Saturday, December 15, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Rocket wrestlers dominate Panthers

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers had three of their wrestlers pick up wins in the team’s first wrestling meet of the season Tuesday, but that was all, as the Panthers lost to Little Rock Catholic 56-18 in team points at Cabot High School.

Senior standout Tyler Kurz, a three-time state champion, won the 145-pound weight class in February last season. This season, Kurz is wrestling in the 182-pound division, and earned the most impressive win for the Panthers on Tuesday, as he pinned his opponent 33 seconds into the match.

Kurz has won the state crown in three different weight classes, and according to Cabot coach Jason Rogers, Kurz has worked hard in the offseason to get stronger and improve at his craft.

“He’s worked really hard in the weight room during the offseason,” Rogers said. “He’s put a lot of effort into this and it’s showing.”

Kurz recently signed to wrestle at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. Erik Cooley and Tyler Gilbertson were the other two Panther wrestlers to earn individual wins. Cooley, who wrestled in the 138-pound class, pinned his opponent in the second period. Gilbertson, who was wrestling in his first-ever match, pinned his opponent at the 1:50 mark of the second period to give the Panthers a win in the 285-pound class.

Tuesday’s match was Catholic’s 14th of the season. The experienced Rockets have participated in a couple of tournaments along the way, and for the Panthers, a good chunk of their varsity participants were wrestling in a sanctioned match for the first time.

“We’ll get better,” Rogers said. “We’ve got 17 more meets to attend this year. So we’ll get better before it’s all said and done. We’ve only been practicing for a couple of weeks now. With football season and everything, it’s a little bit harder to get going. I know our season started November 11th. So a month into the season, we’re finally getting our first match in.”

Catholic racked up 11 individual wins in the meet, which resulted in its 56 team points. The other Panther wrestlers that participated in Tuesday’s meet include: Ben Powell, Kyle Wheeler, Brandon Barrentine, Seth Roberts, Michael Mor-gan, Austin Johnson, Patrick Partin, Hayden Mills, Austin Dye, Austin Jones and Gage Long. Wheeler finished last season as the state runner-up of the 152-pound division.

“We’ve had probably two and a half weeks of practice with everybody out there, including our football kids,” Rogers said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. I thought effort-wise, we wrestled really well. But on the technical standpoint of it, we have a lot to learn.”

Rogers expects to see steady improvement as the season progresses, and has high hopes for his seniors in particular.

“We have a good group of seniors this year,” Rogers said. “A bunch of them are returning starters. For many of them, this is their fourth year starting for us. So they’re setting a good example in the practice room. They’ve just got to keep working hard.”

Cabot’s next meet is today in a four-team tournament at Cabot Junior High North. The other three teams participating are Beebe, Conway and Central.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers steal control, cruise against Vilonia

Leader sportswriter

Beebe’s first quarter struggles against Vilonia became an afterthought in the next three quarters as the Badgers beat the Eagles 54-40 in a nonconference game Tuesday at Vilonia.

The Badgers struggled from the field early as they made just two field goals in the opening quarter, both by Austin Burroughs. Vilonia led 7-0 before Burroughs scored Beebe’s first points on a midrange jumper with 2:25 to play in the first. Burroughs scored again 25 seconds later on an and-one play that cut the Eagles’ lead to two.

Vilonia’s Aaron Newell helped catapult the Eagles to a 10-6 lead at the end of the first with his second three pointer of the quarter. Jake Schlenker scored Beebe’s only other point in the quarter on a free throw. It wasn’t looking good for the Badgers, but those in attendance saw an entirely different ball game in the next eight minutes.

Beebe outscored Vilonia 18-6 in the second quarter to take a 24-16 lead at halftime. Five different Badgers scored in the quarter. Schlenker led the way with eight points.

“I thought our effort was great,” said Beebe coach Ryan Marshall after the game. “This bunch plays hard night-in and night-out. But I was a little worried when we went the first five minutes without scoring. That was a little concerning there, but we did have a starter at home. Than Kersey, he’s out sick.

“So I was afraid of, you know, just timing, and things of that nature might be off a little bit. But I thought once they got settled and got in rhythm, we got a little offensive momentum and then created some turnovers, and got some easy buckets. So I thought that helped a lot.”

The Badgers were able to carry that momentum into the third quarter as they outscored Vilonia 14-8 to take a double-digit, 38-24 lead going into the fourth. Beebe made 4 of 5 free throw attempts in the third. Zach Baker drained a pair of free throws with 10 seconds to go in the quarter that gave the Badgers a 14-point lead.

Tanner Chapman and Burroughs led Beebe in the fourth with a combined 12 points. Vilonia was 4 of 5 from the three-point line in the final quarter, but couldn’t cut the 14-point deficit. Cameron Wilkins scored eight points in the fourth for Vilonia (3-5), including a three pointer with 27.4 seconds to play that set the final score.

Beebe (5-1) out-rebounded Vilonia 24-19 in the game, and had three fewer turnovers than the Eagles’ 12. Each team shot 57.1 percent from the free throw line.

The Badgers shot 80 percent from the line in the first three quarters, but were 0 for 4 in the fourth. Vilonia was the better team beyond the arc, as it made 50 percent of its shots from downtown compared to Beebe’s 22.2 percent.

“I thought we did a good job checking them off the boards,” Marshall said, complimenting his defense. “I don’t really remember them getting an offensive rebound. Burroughs and Schlenker did a good job. They knocked down some pretty good shots. And Tanner playing the point, he’s really consistent for us. I thought we did a good job of closing it out, and that’s good to see early in the year.”

Burroughs led Beebe with 19 points and eight rebounds. Chapman scored 13 points while Schlenker scored 11 and Baker scored nine. Wilkins led Vilonia with 13 points. Newell scored 11.

The Badgers played Star City yesterday in the first round of the Riverview Invitational Tournament, and will continue tournament play today against Heber Springs.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke tops SS-Batesville

Leader sportswriter

A brief lull in the middle of the second quarter was the only thing that prevented Lonoke from dominating the entire 32 minutes against visiting Southside Batesville on Tuesday as the Jackrabbits won big 58-39 at the LHS gymnasium.

Lonoke took an early 10-0 lead as the result of a quick start, but the Southerners cut it to two early in the second quarter with a 7-0 run. The Jackrabbits got it all back before the half, and began to pull away completely late in the third quarter.

The victory helped erase the slate for Lonoke after the Jackrabbits lost their 4A-2 Conference opener to Dollarway last week in a blowout.

“We had a lot to work on after last week,” Jackrabbits coach Dean Campbell said. “Dollarway took it to us and really exposed a lot of things we needed to work on. Sometimes you need those things. We watched film on Wednesday. On Thursday, we did nothing but block-out drills and ran. Friday, we worked on our half-court defense, and Monday, we did a little bit of everything.”

The refocus on fundamentals paid off for Lonoke early against the Southerners. Junior guard Blake Mack put the first points up with a drive in the lane, followed by a defensive rebound and coast-to-coast layup by Jamel Rankin at the 7:04 mark of the first quarter to give the Jackrabbits a 4-0 lead.

Junior guard Darrius McCall got in on the action with a pull-up jumper in the lane, while senior post player Reid McKenzie widened the margin to 8-0 with a basket converted from a McCall steal with 6:32 remaining in the opening period. Rankin then put Lonoke up 10-0 with a 15 footer.

“It’s always good when you’re working on things in practice, and you see it carry over for the game,” Campbell said. “We can pick things out all the time, but I thought we did some things better tonight, and I was pleased with that.”

Lonoke dominated the boards, particularly on the defensive side. The Southerners did not get a second-chance basket until the 4:40 mark of the first quarter when senior Jake Henderson pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back up to cut Lonoke’s lead to 12-5.

The Jackrabbits led 20-11 heading into the second quarter, but Southside came back with seven unanswered points to begin the second quarter, including a three-point basket by Taylor Ellis with 5:42 remaining in the half to cut it to 20-18. Lonoke put the margin back to double digits before halftime with a three-point basket by Tykel Gray and a three pointer by McCall inside a minute to give the Jackrabbits a 28-18 lead at the break.

“We had opportunities to get more touches, but didn’t do it,” Campbell said. “Then, we came out in the third quarter and attacked them a little bit better, we moved the ball a lot more. We broke them down defensively and made them guard multiple passes during that time.”

Lonoke put the game out or reach by outscoring the Southerners 19-6 in the third quarter, including one bizarre trip that resulted in a three-point basket for Mack with a simultaneous offensive foul called away from the ball with 5:48 remaining in the third. The officials conversed for a number of minutes before rewarding Mack the basket while charging the Jackrabbits with a team foul at the same time to the bewilderment of both sides.

Rankin led the Jackrabbits with 15 points while McCall had 10 points. McKenzie finished with eight points and seven rebounds while Mack had nine points. Trey Sisk led Southside with nine points.

SPORTS STORY >> NLR press gets to Devils

Leader sports editor

If one were to make an overall Top 5 ranking for high-school boys basketball, it very well could include, and one ranking does include, in no particular order, North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Hall, Parkview and Fayetteville. In its last four games, North Little Rock has beaten the other four. The most recently vanquishing the Jacksonville Red Devils 60-52 Tuesday night at the Devils Den.

