Friday, March 14, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot back to winning the Classic

By GRAHAM POWELL
Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers improved their record to 3-0 on the season by beating a tough Sylvan Hills team 2-1 Thursday in the finals of the First Arkansas Bank Red Devil Classic tournament at Dupree Park in Jacksonville.

Cabot senior Kason Kimbrell was the winner of the pitchers’ duel. He threw five innings and gave up just two hits, two walks and no earned runs during that stretch while also recording four strikeouts.

“It was a pretty well-played game on both sides overall,” said Cabot coach RonnieGoodwin. “I was pleased not with just winning, but winning one-run games. I continue to tell our guys that’s what makes you a better team. You learn more in one-run games than anything else.

“We had a couple plays where we kind of shot ourselves in the foot that maybe took some opportunities away, but our kids never hung their heads. They just tried to stay positive and look ahead, and they didn’t look back at those negatives. So the mental toughness we’re preaching, we’re starting to see it a little more.”

The Panthers scored their first run in the top of the first inning. Lee Sullivan walked to start the inning and later on in the inning, Tristan Bulice hit a two-out, RBI-double over the left fielder’s head that allowed Sullivan to score, but the Bears (2-2) added their only run in the bottom part of the inning thanks to an error at second base.

Cabot scored the game-winning run in the top of the fourth. Sylvan Hills struggled to find the strike zone in that inning and walked in the Panthers’ second run as a result.

Gavin Tillery scored the go-ahead run after leadoff hitter Conner Vocque walked with the bases loaded and Cabot’s defense and pitching held the Bears scoreless for the rest of the game, giving the Panthers the tournament championship.

“Kason Kimbrell pitched very well for us,” Goodwin said. “He gave up one unearned run and then Zach Patterson came in and pitched the final two innings and was as impressive as I’ve seen him this year. His confidence and our team’s confidence as a whole is starting to go up.”

Bulice led the Panthers offensively, going 3 for 4 at the plate with an RBI. Tillery finished 1 for 2 at the plate with a double and a run scored.

Patterson earned the save after his two innings of work. He allowed one hit and one walk in his time on the hill, and recorded two strikeouts.

The Panthers will play their next game Tuesday at home in a 7A/6A East Conference doubleheader against North Little Rock. The first pitch of game one will be at approximately 5 p.m. at the Cabot baseball complex.

SPORTS STORY >> Late rally can’t break through, Lonoke falls in state title game

By GRAHAM POWELL
Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS – Despite an early fourth-quarter surge from Lonoke in Thursday’s class 4A state championship game at Summit Arena, the Brookland Bearcats stayed the course and pulled away in the end to beat the Jackrabbits 60-50.

Brookland’s stingy defense got to the Jackrabbits early, but it was the Bearcats’ stellar shot selection and overall percentage from the floor that gave them a 13-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 28-18 lead at halftime.

The Bearcats (28-6) were 5 for 7 shooting in the first quarter and 12 for 18 by the end of the first half for 67 percent. The Jackrabbits (26-7) didn’t necessarily have an off night, making 7 of 16 shots in the first half for 44 percent, but that percentage obviously didn’t match Brookland’s.

“They’re a very tough team,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of Brookland. “They guard and defend, and don’t let you get anything easy. They shot the ball extremely well. I think we had a little bit to do with that. We weren’t guarding very well the first half. We did a lot of chasing instead of jumping to the ball and being in the right position.”

Brookland extended its lead to 31-18 on a 3-pointer by CJ Henry at the start of the second half, and the Bearcats led by double digits for most of the third quarter, but the Jackrabbits were able to cut that lead to single digits by the end of the quarter, trailing 36-28.

Lonoke turned up the pressure in the fourth quarter and was able force turnovers. As a result, the Rabbits began the fourth period with a 4-0 run, which trimmed Brookland’s lead to 36-32.

The Bearcats got a bucket soon after, but Lonoke’s Darrius McCall answered with an and-1 with 6:46 to play, which narrowed Brookland’s lead to 38-35. That, however, was the closest the Jackrabbits would get the rest of the way.

Brookland was able to eventually figure out Lonoke’s press defense and after the Bearcats beat the pressure, it often led to high-percentage shots on the offensive end, or they’d get to the line and steadily build on their lead.

McCall, who guards the opposing team’s best player every game, fouled out with 4:19 remaining, and at that time the Rabbits trailed 44-37. Brookland pushed its lead back to double digits on a pair of free throws by Chandler Thompson, who earned Most Valuable Player honors, which put the Bearcats up 50-40 with 1:44 left.

Lonoke got to within six points of the Bearcats’ lead on a putback by Ced Cooney after a Jamel Rankin miss from the baseline with 51 seconds remaining, which made the score 52-46, but Brookland pushed it back to 10 on a transition layup by Reece Gamling with 22.9 ticks left, which made the score 58-48.

In the final seconds, Thompson sank the team’s 13th and 14th free throws of the fourth quarter to set the final score.

“We’re always the underdog in every game we play,” said McCall, “but we came out and did our best, and I can’t say anything more about my team. We fought to win, but we just came up short. This team is a family. We’ve been together since community center ball.

“With everyone from Pottsville, CAC, Nashville, we fought adversity and we overcame it.”

“We had a great season,” said Lonoke senior post Blake Mack. “We’ve been growing up together since we were in kindergarten, playing with and against each other. Compared to prior seasons, this season I feel like we did great.”

Their head coach expressed the same sentiments.

“There are 48 teams in 4A,” Campbell said. “Forty six didn’t make the trip. So, it was a great year. We set some team goals early. We decided what do we really want? Do we want to just come to camp and just have fun, or are we here to do something and get better and do some work?

“I think we’ve had a great year. We went to Conway St. Joseph and won that tournament. We won our tournament at home, the Goldfish Classic. We caught a very hot Stuttgart team at district and, of course, we ran into Dollarway again at the regional tournament.

“As I told the guys in there, ‘you’ve created and developed relationships and created memories that no one can ever take away from you.’”

Lonoke finished the game 19 of 49 from the floor for 39 percent. The Rabbits made 1 of 13 threes for 8 percent and 11 of 19 free throws for 58 percent, and finished the game with 12 turnovers.

Brookland finished the game 19 of 35 from the floor for 54 percent. The Bearcats made 5 of 10 3-pointers for 50 percent and 17 of 29 free throws for 59 percent. They finished the game with 14 turnovers and outrebounded the Jackrabbits 31-26.

Thompson led the Bearcats with 15 points and made 10 of 11 free-throw attempts, but Mack led all scorers with 19 points. He finished his last game as a Jackrabbit with a double-double as he also hauled in 10 rebounds.

Rankin, also a senior, finished with nine points. Senior Darian Young scored seven. McCall, also a senior, finished with five points. Seniors Tykel Gray and Cooney scored four points apiece, and sophomore guard Jawaun Bryant added two points to round out the Rabbits’ scoring.

SPORTS STORY >> Mustangs’ size too much for Devils

By RAT BENTON
Leader sports editor

HOT SPRINGS – Superior size and renewed focus on utilizing it in the second half turned things around for the Forrest City Mustangs as they beat Jacksonville 69-60 Friday in the class 5A state championship game at Summit Arena.

Jacksonville out-played the bigger, favored Forrest City Mustangs in the first half – winning the rebounding battle 16-11 and taking a 35-29 lead into intermission.

After a sputtering start by both teams in the third, Forrest City, who entered the game on a 17-game winning streak, began to assert itself inside, and on defense.

Jacksonville’s offense, which executed well in the first half, was unable to find the open looks in the second half.

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner believes temperament had something to do with it.

“We just couldn’t settle down,” said Joyner. “Sergio (Berkley) summed it up better than I could. When he would call a play in the first half, we’d be there. We weren’t there in the second half and he got caught up with the ball. And we just couldn’t get settled down and run our plays. That was the difference in the game.”

