Friday, January 21, 2011

SPORTS>>CAC laying down mats for big meet

Leader sports editor

Central Arkansas Christian is hosting its fifth annual wrestling tournament featuring schools from across central Arkansas and spanning classifications ranging from 1A to 7A.

The tournament, held at the school’s secondary campus, boasts a 32-man bracket across four mats with a total of 26 teams participating.

Local teams Cabot, Searcy, Beebe and North Pulaski will compete.

Competition began Friday evening and ends tonight. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

Last year’s overall winner, Rogers Heritage, returns this year along with past winners Little Rock Central (2009) and Bentonville (2008).

Medals will be awarded in the 14 divisions for first through fourth place and there will be trophies for overall team winners in places first through third.

An outstanding wrestler award will be given in the 103-140-pound weight divisions and the 145-285-pound divisions.

SPORTS>>Shannon named as East all-star coach

Leader sports editor

One coach and seven local football players were named to the staff and rosters for the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star game held in Fayetteville on June 24.

Beebe coach John Shannon, whose team reached the 5A playoffs, has been named to the East staff headed by Rivercrest’s Kelly Chandler.

Shannon had one player, tight end/defensive end Reece Totty, named to the East squad.

Searcy had three players selected while Cabot, Riverview and Harding Academy each had one.

Sylvan Hills, Lonoke, North Pulaski and Jacksonville — a team that reached the second round of the 6A playoffs under first-year head coach Rick Russell — were closed out of the voting.

Searcy lineman Drew Rambo, fullback/linebacker Mike Brown and running back/defensive back Steven Seitz will represent the Lions in the game against the West squad, which will kick off at 7 p.m. in the University of Arkansas’ Razorback Stadium.

Cabot, which advanced to the 7A state quarterfinals, placed lineman Nathan Cash on the East team.

Running back/linebacker Chayse Parson will represent Riverview, which reached the 3A playoffs and bowed out in the second round.

Harding Academy quarterback Seth Keese, arguably the marquee player of the group, was selected to the East team after leading the Wildcats to the 3A state championship game.

Rivercrest won the final, 14-10, at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in December.

Keese was The Leader offensive player of the year after he accounted for 3,550 yards last season.

He was 182 of 282 passing for 2,297 yards and 20 touchdowns and he rushed 172 times for 1,253 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Keese, who injured his knee in last year’s playoffs, earned all-state honors this season.

There were no Leader-area players or coaches selected to the all-star volleyball teams.

SPORTS>>Red Devils make trip worth it in victory

Special to The Leader

JONESBORO — Control can be a fickle thing.

Jonesboro faltered in the third quarter and Jacksonville never looked back in a 53-43 victory at Don Riggs Hurricane Gym.

For the Red Devils it was a precious road victory in the cutthroat 7A/6A-East Conference. For Jonesboro it was a regrettable performance, especially considering the 10-point lead the Hurricane held at halftime.

The Jonesboro girls had a similar meltdown in the second half, but recovered for a 43-39 victory.

Jacksonville’s boys scored the first six points of the third quarter and outscored the Hurricane 33-13 in the second half.

“I coached a bad game tonight,” Jonesboro coach Wes Swift said. “They came out in the third quarter, and I should have used a timeout and got our guys back focused and I did not do it. I thought that hurt us.

“The second half we came out with no energy. We totally lost focus and I didn’t do a good job — in fact, I didn’t do any job — of getting us back. We were bad as a team tonight.”

Jacksonville limited Jonesboro (13-4, 2-2) to 25 percent shooting in the second half. Jayln McBride led Jonesboro with 13 points and was the only Hurricane player to score more than 10.

The Red Devils (13-1, 2-1) played a sagging zone to offset the inside presence of the Hurricane’s Colby Inboden and Ayo Ojo. Ojo, the team’s 6-7 post, scored seven points and had eight rebounds.

Jacksonville took its chances with Jonesboro’s guards on the outside and the gamble paid off as the Hurricane went 2 for 12 on three-pointers in the second half.

“I thought when we went to zone, it kind of stifled them a little bit,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said.

“Fortunately they missed some outside shots. That’s the only thing that saved us. They just missed some wide-open outside shots and I know they’re better shooters than that.”

Jacksonville forced five third-quarter turnovers. Two of those led directly to baskets on an 8-0 run that closed the deficit to 30-28 with four minutes left in the quarter.

McBride followed with a three-pointer to briefly bump the lead to five, but it would be the Hurricane’s only basket of the quarter as Jacksonville outscored Jonesboro 14-3.

“I thought once they saw the ball go through the hole a few times and it wasn’t so hard on both ends it helped,” Joyner said. “If both ends are hard and you feel totally under pressure all the time, then you press.

“We were able to get a couple of buckets and some free throws, relieve that pressure and put pressure on them. It changed the dynamic.”

Jacksonville took a 34-33 lead into the final quarter after a pair of free throws from Justin McCleary.

Ojo scored on a putback early in the fourth to give Jonesboro one final lead, but a 13-2 Jacksonville run over the next five minutes put the game away.

The Lady Red Devils came back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Hurricane responded just in time.

A sagging defense kept Jacksonville sophomore Jessica Jackson out of the lane in the final minutes and forced others to take unsuccessful jump shots.

Jacksonville’s Nicole Bennett scored a team-high 17 points and had nine in the final 3:04 of the second quarter to help Jacksonville pull to within 24-16.

SPORTS>>Bears overcome physical Falcons

Leader sports writer

Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski served up a reminder that basketball is a contact sport Tuesday night.

Sylvan Hills jumped to a big first-quarter lead and held off North Pulaski in the fourth for a 65-57, 5A-Southeast Conference victory, but not before the game degenerated into a foul-plagued scuffle that threatened at times to get out of hand.

“To see the guys get out of the gate and play like we’ve practiced every day, it wasn’t unexpected either,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said of the start that helped the first-place Bears improve to 3-0 in conference. “You just come in sometimes and you don’t know. But we knew they would battle us.”

The fourth quarter featured North Pulaski’s rally from a double-digit deficit, a technical on Falcons coach Ray Cooper as he protested what he felt was a foul on Marcus Williams and, in short order, three intentional fouls by North Pulaski.

The intentional fouls included two on the state’s top college prospect, Archie Goodwin and one of the violations nearly started a fight with 4:55 to go.

“We just simply adjusted to the way the game was played,” said Cooper, unhappy with Sylvan Hills’ 27-17 edge in fouls. “We went to the hole several times and got knocked down and so after that we knocked them down.”

With 6:05 left in the game and Sylvan Hills leading 51-34, Williams was tripped up after getting off a pass and Cooper furiously protested Sylvan Hills undercut Williams for a foul.

Cooper was instead whistled for his technical and players restrained him in the disjointed and highly animated Falcons huddle before Larry Ziegler made one of the free throws to give the Bears a 52-34 lead.

With 5:17 left, officials further infuriated Cooper when they called Bryan Colson for the first intentional foul on Trey Smith with 5:17 left.

The second intentional foul came when Michael Cross made contact on Goodwin from behind as Goodwin — sought by programs like Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky — was going for a layup. Goodwin sailed beyond the baseline and skidded into the wall, then got up jawing at North Pulaski while teammates held him back and North Pulaski fans cheered.

Goodwin fed the applause when he missed both free throws, but he made it 57-44 when he hit one after drawing the third intentional foul from Shyheim Barron, with 3:09 left.

More than once the officials spoke to players in an effort to maintain calm, but that didn’t satisfy Cooper.

“Who? That’s all I got to say about it. Who? Who are they?” Cooper said of the refs before stopping to congratulate Davis as he passed by.

While Bears came out on top, Davis too felt the game had its rough spots.

“I just thought it got too physical,” Davis said. “I thought there were some cheap shots and stuff taken out there. In the heat of a big ballgame, emotions get involved. I just try to instill in these guys you’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to work through those things and you can’t retaliate.”

Barron pulled the Falcons within 61-52 when he made a layup after a steal by Cross, and Cooper called time out with 23 seconds left. Forced to foul, the Falcons sent Goodwin to the line three seconds later, and he made both shots for the 63-52 lead and took a seat for the final 20 seconds.

Barron made two free throws while Dion Patton hit two for Sylvan Hills, and Barron capped the scoring with a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Goodwin led all scorers with 29 points, scoring his first four on free throws and getting 17 overall at the line. After Williams made two free throws to pull North Pulaski within 53-44 with 3:46 left, Goodwin scored 10 of his team’s final 12 points to help the Bears hold on.

“Archie is the most talented guy in the 5A and he’s going to be that every night,” Cooper said, blaming the Falcons’ lack of team play for the bad first half. “But if that’s what wins games everybody wouldn’t show up. But this is a team game, and when you play a team game with strategy, five beats one every night.

“What we did is we went out and we got in one-on-one battles and you’re going to lose those.”

Patton added 14 points for Sylvan Hills and Ziegler scored 10.

“The last game we had everybody in double figures but the point guard so we’ve been balanced,” Davis said of the scoring.

Colson led North Pulaski with 13 points and Braylon Spicer scored 12.

The Falcons had an 8-2 turnover advantage and a 12-6 rebound advantage in the furious fourth quarter as they closed the gap.

