Friday, November 26, 2010

SPORTS >> Lions’ Jones expected to have lasting effect

Leader sportswriter

The noticeable shift in Cabot’s defense every time Searcy’s Jamal Jones touched the ball Tuesday night probably indicates what the senior guard and future Ole Miss Rebel will experience nightly in his final high school season.

Jones, at a lanky, yet fluid 6-8, faithfully represents the trend of what nearly all college recruits are looking these days — size with versatility to match.

Jones came up through the ranks as an undersized player and focused on ball handling as a point guard for the Searcy Cubs junior-high teams.

When the first of many growth spurts came along just before his sophomore season and his move to the varsity, Jones suddenly found himself with the advantage of being able to play all five positions and be effective at each one.

“He’s grown a ton since we got him,” Searcy coach Jim Summers said after Jones helped Searcy beat Cabot. “He’s been such a blessing to have here. His skill level, and the things he does, he’s matured so much as a young man.

“Not just with basketball, I’m proud of him through academics and everything he’s done. That’s what has given him the opportunity to go to college.”

Portland State and Missouri State showed the heaviest interest, but Jones’ visit to Ole Miss late in the summer was the deciding factor. It wasn’t long after that he pledged to play for head coach Andy Kennedy and assistant Michael White.

“I love the coaching staff and the players,” Jones said. “The players that’s returning like Trevor Gaskins, he’s going to be like a big brother to me. Coach Kennedy and coach White, they’re going to push me. They’re going to push me to success, I believe.”

Jones also had his choice of a number of in-state programs including NCAA Division I members UALR and Arkansas State, but his dedication to becoming a Rebel was unwavering.

“He was happy to get that over with,” Summers said. “It don’t matter if it’s Ole Miss, Arkansas State or wherever, when he told me he was absolutely positive and content with his decision, I was really happy for him.

“That’s a tough decision for a 17-year-old to make, so if he’s content and done with it, then I’m proud and happy for him.”

Jones earned all state honors his junior season as he averaged 14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

He lists rebounding as an area for improvement, and said his biggest strength right now is drawing defenders away from capable teammates.

Jones had 18 points against Cabot despite getting limited open shots against the Panthers, who ran some box-and-one defense in an attempt to slow him.

“That’s the one thing – he’s going through a little adjustment period,” Summers said. “Every time he gets the ball, there’s five sets of eyes looking at him. They’re ready for him to penetrate, and we’re trying to get him to not shoot so many perimeter shots but get to the rim because he’s so good off the dribble, but everybody’s pinching him right now.”

With the excitement of signing day over, Jones is focused on his senior year at Searcy.

“We’re doing great right now,” Jones said of the Lions’ 3-0 start. “We’ve got a lot of stuff we can fix, and we’re still winning, so that makes me happy. We’ve got a tough conference to play in, and I’m ready to get it going.”

Summers, in his fourth year as coach after six as an assistant to Roger Franks, has taken his lumps while building a program from the ground up in the highly competitive 6A-East Conference. He has yet to take Searcy to the 6A state tournament, but the prospect of a berth this year looks promising with Jones returning as a three-year starter along with point guard Casey Wilmath and post player Chris Blakely.

As for the underclassmen, Summers believes Jones’ impact will last long after he has left to Oxford, Miss.

“These other guys are getting to see a high-level brand of basketball,” Summers said. “They’ve seen the success he’s had. It’s so easy to go to a sophomore now and say, ‘Hey, you’re slipping on your grades some — look at what Jamal’s done.’ ”

SPORTS >> Wolff gets loose in Jungle

Leader sportswriter

Melissa Wolff made herself welcome in “The Jungle” during Cabot’s visit to Searcy on Tuesday night.

The junior guard/forward steamrolled through the storied gym and helped herself with a triple-double to lead the Lady Panthers to a 60-39 victory over the Lady Lions. Wolff scored 22 points, had 13 rebounds and 10 steals.

Searcy relied on seniors Elliot Scarbrough and Lindsay Hanshew to handle most of the backcourt pressure from Cabot’s stifling press, but Wolff did not let up once the ball crossed center court.

Most of her steals came in the frontcourt as she converted them into a number of transition layups and also found open teammates for six assists as part of her statistics-blasting bonanza.

“She played really good,” Lady Panthers coach Carla Crowder said. “She didn’t finish all of her shots, but she played real well.”

Turnovers were a constant struggle for the Lady Lions (0-3), who are rebuilt after last year’s run to the 6A state final, and they let their inexperience show while trying to deal with Cabot’s full-court defensive attack. In all, Searcy turned the ball over 28 times.

“We were trying to do some different things,” Crowder said. “I’m real excited; our girls played real hard. A lot of our shots didn’t fall. We’ve played eight games in nine days, so we’ve played a lot of games. It’s been good for us.”

The Lady Panthers established momentum early with baskets from Wolff and Jaylin Bridges in the first two minutes. Wolff made it 8-0 when she made a three-pointer from the top of the key with 5:32 left in the opening period.

Giveaways were not the only concern for Searcy, as senior forward Scarbrough committed two fouls in the first minute and got her third with 3:10 left in the first half. Junior forward Julisa Anthony also went into intermission with three fouls.

Scarbrough fought back later in the first quarter with seven of her 11 points, including a basket and free throw with 5:10 left in the first to put Searcy on the scoreboard. Her pull-up jumper from 10 feet with 2:46 left cut Cabot’s lead to 12-5, and Scarbrough followed that with a pair of free throws to make it 12-7.

“Whenever the pressure gets on, our inexperience shows,” Lady Lions coach Michelle Birdsong said. “I think that we will get better the more games we play. I was really proud of our first half; we handled the ball much better than the second half.

“They shot the ball really well, and we didn’t get out on them defensively.”

Cabot (3-2) used its shooting depth to keep Searcy off balance on the offensive side.

Bridges went inside on the Lady Lions with a shot in the lane, after a rebound and assist from Wolff, with 6:18 left in the first half. Bridges drove to the basket for two points two minutes later after a three-pointer from reserve post Laci Boyett.

