board actions.

He said there are “pockets of success that are tremendous and promising” in PCSSD schools and he wants to see to it that those successes are “duplicated and not isolated” so there is equity of opportunity for all students, no matter which school they attend.

Hopson went on to say that a “hallmark” of his administration will be to help create schools “where people feel comfortable sending their children – a district that is high performance and attractive as an option and the best district in the state.”

Hopson called the movement launched by some Jacksonville school residents to establish a separate school district should be seen as “a red flag” that the district should make a priority. He said his hope is that the district does not divide.

“At this point, I would like to think of this district as a unified school district,” he said, adding that he intends to “reach out” to Jacksonville and other areas in the district that may feel disenfranchised so that they are “valued and affirmed and don’t have to do that as an option.”

Charter schools too signal dissatisfaction with a school district, said Hopson, who is has experience with those in the Portland district.

“It is important to make sure that public schools are an attractive, viable option,” he said.

Hopson said he plans to stay out of the likely resumption of efforts by some board members to decertify the union, because that was set in motion prior to his being hired.

“I will honor what has taken place and preceded me,” Hopson said.

A vote to set a date to decertify may come as early as next Tuesday at the next monthly board meeting. Last week, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox ruled that the board’s December vote to decertify the union violated state law, although a school board does have the authority to decertify.

To meet statutory requirements, the board must first have policies in place to support a personnel policy committee, the entity which by law supplants a union as a teachers’ bargaining unit.

As the district moves forward, Hopson advocates being “straightforward and transparent about what we can do and limitations about what may be desired by the teachers or bargaining unit, while making sure that the lines of communication are open and people are treated with respect and dignity.”

Hopson said racial disparities in academic achievement and discipline rates will be a priority, applying what he learned while a principal at a Portland high school with high suspension and expulsion rates.

In time, those rates dropped below district averages and included rates for black males of 3 to 4 percent. A “culturally responsive” approach to learning and discipline and a school climate that promoted excellence were keys to success, he said.

“We focused on creating an environment of highest expectations and performance,” Hopson said. “Students saw themselves reflected in the curriculum and are rewarded for what they do. It is a process of affirmation.”

Hopson said that although he has been away from the state for 20 years, he has always regarded himself as “a transplanted Arkansan,” not an Oregonian.

“The values and experiences unique to this state I would not trade for anything and have been such an asset to me,” Hopson said. “I am glad I grew up here first.”

Hopson is married to the former Patricia Heard of Helena. She is a school media specialist. They have a daughter who attends college.

Hopson is the son of a minister and school cook for the Pulaski County schools. His father, Charles Hopson, is deceased. His mother, Lucy Hopson, lives in Sherwood.

He credits his father with imbuing him with his core values of “integrity, being a person of your word and treating people right.”

Hopson has two brothers, Billy Hopson, who works for the city of Little Rock, and Timothy Hopson, who works for the Little Rock School District.

After graduating from the University of Central Arkansas in 1976 with a degree in elementary education, Hopson took a teaching job in the Guy-Perkins School District in Faulkner County, then worked for two years as a special education teacher at then-Northwood Junior High in PCSSD.

From there, he relocated to Helena, where he was a school principal. He was recruited after four years to work in the Portland School District.

There he has moved up the ranks from teacher to principal and two years ago was tapped to be one of four deputy supervisors in the district of 46,000 students.

Hopson holds a doctorate degree in educational policy and management from the University of Oregon.

“I have been a change agent, working in some of the most challenging schools in the district,” Hopson said.

SPORTS >> Van Buren trips Cabot to take lead in Central

Leader sportswriter

Van Buren steered its way out of a logjam to the top of the 7A-Central Conference standings with a 10-1 rout of Cabot at Brian Wade Conrade Field on Thursday.

Cabot (10-6, 3-4) was trying to force a five-way tie but found hitting Van Buren’s Tyler Spoon difficult as the Pointers (11-7, 5-2) took possession of first.

Van Buren held a one-game lead over Russellville, Conway and North Little Rock, all at 4-3, entering Friday. Cabot was in a three-way tie for fifth with Little Rock Catholic and Little Rock Central, while Bryant was in last place at 2-5.

Spoon gave up only three hits, working his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Pointers holding a 1-0 lead.

Van Buren scored four runs in the top of the fifth to take control, and doubled its lead with five runs in the top of the seventh. Seven of the Pointers’ 10 runs were earned.

Senior centerfielder Joe Bryant saved Cabot from a shutout in the bottom of the seventh when he drove in Ty Steele with a groundout to shortstop. Steele started the at-bat for Cabot with the Panthers’ second hit off Spoon and he advanced on a single by Brandon Surdam.

Cabot’s only other hit was byNo. 2 hitter Andrew Reynolds in the bottom of the first inning with one out. But Spoon got Matt Evans to pop out and cleanup batter Tyler Erickson to ground out and strand Reynolds.

The Panthers threatened to seize momentum in the fourth inning.

Cabot starter Cole Nicholson prevented a second Van Buren score after Allen Kino reached on an error to lead off the inning and made his way to third. Nicholson then induced a pop-up and a pair of groundouts.

Spoon gave up his only walk to Reynolds leading off the bottom of the fifth. Evans advanced Reynolds with a grounder to first that bounced off Parker Johnson’s glove and into right field.

Spoon struck out Erickson for the first out but hit Justin Tyler with a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.

Spoon kept his composure to strike out Steele, then Johnson made up for his earlier error with a diving catch of Surdam’s liner between first and second.

Things turned ugly for the Panthers in the top of the fifth when Nicholson surrendered four straight hits, including Kino’s double to center field that scored two runs. Nicholson then hit Garrett Hightower and was relieved by Chase Beasley, who held Van Buren scoreless until the top of the seventh when the Pointers got him for four hits and five runs.

SPORTS >> Beebe doubles fun at Sylvan Hills

Beebe’s Tanner Ball slides into second base while Sylvan Hills’ Greg Atchison waits to make the tag.


Leader sports editor

Once Beebe set a tone it stayed set at Sylvan Hills on Tuesday.

Griffin Glaude flirted with a complete game and added a two-run home run as the Badgers beat the Bears 13-3 in the first game of a 5A-Southeast Conference doubleheader at Kevin Mc-Reynolds Field on Tuesday afternoon.

Beebe completed the road sweep with a 10-2 victory in the second game as Logan Ballew struck out 11 and the Badgers posted a five-run fifth to break it open.

“We hit the ball well. We were aggressive with the ball,” Beebe coach Mark Crafton said as the Badgers improved their record to 17-2, 6-0.

