Friday, June 04, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Causey seems ready

Something can be said for using the simple test of truthfulness when you decide whom to vote for, whatever the office. In the Democratic runoff for Congress in the First District, which includes Lonoke County, that test would not serve Tim Wooldridge well.

Wooldridge, a former state senator from Paragould and lobbyist, is locked in a tight race with young Chad Causey for the party’s nomination. Causey’s boss, Congressman Marion Berry, is retiring.

The Leader recommends Causey. Truthfulness is only one of the reasons, but a very good one.

Causey had run commercials blistering Wooldridge for having voted against a small amount of tax relief for military families and for voting three times to give himself a raise at taxpayers’ expense. There was a little demagoguery in the charges. The tax bill was going to cost the state treasury some money at a time when state budgets were tight, but a vote like that can be made to look a little unpatriotic and uncaring. As for pay raises, the legislature at the beginning of each session passes a bill adjusting the salaries of legislators and constitutional officers to the cost of living index for each of the next two years. A few legislators vote against the bills, but most do not.

Wooldridge could have ignored the boilerplate campaign criticisms or explained his votes, but he picked the other route. He lied about them. He ran his own commercials saying that the whole Causey ad was not true. Over each of the accusations his ad stamped “Not true.”

But the votes were taken openly and are all documented. One can go to the Arkansas legislature website, read the bills and see how everyone voted. But Wooldridge knew that voters were not going to take the time to do that. They will believe the last ad they see. There is no penalty for lying or misleading in a TV or newspaper ad unless the voters levy it at the polls.

Causey doesn’t have a public record, unless you identify him with Marion Berry’s, and Wooldridge does. We don’t take particular issue with the little pay raise and military tax votes (we probably would have supported the little tax break for service families), but on more consequential matters, Wooldridge’s record doesn’t shine. He sponsored some quirky legislation, which fortunately his colleagues batted down.

Chad Causey is the better choice.

EDITORIAL >>Monty, not the whiz kid

All of a sudden the hottest race on the ballot is commissioner of state lands, the least important of all elected offices. You have to wonder, what is that all about?

Young L. J. Bryant — he’s 23 — has run a raucous campaign, promising to shake up the little land office with bold technology and criticizing his opponent, Monty Davenport of Yellville, as a stodgy old man with no ideas and no sophistication in modern technology. Bryant has told everyone, liberal or conservative, realtors and nonprofits, what they want to hear. The right response to such campaigns is, beware!

Last week, there was a dustup over an Internet website that put out filth about Davenport. It’s called greedymontydavenport.com.

When it was traced to Bryant’s computer he denied having anything to do with it and suggested that it was probably Davenport who created a sleazy website about himself so that people would blame it on Bryant. The unsophisticated Davenport had suddenly developed technological wizardry.

The land office, which disposes of tax-forfeited lands, doesn’t need razzmatazz or gimmicks but sober, calm stewardship. That would mean Monty Davenport.

EDITORIAL >>O’Brien has earned it

The race for secretary of state is the easiest on the Democratic primary ballot. Pat O’Brien is the clear choice, and not simply because he had the advantage of growing up under the civilizing influences of Jacksonville.

O’Brien cleaned up the courthouse in Little Rock, which took some doing. When he was elected circuit and county clerk, Pulaski County elections and county records were in such disarray that many of us feared that it would take a decade to fix the mess.

But the next election went like clockwork, for the first time in a decade. If you voted in the general primary last month and particularly if you voted early, you know that it was a marvel.

The secretary of state is a big county clerk. In fact, the secretary of state’s job is easier. He doesn’t actually have to run an election, just keep tabs on them.

His opponent is Mark Wilcox, who is completing (thank goodness) eight years as state land commissioner. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette last week ran a long story about Wilcox’s lavish travel expenses. Nothing illegal, just improvident.

Let’s give Pat O’Brien a promotion. He, and we, deserve it.

EDITORIAL >>Joyce Elliott for Congress

First you have to stipulate that both Rep. Robbie Wills and Sen. Joyce Elliott have been unusually effective state legislators, which seems to have become the big issue in their runoff race for United States representative — that and which one is most electable in November.

Legislative effectiveness is a complex and spurious issue but it was raised by Wills, who may have the most to lose if people start to seriously study their records. Wills, the current speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, sent out a flyer across the district saying that Elliott was more liberal than most Arkansas voters and that she had been one of the most

“ineffective” members of the legislature. In a debate on National Public Radio, he said he had not personally described her as ineffective but that he had merely cited the Arkansas Legislative Digest, which said so.

But that was not quite true. The Legislative Digest merely computed the number of bills each legislator introduced in the 2009 session and the percentage of them that actually passed and were signed into law. If you sponsored one inconsequential bill and it became law, you were a powerful legislator.

Wills topped the list. He sponsored two bills and both passed. One was a big one: It implemented the lottery that voters ratified in 2008. The other authorized him to appoint someone to serve in his place on two minor interim committees dealing with legislative printing and facilities. Oh, and he sponsored a resolution recognizing “Arkansas Jaycees Day.” He steamrolled the opposition and got it passed.

Elliott was way, way down the percentage list. She sponsored 32 bills in 2009 and only 19 of them became law. Many were controversial. Elliott doesn’t sidle away from controversy like most legislators do.

You be the judge: Who was the more effective — Wills with two of two or Elliott with 19 of 32? Yes, we know that the speaker usually shies away from shepherding bills. He’s busy presiding over the House. Wills, like Elliott, was an active, even prolific, lawmaker in his first two terms. But if you rely on a simplistic measure for your opponent, you can’t make an exception for yourself.

Wills has one other big argument. He says he is more electable than Elliott. She is more identifiably liberal than he is, which will be a hard sell in the rural and suburban precincts of the seven counties against the celebrated dirty trickster, Tim Griffin, who is already running against Nancy Pelosi, the Californian who is speaker of the U.S. House but may not be in January.

The unspoken message is that the Second District, which is 88 percent white, will never vote for a black woman of any persuasion, even a teacher of many years, and that Democrats ought to nominate someone who is safer, and whiter.

He may be right, but we still believe that Joyce Elliott is the best choice for Congress.

EDITORIAL >>We support Bill Halter

Democrats who vote in the U. S. Senate race Tuesday will try to solve one of three equations, or perhaps all three.

Is Sen. Blanche Lincoln or Lieut. Gov. Bill Halter the stronger candidate against the Republican nominee, Rep. John Boozman, in November when the odds in an unusually turbulent season do not favor any Democrat?

Who is most apt to vote in the interest of ordinary people, and who is most likely to cater to the special interests, like the petroleum industry, when those interests collide, and who is likely to have the stronger and more influential voice in the Capitol?

Do Lincoln’s 12 years of seniority and her chairmanship of a major committee confer big advantages for Arkansas that a freshman could not deliver?

We don’t discount a fourth and often the most persuasive factor in elections. On a visceral level, you may just like one or dislike the other.

Our own reflections on those issues make Halter the favorite. That is in spite of the fact that his largest accomplishment and chief claim on the affection of voters is the state lottery, which we continue to believe has one notable economic and social effect, a significant shift of wealth from the poor upwards in the form of profits for gaming syndicates and college tuition for middle- and upper-class youngsters.

For diehard Democrats, Halter is electable in November, and all the polls and anecdotal evidence suggest that Lincoln, likable though she is, is not. She won twice, but not impressively, against men whose crackpot ideas alarmed many voters. Remember the late Fay Boozman’s insistence in the 1998 campaign that rape and incest victims never got pregnant because of “God’s little shield”? A doctor, Boozman believed that women could get pregnant only when they liked having sex.

Lincoln has gotten some impressive help in this campaign, from President Obama, former President Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, but she seems incapable of making the case for herself.

Her message is a simplistic one. She is, pure and simple, for Arkansas people; the implication is that her opponent is not.

There are 2.9 million Arkansawyers, but fewer than a fourth of 1 percent of them will ever benefit from her big crusade to exempt people who inherit great wealth from having to pay taxes on their vast income as everyone else must do on their modest wages.

Fewer than 5 percent of Arkansawyers saw any measurable benefit from the big tax cuts for high incomes that she supported at the same time as the estate-tax repeal, which plunged the nation once again into debt. She shares all those votes with the fall opponent, John Boozman, Fay’s younger brother.

We cannot say that Halter will do better than her modest voting record. We thought she would be better when we elected her in 1998. Halter says that the interests of working middle-income families would decide his position on tax and economic issues. We choose to be trusting that he means it.

Lincoln pins her hopes on a backlash to the spending of a couple of international unions, the service and government workers unions, to help Halter. You’ve seen their ads. President Clinton made her most effective commercial this week by pointing out that the unions wanted to make an example of the good woman from Arkansas to put fear into the hearts of other senators who might be tempted to stray.

But let us remember what that dispute is all about. She took union contributions gratefully, enjoyed their endorsements and sponsored the now infamous “card-check bill,” which would have lowered the barriers for union recognition at big companies like Walmart. When the bill suddenly looked passable in 2009 and business groups told her they needed her to switch sides, she did, with a vengeance. No one is meaner than a jilted and humiliated suitor.

She is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a position of considerable prestige and some power. Are the economic interests of Arkansas farmers invested in that power? She will, indeed, be in a somewhat better position than most to preserve farm subsidies, but they do not seem to be in jeopardy. Farmers don’t seem to be worried.

The former head of the Farm Bureau and a big farmer, her old friend and supporter Stanley Reed of Marianna, ran against her for a few days back in the winter and then pulled out after it was revealed that his professed intention to go to Washington to stop deficit spending was a little hypocritical.

The government — that’s us — had handed him more than $5 million in direct subsidies just between 1996 and 2007. Now he’s running Boozman’s campaign. If people who have gotten rich off the government farm programs aren’t worried about losing the Ag chairmanship, should we?

We like Blanche Lincoln; we support Bill Halter.

TOP STORY > >Church plants garden to feed the hungry

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Tucked away at the end of a street in a North Little Rock suburb is a garden that will provide fresh food for families from Jacksonville, Sherwood and North Little Rock as well as Lonoke County. It is named ‘The Gleaners’ Garden.’