Jacksonville got steals on Forrest City’s first three possessions of the second half, but turned the ball over twice and missed from outside once.

Once the Mustangs got on track, they never got off. Forrest City outscored Jacksonville 40-25 in the second half, and hit its free throws down the stretch to keep Jacksonville’s comeback bid at bay.

“We started the season 1-3,” said Forrest City coach Dwight Lofton. “We got to reading about how good we were supposed to be. But when you’re 1-3, you have to look in the mirror. I told the guys that if they would commit to doing what it takes, we might not lose another ball game. We lost one more in double overtime at the finals of the Poplar Bluff shootout, and that was it. It is tremendous what these young men have accomplished.”

The first half started slowly, but revved up to a frenzied pace midway through the second quarter. Forrest City got its first lead when sophomore Robert Glasper hit the first of his three first-half 3-pointers, but the Mustangs didn’t lead again the rest of the period. Mustang senior Jayshun Jordan hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the opening period to cut Jacksonville’s margin to 16-14. He then hit another 3-pointer to open the second quarter, giving the Mustangs their first lead since early in the first.

From that point there were five lead changes the rest of the half. Forrest City began to steal the momentum when it went on an 8-2 run to turn a 22-19 deficit into a 27-24 lead. The two teams then traded baskets to make it 26-29 and Glasper got a steal to give the Mustangs a chance to increase their lead. He threw inside to Trey Thompson who lost the ball as he turned towards the basket.

A frenetic scramble for the ball ensued and Devin Campbell finally picked it up underneath the Jacksonville basket before it was knocked out of bounds. Lofton was then given a technical foul for arguing that Thompson had been fouled at the other end.

Campbell missed both free throws, but the technical killed Forrest City’s momentum with 2:34 left in the half.

From that point, Jacksonville closed the second quarter with a 9-0 run and too the game’s biggest lead up to that point into halftime.

Long-range shots kept Forrest City close in the first half. The Mustangs made six 3-pointers, three each by Glasper and Jordan.

Glasper led all scorers with 18 points. Dwain Whitfield added 13, Jordan scored 12 and Thompson, the game’s Most Valuable Player and University of Arkansas signee, added 10.

Campbell led Jacksonville with 15 points. Kanaan Jackson scored 12 and Tyree Appleby 10 for Jacksonville.

Forrest City hit 20 of 25 free-throw attempts while Jacksonville was just 12 of 20.

EDITORIAL >> Positive news from schools

Recent school news highlights the successes and the potential of young people in our area in ways that aren’t easily measured by standardized tests.

This week, high school juniors were busy taking literacy tests. Whatever happens, there’s reason to be optimistic that the quality of our children’s education is improving. We’ll cross our fingers while we wait for those scores, which will be released this summer.

Meanwhile, consider Jacksonville High School’s first-ever robotics team that competed in a regional tournament in Searcy last weekend. Some of the students on the team described themselves as average academically, but they are learning skills that will prepare them for high-tech engineering jobs and help them get into college.

“We’re not the powerhouse of central Arkansas we used to be,” Wayne Griffin, the team’s coach, told us. “We have nothing but a bad reputation. People are always badmouthing our school. We walk in here with a week and a half of work and win an award.”

Programs like the robotics team, which are offered by several area schools, will help change some of those negative perceptions about JHS.

Also, Super Bowl champion Clinton McDonald returned to his alma mater to motivate students for the literacy exam. That’s an impressive show of support from someone who could easily have taken a vacation instead. McDonald, by the way, has just signed a $12 million, four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In Cabot, where positive school news isn’t difficult to find, students Trea Kiser and Christian Weatherley are working to remove the word retarded from their peers’ vocabularies. Part of a national movement, they are hoping to build awareness and sensitivity about the plight of people with developmental disabilities.

The Beebe School District is rapidly growing in size and improving the quality of its academic programs under the leadership of Superintendent Belinda Shook. This week, the district completed plans for a new cafeteria for ninth and 10th graders and a food pantry to provide nourishment for underprivileged students.

Beebe High School will perform Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at 2 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Thursday. It’s a selection as bold as it is entertaining: Break a leg, kids.

EDITORIAL >> Cabot targets rental units

Before summer arrives, the Cabot City Council will likely pass an ordinance requiring inspections of apartments and other rental properties. Officials are tired of unsightly, unsafe and unsanitary low-cost rental homes that they believe aren’t good enough for their town or the poor folks who live in them.

The city recently shut down two rundown apartment complexes, forcing their residents to move. You can be sure others are facing the same fate.

The Alpine Village on Lincoln Street, with six buildings and 30 units, was found to have numerous code violations: Cockroaches, rodent feces, overheated and exposed electrical wiring, improperly wired water heaters, roofs leaking onto light fixtures, sewer gas in the units, inoperable plumbing and more.

Mayor Bill Cypert was right to describe the conditions at Alpine Village as deplorable and ordering the tenants to vacate.

Don’t let the name fool you, it was no rustic Swiss ski resort. Its Little Rock owner might try to improve the place to avoid condemnation, but that will take a lot of time and money. It could be bulldozed as several derelict houses have been since Cypert took office in 2011.

Last year, the city also evicted residents of the Linden Street Apartments. Conditions there were similar to Alpine Village. Both complexes have had their share of police calls and were suspected drug havens.

Jacksonville has tried to address the same problem. When Mayor Gary Fletcher was first elected, he reached out to landlords to encourage them to make much-needed improvements to rental homes.

Property owners weren’t pleased with his proposal to perform inspections, and the mayor abandoned the ambitious effort — though Jacksonville’s code-enforcement department has grown more robust since Fletcher became mayor and several dilapidated homes in the Sunnyside Addition have been torn down.

Cabot is acting in the best interests of tenants and residents who don’t want to see their home town blighted by unkempt rental properties. Jacksonville should follow Cabot’s example: The residents of Oxford Inn on South First Street and the South Oak Street Apartments deserve the same living standards as renters in Cabot.

TOP STORY >> Documentary features champion trees

By ALIYA FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

The beauty of the trees in a new documentary “Champion Trees” speaks for itself. In-depth interviews with artists, historians and the owners of the land the trees sit on further capture their splendor.

One such person is Jerry Sanders, a retiree in Sherwood, who has the largest dawn redwood in the state planted in his backyard.

Sanders sent away for the tree and planted it 20 years ago, when it was three feet tall. He calls gardening “intoxicating” and, while sitting in a lawn chair in his well-planted garden, says that he tends to “slack off” on other things to make time for gardening.

Then there are the trees that have personal significance for the families who still have them in their yards. Wadene Foreman Hilliard of Rosebud has an American holly in her yard.

She remembers when her family made wreaths from its leaves to hang on their front door.

While people associated with the trees make up a large part of the film, the trees remain the subject, which gives them an unusual personification.

Viewers can count on receiving assurance that Arkansas’ great treasure is its nature and the awe that it creates, as many of those interviewed say.

“Anyone who’s around trees as a child knows that enchantment,” says Linda Williams Palmer of Hot Springs. She’s an artist who throughout the film prepares for a gallery showing of her drawings of champion trees.

Her exhibit, she says, is to thank the trees for the part they played in her childhood, when she would play and daydream in the forest near her family’s house.

“My depiction of it, or drawing of it, is my expression of gratitude in some way,” she says.

Other trees and towns featured in the film are a post oak in Waldo, a deodar cedar in Searcy and a southern red oak in Birdeye, among many others.

Champion trees are considered the largest of their species in the state. The film’s crew traveled statewide to document these species and their stories. Many of the trees have been given historical markers.

Watch the film, an AETN production, for pictorial documentation of these trees, including miles of orange-leaved forests during the fall, which is part of a diorama of trees through the seasons.