Glaude went 4 2/3 innings in the run-ruled, first-game victory. He struck out seven, scattered five hits and walked three and helped himself with a two-run home run in the six-run fifth inning.

“He did good,” Crafton said. “Grif came out; it’s been awhile since he’s had good competition. He came out and he got some good defensive plays and finally we settled down and got some good hits for him with runners in scoring position.”

Sylvan Hills’ first-game starter and UALR signee Jordan Spears struggled with control early, forcing in tworuns with bases-loaded walks and leaving for reliever Blake Rasdon after giving up four runs in Beebe’s five-run second.

“We always want to get a kid that’s got some good stuff, like the Spears kid, get them up in their pitch counts and just let them labor a little bit and then be aggressive on pitches in the zone,” Crafton said.

Glaude (7-0) was 3 for 4 in the first game with two RBI and his home run. Ryan Williams was 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI and Ballew, playing third in the first game, was 3 for 3 with a run and five RBI.

“A little help right there, that’s always a motivational thing,” Crafton said of Glaude’s homer. “Hitting is contagious and it’s a little spark for the team.”

Ballew hit a two-run single to left in the second inning as the Badgers built a 7-0 lead, and added a two-RBI single in the big fifth. All of Beebe’s runs in the second came with two outs and the Badgers scored one with two outs in the first.

“Out of the first, I think, eight runs, or seven runs, they were scored with two outs,” Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton said.

“They got one with less than two and we couldn’t get out of an inning. Hey, they made some good plays and hit the ball.”

Glaude’s home run made it 9-0 in the fifth, then Bryson Scott hit a one-run double, Ballew added his two-run single and Jared Ashbrenner, one of 11 Badgers to bat in the inning, completed Beebe’s scoring with an RBI single to right that made it 13-0.

The run production was no surprise to Tipton.

“It was 16-6 last time,” Tipton said of the Bears’ previous loss to Beebe. “They’re a good club.”
Glaude, nearing a 100-pitch count, grew tired and couldn’t get out of the fifth as Sylvan Hills scored three runs. Austin Spears

hit a two-run double and Rasdon added an RBI single before Scott came in from right field to relieve Glaude and strike out Michael Lock to end the first game.

“We gave them a little breathing room with some walks and errors,” Crafton said. “We gave them some runners in scoring position and they took advantage of it and put three up on the board. But it helped getting that early cushion; it let us breathe a little bit but we’ve still got to be plugging away.”

Ballew (4-1) gave up four hits and three walks in the second game as Beebe handed the loss to Blake Hannon.

Glaude was 2 for 2 with three RBI in the second game, Williams was 2 for 2 with two RBI, Scott was 2 for 3 and Ballew was 2 for 4. Lance Hunter was Sylvan Hills’ second-game hitting star as he went 2 for 3 with a home run.

“We like where we’re at, Crafton said of Beebe’s position atop the 5A-Southeast standings. “We’ve played some good ballclubs here.”

SPORTS >> ’Hounds erupt to pound Travs

Arkansas and Midland managers swap lineups Thursday.


Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Travelers went 0 for Midland in their home opener at Dickey-Stephens Park on Thursday night.

The Midland RockHounds rolled to an 11-1 victory, a score identical to the season opener in Midland, and ran their record against Arkansas to 4-0 before a crowd of 7,144.

Midland got 11 hits and took advantage of four Travelers’ errors in its first visit to North Little Rock this year.

“It was one of those games we didn’t hit, we didn’t pitch, we didn’t play defense,” Arkansas manager Bobby Magallanes said.

In an annual scheduling twist, Midland and Frisco, of the Texas League South Division, play Arkansas, of the North, in the first 12 games of the year. Arkansas is the Class AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels and Midland is affiliated with the Angels’

American League West rival the Oakland Athletics.

Counting spring training games, the Arkansas and Midland clubs get to know each other fairly well in the early going of each season.

“We’ve had four games against them and two of them were really close, one-run games,” Midland manager Darren Bush said.

“And then we just had some games go our way in the other two where we took advantage of some opportunities.”

Midland made the most of its 11 hits and sent nine to the plate in a five-run fourth inning that featured a grand slam by designated hitter Archie Gilbert, batting in the No. 9 spot.

Arkansas’ lone run came on Paul McAnulty’s sacrifice fly in the sixth, but Midland responded with a three-run seventh that included Alex Valdez’s two-run triple.

“Actually, the first game of the season we lost 11-1,” Magallanes said. “So it’s like déjà vu. It’s like ‘Whoa, it’s happening again, 11-1.’ They’ve got a good team. They can hit. We can’t make too many mistakes against those guys. They really capitalize on them.”

Midland left-hander Carlos Hernandez (1-0) started and went 5 1/3 innings for the victory. Hernandez gave up two hits, one run, struck out four and walked three.

Travelers starter Jayson Miller (0-2) gave up seven runs, though just two were earned because of errors, in five innings as he took the loss.

Magallanes noted Midland has gotten away from a patient plate approach once encouraged by the parent Oakland club in favor of a more aggressive offensive style.

“They run,” he said. “They don’t go station to station anymore, they don’t take pitches anymore. They’re a lot more aggressive now.”

Midland improved to 5-2 and remained tied with Corpus Christi for first in the South. Arkansas dropped to 3-4 and was in third in the North behind Northwest Arkansas and Springfield.

The Travelers returned to action against Midland at Dickey-Stephens on Friday, and wrap up the three-game series with the RockHounds today. Frisco arrives for a three-game series that begins Sunday.

The two South Division clubs won’t play Arkansas again until the second half of the Texas League season begins July 1.

“We see them a lot but the games usually takes place,” Bush said. “They play hard all the time and we know that. So we have to be on our game.”

The ever-worsening score didn’t seem to bother the opening night crowd Thursday.

Fans were still lining up at the ticket windows in the second inning, families reclined on blankets in the outfield berms and customers in the ballpark beer garden, known as “Hook Slide Corner,” stood shoulder to shoulder most of the evening.

“We didn’t play that well but hopefully we can get them tomorrow,” Magallanes said.

SPORTS >> Jacksonville’s girls keep pace, take two

Jacksonville second baseman Jennifer Bock gets a hit against LR Parkview.


Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville quickly took control against struggling Little Rock Parkview in a 6A-East Conference doubleheader at Dupree Park on Tuesday.

The Lady Red Devils routed the Lady Patriots 17-1 in the first game and shut them out 17-0 in Game 2 to improve their conference record to 4-6.

Over the weekend Jacksonville reached the championship of the Jae Lynn Russell Memorial tournament and took momentum into Tuesday. But coach Tanya Ganey said the real turnaround for her young team came in a 9-7 loss at Marion late last week.

