Saturday, January 12, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Heartbreaker from 50 feet sinks Cabot

Leader sports editor

“I don’t have a defense for a 50-footer,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. He wished he did on Tuesday after Marion heaved a shot from beyond the halfcourt line and nailed it, giving the hosting Patriots a 35-32 victory in a 7A/6A East Conference matchup.

“Our boys did a great job, we just had too many turnovers,” Bridges said. “They did everything I asked of them. They played great defense first of all. They did a great job of controlling the tempo and they did a great job on offense once we got into our halfcourt sets. We just have to do better at taking care of that ball.”

Marion’s pressure hurt the Panthers (6-7, 0-2) at times and turned into a few easy baskets for the home team. It was almost the only way Marion (9-2, 2-0) could produce any points, as Cabot’s matchup zone befuddled the Patriots the entire game.

“I told the kids to get beat three on the road by a shot from beyond half court, and have 25 turnovers, that means you did everything else pretty well,” Bridges said. “If not for the turnovers we played a solid all-around game.”

Seniors Ryan Stafford and Kyle Thielemier led the Panthers with 10 points apiece.

The Lady Panthers had better luck in a similarly close game, beating the Lady Patriots (7-5, 0-2) 59-57. It was Marion’s second two-point loss in a row. The Marion girls lost by two on the road at Mountain Home last Friday.

“We were expecting a competitive game,” Cabot assistant coach Charles Ruple said. “We didn’t know anything about them because it’s the first time we’ve ever played, but we knew from that Mountain Home score they were going to be a good team.”

The Lady Panthers pushed out to a 29-21 lead at halftime, but Marion clawed its way back into the game in the fourth quarter utilizing the foul strategy.

Cabot (8-4, 1-1) failed to put the game away by missing several free throws down the stretch.

“Thankfully we kept playing pretty good defense,” Ruple said. “But we’ve got to hit those (free throws) and put teams away. It shouldn’t have been that difficult. We felt like we shot ourselves in the foot, but you always like to win. Winning on the road in conference is a big deal I guess no matter how you get it done.”

Cabot hosted Mountain Home on Friday and will travel to Little Rock Central on Tuesday.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils slam hosting Warriors

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got another sweep in 5A Central Conference play on Tuesday, this time it was on the road as the Red Devils and Lady Red Devils knocked off Little Rock Christian Academy 64-35 and 67-49 respectively.

The boys game was over early in the second quarter. Jacksonville started out with heavy full-court pressure and the Warriors couldn’t handle it. The Red Devil guard duo of seniors Aaron Smith and Justin McCleary torched LRCA early with steals and transition baskets.

Smith and McCleary scored eight points in the first quarter as the Red Devils built a 20-4 lead. They also combined for the first eight points of the second quarter to push the margin to 28-4.

Moments later, Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner began using his second and third string players, and he wasn’t pleased with the result.

“One of the hardest parts of this game is keeping kids motivated,” Joyner said. “They looked up at that scoreboard and just relaxed. Good teams don’t do that. Good teams keep that intensity up, especially when you’re coming off the bench fighting for playing time. My bench did not play well in that first half.”

The Warriors (1-10, 0-2) outscored Jacksonville 19-18 in the second quarter to go into halftime down 38-23.

The Warriors’ respite only lasted as long as halftime. Jacksonville (9-3, 2-0) outscored the home team by 16 in the third quarter to take a 31-point margin into the final quarter and put the mercy rule clock into effect.

Other than the 19-point second quarter allowed by the Red Devils, LRCA managed no more than six points in any other quarter.

“Our defense was good most of the night,” Joyner said. “In the second half I thought the bench players did a lot better. We still struggle sometimes scoring, but if they’ll play defense the offense will come along.”

Smith finished with 17 points to lead all scorers. McCleary added 15.

The Lady Red Devils didn’t start as well as the boys, but they finished just as strong, beating Little Rock Christian Academy 67-49. The Lady Warriors (7-8, 1-1) outscored Jacksonville 14-9 in the first quarter and held serve in the second. Both teams scored 15 points in the second period and went into halftime with Little Rock Christian leading 29-24.

Jacksonville battled back to take a 39-38 lead at the end of the third quarter, then dominated the fourth. The Lady Devils finally found their shooting touch and scored 28 points in the final period.

“I haven’t done the statistics, but I bet we got five shots in each of our first two possessions, and missed them all,” Jacksonville girls coach Katrina Mimms said. “We probably missed close to our first 20 shots of the game. We just couldn’t hit anything.”

Jacksonville got a little help from an unexpected source. Junior guard Keke Alcorn hit three three pointers in the second half and finished with 11 points. Alcorn’s playing time picked up with the absence of junior Tiffany Smith, who is out indefinitely with back problems.

Senior Jessica Jackson and sophomore Shakyla Hill each scored 17 points while Markela Bryles added 16 for the Lady Devils.

Jacksonville (8-5, 2-0) played at cross-town rival North Pulaski last night after The Leader deadlines. Look for details of that game in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader. They will be back at home on Tuesday against McClellan, a game that will have huge implications in the boys standings.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke gets road sweep of Marianna

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits earned their second-straight 4A-2 Conference road win on Tuesday, beating the Marianna Trojans 53-37.

Lonoke used several players in its rotation in the opening quarter and it worked as the Jackrabbits jumped out to a 19-10 lead at the end of the first. By the end of the half, Lonoke pushed its lead to 30-16.

“We played a lot of kids in the first quarter and second quarter,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell. “(Marianna) plays a lot as well. I thought defensively we played really hard. We did some good things offensively, especially to put up 19. We still left some (points) out there with free throws, but all-in-all I was real pleased with the way we played.”

The Trojans were able to outscore the Jackrabbits 13-8 in the third quarter, which cut the Lonoke lead to single digits by the start of the fourth. But the ‘Rabbits racked up 15 points in the final quarter to leave Marianna with the double-digit conference win.

“I was real happy,” Campbell said of his team’s win. “It’s always tough to win there. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve won at Marianna. But we came out early and set the tone at the beginning, and really mashed, and maybe went a little bit beyond the effort and intensity that they brought. I was real happy to see that.”

The win improves Lonoke’s record to 9-4 overall and 3-1 in conference play. It was a solid win for the ‘Rabbits, but Campbell would like to see his team play with more urgency at the end of games.

“We still have to learn how to close,” Campbell said. “Play with more of a killer instinct and finish teams off, but we’re getting better and that’s what I was happy to see. (Marianna’s) graduated 10 starters over the past two years, but nevertheless, they’re long and athletic and they bring a lot of pressure. And our guys handled it pretty well.”