“I just thought we got winded there just a little bit,” Davis said. “You play four quarters with the intensity of this ballgame you’re going to have a little loss somewhere. Both teams.”

Sylvan Hills opened the game with an 11-0 run, led 23-9 at the end of the first quarter and 41-21 at halftime. The biggest lead was 41-18 late in the second quarter, and Sylvan Hills had a comfortable, 49-34 lead entering the fourth.

“That was the ballgame, that amounted to the ballgame,” Cooper said. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys who got caught up in the hype and they came out here and tried to rip and run with them, which was not the game plan.”

SPORTS>>Rodden closes book on storied career

Leader sportswriter

When Sylvan Hills girls coach Bee Rodden hangs up her whistle at the conclusion of basketball season, it will mark the end of a career full of triumph, tragedy and brushes with history.

A native of Hope, Rodden grew up with schoolmates who became major political figures while she became interested in a life in athletics. Rodden played for Hope in the old, 6-on-6 format then became one of the first Cotton Blossoms basketball players at the University of Arkansas-Monticello in the early 1970s.

Now in her 19th season at Sylvan Hills, Rodden is ending her coaching career not far from where she started at Pulaski Robinson in 1976. She coached the junior high program for 11 years before moving on to the small town of Bradford in White County for two years.

Deaths and illnesses in the family kept Rodden briefly out of coaching until a series of fill-in jobs landed her at Sylvan Hills Junior High in the early 1990s. She became varsity coach in 1998.

Four decades in the game have given Rodden an informed perspective on the development of women’s basketball.

“The women’s game has changed tremendously,” Rodden said. “Just the strength of the athletes and the abilities they have now — I never lifted a single weight in high school, but the whole dynamic has changed.”

As a pitcher with a strong curveball, Rodden was the first girl to play for the Hope little-league baseball team in her first athletic adventure.

Rodden was a shooting guard on Hope’s varsity team and was a mentor to Janet McCain, later to become Arkansas’ first lady Janet Huckabee. McCain was two grades behind Rodden, while McCain’s future spouse and future Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was a year older.

Janet Huckabee ran for Arkansas secretary of state during her husband’s term as governor, and Mike Huckabee ran for the Republican presidential nomination won by John McCain in 2008.

The 41st president of the United States, Hope native Bill Clinton, was eight years ahead of Rodden in school.

“I’m one of the few residents of Hope who never ran for president,” Rodden said.

The 6-on-6 format featured three defensive players who stayed in the backcourt while the three offensive players never left the frontcourt. Rodden was a shooting guard for Hope until her graduation in 1972.

Rodden’s dream was to play basketball at Ouachita Baptist University, but at 5-3 she didn’t attract any interest so Rodden got in on the ground level of the developing program at UAM.

The team was a club-level group that scrimmaged various opponents in Rodden’s freshman year before the Cotton Blossoms joined the Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association her sophomore year.

“That was my first introduction to playing 5-on-5, and the first time I had ever played defense,” Rodden said. “Boy, was that an awakening. Here’s this slow white girl, and it was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get in the lane and stop you from driving.’ ”

The Cotton Blossoms finished second in the conference their first year and won the AWISA title Rodden’s junior and senior seasons.

“I was just at the right place at the right time when they were trying to start a team,” Rodden said. “That’s what it’s all about. When an opportunity rises, you’ve got to take it.”

Rodden majored in physical education and health, and set her sights on landing a coaching job. Opportunity knocked her senior year when Pulaski Robinson coach Bill Faulkner hired Rodden as his assistant.

“He called that spring, I went up there and interviewed and three days later, I was hired,” Rodden said.

Rodden started out as assistant on the junior and senior high teams in August of 1976. Faulkner handed over the junior-high program to Rodden before the end of that season, and that’s where she stayed until 1987.

That year was one of the most trying of Rodden’s life. She lost her brother Charlie to a heart attack at age 47 in February, and her father Otto died of pancreatic cancer in August of 1987.

Rodden took a year off and took on a series of odd jobs, but ended up at Bradford Junior High the following year.

The school was small, but there was plenty for Rodden to do as a health and P.E. teacher, and a basketball, softball and cross-country coach. Rodden was also named coach of the peewee program the following January.

“They worked my tail off,” Rodden said. “That was the first time I ever realized you get what comes in. The kids were all white, and none of them had ever played man-to-man before.

“It was easier for me to change than it was for them, and we played a 1-3-1. It was there that I learned you have to adapt to what you get.”

Rodden decided the small-town life was not for her, and that, along with health problems with her mother, Ann, brought her back to Hope.

Rodden considered a switch to physical therapy before taking on fill-in roles at Sherwood Junior High, Mount St. Mary Academy and Jacksonville Junior High.

She began her stint with Sylvan Hills Junior High in 1992 and helped start the varsity softball program in 1997. She became varsity basketball coach in 1998, the same season current boys coach Kevin Davis started.

Sylvan Hills gave Rodden the chance to reconnect with old schoolmates. Rodden played with Monticello girls coach Lucy Williams at UAM and the pair played under coach Mary Jane Lavender-Gilbert, who was inducted into the UAM Hall of Fame in 2001.

Williams, one of the first African-American women’s players in the state, coached at Crossett and has led Monticello for four years.

Lavender-Gilbert and Rodden have been conference opponents since Sylvan Hills returned to the 5A ranks in 2008.

“She’s just a funny person, and she doesn’t pull any punches,” Williams said. “She’s going to tell you exactly what she thinks, but she does it in a way to where you can’t do anything but laugh about it.

“She handles her kids the same way she handles people – she’s fair. She teaches them the things on the court they need to be successful. I guess in a way that’s how our styles are the same – we’re from the old school, and the way we were brought up, there was no such thing as side stepping.”

Rodden is 144-175 at Sylvan Hills and 483-373 overall. She said her biggest victory was a regular-season conference triumph over West Memphis in 2000.

It may not sound like a big deal, but considering the Lady Blue Devils had torched Sylvan Hills 109-42 two years before, it was one Rodden wanted badly for her seniors.

“It was surreal,” Rodden said. “Everything we did that day was perfect, and those kids beat West Memphis 50-44. That was a great deal of satisfaction.”

Rodden plans to relocate to Florida in The Villages retirement town an hour north of Orlando. The Villages is billed as a Disneyland for adults, complete with golf course, tennis courts, softball clubs and a variety of arts and entertainment.

“My heart will always be in Arkansas, but I’m ready to go on a new adventure,” Rodden said.

“I’ve never lived anywhere but Arkansas, so I’m kind of excited. If you’re bored at The Villages, it’s your own fault.”

As for women’s basketball, Rodden will carry fond memories and has encouraging words to future generations.

“If she’s willing to work hard and improve her game, there’s a team for her somewhere,” Rodden said of the modern girls player.

“There’s a team that will need her. It may not be a big school, or even close to home, but it’s out there.”

SPORTS>>Wildcats start fast as guard sets pace

Leader sportswriter

Price was right in the first half of Harding Academy’s 52-47 victory over cross-town rival Riverview on Tuesday at Riverview Activity Center.

Wildcats guard Marshall Price stunned the Raiders defense with five three-pointers in the first half as he scored all of his 15 points and helped Harding Academy build a 34-14 lead. With the victory, the Wildcats (13-3, 5-0) claimed first place in the 2-3A Conference standings.

The Raiders (14-4, 4-1) seized momentum briefly with an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter before the Wildcats slowed the pace.

“We shot the ball well in the first half, and that helped” Harding Academy coach Brad Francis said. “When we shoot well, things usually go well for us. And you knew they were going to make a run in the second half; you just hope you had enough to hold on.”

Harding Academy kept possession with ball movement down the stretch. The Wildcats also went 5 of 6 at the free-throw line in the final 30 seconds to keep their two-possession margin.

Harding Academy senior post player Daniel Stevens controlled the inside and denied 6-8 Riverview senior post player D.J. Teague from having his way in the lane.

The Wildcats also got a break thanks to a cold night by usually prolific Riverview point guard Keanin Lee, who did not score a point. The Wildcats held Teague to just four points and he sat down early in the fourth quarter with foul trouble.

Harding Academy was 8 of 11 on three-point attempts in the first half.

“They did a good job of going into their spread game and milking the clock down,” Riverview coach Jon Laffoon said. “They made plenty of free throws to get the win, but just the way they shot the ball, really all the credit has to go to them. We tried man, we tried zone; we tried a little matchup zone.

“It didn’t matter; they just kept backing up and hitting them.”

Price broke a 7-7 tie when he scored with 3:19 left in the first quarter, and he scored again less than a minute later. Stevens made an inside basket to extend the Wildcats lead to 15-7.

Price struck again from his spot on the right wing with another three-pointer in the final five seconds to complete an 11-0 Harding Academy run.

Price also made back-to-back threes to start the second quarter.

That finally drew extra attention from the Riverview defense, but Dailey answered with a pair of three pointers, the second of which pushed Harding Academy’s advantage to 34-14 with 1:47 left in the first half.

“Marshall got on a hot streak there, and Lane hit a couple of big ones there in the half,” Francis said. “We were a little bit tough to guard there in the first half with those guys hitting it.”