“These young ladies have improved a lot,” Ganey said. “The first time we played Marion, we lost 15-0. We go back and get down 7-0, but we hit the ball well and stepped up our defense, and even had a chance to win it there in the seventh inning with runners on base. That was a big accomplishment for us.”

Jacksonville rolled past Parkview with a combination of big hits up the middle and poor fielding by the Lady Patriots.

Jacksonville earned 10 of its runs and was led by sophomore cleanup hitter Haley Hickingbotham, who went 2 for 2 with three RBI.

In the first game Hickingbotham drove in the first two runs for the Lady Red Devils with a single to center field that scored Alexis Oakley and junior Candice Howard.

Oakley was 3 for 3 with an RBI and two runs scored in the first game.

The junior all-purpose player singled twice in the top of the second and scored when Howard knocked her in with a single to center. Oakley’s second single, a blooper just over shortstop, drove in leadoff batter Jennifer Bock to give the Lady Red Devils a 12-1 lead.

Junior outfielder Riley Zink came to the plate only once for Jacksonville, but made the most of it in the top of the first with an RBI single that made it 3-0. Courtesy runner Chyna Davis scored, then took over for Zink as the No. 5 hitter and came away with a hit and two RBI.

Sophomore pitcher Alexis House gave up the only run to Parkview in the bottom of the first thanks to a walk and a single.

From there, House and the Jacksonville defense kept Parkview off the basepaths.

House gave up one more single and a two-out walk in the bottom of the third but induced a groundout to end the game by the 10-run rule.

Alexis House handled pitching duties in both games. Her sister Whitney House was absent from the bullpen because a stress fracture in her foot.

Bock, Jacksonville’s only senior, finished 2 for 4 after grounding out twice in the first inning. Bock doubled and scored in the second and drove in a run with a single in the third.

With conference sweeps over Hall and Parkview and six seeds available for the East in the 6A state tournament, the odds of the Lady Red Devils reaching the postseason for the 10th consecutive year look promising.

SPORTS >> Area players earn all-star accolades

Leader sportswriter

Seven area basketball players were named to the Arkansas Activities Association all-star basketball teams released Thursday.

The all-star game, between the East and West squads, will be played at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on June 24.

Lonoke’s Asiah Scribner and Searcy seniors Lauren Harrison and Kristen Celsor made the East girls team to be coached by North Little Rock’s Daryl Fimple.

North Pulaski’s Aaron Cooper and Daquan Bryant, Jacksonville’s Deshone McClure and Garrett Southerland of Abundant Life will play for Conway coach James Bates and the East squad in the boys game.

Scribner was named Leader girls player of the year after averaging 15.1 points and 10.2 rebounds a game as Lonoke reached the state semifinals. The 6-0 postplayer will play for UALR and coach Joe Foley in the fall after starting four years under

Nathan Morris on the Lady Jackrabbits.

Scribner received the most votes of any player in the 2-4A Conference, and will be joined by fellow post player and conference rival Whitney Donahue of Clinton.

“We’re certainly happy; actually, we’re as proud as we can be,” Morris said of Scribner’s selection. “It’s a great opportunity for her to complete her high school career on a big stage and showcase her abilities. Plus, it’s just an all-around fun week for the kids.”

Searcy’s Celsor and Harrison will have one final game together after growing up as teammates on various AAU teams, as well as being a part of the Lady Lions program since junior high and helping the Lady Lions to this year’s 6A state final.

McClure will lead a strong contingent of local boys players from the area. McClure, the Leader pick for boys player of the year, averaged 18.3 points a game for the Red Devils under coach Victor Joyner.

North Pulaski’s Cooper averaged 16.9 points a game and will play at Missouri State in the fall. Cooper, Bryant and McClure have all won AAU national titles together on the Arkansas Wings.

“They deserve it,” North Pulaski coach Ray Cooper said of the Falcons’ all-star selections, who helped North Pulaski to the state semifinals. “It’s really rewarding for them. They have made sacrifices.

“They played unselfish and didn’t worry about stats, and a lot of times they didn’t even play in the fourth quarter because we were beating teams so badly. They never complained.”

Southerland led the Owls to the 2A regional tournament this season, and has been a three-year starter for Abundant Life. At 6-6, Southerland is noted as one of the best outside-shooting post players in the state.

SPORTS >> Perssons of interest: No Rivalries within Bears' family

Jacob Persson, left, Philip Persson and Joshua Persson all have vital roles on Sylvan Hills’ soccer team, and will make their third trip to state next month.


Leader sportswriter

There are a lot of Perssons responsible for Sylvan Hills’ soccer success in recent years.

For Bears seniors Philip Persson, Jacob Persson and Joshua Persson, that success has included back-to-back appearances in the state tournament and one conference championship in their first two varsity seasons.

And for their final run — this year as team captains — the three will most likely lead the Bears into the 5A state tournament as the No. 2 seed from the 5A Southeast Conference after two close losses to league-leading Pulaski Academy.

But those two losses have been the only setbacks for Sylvan Hills (10-2-1).

“It’s been a really good year so far,” Philip Persson said. “We’re getting more and more of a reputation at school. Soccer is kind of growing, and we’re getting more respect for it, which is kind of exciting for us.”

Forward Jacob Perssons and mid-fielder Joshua are twin brothers who were both named all-conference last year, while goalkeeper Philip is their cousin. But the family connection doesn’t end with Phil, Jacob and Josh.

Philip’s brother Sam Persson has been head coach of the Bears for five seasons while his sister Jody was a standout of the Lady Bears in 2005-06 and now helps coach girls.

Sam Persson, who will also coach sophomore and cousin Jeremiah Persson the next two seasons, said having relatives on the field together is a great benefit when it comes to communication and unselfishness.

“They look for each other,” Sam Persson said. “When the game is on the line, they know they have somebody they can trust, because they’ve worked together so long before. Especially the brothers; they know what each other’s going to do before the other guy does it.”

Jacob led the team with 24 goals last year and has 17 this season, tying him with Joshua for the lead.

“Last year, we had a chance, but it’s actually turned out better for us this year as far as a team,” Jacob Persson said. “We’ve gained a lot more people. A lot of the other players have progressed more than expected. So we’ve actually turned out to be a lot better.”

Jacob has produced more goals than anyone for the Bears in the past two years, but Sam Persson looks to him for much more.

“Jacob is the most natural athlete that we have on the team,” Sam Persson said. “He has skill, he has speed, and he’s left footed, which is a rarity, especially at this level. He can head the ball, he can score the ball, he can pass the ball — he’s got good vision. He’s hard to take down. We would probably get a lot more free kicks if he wasn’t so stubborn about staying up and being direct.”

