Saturday, September 27, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe girls get two big victories in conference

Leader sports editor

The Beebe volleyball team completed its first round robin in the 5A-Central Conference with matches against two of the other top teams in the league, and won them both. On Tuesday, the Lady Badgers traveled to Sherwood where they escaped Sylvan Hills with a 3-1 win. Scores were 25-15, 22-25, 25-17 and 26-24.

On Thursday, Beebe was back home taking on North Pulaski, and needed less than an hour to beat North Pulaski 3-0 with scores of 25-7, 25-10 and 25-20.

On Tuesday, Beebe coach Ashley Camp thought her team’s service game saved the day in a match when other factors weren’t as sharp as they should have been.

“Our defense and our serve receive was not on point like it usually is,” said Camp. “Thankfully our spot shots and aggressive serves helped things go in our favor.”

When Beebe’s Sarah Clark took serve in game four, Beebe trailed 21-14, but the junior setter ripped off eight-straight points on serve, something she’s making a habit.

“She has a good serve,” said a disappointed Harold Treadway – coach of the Lady Bears. “I just don’t think she was doing anything we’d never seen before. I don’t want to take anything away from Beebe, but I feel like we just gave that one away.”

Thursday’s match was a surprise, even to Camp.

“I know one of their outside hitters was out with an injury and I think that hurt them,” Camp said. “Compared to when we played them in Vilonia you could tell there was a difference, but they still came back and put up a fight at the end of it. I was just real pleased with how we stayed focused and kept the pressure on them.”

Clark took serve to start the match and Beebe led 8-0 with three aces very quickly. North Pulaski called timeout and got a service break and scored one point to make it 8-2. Destiny Nunez then took serve for Beebe, and while serving no aces, the Lady Badgers scored six more in a row for a 14-2 lead.

The two teams traded breaks for a while before senior Tara Plante served four-straight points, including an ace, and the Lady Badgers closed out game one in about 13 minutes.

Game two was tied at three when Nunez took serve for 12-straight points and a 15-3 lead. She only served one ace during the run, but North Pulaski was rarely able to set up its hitters. Beebe took advantage of the frequent free balls. Clark and Shalen Devore took easy passes and set up hitters Jerra Malone and Gracie Rymel – who each finished with seven kills.

When the Lady Falcons finally broke Nunez, the Lady Badgers broke right back. That brought sophomore Abby Smith to the service line for Beebe, who reeled off four-straight aces for a 21-4 lead. North Pulaski then went on a small run, but the hole was far too deep.

Game three was much more competitive with the Lady Falcons jumping out to a 3-0 lead on Payton Mullen’s serve. But another five-point run on Smith’s serve gave Beebe the advantage it needed late in the game.

Beebe is now 7-3 overall, and 6-1 in conference play. That puts them in second place behind 7-0 Pulaski Academy. Beebe had a 2-0 lead and match point against the Lady Bruins in the first meeting before losing 3-2. The rematch in Little Rock is circled on the Lady Badgers’ calendar.

“We’re preparing for that game every day,” Camp said. “I’m sure they’re working hard, too, but we know that’s a big one.”

Next up for Beebe is a home match against McClellan on Tuesday, and a road match at Jacksonville on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears’ motor keeps churning through Mills

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills opened 5A-Central Conference play in a big way Friday, as the Bears hammered Mills University Studies, beating the Comets by mercy rule, 63-21, at Bill Blackwood Field in Sherwood.

The Bears (4-0, 1-0) even managed to put points on the board before their highly-potent offense even took the field. Mills (1-3, 0-1) was held to a three and out on the game’s first possession, and senior DeAngelo Bell blocked the Comets’ punt that followed.

Bell was able to scoop the ball up after he blocked it, and he returned it 20-plus yards for the game’s first score. Mills answered on its next possession.

On the second play of the drive, Comet senior running back Calen Peters broke several tackles up the middle and was able to rumble 73 yards for the Comets’ first score. The extra point tied the game at 7-7. Peters’ TD run kind of woke the Sylvan Hills’ defense up, according to the head Bear.

“I think it kind of irritated everybody a little bit,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow of the run. “He’s a stud. No doubt he’s a stud. We knew about him going in, and when he got loose it really didn’t surprise me, but it kind of upset me because we should’ve tackled him at the line of scrimmage.”

Sylvan Hills’ offense found the end zone on its first offensive series. The four-play drive started with a trick play. Backup quarterback, Jordan Washington, who starts at receiver, took a double reverse handoff and came up throwing. Washington connected with running back Fred Williams down the Bears’ sideline for a 34-yard gain, and three plays later, senior standout quarterback Trajan ‘TD’ Doss punched in the go-ahead score from 1 yard out on a quarterback sneak, and the extra point by Zac Brown gave the Bears a 14-7 lead.

Mills turned the ball over via fumble on its next offensive snap, and after Chris Goodman covered it, senior running back Marlon Clemmons took a sweep left handoff from Doss 28 yards for another Sylvan Hills touchdown. The extra point by Brown made it 21-7 Bears.

The Bears were given great field positioning yet again on their next offensive series, thanks to another blocked punt, this one by Tyler Davis, and after starting from the Mills 30-yard line, Clemmons capped a four-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run on an option left play. The successful PAT made it 28-7 Sylvan Hills.

“If we get plays out of our special teams that’s a huge boost for us,” Withrow said. “That gives us a chance to really extend the lead. If you got a lot of athletes, let’s do stuff. Let’s go block punts. Let’s throw it around. Let’s do stuff. So it’s kind of nice to have that.”

Mills started its next offensive drive at its own 4-yard line, and after turning the ball over on downs in four-straight plays, Doss connected with Washington on a fade route in the corner of the end zone with 1:27 left in the opening quarter, and the extra point by Brown gave the Bears a 35-7 cushion.

Sylvan Hills scored its next seven points with 8:08 to play in the first half. On the first play of that possession, Doss took to the air, and found Clemmons in stride on a streak route in between the linebackers and secondary, and Clemmons dashed 88 yards for another Bears touchdown. The PAT put Sylvan Hills up 42-7.

The final score of the half came at the buzzer. The Bears were once again set up with great field positioning, starting at the Mills’ 38, and on the final play of the half, Doss hit receiver Nathan Thomas for a 29-yard TD strike through the air, and the extra point by Brown set the halftime margin at 49-7.

Sylvan Hills got the ball to start the second half, and scored on the seventh play of the drive, which was a 52-yard touchdown run by Doss. The PAT gave the Bears a 56-7 lead with 8:40 to play in the third quarter.

The Bears’ second unit came in after that, and that’s when Mills got on the board for the second time. After starting from their own 33, the Comets capped a four-play drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Race Rodgers to receiver Allen Murphy, and the extra point cut the Comet deficit to 56-14.

Sylvan Hills’ offense still found success, even without most starters on the field. Washington came in at quarterback, and he led an eight-play drive that ended with a 6-yard score by him, and the PAT pushed the Bears’ cushion to 63-14 with eight seconds left in the third quarter.

The final touchdown of the game was scored on the ensuing kickoff. Peters received the kick at the Comets’ 24-yard line, and he broke loose down the visiting sideline for a 76-yard touchdown return. The PAT set the final score.

Sylvan Hills totaled 480 yards of offense, bettering the Comets’ total of 217. Doss finished the game 5 for 6 passing for 176 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He also had four carries for 67 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

The Bears will look to stay unbeaten next Friday as they travel to Little Rock Fair to take on the struggling War Eagles in the second week of 5A-Central play. The War Eagles are winless, and lost 42-0 to Jacksonville last night at JHS.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils hammer Fair

Special to The Leader

When Jacksonville hosted the J.A. Fair War Eagles Friday night at Jan Crow Stadium, it started the conference season with a 42-0 victory. After going 0-3 in nonconference contests, the second season within a season win was a good start for the 5A-Central Red Devils.

Jacksonville had an impressive 303 yards of offense in the first half, while holding Fair to 54 yards. The Red Devils then added 117 yards in the second half, while yardage for the War Eagles was in the negative column. Lamont Gause had 208 yards from scrimmage for Jacksonville.

“The kids have been practicing hard,” said Jacksonville head coach Barry Hickingbotham. “We’ve had a tough nonconference, it’s great to see them come together and play good. J.A. Fair is in a kind of a rebuilding season, kind of like we are. We executed, still had a lot of mistakes. The kids played hard, and that’s what we’ve been telling them. If you play hard, then sometimes you can overcome those mistakes. We were fortunate tonight to overcome them, and we had a victory, which was great.”

Jacksonville’s Treasean Lambert returned the opening kickoff to the Red Devil 35-yard line. After an illegal motion penalty backed them up to the 30, Jacksonville moved the ball down the field with runs by Gause of 13, 28, 12 and 20 yards.