Eight different players scored for Lonoke in the winning effort. Senior post player Reid McKenzie led the way with 12 points. Dra Offord scored 11. Darian Young scored seven. Darrius McCall and Blake Mack added five points apiece. Caleb Bracy and Zack Risner each scored four points, and Jamel Rankin added two.

In the girls’ game, the Lady Jackrabbits got back into the winning column with a 55-41 win over the Lady Trojans to improve to 8-8 on the season. Lonoke held a two-point lead at the end of the first quarter, but an 18-point second quarter catapulted the Lady ‘Rabbits to a 29-14 lead at halftime.

The sophomores showed out for Lonoke as Kerasha Johnson led the Lady ‘Rabbits with 16 points. Haiden Jeter and Eboni Willis scored 10 points apiece. Amanda Sexton scored eight points. Callie Whitfield added seven. Riely Rowton scored three points and Jasalyn Truelove added one.

The ‘Rabbits and Lady ‘Rabbits hosted Heber Springs yesterday in another 4A-2 Conference game. Look for details of those games in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader. Both teams continue conference play on Tuesday at Pine Bluff Dollarway.

SPORTS STORY >> Day gets recruiting over fast, commits

Leader sports editor

Juan Day is very soft spoken, but his play said enough to garner a scholarship offer from the Arkansas Razorbacks this week. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior from North Little Rock responded by making a verbal commitment to the Razorbacks on Monday, hoping to become one of a long line of ultra successful running backs to play for new Hogs’ coach Bret Bielema.

“Arkansas is the school I’ve always wanted to play for,” Day told The Leader on Wednesday. “I wanted to go ahead and get the recruiting thing out of the way so I can focus on being a better teammate and winning a championship.”

Arkansas is the first BCS school to extend a hard offer, but other major universities are showing a serious interest. Among the schools that have been the most interested in Day are Auburn, Georgia Tech and Memphis.

Last season Day played in just nine of the Charging Wildcats’ 12 games because a helmet-to-helmet hit in the Searcy game left him with a concussion.

In those nine games, he carried 127 times for 922 yards. That’s a 7.25 yards-per-carry average.

Day said the recruiting circus and media attention surrounding senior teammate Altee Tenpenny had something to do with his decision to commit early.

“(Altee) said you get frustrated sometimes with all the attention,” Day said. “Sometimes he just wanted someone to ask him how his day was going instead of where he’s going to school. That’s not all we’re about so I just want to try and not have to deal with that.”

Day certainly is not just about football. Among the list of things he enjoys besides football, his first answer was, “I just like hanging out with my family.”

Day is the son of Roosevelt and Wynona Day of Little Rock and has three siblings that he’s clearly proud of. Speaking barely above a whisper for most of the conversation, Day’s face broadened into a big smile and his voice became louder when he decided to interject something that had not been asked.

“I have something else to say,” Day began. “My little brother Alex is playing here next year and he’s going to be a great talent. He’s in eighth, going into ninth grade and he’s going to be really good. I’m real proud of him.”

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons falter against Bruins

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski boys suffered a disappointing loss at home to Pulaski Academy on Tuesday, falling 48-38. The Bruins played a matchup 3-2 zone and the Falcons failed to figure it out the entire game.

Pulaski Academy (5-3, 2-0) also continues to improve with the addition of point guard Marcus Wallace, who missed most of the nonconference season with injuries.

“We’re really fortunate to have a guard like Brandon Brady who is capable of playing the one or the two,” Pulaski Academy coach Roger Franks said. “But we’re much better when he can focus on moving without the ball and scoring more. We’re a better team with Marcus running the point, and he’s been doing a wonderful job since he returned.”

In many ways, the game became a battle between two freshmen. North Pulaski’s RaShawn Langston and Pulaski Academy’s Lawson Korita led their respective teams in scoring. Langston was the only Falcon in double figures with 17 points while Korita led four Bruins in double figures with 14.

North Pulaski’s pressure forced Korita to turn the ball over several times, but the Falcons failed to capitalize on many of the 16 turnovers they forced the Bruins into.

“We just missed too many opportunities,” North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson said. “I thought we played good defense and we got a lot of steals and forced turnovers, but we failed so many times to turn those into points. And then we have to take better care of the basketball too. We had way too many turnovers to just be playing against a matchup zone.”

North Pulaski (7-6, 1-1) overcame big deficits twice, but both times saw their work dissipate quickly. Pulaski Academy had led by as many as nine points in the first half before North Pulaski cut it to 24-20 by halftime. The Falcons then scored four quick points in the third quarter to tie the game with 7:20 left in the period. They didn’t score again in the third at all.

The defense was still there. The Bruins scored a bucket with six minutes left in the third to make it 26-24, and neither team scored again for almost five minutes. But the Bruins scored five in the final 1:26 of the quarter to take a 31-24 lead into the final frame.

Wallace drained a three pointer to make it a 10-point game early in the fourth, but the Falcons fought back with a 6-0 run.

A crucial turning point in the game came with 2:35 remaining. The Bruins answered North Pulaski’s run with seven straight points for a 41-30 lead. North Pulaski then scored six straight and sent Wallace to the line at 2:35 for a 1-and-1. Franks called the rest of his team over for a huddle, leaving four Falcons and Wallace at the free-throw lane. Wallace missed the front end, but got his own rebound among the flat-footed Falcons and was fouled again going back up.

“We just can’t afford those kinds of mental breakdowns,” Jackson said. “We’ve got some talent this year, but we don’t have the kind of talent that can overcome all the mistakes we’re making. We have to clean this up and be a more sound basketball team.”

The Lady Falcons dropped their second-straight conference game, losing 50-21 to the Lady Bruins (6-6, 1-1). North Pulaski (3-6, 0-2) didn’t score its first basket until the 4:22 mark of the second quarter. Pulaski Academy’s Joy Porter hit a bucket 15 seconds into the fourth quarter to start the mercy rule clock at 47-16.

Friday, January 11, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Sherwood acts on harassment

Sherwood Police Chief Jim Bedwell sent a clear message to his officers last week when he fired Lt. Josh Adams after receiving sexual-harassment complaints about him from a female police officer.

Bedwell said he will require that his staff take sexual-harassment prevention courses this month, which should help the city avoid costly and embarrassing lawsuits.

Bedwell became chief in 2009 after the police department settled a sexual-harassment lawsuit. He was promoted to the position soon after the city’s civil service commission found that Kel Nicholson, Bedwell’s predecessor, had unfairly fired a detective after she reported alleged sexual harassment from a fellow officer.

The woman detective was reinstated and given back pay and Nicholson was later reassigned to a lesser administrative position. There were other women who complained they had been treated unfairly because of their gender while he was in charge.

Nicholson is still a respected and well-liked member of the department. But Bedwell is trying to avoid the types of problems that Nicholson encountered.

