Friday, August 22, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Local youths win 12U national championship

Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Team Worth ’01 fast pitch softball team, consisting largely of players from Pulaski, Lonoke and White Counties, won the ASA/USA Class A 12U national championship in Bloomington, Ind., on Aug. 2.

The 73-team bracket features teams representing states from all across the country.
Team Worth kicked off the week with a 10-2 win over Valparaiso Indiana’s Phoenix team on Monday, July 28. Later that same day, Worth ’01 defeated the Virginia State Champions, Orion-Hunter Teal, by a score of 5-3.

On Wednesday, as the No. 1 seed from their pool, Worth ‘01 began bracket play and started out with an 8-0 win over Ohio Valley Extreme.
On Thursday, Worth ’01 won a hard-fought battle against a solid Arizona Hotshots team, coming out on top 3-2. Later Thursday afternoon, the Arkansas squad came up with a 5-2 win over Tennessee Worth Hustle.

Friday, with eight teams left in the winners’ bracket, Worth ’01 met up with Texas Fusion – Burris and with their bats on fire, won 13-0. Thunderstorms postponed the rest of Friday’s game until Saturday morning. When play picked back up, Team Worth was bounced from the winners’ bracket in the semifinals with a 3-2 loss to the Georgia Cobras.

With the loss, the Arkansas squad had to win five straight games over the next 12 hours to win the tournament, and it was a task the group was up to.

Arkansas Team Worth ’01 started knocking the teams down one at a time, defeating Illinois Oak Park Windmills 4-1, followed by a 4-1 win over Texas Team Mizuno Impulse.

Next up, having to face them once again in the finals of the losers’ bracket, was the Georgia Worth Cobras. Arkansas fought hard in a battle of the bats, coming out with the 7-5 win and ousting its former conqueror from the tournament.

The Tennessee Franklin Flames sat undefeated after winning the winners’ bracket, and Worth ’01 had to beat them twice to win the championship. Arkansas Team Worth scored three runs in the top of the second inning and stayed ahead until the bottom of the fifth when the Flames tied it up.

Arkansas Team Worth rallied back in the top of the seventh to score two runs and then hold off the Flames, defeating them 5-3 and forcing the “IF” game.

In the tournament finale, the Flames came out and scored quickly in the top of the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. Arkansas answered right back by scoring twice in the bottom half of the same frame.

The score remained 2-1 until the top of the third inning when the Flames tied the game.

The score remained knotted at two runs apiece until the top of the fifth inning when the Flames scored another run to take the lead for the first time since the opening at-bat. But Arkansas Team Worth answered back in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the sixth, scoring five runs while batting around and taking command of the game.

In the seventh inning, the Flames went down in order with two ground outs and a strikeout swinging to seal the win and championship for Arkansas Team Worth.

Competing all season against the top 12U teams in the state and nation,as well as some older 14U and 16U teams, Arkansas Team Worth ’01 also holds the titles of 2014 ASA Class A 12U State Champions, 2014 FASA Class A 12U State Champions, 2014 FASA Border Battles Champions, 2014 USSSA Top Gun Champions, as well as many other regional championships and runner-up finishes.

Team Worth ’01 qualified for Bloomington by going undefeated and winning the Region 6 ASA/USA National Qualifier in Columbus, Miss., in April. Worth ‘01’s record for the week in Bloomington, Ind., was 11-1, bringing their overall season record to 90-10.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears’ boys win Central match at Stone Links

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills boys won a four-team golf match hosted by North Pulaski Thursday at Stone Links Course in Scott.

Only two schools brought enough boys for a full team score, and the Bears beat Jacksonville in the nine-hole match by 32 strokes. Sylvan Hills shot a combined 186 while Jacksonville shot 218.

Sylvan Hills’ David Talcott was the medalist with a 42 through nine holes. His teammate Dalton Schuster and Jacksonville’s Jeremy Wilson tied for second by shooting 43.

Only three ladies took part in the event with Jacksonville’s Haley Elmore winning for the third time in three matches with a score of 51.

“She’s undefeated so far,” said Jacksonville coach Max Hatfield. “There wasn’t much competition today and she didn’t have her best round, but she’s been a pleasant surprise. She’s played pretty well so far.”

Sylvan Hills’ Bailey Jabara took second with a 69 and North Pulaski’s Allison Seats shot a 64.

North Pulaski coach Robbie Walker sees lots of potential in the sophomore Seats, despite Thursday’s high score.

“She only started playing about three months ago,” said Walker. “She’s just an athlete, though, and she’s got a knack for it. I think you give Allison a year and she sticks with it, she’s going to be pretty good.”

Walker has three players on his girls’ team, but two couldn’t be at Thursday’s home match because of prior commitments. One is in band and another, who Walker says is probably his best player, Makayla Brown, is on the volleyball team.

“I haven’t gotten a chance to see Makayla yet but I know she plays with her dad pretty regularly,” Walker said. “I hope to get a chance to work her, but she’s on the volleyball team and has a job. So we’ll see. I think she has potential, though.”

Hatfield believes second-place finisher Wilson has a chance to play his way onto a college roster if one key part of his game improves.

“He just has to learn to let the mistakes go,” Hatfield said. “Last year was his first year, and this same match last year he shot a 59. He’s made tremendous strides and he just has to learn that golf can be cruel sometimes and you have to let that roll off of you. Bad shots happen. Bad luck happens. That’s just golf. If you go out there and play nine holes and don’t have any fun, you’ve got to adjust your approach.”