The drive was completed with a 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Hickingbotham to Laderrious Perry. John Herrmann’s extra point try was good, and the Red Devils led 7-0 with 7:44 to go in the opening quarter.

On Jacksonville’s next possession, the Red Devils picked up two first downs, but then were forced to punt. The snap sailed over kicker Herrmann’s head.

When he retrieved it and attempted to punt, the ball was blocked and recovered by the War Eagles on the Jacksonville 13-yard line. The War Eagles could not take advantage and turned the ball over on downs.

On the first play from scrimmage, Gause took the pitch from Hickingbotham and went 82 yards for the touchdown scamper. Herrmann’s kick was good, and the advantage was 14-0 for the home team.

Fair’s Mikalen Hawkins took the ensuing kickoff and broke free to the Red Devil 28-yard line, where Keilen Richardson made a touchdown-saving tackle. Again the War Eagles could not move the ball and turned it back to Jacksonville on the 29-yard line.

Hickingbotham completed passes to Perry and Malcolm Crudup for 24 and 31 yards, but the drive fell short when Herrmann missed a 43-yard field goal attempt.

After holding the War Eagles to three and out again, Jacksonville moved the ball to the Fair 7-yard line. Gause had an apparent touchdown, but dropped the ball before crossing the goal line, and it went out of the end zone for a touchback.

Richardson intercepted a pass to give the Red Devils the ball, but then Hickingbotham was intercepted. Fair turned the ball right back over by way of a fumble, with Courtland McDonald recovering and then scoring from 5 yards out. Herrmann was good again on the PAT, and the score was 21-0 with 4:46 to go in the half.

Fair was to have the first possession of the second half, but the kickoff was fumbled and recovered by McDonald to give the Red Devils excellent field position on the Fair 16-yard line.

After a penalty moved the ball back, Hickingbotham hit Gause for 18 yards and a touchdown. After the Herrmann extra point, the score was 28-0.

The lead grew to 35-0 on the next possession as Hickingbotham found Lambert for a 31-yard touchdown pass completion.

The sportsmanship rule took effect then, and the clock ran for the rest of the game.

The Red Devils scored one more time on a 10-yard touchdown run by Lambert. Herrmann added his last PAT of the night for the final margin of 42-0.

Jacksonville will visit the Beebe Badgers next Friday night.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers get sweep in Central golf match

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe boys’ and girls’ golf teams each finished first at the 5A-Central Conference Tournament at the Stone Links Golf Course in North Little Rock on Tuesday, and with the conference championship in their possession, the Badgers and Lady Badgers have qualified for next month’s state tournament.

The Beebe boys’ team score of 356 was 51 strokes ahead of second-place Sylvan Hills, who took second Tuesday with a team score of 407. Beebe’s Cole McNeil was the individual medalist in the boys’ division. He turned in a scorecard of 78.

Pulaski Academy took third in the boys’ division with a team score of 431, and Jacksonville finished just behind the Bruins with a score of 433.

Jacksonville’s Jeremy Wilson and Haley Elmore each finished third individually and also qualified for the state tournament. Wilson broke up a Beebe sweep of the top three spots with an 89. Elmore shot a 98 as the lone Lady Red Devil to play in the event.

Beebe coach Art Bell was confident he would get a good round out of McNeil, but was very pleased with how his whole team performed.

“It was probably the best overall our team has played,” said Bell. “We’ve had some individuals turn in better scores throughout the year, but we were only playing nine holes through the year. This was the first time they competed in an 18-hole tournament.”

Beebe sophomore Landon Davis finished the tournament second in the boys’ division with a score of 85. Beebe’s team participants finished the match, individually, first, second, fourth and seventh, respectively.

Hunter Davis, a senior for the Badgers, finished fourth with a score of 92, and teammate Cole Clevenger shot a 101 to finish seventh overall.

Only two schools had enough participants to qualify for the team competition in the girls’ division, and even though Pulaski Academy had the top golfer of the two schools, Beebe’s team score of 314 was enough to edge out the Lady Bruins’ score of 321.

Pulaski Academy took an early lead in the team competition when medalist Audrey Pulliam turned in a stellar score of 77, but the Lady Badgers combined to outdo the Lady Bruins’ team in the end.

Beebe’s Valerie Cook finished second in the girls’ division with a score of 93, and Baylee Halford finished fourth with a score of 103. Teammate, Caelyn Longing, shot a 118, which was good for eighth place in the girls’ competition.

The conference championship didn’t at all come easy for the Lady Badgers, as it came down to the last holes before a winner was decided. In fact, because of Pulliam’s top score, the Beebe girls were forced to play from behind most of the way.

It took strong play from all three Lady Badgers, especially down the stretch, to overcome the Lady Bruins’ team score.

Even though Cook was the top scorer for Beebe, Bell said Halford and Longing each had to play better than the pair of Lady Bruins they were matched up against if the Lady Badgers were going to have a shot at taking the lead, and in turn, the conference championship.

“I knew the girl from Pulaski Academy (Pulliam) was really good,” Bell said. “She finished third at state last year, and so I told them (Halford and Longing) ‘you two are going to have to do better than the girls you’re paired with.’ And they were. They were a lot better and that’s what made the difference.”

The 5A girls’ state tournament will take place next Wednesday at the Pine Bluff Country Club, and the 5A boys’ state tournament will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at Pine Bluff’s Harbor Oats Golf Club.

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats pass by Panthers

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers knew they had to guard against the big play to beat North Little Rock on Friday, and not only did they give them up, they helped out on a few. The result was a 41-14 thumping by the Charging Wildcats at Panther Stadium.

Despite all the crucial mistakes, Cabot coach Mike Malham remains optimistic about his young team.

“We gave them three scores,” said Malham. “We gave one up over the top. We gave one up on a kickoff return. And we gave one away when we fumbled it down there about to score. You take those away it’s a different ball game. We’re playing five sophomores on defense and only have three starters back on offense, so we’re young. We’re getting better. We moved the ball on them and had some success. So I still think this bunch has a chance to be a really good team.”

Cabot gave its guest its first gift after the Wildcats scored on the game’s third possession to take a 7-0 lead.

Jake Ferguson took the ensuing kickoff, and after some hesitation, decided to pitch to Jarrod Barnes. Right after taking the pitch, Barnes was hit hard in the back by Jacksonville transfer Kajahn Daniels and lost the football. North Little Rock covered at the Cabot 11-yard line. Three plays later the Wildcats kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 2:14 left in the first quarter.

Cabot went for it on fourth and 1 from its own 29 on the next possession and didn’t make it. That gave the Wildcats another short field, which they took advantage of. A big gain on the first play was negated by a fumbled snap that lost 13. Two plays later, quarterback Heath Land hit Catholic transfer D.J. Brown for a 25-yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead with 11:52 left in the first half.

Cabot put together a nine-play drive on the ensuing possession to get to the North Little Rock 8-yard line, where it faced fourth and 3. Again Malham elected to go for it, but the Panthers were flagged for a false start. The Panthers still went for it on fourth and 8, but Barnes’ pass for Kolton Eads was incomplete.

“We’re down 17, what’s three points going to do for you,” Malham said about the decision not to kick a short field goal. “We’re trying to get back into the game.”

Cabot caught a break on the ensuing possession when an 83-yard burst up the middle by Brown was called back for holding. The Wildcats ended up punting on the possession.

The Panthers finally got on the board with a 43-yard drive. Two runs for a combined 36 yards by Jason Schrunk were the key plays, and Kolton Eads punched it in from a yard out to make it 17-7 with 4:30 left in the half.

But the Charging Wildcats scored two more times before halftime to blow the game open.

The first came when the Panthers missed four tackles and allowed Brown to take the ensuing kickoff 72 yards for the score.

Cabot then went three-and-out, punting back to the Charging Wildcats with 2:18 left on the clock. It took just two plays from there, both receptions by Arkansas commitment and Bryant transfer K.J. Hill. The first went for 9 yards, the second for 63 down the visitors’ sideline for a 31-7 lead with 2:05 remaining.

Cabot got the ball to start the second half and drove right down the field with ease, going 74 yards in five plays with Jalen Hemphill getting the final 33 all at once to make it 31-14 with 10:40 left in the third quarter. But the Panthers never duplicated that kind of offensive success again.

North Little Rock then went on a 12-play drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal with 5:43 left in the third.

Cabot answered with a 13-play drive and had second and 5 at the NLR 10-yard line, when Eads lost the ball after a 5-yard gain and the Wildcats covered at the 4.

The Charging Wildcats responded with a 13-play, 101-yard drive that included a 5-yard illegal participation penalty. They faced only one third down the entire drive, and scored on it. Facing third and 13, Land hit Hill on a wide-receiver screen. Hill cut inside his blockers and ran 27 yards untouched for the game’s final score with 9:40 remaining.

The Panthers finished the game with 351 total yards to 343 for North Little Rock.

