Saturday, November 16, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Falcon stays one, signs with USAFA

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski senior Joe Aikens cemented his future plans Friday morning by signing an NCAA letter of intent to play college basketball for the Air Force Academy. Aikens averaged 13.5 points, five rebounds and five assists as a junior for the Falcons, but it wasn’t his performances on the high-school court that drew the offer from Colorado Springs. It was, along with his AAU performances, what got him invited to a camp hosted by the Academy. It was his performance while there that garnered the offer.

“Two days after that camp they offered me,” said Aikens shortly after signing. “I finally made that 24 and they invited me up.”

It took a determined and persistent effort to get that 24.

“They called me up from watching me in an AAU tournament I was in,” Aikens said. They told me to make a 24 on the ACT and call them back. I got three 23s in a row. That was really getting on my nerves. I think I was out getting my oil changed when my dad called me and told me I got the 24. I was so happy. I was excited.”

Basketball wasn’t the only reason the 6-foot-4 guard was interested in the Air Force.

“Above all I want to be a pilot,” Aikens said. “Plus, the academics stuck out to me and the coaching. The system and his program there, I like.”

Aikens transferred to North Pulaski the summer before his junior year after spending two years in the Jacksonville High School program. He played for the freshmen team his first year and then made varsity his sophomore year, but didn’t get much time on the floor with the senior-dominated lineup.

Playing time and academics were his two main reasons for transferring.

“I saw a chance for a lot more time on the court,” Aikens said. “And when I got here I didn’t know too many people. That helped because it kept me from hanging out too much and helped me stay focused. Plus, there are great teachers here. They’re always about helping. It’s a great school.”

North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson believes besides talent, dedication earned Aikens this accomplishment.

“Like he told the crowd, he put in a lot of hard work,” said Jackson. “He’s accomplished a lot outside of school, doing his skills and drills. It was a long process. He put a lot of time. He’s just a kid who believed in himself and accomplished his goals. He’s matured a lot and become one of our stronger leaders.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers shake rust to defeat Hamilton

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panther basketball team showed a little rust in Thursday’s benefit game against Lake Hamilton, but it still outscored the class 6A Wolves 38-29 in the four quarters played at Panther Arena.

Cabot’s players finally got to play against someone other than themselves Thursday, and played like an eager team, scoring the first four points of the game before Lake Hamilton got on the board and eventually cut the Panthers’ lead to 10-7 by the end of the first quarter.

Since Thursday’s benefit game was an exhibition, the scoreboard was reset at the end of each quarter. But like the first quarter, Cabot scored the first four points of the second, thanks to free throws by sophomores Hunter Southerland and Garrett Rowe.

Lake Hamilton answered with an 8-1 run to lead the period by an 8-5 margin. The Panthers tied it up at 8-8 on a three-pointer from the corner by senior Jeremiah Penner with 2:52 to play before the break, but neither team scored the rest of the half.

Cabot coach Jerry Bridges wasn’t entirely pleased with his team’s performance, but said part of the reason for that had to do with Lake Hamilton’s play. Plus, the Panthers are currently playing without their senior point guard Hunter York, who’s recovering from a broken shooting hand.

“We’ll get better, and we’re better than how we played, but you’ve got to give Lake Hamilton some credit,” said Bridges. “I thought they did a good job of guarding us. But not having Hunter York hurts us right now. We don’t have our point guard. He goes back to the doctor Tuesday, and maybe he’ll get cleared.”

Senior Nick Thomas played the point in York’s absence, and did a nice job of taking care of the ball as he finished the four-quarter exhibition with just one turnover. As a team, Cabot committed a single turnover in the first quarter, and just nine for the game. Lake Hamilton committed double that amount with 18.

“I was proud of Nick Thomas,” Bridges said. “We’ve got him out of position right now, and I thought Nick did fine. He had just one turnover, and we’ll live with that.”

Thomas normally plays at the shooting guard or small forward position, but will run the point until York returns from his injury. In the post, no one on the floor played a better game than 6-foot-5 sophomore Jared Dixon, who came off the Panther bench and finished the benefit with a game-high 11 points, and team-high five rebounds.

Dixon tallied the majority of his stats in the second half, when the host Panthers outscored the visiting Wolves 20-14.

“I thought Jared Dixon was a highlight off the bench,” Bridges said. “He’s a 10th-grader, and my other two 10th-graders that are playing a lot, Rowe and Southerland, they had the deer in the headlights look at the beginning. But maybe we got through that, and I know what they’re going to be able to do, too.”

Even though the Panthers finished the exhibition ahead on the scoreboard, Bridges says his team will need to play much better once the season gets under way if it expects to be competitive against some of the more physical, athletic teams on the schedule – especially in the very talent-heavy 7A/6A East Conference.

“I appreciate my guys,” Bridges said. “They know we didn’t play like we’re capable. I’m not saying we’re the best team in the state, but we’re better than that. They know that, and I think their pride’s been taken back a little bit. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of improvement between this game and Conway.”

Other than the turnover margin, Cabot also won the battle on the boards by outrebounding Lake Hamilton 26-23. The Panthers also did a better job of getting to the free-throw line, as they had 13 more attempts than Lake Hamilton. But the Wolves finished with a higher percentage at the line, shooting 67, bettering Cabot’s 53 percent. Neither team shot well at the three-point line, but both teams made four three-pointers each.

Southerland finished second behind Dixon in scoring with seven points. Senior post Michael Smith scored six points for Cabot. Penner scored five, while Thomas added four.

The Panthers will play their first regular-season game at home against Conway on Nov. 25.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Blue Devils too big for JHS

Leader sports editor

The first six minutes of the William Rountree era of Jacksonville girls’ basketball went great, but West Memphis’ size and superior depth proved too much to handle for the tiny Lady Red Devils in their season opener on Friday. The visiting Lady Blue Devils blew a competitive game open in the fourth quarter to run away with a 78-52 victory at the Devils’ Den gymnasium.

Jacksonville was red hot from the floor in the early going and built a 17-8 lead with 1:20 left in the first quarter, but that lead had dwindled all the way to 20-18 by quarters end.

The game stayed competitive through three quarters. West Memphis held a 51-45 advantage after three, but Jacksonville hit a wall, both physically and from the field.

“Their size hurt us a lot, but really I think fatigue played a big role at the end,” said first-year coach Rountree. “We’ve got to develop some more people to handle the ball and play. I think there were a lot of positives. This was a tough first game against a really good, really long team. Our goal from day one has always been to be at our best on Jan. 7 when we open conference with Mills.”

Jacksonville drained its first two three pointers of the game, one by senior Tiffany Smith and one by senior Keke Alcorn, but went 1 for 13 the rest of the way. Smith and Alcorn went a combined 0 for 9 after the initial makes.

Jacksonville did find other ways to score once the outside shooting dried up. Most of those ways had to do with defense. Jacksonville forced 26 West Memphis turnovers and were able to convert several fast-break buckets.

But in the half-court sets, West Memphis dominated. Jacksonville had no one over 5-foot-6 while West Memphis had no one below 5-foot-9 in the starting lineups. Lady Blue Devil Lashala Sain, a 6-3 sophomore, towered over Jacksonville. Rountree pleaded with his team to box out the whole game, but even when they did box out, they couldn’t get rebounds from Sain. She finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds. West Memphis outrebounded Jacksonville 43-18.