But it was Wolff’s hands in the defensive front court that continued to hurt the Lady Lions, as she got her first steal of the third quarter to set up Elliot Taylor and had another steal she took all the way to the hoop to put the Lady Panthers ahead 39-25 with 4:18 left in the third.

“They’ve seen it once or twice, but not enough to get us ready,” Birdsong said of Cabot’s press. “It’s good for us to play teams like this because everybody in our conference is quick, and everybody’s going to press. So the more we see of that now, the better we’re going to be in conference.”

Senior post player Chelsea Butler led the Lady Lions with 13 points and eight rebounds. Scarbrough added six rebounds to go with her 11 points.

“I’m seeing some improvement, and some adjustments we need to make,” Birdsong said. “I think some of our younger players are stepping up, and I think that’s going to help us in the long run.”

Taylor finished with 13 points and four steals for the Lady Panthers, while Bridges added 12 points and five assists.

“I think we’re all playing hard,” Crowder said. “We’re starting to come together. We’re eight people deep, and I’m real pleased with our effort.”

SPORTS >> Lady Devils roll by Lady Falcons

Leader sports editor

The second quarter was pretty much the last Tuesday night.

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils beat the North Pulaski Lady Falcons 62-13 at Jacksonville’s Devil’s Den thanks to a second-quarter eruption in which they outscored North Pulaski 28-2.

“I guess overall it looks like it was a complete performance,” Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms said. “I don’t ever think anything is complete. We’ve got room to work. We’ll make some corrections and go through some things that we didn’t do right.”

It started innocently enough, with North Pulaski within 10-6 at the end of the first quarter. Then Jacksonville’s sophomore post player Coyja Hood scored from the inside to start a 26-0 run, and by halftime North Pulaski was looking at a 40-8 deficit.

“I guess the weak spot was we didn’t get going,” Mimms said. “It took us about two minutes before either team even scored. And then once we got going we kind of got some momentum.”

North Pulaski’s only points of the second quarter came on free throws after Hood fouled Erica Beck with 53.8 seconds left. Chyna Davis then closed out the scoring with free throws for Jacksonville.

Jacksonville outscored North Pulaski 12-4 in the third quarter to keep the clock running throughout the fourth under the high school sportsmanship/timing rule, and the Lady Devils outscored the Lady Falcons 8-1 in the shortened final period.

Mimms and the Lady Red Devils uncorked their fullcourt pressure in the big second quarter, forcing 16 turnovers with 12 leading to points.

“We went to a 1-3-1 defense, I thought they did a good job,” Mimms said. “It was the first time they played it so we saw some really good things out of certain people in certain areas. So we liked that part.”

Mimms said Jacksonville also went to a man-to-man press at times in the second quarter, just to get it on film for further study.

“Went to a man press, more of a run and jump,” Mimms said. “That hurt them because we could match up.”

It was too much for youthful North Pulaski, with no returning starters, no seniors and few players taller than 5-6.

But, whether North Pulaski is struggling or on top of its game, it’s nice to beat the crosstown rival, Mimms said.

“It’s always good,” Mimms said. “You know by the time your game is over it’s going to be a packed house. You want to play in front of people and you never want to get beat by your crosstown rivals.”

Eight different players scored during Jacksonville’s decisive second quarter.

Sophomore Jessica Jackson went the length of the court for a layup to make it 14-6, Davis made a basket followed by Tiffany Smith a three-pointer that gave the Lady Devils a 19-6 lead.

SPORTS >> Round one goes to Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

Tuesday went about like Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner hoped and about like North Pulaski coach Ray Cooper feared.

Jacksonville raced to a big early lead and then held off a handful of North Pulaski challenges to beat the Falcons 68-56 before a full house at Jacksonville’s Devil’s Den.

The victory came just under two weeks after North Pulaski beat the Red Devils in a two-quarter scrimmage in a jamboree on the same court.

But since then Jacksonville has welcomed a corps of football players to the roster and Joyner said the fresh talent has raised the basketball team’s overall level of intensity.

“Right now the competition is so high in practice with all them guys in there fighting for playing time it pushed our level up a little bit,” Joyner said though he wasn’t fully satisfied. “But the organization has still got to get better.

“North Pulaski was still way more aggressive than they were. They still killed us on the boards and got way too many loose balls.”

Though not in the same conference, Jacksonville, of the 6A-East, and North Pulaski, of the 5A-Southeast, are crosstown rivals who have made a home in the late rounds of the postseason recently.

Jacksonville won the 2009 state championship, the same year North Pulaski reached the 5A final, and the Falcons reached the semifinals last year.

“I saw exactly what I thought I was going to see,” Cooper said, recalling a prediction he made at the jamboree that the Falcons would need to develop floor leadership. “I said we were going to be up and down, we were going to look crazy, we were going to look okay in spots and it was all going to be in the same game and that’s what it was.”

The intensity of the rivalry, which will include a rematch Dec. 17, showed as North Pulaski drew a technical foul for excessive jawing with 2:22 left in the third quarter. The technical came after Jacksonville held the ball for more than a minute, finally drawing out the Falcons’ defense and leading to a reverse, backdoor layup by Jacksonville’s Terrell Brown.

And the intensity was apparent from Jacksonville’s side as the Red Devils opened with a 16-3 run that began with free throws by Raheem Appleby after a Brien Simpkins foul and ended with Crushawn Hayes’ three-pointer with 3:11 left in the first quarter.

North Pulaski’s only points during the run came when Shyheim Barron hit a layup with 6:42 left and Bryan Colson tacked on a free throw with 3:31 to go in the period.

“These guys got in this atmosphere and they jumped out on us 13-0,” Cooper said. “They got in this atmosphere thinking they were going to rip and run and, they got caught up in all of this and when they jumped on us we never really recovered.”