He is also trying to protect the image of his department that deserves more attention for its professionalism and dedication to the community than for a handful of tawdry incidents.

So far Bedwell seems likely to succeed, and Mayor Virginia Hillman is confident he will. “We hope the message is loud and clear. I support the chief and his decision. The chief did exactly what he should have done,” she says in today’s paper.

EDITORIAL >> Auditorium finally rebuilt

North Pulaski High School has a new auditorium after a tornado destroyed the old one nearly two years ago. This is welcome news for Jacksonville, which is seldom the beneficiary of facility improvements from the Little Rock-based Pulaski County Special School District.

As Leader staff writer Sarah Campbell reported Wednesday, the new $3 million Sandy Reed Auditorium is state of the art and modern looking. With walls that have been reinforced with concrete, it should withstand powerful storms.

PCSSD officials, including the district’s chief operating officer Derek Scott, successfully negotiated with the insurance companies to pay all of the reconstruction costs. The district only had to pay a $1,000 deductible. That’s a badly needed bargain for a struggling district that has been under state control for about two years and has so far failed to get its finances in order.

The new auditorium is a testament to the potential of Jacksonville schools and an independent school district. It offers hope to a community that believes good schools are possible not only in neighboring cities to the north.

The new auditorium has natural lighting, stylish seating and soundboards, which will improve the acoustics during performances. Dressing rooms are well designed, and there’s ample storage space for props and wardrobes.

If improvements like this had been made 15 years ago, perhaps PCSSD would be more respected in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, the movement for the city to break away from PCSSD and form an independent, north Pulaski County school district is gaining momentum and could soon become a reality.

But PCSSD seems to only make improvements in Jacksonville when there is a natural disaster or when its schools fall so far behind that the federal government provides emergency funding as was the case with Jacksonville High School.

The high school qualified for a special college preparation program because it ranked in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools. The program is funded by a portion of a $5.7 million federal grant. As Sarah Campbell also reported this week, bright students at JHS are eligible to take courses for college credit from Arkansas State University-Beebe.

Nine students recently completed their first semester of classes at the Joint Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base. They talked about how getting a taste of college classes has given them confidence that they can succeed at the university level. All of the students plan to attend college. One may attend Duke University and another would like to go to the University of California at Berkeley, while others plan to attend prestigious schools across the state.

“It’s been a good program. We’re so proud she’s achieved it and done so well. It really did mature her,” a mother boasted of her daughter’s success in the program.

We hope to say the same of PCSSD after it is released from state control.

TOP STORY >> Carter: Watch Medicaid spending

Leader senior staff writer

In many respects, Arkansas should be the envy of other states, with a balanced budget, and a $300 million surplus soon to grow to $700 million, House Speaker Davy Carter of Cabot told a full house at the Clinton School of Pubic Service at noon Friday.

Carter, the first Republican House speaker since 1871, summed up what he said was the biggest challenge facing the state — whether or not it could afford to expand its Medicaid coverage without draining the state budget.

Carter, who has just resigned as the division president of Centennial Bank in Cabot, said he hoped to build a cross-the-aisle coalition with Democrats to move the state forward, cooperating in a way not fashionable these days in Washington.

He said he re-signed from the bank to devote 110 percent of his time to his job as speaker, and brushed aside the suggestion that he is running for the Republican nomination as governor.

“Some day, Gov. Beebe will go down as one of the best, if not the best, governor in state history,” he said.

Carter said the state has many challenges, including improving education and infrastructure. But he feared that if the state adopted the new Medicaid track B, which he said would add more than 200,000 people to the state’s Medicaid rolls, there would not be enough money to address those other issues.

He said it was not a good thing that 35 percent of the people in the state are sufficiently poor as to qualify for Medicaid.

“I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” he said, adding that legislators would have to study the financial implications of adding to the Medicaid rolls.

The federal government would pay the additional costs at first, but that would be phased out, he said.

“We need to allocate capital to the areas of need that we want to see changed, but there is a finite amount of capital,” Carter said.

Policy makers will have to make hard choices about allocations to education and infrastructure, and with the General Assembly about to start up, “the time is getting closer,” he said.

In visiting with different people and groups around the state, “the conversation has always ended up with Medicaid.”

“What we do will affect everything,” he added. “I expect vigorous policy debates.”

“We will be accountable, we will be responsible and we will be receptive,” he said.

Carter said he loved Arkansas, citing its diversity in people, geography and economics.

“Arkansas is open for business,” he said.

In response to a question, Carter said the current term-limit law needs to be revisited.

“To elect someone in November and expect them to be an expert on all things by January is wrong,” he said. Carter says term limits are a good idea, but they need to be longer.

TOP STORY >> Governor touts Air Force base, offers his help

Leader senior staff writer

The General Assembly will consider two bills proposed by Gov. Mike Beebe that would be good for service members and their families, particularly those at Little Rock Air Force Base. The bill would put the base in a better position when the next round of base closures is considered.

That was the message the governor pushed at Camp Robinson Thursday at a meeting of the community councils of the state’s various military installations.

Congress looks at the welfare of service people at a base as well as of their families during the base realignment and closure process, he said.

An interstate education compact would make it easier for the school-aged children, who as the result of military transfers, find themselves in new school districts. He is proposing legislation that would make those transfers and transfers of course credits easier.


Beebe also wants a law that would recognize certifications and licenses from other states for military spouses transferred to Arkansas bases and camps. For instance, it would recognize nursing licenses and teaching certificates issued by other states.

Most of the active-duty military members in the state are stationed at LRAFB. Those in the National Guard and Reserves usually aren’t transferred.

“We are soldier and soldiers’ families friendly,” Beebe said.

“If the Air Force and the Pentagon look at the efficiencies, they’ll leave the 188th National Guard A-10 fighter wing at Fort Smith in tact, and minimize any reductions in force at Little Rock Air Force Base,” the governor told the group.

The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act appears to cut the size of the 19th Airlift Wing’s C-130 fleet by 16 planes, while leaving the 314th Air Education and Training Command Wing about the same and growing the Reserves and National Guard stationed at the base.

“You talk about the 188th in Fort Smith, there’s probably not a more efficient A-10 outfit in America,” Beebe said.

“If you don’t think the National Guard is capable of fulfilling on an equal basis the missions with their full-time counterparts, then why are we sending them to Afghanistan in the first place?” the governor said. “They’re going side by side.”

Based on efficiencies, “if you’re going to leave one A-10 outfit in the whole world, it ought to be the 188th,” he said.

That wing trains at a range that is within minutes of its base. They don’t have to fly across half a state, or two states, to get to a range. They don’t have to spend additional money on fuel.

“Given the fact that a lot of the personnel aren’t full time personnel, that’s another savings,” Beebe said.