The 5A-Central Conference got tougher this season with the addition of Beebe to the league. The Badgers have maintained a strong program. Sylvan Hills felt it had a chance to compete for a league title this year, and still do, but those chances took a hit with the loss of its top returning player to grade ineligibility.

SPORTS STORY >> Reps for youthful Panthers

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers completed their third week of fall practice sessions this week, and after going through the first couple of weeks of practice with question marks at certain positions, the Panthers are coming close to penciling in all of their starters and key role players for the upcoming season.

Cabot coach Mike Malham said he entered fall practice with 86 players on his roster, and that nothing has changed there, but the vast majority of those players lack varsity experience.

The offensive line is where the Panthers return the least experience. They have just two starters returning up front, and defensively, Malham is going to have to rely on a lot of sophomores this season.

“We’re working the same kids,” said Malham. “Hopefully with the reps they’re getting a little better. I hope we can come away from Monday thinking ‘hey, we got a chance.’ I hope we don’t come away saying ‘Oh gosh, we’re that bad?’ It’s hard to tell when you’ve been beating on yourself for three weeks.”

The Panthers travel to Lake Hamilton on Monday for a scrimmage against the class 6A Wolves. Lake Hamilton finished 8-4 last season and is usually right up there with the top teams in 6A.

Malham believes he’ll get a good idea of how competitive his team will be after Monday’s scrimmage that starts at approximately 6 p.m.

“They’re usually a pretty good 6A team,” Malham said of the Wolves. “If we play well and hold our own against them then I’ll feel pretty good with as many new kids as we’ve got in there. Hopefully we’ll get better as the weeks progress, because they’re going to get more experience.”

Malham said the players he knew were standouts before have been the ones that have impressed the most for his team on the practice field.

Standout seniors Jake Ferguson and Tristan Bulice were some of the first players Malham spoke of that have performed well throughout fall practice, but he said all of his returning starters have done good things as well.

“Ferguson and Bulice and those guys that are coming back from last year, they all know what they’re doing and they look pretty good,” Malham said. “You just get a lot of mistakes when you’ve got 15 new faces.”

The 15 new faces are the 15 new starters that are replacing those from last year’s 12-1 state runner-up team.

There are still some battles at certain positions because some of the back-ups are just as good as some of the starters, especially on defense, where four of the starters on that side of the ball are sophomores.

“Defensively, right now we’ve got a sophomore starting at one of the tackles, a sophomore starting at one of the linebackers, a sophomore starting in the secondary and a sophomore starting at D-end,” Malham said. “There’s four, and we’ve got three sophomores that are immediate back-ups.

“That’s not good, but we do have Ferguson and Bulice over there to build around. (Jack) Whisker is back at linebacker, and (Logan) Melder and (Holdyn) Barnes are back there in the secondary.

“We’ve got five that played last year, but those six other spots we’re looking at sophomores. They’ve got some potential, but it takes time. It’s a whole different ball game from playing ninth grade to stepping up and playing 7A with a bunch of seniors.

“When you play Conway, Catholic and North Little Rock in the first three games you better grow up quick.”

Malham did say he was pleased with the progress his offensive backfield has made since fall practice began three weeks ago.

“I’m real pleased with what I’ve seen from Jalen Hemphill, Kolton Eads, Jarrod Barnes and the other running back spot,” Malham said. “I’ve got two working there in Jess Reed and Jason Schrunk, and both of them are capable. So I’m pretty pleased with what we’ve got there.

“If the offensive line will get off the ball and give them a little protection then I believe we’ll be all right on offense. We’re further ahead on offense right now than we are on defense. I guess that’s because we’ve got more sophomores playing defense, and the only sophomore we’re really counting on on offense is, of course, the quarterback (Jarrod Barnes).

“That’s a pretty big spot, but he’s more than capable if he can handle the pressures.”

EDITORIAL >> Ward’s tax vote

Ward voters will decide in November if the city should raise its sales tax from 1 cent up to 2 cents.

Mayor Art Brooke, who is hoping to win a final term in the same election, says Ward needs more money for its streets and parks. All but one alderman voted last week to send the tax proposal to voters. As Lonoke County’s second-largest city, Ward needs the revenue to prepare for even more growth in the coming decades.

It’s a brave move in an election year, and Brooke does have an opponent. He says it’s best for the city and will enable his successor in 2019, when Brooke plans to retire, to get to work immediately on city projects rather than asking voters to raise their taxes then.

The added revXenue should give each city department about $115,000 a year, said Deborah Staley, the city’s operations manager. And not since 1996 have voters been asked to raise taxes. Just imagine what Ward looked like nearly 20 years ago.

The November tax vote will give city officials some flexibility to address needs as they arise because the money won’t be split evenly between the streets and parks departments. The money could, therefore, be allocated more efficiently.

Street Department Superintendent Billy Mitts explained that Ward needs to repair 38 streets, a bridge on Spring Street, 12 culverts, 20 storm drains, 200 potholes and 100 street signs. Fixing the 38 streets alone will cost $1.6 million, he said.

It will be tough to accomplish all that if voters don’t approve the ballot measure in the fall.