With Jacksonville leading 20-7, North Pulaski closed out the first quarter with a free throw by Dayshawn Watkins, a three-pointer by Marcus Williams and a rebound and basket by Marvin Davis that cut it to 20-13.

Barron made two free throws with 7:12 left in the half to pull the Falcons within five. But Dustin House scored from underneath for Jacksonville and a North Pulaski miss led to a crowd-pleasing dunk by Appleby as the Devils built the lead to 34-19 lead after House sank a three-pointer.

Jacksonville’s Justin McCleary drove for a layup to stretch the lead to 40-24 with 1:52 left, and the Red Devils took a 41-30 lead into halftime.

“They came over here and they put a lot of weight into a jamboree which means absolutely nothing,” Cooper said. “I tried to tell them that it will be a whole, different atmosphere when they come in here.”

The Falcons fought back to within 41-34 to start the second half and were within 43-36 when Marcus Williams made a short jumper and 48-38 after Colson scored with under three minutes left in the third quarter.

Williams cut it to 49-42 when he made two free throws with 52.3 seconds to go in the period and Braylon Spicer made a layup to pull the Falcons within 52-46 with 5:33 left in the game.

But Brown got a steal for Jacksonville and Appleby fed Jamison Williams, one of the football arrivals, for a dunk and the 54-46 lead with 4:49 to go and North Pulaski never got within seven points again.

“We saw some good things but we still saw some things we can work on,” Joyner said. “We’ve got to get more aggressive as a team, boxing out and everybody rebounding by committee.”

Appleby led Jacksonville with 17 points and McCleary scored 12. Williams had 17 points and Colson 12 for North Pulaski.

SPORTS >> Searcy slows, topples physical Cabot

Leader sportswriter

Cabot needed more than forward Kai Davis’ fourth-quarter outburst as Searcy beat the visiting Panthers 55-45 on Tuesday.

Despite Davis’ 13 points in the quarter, the Panthers also needed time and rebounding as Searcy controlled the rebounds and the tempo with a slowed-down effort that helped them overcome the Panthers’ physical play during a rough second half.

Searcy’s Ole Miss signee Jamal Jones fought a double team by Cabot most of the night and still came away with a team-high 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Davis’ hot hand in the last quarter, which included two three-pointers, prevented a Lions runaway.

“Coach Bridges does such a good job with his kids, it’s going to be a war every time we play,” Searcy coach Jim Summers said. “No matter if one team is 20 points better than the other, over the years, every game has been a close, single digit-type game.

“Very physical, the kids played hard. It’s kind of a rivalry back in the old AAAAA.”

It certainly looked like a rivalry in the second half, particularly when Cabot sophomore post Clayton Vaught and Searcy junior forward Jonathan Powell battled for rebounds. Both were called for fouls during jump ball situations and officials had to separate them.

“I thought we did some really good things,” Summers said. “I still think we have to do some things a lot better, but I told the guys that the turning point in the game was when Jonathan Powell got three or four huge rebounds and had to fight with a guy for them and yank them away.”

Powell’s rebounding was part of an overall, 18-7 advantage by Searcy in the second half.

Cabot held Jones to a single basket in the first quarter before the 6-8 guard exploded for nine points in the second period.

He started the quarter on an odd note when teammate Dezmond Stegall set him up with an ally-oop dunk that officials determined had a bit too much mustard on it. Jones was called for a technical foul after pulling on the rim.

“Athletically, we can do some things,” Summers said. “But Cabot, they’re strong, and they’re pretty quick afoot, especially Darin Jones, 22, he can really get to the rim. And Kai’s so long — it was a pretty good matchup out there. We both play kind of a different style, and I thought my guys showed pretty good composure.”

Cabot led 13-10 at the end of the first quarter, but Jones single-handedly outscored the Panthers in the next eight minutes. Davis held his ground with the NCAA Division I prospect with a three-pointer late in the quarter that helped Cabot keep it at 23-20 at halftime.

The Lions slowed the pace dramatically over the final 2:42 of the half when senior point guard Casey Wilmath found a spot near half court and held the ball until the final nine seconds.

“The fans didn’t like it at the end of the first half, but I had four starters with two fouls,” Summers said. “We were up three with three minutes to go, and we basically ran three minutes off the clock. It slowed the game down a lot, but it was what we needed to do.”

Searcy threatened to pull away early in the second half before Darin Jones made a three-point shot with 4:43 left in the third to cut it to 28-25. Jones finished the night with 16 points, including a pair of threes.

“You can’t get comfortable in games, 6A, 7A,” Summers said. “There’s just not that many games where you can look in the paper, and it will be any more than a 12-point win. They’re a war every single night. Everybody can play, so you can’t get comfortable with a lead.”

Davis led all scorers with 23 points for Cabot. For Searcy, Chris Blakely had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Wilmath finished with 11 points.

EDITORIAL >> Lottery blunders

Every time we see him in the papers or on TV, lottery czar Ernie Passailaigue bears a baffled expression as if he’s thinking, “What in the world is going on?”

Why shouldn’t he think that?

Passailaigue was hired away from South Carolina at the highest salary paid a lottery employee anywhere in the world and told that the Arkansas lottery was a kingdom separate and apart from all the other agencies of government. It was his to run as he saw fit.

The lottery, though it would produce only $100 million for the government in a $24 billion budget, was the most important undertaking in Arkansas public life. It was so important that its revenues, unlike the rest of government, would not be subject to appropriation like every other expenditure of public funds, and its cash would not be deposited in the state treasury and subjected to the usual restraints on the spending of government funds.

The constitutional amendment that authorized the legislature to establish a lottery, which the voters approved overwhelmingly in 2008, decreed that the lottery would have that special place in the government. You would have thought that, given the trouble lotteries have everywhere, there would be greater, not weaker, restrictions on how it would be run. But that is not what the amendment said.

So only a year into Passailaigue’s reign—there is no other word for it—he is being savaged in the media and by a few lawmakers for the cavalier way that he has run the lottery shop: lavish spending without proper documentation, lavish benefits for himself and the top and extremely well paid aides whom he brought with him from South Carolina, and other financial peccadilloes, all documented by legislative auditors.

