Saturday, January 31, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Expansion affordable

You thought Mike Beebe was Merlin for the way he orchestrated the legislature to get what he wanted, year after year, even when the other party controlled it. What about Governor Asa Hutchinson?

Only two months after an election that brought him to power with a much larger phalanx of foes of the Medicaid expansion that had barely squeaked by in 2013 and 2014, Hutchinson embraced the program warmly with a few caveats and three days later the Senate approved it, 29-2. Mike Beebe must have been amazed.

Hutchinson gave the Medicaid foes some needed cover. He is creating a task force to study the whole giant Medicaid program, which pays for nursing-home care, children, disabled and all the rest. It is to recommend reforms in the whole program that will rein in costs over the long run, perhaps involve the private sector more but still insure all those 225,000 to 250,000 Arkansans who are getting medical insurance for the first time as a result of Arkansas’ full participation in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, more unpopularly known as Obamacare.

That is the most remarkable part of Hutchinson’s speech on health care at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He talked about overcoming the politics and hatreds spawned by the law’s passage and the elections afterward. But most important, he said, was the human impact on Arkansas.

“We have approximately 210,000 individuals in Arkansas [it’s closer to 300,000] who have never had health insurance before and now have access to healthcare and insurance,” he said. “That is a benefit to the state of Arkansas. Secondly, you have a benefit to urban hospitals, such as UAMS, and rural hospitals all across the state. Those two benefits are facts that we cannot deny, should not deny, and should rejoice in.”

He told heart-tugging stories about people he had met whose lives were changed because they had the insurance to get healing treatment. He will have no part in rending that safety net. He said he and the legislature, through the task force, would see that the system is even better, more economical and more efficient. He read a letter from President Obama’s secretary of health and human services encouraging him in his quest and offering optimism that if federal waivers were needed to attain his goals, he would get them.

The resistance in the legislature comes principally from the argument that when the state has to start paying part of the cost of the Medicaid program it might be beyond the state’s means.

We can help the governor with that task.

In 2017, the state will have to pay 5 percent of the cost of covering the last of the Medicaid population made eligible by the Affordable Care Act. Then the state share will rise to 10 percent after 2020 and stay there. Can the state afford it even if it maintains the present “private option” plan for Medicaid?

The short answer is yes. Follow our figures.

As of the end of November, 223,456 people had enrolled in the Medicaid program, most in commercial insurance plans under Arkansas’ unique private option but about a tenth of them, the medically frail or very sick, in the cheaper direct Medicaid. That figure should approach 250,000 by the end of this fiscal year. That should be about everyone in Arkansas who is eligible, so there should be little growth in enrollment after that. This year, the Medicaid division calculates that the federal government will spend $1.38 billion on the Arkansas program.

That number should grow some but not much because the enrollment will be fairly stable unless there is a great recession. The per-enrollee costs have been going steadily down, not up, for a year.

In 2017, if the total costs rise to $1.5 billion, Arkansas’ 5 percent share would be $75 million. Let’s be liberal and project the total cost in 2021 to be $1.7 billion. The state’s 10 percent share would be $170 million.

So to make the program completely revenue neutral, the state would need to see $180 million in savings to the treasury. Is that possible? It’s probable and close to certainty.

This year, the state is saving $89 million of state funds because Obamacare assumes all the state’s costs for certain categories of patients that were already covered before Obamacare: medically indigent adults, women with breast or cervical cancer and others. That savings will grow gradually over the years because that patient population and their costs will grow. It’s only a guess, but the savings to the state by 2021 should be $100 million or more. The state treasury this year also will be saved more than $33 million because, thanks to Obamacare, the state medical center, the prisons and other institutions will no longer have unreimbursed care that the taxpayers must pay for. Who knows what the figure will be in 2021?

Because most of those 225,000 new Medicaid enrollees are buying insurance policies, the federal government is paying their premiums and also the premium tax that the state levies on each policy each year. Last year, the state treasury took in $20 million from the new premium taxes. That annual figure will continue to rise until everyone is insured.

We have already recovered the $75 million in 2017 and the $170 million in 2021 and we have not even calculated the treasury receipts from income, sales and excise taxes as Washington pumps $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion a year into the state economy. It has already had an impact on job growth and treasury receipts, which have exceeded forecasts. Republicans in Washington are fond of “dynamic scoring.” To use dynamic-scoring formulas, we could calculate that all that federal aid will raise state tax receipts by another $100 million a year. But we won’t.

This does not consider the sharp decline in the number of additions to the Social Security disability rolls since the Medicaid expansion took effect in October 2013, or to reduced bankruptcy filings, or the hundreds of millions in savings for hospitals across the state. Because the state treasury does not fund them, we won’t count their savings.

Can the state afford it? You bet.