The near quarter-acre garden got a bit of a late start, having just been planted a week ago by volunteers from North Little Rock Central Baptist Church, owner of the land, but okra and purple-hull pea seedlings are already popping up, and transplanted cucumbers, squash, peppers, eggplant and peppers are taking off too.

Those crops along with yet-to-be sown pinto beans and sweet potatoes promise a summer bounty for more than 1,500 families fed each month by the church’s food pantry, which is located in Sherwood off Warden Road.

“It is busy, busy,” says Dale Prater, the director of the pantry, now in its 10th year. “Demand is up 10 to 15 percent from a year ago. Families come from places where there isn’t a pantry like Austin, Ward and Lonoke. Last week we had 10 to 12 families just from Scott.”

Last year, Prater organized a contingent of 35 to 40 church volunteers as well as work-release prisoners to glean fields in Scott belonging to farmer Dale O’Neal. More than 25,000 pounds of produce were harvested to feed the hungry, through the Arkansas Hunger Relief’s gleaning network. But the distance was inconvenient for some, so the idea was born to start a garden on church property.

The pantry also feeds about 75 residents at two transitional homes for former prison inmates, located in North Little Rock, as well as 35 to 40 families who live at Prothro Junction government-subsidized housing. Prater chose those folks to help because their need is great. To qualify to live there, household annual income cannot exceed $15,000. And in the last year, the pantry has started filling backpacks with food for 100 elementary school students in North Little Rock who come from families of low income.

No one is turned away who asks for help from the pantry, but single, able-bodied men are “asked why,” says Prater. “That is not what the pantry is for,” We want them working, but we will give them a couple of months of food.”

Grandmothers taking care of grandkids and single moms comprise a “large majority” who depend on the pantry, but since the economic downturn in 2008, “families who have never had to come to a pantry before” are showing up, Prater said. Lately, meeting the need has not always been easy, and the pantry has run short of non-perishables.

Prater is grateful to North Little Rock and Jacksonville businesses that donate food regularly to the pantry, including Starbucks, Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars and Daylite Donuts.

This Saturday for the first time, Prater will make a run by the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market in North Little Rock at the close of market to pick-up food that growers wish to donate to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

That food will be distributed through the Central Baptist Church pantry and others in the area.

Prater knows what it is like to not have enough to eat, having been “born and raised in poverty” in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky, the son of a coal miner. His father farmed the mountain slopes, tended a large apple orchard and gave much of what he grew away.

“We were self-sufficient,” Prater recalled. “My dad taught me how to work, and my mother taught me the Bible.”

One of Prater’s favorite childhood memories involved his Uncle Marvin, a resourceful soul who ran a tavern where men congregated to gamble. The business put spare money in the man’s pocket, which he spent generously at Christmas.

“He bought half the kids in town presents,” Prater recalled. “I would get an apple, banana, an orange, and sometime walnuts,” rare treats for those who lived in Greasy Creek, Kentucky. “That’s three hollers over from where Loretta Lynn was from – Butcher Holler.”

“I said that someday I wanted to be able to help people like Uncle Marvin,” Prater said. “I know what it is like to be hungry.”

An ordained minister, Prater considers raising and distributing food to those in need to be his true ministry, although he does at times preach from the pulpit. He says he prefers a vegetable garden to “four walls.”

“My pulpit is out here in the community, where God has called me to be,” Prater says.

For Prater, a garden is a source, not only of food, but wisdom. He recounted an early lesson, when he was 18 about to leave home and join the Air Force. He was out in the apple orchard with his father, who asked him to look at one of the trees, laden with fruit.

“He told me the tree that bears the most fruit is closest to the ground. That was a lesson about humility, about being humble, not being above someone. Always treating everyone like you’d like to be treated,” Prater said.

TOP STORY > >Boy’s brain disease straps Ward family

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer
Twelve-year-old R.J. Roe of Ward was becoming something of a discipline problem. At spring break, he was moved from his regular classroom at Cabot Middle School South to one at the Alternative Learning Environment school. But there was nothing in his behavior that was really alarming until he began having trouble with speech and balance.

On May 6, he went to the doctor for an MRI to find out what the problem was. Back home by 1 p.m., he became unable to control his bodily functions.

His mother, Tonya Ballou, attributed the problem to the drug he was given to relax him for the test and put him to bed. And that was the last time his life has been even close to normal.

“I went in Friday morning to wake him up and everything was gone,” his mother said.

He couldn’t talk or walk or control his bowels and bladder.

At Arkansas Children’s Hospital, an EEG showed he’s had no seizures but did show a decrease in brain activity. A CT scan showed R.J.’s brain was deteriorating and a special MRI showed that the size of his brain was shrinking.

Specialists from India, Germany and the United Kingdom were consulted, but no one could tell the family what was happening to R.J. and no one knew how to treat his condition.

On his seventh day in the hospital, his aunt sent her priest to visit him. The priest prayed and anointed him with oil and the next morning he was able to speak again and had limited control of his arms and legs.

“I always believed in God, but from that point, I started believing in miracles,” his mother said.

On the 16th day, Ballou said she told the doctors she was taking her son home. They didn’t know what was causing his brain to die, so they couldn’t tell her how long he might live, she said. And there was no way she would allow him to spend what might be his last days in a hospital room.

Although she hasn’t regretted that decision, Ballou, a certified nursing assistant, had to quit her job to become her son’s full-time nurse and the family income, which supports four children, has taken a hard hit.

She can’t afford the jersey knit shorts and pants her son needs to making caring for him easier. She can’t buy the treadmill that might make his legs stronger or the running shoes he would need to walk on it. And she can’t give him the Nintendo DS he wants that would occupy his time now that he spends most of it in bed.

Outings, such as appointments with the doctor, are difficult because the family’s home doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp and attempts to get help building one have been unsuccessful. Ballou said she would appreciate donations of any of the needed items.

Although she is grateful now for every day she has with her son, the sadness in her voice when she talks about some of the things he has missed is palpable.

“He’s never been on vacation,” she said. “He’s never been to Disneyland or Sea World or Branson. The only place we’ve been able to take him is the Little Rock zoo.”

Ballou said what she has learned in the past month is that everyday life is a precious gift. “I tell everybody now that I run into, ‘Don’t take life for granted because everything can be taken away in the blink of an eye.’”

“We took everything for granted and literally overnight our whole lives were ripped apart. Now we pray every night that he wakes up in the morning and when he does we thank God for another day.”

To raise cash to offset Ballew’s lost wages, Kami Skelton, a friend who works at the Applebee’s restaurant on Warden Road in North Little Rock contacted the corporate office and Applebee’s is hosting a pancake breakfast fundraiser from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday, June 12.

Ballou asks that tickets be purchased in advance if possible so the restaurant will know how much food to have on hand.

For ticket information, call Ballew at 501-606-6335 or Skelton at 501-838-0636.

R.J. wears size 14-16 boys in pants and men’s 7.5 shoes.

TOP STORY > >Council sorts out recycling proposal

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

For less than 50 cents more per household than what it’s costing the city to recycle right now, residents can just throw their items in one bin and let someone else sort it out.

Right now, residents who re-cycle must separate their recyclables into containers: one for aluminum cans, one for plastic and one for newsprint.

But under the single-stream recycling system proposed by the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction district, formerly called the Pulaski County Solid Waste District, residents can put all those recyclables, including glass, in one container.

“The idea,” said Jim Oakley, public works director for the city, “is to make it easier for people to recycle and then more will do it.”

In his presentation to the city council Thursday night, John Roberts said the single-stream system by his company will be easier on residents, induce more recycling and cut the need for employees at the city’s recycling plant by half.

Roberts said about 45 percent of Little Rock and North Little Rock residents are already participating in the single-stream recycling program. Roberts would like Jacksonville, Sherwood and Maumelle to join, in which would lower the price.
Oakley said if the city goes to single-stream recycling, a picking station would be needed to separate all the items. “Our recycling center isn’t tall enough to house the equipment needed, so it’s better to have it done through the district which already has a company in place,” he explained.

The council did express interest in exploring the recycling program, but took no action.

City residents who want to recycle will continue to have two choices: curbside pick-up or they can take recyclables to the recycling center at 1300 Marshall Road.

In other council business:

Mike Wilson with Comcast, told the council that improvements were coming to customers. The cable provider will be adding 56 new high-definition channels, increased Internet speed, more videos on demand, and even a dating service before the end of June.

However, if customers want to watch Fox News and other popular stations, customers will need additional equipment, cable cards and the digital package, all at an added cost.

Comcast provides consumer entertainment, information and communication products and services to residential and commercial customers throughout the United States.

The council approved a plan to spend about $225,000 for its annual asphalt overlay and striping program.

Streets slated for roadwork include portions of 15 streets, including Laurel Street, North Oak Street, Trickey Lane, McArthur Drive, North Jeff Davis and Vine Street.

Overall, the city street department will use 2,700 tons of asphalt, 14,899 square yards of milling and 73,829 linear feet of thermoplastic striping.

City Engineer Jay Whisker, in his monthly report to the council, said his department issued 24 building permits and 11 business licenses during May. The engineering department also performed more than 200 inspections and wrote 263 warning letters to residents and businesses for having unkempt or unsanitary yards or structural problems on their property.

The city spent $2,084 to cut grass and remove trash from properties where the owners would not or could not do it themselves. The city will charge the property owners for the work and if necessary place liens against the property.

The council approved a change order on the police and fire training center, which will increase the cost of the $2.5 million project by $418,851. The bulk of the cost includes an additional 60,000-gallon water tank and telemetry controls to ensure the Marshall Road tank doesn’t drain. “We are doing this to maintain good-quality water in Jacksonville,” the mayor said.

Aldermen voted to change the date of the next meeting to Tuesday, June 15, from the scheduled date of June 17 because most of the council members will be in Hot Springs for a Municipal League meeting.

TOP STORY > >Farm-supply store heading to Lonoke

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Announcing its arrival with nothing more than a spray-painted name and address on the building, Atwoods Farm and Ranch has begun remaking the old Lonoke Walmart store in its own image, preparing to become one of the largest retailers in town.