The cruelest blow came Wednesday, when a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette stopped Gov. Beebe, whose words actually count for something, as he was entering the Capitol. He was asked if Passailaigue ought to be fired for the fiscal mess the lottery was in. Beebe said the lottery chief was getting pretty close to needing firing. Beebe can’t fire him like he can others in the executive branch. Only the handpicked state Lottery Commission can do that, and the commission loves him.

Beebe was pretty blunt about Passailaigue’s failures.

“I don’t know how it works in South Carolina,” Beebe said. “You would think that somebody who has been in the public eye, who is subject to public scrutiny, would be knowledgeable about things like documenting travel and about ensuring that there are no questions in terms of expenditures. I don’t know how they got off on this comp time for somebody with that kind of salary.” Passailaigue had allotted himself and each of his two top aides 200 hours of compensatory time off for their hard work in setting up the lottery. Beebe said extremely high-salaried officials should not be getting compensatory time.

Before he became head of the South Carolina lottery, Passailaigue was a state senator and a businessman and he ran his own certified public-accounting firm. You might expect that he would understand general accounting principles and expense documentation, the things Arkansas auditors said were missing at the lottery.

Passailaigue’s explanation is always the same. He came here with one overriding objective, which was to set up a lottery as quickly as possible, and that other matters took a back seat. Thanks to their hard work, there are 30,000 kids in college this fall, he says.

Well, not quite. Nearly all of those kids would be in college if there were no lottery. When the lottery began to sell its first scratch-off tickets last fall, the state was appropriating $47 million every year for academic scholarships at Arkansas schools and it had a reserve of $53.7 million in unclaimed scholarship funds. What the lottery did was raise far more money than was needed to provide scholarships for those whose family incomes were low enough to need them and who met the academic standards, a B average in high school or a 19 on the ACT. The lottery lowered the standards so that weaker students could qualify, and it took away the financial-need requirement so that the children of even the richest families qualified for a scholarship. That accounts for the 30,000.

We cannot say whether Ernie Passailaigue should be fired. If he were running any other executive office he would be, or should be. But the far more serious blunders were made before he was hired, by the people who crafted the constitutional amendment authorizing the lottery and the statute that implemented it. The statute, by the way, cleverly authorized the Lottery Commission to hire a director at the salary of $324,000 a year, more than twice the pay of directors of departments of far more importance with budgets many times the lottery’s, and to hire two cronies from South Carolina at $224,000 each, salaries that are much greater than the chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and nearly every department of government.

The people who did that are the 135 members of the legislature, the governor who signed the legislation (albeit with some misgivings) and the Lottery Commission. They said, “Come on, Ernie.

You’ve got carte blanche. All we want is a lottery like South Carolina’s.”

Who gets to fire them?

TOP STORY >> Cabot couple brings community together

Leader staff writer

A Cabot couple noticed the city was missing a place for the community to gather during Thanksgiving, so Heather Moore and her husband Dane gave residents the opportunity to share a hot, home-cooked meal during the holiday with the first annual community Thanksgiving dinner.

The meal began at 11 a.m. Thursday at the New Life Church on 10th Street.

The Moores, along with a team of volunteers and church members, cooked and served a sit-down meal at the church or boxed up dinners for take-out.

Dane Moore said he and his wife had volunteered last year at a Thanksgiving dinner at the community center in Lonoke.

“We tried to find something here in Cabot to volunteer (during Thanksgiving). We started looking and there was nothing here,” Dane Moore said.

He said they agreed to hold a holiday feast for Cabot.

“It was a burden on our hearts to do this in Cabot. We had two goals, to feed the needy and to bring the body of Christ together,” he said.

“God’s given peace for the whole thing. We had a lot of help,” Heather said.

The turkeys were donated by an organization in Little Rock and were smoked by Grandpa’s Bar-B-Que.

Volunteers prepared many side dishes, including several different stuffings, rice and broccoli casserole, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, egg salad and rolls. There was also a dessert buffet table full of pies, cakes and cookies.

Susan Kress came to the dinner with her boyfriend John Case and her daughter Haley.

“It’s a wonderful thing that they are doing for the community. Some people have family out of state and don’t have the transportation to get there. It’s nice to have people who do care,” Kress said.

“When you have a small family, there is no reason for a big dinner. I don’t want to cook a turkey for two people and have leftovers. I’d gain a lot of weight,” she said.

“I am thankful for the food and thankful for all the help they gave everybody,” Haley Kress, 11, said.

Kathleen Goldsmith of Ward volunteered at the community dinner. Her children were out of town, so she came and helped. She cooked 24 cans of green beans and corn in her kitchen starting at 7 a.m. for the Thanksgiving meal.

“I always wanted to do this for years. The food is delicious, all homemade. They went through a lot of hard work,” Goldsmith said.

TOP STORY >> Mayor attends conference for retail growth

Leader staff writer

Before leaving on a trip to a retail-development conference in Texas last week, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said he had the team with him to make any possible deal.

The regional meeting, Nov. 17-19, was titled the Texas Conference and Deal Making.

Now a week after the conference there is no locked in deal, but a lot of maybes and some planned visits by retailer developers.

Fletcher, along with Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration, Jay Whisker, the city engineer, and Rickey Hayes, the city’s economic consultant, spent three days at the conference near Dallas.

“It was real productive,” the mayor said. “There are a lot of people interested in Jacksonville.”

On Wednesday, Fletcher was busy gathering aerial photos and other data various developers wanted as they consider making a move to Jacksonville.

Fletcher said it was the team’s job to get the word out about Jacksonville to all the movers and shakers at the conference. “We have a story to tell and we have to go out and tell to everyone and anyone willing to listen. Gone is the day where we could sit at home and businesses would come to us,” the mayor said.

“I think we did a good job letting them know about Jacksonville,” he added.