Sam Persson praises Joshua as the headiest player Sylvan Hills has on the team.

“Josh is probably one of the more underrated players in the state,” Sam Persson said. “He’s not the best athlete on our team, he doesn’t have the strongest foot, but he has a better tactical understanding than anybody I’ve seen play at the high-school level.

“If there’s a spot that needs to be filled on the field, he sees it, and he fills it. When he has to, he’ll take the game on his shoulders.”

Joshua is just as happy to see members of his family in the stands as on the field.

“We get a lot of support from our family,” he said. “They always come to all of our games. It’s definitely not the biggest sport at Sylvan Hills, but we get a fair amount of fans.”

Philip refers to Sylvan Hills’ 3-0 victory over Paragould in the first round of the 5A state playoffs last year, when he stopped a close-range free kick in the final seconds, as his best goalkeeping performance.

“He has the personality traits that you need in a keeper, which is a strong individual personality,” Sam Persson said of his younger brother. “Someone who doesn’t need kudos from other people; he’s self-motivated.

“And he’s fearless, which is important when you’re coming up against the big athletes that tend to be at the forward position.

He’s not afraid to take somebody out.”

All three players plan to attend UALR for two years after high school. From there, Philip plans on transferring to Letourneau University in Longview, Tex., while Jacob and Joshua will most likely head north to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

UALR only has a women’s soccer program, but the Perssons plan to play club soccer until they transfer.

As for the remainder of this season and the brothers’ battle for the scoring lead, Joshua said that takes a back seat to teamwork and victories.

“I mean, we pass each other the ball,” Joshua said.

“It’s not like we intentionally keep the ball from each other or anything. If we win, we’re happy.”

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

EDITORIAL >> So long Mike, Janet

Tell us it isn’t so! The morning prints reported yesterday that Mike and Janet Huckabee have adopted Florida as their home and have moved into a $1 million rental abode in Miramar Beach, a resort community on a narrow spine of land between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawatchee Bay. They are nestled among four championship golf courses.

By declaring themselves as domiciliaries of Florida, the Huckabees will not have to pay Arkansas income taxes on Mike’s high six-figure income from Fox News and book royalties, but we are sure that had nothing to do with their decision to become Floridians. Actually, only Janet Huckabee has made it official that she is a Floridian. A spokesman for the former governor, the daughter who is running the Arkansas Senate campaign of John Boozman, wouldn’t say whether her dad was an official Floridian or an Arkansawyer.

They still own the stately home that they bought in Shady Valley just west of us after he left office in January 2007. But we are quite sure that the couple who repeated their vows in a celebrated covenant marriage would never be separated even by a legal distinction.

This poses a dilemma for Arkansas media such as us, who give inordinate attention to the exploits of Arkansawyers who have moved on to the national stage. If Mike Huckabee is not an Arkansawyer but a Floridian, do we continue to mark the sparrow’s fall when he utters a banality or falsehood in some eastern venue, such as a Fox telecast or column, or when another criminal that he freed while he was governor goes on a killing spree outside our borders? We don’t do that with, say, Sarah Palin or Mark Sanford or Mitt Romney.

Were he not a Floridian, for example, we would take note of Huckabee’s interview this week in which he equated gay and lesbian people with drug users, polygamists and people who have sex with their sisters, brothers and children and opined that people who did not believe in a god live completely devoid of morals. Or the column he wrote for Fox the other day praising the idea of a national sales tax, which he said would be wonderful because prostitutes, pimps, bookies and drug dealers would be required to collect a big sales tax from their customers and remit it to the federal treasury. (Imagine the federal bureaucracy that would be needed to enforce that rule.)

See, wherever his abode is, the man is just too interesting to ignore.

It has been our habit to mark the governor’s philosophical pilgrimage after he left the Arkansas Capitol. For nearly 10 years he was a pragmatic and often compassionate if slightly quirky public servant. He raised taxes over and over to improve education, vastly expanded government-paid health care to the poor (he called it socialism when President Obama tried it), employed a wildly liberal policy toward long-term inmates of the penitentiary and tried to enlarge the rights of immigrants living illegally among us before a Democratic legislature beat him down.

But nothing he says or writes anymore reminds you of that incarnation. We think it is important for purely scholastic reasons that we record the philosophical journey of this modern prodigal.

No matter where he pays or avoids taxes and registers to vote, until Mike Huckabee is caught wearing a Florida Gators cap, he is going to be an Arkansawyer to us. —E.D.

EDITORIAL >> Sen. Baker disappoints

Disappointments, disappointments. Now we read that our favorite Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, the joyful and sweet-tempered Gilbert Baker of Conway, has joined the little rearguard clique that wants to substitute a giant national sales tax for corporate and personal income taxes.

We have lost count of how many Republican candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives from northwest Arkansas have come out for the “Fair Tax,” the name that its authors dreamed up 20 years ago, but we should have guessed that Gil

Baker would eventually try to get ahead of the parade. He does that.

Still, it is disappointing. In spite of his right-wing pronouncements in this race, Baker was always a pragmatic lawmaker in his stints in the Arkansas House of Representatives and Senate. He was known even to vote for taxes for good causes. His transmogrification into a reactionary follows the pattern of his mentor, Mike Huckabee, including his embrace of the national sales tax. (See comment below.)

Substituting a broad sales tax for income taxes would shift the tax burden more radically from the rich to working people. Its adherents, like Huckabee, claim that its regressive effect would be offset by a government rebate to everyone to offset the taxes on what it costs to live in poverty. But the tax rate would need to be so huge — more than 30 percent by independent estimates — that it would lower the lifestyle of people of median incomes and less, and also accelerate the shift of wealth to the top one percent of Americans.

If Huckabee, Baker and the other politicians who have climbed on the sales tax bandwagon are serious and not merely grandstanding, they will climb on board with the AR One Tax. That is the nutty constitutional amendment that some ideologues who call themselves the Arkansas Progressive Group are trying to get on the Arkansas ballot this fall. The attorney general and secretary of state have approved the popular name and ballot title and have asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to certify that it would not mislead people about what they are voting on. We don’t think the Supreme Court will do that because the name and ballot title are not only bewildering and stupid, but also dishonest. But the amendment may get on the ballot and, who knows, the voters may approve it.

It purports to repeal all taxes levied by the state, although by deceit or oversight the authors leave many taxes untouched. The $5.5 billion of state revenues that support schools, highways, health care, prisons and all the other functions of government would be replaced by a sales tax on everything you buy, from groceries and cars to haircuts, doctor visits and the services of your gardener and your tax preparer.