A competitor of Tractor Supply Company, the Enid, Okla.-based Atwoods is 50 years old. Lonoke will be store 45.

“Atwoods has purchased the building and is opening a store there….around mid-October,” according to Pat Crossley, the advertising manager.

The store will employ about 20 people she said.

“We’re so tickled,” said chamber director John Garner.

When Lonoke representatives first contacted Atwoods a year ago at the suggestion of Alderman Michael Florence, they were told Lonoke was too small and the building was too small.

What changed?

“We opened a store in Kingfisher, Okla., in a very small building and it has done very well for us,” Crossley said Thursday. “We discovered that with a couple of adjustments to inventory levels, we can fit a smaller building.”

The population of Kingfisher at the 2000 census was 4,380.

According to 2005 estimates, Lonoke’s population is 4, 553.

Florence said he knew that Atwoods had moved into an abandoned Walmart at Crossett, which is why he made the suggestion.

“We like to relocate into old Walmart buildings,” Crossley said. “It fits our needs really well. It gets rid of vacant buildings and avoids the extreme expense of building.”

In some places, Atwoods goes head to head with TSC.

“We always try to be the price leader,” Crossley said. “Also we carry over 40,000 different items in our store.”

She said the store carries clothing for the entire family, including footwear, pet supplies, large animal feed and supplies, squeeze shoots, vaccines, auto supplies, batteries for tractors and lawn tractors.

They sell lawn tractors, lots of patio furniture, plants, power equipment, fertilizers and spreaders.

They sell chain saws, welding equipment, chop saws, old-fashioned snacks and carry Priefert and King Cutter bush hogs, box blades and disc harrows.

In addition to the Crossett store, Atwoods has stores in Arkadelphia, Clarksville, Fort Smith, Hope, Magnolia, Mena and Siloam Springs.

Wilbur and Fern Atwood, who in 1959 drove their old pickup truck from Minnesota through a blizzard and an ice storm before arriving in Enid on New Year’s Day, started Atwoods.

SPORTS>>Sometimes the parties get painful

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Walter Payton has been communicating with me from beyond the grave.

Okay, that was a dirty trick to get you to keep reading. Actually, I get updates from Payton, or whoever operates his Facebook page, because I signed up to “like” Payton on mine.

I have been invited to “like” a lot of things, from politicians to chicken-wing franchises, but you have to maintain certain standards.

Why do I like Walter Payton? Well, in his NFL hall of fame career with the Chicago Bears, Payton played with remarkable skill, toughness and longevity in a time when a team had to have a standout running back to win, and Payton carried some woeful

Bears teams before the 1985 club won the Super Bowl.

And Payton, who died in 1999, usually tossed the ball to the ref.

There was none of that kneeling and crossing yourself after scoring a touchdown, which players do ad nauseum nowadays.

Payton didn’t rip off his helmet so everyone could see his face, there were no “look-at-me” dances and no pointing at the sky the way even high school baseball players do after hitting home runs now.

I think God will forgive me if I say I suspect the genuflecting has more to do with an athlete’s showmanship than it does pure faith.

How much attention does a guy need after scoring a touchdown or hitting a homer anyway? Everyone is already looking.

Kneeling in thanks after surviving a wartime bombing or a natural disaster I can see. But kneeling and praying because you scored a touchdown, or hit a homer, the very thing you’re paid to do? I don’t see that.

I think it cheapens a faith and elevates a mere game to a level on which it should not be.

But I’m not against a show of happiness when the time calls for it, and that brings me to poor Kendry Morales, the former Arkansas Traveler and current first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels who broke his leg celebrating a game-winning grand slam a week ago.

The Seattle Mariners and the Angels were tied 1-1 in the 10th inning at Angels Stadium. Maicer Izturis doubled, the Mariners intentionally walked Bobby Abreu and former Traveler Reggie Willits reached on an error at second to load the bases.

Morales, a switch-hitter batting left, came to the plate to hit his game-winner, and he calmly circled the bases like a man who has done this sort of thing before. Only when he drew close to home, where his assembled teammates waited to welcome him, did Morales let his feelings show.

He took off his helmet and leaped into the throng — a team celebration for a team victory — only someone either failed to catch Morales or he landed wrong. Morales fractured his lower left leg and the Angels now have their fingers crossed he will return this season.

It’s not the first time a guy has been hurt in a celebration, but Morales’ mishap is casting new light on all the dog piles and jumping around that follow championship victories, no-hitters and game-winning hits.

I suppose some common sense needs to be brought into the picture. These players cost a lot of money and teams have a lot of hopes invested in them.

The Angels were hovering around .500 late in the week and were third in the American League West, though they were only 2 ½ games out of first. But without Morales, hitting .290 with 11 home runs, it is going to be tougher for the Angels to maintain what has been an almost constant postseason presence since they won the World Series in 2002.

Still, it would be a shame for a slugger to be greeted with stony silence after winning a game. Hopefully a few back slaps, high fives or pats on the head will still be allowed.

Morales is a great story. He is a Cuban defector who got his first American professional playing experience in 2005, when he was promoted to the Class AA Travelers after 22 Class A games and hit 17 home runs to help Arkansas to the Texas League Championship Series.

What a downer huh? If there is ever a time to party, hitting a game-winner, especially a grand slam like Morales did, is it.

“Kendry is anything but flamboyant,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “For this to happen to a guy who plays hard and plays the game right is disappointing. We hope we never see anything like that again.”

Amen.

SPORTS>>Travelers hit, but will miss departed slugger

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

There were fireworks outside and inside Dickey-Stephens Park during the Arkansas Travelers’ recent home-stand in North Little Rock.

The Travelers used a variety of start times to work around the Memorial Day weekend and Riverfest crowds, suffered a one-sided beating and pulled out a couple of close victories while losing one of their most productive offensive players.

Texas League home runs leader Paul McAnulty, the Travs’ designated hitter who had 14 homers, was promoted to Class AAA Salt Lake in the wake of an injury to Kendry Morales, first baseman of the parent Los Angeles Angels.

Morales broke his left leg jumping onto home plate after hitting a game-winning grand slam in the Angels’ 5-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners last Saturday. Robb Quinlan was called up from Salt Lake to replace Morales and McAnulty was promoted Sunday to replace Quinlan.

The Angels promoted Roberto Lopez from Class A Rancho Cucamonga to replace McAnulty, and in his first Class AA game, Lopez hit a home run, as did second baseman Ryan Mount, to lift Arkansas to a 2-1 victory over Corpus Christi on Sunday.

Arkansas followed that by squeaking out a 4-3, Memorial Day victory when catcher and former Arkansas Razorback Brian Walker hit a ninth-inning single to score Ivan Contreras with the game-winning run. The ballpark stayed open after the game, which started at 2 p.m., to allow fans to watch the fireworks that concluded Riverfest on the banks of the Arkansas River.

The series-ending victories helped ease the sting of a 16-4 loss to San Antonio on Friday, when the Missions hit four home runs and Arkansas pitchers walked 14 in a game that began at 6 p.m.

Corpus Christi arrived for a 4 p.m. game on Saturday and beat Arkansas 6-1 on an afternoon that included an eighth-inning rain delay of close to a half hour. The precipitation soaked the field before the grounds crew could get the tarp on, and after the rain stopped and the tarp was removed it was decided the field was too wet to continue and the game was shortened.

McAnulty, who spent parts of four seasons with the National League’s San Diego Padres, hit .331 and had 27 RBI with Arkansas. He split time last year between Class AAA Pawtucket, in the Boston Red Sox organization, and Class AAA Colorado Springs, with the Colorado Rockies.

Lopez made his debut and helped the Travs to their one-run victory in the 5:30 p.m. game Sunday and Walker followed with his Monday heroics to send the Travelers off to San Antonio and Corpus Christi on an up note.

Bad weather and the good pitching followed the Travelers on the road. At San Antonio on Wednesday night, Missions pitcher Cory Luebke held the Travelers to one hit in his first start as San Antonio won a rain-shortened game, 1-0.

SPORTS>>Trip back home pays for Crawley

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Tim Crawley has enjoyed racing success all over the country, but he still looks right at home at Beebe Speedway.

Crawley was one of 22 sprint-car competitors at the USCS Speedweek race at Beebe on Thursday night.

It was the first trip to the quarter-mile, sandy-clay bullring for some drivers. For Crawley, it was a successful return to the place where he started.

The Benton driver was barely into his teens when he began racing at Beebe in a late model during the 1984 season. He went on to become the track champion in late models the following year before sprint-car success came calling.

Now, 26 years later, Crawley is considered one of the top 360 sprint drivers in the country.

“Coming back here, I feel like I can close my eyes and go around this racetrack,” Crawley said. “There’s no telling how many laps I’ve got here.

“It has changed, but for the most part, it’s still the same old Beebe.”

Crawley put his years of experience and track time at Beebe to good use in the middle stages of the USCS feature when he took advantage of leader Lee Sowell’s struggles with lap traffic to catch up and eventually pass. Crawley led the last half of the race and won by half a straightaway.

Though he is now 40, the inner child in Crawley could still be seen as he went back and forth from his luxurious hauler to the fencing on the pit-side stands to watch the action in different classes. The visits helped Crawley keep up with track conditions, but the smile on his face also hinted that memories from his younger years had also crept in.

“It’s neat. Here and Little Rock were the two places that I really got my feet wet,” Crawley said. “After I got out of racing go-karts and first started in cars, Beebe and Little Rock was my life; every Friday here, every Saturday at Little Rock. And it was that way for quite a few years.”

Crawley made his mark by winning three ASCS national championships in the early 1990s. But instead of pursuing a career in 410 sprint series such as the World of Outlaws, Crawley opted to stay in the Mid-South area and run a true outlaw-style schedule from year to year.

That included a part-time return to late models and a stint running big-money modified shows. Now that Crawley drives for owner Mike Ward and has returned to running for points in the ASCS series, Crawley said he is happy to leave the full-bodied cars behind.