“They are much bigger than us, but we can still do better than that,” Rountree said. “We’re so small, we’re going to have to work our way into good position to rebound because everyone we play is going to be bigger. Maybe not that much bigger, but we have to be better than that.”

Alcorn led all scorers with 21 points while Smith added 20 for Jacksonville. Senior Sacha Richardson scored five points and had seven steals.

Alexis Hamlet scored 16 for West Memphis and Sable Greer added 14 for the Lady Blue Devils.

Jacksonville made just 16 of 61 shots from the floor for 26.3 percent shooting. West Memphis made 27 of 61.

The Lady Red Devils are back in action on Tuesday when they play their first road game at Little Rock Hall.

The girls game was mired by more than 50 fouls called. There was also a 20-minute delay in the fourth quarter due to one of the new rims that were installed earlier in the day coming loose. That delayed the boys game to beyond Leader deadlines. The Red Devils won the game 68-65. Look for more details of that outing and thoughts from coach Vic Joyner on the season opener in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Carlisle gets by Indians in first

Leader sportswriter

Total yards and time of possession did not reflect Carlisle’s dominance in a 38-6 rout of Marked Tree in the first round of the 2A state football playoffs at Fred C. Hardke Field on Friday.

The Bison (10-1) had two brief possessions through most of the second half, and had held the ball just over two minutes by the time they took their third and final possession with 7:41 remaining.

Carlisle struck fast in the first half and built a 24-0 lead by the 1:30 mark of the first quarter, and scored two more times in the second quarter to build a 32-6 lead at halftime.

The Indians (6-5) were not able to take advantage of hogging the ball in the second half, however, as their first second-half drive went 13 plays and nearly seven minutes, but a barrage of penalties stalled the drive at midfield. Marked Tree got close on its next possession, going 58 yards in 10 plays before fumbling the ball with first and goal at the Carlisle 1-yard line.

Senior Jordan Sheets recovered for the Bison at the 5, and from there, it was all about running out the clock.

“It was good for our defense to get some more reps,” Bison coach Brandon Barbaree said. “I’m proud of the effort, of course, there’s plenty to clean up, but it gave our secondary a lot of work, and our linebackers in pass defense. It’s good to get a playoff win and be able to play next week.”

The total-yard tallies for each team were also misleading. Carlisle finished with 285 total yards, with all of that coming on the ground with the exception of a 71-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Chase Brazeal to senior receiver Braden Reed with 1:30 to go in the opening period. Chance Richards ran in the two-point conversion try to give the Bison a 24-0 lead.

Marked Tree was not far behind in the total-yards category, with 259 yards of offense. The bulk of that came off the arm of Indians quarterback Brody McCreary, who went 17 of 29 for 181 yards.

Carlisle senior running backs DeRon Ricks and Bo Weddle led the Bison to quick scores in the first half, and sat out all of the offensive reps in the second half. Ricks finished with 10 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns, while Weddle had 11 rushes for 67 yards and a touchdown.

Senior Justice Bryant carried twice for Carlisle, once for no gain, and another for 66 yards and a touchdown with 11:33 remaining to set the final margin.

Ricks scored quickly for the Bison on the opening drive to cap off a five-play, 61-yard scoring drive that took less than two minutes. Ricks picked up 23 yards on a rush up the gut in which he toted along five Indian defenders for the last half of the run, and finished it off with a 15-yard touchdown run with 10:09 to go in the first quarter. Ricks also converted the two-point run to give the Bison an early 8-0 lead.

Weddle got the next score for the Bison when he broke free from 16 yards out at the 5:43 mark of the first quarter. Bryant tacked on the conversion run to give the Bison a 16-0 advantage. Ricks struck again before the end of the half when he went untouched on a sweep play to the right from 43 yards to give the Bison a 32-6 lead with 2:46 remaining in the half.

The Indians were consistent in their passing game, but Carlisle’s secondary did not give up any big plays. Marked Tree had just two passes for gains of more than 20 yards, and scored its only touchdown when McCreary snuck in from a yard out to make it 24-6 with 10:18 remaining in the second quarter.

“We don’t get to see much of this in our conference,” Barbaree said of Marked Tree’s Spread game. “It was great to get that extra work, and we needed that second half just for us, because we’re going to see it later on.”

The Bison will host Conway Christian, a 36-28 winner over Walnut Ridge, next week in the second round of the 2A state playoffs.

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits pummel on Pocahontas

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits earned their first playoff win since 2009 in dominant fashion Friday, as they manhandled Pocahontas 49-7 in the first round of the class 4A state playoffs at James B. Abraham Stadium.

“I was very pleased,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost. “We told them, ‘hey, let’s come out, do our job and let’s survive, and move on to the second round.’ That’s what they did. They came out, and I thought we played great in all three phases of the game.”

Pocahontas (5-6) received the game’s opening kickoff, and picked up two first downs before quarterback Grant Pritchard’s pass was intercepted by Lonoke’s Blake Mack at the Redskins’ 46-yard line.

Mack returned the pick to the Pocahontas 34, and on the second play of the Jackrabbits’ first drive, sophomore tailback Josh Coleman took quarterback Kody Smith’s handoff 35 yards for the game’s first score. Jose Garcia’s extra point was good, giving Lonoke a 7-0 lead with 7:16 to play in the first quarter.

Lonoke (9-2) forced a three and out on the Redskins’ next possession, and it took the Jackrabbits just three plays to score on the ensuing drive. The score came on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Mack with 5:17 to go in the opening quarter. Garcia’s PAT made it 14-0 Lonoke.

The Redskins’ offense managed three first downs on their next drive, but three-straight incompletions by Pritchard forced another Pocahontas punt. Lonoke scored quickly yet again, this time on a 63-yard option keeper by Smith on the second play of the drive.

Garcia’s PAT gave the Jackrabbits a comfortable 21-0 cushion with just over a minute to play in the first quarter. Pocahontas, the No. 3 seed from the 4A-3 Conference, finally got something going offensively on the following drive.

Eric Wolf’s 53-yard burst down the Jackrabbits’ sideline on the Redskins’ first play of the drive helped set up an 11-yard score by Wolf two plays later, which came on the first play of the second quarter. The extra-point attempt was good, which cut Lonoke’s lead to 21-7.

The Jackrabbits’ next score came on their first semi-lengthy drive of the game. After two Pocahontas penalties resulted in Lonoke first downs, the host team picked up three more first downs in six plays, and ended the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run by Mack on a jet sweep with 3:58 to play in the half.

Garcia’s extra point made it 28-7 Lonoke, but the Jackrabbit offense wasn’t finished yet. After Lonoke’s defense forced another Pocahontas turnover on an interception by junior defensive back Caleb Bailey, the ’Rabbits took over at their own 38, and on the second play of the drive, Smith connected with Mack for a 35-yard gain.

Smith hit Mack again for a 14-yard gain after an incomplete pass, and three plays later, Smith found senior wideout Nick Watson in the middle of the field for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds before the break. After the PAT, Lonoke went into halftime with a 35-7 lead.

“They gave us a different defense,” Bost said. “We practiced for a 3-4 all week, and they came out in a 4-4 and blitzed. We had some negative plays just because they were sending so many, but that also opened up the passing game.”

Lonoke’s defense kept Pocahontas in check throughout the second half, and the Jackrabbits’ offense invoked the sportsmanship rule with 5:20 to play in the third quarter on another touchdown toss from Smith to Mack – this one from 26-yards out. The successful PAT put the Redskins in a 42-7 hole.