Almost all of the Charging Wildcats’ damage came through the air. Land completed 18 of 26 pass attempts for 302 yards and four touchdowns. Hill was his favorite target, finishing with eight catches for 166 yards and three scores.

Hemphill led Cabot with 14 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. Barnes had 12 carries for 73 yards and completed 1 of 8 pass attempts for 33 yards and one interception.

Cabot, 2-2, 0-1, will travel to 0-4 Marion next week while North Little Rock, 3-1, 1-0, hosts 0-4 Mountain Home.

Friday, September 26, 2014

TOP STORY >> Benefit for CASA raises $32,000

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Court Appointed Special Advocates’ Home and Outdoors dinner and auction held Tuesday night at the Cabot National Guard Armory raised $32,000 to support services the organization provides to children.

The Lonoke County CASA office, 119 W. Front St., opened in 2000. The nonprofit works to provide abused and neglected children a voice in the court process.

A CASA worker is appointed to represent each abused or neglected child in Lonoke County. All are volunteers, with the exception of office administrators. Half of CASA’s funding comes from state and federal agencies.

“In a DHS case, when a child is removed from the home, a CASA volunteer is appointed to that child’s case,” CASA board member Ginger Stuart said.

“The volunteer follows that child from the beginning of the case to the end. That can run from several months to several years. What the court system tries to provide are services to the family that can reunite the children with their parents if possible. If not possible, the children may be available for adoption,” Stuart said.

“They are hard cases. These kids have been through so much,” she added.

CASA works to meet the needs of those children. Lonoke County has 1,000 child abuse complaints every year. Stuart said 200 of those children go into foster care.

CASA volunteer John Foster said, “When a kid goes into foster care, the court appoints a CASA worker. We gather information pertaining to that child. We visit them in the home. They are placed in foster homes all over the state because there are not enough foster homes.

CASA volunteer Shelley Tounzen said, “CASA is there to support the child and their best interests. There are attorneys for parents and the state, but someone needs to represent the child.”

She said there is a demand for advocate volunteers. Many CASA workers get a case as soon as they are sworn in.

“There is a big need nationwide for advocates,” Tounzen said.

Lonoke County CASA has 34 volunteers and needs more. The 36-hour training lasts one week.

“It’s my way to help a child in need and give them a voice. When you get your heart into it, you are more determined to do everything possible for the child’s best interest,” CASA volunteer Karla Pipkin pointed out.

“Anybody can be a CASA volunteer, if you have the time. If not, support it the best way you can with events like this,” she said.

Foster was a mechanic for 40 years. He was retired when he heard about the organization and said they made it easy by providing the training.

Foster had his first case a month after being sworn in. He said CASA volunteers do not need a special degree or to have a background in social work to be an advocate.

Lonoke County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Elmore said, “CASA is my eyes (and) ears (so) I know what is going on in a child’s life. They give me reports. They talk with the grandparents, foster parents, the children. They give me an all-around view and picture of that child’s life.

“Without that picture, I can’t make the proper decisions I make that affect that child’s life. With (CASA volunteers) I feel like I have. Without them, I would have a terrible time.

“CASA workers are dedicated. We have some that have been (CASA workers) for more than 12 years working on these cases,” Elmore said.

“They are not ready to give up on these cases, and I am not either,” Elmore said.

Elmore added that Lonoke County has amazing groups working together for children involved in court cases.

TOP STORY >> Tips offered on health law at St. Vincent

Leader staff writer

St. Vincent Medical Center-North in Sherwood recently hosted a seminar about the Affordable Care Act and the state’s private option approach to it ahead of open enrollment, which starts Nov. 15.

Zane Chrisman, plan management and attorney specialist for the Arkansas Insurance Department’s Arkansas Health Connector Division, led the seminar that was co-sponsored by Sam’s Club.

A dozen people attended the first of what the hospital hopes will become an ongoing series on health-related topics.

Chrisman described what the Insurance Department expects to see in 2015.

A revision to the state’s Medicaid expansion waiver, which allowed for the private option, proposes a healthcare independence accounts program.

Chrisman kicked off her presentation by saying, “We’ve had a very busy couple of years…We often described it at the department as trying to put the wings on while flying the plane. ”

The Insurance Department began working to comply with the Affordable Care Act when the president signed it in 2010, and she was hired in 2012, Chrisman noted.

The department is staying busy, but the workflow is beginning to slow down, Chrisman said.

She said the Affordable Care Act was necessary because more than 550,000 Arkansans were uninsured before it was implemented.

Arkansas is ranked No. 1 in the country for increasing its rate of insured people, Chrisman added.

She also said, precipitating the Affordable Care Act, premiums had doubled in the last 10 years with many spending more than 10 percent of their incomes on healthcare.

Arkansas had the sixth-highest uninsured rate for ages 19-64 — 26 percent — in 2010. That 26 percent dropped to 18 percent in 2013, Chrisman noted.

The state also has the second-highest number of people who earn below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. That number is 75 percent.

And Arkansas is ranked 49th in health nationwide because it has high rates of obesity, smoking and chronic disease, Chrisman said.

Chrisman said two changes are proposed for next year, adding that businesses that are required to provide coverage (those with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees) would receive notices in two months of what their plans might look like next year.

The first, she continued, is that those who fall within 50 and 100 percent of the federal poverty level will be placed on the 94 percent actuarial value plans that those between 100 and 138 percent of that level were on this year.

An actuarial value is the portion of healthcare costs that an insurance company pays, Chrisman said. With a 94 percent plan, the remaining 6 percent is the out-of-pocket expense charged to the insured person.

Second, Chrisman said, those between 50 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level will be asked to make income-based contributions to healthcare independence accounts. If they don’t, Medicaid will not cover co-pays, co-deductibles and co-insurance costs.

Chrisman said the Department of Health and Human Services, through a third-party vendor, would track the money in those accounts and be able to turn on and off cards that insured people can use to pay medical expenses.

She was not sure when in 2015 those changes would be implemented as the waiver is being processed.

Open enrollment for 2015 Affordable Care Act plans ends on Feb. 15.

But individuals and families qualify for a 60-day special enrollment period following certain life events that include moving to another state, marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, changes to income or loss of other health coverage.

Job-based plans require that a 30-day special enrollment period be granted, according to

Another change for next year is that employers with 100 or more employees must cover at least 75 percent of their employees starting Jan. 1. In 2016, that will go up to 95 percent.

The private option, Chris-man explained, allows eligible Arkansans to purchase plans from private insurance companies through a competitive marketplace.

It preserved the personal responsibility component lawmakers wanted, she noted. The Private option also meant better plans than those offered through the traditional Medicaid program and doctors being paid more, she said.

The private option allows employers to place individuals who qualified for Medicaid on their group plans with Medicaid paying the premiums, she continued.

Chrisman said private option-eligible individuals are childless adults ages 19-65 with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, parents ages 19-65 with incomes between 17 percent and 138 percent of that level, people who aren’t on Medicare, people who aren’t disabled and people who have not been determined to be more effectively covered by a standard Medicaid plan (such as those confined to long-term care facilities).

She said the marketplace allows individuals, families and employers to shop for high quality and affordable private plans. It also helps eligible individuals receive tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, Chrisman noted.

She said people who qualify for the tax credits have household incomes between 138 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, are enrolled in a marketplace plan, are lawfully present and not incarcerated and are not eligible for other coverage.

Arkansas has bronze plans with 60 percent actuarial values, silver plans with 70 percent actuarial values and gold plans with 80 percent actuarial values, Chrisman said.

She noted that people who qualify for cost-sharing reductions are limited to silver plans, but the actuarial value is adjusted based on where they fall with the federal poverty level. Cost-sharing reductions are offered only to those who are at less than 250 percent of that level.

Chrisman said the benefits of using the marketplace are that every plan must have essential health benefits. Because of how Arkansas law is written and how the federal government’s Affordable Care Act website works, hearing aids and temporomandibular joint coverage will be added to some plans next year.

Chrisman said essential health benefits are ambulatory services, hospitalizations, emergency services, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitative and habilitation services/devices, laboratory services, preventative, wellness and chronic disease management and pediatric services that include oral and vision care.

The qualified health plans on the marketplace for 2014 were through Arkansas Blue-Cross BlueShield, BlueCross BlueShield Multi-State plan, Celtic Insurance Company and QCA Health Plan Inc.

The standalone dental plans were through Arkansas BlueCross BlueShield, BEST Life and Health Insurance Co., Delta Dental of Arkansas and Dentegra Insurance Company.

Dentegra may not participate next year, Chrisman said. She said several of the others would return and additional providers have expressed interest in participating.

One benefit of the Affordable Care Act, Chrisman said, is that premiums can only be increased for age, geography, tobacco use and a change in the type of coverage.

And the premiums are limited based on income to being no more than 9.5 percent for people who fall between 350 and 400 percent on that federal poverty level scale.

