Friday, June 24, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Greedy truckers want a free ride

It would not be the first time that the Arkansas Legislature has been rolled by a big monied interest. You do not have enough digits to count all the instances, if only for the past decade. Legislators get rolled joyfully, as long as it is by the big boys. But Gov. Beebe? He was supposed to be cagier.

The Arkansas Bus and Truck Association, the lobbying organ for the trucking industry, asked the governor the other day not to call a special election on a five-cent-a-gallon diesel tax because its poll showed that Arkansas voters were firmly opposed to taxing the big trucks that tear up the major thoroughfares, which it said would make a special election a waste.

But they want the governor and the legislature to leave alone the big tax cut for the industry that it negotiated with the legislature this spring. The tax cut—elimination of the sales tax on big tractor rigs and trailers—was a quid-pro-quo deal. The industry would support the little diesel tax in exchange for rolling back the sales tax on big rigs. The legislature and the governor said fine. The law allows the governor to schedule a special election on the diesel tax, and if it passes, the state will issue bonds to repair and expand the system of primary highways that the interstate trucks use.

The Bus and Truck Association says it’s still willing to pay a nickel a gallon more for the diesel they burn (farmers would be exempt from it), but that the voters just won’t stand for it and it doesn’t think a marketing campaign would convince them. But it still needs the tax exemption and wants it to stand.

Beebe said it was no deal. If there is to be no diesel tax, he will ask the legislature to repeal the tax exemption, too. Ordinary people still have to pay sales and use taxes on their vehicles.

Even the tax-cutting Republicans who pushed the tax exemption for the truckers, one of a half-dozen tax cuts for business they rammed through the legislature, say they probably would vote to repeal the exemption. They still would like for the trucks not to have to pay taxes but they said that was the deal and that both sides ought to stick to it. Good for them.

As for the poll on the diesel tax, we think it is bogus. Polls can be finessed to show what the sponsors want them to show. Here are two indisputable facts: Most people want their highways improved and they know that the damage is caused primarily by heavy tractor-trailers. It could be that the anti-tax hysteria stirred up by the Republicans makes everyone want to oppose any kind of tax on anyone, including tax-dodging billionaires and corporations and road-pounding trucks, but we think voters are more discerning than that.

Call the election, governor, and see if the industry is sincere about supporting a tax on its fuel. If the tax does fail, see if the legislature is principled enough to enforce the deal on the tax exemption.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >>Troubles not over

The sense of relief was almost tangible when the state announced this week that it was taking over the Pulaski County Special School District, dismissing the school board and firing the superintendent. Charles Hopson, the relatively new superintendent, was making some strides in getting the schools out of the fiscal morass and educational confusion that had marked the school district for much of a decade, but the legacy was evident and inescapable. The state’s action seemed only late. If it had acted two years ago, the children and patrons of the schools might have been spared the harm.

Events conspired to make it all seem divinely provident. The state Education Department hired solid old Bobby Lester to be the interim superintendent and get the new school term under way with a minimum of waste and rancor. He will do that. Almost simultaneously, the 8th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a federal district court order that would have robbed the schools of important funding and refused to speed the timetable for an appeal. That is likely to continue the state desegregation funding for at least the school year.

But our troubles are not over. The state will not work miracles, and it may not come even as close as Charles Hopson did in his short span at the helm. Even the little matter of Hopson’s contract may not be settled, though the state school commissioner said the state did not have to abide by contracts negotiated by the old school board and administration. The state maintains that it has sovereign immunity and cannot be sued for breach of contract, either for the superintendent’s salary or for abrogation of other contracts, such as the collective-bargaining agreements with school workers. This may be unsettled law. The state, after all, is not the father of the contracts and is acting only as a fiduciary for the district government, which did negotiate them. The state may not be able to save the money that was protected by the contracts.

The appellate court is not apt to disrupt funding in the middle of a school year, even if it finds that District Judge Brian Miller was right in canceling virtually the entire desegregation-funding agreement between the state and the three Pulaski County school districts. If it does so rule, the judgment is likely to be prospective, at the end of the 2011-12 school and fiscal year.

Judge Miller, we believe, was manifestly wrong in rendering a decision on issues that had not even been studied, briefed and argued in his court. Unless it departs from precedents, the appeals court will return the case to him next year with instructions to follow the rules of procedure.

But the school districts are on notice, as they have been all along, that they must plan and negotiate a way out of the 25-year-old case and the schools’ dependency on $70 million of state assistance. How can the Pulaski district do that when it is run by the state, which is on the other side in that long dispute? The state negotiate with itself? Save your hallelujahs.

TOP STORY > >Cabot middle school given top recognition

Leader staff writer

Last year, Cabot Middle School North was listed among the top 20 schools in the state, and this week, representatives from the school are in Washington, where the school is being recognized as one of 100 schools to watch by a national organization.

“Each school was selected by state leaders for its academic excellence, its responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, and its commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels,” Deborah Kasak, executive director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, said in a recent press release. “In addition, each school has strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a commitment to assessment and accountability to bring aboutcontinuous improvement.”

“We are very proud of CMSN being named a top school not only in Arkansas but one of the better schools in the nation,” Dr. Tony Thurman, superintendent of Cabot School District, said about the recognition. “This is a credit to the administration, teachers and especially the students of CMSN who have worked so hard to prove that they are deserving of the recognition they’ve received.”

But when Thurman talks about CMSN, he always includes his frustration with the state’s system of grading schools.

“Ironically, CMSN is also a school designated as ‘in need of improvement’ by the state. Our district is very supportive of being held accountable for student achievement but has advocated for a better method of measuring the overall academic success of students,” he said.

The testing that placed Middle School North on the improvement list came out of the federal No Child Left Behind law that says all students must score proficient by 2014.

CMSN is on the improvement list because of its subpopulation of special-education students who did not make adequate yearly progress.

When a school has 40 or more special-education students, they are considered a subpopulation and that subpopulation is required to meet the adequate yearly progress set by the state just like the rest of the student body, Thurman said. If it doesn’t, the whole school goes on the school improvement list.

The threshold of 40 automatically penalizes larger schools, Thurman told The Leader last year after his unsuccessful attempt to get CMSN off that list.

Smaller schools have smaller numbers of special-education students so their scores are averaged in with all the other students, thereby keeping the school score higher.

But Middle School North is further penalized because it so exceeded the expectation for adequate yearly progress in its first year on the improvement list that it couldn’t make sufficient progress in its second year, he said.

If the staff and students hadn’t worked quite so hard when CMSN was first placed on the list, it would likely be off that list now, Thurman says. Scores for the subpopulation improved 35 percent in the first two years, he said.

The state requirement is a minimum of 10 percent improvement each year for three years.

TOP STORY > >Crossett’s principal heads JHS

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville High School will get a new principal in the fall—the fourth in about two years—but this one calls the move “coming home” and plans to stay.

But the head spot for Jacksonville Middle School remains open.

The new high school principal, Henry Anderson, is leaving his position as Crossett High School principal to take the Jacksonville post.

At the same time, Karl Brown—who was on a one-year contract with the former Pulaski County Special School District superintendent as a director and liaison between the high school and central office—did not have his contract extended and is no longer with the district.

“I’m looking forward to getting back home,” Anderson said on the telephone Friday afternoon in between teary goodbyes with his staff. “I really hate leaving Crossett, but I see Jacksonville High as an opportunity to make some of the same positive changes that we’ve been able to achieve here.”