It was the second meeting between the two teams and the second eight-point victory for the Charging Wildcats (7-1). Tuesday’s win required something the previous three wins didn’t, a will to battle back from way behind. Against Parkview and Fayetteville, North Little Rock grabbed an early lead and controlled the action the rest of the way, resulting in 14 and 15-point wins. The Wildcats dominated every aspect of its game against Hall and won by 24. It wasn’t so easy against Jacksonville.

North Little Rock’s Kevaughn Allen got a breakaway dunk off the opening tip, but that momentum lasted just as long as the dunk took.

The Red Devils answered with the next 12 points of the game, and held a 16-4 lead with 2:50 remaining in the first quarter. Jacksonville made the first six shots it put up, and senior guard Justin McCleary had a hand in every one of them. McCleary scored six of the team’s first 12 points, and got assists on the other three baskets.

Wildcat coach Johnny Rice called timeout and his team began to slowly chip away at its deficit.

“That was important for us to go through something like this,” Rice said. “That’s why we scheduled Jacksonville twice. In the past, when we’ve gotten down like that we hadn’t come back. They came out and punched us in the mouth as hard as we’ve been punched all year, and we had the will to get up from it and fight back. This was a big game for us.”

Jacksonville’s lead was 20-11 at the end of the first quarter, and down to 30-26 by halftime. North Little Rock then opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run and never trailed again.

Jacksonville, which committed just two turnovers the entire first half, committed seven in the third quarter, including four on its first four possessions.

The Red Devils didn’t even get a shot up until the 4:39 mark of the quarter, and didn’t make a shot until just 3:52 remained in the third.

Rice said stopping McCleary was a focal point at halftime, and the strategy worked perfectly. The Wildcats relentlessly denied McCleary the ball, and no other Red Devil seemed capable of consistently breaking down North Little Rock’s pressure with the dribble.

“We’ve got to find people who are able to handle that pressure besides J-Mac,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “We’ve got seniors out there who should be able to handle it better than that. But right now nobody is doing that.”

Conversely, North Little Rock’s senior point guard, DayShawn Watkins, didn’t score in the first half, but came out on fire in the third. Watkins scored 14 points in the third quarter, including all nine of the opening barrage.

North Little Rock’s lead grew to as much as 44-34 with a minute remaining in the period, but Jacksonville had one final offensive to mount.

Jacksonville went on a run early in the fourth quarter. Aaron Smith’s three pointer with 5:26 left in the game pulled the Red Devils to within 49-47. Again Rice called timeout, and again his team took control after the short break.

Thomas Alexander hit a three pointer right out of the timeout. McCleary answered with a pull-up jumper to make it 52-49, but the Wildcats went on a 6-1 run to make it 58-50 with 2:16 remaining.

The Red Devils employed the foul strategy to lengthen the game and try to get back in it, but the turnover bug bit again down the stretch. Jacksonville got exactly what it wanted from the fouls. North Little Rock missed the front end of three-straight one-and-one free-throw attempts.

Jacksonville failed to capitalize on any of them. The Red Devils turned it over twice and missed a three pointer after the third opportunity.

After facing such a brutal stretch of games and winning them all, Rice gave high praise to the Red Devils.

“They’re not as big as those other teams we’ve faced,” Rice said. “But as far as being hard-nosed and playing tough defense, as far as being disciplined and structured in executing what they set out to do, they’re the best team we’ve played this year.”

Watkins led all scorers with 17 points while Allen dropped in 16 and Alexander 12 for the Wildcats. McCleary and Smith each scored 14 while Keith Charleston added 12 for the Red Devils.

North Little Rock and Jacksonville take part in the Arkansas Hoops Challenge today at Maumelle High School. Jacksonville faces old conference rival Jonesboro at 5:40 p.m. while North Little Rock closes the event against Clarksville at 8:20.

EDITORIAL >> Don’t blame Organizers

Don’t blame Matt Webber — blame the weatherman. Organizers of Cabot’s annual Christmas parade canceled the event last Sunday because of forecasts calling for severe thunderstorms that never came.

The decision to call off the parade was understandable considering the fierce downpours the night before the parade was scheduled.

Webber, who is chairman of the parade’s organizing committee, told us this week that he’s received harassing telephone messages and comments on Facebook criticizing him for canceling the parade.

“I’ve really gotten a lot of verbal beatings in the last three days. People think we just arbitrarily decided to not have the parade,” he said.

Judging by the reactions, you’d think he’d canceled Christmas itself. Some disappointment was expected, especially since it didn’t rain until after the parade would have ended. But Webber is well known for his involvement in civic groups like the Lions Club and Cabot City Beautiful. He’s even played Santa Claus at Cabot’s Santa Shack.

Whether he’s organizing health fairs for young people or citywide cleanups, Webber is always ready to serve his community. Many of the parade’s volunteers could not attend a makeup date that the organizers had scheduled, which may have caused more frustration for the more than 70 churches, civic groups and marching bands that were set to participate.

But organizers said they will keep this year’s theme, “It’s a Dr. Seuss Christmas,” for next year’s parade. So the floats and costumes can be used then.

That might not be much consolation, but fortunately there are other ways to celebrate Christmas in Cabot as a community. Today the Cabot Christmas Alliance, which provides holiday food for children and their families, is preparing food boxes beginning at 8 a.m. at the old Larry’s Pizza on Second Street.

We encourage volunteers to stop by and participate, and if you see Matt Webber there, pat him on the back and tell him thanks.

TOP STORY >> Cabot cops moonlight as Santa

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Police Department held its first Christmas shopping event for children in need on Tuesday night.

Cabot Officers Playing Santa toy patrol was able to let 20 Cabot elementary school students purchase gifts for themselves and for someone else at the Walmart Supercenter.

The COPS toy patrol was able to raise $2,500 in donations for the shopping event to allow each child to spend an average of $100 on gifts for Christmas. The students — a boy and girl from each school — were selected by their school counselor based on economic need.

The requirement for the child was to choose at least three gifts. One was to give to someone else. One was something the child needs, such as a coat, shoes or a clothing. The third was whatever they wanted.

Kindergartner Psyllis Pruiett, 6, picked out a present for his friend, Gabriel.

Pruiett’s mom, Brandy McDaniel, said, “It kind of makes me want to cry.”

She continued, “I wasn’t able to get him (gifts) for Christmas. I lost my job in July and got a new job this week, but won’t be paid until after Christmas. He was excited to shop with the police. He likes the police.”

Zoey Howard, 8, was not shopping for herself, but for her brother, cousins and grandparents, “because they are important to me,” the third-grader said.

Howard did get a new coat and headphones for her, then selected gifts for her family.

Bryce Fiser, 9, said he liked shopping with the police because he got a present for his mom. Fiser is a second-grader.

Officer John Dodd said, “Bryce was a lot of fun. He was having a good time, smiling a lot and could not wait to pick out a present for his mother.”

Sgt. Keith Graham said he heard a lot of positive comments from the children. He would like to see 50 students or more for the shopping event next year. “They see the police officer in a different perspective — the positive side,” Graham said.

Chaplain Tina Frost, “Thanks for all the people who made it possible and all the donations sent. We’re going to do it again next year.”

TOP STORY >> Computer looks to roads ahead

Leader senior staff writer

Let’s envision a future with ample transportation choices, including walking, biking and transit opportunities. In this version of central Arkansas, people can choose from a variety of options to suit their needs and travel safely.

That’s according to Metro-plan’s computerized assessment of this reporter’s selections on a multiple-choice online survey, which they style as a game. This is a beginning stage in determining the area’s 2040 long-range transportation plan.


You can take the survey and register your preferences online at

Then scroll to the bottom and click on the colorful icon next to the words “Imagine Central Arkansas.”

That will take you to a page where you can click on “Choose Your Future” and then you can take the survey.

In future stages, central Arkansas residents, with the help of Metroplan staff, will determine which roads, highways, mass transit, trails or other projects would support the chosen development. Only projects on the financially constrained 2040 plan will be eligible for federal funds.


Currently, Metroplan and the state Highway and Transportation Department are operating on the updated 2030 long-range plan. The new 2040 plan must be adopted by January 2014, according to Casey Covington, Metroplan’s director of the Central Arkansas Regional Transportation Study.

The projected impacts of this reporter’s choices, according to the survey, would be greater transportation options, protection of the environment, parks and natural areas and convenience of shopping, service, work and recreation.

Metroplan contracted the consulting firm of Gresham, Smith and Partners in Nash-ville to conduct the process of gathering information to be used in decision making.


The deciding factor in hiring Gresham was the amount of technology and social media the firm proposed implementing, according to Richard Magee, deputy director of Metroplan and director of planning. The full Gresham contract is about $500,000, he said.

“We’ve gotten more public involvement to date than we have gotten in the entire project in the past,” Magee said.

He said since it was a 2040 plan, it was important to get young people involved in the process since they would be living in the future that was being designed.

He said there had been concerns that poor and older people might have trouble with the online aspect, but their involvement was high, suggesting they might have easier access to a computer than to transportation to meeting sites.

Metroplan also has a presence on Facebook and on Twitter.