Businesses wouldn’t pay any taxes, but all 2.9 million Arkansawyers would get a big check each month from the government to pay for the necessities of life. Just for an example, the Jim Bob Duggar family in Little Rock — the 21 of them —would get about $70,000 a year from the state. You would, of course, buy your new car and appliances in Memphis to save a fourth of the cost.

If that sounds like a plan, vote for our friend Gil Baker, or one of his Republican foes. They’re for it.

TOP STORY >> Paramedic helped Haiti

Jacksonville Fire Battalion Chief Joe Bratton tells Rotary Club members he saw devastation in Haiti while he worked to save lives in that poor nation.


Leader senior staff writer

“Pray for the people of Haiti,” Jacksonville Fire Battalion Chief Joe Bratton told Jacksonville Rotarians at lunch Monday.

Bratton, himself an associate Baptist preacher in Sherwood, traveled to Port-au-Prince in February, just weeks after the devastating earthquake that flattened the capital city and killed about 230,000 people. Bratton was part of a six-person team organized by a Baptist group in Arkansas.

As a paramedic, Bratton was part of a three-person medical team, accompanied by a three-person construction team.

“With the earthquake several weeks old when they arrived, we found ourselves dealing with infection and parasites as opposed to traumatic injuries,” he said.

“We were trying to get people as healthy as possible for the rainy season,” he said.

“After a while, we stopped testing for worms and wormed everyone.”

Bratton and his companions paid their own airfare and expenses. The suitcases of medications—which quickly ran out—were donated, as was the water purification equipment they set up and left behind.

“They are the third world of the third world,” he said. Maybe the fourth world.’

“They were economically and resource challenged before the earthquake.”

He worked with a doctor, a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse.

He found the conditions hot and humid. They slept inside a church that survived the earthquake, ate there most of the time and held their clinics either in the church or outside under a tree.

“We called it the Mango Tree Clinic,” Bratton said.

“We lived and stayed with the Haitians,” he said, “and saw 1,227 patients in five days.”

The people were friendly, gracious, grateful and resilient, with a good spirit for people who have lost the little they had before the earthquake.

He said that despite the lack of water, the people he saw appeared fresh and appeared to be wearing clean clothes. “They smelled better than we did,” he said.

Children played and carried on, he said. “Kids were kids and teenagers were teenagers.”

He saw youngsters flying a kite made out of a plastic bag.

He saw no evidence of roving gangs or people stealing or looting, but relief supplies were on hand by then, as was armed security from several nations. He was mostly in the Canadian zone.

Water from broken water mains ran down the streets, which were also where the garbage was thrown.

“The garbage lay on the street, where it was burned or hogs rooted through it.”

Bratton said it would take Haiti at least 30 years to recover. Landlords and homeowners had no insurance and wouldn’t be rebuilding homes. Many he saw had improvised shelters in the medians of the highways.

TOP STORY >> Stumbaugh says he’s a candidate for Cabot mayor

Former Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh addresses supporters at city hall.


Leader staff writer

Standing on the steps of Cabot City Hall with 15 U.S. flags behind him, former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh told about 100 supporters Monday evening that he is running for a second term.

Stumbaugh is the third candidate to announce. Bill Cypert, secretary and spokesman for the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, and Alderman Eddie Cook also are running.

Stumbaugh told the group, which included friends, family, fellow Republicans and members of his church, Christ Worship Center, that if elected he will be a “more humble servant” than he was in his first term.

Stumbaugh, now in his mid-40s, had taken a leave of absence from the Little Rock Police Department to run for mayor eight years ago. He did not seek another term but ran for Congress instead and lost.

Today, he works with large accounts for the garbage company IESI.

Stumbaugh counts among the successes of his first term the new community center and animal shelter which he pushed for.

When money to build those projects fell short, construction required the extension of a one-cent sales tax, which he opposed.

Cook and former Alderman Odis Waymack sponsored the referendum that put the question of extending the tax to the voters.

The extension of the tax raised more than $30 million and also paid for the construction of the wastewater treatment plant without raising sewer rates, the city’s part of the railroad overpass and about $2 million for street repairs.

Although the community center and animal shelter were built during Stumbaugh’s term, the other projects were completed under Mayor Eddie Joe Williams.

Williams, who is running for the state Senate and not a second term as mayor, was the only candidate Stumbaugh alluded to during the 15-minute announcement.

Just before 6 p.m., the traffic light at Second and Main Streets allowed only two or three cars to cross Main at one time.

Without using his name, Stumbaugh said that despite Williams’ attempts at improving traffic flow, it is at its “all-time worst.”

“We rerouted traffic; we timed lights and it wasn’t like it was today,” Stumbaugh said.

Stumbaugh also counted among his successes the special census that brought in new tax revenue mostly for streets and the construction of sidewalks around the schools with a grant that started under his predecessor and ended under Williams.

Although he didn’t elaborate, Stumbaugh told the crowd of well-wishers that he had made some mistakes during his first term because he was human.

But he said he had always worked hard to “protect kids and families” and to build better police and fire departments and that he is the candidate who will be proactive in seeing to their needs.

The announcement started with a prayer by his pastor asking God to sanctify the start of Stumbaugh’s campaign and an introduction by longtime friend Robin Standridge.

“I’ll do anything for Stubby because he’ll do anything for me,” Standridge said, adding, “Stubby’s promised that if he wins this time, he’s going to listen to me.”

As mayor, Stumbaugh was often embroiled in controversy. He hired his friends, sometimes to positions for which they proved to be unqualified, his critics said.

Several lawsuits against the mayor, council and city were filed during that time, including a suit by City Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler, who wanted back the duties Stumbaugh had asked the council to take from her.

That suit was eventually dropped and her duties were restored when Williams took office.

Stumbaugh feuded with the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and his working relationship with the Lonoke County judge was poor. When Judge Charlie Troutman asked during a council meeting for financial help building the road that connects Hwy. 5 to Walmart, Stumbaugh asked Troutman if he owned land in the area.

And since some council members supported the mayor and some didn’t, council meetings were often long and confrontational.

SPORTS >> Cabot racer shakes loose rust, returns to speedway

Batesville driver and defending MSRA series champion Billy Moyer, Jr. hot laps at Beebe Speedway prior to the season opener.


Leader sportswriter

The car was new but the number, paint scheme and driver were quite familiar to local late model fans.

It was Stacy Taylor’s first trip to Beebe Speedway in well over a decade in his white 27 car with florescent graphics and numbers.