Anderson started his teaching career with PCSSD, teaching English and Spanish at Fuller Middle School. He then went to work with the technology department and was responsible for most of the Jacksonville schools.

Anderson also worked as an assistant principal at Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School and served as a department chair at the Arkansas School for Math, Science and the Arts in Hot Springs.

He was hired as Crossett High’s principal in the late spring of 2009.

Anderson said leaving Cros-sett will be difficult, but the opportunity to meet a new challenge, and family considerations helped sway his decision. He spent most of Friday interviewing and filling vacancies at Crossett High and said he’d start his move to central Arkansas next week.

First on his agenda, Anderson said, will be to get to know the staff, review the test scores and become more familiar with a grant, worth up to $6 million, that Jacksonville High School is receiving to help improve student achievement.

Anderson grew up in the Little Rock area and relocated to Georgia after joining the Army Reserves and serving in Central America and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Anderson also has an education-specialist degree in education leadership and is two years away from his doctorate, which he is studying for at Harding University.

North Pulaski High School and Northwood Middle School will have the same leadership as they did last school year—Jeff Senn at North Pulaski and Dr. Kirk Freeman at Northwood.

Tracy Allen is coming over from the North Little Rock School District to be the principal of Sylvan Hills High School, and Jo Wilcox will continue as principal of Sylvan Hills Middle School but will be in the new $32 million facility come this fall.

The Ashley News Observer contributed to this report.

TOP STORY > >Sherwood school nears completion

Leader staff writer

Most of the $31.5 million budgeted for Sylvan Hills Middle School in Sherwood has been spent and the school is on track to open in August after the Education Department told the Pulaski County Special School District to finish the nearly completed facility.

But Derek Scott, chief operating officer for PCSSD, said the fate of new construction projects, such as the three new schools planned for Jacksonville, remains unclear while the state Education Department is in control of the district.

“Our main focus and main priority is to get schools open and in a better condition than when they closed for the 2010-11 school year,” Scott said. “At some point after that, the new superintendent in coordination with the ADE (Arkansas Department of Education) will determine what our future construction plans look like.”

Scott said projects for which bids have already been awarded won’t be delayed.

He added that it wouldn’t savemoney to put a hold on already-under way construction. Once a bid is awarded, the district has a legal contract with a company to pay for work done, usually in installments based on how much progress is made with a percentage withheld as a precaution in case work is completely done by final inspection.

Scott also said the cost, in the long run, would be greater if a project was stopped and resumed later.

As for the 189,000-square-foot facility on 44 acres off Johnson Road in Sherwood, two pods will be open for classes in August. A pod is an area with its own lobby, bathrooms, classrooms and more. Each grade level — sixth, seventh and eighth — will have a pod.

Half the eighth-graders will go to the sixth-grade pod and half will go to the seventh-grade pod until the third pod is completed in October.

The capacity of the two pods that will be completed by the time school starts is about 800 and Principal Jo Wilcox has told Scott she expects about that many students to be enrolled this fall.

When finished, the facility could house up to about 1,320, Scott said.

Former board member and Sherwood resident Gloria Lawrence said, “I’m excited and can hardly wait for it to open. It’s something Sherwood can be proud of.”

Scott emphasized that the project is within budget and on track, despite an electric subcontractor walking off the job and issues with the site.

He said Baldwin and Shell have been “working miracles” to stay on schedule. The company found an “awesome” replacement for the subcontractor who fixed problems the other left and caught up on the work.

The site was found to have a lot of rock in the dirt. Baldwin and Shell sifted that soil and used the rock to build up the low part of the hill, Scott said.

The $31.5 million is a guaranteed maximum price from the construction company, so these bumps in the road didn’t cause the project to go over budget.

Finishing touches and things cited in the initial inspection are being completed now. Furniture will be delivered in mid-July.

Sylvan Hills Middle School at 401 Dee Jay Hudson Drive in Sherwood, which will be closed when the new building opens, was built in the 1950s and is one of the oldest schools in the district.

The main advantages of the new facility will be its size and its capacity to accommodate more technology, such as the campus supporting wireless Internet, having three computer labs (0ne for each pod), Promethean-brand interactive whiteboards, iPads, a classroom set of laptops for teachers to check in and out and a desktop computer for every teacher.

Derrick Brown, chief information officer for PCSSD, said all orders have been placed and that equipment will be delivered in mid-July. The state takeover has not affected the school receiving any of those items.

“This school as well as Maumelle High School will have the fastest Internet service on the statewide Department of Information Systems network. Ninety-five percent of (Arkansas) schools have Internet through that.”

He added that the service at these facilities will set a standard for other schools later.

The new $62 million Maumelle High School that can hold up to 1,500 students is also on schedule and within budget. The school will be open for classes this fall, but the auditorium will not be completed in mid-November.

Construction of both the auditorium and the school’s stadium were bid out separately from the school and construction of the stadium won’t be finished by August.

Students will miss the first two home games of the season, but Scott said it was a necessary sacrifice.

“The delay of the award of the stadium was the right move to make sure the overall project was on budget,” Brown added.

TOP STORY > >Lester: ‘I’m still backing district’

Leader executive editor

Bobby Lester, the interim Pulaski County Special School District superintendent, wants his friends and neighbors in Jacksonville to know that even though he has agreed to lead the troubled district during the summer, he still supports a Jacksonville-area school district.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that Jacksonville should have its own school district,” Lester said in an interview this week.

“Jacksonville ought to have its own school district if the people can afford it,” Lester told The Leader. “As long as they want a district, I’d support it. I’ll help them get their own district.”

He pointed out that U.S. DistrictJudge Brian Miller, who recently ruled to cut desegregation funds to the three Pulaski County districts, thinks the district is too spread out.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week ordered a stay of the judge’s order until appeals can be heard in September on phasing out $70 million a year in state aid.

“The judge said the district needs to be broken up,” Lester said.

Lester said the district should plan its budget with the assumption it will lose $20 million a year in desegregation funds.

Although the district has won a temporary reprieve and will collect $1.6 million a month in state desegregation money, at least for a few months, Lester said PCSSD must plan as if that money didn’t exist much longer.

“We’ve got to plan as if that money is gone,” he said. “Who knows how long we’ll get the checks? We have to approach it conservatively.”

On a brighter note, he said Sylvan Hills Middle School and Maumelle High School are nearing completion. North Pulaski High School is being repaired after a tornado ripped off its roof and destroyed the auditorium and laboratory.

He said he has taken the interim superintendent’s job during the state Education Department’s takeover of the distressed district to ease the transition from local control to state supervision.

“We have to be optimistic but also realistic,” he said.

Lester said he didn’t want the district broken up when he was superintendent. “It would have upset me if the district had split,” he said.

But now he thinks the people of Jacksonville are passionate about splitting from PCSSD and deserve their independence.

“I understand the passion the people have to form their own district,” he continued.

Lester was district superintendent for 15 years, before he retired in 1999. The district has lost much of its territory and almost half of its students, falling from 30,000 to about 17,000, which reduced the district’s tax base.

PCSSD lost 15 schools over the last 25 years. Jacksonville Elementary School closed this month and others are scheduled to close, including Harris Elementary School.

But in the long run, he hopes PCSSD can survive financially and improve academically, and then Jacksonville could work on becoming a separate district.

Lester thinks it will take two to three years to return local control to PCSSD patrons.