Penalties for being uninsured start next year at $95 or 1 percent of adjusted gross income, whichever is greater, for each adult in the household, Chrisman added.

She also said companies with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees that don’t offer coverage with premiums no more than 9.5 percent of the employees’ incomes will have to pay a $3,000 penalty for each employee who qualifies for a tax-subsidized plan or $2,000 for each employee after the first 30, whichever is less.

She added that businesses would still be subject to those penalties if candidates who are campaigning against the Private option are elected and do away with it.

Chrisman said she doubted that would happen.

She also said, in response to a question, an employer’s coverage must be affordable for an individual. The coverage for a family may not be affordable, but that family can’t go to the marketplace and get a subsidy.

Chrisman said officials are working to close that loophole.

Until 2016, she continued, people can stay on grandfathered plans. Employers’ contributions or plan benefits must remain significantly unchanged for a plan remain grandfathered.

TOP STORY >> Mayor hopefuls speak of plans

Leader staff writer

The two candidates for Jacksonville mayor spoke about their plans for the city during the chamber of commerce’s general membership luncheon last week.

Mayor Gary Fletcher took to the microphone first. He announced, during the 15 minutes each candidate was given to talk, “We’re fixing to make a major announcement in a couple of weeks dealing with medical.”

He also said Jacksonville has a lot of potential and its best days aren’t behind it. “We’re not driving across the rearview mirror; we’re driving through the windshield.”

The mayor announced that sales tax revenues were up by 8.85 percent.

He touted that — despite being elected during the worst economy since the Great Depression and losing federal turnback funds after a decrease in population — city employees were given raises four out of five years.

His opponent, former Police Chief Gary Sipes, said he first considered running for the office because city employees had suffered from a 2 to 4percent decrease in their salaries when benefits were cut to balance the budget.

One of Sipes’ goals is to eliminate the out-of-state economic development consultant position held by Rickey Hayes in favor of a local economic developer who would work closely with the chamber.

He argued, “I think that we’ve got to not necessarily go for a home-run hit. I think we need to take care of what we have.” Sipes said local small business owners feel neglected by Jacksonville.

Both candidates praised the community for supporting by a 95 percent vote detaching from the Pulaski County Special School District to form a standalone Jacksonville/north Pulaski school district.

Sipes said, “As a city, we want to make sure we have world-class education for our kids and the facilities, the best facilities, that we can afford as a city.”

Fletcher said lack of local control over education, caused by the federal desegregation lawsuit, kept the city stagnant.

Sipes emphasized his plans to hold quarterly meetings with residents in each of the city’s wards and to form a mayor’s youth council.

Sipes said, “Everybody would have a place at the table...I want to hear what they feel the problems are in their community and what we can do as a city to improve. At the same time, I want them to know what projects are going on in the city…I feel like there is a lot of apathy in this town because they don’t know what is going on.”

The youth council would encourage youth to return to their hometown after college and start businesses here, Sipes said.

The candidates sparred over the Arkansas Game and Fish Shooting Sports Complex before Sipes announced his intention to run.

Fletcher praised the range, saying it sold $52,000 in merchandise over four weekends.

Sipes said, “It’s a wonderful facility; it really is” and called the range “first-class.” But, he explained, there should have been public hearings and a sound study conducted before the range was built.

Sipes and other residents of the Foxwood subdivision have complained about hearing shots ring out while at their homes.

Sipes also described how he found the school buses that had packed the range’s parking lot during a youth tournament parked at North Little Rock hotels near McCain Mall after the tournament.

“It just made sense. Kids have to have somewhere to go.” Sipes said the city needs lighting, sidewalks and improvements to parks that are in “bad shape.” He hoped grants would help.

He also said, “I think we’ve got to get back to our financial stability…If you don’t have it, you don’t spend it.”

Fletcher said he had to make tough decisions in office and made life-long enemies when he tried to annex residents north of Jacksonville.

The mayor successfully annexed the Hwy. 67/167 corridor though, and said that brought in $1.2 million in a year to help the city pay on loans for the new police department and public safety complex on Marshall Road.

Both candidates described their backgrounds to the audience.

Fletcher said he grew up in Jacksonville and started attending city council meetings at age 16. He joined the Jaycees as a Jacksonville High School senior.

Fletcher was appointed to the planning commission and later elected to the council.

He ran for mayor three times. Fletcher quipped that he lost the first two times because he was too young at age 28 and two controversial at 32. He joked that he won at age 55 because he couldn’t do any harm then.

The mayor turns 60 next month and said he sees things from a spiritual perspective. “I feel like I was created for this position. I was a natural fit.” He also thanked former mayors for being his mentors.

Sipes said he is a Pine Bluff native and graduated from the high school there in 1975. He moved to North Little Rock after meeting his wife of 38 years because she lived there.

Sipes followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a police cadet in North Little Rock at age 18. While on that force, he earned a degree in justice administration.

He left in 1999, having risen up through the ranks there to become the lieutenant commanding the community-oriented policing unit.

Sipes said his unit was tasked with cleaning up the Argenta neighborhood. Community developers, state and federal resources flowed into the area after it was cleaned up.

Patrick Henry Hayes, who was the North Little Rock mayor than and is now running for the second congressional district seat, hired Sipes to oversee code enforcement.

While he was in charge, Sipes said more than 100 dilapidated structures were demolished.

He left North Little Rock for Benton, where he was hired for his dream job of being a police chief.

Sipes said his family moved three miles outside of Jacksonville in 1986.

He was hired as the city’s police chief in 2008.

Sipes said he also leaned on faith in the decision to run. “This is something I’ve never done before, but (my wife and I) felt it was what God wanted us to do.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

EDITORIAL >> What’s next for district?

By a resounding, overwhelming, huge, making-a-statement margin, Jacksonville residents have said loud and clear that they have had enough of second-class treatment under the Pulaski County Special School District and are ready to soar higher.

Now what?

First, maintain this high level of enthusiasm and channel it toward what is best for the students.

So what needs to be done first?

A promise by all parties not to turn the school district into a conglomerate of fiefdoms, which precipitated the downfall of PCSSD.

And, above all, find a superintendent and administrators who will allow teachers to teach. No one knows the students better than the teachers — let them do their job and reward them for it.

Develop a systematic — read that as careful and quick — plan for building, remodeling and revamping the schools.

Many would like to pop out of the gate with a brand new high school, but the new district needs to start where the tests scores take a turn for the worst — the middle school.

Jacksonville Middle School has had a long track record of poor test scores, so bad that even with the hard work of high school teachers, the scores don’t jump up much and make the high school look bad.

Build a new top-notch technology-advanced middle school, not a Taj Mahal, just a nice solid middle school.

While working out the details on a new middle school, the new district needs to bulldoze the Main Street side of the current middle school — the boarded-up side. That alone will be a major spirit booster to students, teachers and the school district, getting rid of the prison look on Main Street. It is a safety and health hazard.

Also, bulldoze the decrepit and closed buildings. Replace them with nice green sod or, even better, sell the whole middle school to a developer and build a completely new middle school on a new location to get a new start.

After tackling the middle school mess, the district needs to build walls. Warren Dupree and Pinewood elementary schools have classes divided by only partitions, filing cabinets and bookcases. Hard to believe, but take a look. The idea of open-space schools was an idea that even California decided didn’t work more than two decades ago.

But PCSSD has kept the open-space concept in these schools to the detriment of students. It restricts what the teacher can do — no fun, loud activities — and it puts an unnatural burden on students to be extra quiet. The teachers at these schools are great, work hard and love their students, but could do so much more working in real school buildings and not in experiments-gone-wrong facilities.

The quick fix would be to build walls in those schools. Make sure the room sizes are up to modern-day requirements, not the 1950 size.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to build a couple of new elementary schools right off the bat — again, not eighth-wonder-of-the-world level, but solid, clean, efficient and nice looking.

Then take some time to look at a new high school. Chances are this is where a millage increase might be needed. If the new district has shown the moxie to solve the middle-school crisis and bring better facilities to its elementary students, residents will be willing to back an increase for the high school.

But, unlike the $60 million Maumelle High School, Jacksonville doesn’t need to pay extra for custom-made 10-foot-tall restroom doors. Stay focused on education.

The district also needs to be succinct in its new name. It should simply be the Jacksonville School District. The simplicity works for Cabot, Lonoke and Beebe, and their districts exceed the limits of those cities just like the Jacksonville district will. Let’s not go for long and cumbersome because that’s what folks voted against in the breakaway.

Plus, no offense to the schools in the northern part of the county that will be a part of the new district, we just don’t need the word “Pulaski” anywhere in the name, as it will be a reminder of bad times.

And, speaking of names, the new district will have to find a Jacksonville mascot if the high schools merge someday. This idea will garner more noise and controversy than anything else, but let’s get off to a new start. The “Devil” factor has always caused some concern, and what does it have to do with Jacksonville anyway?