Bost pulled his starters at the end of the third quarter, but the second unit set the final score in the fourth period. The Jackrabbits’ second team started at their own 30, and marched 10 plays down the field, capping the lengthy drive with a 10-yard touchdown run by junior running back Deven Mosley with 6:58 to play.

Lonoke’s offense totaled 485 yards, bettering Pocahontas’ total of 212. Smith completed 56 percent of his passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns. He also had seven carries for 73 yards and one rushing touchdown.

Coleman led the Jackrabbits’ ground game, as he finished with 13 carries for 128 yards and one touchdown. He also had a 58-yard reception. Mack contributed to the Lonoke rushing attack with three carries for 27 yards and one touchdown, but his biggest impact was in the passing game, as he finished with five catches for 124 yards and two scores.

“It’s been those three on offense all year,” Bost said. “I think they compliment each other well. One’s a quarterback, one’s a running back, and one’s a receiver. So we’ve got one at each spot out there. All three of them showed out tonight, and they’re a big part of our offense, that’s for sure.”

Friday’s win means Lonoke will host another playoff game next week, but the test will be a much tougher one, as Maumelle (9-2) will make the trip to James B. Abraham Stadium next Friday. The Hornets, the No. 2 seed from the 4A-4 Conference, beat Stuttgart 31-10 in their first-round game last night.

Friday, November 15, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Graduation never too late

Dec. 6 will be a big day for me.

That day, I will don a cap and gown, walk onto a stage and a man I’ve never met will shake my hand and present me with a piece of paper declaring that I am a college graduate. My daughter, Teagan, will be there in the audience.

I originally entered college straight out of high school, but after three semesters – paid for by scholarship – of working full-time, going to school full-time and enjoying my newly found adult freedoms, I decided I would rather work and fund my fun times than go to school. I know that you’re reading this and thinking, “What a mistake she made, leaving college when it was paid for!” Believe me, I got the speeches that go along with that line of thinking.

Do I wish I had finished college then?


Do I regret dropping out?

Not one bit.

Leaving college with all but the 19 hours I needed to earn an associate’s degree was not a smart choice. I was lucky and found a good job in the field I had intended to earn a degree in. I learned far more on the job than I would have in the classroom. I enjoyed my youth. I had a child. I’ve gotten to do some really neat things that the average person doesn’t.

But the one thing I didn’t do, was earn a degree. I’ve started the process to go back to college many times over the years, but never followed through until about a year and a half ago. I decided it was now or never and started classes. I took two classes each semester and two over the summer to earn my associate degree as quickly as possible.

It has easily been one of the hardest periods in my life. During that time, I have worked full-time while taking classes part time, been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and battled its symptoms, had a round with the flu, cut social life to nearly nonexistent and twisted my ankle to the point a tendon snapped and a bone broke.

And my daughter has witnessed it all. She has seen me go to bed at 8 p.m. or earlier more than once because I was too exhausted to stay awake. She has seen my disappointment with a not-up-to-par grade. She has endured many meals of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese or spaghetti or grilled cheese or pizza. She has seen me cry and fuss over frustration and fear and stress and sheer exhaustion. She has watched me wince in pain while healing from a broken ankle accompanied by a broken spirit.

She has seen how hard it is to juggle a family, a job and college at the same time. Hopefully, she’ll take the hint.

I get a lot of “I’m so proud of you for doing this,” or “what a great example you’re setting for your daughter.” Words and phrases I greatly appreciate, but really, the “example” I’m setting for her is just a bonus to what’s really going on.

The truth is, I’m doing this for me. To reach this goal of earning a degree, even though it’s an associate’s of liberal arts and not a bachelor’s or master’s or doctorate in a specific field, it’s a personal achievement.

It’s an achievement, after a series of nearly reached, yet failed goals, that sets up my future. I can stop my education here, and I’ll still have a degree. I can carry on my education and become a teacher, a scientist or advance my knowledge in journalism and graphic design. A new world of opportunities has been opened to me. That’s a good feeling.

I’ve also earned enough points to level up in the parenting department, setting an example of how hard work pays off.

– Christy Hendricks

TOP STORY >> Sherwood Roundtop museum unlikely

Leader staff writer

The project manager and two Arkansas Historic Preservation Program officials visited the 1936 Roundtop filling station recently to discuss the $75,000 effort to restore the Sherwood landmark.

The project is being funded by a 2-for-1 matching grant through the preservation program, which is under the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Sherwood’s match is $25,000.

Project manager Philip Quandt told the preservation program officials, Brian Driscoll and Joia Burton, that structural problems abound because termites have infested the building.

His tentative plans also contradict the previously announced vision of turning the main room of the station into a museum and putting the planned police substation in the storage room.

There is now a sign on the building announcing that it is the future home of the Sherwood Police Department’s Southside Substation.

The Roundtop will be used as a substation because one grant requirement is that there must be a designated purpose for the restored building.

Quandt explained that the back room at the end of the building where plumbing is installed should become an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom.

The master plan was turn-ed in by the deadline, which was Friday. Preservation program officials have 30 days to approve it.

Darrell Brown, chairman of the city’s History and Heritage Committee and the driving force behind the project, wanted the main room to make visitors feel as though they were stepping back into a 1940s and ‘50s gas station with a cash register, old-timey Coke machine, oil pans and other automobile maintenance-related items.

Planned exhibits included information about the landmark’s former owner, Happy Williford; photos of celebrities and politicians who visited there; and a display on the movie that was filmed at the station in 2010.

Sinclair Oil has agreed to donate signage and gas pumps for the landmark’s exterior.

Brown previously said that is only fair since the Roundtop was a Sinclair station for the majority of its existence.

Also in his long-term vision is Sherwood closing one of two short roads that run along both sides of the Roundtop and buying the property across that road. Then the area could become a city park, Brown said.

The chairman said that he still hopes displays can be put up inside the building, which must be open to the public at least four times a year.

But Brown noted that he would like to open it more often and by appointment if school groups or others would like to schedule tours.

Burton suggested interpretive panels be placed outside the building, and Brown agreed that was a good idea, especially when the Roundtop isn’t open to the public.

The structural problems — replastering, heating and air, the electrical system — will be dealt with in phase one of construction. Phase one could be completed in February or March, Brown said previously.

“It’s going great. I just couldn’t be happier with the progress. Everybody involved has been great,” he said.

Phase two is landscaping and repaving the area around the building at the intersection of Trammel and Roundtop roads.

The city has a one-year deadline of June 14, 2014 to complete renovations because of the grant.

After the master plan is approved, Sherwood can advertise for a general contractor. Finding a contractor could take two or three weeks, Brown said previously.

The short version of the Roundtop’s history is that W.D. “Happy” Williford operated the station for 36 years, from 1936 until 1972.

Real estate tycoon Justin Matthews built the Roundtop for the Pierce Oil Company after the federal government broke up the Standard Oil Company in 1911.

The landmark later became a Phillips 66, a Sinclair gas station and a DX station. It had three pumps.

Williford bought the Roundtop in 1957 and sold it in 1999 to George Brown. Darrell Brown and George Brown are not related.

When George Brown passed away, his heirs gave the building to Sherwood.

Roundtop Road was once Hwy. 67, the main thoroughfare from Bald Knob and Searcy to Little Rock and North Little Rock. People from St. Louis also drove it.