“We’ve got lots of problems, but we’ll have schools ready in the fall with everybody happy,” Lester continued. “It’s going to happen.”

SPORTS>>Centennial AA beats junior team

Special to The Leader

The Cabot Centennial Bank American Legion players knew without a doubt they were going to win the late game Thursday night in Cabot.

Of course, it helps when the two teams playing are the Cabot AA and A squads.

The older AA Cabot bunch got the best of the junior squad, but it wasn’t easy in a 2-1 win that lasted four innings.

The first three innings saw a pitcher’s duel between the junior team’s Nick Thomas and the AA team’s Riley Knudson. Both starters showed off sharp, knee-buckling curveballs.

Both teams managed base runners each inning, but couldn’t push across any runs until the fourth, and final, inning.

Grant Bell and Brent Dean had back-to-back singles in the bottom of the first inning for the AA team, but Dean was gunned down at home from center after pausing coming around third. Thomas froze the next batter with a 2-2 curveball for the third out.

Both teams put two runners on base with two outs in the bottom of the second and top of the third, but were unable to move them around. Thomas got a grounder to short in the bottom of the second to get out of the jam, while Knudson used his curve to finish off fanning the side around singles by Josh Dollarhide and Lee Sullivan.

The junior team manufactured a run in the top of the fourth after Helpenstill singled and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Aaron McKenzie. Landon James launched a double to left-center to drive in the go-ahead run. James was caught stealing home on a broken play after a walk to Trent Frizzell and a single by John VanHoveln. A strikeout ended the scoring threat.

Adam Hicks came in to pitch for Thomas at the end of the third and ran into trouble in the fourth with a walk to Josh Mathis and a single by Hayden Vinson. Hicks’ big curveball got him a strikeout. Helpenstill picked up another single, this time on a short fly to right that was dropped after a terrific diving attempt to catch it, forcing Mathis to stay on third as the bases were loaded

Grayson Cole fought off several tough pitches, working the count full, before hitting a deep drive to right center for the game-winning two-run double.

SPORTS>>Sylvan Hills junior team gets sweep

Special to The Leader

The Sylvan Hills Bruins swept an American Legion A doubleheader Thursday night at home, 5-2 and 14-2 over Rose Bud.

The pair of wins improve the Bruins to 10-5 overall and 5-2-1 in area play, putting them in good position to possibly earn a bye in the upcoming tournament if they can nail down a one or two seed with another win or two.

“We had really good pitching in both games and that’s always key,” said Sylvan Hills coach Chris Foor. “We had a little bit of help in the first game, but hit the ball well in the second game.”

Sylvan Hills jumped out to a 2-0 in the first inning of the opening game, but watched Rose Bud come back to tie things at 2-2 in the second inning.

But that turned out to be it for Rose Bud as Sylvan Hills starter Hunter Poteet shut them down the rest of the way for a complete game win.

Brandon Baioni led Sylvan Hills at the plate, going 2 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored. Hunter Heslep had three RBIs in the win, with some help from the Rose Bud battery who had several passed balls in the game, allowing several runners to move into better position on the bases.

“I couldn’t ask anything more out of Hunter than what he gives me,” said Foor. “He’s doing incredibly well for an eighthgrader playing with sophomores. He’s keeping his emotions in check, is really open to learn and hustles with everything he does.”

The second game got out of hand late as the Bruins’ bats heated up as the field was finally cooling down as sun set.

Starting pitcher Charlie Rob-erts allowed just one run over four innings of work before handing off to JD Miller for the final inning.

“I tell you, everybody from one through nine crushed the ball that second game,” Foor said. “Hunter and Brandon hit the ball real well, and Chase Imhoff had a big game too.”

The Bruins had to mix up their lineup with their regular leadoff hitter missing the game, but that worked out well too. Jacob White usually bats near the bottom of the order, but was moved to leadoff and found his way on base with either a hit or walk every time.

“Jacob did a great job setting the table for us,” said Foor. “It was just one of those games where you have almost everything going right for you.”

SPORTS>>Bulldog barks loud among Hogs

Leader sports editor

On a team of high profile, future Arkansas Razorbacks, as well as a team consisting of seven NCAA Division I signees, it was little-known, Louisiana Tech-bound, former Jacksonville Red Devil Raheem Appleby who shone brightest at the 2011 Arkansas High School Basketball All Star game. Appleby’s 15-point performance, most of which came in the final period when the game was on the line, earned him the game’s Most Valuable Player award, ahead top-50 recruits and future Hogs Ky Madden and Hunter Mickelson.

In the five-quarter, All-Star game format, starters play one quarter, second stringers the next, third stringers the next, and the second half is devoted to trying to win the game.

Appleby was dubbed a third-stringer by coach Rick Wilson of Rivercrest, but Wilson had plenty of reason to keep Appleby on the court when the closer-than-expected game was on the line in the final period.

Appleby entered the game to start the final period with his East team up by two points. A quick two buckets by the West team put the East down. That’s when Appleby took over. He ignited his team and the crowd with a dunk that started from a step inside the free-throw line. Minutes later, he capped the exciting, game-winning run with an assist off the backboard for a thunderous dunk by a teammate.

“It felt good,” Appleby said. “There was a lot of talent up there, and I got the MVP. I wasn’t ranked like some of the others I played with, so maybe that was a statement I made.”

That statement being that the 6-foot-3 Appleby is on the level of the top players in his class, a class that is one of, if not the, highest rated classes to ever come out of Arkansas.

Appleby was surprised that he got the award, but not because he didn’t think he’d played well enough. When players from each team received the award for the team’s Outstanding Player, he thought the post-game ceremonies were over. Then he heard his named called to receive the MVP award.

“I didn’t know there were two awards,” Appleby said. “When Ky got the first one, I didn’t even think there was going to be another one.

Appleby’s high-school coach Vic Joyner wasn’t surprised that his former charge turned in that kind of performance.

“Raheem, hands down in my estimation, is the best pure basketball player in the state,” Joyner said. “Not just my estimation, but a lot of college coaches thought the same thing. The only thing they were apprehensive about was his size. I tried to explain to them that he always did this kind of thing against the best players in the state, and in one of the best runs of talent the state’s ever had. He’s the real deal. He has all the intangibles, so much character and guts. I’ve had a couple people who know tell me, if he puts on some muscle and some weight, he might get to the league.”

Appleby is fully qualified and ready to play for the Bulldogs as a freshman. He is enrolling early to take summer school classes and begin preparation for his first season. He will report to Ruston on July 6.

SPORTS>>Cabot AA topples Bruins on small field

Special to The Leader

The Centennial Bank American Legion AA squad picked up a win over the Sylvan Hills Bruins on Thursday night while playing at home, sort of.
Cabot hosted Sylvan Hills at the smaller Babe Ruth field at the City Park and took advantage of the smaller dimensions with a pair of homers in a 6-1 win over the Bruins.

The “other” park has been good to the AA team. It was the in-betweeners second win this week, both at the city park, and fifth of the season after getting off to a slow start and rarely playing any home games.

Sylvan Hills used their AAA squad, but were still held in check as Cabot’s Ryan Logan went the distance on the mound.

“Ryan didn’t miss many of his spots tonight,” said Cabot coach Chris Gross. “He kept the ball low all night, changed speeds and hit the corners. You do all those things and you’ve got a good chance to win.”