Matthew Voskamp, a county forester with the Arkansas Forestry Commission in Little Rock, says looking at the champion trees also inspires awe in him and gives him a sense of state history beyond what is written.

“These champion trees are really fascinating because they are the largest…They’re pretty awesome to just marvel at how large they are,” Voskamp says. “If there’s any tree that I’ve (been) just awestruck with it was the champion bald cypress (in the White River National Wildlife Refuge) and that was the first champion tree I ever visited.”

He reflects on how it has survived a “saw or a bulldozer, or lightning, or a windstorm for that long.”

The tree is estimated to be 300 to 400 years old and is the largest tree in the state.

Surrounding its huge trunk are hundreds of roots, called knees, that appear to grow upward out of the ground so that small tree trunks look to have dropped from its branches and into the swamp below.

There were many more bald cypresses in Arkansas before much of the swampland dried up.

Most of the champion trees are 5 to 8 feet in diameter. The bald cypress is 14 to 15 feet in diameter.

Voskamp travels the state to qualify these trees for champion designation.

Individuals who believe that a champion tree sits on their property can call Voskamp to apply for the status.

The trees are accompanied by a fitting and beautiful score by Amos Cochran of Van Buren.

Cochran’s score, along with long, wide aerial shots of Arkansas forest, are magnificent.

Don Bragg, a tree researcher with the USDA, says that, before settlers arrived in Arkansas, almost the entire landscape was covered in trees.

He says 96 percent of the land was forest. The film shows that, in some remote areas of Arkansas, the landscape is remarkably the same as it was then. Largely, the film is about the capacity that trees have for survival.

Before settlers, trees much larger than the ones we see now were commonplace. Photographs from the turn of the century show loggers with massive stumps of newly-cut trees that dwarf the loggers in size.

“Before the Civil War,” says historian Ronald Kelley, “we had a lot more trees.” Kelley works in Helena, where a maidenhair ginkgo towers over Evergreen Cemetery.

Kelley says the combination of natural and American history make the cemetery a perfect place to visit.

Cornilica Davis of the Yell County Historical Society discusses Dardanelle’s 350-year-old white oak, which the Native Americans called the Council Tree for its designation as their meeting place.

Champion trees will re-air several times on AETN this spring. Check http://www.aetn.org/broadcast/schedule for air times.

TOP STORY >> Accused killer has history of police troubles

By SARAH CAMPBELL 
Leader staff writer

The parolee accused in the March 2 stabbing death of Steven Thomas Miller at a local bar was well known to White County law enforcement.

Arthur Lockhart Jr. told police that he stabbed Miller, a 28-year-old white man from Cabot, after the victim called his wife a “nigger.” Miller was killed around 5 a.m. in the parking lot of The Hangar bar off Hwy. 67/167.

Arthur Lockhart and Tere Rowshell Lockhart, both 35, black and Searcy residents, have been charged with second-degree murder.

Arthur Lockhart was also charged with tampering with evidence because he allegedly threw a knife onto the roof of the bar after the stabbing.

The Lockharts are being held at the Pulaski County jail with a $250,000 bond for Arthur Lockhart and a $100,000 bond for his wife.

It’s not Arthur Lockhart’s first stint in jail.

In 2005, he was sentenced to 26 years with the Arkansas Department of Corrections for aggravated assault and possession of firearms by a certain person, according to the department's inmate search database.

Lockhart was also sentenced in 1995 to six years for second-degree battery and robbery.

He was found guilty in 2011 of felony possession of a controlled substance, felony tampering with evidence and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, according to a White County Courthouse spokesperson.

In 1998, Lockhart was sentenced to five years for possession of a controlled substance with purpose to manufacture or deliver, according to the Department of Corrections database.

He was sentenced to 45 months for the more recent drug charges.

Lockhart was on parole through 2025 when he was arrested for the murder.

White County electronic court records searchable by name are not available from cases that occurred before 2010. There are records from before then, but the year of the offense is required to locate them.

Searcy police know Lockhart by his pseudonym, “Fox,” according to spokesman Cpl. Steve Hernandez.

Hernandez told The Leader, “It doesn’t surprise me that (Arthur Lockhart) did it. I surprises me that I haven’t heard from him in a long time.”

The spokesman said Searcy police have arrested the alleged murderer five times for fleeing, failure to pay fines and failure to appear.

Arthur Lockhart was also arrested for a felony terroristic act. He allegedly fired shots at his home to scare people, Hernandez said.

Searcy police have not arrested Arthur Lockhart since 2005, the spokesman added.

Tere Lockhart was convicted in Pulaski County of two traffic violations and a failure to appear in court for one of those violations. She was on probation and is being held for the Bald Knob Police Department.

Jacksonville police responded to The Hangar, 7619 John Harden Drive, at 5:01 a.m. Sunday, March 2.

Miller was lying on the ground, unresponsive with a faint heartbeat and shallow breathing.

According to the report, there were two puncture wounds in his abdomen and one puncture wound on the left side of his neck.

Miller was taken to North Metro Medical Center, where he died at 6:15 a.m.

Two witnesses told police they saw Miller and Tere Lockhart arguing before the stabbing. Three witnesses said they saw Arthur Lockhart attack Miller.

One of the witnesses told police she saw Tere Lockhart push the victim’s face and hit him with the heel of a boot she was holding.

There was blood on the boot when an officer found it, according to the report.

Another witness saw Arthur Lockhart throw something over the building after the fight, the report continues. A black folding knife with blood on the blade was found where the witness said Arthur Lockhart had thrown something.

Tere Lockhart told police she hit Miller twice with her shoe. She said she didn’t see anyone else attack him after that. There was blood on her hands, body and clothing, according to the report.

Arthur Lockhart at first denied having a knife and attacking Miller, but said he would take the blame if police released his wife, according to the report.

He was told that both he and his wife were being charged.

Then Arthur Lockhart said he stabbed Miller two or three times and described the knife in detail, according to the report. There was also blood on his clothing, the report states.

TOP STORY >> Students protest teacher’s firing

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

A popular Lonoke High School science teacher was fired Tuesday night after a four-hour special school board meeting held to review allegations that he slapped a student’s face.

He was also accused of showing a graphic video and of other infractions during his tenure.

An open hearing was held in the school library at the request of Boaz Cotton, who taught pre-advanced-placement and advanced-placement biology and environmental science.

He’d been a teacher at Lonoke since August 2010. More than 70 students, parents and teachers were at the hearing wearing green shirts in support of the teacher with “100 percent Cotton” on the front and a quote of Cotton’s on the back.

Although he wasn’t at the hearing, the student Cotton slapped for cursing didn’t want the teacher fired.

When Cotton and his witnesses spoke on his behalf, the students all stood up as one, some hand-in-hand as they tried to hold back tears.

“Mr. Cotton is the best teacher I ever had. He teaches you how to figure things out in biology and in life,” junior Gracie Pusley said.

Paris Terry, a 10th grader, said, “Truthfully, I find it unfair.”

Lin Smith, a senior, said Cotton means a lot to her. He helped her through some trying times in her life, she said.

Chandler Elmore, another student, read a letter about Cotton during the hearing.

Elmore said he taught the state curriculum and life lessons. He lectured students and challenged them to find solutions on their own, Elmore said.

Four board members voted for Superintendent Suzanne Bailey’s recommendation to terminate Cotton, two abstained from voting, and one board member was not present.

School district attorney Donn Mixon of Jonesboro moderated the hearing.

Science teacher Rebekah DiGiacomo read a letter during the hearing from the science department. The letter was delivered to the administration in February.

COTTON MOST QUALIFIED

She said Cotton was the most qualified to teach advanced classes. End-of-course exams and advanced-placement scores have risen over the past four years, she said. He set the bar for his students and the department. He held students accountable and pushed them to their potential, DiGiacomo said.