Maybe the district could have a mascot contest and take suggestions from students and their parents. A board of city officials, parents and students could narrow down all the suggestions to the Top 10 for a citywide vote.

Someone has suggested the Red Falcons, but we like the Hercules — the mighty hero of Greek mythology and the namesake of the C-130 heavy lifters at Little Rock Air Force Base.

It will tie into the air base and Jacksonville’s motto: Soaring Higher.

Touchdown, Hercs! It’s got a ring to it.

TOP STORY >> Weekend festivals go head to head

Leader staff writer

Look no further than Jacksonville, Sherwood and Searcy for something to do this weekend. The cities are hosting free annual shindigs, with Jacksonville and Searcy getting a headstart by kicking off the second FestiVille and Get Down Downtown — a Main Street Searcy Festival — on Friday.

FestiVille entertainment starts at 4 p.m. Friday.

Searcy’s musical lineup starts at 6 p.m. Friday with The Dixan Project, followed by The Clark Family Trio featuring Bill Nesbitt at 7 and three-time Grammy nominees The Nelons, a family of gospel artists, at 8. All are on the Quattlebaum Music Center Stage.

New to this year’s FestiVille is the Backyard BBQ Bash cook-off nine teams signed up for and the British Motor Club of Arkansas car show. Both are set for Saturday.

FestiVille organizer Dana Rozenski of the Parks and Recreation Department said, “Spend time at one of our local parks. (You will) see a great entertainment package (and) have some good food.”

She added that local school groups would participate this year because FestiVille was moved from June to September, when school is in session.

New to Sherwood Fest are three national acts, an archery contest with recurve bows provided or brought and a castle-building contest with recycled materials, according to organizer Misty Heaton.

Medieval costumes reminiscent of the city’s mascot, the fictional character Robin Hood, are encouraged. A trophy will be awarded to the “most spirited” archer. The Society for Creative Anachronism may perform a live demonstration of fighting techniques in medieval attire and using medieval weapons.

At Jacksonville’s FestiVille in Dupree Park, Aces Wild will play rock and country covers from 5 to 6 p.m. Friday on the portable Advertising and Promotions stage, followed by pop rock artist Matthew Huff from 6:15 to 7:15 and rock band The Revolutioners from 7:30 to 9.

Also on Friday, the pavilion stage at Dupree Park will host the Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School band from 4 until 4:30 p.m., followed by the school’s choir until 5 p.m. and the school’s dance/cheer team until 5:30 p.m.

Christina Null will play the cello on the pavilion stage from 6 until 6:30 p.m., followed by the Huff N Puff Gym’s performers until 8 p.m.

The special event set for Friday is the Jacksonville Police Department’s K9 demonstrations that will begin at 6 p.m.

Sherwood Fest begins bright and early at 8 a.m. Saturday at Sherwood Forest, 1111 W. Maryland Ave., with the chamber of commerce’s pancake breakfast. Plates are $6 for adults and $3 for ages 6-10. Kids under 6 eat free. The festival ends with fireworks at 6 p.m.

The schedule is still being finalized, and the shows will be shorter than they have been in the past because there are more acts, Heaton said.

Entertainment for Sherwood Fest has almost doubled, from five musical acts last year to nine this year. Heaton believes this is the first year that national acts have been booked for the festival.

Those national acts include American Idol runner-up Christy Bowersox, Little Rock native Elise Davis and Trout Fishing in America. Heaton said Trout Fishing in America, which has been called “the Lennon and McCartney of kids’ music,” would perform twice on Saturday.

Heaton added that she is working to book a fourth national act involving the lead singer of a contemporary Christian band who is launching a solo career.

There will also be performances by Paul Morphis “One Man Band,” Impact Gymnastics, Marissa and Jacq’s dancers, the O’Donovan School of Irish Dance, the salsa dancers who frequent Juanita’s in Little Rock, Studio One dancers, The Big Dam Horns, The Revolutioners and Amy Brown and the Sherwood Sound.

Get Down Downtown in Searcy starts Saturday events at 10 a.m. with a performance by Foundation 3, a brother and sisters act blending a love of country music with their contemporary Christian background.

Good News Singers, an acappella group, will take the stage at 11, followed by the pop group Belles and Beaux at noon.

The afternoon and evening lineup includes the Crowley Ridge Cloggers at 1, the White County Star Steppers at 1:30, Ramblin’ Fever at 3:30, Charlotte Taylor and Gypsy Rain at 5, Pamela K. Ward at 6:30 and Ricochet at 8. All are on the Quattlebaum Music Center Stage.

Other festival activities to be held Saturday in Searcy are the Robbins Sanford Grand Hall Bridal Fair from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the second annual car show from 2 to 6 p.m. Registration for the car show starts at 2 and the entry fee is $20. Cash prizes and awards will be given in several categories.

Also during Get Down Downtown, former Congress-man Ed Bethune will host a talk and book signing at the White County Courthouse beginning at 1 p.m. Friday.

Meanwhile, Saturday events at FestiVille in Jackson-ville will include a fishing derby with registration at 7 a.m., a 5K/1K with registration at 8 a.m. and a volleyball tournament with registration at 8:30 a.m.

The Luke Williams Band, a country rock group, is headlining with a performance from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

But Down and Dirty will take the stage first, from noon until 1 p.m., followed by Gabriel Bradley from 1:15 to 2:15, Zack McKenzie from 2:30 to 3:30, Christian rock band Three Times Denied from 3:45 to 4:45, rhythm and blues group Ment 2 B from 5 to 6 and punk rock band Eddie and the Defiantz from 6:15 to 7:15.

The police department will also hold K9 demonstrations at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

The Jacksonville High School cheerleaders will take the pavilion stage from 9 a.m. until noon, followed by Huff N Puff until 1 p.m.

Other acts on that stage Saturday afternoon and evening are Erica Brewer and Alexis Landers from 1 to 1:30, Sharon’s Dance performers from 1:30 to 2, the Central Arkansas Performing Arts Academy from 2:30 to 3, the Gospel Group from 3 to 3:30, the Rhythm Safari Dance Company with special guests, Diamond Girls, from 3:30 to 4; the JHS choir from 4 to 4:30, the JHS band from 5:30 to 6 and Brandon Farris from 6 to 7.

In Sherwood, the festival’s archery contest will be competitive for ages 6 and up. Prizes will be awarded in the age categories of 6-10, 11-15 and 16 or older. The difficulty will increase for the oldest group, Heaton said.

For the castle building event, she continued, the city teamed up with Keep Sherwood Beautiful, which collected the recycled materials that will be used.

Ten four-member teams will get to sign up on site and build a castle with those materials in two hours. Awards will be given to the “most enchanting,” “the most detailed” and the “most original” castles.

Heaton said, “This is the city’s 38th year to put on this free event, and there will be activities for all ages. The show will be bigger and better than it’s ever been. We’re very excited to welcome families to the event.”

All three festivals will have children’s areas.

The Jacksonville event will entertain kids with balloon art and face painting.

Sherwood Fest will have one indoor kids zone and one outdoor kids zone. Heaton said the indoor zone would entertain them with games and crafts.

The zone outside will have inflatables, and there may be an admission fee. Centennial Bank is sponsoring a cute kids contest at Sherwood Fest for boy and girls, ages 6 and under, on the Forest Room stage.

Searcy’s Kid Zone will be located at Spring Park from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday. There will be face painting, carnival games, pony rides, inflatables, slides, sack races, hula hoop contests and a petting zoo. Carnival games will cost 25 cents each. There will also be a charge for the pony rides and petting zoo. The Searcy Fire Department will be set up along Pleasure Street on Saturday with a truck, smokehouse, water targets and “Freddie the Fire Truck” to teach fire safety.

More performances, mostly by school groups, are scheduled on the Southeastern Energy Stage in the park’s pavilion from 10 a.m until 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

All of the festivals will have food and other vendors.

Heaton said 38 indoor vendors and 34 outdoor vendors had signed up for Sherwood Fest.

FestiVille organizers are still looking for vendors, but some who have confirmed they are participating include Scentsy, the fire and police departments, churches, crafters and political candidates.

The vendors at Sherwood Fest range from political candidates to crafters to someone who makes and sells treats for dogs. The Sherwood Animal Shelter and Rock City Rescue will offer on-site adoptions, Heaton said.

Food for Jacksonville’s FestiVille includes snow cones, corn dogs, hot dogs, funnel cakes and barbecue. Sherwood Fest will have the same, as well as catfish and nachos.

TOP STORY >> A virus spreads to state

Leader staff writer

The state Health Department reported on Monday that the Centers for Disease Control had confirmed the first case of enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, in Arkansas.

Local school district officials told The Leader they had not seen an outbreak yet but are taking precautions to prevent kids from getting sick with respiratory illness caused by the virus.