Cabot jumped ahead in the bottom of the first inning, scoring all they would need with one swing. Tyler Wilkie walked, Coleman McAtee singled and Kason Kimbrell launched a three-run homer to give Centennial a 3-0 lead right out of the gate.

Sylvan Hills starter Dalton Freeling ran into some bad luck in the fifth inning after shutting down Cabot the previous two innings. Connor Vocque walked for Cabot to leadoff the inning, then scored one batter later when Wilkie hit a home run to right field, just clearing the 275 foot fence. The Bruins lost a chance to score in the sixth inning thanks to the short porch in right, when a blooper that probably would have fell between second and right on a regular field, was caught by the right fielder playing up.

“The field hurt us a couple times, but we were both playing on the same field,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Fink. “We didn’t make plays and they did. Their pitcher did a great job keeping the ball down. He had great command of his pitches tonight. We’ve got to score more than one run. You knew going in that wouldn’t be enough.”

The Bruins did push across a run in the top of the seventh when Logan was finally wearing down. A walk on four pitches to led off the inning. Korey Arnold doubled, leaving runners on second and third. Logan struck out the next batter, but a grounder to second brought in the first run for the Bruins.
Logan finished off the game with a strikeout on his 126th pitch of the night for the complete game win.

Cabot’s AA squad moved to 4-9 on the season with the somewhat surprising win over the older Sylvan Hills bunch.
“We’re still trying to get everyone on the same page,” said Fink, who was missing several players to work and church camps. “It can be kind of hard when you’re not sure who’s going to be at the game. I haven’t made out the same lineup twice yet this year.”

SPORTS>>Tables turned, Gwatney defeated

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville had made a habit recently of winning games at its last at bat. North Little Rock turned those tables Thursday night, beating Jacksonville 5-4 with a base hit in the bottom of the seventh inning at Burns Park’s Dejanis Memorial Field.

A controversial rule, but the right call, aided NLR greatly in the fifth inning of its win. With a runner on first and no outs, NLR’s Alex Filbert hit what likely would have been an easy double play to second base. The ball, however, hit the umpire. Jacksonville second baseman Kenny Cummings retrieved the ball in plenty of time to throw the runner out at first, and thought he did so, but the home-plate umpire called dead ball, and put the Colt runner, who was already walking to the dugout, back on first base. He ruled, correctly, that when a ball strikes an umpire who is inside the base paths, it is a dead ball and everyone is safe.

“It was the right call,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “That’s just part of it. We had our chances too. We hit the ball hard several times and they just went right to people. We got hits twice with two runners in scoring position and were only able to score one run because they hit it so hard and right to the left fielder. It was just one of those games where we just didn’t get the breaks.”

The umpire confessed during the game, “If there is a rule that might need to be changed, that’s it.”

That was the rule, and instead of two outs and no one on, it was no outs and two on. The next batter, Tyson Dackett, took advantage, and hit a line-drive, two-run triple down the right-field line on the next at bat, giving the Colts a 2-1 lead.

The rally wasn’t over. After Jeff Hopkins popped out to second, Brian Johnson walked and David Downs struck out. But with two on, leadoff hitter John Chapman his a two-run double to centerfield to make it 4-1.

Ever-resilient Gwatney chipped away from there. They added one run in the sixth inning with the help of two NLR mistakes. Patrick Castleberry reached on an error, moved to third on a single by Jesse Harbin, and scored on a wild pitch.

In the seventh, Jacksonville tied it when Cummings deep fly to left field scored Austin Allen and left runners on second and third. NLR walked Castleberry to load the bases with two outs, leaving a force out at any base. But Harbin singled to left to score Jacob Abrahamson and tie the game.

But it NLR’s turn for the late heroics.

Harbin, who went the distance and took the loss, got a fly-out, walked Johnson and struck out Downs, brining Chapman to the plate with two outs. He singled to put runners on the corner.

Blake Eisenring then hit a hard grounder to shortstop, where Abrahamson failed to get a glove on it as it rolled into left field, allowing Johnson to score the game winning run.

It was just the second loss of the season for the Gwatney AAA team to go with 10 wins, but the strength of teams in the zone made it a big loss. The NLR win put the Colts alone in first place, and dropped Gwatney into a tie with Cabot for second. Cabot and Jacksonville have split their series, and each team won by nine runs. Meaning if the season were over, it would have to go to a deep level of tiebreakers to find the zone runner up.

While Jacksonville dropped to 10-2, the win gave NLR an 11-1 overall record, with its only zone loss so far also coming against Cabot. NLR also split with Cabot, and each team won their respective games by one run.

Harbin gave up seven hits in seven innings of work on the mound. He struck out seven and walked three. He also went 2 for 4 at the plate with an RBI.

Earlier in the week Jacksonville beat Russellville 13-2. They play the Cogswell Motors team again today, starting a run of eight-straight days of games that ends next Sunday in the annual Gwatney Chevrolet Fourth of July Classic.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday threw a lifeline to Pulaski County schools when it ruled that the three school districts can continue receiving desegregation funds from the state.

The decision stops U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s previous decision to cut nearly $70 million in desegregation funding. Continued state aid will help the financially strapped districts stay afloat, especially the Pulaski County Special School District, which is now under state supervision.

PCSSD patrons had hoped that Bobby Lester, their beloved former superintendent, would step in to rescue the district, and with the state Education Department seizing control and firing first-year Superintendent Charles Hopson, Lester has agreed—at least in the interim.

But Lester is long retired, has some health problems and is not expected to run the district with state Education Department Commissioner Tom Kimbrell for more than a few weeks or months.

The state will probably run the troubled district for two years, when PCSSD could regain local control and perhaps in a leaner fashion by spinning off Jacksonville.

We had a front-row seat to Hopson’s innovative efforts to resuscitate this pitiful school district despite the petty and self-serving efforts of most school-board members and the teachers’ union to frustrate his efforts.

Well, they’ve succeeded, and not to their own benefit.

Members of the state Legislative Audit Committee—those are state senators and representatives—more intent on getting good sound bites, good publicity in their home districts and beating up on PCSSD, helped precipitate the state takeover, many of them without any real understanding of what was going on in the district, which issues are old or resolved and the huge improvement made in the past 12 months.

Most of the district’s problems cited by state auditors are left over from previous administrations and school boards.

The district has a long and troubled history, much of it caused by dueling school-board members, some of whom are reportedly under investigation for making and taking illegal payoffs—such as the silly incident where board member Tim Clark joined Mills High School principal Mike Nellums in an effort to entrap board member Gwen Williams.

Hopson brought in experts to streamline the district’s procurement process and information technology, and with Operations Director Derrick Scott, came up with an ambitious plan to build three new schools in Jacksonville and do extreme makeovers of four others throughout the district. (Those plans appear to be now on hold.)

Hopson hired consultants to help district administrators and teachers confront issues of race. With the help of Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver, he proposed—and the board approved—a litany of changes to make the district’s finances more transparent and assure better oversight and accountability.

In the process, Hopson alienated the teachers’ union, which felt threatened by all the change, especially any that might put its members out of their comfort zones or threatened their control.

One of the things the district has been criticized for is its large legal bills, which included lawyers for desegregation purposes, and an expensive effort pressed by the school board to disenfranchise the district’s two unions.

Kimbrell fired Hopson when he disbanded the school board, and said the district would pay the superintendent’s salary only through July 1. Kimbrell said the district won’t pay for the final two years of Hopson’s three-year contract.