While at this stage a lot of the input is online, Metroplan staff has reached out at events in each of the counties covered by the plan, including Cabot Fest, the Cabot Community Center, Sherwood Fest and the Jacksonville-Cabot Civitan Club. They also had a meeting at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Metroplan is primarily concerned with residents of Pulaski, Lonoke, Faulkner and Saline counties

“We’ve had interaction with Jacksonville and should have outreach there as part of phase two,” Covington said.


The process is now entering that outreach phase in which residents and stakeholders make choices. Metroplan and the consultants will take that input and come up with three distinct scenarios, he said.

In phase three, staff and area residents will delve into the impact of those three scenarios and select one to become the vision for the future of central Arkansas, he said .

“In round four, we’ll start looking at projects to fund to support that vision,” Covington said. Those projects include improvements on arterial streets, for instance, and determining which are already funded and looking for funds for others.

Then Metroplan will go back to the public for comment and to sort of ratify the vision and the projects to support it.

The Metroplan board of directors, made up of mostly mayors and county judges, must then adopt the plan by January 2014.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TOP STORY >> 189th receives excellent rating after inspection

The 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard at Little Rock Air Force Base has received an “excellent” grade after completing a week-long consolidated unit inspection by three Air Force inspection agencies.

The inspection team had approximately 80 inspectors from the Air Education and Training Command Inspector General’s Office, the Air Force Inspection Agency and the Air National Guard Logistics Compliance and Assessment Program staff.

The team of inspectors scoured thousands of documents and evaluated hundreds of checklist items in offices throughout the wing to gauge the unit’s compliance with standardized processes, procedures, laws and regulations in their day-to-day operations.

Col. Steve Eggensperger, commander of the 189th Airlift Wing, said, “I am very pleased with the overall excellent grade our wing has received. This feedback from the inspection team serves to validate our procedures and our readiness to perform missions in support of national defense and domestic operations. This grade should reinforce to the citizens of Arkansas that the Arkansas Air National Guard is a highly effective, nimble and fiscally responsible organization. I’m very proud of our Arkansas airmen.”

Col. Ken Frollini, the inspection team leader, said, “The men and women of the 189th have set the bar high with every group exceeding the standard and achieving an excellent rating. The strong workforce, technical proficiency and keen attention to detail across the wing ensured a culture of compliance everywhere we inspected.”

The 189th Airlift Wing is one of three airlift wings at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The 189th is part of the C-130 Formal Training Unit and trains aircrew members in all crew positions to perform combat airlift operations worldwide.

This year, the 189th trained 319 students in various flying courses. The wing also provides trained members to deploy and provide expeditionary combat support for Air Force units operating at forward locations.

The wing’s deployment commitment involves more than 400 members who maintain a heightened level of combat readiness.

TOP STORY >> Help kids at Taylor Elementary

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s Murrell Taylor Elementary School is seeking help this year to assist 60 students and their families during Christmas with gifts and food.

School counselor Christine Lee said the school could only help for Christmas this year. Last year, 21 families signed up for assistance at Thanksgiving and 27 at Christmas.

Lee said there are many families that are unemployed and suffering.

“I’m surprised that we so had so many sign up. We ask no questions if they sign up. My premise is they ask, we provide,” Lee said.

Taylor Elementary is collecting food and toys from staff members, community partners and the public.

The school is making food baskets with nonperishable foods and a turkey to feed at least a family of four for Christmas.

Each class level is responsible for a specific canned good. For example, the kindergarten classes are collecting cans of green beans.

“We need turkeys. We’ll take any canned goods, cereal and dried beans,” Lee said.

“We have students eating breakfast and lunch here who may not have dinner.”

Many of those children take home food at night from the Arkansas Foodbank’s Backpack for Kids hunger program.

Taylor Elementary has 87 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch programs. The school has 30 students that are homeless. Some students are being raised by the grandparents.

People can chose to “adopt” a student and their family for Christmas by purchasing shoes, clothing or toys.

“One grandmother re-quested six sleeping bags for her six grandchildren. An anonymous donor bought the sleeping bags immediately and gave them to her. She came in and cried,” Lee said.

New or gently used toy donations are also needed. Lee suggested students give toys they’ve enjoyed and outgrown and are willing to share with someone else.

“These are the gifts they’ll remember giving forever,” she said.

Lee said books are another present idea for students, enabling them to start their own library at home.

She said parents will be greatly appreciate whatever is given to them.

Donations can be dropped off at Taylor Elementary or the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. The chamber requests that donations are brought no later than Dec. 20.

“It’s a community-wide effort. It’s an all-call to business, civic and religious organizations to show the students that the community cares,” chamber director Amy Mattison said.

For more information, call the school at 985-1581 or contact the chamber of commerce at 982-1511.

People who may want to also assist students and families in other Jacksonville schools should contact the counselor of that school.

TOP STORY >> Unitary status hearing in fall

Leader senior staff writer

Federal Judge D. Price Marshall agreed Monday to hear evidence next fall that the Pulaski County Special School District is moving closer to achieving unitary status in four areas, which could help the district achieve unitary status and perhaps move Jacksonville and north Pulaski County closer to detaching from PCSSD and forming a stand-alone district.

Before handing off the case about a year ago, Judge Brian Miller found PCSSD unitary in three of 12 areas. District administrators believe they are unitary or nearly so in four other areas.

On Nov. 6, they asked Marshall to allow them to present evidence that the district is desegregated in those four areas, each in a separate hearing expected to take about one day, according to Sam Jones, the district’s attorney for desegregation matters.

Those areas are:

 Student assignment

 Advance placement

 Gifted and talented and honors programs

 Special education and staffing.


Marshall said he would schedule time in August and September for those hearings. He said, “The court is heartened that from the Joshua perspective, PCSSD is moving diligently to address the areas where the district is not in compliance.”

The Joshua Intervenors, represented by attorney John Walker, and PCSSD have seldom agreed on anything in the 12 years that the district has been bound by the current desegregation agreement,

Marshall wants more data, including from the first semester of this school year.

While some news reports characterized the ruling as denial of granting unitary status in those areas, Superintendent Jerry Guess said it was a favorable ruling, as did Jones.

“We never thought we were going to get unitary status (in this ruling)” Guess said.

“The judge complimented us on successfully negotiating Walker’s fees instead of litigating them,” Guess said, “and we believe it was favorable to the district.”

“He appreciates our diligent movement forward. We’re working to be sure we’ve met (desegregation) Plan 2000 where we are not unitary,” he said.

Among the challenges will be to make sure that minority students are not overrepresented in special education.


On May 19, 2011, before the case was reassigned from Miller to Marshall, Miller found that the district was unitary in three areas:

 Interdistrict education by magnet schools and majority to minority transfers.

 Multicultural education.

 Allocation of school resources.

Achieving unitary status is not the only major challenge facing PCSSD. In June 2011, the district was found by the state Education Department to be in fiscal distress. Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell dissolved the district’s school board, fired Superintenedent Charles Hopson and hired Guess as the interim superintendent.

Under the current law, the state has two years to bring the district out of fiscal distress. The district has had a declining year-end balance that was headed into the red.

Guess said Tuesday he didn’t know how the state would know when the district is no longer in fiscal distress.

“That’s a good question,” he said.

SPORTS STORY >> Defense does job for Beebe

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe Lady Badgers wrapped up tournament play in the Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament with a 58-48 victory over Searcy in the fifth-place game on Saturday afternoon.

Junior guard Kalela Miller led the way for the Lady Badgers with 26 points while senior Jamie Jackson added 20 points to make up the bulk of Beebe’s scoring. Defensively, the Lady Badgers held Searcy junior post player and former teammate Angelina Williams to six points and also limited the 6-4 college prospect’s rebounding. Williams went scoreless for the Lady Lions in the fourth quarter as Beebe added to its margin late.

The defensive job on Williams was just part of an overall defensive push in the second half for Beebe.

“We knew a little bit about her, and I’m sure that helped us a little,” Beebe coach Greg Richey said of containing Williams. “But we tightened up defensively on everyone in the second half, and she kind of fell into that. I think it motivated the girls – it really motivated Kalela. Anytime you go up against an old teammate, it brings out your best.”

Williams was starting post player for the Lady Badgers last year as a sophomore, and quickly attracted college interest with her large 6-4 frame, but returned to Searcy for her junior season.

Senior Whitney Emison added five points for the Lady Badgers while Sydney Gunter, Annlee Glass and Mackenzie Bingham each finished with two points.

Bingham, a sophomore reserve point guard, has developed into a consistent contributor for the Lady Badgers as a backup to Jackson.

“She’s a 10th grader trying to get used to senior-high basketball,” Richey said.

“She’s a point, and we use her to give Jamie a break, and then sometimes we move Jamie around and try different things with her. She’s adjusting to that, and she keeps working hard every day. She could be a big contributor for us before the year is out,” the coach added.

The Lady Badgers played at Vilonia last night after Leader deadlines and will host JA Fair on Friday.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils win first place

Leader sports editor

CONWAY – The Jacksonville boys got their fourth-straight victory and won first place in the Wampus Cat Invitational on Saturday, beating the Pine Bluff Zebras 68-54 in the tournament championship game.