TOP STORY >> Update on apps for Cabot board

Leader staff writer

Cabot School Board members were updated on the district’s new mobile app for smartphones and afterschool programs during last week’s meeting.

Communications director Liz Massey spoke about this month’s launch of the Cabot School District app for smartphones.

The app allows parents, students and staff immediate access to school news, notifications and student information. Parents can view their children’s grades, homework and absences or tardies. They can see their child’s bus route, which school they will attend and if school will be canceled due to winter weather.

She said more than 8,000 people have downloaded the free app so far. “Everywhere I’ve gone, people say they enjoy it. They like the look. It was very easy to download.”

Massey added that the app is being tweaked and is an ongoing project.

In other business, elementary education coordinator Michelle French spoke about the after-school programs in the district. The programs are at every elementary school and at the two middle schools for students needing extra help in math, literacy and test taking skills. The students meet with teachers for one hour from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. twice a week.

Parents provide the transportation. Snacks are offered. Each school has four teachers working from third- and fourth-grade curriculums.

“We’ll serve 225 children. The after-school program is 16 sessions starting at the end of the month,” French said.

“We have a lot of parents who want their children to have that extra help. It targets children that are preforming a little below. It’s another way we can provide interventions,” she noted.

The school district also recognized 11 new National Board Certified teachers.

They are Kim Griffin and Amanda Midkiff of Eastside Elementary; Rhonda Frey of Magness Creek Elementary, Stacey Bean, Jill Geran and Brandy Gwantney of Mountain Springs Elementary; Deana Davis of Junior High North, Erica Hann of Junior High North and Freshman Academy, Kasey Hill of Freshman Academy and Christi Waller of Cabot High School.

The district then recognized the top six Cabot Spelling Bee winners. They are Andrew Bristow of Junior High North, Kate Judy, Emme Huey, Hanna Reynolds and Austin Coombe, all of Middle School North, and Grace McEwen of Junior High South.

They competed at the Lonoke County Spelling Bee contest on Monday in Carlisle.

Deputy superintendent Harold Jeffcoat also gave the board a buildings and grounds update. Bids will soon go out for a new heating and air conditioning system at Northside Elementary and new vinyl flooring at Middle School South.

TOP STORY >> Cabot 8th grader fights cancer

Leader staff writer

Barrett Stark, a Cabot eighth grader who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April, introduced himself with a smile and a joke.

His is one of the first to represent an American Red Cross-sponsored SleevesUp virtual blood and platelet drive.

According to, today is the 19th of 107 days people can use the website to set up a donation appointment or make a financial contribution to the cause.

Stark’s mom, Polly Pettey, told The Leader, “One bag can save up to three people’s lives. It’s not only him you’re going to help. We’ve made a lot of friends with everybody else up here (at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock).”

Stark said he was asked to be the face of one of the first virtual drives after the community held a blood drive in his honor.

He needed between five and six transfusions plus chemotherapy, spinal taps and other treatments, Pettey said.

Stark, who has been in remission since May but still has 2.5 years of maintenance to go through, said his first thought when he was diagnosed was, “How could this happen to me?”

Maintenance means one chemotherapy treatment each month and once-a-week tests, compared to Stark spending several days a week at the hospital.

The family lives in Butlerville, close to Des Arc and Beebe, but Stark attends Cabot schools because the buses drive by his home.

The 14-year-old said he’s always enjoyed sports and being outdoors.

He started playing football last year because the basketball season had ended and he was tired of sitting on the bleachers.

The off-season football team was more active, doing workouts, Stark explained.

And, in 2011, the MMA fighter was the state champion in jiu-jitsu.

Stark said, “I like to hunt, fish, I like to ride four wheelers, dirt bikes, go muddin,’ go trout fishing.”

The teen can still do many of those things, but must be more careful because of his compromised immune system. “It’s fun, but it’s not as fun as it used to be because now I’ve got to look at it totally different,” Stark said.

The first two months after he was diagnosed were difficult, he continued.

Stark explained, “I was just laying in bed and just not talking, sleeping almost all day, every day.”

With time came acceptance and, one day, things changed.

Stark said, “There’s been days where I’ve woke up and totally forgot that I have cancer…That day I woke up and I said, ‘I ain’t got cancer any more. Let’s go and have some fun.’” He drove a four-wheeler from morning until dark that day.

On Thursday, Stark was hoping to go home this weekend, when a youth hunting event will be held.

His mom and her friend, Nicolina Lievsay, pointed out that it would be raining, but Stark responded that he has waterproof gear.

Although the teen doesn’t take things for granted any more, Pettey said, “He really hasn’t let this change him at all as a person. He has stood tough, been strong, fought throughout this whole (ordeal). Whenever I’ve gotten down, he’s been my rock. ‘All it is is cancer, I’ll be fine.’”

The most difficult part, for both mother and son, has been staying away from some relatives to avoid Stark becoming ill.