He said Jacksonville was the only town in Arkansas that sent a delegation to the conference.

“There are 500 cities and towns in Arkansas and with us the only one at the conference, it keeps our name in the forefront,” Fletcher explained. “We’ve got to promote ourselves----—the $700 million impact of the base, the impact of the surrounding businesses, the steady high revenues that Chili’s is experiencing.”

Fletcher said whenever a national chain said Jacksonville was too small, he tossed them those figures “And suddenly they wanted us to send them more information.”

The mayor said he came away from the conference more convinced than ever that the city needs to annex the highway corridor north of Jacksonville. “More than one developer told me at the conference that retail outlets feed off of one another and want to be close together, not spread out through a city,” explained the mayor.

As much as he wanted to, Fletcher said he couldn’t name any particular company that looks promising. “We don’t want to scare anyone off,” he said, adding that a number of steakhouses are looking at Jacksonville because of Chili’s success.

Chili’s averages more than $3 million a month in taxable prepared food receipts, according to the city’s advertising and promotion commission.

Fletcher said he also left the conference knowing that Jacksonville has to do more to bring in family-oriented activities such as a movie theater and a bowling alley. “I may propose a family-enterprise zone, which would offer tax credits and incentives to family businesses building or remodeling in downtown Jacksonville.”

The regional meeting in Dallas is one of many put on by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The mayor said several thousand people attended the show. “Rickey Hayes, who has been to many, many of these, said the crowd was much bigger than in the past few years indicating that retailers, restaurants and other businesses may be gearing up to expand more than they have recently. That’ll be good news for us.”

Founded in 1957, the ICSC is the global-trade association of the shopping-center industry. Its 60,000 worldwide members include shopping-center owners, developers, managers, marketing specialists, investors, lenders, retailers and other professionals as well as academics and public officials.

As the global-industry trade association, ICSC links with more than 25 national and regional shopping-center councils throughout the world.

TOP STORY >> Golf course surpasses projections

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood golf course—The Greens At North Hills—is exceeding expectations and will save thousands of dollars on water bills by using its pond to irrigate the course.

 According to a report that Alderman Charlie Harmon gave the city council Monday night, the golf course was expected to bring in $500,000 for the year. But it has already brought in $551,800 just in greens fees. Meeting-room rentals have generated another $36,242.

“It’s just doing wonderful,” said Harmon, chairman of the parks and recreation committee. “And we are receiving wonderful comments about the course.”

He thanked golf-course workers but said most of the success had to go to the golf-course manager Manuel Brockington and the golf pro Dawn Darter.

The city’s public-facilities board holds the $7 million note on the golf course, and the city will make monthly payments until the bonds are paid off.

When the bonds were issued, about $5.5 million went to pay off the short-term note the board acquired to purchase the golf course, and another $900,000 was put in reserve to repair and update the golf-course irrigation system.

Harmon said that work would start in December. The alderman said the front nine holes will be closed for about 60 days as repairs and improvements are made to the irrigation and water system. Once the front nine are completed and back up, the back nine will be closed.

“At no time will the entire golf course be closed,” Harmon said.

He said part of the work includes cleaning and repairing the pond by the tenth hole and cleaning and enlarging the pond by the fifth hole.

“The idea is to be in a position to use less and less city water and cut down on the water bill by using the ponds for irrigation,” Harmon explained.

He said the labor expenses for the work would run about $285,000; pond work is estimated at $122,000, and $389,000 for the irrigation repairs and improvements.

Harmon said if there was money left over, it would be used to revamp the parking lot. An architect has been hired to design the parking lot.

In other council business:

After about a 45-minute public hearing, aldermen without much fanfare voted to approve a new retirement plan for city employees. Alderman Sheila Sulcer was the only no vote.

The council approved an R-3 conditional rezoning for a single-family section on Trammel Road for the construction of a nursing home. If for some reason the nursing home is not built, the rezoning will revert back to single-family homes.

Alderman Butch Davis, chairman of the street committee, said leaf pickup was going well, but asked residents to make sure the leaves are within four feet of the curb, but not in the street. “If the leaves are in the street, they clog up our drains,” Davis said.

Mayor Virginia Hillman said Sherwood’s Enchanted Forest Trail of Lights will be open from 6 to 9:30 p.m. from Monday through Dec. 30, and that the city’s annual Christmas parade will be at 2 p.m. Dec. 5.

TOP STORY >> Black Friday shopping frenzy

Leader staff writer

If Black Friday is any indication, local retailers believe the economy is turning the corner.

Every business interviewed said sales this year appear to be besting last year’s totals.

“It looks like the economy is starting to come around,” said Andy Isom with Hastings in Jacksonville.

In Sherwood, Kohl’s Eric Howard echoed those sentiments, “We are looking at a good Black Friday.” And in Cabot, Josh Fraser with Home Depot said it was progressively stronger as the day went on.

The retail industry predicted holiday sales would rise 2.3 percent, to $447.1 billion, from last year’s so-so performance.

According to at least one barometer, fourth-quarter spending is looking much brighter than a year ago. Apparel sales made through Nov. 13 were up almost 10 percent from a year earlier, and luxury purchases, excluding jewelry, rose 6.7 percent, versus a 9.2 percent decline a year ago, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.

Last year, consumers spent $18.6 million and their spending grew to $40.3 million by the end of the weekend, according to SpendingPulse.

Isom, manager at Hastings, said things started off a little slowly for the store this morning, but then picked up and ran steadily the rest of the day.

“We opened at 8 a.m., later than many of the other retailers in the area, and had to wait for customers to circulate over here.”

Isom said consumer electronics were the hottest item Friday and the store was definitely going to beat last year’s totals.

Howard, one of the assistant managers for Kohl’s in Sherwood, said business was strong all day. “We had everyone and their uncle coming in for our door busters. We had over 400 special sales,” Howard said.

He added that cold-weather clothing sales were higher than expected. “The weather turning cold helped there,” he said.