As a member of the six- person executive council of the National Governor’s Association, Beebe went to Washington late last year to tell Congress to not let the country go over the fiscal cliff and to make necessary budget cuts equitable.

For instance, he told them not to cut federal funding used to pay for mandates without cutting the mandates to states would have to continue funding.

“There’s going to be some sacrifice on all our parts, but make sure the cuts are fair and not disproportionately on the backs of some of us,” he said.


Second Dist. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Little Rock) said that if the cuts do occur, he hopes that some of the 36 unassigned C-130s included in the act would end up assigned to the base and to the 19th Airlift Wing.

Speaking of President Obama’s suggestion that he might issue new gun laws by executive order, Griffin said, “Politically, he’s going about it all wrong. There’s already a general feeling based on facts that this president has misused his executive authority.”

“They know that people have a mistrust of him,” Griffin continued.

“Why would you come out and say that? I’m sure they have a grand plan in mind,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Griffin wants oversight of defense cuts

Leader publisher

Proposed cuts in defense spending may have a limited impact here, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) said after visiting with commanders at Little Rock Air Force Base this week.

Pryor is hoping proposed cuts at the base will be “net neutral” if training expands here and overseas missions decrease as the United States withdraws from two wars in Southwest Asia.

The Pentagon has proposed moving 16 old C-130H cargo planes and cutting some 300 personnel from the 19th Airlift Wing, which would create a net loss here, Griffin said, even if the Guard and Reserves see increases and the 314th Airlift Wing gets no cuts.

Griffin also cited a push in Congress to add 36 C-130s to the transport fleet.

Pryor is optimistic that an additional flight simulator, along with a bigger role for the Air National Guard and Reserves, will boost the training mission here.

“Little Rock Air Force Base always comes out ahead during realignments,” said Pryor, who visited the base on Wednesday.

Griffin, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Leader on Friday that he is opposed to across-the-board cuts in military spending and wants congressional oversight to limit cuts to where spending is wasteful.

Griffin thinks defense spending needs to come down, but he says it’s unfair to punish programs that are working, such as the fleet of C-130s at the Jacksonville base that is “the leader for C-130 training and continues to be No. 1.”

Although President Obama and Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff when they worked out an agreement on taxes and some spending cuts, sequestration — or forced cuts in the defense budget — could be back on the table in a couple of months.

“Little Rock Air Force Base can stand on its own merit, while there are bases that don’t do as well. Let’s spend money on what works,” Griffin said in an interview.

“Little Rock Air Force Base will be fine in this time of cuts,” Griffin said. “The Guard and Reserves are getting substantial increases.”

“Across-the-board cuts affect everybody,” he added. “We should provide specifics of what’s not working and leave centers of excellence alone.

“Our greatest threat is the national debt. We knew everybody would be impacted,” he continued. “We knew defense cuts were coming. We need targeted cuts for programs that don’t work.”

He said congressional committees should have oversight “to determine which programs are working. The House and Senate need to be proactive and identify inefficiencies.”

Griffin cited one report that identified $170 billion in wasteful defense spending. For example, he called the proposed alternative engine for the F-35 fighter jet wasteful, while C-130s, some of them 50 years old, deliver good value for every dollar spent.

Pryor and Griffin received briefings from commanders and community leaders. Pryor visited the new security operations center, which was recently built for $10.4 million.

Pryor noted the growth of the new 22nd Reserves Wing on base, which has some 300 personnel and 10 C-130s.

He is also hopeful the Air Force will revive the Avionics Modernization Program, which is now on hold.

The program would add modern avionics equipment to older C-130s for $7 million per plane, a fraction of the cost of a new C-130J.

Five older planes have been upgraded and are with the National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing at the base.

Pryor said the addition of more C-130Js on base will also enhance the C-130 mission because the new plane can carry more personnel and cargo.

The base trains thousands of airmen from the United States and some 40 foreign nations.

To cut the military budget this year by as much as $60 billion, the Pentagon has eliminated 30,000 positions and retired nearly 1,900 aircraft, according to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.

More cuts are on the way, the secretary said.

The size of the Air Force will fall to 329,000, the smallest force since the service started in 1947.

Pryor realizes that spending cuts are inevitable as Washington must find ways to balance the federal budget and address the deficit.

“The military budget is declining, and we have to stretch our dollars. We have to do more with less,” the senator said.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

TOP STORY >> Twelve stories in 2012 that defined the year

Leader staff writer

After culling through more than 1,000 news pages that The Leader printed in 2012, here are the top 12 stories, in no particular order. Some, like the air base, the Pulaski County Special School District and the weather, always seem to make the final cut.

The base for its good news, solid community relations and economic impact; PCSSD for its continued fumbling of education, and the weather for its destructive acts.

Other stories, like the mother and the four children killed in a fire or the three first responders struck by a car and one being killed, hopefully, are one-time entries.


During spring break in March, a fire killed a single mother and her four children living in a Department of Housing and Urban Development-controlled duplex in Jacksonville. Aside from the tragedy of the five deaths, the incident raised questions about HUD management of Max Howell Place and fire department procedures.

Firefighters had been battling a house fire across the highway from the duplex when an early-morning call came in from a neighbor smelling smoke. Firefighters responded to the duplex and, using thermal imagers, detected no smoke, hot spots or activity that would allow them to enter. But they could smell smoke from the other fire. They left without entering the duplex.

Hours later, the firefighters were called back and the bodies were discovered. The mother and one small child were in the bathroom and the other three children were in their beds. None were burned, but all died from smoke inhalation.

Apparently a small fire erupted on the stove and was either put out or went out on its own, but smoke filtered through the home and killed the residents. The fire alarm was nine years older than its expiration date and the wires appeared to be cut.

The father, a truck driver, was out of town when the fire occurred and is considering a lawsuit. Three of the children went to Warren Dupree Elementary and the school had a tough time dealing with the deaths. The school held a special memorial for the students a week after everyone returned from spring break.

The victims were Dequan Single-ton, 10; Sydni Singleton, 9; Haylee Beavers, 6; Emily Beavers, 4, and Marilyn Beavers, 30.


About a week before the fatal fire, a firefighter was killed when a driver ignored police and fire department warnings and drove into three first responders.

Another firefighter and a police officer were also injured. The three men were helping the driver’s mother out of her car, which she drove into a ditch off Hwy. 161 in Jacksonville.

The driver, Bryce Allen, 47, had a history of mental problems and had tried to run down a police officer a few years earlier in Ohio. His mother called him, along with the police department, when she wrecked her car and struck a gas main.

Fire Capt. Donald Lee Jones, 56, a 31-year veteran of the department, was killed—the first Jacksonville firefighter to die while on duty. Firefighter Jason Bowmaster and police officer Daniel Dimatteo were seriously injured.