The station was the only place that had public bathrooms between Searcy and Little Rock.

Two former governors campaigned there. Celebrities like Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash visited the station.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

The Roundtop was featured in “The Last Ride,” a 2010 film about Hank Williams Sr. that was directed by Arkansas native Harry Thomasson.

And, in May, the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas named it one of the state’s most endangered historic places.

TOP STORY >> Piano trio thrills LR audience

Leader editor

About 180 lucky people heard the great jazz pianist Marcus Roberts play for almost two hours last Saturday night at the South on Main Restaurant in Little Rock.

The old Juanita’s used to be in that spot, which South on Main now shares with Oxford American magazine, one of the sponsors of the Roberts concert.

Between 8 and 10 p.m., Roberts played a bluesy, soulful, swinging set and an encore (his original “Cole After Midnight”) as he evoked the history of jazz, from ragtime to hot jazz, from Ahmad Jamal to Miles Davis, from Thelonious Monk to Oscar Peterson, from Duke Ellington to the blind virtuoso George Shearing (Roberts is also sightless).

Roberts also played selections from his just-released CDs — he has three new ones out this fall — and they’re all astonishingly good.

Roberts, accompanied by Rodney Jordan on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums, opened the program with three numbers from Jamal’s repertoire, “Autumn Leaves,” “Billy Boy” and “Ahmad’s Blues.” Jamal, an important influence on Roberts, is another great pianist who is still going strong in his 80s.

Roberts then played Shearing’s “Conception,” followed by long excerpts from Peterson’s “Canadiana Suite” and then Jelly Roll Morton’s “Spanish Tinge.”

He played his own compositions, including “Rags to Rhythm,” “Reservoir” and “The Duo” from the new CDs, giving his sidemen generous playing time. As Marsalis and Jordan soloed, he sat motionless in front of the piano. Roberts, a youngish-looking 50-year-old, reminded me of Art Tatum, who died at the age of 47.

A music educator who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and who teaches at Florida State University (his alma mater), Roberts understands the music perhaps better than the masters he’s learned from. A younger musician like Roberts appreciates the originators of the music, and because of his training, he is completely in control of his instrument.

Roberts has been recording with Wynton Marsalis (Jason’s older brother) since the 1980s. “When he plays, you feel the spirit of the sanctified church,” Marsalis says. “You are inspired by the complexity of the human mind, and you want to dance. That is Marcus Roberts, genius of modern piano.”

Roberts is heard on Marsalis’ “J Mood” and “Live at Blues Alley” from the 1980s and “Live at the Village Vanguard” from 1990-94, all from Columbia. The last is a seven-CD box set where he shares piano duties with Eric Reed. It can be had for a bargain on eBay.

Roberts began recording as a leader in 1988, starting with “The Truth Is Spoken Here” with Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Rouse (Monk’s longtime tenor saxophone player) and Elvin Jones, John Coltrane’s most important drummer.

Roberts has just issued two excellent new CDs with Wynton Marsalis: “Together Again in the Studio” and “Together Again in Concert” from J-Master Records. (Roberts’ nickname was Jazz Master when he was part of Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Orchestra.) Lots of standards and modern jazz (“Giant Steps”) and it’s all first-rate.

Like Bill Evans, Roberts sounds best in a trio setting, such as his cool “Cole After Midnight” from 2001. Another new CD from his trio, “From Rags to Rhythm,” also from J-Master, is perhaps his best since “Deep in the Shed,” Roberts’ 1989 masterpiece with members of the Lincoln Center Orchestra.

The new CD, which is also available as a download, has superb sound, filled with gospel-flavored originals that swing and shout, proving once again that the Roberts trio is the premier jazz ensemble performing and recording today.

TOP STORY >> Deal to end school lawsuit stalls

Leader staff writer

The wheels are threatening to come off a historic proposed desegregation settlement agreement that would ease the way for a separate Jacksonville/north Pulaski school district and ensure all three Pulaski County school districts continue getting state desegregation funding for three more years.

It would also ensure a fourth year’s funding, earmarked for building, remodeling and renovating school buildings.


The state Legislative Council on Friday approved proceeding with efforts to gain court approval for the proposed settlement.

One element of the settlement reads, “The state and the districts agree that the state may immediately authorize the creation of a Jacksonville/North Pulaski area school district consistent with state law.” But no other new districts can be allowed until PCSSD is declared unitary, it states.

Parties to the desegregation settlement are Pulaski County Special, Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts, the Joshua and Knight Intervenors and the state.

Two school boards and PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess, acting in-lieu of the disbanded PCSSD school board, approved the settlement agreement Thursday evening, as did the Knight Intervenors. They represent PCSSD teachers and staff.

While unanimously approving the settlement, the Little Rock District took no action on a second motion for the attorney general to proceed with or without approval of the Joshua Intervenors.


That vote, for now, has torpedoed McDaniel’s ability to present the settlement agreement to U.S. District Judge Price Marshall.

State Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock), who has been the Joshua attorney throughout, has withheld his approval. He insisted Friday on new language stating that, other than Jacksonville, no new districts may be created from PCSSD until it is unitary and released from federal supervision.

Maumelle and Sherwood have expressed interest in detachment. State Rep. Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood) challenged that language Friday at the Legislative Council meeting.


McDaniel still has a strong hand because U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, the previous judge in the desegregation case, ruled that the state should stop making desegregation payments immediately. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis upheld that decision.

State desegregation funding over the decades has cost the state more than $1.2 billion, according to McDaniel. He said, when it was first started, officials estimated it could cost as much as $100,000.

The desegregation agreement trial, slated to begin Dec. 9, would be unnecessary if McDaniel presents Marshall with the settlement agreement and the judge approves it.

By way of the settlement, the state agreed to pay the Little Rock District about $149 million over the next four years, North Little Rock about $30 million and PCSSD about $81 million. After that, they would get no more state desegregation aid.


“This is a take-it-or-leave-it settlement,” McDaniel said. If he has to go to court and wins, the desegregation funding will end after this school year.

“This is an historic milestone to see the three school districts in Pulaski County and the state attorney at a point of agreement on how to terminate the financial support and end litigation and ongoing hostilities,” McDaniel said.

“We want a date certain for the end of the state’s financial obligation and a dollar amount and some accountability for the investment we’re making,” he said.

The agreement, if approved, would represent a change in the relationship between the districts and the state, McDaniel said. “We can stop being adversaries in court and start being partners in education,” he noted.


“Yesterday, I thought Joshua had agreed to sign the deal,” McDaniel said.

“That didn’t happen. I asked you to give us an extra hour. I thought we could come together, but Joshua refuses to sign on,” the clearly frustrated attorney general explained. “I don’t know why. I was asked for two additional things (by Walker) and I agreed to both. I don’t know why Walker won’t agree.”

He said it was the LRSD board’s failure to endorse proceeding without the Joshua intervenors that gave Walker leverage to ask for and receive more concessions.

McDaniel said that, when he asked what more Walker needed to sign off on the settlement agreement, he received no answer.

Patrick Wilson, attorney for Jacksonville-North Pulaski Education Corps, said, “We’re closer than ever to a Jacksonville/North Pulaski school district — the district we’ve sought for most of my life. We’re anxious for there to be a complete settlement that says our dream is going to be a reality.”


Daniel Gray, president of the Education Corps, said, “We’re excited there’s a settlement in place agreed to by all three districts and the state.We’re hoping Little Rock and Joshua sign on. It’s definitely positive movement, coming so close to a settlement. We’re hoping and praying by Tuesday midnight they will all be on board.