Voters may feel less supportive of the city’s efforts to raise money for city parks, but as Ricci Brooke, the mayor’s granddaughter and parks director, points out, Willow Lakes Pond hasn’t been stocked with fish in years, and she’d like to build walking trails there, too.

She also said Busby Lake needs a playground, and the Ward Sports Complex needs two more ball fields, permanent soccer fields, more parking spaces and a new concession stand.

As more families flock to the Cabot School District, which includes Ward, the city will need to do all it can to accommodate them.

Residents should approve the tax increase to help their community avoid growing pains.  

EDITORIAL >> Chamber is on board

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors on Thursday voted to support the city’s efforts aimed at getting its own school district ahead of a Sept. 16 election asking residents to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District.

The chamber’s announcement is not surprising. Some of its most prominent members were at the forefront of this fight for years. Its leader, Daniel Gray, may be best known these days as head of Education Corps, the group responsible for giving the community a presence in numerous court hearings and helping articulate why a new district is key to Jacksonville’s future.

The chamber deserves a lot of credit as we approach Sept. 16. This is, after all, an economic-development issue that will lead to scores of ribbon cuttings if it’s successful.

Six years ago, when Jacksonville seemed condemned to life under PCSSD’s dysfunction and aimlessness, Gray was often in the audience at school board meetings, speaking up for Jacksonville when even its own representative was more concerned about union matters than the sorry state of school buildings here.

It’s important to remember those meetings were held 20 miles away on Dixon Road in Little Rock. That’s like Cabot’s schools being overseen by Searcy, simply unfathomable. The distance between district headquarters and Jacksonville alone is enough to justify the split. It may be the reason why PCSSD wrote off this community long ago.

“Mail us your property-tax check; we don’t want to drive all that way,” you could almost hear them taunting.

With an independent Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district, a revitalization of the city will ensue that will emulate many other bustling communities in central Arkansas.

Even before schools are built and Jacksonville is fully separated from PCSSD, the sense of hope and optimism will spur investment. When new campuses do go up, rooftops will follow and so will businesses, especially once the widening of Hwy. 67/167 through town is complete in 2019.

After that, we will see a rebirth of downtown, which is often overlooked by businesses, but ripe for development just the same. To lead the way, the new district’s administrative offices should be built downtown.

There’s never been a better time to invest in Jacksonville. Early voting starts Sept. 9.

TOP STORY >> Minimum wage debated

Leader staff writer

Local reactions were a mixed bag on an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017.

Stephen Copley of Little Rock, who is spearheading the campaign to put the matter to a vote on the Nov. 4 ballot, said Give Arkansas A Raise Now turned in nearly 70,000 signatures on Monday.

Supporters were short by 15,107 after Secretary of State Mark Martin certified 47,400 of the 62,507 signatures turned in by the first deadline, which was July 7.

Give Arkansas A Raise Now — like advocates of expanding alcohol sales statewide through a constitutional amendment that would make every county wet — was given another 30 days to close the gap. Aug. 18 was the final deadline.

Copley said, “We’re really confident we’ll meet that number.”

The secretary of state has 30 days to review the signatures.

Supporters of expanding alcohol sales are also confident their proposal will land on the ballot, but they expect opponents to file a lawsuit.

The opponents, mostly liquor store owners, dispute the July 7 deadline. According to attorney David Couch, who is spearheading the alcohol- sales initiative, opponents are claiming that Friday, July 4, should have been the first deadline because state law requires that signatures for ballot measures be turned in four months before Election Day.

But Couch has told The Leader that opponents are “grasping at straws” because it has been the Secretary of State Office’s policy since 1925 to extend deadlines to the next business day when they fall on holidays.

If the opponents win their case in the Arkansas Supreme Court, the minimum wage initiative may also be removed from the ballot because the signatures for it were also turned in on July 7. But, Copley said, “We don’t think they would rule in favor of the opponents.”

Several studies show raising the minimum wage doesn’t skyrocket prices or result in job loss but rather works as a “balancing act” because happier workers are more productive, absent less and have more money to spend, Copley said.

Jacksonville business owner Patrick Thomas disagrees. He believes minimum wage should be tied to a qualification, like being a high school graduate or GED earner.

Thomas made the point that minimum wage was meant for entry-level positions, not as a stopping point in a career. If the wage goes up, the bottom rung of the career ladder will be harder to grab, he said.

“My argument is in defense of keeping people employable,” Thomas explained.

He also fears that offering a higher minimum wage will entice teenagers who are thinking about dropping out of school to do just that.

Thomas said raising the minimum wage would take pay raises away from employees who have worked their way up in a business.

The most recent increase in the federal minimum wage, which was played out over two years, was from $5.25 to $7.25 an hour, Thomas noted.

He balked at the double-digit increase — a 38 percent hike in pay — saying most hard-working people in the middle class don’t see that much in such a short period of time.

“The gap between the poor, the middle class and the rich is getting more narrow. The poor and the middle class are blending together,” Thomas warned.

He also said, “As an employer, it makes a difference between raising my products up higher so that people making minimum wage can’t afford to buy them. The poor keep getting poorer because everybody keeps raising their prices up.”

Thomas said people need to work smarter or harder and two or three jobs, if they have to, to better themselves.

Several people agreed and disagreed with him in their responses to The Leader’s post in the “Jacksonville Ar News” Facebook group.