“I like the sprint-car scene,” Crawley said. “It just got to a point there for a little while where there were a lot of modified shows here close to what I call home — a 4-6 hour radius of Little Rock – and they were good-paying shows.

“I mean, I’ll be dead honest with you, I hate working on them. All the sheet-metal work and tire work — they are a ton more work. It’s a lot more work weekly to maintain than a sprint car.”

Crawley had plenty of success running his own operation. But when Ward suffered a career-ending injury in the spring of 2007, it created a vacancy in one of the best seats in 360-sprint racing, a seat Crawley jumped at the chance to fill.

“It’s great,” Crawley said. “Mike’s a great guy. He raced himself for so long; he’s not your typical car owner. He’s been in the seat for years himself and owned his own cars. We get along great. He’s got superb equipment. We think a lot alike when it comes to the car and setups. It’s just a perfect combination to me.”

The combination has proven successful. Crawley has posted over 50 of his almost 200 career sprint-car victories with Ward in just over three years together, including a sweep of last year’s Rock ‘N Roll 50 at Riverside International Speedway in West

Memphis and the USCS Razorback Rumble.

Crawley sits fifth in the ASCS series points standings, six points behind fourth-place Tony Bruce, Jr., and he trails points leader Brady Bacon by 64.

“We started out a little slow in our national series that we run with,” Crawley said. “Things have picked up. I think we’ve moved from about 18th in points to fifth in the last couple of weeks. We just stepped up the program a little. Things are looking better now.”

While the changes in Crawley’s career path over the years and the changes at Beebe Speedway offer a different scene from his youth, the thing that has not changed over time is Crawley’s ability to win there.

“Tracks change — different promoters get them and work the dirt different,” Crawley said. “This thing is a little different from the way it used to be when we were here. Used to, right around the bottom was the only way you could win a race here. If you got off the bottom, you got passed.

“And now, with them building an outside barrier around one and two and the back straightaway wall that they have, there’s enough now where you can get on the top and pass cars as well.”

SPORTS>>Injuries rip Gwatney

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Baseball teams normally acquire bumps and bruises through the course of a season. But for Gwatney Chevrolet, there is already an extensive injury line with no waiting.

Key injuries and low numbers at the 18-19-year-old level have led to a 0-4 start for the Gwatney senior American Legion team, while the junior team has benefited from a high number of 17-year-olds and posted a 5-2 record through the first two weeks.

Most of the pitchers are nursing sore arms, and injuries to Nick Rodriguez and Patrick Castleberry have hurt both squads in the field and at the plate.

Rodriguez was injured during recent spring football practice at Jacksonville High School, and Castleberry injured his ankle in an early Legion practice. Neither has seen action this summer and Castleberry could be out for up to a month. There is also the fatigue factor in the bullpen.

“The sad part about it is, all those kids with sore arms – the pitching we have, that’s them,” Gwatney coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “It’s basically the same kids that pitched at the high school except for one.”

Steven Swaggerty was ineligible to play baseball for Jacksonville High School his senior year after transferring from North
Pulaski. But he can now join Red Devils Michael Lamb, Jessie Harbin and North Pulaski’s A.J. Allen on the Gwatney pitching roster.

The junior Chevy Boys enter this weekend’s invitational tournament at Dupree Park on a three-game winning streak. They began the summer with a loss to Sylvan Hills before going 2-1 at a tournament there, and defeated Maumelle and Searcy early in the week.

There are 23 players on this year’s Gwatney roster with a majority of them 17-year-olds. There are five 19-year-olds, two 18-year-olds, and 10 17-year-olds. There are six players in ages 14 through 16, two at each age.

“Right now we’re struggling to get a bunch on the field that can play,” Hickingbotham said. “We’re having to use the same kids each night in both ball games, and we’re just about to wear them out right now.”

Having Rodriguez and Castleberry out at the same time has been especially difficult for Gwatney, as the two are the most experienced catchers. It’s a situation desperate enough for Hickingbotham to try career outfielders like Alex Tucker behind the plate, with mixed results.

“We’ve been trying to put somebody back there who can catch, and it’s been tough,” Hickingbotham said. “We’ve tried three or four different kids, and some of them haven’t caught before or very little. They’re having a hard time blocking the baseball and keeping passed balls from happening.”

Rodriguez can also help the pitching situation when he returns, and he and Castleberry are two of the stronger batters for Gwatney.

“He’s been in a boot but now he’s got that off,” Hickingbotham said of Castleberry. “I think he’s pushing it maybe a little faster than the doctor would like, but he wants to play so bad.”

Jacob Abrahamson, Devon McClure, Harbin and Castleberry are all eligible to take part in the Xtra Innings Summer Classic at Arkansas State in Jonesboro on July 5-6, which also coincides with the junior Legion district tournament.

Any player who takes part in the annual showcase will be ineligible to participate in the junior tournament, but can still play in senior Legion tournaments. The junior level also has two new teams in Rose Bud and Heber Springs.

With an average of four games a week for the juniors and seniors in a shortened, eight weeks of summer baseball, proper rest and player availability have also become a concern.

“It has an effect on us; we can’t substitute them as much,” Hickingbotham said.

“I’m optimistic about it, because I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you’ve got to work through those kind of things the best you can. And the only way you can do it is you’ve got to get out on the practice field.”

SPORTS>>Veteran tops field at Beebe

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

There’s no substitute for experience.

It certainly made the difference in the USCS Speedweek 360 sprint-car feature at Beebe Speedway on Thursday night when veteran driver Tim Crawley, of Benton, got around Lee Sowell on lap 19 to claim the $2,000 first-place payday going away.

Sowell, of Nesbit, Miss., put some space between his car and Crawley’s Boater Sports Maxim after overtaking fast qualifier Terry Gray on the fifth circuit, but Crawley’s better management of tires and lap traffic allowed him to catch up and take advantage when Sowell washed up in turn four on lap 19.

Crawley, who began his career at Beebe over 25 years ago, started third on the grid behind Gray and Sowell. Gray appeared to be the one to beat early when he won the dash and his heat, but the Bartlett, Tenn., driver and current USCS national points leader could not keep pace with Crawley or Sowell once the feature got going.

“I knew tire choice was probably going to be an issue,” Crawley said. “I think just about everybody went with a soft tire. It almost could have bit us. I pedaled; I took it easy unless I saw a hole. When I saw a hole, I charged at it.

“Then I went back to easy, because I knew tire management was going to be an issue. Both of mine are slick, so I guess it paid off.”

The track developed a dry-slick condition early in the heats and got progressively worse as the features began. But Crawley, in true veteran fashion, got faster compared to his competitors as the night went on.

Of all the front-runners, Gray was most affected by the track changes and quickly lost touch with Sowell shortly after falling from the lead to second place on lap five. Gray lost second place to Crawley on lap ten, and spent the rest of the race trying to hold off Bryant’s Zach Pringle for the third spot.

Sowell built up a five-car-length lead shortly after passing Gray, but gave up that distance once he hit traffic on lap 11. It took less than a lap for Crawley to catch up and begin to pressure Sowell until he finally forced a mistake.

“If you got up too high and got out of the rubber, you were in the dust,” Crawley said. “Luckily for me, that’s what the two cars in front of me did, and I capitalized both times they did it.”

Sowell could not catch back up to Crawley and settled for second with Gray finishing third and Pringle fourth. Alexander driver Eric Sandage rounded out the top five.

Jerrod Hull was sixth, while former series champion Marshall Skinner, of West Memphis, was seventh. Anthony Nicholson took eighth, Tommy Wurley ninth and female racer Morgan Turpin completed the top ten.

Coldwater, Miss., driver Chris Moore won the USCS topless modified feature with a flag-to-flag sweep over locals Mike Bowers, Randy Weaver and Curtis Cook. Moore earned the pole in qualifying, won the dash, led his heat from start to finish and continued his domination into the 25-lap, $1,200-to-win feature event.

Moore was also the only non-regular to finish in the top five.

Beebe driver Dallas Everett started fifth and moved up to third on the complete restart when Little Rock’s Patrick Linn went around in turn one on the initial start. Everett, 16, kept pace with the leaders until Cook got around him for the fourth spot on lap four, followed by Bryant’s Robert Baker a lap later.

But those were the only spots Everett gave up on his way to a solid sixth-place finish. Linn recovered and made his way back to eighth in the 17-car field before his car began to fade again in the final laps.

Moore led the field around the inside line in freight-train fashion with little passing throughout the field. Bryant’s Joe Long was the only driver able to advance significantly, finishing 10th after starting 15th.

Bowers finished second in front of Weaver, Cook and Baker. Searcy’s Robert Davis finished in the seventh spot behind Everett with Buck Reid, Casey Findley and Long completing the top 10.

In support-class action, Jeff Porterfield added to his points lead with a victory in the hobby stocks and McRae’s Blake Jones won his second E-mod feature of the season over Beebe’s Ryan Redmond.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

EDITORIAL >>PC&E protects water supply

Finally, the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission last week acted decisively to protect the public health, which ought to be its mission 100 percent of the time. It banned the release of wastewater anywhere in the Lake Maumelle watershed. That should tie the hands of polluters not only in Pulaski County but in the extremities of Perry and Saline counties where streams reach into the watershed.

Lake Maumelle is the principal source of drinking water for some 400,000 people in central Arkansas, and the new state rule should keep some of the most pristine water in the country flowing into our faucets for many years to come. Wastewater discharge pollutes the water sources of many cities around the country. Even good treatment systems don’t filter out all the pollutants. Drugs and personal-care products that are deposited into sewer systems leach through filter systems into drinking water.

Under the rule adopted 11-0 by the commission, the staff of the Department of Environmental Quality will never grant a permit to a wastewater system to discharge anywhere in the 88,000 acres of watershed or in streams that meander into the watershed. There are no wastewater discharges into Maumelle now, which is the major reason Maumelle provides some of the purest water in the country. We don’t know what the commission would have done if an industry or a community wastewater plant had opposed the rule but we like to think the commissioners would put the public interest first.