The Riverview crowd sat mostly silent when Price made his three-pointers to end the first quarter.

But the fans got back into it quickly when Desmond Pettis hit a three pointer to start the fourth quarter and Taylor Smith scored on a rebound and putback to cut Harding Academy’s lead down to 46-35.

Isaac Howard made a three-pointer to cut it to 46-38 with 6:11 left to play, forcing Francis to call time out and regroup.

“I said, ‘Really, we just need one basket, just to break their run,’ ” Francis said

“Either that, or take some time off the clock. We had a couple of possessions where we didn’t do that. Finally late, we got it down to where we did do that.”

The Raiders also had trouble getting offensive rebounds. Teague finished with six rebounds before committing his fourth foul a minute into the fourth quarter, while Stevens led the Wildcats with 11 rebounds and scored six points.

“We do get to see them again,” Laffoon said. “They’re an excellent team — well coached. They do a good job of doing what they do. And tonight, they played a little better than us. We’ve just got to go on and take care of our business and not worry about seeing them again.

“If we get that chance, with the right situation, we’ll be okay.”

Smith led Riverview with 21 points while Rashard Bailey added 16 points. Will Francis and Dailey each had 12 for Harding Academy.

EDITORIAL >Welcome home, LRAFB airmen

As several hundred airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base flew into combat a couple of weeks ago, Col. Mike Minihan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, was telling us that it’s never easy sending people into war. He’s been there several times, but when airmen are sent to Afghanistan and Iraq, it means others get to come home.

“The fun part is that in two weeks they’ll be relieving the other guys,” Minihan said after he’d seen a planeload of airmen leave the base. “I love it when they come home.”

On Thursday, more than 200 airmen came home into the arms of their loved ones. They landed in the snow, a moment that was captured by Leader photographer David Scolli on p. 1A of today’s paper.

It was a great homecoming, but aren’t they all? You look around the air base or if you see a group of airmen at a restaurant, chances are they’ve been to Afghanistan.

Minihan, who has been stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq several times, said, “We haven’t lost one plane.

The crews are highly skilled and professional.”

Although the mission is dangerous — planes get shot at in the air, and it’s never a picnic on the ground — it has continued without letup for almost a decade. As Minihan reminded us, “This wing has not had a break since 9/11.”

These are the heroes who do their jobs, often under difficult conditions, but they don’t complain and never tire of serving their nation. More are sent overseas almost every month, but they do not hesitate and often volunteer for the most dangerous duty.

The next time you stand next to an airman in a store or a parking lot, don’t forget to say, “Thank you.” And “Glad you’re back.”

EDITORIAL >$120 million fair question

Jacksonville officials are going ahead with plans to buy more than 400 acres of land off Hwy. 161 South near I-440, which they believe is the ideal location for a new state fair complex. The city council will hold a public hearing next month on acquiring the land, which is worth about $2 million, and giving it to the Arkansas Livestock Show Association.

The association is considering moving the venerable state fair from the rundown neighborhood off Roosevelt Road in Little Rock and into a more spacious area.

The state fair board appears to favor a corridor along I-440 and I-40, putting Jacksonville in competition with North Little Rock, which is offering its own site near the Galloway exit at I-40. Either location would please the fair board, which likes the idea of leaving the inner city and moving to the suburbs.

The biggest obstacle is the cost: Some $120 million. Ralph Shoptaw, the fair’s longtime general manager, wants a modern new complex that would operate year-round, generating revenue that helps pay off revenue bonds and loans. He knows the complex is a hard sell in this economy but wants to plan ahead once the economy improves in the next couple of years.

Jacksonville officials sense an opportunity and have enough financing — through a surplus fund and private donations — to give the land to the state fair board. Obstacles remain: Entergy owns more than 200 acres at the proposed site and is in no hurry to sell. The electric utility could change its mind once the livestock board accepts Jacksonville’s generous offer, although the cost of the land will likely increase before a sale price is agreed upon.

What’s more, Little Rock officials won’t give up on the fair without a fight and have offered more land and other incentives to keep the event in the capital. Whatever the outcome, Jacksonville might as well lay the groundwork to acquire the land before the livestock board makes a decision on the fair’s future.

The board won’t even begin to make a decision on a new fair site until March, when it will receive a feasibility study that could determine whether the fair stays in Little Rock or moves closer our way. Until then, Jacksonville officials should pursue their plans to add a second major landmark to their city, along with Little Rock Air Force Base, which was also a long-shot 55 years ago, when area residents pooled their resources and donated the land for the military base.

That investment has turned out very well indeed — and so could the state fair. Here’s another chance for the area to make a second significant investment in our future.

TOP STORY > >Ready to retire, Sims packs pistol

Leader staff writer

Lt. Ed Sims retires at the end of January after 20 years and eight months with the Cabot Police Department.

“It’s time,” he said Thursday. “I’ve had enough of police work for a while.”

Sims said he plans to do very little for the rest of the winter, but when spring comes he’ll plant his half-acre garden of peas, corn and beans just as he has for many years. Maybe he’ll eventually go fishing and he’ll probably do a little target shooting in his backyard.

Sims, 59, is the fifth police officer in the department to reach the rank of lieutenant but the first to test and interview into the position. And on Monday night, he became the first police officer to be awarded his service weapon upon retirement.

Lt. Sherman Malcolm was the only other lieutenant to retire. Sims said Malcolm didn’t get his service weapon because it already belonged to him.

“(Twenty years ago) they gave us a flashlight. That was it,” Sims said. “We bought our own gun, gun belt and handcuffs.”

The department was different when he started from now in a lot of ways, he said. Then, there were 10 employees including the police chief. Now, there are 37.

There were fewer regulations then but also less crime. Of course, the population was about one-third what it is now, so that accounts in part for the increased crime, he said.

“We’ve got a lot more people to cover and a lot more area to cover,” he said. “We’ve got some violent crimes, a few murders and a few robberies.”

The official title of the job Sims does for the department is professional-standards officer. In addition to making sure police officers get the training they need, he’s the one who makes sure they get higher pay for that training. He also is over dispatchers, the jail and school- resource officers.

Who moves into Sims’ slot will be determined by tests and interviews.

Police Chief Jackie Davis started testing for promotions when he became head of the department because he said even though the good-ole-boy system had always been responsible for his promotions, he knew it wasn’t really fair.

Now officers take tests to determine if they are qualified and then interview before a board made up of officers from the Cabot Police Department and other departments.

The handgun that Sims was given Monday night during the council meeting was the Glock Model 23 that he carried for 10 years, not the one he is currently using.

Davis said the department traded in their old Glocks six months ago but kept the one Sims had been using to give him when he retired.

Both Davis and Sims said Sims didn’t want to take a new weapon from the department that might be needed.

But Sims said his old Glock, which holds 13, 40-caliber rounds, is in good condition and he’ll use it for target practice in his backyard.

“I like to shoot,” he said.

In addition to being the first police officer to be awarded his service weapon, Sims will likely be the only one to receive the award before guidelines are established.

Davis has included proposed guidelines in the packet that will be discussed during next Monday’s meeting of the council’s fire and police committee.

The proposed guidelines in-clude these recommendations for the committee to consider:

The officer must have served at least 15 consecutive years as a sworn Cabot police officer.

The officer cannot be the suspect of any investigation (criminal or administrative) by this or another agency.

The officer cannot be seeking early retirement as a result of a mental condition. Any stress- related retirement would require a clearance letter from a doctor or authorized attending professional.

But even without the policy in place, there’s no need for any concern. Sims is good to go, the chief said. He meets every one of the proposed requirements.

TOP STORY > >Not everyone on board with superintendent

Leader senior staff writer

After a contentious debate toward the end of January’s Pulaski County Special School District Board meeting Wednesday night, the board approved 4-2 a rewritten portion of Superintendent Charles Hopson’s contract that left his compensation unchanged, but reworked it in a way intended to satisfy concerns of the state Bureau of Legislative Audit.

Board president Bill Vasquez, and Tom Stuthard, both Jackson-ville representatives, voted against the measure.

“If we’re going to open the contract, there’s a couple of other areas I’d like to change as well,” Vasquez said.

With a disdainful tone, Vasquez read aloud the revised portion of the contract under consideration.

“Mr. president, the way you are portraying this is very unfair,” said board member Sandra Sawyer. “We owe him the respect of the office. Maybe we should have Jay (Billingsly) read it; you’re being very disrespectful. Jay, will you read it?”

It was Billingsly—the board’s attorney—along with Hopson’s agent, who agreed upon and wrote the language of the proposed change.

Calling for a voice vote, Vasquez “heard” a majority of “no” votes on the changes to Hopson’s contract, but a roll call vote called for by board member and parliamentarian Mildred Tatum showed that Vasquez “heard” wrong.

Because the legislative auditors expressed some concern over the amount of out-of-state travel that board members took, and also because the district is “broke,” according to Vasquez, they scrutinized the trips Hopson proposed for the next couple of months, turning thumbs down on several.

On three voice votes—two regarding trips, the other regarding Hopson’s contract—Vasquez, who voted against them, ruled that they failed to pass. But those three were found to have passed when roll call votes were taken.