Taylor, of Cabot, fielded one of 23 entries for the Mid South Racing Association season opener Friday. And, it was his first trip anywhere in his brand new Moyer Victory Circle chassis, from the same brand that sat in victory lane with driver Billy Moyer, Jr.

Taylor shook down the new machine by qualifying 12th and finishing in the same spot for the feature, the first car a lap down.

“It was okay,” Taylor said. “Actually, the car was probably better than the driver; the driver might have been a little rusty. I don’t think we ran but about ninetimes last year, about August, and this is our first race since then.”

Taylor’s night on the track was fairly uneventful. He briefly battled for a top-ten spot with Kyle Beard, Dewaine Hottinger and Bill Frye early before settling into the 12th spot in his own space before leader and eventual race winner Billy Moyer, Jr. caught him with two laps to go.

Taylor made a name for himself in late models by winning a number of weekly features at Batesville Speedway in the late 90’s before becoming one of the early stars of the Mid America Racing Series. Taylor won four races on the MARS tour from 2000-05, including one in each of the first three seasons.

His first MARS victory came on July 3, 2000 at Batesville followed by his triumph at Malden, Mo., on July 6, 2001. Taylor won another MARS race at Batesville in late August of 2002, but went almost three years before capturing his most recent victory at Bolivar, Mo., on July 8, 2005.

But with two young children and a successful family business, Taylor, 39, has become more of a part-time racer.

The 21-year, late-model veteran helps operate Taylor Electric service company based out of Jacksonville and he runs in a handful of events every year.

“We just kind of try to get a feel for things, then a little bit later on in the summer, stuff opens up a little more,” Taylor said. “We’ll travel out a little more. We just came and did this deal because we needed to get a little experience and learn from it, then we’ll go somewhere else and try it.”

Taylor stated that he intended on running in the Topless 100 at Batesville in August.

SPORTS >> Red Devils get to Rockets late

Nick Rodriguez delivers a pitch for Jacksonville on Friday.


Leader sports editor

It’s too bad for Jacksonville that Friday’s Arkansas Activities Association benefit game with Little Rock Catholic didn’t count.

It certainly was a keeper as far as Jacksonville was concerned.

Jacob Abrahamson and Patrick Castleberry hit home runs as the Red Devils broke open a close game in a 6-1 victory over the Rockets at Dupree Park.

“What I like about this group is we may not put the total thing together every day but they find ways to win,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “We found a way to win today with our pitching and defense and just scratched a few out. That’s what we seem to have done so far.”

Burrows said Jacksonville and Catholic couldn’t get the benefit game played in the preseason. Burrows said he used a hole in the schedule to not only play the game Friday, but to treat it like a real varsity matchup.

Specifically, Burrows had a few pitching objectives to accomplish and saw everything he wanted out of starter Nick Rodriguez and relievers Mike Lamb and Castleberry.

Rodriguez went five innings with three hits allowed, one run, two walks and two strikeouts to get the victory, and Lamb and Castleberry, who started at catcher, worked a scoreless inning each.

“The pitching is exactly what we wanted to see,” Burrows said. “I didn’t know if Nick would get five but we wanted five out of him and today would have been Lamb’s bullpen day so we wanted him to throw one and we wanted Castleberry to close.”

If there were a wild card, it was Castleberry. Burrows, looking to improve his bullpen depth, wanted to see his junior slugger throw and Castleberry worked around two walks in his scoreless seventh.

“He has thrown a couple times,” Burrows said. “But we got in a situation where one game we wanted to use him and our catcher, I’d done pulled him and screwed up. But I think that’s his third appearance of the year. We’re kind of thin there and it’s something we’ve tinkered with. You never know when we may need that arm.”

Abrahamson, the Red Devils’ leadoff man, hit a two-run home run to make it 4-1 in the fifth and Castleberry led off with a homer in the two-run seventh.

“I didn’t feel like we swung it very good,” Burrows said. “Luckily we got a few that got out of the ballpark.”

The late-game power broke open what had been a tight struggle early.

Catholic’s Drew McMahon singled with one out in the first but was erased in a double play. The Rockets went down in order in the second, then leadoff man Nick Battisto reached on an infield hit to lead off the third and was caught stealing.

But Catholic’s defense was even more stingy in the early going. Castleberry got a one-out, infield hit in the first and was the Red Devils’ lone base runner though three innings as Rockets starter Conner Gilmore struck out three and Battisto made four assists at third.

Zach Gibson drew a two-out walk from Rodriguez in the Rockets fourth and scored when diving right fielder Alex Tucker couldn’t quite glove Drew Turner’s high fly and it fell in for an RBI double.

Jacksonville responded with three straight singles to right by D’vone McClure, Castleberry and Caleb Mitchell in the fourth. Mitchell’s drive drove in McClure, then Rodriguez scored Castleberry with a sacrifice fly.

But Mitchell, who was on second after a double steal, was caught off base and tagged out in a rundown and Jesse Harbin struck out to leave Jacksonville in front 2-1.

The Red Devils padded their lead with Abrahamson’s home run and made the Rockets pay for an error in the fifth. First baseman Stuart Montez muffed Logan Perry’s two-out roller and Abrahamson followed with a drive over the left-field fence to make it 4-1.

Jacksonville tacked on two more in the sixth. Castleberry, facing reliever Will Ogles, homered over the left field fence and Mitchell doubled, setting the stage for courtesy runner Jake Lovercheck to steal third and score on catcher Logan Wewers’ throwing error for the 6-1 lead.

“No matter if we’re struggling pitching, if we’re struggling hitting, our guys think they’re going to find a way to get it done,” Burrows said. “That’s what I’m encouraged to see.”

Jacksonville (13-3, 6-0 6A-East) had a conference game at Little Rock Parkview then was looking to a stretch in which it faces Jonesboro, Mountain Home and Searcy, all 6-0 late last week.

Jacksonville plays host to Jonesboro at Dupree Park on Friday.

“Late-season games, they’re supposed to be important,” Burrows said.

SPORTS >> Panthers use Steele to strengthen lineup

Cabot’s Chase Thompson dives back to first after reaching in a recent game.


Leader sports editor

It was two comebacks in one for the Cabot Panthers at Beebe on Friday.

Panthers third baseman Ty Steele continued his comeback from a torn leg ligament, and with his help Cabot bounced back from a late-inning deficit to blow past Beebe 9-2 in a non-conference victory.

“It was actually closer than the score appeared,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said.

Steele, who tore his posterior cruciate ligament while sliding in February, hit a two-run home run to spark an eight-run, sixth-inning rally.

“Thank goodness we’re getting him back and he’s healthy now,” Fitch said.