Cotton gave students after-school tutoring without charge, she continued. Students who weren’t in his classes came to him for help with math and chemistry, she added.

Cotton had been suspended with pay for four weeks until his firing on Tuesday. A substitute teacher is teaching his class for the remainder of the school year.

During the hearing, Cotton said he wanted to apologize to the student involved in the incident and the student’s family.

He also apologized to the teachers, staff, his students and their parents.

“They believe in me. They worked hard for me. I’m supposed to be there for them. I can’t help but take fault for the events that transpired. I take responsibility of the negative impact on their education this year,” Cotton said.

“For my students, thank you for believing in me. This has made a lifelong impression on me. It has changed me tremendously. It has brought much joy in my heart to see that I have their support,” Cotton said.

STUDENT SLAPPED

According to school incident reports, on Feb. 6, students were gathered at the Gina Cox Center for an emergency drill. A black male student was cursing loudly while talking with friends when Cotton, who said at the hearing that he was half African American, overheard the words.

Cotton then slapped the student’s face and told him not to curse. The student said the slap was not hard, but hard enough to feel it. He said he balled up his fist in anger, and the student’s friends said they wouldn’t take that.

Cotton then guided the boy to the restroom. The teacher allegedly blocked the restroom door and told the student to “take a free shot at him.”

The student refused to hit Cotton. He said Cotton asked him questions about liking school. The teacher moved to block the student’s exit as they were talking.

The student said, when Cotton finally let him leave for class, the teacher tried to grab his shoulder and apologize. The student shrugged it off, and they parted ways.

Later the same day, the student told his brother and mother about the incident. The next day, the student’s mother met with Cotton about the incident during parent-teacher conferences.

She then called the school to let administrators know what had happened.

Security footage of the incident was shown at a private session with Cotton and school board members during the hearing.

Cotton admitted to principals during an interview that he did put his hands on the student’s face. He said it was a reaction to hearing the student curse.

Cotton said he knew it was wrong to use his hands and that he was sorry for doing it.

During the hearing, Cotton said he never intended to harm the student, nor would he want to. Cotton said it was not a slap. He said he did apologize to the student’s mother.

“Guiding (the student) to the restroom was intended to protect (the student) from the mistake I just made. My mistake of touching the young man’s face, it got him very upset, and I was very concerned that what I just did to him was going to cause him to get into trouble that he may not recover from,” Cotton said.

He said guiding the student to the restroom was not meant to intimidate him, but to isolate him from his friends so the two could talk.

Cotton said it was also to let the student know that he cared for him and that he was sorry about offending him.

The teacher said he wanted the student to consider the consequences if he struck Cotton.

“I did not want to harm him. I wanted him to succeed,” Cotton said.

He said he wanted to protect the student first and foremost.

“I was trying to protect him from being seen striking a teacher. I was worried he would and, if he did, it was because of what I did,” Cotton said.

“If the student had hit me back, I would not have reported it,” Cotton said.

The student involved, who was not present for the hearing, wrote a letter to the board asking that Cotton to be reinstated.

PROFANITY IN THE CLASSROOM

On Feb. 21, 2013, high school principals met with Cotton to discuss reports from parents and students that he used profanity in his classroom. Cotton admitted to using some profanity.

He used an expletive when he tried to make a point about how much it hurt when one jumps in water and lands on their belly.

Cotton was told by supervisors the use of profanity was inappropriate and should not be used again in the presence of students. A report was written up about the incident.

He allegedly used profanity in the classroom again in last August, according to four students.

Cotton told administrators he let a few vulgar words slip, but has never cussed at a student.

Science teacher DiGiacomo said during the hearing she has heard other teachers use profanity in front of students and that was not reported.

Cotton said he had used that expletive. After being told not to use that kind of language, he stopped. The teacher denied accusations that he used other curse words in class.

He said he had heard teachers use profanity in front of students before, not just in Lonoke, but at the four high schools Cotton attended growing up.

INAPPROPRIATE CONTACT WITH A STUDENT

Cotton was suspended with pay for the afternoon on Aug. 30 and all day Sept. 3 as school administrators investigated allegations that he had inappropriate contact with a student.

A female student on Aug. 28 reported to the Open Arms Shelter that Cotton took her out into the hall during his environmental science class to talk with her about turning in the wrong assignment on that date.

When interviewed by principals two days later about the incident, she told them Cotton sat on the stairs when they left the room.

She felt that he wanted her to sit next to him. She said she did not want to and he went toward her. She backed away and he still came toward her. She said her hands were in her pockets. He reached and grabbed her hand to hold it while he spoke to her.

The student said Cotton held her hand and talked to her like a boyfriend would. She said he was “up in her space too much.”

The student based this on his facial expressions and actions.

The day following the incident, the student said Cotton did not say or do anything that could be considered inappropriate.

At the hearing, Cotton said the student remained in the classroom and continued working with him.

Cotton said he sat down on the stairs to be less intimidating because he’s tall. He explained that it was not done to get the student to sit next to him, but to give her the advantage of looking down at him.

Cotton said the discussion was school-related. He worked with her closely last year and helped her pass her biology course she was struggling with.

She was under the impression their rapport was more than it was, Cotton said.

QUESTIONABLE VIDEO SHOWN IN CLASS

It was reported to school principal Marc Sherrell on Oct. 29 that Cotton showed the video “Child Birth or Getting Kicked in the Balls, Which Hurts Worse?”

Sherrell said the video may be deemed inappropriate by some viewers or their parents. He requested that Cotton seek approval from the administration first before showing questionable videos.

DiGiacomo said during the hearing that she had seen the video. She said pre-AP and AP students are mature enough to understand the video was educational, based on solid science.

“It was presented in a way that would capture the students’ attention,” DiGiacomo said.

She said the school has, in the past, approved videos that contain vulgar language.

Cotton said the short video was intended to make the students chuckle and laugh and held them remember the information.

When Cotton was made aware that some may find it offensive, he stopped showing the video.

EATING LUNCH IN THE CLASSROOM WITH STUDENTS

Cotton was also accused of allowing students to eat in his room at lunch without permission, which is against building policy.

In August, he was written up. Cotton admitted to administrators that he let students eat lunch in his room because it gives them a chance to bond with him and an opportunity to help them with their problems.

Administrators told Cotton he could eat lunch with the students, but he needed to do that in the cafeteria.

DiGiacomo said at the hearing that students last week were eating their lunch in other teachers’ classrooms.

Cotton said lunch is a good way for him and his students to open up and become comfortable with each other. He said some students find it “uncool” to be seen talking with their teacher in the cafeteria or with large groups of students around.

“To remove or not to allow students to visit and learn from their teacher during lunch, I think is a huge disservice and an oversight of the time we could be using to prepare our students for the future,” Cotton said.

He said academic progress is achieved when the students eat in the classroom.

SCHOOL BOARD'S DECISION

Board members went into executive session.

They came back and said they believed the allegations against Cotton, except for the accusation that he blocked the door of the restroom.

Cotton was also found to have failed to maintain a professional relationship with his students.

His conduct interfered with the performance of his duties as an educator, the board said. He engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on the integrity of the school district and its staff, they said.

Superintendent Bailey said, “We are all here as educators for the safety and security of all our children. We have an ethical standard as educators to have the utmost professionalism to show toward students, peers, parents and community members. We’re also role models.”

Cotton said, “My profession is to make sure my students know how to handle themselves in life when they don’t have a teacher. My profession is to encourage and motivate them and influence them to be better people; that is what teaching is.

“In my profession, I choose to go against something that I do not, after careful consideration, deem to be in the best interest of my students. My students come first. That will also be my stance,” he told the school board.

Cotton told the students after his firing, “(The board) has made their decision. We have to accept that. You don’t need me. You can do it for yourselves. Don’t let someone else stop you from doing what you need to do. If you want to pass that AP exam, you will pass it. You can do it. I have seen how all of you work.