Joe Cataldo wrote, “If minimum wage goes up, so does gas, food, lodging, taxes, everything. So, in the end, you ain’t going to live better.”

But Copley said polls have shown 78 or 79 percent of voters support the initiative.

And Marji Houston argued, “The minimum wage should be at least $10...The amount it is now is below poverty level.”

Debbie Sullivan Fulton wrote, “I worked two full-time jobs and my ex worked 50 plus hours. And, in today’s time, that’s what people have to do to support your family.”

Lida Feller said, “When was the last time minimum went up? 2007. The cost of living has gone up four times faster then the minimum wage. If you feel that the wages should not go up, then people will have to stop complaining about people being on welfare...Most people that have do not see the need for the have not to have a penny more.”

Craig Blazevich wrote, “the greed in this nation will never allow a minimum wage to go up that high (to a living wage).” He said people will have to up their personal value through attaining more education, joining the military or developing professionally by working harder and more hours, like high school dropouts making six figures selling cars. “It’s not easy. But true success never is. It takes hard work and sacrifice.”

Kelley Smiley suggested indexing the wage to inflation, while Roberta McGrath supports a federal law prohibiting employers from raising prices.

TOP STORY >> Metro Trends figures show positive trend

Leader senior staff writer

While central Arkansas has experienced a decline in the rate of population growth, Jacksonville appears to have turned the corner on its loss of population — a loss attributable in part to the demolition of old housing on Little Rock Air Force Base, according to Jonathan Lupton, demographer and author of Metro Trends 2014, Health and the Built Environment.

Jacksonville has reversed its decline from 2000 to 2010 and is growing again, according to Lupton.

From the 1950s through the late 1980s, Jacksonville experienced a population boom, in large part because of the establishment of Little Rock Air Force Base, but Jacksonville was also a bedroom community for people working in Little Rock and North Little Rock.

“But the 2010 census showed a loss of about 5 percent from the 2000 census,” Lupton said.

As part of the Air Force’s housing privatization initiative, outside companies came in and demolished many older homes, but fell behind schedule to build replacement homes. The base population declined from 6,600 to 2,900, Lupton said.

Since 2010, Jacksonville’s population increased from 28,364 to 29,303 and Sherwood increased from 29,523 to 30,537. That’s an increase of 3.3 percent for Jacksonville and 3.4 percent for Sherwood.

Metroplan’s 2014 study shows a slowdown in the regional growth rate. Growth since 2010 averages about 1.1 percent annually, less than the 1.4 percent between 2000 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2013, Arkansas’ population grew by 1.5 percent, the U.S. by 2.4 percent and the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway statistical area by 3.5 percent.

While employment in-creased during 2014, regional job growth has been slower than the national average, according to the new report.

While in 2010-2014 Bryant, Cabot and Conway are the fastest growing central Arkansas cities, the rate of that growth has slowed in all cities except Jacksonville, Little Rock and North Little Rock.

In central Arkansas, Saline County has the fastest rate of growth, with Bryant outpacing the field with a 3.7 percent annualized growth rate between 2010-2014.

Cabot was second, at 2 percent, followed by Conway, 1.9 percent, Maumelle, 1.4 percent, North Little Rock and Benton at 1.2 percent, Jacksonville and Sherwood at 0.9 percent and Little Rock, 0.6 percent.

“The regional growth pace remains faster than state and U.S. population growth,” according to Jonathan Lupton, Metroplan demographer.

Growth in Arkansas is the lowest since the 1980-1990 decade, according to Metro Trends, but growth in central Arkansas is twice the rate of the state as a whole.

The suburban cities are growing fastest, as in the past, but at a slower pace than in past decades. The Central Area has picked up a bit.

Between 2010 and 2014, Pulaski County added nearly 10,000 residents, a gain of 2.6 percent.

About 6,000 of that increase was north of the river, an increase of 3.4 percent.

Maumelle added nearly 1,000 residents for a 5.4 percent population increase, and North Little Rock increased by 4.4 percent, followed by Sherwood, 3.4 percent, and Jacksonville, 3.3 percent.


Population in Lonoke County increased by 4 percent from 68,356 to 71,122.

In that county, Ward had the greatest rate of increase, 11.6 percent to 4,538, followed by Austin, 9.9 percent to 2,239. Cabot increased by 7.8 percent to 25,627.

Lonoke’s increase of 45 residents represented a 1.1 percent increase. England, Carlisle and other small communities lost population.

In the wake of the housing collapse, there has been a shift toward rental living, according to Lupton, but “locally the change has been less dramatic.”

“Multi-family construction markets are prone to greater cyclical swings,” Metroplan concludes.

The data suggests that renting is becoming more common. National trends suggest a likely rebound in multi-family construction.


In the area’s larger towns and cities, 813 permits for multi-family housing units were issued in 2013, the lowest in 10 years representing a dramatic decline from recent years — 1,795 in 2010, 1,543 in 2011 and 1,357 in 2012.

While single-family homes accounted for only about 44.5 percent of permits in 2010-2011, in 2012 and 2013, they accounted for 52.7 percent. Complete data for 2014 is not available yet.

In 2013, no multi-family permits were issued in Benton, Bryant, Cabot, Jacksonville, Maumelle and Sherwood.

North Little Rock issued 396, Little Rock issued 265, and Conway, which issued 152, is the only city where multi-family permits increased.