Steele’s first game back from his injury was as a designated hitter against Conway on March 30. Steele, a Henderson State signee who has been wearing a brace, was clearly slowed by the torn ligament at the time but has been improving steadily ever since.

“He’s an RBI guy,” Fitch said. “We’ve got him hitting in the five and six hole. That’s been kind of the chink in our armor this year. Pitching has been great, defense has been great and hitting has been kind of inconsistent.”

Beebe was leading 2-1 when Steele hit his two-run drive to left for the 3-2 lead. Immediately the Panthers’ bats seemed to come to life, and Fitch hopes Steele continues to have that effect on the offense.

“Everybody started hitting and we just had a really big inning there and we scored eight runs,” Fitch said.

Cabot continued its quality pitching as Tyler Erickson got the victory to improve to 3-0.

“Tyler Erickson has been throwing some of these non-conference games and helped us beat a very good Beebe team,” Fitch said. “They’re going to give folks fits in the 5A Southeast. They could win the thing.”

Cabot is in the 7A-Central.

The Panthers’ Tuesday starter, Matt Evans, is 5-0 while Cole Nicholson is 3-4 as the usual Thursday starter.

“He’s been kind of the victim of our poor offense,” Fitch said of Nicholson and pointed out a hard-luck conference loss taken by Nicholson against Little Rock Central on Thursday.

Nicholson gave up three hits while Cabot out hit Central 7-3 and still lost.

But with Steele returning, Fitch hopes Nicholson, and the rest of the staff, will benefit from more run support.

Fitch is also hoping to see something out of some untried pitchers on his roster. During non-conference games, like the Beebe matchup or this Friday’s game with 6A-East member Searcy, Fitch hopes to test his pitching depth.

Catcher Andrew Reynolds may take the mound to start the Panthers’ home game with the Lions, Fitch said.

“It’s probably the hardest position to go from, from catcher to pitcher,” Fitch said.

“From the catching position you’ve got a real short arm arc where in pitching it’s real long so it’s a totally different throw. A lot of kids have trouble with that.”

But frequently, at the high school level, Fitch said a coach sometimes finds his best athletes behind the plate, which makes them capable of making the transition to pitcher.

“Catcher at our level has got have a good arm,” Fitch said. “So at the high school level he’s going to be a candidate to help you on the mound too.”

Cabot is locked in a tight race with the rest of the 7A-Central. Entering Tuesday, Central, Conway, Russellville and Van Buren were 3-2 in conference and Cabot, Bryant, Little Rock Catholic and North Little Rock were 2-3.

The Panthers were 9-5 overall while Bryant boasted the league’s best overall record at 15-5.

SPORTS >> ‘Smooth’ sailing at Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Batesville’s Billy Moyer, Jr. avoided an opening-lap pileup and overcame stubborn lap traffic to hold off Memphis driver Dane Dacus on the way to a $2,000, first-place payday at Beebe Speedway in the first round of the 2010 Comp Cams MSRA tour Friday.

The defending series champion known as “Kid Smooth” began his title defense in dominant fashion with a flag-to-flag victory in Heat 4 before pulling ahead of Dacus on the third circuit of the feature to claim his first career triumph at the quarter-mile bullring.

“On the first lap, you just hate to see something like that happen,” Moyer, Jr. said of the seven-car fracas on Lap 1. “But that gave me a chance to take advantage of it, and for once, I capitalized on it. Once we got clear of traffic, we got away from them.

We’ve got a really good piece here.”

A total of 23 entries battled for the 20 available spots, with Broken Bow, Okla., teen driver Gary Christian winning Heat 1, Dacus winning Heat 2 and Jon Kirby winning the third heat while Moyer took the third starting spot in the feature by claiming the last heat.

Wynne driver Charlie Cole won the ‘B’ main consolation feature while Terry Henson, Joseph Long, Shane Stephens and Jeff Sloan took the remaining four transfer spots. Driver Austin Rettig took the series provisional to send Stormy Derryberry, Wesley Crutchfield and off-the-pace Little Rock driver Eddie Provence home.

Moyer, Jr., son of late-model hall of famer Billy Moyer, set a fast pace once the field took a complete restart. The first attempt to restart the race resulted in bedlam between turns one and two when front-row drivers Dacus and Jon Kirby of Russellville made contact and were piled into by most of the first four rows.

Dacus did not receive significant damage and was able to retain his polesitter spot for the restart. Kirby was not as fortunate, as his car had to take the wrecking hook back to his hauler and was credited with a 20th-place did not finish after starting second on the grid.

Also involved in the dustup were Bill Frye, last year’s winner Wendell Wallace, Jack Sullivan, Dewaine Hottinger and two-time MSRA champ Joey Mack.

But Kirby’s car was the only one to sustain any real damage while the rest of the cars were able to rejoin the field for the restart.

The brief red flag and subsequent yellow were the only times the race was slowed. After the complete restart, the race went flag to flag with Moyer, Jr. and Dacus side by side for the first three laps.

Moyer, Jr. was able to make his way around Dacus’ outside down the backstretch and claim the point on Lap 3, but had little time to put any space between the top two spots with backmarkers quickly approaching.

The 21 JR car of Moyer caught up to the 94 of Sikeston, Mo., driver Rettig on Lap 13, but Rettig, the rookie-of-the-year candidate, did not initially respond to flagman Chris Ellis displaying the blue-and-yellow leader flag as he passed under the stand ahead of Moyer.

It wasn’t until Lap 17 that Moyer, with Dacus close in tow, was able to clear Rettig and begin to put a few lengths on the 54 car of Dacus. The leader lapped up to 12th place driver Stacy Taylor of Cabot before the finish and eventually outpaced Dacus by nearly a straightaway.

“I’ve been lapped a lot,” Moyer said. “I know to move over. A lot of people don’t know, so that needs to be preached and preached. I won; I’m the fastest car here tonight, but tomorrow, I might be getting lapped. I know to get out of the way, because I’ve been around this. There’s nothing more irritating than catching a lapped car like that.”

Further back in the field, Greenbrier veteran driver Frye took the hard-charger award by moving up from his 13th starting spot to finish eighth. Five-time MARS late model champion Frye battled with Hottinger and Trumann driver Kyle Beard in the early going and moved from 10th to eighth on Lap 10, when he finally cleared both drivers.

Moyer, Jr. backed up his victory at Beebe on Friday by winning the second night of the MSRA doubleheader at Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis on Saturday for the weekend sweep and an early points lead.

But while a repeat as series champ is on his radar, Moyer also has his sights set on Eldora Speedway in Rossberg, Ohio, home to the two biggest late-model races in the country every year.