He has a 9-year-old brother and a 17-year-old stepsister.

The challenges have also included becoming a steroid-induced diabetic and, of course, suffering through chemo treatments.

“The chemo, I hate, really. It burns, and it hurts, and it makes you sick. I’m not a fan of it,” Stark said.

For more than a month, he had to use insulin three or four times daily. The Gatorade and soda-loving teen said having all that taken away so abruptly had him “going nuts.”

But, through this experience, “I’ve learned that my body is a lot stronger than I thought it was,” Stark said.

His mom said she learned, “You just can’t take life for granted. It’s one day at a time, and that has definitely made me stronger.”

Lievsay said the family and their friends have also been brought closer together.

She added that people shouldn’t treat cancer patients differently after they are diagnosed.

Pettey agreed. She said a lot of parents limit their sick kids but she hasn’t.

“All the nurses have told me I did right by letting him be him and not putting him in a bubble, and giving it all to God,” the mom said.

Her son added, “That has helped so much.”

Pettey said forming relationships with the moms of three other children on the same treatment regimen as Stark and being at Arkansas Children’s has also helped.

About the hospital, she said, “They make you feel like you’re family.” Stark’s nurses even posted paper ducks on his wall and made a model of a rifle because he was disappointed about not being able to go duck hunting.

Pettey also said they appreciate all of those in the community who have prayed for her son.

Stark said he would tell others going through the same thing, “It will get better. Don’t let it come between you and your family.”

Pettey said she would want other families in similar circumstances to know, “It’s going to get to you, and you’re going to feel like you can’t go on. But it will get easier.” They should hand it over to God and have faith, she added.

TOP STORY >> Chamber hears it’s a new dawn

Leader publisher

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce banquet Thursday night at the community center was perhaps the most upbeat celebration of the city in at least a quarter of a century.

The chamber’s outgoing and incoming presidents, as well as the president of the state chamber of commerce, were bullish on progress in Jacksonville and Arkansas.

They noted, among many signs of progress, the creation of a new Jacksonville School District, $200 million in repairs and widening of Hwy. 67/167 between Redmond Road and Cabot and the upcoming vote on whether to allow liquor sales in grocery stores and restaurants after a successful petition drive to put the issue on the ballot.

Daniel Gray, the outgoing chamber president and now president of the Jacksonville School Board, told a soldout dinner crowd that it takes a concerted effort for the chamber to achieve goals like the new school district and alcohol petition drive.

“It took a lot of hard work and perseverance,” Gray noted. As for getting the new school district off the ground, “The hard work is before us.”

Voters last September overwhelmingly approved separating from the Pulaski County Special School District. The new board has named former PCSSD Superintendent Bobby Lester as interim superintendent. Jacksonville will take control of its schools in the 2016-17 school year.

The wet-dry petition drive turned in 5,000 signatures this week and is awaiting certification on Monday. A vote will he held in early spring, Gray said.

Roger Sundermeier, the new president, announced the formation of a small-business initiative to support local businesses. He said Jacksonville needs unity and a good mix of retail chains, restaurants and locally owned businesses.

“What Jacksonville deserves is a town that is better than we remember,” Sundermeier said. “How do we get there? I think one key component is unity. I don’t think it’s a secret there has not always been a level of cohesiveness and unity among the main leadership groups in Jacksonville. Steps have been, and will continue to be, taken to unify these groups, and my goal is to work with each of them to eradicate those perceived barriers in 2015.

“In 2015, we will come together for the betterment and growth of Jacksonville. Even if something may not be the chamber’s primary function, if it can help make our community stronger, we will be there to help as needed.

“A perfect example of this effort is our recent partnership with the city to create a small business association. This was brought to us as an opportunity to partner together and reinforce our commitment to work together. You will be hearing more about this association in the near future,” he said.

“We live in a new age of commerce. We live in a new economy. We do not have time to assign blame or responsibility. This year, my commitment to you is this: You will not hear the words, ‘Well, that’s not the chamber’s job’ or ‘the city should be doing this…’ coming from our lips,” he said.

Guest speaker Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, said, “I’m optimistic on where we’re headed.”

He predicted economic growth for the state, but he cautioned that Arkansas must be more competitive.

“We’re not competitive with neighboring states,” Zook said.

He said state politicians, from the governor to legislators, campaigned for economic growth. He said Gov. Hutchinson called six industrial prospects on his first day in office. Zook said the governor should make such calls every day and entice prospects with economic incentives.

He said the Arkansas Department of Environ-mental Quality was anti-business and makes it difficult for industries to get permits. “It’s the longest process. It’s not necessary,” he said.

Zook also said the state must spend more on job training. He praised Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) for her workforce initiatives. But Wisconsin, which is not much bigger than Arkansas, spends $150 million on jobs training, while Arkansas spends one-tenth of that, he said.