Allen Roberts, an attorney who represents PCSSD in desegregation matters, said, “We think the settlement reached today is a reasonable effort to end the desegregation case. It provides transition time (regarding the funding agreement). We’d love to get something we can count on.”

Guess said, “I’m still very optimistic. I think the Little Rock School Board will see the wisdom. I think it’s a good deal for all of us. I believe this is going to happen.”


Other elements of the settlement state that:

 The unitary status of PCSSD will be the subject of a separate agreement between the Joshua Intervenors and PCSSD.

 The state, LRSD and NLRSD will be dismissed from the litigation.

 Facilities payments the fourth year will be separate and won’t affect the state’s share in academic facilities support.

 A framework for phasing out M to M student transfer.

 A similar framework for phasing out Magnet schools.

 The state’s fiscal obligations to the 1989 desegregation agreement will cease.

 District Court jurisdiction of the state, LRSD, NLRSD and Knight is terminated.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Cabot thrives with $32.8M

Cabot is preparing $32.8 million in improvements to its roads, parks and other city facilities after voters approved renewing the city’s 1-cent sales tax.

While other area cities are scrambling to balance their budgets, Cabot is set to modernize on a variety of fronts.

The public library will be relocated to the old Knight’s grocery store that will be renovated into a $2.6 million state-of-the-art facility. A swimming pool will have waterslides, a children’s pool, a lazy river, hydrotherapy in-pool seating, a bathhouse and party areas. It will be built as part of a $19.2 million project that will also fund a major expansion of the community center and two new softball fields. The community center will have additional exercise rooms, an events room and even a safe room for shelter during storms.

The list goes on: A new nine-field baseball complex will be built on Hwy. 321. Officials say it will be completed in 2015 and will host several tournaments a year. Some of the sales-tax money will also help build a much-needed cloverleaf interchange on Hwy. 67/167 that will improve traffic flow and access to the city. Main Street will also receive landscaping and other beautification features, and $8.2 million in sewer projects have already gotten underway.

In all, these projects signify Cabot’s dedication to boosting its curb appeal for residents and prospective residents while accommodating growth and keeping tight controls of its expenses. It will ensure the city remains an attractive place to live in central Arkansas.

Without a doubt, mayors across the area are envious.

EDITORIAL >> We support schools plan

The Pulaski County Special School District announced last week it is seeking a modest property tax increase to raise $220 million to build new schools and remodel others, with Jacksonville — where the district has not built a new school in nearly 30 years — slated to receive $80 million to $90 million.

Derek Scott, PCSSD’s executive director of operations, who is in charge of upgrading the district’s aging buildings, believes that Jacksonville needs at least $60 million to build a new high school. Presumably that plan would consolidate the campuses of Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School to create one modern facility.

That wouldn’t leave much money for any more new schools in Jacksonville, but we are impressed that the Little Rock-based school district thought of its northern benefactors, who have consistently been shortchanged thanks to a series of superintendents paralyzed by dysfunctional and mischievous school board members.

Interim Superintendent Jerry Guess, who is in charge while the state continues its custodianship of the district, recognizes that if PCSSD continues to ignore Jacksonville schools, enrollment will continue to decline and the district’s credibility will be lost.

Under Guess’ leadership, and with Scott’s help, the district has shown that Jacksonville schools do matter and acknowledged that there is still a long way to go. Before their arrival, city schools were lucky to get a fresh coat of paint here and there.

Guess has also supported Jacksonville’s plan to break away from PCSSD and form an independent north Pulaski County district. That’s bold leadership considering that it would significantly reduce his district’s tax base. He recognizes control of Jacksonville schools is a matter of local pride and would allow problems to be addressed more easily.

We support his plan to increase the property tax to help Jacksonville and PCSSD rebuild. The tax hike — from 40.7 mills to 46.4 mills — would bring Jacksonville’s rates on par with those of North Little Rock and Little Rock. Besides, a millage increase will be inevitable if Jacksonville succeeds in forming its own district.

The plan will likely bolster our chances of winning court approval to be released from PCSSD.

The consequences of not supporting the plan will definitely cost residents more in the end: Schools continuing to fail, which will lead to more urban blight and more departures of middle-class families.

Critics may claim quality facilities aren’t needed to get students to perform well and that first-rate educations can be attained in decrepit environments. Just go ask Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman what new school buildings mean for his district.

TOP STORY >> Cabot couple takes trip of lifetime

Leader staff writer

June Tortolano Windsor never met her father’s parents who came to America from a small town in southern Italy sometime around the turn of the last century.

They both died while they were still in their 30s. But she knew that it was a desire of her father and his uncle to go back and visit their ancestral home. When they also died without realizing that dream, June and her husband, Malcolm, went in their place.

“They always talked about the little town, and it was always a mission of mine to get there,” June said.

The three-week-long trip in October, the Windsors said, was far more than they imagined it would be.

For June, who retired recently from teaching at Cabot elementary schools, the biggest surprise was that that the residents of Sant’Ambrogio weren’t awestruck like she was by the antiquity of their surroundings.

The little town on a mountainside, surrounded by small farms, was established in 950 A.D. near Monte Cassino Abbey.

Many of the houses are large, June said, but they are set close together and some front doors literally open onto the streets.

“People live with immensely ancient things around them,” she said, adding that even the newer homes are built in the old way to fit in with the surroundings.

Today, just as when her grandfather left, the young people move away from the small farms and towns to find work.

The only businesses June said she saw were a pharmacy and a small café, just the basics needed by a town of retired people.

The school has closed and babies are called miracles because only one or two are born there in a year, she said.

June was also amazed by the traffic in the larger towns the couple visited.

“The Italian people are warm and gentle and kind,” she said. “But they drive crazy. I had to close my eyes a few times when we were in taxis.”

Malcolm, who served in the Navy and retired from Little Rock Air Force Base, was captivated by the history of the area, some of which he wrote about in a letter to Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert requesting that the city commend the mayor of Sant’Ambrogio Sul Garigliano in the province of Frosinone for the hospitality extended to him and his wife while they visited there.

“Located on the Garigliano River, (the city) lies approximately 7 miles southeast from the ancient town of Cassino, Italy,” Malcolm wrote.

“Sant’Ambrogio has been subjected to the ravages of war on three occasions. It was first destroyed by the Normans under the rule of William the Conqueror in 1057 AD; then by the war with France and its Ottoman Empire allies against Spain in 1544; and, finally, by the fighting between the Nazis and the Allied Liberation Armies of Italy in 1944.

“At that time, the town was strategically located on the Garigliano River and was part of German General Kesselring’s Gustov line that ground the Allied Army to a halt and caused a five-month stalemate between the dug-in legions.

“The British failure to cross the river and take Sant’Ambrogio from the Germans was a major factor in the American Army’s Texas 36th Division disastrous loss in their failed attempt to cross the Gari-Rapido River in January 1944.

“The town was finally taken by the French Expeditionary troops during Operation Diadem in May of 1944. The Moroccan troops assigned to the French added to the misery of the Sant Ambrogians with their rape and pillage of the inhabitants of that region. It was against this backdrop of the Moroccan atrocity that Sophia Loren starred in her Oscar-winning role as the tragic figure Cesira in her movie ‘Two Women.’