We know of too many instances where they haven’t, most recently in favorable rulings for the big coal-powered generating plant in southwest Arkansas and merchant coal plants in north Arkansas.

Central Arkansas Water asked the commission two years ago to amend its regulations to prohibit all wastewater discharges into the watershed. As County Judge Buddy Villines observed, it’s hard for anyone to support dumping human sewage into drinking water. But it’s been done many places.

Central Arkansas is not completely assured of pristine water forever. There is still the threat of intense subdivision development on the slopes around the reservoir, which could lead to poisonous runoff into the water supply. The water utility and the county, with an assist from state legislators, blocked the worst prospects three years ago, but it will take perpetual vigilance to protect our good water.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

EDITORIAL >>Robbie Wills insults voters

The disappointment of the week is state Rep. Robbie Wills of Conway, who sent out a mass flyer across central Arkansas attacking his opponent in the Second District congressional race, state Sen. Joyce Elliott, as an ineffective extremist.

Our impression of Speaker Wills was a progressive lawmaker who was energetic and honorable. He had promised that he would not run a negative campaign against his opponents. He finished a distant second to Elliott in the first primary, which apparently accounts for the game change.

The flyer says Elliott is an extremist who does not support “Arkansas values.” It says she wants to stop hunting, opposes the Second Amendment right to own a gun, wants to outlaw school prayer and favors underage girls having abortions without informing their parents. It said she was one of the most ineffective members of the General Assembly.

A distressed Elliott put out a detailed response yesterday, listing all the pro-hunting bills she had voted for, her 86 percent voting record for the Arkansas Rifle and Pistol Association, the long list of bills that she sponsored and passed in the 2009 legislative session alone, and a detailed discussion of the abortion and school-religion bills that seemed to be the foundation of Wills’ attack. There was only the faintest glimmer of truth in the charges. In her eight years, she has insisted that the health of the mother be a factor in the government’s stance on abortions.

Wills’ flyer is what Elliott — and Wills — should expect in the fall when she or he faces Tim Griffin, who was a cog in the political dirty-tricks operation of the Republican Party and White House before the Bush Justice Department tried to sneak him into the nonpartisan U. S. attorney’s office. We didn’t expect it of Robbie Wills, but we should not be surprised that political desperation knows no limits.

EDITORIAL >>Mark Wilcox a freeloader

Every now and then you get a poignant reminder of the worth of an independent press. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette supplied one Sunday when it gave its readers an inside look at how the current state land commissioner, Mark Wilcox, manages the personal expenses of his office.

Wilcox is in a runoff with Pulaski County and Circuit Clerk Pat O’Brien for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state. The election will be next Tuesday. The Leader has endorsed O’Brien not for any shortcomings of Wilcox but for O’Brien’s spectacular record of cleaning up the county office and making elections and court operations run smoothly for the first time in more than a decade. C. S. Murphy’s painstaking account of Wilcox’s elaborate expense account in the Democrat Gazette gives us fresh reason to urge O’Brien’s election.

The story does not suggest that Wilcox has done anything illegal in having taxpayers pony up for his luxurious travel habits or even in using state vehicles for personal matters, which clearly Wilcox has done. Being one of the state’s seven constitutional officers, though the least important one, the state land commissioner is exempt from the rules that apply to some 30,000 other state government employees. You can spend your office’s appropriation pretty much as you please as long as you don’t lie about it, which is what got Attorney General Steve Clark in trouble 20 years ago. It was legal for him to spend lavishly on meals but he went out of the way to corrupt the receipts by naming fictional guests.

The little land commissioner’s office has 10 vehicles for its employees’ use, and two are assigned to Wilcox. He drives back and forth to his farm home near Greenbrier in a Toyota Sequoia at state expense and keeps a state-issued Silverado pickup at the farm, although once Murphy began inquiring, he parked the Silverado at his Little Rock office. Expense records show that over the past 10 months he (make that the taxpayers) spent $150 to $200 a month to gas up the pickup.

Wilcox joined both the eastern and western land commissioners associations, so he attends both conventions. He, his wife and two staffers spent seven days in Anchorage, Alaska, attending a three-day western conference. They stayed in three hotels, rented a Ford Excursion for the week, spent $1,200 on meals and got reimbursed $6,200 by the taxpayers.

Last year, he was reimbursed $144.20 for a trip to Jonesboro to help Congressman Marion Berry celebrate his birthday. Weren’t you willing to help?

On a layover before flying to Boise, Idaho, he (we) paid $240 for one night’s lodging at the Hotel Peabody in Memphis. Motel 6 would have been good enough for most of us.

Penny-ante stuff? No, he is not bankrupting the state, but voters ought to heed these signs of entitlement. First thing you know thousand-dollar tabs run into real money.

O’Brien? He doesn’t have a government vehicle. He gets a $600-a-month car allowance and pays taxes on it as income.

TOP STORY > >Men get more traffic tickets than women

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Are Jacksonville police targeting blacks, whites or Hispanics when it comes to writing tickets? It doesn’t appear so.
If any group is being targeted it is men.

According to citation information that the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People requested, the Jacksonville police wrote 518 citations in March. Of those, 294, or 57 percent, were to whites, 211, or 41 percent, to blacks, and nine, or 2 percent, to Hispanics. Out of those 518 citations, 328, or 63 percent, were to males and 190, or 37 percent, to females.

The department also wrote 13,729 citations from January 2008 through June 2009; 5,273, or 38 percent, went to blacks, 8,314, or 61 percent, went to whites, and 250, or 2 percent, were Hispanic.

Data from the 2000 census shows that Jacksonville’s population is 25 percent black, 70 percent white and 3.5 percent Hispanic.

Although the percentages differ between the citations and the population, it’s hard to compare the two because motorists are so migratory. But if there is one group that seemingly gets more citations than another it is men.

In Jacksonville, males make up 51.1 percent of the population. Males received 8,670 of the citations issued, or 63 percent, during the 18-month period.

Out of the 82 officers listed on the report, only one, Cindy Harbour, wrote tickets to more blacks than whites. During the time period, she wrote tickets to 308 whites and to 395 blacks. She also cited more than twice the number of males compared to females.

No officer wrote up more females than males.

Nine of the 82 officers listed in the report wrote more than 500 citations during the time period.

They were:

James Brady wrote 685 citations. Almost 400, or 58 percent, were to whites, 45 percent were to blacks and 21, or 3 percent were Hispanic. Nearly two-thirds, or 458 of the citations, were issued to men.

Chris Galluppo wrote 615 citations. Almost 57 percent, or 350 citations, were written to whites, 45 percent, or 274 were written to blacks, and 2 percent or 11 were written to Hispanics.

Harbour wrote 688 citations with 308, or 45 percent, to whites; 395, or 57 percent, to blacks and 18 or 3 percent to Hispanics. Just over 500 of the citations, or 73 percent, were written to men and 201, or 27 percent, were written to females.

Christopher Mayfield wrote 562 citations with 352, or 63 percent, of them going to whites, 210, or 37 percent, to blacks, and three, or less than 1 percent, to Hispanics. The citations went to 358 men, or 64 percent, and 210, or 36 percent, to women.

William Monroe wrote 558 citations. Just over 300, or 54 percent, were to whites, 271, or 46 percent to blacks, and 16, or 3 percent, to Hispanics. Two-hundred, or 36 percent, of the citations were written to women, while 370, or 64 percent, were to men.

Gregory Rozenski wrote 579 citations, with 387, or 67 percent, going to whites, 193, or 33 percent, to blacks, and seven, or 1 percent, to Hispanics.

Donald Schmidt wrote 769 citations, the most of any officer. He wrote 486, or 63 percent, citations to whites, 283, or 37 percent, to blacks, and 24, or 3 percent, to Hispanics. He wrote 451, or 59 percent, of the citations to men and 342, or 41 percent, to women.

Christopher Schultz wrote 755 citations, with 472, or 63 percent, of them going to whites, 283, of 37 percent, to blacks, and four, or about a half of a percent, to Hispanics. Men received 554, or 73 percent of the citations, while women received 205, or 27 percent, of the citations.

Ryan Wright wrote 640 citations, with 442, or 69 percent, going to whites, 199, or 31 percent, to blacks, and two, less than one percent, to Hispanics. Almost 400 men, or 63 percent, received citations from Wright, while 245 women, or 37 percent, did.

TOP STORY > >Superintendent: Must raise level of expectations

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

It is a universally recognized truism – the success or failure of any individual or enterprise starts with what is believed to be possible.

Charles Hopson, incoming superintendent for Pulaski County Special School District, refers to reality-shaping – and often unexamined – beliefs, assumptions and attitudes as “an internal narrative.” What we are told about ourselves comes to be what we believe, he says.

Hopson’s plan for PCSSD is simple, though not necessarily simply executed: challenge the counter-productive internal narratives at work, replace them with more positive ones, and by doing so raise performance on every level, starting with the top leadership, then the ranks of principals, teachers and staff, down to the individual students, especially those of minority race and lower socio-economic class.

“I want to be able to eliminate race and poverty as predictors of a student’s success or failure,” Hopson said in an interview last week. “There should not be assumptions based on visible indicators – a student’s race, gender or sexual orientation.”

Hopson, in town last week for a flurry of meetings with district stakeholders, took time out to talk about the potency of the thoughts we carry about ourselves and one another – and how that affects education.

In his “listening tour” last week, Hopson says one of the best bits of advice he heard came from a local mayor about perception.

“You have got to address and make sure that the curb-side appeal of this district is inviting and attractive to patrons,” he said, recounting the mayor’s words. “It is like looking for a new house. It doesn’t matter what is doing well on the inside if the curb-side appeal does not grab people. They will drive on to the next district.”

So what might make parents pass up PCSSD for another, more “appealing” district?

Hopson, who is as unpretentious as he is serious about his new responsibilities, did not miss a beat in ticking off what will be his top three agenda priorities when he takes the reins of the district a month from now: the much-disputed teacher contract, the poor conditions of many of the district’s 37 facilities and the troubling racial and ethnic disparities in academic performance and suspension rates.

He says what he saw last week at Jacksonville High School, where tiles fell from a ceiling with a nudge, is “unacceptable.”