“Just because I’m not your teacher does not mean that you are removed from my life. All of you will be a part of my life,” Cotton said.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Rams put an end to Lady Devils’ season

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

ALMA – A bad first half of shooting got worse in the third quarter, and the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils’ season came to and end in the quarterfinal round of the class 5A state tournament. The Paragould Lady Rams, who Jacksonville beat in the state championship game last season, got their revenge with a 64-40 victory on Monday.

Jacksonville hit just 8 of 27 shots in the first half and was 4 of 10 from the free-throw line, and only trailed 26-23 at intermission. But those numbers got even worse in the second half while Paragould began to find its range.

The Lady Rams weren’t much better in the first half, hitting 10 of 27 shot attempts, but made their first five of the third quarter while Jacksonville opened the third with seven-straight misses.

Just 1:29 into the second half, Paragould senior Sydney Layrock scored seven unanswered points and the Lady Rams were suddenly up by double digits. Jacksonville did not score in the third quarter until freshman Alexis James hit a free throw with 4:10 on the clock to make it 39-24. The two teams playedevenly for the rest of the quarter and the Rams went into the fourth with a 45-30 lead.

Jacksonville briefly cut the margin to 10 early in the fourth quarter. Antrice McCoy got a steal and a layup and Keke Alcorn drained a 3-pointer to make it 49-39 with 6:10 remaining, but the shooting woes re-emerged and Paragould pulled away.

“We just never shot the ball well the whole game,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree. “We got 34 from our post player in the first game, and just couldn’t get them to fall in this one. And it wasn’t just her. We missed layups, threes and free throws. You’re not going to win doing that.”

McCoy led Jacksonville with 12 points and was the only Lady Devil in double figures. Layrock carried Paragould, scoring 21 and grabbing 14 rebounds.

Jacksonville finished the game hitting 14 of 57 shot attempts and was 4 of 20 from beyond the 3-point arc. They also made just 8 of 26 free-throw attempts for 31 percent.

Still, the Lady Devils look upon the season as a success. There were many challenges facing the team at the beginning of the season and many doubters believed the team would struggle.

They lost Jessica Jackson to graduation, a player who went on to become the top freshman in the SEC. They lost their starting point guard and second-leading scorer to transfer, and started over with a brand new coach in Rountree.

Early on, it looked as though the naysayers would be right. Jacksonville lost its first five games, but it turned out to be to four teams who advanced to at least the second round of the class 6A and 7A state tournaments.

Senior guard Tiffany Smith, who is this year’s leading average scorer, believes she and her teammates accomplished a lot this season.

“We definitely had the doubters out there and we wanted to show we were still a good team,” said Smith. “I think we did that. We’re better today than on day one. It was a tough transition with the new coach. Last year with coach Mimms we just went out and played ball. We knew if you got the ball to Jessica she was going to score. This year we had to listen. We had to execute the offense and get good at that, and we became a better team.”

The Lady Devils end the season with an overall record of 16-10.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devil Classic gets underway

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

It started five days late, but the Red Devil Classic baseball tournament finally got underway on Saturday at Dupree Park. It featured four competitive games, including two that went into extra innings.

The Beebe Badgers opened the tournament by beating host team Jacksonville 7-4. Beebe got seven hits to Jacksonville’s six, and both teams committed two errors and left eight on base. Free bases made the difference in the game.

Jacksonville pitchers hit six Beebe batters, including four with counts of zero balls and two strikes.

“They’d make us look silly and then come in tight,” said Beebe coach Mark Crafton. “They’d either nick us or hit us square in the back. We were able to take advantage of those mistakes. You’re going to see that kind of thing this early.”

Jacksonville took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, but the Badgers answered with three in the top of the third, and took the lead in the fourth. They added three more in the fifth before Jacksonville set the final margin with one run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Justin Browning got the win on the mound, and went 1 for 3 at the plate with 2 RBIs. John Finley got the save and Angus Denton went 3 for 3 at the plate for the Badgers.

The Badgers came into the tournament with one game under their belt. They beat Sylvan Hills in Sherwood the night before, also by a final score of 7-4.

Denton started on the mound and got the win, and also went 2 for 5 at the plate with 2 RBIs. Finley got the save, pitching the last inning after the Badgers broke a 3-3 tie with four runs in the sixth inning.

Little Rock Central then beat Greenbrier 6-3 before a pair of extra-inning games closed out the first day of play.

Sylvan Hills beat Searcy 3-2 in nine innings before Cabot needed 11 innings to knock off Vilonia 5-3.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke scraps Nashville, will vie for 4A title

By GRAHAM POWELL 
Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits are back in the class 4A state championship game for the first time since 2008 after beating Nashville by the final score of 50-39 in Monday’s semifinal round at the Gina Cox Center.

Lonoke (26-6) led the Scrappers 11-6 at the end of the first quarter, and extended that lead to 21-13 at halftime. Nashville’s Jamie Newton hit a 3-pointer at the start of the second half that cut the Jackrabbits’ lead to 21-16, but the host team outscored the visitors 15-7 for the remainder of the period to take a 36-23 lead into the fourth quarter.

Nashville (17-13), though, wouldn’t go away quietly. With 4:45 to play, the Scrappers made it a single-digit game on an inside bucket by Brandon Shamrock that made the score 38-29. A short jumper by Lamichael Pettway soon followed and a free throw by Shamrock made it a six-point game with the Rabbits leading 38-32 with just over four minutes remaining.

Whenever Lonoke desperately needed a bucket down the stretch, senior guard Darrius McCall made it happen. McCall didn’t score at all in the first two games of the state tournament, but he scored eight points alone in the fourth quarter, and each point scored was when his team needed it the most.

“He’s got the tough chore of guarding the best player every game,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of McCall. “Whether it’s a guard or a second post guy, he’s doing that. He’s got the toughest job and he accepts that. He’s a tough kid and I love him for that.

“He showed up and I figured he would because the last couple of games he wasn’t very happy with himself. He really stepped up tonight and he was huge. That was what we needed.”

Lonoke pushed its lead back to double digits on a pair of 1-and-1 free throws by senior guard Jamel Rankin with 1:01 left, which made the score 48-38.

Nashville’s Darius Hopkins set the Scrappers’ point total for the afternoon with a free throw as the final seconds ticked away, and with 20.6 ticks to go, McCall set the final score with a couple of 1-and-1 free throws.

The Jackrabbits, who entered the state tournament as the three seed from the East, defeated Pottsville, last year’s state champion, by the final score of 66-64 in the first round of the tournament last week.

They then beat South No. 1 seed CAC, 56-41, in the second round Friday, which put them in Monday’s semifinals against the Scrappers, who were the South three seed.

Despite the team’s success and stellar record this season, there are those that still consider this Lonoke team a surprise team of sorts. Campbell and his players realize that and instead of shying away from it, they’ve embraced it, according to Campbell.

“Every game that we go into, we’re the underdog,” Campbell said. “Everybody will tell you who’s picked to win; it’s not us. It’s whoever we’re playing is picked to win. Our guys understand that and embrace that.”

In Monday’s semifinal, the Jackrabbits made 18 of 37 shots from the floor for 49 percent. Conversely, Nashville made 16 of 42 for 38 percent.

The Scrappers outrebounded the Rabbits 28-20, but the tournament hosts had fewer turnovers, as Lonoke finished with nine compared to Nashville’s 13.

Blake Mack led all scorers with 13 points. McCall scored all 12 of his points in the second half. Darian Young added 10 for Lonoke. Rankin scored seven, all of which came in the second half. Tykel Gray scored five and Ced Cooney scored three to round out the Rabbits’ scoring Monday.

Pettway and post player Cameron Alexander led the Scrappers with 11 points apiece.