Jacksonville issued 14 multi-family permits over those four years, with only Sherwood, Benton and Hot Springs Village issuing fewer — none.

Ninety-seven single family housing permits were issued in Cabot in 2013, a decline of four, while Jacksonville issued 100 in 2012, down to 31 in 2013. The 100 new permits is uncharacteristic and probably includes significant new construction at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Sherwood’s single-family permits increased about 10 percent from 2012 to 2013, with a total of 158.


A third of all Pulaski County adults are obese and, not coincidentally, 30 percent are physically inactive even though 89 percent have access to exercise — by far the highest in central Arkansas counties, according to the report.

Only about one in five has a long commute to work, meaning the percentage of those walking or biking to work could be much higher.

Things are not much better in Lonoke County, where the obesity rate is 31 percent and 29 percent are physically inactive. Only 35 percent have access to exercise, and 44 have a long commute.

Across the U.S., 25 percent of adults are obese and 24 percent are inactive, while 76 percent have exercise access and 33 percent have a long commute.

The study is by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is involved in health-related matters.

Not surprisingly, between 2008 and 2012, Little Rock Air Force Base had the highest percentage in central Arkansas of workers who commute by foot or bike — between 8.8 percent and 12 percent.

By way of comparison, less than 1 percent of Jacksonville-area residents commute by bike or foot to work.

Sherwood is about the same, while between 0.31 percent and 3 percent of Cabot-area commute by bike or foot to work.

“Depending solely on cars to run errands and commute to work reinforces sedentary tendencies and may increase other health risks,” according to Metro Trends.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Taylor tears up Topless

Leader sports editor

The biggest late model race in Arkansas saw a local driver shine last weekend at the Topless 100 at Batesville Motor Speedway. Stacy Taylor, who lives in Cabot, works in Jacksonville and has his garage in Austin, won the inside pole position in qualifying on Friday.

He then won his heat race and finished seventh out of 63 drivers from all over the south in the feature race on Sunday.

While he did have the fastest qualifying time, Taylor said getting inside pole position also requires a little luck.

“You draw numbers to see what order you qualify, then the heat winners draw numbers to see who gets the pole,” said Taylor. “To draw 1 twice is pretty fortunate.”

Track conditions begin to deteriorate after several qualifying laps, meaning the later drivers are at a disadvantage, but Taylor didn’t think that was a major part of it.

“You’re only going two laps in qualifying, so it probably takes half the field before you start seeing any effect on the drivers,” Taylor said. “We had a good car and we ran a good time.”

Taylor was one of only a handful of part-time drivers in the event that was dominated by full-time circuit drivers. The Topless 100 was only his fifth race this season, and he has only one more definite race on his schedule in Mississippi in October.

Taylor felt good about his team’s chances after qualifying, but the good luck turned bad during the race. He lost a left-rear shock absorber but wasn’t exactly sure when it happened, though he did offer a guess.

“Right when everybody started passing me,” Taylor joked. “No really, the car still ran pretty good. It got a little tight and more difficult to maneuver.”

In a race with several cautions, that tightness made things even more difficult for a limping car.

“The restarts were killing us,” Taylor said. “We were all just too bunched up and it was hard to maneuver and get around people. There just wasn’t enough space and the car got harder and harder to drive.”

After falling back as far as 11th, Taylor worked his way back up to third place a little more than halfway through the race before more cautions allowed more nimble cars to get around him in the final laps.

Jimmy Owns of Newport, Tenn. won the race with Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., taking second place. Drivers from North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana and West Virginia were third through sixth with Taylor leading the pack of eight Arkansas drivers in the Comp Cam race.

Owens won $40,000 for his win while Taylor earned a $4,000 paycheck for his seventh-place finish.

“That’s pretty good for guys like us,” Taylor said of himself and his team. “Those full-time drivers have sponsors and all kinds of help. We part-time guys spend a lot of money and the ones that finished lower lost a lot for that race.

“We do it because it’s fun. We’ve got jobs and families and just don’t have the time. The week of a race we work every night on the car and we hit the track and just have fun.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers’ boys’ golf showing potential

Leader sports editor

Students may have just reported to school on Monday, but high school golf teams have been competing since the first week of August. The Cabot Panthers have competed three times, including two matches and one tournament. The boys’ team is 1-1 in match play and did poorly in a tournament, but has shown the potential to be a competitor and a contender for conference and state titles.

The girls’ team is trying to replace one of the state’s top golfers from last year, and time on the course will be valuable experience for end-of-season tournaments.

The boys’ team lost by one stroke to Conway in its first match at Cypress Creek. The next week it had a disappointing outing in a tournament at Conway. The following day, the team played a match against North Little Rock at the Greens at North Hills, and totally reversed course from the day before.

“We’re still searching for some consistency,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Tollett of his boys. “The kids are playing pretty well for a few holes then having some out-of-character mistakes. Conway is kind of a target course and you have to know where you’re going. It’s pretty tough if you haven’t been on it and they were pretty disappointed in their scores there. Then we come back the next day and each one of them shaved 10 or 12 strokes off their scores from the day before. So we need to be more consistent, especially with our short game.”

Senior Jacob Lott was second to the medalist against North Little Rock by one stroke. He held a one-stroke lead with four holes to play, but bogeyed two of the final four holes to finish with an even-par 72.

“It’s just short game issues mostly,” Tollett said. “Jacob had two par putts of about six feet and missed them both. So we have to work on that touch.”