“Sant’Ambrogio has since risen from the ashes of its destruction to bloom again into a beautiful city on a mountaintop overlooking the Liri Valley of Central Italy,” he wrote.

That hospitality for which Malcolm asked Mayor Cypert to commend Mayor Biagio Del Greco included the presentations of two books on the history of Sant’Ambrogio during WWII, pictures of its destruction during that time and a collection of pen and ink drawings by an Italian artist/poet of the town.

Cypert responded almost immediately, inviting the mayor in a letter to come by his office if he ever visited the area and saying, “From the pictures presented to me and my staff, it is apparent that your city has a rich and fascinating history with a reputation of good-will and kindness for its inhabitants and their descendants.”

As it turned out, the mayor of Sant’Ambrogio wasn’t the only hospitable person in the town. June said, when they arrived, they called a woman whose last name was Tortolano, the same as her maiden name, and she showed them the sights.

They also located Fiorenzo Broccoli, another of June’s distant relatives and a senior executive with Bell Helicopter. He introduced them to the mayor who turned out to be distantly related as well.

June said she learned that in her grandparents’ time at Sant’Ambrogio all the good, flat land was owned by the wealthy while those less fortunate eked out a living on the rocky hillsides. So they left for America in the hope of a making a better life for their children.

Although she tried, June said she didn’t find the home they left behind but she will always remember how she felt looking down those rocky hills to the river. “There was such a feeling of peacefulness there,” she said.

TOP STORY >> Base trains Israelis to fly new C-130Js

By 19th Airlift Wing
Public Affairs

The 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base is famous for its C-130 training program, which instructs airmen from the United States and 46 allied nations around the globe.

In true international partnership, three Israeli Air Force students graduated from the J-model course on Oct. 29 and returned home to train Israelis for their first C-130J flying squadron. Israel is buying three C-130Js from the U.S.

“The relationships we’ve made here will help our country greatly,” said Lt. Col. Uri Shaki, commander of the Israeli Air Force’s 103rd Airlift Squadron. “We’re grateful for the training and friendships we’ve made here. We know this will be a long-lasting relationship.”

Israel’s decision to upgrade its C-130s from the older E and H “legacy” models to the newer J models is what brought the 314th AW’s newest training partners here, said Shaki.

Israel will use the C-130J — which it calls “Samson” — the same way as the United States.

A two-man crew from Afghanistan also trained here last summer for the nation’s only C-130 cargo plane.

“Our mission back home will be similar to the ones here,” said Capt. Itamar Lavi, pilot for the Israeli Air Force’s 103rd flying squadron. “Our main mission will be airdrop support and delivering supplies.”

The three-person crew spent more than four months at The Rock for their training, which included three phases: basic qualification, tactical employment and flightline training. This tiered approach enabled the crew to learn the basic flight characteristics of the C-130J while training in world-class simulators.

The final phase culminated in hands-on flight training at the 48th Airlift Squadron, where the students practiced each procedure and maneuver.

The training was terrific, the visiting crew said, noting that the simulators could be vexing at times.

Lavi said the simulator is a good thing because it builds confidence and helps you correct mistakes before flying an actual C-130.

Both the Israeli crew and the local instructors agreed the training was beneficial to members of both nations.

“I’ve flown with Israelis previously,” said Maj. Jeremy Wagner, 314th Airlift Wing pilot instructor. “There was never a question of whether these guys could fly. It’s been great to help equip these guys with a program to train others.”

“The opportunity to share what we know and give them the tools to teach has been amazing,” Wagner added.

Lavi said his crew appreciated the benefits of training at the base, which is known as the Center of Excellence for C-130s.

“Everything we learned here from American instructors has been great,” the captain said.

“Training here, we feel that we are amongst friends,” said Shaki. “We learned a lot professionally of course, but we also learned a lot from the people here and about the Air Force. There was always something to learn; high- and low-level things. We built a strong relationship. We feel the people here want us to succeed.”

“By inviting aircrew members from countries like Israel to train with us, not only do we develop rapport with peers from other nations, but we are building a partnership capacity that allows us to develop, guide and sustain relationships for mutual benefit and security,” said Maj. Eric McEwen, 714th Training Squadron international military student training officer.

McEwen said the mission of building international partnerships involves a lot of teamwork, highlighted by the many airmen it takes to keep the C-130 mission flying.

“We couldn’t do it without our civilian employees here in the 714th Training Squadron, our contracted partners who work for Lockheed Martin at JMATS (C-130J Maintenance and Aircrew Training System), as well our flight instructors in the 48th Airlift Squadron and our maintenance troops from the 314th AMXS (Aircraft Maintenance Squadron) that keep the planes in the air,” he said.

The crew stated that it is an honor to be the first fully trained and qualified C-130J crew in Israel. Each of them are proud of the opportunity they’ve been given.

“This is a big challenge,” said Maj. Royi Day, commander of navigators for the 103rd Flying Squadron. “Changes like these can take dozens of years. It’s a special feeling to be the first ones to learn this skill and teach our countrymen. This has a once-in-a-lifetime feel to it.”

The Israelis enjoyed their time at the base and in the local community, which they had a chance to explore, even seeing a Razorbacks game several weeks ago.

“I love it here,” said Lavi. “It’s so relaxed and the nature is beautiful. We honestly didn’t know what to expect. We had traveled to the United States before, but only in better-known places on the East and West Coast. We were surprised in a good way here.”

“Our stay has been great here,” said Shaki. “It’s a great place for families for those of us, like me, who’ve had their wife and kids here. The people are warm and friendly. We have to thank the base for their hospitality and warmth.”

After their evaluation flight, the fully qualified C-130J pilots and navigator have returned to Israel and begun the task of building their own training program for future Israeli C-130J crew members.

The relationship between the IAF and the USAF is poised to continue, with Israeli loadmasters beginning C-130J training here soon and their country scheduled to receive its first J models next April. It’s a relationship that both the Israeli crew and the instructors at the 314th hope to continue.

“We’ve enjoyed it so much, having them here,” said Wagner. “The training is mutually beneficial.”

“We look forward to working with the people here in the future, as we continue to develop our C-130J squadron,” said Shaki. “The people here have helped us so much, not just professionally but personally. We have learned so much and can’t wait to come back.”

TOP STORY >> Air Force sees more cuts

Leader senior staff writer

“Over the next five years, the Air Force may be forced to cut up to 25,000 airmen and up to 550 aircraft, which is about 9 percent of our inventory,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh testified last week before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Among other concerns, Welsh emphasized the danger of having to choose between a ready force today or a modern force tomorrow.

Welsh, along with the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Marines and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, have all warned Congress that across the board sequester cuts totaling a trillion dollars in 10 years could hamstring the armed forces, saying if such cuts are necessary, the military needs to be able to prioritize cuts.

“These cuts are too fast, too much, too abrupt and too irresponsible,” Hagel said. “The defense budget took a $37 billion sequester cut during the past fiscal year and could be forced to absorb a $52 billion sequester cut this fiscal year.”

Welsh described the impacts of sequestration as sobering and warned that the service will be forced to cut flying hours to the extent that in coming years many flying units won’t be able to retain mission readiness.

“We’ll cancel or significantly curtail mission exercises again,” Welsh said. “And we’ll reduce our initial pilot production targets, which we were able to avoid in fiscal year 2013, because prior year unobligated funds helped offset about 25 percent of our sequestration bill last year.”