Kimbrell apparently thinks he has the power to abrogate contracts, but we suspect the district is in for more lengthy and expensive legal proceedings as it tries to ruin Hopson’s reputation and kick him to the curb without paying what’s owed him.

And if we were teachers in a state-run district in fiscal distress, we’d be a little nervous about a new boss who thinks contracts need to be enforced only when convenient.

We’ve already heard from several people who think the district should be disbanded and its students absorbed into North Little Rock and Little Rock school districts—that’s one district north of the Arkansas River, one south.

So on top of Judge Miller’s recent ruling that PCSSD was not substantially unitary, its patrons and its teachers no longer have any control over the third largest district in the state.

Board president Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville was the first to publicly call for a state takeover about two years ago, and this week applauded the action. Thankfully, he is out of a job now, along with the rest of the board, although some of them promise to run when school-board elections are held again.

What any of this means to an eventual Jacksonville school district is unclear. Hopson had a plan, and despite the board and the unions, it was working.

We hope Kimbrell has a plan. Welcome to a world of uncertainty. If you’re looking for certainty, look to Cabot.

TOP STORY >> Support for state takeover

Leader staff writer

The state takeover of the Pulaski County Special School District has received wide approval, but it could mean delaying construction of two new elementary schools and a middle school in Jacksonville that were supported by ousted Superintendent Dr. Charles Hopson.

The district had planned to spend $104 million on an elementary school and a middle school at the site of the old middle school, and a new elementary school outside the air base to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson Elementary Schools.

“My entire focus,” Hopson said Tuesday, “was improving the district for the students. We developed an aggressive facilities plan, went to work on Jacksonville High School, and were trying to correct 10 years of poor practices.”

But state Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) applauded Hopson’s departure, saying, “Christmas came a few months late…It’s a great step in the right direction in leadership. This will hopefully allow the judge and the Department of Education to see fit to allow us (Jacksonville) to have our own district.”

Former state Rep. Mike Wilson, a strong supporter of an independent Jacksonville district, said, “I am very pleased that the governor, state board and (Education Commissioner) Tom Kimbrell all had the backbone to make the changes that were needed.”

“It’s good news for the community. Any improvement in the county school district is helpful to Jacksonville. I think it’s important to know that it’s taken years for the district to get to where it is now. It’s going to take a long time to fix it. Jacksonville shouldn’t expect an overnight change,” Wilson said.

Donna Humphries, a counselor at Sherwood Elementary, who has been battling with the district through a reverse-discrimination suit, said, “It’s been very emotional. This last year has been utter chaos.

“I’m dancing today. I’m so happy. These are people (the board) who have been doing the wrong thing and are retaliating against those who are trying to do the right thing,” she said.

A group of teachers at Jacksonville Elementary School said Tuesday that they hadn’t heard the news yet, but their concern was education, not what is happening at the central office.

Former board members Gloria Lawrence and Tom Stuthard of Sherwood both plan to run for the Pulaski County Special School District Board again whenever the state relinquishes control. Former board president Bill Vasquez did not return calls for comment.

Both Lawrence and Stuthard represented Sherwood.

Lawrence said she respects Kimbrell, who was responsible for the decision to take over the district Monday, release the superintendent and dissolve the board.

“I know it was a hard decision, but the right one,” Lawrence said.

She added that she is excited about Bobby Lester being appointed the interim superintendent. “He will get it going in the right direction again and make students the focus,” Lawrence said.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said Lester will lead the district in the right direction and provide an “air of confidence we haven’t had in a long time.

“We now have an excellent man at the helm,” he said.

Daniel Gray, a third-generation Jacksonville realtor and active member of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization who announced last week that he was running for the Pulaski County Special School District Board, agreed.

“Bobby Lester is a proven leader,” he said. “I think the state education department will put an end to the turmoil.”

Fletcher said the state takeover and dissolving the district’s board signaled a “tremendous start, but it hasn’t gone far enough” toward the city getting its own school district.

“A lot of things have happened very quickly…there are a lot of questions left to be answered,” the mayor said. “It’s way too early to project what’s next.”

Gray said there wouldn’t be school board elections in September, but he is ready to serve when needed and that the takeover is good for the city’s efforts toward getting an independent school district.

“I think this paves the way for further discussion,” he said.

Lawrence said she will continue to advocate for the district and when allowed to, will run again and do what she has done, which is support the teachers and students of Sherwood.

Lawrence, along with Stuthard, had only been on the board for eight months. “We worked hard to do the right things, but we couldn’t convince the rest of the board. Two votes were not enough,” she said.

Those two votes were the only ones who voted to dismiss Hopson during an executive session on the superintendent’s performance earlier this month.

Hopson said the focus was never about him or keeping the job. “I’ll get other opportunities, but the focus needs to be on the students of the district and making sure they have opportunities.”

He said when he came to the district less than a year ago, he knew it was a “high-risk” job and still had his home and family in Portland, Ore.

But the former superintendent, who already is getting calls on job possibilities, admitted there were problems.

“There’s no secret that we had plenty of distractions,” he said.

Those distractions included employee fraud and theft, charges of nepotism, a raking over the coals by the Legislative Audit Committee which criticized erratic spending by the district, board and the superintendent, an attempted bribe scheme involving two board members and a high school principal, a $5 million civil lawsuit by one board member against another and a lawsuit by a deputy superintendent against the district and the superintendent.

Overall, though, Hopson was encouraged by the progress the district had made in the past year.

But, perhaps, a PCSSD employee working at Jacksonville Elementary said it best Tuesday, “It shouldn’t have had to happen.”

Leader staff writer Sarah Campbell contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> County jail hits a snag with JPs

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Quorum Court and the county sheriff have reached an impasse about opening the new jail: The sheriff won’t guarantee how many of the extra 40 or so beds in the new jail he will have available to rent to help pay the cost of operations, and the quorum court has tabled his request for the eight additional jailers he says he needs to hire and train before he can open up.

Contacted this week, Chief Deputy Dean White, who is over the financial end of running the jail, said the problem is that the quorum court wants a solid answer out of a fluid situation.

White said the sheriff can’t guarantee that he will always have 30 to 40 beds available to rent because there might be times when he needs some of them for county prisoners. However, the sheriff is aware that he needs to rent beds to help pay for the jail and intends to do so.

In the meantime, he needs to hire the additional jailers so they can be trained and ready when the jail opens. Every time the quorum court tables the request for the jailers, the opening of the jail is pushed back.

“Somebody’s going to have to make a good-faith leap,” White said.

The current jail is built to house 60 prisoners. Tuesday, there were 84, White said.

The new jail has a total of 138 beds of which two are holding cells not intended for full-time occupancy unless the other 136 are full.

White said the sheriff would like to keep 96 beds for county prisoners and rent 30 or more of the other beds but leave some in reserve in case he is ordered by the court to incarcerate more than 96.

A full jail is soon overcrowded, he said, because there is no way to know when one more bed might be needed.

White says he has been in contact with the state about leasing space to eight to 14 prisoners at $28 a day. If the jail houses 10 state prisoners, the revenue would be $102,000. But in addition to getting rent for the prisoners, the county also would get free labor, he said. Those prisoners, called Act 309 prisoners, with oversight by a jailer, would run the state-of-the-art commercial kitchen in the new jail.