Despite the first-place trophy on the line, Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner treated the game like any other early-season game. He put 16 different players on the court and tried several different combinations of players. He even benched leading scorer and point guard Justin McCleary the entire third quarter, despite the fact that Pine Bluff had trimmed a 13-point first-half deficit to just five by halftime.

Joyner insisted it was nothing more than player preparation.

“Justin didn’t do anything wrong,” Joyner said about not letting his top scorer play when the game was close. “It’s all about January and getting ready for conference. I wanted to see what some other players looked like out there with the starters. It’s nice to win these tournaments and the kids like having those trophies, but I’m thinking about the games that are really going to matter. We lost a game here last year doing this same thing.”

For the first time this season, Joyner left the whole starting lineup on the floor the entire first quarter. They jumped out to an 18-7 lead before Pine Bluff’s Ricky Clements hit a three pointer in the waning seconds to make it 18-10. A whole new five took the floor for Jacksonville to start the second period and Pine Bluff climbed back into the game. The Zebras got a little help when it was discovered that the wrong number was entered into the scorebook for Jacksonville’s Kanaan Jackson. That resulted in a technical foul and a four-point possession for Pine Bluff.

Jacksonville led 33-28 at halftime, and threatened to blow the game open in the third. The Zebras stayed in the game with outside shooting, and got some help from Jacksonville turnovers.

“We’ve been able to win so far, but turnovers have been a persistent problem for us all season,” Joyner said. “We have got to start taking better care of the basketball. Most of them were unforced. They weren’t pressing us hard because we broke it early and got some easy baskets. We just aren’t playing smart right now. And either that’s going to change, or some personnel is going to change.”

Guard Reggie Barnes, who didn’t play in the first half, started the third quarter in place of McCleary and hit two three pointers. As did senior guard Aaron Smith, who led all scorers with 20 points. Smith hit 8 of 11 shot attempts. He was 4 of 7 from three-point range and almost made it a double-double with nine rebounds. He also had three steals and two assists.

Jacksonville dominated on the boards. The Red Devils pulled down 34 rebounds to just 18 for Pine Bluff. Jacksonville has not lost the rebounding battle since its season opening loss to North Little Rock.

Post player Keith Charleston did record his third double-double this season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Sergio Berkley played his best game in the semifinal win over Conway, and followed that with another solid performance against Pine Bluff. He finished with nine points, two steals and four assists. McCleary finished with a very consistent stat line. He had five points, five steals and five assists.

Jacksonville plays Jonesboro on Saturday in the AR Preps Shootout at Maumelle High School.

SPORTS STORY >> Wolff has a subtle presence for Hogs

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – For seven minutes during the Razorbacks’ biggest women’s home game of the nonconference season, Arkansas was the team that cried, “Wolff!”

Melissa Wolff, the freshman reserve guard from Cabot, hit the go-ahead three-pointer for the Razorbacks’ first lead, 17-16, against No. 17 Kansas on Dec. 6 at Bud Walton Arena.

She continued spurring Arkansas to a 33-24 halftime lead in its 64-56 victory. Immediately following her trey, she got a steal and assist to teammate Sarah Watkins. Wolff finished the half 2 for 2 from the field for five points with a rebound, steal, two assist and zero turnovers.

“It was really important,” Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said of Wolff’s first-half flurry.

Wolff finished the game shooting 2 for 5 for the same five points with one more assist vs. one second-half turnover. She played 14 more minutes in the second half.

She played more, Collen said, because her rebounding, four for the game, and defense helped put the brakes on the Jayhawks after they briefly re-took the lead.

“Really her play all the way around was subtle,” Collen said. “She doesn’t take a lot of shots but hit a big three. Probably the most unnoticed thing is she was really solid defensively and she gave us another rebounder in there.”

Collen said Wolff, 6-feet, provides a greater presence on the boards to complement starting point guard Calli Berna than does 5-8 freshman scoring guard Dominique Wilson and the more slightly built 5-10 shooting guard Kelsey Hatcher.

“We are not very physical at the 2-spot with Kelsey Hatcher and Dominique Wilson sometimes,” Collen said. “So we made the decision to go there for her rebounding. She’s a strong kid and she’s always where she is supposed to be defensively. There is an art to that. She is a big reason why I thought our defense was so good down the stretch.”

It was much the same when Arkansas battled now No. 12 Oklahoma to the wire in a 73-70 loss.

“When we played Oklahoma, I had a really bad off shooting night but I was able to stay in for rebounding and defense,” Wolff said. “That was another big team that I logged quite a few minutes and that was a good opportunity to get experience.”

Averaging 17.8 minutes per game and playing in all the games for an 8-1 Razorbacks team now among those getting Top 25 votes, Wolff enhances Arkansas’ opportunities to win says, senior center Sarah Watkins.

Watkins, the top returnee from last season’s 24-9 second-round NCAA Tournament team, asserts the kid from Cabot sets the curve on effort and defensive positioning.

“She’s a hard-nosed kid coming out of high school,” Watkins said. “She knows where to be on defense and she plays really hard. She plays probably harder than anybody on the floor and it shows. She gets all the hustle plays. She has been really big for us in this stretch of games.”

If she leads on effort, Wolff says it’s because she usually starts every matchup at some disadvantage. Perhaps Arkansas’ most versatile defender, Wolff not only guards guards but small forwards, power forwards and sometimes even the opposition’s biggest post.

“I know I am not the quickest or the strongest out there,” Wolff said. “So I have to work that much harder to be able to keep up with everybody.”

Frankly, it would seem more difficult for everybody to keep up with her.

While leading Cabot to a state championship last season, Wolff was a National Honor Society student. She completes her first fall semester at the UA this week majoring in kinesiology with plans once she achieves her bachelor’s degree to transfer to a program offering a doctorate in physical therapy.

Last March when the Razorbacks were in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Texas A&M, Wolff was spending her last high school spring break with her church youth group in South Africa.

“We visited schools and talked to the kids and visited hospitals,” Wolff said. “We saw a lot of poverty, it was very sad. It makes you grateful for what you have.”

For her locale to study and play ball, it seems Wolff has it all.

“Growing up in Arkansas I wanted to be a Razorback and this was a great opportunity,” Wolff said. “Arkansas is where I always wanted to be.”

Her coaches and teammates sound grateful to have her.

SPORTS STORY >> Benton avenges loss from last year

Leader sportswriter

The matchup was a repeat of last year’s final, but the outcome was different as Benton defeated Cabot 61-51 in the championship round of the Cabot Pre-Holiday tournament at Panther Arena on Saturday.

Benton held a size advantage at every position, but especially inside with post player Graham Gardner, who towered over everyone else at 6-10. Gardener led the visiting Panthers with 13 points.

“They’re about bigger, faster and stronger at every position,” Panthers coach Jerry Bridges said. “But I’m going to be honest with you, I felt like we grew this week as a team. We’ve improved greatly this week.”

Benton held all Cabot players to less then 10 points, including eight points for senior point guard Bryan Shrum and seven points each for forward Clayton Vaught and fellow senior Kyle Thielemier.

“I thought at times, we did a good job,” Bridges said. “I give Benton credit, I think they wore down my point guard. When Shrum got tired, we weren’t as effective attacking. He did a great job until he wore down.”

Benton led 29-22 at halftime, and got a big boost to start the third quarter when guard Bryan Torres drew a foul while shooting a three pointer. He went to the line at the 6:43 mark and hit all three to put Benton up 32-23.

“We had it down to four or five to start the third quarter, and then we foul a three-point shooter,” Bridges said. “You just can’t do that. I was just proud of our effort. Going into this week, I was a little concerned about it. But I think we’re going to be a competitive team. We’re getting better.”

For Cabot (2-4), there were positive signs despite falling behind on the scoreboard, as football players Brett Frazier and Jake Ferguson showed signs of gaining their basketball legs with good second-half performances. Frazier scored all of his team high nine points in the fourth quarter, going 5 for 5 from the free-throw line.

“He hasn’t been in the gym with us long from football,” Bridges said. “I really believe he and Jake Ferguson both – my goal for them is for us to get through Christmas and then maybe they’ll be ready to get into the mix. They’re making strides quicker than I thought. I think Brett has an opportunity to be good for us in the future. We’ve got to get him a little more aggressive getting on the defensive boards for us, but he’s got a soft touch, he can shoot. If they foul him, he can go and make his free throws.

Gardner scored many of his points on putbacks, including back-to-back shots in the final three minutes that kept the margin over 10 for Benton down the stretch.

“We were swatting at his arm pits,” Bridges said. “I thought my guys battled up and tried to make him work for it. They are a good team, and they really wanted that win. We had that one spell in the second quarter where we struggled with just six points. We tried to keep them at a tempo we were comfortable with. You’ve got to give them credit, they did a good job with their defense.”

Rickey Gipson added 12 points for Benton while Torres and Blake Bowlin each finished with eight points.

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats pummel Warriors

Leader sports editor

Kevaughn Allen and Dayshawn Watkins shared MVP honors at the conclusion of North Little Rock’s 83-59 win over Little Rock Hall in Saturday’s championship game of the Joe Johnson Jammin’ for Jackets Tournament at Little Rock Hall’s Cirks Arena.

Allen and Watkins, both guards, scored a combined 48 points to lead the Charging Wildcats to the surprisingly easy win over the three-time state champion Warriors. NLR coach Johnny Rice had nothing but good things to say about the play of his guards after the game.