Deb Bostic, chief nursing officer at North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville, said the CDC’s most recent data shows there had been 175 confirmed cases in 27 states between mid-August and Monday.

The patients were within the age range of six months to 16 years, with many of them having a medical history of asthma or wheezing similar to asthma, she noted.

Bostic also said 4- to 5-year-olds made up the largest group of patients.

According to the website for All For Kids Pediatric Clinic in Little Rock, “most adults have quite a bit of immunity to enteroviral infections.”

Mild to severe symptoms, Bostic said, include fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing and body/muscle aches that can progress to troubled breathing or wheezing similar to asthma.

She added in an email to The Leader, “We have seen very few patients with these symptoms in recent months.” There has not been a confirmed case of the virus or an uptick in kids coming in with respiratory illnesses at North Metro, Bostic said.

According to a state Health Department news release, EV-D68 is one of many viruses common throughout the country this time of the year, but the current strain of it is causing more illness than expected.

The release also noted that the number of actual cases in Arkansas cannot be tracked because medical providers are not required to report suspected cases to the state Health Department.

State health officials plan to continue monitoring hospital admissions of kids with acute respiratory illnesses and investigating those that suggest EV-D68.

Prevention is key because there is no treatment or vaccine for the virus.

Bostic said those who have already become ill should be treated with bed rest, plenty of fluids and fever control.

She continued, “It is likely to spread person to person by coughing, sneezing or touching a contaminated surface. This means close body contact puts one at risk to contract the virus. Depending on temperature and humidity, the virus can live on surfaces for days. However, it can be killed by common household disinfectants and detergents.”

That is how schools in The Leader’s coverage area have stepped up.

Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook wrote in an email that the district had not heard of any enterovirus cases there.

“We have purchased extra cleaning supplies and talked to our custodial staff about making sure we sanitize everything well. The school nurses always contact the parents when a sick child comes to the nurses’ offices. We hope, by taking the extra precautions, we can keep it out of the schools.”

Vonda Jacobs, the director of nursing for Cabot schools, wrote in her emailed response, “Handwashing is the No. 1 prevention for spreading any virus. School nurses are always reminding and encouraging students to wash their hands and will continue to do so.

“As flu season approaches and now the enterovirus, school nurses will also promote prevention through reminding and encouraging everyone to cover their cough or sneeze, to avoid close contact with people who are sick, to avoid touching their eyes and face and to stay at home while sick.”

She said all schools have access to sanitizing hand gel, too.

Jacobs continued, “Custodial staff are very well trained in cleaning and disinfecting, and the nurses depend heavily on them when they are in need of extra cleaning when any child has presented with viral symptoms.”

She also wrote, “I will send some specifics to each school nurse listing signs/symptoms of the enterovirus, which are not much different than with any other virus.

“The school nurses will take care of the students just as they would at any other time.”

She noted that the nurses are aware of students who have pre-existing lung diseases and would be “proactive” if one of them comes to the nurse’s office with enterovirus symptoms.

Students with a fever of more than 100 degrees will be sent home until they have been free of a fever, without medication, for 24 hours, Jacobs added.

Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman said there had not been an increase in absences for illness recently and that the district would monitor absences while keeping “a close check” on information provided by the state Health Department.

He also said parents would be notified if absences increase or if there are any reported cases of the virus.

Jacksonville High School nurse Rosiland Hunter said her office had seen students with allergy symptoms.

But none of them seemed to be infected with the enterovirus.

She said information about preventing illnesses, like EV-D68 and the flu, is posted in the bathrooms on campus.

Hunter said the posted information and pamphlets would list enterovirus symptoms and encourage students to report to the nurse’s office if they have any of those symptoms.

She added that she expects the spread of illness to get worse as the weather changes.

TOP STORY >> Cabot ends prison labor in schools

Leader editor-in-chief

After a report here Saturday that a convicted murderer worked at Cabot Junior High North last week as a prison trustee, school officials decided Monday to ban prison labor in the district.

“We will not approve any trustees to work in our district,” Superintendent Tony Thurman told us. “It will not matter if we are in session or not.”

The decision came after our report raised concerns across the state about felons working in schools without the knowledge of parents and school administrators.

The Department of Correction board of directors voted Monday morning to end a 30-year-old policy that allowed killers to work in schools.

The change in policy came about after we reported that Glen Martin Green, 60, a murderer who is serving a life sentence without parole in the Tucker Unit, had been installing gym equipment at the Cabot school.

Green pleaded guilty to the murder of a Gravel Ridge woman in 1974.

He was also accused of sexually assaulting his victim, 18-year-old Helen Lynette Spencer. She was kidnapped from Little Rock Air Force Base, brutally beaten and tossed into a creek off Graham Road in Lonoke County.

Even under the old lax prison policy, sex offenders weren’t supposed to work in schools.

Inmates install equipment and furniture in schools all over Arkansas. The prison department’s Arkansas Correctional Industries this year has sold $8,131,118 in goods and services to schools and other organizations.

Last school year, ACI sent inmates to 68 schools around the state, including the Pulaski County Special School District, Lonoke Middle School and the Arkansas School for the Blind.

Just last month, the North Little Rock School District used prison labor along with more than 40 other districts.

The Carlisle and Beebe school districts were among the districts we contacted this week. They said they are not using prison labor.

PCSSD and Lonoke apparently have stopped using inmates in their schools.

“PCSSD does not hire anyone who has a felony, which would mean serving time in prison. We have no program where we recruit or hire prisoners,” said Deborah Roush, PCSSD spokeswoman.

Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook said, “We have never had prisoners working in the last 10 years, and I don’t remember any before that.”

ACI also works on military facilities, including Camp Robinson and Fort Chaffee, and repairs fire trucks for volunteer fire departments.

Bobby Glover, a member of the prison board and a former longtime legislator from Carlisle, said he didn’t know schools were using inmate labor.

“I was unaware it was allowed,” he told us. “It caught me by surprise.”

Glover, an expert on state prisons who toughened parole rules when he was in the legislature, said he complained to prison board chairman Benny Magness after we reported about Green working at the school.

Glover said prisoners are used at the state Capitol and at the governor’s mansion, where they’re under armed guard.

But we shouldn’t put children’s lives at risk, Glover said. He insisted that sending inmates to schools is inexcusable, even if the guards were armed.

“This should never have happened under any circumstances,” he said. “I was real upset when I found out about it. Under no circumstances should an individual convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping set foot on our school property.”

Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham says he’s not impressed with the state’s new prison policy, which still allows many violent felons into schools.

He does not want any prisoners in schools at any time and is checking with schools in his judicial districts to see if they have used prison labor.

Graham was stunned when he heard Green was at the Cabot school last week.

The prosecutor says, if he had his way, all criminals would be barred from schools across the state.

“It doesn’t make any sense to have anybody from the Arkansas Department of Corrections working in our schools,” Graham insisted.

“I can’t believe they’re OK with any inmates on campus,” Graham told us.

Parents haven’t known about the prison labor because school districts keep their relationship with ACI as quiet as possible. Often, at school board meetings, expenditures for ACI are not spelled out as going to the prison industries.

Also, school officials assume the inmates are nonviolent.

“It never dawned on me or any of our administrators that they would allow someone with that type of criminal history in or near a school. I would never have allowed that to happen,” Thurman told us.

Thurman, who has two children in school, was glad the prison board changed its longtime policy.

“It’s also good that there was not a major incident that caused the change to be implemented,” he told us. “This guy was in a lot of other schools. The good news is that it has stopped immediately.”

Thurman emphasized that Cabot was not the only district that had ever used ACI. “I’m not making excuses,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job. He should have never been in our district or any other, but it was commonplace. Thanks to a lot of work this weekend, a lot of positive change has occurred that will impact students and staff across our state.”

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley said the story hit close to home.

“When I heard this, I was immediately upset. My daughter attends the school. I know Dr. Thurman, and I truly believe, if he would have known the horrid acts this monster committed, he would not have allowed him on the school campus. The warden over that prison should never have allowed a monster like this to leave the prison. It was not just our school this man has been in or around.

“I agree with working inmates. Any nonviolent offenders should be worked, but they shouldn’t be around our kids. Violent offenders can be worked but shouldn’t be off the complex without armed guards and should never be around children.

“This inmate should never be off the prison complex without shackles and cuffs. Life without parole should be life without parole.

“After speaking with Dr. Thurman, I feel confident that this was as surprising to him as it was to myself. Who would dream any warden or jail supervisor would put a monster like this on a trustee work crew?” Staley said.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers hope to overcome injuries

Leader sports editor

The Beebe football team plays in its first-ever 5A-Central game at 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to Little Rock to take on the McClellan Crimson Lions. At the beginning of the season, the Badgers would have been considered a near lock to win the game, but the season has not gone as most predicted. Injuries have decimated the Badgers’ lineup and turnovers, all lost fumbles, have proved to be disastrous.