Senior Drake Oaks, who has been on the varsity squad since his 10th-grade year, also had a great round going and was in the lead until putting two shots out of bounds on the final hole.

“Drake ought to be our No. 1 player, and at times he looks like it,” Tollett said. “Like I said with all of them, it’s just a matter of consistency. He went to work over the summer and didn’t really play enough to fine tune his game, but as we play more he has the potential to do really well. I really think this whole boys’ team has the potential. They’re just going to have to work at it.”

Tollett said Lott and fellow seniors Bradlee Hicks and Joseph Denomie have been the most consistent players so far. Oaks, Bodey Jackson and J.P. Gairhan are the other three seniors on the varsity squad. They’re joined by sophomore Jordan Lott, who shot a 75 in the first match, on the varsity squad.

Sophomores Matt Walters and Hays Barger, and freshman Trey Tonneson round out the boys’ JV team.

In the 7A-Central Con-ference, Cabot’s main competitors will be Conway, Catholic and North Little Rock. The state tournament will be held at The Greens this year, and Cabot has two more matches scheduled on that course before the big one.

“It’s not what I’d call a really tough course,” Tollett said. “If you’re spraying the ball around you can get in trouble anywhere, but this is a course you can score on if you’re striking it well. We have to have more matches there before state so we’re going to have a chance to get to know it a little more.”

Senior Coral Byrnes, who Tollett says is the top player right now, leads the girls’ team. Lauren Travis, Lauren Bettis and Corbin Friddel are three other seniors on the varsity squad. Junior Danielle O’Shields, sophomores Haley Morris, Taylor Ahart and Kara Estes, and freshman Hannah Keister round out the Lady Panthers’ team.

“We’re working on all phases of the game,” Tollett said. “We’re really not doing anything different from any golfer. You have to spend about 60 percent of your time on your short game, 30 percent of irons and 10 percent with the driver. We’re just trying to hone it in and get better. We want everyone to have fun – boys and girls. If you go out there and work to get better, then go out there and give it your best, then you can enjoy yourself. That’s what we want them to do.”

SPORTS STORY >> Devils relish fresh approach

Leader sports editor

Energy is back up to an acceptable level at Jacksonville football practices. Monday’s practice was a particularly energetic one, especially when the team began working on stripping the football. A portable sound system has been installed on the filming deck of the practice field and music is pumped in during portions of practices, though not throughout them.

Players are responding well to the changes being implemented by first-year head coach Bob Hickingbotham, including the more physically rigorous regiment.

“It’s tiring,” said senior wide receiver Laderrious Perry. “You get real tired by the end of practice. But coach Hick does it to where you’re still having fun and you want to be out there.”

Perry is also a good illustration of how players feel about the new head coach, who was an assistant coach for several years before leaving for one year to coach at Atkins. Perry hasn’t played since his ninth-grade year, and has never played on the varsity squad. He thought about coming back last season until he heard that Hickingbotham wasn’t going to be on the staff.

“When coach Hick left I didn’t want to play anymore,” Perry said. “When he came back and talked to me, I knew I wanted to play again. We all want to play for coach Hick.”

One player who has been on the team since seventh grade is defensive back Kielen Richardson. He says the atmosphere at practices this season is unlike anything he’s experienced before.

“The tempo of practice has picked up a lot,” Richardson said. “It’s a much faster pace. We got music going out here. It’s just a better environment. Coach is doing things to get us all closer. I personally know a lot more of my teammates than I ever have. I honestly didn’t really know a lot of these guys. But we all know each other now.”

Hickingbotham started off on his first day preaching 48 minutes. That’s how many minutes are on the clock for a high-school game, and he wants his team to give everything it has that whole time. That’s almost all he preached the first few days, and while game planning and scheme implementation have progressed, 48 minutes is still a key mantra.

“He talks about it every practice,” Richardson said. “I don’t think we’re there yet with everybody, but it’s getting better. We’re getting closer.”

The Red Devils will play their annual Red-White game on Saturday at Jan Crow Stadium, beginning with the eighth-grade team starting at 5 p.m.

The freshman team will play at approximately 6 p.m. and the varsity squad will take the field to close the evening around 6:30.

EDITORIAL >> Pupils need recess break

Just when it seemed the Pulaski County Special School was doing right, it turns right around and does something stupid — it has taken away recess at the elementary level.

Recess — and parents know this — should be a protected time, a sacrosanct period of free play that is no less important than the hours devoted to math or reading.

But PCSSD didn’t do this dastardly deed alone. A group of teachers who filed a grievance for more money helped.

So, because teachers got greedy and wanted a few dollars more, the district got miserly and wanted to save a few bucks — so, no recess.

Well, technically, the district didn’t have recesses last year either. That 15 minutes of outside play was called PAT or Physical Activity Time. The play was supposed to be structured, teacher-led and education-related. But many teachers knew the importance of free play and let the students have an old-fashioned recess.

There are multiple studies that show improved focus and better classroom behavior, including less fidgeting and hyperactivity and more participation in class discussions, after recess.

So why take it away?

Some of those PCSSD teachers who were allowed to hold recess filed a grievance claiming that, since it was non-instructional duty, they needed to get paid — paid extra for 15 minutes a day.

The district said no extra pay because it was not recess but PAT time, and, this year, teachers must submit lesson plans for that time.