“No student in this district should have to attend a facility where conditions are a barrier to academic performance.”

RACE DISPARITIES AND EXPECTATIONS

Hopson is a soft-spoken man with a persona of gentleness and gentility, yet he has spent most of his career in Portland, Ore., public schools, an urban district with 45,000 students. Half of that time he was principal at an inner-city high school with demographics and struggles similar to PCSSD.

“The transition to that school was very similar to this district,” he recalled. “It was in a leadership crisis. My appointment was in November. It was frenzied chaos. I didn’t look where to start – I just started.”

Hopson, a native of Prescott, got his start as a special-education teacher at Guy Perkins High School, then did a short stint at
PCSSD’s Northwood Junior High School.

At age 26, he began his long career as a school principal at an elementary school in Helena. In no time, he was wooed away to Portland, where he has been a middle school and high school principal. Only two years ago did he take a central office post, as deputy superintendent over learning services.

Now at 52, he is eager to bring back all he has learned over the years to his home state.

Lessons learned at Guy Perkins High School seem fresh as yesterday.

“My group of students was mainly basketball players, and when you have the entire basketball team in your resource room, you question why,” Hopson said. “How was it,” he asked the boys, that when they played ball, they were “80 percent on the free-throw line, but then wound up in the resource room?”

That year, Hopson divided his time between teaching the boys how to read and “talking about expectations.” He would tell the ball-players, “It is not because you can’t, but because you are allowing yourself to not make the same effort in the classroom as on the court.”

Hopson is deeply troubled by the fact that being a good student is too often seen as incongruent with the black culture and identity.

“You’re acting white if you excel academically – when you allow that message to be internalized, that is the greatest disservice to children of African descent,” Hopson said. “Therein lies the heart of the achievement gap.”

As principal at a Portland middle school of “non-readers,” Hopson said before standardized testing each year, he would assemble the students and tell them, “There are those who would defy your ability to do well on these tests because of your ancestry. That is a lie.

“If I didn’t deal with the internalized message, they would not do well. You have to provide a counter narrative, one that says, ‘you can, you will,’ because every day of their lives is from a narrative that defines them from a deficit construct.”

Within a couple of years, test scores at the middle school “skyrocketed,” Hopson said, thanks to higher expectations of students and an aggressive, flexible reading program.

As principal of a Portland high school, by raising expectations and engaging students in learning, suspension rates, including those for black males, plummeted.

Hopson knows what it is like to grow up with a self-affirming narrative playing in his head. He credits his father who instilled in his children – Hopson is the oldest of four – that they could and were expected to excel.

“Father taught us that expectations in this country of us as a people of African descent was a lie,” Hopson said. “We weren’t even allowed to go into stores with separate entrances. I still hear his voice every day saying, ‘you can, you will, no matter how insurmountable.’”

That message was strongly reinforced in the segregated schools the Hopson children attended in Prescott.

“We were told that you can and will be anything you choose to be,” Hopson said. “Unfortunately, with integration of the schools, that narrative did not get passed on to students who were not the majority. We will have to deal with that in our own desegregation efforts.”

Hopson intends to begin dismantling any counter-productive assumptions and attitudes in PCSSD in regard to academic excellence, race and class beginning with a retreat for district top administrators coming up soon.

“We will explore our own issues of race, poverty and personal beliefs and how those tie in with the environment we create in the district, because we set the tone at the top, and those core values and principals are going to drive how we move forward,” Hopson said.

SCHOOL BOARD DECISION NOT TO RECOGNIZE UNION

The PCSSD school board’s decision to no longer recognize the two unions that for years served as the collective bargaining agents for teachers and support staff and replace them with two advisory groups, called personnel policy committees (PPC) has many employees, teachers especially, feeling angry, afraid and vulnerable. The last day of union recognition is set for June 30, the day before Hopson starts full time as superintendent.

Hopson has said he will respect the board’s decision to make a PPC the platform of personnel policy-setting. What counts in his mind is not whether the teacher contract has been forged by a union or a PPC. What counts is mutual respect and collaboration in working out the differences, he says. He expects cooperation of all parties.

“I will aggressively reach out to PACT (Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers) and invite their input and embrace those teachers who have been part of the current PACT structure.

“We are going to have to reach common ground on points of the contract,” Hopson said. “The contract must address student performance and the role teachers play as the front-line individuals in the classroom, but allow for teachers to be well-compensated and give them the best benefits package available.”

And to underscore his words about mutual respect, Hopson adds, “In interactions with principals, teachers should never feel
threatened or in any way harassed.”

PRINCIPAL KNOWS HOPSON WELL

Lynn Buedeseldt, a principal in the Portland School District who has known Hopson for 22 years, says that no one should see Hopson’s gentle demeanor as a sign he can’t lead in tough situations.

“People in your district will be wondering for a while, ‘Is this guy for real?’He does not look like what you might expect of a superintendent – a harder, out-there, stronger personality, a dominating presence,” Buedeseldt said. “He doesn’t work on that model. What you have is a very humble man who gets this amazing work done.”

She is “not a lone voice” in her praise of Hopson, Buedeseldt said.

“What you’ll hear from those who have worked with him – principals, teachers, parents, students – is that he does not operate from anger or blame, she said. “He is always honoring where everybody is. It doesn’t matter where you are, or what you have stuck in your craw, but he keeps you always focused on equity for children. He doesn’t ever say, ‘you are the problem,’ but rather, ‘how do we find common ground and move forward?’

Buedeseldt credits Hopson for taking a courageous lead in open discussions about race, white privilege and inequities in education in the Portland district and community.

“You can’t force that down people’s throats or they will get angry and walk away,” Buedeseldt said. “He doesn’t blame me for being a white woman with privilege and money. He values all of us, but he does hold me accountable. He brings tough messages to a lot of places of privilege and power in the state of Oregon, and you never hear anything negative about him.”

TOP STORY > >Cabot laying 14 miles of water pipe

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Fourteen miles of pressurized waterline connecting Cabot to Central Arkansas Water is expected to be completed by September. But water won’t run through the pipe until CAW’s $35 million Northbelt transmission line is completed in December 2011.

The Northbelt transmission line will also bring water to Jacksonville and North Pulaski Water Association.

Tim Joyner, who runs Cabot WaterWorks, said this week that the original price of the Northbelt was $42 million, but the bids for that leg of the project have come in lower than expected. Originally, Cabot was supposed to pay about $10 million for its part, but that price will be less. Cabot’s part of the Northbelt is funded by a $10 million loan from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

In the year since the Cabot end of the project started, 10.5 miles of ductile iron pipe has been laid. The pipe from Wal-mart to Hwy. 5 is 24 inches in diameter. The rest is 30 inches. The Cabot line will connect to CAW at Hwy. 107 next to General Samuels Road.

The cost of that $9 million line has been paid entirely by water income which took a sharp rise after rates were increased in 2005.

Currently, Cabot gets its water from a well field between Beebe and Lonoke. Joyner said some residents don’t understand why Cabot is spending so much to connect to another water system when the wells are still producing.

The answer is simple, he said. The Alluvial Aquifer where the wells are located is dropping an average of two feet a year according to tests performed twice a year by the United States Geological Service. And the state, specifically Natural Resources, wants them out of the well field.

“We have it in writing that they want us out by 2023,” Joyner said.

Cabot doesn’t really need water now. But it was always understood that the wells would not be used indefinitely. Farmers didn’t want the well field in their area and in recent years there has been a push to move from ground- water to surface water because of the dropping groundwater level.

Although CAW has assured its partners in the Northbelt that the project will be completed on schedule, work has not resumed on the two 30-inch lines that are supposed to run underneath the I-430 bridge since three workers were killed in April 2008 when a scaffold collapsed.

The men were employed by Oscar Renda Contracting Inc. of Roanoke, Texas, which contracted with CAW in April 2006 to install the pipe under the bridge and across the river.

CAW contracted with the Texas company in April 2006 to install the pipeline under the bridge and across the river.

Joyner said the Arkansas Highway Department has not cleared the company to resume the work.

The Cabot Water and Waste-water Commission met Thursday. A short update to say Cabot’s part of the project was on schedule was part of that meeting, but the commission also discussed a territory dispute with Ward.

When the property where Stagecoach Elementary is located was annexed into Cabot in 2007, the annexation also included an undeveloped wooded area. Sometime later in that same year, Ward filed a service-area plan with Natural Resources that included the wooded area next to the school.

Ward has many water customers inside Cabot limits Cabot WaterWorks provides with sewer. And the water and wastewater commission has said there will be no new sewer customers who don’t also have Cabot water. So if the land is developed with Ward water, it will not have access to Cabot sewer.

The commission argues that the land was already part of Cabot when Ward filed its service area plan with the state and that Cabot should have at least been offered the opportunity to protest that part of the plan.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke stated his city’s position in a letter to the commission dated April 23:

“Municipal annexation does not establish service boundaries in all cases,” Brooke wrote. “It should be noted that this particular property is accessible only from Stagecoach Road where Ward waterlines presently exist. The only available waterline to this parcel for well over 20 years has been Ward water.”

Since Cabot also has a line in the area and the parcel is undeveloped, the commissioners agreed Thursday to ask Natural Resources for a ruling in the matter.

TOP STORY > >Pryor: Kill FEMA plans

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The Federal Emergency Management Agency wants to expand the size of the floodplain and to require towns and cities—including yours—to pass new floodplain-management regulation ordinances. But Sen. Mark Pryor said Tuesday he’s not sure the agency has the authority to make local governments pass ordinances.

The Army Corps of Engineers is redrawing floodplain maps, and FEMA is using those maps to expand the amount of land designated as floodplain, and to require those building new homes to buy flood insurance. And FEMA is starting with Arkansas, according to Pryor.

FEMA is not the only provider of flood insurance, but it is the least expensive, Pryor said.

FEMA began sending letters to cities in Arkansas indicating they would no longer be eligible for federal-disaster assistance, and residents and businesses could not buy or renew existing flood insurance plans if the new floodplain measures were not adopted by the city by July 6.