During the board comments portion of the meeting, Vasquez called for a 3 percent cut in district spending, saying the savings could secure $260 million in bonds for badly needed capital improvements.

“The reason I voted against (the out-of-state travel) is that we are broke,” Vasquez said.

“The charter schools are surviving on $6,000 a student (state aid), with no overhead and they are out-performing us. They make a profit and we run on $15,000 to $16,000 a head,” and are in fiscal trouble, he said.

“We have a chance to be part of something great,” Vasquez said, referring in part to the district’s outreach into the communities to find a way to repair old schools and build new ones.

“It’s going to be exciting. Hang on to your hats. We’re going to take care of business in an aggressive manner,” he said.

Likening the district’s progress to a rowboat, Vasquez said if there is a bad oar, the boat rows in a circle, and said people could be the well-rowed boat, the bad oar or the anchor.

Operations director Col. Derek Scott has been attending meetings with school patrons in the Jacksonville, Robinson and College Station areas so far in efforts to find a way to consolidate some schools and leverage the savings to pay off new bonds. He says every $1 million saved can leverage about $15 million in construction bonds.


In less contentious parts of the meeting, the board and administration seemed to be moving forward in a cooperative manner on a number of issues aimed at righting the listing school district.

Scott told the board “we are in the process of modernizing our inventory, clearing out the warehouse and going more to an on-demand ordering process.”

He said it was cheaper and faster for a school to call an office store to have some paper delivered than it was for the district to pay employees to pick up large amounts, store it in the warehouse, load it up later and take it to a school that had requested it.

“It’s cheaper to buy from a vendor, then have it drop shipped and delivered on demand,” he said. “Then it’s a two-day instead of a four and five day process.”

The district heard a report from Brenda Bowles, director of pupil equity, and discovered that before- and after-school programs are being administered unequally in the district and voted to suspend receiving payments from the administrator of the DREAM program until they looked into it further.

The DREAM administrator, Jody Abernathy, is Bowles’ daughter.

Vasquez said it appeared to him that DREAM has paid or is liable to pay the district $18,000 in transportation reimbursement and $52,000 in costs of feeding those pre-schoolers, even though they all qualify for free and reduced lunches.

Board member Gwen Williams said that at Harris Elementary School, bungling by past administration had all but shut down some of those programs. “I’ve got kids sitting at home that need to be in school,” she said.


“I find that disturbing,” Vasquez said. “Somewhere this whole program is messed up. We need to be paying for the program and the transportation.”

“We need to clear the books on that $18,000. She can’t make payroll because of what we’ve done,” Williams said. “She got City Year and Home Depot to renovate the playground. She bought the school playground equipment and had it installed—to be treated that way, I have a problem with that.”

Vasquez asked Hopson to look into the matter.

“We need to move forward on that,” said Hopson. Students (in DREAM, Head Start, and 21st Century programs) are coming from the same pool and getting different treatment.”

“I move we suspend her payments until further investigation,” Williams said. “She has a real high success rate of her students.”


Chief technology officer Derek Brown recommended and the board unanimously approved entering into a new computer- lease program with the intention of eventually placing at least five computers in each classroom.

The board approved about $370,000 to lease computers at about $600 each—$200 less than they were paying previously for comparable computers.

“We have 6,700 computers…district-wide. We’re starting with the primary classrooms, then we’ll start with electrical drops and Internet in the secondary, with a completion date of 2012.”

He said information-technology, combined with other resources, would pay for the computers.

The board also authorized, on Brown’s recommendation, replacement of telephones throughout the district, switching to wireless phones and beginning with the central office.

The phones—one in each classroom—will double as intercoms and are also a safety factor, he said.

The initial authorization was for $275,000, including handsets, hardware, soft wares, licensing and labor.

The district’s 39 schools have 39 different setups, he said, spread among three carriers.” The phone system for the whole district is 20 years old.


Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, reported that she had attended a symposium on indoor air quality and that the union wants to work with the administration to clean up the air in the rooms.

She said it was responsible for asthma attacks and unhealthy not only for the students but also the teachers.

“Let’s come up with an indoor air-quality plan for the district,” she said.

Pulaski Association of Support Staff president Emery Chesterfield said he appreciated the good working relationship he and his union have with human resources executive director Paul Brewer, working out the final terms of the PASS contract.

“This is the way it should be,” Chesterfield said.

Hopson had asked the board for more vacation days for his director of operations. Stuthard said, “Scott no doubt is doing a heck of a job,” but it would violate the board policy.

“We have employees who are corporate and we had to make concessions,” said Hopson. “He had other options. We wouldn’t have him here (without the additional vacation).”

“This affects his cabinet members,” said Vasquez. “We need a separate policy for them. I would like to systematically address this and table” agenda items affected.

The board rehired Billingsly and Beckett as its attorneys for the balance of the school year, while it proceeds in interviewing lawyers for in-house council.

The board also approved the first reading of a revision of the district’s budget policy to allow for starting the budgeting process in April so that it would be in place for the following year.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

SPORTS >> Heber Springs gets a hand, tops Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

Cara Neighbors out dueled Heber Springs’ Jena Kelley in a battle of standout senior guards, but Heber Springs’ supporting cast chipped in more points for a 50-43 victory over Lonoke to remain perfect in the 2-4A Conference on Friday.

Kelley led the visiting Lady Panthers with 25 points, going 5 of 7 on three-point attempts, while Neighbors answered with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 11 steals for the Lady Jackrabbits (11-8, 3-3).

Heber Springs (15-2, 5-0) led the entire way and held off a fourth-quarter Lonoke rally that cut a 33-24 lead at the end of the third quarter to 40-37 with less than three minutes left.

“Jena really stepped up tonight,” Heber Springs coach Jamey Riddle said.

“It’s not like she’s been off all year, but may not have been as consistent night in and night out. People know her, and they know she can shoot. They’re going to guard her, but if we get enough movement, we can find her wide open.”

Kelley gave the Lady Panthers wiggle room in the second quarter with back-to-back three-pointers that put them up 24-17 in the final two minutes.

Neighbors made up some of that by going 3 for 4 at the free-throw line before the half, but Kelley came up big again late in the third quarter with another three-pointer that gave Heber Springs a 33-21 lead, its biggest all night.

“I give her credit. She hit her free throws down the stretch,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said of Kelley.

“Didn’t do as good early in the game, but hit them down the stretch when she had pressure on her, and that’s what good players do.”

Lonoke post players Emily Howell and Artice Morris were able to contain Heber Springs inside players Chrissy Willen and Morgan Fires after Willen got loose for eight points in the first quarter. She finished with 10 while Fires hit only two field goals and went 4 for 4 at the free-throw line for eight points.

“We’re having to play a lot more zone this year than what we have in the past,” Morris said. “It’s not a bad thing; we actually played pretty well at times. We made a couple of mistakes on rotations underneath the basket that helped the big one get a couple there in the first quarter.”

The Lady Jackrabbits had their struggles on offense. Neighbors scored all but four of Lonoke’s field goals while Derrika Mays made two for her four points, Mary Davis made one and Patrice Smith made Lonoke’s only three-pointer and finished with four points.

With the Lady Panthers looking more and more like the dominant team in the 2-4A Conference, Morris said he felt his team gave a strong performance that could have led to an upset with a little help.

“That’s a moral victory, but moral victories don’t really go down in the record book,” Morris said.

“With the point performance Cara had tonight, you really want the little things to happen and us to be able to get that win.”

The Lady Panthers hold a one-game lead over Clinton in the 2-4A.

“This is a district-tournament type atmosphere here,” Riddle said. “That’s two good teams going at it right there. You can expect it to be kind of physical and everyone getting after it. For me personally, that’s what I want, because I feel like we haven’t been as physical this year.

“To see them play that hard and want it that bad, I couldn’t ask for anything more.” 

SPORTS >> Red Devils beat Lions, take victory in 6A-East

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils evened their conference record with a 70-46 victory at Searcy on Friday night.

Jacksonville, the 2009 6A state champion, almost beat defending champion Little Rock Hall in the conference opener. After weather related break that postponed their game with Little Rock Parkview, the Red Devils erupted to hand Searcy the one-sided defeat.

Jacksonville outscored Searcy 25-8 in the first quarter and led 43-21 at halftime.

Leading scorer Raheem Appleby continued to produce for Jacksonville as he scored a game-high 26 points. Teammate Terrell Brown added 14 points for the Red Devils (11-1, 1-1) who saw an 11-game, season-opening winning streak come to a close against Hall.

In an indication of the kind of snarl expected to take place in the 6A-East, Hall fell to Parkview on Friday in the second conference game for both teams.

Casey Wilmath scored 12 points to lead Searcy (11-6, 0-3) and Jacksonville held Ole Miss signee Jamal Jones to 11 points.

The Red Devils are on a conference road swing to Jonesboro and Marion this week.

SPORTS >> On the surface, facilities looking screwy

Leader sportswriter

The word tradition is frequently used in sports for a reason — because sports fans honor and respect tradition.

That’s not to say sports fans are against the convenience of modern technology and amenities. Who doesn’t like Jumbotrons and giant scoreboards that exclaim “Let’s gooooooooooo — make some nooooooise”?