Howard said except for some traffic problems early in the morning, everything went smoothly. “We are looking at another good Black Friday. We had a good one last year too. Sherwood and the surrounding area always supports us,” he said.

Fraser, the operations manager at the Home Depot in Cabot, said business had been strong all day.

“In past years we’ve had a strong run in the morning and then it’s slowed up, but this year was progressively steady all day.”

Fraser seemed to notice a change in consumer spending this year. “They are shopping wiser. In the past, it’s been a lot of consumable merchandise, but this year it’s been more long-term purchases like appliances of all kinds.”

Telah Sivia, a manager at Cabot’s Kmart, said everything went well for the store. “It was stronger than we expected and most definitely we’ll beat last year’s figures.”

Sivia said customers “were wonderful and very cooperative.”

From what she saw, some of the most popular items sold were “any and all gaming systems and our two-for-one sale on a GE digital camera.”

Customer service at the Walmart in Jacksonville referred media to its corporate office, which said in a recording it would not arrange for any interviews over the weekend.

A Beebe man who braved the lines at 4:40 a.m. at the Cabot Walmart for the electronic sale that started at 5 a.m. said it was much more organized than in past years.

Maps of the store directed customers to the isles with the merchandise they wanted to see, he said. At the front of the lines, they got tickets for their merchandise.

At the end of the lines, they either picked up their merchandise or if the merchandise was large, like the 42-inch television he was buying, they were given a ticket with a bar code.

From taking the first ticket, to checking out to loading took him only about 20 minutes.

“It was chaos two years ago with everyone running around buying televisions,” he said. “People were hitting you with their TVs because they were too large for the carts. It was much better this year. There were still a lot of people but they weren’t bumping into you.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Insurance that’s cheap

Andy Harris, a Maryland physician who got elected to the U. S. House of Representatives three weeks ago, struck a blow last week for the new health-insurance reform law, although it was entirely unintentional. Harris ran against and said he would vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which seeks to extend health insurance to everyone.

But during a closed-door briefing for new members of Congress, Harris complained that he and members of his congressional staff would have to wait 28 days after he becomes a congressman before the health-insurance plan for federal employees would cover them. Just like other government employees, members of Congress select a private health-insurance plan from a menu of options. The health-insurance exchanges that the new insurance law will set up in 2014 for people who are uninsured are patterned on the health-insurance system for federal workers. That is the part of the new law that Republicans are asking the courts to strike down.

The congressman-elect wondered if the government couldn’t cover him and his staff under some government plan for the month until they would be eligible for benefits under one of the family plans available for government employees. That sounds eerily like the public option that he and other Republicans opposed and that was left out of the new law.

Democrats, who have been on the defensive over the Affordable Care Act for nearly two years, pounced. If all the Republicans who opposed guaranteeing everyone access to private or public insurance are to be true to their principles, the Democrats said, they should not participate in any of the federal health plans, which are relatively inexpensive because the federal government makes them available and the taxpayers subsidize them.

It is rather a good point. If government-backed insurance options are bad for other Americans, then they are bad for members of Congress, too. A letter from Democratic congressmen said it a little too forwardly but nevertheless truthfully: “Unfortunately, Republicans. . . are happy to receive care that is paid for, in part, with taxpayer funds, but do not want to extend a similar benefit to hard-working, under- or uninsured Americans.”

A national poll showed that Republicans and independents largely agreed with the Democrats on that point, though not members of their own party. Fifty-three percent of voters think the Republican opponents of insurance reform should not participate in the insurance program as a matter of principle, although the number was much higher among Republicans and independents. People who identified themselves as Democrats tended to think it was all right for the Republicans to take the benefits, even though they opposed it for other people. Go figure.

So new members of Congress were being pressed about whether they would buy the government-backed plans for themselves, their families and employees. The new Arkansas congressmen were noncommittal. Senator-elect John Boozman, his family and staff are already in the government program, but he’s still going to vote to repeal those benefits for other people.

And Tim Griffin, our representative-elect?

Griffin said he wasn’t sure, but he expected, if he’s allowed, to continue with the private insurance he buys from Humana as a member of the Army Reserve and forego the federal employees’ coverage. A man of principle finally?

Hardly. What Griffin didn’t explain was that Humana Tricare is a government-subsidized managed-care insurance plan just like Medicare Advantage or the insurance plans that government workers—and pretty much what other people will be able to buy if he and his colleagues do not succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act. A Reservist’s individual Tricare premium is $45 a month.

Other Americans won’t get it quite as good as Congressman Griffin, but they’ll get coverage at an affordable rate if he will let them. And most of them won’t shun the protection just because the government had a hand in seeing that it was available to them.

TOP STORY > >Thanksgiving spirit is spread by groups

By jeffrey smith

Leader staff writer

Many local organizations in the area are letting families enjoy a Thanksgiving feast this year during the tough economy.

Cornerstone Assembly Church on Brewer Street in Ward held a turkey dinner at the city hall cafeteria for the community on Saturday to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“We wanted to help the community and the people in need this Thanksgiving season have at least one Thanksgiving meal. The Bible tells us to feed the hungry and help people in need. That is why we’re here,” Pastor Mark Brooke said.

Church members roasted and deep fried 19 turkeys with all the trimming, including mashed potatoes with a choice of gravy or cheese, and many pies and desserts.

The community dinner was the first for the church, Pastor Brooke, son of Mayor Art Brooke, would like to make it an annual event.

“We feel like we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re trying to do our part. We can’t feed everybody but we’re doing our share,” the pastor said.

Church members Ed Lynch and his wife Sharon of Cabot were among those having a hot turkey lunch.

“The food is great and wonderful. We’re new to the church and we love the church. There are a lot of people in need who need this,” he said.

Mayor Brooke said it was a pretty good turnout having the dinner for the first time. There was good food, good fellowship and a lot of good volunteer workers. He appreciated Cornerstone Assembly for holding the event.

“I feel there were some families that needed this,” he said.