Lonoke will play Brookland in tomorrow’s class 4A state championship game at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. The Bearcats, the East No. 1 seed, beat Lincoln to advance to Monday’s semifinal where they beat South No. 2 seed Monticello, 22-21, in overtime.

Tip-off for tomorrow’s championship game is at approximately 5:15 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe girls fall short in quarterfinal

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

ALMA – The Beebe Lady Badgers were on the brink of turning things around throughout their quarterfinal game against 5A-South champion Hot Springs. But they could never quite do it. The Lady Badgers never trailed by more than seven, and never more than five in the second half, but could never take the lead, falling 49-45 to the Lady Trojans and ending their season.

“I kept telling them, if we could ever take the lead, I think they might tighten up and it would put some of the pressure on them,” said Beebe coach Greg Richey. “We had opportunities to do it. We just didn’t take advantage of them. We missed some crucial free throws, and it’s unfortunate that Gracie (Anders) fouled out on a touch foul. They couldn’t stop her when we took our time and got it inside to her. But it’s just one of those games with those kinds of breaks. We never could get over that hump.”

Beebe hit only 8 of 17 free throws, and went 5 for 11 in the second half, but it was the ones that were missed that hurt more than just the poor percentage. Twice in the third quarter the Lady Badgers went to the line with two foul shots and a chance to take the lead, and missed all four. Later in the fourth quarter Beebe missed the front end of 1-and-1 trips to the line, once trailing by three and once by two.

Despite all that, Beebe still tied the game at 35 with 3:41 left to play, but just 20 seconds later gave up an old-fashioned three-point play to Tiaunna Watkins that made it 38-35.

Anders then hit after a nice entry pass by Madison Richey to again make it a one-point game, but that’s as close as Beebe got the rest of the way.

Immediately after Anders’ basket, Lady Trojan Berniezha Tidwell got two offensive rebounds and was fouled on the second putback. She made the subsequent free throw to make it a four-point game, but more importantly, it was Anders’ fifth foul with 2:49 left in the game.

Taylor McGraw scored on a driving layup with 1:37 left, and Tidwell hit two free throws to put Hot Springs up by four again. McGraw scored again for Beebe, but Richey fouled out on the next possession. Tidwell hit 1 of 2 at the line, giving Beebe the ball with another chance to tie or cut it to one, but they never got a shot off before turning the ball over. Tidwell again went to the line and hit 1 of 2 with 41 seconds to go, and McGraw scored just six seconds later. With 22 seconds left, Tidwell went to the line once again, and again hit 1 of 2 foul shots, making it 46-43. Miller was fouled on the rebound of the miss with only a second ticking off the clock, but she missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Tidwell got the rebound. McGraw fouled her and it was called an intentional foul, practically ending the game. Tidwell again hit one shot and Ashley Clayborn was fouled on the ensuing possession. She hit both of hers with seven seconds left and Miller hit a runner at the buzzer to set the final margin.

“I’m still very proud of what these seniors have accomplished,” Richey said. “They are 61-24 in their three years here. They’ve won a conference championship and they’ve advanced in the state tournament all three years. They’ve got nothing to hang their heads about.”

Miller led Beebe with 15 points while Anders added 14 and McGraw 12 for Beebe. Watkins led all players with 21 points while Tidwell added 19 for Hot Springs.

In the first round win over Harrison, Beebe scored the first five points of the second half to take a 33-30 lead and never trailed again, beating Harrison 60-55 on Saturday.

The margin stayed between five points and two until 40-38 with two minutes left in the third quarter. That’s when the Lady Badgers went on a 13-2 run that left them with a 53-40 lead with 6:30 remaining in the game. Beebe led 45-40 at the end of three, and then scored eight-straight to start the fourth. Anders scored four in the first minute before Miller got a steal and assist to McGraw. Anders then added another bucket inside the lane for the 13-point advantage.

Harrison wasn’t ready to fold at that point though. The Lady Goblins battled back and pulled to within 55-50 with 1:51 remaining in the game. They had a possession to get even closer after McGraw missed a pair of free throws. They also had two possessions to get closer than five at 57-52, but a missed shot was followed by a forced turnover, and Miller hit two foul shots to push it back to seven with 57 seconds left.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils seek repeat

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

ALMA – Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner is a defensive-minded coach, and his Red Devils were keyed in to play defense Tuesday night. Jacksonville harassed Harrison into a poor-shooting night, and in so doing, earned the right to play for the second-consecutive state championship game with a 52-38 victory over the Goblins at Charles Dyer Arena.

The win also avenged one of the team’s three-straight losses in early December, when Harrison beat Jacksonville 52-50 in the Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway. That loss provided no extra pressure for the Red Devils, but did provide extra motivation.

“Ever since that loss we’ve been rooting for Harrison to make it to state so we could play them again,” said Jacksonville junior Kerry Knight. “We weren’t really a very good team at that point. We weren’t playing together, we weren’t playing good defense. We wanted to prove we were better than the team they beat earlier.”

Knight, who comes off the bench for the Red Devils, provided a big spark for Jacksonville in the third quarter when the team was mired in a scoring drought.

Jacksonville took a 25-16 lead into intermission, and the two teams traded buckets without a miss for seven-straight possessions. Jacksonville then went four-straight possessions without even getting a shot off, committing turnovers on every one. When they finally did get a shot, it missed everything, but defense kept the Red Devils ahead.

Harrison was only able to trim the nine-point gap to five at 31-26 with 3:43 left in the third, that’s when Knight scored four-straight to put his team back in control.

“We treat practice just like the games,” Knight said. “So when my opportunity came I was ready.”

That’s almost exactly what his coach said.

“There’s no hesitation for Kerry to shoot,” Joyner said. “He takes those shots in practice and our practices are intense. We needed somebody to step up and tonight he was blessed to be the one to take the big shots and knock them down. And we needed them.”

Harrison got the margin back down to six at 39-33 by the end of the third quarter, but the Red Devils cranked up the defensive intensity another notch in the fourth.

After Devin Campbell scored to open the final quarter, Jacksonville played defense for more than a minute before Harrison finally shot and missed, and Kanaan Jackson came down with the rebound.

Jacksonville didn’t score on that possession, but LaQuawn Smith got a steal on Harrison’s next possession. He passed to Campbell, who missed the layup, but Jackson was there for the follow-up and a 10-point Red Devil lead with 5:30 left in the game.

Jackson sat almost the entire first half after picking up two fouls in the first 70 seconds of the game. He then got his third foul just 86 seconds into the third quarter, but he proved to be a big factor in the fourth.

“It’s always tough sitting on the bench,” said Jackson. “Just being there to support my teammates kept me in the game. When it came my time, I knew I had to step up.”

In Jackson’s absence, Tedrick Wolfe scored 10 points in the first half, all on the low block.

“Wolfe has legs,” Joyner said. “He never gets tired. And he sat on the bench with foul trouble in the last one. So he wanted to make his mark and he played well. We almost followed the game plan perfectly tonight. I’d say it was about 88 percent. We played a good game tonight.”

Campbell led the Red Devils with 15 points while Wolfe finished with 12. Jackson and Berkley had eight apiece.

The Red Devils got to the semifinals on Tuesday with a 79-53 route of Morrilton in the quarterfinals. Jacksonville will play Forrest City in the championship game this weekend at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena. Game time will be determined today at the Arkansas High School Activities Association offices in North Little Rock.

EDITORIAL >> More growth for Reserves

We told you Saturday that President Obama’s 2015 budget calls for the transfer of 10 C-130Js to the rapidly growing reserve unit at Little Rock Air Force Base, as well as several older C-130s that could join the Reserves and Air National Guard units, along with hundreds of additional personnel.

Gen. Paul J. Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that the move to LRAFB would save the Air Force $100 million over the next five years.