So swinging for the fun of it is out, shootin’ hoops is a no-no, unless it is specifically in the day’s plans, and forget just hanging out by the big tree talking. All play will now be structured, forced and must fit within a 15-minute time limit.

That rules out fun activities like kickball. By the time the bases are set out, teams picked and rules gone over, time is up. Should the teacher take time out of math or literacy to go over rules for the educational PAT time?

Recess is most children’s favorite period, and parents and teachers should encourage it, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Recess can be a critical time for development and social interaction, and, in a new policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics, pediatricians from the AAP support the importance of having a scheduled break in the school day. “Children need to have downtime between complex cognitive challenges,” says Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician and professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University, who is a co-author of the statement. “They tend to be less able to process information the longer they are held to a task. It’s not enough to just switch from math to English. You actually have to take a break.”

What the doctor says seems to hold true for central Arkansas as neighboring school districts have recess and high tests scores.

For example, Cabot has recess at every elementary school. Recess is tied to the lunch period so the kids eat and then go outside or stay inside on bad weather days, according to Dr. Tony Thurman, the district’s superintendent. He adds that the time frame varies slightly between schools based on variables such as activity schedules and duty schedules. But, generally, it’s 15-30 minutes. “If a school has a short lunch recess, they typically take another short break at some other time during the day,” he explained.

Dr. Belinda Shook, Beebe’s superintendent, says, “We have several breaks during the day. Each school has it set up a little differently because of the organizational structure, but we have at least two recesses in Pre-K (through) 6 and a couple other breaks where they are able move around and be active.”

She says the breaks allow students to focus better, give them more energy, provide the opportunity to develop social skills and just make school more fun.

“I believe we get more out of them in the long run by allowing the breaks,” she adds.

Amen! Hallelujah! Are you listening PCSSD?

And then there’s Finland, which gives students a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction. And, guess what? Their scores are higher than PCSSD.

PCSSD does not believe in recess and, therefore, the logic follows that the district does not believe in high tests scores.

The pediatricians’ committee that developed the statement began its research in 2007, expecting to discover that recess is important as a physical outlet for children. What they found, however, was that playtime’s benefits extend beyond the physical.

“We came to the realization that it really affects social, emotional and cognitive development in a much deeper way than we’d expected,” she says. “It helps children practice conflict resolution, if we allow them unstructured play, and it lets them come back to class more ready to learn and less fidgety.”

Just three states — Delaware, Virginia and Nebraska — have 20 minutes of mandatory elementary-school recess a day, according to the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician who was a lead author on the pediatric group’s position, says that safe and supervised recess offers children physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits, such as improved classroom behavior, a better attention span and interaction and bonding with other kids.

Recess, he says, helps a child’s cognitive process in the same way, for instance, as a coffee break for adults: It breaks concentration from work, releases restlessness and allows someone to return to work with a refreshed mind.

PCSSD has put itself in a jam. It is trying to decrease behavior problems, suspensions and expulsions, especially of African-American males. In eliminating recess, it may actually be creating more behavior issues.

And that gives Jacksonville-area residents another reason to vote for a new school district Sept. 16. The new district should show it is different and better than PCSSD. It can do so with the little things like making sure students have recess and hiring teachers who put students ahead of money.

TOP STORY >> Lifeline possible for local schools

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville High School, Harris Elementary and Mills High School — three Pulaski County Special School District schools among 26 in the state deemed academically distressed by the state Board of Education — could be eligible for some help from a new partnership between the state Department of Education, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

That partnership is called ForwARd.


The state Board of Education on Thursday accepted a proposal for help in producing a comprehensive plan to enhance education from preschool through college — P-16 in their parlance — with recommendations for academically distressed schools and districts.

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess said his three schools are getting a lot of help right now, and might not be included if there is further triage of the distressed schools.

Guess said that each of the three schools has nearly gotten out of academic distress. He said improvement at Harris Elementary has been phenomenal under the leadership of Principal Darnell Bell.

Guess, who was hired as PCSSD superintendent after the state dissolved the board and took over the district to bring it out of fiscal distress, says he has already brought in Arkansas Leadership, Learning Services and elementary people to pull schools out of academic distress.

The state board had been discussing strategies for academically distressed schools, and both the Walton and Rockefeller foundations approached the board in July to form a strategic partnership, according to Sam Ledbetter, chairman of the state board.

“They have made a commitment to use their resources to support this,” Ledbetter said, adding that the Arkansas Department of Education has committed personnel to assist.


“We know what the indicators (of poor school performance) are,” he said, “poverty and challenges that go along with low socioeconomic status.

“I’m hopeful that the Walton Family Foundation will show it’s committed not only to charter schools and school choice but to traditional schools,” he said.

Both foundations are known for good works and for being interested in education, although the Waltons have seemed preoccupied — to some — with support of charter schools at the expense of public schools.

“At the center of any vibrant community is a strong public school system with high achieving students, engaged parents and residents, dedicated teachers and visionary school leaders,” Ledbetter said.

PCSSD is already indirectly in a new partnership with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which has helped fund the Summer Bridge Program and the Donaldson Scholars Program to help bring at-risk high school students up to speed and to help them enroll and succeed at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Philander Smith College.

The ForwARd timeline called for commissioning a research report by the Rockefeller Foundation this summer, with the beginning of the development of plans this fall.