Dimatteo has returned to full duty.Bowmaster is still recovering, but can walk and drive. He still needs at least one more surgery.

Fire Station Four on Hwy. 161 will be dedicated in honor of Capt. Jones.

Allen was been declared incompetent to stand trial at this point. His status will be re-evaluated in June.


Almost everyone, from Jacksonville residents to the Pulaski County Special School District to the state Education Department, now agrees that Jacksonville should have its own school district.

In May, the school district went on record in court that splitting up the district would help the district achieve unitary status and emerge more quickly from fiscal distress. So what are the delays? The courts and a feasibility study.

The feasibility study is being conducted to ensure that Jacksonville can financially support its own school district, that the district will be within the required black/white percentages and that it won’t skewer the county racial percentages.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said the feasibility study should be completed soon and then will be presented to the courts. From there it will go to the state.

The proposed Jacksonville school district would include North Pulaski and Jacksonville high schools, Jacksonville Middle School, Arnold Drive, Bayou Meto, Tolleson, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood and Warren Dupree elementary schools and Homer Adkins Pre-K center.


The Pulaski County Special School District, which was taken over by the state, spent most of the year cutting the budget and trying to toss the employee unions out.

The unions spent most of their time staying involved, active and being the voice of the teachers and employees. They even tried to get the governor to side with them.

Lawsuits have been filed over the state and districts efforts to ignore the unions.

But through the year, neither side has made much mention of students as the district continued to lag behind state averages on the annual Benchmark and end-of-course exams. Graduation rates, although improving, were still well behind the state average.


With a population around 6,000 and because it pumps about $780 million into the local economy, Little Rock Air Force Base is always in the news.

In 2012, the 19th Airlift Wing got a new commander, Col. Brian Robinson. Col. Edward Brewer took over the reins of the 314th Airlift Wing.

First Lady Michelle Obama visited, focusing on the quality and healthiness of food served to the airmen.

When Superstorm Sandy hit, many military aircraft were flown into LRAFB for safety and crews here were put on standby to assist in the wake of the storm.

Additional planes and airmen were assigned to the base during the year and modernization work started on older C-130s.

Throughout the year, base members were deployed and returned from Afghanistan, the Middle East and other areas where they supported the war on terrorists.


More than 200,000 visitors packed into Little Rock Air Force Base over a two-day period in September to watch the Blue Angels and other military units perform.

Base spokesman Arlo Taylor said, “I don’t think you could have custom ordered better weather. We are humbled by the massive outpouring of support for our air show by more than 200,000 of our neighbors. It was a tremendous honor to show off our base to them.”


A week before Christmas, the forecasters were being optimistic, declaring there was a slight chance of snow for part of the state on Christmas—little did they know.

As Christmas rolled close snow went from a minute chance to guaranteed, but the questions of how much varied from an inch to 10 inches and no one seemed to have gotten the ice factor correct.

In the end, the rain hit early Christmas. It turned into sleet and ice followed by 10 inches of snow. It cracked tree limbs, electric poles and essentially shutting the state down for two days. The storm put almost 200,000 in the dark.

The outages ranged from a few hours to a few days to a week or more. Many homes and vehicles suffered damages and hotels in the area with power went from half full to having waiting lists.

Now that the snow has melted and most people have their electricity back on all eyes are turning to the costs and long-term repairs.

But long before the snow was dry hot weather. The summer turned out to be the hottest on record. About 85 percent of the state was in the severe drought category and Jacksonville, along with other cities, canceled Fourth of July fireworks because of the dry conditions.


Will it or will it not be built? After a year of yes, no, maybe, it’s a doubtful maybe.

The planned $500 million highway loop that is suppose to connect Hwy. 67/167 with Hwy. 107, then through Camp Robinson to I-40, near the I-430 exchange was dealt a blow when a Sherwood developer sued and won a lawsuit that allowed him to start building in the proposed right of way.

Even though the state has spent millions acquiring rights of way for the North Belt, it didn’t have enough to grab all the land it needed in Sherwood.

In the meantime, Metroplan officials put the blame on the state highway department and the highway department faulted Metroplan for lack of action on the project.

Area cities talked about dedicated taxes, regional help and tolls, but nothing transpired in 2012 to move the project out of the grave and back on the road to completion.


It was announced three times that funding was set for a 14-station sports shooting range, which would bring in millions of dollars to Jacksonville.

The governor even came out to a groundbreaking on 160 acres set for the facility, but it has yet to be purchased.

By the end of the year, funding, mostly from the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, seemed to be in place, with the county, city and private donors chipping in the rest.

But bids came in too high twice and were going out one more time. Original plans called for the facility to be completed in April in time to host the youth sports shooting tournaments, which would have generated part of an economic impact of close to $5 million.

Now the hope is that construction will start by April.


Three area golf courses closed during 2012, but two managed to reopen.

Two golf courses at Greystone in Cabot went under and the title owner, Metropolitan Bank, offered the course for sale at an auction. But the bank turned down the high bids for not being high enough.

In March, the bank sold the front golf course (Mountain Springs) for $650,000 to a Melbourne businessman who had the course opened by early summer. The back course (Cypress Creek), which was purchased by a Cabot businessman for $415,000, was reopened in late summer.

But there were no buyers or takers for the Lonoke Golf Course, which closed in April after the owners retired.


After more than a year of dangling the carrot, the Arkansas State Fair board voted to turn down Jacksonville’s offer of 440 acres of prime land off I-440 and Hwy. 161, along with more than $1 million worth of infrastructure, to stay in Little Rock on their 80-acre site.

Little Rock offered to buy and give the fair some additional acreage and offered it cash to stay.

Although Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher was initially upset by the decision, he feels the only one who will be hurt in the long run will be the state fair. The mayor is continuing to pursue efforts to lock up the land for a regional fair, a large entertainment complex or some other business.

“There’s a lot of interest in that property and Jacksonville will benefit,” the mayor said.


What would an even year be without elections? This year, longtime District Judge Robert Batton of Jacksonville held on to his robe by four votes as attorney and newcomer Marshall Nash challenged him.

Jacksonville added three new faces to the city council as long-term aldermen Marshall Smith, Bob Stroud and Linda Rinker opted to retire or not run again.

In Cabot, Alderman Patrick Hutton dropped out of the race because of a possible conflict with his federal job, but still won his seat. After the results were official, Howell submitted his resignation to the council. A quirk in the law would let the council reappoint him if it wanted to, but the council ended up selecting Dallan Buchanan, who ran unsuccessfully against Hutton in the November election.

In Lonoke County, either a Republican or a Democrat who converted to a Republican won just about every seat.