That kitchen has a walk-in cooler and freezer that would allow him to purchase in bulk and save money on feeding prisoners, White said. Currently, it costs $5.80 a day to feed the prisoners but he thinks that cost would drop to $3.10 to $3.50 a day by buying in bulk.

Currently, the county jail buys ice for prisoners’ drinks at a cost of about $100 a week, but the new kitchen has an ice maker that will freeze 100 pounds of ice an hour. It also has a large convection oven for baking the bread and cookies the county now buys.

“We will probably save 10 percent to 25 percent just from the new kitchen but we won’t know until we get there,” he said.

Asked who would rent space, White said North Little Rock has called more than once asking to rent 16 to 18 beds.

“I’d be glad to let them have them but I’ve got to be open first,” he said.

Jacksonville, Sherwood and White County also are potential customers, he said. Asked why White County, which has a new jail, would need to rent space in Lonoke’s jail, White said that sometimes it is necessary to remove prisoners from people who know them. An example is David Derreberry, 37, of Greenbrier, who is charged with murder in the April shooting death of pawn-shop owner Billy Joe Pipkin, 61. Derreberry is being housed in the White County jail because White said it might not be safe to keep him in the Lonoke County jail.

The county has budgeted $900,000 to run the old jail and a study by the architect who designed the new one has projected the cost of running the new one at $1.3 million. White says he believes the new jail will be able to raise enough from renting beds to make up the difference but the quorum court needs to approve the additional cost of the jailers before he can prove it.

TOP STORY >> Cabot council buys lot

Leader staff writer

Over the objections of one alderman, the Cabot City Council voted Monday night to offer $12,000 for a small vacant lot behind the community center to use for future expansion of the center.

Alderman Patrick Hutton questioned almost everything about the proposed transaction.

He asked why no legal description of the property was included in the resolution to allow Mayor Bill Cypert to make the offer to purchase. He wanted to know where the money to buy it would come from since it wasn’t in the 2011 budget, and he wanted to know if the city had advertised for professional services before getting an appraiser to set the value of the property.

Alderman Rick Prentice didn’t question the validity of the questions, but he did tell Hutton that if the city waits, someone else might buy the vacant lot, especially considering that its availability has been made public in The Leader.

“It’s pretty essential that we buy this property. It’s directly behind the community center,” Prentice said.

Mayor Bill Cypert reminded the council that he couldn’t act until they did.

“I don’t have the authority to deal with this unless we pass this resolution,” Cypert said.

Hutton’s questions were answered but apparently not to his satisfaction. He was the only council member to vote against the city buying the lot.

City Attorney Jim Taylor told him the legal description of the property would be included on the purchase agreement if the deal goes through. Clerk-Treasurer Tammy Yocom and the mayor told him the money for the purchase would come from the capital reserve fund, and the mayor said he didn’t advertise for professional services before hiring an appraiser because he was not aware at that time that a 2003 city ordinance required him to do so.

Hutton contended that if the city council voted to spend an unbudgeted $12,000 on a vacant lot, it should at the same time pass a resolution amending the budget.

Alderman Ed Long agreed, saying that’s what the council had done in the past. Long also said he was concerned that it is now time to begin work on the 2012 budget and the council has not yet ratified the budget for 2010. With that not done, it’s impossible to know where the city stands financially, he said.

Yocom, who is in her first year as clerk-treasurer, responded that she will have the budget ready for the personnel-and-budget committee to review in July so the council can approve it at the regular July meeting.

Long said that might not be enough time.

“Whenever you start rushing money, you start making mistakes,” he said.

The council unanimously passed a resolution asking the Navy to name a small warship for the city of Cabot.

The mayor said he supported the proposal because it would give the city national recognition.

Alderman Kevin Davis jokingly asked if the city would be liable or responsible in any way for a ship bearing its name.

“Are we going to have to repaint it or scrape it or anything?” Davis asked.

The council rescinded a 42-year-old ordinance that allowed the burning of household wastes which is in violation of a 1997 state law.

The mayor also recognized firefighters and police officers for their efforts at raising money for worthy causes.

A team of Cabot firefighters in full gear climbed 78 flights of stairs at the Metropolitan Bank building in Little Rock to come in first place in a fundraiser for the American Lung Society. The team finished 20 minutes ahead of the second-place winners and raised $800.

Working together at two separate fundraisers, police officers and firefighters raised $9,300 for Special Olympics.

TOP STORY >> Judges: Schools can keep getting funds

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday stayed U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s decision to cut desegregation money to the three Pulaski County school districts and allowed the money—$70 million—to continue to flow to the districts.

The Pulaski County Special School District was bracing for a cut of $1.6 million in monthly desegregation funding from the state for June.

A one-paragraph order from the appeals court granted the stay but refused an expedited appeals schedule.

The refusal to speed up the appeals will now help the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts, as the longer the appeals take, the longer the desegregation money will continue to roll in.

TOP STORY >> Lester: Local control two years away

Leader executive editor

Bobby Lester of Jacksonville, who was named the interim superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District after Monday’s takeover by the state Education Department, says he’ll hold the job for only a few weeks until someone is appointed to take his place.

He told The Leader in an interview that it could take two years before the Education Department releases the troubled district from state control. (See editorial, p. 10A.)

Citing health issues — he recently had a knee-replacement operation — the former longtime PCSSD superintendent said he does not want the stress of a full-time job beyond the summer.
He described Monday’s state takeover as “very emotional. I love this district. I made my living working for it.”

Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state education commissioner, in announcing the state takeover of PCSSD and also the Helena-West Helena School District, said there was not an ideal time for a takeover.

“When we feel as a state that the district is ready, then we’ll turn it back over to local control,” Kimbrell said Monday. “It’s all about the kids, and everything is up in the air.”

Kimbrell said there was not one thing that pushed the district into the takeover situation. “The whole tone at the top continued to be a problem,” Kimbrell said.

He said the district had a host of fiscal problems and continued to fail to follow its own policies.

Lester said state officials had asked him several times to lead the district again, but he hesitated taking the job. Finally, on Friday, he was asked again to step in and this time said yes because of his strong ties to the district, where he had also been a teacher, high school principal and then superintendent.

He steps into the job as Jacksonville Elementary School is closing down and plans for two new elementary schools and a middle school are now up in the air.

Lester said, “My main goal is not dealing with the big issues right now,” such as a federal judge’s decision to halt about $20 million a year in state desegregation aid to the district. He said he is concerned with practical problems facing the district — getting classrooms ready for fall, and making sure students have textbooks and supplies.

“There’s a lot that hasn’t been done. There’s a lot of missing information,” he added.
“There are too many things lacking. The curriculum is not ready for fall. We want the kids to have textbooks,” he said.

“I’m grateful I had experience as high school principal,” which will help him determine what’s needed to get schools ready in August, he said.

Lester met key district managers — he called them his “cabinet” — to map strategy for the next school year.

“We’ve had our squabbles in the past,” he said, referring to frequent showdowns with teachers, who often boycotted classrooms when he was superintendent. But now, he said, he is focused on the future.
He had been with the district for 30 years, 15 of them as superintendent.

While superintendent in the 1980s and 1990s, Lester held meetings between the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and school district officials, a practice that ended sometime after he retired. PACT members said the meetings were helpful.

When Lester was reminded of a headline in the first issue of The Leader in March 1987 — “Lester is optimistic on busing, pushes millage hike” — he said, “That’s right, we passed that millage.”
PCSSD voters have been reluctant to approve any millage increases since then.