Meanwhile, McClellan didn’t look very good in its first two games, but played a tough schedule.

The Lions lost by 21 to Class 6A Sheridan and by 28 to Class 7A Bryant, and then pulled off the upset of the week last week by beating Lonoke 21-20 – a team that beat Beebe the previous week.

“They kind of shocked everybody by beating Lonoke,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “I thought Lonoke would handle them pretty easily, but they turned it over a couple of times and McClellan has that speed. They had a lot of fumbles against Lonoke like they did in the first two games, but that night they got them all back. The ball just bounced their way. It was kind of like our game with Lonoke when we won everywhere but on the scoreboard because we turned it over five times.”

McClellan is under second-year coach Maurice Moody, who has gone away from the Spread offense he ran last year, at least mostly away from it.

The Lions ran the Single Wing most of the time against Lonoke, but also utilized formations as disparate as the Spread and the Dead T.

“You have to play disciplined on defense with the speed they have,” Shannon said. “They lined up in the Single Wing and did some pretty good misdirection stuff. They got in the Dead T and let their big fullback lead the way on that.

“The quarterback doesn’t look like he throws it that well, but he throws it deep every time, and with their speed, he just throws it up and they go and get it. They give you a lot of prepare for.”

Beebe got some good news on injuries on Monday. Starting fullback Trip Smith should be available for his first action of the season after losing the tip of his finger in a weight-lifting accident right before the opening game.

But there was also a lot of bad news. Quarterback Aaron Nunez is definitely out this week, and probably the rest of the season. He will get an MRI today to determine exactly what the injury is to his knee he suffered last week against Vilonia. Early indications are it’s the ACL, which would end his season, but they won’t know for sure until the MRI.

“Most of the people we’ve talked to and have looked at it say it’s probably the ACL,” Shannon said. “One doctor said he thinks it might not be. We’ll hold out hope that he’s the one who’s right, but we’ll know for sure pretty soon.”

The defensive line has taken a big hit as well. Dusty Grier and Reese Anders suffered concussions against Vilonia and will miss Friday. Also questionable is Austin Huhn. Offensive lineman Spencer Tapp did not play last week with an undiagnosed illness, and he’ll find out if he can play later this week. Starting secondary player Justin Burlison, who is also the backup quarterback, hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury early in the first game. His status is also questionable.

Linebacker Bo Smith moved to quarterback last week when Nunez went down. Shannon said if he had to play today, Smith would be the starter, but that others are working at the position this week.

“Bo stepped in and did as well as you could ask of him,” Shannon said. “But with him in there we’re really limited to what we can do. He doesn’t run quite well enough to be effective in the option. So we’ll have to rely on the dive and the off-tackle stuff.

“If we get Burlison back, we still might be limited depending on how that knee feels, but we’ll be able to throw a little more.”

SPORTS STORY >> Bears roll into 5A-Central play

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills Bears are on a hot streak - opening the 2014 season with a 3-0 record, and at 7 p.m. Friday at Blackwood Field in Sherwood, they’ll look to keep that undefeated streak alive in their first 5A-Central Conference game of the season against Mills University Studies.

Sylvan Hills’ offense has been hitting on all cylinders since the regular season began, having scored at least 40 points in all three wins, but the defense has progressed mightily as well.

Last week against Class 4A Newport, who’s the favorite to win its conference, the Bears’ defense held the highly-potent Greyhound offense to just nine points in the Bears’ 48-9 rout of the Hounds.

“I think we’re progressing about as well as we can,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “You’re always looking for room for improvement, but right now I think our defense is playing better. We’re starting to understand our roles, and offensively, I think we’re getting to where we want to be.

“So I think we’re progressing at a pretty good rate, but there are still some things we want to get better at.”

Mills, on the other hand, mostly struggled in its nonconference games, and as a result, the Comets enter Friday’s conference opener with a 1-2 overall record.

The Comets lost their week-one game against Little Rock Parkview, 25-0. Their first win came in week two against hapless Little Rock Hall. They won that game, 28-0, and last week against Class 4A Star City, the Bulldogs won by a comfortable 56-25 margin.

“Their identity has always been an option offense, and I don’t think they’ve got an option quarterback,” Withrow said of Mills. “They have more of a pro-style quarterback. With that, you’ve got to change your identity a little bit, and I think they’ve had a little bit of a problem with that.”

Only six starters return from last year’s Comets team that finished 9-3 and advanced to the second round of the 5A state playoffs. Race Rodgers (6-1, 175) is the Comets’ QB this season. Rodgers saw very little playing time last season, having broken his collarbone twice; both times coming in exhibition games.

The Comets switched their offense from the Flexbone to the Power I this season, and the reason for that is senior tailback Calen Peters (5-10, 195). Peters has 4.6 speed, and he ran for more than 700 yards in 2013.

Last week against Star City, who has two Division-I caliber defensive tackles, Peters ran 21 times for 130 yards and four TDs.

“They’ve got a nice tailback,” Withrow said of Peters. “Calen Peters is their tailback, and he looks as good as any tailback we’ve seen all year. I mean, he can really run.”

Mills also has some big guys blocking for Peters up front. The Comets have two linemen that weigh at least 325 pounds and four that weigh at least 265, including two that are in the 285-pound class.

“They open up some nice holes,” Withrow said. “Their right tackle and right guard have done a pretty good job.”

Defensively, Withrow says the Comets have strayed from their usual 4-2 defense, and have switched to a 3-3 stack defense.

“On tape it’s been a 30 front,” Withrow said, “and it’s different from what they’ve had in the past. Again, it’s a change in their philosophy. That’s what we’ve seen the last two games. That’s what they had in the third game.

“They’ve been in a 3-3 stack, so that’s kind of what we’re going to prepare for, but we’ve gotten a feel from everything. Newport gave us all sorts of defenses. So I think we’re kind of prepared for about everything, but we’re going to look at the 3-3 stack.”

Even though the Bears have had a great start to their season, this week is when the real season begins, meaning every game for the remainder of the regular season has playoff implications, and Withrow and his team are well aware of that.

“This is when the season begins,” Withrow said. “Everything else really doesn’t matter. I’ve been 0-3, 2-1, 1-2 and everything else, and it really doesn’t matter. It kind of gets you engaged to where you want to be, but it’s these seven weeks right here that are going to define your season.

“The guys understand that. There’s a real sense of urgency and we need to understand that if you want to do anything (in the postseason), it starts this week.”

SPORTS STORY >> The second season for Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

The second season within a season begins this week for the Jacksonville football team. First-year coach Barry Hickingbotham has said all along that he’s breaking this season up into three parts, and while the first part didn’t go as well as hoped, it’s time to move forward as the Red Devils host J. A. Fair to open conference play at 7 p.m. Friday at Jan Crow Stadium.

The War Eagles are a team with problems similar to Jacksonville’s so far this season. Both teams are 0-3, both have a first-year coach and both are struggling to maintain consistency on offense.

The two teams have similar strengths, too. Both are capable of, and have shown, an ability to hit the big play. That’s the key concern for Hickingbotham as he gets the team prepared for Friday’s matchup.

“They have a very athletic quarterback,” Hickingbotham said. “The thing that scares you about Fair is their speed. They have the kind of athletes that can turn a broken play into a touchdown. They can run right, and you can have everybody there. Then they reverse field, fumble the ball, pick it up and score.”

Jacksonville hasn’t been able to get much offense going in any of its three games. The first half of the first game was the best for offensive output by the Red Devils.

They went scoreless over the next eight quarters before hitting one of those big plays early in the second half last week against Little Rock Christian Academy. Later, Jacksonville scored when kicker John Herrmann booted a 47-yard field goal.

The production in that half gives the Red Devils something to build from as conference play approaches.

“They came out and we had a good practice on Monday,” Hickingbotham said. “I think they’re understanding what we’re trying to do here and that the first season is behind us. We would like to have won a game or two, but we competed to the end last Friday and I was proud of the effort. Now we move forward.”

One of the things that the Jacksonville coaches did during those first three games was play lots of linemen in many different positions on both sides of the ball. They will begin to narrow that down and put the units in place as they’re best suited, but several people will still fill the roles.

“I’m sure we’ll have to rotate because we have to play guys on both sides of the football,” Hickingbotham said. “But we have to get us a rotation down. It made it a little harder having three starters out last week. It handcuffed us a little bit.”

Two of those starters, Keith Pervall and Courtland McDonald, play on the line. McDonald was not injured, but suspended for a game per Arkansas Activities Association rules after being ejected in the previous game. Pervall is day-to-day, as is starting tailback Lamont Gause.

“Pervall is one of only two linemen we have that played last year,” Hickingbotham said. “He’s vital for us up front and losing him is a big hole to fill. But we put kids in that spot that played as hard as they can play and I was proud of them.