“They make us go,” Rice said. “I played for North Little Rock, and I’ve been here and coached here for 22 years, and the collection of guards that we have now is probably the best we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Allen scored the first points of the game on a three pointer, and NLR (6-1) never relinquished its lead from there. Hall (6-3) was able to keep the score close early as it trailed 12-10 with 10:38 to play in the first half. But the Charging Wildcats steadily increased their lead, and led 38-27 at halftime.

North Little Rock was 5 for 11 shooting beyond the arc in the opening half, and capitalized off of eight Warrior turnovers. The Wildcats committed just two turnovers in the half. Watkins scored 15 points, had five assists and two steals in that time. Allen scored 12 points and snagged three rebounds.

The Warriors, led by University of Arkansas signee Bobby Portis, a 6-foot-9 senior, did what they could to make a comeback in the final 16:00. Hall made its first five shots from the floor in the second half, but never got within nine points of the Wildcats’ lead.

NLR outscored Hall 45-32 in the second half, and the final margin was set on a rebound and put-back by Wildcats senior forward Matthew Terry with one second to play. NLR couldn’t be matched on the offensive end throughout Saturday’s game, especially at the perimeter.

The Wildcats drained seven three pointers in the second half. Allen made four of them. For the game, NLR made 54.3 percent of its shots from the field on 57 attempts, and made 48 percent of its shots from the three-point line.

Rice said afterwards that he’d normally be surprised at how well his team shot against Hall, but he saw a lot of the same success in wins over perennial basketball powerhouses Little Rock Parkview (5-1) in the first round of the tournament, and Fayetteville (9-2) in the semifinals.

“I keep saying that, but they’ve done it for three or four games,” Rice said when asked if he was surprised by how well his team’s been shooting. “I’m not going to live and breathe on whether or not we’re hitting at a high percentage like this. We only took maybe one or two shots off the dribble.

“If you would have told me we were going to play Parkview, Fayetteville and Hall, and win like we did, I probably would’ve said ‘well, I don’t know about all that.’ So I’m extremely proud of our boys.”

North Little Rock out-rebounded Hall 23-16, and committed four fewer turnovers. However, a good chunk of NLR’s eight second-half turnovers came late with the game already out of reach.

Allen, who made six threes in the game, led all scorers with 28 points. Watkins scored 20 points, had three steals, and finished an assist shy of a double-double. Thomas Alexander added 16 points, and Gary Vines led the Wildcats with six rebounds.

Portis led the Warriors with 26 points, and added five boards and two blocks. Javon Perry and Anfernee Floyd each scored 10 points.

North Little Rock played Jacksonville in a nonconference game yesterday at the Devil’s Den. Look for details of that game in Saturday’s edition of The Leader. They will play Shiloh Christian in the Arkansas Hoops Challenge tournament at Maumelle High School on Saturday.

Monday, December 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> Mills would want Medicaid expansion

Special to the Leader

Expanding health insurance so that it covers nearly everyone in Arkansas and not just the aged, the disabled and poor children who are insured by the system crafted 50 years ago by Rep. Wilbur D. Mills of Kensett (White County) is nearing reality.

Or so it was thought until two events intervened: the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision upholding all but one part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the election four months later that gave Republicans a bare majority in the Arkansas legislature.

Whether some 215,000 people, Arkansas’ poorest, will be insured will be up largely to those Republicans when the legislature convenes in January, and because nearly all of them ran for office vaguely opposing “Obamacare” it would seem to be foregone that the poor in Arkansas will still be without coverage when the law kicks in fully at the end of next year.

But the politics of “Medicaid expansion” has turned out to be more dangerous than the politicians imagined when they were condemning Obamacare and promising to do what they could to thwart every part of it in Arkansas. It will not be only the 215,000 men and women who will be eligible for government help on their hospital and doctor bills who will disappointed if the Medicaid expansion is blocked. Not many of the very poor vote anyway. But tens of thousands of others, including the frail elderly and disabled in nursing homes and their families, will be hurt even more if the Republicans block Medicaid expansion. In fact, everyone, including people who are already insured and otherwise unaffected by the Affordable Care Act, will be impacted because their own hospital bills and insurance premiums may go up as a result of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

Legislators will have to factor the politics of all that when they vote whether to appropriate federal and state funds to expand Medicaid to cover childless men and women whose incomes leave them below 133 percent of the federal poverty line. Under Arkansas’ Constitution, it takes three-fourths of both houses to pass nearly all appropriations, so only 26 members of the 100-member house or nine of the 35 senators can block any appropriation.

Congressman Mills, by then the most esteemed member of the U.S. House of Representatives, cobbled together the lengthy 1965 amendment to the Social Security Act that created Medicare and Medicaid, the former to cover hospital and physician care for the elderly and permanently disabled and the latter to help the elderly frail in nursing homes and the poor who qualified for public assistance and poor children.

Medicaid was to be a partnership between Washington and state governments, and the states could choose how much health coverage to give to the poor beyond certain programs that were mandated for every state that participated. Mills’ state was very poor and he established a cost-sharing formula that favored poor states.

The federal government would pay at least half the costs of Medicaid, but the precise federal share would vary according to each state’s ranking on per-capita incomes. Because Arkansas has always been near the bottom, its share has ranged between 20 and 30 percent and the federal government’s between 70 and 80 percent. States like New York and Massachusetts always bear half the costs in their states.

That formula, which shifts a little each year when the per-capita income rankings of the states are compiled, is a source of the Republican legislators’ dilemma. It is complicated business and requires a little attention.


First, a primer on the Affordable Care Act, which was fiercely hated in Arkansas when Congress passed it in 2010, although Arkansas’ senior senator then, Blanche Lincoln, helped write it and the other senator, Mark Pryor, voted for it in spite of heavy mail against it. Opposition has relaxed as people learn more about it and many realize its benefits for them, but Republicans in many parts of the state still found it a good election issue.

The law is long and complicated, but it has four major provisions.

(1) Medicare is expanded to give people free health screenings and to pay more of their prescription costs, and Medicare’s long-term outlays are reduced by scaling back payment rates to hospitals and other providers and by reducing the government subsidies to insurance companies that sell managed-care plans to Medicare recipients.

(2) Insurance companies next year will no longer be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions like cancer, heart trouble or diabetes.

(3) Medicaid is expanded in 2014 to cover the able-bodied adult poor at 100 percent federal cost until 2018, when the states will begin to pick up a rising share, which will be capped in 2021 at 10 percent.

(4) Employers with more than 50 full-time employees and individuals who are uninsured will be required to purchase an insurance plan from an array of plans offered by insurance companies in an exchange or market organized by either the state or federal government. Arkansas Republicans want the federal government to run the exchange; Beebe wants the state to run it. Large employers and individuals who opt not to participate will pay a tax to the government, although the tax will be lower than the cost of insurance.

The federal government will help people pay for the insurance if their family incomes are between 133 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, which for a family of four this year would be between $23,000 and $92,000. If family incomes are below 133 percent of the poverty line, they are eligible for Medicaid.

The Supreme Court upheld all the Affordable Care Act except the provision that required states to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Although states already are required to participate in a few Medicaid programs, the court said they could elect not to participate in this expansion.  A big majority of states will participate, but several Republican governors promptly said they would keep their states out of the coverage of poor adults even though their states would bear none of the initial costs.

Gov. Beebe said it was a no-brainer for Arkansas and he expects Arkansas to embrace the coverage, but if the Legislature doesn’t pass the appropriation that authorizes the federal expenditures the 215,000 Arkansans who are eligible will not be covered. Since the election, several Republican legislators have softened and said that they might support the Medicaid expansion, maybe with a few conditions.


If Arkansas does not participate in the Medicaid expansion, it will create a perverse situation. Everyone in Arkansas will have access to health care, most of them with insurance subsidized by the government, except the poorest workers, typically those earning minimum wage up to $12 an hour or who do not have full-time jobs.

The Affordable Care Act was a bonanza for Arkansas from the outset, as the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joe Thompson, said. Since Arkansas is so poor and so few people are insured, the two major elements of the law — the insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion — will flush billions of dollars into the Arkansas economy while improving the health and security of its people.

Two hundred thousand Arkansans who do not have health insurance, mainly because they cannot afford it, will get federal help paying the premiums. For those whose incomes are barely above 133 percent of the poverty line, the government will pay most of the premiums. Another 215,000 will be eligible for Medicaid, and the state will bear none of those costs until 2018.

All those federal dollars will turn over several times in the Arkansas economy — six times according to the Walton College of Business’ model, and increase the state’s revenues from income and sales taxes.

But if Arkansas stops the Medicaid expansion the effect will be worse than simply denying the medical care to the 215,000 and keeping the federal money out of the Arkansas economy.

That is because it also will deprive Arkansas of an additional subsidy that will help pay for some Medicaid services that are currently borne by the state. The Affordable Care Act shifts those costs, estimated at $128 million over two years, to Washington but only if the state expands Medicaid.

Here is what no one calculated: Since the economic collapse in 2007, Arkansas has fared better than the nation as a whole. It did not experience the depth of unemployment and the decline in personal incomes that afflicted industrial states and those along the seaboard, like Florida.