Maybe that’s a few too many o’s, but you get the point.

But who came up with the idea of red-turfed football fields? And where can I find this person in order to slap him repeatedly?

My eyesight is poor to start with, so imagine the level of migraine headache I achieved when watching Eastern Washington host Delaware in the Football Championship Subdivision final on Jan. 7.

Torn between cheering for a team with red turf as opposed to a team nicknamed the Fightin’ Blue Hens, I still could not find it in my heart to relinquish the remote control to my girlfriend. It was a Friday night, and another rerun of “The Golden Girls” just didn’t seem appealing at that moment — or any moment, for that matter.

That’s another set of fightin’ blue hens altogether.

But what’s an obscure NCAA I-AA school to us? Let them have their silly red turf, right? Well, there’s also the influence factor, and it didn’t take long.

Canyon High School in New Braunfels, Texas, debuted its new football turf – red in color – at a recent soccer match. The Cougars had played nine seasons on the old boring green turf, and when it came time to replace the synthetic grass, the faculty and students decided to show a grotesque amount of spirit by rolling out turf in the primary school color.

We’re not talking off-red, dark red or even magenta — it’s as red as Leader sports editor Todd Traub’s face when he discovers he’s running low on gin, which to the best of my understanding is an almost daily occurrence.

Notice to Johnny White and other school officials at Cabot High School: please, PLEASE do not jump on the red-turf bandwagon.

Panther Stadium is probably another five or six years away from needing a new surface, but let the campaign to keep it green begin now. Let’s be clear; green in a Martha Stewart or P. Allen Smith sense, not in a Cheech and Chong or David Chappelle sense.

To be fair (I guess), the Canyon High football field does still have green on it – in the end zones, you know, the part of the field traditionally painted another color. Good one guys; nice touch.

We can all thank Boise State for this. Some found it a bit offbeat but most were apathetic to the Broncos’ blue field nicknamed “Smurf Turf” when it was unveiled several years back. Boise State made up for some of its ditching of tradition with a repertoire of throwback gadget plays, including the old Statue of Liberty play it used to beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

But now, the basketball guys are getting into the whole, over-modernizing of playing surfaces, like in the case of Oregon’s new Matthew Knight Arena.

The venue, named after the late son of Nike CEO and school booster Phil Knight, debuted last week with a game against USC, and ESPN2 viewers were no doubt taken aback not only by the court itself, which features a bleached white mid-court area that fades into various shades of natural wood, but also the multi-colored, iridescent ribbon board that surrounds the upper-deck levels.

The banner changes colors every few seconds, and if that’s not enough to throw unsuspecting fans into seizures, it also produces a horrible glare on the already aesthetically challenged court. Granted, Oregon is a school that has spiritedly challenged tradition in the past, right up to the neon-yellow colored socks featured in the BCS national championship game against Auburn on Jan. 10.

Can you imagine if the national championship game had been shown inside Peaches nightclub that night?

It could have been the first time in history exotic dancers were envious of a sports team’s socks.

Oregon’s athletic department seems more overzealous than a Sherwood cop at rush hour with its frequent uniform tweaks and one-off color schemes.

It makes me glad the primary school color is green. Just think what the football field would look like if Ducks’ school colors were purple and black.

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits start quickly but fall short

Leader sportswriter

The first three minutes were all Lonoke — the remaining 29 were just not enough Lonoke.

Heber Springs overcame a 10-0 deficit to start the game and went on to win 52-47 at the Lonoke gymnasium on Friday to remain atop the 2-4A Conference standings.

The Jackrabbits (4-11, 1-5) got off to a good start when senior guard Darius Scott made a pair of early three pointers along with a three-point basket from junior forward Tarrale Watson before the Panthers got going late in the first quarter and into the second.

The Panthers (13-5, 5-1) closed the gap to 10-6 by the end of the first quarter and built a 24-18 lead at halftime, and had to overcome the Jackrabbits’ full-court press in the late going.

“That was a war,” Heber Springs coach Kevin Kyzer said. “They came out and took the battle to us, got up 10-0 and got Tanner Rockwell in foul trouble. We battled back. I’m not disappointed in the way we competed and played at all tonight. They took it to us tonight; it was a tough game.”

Rockwell’s third personal foul came on the offensive side and was the first of four straight offensive fouls committed midway through the first quarter. Lonoke’s T.J. Scott and Caleb Bracey were also whistled for offensive fouls in that stretch.

Rockwell’s absence for the remainder of the half allowed Lonoke to keep it close through the second quarter until Brown made a basket and Michael May hit a three-pointer in the final 30 seconds that gave Heber Springs a 24-18 lead at halftime.

“We let them do things they’re good at,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “And that’s hit set-shot threes and sent them to the free-throw line. I know coaches all over the country, and we all talk about how being able to pass into the post is a lost art, and we were a prime example of that tonight.”

Heber Springs built its largest lead late in the third when Rocco Miochie made a three-pointer for the 39-29 lead with 2:41 left in the quarter. Watson made up ground for Lonoke with a jumper followed by a putback, and Darius Scott made a three pointer with 1:14 left in the third to close the gap to 39-36.

Scott led the Jackrabbits with 25 points while Watson added 12.

Watson also pulled the Jackrabbits to within one possession with 1:04 left to play when he hit two free throws, but Rockwell closed strong with a basket in the final 37 seconds that set the final margin.

Kyser spent most of the second half yelling at his players to close defensive gaps against a Lonoke offense that had already proved capable of scoring from the outside. The Panthers responded in the fourth quarter by holding Darius Scott to a pair of field goals, while Watson went 3 for 4 at the free-throw line and Storm Beeler went 4 for 4.

“We still hand checked a couple of times instead of depending on our help to slide over and catch, and we put them on the line,” Kyser said. “They didn’t miss their free throws. That hurt us a little bit, but we finished it up decent on defense, but we’d like to have taken better care of the ball there at the end.”

Darius Scott came out with a hot hand, hitting his first three-pointer from the top of the key a minute in and making his second from the same spot 30 seconds later. Watson increased the lead to 9-0 with a three-pointer assisted by Scott with 5:44 left in the first half.

T.J. Scott added a free throw with 4:56 left in the first half to give the ’Rabbits a 10-0 lead before the Panthers started their comeback.

“A couple of those shots we banked in and got in a flow and got excited,” Campbell said. “It’s easy after some of those go to fall in love with shooting the three. We talked about that, and tried not to rely on it as our main thing.”

After Lonoke’s early run, Heber Springs’ defense dug in and held the Jackrabbits scoreless from 4:56 left in the first quarter until 2:59 remaining in the half when Darius Scott hit another three pointer to make it 14-13 Panthers.

“That was really the first time we’ve came out and been assertive and got the lead,” Campbell said. “If we’re going to continue to be that way, then we’ve got to sustain that, and that’s difficult to do.”

SPORTS >> Panthers finally find range

Leader sports editor

It was rough early and ugly at times, but the final was a thing of beauty for Cabot.

The Panthers spotted the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats an early lead and survived a free-throw shooting outage in the second half to take a 57-44 victory in a 7A-Central Conference game at Cabot on Friday.

It was the first conference victory in two tries for Cabot.

“It was a big win for us,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “North Little Rock is still athletic. They can play. They’re a solid program, a solid team. It was one of our better games. Everybody contributed.”

North Little Rock led 30-23 at halftime and Cabot missed its first eight free throws of the fourth period. But Kai Davis made a three-pointer for the 40-37 lead at the end of the third quarter and Clayton Vaught made five free throws in the fourth to break the 0-8 skid at the line.

“We missed eight in a row when the score was 45-39,” Bridges said. “But every time we missed we stepped it up on defense and they never scored and then we finally started hitting our free throws.”

Cabot was 12 of 23 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter as North Little Rock began fouling to manage the clock. The Panthers were 16 for 31 on free throws overall.

Davis led Cabot (7-8, 1-1) with 17 points and Vaught scored 12. Chris Campbell scored 12 points and had nine rebounds to lead North Little Rock (8-5, 1-1).

Cabot outscored North Little Rock 17-7 in each of the final two quarters as it slowed the pace and held Campbell to just four, second-half points.

“I think it was good confidence win for us,” Bridges said. “Maybe it shows our kids if we execute and do what we show in practice and carry out our game plan we might have a chance to win some games. We believe we can play on that level now.”

Cabot, which was at Little Rock Central on Tuesday night, is enjoying the presence of Logan Spry, who has missed most of the season because of an injury suffered in football but played in his second game Friday night.

“We can play a smaller lineup more now if we need to because he’s strong as an ox and can jump,” Bridges said. “He plays much taller than what he is.”

The Lady Panthers couldn’t make a first-half lead hold up as the undefeated Lady Charging Wildcats used a big third quarter to take a 41-36 victory at Cabot on Friday.

SPORTS >> Bears go to head of pack this time

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills was looking to avoid a repeat of last year’s conference start, and the Bears have delivered in the first two games of their 5A-Southeast schedule.

The Bears (10-3, 2-0) opened league play with a 76-44 victory over Monticello and picked up a road victory Friday by beating White Hall in an 85-58, mercy-ruled game.