“I’m not committing to this deal,” Moyer, Jr. said. “I’m going to start, and I’m going to run it for a while. I want to go to Eldora and run up there, so I’m going to have to go. But, if they’ve got a race scheduled here, we’ll fight that debate.

“If we’re leading, it’s going to be hard to leave. I don’t know, it would be awesome to go back to back, I hope I can do it. We’ll just have to play it by ear; I really want to go to Eldora, is the main thing.”

Dacus finished second while Christian had a quiet third-place run. Sullivan was fourth and Wallace completed the top five. Mack finished sixth, followed by Jon Mitchell, Frye, Hottinger and Jeff Floyd.

MSRA will be back in action at Malden Speedway in Missouri on April 23 and back to Arkansas at I-30 Speedway in Benton the following night.

Beebe Speedway will host the show car of NASCAR Sprint Cup star Ryan Newman this Friday from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m., with a regular race card scheduled to start at 8 p.m. Newman’s No. 39 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet will display the Tornados burritos sponsorship with an identical paint scheme to the car Newman won with at the Sprint Cup race in Phoenix, Ariz., on Saturday.

SPORTS >> Travelers leave road, take to familiar turf

Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Travelers have gotten to know their roomy team bus during the first road trip of the Texas League season, but now they are back to where the real elbow room can be found.

After going 3-3 in a swing through Texas, the Travelers start their first homestand of the year against the Midland RockHounds at 7:10 p.m. Thursday at Dickey-Stephens Park.

Arkansas is affiliated with the American League West’s Los Angeles Angels.

Travelers left-hander Jayson Miller (0-1) will start Thursday’s game against Midland left-hander Carlos Hernandez (0-0).

Arkansas was swept at Midland then swept three games from the Frisco Rough Riders in a series that concluded with an 8-1 victory at Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas, on Tuesday.

Catcher Brian Walker hit two home runs, designated hitter Jeremy Moore hit one and center fielder Clay Fuller, brother of former Travs outfielder Cody Fuller, hit a seventh-inning grand slam.

Arkansas starter Tim Kiely (1-1), who took the opening-night loss at Midland, pitched six strong innings Thursday. Kiely scattered five hits, gave up one earned run, walked one and struck out three. Blake Beavan (1-1) took the loss for Frisco.

“This year we have some speed at the top and bottom,” Travs manager Bobby Magallanes said. “And I think we’re going to be the type of team that’s going to do the little things.”

While the offense, especially the power hitters, came to life in the final game at Frisco, the fireworks might be muted somewhat in spacious Dickey-Stephens Park. Center field depth is 400 feet with a 360-foot gap in left-center field and a 375-foot gap in right-center.

A new home-run basket in left and left-center gives right-handed sluggers more of a fighting chance to hit the ball out, and a new yellow line atop the basket and the center-field wall should help eliminate disputed home runs.

Monday, April 12, 2010

SPORTS >> Bus makes bid to grab the fanfare from Travs

Leader sports editor

I backed my car out of the driveway and turned directly into the clouds of green pollen blowing down my street.

Feeling a little like Lawrence of Arabia squinting into a sandstorm, I motored off not to fight the Turkish but to check up on some Travelers.

It was a Tuesday night. My destination was Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. My mission was to learn what I could about this year’s Arkansas Travelers, who were holding their first workout under the lights in their home ballpark before motoring off to Midland, Texas, for Thursday’s Texas League season opener.

It was my first chance to get a look at the 2010 team, generously assembled during spring training by the Los Angeles Angels and shipped from Arizona to North Little Rock for the latest, Class AA Texas League season.

In the hour set aside for media availability at Dickey-Stephens, I spoke to exactly zero players. Apparently “media availability” means “team meeting” because that’s what the players and manager Bobby Magallanes spent most of the time doing.

I stood with the other media wallflowers on the warning track near the home dugout, waiting for someone, anyone, to talk to. I told a few colleagues that “workout,” when translated from the ancient Sanskrit, actually means “no players.”

Yes, I like that joke so much I used it in two paragraphs. So sue me.

The fans, who had taken advantage of the free admission to watch the practice, sat scattered through the stands, checking their watches and wearing a collective expression that said, “What did we come here for?”

Hopefully, that look won’t be seen much once the home schedule begins.

Eventually, Magallanes and the players arrived a fashionable half-hour late for the 7 p.m. workout, like a prom date sashaying down the stairs. The players promptly began stretching and warming up before moving on to the batting cage, the bullpen and the basepaths.

Magallanes warmed up a little himself, jumping up and down in the third base coaches box, where he hopes to spend a lot of time directing Travelers rallies this summer, and waving runners toward home. Then he grabbed a glove and played a little catch at second base.

Magallanes practices a form of the running game favored by the parent Angels and their manager Mike Scioscia. That has led to a lot of putouts at third and a lot of stolen bases — in fact Arkansas led the league in both categories in 2007.

I used the warmup time to bore in on Magallanes and grill him with some hard questions.

“Tell me about the makeup of this year’s team,” I demanded.

“Looks like your hitting roster might be suited to this ballpark,” I said intuitively.

“Your opening-night pitcher, Tim Kiely, looks like a fun-loving guy,” I shrewdly observed.

Under such hard questioning Magallanes buckled and told me he was really optimistic about the season, his hitters would find the gaps in the outfield and his staff would keep opposing batters off balance.

Also, ominously, he promised the team would continue to run the bases aggressively.

Okay, it was the usual preseason hoo-hah, which took something of a hit when Midland pounded Arkansas 11-1 in the season opener at Midland on Thursday.

But it’s a long year, 140 games, so it remains to be seen if the one-sided loss will be an anomaly or the norm. Like everyone else, I’ll just have to wait and see if streaks, slumps, injuries or promotions help or hurt the Travelers and their opponents in an eight-team league where you can win a championship with a losing record, as Arkansas did in 2008.

I did learn a few neat things Tuesday night.

For example, the Travelers have a really cool team bus. While Ryan Mount was pounding a few batting practice home runs to right field, Arkansas sportscaster of the year Phil Elson took a few of us media members to the parking lot for a tour.

The cab looks more like that of a semi truck while the passenger area is a comfortable barracks of double-decker beds, foldaway tables and flatscreen TVs. A bearded guy I didn’t know lay on one of the bunks reading a paper and watching a CSI spinoff as we toured.

“He comes with the bus,” Elson said.

Elson, and Magallanes, are proud parents of beautiful children who are under a year old. Which means both men were looking forward to the long bus rides as a chance to catch up on their sleep.

The rest of us are just looking forward to seeing the bus pull into the home parking lot so we can watch some baseball.