Flood insurance, administered by FEMA, can cost Arkansas homeowners from $131 to $2,647 annually, depending on coverage and location, according to the senator. It can cost businesses up to $5,000 annually and deter economic development in communities, Pryor said.

This will affect Cabot and Beebe because of the levees around here, and Bayou Meto, Pryor said, but the next round will be around Marion in July, he said.

FEMA has sent out ordinances to cities and counties saying they must pass this or loans and developments will stop.

“It will bring everything to a halt,” Pryor said. “Cities and counties aren’t sure what they are agreeing to.”

“This is very heavy handed. They want any new development, anything anywhere to be elevated, get above floodplain when it’s already sitting behind a world-class levee—and local people pay for the levees,” the senator said.

FEMA states on its official website, “Once FEMA provides a community with the flood hazard information upon which floodplain management regulations are based, the community is required to adopt a floodplain management ordinance that meets or exceeds the minimum National Floodplain Insurance Program requirements,”

“The overriding purpose of the floodplain management regulations is to ensure that participating communities take into account flood hazards, to the extent that they are known, in all official actions relating to land management and use.”
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Pryor have proposed an amendment to the FY2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill.

Their amendment would establish a process where disputes between FEMA and local communities over Flood Insurance Rate Maps could be resolved by an independent arbitration panel.

The five-member panel would consist of experts in hydrology, administrative law or economic development.

FEMA has adopted the revised and expanded floodplain map for east Arkansas including West Memphis, Wynne and Jonesboro, Pryor said, but not yet for local communities.

Jacksonville, Sherwood, Cabot, Austin, Lonoke County, Pulaski County, England, Lonoke and Beebe all are participating communities dating back decades, according to FEMA, but apparently they would be required to pass new ordinances to satisfy FEMA.

“Once FEMA provides a community with the flood hazard information upon which floodplain management regulations are based, the community is required to adopt a floodplain management ordinance that meets or exceeds the minimum national floodplain program,” Pryor said.

“I’m concerned that after local people spent billions of dollars building levees, that FEMA would require people to buy flood insurance,” Pryor said.

He said there was even a “zone X” on maps representing areas that won’t flood but are close to areas that could and in which homeowners and builders would be required to buy flood insurance.

TOP STORY > >Prosecutor wasn’t told Campbell’s a free man

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Without fanfare—and apparently without the written notification from the parole board as required by law—former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell, 50, was paroled and released from prison April 5 and his wife Kelly Campbell was granted parole
May 27 and could be free and reunited with her husband by early July.

The Campbells were tried together and convicted in April 2007 in a sprawling six-week trial that included tales of sex with prisoners, theft of drugs from friends, continuing criminal enterprise and manufacture of methamphetamine.

“We didn’t get a notice that he was going before the (parole) board,” Lonoke Prosecutor Will Feland said Tuesday afternoon.

“That would have piqued my interest.”

Feland said he believed notification was required.

He is not a career prosecutor but was appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe to finish the term of Lona McCastlain, who prosecuted the case.

There are at least two Arkansas statutes requiring notification, according to longtime Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley.

Arkansas Code 16-93-702 (a) reads, “Before the parole board shall grant any parole, the board shall solicit oral and written comment from the court (of conviction) the prosecuting attorney and sheriff of the county from which the inmate was committed.”

Another law requires written notification upon parole to the sheriff, the committing court and the chief of police of all cities of the first class of the county from which the person was sentenced.

NOT NOTIFIED

“I haven’t been notified,” said Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson, “or if I have, I don’t remember.”

Campbell was originally sentenced to 40 years in prison, but on Nov. 5, the state Supreme Court overturned Jay Campbell’s convictions and remanded the case back to Lonoke County Circuit Court.

Feland charged him anew with 17 counts, but following a negotiation, Campbell pleaded guilty Feb. 5 and was sentenced to 15 years with credit for 969 days already served, according to Dina Tyler, spokesman for the state Corrections Department.

He was released from prison April 5 and will be released from parole June 17, 2022, according to Rhonda Sharp of the state Department of Community Punishment.

Campbell’s wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, will be eligible for parole Sept. 5, but she could be set free as early as July under the emergency powers act, which allows for early release under crowded prison conditions.

Both Campbells will have to work community service hours, and submit to periodic drug and alcohol testing.

SAW HIM SUNDAY

“I saw (Jay Campbell) Sunday,” said former Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett, who was briefly a codefendant with the Campbells for having state inmates do some work at his house.

He said Campbell came to visit while his two daughters were visiting their mother in prison.

“He’s (living) in Conway,” said Privett. “His girls are in school in Conway. He’s his same old self, upbeat, looking forward to (his wife) getting out.”

Privett said Campbell had some employment possibilities working for relatives, perhaps an uncle who has a marina.

He said Campbell had come to visit Privett’s wife, who is recovering from a broken hip.

SPORTS>>Promotions often cause commotion

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

I spent most of my Memorial Day weekend in the pressbox at Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Class AA Texas League’s Arkansas Travelers.

That wasn’t a bad thing. The box is air-conditioned and I could see the Riverfest fireworks without having to move a muscle. I also had a chance to hobnob with friends and colleagues, and the conversation, as often happens, strayed off the basepath.

We were noticing the Travelers had invited a guest mascot, a kangaroo-type character, to perform with full-time mascot Shelly.

That led to a conversation about mascot appearances, and ballpark promotions in general, that went bad.

The Travelers have had their share of disasters, minor and major, through the years. Official scorekeeper Tim Cooper recalled a night at old Ray Winder Field when the club gave away packets of barbecue sauce, which all the kids gleefully stomped until the ballpark looked like the scene of a gangland slaying.

Former general manager Bill Valentine, who practically had the old park steam-cleaned every night, no doubt regretted his burst of promotional inspiration.

But that giveaway gone wrong is nothing compared to the Ray Winder Field appearance of Kool-Aid Man, which, unfortunately for him, coincided with bat night for the kids.

The story, handed down over the past couple decades, goes like this:

Kool-Aid Man, that roly-poly, smiling pitcher of fun, waddled from the first-base side, where the good kids were, to the third-base bleachers side, where — apparently —the bad kids were hanging out.

Because after Kool-Aid Man had given away a few hugs, a kid ran up behind him with his brand new bat and laid a pretty good cut right across Kool-Aid Man’s backside.
Kool-Aid Man waddled around in a circle to find the culprit, only to be hit by another little monster from the other side. Kool-Aid Man made another slow turn, only to be hit again, then he figured out he could turn faster if he jumped and spun in the air.

It ended with Kool-Aid Man jumping and twirling, knocking kids down right and left while reinforcements surged forward to give him the piƱata treatment.

The story caused flashbacks for Minor League Baseball’s official Game Day data-caster Mike Garrity.

“I stuck my foot in the chest of a little kid when I was a mascot once,” Garrity said. “He pulled my tail.”

Garrity, one-time sports information director at UALR and assistant athletic director for operations at Florida International, has spent a colorful life in the world of sports.

In addition to defending himself against that anonymous kid while in costume as the Eastern Washington University Eagle, Garrity served as the Columbia Basin (Wash.) Community College Hawk and the Kennewick (Wash.) High School Lion.

“I worked my way through college as a mascot,” Garrity said. “I kept the tail from every mascot I played.”

In a twist of fate, Garrity went on to serve as floor manager at various Sun Belt Conference basketball tournaments and became known as the mean guy who kicks unruly mascots out of games, as he did Western Kentucky’s Big Red, Middle Tennessee’s Lightning and the entire Indian Family of Arkansas State.

In his travels with the Wimp Sanderson - coached UALR Trojans, Garrity was in the University of Texas-Pan American arena on a night when the host school handed out tortillas for a halftime, hit-the-center-circle promotion and a chance at a free lunch.
Naturally, the fans didn’t wait for halftime.

“Mike, they hit me in the head with a tortilla,” Sanderson said.

Garrity recalled a football halftime show in which Florida International’s dancers, the Golden Dazzlers, were to arrive dressed in jeans and white T-shirts on the backs of motorcycles for their performance.

Just before the performance, a huge Florida thunderstorm broke. Remember, the dancers were wearing white T-shirts.

“It went wrong but that’s not always bad,” Garrity said. “The players running off the field all just stopped.”

Cooper was at one of the great Major League Baseball promotions of all time, the Houston Astrodome’s “Foam Night,” when Floyd Bannister struck out Johnny Bench on an even-numbered minute, earning a free beer for every fan of drinking age.

Close to 14,000 of the 25,000 left for the beer stand as if their lives depended on it.

But that’s how it is with sports promotions and mascots sometimes — you play, you pay.

“No one is watching the game,” Cooper said. “They’re all up there getting their free beer.”

SPORTS>>USCS Speedweek puts top drivers on Beebe track

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

USCS Speedweek is coming to Beebe Speedway on Thursday night.

The national touring sprint-car series is making its annual trek through the Southeast with six scheduled races in eight days.

The first two dates of this year’s Speedweek at Riverside Speedway in West Memphis and North Alabama Speedway in Tuscumbia, Ala., were rained out over the weekend. That made Monday’s race at Clayhill Motorsports Park in Atwood, Tenn., the first of what will be four Speedweek races this year.

It will be the second year for USCS to visit Beebe. The 360 winged sprints and Outlaw Modifieds appeared for the first time in September.

“What happened last year was we leased the track to them,” Beebe track promoter Harold Mahoney said. “School had already started, and we didn’t know how it was going to go. But they promoted it and promoted it, and had a pretty nice crowd turn out. They made money, the track made money, so everyone was happy.”

The USCS Outlaw Modified touring series will also be on hand Thursday. Modified drivers from the weekly modified division at Beebe will join the contingent of touring drivers, including defending national champion Hunter Rasdon of Jonesboro.

The modified race will be $1,000-to-win, or $1,200 to the winner if he runs without his roof connected to the car, or “topless.”

The USCS modified drivers are considered some of the best in the country, but Mahoney said not to count out the regulars at Beebe. The sandy clay at the track is notorious for being temperamental and difficult to set up for properly.