TOP STORY >> JHS students thrive at college level

Leader staff writer

Nine Jacksonville High School students recently celebrated the end of their first college semester.

They were the first group to take advantage of the school’s concurrent credit program through ASU-Beebe.

The tuition and books for the three- or four-hour course each student enrolled in were paid for with a portion of the $5.7 million federal school-improvement grant JHS received after being ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.

The school received $2 million of the grant in June 2011 and was renewed for that same amount this year.

JHS could get the remaining $1.7 million for 2013-14 if the money is used appropriately and the results are positive. And the results of the school’s concurrent program have met that standard, according to the students.

Brandon Toombs, a junior, has earned a three-hour credit in college algebra from ASU-Beebe. He and the other students attended their classes at the Jacksonville-Little Rock Air Force Base joint-education center on Vandenberg Boulevard.

Toombs plans to enroll in statistics next semester. The semester starts next week.

“I wanted to knock out freshman classes and leave a legacy at Jacksonville High School,” he said.

Toombs shared that he learned that college students have to rely on themselves more and scheduling is much different.

“It’s up to you. You don’t have to go to school every day. It’s spaced out and you leave when you choose to leave,” he said.

Toombs’ dream school is the University of Tennessee, but he said his mom wants him to attend Duke University in North Carolina. He wants to major in mathematics or sports management.

Senior Sara Rabun took a four-hour biology lecture and lab. She said she learned how to balance school with other activities.

Rabun explained that she was also held more accountable. She and the other biology students had to review recorded lectures rather than hear them in the classroom.

“What was challenging was making myself go over the lectures,” Rabun said.

She said the advantages of the program included not having to pay for the credit and having people readily available to help.

“If I need help, there are teachers here (at JHS),” Rabun said. She wants to major in history or psychology at Lyon College in Batesville.

Junior Kyaira Brown completed the three-hour English I course.

She said, “I didn’t have to pay for it. I’ll have to take less classes (for my degree). It’s early college experience.”

Brown said she also learned that students play a larger role in college.

“(Your courses are) based off your schedule,” she said.

Brown intends to become a veterinarian. She wants to attend Henderson State University in Arkadelphia

Senior Damitrious Ervin also took English I.

He said, “I always thought (college) would be harder, but it’s easier. It’s not a bunch of homework. It’s more learning. It’s really you decide how it turns out.”

Ervin plans to go to the University of California at Berkley. He moved from California to Arkansas this year. He wants to enter the medical field as a technical surgeon, and is also considering computer science.

The students aren’t the only ones that have been impacted positively by the new program.

Parent Peggy Buchanan said her daughter, Ivy Wallace, has really grown up this past semester.

“It’s been a good program. We’re so proud she’s achieved it and done so well. It really did mature her,” she said.

The students were only allowed to take one course last semester, according to JHS graduation coach Paige Viger.

She said there is no limit, other than the students’ high school schedules, on how many courses they can take this semester.

The concurrent enrollment program is open to any JHS students who have taken and passed the COMPASS exams or scored a 19 or higher on the ACT.

Both tests are used to determine if entering college freshmen need remedial classes.

TOP STORY >> Key roles for Guard, Reserves

Leader senior staff writer

The proposed reduction of 16 older model C-130 airlifters at Little Rock Air Force Base and about 450 jobs “won’t affect our mission at all for the 19th Airlift Wing,” Col. Brian Robinson, commander of both the wing and the base, said Tuesday afternoon.

These are the airmen and planes that have done most of the heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan and upon which the Pentagon most relies for in-theater transport.

Robinson’s tactical wing is slated to lose 28 legacy C-130s, but the Reserve unit and National Guard on the base will actually gain planes, according to the proposal, while the 314th Air Education and Training Wing, which trains pilots, crews and maintainers for the state-of-the-art C-130J, should remain at current strength.

Currently there are about 7,000 military and civilian employees on the base, he said.

Robinson said he didn’t know if the force reduction will be achieved through transfers or attrition, but he said he suspected it would be a combination of both.

Last year and in 2011, the proposal called for a reduction of 9,900 airmen service-wide, mostly members of the Guard and Reserves, but Congress and the governors objected, and the current numbers reflect a new proposal made in November.

The actual numbers are a little soft, because the Joint House Senate Budget Conference Committee’s final version of the bill establishes the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, which will be required to provide a comprehensive study on the structure of the Air Force to determine how it should be modified to fulfill mission requirements.

The commission must submit to the president and the congressional defense committees a detailed statement of findings and conclusions with recommendations by Feb. 1, 2014.

Robinson said the numbers are preliminary. Even though the Air Force has to reduce the number of airlift platforms “in the theater realm, the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama earlier this month, would require an additional 32 airlifters, either C-130s or C-27s, without specifying where they would be assigned.”

The revised, compromise plan recently approved by Congress restored about 38 percent of the aircraft and 55 percent of the personnel reductions originally proposed for the Guard and Reserve, while allowing the Air Force to proceed with selected aircraft retirements and transfers necessary to meet budget targets, and to draw down active duty Air Force to about 329,000 personnel, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said recently.

While the 19th Airlift Wing is slated to lose 16 planes, the 189th National Guard Wing on the base and the 22nd Air Force Detachment — a reserve wing — are proposed to grow.

314th: NO CHANGE

“There’s really no change,” Robinson said, for the 314th Air Education and Training Wing.

He said the 19th Airlift Wing would “execute within the bounds of the resources we have, with the most ready and well-trained force on the mission.”

“We will manage closely the transitions that will occur in a timely, respectful, dignified manner,” Robinson said, to alleviate the negative effects on the lives of airmen and their families.

“The mission side will sort out when the final answer (on plane numbers) comes.

According to 189th Airlift Commander Col. Harold S. Eggensberger, “We’re well positioned for the future,” on the National Guard side.

“There are currently no plans to cut the 189th Airlift Wing. I’m very optimistic about the future of the 189th. We’re fully invested in training for Air Education Training Command.”

The wing has 10 C-130s. Two of them have improved avionics and three others, on loan from other bases, also have those new features, which are part of the avionics improvement program, which is now temporarily suspended to see if funds become available to upgrade dozens of other older C-130s.

The Air Force has moved to scuttle the existing Avionics Modernization Program and is looking for a new, more limited and less expensive version.

But a group of lawmakers, including Second District Rep. Tim Griffin have preserved the program for at least 90 days after a report on the cost-benefit analysis of quitting the AMP program.

The 22nd Air Force Detachment, a reserve group on base, has “10 permanently assigned aircraft, which is the total under our current plan, according to Col. Edsel “Archie” Frye Jr.

“Improving the quality of life for our members and helping them chase their dreams never gets old,” he said.