So Arkansas rose a little each year in the per-capita income rankings, and its Medicaid matching rate went up accordingly a little each year. A slight percentage adjustment results in tens of millions of dollars of extra state spending and a reduction in federal costs.

As a result, between 2008 and 2012, Arkansas experienced a big shortfall in state Medicaid matching money, but the state was lucky in another way. President Obama’s big stimulus program in 2009 sent Arkansas $825 million over three years to stabilize its Medicaid coverage during the recession. The $825 million more than made up for the state matching shortfall and enabled the state to bank its Medicaid trust fund, made up of soft-drink taxes.  Since the stimulus money ran out, Arkansas has been rapidly spending the trust fund to cover Arkansas’ higher Medicaid match.

The trust fund will run out and when the new fiscal year begins next July, Arkansas will face a shortage of perhaps $350 million in state Medicaid matching funds for its current programs. If the state has to slash services to save that $350 million it also will lose $1.2 billion in matching federal aid, so the total cuts would be close to $1.5 billion a year.


No one talks about raising taxes to avoid cuts in medical services. Instead, Beebe’s Medicaid office has outlined a number of cost savings it intends to implement next year, but none of them comes near closing the $350 million gap. The big step that would close it would be to end assistance for nursing home patients who can get to the bathroom and dining hall without assistance.

Republican legislators said last month they thought that was a bluff, that the state wouldn’t put 15,000 of the elderly sick on the streets. But the administration said it would not end coverage for children or the disabled in the state’s children’s colonies, which would be the other options.

If the Medicaid expansion is adopted and the federal government picks up the $128 million of state’s costs for current programs, that would reduce the state’s shortfall by a third. That provides an additional incentive for legislators to approve the expansion.

There is an even greater incentive. Hospitals and the American Medical Association, which never before endorsed a universal health-care bill, supported the Affordable Care Act even though it calls for reducing Medicare payments for hospital stays and certain procedures. The reason was that the law required people to get insured and if they were below 135 percent of poverty to be covered by Medicaid. No longer will hospitals and clinics have to absorb billions of dollars a year in charity care and raise their room rates for paying patients on Medicare or private insurance to cover the losses.

Hospitals are required to treat patients even if they have no assets or insurance. Last year, Arkansas’ community hospitals absorbed $338 million in free care for patients who couldn’t pay.


But if Medicaid is not expanded, the hospitals, especially rural hospitals in parts of the state where more than half the people have no insurance and can’t pay for extended hospital and physician care, face a financial crisis. Their Medicare reimbursements will go down under the Affordable Care Act, but their unpaid charitable care would continue. The same is true for doctors, although many doctors now do not accept Medicaid patients or poor people who cannot pay at the desk.

For that reason, hospital administrators and boards will be lobbying the legislature in January to expand Medicaid. For some hospitals, it means life or death.

The health and peace of mind of a quarter-million low-income citizens is not a big pressure point for politicians who did not count on them for votes and support in the first place. Hospital boards, families of the nursing home patients and other Medicaid recipients, and businessmen expecting the billions of federal money flushing into their communities — those people can mount some pressure.


Dr. Thompson, the surgeon general, thinks the Medicaid expansion and the subsidized premiums for people with incomes four times the poverty level offer a more far-reaching advantage for the state. Over time, providing health insurance for all low-income residents will overcome a longtime problem for small towns and rural Arkansas—the lack of primary-care doctors and facilities.

Since most residents of rural counties, especially in eastern and southern Arkansas, do not have health insurance unless they qualify for Medicare or they work for a business that covers them, small towns do not attract medical graduates and the communities cannot sustain hospitals. Most patients cannot pay for extended care or else they pay over long periods. Doctors find community practices hard and so unremunerative that they leave after a few years.

When nearly everyone has private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, that will change. New doctors will find small towns a rewarding practice. And access to health care will make small towns and regional centers appealing for business and industry.

If they get chambers of commerce on board, the Medicaid controversy will be settled promptly.

Ernie Dumas, formerly of the Arkansas Gazette, is the dean of Arkansas journalsts.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville budget set for $25.4M

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville set its 2013 general budget Thursday at $25.4 million, up less than 1 percent from the 2012 budget.

The budget maintains all the city’s current services and includes a $500 raise for all full-time city employees.

The council unanimously approved the balanced budget at its meeting.

In presenting it, Mayor Gary Fletcher said this budget was harder to balance because of a number of uncertainties. “We don’t know what the utility costs will be for the new public safety building. We don’t know what we will end up paying for the county jail and the shooting range expenses are up in the air.”

Fletcher also said the loss of 1,500 residents based on the 2010 census count also hurts. “Each person is worth about $1,000 a year in city revenue, so we are losing about $1.5 million a year,” he said.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We are on track to get our own school district within a year.”

The mayor said a feasibility study is underway and after that a petition will have to be circulated to show that Jacksonville residents support a new district. The petition will be given to the governor and the judge and then a special election will be set asking residents, officially, whether they support a separate school district. “I think we can have that election sometime next spring,” Fletcher told the council.

Delving into the budget, the breakdown is $20.1 million for the 2013 general fund, up $30,000 for 2012; $2.3 million for the street fund, up $130,000; $1.9 million for the sanitation fund, up $100,000; $1.1 million for the emergency medical services fund, up $20,000.
For the general fund, the city is expecting revenues of $13.3 million through the county and city sales taxes, both projections are up slightly from the 2012 budget. Utility franchise fees will bring in just over $1 million and court fines and related costs should bring in $788,000.
General fund expenses has $2 million for general government that includes the mayor and clerk’s offices, down $100,000 for the current budget; $12.8 million for public safety, up $150,000; $553,000 for the judicial department, up about $20,000 and $6 million for public works, up $20,000.

Taxes are expected to produce  $2 million in revenues for the street fund and close to half of that ($986,000) will go to personnel services such as salaries and insurance, up $14,000 from 2012; $751,000 will go for capital outlay, up $80,000, and $442,000 for contractual services such as beaver and mosquito control and street lights, down $10,000.
The sanitation department will get the bulk of its revenue ($1.7 million) from fees and charges.

Salaries, including benefits and insurance, will cost the department $781,000, down about $45,000 from 2012; contracted services will run $372,000, up $6,000; and landfill fees will run $199,000, down 20,000.

Charges for services will bring in $924,000 for the emergency medical-services fund and salaries and benefits will chew up $679,000 of that.

“I’ve always wondered why Washington couldn’t cut anything from its budget, but after this year I understand better,” the mayor said, but quickly added that Washington still needed to balance the budget.

In other council business:

• Aldermen voted unanimously to seat early Alderman-elect James Bolden III. He would have normally come onto the council Jan. 1, 2013, but because the set he was taking was already vacant, the council moved to bring Bolden onto the council a month early. He took the place of longtime Alderman Marshall Smith, who announced his retirement plans, but then had to give up his seat when he moved to Vilonia three months ago.

The council chamber was packed with Rev. Bolden’s friends, family and parishioners who cheered him as he was sworn-in. “I will work hard to do what is right and necessary for this great city,” he said after taking his place on the council.

• The council voted to reject all bids for the shooting range planned for 160 acres on the eastern side of the city off Loop Road.

The city was going to use a $1.5 million Arkansas Fish and Game Foundation grant and $600,000 of its own money to build the facility, which is expected to pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

However, the lowest bid was $2.9 million.

The city was trying to get the facility built by April 2013 for the youth shooting season and tournaments.

“It’s good that we are slowing down,” the mayor said. “It’s important to build it right.”

The problem is that the city will miss the spring shooting season, meaning projected income could drop convincingly until 2014.

• Aldermen also voted to reject the low bid of $68,559 from Arkansas Digital for audiovisual equipment for the new public-safety building because it did not meet specifications. The council approved the second lowest bidder, Martin Co., at $79,627.

Alderman Mike Traylor questioned the difference, but was told by the fire department representative that even if the low bidder had added in everything required it would have pushed it past the other bid.

• The council did go with the low bidder, Data Pages, and voted to spend $23,400 with the company for new network hardware.

• City Engineer Jay Whisker said his department issued 18 building permits and eight business licenses during November. The engineering department also performed 289 inspections during the month.

TOP STORY >> Perfect Christmas tree

Leader staff writer

The holidays are about bringing family together and nothing does that better than a tradition painstakingly and lovingly kept despite whatever obstacles lie in the way.

My parents and I usually drive out to Geisler’s Holiday Forest at 8917 Dorsey Road in north Pulaski County the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Walking up the hill at the back of the three-acre lot probably helps burn some, but certainly not all, of the calories from that glorious feast we had a few days before.

We typically spend two hours or more searching for our perfect Christmas tree. My boyfriend has tagged along for several years now.

Most of us grab a Styro-foam cup of the farm’s free hot spiced tea and candy canes for the trek.

Although it wasn’t there when we went this year, we usually hitch a hayride on a trailer that is attached to the Geisler’s small diesel tractor. When I was younger, that was a treat to celebrate finding our tree.

This year, my dad is working every weekend at a part-time job with 18-hour shifts He’s trying to get his foot in the door that will lead to a new and better career.

The farm is open only from 9 a.m. to dark on Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to dark on Sundays through Dec. 16.

My mom, boyfriend and I went last Saturday to pick out our tree, but we didn’t cut it down.

Jim Geisler, the owner of the farm, agreed to meet us on Monday, my dad’s day off. We didn’t want to leave him out of the tradition.

Although everything didn’t go according to plan, it sure felt the same being together to take turns sawing at the trunk of our one-of-a-kind tree. We even say “timber” as it comes down.

And we aren’t the only ones who enjoy this experience every year.

Geisler said, “We hear a lot about family traditions. We’ve had families come out since we started in ’84.”

He and his wife, Ella, bought the farm from John and Becky Rissinger that year.

The Rissingers planted the first trees at the farm in 1976, establishing the first Christmas tree farm in the county.

Jim Geisler said, “It was wall-to-wall trees. We had way more trees than we had customers.”

For the first six years, the Geislers sold trees wholesale to commercial lots while they built up a customer base for choose and cut, Jim Geisler said.

He said they haven’t done anything but choose and cut for the past 15 years.
Geisler said people should buy real trees from farms like his because they are unique.

“The main thing is the aroma that you get from fresh tree for three, four or five weeks.
 Wonderful aroma. Each tree species has its own aroma. Each tree is different. None are alike. They didn’t come out of a cookie cutter,” he said.

Geisler retired in 1995. He was a forestry expert at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, which offers research-based education programs and publications in a variety of areas.

Geisler said, “I had worked with a lot of Christmas tree growers and I like to stay busy. And that’s one way to stay busy, farming a Christmas tree farm. It’s lots of work. That’s a universal agreement among the owners of Christmas tree farms.”

The 72-year-old makes 17 trips on foot or by vehicle to each tree every year to fertilize, control weeds, control insects, control fungus, shear, stake and prune them. The sheering is done in April and August.

Geisler said that when he first took over the farm a small machete-like knife was used to sheer the trees.

Soon a sheering machine was invented and he bought one.

The machine still has a drawback, Geisler said. That drawback is hauling a 139-pound machine to the trees in 100-plus degree weather.

Geisler does most of the work on the farm. “It gives me something to do, keeps up my health,” he said.

But his family helps out. His wife does some of the mowing. His grandson, daughters and son-in-law also lend a hand with various tasks.

Geisler hires neighborhood teenagers to shake and net the trees during the brief sales season.

But planting is something the farmer must do on his own.

His farm has seven varieties of trees — two types of Leyland Cypress, Carolina Sapphire Cypress, Blue Ice Cypress, Arizona Cypress, Virginia Pine, Eastern White Pine and native Eastern Redcedar.

Geisler said, “I absolutely insist on planting, putting soil around the seed.” He said that is when something is most likely to go wrong.

He couldn’t estimate the average number he plants annually, but said he has to replace everything that is cut and then some to account for mortality. The farmer said sometimes trees die for unknown reasons and there isn’t a way to prevent that from happening.

There are about 907 trees for every acre of land, Geisler said. And that means the farm has a total of 2,721 trees.

Geisler said he sells about 200 on the weekends.

The trees are on rotations. The trees that are being sold now were planted six or seven years ago.

Geisler finished all of the planting in February.

He planted 400 White Pines and all of them died. Geisler explained, “Mother’s nature’s drought destroyed them.”

This year’s trees would have been eight or nine inches taller if there hadn’t been a drought, Geisler said.

The real hurt will come in seven years because he is behind a whole year on planting.

“There’s going to be a bunch of ‘em missing then,” Geisler said.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Jackrabbits clobber Cardinals

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits basketball team has been hampered by injuries as of late, but it didn’t slow them down in Tuesday’s 4-2A Conference opener as they clobbered Pine Bluff Dollarway 66-12 at the Lonoke High School gym. 

It’s been an uncharacteristically bad season for the Lady Cardinals (0-7, 0-1), and things didn’t get any easier against a depleted Lonoke team. Despite missing two key players, the Lady Jackrabbits (6-3, 1-0) dominated every aspect of the game.

Lonoke out-rebounded Dollarway 30-12, forced 18 turnovers while committing just eight, and made 80 percent of its free throws. The Lady Cardinals were 0 for 7 from the line.
“We’re real hurt,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “We’re real banged up. So I’m proud of the ones that had to play with pretty much no rest. I’m real happy. They played hard. You have to take what you can get, and you have to work hard in games like that. We were able to work on some of the things we needed to work on, the little things, and hopefully it gets us ready for the next conference game.”

The Lady Rabbits didn’t have much trouble in the opening quarter as they led 13-2 by the start of the second. Junior two guard Savannah Holman led Lonoke with seven points in the first quarter, and managed to do so with a banged-up wrist on her shooting hand.

Dollarway’s luck didn’t get any better in the second quarter. The Lady Cardinals committed nine turnovers in the quarter and couldn’t manage a single point. Lonoke scored 17 in the quarter to take a commanding 30-2 lead at halftime. Sophomore point guard Kerasha Johnson scored seven of her eight total points in the second quarter.

In the third quarter, Dollarway was able to more than double its point total thanks to four points by junior post player Akkeva Howard. But Lonoke pushed its lead even further with 16 points in the quarter, eight of which came from sophomore post player Eboni Willis.

Lonoke invoked the sportsmanship rule at the start of the fourth, leading 46-6. Even with a continuous clock, the Lady Rabbits racked up 20 points in the quarter. Dollarway did score the final basket on a driving layup by Candra Hayes with 1 second remaining, which made the final score 66-12.

Blocking out and rebounding, especially on the offensive end, has been an area Morris has wanted his young team to improve on as the season progresses. Lonoke was able to do that with relative ease against Dollarway, but Morris still sees room for improvement even though he was pleased overall with his team’s play. 

“We blocked out and we got a few defensive boards, but we still didn’t get a lot of offensive boards,” Morris said. “Of course we made a lot of baskets, and I don’t think there were too many misses. But that still has to be an area of improvement, and staying in front of the ball on defense.

“I think that even when we played zone in the fourth quarter, they still got by us. Our girls have got to do a better job of keeping the ball out in front of us and in space. We definitely have to get better at that.”

Willis led all scorers with 23 points. She also had six rebounds and three blocks. Callie Whitfield scored 19 points, and had four assists and two steals. Holman scored 10 and had five assists. Howard scored eight of Dollarway’s 12 points.

The Lady Rabbits will look to stay unbeaten in conference play against Southside Batesville on Tuesday at Lonoke.

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats run past Patriots at Hall Arena

Leader sports editor

Parkview was without its best player Imara Ready, but the deep and talented Patriots gave North Little Rock all it wanted anyway. In the end, the shorthanded Parkview squad couldn’t keep up with the blistering pace set by the Charging Wildcats as North Little Rock prevailed 82-68 in the first round of the Jammin for Jackets tournament at Little Rock Hall.

North Little Rock (5-1) pressured Parkview relentlessly in the early-going of the 16-minute half. The Wildcats rattled off a trio of three pointers in the first four minutes. And when Gary Vines got a steal and dished to Thomas Alexander for a fastbreak dunk, North Little Rock 15-5 and forced a Parkview timeout.

From that point and for the rest of the game, the margin stayed between five and 14 until two free throws set the final margin.

“You always expect Parkview to make a run, but we kept our composure, just never really let it happen,” North Little Rock Johnny Rice said. “On the other side of that, every time we got a little breathing room, they’d make a little run and get right back in it.”

Parkview (3-1) got within five on five-straight points by Anton Beard at 19-14. But two steals and dunks by Alexander and Kevaughn Allen quickly made it 23-14.

The lead grew to 68-54 on two Allen free throws with 7:11 left, but Parkview went on a 10-2 run to make it 70-64 with 3:55 remaining in the game.

Rice called timeout, and senior DayShawn Watkins came up with a huge play after the break. A ball fake got his defender in the air.

Watkins then penetrated into the lane, and hit a one-handed circus shot while being pulled backwards by his other arm. He added the free throw to complete the three-point play and Parkview never got within eight the rest of the way.

Three Charging Wildcats finished with more than 20 points while four finished in double figures. Allen and Alexander each scored 22. Watkins added 21 and Vines scored 10 points.

Alexander made it a double-double by pulling down 13 rebounds, and also blocked four shots.

Beard led Parkview with 20 points while Jaylen Franklin added 19 and Daryl Macon 15 for the Patriots.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot beats Chapel for first win

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers led for just a few seconds the entire game, but they led when the final buzzer sounded. And that was good enough for head coach Jerry Bridges, who saw his team pick up its first win of the season Tuesday by beating Watson Chapel 41-39 in the first round of the Cabot Pre-Holiday Invitational at Panther Arena.

“We needed that ok, but I’m going to say this, we’ve been practicing much better,” Bridges said. “Our effort in practice has been much better and we carried that over into this game.”
Free throws kept Cabot (1-3) in the game in the fourth quarter. The Panthers were 4 of 13 from the line through three quarters, but hit 11 of 13 in the fourth quarter to stay in the game and ultimately win it.

“We finally hit some free throws in the fourth quarter,” Bridges said. “Thank goodness too because we were terrible before then.”