Hope’s Closet and Pantry and New Life Church helped 275 families have food for Thanksgiving on Saturday with “Boxes of Hope.” The boxes contained enough food to last two weeks and included sweet potatoes donated by a local farmer and a turkey from Knight’s grocery.

“It’s an honor to serve our community and help those families that are going through hard times. It is very emotional. This community surprises me every time. It makes me want to cry,” Hope’s Closet director Kimberly Buchberger said.

“When parents don’t have jobs or a limited income, it is children who suffer. They do without and this is for them,” Buchberger said.

The food boxes were packed and distributed to the less fortunate at the New Life Church. Many organizations and churches collected canned and non-perishable foods for the boxes including Fellowship Bible Church, Boy Scout Pack 205, Girl Scout Troop 6485 and airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base.

Cabot schools that helped out were Southside Elementary, (which collected nearly 5,000 canned goods alone), Westside Elementary, Stagecoach Ele-mentary, Mountain Springs Elementary, Eastside Elementary and Central Elementary schools, Cabot Middle School South, Cabot Junior High North and Junior High South.

New Life Church Pastor Tim Gaddy said he was grateful for the families that had food to donate and for the churches and schools working together with Hope’s Closet.

“It is community support. To me, it is a pretty neat thing,” Gaddy said.

He said there were people who received help throughout the year from Hope’s Closet who came back to help out.

Along with food boxes, Hope’s Closet gave away 800 used coats that were collected by the high school soccer team.

The Cabot Rotary Club delivered 100 Thanksgiving meal food baskets to families in need on Sunday.

The baskets included hams and full dinners for families of four. It is the Rotary’s annual service project. The Kroger supermarket assisted the Rotary with the baskets.

“I think we are feeding more families than we have before,” Rotary club president Jeff Spann said.

TOP STORY > >Arnold Drive celebrates its special status


Leader staff writer

Monday was a day to celebrate excellence at Arnold Drive Elementary School, as it is one of four schools in the state to be recognized this year as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

Only four schools in Arkansas won the coveted honor. They are all elementary schools, and only Arnold Drive is in central Arkansas.

Jacksonville community leaders, Little Rock Air Force Base commanders and Pulaski County Special School District administrators came out to the school to join students in a program for the special achievement.

Arnold Drive was one of 304 public and private schools — out of some 185,000 — designated Blue Ribbon schools.

The Blue Ribbon schools’ pro-gram honors schools that are either academically superior or that demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement, according to Education Secretary Arnie Duncan.

Last year on the Benchmark exam, the fifth-graders at ArnoldDrive scored 100 percent proficient and advanced in math. Students scored 92 percent proficient and advanced in literacy.

The fourth-grade students scored 96 percent proficienct and advanced in both literacy and math. The third-grade students scored 96 percent proficient in math and 87 percent proficient in literacy.

Interim principal Gean Vines said Arnold Drive Elementary received a certificate Monday from the University of Arkansas for being the highest performing elementary school in central Arkansas based on Benchmark mathematics achievement.

The school has 240 students in pre-K through fifth grade. The school has 42 employees either support staff and certified staff who work with the students.

“This has been a wonderful celebration of excellence by the entire Arnold Drive community. As always the community has been so supportive — that contributes to the success we have here,” school principal Julie Davenport said.

“This school is really special,” Davenport said. “We knew if we made annual improvements, we’d be a Blue Ribbon school.”

Arnold Drive was honored in a ceremony in Washington last week, but no one from the school attended because of a lack of funds.

Davenport, who is recovering from back surgery, praised the hard-working students and staff, as well as parents who volunteer thousands of hours a year.

Col. Mike Minihan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, echoed Davenport’s sentiments.

“It’s always nice to be recognized, but we always knew excellence existed here,” Minihan said. “Thanks for the hard work and recognition you deserve.”
Minihan led fourth- and fifth-grade students in three “Wahoo” shouts—one to recognize parents, one for teachers and administrators and one for the students themselves.

Those results helped rank Arnold Drive best in the Pulaski County Special School District and one of the best in the state.

“You don’t celebrate average, you celebrate champions,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said.

He said the achievement Arnold Drive Elementary has made is a source of pride for the community. The students can look back and say they were champions.

At the end of the program, Arnold Drive had a parade around the school for Blue Ribbon students.

The other three schools were Calico Rock Elementary School, Kingston Elementary School and Salem Elementary School.

The website gives Arnold Drive a five-star rating, placing it 16th among the state’s 457 elementary schools, but the same website gives PCSSD just one star and ranks it 172nd out of 236 state school districts.

Arnold Drive has 240 students, and about half are on free or reduced lunch.

The average percentage of students on free or reduced lunch in the top 20 list is 32 percent.
Free or reduced lunches are markers for economic distress.

Garrick Feldman and John Hofheimer of The Leader staff contributed to this report.

TOP STORY > >Cypert, Hillman prevail in mayor runoffs

By Joan McCoy and RICK KRON
Leader staff writers

WaterWorks commissioner Bill Cypert handily put a stop to Stubby Stumbaugh’s efforts to be mayor of Cabot again in a runoff vote Tuesday, while in Sherwood, Mayor Virginia Hillman held back a feisty challenge from Alderman Sheila Sulcer.

In the runoff race for the Ward 3, Position 1 alderman seat in Cabot, Angie Armstrong Hoschouer defeated Richard Cannon.

“I’m humbled that the voters of Cabot have confidence in me,” Cypert said. “And I’m excited. Cabot’s got a very bright future.”

Few folks were willing to predict the outcome of the runoff race for Cabot mayor. Cypert was the top vote-getter in the Nov. 2 general election, with Stumbaugh finishing a solid second. 

Alderman Eddie Cook, the third-place finisher, threw his support behind Cypert, which clearly helped Cypert sprint away from Stumbaugh.

Cypert topped Stumbaugh by nearly 1,400 votes in the runoff election. Cypert finished with 2,022 votes, or 79 percent, to Stumbaugh’s 845 votes, or 21 percent.