“We’ve got to make sure kids understand there are many paths to jobs,” he said.

Friday, January 30, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers subdue Hurricanes

Leader sports editor

The Cabot basketball teams got another split in 7A/6A-East Conference play, this time at home as the Lady Panthers hammered Jonesboro 59-18 while the boys fell 63-39 to the No. 1 team in Class 6A.

The Lady Panthers put their game away in the first quarter with smothering defense. The Lady Hurricanes didn’t score the entire first quarter as Cabot built a 19-0 lead. Senior post player Alyssa Hamilton scored 10 points in the opening frame. She remained the game’s only double-digit scorer, finishing with 16 though playing just a few series in the second half. Neither team scored for nearly three minutes in the second quarter, when Jonesboro finally got on the board with a bucket by Joey Perry.

Cabot junior guard CoCo Calhoon then reeled off four-straight points and Hamilton added a bucket to make it 25-2 halfway through the second quarter. Jonesboro then scored five-straight, all by Perry, before Cabot closed the half with a 12-0 run and taking a 37-7 lead into intermission.

Ten different Cabot players got on the scoreboard. Calhoon finished with nine points while Anna Sullivan added seven. Hamilton also led the team with five rebounds. Guards Leighton Taylor and Danielle McWilliams had four steals each while Sullivan and Hamilton recorded three apiece. Taylor added five assists to her ledger. The Lady Panthers finished with 22 steals while forcing 29 Jonesboro turnovers. They also outrebounded the Hurricanes 30-19.

The Cabot ladies are now 16-5 overall and 4-2 in conference play while Jonesboro drops to 8-12 and 2-4.

Cabot completed its first run through the conference with last night’s home game against Searcy that finished after Leader deadlines. Much like Tuesday’s game, Friday’s matchup also means nothing concerning playoffs. The Lady Panthers went 1-2 against the league’s other three 7A teams. They will be off on Tuesday, and get back to league play next Friday with a crucial road game at North Little Rock. The Charging Lady Wildcats beat Cabot 44-40 in overtime on Jan. 9 at Panther Arena.

The Cabot boys continue to struggle without some key players. They finished 0-3 against the other 7A teams the first time through league play, and will likely need to win at least two of three in February to have a chance at the playoffs. The Panthers are 10-8 overall and 0-6 in conference as of Tuesday. The Jonesboro boys improved to 15-4 and 6-0.

SPORTS STORY >> Crimson Lion duo dominates at Den

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils lost 63-55 at the Devils’ Den Tuesday to McClellan, marking the first-ever back-to-back conference losses for Jacksonville in coach Vic Joyner’s eight years at the helm. The longer and faster Lions lured the Red Devils into a tempo and style that better suited the visitors, and the McClellan duo of Keith Hayes and Andre Jones took full advantage.

“We have some good players who can take it to the basket and score, but we don’t have anybody the caliber of either of those two,” said Joyner. “But that’s not the main reason we lost. We lost because these kids do not listen. I’ve battled this all season. They want to play one-on-one. They don’t execute the offense. They don’t take it seriously in practice. There’s nobody on this team who will step up and be a leader and work to change any of that. Now we’ve lost two straight and instead of anybody rallying, they’re arguing and blaming. This team has talent enough to beat McClellan if they’d execute an offense. But if they don’t grow up and get it between the ears, it could get worse from here. This seriously could be the first time we’ve been finished in February.”

The Red Devils (16-4, 5-2) have developed a reputation this season as a highlight reel waiting to happen, converting turnovers into show-stopping dunks and high-flying alley-oops. But on Tuesday, it was McClellan (14-5, 7-0) that came into Jacksonville’s house and put on the show.

For one brief stretch at the beginning of the second quarter, the Lions scored eight-straight points off dunks that were the result of Red Devil turnovers, the third bucket being a windmill slam by Jones. On Jacksonville’s next possession, Davon Johnson stole the ball at midcourt, threw to Hayes who lobbed it to Jones for an alley-oop that turned a 16-15 lead after one into 24-15 with 6:15 left in the half.

Joyner called his second timeout of the quarter and got things slowed down the rest of the half. Jacksonville got the margin down to four before McClellan scored five-straight again. Jacksonville got to within 30-25 and forced a turnover with four seconds left. Marcis Hall was called for a foul away from the ball.

It was McClellan’s 10th foul of the half, but the officials had Jacksonville take the ball out underneath the McClellan basket. Joyner disputed the decision, saying it should be a shooting foul, and according to rules, he was right. Only offensive player-control fouls are supposed to result in change of possession without free throws. But the Red Devils were forced to go 94 feet and missed a near half court shot at the buzzer.

McClellan quickly pushed its lead to the largest of the game in the third quarter, jumping ahead 39-28 early in the frame. