Friday, August 08, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bost tells Chamber: Wanted to play best

By GRAHAM POWELL
Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Chamber of Commerce hosted Lonoke’s high school and junior high head football coaches at Thursday’s luncheon at the historic Lonoke Depot, and LHS head coach Doug Bost says his team is excited after a strong summer of working out against some of the most talented teams in the state.

Before mentioning the high school team’s various team camps and 7-on-7 meets that the Jackrabbits took part in this summer, coach Bost said that all three of his assistants from a year ago are back with the team, along with another assistant that was hired last Thursday.

Bost said that Brandon Barbaree, who was the head football coach at Carlisle last year, has joined his staff and will assist in coaching both the high school and junior high teams this season at Lonoke.

“He’s going to help us at high school and go down to junior high,” said Bost of Barbaree. “He’s going to help both, so we’re really excited to get that extra coach this year.”

Bost discussed his team’s 9-3 season a year ago. He added that after his team’s season ended in late November that he gave his returning players and newcomers the rest of the semester off before getting back to work in January.

“We got to host two home playoff games here,” Bost said. “We gave the kids about three weeks off to rest and we hit it again. The first of January we hit it and have been going all this time. It was a real busy summer. We went to some 7-on-7s, team camps.

“We went and we played the best. We went against Pine Bluff, North Little Rock, Camden Fairview, Warren, Arkadelphia and Nashville. We wanted to play the best to get us ready, and those kids, when we did something good against those real good teams they got excited.

“I tell you, they are ready to go. We started Monday with fall practice. We started with 40 kids. We had a parent rent out War Memorial Stadium, so we got to be the first ones in the state this year to practice there. It was a real good practice. The kids are working hard and doing everything we’ve asked of them. They are ready to play Maumelle – Aug. 25 at Maumelle.”

The August 25 game at Maumelle will be the Jackrabbits’ scrimmage game before they open the season at home Friday, Sept. 5 against Star City in nonconference action.

Coach Darrick Lowery, whose junior high team also began fall practice Monday, said he currently has 56 kids on his roster, but not all have been able to get to practice because of lack of transportation. Like the high school team, Lowery said his group had a busy summer as well.

“We went to a lot of 7-on-7s,” said Lowery. “On Monday nights we were at Cabot; Tuesday nights we were either going to England, Carlisle, Maumelle or here (Lonoke). Thursday nights we were going to Conway.

“We got to travel quite a bit and play against a lot of the best teams in the state. We also went to two team camps. We had one at OBU (Ouachita Baptist University). We played against Malvern, Lake Hamilton, Searcy, Arkadelphia – some of these larger schools than us, and our kids fought hard and made a lot of great plays.

“We also had a team camp at Conway. We played against two Conway junior high teams, Searcy, Morrilton, Pulaski Academy and Beebe. What we’re doing in junior high is trying to build off of our success that we’ve had the last two seasons.”

The junior Jackrabbits are coming off of back-to-back conference championship seasons, and they’ll be playing for their third straight conference title this fall. Their first scrimmage will be Tuesday, Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. against Maumelle at James B. Abraham Stadium.

The junior Jackrabbits’ first regular season game will be Sept. 4 at home against Beebe.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils still learning to play hard 48 minutes

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville football coach Barry Hickingbotham believes he and his staff are getting closer to finding where players are going to fit in, but isn’t ready to start naming names for starting positions after one week of preseason practice.

“We’re still a couple weeks out from anything like that,” said Hickingbotham. “I’ve preached this all along and people are probably getting sick of me saying it, but we’re still focusing on going hard 100 percent of the time. We’re practicing two hours and 30 minutes to two hours and 45 minutes. We’re thinking that’s about how long it takes to play a 48-minute game, and we’re wanting them to go hard the whole time. We’re making practices as game like as we can. We’re keeping the pace up and we’re focusing on playing hard the whole time.”

There are a handful of positions that are sealed up enough for Hickingbotham to mention, but they’re obvious ones. Three-year starters Lamont Gause and Justin Abbott will be in the starting rotations at tailback and linebacker respectively. Offensive linemen Terry Brown and Keith Purvall return as starters from last year.

“I think Brown is the only linemen that started every game last year,” Hickingbotham said. “Purvall played quite a bit and started every game later in the season. Those two are looking good for us on the line and we’re leaning on them quite a bit.
 Of course our two three-year starters, we’re relying heavily on those guys. We need those two to step up and be leaders. We’re still looking for that guy who’s going to provide that example of going hard all the time. Picking teammates up, being accountable, holding people accountable, finishing every sprint hard – just being that example for the less experienced guys to look to.”

Besides those four, Hickingbotham is adamant that everything else is up in the air. “Truthfully, we’re looking at week four as our goal for having all that lined out,” Hickingbotham said. “You hate to say starting 0-3 is OK, but really it is for this group. We’re going to play alot of people in those first three games, and in a lot of places. We feel like week four, the page turns and you got to be ready. That’s when it counts and everything resets. Of course we’re going out there to win each and every game, but the goal for finding our identity and getting everybody where they can help the most is that first conference game.”

Hickingbotham has long-term plans that go well beyond week four of this season. Some further changes to the practice atmosphere are upcoming, and there’s even a program in the works to get local kids interested in the Red Devils at an early age.

“We’re going get some players together and go visit these elementary schools,” Hickingbotham said. “We’re going to give every elementary school student in Jacksonville a red T-shirt that says Red Devil Pride 2014, and if they wear that shirt to any Jacksonville home game, they get in free. We want the kids to get more involved at a young age. We want those kids to understand that they’re our future and to take pride in and be excited about Jacksonville.”

Hickingbotham estimates that he’ll give away about 1,700 shirts, and hopes for about 50 percent of those students to show up at home games.

There could also be changes to the practice atmosphere. Hickingbotham is considering practicing to music, and says he’s not worried it will have a negative impact on concentration.

“I’m not worried about that,” Hickingbotham said. “There’s noise during a game. I want them to learn to work hard, but I want it to be an enjoyable experience. They can dance. Heck I might even dance. They already know the difference with me. There’s a time to have fun and there’s a time to get down to business. These kids understand those two things.”

And Hickingbotham adds that it’s not just players that are learning new things.

“As coaches we’re working on practicing perfect,” Hickingbotham said. “If we shoot for absolute perfection, if we fall a little short of that goal, we’ve still had a pretty good day.”

SPORTS STORY >> Bears filling up defensive holes

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Steady as she goes is the story after a week of football practices for Sylvan Hills. The Bears have 65 players out and practices have been divided between varsity and junior varsity.

“We do one long practice with everybody and then break them up,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “One group will lift while another is on the field and then we switch. We’re trying to get a good look at some of these younger guys and see who can help us.”

Sylvan Hills entered the preseason practice sessions expecting to have a potent offense, but with some question marks on defense. Slowly, the head Bear believes he’s finding players to step into roles.

“We’re looking at our personnel offensively and just seeing what all we can do,” Withrow said. “Defensively too we’re trying to put all the pieces together. I really think we’ve got them. We just have to figure out where they go.”

Sylvan Hills returns nine players on offense, so installing the scheme hasn’t required nearly as much time. That’s been obvious according to Withrow.

“We’re definitely farther along at this point than we have been,” Withrow said. “We’re an older group though, so we ought to be.”

The split practices have helped coaches begin to find some depth. Withrow said some of the younger linemen have been impressive enough to begin given consideration for varsity minutes.

That fact alone could answer the question of interior depth Sylvan Hills had during the summer.

“I’ve been pretty pleased with some of these young guys,” Withrow said. “We’ve figured all along that a lot of our linemen would have to play both ways, and they probably will still have to. But if these younger ones keep developing, it probably won’t have to be as much. Ideally you want eight guys that can play anywhere, and I think we’ve got that.”

Withrow also singled one player out for special praise for his early performances.

“I think Deangelo Bell has been the one that has impressed the coaches most,” Withrow said.

“He missed his whole sophomore year with a bacterial infection or something. He came back his junior year but he came back late and was a little behind. Now he’s really looking good. We’re working him at corner because he’s doing the best at it,” he said.

“I’d really like to find another corner and move him to safety because he’s so strong. He also played offense for us some last year and could do that if we needed him to. He’s just gotten so much better though because he’s worked so hard.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers are searching for starters

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Energy has been high during the first week of preseason practice at Cabot High School, but progress is taking a bit longer than it has the last couple of seasons. The main reason for the slow progress is all the inexperience that will be relied upon this season. Cabot returns just three starters on offense and no one in the backfield. They were expecting six returning starters on defense, but that became four with the loss of two over the summer. Another projected starter transferred, leaving the potentially strong defense with some holes to fill as week one of the season approaches.

“We’re looking at starting maybe four sophomores right now,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “That’s not good.”

The head Panther also said there could be a few playing offense and defense, and wasn’t clear on which was worse, playing sophomores or playing people on both sides of the ball.

“It depends on how good those sophomores are,” Malham said.

Because of the inexperience, Cabot is still looking for the players that will fill in certain spots. That means many players are splitting practice time between offense and defense and coaches try to ascertain where each one fits most advantageously for the team.

“We’re going 90 minutes offense and 90 minutes defense,” Malham said. “We’re looking at different people in different areas. We got just about our whole secondary back so we should be pretty strong there. We lost two starters there but the ones we have back either started or got some playing time. But we’re replacing everybody in the offensive backfield. We’re not very experienced but we’ve got some guys we feel like can do a good job.”

Sophomore Jarrod Barnes has emerged as the probable starter at quarterback. Though last year’s starting safety/split end Jake Ferguson is working there as well and doing a good job.

“Jake will probably stay at wide receiver,” Malham said. “We’re pretty excited about what Jarrod Barnes can do. He’s got a lot to learn but he’s got some ability.”

Junior Kolton Eads will likely start at fullback, the feature position in Cabot’s Dead-T offense, though senior Jack Whisker has worked there as well. Whisker was the primary fill-in at fullback last year when 2,000-yard rusher Zach Launius missed two games with a concussion, but he will most likely start at linebacker this season.

“He (Whisker) started at linebacker for us last year too when (Jake) Vaughn was out,” Malham said. “We’re probably going to put Eads in there at fullback and Whisker at linebacker.”

All three projected starters that were lost played on the defensive line, combined with the loss of both tackles to graduation, and nose guard Tristan Bulice is the only starter returning on that unit. Cabot defensive coordinator Randall Black is excited about the one starter he’s got back.

“I really feel like he’s got a chance to be one of the best nose guards in the state,” Black said. “He’s a beast.”

EDITORIAL >> Benchmark: Plus, minus

The Leader has just finished running a three-part series taking an in-depth look at Benchmark scores, and, though there is some good news in the recently released information from the state, there are also disturbing trends.

These disturbing trends should be the concern of the state, community, districts and students’ families.

The state-mandated Benchmark exams fulfill the federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and are designed to see how well students can handle math and literacy (reading, writing, English) at their own grade level.

The federal requirement and the state goal was to have all students scoring proficient or advanced by the end of this past school year. The state didn’t make it. Some districts, like Cabot, averaged in the 80s. But others, like the Pulaski County Special School District, were in the mid 60s. That’s a major disparity within the state and nearby districts.

Why is Cabot about 30 points better than PCSSD? Some say facilities, some say differences in student bodies, others say the push and involvement by parents, and that may all be true. But surely there is something going on in Cabot that is transferable to other districts.

The Benchmark scores show that, overall, more emphasis is placed on literacy than math. At almost every level, third through eighth grade, literacy scores are higher. The exception is third grade, where math runs about nine points higher than literacy.

In many area schools, the two subjects’ scores were close. Cabot Junior High South seventh graders were 79 percent proficient or better in math and at 82 percent in literacy. Sylvan Hills third graders were 80 percent proficient or better in math, and 78 percent did likewise in literacy. That’s balanced teaching.

But too many schools had gaps where math was 20, 30 or more points under the literacy score. Even Arnold Drive Elementary, where the fifth graders hit that magical 100 percent mark in literacy, was 25 points lower in math. Pinewood had an almost 60-point gap between math and literacy at the fifth grade level (32 percent compared to 90 percent).

These large gaps are a problem, especially when math skills are so important in a global economy. So what is the problem? Parents need to ask, and districts need to figure it out. At a school like Pinewood, where the gap is so large, the math teachers need to be fired. It’s that simple, or is it?

Most college education instructors say that math is the weakest subject among elementary teachers who teach all subjects. Many of these teachers are fearful of math, and that attitude gets passed on. It is not a question of more training, but the right training. So show these struggling teachers that math can be, should be and is fun, not as hard as it looks and is certainly not the monster under the bed.

The Benchmark scores also show that a number of districts are losing students’ efforts, commitment, enthusiasm and brainpower at the junior high level.

In PCSSD, for example, poor junior high scores — only 28 percent of the eighth graders made the cut in math and barely half passed the literacy portion — puts a tremendous burden on the high school.

Jacksonville High School has been slammed over the years for its poor test scores (although they are slowly improving), but Benchmark scores show the fault does not rest entirely with the high school. Bluntly put, they are receiving an inferior product to begin with.

Now changes have been made at Jacksonville Middle School and, hopefully, they will take hold. A vote for a new school district may infuse enthusiasm and ownership into every school level in Jacksonville, but, ultimately, it is up to the parents to push the value of education at home, at school and in the district.

PCSSD is not the only area district with severe issues. England starts off with nearly all of its third graders scoring proficient or advanced in math and literacy – hooray — but, by junior high time, it falls to around 50 percent or less.

Now for good news, let’s cheer for Stagecoach third graders in Cabot as 100 percent of those students hit the mark in math. And Mountain Springs, with 95 percent, came close.

Arnold Drive third and fourth graders had some of the best scores in PCSSD, and the school’s fifth graders hit the 100 percent mark.

Then there are the Warren Dupree fifth graders, who made a 30-point jump in their math scores.

Flightline Upper Academy sixth graders had scores in the 90s on both portions of the exam.

Paraphrasing former First Lady Hillary Clinton, “It takes a whole village to raise and maintain high test scores.”

TOP STORY >> Whit Davis embraces Sherwood

By SARAH CAMPBELL 
Leader staff writer

Whit Davis Lumber Plus broke ground on Wednesday for its new $1.5 million, 11,000-square-foot store that will be built at 9000 Brockington Road in Sherwood.

Company president Terry Toney said at the groundbreaking ceremony, “It’s a very exciting day for Whit Davis.”

He told The Leader that construction would start in a few days. Toney said the store would open in early 2015.

He added that a new turning lane into the store’s planned entrance was nearly completed.

Whit Davis’ widow, Miriam Davis; her son, John Davis; her grandson, Dan Davis, and several other members of the Davis family attended the ceremony.

Dan Davis will manage the new store.

“I’m just real excited. What Whit Davis has been built on is customers service,” which he wants to continue at the new store, Dan Davis said.

He told The Leader that the new store would fill customized orders, have a large paint selection and have a lawn and garden department.

Toney said the new store would be a lot like the one at 723 School Drive in Jacksonville but would cater more to the retail hardware side of the business rather than be a lumber yard.

Two or three experienced employees will transfer from the Jacksonville store, Dan Davis noted. That count includes himself, the manager added.

Dan Davis said others would be hired for a total staff of six to 10 at the Sherwood store.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said during the groundbreaking, “Sherwood is just continuing to grow…We are looking forward to the partnership.”

She noted that getting Whit Davis to the city was a process that took a few years.

Toney said, “It’s been a long time coming. It’s a great day for Sherwood, and it’s a great day for Whit Davis.”

And chamber board president Clay Partridge said, “We’re looking forward to great things.”

TOP STORY >> New district to get push at meeting on Monday

By SARAH CAMPBELL
Leader staff writer

Education Corps — the group advocating for a standalone Jacksonville/North Pulaski school district — will host its first town-hall meeting about the Sept. 16 election at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the community center, 5 Municipal Drive.

The election will ask voters to approve of detaching from the Pulaski County Special School District.

In anticipation of the measure being passed, the state Board of Education will “probably” approve at its Aug. 14 meeting a committee to review volunteers interested in being appointed to serve on a seven-member interim school board for the new district.

That is according to state Education Commissioner Toney Wood.

He said Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) was involved in selecting those committee members.

Perry said he would serve on the committee and that the other members would be local elected officials.

He named as potential committee members state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot), Pulaski County JP Bob John-son, who is running as a Demo-crat for Perry’s seat (Perry is term-limited); state Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock), state Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) and Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

Perry noted that most of those state legislators represent a piece of the new school district’s proposed territory — Homer Adkins Pre-K, Bayou Meto, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood, Tolleson, Arnold Drive and Warren Dupree elementary schools; Jacksonville Middle School, Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School.

The new district will serve 4,000 students.

Perry added that he plans to attend the Education Corps meeting on Monday.

He also said, “I think it’s going to be a great move for us, give us local control. It’s something we’ve been working on for 30 years. It’s finally coming to reality.”

Perry noted that tax dollars would stay local rather than go to other schools in the vast PCSSD, which sprawls across 729 square miles and serves more than 17,000 students.

Wood said the state board would likely take formal action approving the separation and formation of a new district at its 10 a.m. meeting on Oct. 9, providing that voters approve the detachment as expected.

He also said the board would be charged with appointing the interim school board at that meeting.

The law allows for up to a two-year transition period, according to Education Corps spokesman Daniel Gray. Until the actual separation, PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess will lead both districts.

Gray has said the 2014-15 school year would be transitional.

Wood told The Leader that it was “extraordinary” for a new school district to be formed when the trend has been to consolidate school districts statewide.

He said he supported Jacksonville’s detachment in the sense that communities and locally elected patrons of those communities could provide opportunities that would best educate the children of that community.

“Jacksonville patrons have worked long and hard in pursuing the identity of a new school district,” Wood added.

The next steps include dividing up assets like buses and computers, figuring out how to share PCSSD’s debt and placing personnel.

But, for now, the Education Corps intends to stay focused on spreading the word about the Sept. 16 election.

Two town-hall meetings, one at the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and one at or near Bayou Meto Elementary School in north Pulaski County have been discussed in planning sessions. But dates and times have not been set.

Another advantage of the detachment, according to a news release, is the chance to expand curriculum.

At a recent planning meeting, an Education Corps member asked what she should tell parents who ask her about plans to combine Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools into one campus.

Gray told her that the benefits of merging the two schools are financial.

“We’ll be able to do more with everybody in one place. We can offer more stuff. There’s so much savings,” he said. “We can do so much more for our kids.”

Also, tax dollars going into one district and to one high school will be a benefit in that it puts everyone “on the same page,” Gray noted during the meeting.

If the high schools are combined, the new district could construct just one facility and move the middle school to a current high school, he said.

Former state Rep. Pat Bond (D-Jacksonville), who sponsored legislation that allowed for Jacksonville’s separation from PCSSD, added that going to a high school with a very diverse population was beneficial to her children.

But, Martha Whatley said, “Right now, a lot of things we want to change, a lot of things we want to do. It’s not the time. Right now, it’s time to win an election with the idea that then we deal with options. But, if we can’t keep people on target with the same message and keep it moving, it will fall apart.”

The members agreed that they should focus on making sure the public knows they want to have greater influence over the decisions the school board makes and who serves on that board — a goal that can be accomplished by establishing an independent district.

Whatley chimed into that discussion with “We don’t want it. We will have it.”

She said the campaign’s message should stress inclusion and the need for everyone to work together toward the common goal of detaching from PCSSD.

Another message was that an independent school district would give the community a stronger voice. JP Bob Johnson, who is running for state representative in House District 42, said, “We’ve got no voice now.”

Celeste Williams, the group’s internal communications chairwoman, said parental involvement in the classrooms must be nurtured and welcomed when the new district becomes a reality.

Bobby Kelly of the Little Rock-based Markham Group, which was hired to help the grassroots group, reminded the members that the talking points they have discussed will be repeated and that what they need to be doing once the campaign kicks off is “singing from the same sheet of music.”

In another of the campaign group’s planning sessions, he told Education Corps members that participants in a telephone poll were asked whether they would support the detachment if the election were held the same day as the poll.

Of the 409 registered voters who were polled, 71 percent said they would vote for the detachment. Of that, 92 percent said they wouldn’t change their minds, Kelly added.

Only 7 percent were against the detachment, and 41 percent of those were willing to change their minds, he said.

And 22 percent were undecided when asked how they would vote, Kelly noted.

Thirty years in the making, detachment from PCSSD has been associated with false starts and false hope for proponents in the past.

But, in January, all parties — PCSSD, the state and the Joshua Intervenors — approved a desegregation agreement that said Jacksonville could detach from PCSSD without negatively impacting the remaining elements of the court-supervised desegregation settlement.

Then U.S. District Judge Price Marshall signed off on that agreement.

On Feb. 16, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel agreed with the state Board of Education that Jacksonville’s petition for a vote and supporting documents were sufficient.

McDaniel, PCSSD Super-intendent Jerry Guess and others have called the detachment a win-win, as the most difficult area in which PCSSD has not been declared unitary —desegregated — is facilities.

Removing Jacksonville’s dilapidated buildings from the mix would help PCSSD reach its goal of being released from court supervision, and the new district would qualify for about a 50-percent match in state funds to build new schools.

PCSSD qualifies for almost no match.

The new district is also expected to ask voters for a millage increase to build new schools, but its rate will be the same as that of PCSSD — 40 mills — when the separation goes through.

City leaders have supported neighborhood schools for decades, blaming Jacksonville’s decline in population on the condition of Jacksonville-area schools.

TOP STORY >> Freshman Academy set to open

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

The Cabot School District’s newest building, the Freshman Academy for ninth graders, is set to open the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 18.

Many students who picked up their schedule with their parents were wide-eyed and opened- mouthed as they walked into the school.

The $22 million Freshman Academy will have 800 students. It is adjacent to Junior High North. The district built the complex with 60-percent partnership funding from the state.

“The entire staff did a fabulous job of opening our newest school to our students and parents. When we started planning for the Freshman Academy four years ago, I could not have anticipated it coming together as well as it has,” Superintendent Toney Thurman said.

“We realized with our enrollment that Junior High South and Junior High North could not accommodate three grade levels beginning with this school year without using portable classrooms or expanding those two schools. The decision to develop a specialized program in a state-of-the-art facility for our freshmen will have a significant and very positive impact on many students for many years to come,” Thurman said.

Freshman Academy’s layout is similar to the Cabot High School. The campus has four buildings with 73 classrooms, a meeting room, a media center with adjoining computer lab, a career, agriculture and construction center and a gym.

The main building has classes for science, math, foreign languages, English, history and oral communications. Soundproof, collapsible accordion walls are used in some of the classrooms to allow students to work together and to open up during guest speakers.

Technology is visible at the school with each classroom having a 70-inch Smart TV connected to the Internet. A teacher’s computer desktop can be shown on the screen. Students can show their work on the TVs while working from tablets, iPads and Chromebook laptop computers.

The gym has bleachers to seat 300 people. The gym floor can be divided into two full-size basketball courts with a drop-down curtain. All physical education and health classes will be taught in the gym.

Freshman Academy will have two teams for each sport. Basketball games will be played at Junior High North and South basketball courts. Wrestling will be the main sport held at the school. Matches will take place in the gym.

Choir, art, band and forensics classes will be held in the cafeteria building with a stage emerging into the dining area. The stage will be used for ninth-grade performances, community events and banquets.

The cafeteria is large enough to seat 800 students at one time

The courtyard will have basketball goals and a lot of seating.

Bus drop-off will be at the back of the school with car rider drop-off at the front.

The district believes the Freshman Academy will provide ninth graders with a smoother transition from junior high to high school, student achievement and attendance will increase and that discipline problems will decrease.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Tackles talk up teammates, ready for action

By NATE ALLEN
Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE - After being asked to talk up a season like he has never talked before, Brey Cook stands ready to shut up and start playing football with the Monday opening of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ preseason practices.

Cook, a fifth-year senior starting right offensive tackle from Springdale Har-Ber, and fourth-year junior starting defensive tackle DeMarcus Hodge of Monroe, La. met with media Sunday night.

Though a three-year letterman and two-year starter, Cook has never faced so many microphones in a career as in one day as the Razorbacks’ offensive representative to last month’s SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

“It was a blast,” Cook said. “That was just another step getting us hyped for this fall. Everything is building up and now we’re here.”

And here he is asked to talk again when he’s ready to play.

“You have no idea, “Cook said. “Especially after the kind of the pinnacle of SEC Media Day. That’s kind of over with, behind us. And now we’re ready to go out there on the field and that will start tomorrow.”

Actually, the talking is part of Cook’s senior leadership rite of passage picking up where graduated All-American center Travis Swanson left off as the leader and go-to offensive line spokesman.

“I definitely learned behind him,” Cook said. “I was able to kind of focus on him, what he did, what worked for him. He was very successful. Obviously he’s a great player and somebody I’ve really focused on trying to be like. That’s something I’m trying to do here this fall.”

Two offensive linemen, Cameron Jefferson, a senior transferring from UNLV, and Sebastian Tretola, transferring from Iowa Western Community College, arrived just before the August practice entirely new to the Razorbacks without the benefit of the summer voluntary workouts here. Can both pick things up quick enough to factor as potential starting candidates at left guard and center.

“I’m sure they’ll do fine,” Cook said. “They’re both experienced guys. Coming from JUCO and coming from UNLV, they have experience playing and playing very well. Obviously they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. I assume they’ll come in and attack it.”

Eating more often this summer has slimmed Hodge, from a too heavy 348-pounder to 335.

“The biggest thing for me is I have trouble eating in the morning which you kind of can’t tell,” Hodge said to laughter. “But when I finally relax around 6 o’clock I just want to eat a lot all at once. So the biggest thing is I have to eat breakfast then just have snacks periodically throughout the day. I’ll bring a half-sandwich then eat something else 45 minutes later. The biggest thing is I don’t eat a lot of carbs after 6.”

The entire defensive line took time to keep Hodge away from nightly carbs.

“Each and every night I would room with one of them so I wouldn’t be provoked to try to eat something at night,” Hodge said. “So with that support group and Coach Herb it gave me all the motivation I needed to get on and get things in the right direction. I feel a whole lot quicker and faster.”

Hodge was asked about Bijhon Jackson, the heralded freshman defensive tackle from El Dorado who has worked out in Fayetteville throughout the summer.

“Bijohn is going to be a very good player for us,” Hodge said. “He came in strong as an ox, good hips, good lower body strength. We have got to work on getting him in more condition and to the style and pace of football we play at the SEC level.”

For the first time since opening against then Southwest Conference rival Texas in 1980, Arkansas on Aug. 30 in Auburn, Ala. opens the season against a conference opponent, the reigning SEC champion Auburn Tigers.

“Just a year ago they were a very different team,” Hodge said of Auburn, 0-8 in the SEC in 2012 just like Arkansas was in 2013. “Just to see what they did last year, that’s just more motivation for us after the season we had. Now we get a chance to come out the first game of the season and prove ourselves against the defending SEC conference champs.”

SPORTS STORY >> JHS golf wins its opening tri-match

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville golf team got the 2014 season off to a good start on Monday, with individual winners in boys’ and girls’ competition at Hickory Creek against Sylvan Hills and Joe T. Robinson.

Red Devil senior Jeremy Wilson tied after nine holes with junior teammate Cody Anderson, both shooting a 37. Jacksonville coach Max Hatfield had his two players play a one-hole playoff on hole 1, and Wilson won it by shooting par.

Only two girls competed, with Hailey Elmore shooting a 38 to beat Sylvan Hills’ Bailey Jabara by 12 strokes.

“I’m pleased as I can be with how they came out and competed in the first match,” said Hatfield. “Now we just have to be consistent. We came out a few times this summer and it was up and down. Consistency is the key to being successful at golf. But this is definitely a great start.”

Jacksonville and Joe T. only had three boys each, so only three scores were counted for team competition, and Jacksonville won that as well with a combined nine-hole score of 122. Sylvan Hills was second with 137 and Robinson was last with 151.

Two of Sylvan Hills’ better golfers were absent after having just finished tournaments at other sites around the state, but Jacksonville will get to test their mettle against the Bears’ best next Tuesday on Sylvan Hills’ home course, The Greens at North Hills in Sherwood.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Hatfield said. “Not only will it be tougher competition, but it’s a tougher course. It’s longer and more difficult. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of the folks at Hickory Creek though. It cost them money to let us come out there and play all those rounds, and they’re always willing. That’s very important for a program that’s just getting started.”

SPORTS STORY >> Team getaway a hit for Devils

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville football team, along with every other team in the state, opened preseason practice on Monday. But it was how the Red Devils closed the offseason that has first-year head coach Barry Hickingbotham excited.

The Jacksonville coaching staff and team left last Wednesday for Walnut Ridge, where it spent three days isolated on the Williams Baptist College campus practicing, competing and bonding.

Hickingbotham called the getaway a “huge success” in laying the foundation for the kind of program he wants to build at JHS.

“We want to build a family here,” said Hickingbotham. “First thing we did was took their phones as they got on the bus. They had to talk to each other because there was no one else. There was us, the cafĂ© workers and like three other people. One coach commented in the cafeteria that it was getting loud in here. I said that’s good, it needs to get loud in here. They need to be getting to know each other, their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. That’s what family does.”

Having no contact with anyone but teammates and coaches for three days wasn’t a problem for players.

“When we first got up there, you could tell they didn’t really know what to do, but by the second day they didn’t even seem to miss it,” Hickingbotham said.

A few of the parents didn’t adjust as well to kids being away from home for several days for the first time.

“A few parents called at night wanting to make sure everything is OK,” Hickingbotham said. “I told them I’d give their boy a hug for them and let them call tomorrow. If they’d wanted me to tuck them in, I’d tuck them in. If they’d wanted me to read them a bedtime story, I’d read them a bedtime story Whatever it takes.

“This wasn’t a boot camp. We wanted them to have fun and I think they had a great time.”

Upon arrival, the 55 players were split into six teams and those six teams remained together throughout the camp. At the end of practice each day, the teams would compete in different activities. Following one practice it was volleyball, another was kickball, another was ultimate football. After competing with each other, the winner would play the coaches.

“Of course they beat us every day,” Hickingbotham said.

Another team activity was a talent show, in which members of each team would work out sketches in which they would imitate coaches. Hickingbotham said senior defensive tackle Anthony Fields did a Jerry Wilson impersonation that brought the house down.

It wasn’t all fun and games. There was work to do as well.

Wakeup call was at 5:30 a.m. Players went to breakfast and then to work out. After morning practice they broke for lunch then got two hours off which most used to nap. It was then up for “chalk talk”, in which coaches would lay the groundwork for the afternoon practice.

After that was special teams work then competition before supper.

After supper there was 30-minute break before going back outside for 90 minutes of 7-on-7 until 8:30 p.m.

There was a team meeting from 9 to 9:30, snacks, then lights out by 10:15.

“We had them from 5:30 a.m. till 10:15 p.m.” Hickingbotham said. “We didn’t have any trouble out of anyone. They worked hard. They accomplished a lot. They got to know each other. I was extremely pleased with how it all worked out.”

Hickingbotham was hesitant to talk about progress in game planning, saying right now the primary focus is still laying the foundation for how he expects players to handle themselves.

“We’re trying to get them to go hard for 48 minutes,” Hickingbotham said. “We’re trying to teach them to let failures go and move on. How we handle failure will determine how successful we can be, because there will be failures. Right now we want them to play hard for 48 minutes, then we might peak up at the scoreboard as we’re walking up the hill to the locker room. Because if we’ve given the very best effort we can give for 48 minutes, we’ve won no matter what that scoreboard says.”

EDITORIAL >> Good news for Arkansas

Governor Beebe and Davy Carter, the speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, rushed yesterday to get out statements claiming bragging rights for a bit of national good news for the state: Arkansas leads the nation in reducing the number of people who are not insured for sickness.

That is a significant development because for the length of its history Arkansas has trailed the rest of the nation on measures of health and health care.

The news is a survey by Gallup, the national polling firm, that showed Arkansas in the past year had the sharpest percentage drop in the number of uninsured people, followed by Kentucky. A year ago in June, 22.5 percent of Arkansans had no insurance. This June it’s down to 12.4 percent. Arkansas had one of the highest rates of uninsured in the country, so it had further to go. Nevertheless, it’s dramatic and it’s something that the political leaders who had anything to do with it can be forgiven for bragging about.

But to complete the picture, we need to mention two other matters. (1) Beebe and Carter are leaders of the opposing parties, Democratic and Republican. (2) Neither of them uttered the word “Obamacare,” which is the reason for the dramatic improvement in health coverage.

To ignore that little fact is a little deceptive and some would say hypocritical. But we are willing to give Beebe and Carter a pass. No politician in Arkansas—well, almost none—wants to say a kind word about Obamacare because, if he or she happens to be running for office, it may get him or her beaten. Ask Sen. Mark Pryor, who was unopposed six years ago with sky-high approval ratings and has done nothing different since then except to cast a vote for Obamacare.

Beebe’s statement did mention the official name of Obamacare: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, but he mainly boasted about the “private option,” the name legislators and the governor applied to the state legislative act last year that implemented the biggest part of Obamacare: extending Medicaid to adults whose incomes are so low that they cannot afford any part of the premiums for private insurance. Carter boasted of the “private option.” He didn’t go as far as Beebe mention that it was a part of the Affordable Care Act, much less the hated “Obamacare.”

But that is what it is, and everyone should be honest about it. We predict that most everyone will after this November, when Republicans are counting on winning a lot of races by running against Obamacare and the president who said it was fine with him for people to call the act of Congress Obamacare.

Speaker Carter, who provided key leadership in getting an overwhelming majority of the legislature to embrace the central feature of Obamacare and call it something else, noted that 176,000 Arkansas adults who formerly were uninsured have enrolled in the Medicaid plan and another 8,000 who have applied but not yet approved will soon be added to the rolls. He might have added that 40,000 who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid had bought insurance in one of the Obamacare plans by April.

By next spring, some 250,000 or more Arkansans will have insurance through Obamacare and the percentage cited by Gallup, 10.4 per cent, will fall to 7 percent or less. That is in spite of the legislature’s enactment of a law in February that prevents the expenditure of even a dollar of federal money to help Arkansans enroll. Enrolling in insurance, as everyone in America knows, is extremely complicated because people have to choose among a variety of plans and also calculate the premiums they will have to pay after offsetting the tax credits that Obamacare makes most of them eligible for. But the legislators, or the minority of them who had the upper hand when the roll was called, wanted to make it as hard as possible for people to enroll so that Obamacare would not be seen as much of a success.

Now, a number of other states controlled by Republicans are looking at the Arkansas plan, which is to have people buy insurance, with federal dollars, in the private Obamacare market rather than simply enroll directly in the government program. Ultimately, Arkansas will have to pay a lot more for this kind of coverage because private insurers pay hospitals and doctors more than Medicaid and Medicare do and the insurance companies have to cover their overhead and make a profit. But the health-care providers and the patients, too, are happier with the more expensive private option. Not to mention the insurance companies. So, we think it is worth the extra cost.

Neither the governor nor the speaker mentioned the other developments on this front. Arkansans who already had health insurance shared in the $330 million sent to policyholders as rebates this spring because the insurance companies did not spend at least 85 percent of the premiums they received on health-care payments. Obamacare forced them to do that. Since Jan. 1 tens of thousands of Arkansans who were already insured have learned that their insurers can no longer halt coverage, briefly or forever, because the patients have reached the limits of their coverage, but most of them do not know that Obamacare is responsible.

Obamacare—at least its private marketplace—is a nightmare to administer, as everyone from the president down now knows and as lots of people predicted as long ago as the 1970s when it was the Republican plan for universal health insurance. It’s time to give this nightmare some grudging acknowledgment. It’s doing what it was supposed to do: get nearly every American covered, protect policyholders from the vicissitudes of commercial coverage, and halt the forever skyrocketing cost of medical care. You’ve noticed, no doubt, that medical inflation has almost flattened since 2010.

TOP STORY >> Strategy put own people in line of fire

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor

A ceasefire seems to be holding in Gaza after a month of hostilities that killed and wounded 10,000 Palestinians — while fewer than 100 Israelis were killed and injured — in the wake of another monumental Arab military failure.

Imagine a strategy that calls for placing thousands of rockets in a poor neighborhood, like the Sunnyside Addition in Jacksonville. Thousands of terrorists fire their rockets toward Little Rock Air Force Base. They hope to set up a Moslem caliphate by rushing out of two-mile tunnels that reach inside the base.

It’s a crazy idea: Why would a ragtag army declare war on a superpower, which would pulverize the neighborhood if it wanted to in minutes and destroy most of its inhabitants?

Al Qaeda declared war on the U.S. more than a decade ago — and, on Tuesday, killed one of our generals in Afghanistan — but let’s make sure they won’t attack us here again. Hamas remains focused on destroying its neighbor Israel with the help of Turkey, Iran and Qatar.

This has been Hamas’ strategy: Declaring war on a major military power like Israel, Hamas has endangered the lives of 1.8 million Gazans by placing 10,000 rockets in schools, hospitals, mosques and tunnels.

Entire neighborhoods are destroyed.

More than 1,800 people have died in Gaza, nearly half of them Hamas fighters, but many of them children, thanks to Hamas’ reckless military strategy, which has also injured more than 9,000.

The children have suffered the most. They are the real victims. They didn’t vote Hamas into power. The adults did that.

Preparing for war in July, Hamas had planned to send hundreds of its fighters through tunnels into Israel. Only a handful of terrorists managed to get through the tunnels.

Hamas won’t reveal how many of its soldiers died fighting Israel, but almost half the casualties in Gaza were Hamas fighters.

Israel destroyed at least 30 tunnels. Each cost $4 million to build — $120 million in all.

For every rocket Hamas has fired, four Palestinians have been killed or injured. It’s a suicidal strategy, yet they kept firing at Israel.

In this third war since 2008, Hamas had planned to kill 600 Israeli soldiers and at least half as many civilians. The terrorists instead killed just 64 Israeli soldiers.

Hamas fired more than 3,300 rockets into Israel, killing only three civilians, thanks to the success of the U.S.-supplied Patriot defense system, which shoots down incoming rockets with almost 100 percent accuracy.

Hamas — which was voted into power in parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza — was hoping at least 100 rockets would land in large cities like Tel Aviv and kill hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis.

Israel has improved the Patriot batteries, now called the Iron Dome. Back in the Reagan years, critics dismissed the missile defense shield as a Star Wars fantasy, which was first proposed by the Hungarian-American physicist Dr. Edward Teller.

Iron Dome has saved thousands of Israeli lives and someday could save millions of Americans when terrorists start firing atomic bombs at us.

Hamas had no idea Iron Dome would work as well as it has. None of the rockets have hit major targets in Israel. Iran and our friends in Qatar, Hamas’ major suppliers, have wasted billions of dollars on military hardware and tunnels when they could have built hundreds of homes, hospital and schools.

The people are living off United Nations handouts, but Hamas is even stealing UN ration cards to feed its soldiers.

The terror group is blaming Israel for the humanitarian disaster. But new videos show Hamas firing rockets from residential areas and UN facilities while the leaders hide in bunkers or live in luxury hotels in Qatar and Cairo.

Meanwhile, 180,000 people have died in the fighting in Syria in sectarian violence. Where’s the outrage?

Hamas’ desperate gamble at shock and awe has flopped, but the Palestinians continue to suffer. Will they rise up and hang the perpetrators in their midst and kick out Hamas once and for all?

The U.S. and Europe should demilitarize Gaza, encourage support for moderate Palestinians and call for elections as soon as possible.

The alternative is 10,000 more dead and wounded in the next round. Let there be peace, for the sake of the children.

TOP STORY >> Cabot, Beebe and charter middle schools do well

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

This is the third in a series of three articles taking an in-depth look at the annual Benchmark scores.

About seven out of 10 seventh graders were proficient or better on the math and literacy portion of the annual Benchmark exam.

When it came to eighth graders, it was closer to six out of 10.

Cabot junior high students scored higher than the state average in both grades, as did students at Beebe, Searcy and Jacksonville Lighthouse middle schools.

Students at Lonoke and the Flightline Upper Academy also did well.

Jacksonville Lighthouse and Searcy eighth graders had the highest score in the area with an 85 proficiency rate in literacy. Searcy seventh graders, Cabot Junior High North seventh graders and Cabot Junior High South eighth graders were at 84 percent in literacy.

Commenting on the good scores, Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman said, “It goes back to the people in the classroom. Our teachers are going above and beyond.”

The top math score in the area went to Flightline Upper Academy seventh graders with an 81 percent proficiency rate, followed by Cabot Junior High School South at 79 percent.

Evan McGrew, principal at the Flight-line Upper Academy, also gave the credit to the teachers for his school’s good scores. “We have a very experienced core of teachers that look at every student individually. They don’t accept failure.”

At Jacksonville Middle School, only about four out of 10 students scored proficient or better. The school’s eighth graders were the worst in the Pulaski County Special School District with only 28 percent scoring proficient or advanced in math. Almost 40 percent of the students scored below basic in literacy.

Like Jacksonville, neither the seventh nor the eighth graders in England reached the state average.

The annual exam is given to students, third through eighth grade, to determine how well they know grade- level material. The state wants all students to be proficient or advanced.

Here’s how area seventh and eighth graders did on the math and literacy portions of the 2014 Benchmark exams:


SEVENTH GRADE

Statewide, 35,900 students took the test, and 69 percent were proficient or better in math while 77 percent did the same in literacy.

Beebe students scored 73 percent proficient or better in math and jumped up to 83 percent in literacy.

In Searcy, the seventh graders were 78 percent proficient or advanced in math and had a proficiency rate of 84 percent in literacy.

Lonoke students were 68 percent proficient or better in math, and 76 percent did likewise in literacy. England had a 48 percent proficiency rate in math and did a little better at 50 percent in literacy. In Carlisle, 59 percent made the cut in math, and 75 percent did so in literacy.

Cabot Junior High North students were 70 percent proficient or advanced in math, and 84 percent were proficient or better in literacy. Students at Cabot Junior High South were at 79 percent proficient or better in math, and 82 percent made the grade in literacy.

In PCSSD, seventh graders were 53 percent proficient in math and at 67 percent in literacy. Jacksonville Middle School students were only 38 percent proficient or better in math and at 51 percent in literacy.

Sylvan Hills Middle School had 60 percent make the cut in math, and 72 percent did the same in literacy. Northwood had 45 percent of its seventh graders score proficient or advanced in math, and 68 percent did likewise in literacy.

Lisa Academy North students were 69 percent proficient or better in math and 76 percent proficient or advanced in literacy. Jacksonville Lighthouse Middle School had a 75 percent proficiency rate in math and moved up to 79 percent in literacy. Students at the Flightline Upper Academy were 81 percent proficient or better in math, and 75 percent did the same in literacy.


EIGHTH GRADE

At the state level, 35,600 students took the test, and 63 percent scored proficient or advanced in math while 67 percent scored proficient or better in literacy.

Beebe students scored 66 percent or better in math, and 80 percent did the same in literacy.

Ahlf Junior High students in Searcy were 74 percent proficient or better in math, and 85 percent made the grade in literacy.

Lonoke had a proficiency rate of 66 percent in math and 77 percent in literacy. England students scored 35 percent proficient or better in math, and 57 percent did likewise in literacy. In Carlisle, 55 percent of the eighth graders scored proficient or better in math, and 77 percent did so in literacy.

Cabot Junior High North students were 74 percent proficient or advanced in math and 81 percent proficient or better in literacy.

Students at Cabot Junior High South had a proficiency rate of 76 percent in math, and 84 percent did the same in literacy. Cabot’s Academic Center for Excellence had 59 percent of its students make the cut in math, and 83 percent did the same in literacy.

PCSSD students were 52 percent proficient or better in math, and 70 percent did likewise in literacy.

Jacksonville Middle School was 28 percent proficient or advanced in math, and 51 percent made the grade in literacy.

Sylvan Hills had a proficiency rate of 58 percent in math and 75 percent in literacy. Northwood had 57 percent of its students score proficient or better in math, and 72 percent did the same in literacy.

Lisa Academy North had 68 percent make the cut in math, and 74 percent did likewise in literacy. At Jackson-ville Lighthouse Middle School, 65 percent of its students scored proficient or better in math while 85 percent did the same in literacy. At the Flightline Upper Academy, 70 percent made the cut in math, and 74 percent did likewise in literacy.

TOP STORY >> Air Force will decide future of old C-130s

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The venerable C-130 turns 60 this month as Congress and the Pentagon ponder its future.

That future is bright for the state-of-the-art C-130J Super Hercules, but most of the 400-plus Air Force C-130s are the legacy models — some dating back to Vietnam. Unless upgrades are made soon, those planes will be grounded.

As big a problem as this is for active-duty C-130 units like Little Rock’s 19th and 314th Airlift Wings, it could hamstring Air Guard and Reserve units too, which generally fly only the C-130H.

Without upgrades to communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management systems by 2020, Air Force Reserve and National Guard Units, including the 189th Airlift Wing at Little Rock, will be “out of business,” Arkansas Adjutant General William Wofford said recently.

The C-130 first took to the skies on Aug. 23, 1954, just half a century after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk. That first C-130 flew from Burbank, Calif., to Edwards Air Force Base.

That year, President Dwight Eisenhower started the interstate highway system, black-and-white televisions were just making their way into middle class homes and Marilyn Monroe divorced Joe DiMaggio.

The C-130 is the Swiss Army knife of aircraft, used for everything from transporting soldiers and supplies to the front, to humanitarian relief, spreading retardant or water on forest fires, hunting hurricanes, and as gunships and refuelers.

Even with 71 more C-130Js expected by 2020, most of the old planes will not meet new FAA and international regulations for enhanced navigation, communication, surveillance and air traffic management.

In May, LRAFB had 31 C-130Js and approximately 50 C-130H models, a spokesman said. Those include the planes assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing and the 314th Airlift Wing of the active duty Air Force, as well as the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas National Guard and a new Air Force Reserve Unit that was stood up on the base.

At one time, the Air Force had planned to upgrade 221 legacy C-130s with digital Avionics Modernization Pro-gram kits to keep them flying past the 2020 deadline.

The Pentagon and Congress stopped funding the AMP program.

But there is budget language that will not allow them to totally shut it down or replace it with another system.


AMP SUPPORTERS RECONSIDER

Now, even some former proponents of the AMP program, such as Second Dist. Rep. Tim Griffin, are having second thoughts, especially after hearing from the members of the Adjutants General Association — and from Arkansas Adjutant Gen. William Wofford in particular.

“I worked to not drop the AMP and advocated on its behalf,” as a means of keeping the Arkansas Air Guard and Reserves flying, Griffin said.

But, in May, he wrote at the request of Wofford to Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asking for consideration of the Automatic Dependant Surveillance Broadcast-Out Capability, or ADSB-Out, now championed by the adjutant general and others.

“Delays (in implementing the AMP) have been so long,” Griffin said, “there are now more inexpensive options that do a lot of what the AMP does. Not being a pilot, I rely on General Wofford and folks at Little Rock Air Force Base. There is pretty widespread agreement that AMP was the way several years ago, but not now.”

Objections of the Air Guard and Reserve leadership focused on the viability of the alternative, Griffin said.


FASTER, CHEAPER

“A vote for the AMP program is not a vote for the Air National Guard,” according to retired Col. Harold Eggensperger, former commander of the 189th Air Wing.

He said the Coast Guard, Canadian and other military C-130 fleets meet requirements with off-the-shelf communications, navigation, surveillance, air-traffic management kits for about a quarter of the cost of AMP and with a much faster turnaround.

He said the less expensive ADSB-Out, estimated to cost only 25 percent of the AMP, would save money to buy more C-130Js.

While Griffin now favors the ADSB, “We don’t want (AMP authorization) dropped until we have the alternative in place. Don’t stop one until you know where you are going,” the congressman said.

In his April 30 letter to Griffin, Wofford wrote, “I respectfully request you support language that will remove the Avionics Modernization Program as the program of record for C-130 aircraft modernization as well as support language to revisit the Active Duty C-130J distribution plan to ensure continued seamless total force integration.”

Translation: We want some of those fine C-130Js in our units, too.

Wofford cited the FY13 Institute for Defense Analysis study calling for “a more cost- effective, reduced-scope program.”

He noted that the AMP has proven to be a “costly, outdated solution mired in delays. It has only delivered a handful of aircraft.”

All five of those are grounded at Little Rock Air Force Base because the Pentagon no longer supports the AMP.