“Gause practiced some Monday and looked OK – a little tender. We don’t want to be too quick with them. Not to take anything away from Fair, but we’re fixing to hit murderers row in our conference and we’ll need them and everyone else we’ve got to compete in those games.”

After Fair, Jacksonville plays the three teams picked to finish at the top of the league in preseason, Beebe, Sylvan Hills then Pulaski Academy. So while Devil coaches will be careful with injured players, they’re not looking past the challenge that’s ahead of them this week.

“They’re a first-year staff just like us and they’re having their own growing pains,” Hickingbotham said. “But coach Shelton is an experienced head coach and he’s going to get them going in the right direction just like we’re trying to do. We’ve got some things to work on, like staying connected on a block a little longer, routes being more crisp. We’re not pleased because we’re not winning, but we’re starting to see a little bit of hope of understanding the concepts and grasping what we’re trying to teach.”

SPORTS STORY >> Annual Week 4 showdown

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers and North Little Rock Charging Wildcats will open 7A/6A-East Conference play against each other at 7 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium in what’s become one of the best rivalries in the state.

In 2012, North Little Rock had, arguably, the most talented team in the state. That Charging Wildcats team advanced all the way to the 7A semifinals, and beat Cabot twice that season, the second time coming in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

Last season, when Cabot finished the year as the 7A state runner-up, the Panthers beat North Little Rock, 48-31, in the regular season, and then beat the Wildcats in a very close 43-42 double-overtime thriller in the semifinals to get to the state championship game.

“Well, you know, two years ago they torched us twice and won the conference,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “Last year we clipped them twice and won the conference. So it’s a big game. They’re probably the best team on our schedule. They probably have the most talent.

“As far as looking at them on paper, it’s probably the biggest challenge of the year by far. Them and Conway played a pretty good scrimmage, but I think they got the better of Conway. We’ve got to understand, and I think they (the players) do, that this is a big one.

“They’ve got to go hard every play and do the right things, and not help out a team like North Little Rock. Hopefully we’ll again improve a little bit, correct some mistakes we’ve been making, and take care of the football and give ourselves a chance.”

Each team enters Friday’s highly-anticipated matchup with 2-1 records, and both teams, for the most part, have looked stellar in nonconference action.

After losing a 24-22 game to Conway in week one, Cabot slaughtered Catholic en route to a 62-14 win, and the Panthers made quick work of struggling Little Rock Fair last week, beating the war Eagles, 41-0.

North Little Rock didn’t look as good against Catholic as Cabot did, but did have to overcome some unfortunate adversity before that week-one game, as one of the team’s buses got in a wreck on the way to the game.

No players were seriously injured in the wreck, but it still had to have an effect on the team’s performance that night. Still, the Wildcats won that night, 17-7. North Little Rock traveled to tradition-rich Fayetteville in week two, and lost that game, 43-33, before beating Class 6A Pine Bluff last week by the final score of 45-24.

Cabot has gotten what it’s expected out of its veteran players so far this season, but the way the sophomore talent has performed thus far has been nothing short of a very pleasant surprise.

Unlike Cabot, the way North Little Rock’s starters have played this season has been no surprise whatsoever. The Wildcats have 10 returning starters from last year’s 10-win team, and the offensive star is University of Arkansas commit, K.J. Hill (6-0, 185), who was also the state’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2013.

Last season, Hill, who plays receiver and running back, totaled 2,071 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns, including 1,143 receiving yards and 16 TDs. He has 4.3 speed, and is arguably the most dangerous returner on special teams in the state.

As is often the case with NLR, it just so happened to get a significant addition to the team via transfer in former Catholic High leading rusher, D.J. Brown (5-9, 195), who led the Rockets in 2013 with 1,017 rushing yards and 10 TDs. He also caught 61 passes for 712 yards and four touchdowns in 2013, and he too is a dangerous returner on special teams. Brown is off to another great start in 2014.

Cabot will also have to worry about a three-year starter at quarterback in senior Heath Land (6-0, 190). Land split snaps as a sophomore in 2012, and he had a breakout year in 2013 as the full-time signal caller in NLR’s multiple Pistol offense.

Last year, Land completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,455 yards and 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions, including a 334-yard, four-TD effort against Cabot.

“They’ve got Hill, Brown and four or five others,” Malham said. “It doesn’t really matter who they get the ball to. They’re all good athletes. They’ll spread you thin, and our kids are going to have to play their best.

“They’re going to have to tackle in the open field and not give them big gains after they get in the open field.”

North Little Rock’s offensive and defensive lines have also done a good job this season of creating holes for its skill players to run through, and Malham said the Wildcat players up front “will make us look little.”

Defensively, NLR returns five starters from a year ago, and the Wildcat D typically likes to give multiple looks, but against Cabot, the Wildcats will most likely do what they’ve always done against the Panthers’ Dead-T attack, and that’s load up the box and attack the gaps in an attempt to slow down Cabot’s potent run game.

Malham’s offense will stick to what it does best come Friday, and he knows that it’s going to be necessary for his offense to be able to move the football and control the clock if the Panthers hope to have a chance to come out of Friday’s conference game with a win.

“What’s going to help us is we can control the ball and keep the ball on offense, and keep their offense on the sideline some,” Malham said. “That’s a big key, too. If we don’t move the ball and they have a lot of snaps they’re going to put some points on the board. They’ve got too many athletes not to.

“We’re going to play that keep-away game and, hopefully, control the ball and keep their offense on the sideline, and we’ve got to put some points on the board.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

TOP STORY >> Thurman honored as state's top chief

Leader staff writer

Cabot School Superintendent Tony Thurman was recognized as the Superintendent of the Year by the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators.

AAEA director Richard Abernathy surprised Thurman with the award during the school board meeting on Tuesday.

Thurman is now a candidate for the National Superintendent of the Year award presented at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education held in February in San Diego, Calif.

Thurman has been superintendent of Cabot schools since 2007. He has been an administrator in the district since 2000.

“I’m very honored to be chosen to represent Arkansas as Superintendent of the Year. This award validates the hard work that our administrators and teachers are doing in Cabot schools. I wouldn’t have been considered for the honor if our district didn’t have an outstanding reputation across the state. We have such a dedicated faculty and staff, and I’m so fortunate to work in such a positive and progressive school system,” Thurman told The Leader.  

According to the press release from AAEA, Thurman is highly respected by employees, co-workers and peers across the state.

A Cabot School District employee stated in the news release, “Dr. Thurman is an amazing leader. He is not just a boss or a superintendent, he is a leader for teachers, administrators, students, parents and even community members.”

Cabot’s Deputy Superintendent Harold Jeffcoat said, “Dr. Thurman is always willing to serve in a variety of state level positions and provide input and guidance to influence legislation.”

Another friend describes him as “a great visionary and strategist. (His) vision and superior strategy have turned our school system around, and now we feel like we are the best school system in the state.”

Thurman was recognized earlier this month by the Arkansas Communication and Theatre Arts Association as the Administrator of the Year for his support of the theater and debate programs at the schools.

In other business, Cabot’s enrollment is 10,168 students, up 48 students from last year.

“We are not growing at the rapid rate of a few years ago. Our current growth is manageable, and we have been able to focus recently on not only completing the Freshman Academy but continuing our renovations of existing facilities,” Thurman said.

The school board approved a $76.2 million project budget for 2014-15.

“This was a challenging budget to finalize, but we anticipated this several years ago. 

Opening a new building is always expensive. We also opened new programs that required new staff,” Thurman said.

“We did not anticipate the loss of funds that we’ve dealt with in the last year that were pulled from school districts to offset health-care premiums. Unfortunately, we needed to make changes to the district benefit package to keep expenditures in order, not only for this year, but in the future,” Thurman said.

“The strategic refunding of bonds over the last three years by our school board has proven to be beneficial to the overall operating and building budget. Taking advantage of the low interest rates without needing to extend the term of any of the bonds has been good for both the short- and long-term operations of the district,” Thurman said.

The district’s athletic budget, which is figured separately, is $2.4 million for 2014-15.

“The state monitors athletic expenditures closely to make sure that all districts are allocating a fair and equitable amount to all facets of district operations. The outstanding attendance at our athletic events provides the opportunity for our athletic department to operate primarily from gate receipts. We also use corporate sponsorship of events to provide additional revenue that is allocated directly to our athletic budget,” Thurman said.

• Board members approved the hiring of Liz Massey as the communications director for the district.

• The Cabot Country Cruisers presented the district with a check for $5,000 to support the PE for Life program. Money was raised from the group’s Spring Fling and Family Fun Night races.

• Eastside Elementary second grader Will Saddler was recognized with the Dedicated Reader Award. Saddler and his parents have read together for 368 days straight.
Saddler has achieved his goal of reading for a total of 5,000 minutes. He received a certificate and a $100 credit to use at the Eastside book fair.