Archie Goodwin was the leading scorer in both games. He had 21 points against Monticello and scored 30 against White Hall.

Goodwin was also named the Arvest Player of the Week on Monday after he averaged 38 points in the Wynne Invitational tournament over the holidays.

Goodwin’s performance against White Hall headlined a big night for most of the Bears’ starting five. Shooting guard Trey Smith scored 15 points on five three-pointers, Devin Pearson scored 14 and forward Larry Ziegler scored 11.

Dion Patton was the only starter not to hit double figures, but his 8-5, assist-to-turnover ratio is a figure coach Kevin Davis want to see the most from his junior transfer point guard.

Pearson, the 6-5 junior post player, has been dominant inside with an average 11 rebounds a game. He pulled down 17 rebounds against Monticello while scoring 19 points.

“It’s almost been textbook,” Davis said. “Your point guard is 8-5 plus on assists, your big guy pulls down 17 rebounds in a game and averages 11, your shooting guard puts up five threes, and then you’ve got Archie who’s your slasher and can do just about anything, and then you’ve got Larry, who’s starting to see double doubles almost every night.

“We’re seeing these guys mature and develop. There has been a lot of growth, and it’s something we want to try and sustain.”

The Bears showed promise early last season with a 9-0 non-conference run. But against experienced upperclassmen on conference opponents liked Little Rock McClellan, the defending league champion, North Pulaski and Monticello, the Bears fell short of reaching the postseason.

If the first two games of this year’s 5A-Southeast run are any indication, the Bears could be serious contenders for the conference title.

“I’m seeing that we’re so much better than even a month ago,” Davis said.

“They’ve matured from a standpoint that the guys are feeling so much more comfortable with the system that we run. Now they can focus more on things they can do as individuals.

“In these first two games, that’s where I’ve been pleased the most.”

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears beat White Hall 68-61 to improve to 6-7 overall and 1-1 in the 5A-Southeast Conference. Ashley Johnson led Sylvan Hills with 23 points while Jalmedal Byrd scored 20 for the Lady Bears.

EDITORIAL >> Altes’ bill not needed

Madness begets madness. In the wake of the massacre at Tucson, in which a congresswoman was mortally wounded, six people were murdered and 12 others were wounded, the drive is on in Arizona and other places to arm more people in the public venues. The idea is that if everyone is carrying a weapon, no one is likely to get hurt. They tested the theory in the Wild, Wild West, and it did not work so well.

State Rep. Denny Altes, whose decade-long legislative career has been marked by zany legislation, wants to make it legal in Arkansas for people to openly carry and brandish a gun wherever they go. Altes said he thought it was already legal because the law has permitted people to tote a gun if they were on a journey and, after all, life itself is a journey. You’re on a journey if you’re at the market, at the football stadium, on the golf course or in a bar.

But some people don’t interpret the law that way—the law dated to the days when journeys were by horse and wagon and you found yourself in the wilderness far from law enforcement and neighbors—so Altes is going to make it clear. He introduced HB 1051 to make unimpeded open carry the law. Some people suggested that he wasn’t doing it right, so Altes said he would get together with the National Rifle Association and make sure the bill is on target. If the NRA puts its imprimatur on the bill, and it almost certainly will, the legislature will pass it. Former Rep. Mike Wilson of Jacksonville is the only Arkansas lawmaker known to have stood up to the NRA.

In the South and West, this has been the direction of lawmaking for two decades—toward the proliferation of sidearms and paramilitary weapons and their open carry in more and more venues and with fewer and fewer restrictions. It is done in the name of public safety, but aside from the occasional anecdote, the record shows that it does not make people safer.

It is not a Second Amendment right. The 2008 and 2010 Supreme Court decisions that certified gun ownership as an individual right and not merely an extension of state rights to militias said government could regulate weapons for public safety.

Altes said he was shocked that someone with a gun was not standing around Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords so that he or she could have protected Giffords and the others from Jared Loughner, the demented young man who bought a semiautomatic Glock pistol and took a taxi to the Safeway to kill her and her supporters. Loughner walked up to the woman, said “Hi,” pulled the pistol, shot her point blank in the head and in seconds fired 30 more rounds into the crowd around her.

Of course, there did happen to be a man a few yards away with a gun. He rushed out of the store when he heard the shots and saw the mayhem and was about to open fire on a man brandishing a big pistol. In the split second before firing, he realized that the real gunman was on the ground and the man with the Glock (an aide of Giffords) had wrested it away. He said he was just lucky that he had not increased the mayhem by shooting the aide. If others were around with guns, he would have been mistaken as an accomplice and the bloodshed might have been more epic.

The presence of guns may be a deterrent, but on the other hand it may just as well incite violence. Jared Loughner strikes us as an unhinged fellow who would have gloried in a little gunplay, as if he were back at the OK Corral. His ramblings suggested that he thought he was striking a blow for his country against a government that had corrupted the currency and put women in places of power.

If you carry a weapon in public and people know it, there will be ample invitations to use it, and there are lots of good, sane people who will not use sound judgment.

Let’s hope the Arkansas legislature exercises sound judgment on this dangerous legislation and that, if it doesn’t, Gov. Beebe will.

TOP STORY >> Ex-Stax chief still has soul

Leader executive editor

Al Bell, the former Stax Records executive, is back in the spotlight with a new Web site, Al Bell Presents American Soul Music, where you can hear classic Stax artists and new soul singers who are keeping the Memphis sound alive.

Bell, a former disc jockey at KOKY who graduated from Scipio Jones High School in North Little Rock in 1958, called us from his home in North Little Rock before the holidays, sounding upbeat now that he has a presence on the Internet.

“We present the music from the 1940s to the present,” Bell said in his distinctive voice that would be just as convincing if he were a preacher or a voiceover for instant oatmeal.

Sounding a lot like Morgan Freeman (Bell, at 70, is a few years younger than the veteran actor and TV pitchman), the former record executive is the full-time-d.j., story teller and soul historian on Al Bell Presents.

It’s an attractive Web site: Al Bell Presents looks like a jukebox, and the music never ends.

Most of the old Stax music is there: Booker T. and the MGs, William Bell, Otis Redding, Mavis Staples, Eddie Floyd, Carla and Rufus Thomas, as well as the greats from Motown (where Bell was later an executive): Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and from other labels: Aretha Franklin, Tracy Chapman, Dionne Warwick — even B.B. King and Big Joe Turner and the new soul singers who are dominating the charts and much more.

Al Bell knows soul music.

You’ll hear Billy Stewart’s bouncy “Every Day I Have the Blues,” which is nothing like B.B. King’s. You can also watch rare videos of Ray Charles, Mary Wells and others.

Last year, Bell was named chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation and next month he’ll receive the Grammy Trustees Award, along with industry veterans Bruce Lundvall, who revived Blue Note Records in the 1980s, and Wilma Cozart Fine, whose Mercury Records issued some of the greatest classical LPs in the 1950s and 1960s.

They’ll be in good company: Receiving lifetime-achievement awards will be actress Julie Andrews, country star Dolly Parton, gospel centenarian George Beverly Shea, punk pioneers The Ramones, folk superstars the Kingston Trio, jazz drummer Roy Haynes and the classical Juilliard String Quartet.

Bell has come a long way from the little farm community outside Brinkley called Dark Corner where he was born. The family moved to North Little Rock in 1945, when he was 5.

“I went back every summer,” he told us. “I saw Louis Jordan on the street corner. He was a distant cousin.”

“I grew up influenced by Louis Jordan,” he said. “He caused me to appreciate great writing.”

The great R&B singer, perhaps the state’s most important musician, helped invent soul and rock-and-roll.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, perhaps the state’s best-known gospel singer, was born up the road in Cotton Plant.

Bell had several Arkansas artists at Stax, including Johnnie Taylor, Mabel John and Albert King, who made his greatest records with Stax.

Bell produced many of the Staples Singers records, which are perhaps the most enduring in the Stax catalogue.

He is listed (under his real name, Alvertis Isbell) as the composer of “I’ll Take You There,” one of the Staples’ biggest hits from the “Beatitude/Respect Yourself” LP. The latter song served as an anthem of sorts in black America in the 1970s.

“I love the Staples Singers,” Bell said. “I’ve never heard such harmony in my life. Nobody can sing and move more spiritually than Mavis,” referring to one of Pops Staples’ daughters who is still recording and performing. Her latest record is “You Are Not Alone” with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

Bell remembers bringing the Staples to the Pine Bluff High School Auditorium, where Mavis cried as she sang “On My Way to Heaven Anyhow.”

Many of the old Stax stars are gone — Little Milton, Pops Staples, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes. Bell gave the eulogy at Hayes’ funeral in 2008.

“I was surrounded by some of the greatest talent in the business,” he told us. “What was beautiful about Stax — it was perfectly integrated. We were diverse.”

Recording with Isaac Hayes and Booker T. Jones were such white musicians as Steve Cropper, Wayne Jackson and Donald (Duck) Dunn of the MGs. They’re still performing together.

After it went out of business in the mid-1970s, Stax continued to reissue old records through the Fantasy label, which is now owned by Concord Records. The “Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration,” a 50-track double CD, is a fine overview of the label’s history.