The new planes would raise the number of C-130s at Little Rock to 95, with 41 of them C-130Js and the rest the older C-130H models. There’s plenty of room for more on one of the busiest flightlines in the region.

The C-130Js will transfer from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi and head to the 22nd Air Force, Detachment 1 Reserve unit at the Jacksonville base under the command of Col. Archie Frye, who has built his organization from scratch since 2011. The unit will evolve into the 913th Airlift Group. Their slogan is “Stationed locally — serving globally.”

We’ve seen the unit grow rapidly in the last couple of years and are glad it will take on an additional role at the air base. Plans call for a $2 million headquarters building. The command’s annual budget is $16 million.

The Reserve unit has worked closely with Col. Steve Eggensberger, commander of the 189th Airlift Wing, and Col. Scott Brewer, commander of the 314 the Airlift Wing. The addition of the new C-130Js and hundreds of airmen will only enhance the mission at the base, which is also home to the combat-ready 19th Airlift Wing.

Congress must first approve the proposed military budget. States that will lose planes will do everything to block the move, especially Mississippi’s congressional delegation, which secured the C-130Js when former Sen. Trent Lott was majority leader. Lott told us years ago he would get everything for his state he could put his hands on. Fair enough, but he’s been long retired, and those 10 C-130Js were supposed to go to Pope Field at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Mississippi’s and North Carolina’s losses are our gain. Rumors are circulating that Pope could lose its airlift wing. The Air Force might as well bring the wing here. You couldn’t find a better home for the C-130s and their airmen than Little Rock Air Force Base.

Top generals like Paul Selva tell us we’re the best military community in the nation. That means we’ll gladly accept more planes and personnel and make them feel welcome. The skies are always friendly and the people always neighborly.

It helps that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sits on the Defense Appropriations Committee, which should approve the latest proposals without delay. “Ten aircraft are enough for a squadron,” Pryor told us last week. “This is breaking news.”

Pryor said the moves are part of the Defense Department’s effort at increasing efficiency, reconfiguring and downsizing this country’s armed forces.

“Little Rock is a center of excellence and, if it holds with 10 additional C-130Js, that’s a very good thing,” Pryor said. “My sense is that someone at the Pentagon looked and said the most efficient thing is to base those planes at Little Rock.”

Pryor is right: Consolidation at Little Rock Air Force Base will save the military hundreds of millions of dollars and make our military better prepared. After 60 years, LRAFB could see the dawn of a new era.

TOP STORY >> ROBOTICS Rookie team inspires others

By SARAH CAMPBELL
Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville High School and LISA Academy North robotics teams returned with one award each from last weekend’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Arkansas Regional competition.

The accolades were unexpected, and so was the sports-like atmosphere with hundreds of spectators screaming for their favorites. The announcer even bantered with the crowd in the athletic center at Harding University in Searcy.

First-time competitor Magic Smoke, Jacksonville’s team, walked away with the Rookie Inspiration Award.

LISA’s team, The Jaguars — seasoned veterans of the event — earned a judges award for “putting their best foot forward” in aiding others.

LISA helped JHS start its team and, throughout the competition, lent a hand to another rookie team from Huntsville High School.

Magic Smoke’s adviser, JHS shop teacher Wayne Griffin, had hoped his team’s “A Christmas Story” themed robot would win the Creativity Award.

The robot was comprised of a plastic leg covered in a fishnet stocking. It was modeled after the lamp that was a prominent fixture of the classic film. Well-known phrases from the movie, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” and “Oh fudge! but I didn’t really say fudge,” were written on the robot’s metal bars. When it wasn’t on the field, the Jacksonville team added lace trimming and a lampshade to their creation to make it look like a window displaying the odd piece of d├ęcor.

Team members wore pink tutus, pink bunny ears and took turns wearing a large bunny suit — not exactly like, but reminiscent of the pink bunny suit the main character’s parents forced him to don in the movie.

Magic Smoke also wished for an advance to the world competition through the Rookie All-Star Award.

LISA had aimed even higher. They wanted to win it all and made it to the quarterfinals seeded fifth out of the 39 teams that competed.

Griffin said the sister team planned on asking Magic Smoke to join its three-team alliance after the qualification matches. If that had happened, the rookie team would have followed The Jaguars to the quarterfinals. But Griffin told LISA’s team to choose other teams so they would have a better shot at earning the title.

The adviser explained, “It’s disappointing not to make it…We told them not to pick us because we couldn’t help them. We would have been an average bot for them so we actually probably would have hindered their chances of beating the bigger teams. We told them to pick a better bot, a heavier bot, a more robust bot.”

Nonetheless, Griffin added, “We did exceptionally well.”

He voiced his pride later, calling it an accomplishment for JHS. “We’re not the power house of central Arkansas we used to be. We have nothing but a bad reputation. People are always badmouthing our school. We walk in here with a week and a half (of work) and win an award.”

The team finished the competition ranked in the 20s. Griffin said, “We just had bad luck keep falling on us.”

But he pointed out that his team’s robot was the only one that didn’t break down on the field.

The way the game is played is that six teams are selected, and they form two alliances comprised of three teams. Then the two alliances compete in a two-minute match. The goal was to score points by using the robots to pick up large medicine balls and throw them through goals.

The Jacksonville team, Griffin said, was ranked in the Top 10 at one point. Then its robot was paired with robots that broke down or teams that didn’t follow the strategy formulated before each match.

Magic Smoke won five of the 12 matches it played, including one match against an alliance that included the competition’s winner, Bomb Squad of Mountain Home. Bomb Squad was undefeated until that match, Griffin said.

Team member Erin Kometti said, “The point is, with teamwork, it all depends. But when you have ones that you go out there and one of them breaks instantly or you go out there with ones that can’t go out there because they’re broken, it kind of does make it hard on you because you can’t do every single job because you have robots coming up on you, trying to flip you, hitting you, doing anything to try to make you foul.”

But, she added, “I absolutely loved it. I think it was a lot of fun...For our first year, we did insanely well.”

There were more shocks and awes for the Magic Smoke team.

Lee Steht, who was tasked with meeting and greeting other teams, said he was surprised by “the aggressiveness of the other robots.”

Carmen Moody, who drove the robot during the matches, said she was amazed by how sturdy the Jacksonville robot was compared to those of teams that had attended the regional competition for years.

She also said she felt good about the team’s performance. “It was a good foundation we laid...We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have a lot of time. We did what we could,” Moody added.

“The level of the other robots in the competition” surprised Griffin. “Holy cow. But that comes with experience. Your parts carry over every year. So, each year, you have more and more things to work with. So teams that have been doing this for 19 years, like the Bomb Squad has, have unlimited parts, unlimited funds.”

TOP STORY >> Fiddler on the Roof’ set for Beebe

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

The Beebe High School drama department will present its spring musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” 50 years after it premiered on Broadway.

Performances will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday and at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 20 at the Beebe Auditorium. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students.

“Fiddler on the Roof,” based on the story by Sholem Aleichem, tells the tale of Tevye, the father of five daughters in Tsarist Russia in 1905. He attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives.

Tevye must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, as each one’s choice of a husband moves further away from the customs of his faith, and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.

Drama club president Dillon Ratz said, “It should be enjoyable. Lots of fun to watch.”

Drama club vice president Tyler Spears said, “This is very cultural because it takes place in 1905 in Russia. In the past, we did “Footloose,” based in smalltown America in the 1970s and “Oklahoma.” (“Fiddler on the Roof”) has religion, history and culture and lots of tradition.”

The cast includes Caleb Gentry as Tevye the Dairyman, Justine Damron as his wife, Golde, and their five daughters, played by Sera Good, Ashley Gentry, Stephane Benton, Kelsey Sutter and Dani Peterson.