The article also quoted Lester as saying, “Eventually, things will settle down, and we’ll have a good education system.”

Lester has been involved with the Jacksonville Education Foundation, whose supporters include former state Reps. Pat Bond and Mike Wilson, former Mayor Tommy Swaim, former Jacksonville Finance Director Paul Mushrush and others.

Fletcher said Lester would lead the district in the right direction and provide an “air of confidence we haven’t had in a long time.”

Fletcher said the state takeover and dissolving the district’s board signaled a “tremendous start, but it hasn’t gone far enough” toward the city getting its own school district.

Fletcher said he didn’t know when the city would get new schools. The district had promised to build two new elementary schools and a middle school next year.

Deb Roush, spokeswoman for the district, said before the takeover, Hopson’s plan was to carve out enough money from the budget to keep the facilities plan on track, which included improvements and new schools for Jacksonville. “But now it’s up to the state and what they decide,” Roush said.

After he retired from PCSSD as superintendent, Lester joined McPherson and Jacobson education consultants. The firm helped search for superintendents in Arkansas, but did not recommend Hopson for PCSSD superintendent.

Lester recently talked about problems in the district — mostly financial ones.

Lester doesn’t care much for the report that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued in April criticizing the county schools for misspending hundreds of millions of dollars in state-funded desegregation money.

“I don’t remember any specific items that were supposed to be paid for with desegregation funding,” Lester told The Leader. “There was no money necessarily earmarked for certain items.”

He said the Office of Desegregation Monitoring audited the three county districts semiannually for several years and has found them in compliance with funding requirements.

Lester says as long as the county schools are under court supervision, they can say everything they do is to achieve integration.

Over the last two decades, the state Education Department has funneled about $1 billion to the county school districts to achieve integration.

SPORTS >> Centennial does well at Classic

Leader sports editor

Despite a heartbreaking, last-at-bat loss in the championship of the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic, the Cabot senior American Legion team had a good run in the event.

The Centennial Bank squad picked up four straight wins in the tournament, and ran its overall winning streak to six before dropping the final game.

Cabot coach Craig Nyborg, who coached the semifinal and final game due to head coach Jay Darr’s dead-period enforced absence, was pleased with the team’s overall effort.

“I thought we got good pitching, we hit pretty well through most of the tournament, and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes. The way that last game ended is heartbreaking. The guys really wanted to win that one, but we played pretty well.”

Cole Nicholson, who Nyborg said was only about 85 percent on Sunday, overcame the adversity and threw a complete-game shutout to beat Hot Springs Lakeside 2-0 and advance to the title game.

“He just kept going out there and throwing really well,” Nyborg said. “I asked him after every inning how he felt, and he kept saying he could go. I think he actually got better as the game went on.”

Cabot’s first run came on an error at third base. Brandon Surdam got a base hit and Nicholson laid down a sacrifice bunt. Lakeside’s third baseman overthrew first, allowing Surdam to score and Nicholson to advance to third.

In the fourth, Matt Evans reached on another E5, stole second, was sacrificed to third by Tyler Erickson, and scored on a Dustin Morris RBI base hit.

That was all the team needed with Nicholson throwing a two-hitter.

Cabot had some trouble with Lakeside’s southpaw pitcher.

“He was just a soft-tossing lefty who was hitting the corners really well,” Nyborg said. Any lefty who’s throwing strikes on the corners is tough. When you got one who’s just tossing it up there, you have to adjust to that too. It was a struggle all day.”

On Friday in the final game of pool play, Cabot beat Pine Bluff National Bank 5-2 to win the pool with a 3-0 record and advance to Sunday’s tournament round.

Erickson started on the mound and threw two innings, giving up just one hit and no runs before yielding to Casey Vaughan.

Vaughan went the rest of the way, giving up just three hits while striking out nine and walking two in his five innings on the mound.

Offensively, Bryson Morris, Evans and Jarred Wilson picked up two hits each to account for six of the team’s eight base hits in the game.

Evans drove in three runs with his single and double, while Justin Goff added an RBI to season totals with a base hit.

Andrew Reynolds provided the other hit for Cabot in the game.

In the finals, Cabot got just five base hits. One each from Evans, Erickson and Jordan Castillow. Surdam got two singles to the left side in the loss, while Castillow’s RBI double in the fourth inning was the only extra base hit for Cabot.

The Centennial Bank senior team gets back to zone play tonight at Russellville, then travels to Conway on Saturday for another zone matchup.

Cabot trails Jacksonville by just one game in the zone standings, and is now 9-4 on the season.

It split with Jacksonville in its two zone games, with each team winning at home by nine runs.

SPORTS >> Cardinals win league crown

Special to The Leader

The First Arkansas Bank Cardinals took home the league crown in Jacksonville’s Babe Ruth league with a 13-4 win over the Cooper Family Dentistry Rangers last night at Dupree Park.

The Cardinals took advantage of several Ranger errors each inning, while coming up with timely hits and playing great defense to earn the championship.

The Rangers got on the board in the top of the first with Laderrious Perry reaching on an error, then scoring on Courtland McDonald’s single.

McDonald was caught stealing at third while Brett Matchett walked. Matchett stole his way to third, but was stranded after a come-backer to the pitcher.

The first six Cardinals each reached base in the bottom of the inning, although two were cut down on the bases to help hold the home team to three runs.

Deaundray Harris led off with a walk and stole second, but suffered an ankle injury sliding into second and had to be helped off the field as baseball immediately became secondary.

Early reports were that he suffered a dislocated ankle and his status for the all-star team is uncertain.

Two more walks, two errors and two singles gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead they never relinquished.
The Rangers missed a golden opportunity in the second inning with Perry at the plate and the bases loaded with two outs. Perry came into the game batting .900 (9 for 10) against the Cardinals this season, but a ground ball to second ended the inning and the threat.

First Arkansas broke the game open in the second inning as the Cooper Dentistry defense continued to fall apart. The bottom two batters in the order both reached on ground-ball errors, setting up the top of the order for a fielder’s choice and four consecutive hits, including a single by Zach Watkins, a two-run double by Dontae Harris and an RBI triple by Sam Dinkins.

The Rangers cut into the lead with a pair of runs in the top of the third. McDonald was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on Matchett’s RBI single. Matchett stole second and third again and scored on a sacrifice bunt by Peyton Traywick. A deep fly by Darren Boyd and a grounder by Thomas Brooks ended the inning.

The Cardinals continued to pour it on in the bottom of the inning, with Larry Jones again reaching on an error, followed by Larry Boje’s single.

Both came around to score as the Cardinals added another single and two walks to go with four more errors in the inning and the rout was on as the score swelled to 13-3.

Johnny Yankowskas walked and scored on McDonald’s single for the Rangers’ last gasp against Cardinal pitcher Aguirre.

Aguirre went the distance, scattering three hits while spreading out five walks in four innings.

The two rival teams went in opposite directions at the end of the season. Cooper Dentistry won the first two meetings while starting the season 4-0 in the three-team league, but came apart at the seams late in the season, going 1-5 over their final six league games. First Arkansas went 7-1 in the league after losing the first two games to the Rangers.

SPORTS >> Chevy Boys come back to win Wood Bat

Leader sports editor

It’s been common to hear from Gwatney Chevrolet coach Bob Hickingbotham that his senior American Legion team has “picked up right where they left off in high school.” Where they left off in high school was a late-inning come-from-behind win over heavily favored Searcy in the state championship game.