For serious soul fans, “The Complete Stax-Volt Soul Singles,” a monumental three-box set containing 28 CDs, says it all: Everything’s here from the little soul label that changed music history.

“It was the greatest experience of my life,” Bell said. “I’ve been blessed.”

TOP STORY >> Groups hold unity meeting

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher called a meeting Saturday, complete with a moderator, to try and close a fissure that has grown between the city council, the advertising and promotion commission and the chamber of commerce.

The growing crack has the council and the commission on one side and the chamber on the other and has gotten personal over the last few weeks with chamber members trying to get the A&P commission chairman fired by spreading his personal financial information to the mayor, the media and others. But the city attorney said there was no basis for A&P chairman Mike Houchen’s removal.

The city has threatened to withhold more than $40,000 in annual support to the chamber, while chamber supporters say the city is wasting money paying a Little Rock advertising agency hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote Jacksonville and paying an economic-development director $60,000 who hasn’t brought any businesses to Jacksonville yet.

The meeting was the first step in trying to get all three groups pointed in the right direction and “on the same page,” a theme the mayor spouted numerous times during the four-hour meeting.

At the end, some issues were raised, clarified and discarded as all three groups are trying to start out this year with blank slates.

One decision the workshop group made was to create an umbrella group that would meet once a week to help quell rumors, take care of concerns and preserve harmony. The group would include the mayor, two aldermen, two A&P members and two chamber members.

It was suggested that each group pick permanent members rather than rotating them in and out. “We need to develop a trust factor here,” said Larry Biernacki, representing the chamber at the workshop.

The workshop, conducted by Dr. Mark Peterson with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, had the groups—about seven from the council, the mayor, the director of administration, three from A&P and more than a dozen from the chamber—intermixed between three tables going through a number of generic scenarios to help bring the problems into focus.

But about an hour into the exercise, the workshop got to the heart of the matter: funding for the chamber.

The chamber is a nonprofit group that receives its funds from dues paid by members, but the money is not nearly enough to cover the cost of the chamber. The city had supported the chamber to the tune of about $45,000 for a number of years, but last year, in Fletcher’s first budget as mayor, he cut the funding.

The A&P commission promised then to take up the slack for one year. “It was a one-year deal,” Houchen, the A&P chairman, said. “It was not a guaranteed thing, but some felt that we owed it to them.”

In this year’s A&P budget, set to be passed at the commission’s meeting Tuesday night, the direct funding for the chamber is gone, but the commission will provide financial support for a number of chamber activities such as the WingDing Festival, the Christmas parade and some other tourist-related activities.

“We are restricted on what we can spend our money on,” Houchen said. “It has to be for advertising and promoting Jacksonville.”

He added that half the money generated from the A&P’s hotel-room and hamburger tax goes to the parks and recreation department. “We are not a cash cow.”

Beirnacki echoed that. “There seems to be more hands out and less money coming in for the A&P and that creates friction,” he said.

Peterson, the moderator, put it a different way for the group. “Oats get short, the horses start biting each other,” he said.

He added that there were only two ways for any city to move forward — first to forget the past and accept those decisions and work together to go forward or sit around and wait for the next crop of new leaders. He said Arkansas cities have done it both ways.

Jody Urquhart, a former mayoral candidate, hinted that it would be unlikely that a new crop of leaders would pop up anytime soon.

“You hear the call that more young people need to get involved in this city, but when they try, they get slapped down. We are losing 300 high school students—young professionals—every year and not getting them back,” he said.

Besides the weekly group meetings, Fletcher said everyone could get on the same page and work on getting an overpass at Coffelt crossing and Hwy. 67/167 at the northern end of the city. “We need to influence anyone we can to get it built,” the mayor said. “I can picture something like a Super Target center there once the overpass is put in.”

He also took a minute to talk about the Foxwood golf course and said there were a small handful of investors interested in buying it, but he reiterated that the city doesn’t need to get in the golf-course business.

“The city does have to help, just like the residents do,” he said. “It may take a whole village to raise a child, but it will take this whole city to save that golf course.”

Other highlights gleaned from the meeting include:

 All groups agreed that the schools were a major drawback to the city’s growth and all would continue to work in that arena.

 Over the last decade, the city has had a 5.8 percent growth rate, which Peterson called sustainable. “Too much growth, too quick, can cause its own set of problems,” he said. At the same time, tax collections have been down over the past three years.

 Urquhart wanted to know what that 6 percent growth looked like. “What kind of people are coming in?” he asked without an answer.

 Positives for Jacksonville include its location, Little Rock Air Force Base, the new joint-education center at the air base and a history of good leadership.

 Biernacki, who said he has lived just about everywhere, added that he was amazed by the willingness of the city to tax itself for worthy, important causes like the joint-education center, the Splash Zone and the new library.

 Chev Ergele, representing the chamber and a relatively new resident to the city, said it seems like Jacksonville’s “ship has three different captains—the council, the chamber and the commission”—and instead of barking out their own orders, they need to be following the mayor.

 Jason Wilkerson, this year’s chamber president, said it looks like a lot of things right now are personality-driven. “We need to all have the same jersey and be on the same team,” he said.

Wilkerson said sometimes the chamber is put in a bi-polar position. “One of our jobs is to fight for lower business taxes, but if we succeed, then that means less money for the A&P and for the chamber. We get stuck in the middle,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Lawmakers get down to business

Leader staff writer

The 2011 legislative session started on schedule last week in Little Rock despite the snow that made roads treacherous.

New Dist. 28 Sen. Eddie Joe Williams said that it was a lesson in constitutional law for him. The General Assembly convenes on the second Monday in January even if it means police cars and helicopters must be called into service to transport legislators.

“I drove up that morning,” Williams said. “Just put the Jeep in four-wheel drive and eased on in.

“It was an interesting week,” he said. “We got all the bills passed to keep the government running.”

One issue that legislators will likely look at is revenue for highways. Williams said he is opposed to any new taxes for highways, even an increase in the excise tax paid by natural gas producers on the gas leaving the state.

“A tax is a tax,” Williams said. “My position has always been that if you buy a battery or a set of tires or windshield-wiper blades, that money should go to the highways.”

That proposal comes from a blue-ribbon highway commission chaired by former Sen. John Paul Capps of Searcy. The tax on automotive products currently goes into the general fund, and Gov. Mike Beebe has told lawmakers that is where it will stay.

Williams said before the session started that he might introduce a couple of bills in his first year. He talked a little more about what he has in mind.

“Twenty percent of the population of Arkansas doesn’t have a high school diploma or a GED. I’m trying to write a bill to address that problem. No one has taken a hard look at that in the past few years,” he said.

Williams, the former mayor of Cabot, gave no details about his proposed bill, but his description of what it might accomplish was characteristically colorful.

“We’re not only going to give a guy to fish,” he said. “We’re going to teach him how to fish, bait his line and show him where the best hole is.”

Williams said he also has a bill in mind that would require online services that book hotel rooms to submit all the state taxes they collect to the state. He said he learned from hotel managers in Cabot that, for example, when a guest pays $100 for a room online, the hotel gets half that amount and the state gets the tax on half even though the service collected tax on the whole $100 charge.

“The Department of Finance is aware of the problem but there is no legislation to prevent it,” Williams said.

Bad weather aside, Williams said his first week as a state senator had been a good one.

“It’s coming together for me. I’m understanding the process,” he said.

Although he is the new state senator for Dist. 29, Jonathan Dismang served as a state representative from House District 49 for two years before being elected to the Senate, so he already knows how it works.

“It’s going to be a very conservative body,” Dismang said, alluding to the appropriation bill that was sent back to committee because legislators were concerned about giving raises to judges and prosecutors.

Dismang said he is working on several pieces of legislation. He wants to decrease the amount of state taxes withheld from the paychecks of active-duty military personnel.

Many people who live in Arkansas declare legal residencies in Alaska, Florida and Texas because those states have no state income tax.

Some of those people are more than qualified to serve on school boards and city councils, but they don’t because they aren’t legal residents. But if their taxes were cut, they might declare Arkansas home, he said.

Also in the works is a bill to give a state income tax credit to volunteer firefighters who meet their departments’ training and attendance requirements.

Retention is a big problem for volunteer fire departments, Dismang said. A tax credit might be the incentive needed to get them to stay on the job.

Jeremy Gilliam, the new representative for House Dist. 49, said he was surprised that many in the know called the first week of the 88th General Assembly slow.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what they call a fast week if that was a slow one,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam said that right now, he has no plans to draft legislation but he does intend to pay close attention to the bills that will affect his district.

He has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee where a proposed bill from the governor to hold down the cost of housing inmates in state prisons, by making more efficient use of parole and probation officers to supervise non-violent offenders, will almost certainly be sent.

With an estimated 3,000 bills expected to be introduced, Gilliam said discussion about pacing so that all the legislators know what they are voting on was one of the most important things that happened this week.

The state Constitution requires legislators to meet for a minimum of 60 days, he said. But it is likely to take 75 or more to get all the work completed. His goal this session is to do good work, he said, not just put in his time so that he could say he was there.