In Winter 2015, they would complete the plan for academically distressed schools and districts and, by next summer, complete the strategic plan.

It calls for ongoing establishment of “strategic partnerships, meetings of committees, implementation of recommendations identified within completed plans.”

According to Rockefeller Foundation research, “The economic impact of ensuring all Arkansas students graduate high school prepared for college would save the state approximately $50 million annually in college remediation costs and lost earnings.”

The partnership’s vision is “Every Arkansas student will graduate fully prepared for success in college and the workplace.” It’s mission is “To help create one of the finest public education systems in the nation.”

It’s goal is “To create a comprehensive strategic plan for P-16 education in Arkansas, with specific recommendations for academically distressed schools and school districts, that will provide actionable recommendations to shape and guide the state’s time and resources to realize this vision and mission.

The two foundations have worked in partnership for more than a decade.

TOP STORY >> Liquor law closer to ballot

Leader staff writer

Advocates of expanding alcohol sales statewide turned in 41,492 signatures to the Secretary of State on Friday, ahead of the Monday deadline.

Only 17,133 of those must be verified for a proposed constitutional amendment making every county in Arkansas wet, including Lonoke and White counties, to land on the Nov. 4 ballot. Wet means allowing alcohol sales.

Little Rock attorney David Couch, who is spearheading the effort, believes that about 31,000 of the signatures will be verified based on the group’s internal checks.

He hopes the Secretary of State’s Office, which has 30 days to conduct its verification process, will have good news for the campaign within two weeks.

But the battle might not end there. Opponents, mostly liquor-store owners, may pursue a lawsuit to get the measure off the ballot, Couch said.

They claim July 4 should have been the first deadline for petitioners as the state’s Constitution dictates the deadline must be four months before an election, the lawyer explained.

But Couch pointed out that the Secretary of State’s Office was closed for the holiday, which was on a Friday, and extended the deadline to the following business day. He said that office has, since 1925, followed the policy of extending deadlines to the next business day when they fall on holidays.

Couch added, “They’re grasping at straws.” He said he doesn’t believe the Arkansas Supreme Court will agree with the opponents and commented on the irony of them trying to take away the people’s right to vote with a claim involving “the day we celebrate democracy.”

Couch continued, “ I just don’t see it happening. They don’t want people to vote on this is the thing. So they’re going to take every shot that they get.”

He also said the opponents have filed another lawsuit, with different claims, against a Saline County group that got a local-option vote on the ballot.

The lawyer told The Leader that any legal proceedings against the statewide campaign would be expedited and resolved before the November vote, as they were when he served as counsel to the campaign for a medicinal marijuana ballot measure in a similar lawsuit.

Secretary of State Mark Martin last month verified 61,000 of the 84,969 signatures turned in by the July 7 deadline. Supporters were given another 30 days to come up with the rest of the 78,133 verified signatures needed.

Couch said he believes, with the 61,000 and the new signatures that were turned in last week, campaigners exceeded the minimum by obtaining a total of 91,000 verified signatures.

The lawyer said previously that canvassers collected about 2,000 signatures in the dry Lonoke County and about 1,400 in the dry White County.

Couch said Tuesday that supporters plan to hold campaigning events in the local area and are already raising funds to buy advertising from a variety of media outlets.

If passed, the proposed amendment could mean 15 liquor stores in White County and 13 in Lonoke County, based on the one liquor store per 5,000 people allowed by the state Alcohol Beverage Control Division.

Pulaski County is maxed out on permits, so the amendment would not mean more liquor stores there. But the liquor stores on the outskirts of cities could move closer to more heavily trafficked locales.

Couch previously shared with The Leader the results of a poll that asked more than 1,000 voters statewide whether they supported the amendment.

The results were that 52 percent supported it, 40 percent were opposed and 8 percent were undecided.

Jacksonville and Sherwood won’t need their wet-dry petition signatures if the constitutional amendment lands on the ballot and voters pass it.

The chambers of commerce for both cities are leading the effort to put to a vote whether defunct townships that contain half of Sherwood and 90 percent of Jacksonville should go wet or stay dry.

Their Jacksonville Wet/Dry Campaign and Keep Dollars in Sherwood campaign have been working to collect more than 4,000 signatures each — 38 percent of registered voters in each defunct township — to get local-option elections.

Jacksonville was short 1,966 of the 4,400 it needs, as of Aug. 4, according to chamber director Amy Mattison. She didn’t immediately return a call from The Leader on Tuesday.

Jacksonville and Sherwood have hired Robert Coon of Impact Management Group in Little Rock to help them collect local-option signatures.

Coon did not immediately return a call from The Leader on Tuesday.

But he said previously that Sherwood, which had a little more than 1,000 of the 4,200 it needs in early July, “is kind of in a holding pattern now.”

He explained that, if the statewide measure gets on the ballot and voters pass it, “it’s duplicate. They certainly don’t want to waste any resources or business contributions…If you’ve got another way to solve your problem, you might want to see if it is fixed for you.”

But, Coon noted previously, Jacksonville supporters have continued collecting signatures because that city is much closer to its goal.

“They have definitely crested the hill and are on their way down the other side,” he said.

Both of the local campaigns have been collecting signatures since last summer.

Going wet could add $10 million to Sherwood’s economy and $600,000 to Jacksonville’s economy, according to a study conducted by UALR.