The villagers are Kayleigh McCoy, Jarrod Rogers, Dillon Ratz, Colton Hunter, Levi Smith, Jacob Middleton, Neil Garcia, Matt Lercher, Ryan Coleman, Erin McNully, Keith Turner, Tyler Spears, Madison Allen, Kelli Wagner, Gracie Villicana, J.D. Greer, Jared Smith and Leann Pullan.

TOP STORY >> Reserves ready for 10 C-130Js

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The president’s proposed $495.6 billion 2015 defense budget would terminate some Air Force programs, but it would add to the airlift capacity and significance of Little Rock Air Force Base as the worldwide C-130 center of excellence.

It would send 10 additional state-of-the-art C-130J transports to Little Rock from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.

Those planes had been slated for Pope Field at Fort Bragg, N.C. The new plan would assign them to the 22nd Air Force, Detachment 1 — an Air Force reserve unit under the command of Col. Archie Frye.

The new plan would raise the number of C-130s at Little Rock to 95, with 41 of them C-130Js and about 50 more the older C-130H models, base public affairs specialist Arlo Taylor said Tuesday.

In addition to hosting the 19th Airlift Wing, which supports combat and humanitarian missions worldwide, the base houses the 314th Airlift Wing, which is part of the training command; the 22nd Air Force Detachment 1, which is a Reserve unit, and the 189th Airlift Wing, which is an Arkansas National Guard unit.

For the airmen at Little Rock, who fly and maintain C-130Js and train pilots from all U.S. armed forces and allies, the 10 C-130Js represent job and mission security and a new Air Force Reserve unit to boot.

If enacted into law, the 22nd Air Force, Detachment 1 — aC-130 Air Force Reserve unit at Little Rock — would convert to the 913th Airlift Group and be equipped with those aircraft, according to Master Sgt. Chris Durney, a public affairs officer for the 22nd.

The unit is authorized for 600 positions at Little Rock and currently employs 430. Any increase is good news to merchants, landlords and schools in Jacksonville and in surrounding communities.

The proposed change in force structure at the base is just one part of an Air Force Reserve-wide shift as detailed in the Air Force portion of the fiscal 2015 President’s Budget Request, Durney said.

Frye said, “While we’re certainly excited about our future as part of a strengthened Team Little Rock, we understand that this proposed budget request is in the early stages of the political process.

“We feel, though, that this is a reflection of our incredible skill set, the value-based nature of the Reserve and our commitment to the global combat airlift mission.”

If approved by Congress and signed into law by the president, most of the proposed force structure changes will occur in 2015 and 2016.

The unit’s new designation would be a reactivation of the 913th, a Reserve unit of the 22nd Air Force that was deactivated in September 2007 at its home station of Willow Grove, Penn.

Frye, who has commanded the unit since February 2011, previously commanded the 931st Air Refueling Group at McConnell Air Force Base.

Durney said no date has been announced for standing up the 913th.

Under the president’s proposed budget, the Air Force will receive funding to support 59 active, Reserve and Guard combat-coded air squadrons, with an emphasis on meeting emerging threats, according to a Defense Department press release.

MODERNIZATION

The Air Force emphasizes its modernization program in this budget request.

It includes $4.6 billion for 26 Joint Strike Fighters in fiscal year 2015 and $31.7 billion for 238 planes over the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP).

The Long Range Strike Bomber is funded at $0.9 billion for fiscal year 2015 and $11.4 billion over the FYDP.

The budget requests $2.4 billion for seven KC-46 Tankers in fiscal year 2015 and $16.5 billion for 69 aircraft over the FYDP.

In addition, the budget invests $1 billion over the next five years in a next-generation jet engine. These investments required trade-offs, the Defense Department acknowledged.

The A-10 Warthog is being phased out. The 50-year-old U-2 is being retired in favor of the unmanned Global Hawk system. The growth of Predator/Reapers forces is being slowed, and plans for the new combat rescue helicopter are being reviewed.

But commitment to the C-130J seems strong.

13 MORE C-13OJS IN 2015

Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, Air Force director of budget, said in a March 4 briefing, “In (fiscal year) ’15, as part of the C-130J multi-year procurement program, we’ll buy 13 C-130J variants.”

He said those would include seven C-130Js to support global mobility, four HC-130s to support personnel recovery and two MC-130s to support special operations.

The five-year plan calls for 72 planes: 29 C-130Js, 25 MC-130Js, 13 HC-130Js, five AC-130Js, six KC-130Js and possibly another five planes for the Coast Guard at a cost of about $11.2 billion.

One line item shows the purchase of seven C-130Js in 2015, 14 in 2016 and 2 more in 2017 at a gross cost of $1.85 billion, or about $81 million each.

Pilots, crews and maintainers for all C-130 variants are trained at Little Rock.

“We would…accelerate recapitalization efforts for F-35s, MQ-9s and C-130s. And we would also fund deferred aircraft modifications for our legacy aircraft and upgrades to our more advanced platforms. Last, but not least, we would invest in reducing the enormous backlog of facility requirements across our Air Force.”

The line item in the budget for the C-130 AMP — avionics modernization program — shows no authorization. But, in its place, the Pentagon is looking for less expensive ways to update communications and navigation to bring legacy C-130H models into compliance with new rules governing airspace.

Martin said fiscal year 2015 Air Force procurement programs total $7 billion and represent some of the areas where the Defense Department made tough choices.

Monday, March 10, 2014

TOP STORY >> Base to get 10 C-130Js, also others

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base may consolidate its position as the primary C-130 base in the world, with many legacy C-130s from around the country either decommissioned or reassigned at LRAFB and 10 more state-of-the-art C-130Js, once slated for Pope Field at Fort Bragg, N.C., diverted here.

Those C-130Js, currently based at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, were headed for Pope. But now it appears they will be assigned to the 22nd Air Force, Detachment 1, a reserve force being stood up at Little Rock Air Force Base, according to Sen. Mark Pryor.

“Ten aircraft are enough for a squadron,” Pryor said. “This is breaking news.”

The 22nd Air Force will soon be reconstituted as the 913th Airlift Group, Master Sgt. Chris Durney said Friday afternoon. “The mission changed in October 2013, and we were changed to a combat unit, undergoing integration with the 50th Airlift Squadron,” he said. "That’s part of the 19th Airlift Wing." The original mission had been training.

Durney confirmed that the unit expected to receive 10 C-130Js and added that he didn’t know when the Air Force would stand up the 913th Airlift Group.

“We don’t know if anything in that budget will come to fruition,” Durney said.

Currently, the 22nd Air Force is authorized for more than 600 airmen and employs a little over 430, of which about 300 are traditional reservists, serving a weekend a month.
They fly about six planes.

The Air Force proposal is in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress will begin reviewing this spring.

Pryor said that would be part of the Defense Department’s effort at increasing efficiency, reconfiguring and downsizing this country’s armed forces.

“Little Rock is a center of excellence on (C-130 transport) and, if it holds with 10 additional C-130Js, that’s a very good thing,” said Pryor, who is on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee.

“My sense is that someone at the Pentagon looked and said the most efficient thing is to base those planes at Little Rock,” Pryor said.

On Friday, Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) said, “More C-130Js at Little Rock Air Force Base would be good news and would solidify the base’s status as the C-130 capital of the world.”

The 10 C-130Js had been slated for Pope as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, according to an article this week in The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer.   

Instead, officials said the 913th Airlift Group would be activated in Little Rock.

In the 2013 Defense bill, Congress gave a stay to 32 legacy C-130s through 2014. It’s uncertain at this point what will happen to those.

Two C-130s assigned to the Ohio National Guard at Youngstown had already been loaned, then reassigned to Little Rock. A third was reassigned this week, according to published reports.

The first of eight C-130s headed to Great Falls for the Montana Air National Guard was to have landed there today. The Guard there lost its F-15 fighter planes to Fresno, Calif., and several F-15 pilots are retraining at Little Rock’s C-130 school to fly those cargo planes.