At the Wood Bat Classic in Sheridan, Hick may have wished his team wasn’t so exacting in fulfilling his comments, but he’ll take the results.

Jacksonville won each of its last three games in the tournament on its last at bat, including a 4-3 victory over nearby interstate rival Cabot for the tournament championship.

“They just gutted it out,” Hickingbotham said. “We had a kid on the mound out there dying on the vine, but he got it done. He just went out there and did it.”

Nick Rodriguez took the mound in the second inning of the title game and got the win. He and everyone else on the field endured two games in searing heat, with heat indexes reaching 105 Sunday afternoon.

Cabot probably got the worst of it, with the sun bearing directly into its west-facing dugout.

“It was miserable in that dugout,” Cabot fill-in coach Craig Nyborg said. “When your fans are moving to the other side and sitting with the other team’s fans, it’s pretty bad. We didn’t have that option.”

Cabot and Jacksonville advanced to tournament play after winning their respective pools. Cabot beat Hot Springs Lakeside 2-0 to advance, then had to wait for Jacksonville’s lengthy game against Pine Bluff Simmons to end.

When Cabot got to field to see who they would be playing for the title, Simmons was up 5-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Chevy Boys scored a run in the sixth and four in the bottom of the seventh to earn the matchup with the Centennial Bank squad.

Jacob Abrahamson, who pitched the final three innings against Pine Bluff, took the mound to start against Cabot. He gave up two walks and no hits, but had to leave the game due to heat exhaustion.

“Starting him on the mound right after finishing on the mound in the other game was a mistake,” Hickingbotham said.

Despite his fatigue, Abraham-son got the game’s first hit and scored the first run in the bottom of the first. The Chevy Boys got three straight hits from Abrahamson, Kenny Cummings and Patrick Castleberry to start the game, with Castleberry’s single driving in Abrahamson.

Jacksonville loaded the bases with no outs in the first two innings, but got just the one run, thanks mostly to Matt Evans’ gutsy pitching, and partly due to a great throw to second from catcher Andrew Reynolds, who got Troy Allen trying to steal.

Cabot got on the board in the top of the third. Justin Goff reached on an error at shortstop, and scored on an errant throw to first two batters later.

Centennial added to its lead in the fourth, with its best offensive inning of the day. Brandon Surdam led off with a single to left. Two batters later Jordan Castillow got a one-out double to left that scored Surdam. He scored two batters later on an RBI base hit by Evans that made it 3-1.

Castleberry started the bottom of the third with a single to centerfield, but Evans was dominant from that point until the last inning.

Over the next four innings, Evans gave up just one hit, and even that hit didn’t leave the infield.

Jacksonville mounted no rallies until there were two outs in the last frame.

Troy Allen was hit by a pitch, followed by an Evans strikeout. Cummings hit into a fielder’s choice, leaving just him on first with two outs.

Castleberry then drove a pitch deep to centerfield, scoring Cummings from first and leaving Castleberry on second. Cabot should’ve ended the game and sealed the championship on the next at bat, but a throw to first sailed high, leaving Jesse Harbin safe at first and Castleberry at third. Colt Harmon was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. Xavier Brown then hit a bloop single down the right-field line with runners going that drove in the two runs needed for the win.

“We had different people come through for us in all three of those last games,” Hickingbotham said. “At times we didn’t look like we knew how to play, and then we’d pull it together and someone would step up and come through for us. That’s what a good team does.”

Jacksonville indeed looked unfocused at times, especially in the earlier win against Pine Bluff. Gwatney committed seven errors in the game, and cost itself runs on the base paths.

“Well a couple of those base-running outs were my fault,” Hickingbotham said.

Jacksonville found itself down 5-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning in the 2 p.m. game Sunday.

A bunt single by Abrahamson, followed by a stolen base and an error at third left Abrahamson safe on third in the third inning. Kenny Cummings drove him home with a grounder to second. That’s all Jacksonville could muster until the sixth, when it got one more run to make it 5-2.

Colt Harmon got a one-out, ground-rule double when his shot to right bounced over the fence. Alex Tucker drove him home with a sacrifice grounder to shortstop.

Jacksonville had five base hits through six innings, and added five more in the seventh for the victory.

Trailing by three, Troy Allen, hitting in the nine hole, led off with a walk. Abrahamson then tripled to right centerfield to make it 5-3. Cummings then hit a line drive up the gut to center to score Abrahamson and cut the margin to one.

Castleberry reached on an error at short that should’ve been a double-play grounder, but was thrown out when he turned to wide toward second. Harbin singled to put runners on the corners. Harmon then doubled to right to drive in Cumming and tie the game.

With two outs, Tucker singled to center to score Harmon for the win.

The five wins in Sheridan make Jacksonville 9-1 on the season. The Chevy Boys will play North Little Rock at Burns Park on Thursday, then return home for a four-game homestand Saturday through Tuesday.

SPORTS >> Cabot sweeps LH Wolves

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s Centennial Bank class AA American Legion team got its third win of the season Monday night at the city ballpark in Cabot. The AA squad beat Lake Hamilton 3-0 in the second game of a doubleheader. The junior team went extra innings in the first game to notch a 9-8 win, making it a sweep of the visiting Wolves.

“It was a fun night,” Cabot AA fill-in coach Craig Nyborg said. Cabot’s usual coach, David Smith, who is also the Cabot High assistant coach, cannot have any contact with players through the current two-week, Arkansas Activities Association-enforced dead period.

“The guys were really loose and just had a good time with it. They played really well.”

Southpaw Kason Kimbrell was dominant on the mound. He carried a no hitter into the fourth inning before giving up a leadoff single to Shawn Faught, but the Wolves never seriously threatened until the final inning.

Cabot got a lead early with a two-out rally in the bottom of the first inning. Charlie Hancock got things rolling with a single to right field. Tyler Wilkie was hit by a pitch and Hayden Vinson beat out an infield single to load the bases. Josh Mathis then walked to drive in the run.

Cabot capped the scoring in the next inning with three consecutive hits plus a Lake Hamilton error.

Nathan Thomas started things off with a one-out single to right. Grant Bell then singled to center, bringing Riley Knudsen to the plate. Knudsen singled to left and Thomas tried to score from second, but the Lake Hamilton left fielder’s throw bypassed the cutoff man and hit the catcher’s glove right in the baseline path of the runner. The terrific throw got Thomas, who made a leaping attempt to avoid the tag.

Two runners remained on base, and a routine grounder to second turned into a two-run error, giving Cabot a three-run lead that remained the rest of the game.

Lake Hamilton rallied in the final inning. Faught singled to start the frame, and a one-out error at second base left runners on first and second. Kimbrell yielded to right-hander Cole Thomas, who gave up a hit to Trent Curry to load the bases, but struck out the final two batters to seal the Cabot victory.

Vinson led the way offensively for Cabot, getting base hits in each of his two at bats. Bell, Knuesen, Hancock and Thomas each got base hits in the game.

Kimbrell went four-and-a-third innings for Centennial Bank, giving up just two hits while fanning six.

The Cabot AA team improved to 3-9 on the season, and will host Sylvan Hills on Thursday at the city park.

In the earlier game, Lake Hamilton came back from three runs down to tie the game in the fourth inning. With time expired in the sixth, Cabot came back to score and get the win. Devin Burke got the game-winning hit, a drive to centerfield that scored the winning run.