The 22nd Reserve wing joins the 189th National Guard wing in training pilots, crews and maintainers for the older model C-130s, which still constitute the majority of the C-130s in service, while the 314th Air Education and Training Wing specializes in training for the C-130Js.

During the height of activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, the defense budget topped out at about $700 billion in 2010 and the Obama Administration and the Pentagon intend to downsize the military budget over the next decade by at least $487 billion.

Cuts could be deeper if former Sen. Chuck Hagel, nominated by the president to be the next secretary of defense, is confirmed.

“The Pentagon needs to be pared down,” he told the Financial Times in 2011.

Garrick Feldman contributed to this report.

SPORT STORY >> ’Rabbits get big win at Newport

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke played its first 4A-2 Conference road game Friday at Newport, and left with its second conference win of the season as the Jackrabbits beat the Greyhounds 50-44.

The Jackrabbits (8-4, 2-1) led through all four quarters, but could never gain a comfortable lead over the Greyhounds. Lonoke led 15-6 after the first quarter, but was outscored in the next two quarters, which made it a six-point game entering the fourth.

“We seem to find ways to keep people around,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell. “When we had to towards the end, I thought we did a good job of controlling the tempo and controlling the game the last four to five minutes. We spread them out, controlled the tempo, and made them come and get us. I felt like we did a good job of executing on the offensive end.

“There are a few defensive things we have to tie up. I was fairly happy with how we ended the game execution-wise, and I think that’s something we can build on.”

Newport outscored Lonoke 13-12 in the second quarter and 11-9 in the third, but the Jackrabbits’ effort in the opening quarter gave them a 36-30 lead at the start of the fourth. In addition to defensive play, Campbell said free throws are an area his team will need to improve on as the season progresses.

Lonoke made 60 percent of its free throws in the first half, but only 50 percent in the second half on 14 attempts.

“We were 19 of 34 from the free-throw line,” Campbell said. “We were 12 for 20 in the first half, and as you can tell it didn’t get any better in the second half. Some games we shoot real well and other games we don’t. That has to improve for us to be able to separate ourselves during games and separate ourselves from others in our conference.”

Campbell was pleased however with his team’s overall effort on the boards.

“I thought for the most part we rebounded well, better than we have been,” Campbell said. “That’s kind of been an issue for us. I don’t feel like we gave them too many second-chance points, because (Newport) has some size. But the few we did give up always seemed to be at crucial times.

“Nobody played an outstanding game, but I didn’t feel like anybody played really bad either. We allowed them to stick around and we played with them, but we brought it out there at the end, and did well enough to win the game.”

Blake Mack led the way scoring-wise for Lonoke as he finished with 14 points. Darrius McCall scored 13 and Jamel Rankin added nine.

The Lady Rabbits didn’t fare so well in its game with Newport, as the Lady Greyhounds won 43-35. The Lady Rabbits have battled injuries all season, which has been detrimental to a team that features eight sophomores, three juniors, and zero seniors.

Lonoke’s boys and girls continued 4A-2 Conference play yesterday at Marianna, and will play again Friday at home against Heber Springs.

SPORT STORY >> North ladies solid at line, beat Conway

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Junior High North Lady Panthers came back from the holiday break strong with a 43-33 victory over Conway Blue at the CJHN gymnasium on Monday.

Free-throw shooting went a long way for the Lady Panthers, who went 13 for 16 from the stripe, including an 8-for-10 performance for leading scorer CoCo Calhoun. Calhoun led the way for the Lady Panthers with 21 points, along with five rebounds and two steals.

“That’s what we need from her,” Lady Panthers coach Jeremy Holbrook said. “She’s our best player, and if she can play like that, we can win a lot of games. We talked to her over the Christmas break and challenged her a little bit, and as you can see tonight, she stepped up and did what we expect her to do for us.”

Outside shooting kept the Lady ’Cats in the game most of the way. Conway hit a pair of three-point baskets in the first quarter, but Calhoun answered for Cabot with eight of her points, including four free throws. Calhoun also assisted the other goal for the Lady Panthers in the first six minutes on a shot underneath the basket by Claire Eifling to give Cabot a 9-8 lead at the 1:30 mark.

Eifling put the Lady Panthers up 13-10 at the start of the second quarter with a pair of free throws, but Conway came back with five straight points to go up 15-13. The rest of the half was essentially a trade off until Calhoun hit Cabot’s only three pointer of the night inside five seconds to give the Lady Panthers a 25-21 lead at the break.

“I thought our team played a little bit better as a group,” Holbrook said. “We went to Heber Springs over the Christmas break and played probably two of our worst games we’ve had. Maybe that got us going a little bit. I was real proud of them sticking to the game plan.”

The Lady Panthers were able to slowly extend their lead throughout the second quarter as more players started to get into the mix scoring wise. Rachael Allgood gave Cabot a 31-22 lead when she came away with a steal and converted it with a layup with 2:48 left to play in the third quarter. Calhoun pulled down a defensive rebound in the final minute of the third, which led to a basket by Maddie Rice to put the Lady Panthers up 35-28.

Rebounding was vital for Cabot. Conway kept the Lady Panthers off the defensive glass early and generated a number of second and third-chance opportunities, but post player Lily Sinclair got involved midway through the opening period and went on to lead Cabot with seven rebounds.

Conway cut the lead to 39-33 with just over a minute to play and quickly called timeout to set up a press defense. Cabot beat the attempt, which gave Calhoun an open look for an easy basket. The Lady ’Cats sent Allgood to the line inside 30 seconds, and she sank both shots to set the final margin.

Eifling added 10 points for Cabot, which improved to 10-4 overall and 1-0 in Central Arkansas Junior High Conference play.

SPORT STORY >> Beebe earns opening win

Leader sportswriter

Beebe started out 5A East Conference play on the right note with a big 54-33 victory over Blytheville on the road Friday. The Badgers were coming off a strong runner-up performance in their own Christmas Classic tournament the previous weekend, and carried that momentum into their league opener, improving to 9-4 overall and 1-0 in 5A East Conference play.

Senior guard Jake Schlenker led the way with 20 points while junior post player Zach Baker added 13 points. Beebe got off to a slow start and trailed the Chickasaws 10-6 at the end of the first quarter before rallying in the second quarter to take a 25-19 lead at the break.

The Badgers were solid defensively, holding Blytheville to just seven points in each of the final two quarters while stretching their advantage. They all but put it away in the third quarter, outscoring their host 19-7 to take a 44-26 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

“We were brain dead in the first quarter,” Badgers coach Ryan Marshall said. “We had a lot of trips down the court where we were not too sharp, but we picked it up. Schlenker gave us a lot of senior leadership. He gave us a spark and got things going for us.”