Cypert, the secretary and spokesman for Cabot Water and Wastewater, campaigned through the general election on what he could give Cabot—a plan for orderly growth similar to what he had helped develop for Cabot WaterWorks. 

But for the runoff, Cypert switched tactics and started talking about what he called the turmoil four years ago that had been Stumbaugh’s administration.

This was Stumbaugh’s third loss since he was elected mayor in 2002. He also lost races for Congress and the Cabot City Council.

Cypert said last week that he had been criticized for his negative campaigning. 

Whether that new strategy won him the office is not yet clear, but Cypert said after the votes were counted that he was simply relieved that it is over and he was ready to go to work.

Former Alderman Odis Waymack, Stumbaugh’s nemesis when he was mayor and Cypert’s campaign manager, said he had always believed Cypert would win, but he was pleased that the margin was so wide.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, who was elected state senator earlier this month, said he will start working with Cypert next week to transition into January when he takes over.

Stumbaugh said it was a hard-fought battle and the loss was a tough one. “But I’ve got to tell you, I’m 43 years old and have lived a most fulfilled life you can imagine. Losing ain’t easy, but somebody had to,” the one-time mayor said.

He said he had called Cypert and congratulated him and wished him the best. 

“We don’t agree on a lot of issues, but we want what is best for Cabot,” Stumbaugh said.

He added that he was grateful for all the support. “I had some of the greatest support this city and state have ever seen.”

Stumbaugh said he’d stay active in civic organizations and continue to support Cabot anyway he can.

For Mayor Hillman, winning the runoff meant a short celebration at her church and then getting ready for work.

“We are all excited about the win and I appreciate everyone who voted for me. We are looking at a four good years ahead of us,” Hillman said. 

Hillman defeated Sulcer by about 700 votes. Hillman garnered 2,374 votes, or 58.5 percent, while Sulcer netted 1,686 votes, or 41.5 percent.

After getting news of her victory Tuesday evening, Hillman said she would be “back at it tomorrow.” She said she had a 9 a.m. meeting to prepare for and a budget to finalize. “We’ve got another meeting next Tuesday on the budget,” she said.

Her challenger, because of the loss, will be out of city politics come Jan 1. When Sulcer threw her name into the mayor’s race, it opened up her alderman seat. Toni Butler, a former alderman, ran unopposed for Sulcer’s seat in the general election and will take over Jan. 1.

On Tuesday night, Sulcer said, “The citizens made their decision and I’m very humbled by the support I received.”

In the runoff for Cabot City Council, Hoschouer defeated Cannon 1,458 to 1,146 votes. 

Hoschouer is the daughter of Alderman Tom Armstrong, who died Nov. 14. He held the Ward 3 Position 1 seat that she will hold beginning Jan. 1. 

“My first reaction was to cry because Daddy won’t be here to see me sworn in,” Hoschouer said. “But I’m looking forward to serving. There are good people on the council and I think very highly of the new mayor. I think we will have a good team.”

Cannon came in first in the general election.

He had experience as a council member in Barling, outside Fort Smith, said the loss was disappointing but not devastating.

“These things happen,” Cannon said. “But we ran a good race.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SPORTS>>Cabot’s run concludes at Southside

By Todd traub

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s hoped for home game didn’t come about as Fort Smith Southside knocked the Panthers out of the playoffs with a 28-7 victory at Fort Smith on Saturday.

The game was a rematch of the 2000 AAAAA state championship game won by Cabot, and though the Panthers didn’t win the latest matchup it was something of a credit to the program that they even got that far into this year’s playoffs.

Cabot, hoping to win and play a semifinal game at home, ended the regular season with five key players out because of injuries while others, like kicker/defensive back Logan Spry, were battling nagging pains.

Running back Spencer Smith, wearing a flak jacket to help protect his injured shoulder, and tight end Jesse Roberts returned for Friday’s game, and it looked as if running back Jeremy Berry, who suited up at halftime, was going to return to action as well.

But none of that helped the Panthers as Fort Smith raced to a 21-0 halftime lead behind quarterback Hunter Whorton and running back Julius Jones as the Rebels took advantage of some Cabot miscues and bad breaks.

Southside led 7-0 when a bad pitch stalled one Cabot drive and then punter Max Carroll fielded a low snap on one knee and was ruled down at the Panthers’ 27, setting up the Rebels’ next quick score on a run by Whorton on the first play.

The Panthers showed signs of life in the second half, scoring on Mason James’ 24-yard run with 4:58 left in the third quarter.

But quarterback/return man Bryson Morris dropped a punt and Fort Smith Southside recovered and went on to score, and the Panthers didn’t have enough time left to overcome the 21-point deficit.

The Panthers’ season opening roster featured 23 seniors, and they picked up another in the second part of the year when Will Hidalgo joined as the kicker after Spry was unable to kick because of an abdominal injury and sophomore Jesus Marquez hit a slump.

Key departures on offense include Smith, tight end Rod Quinn, Berry, and running backs Andre Ausejo and Mason James.

Pivotal defensive players who will graduate include Spry, defensive backs Greg Phelps and Ethan Covington, lineman Jason Sled and linebacker Riley Hawkins.

Quarterback Zach Craig, who was lost to a knee injury in the regular season finale, will be back as a senior next season.

Cabot opened the year with a 28-14 victory over non-conference rival Jacksonville at War Memorial Stadium, survived a shootout at Pulaski Academy then lost to its perennial playoff nemesis, Springdale Har-Ber, in Week 3.

The Panthers then endured their worst defeat, 41-7, in the 7A/6A-Central opener at Conway. Cabot then began to clean up its mistakes, cutting down the penalties and turnovers, to start a six-game winning streak with a victory over Little Rock Catholic.

Cabot, Conway and Bryant ended in a three-way tie, but Conway had the lthe tie breakers to take the top seed to the state playoffs.

Cabot did clinch a share of the conference title and beat Rogers Heritage to open the playoffs.