The Panthers led twice for a total of 48 seconds in the third quarter. They didn’t lead again until 2.7 seconds were left in the game. With the score tied, Michael Smith rebounded a missed three-point attempt by Hunter York, and was fouled going back up for the putback. Smith drained both attempts and Chapel called timeout to set up a last-second shot attempt.

The Wildcats (4-2) never got the shot. The inbounds pass to midcourt was high and skimmed over the top of Santonio Cole’s fingers. A scramble for the loose ball lasted until the buzzer sounded, giving the Panthers their first win in three tries.

The Panthers opened the game in matchup zone that had Chapel puzzled for a while. The Wildcats remained patient and worked the ball around to get open shots. Three of Watson Chapel’s possessions in the first quarter lasted more than a minute, but two resulted in baskets.

Cabot also managed just two buckets, a shot in the lane by Smith and a three-pointer by York as the first quarter ended tied at five.

Watson Chapel threatened to pull away in the second quarter after getting hot from outside. Three pointers by three different players busted Cabot’s zone and Chapel moved out to an 18-10 lead. Cabot guard Bryan Shrum scored an acrobatic bucket late in the quarter as Chapel took an 18-12 lead into halftime.

Cole came off the bench and provided a spark for Chapel in the third, but York got hot from outside to keep Cabot close. Cole got a steal, four points and four rebounds – two offensive – while York scored nine of the Panthers’ 14 points in the third quarter. York’s streak came early in the period as Cabot took two brief leads. Cole came on in the latter part of the third and Chapel again led 28-26 going into the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats were called for several more fouls in the third quarter, and that led to several more trips to the line for the Panthers in the fourth. Cabot got just two field goals in the fourth quarter, which would have spelled doom for the Panthers in their previous three-and-three-quarters games. But that changed in the fourth quarter on Tuesday. Smith, who had been below 50 percent from the line this season, hit 6 of 7 attempts in the fourth quarter. Kyle Thielemier hit all four of his and Brett Frazier hit 1 of 2.

“We work on that,” Bridges said. “That’s what I want you to understand. We work on it. We hadn’t been a very good shooting team so far, but we’re working on it.”

Bench players led the way for both teams. York led all scorers with 14 points while Cole dropped in 13 for the Wildcats. Chapel’s Jalen Courtney scored 11 while Smith added 10 for the Panthers.

Watson Chapel played Catholic at 4 p.m. Friday while Cabot faced Vilonia at 7 p.m. Vilonia beat Catholic 43-40 in the first round. Other first-round games saw Benton beat Paragould and Hot Springs Lakeside knock off Searcy. Benton beat Lakeside 52-42 on Wednesday and faces the Cabot-Vilonia winner in the championship game at 4:30 p.m. today.

SPORTS STORY >> Hillside defeats Malvern at home

Leader Sportswriter

Sometimes it’s good to have a shooter who possesses that killer instinct. That’s what Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis appears to have in junior guard Ronnie Hinton, who hit a number of big-time shots in the Bears’ 77-55 victory over Malvern at the Sylvan Hills gymnasium on Tuesday.

Hinton and senior post player DeMonte Davidson shared leading-scorer honors with 18 points each.

Davidson did his work inside, while Hinton knocked down most of his shots from the outside, including three, three-point baskets. Junior point guard Delsin Parker was close behind with 17 points, with three threes of his own.

Sylvan Hills (2-1) outpaced the Leopards in a furious opening quarter, rushing out to a 26-15 lead through the first eight minutes, and maintained that margin through the second quarter to lead 40-28 at the break. Malvern was not able to bring the score within single digits again as the Bears controlled the tempo in the second half as well.

“This team has the potential to put the ball in the basket from the perimeter,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “I think we can do a little bit better job of taking quality shots at times. I thought at times, we got a little happy out there. We hit some shots, but we got to where we were thinking we can’t miss. You don’t make a team play defense when you do that. That’s a learning curve for a young team to get better at.”

The Leopards went zone against the Bears in the first half, which led to some key transition-scoring opportunities for the hosts. Hinton and Davidson both cashed in during the opening period before the outside game started opening up in the second quarter.

“I thought we got some transition buckets,” Davis said. “And that’s the thing when any team is playing zone, you have to be careful about giving up transition buckets. I thought that was really the key that kind of broke it open. I really didn’t see us get into our zone offense, because we were doing so good in primary and secondary break situations.”

Hinton broke a 12-12 tie with a three-point basket at the 3:25 mark of the first quarter, and struck again from the outside with 1:32 left to play in the first to give the Bears a 22-15 lead. He also had a number of shots just inside the arc, as well as another trey midway through the fourth quarter.

“Ronnie’s a captain on this team,” Davis said. “He’s a leader. He was on this team last year, so he’s got a ring, been to the playoffs, and consider him a playoff player. I want Ronnie playing free. I don’t want him to have to over analyze his shooting. He can take it to the basket, and he’s got a quick release, but shoots it well from the perimeter too. I thought he did a nice job leading us.”

Davidson went to the locker room at halftime with six points before he got hot in the third quarter, including a three-point basket at the 5:47 mark of the third to put Sylvan Hills up 47-32. He also went 6 of 8 at the free-throw line during the second half.


As Naomi Gregory went, so did Sylvan Hills as the Lady Bears fell to visiting Malvern 59-44 at the SHHS gymnasium on Tuesday.

Gregory got a hot hand to start the third quarter, which allowed the Lady Bears to cut a 10-point halftime deficit down to five. But when the magic ran out for Gregory late in the frame, the Lady Leopards were able to stretch it back out and control things the rest of the way.

“I’m in a situation where I’ve got five kids on that bench, where if they could handle the ball better, they would probably play more,” Lady Bears coach Shelley Davis said. “I’ve got to have somebody else who can step up and do something. You take away Naomi and Byrd and Val Jarrett, and we’re basically 80 percent sophomores.”

Byrd got going in the first quarter with a basket assisted by Calyn Fulton at the 6:52 mark and a pair of scores in the lane midway through, the second of which tied the game at 9-9 with 2:52 left to play in the first.

“The first half, they were playing us man, and I thought we were executing well off that,” Davis said. “When you go to a zone, I feel like a lot of times, you’re going to have to get in there and grind with it. We stayed in zone all night just because of their leaping ability. We just couldn’t stop them off the boards.”

For Malvern, Alvia Hall led the way with 13 points while Akasha Westbrook and post player Shakara Penix each had 12 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville figures out Goblin zone

Leader Sportswriter

Harrison stuck around long enough to keep Jacksonville honest as the Red Devils worked through some second-half jitters on their way to a 50-37 victory over the Goblins in the first round of the John Stanton/Wampus Cat Invitational basketball tournament at Buzz Bolding Arena on Thursday.

The bracket for the annual tournament was set up for the usual eight teams, but two schools backed out prior to the start of the tournament. That set up a situation where the host Wampus Cats and Red Devils each received first-round byes in the winners’ bracket, but played in the consolation bracket against the two losing teams from Monday and Tuesday. Harrison lost its first-round game to Pine Bluff on Tuesday to set up the game with Jacksonville, while Conway took on North Pulaski, a first-round loser to Bryant, in the Thursday late game.

Senior point guard Justin McCleary led the Red Devils (2-1) with 13 points, along with five rebounds, two assists and a steal. Senior guard Aaron Smith added 12 points while post player Keith Charleston led the way on the boards with 10 rebounds, eight of which were defensive. Charleston also had seven points, as did junior Sergio Berkley.

The Goblins fell behind 26-11 late in the first half before mounting a 7-2 run in the final 1:19 leading up to halftime, and slowed Jacksonville down just enough in the second half with their zone defense to keep the scoring low.

“I thought the 1-2-2 kind of spread it out,” Red Devils coach Victor Joyner said. “We weren’t hitting anything in the middle. We weren’t attacking off the dribble, and that’s what we started doing a little bit more in the third quarter. I promise the next time someone plays us in a zone like that, we will be getting in gaps.”

McCleary got active on the boards early in the second half once the Goblins started isolating Charleston in the paint. He pulled down a defensive rebound and took it all the way for a basket with 6:21 remaining in the third quarter to give Jacksonville its largest lead of the second half at 35-20.

“He just kind of runs us,” Joyner said of McCleary. “He wasn’t in a lot of scoring opportunities, but he facilitated us tonight, and that’s what a good point guard does, he tries to give you what you need at that time. He needed to distribute the ball tonight, and that’s what he did.”

McCleary gave the Red Devils an early 2-0 lead when he scored on a layup off a steal while Charleston got busy on the defensive end with a block and rebound that set up Khaleel Hart for a basket at the 6:40 mark of the first quarter to put Jacksonville up 4-0.

Sergio Berkley extended the lead to 7-0 with a three-point basket with 6:12 remaining in the opening period, an inside shot by Hart off a dish from Charleston gave Jacksonville a 9-0 lead with 5:28 left to play in the first.

Harrison finally got points on the board when post player Jackson Doshier hit two free throws, but Charleston came right back with an inside basket, followed by a three pointer by McCleary that made it 14-2 with 1:45 remaining in the first quarter.

For Harrison, Alex Rose led with 14 points while Doshier added 12 points.

Jacksonville played Bryant in the winners’ bracket semifinals last night after Leader deadlines.