Beebe went on a 40-11 run at one point in the game. The victory gave the Badgers early footing in the conference battle, but still, Marshall hopes to see more improvement.

“We did a good job of boxing out,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t bad defensively, but I thought we would be further along than what we are at this point in the season.”

One recent benefit for the Badgers has been the return of senior forward Austin Burroughs. Burroughs sat out most of December recovering from a leg injury, but returned in time for the Christmas tournament, scoring 18 points against McCrory and 22 points in the semifinal matchup against Cabot, and had a strong defensive presence in the conference opener against Blytheville.

The Lady Badgers also came away with a victory as they downed the Lady Chicks 66-37.

Senior guard Jamie Jackson led the way for Beebe with 27 points while junior Kalela Miller chipped in 15 points. Sydney Gunter added 12 points with seven for junior Madison Richey. The victory improved the Lady Badgers’ record to 10-5 overall and 1-0 in the 5A East Conference.

Beebe continued 5A East Conference play last night at Batesville, and will host Paragould on Friday. The girls matchup against Paragould will be particularly important as the Lady Rams are the defending East champions while the Lady Badgers finished second behind them in league play last year.

SPORT STORY >> McClellan runs out on Bears

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills managed to stay within striking distance of Little Rock McClellan after two quarters of play, but the Crimson Lions were too much to handle in the second half as the Bears fell 74-47 in Friday’s 5A Central Conference opener at McClellan High School.

The Bears led 8-7 midway through the opening quarter, but a 14-4 scoring run by the Crimson Lions put Sylvan Hills (3-5, 0-1) down nine by the end of the first. McClellan (7-5, 1-0) increased its lead to 14 points with a 5-0 run to start the second, but from there, the Bears steadily chipped away at the lead.

Sylvan Hills found ways to break McClellan’s press defense toward the end of the half, and with 1:32 to play, Marlon Clemmons cut the Lions’ lead back to single digits with a layup. The Bears trimmed the deficit to six by halftime on three successful free throws by Trajan Doss. Doss drained two straight with 50 seconds to go, setting the halftime score at 36-30.

“It was all about transition defense tonight,” said Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis. “We weren’t getting back (on the defensive end). That cost us in the first half. We dug a big hole, but we went back and tried to get in our secondary break sets, and we did, and put ourselves right back in the ball game.”

The third quarter was when the Lions all but put the game away. McClellan forced 10 Sylvan Hills turnovers in the quarter, and outscored the Bears 25-6. Derrick Hardy led the way for the Lions with eight points during the stretch. McClellan committed just one turnover in the third and held a comfortable 61-36 lead at the start of the fourth.

The fourth quarter was much more competitive than the third, but the game was already out of the Bears’ reach. McClellan narrowly outscored Sylvan Hills 13-11 in the final eight minutes. Ronnie Hinton scored the final basket of the game on a layup with 22 seconds to play.

David Johnson, Sylvan Hills’ biggest presence in the post, got into foul trouble early in the second half, which put the Bears at a disadvantage on the boards. Despite playing the majority of the second half with four fouls, Johnson had the best overall game for Sylvan Hills as he finished the conference opener with a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

“We came out in the second half and I was a little disappointed,” Davis said. “I thought we gave (McClellan) too many inside, easy looks. David got in foul trouble, so we were soft. He went back out there with four fouls early in the third. So we got real soft in the paint. We were so much smaller than they were.

“Passes we thought were open, they’d close down the lanes real quick. That’s typical of McClellan. That’s what they do and how they make their living, and they’re pretty good at it. And with a young team that’s never seen that before, it was a little overwhelming for them. You just have to toss that thing up and play, and go from here. And make sure you learn from this experience, and hopefully it’ll make a young team a little better.”

Hinton led the Bears with 13 points. Doss added nine. Four players for McClellan scored in double figures. Davion Givens led the Lions with 12 points. Hardy scored 11. Jason Hendrix and Akee Johnson scored 10 apiece.

Sylvan Hills continued 5A Central play yesterday at Mills and will host Helena-West Helena Central on Friday.

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons win on the road

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski opened conference play with a bang Friday night at Central High School in Helena-West Helena. The Falcons beat the Cougars 77-68 in a game that saw several strategy changes by the visiting team.

“I had gotten a couple of scouting reports from coaches who’ve seen them, but I didn’t really have much to go on,” North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson said. “I heard they played hard, were athletic and tried to beat you off the dribble a lot. I wasn’t ready for how long and physical they are. They were probably the second or third most physical team we’ve played. They had a big boy inside and it took a minute to adjust to them.”

The Falcons came out in a zone defense to try to keep the quick-footed Cougar guards from penetrating the lane. The plan backfired when Central hit a barrage of three pointers to build a nine-point lead.

North Pulaski fought back and evened the score at 37 by halftime after switching to a man defense and staying on the outside shooters.

The third quarter belonged to the Falcons. Halfway through the period, Jackson called for full-court pressure and the host team didn’t handle it well.

Freshman Rashawn Langston went on a point-scoring spree once the press was called. The 6-foot-3 guard hit a pair of three pointers off steals by Joe Aikens and Eric Mouton. He then got his own steal and layup, followed by a free throw after being fouled.

“He flourishes in that type of game,” Jackson said. “He gets a little lost in the shuffle when a team slows us down and we get into a half court game. But he’s a freshman. He’s learning how to move without the ball and just learning how to be a more complete player. But he’s as good as any freshman out there in this type of game.”

The Falcons were able to keep Central at bay through the first half of the fourth quarter. That forced the Cougars to start fouling, and North Pulaski hit their free throws to seal the win.

“We closed them out and that was important,” Jackson said. “For an inexperienced team to go on the road in its first conference game, that was very important for us.”

Langston led all scorers with 29 points. Three other Falcons ended the game in double figures. Mouton had a season-high 18. It was his second consecutive solid performance, according to Jackson.

“Eric has really been coming on these last few games,” Jackson said. “Even in the one we lost at Camden against Magnolia, he played well in that game.”

Junior Joe Aikens, who leads the team in scoring, added 14 points and found other ways to help the team.

“Joe’s been just our scorer but he had the most impressive stat line of the night,” Jackson said. Aikens added seven assists, five steals and three rebounds to his 14 points.

Aaron Williamson scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Falcons (7-5, 1-0).

The Lady Falcons didn’t fare as well, losing to the Lady Cougars 56-37. Things fell apart for the North Pulaski ladies in the first quarter as Central raced out to a quick double-digit lead. The Lady Falcons regrouped and got back within eight points in the third quarter, but another run by Central sealed the victory for the home team.

The Falcons hosted their first conference game last night against Pulaski Academy. Look for details of those games in Saturday’s edition of The Leader. They will also host cross-town rival Jacksonville on Friday.