Earlier, speaking at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Welsh said modernization and technology should be preserved while bases and personnel should be trimmed to satisfy sequestration budget reduction requirements instead of across-the-board cuts.

“We have to figure out where the balance is between modernizing to be a viable Air Force in the future versus maintaining readiness to be a viable force on the battlefield today, and stability in our financial planning numbers is the number one thing that will help us do that,” he said.

The 2011 Budget Control Act mandates two automatic $500 billion sequestration cuts to all non-exempt defense and domestic accounts. Welsh called across-the-board cuts a bad idea. “The problem we have is it will take us a couple of years to reduce enough of that (infrastructure and personnel) to generate the savings to put into readiness to bring it back where it needs to be,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the very arbitrary mechanism of sequestration demands that we take large savings in the first two years of sequestration. So, instead of being able to create savings initially ourselves within our force structure and people, we’re having to take it out of modernization and readiness in the first two years,” Welsh said. “So we’re breaking things now instead of being allowed to do this in a smarter way and create savings over time. It’s just a bad business resource model, and I think everybody understands that.”

Welsh said he’d like to see Congress start up a new round of BRAC studies. The last study was in 2005, with the next round scheduled for 2015. In the 2005 BRAC, Little Rock Air Force Base increased the number of C-130s assigned and its mission, but uncertainty gripped the base community.

“We really do need to look at reducing overall infrastructure. We haven’t been able to get at that problem. We haven’t been able to impact the personnel accounts of the Air Force very much or the Department of Defense. Those have grown pretty steadily with great support from Congress over the last 15 to 20 years,” Welsh said.

That’s important because operating and maintaining air bases and personnel costs accounts for 55 percent of the Air Force’s overall budget, he said. “The planning is being done in readiness and modernization. That’s it. That’s not a good recipe for success long term. Successful business would go about downsizing their operations. That’s why the long-term stability in resource projection is so important for us.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot hoops puts on preseason bash

Leader sports editor

Cabot introduced this season’s girls’ and boys’ basketball teams to fans with the Panther Basketball Bash on Monday at Panther Arena. Events featured a three-point shooting contest and a ball-handling race between boys and girls team members. Players introduced and each team played a 20-minute intrasquad scrimmage game.

In the three-point contest, each team selected two players to shoot 25-three pointers from around the key. The boys representatives won the competition 22-15. They also won the ball-handling race by a slim margin.

Lady Panther coach Carla Crowder divided her team into varsity versus junior varsity for the girls’ scrimmage. It was the first public outing for a Cabot team that features several new faces. The varsity team wore red practice jerseys while JV wore black, and the Red team scored the first eight points. It took almost three minutes before either team scored a field goal, but Red scored eight very quickly once its full-court pressure took its toll on the black team.

Junior Alyssa Hamilton, who led the Lady Panthers in scoring in several games last year as a sophomore, also led the way for the winning Red team. When she scored her game-high 10th point with 6:15 left on the clock, it gave Red a 21-5 lead. Sophomore Anna Sullivan added five for the Red team.

The Black team was able to close the gap before the scrimmage ended with Red leading 27-17.

The Black team spread its points around evenly. Seven players on Black scored but none more than three points. Sophomores Madi Nichols and Lily Sinclair each got a bucket and a free throw to lead the JV squad.

Boys coach Jerry Bridges divided his team up more evenly, splitting the starters, varsity and JV players into Red and Gray teams.

The Red team scored the first four points, but Gray prevailed 28-25, largely on the strength of a 7-0 run at the midway point that changed an 11-9 Red lead into a 16-11 advantage for the Gray. Six of those points were scored by sophomore guard Kenny Fowler, who drained two three pointers from the right wing, while senior post Michael Smith made one of two free throws to complete the run with 8:06 left.

Red came back and tied it at 17 on a bucket by senior Nick Thomas and again at 19 on a dunk by senior Adolpho Iglesias, but Gray’s Sawyer Stalnaker hit a three pointer shortly afterward and the Gray team led the rest of the way.

Scoring was balanced for both teams. Fowler led the winning Gray team with eight points while senior Jeremiah Penner and sophomore Garrett Rowe added six each.

Iglesias led the Red team with eight points Thomas added seven and sophomore Hunter Southerland scored six.

The Lady Panthers played its first game of the season at Vilonia on Tuesday after Leader deadlines. The boys and girls will host a benefit scrimmage against Lake Hamilton on Thursday. The Lady Panthers also host Vilonia on Saturday before beginning play in the Heavenly Hoops Classic at Mount. St. Mary on Monday. Their first-round game in that tournament will be at 7 p.m. against Watson Chapel.

The boys’ season doesn’t officially get started until a Nov. 25 game at home against Conway.

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons, Devils sporadic in outing

Leader sports editor

Results were mixed for both local teams that took part in the Jacksonville basketball jamboree Saturday afternoon at JHS. The Jacksonville Red Devils and the North Pulaski Falcons each won one game and lost one. Both teams exhibited vastly different performances in their two outings.

The event featured eight teams with Jacksonville splitting into varsity and junior varsity. After an initial full game between the Jacksonville JV team and class 4A upstart program ESTEM Charter, the remaining teams all played one half of ball against two different teams.

ESTEM pulled off a close win in the opening exhibition before varsity play began with El Dorado taking on JA Fair. El Dorado won that game 29-26 before Conway took the floor and beat the War Eagles 33-18. El Dorado then played Mountain Home and won that matchup 36-31 before Conway slipped by class 5A Forrest City 33-32.

North Pulaski then took the floor against Mountain Home and waxed the Bombers 43-20 in one half of play. The Falcons shot the ball extremely well and forced 16 Mountain Home turnovers in just 16 minutes of play.

North Pulaski point guard De’Marik Brown sparked an early Falcon run with a pair of steals and an assist to Aaren Scruggs for a pair of transition baskets. The Falcons made nine of 12 shot attempts in the first quarter as they built a 20-9 lead with their full-court man defense.

The shooting percentage wasn’t quite 75 in the second quarter, but was still good. Sophomore guard Rashawn Langston got a pair of transition dunks and drained a three pointer to lead the Falcon onslaught in the second quarter.

He finished with 12 points in the half while Jarrod Craven was second in scoring with nine on 4 for 4 shooting. A total of 10 different Falcons scored against Mountain Home.

Jacksonville then took the floor against Forrest City and were worn out inside. The Red Devils had no answer for 6-foot-10 post player Trey Thompson, who scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Mustangs to a 31-26 advantage over the host team.

But it wasn’t Thompson that hurt Jacksonville early. Jacksonville couldn’t hold onto the ball. Forrest City’s pressure forced a few turnovers, but others were made out of the half-court sets. The Mustangs led 20-11 after one quarter before the Red Devils’ second group stabilized things early in the second.

The first group re-entered and mounted a comeback led by senior Sergio Berkley. He scored all of his team-high 10 points in the second period by being more aggressive and attacking the basket.

While Jacksonville did close the gap from nine to five points, the turnovers increased from six in the first quarter to seven in the second.

“We’re just trying to find chemistry,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “We have a totally new team and we’re going to spend probably the first half of the season trying to find those guys that work together. The pieces are there with this team. We just have to figure out how they fit together.”

Sitting his first group and letting them watch a large chunk of the Forrest City matchup apparently got the starters’ attention. They jumped on North Pulaski early and built a large lead en route to a 44-18 advantage in the jamboree finale.