TOP STORY >> No drama for Cypert at meeting

Leader staff writer

New Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said before he took office that the transition from Eddie Joe Williams’ administration to his would be a slow one, and he is apparently making good on that promise.

His first city council meeting on Monday night was much like Williams’ last one in December. Both were brief. No significant business was conducted but several recognitions were on the agenda.

Police Lt. Ed Sims, who retires at the end of the month after 20 years with the department, was awarded his service weapon, a Glock model 23 with serial number EYV848.

Police Chief Jackie Davis said after the meeting that Sims’ retirement gives the younger officers the opportunity to test and be interviewed for promotion.

In addition to Sims, resolutions recognizing former Alderman Eddie Cook, former mayor and now Sen. Williams and former Alderman Lisa Brickell Hardage were also on the agenda.

Since Williams was tied up in Little Rock and Brickell Hardage was absent, those resolutions were held. Cypert read the resolution commending Cook for his service as alderman and announced that he is the city’s new director of operations.

Cook is off the council because he ran for mayor instead of a fourth term as alderman. When he came in third in the three-candidate race, he supported Cypert against former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh.

“He got it fair and square,” the mayor said of hiring Cook to help run his office.

Cook, who was notable on the council for his light-hearted and joking manner, sat in front of the council table with the city attorney and his assistant during the council meeting.

“Mr. Mayor, may I say something?” Alderman Jon Moore asked at the end of Cypert’s announcement. “It’s a lot quieter up here now that he’s down there,” Moore said.

“So noted,” Cypert said with barely a hint of a smile.

In other business, the council appointed Dallan Buchanan to the planning commission and reappointed Dennis Hyland.

Alderman Ed Long was ap-pointed to replace Cook on the advertising and promotion commission and Bob Seibert was reappointed.

Cypert served on the Cabot Water and Wastewater Com-mission from its start in 2006 through December 2010. Gary Walker, the commission’s vice-chairman, read a letter from Chairman J.M. Park thanking Cypert for his service.

“You have been integral to fulfilling the mission for which the commission was founded,” Walker read.

Park had surgery a week ago for a non-cancerous tumor and was not able to attend the meeting. Walker said Park is expected to recover completely and that he does not plan to leave the commission.

While Williams was mayor, the first order of business after the minutes were read at most meetings was to announce that month’s recipient of the mayor’s “random act of kindness” award. On rare occasions, the recipients weren’t heroes, but for the most part they were just what the name implied. They were average people who did something to make someone’s life a little better.

They were the people who weeded their neighbors’ yards, the dentists who donated their services and the quilters who sent their quilts to military hospitals so the injured military personnel would know someone cared.

Forty such awards were mounted on the back wall of the council chamber for Williams’ last council meeting as mayor.

Asked if he would continue the award, Cypert said he would continue to honor heroism, but awards would likely be rare and not a regular part of every council meeting.

Monday, January 17, 2011

EDITORIAL >Improve our roads

As usual, taxes were a major subtext when the Arkansas General Assembly convened yesterday and all the elected state officers took their oaths to follow the Constitution. But, as it has been under Gov. Mike Beebe, it was more about cutting taxes than raising them.

Beebe said lowering the sales tax on groceries another half of 1 percent was all that the state could afford without reducing vital services. Many Republican legislators and a few Democrats want to reduce taxes on rich people, mainly those with large investment incomes, but Beebe strongly implied that he would veto any tax-cutting bill besides the grocery tax unless the sponsors could locate savings somewhere in government that would not be harmful. Those savings would necessarily come from education, prisons, public health and law enforcement, which account for about 95 percent of the state’s general expenditures.

But, alas, there are always the highways. The better-roads constituency—contractors and suppliers, the Highway Commission and lots of county officials and merchants—is back imploring the legislature and the governor to provide more money for road building and maintenance. Our own thought is that there are more pressing needs than highways, which have enough money to maintain the status quo. But they have a point. Gov. Mike Huckabee and the legislature raised gasoline and diesel taxes heftily 10 years ago, but improving fuel economies and conservation have put those tax revenues on a downward trajectory. The cost of road work is rising and the revenues to do it declining.

Rep. Robert S. Moore Jr. of Arkansas City, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, emphasized road revenues in his inaugural address. He didn’t specify how he thought the money should be raised, but he hoped something would be done. The highway lobby, recognizing the folly of asking for an increase in motor-fuel taxes in an anti-tax climate, wants to siphon some money away from general revenues, for example by diverting sales taxes on automotive products from the general fund to highways. Beebe told the lawmakers flatly that he wouldn’t permit it.

We have a substitute plan that should be politically and morally agreeable: Raise the production tax on new natural gas from 1.5 percent of its market value to 2.6 percent of value and the tax on gas from old and distressed wells from 1.25 percent to 2.6 percent. That would raise as much money as the current sales tax on automotive supplies and the tax would not be borne by ordinary consumers, but by the big Texas producers that are making an unwholesome fortune off the state’s natural legacy and destroying the roads and countryside and degrading its water in the process.

The legislature—at least those lawmakers who were around in 2008 when they were tricked into voting for a bill that purportedly raised the severance tax to 5 percent to pay for roads and bridges—ought to be eager to vote for such a bill. It turned out that nearly all the enormous volume of gas in the Fayetteville shale play was not going to be taxed at 5 percent, but under a couple of provisos in the bill, exempted gas produced in the first three years of a well, or longer. That gas would be taxed at only 1.5 percent. Most of the gas is piped out in the first three years.

And the tax can be raised to 2.6 percent by a simple majority of the legislature instead of the three-fourths that is required to raise taxes beyond the levels that existed in 1934, when the state Constitution was amended. That was the tax rate back in the Depression.

If highway improvements are indeed so important, let’s raise the money in a way that is just and that actually brings money into the state and does not impair the purchasing power of consumers.

TOP STORY >> Charter school expansion approved

By John Hofheimer
Leader senior staff writer

Over the objection of the Pulaski County Special School District, the state Board of Education on Friday unanimously approved amendments to Jacksonville’s Lighthouse Academy charter that would add a high school and increase the enrollment cap from 650 to 1,019 by 2016, allowing a second campus on Little Rock Air Force Base and also approved the lottery system for selecting the additional students.

The amendments had widespread support in Jacksonville, with Mayor Gary Fletcher, state Reps. Mark Perry and Jane English and chamber of commerce executive director Amy Mattison among those attending the meeting in support, as well as Col. Kenneth Walter from Little Rock Air Force Base.
The Air Force is making a building available for the school, with Lighthouse responsible for the nearly $1 million in remodeling costs.

Sam Jones, the lawyer who has represented PCSSD in matters related to the desegregation agreement for nearly 40 years, argued that the amendments to the original Lighthouse Academy charter would threaten the district’s financial health, the district’s compliance with the existing desegregation agreement, its chances of achieving unitary status and that it violated at least the spirit if not the actual ruling of a federal judge in the desegregation case.

PCSSD Superintendent Charles Hopson sent a letter urging the state board not to approve the amendments.

“Our monitoring indicates that Lighthouse Academy had drained almost 200 students from the PCSSD in the last two school years,” Hopson wrote. “It would appear to us that the expansion of charter schools, particularly in the Jacksonville area, have the effect of slowly strangling the ability of the PCSSD to deliver quality educational services.”

“The issue is not whether or not Lighthouse Charter School is doing a good job, with widespread community support,” Jones said. “The issue is whether it would have an adverse effect on PCSSD to desegregate.”

He said the 1989 desegregation-settlement agreement says, “The state board must ensure it doesn’t negatively affect desegregation efforts of any school district.”

He said the timing to increase the Lighthouse enrollment at the expense of PCSSD was bad, with the desegregation case still undecided by U.S. District Judge Brian Miller.

Jones said the expanded school would target Northwood Middle School students and North Pulaski High School students and it would siphon off about 400 students and between $2.4 million and $3.6 million a year in state and federal aid—money that a district already being considered by the state Education Department for a designation of being in fiscal distress could not afford to lose.

But in the end, the board, which had heard similar arguments before about threats to the finances and racial balance that charter schools posed to the Little Rock School District, was unpersuaded.

Before the board voted to amend the Lighthouse charter, board member Sam Ledbetter, who had challenged many of Jones’ assertions, said he couldn’t approve the amendments unless the Lighthouse board assured the state board that it would not use its future bonded indebtedness as an argument for renewal of its charter.

School charters must be renewed every five years.

The Lighthouse Academy has announced its intention to seek $12 million in tax-exempt bonds issued by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority in 2013 for construction and expansion.

The proposed 25-year, 6.5 percent loan would also refinance current debt for the existing $3.3 million schoolhouse and build a new facility to house 500 students in grades 7-12, adjacent to the existing building on North First Street.

Construction, design and furnishing the old officers club for use as a school on the base is projected to cost $950,000, but the charter school already has received commitments of gifts and loans totaling $875,000.

The academy has raised $600,000 in grant pledges from the builders and managers of new housing on Little Rock Air Force Base, another $2 million in pledges, plus a $75,000 bank loan.

The state board approved the original application for Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter Schools on Nov. 3, 2008. K-12 was approved with maximum enrollment of 650.