“Last year it was kind of funny because there were all those guys who were supposed to be so bad,” Mahoney said. “And I think the highest finishing driver from their deal was sixth or seventh; all the ones ahead of them were my guys who run every week here.”

The 360 winged-sprint cars will bring some of the biggest names in the country to Beebe, including defending champion and current points leader Terry Gray of Bartlett, Tenn., and Marshall Skinner of West Memphis, who is sixth in the USCS points.

But for fans in the central Arkansas area, the name most recognizable is Tim Crawley of Mabelvale. Crawley got his start at Beebe Speedway running late models in the early 1980s and has gone on to a legendary sprint car career. Crawley is a three-time national champion of ASCS, and has numerous Speedweek victories.

“Everybody likes to see the sprint cars because of the speed they carry,” Mahoney said. “There’s a good crowd that follows them, so that’s the biggest thing.”

The E-mods and hobby stocks will also run Thursday, and Beebe Speedway will feature its regular race program, including the factory stocks and mini stocks, on Friday.

SPORTS>>Conrade, Reed head list of area all-state choices

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Nine area players were chosen as all-state softball selections for the 2010 season.

Cabot, Searcy and Beebe each had two players make the list, while Sylvan Hills, Lonoke and Abundant Life had one.

Cabot all-state selections Chelsea Conrade and Pete Reed were also chosen to compete in the Arkansas High School Coaches Association East-West All-Star Game in Fayetteville on June 23.

Conrade and Reed were part of a corps of six senior starters who led Cabot to the 7A state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Bryant.

Conrade was a four-year starting shortstop for the Lady Panthers.

“She’s a very well-rounded athlete,” Cabot coach Becky Steward said. “She could play any position on the field and excel except for pitcher, and she could probably do okay there. She was a quiet leader; she led with her performances on the field both offensively and defensively.”

Reed, a three-year starting catcher, will continue her career at Ouachita Baptist University this fall.

“Pete did a good job behind the plate,” Steward said. “She was more vocal, but that comes in tune with being a catcher. Both of them are great kids.”

Searcy’s Amanda Richardson and pitcher Amber Rollins made the all-state list, and teammate Nila Navarro was named to the 6A state all-tournament team. The Lady Lions earned a first-round bye in the 6A state tournament as the No. 2 seed out of the 6A East, but faced a strong Sheridan team in the second round and lost 4-3.

Beebe shortstop Nikki King and senior teammate Ally Wallace were 5A all-state selections. King will also take part in the all-star game in Fayetteville.

It’s the second time in the school year for Wallace to make all-state after she was chosen for volleyball last fall.
Softball teammate Megan Harris made the 5A state all-tournament team.

The Lady Badgers were the No. 2 seed out of the 5A Southeast entering the state tournament; No. 3 seed Vilonia upset them 3-0 in the first round.

Ashley Evans from Sylvan Hills was also named to the 5A state all-tournament team. Lonoke’s Ashley James was an all-state selection in 4A.

Abundant Life’s Courtney Pack was selected all-state in Class 2A, and was also named to the 2A state all-tournament team.

The Lady Owls went into the state tournament at Junction City as the No. 2 seed out of the East Region and won their first-round game against Midland 2-1.

Their tournament ended with a 7-2 loss to Horatio in the second round.

SPORTS>>Class act lifts Bears’ numbers

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Solid strides in the classroom have led to more bodies on the field for the Sylvan Hills Bears this spring.

A number of potential players were forced to sit out last season because of inadequate grades, leaving coach Jim Withrow with a skeleton crew of 28 players last summer. But as the grades have improved, the numbers have come up in the locker room, with 53 players dressing out for the two weeks of spring practice.

That’s the good news for Sylvan Hills. The bad news is that even with the additions, there are only five returning starters on both sides of the football, and only eight players with significant varsity experience.

“It’s pretty much rebuild and teaching — a lot of teaching,” Withrow said. “We’re getting there, it’s just baby steps. It’s a total rebuild, no doubt about it.”

Last year, the Bears had plenty of experience, but suffered injuries to a number of key players early in the season. They lost their first five games before winning four of their last five, including a dramatic 13-12 victory over Beebe in Week 10 to grab the fourth and final playoff seed out of the 5A Southeast Conference.

“If everybody’s eligible, we’ve got a chance to get in there and get competitive,” Withrow said. “We’ve harped on them and harped on them, but the ball’s in their court now. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

There are plenty of candidates to fill the quarterback position vacated by senior Jordan Spears. The list includes baseball standouts Blake Rasdon and Michael Maddox, who are returning after missing a year of football, along with Justin Cook, Demarcus Wilson and Jamal Love.

“We run three huddles and all of them run them,” Withrow said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s the ninth grade, first group, second group — they’ve all been in there. It literally is an open deal.”

Withrow is also looking at Wilson and Cook in running back roles. Trey Bone also returns to fill out the running back depth chart.

“I’m telling you, we’re just trying to figure out where we’re at,” Withrow said. “I’m not going to tell you we’ve got the whole puzzle, but we’ve got some pieces. We just have to figure out where they go.”

The plan for the summer is practices with scrimmages on Mondays and Thursdays in July instead of the normal weightlifting sessions.

The Bears will still lift weights, but Withrow said with the amount of knowledge the young group needs, it is just as important the players know how to line up and understand game situations.

Withrow said the Bears will not take part in any 7-on-7 games and the team may attend a camp late in the summer.

Returning defensive tackle Alex Smith is on the short list of experienced defenders, but one area in which Withrow already has confidence is the offensive line.

“Our size as a whole, I think we just look like an average-looking high-school team,” Withrow said. “But I do like our offensive line. That’s one thing we’ve talked about out there is we like our offensive line.”

Withrow has taken his team to the playoffs every season since taking over in 2007, including a trip to the 6A state semifinals his first year. He said the improved numbers are not just a reflection of better grades, but also of continued tradition.

“I think tradition is one of those things where it helps,” Withrow said. “We’ve won in every sport. We’ve had our good days and our bad days; for the most part, we’ve had good things.

“Having quality teams and quality coaching has been a big deal. And that’s been going on well before I ever showed up. We’ve just kind of kept it going.”

SPORTS>>Small numbers, big action at speedway

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

A small field of cars did not take away from the excitement at Beebe Speedway on Friday night. The track lost a number of drivers to Memorial Day weekend activities, but the 54 cars in five classes provided plenty of action.

Vilonia driver Curtis “Hollywood” Cook took the victory in the modified division after a fierce battle with veteran drivers Mike Bowers and Randy Weaver. The three cars battled inches apart from a restart on lap nine until a flat left-rear tire for Bowers took him and Weaver out of contention with two laps to go.

Bowers started on the inside of the front row after winning the first heat. Beebe driver Todd Greer won Heat 2 to take the outside pole, but his No. 77 car stopped on the backstretch as the cars came out to line up for the feature.

Instead of starting the race from the front row, Greer’s car was towed off, and he was listed as a Did-Not-Start.

Donnie Stringfellow’s No. 88 car did not start the feature after he made contact with the No. 71 car of Robert Baker at the end of the second heat. Stringfellow spun in turn one on the first lap and never recovered, and he drew the black flag when he charged Baker’s car after the checkered flag.

Cook took Greer’s starting position with Weaver behind him in the outside of row two alongside third-place starter Jason Flory of Cabot. It didn’t take long for Weaver to find the fast way along the outside, as he took his F1 machine high on the cushion through turns three and four.

Weaver passed Cook for second on the fourth circuit and set his sights on the leader Bowers.

Cook caught up to the pair by lap seven, but the action slowed on the next lap because of a wreck involving Beebe’s Jody Jackson, Walt Butler and rookie Tyson Franks.

But the three cars resumed their shootout on the restart. Weaver went from the outside to the middle of the track trying to thread the needle between Bowers and Cook.

Bowers stayed out front with Cook to his inside and Weaver running anywhere there was open space. They made it three wide exiting turn four on lap 12 before Bowers began to explore the outside line.

That move hindered Weaver’s progress, but the five-time modified champion stayed in the hunt until Bowers caught him out of turn two with two laps remaining. Bowers’ left rear tire popped and caused him to turn sideways, leaving Weaver with nowhere to go.

Weaver avoided heavy contact by spinning to the right, but both drivers were forced to restart in the back. Bowers went to the pits for a new tire and restarted eighth with Weaver right in front of him.

Cook went unchallenged in the final two laps, followed by Casey Findley, Flory, Searcy’s Robert Davis and Mikey Bolding to complete the top five. Jackson recovered from earlier troubles to take sixth, followed by Bowers and Weaver.

Beebe’s Jacob Kurtz had the fastest car in the factory-stock feature but left the track empty handed when Thomas Payne spun him out on the white-flag lap.

Kurtz took the lead from Payne on the first lap and pulled away before a flat tire sent him to the pits and forced him to restart in seventh on lap seven.

Kurtz quickly worked his way back through the field and caught up to Payne on the final lap and made a clean move to the inside to reclaim the lead.

But with the checkered flag in sight, Payne put his front bumper to Kurtz and sent him into the infield in turn two.

Race flagger Will Essex gave Payne the checkered flag. Kurtz attempted to pull into the winner’s circle but was sent off by track officials to clear the way for Payne, who stood in his driver’s-side window and cheered as the crowd sat silently.

The track announcer even questioned the call, and a few fans decided to heckle Payne.

Todd Joslin led from flag to flag to win the E-mod feature in front of Blake Jones and Joey Gee, while Paul Shackleford won the mini-stock feature with a mid-race pass on Cabot’s Doyle Blankenship. Blankenship held on for second while Jim Atcheson took third.

Hobby-stock points leader Jeff Porterfield of Benton put on a show in the hobby feature when he drove through the field to finish second behind race winner Jeremy Kester. Porterfield earned a front-row start, but had to start the feature in the back due to receiving a push onto the track and not starting under his own power.

Kester also started near the back, but quickly made his way through the field and claimed the point by the seventh lap.

Porterfield battled with Jacksonville’s Steve Capps for second in the last half of the race before Capps’ No. 43 machine began to fade late.