“Pine time will change your mind,” Joyner said of his first group. “Once they had a chance to sit over there and think about the fact that the second group was playing because they did what I told them to, they came out with a little different attitude the second time around.”

The attitude was to attack and attack some more, and the Falcons couldn’t stop the Red Devils’ penetration. Jacksonville got the basket almost at will in the early going and got to the free-throw line more in a half than usually takes place in a full game.

The Falcons were called for 21 fouls and Jacksonville shot 25 free throws in two quarters of play.

“I think once we got started and the suddenly the shots weren’t falling like they were the first time, we just a little discouraged and didn’t execute,” said North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson. “We were reaching too much and we weren’t patient on offense. We didn’t commit many turnovers, but we just didn’t run our sets.”

The Falcons did indeed commit only five turnovers, but made just four of 31 shot attempts, including 1 of 6 from three-point range.

Every team except ESTEM played without part of its roster due to football season still going on, but North Pulaski and Mountain Home were at particular disadvantages by being without a post presence.

The result against Jacksonville was the dominance of Red Devil post player Kanaan Jackson, who scored 15 points and had seven rebounds against the Falcons. Devin Campbell was second in scoring with seven points while freshman Tyreke Appleby added five points, all from the free-throw line.

North Pulaski opens its season in the second game of a boys and girls doubleheader at home against Pulaski Robinson on Thursday. The girls take the court at 6 p.m. and the boys follow at approximately 7:30.

Jacksonville’s first official game is the following day, a home game against West Memphis with the girls set to tip off at 6 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears believe Bobcats are ripe

Leader sportswriter

It could be one of the closer No. 1 - No. 4 matchups in the first round of the 5A state playoffs this week as Sylvan Hills prepares for a long road trip to Hope to face the 5A South champion Bobcats on Friday.

The Bears (7-3) earned the No. 4 seed out of the 5A Central when conference points lifted Mills University Studies, a team Sylvan Hills defeated face to face, up to the No. 3 seed. The 8-2 Bobcats earned their top seeding with a 17-12 upset win over defending state champion Camden Fairview in week eight.

Hope’s two losses this year came at the hands of Ashdown in a 42-35 non-conference defeat in week two, and its only league loss to Watson Chapel, 17-19, in week six. The only common opponent between the Bears and Bobcats this year has been Hot Springs Lakeside, with Hope downing the Rams in a close 23-21 decision in week seven, while the Bears handed them a 45-41 loss in week two.

“I don’t view it as a typical 1-4 seed,” Bears coach Jim Withrow said. “I don’t view us as the fourth-best team in this league by any stretch of the imagination. I think we got to a point where we could have scored more points and helped ourselves out, and we didn’t do it. You have to play these guys at some point, so why not in the first round? That’s not a big deal to us.”

Hope and Sylvan Hills have similar offensive philosophies, using a spread formation with a run-first tactic, and both teams like to use the tunnel screen pass to create mismatches upfield.

The last two weeks of the 5A Central schedule were vastly different for Sylvan Hills. The Bears had to face dominating Pulaski Academy in week nine, and gave the Bruins a run for their money most of the way before eventually falling 49-25. They concluded the regular season against nearby rival North Pulaski, a team that has not won since the opening week of the 2012 season. The Bears prevailed 48-19 as expected, and had the opportunity to improve on their passing game, an area that held them back against PA.

“I thought our defense made some plays,” Withrow said of the victory over NP. “I think Chris Daily had another interception, that makes three or four games in a row. Offensively, we threw the ball better. Nathan Thomas had a touchdown catch, and Tra Doss, I think he ran for two scores, and I think Marlon Clemmons may have gotten the other two. I don’t think we played great. I think we did what we wanted to do, get out of there fast and work on a few things.”

With many of the Bears’ premier players coming out of the junior class this season, next year appears to be an opportunity for Sylvan Hills to have a banner season, but for Withrow, none of the upswing his team has enjoyed over the past two seasons could have been possible without this year’s seniors.

“I think the one thing you have to talk about is that we’re not promised tomorrow,” Withrow said. “You’re only promised today, today is now the time. We will be more advanced next year just because we’ll have guys who are three-year starters coming in.

“It’s tough to say we’re looking at next year when we have these seniors right now. Daniel Molden, Garrett Barham, Kylan Wade and all those guys, they’ve been fantastic. Definitely, we want to do everything we can for those guys and take it as far as we can take it.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke ready to host Pokey

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke will host its first playoff game since 2009 Friday at James B. Abraham Stadium against the No. 4 seed from the 4A-3 Conference, the Pocahontas Redskins, in the first round of the class 4A state playoffs. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

The last time the Jackrabbits hosted a playoff game, they handed now class 5A Clarksville a 48-21 loss in the first round. Lonoke coach Doug Bost hopes his team can have as much first-round success this year as the 2009 team did, which was Bost’s first year as the Jackrabbits’ head coach.

“It’s awesome,” Bost said about hosting a playoff game. “It was ’09 the last home playoff game we had. The kids finished up the regular season 8-2. They’re excited that they get to host a playoff game, and hopefully we’ll get two with a win Friday night.”

Pocahontas (4-6) earned a spot in the playoffs for the third-straight year by pummeling Jonesboro-Westside 43-12 last week. The Redskins have been playing some of their best football as of late, and have done so after overcoming a lot of adversity in the summer.

Before the season even began, Pocahontas lost a player to a car accident, and longtime Redskins’ coach Dave Williams hasn’t coached all year since being diagnosed with cancer. The No. 4 seed from the northeast part of the state is a hard-nosed, run first football team that Bost said will try and control the clock and wear you down with their physical style of play.

“They’re a very disciplined, hard-nosed team,” Bost said of Pocahontas. “Offensive-wise, you’re going to get a lot of two tights (tight ends), and just running the ball right at you. It’s a power offense. And then defensive-wise, it looks like they’re going to be in a 3-4 defense, which we’ve seen several times this year.

“Actually, we just saw it (last) Friday night against Clinton. So we know how to block that.”

Lonoke had already locked up the No. 2 playoff seed out of the 4A-2 Conference with a close week nine win over Stuttgart. But in week 10’s regular-season finale, the Jackrabbits had to come from behind to beat Clinton 45-38.

The Jackrabbits have had a few players shine on the offensive side of the ball the last two weeks. Sophomore tailback Josh Coleman has rushed for 373 yards and three touchdowns in the previous two games played, while senior quarterback Kody Smith has also put up big rushing numbers during that stretch.

Do-it-all senior offensive playmaker Blake Mack had the most significant runs against Stuttgart and Clinton, as he scored what ended up being the game-winning touchdowns in each game.

Bost hopes his team can continue to have that kind of success running the ball Friday against the Redskins.

“I’d say we probably have a little more speed than they do, so hopefully that’ll be a factor,” Bost said. “The linemen for us have been our strength all year – being able to run the ball. We’ll definitely lean on them to try and control their defensive line.

“I was really impressed with the sophomore Josh Coleman the other night (against Clinton). I mean, he had 24 carries for 224 yards. That’s pretty good for a 10th-grader.”

As far as how the Jackrabbits plan on preparing for Pocahontas, Bost said they’ll treat this week as if it was any other week, and stick to the routine that got them to the playoffs in the first place.

“This is the opponent for this week,” Bost said. “We’re not looking ahead to anybody else. We’re just worried about Pocahontas. We just want to go out, have a good week of practice, and be ready to go Friday night.”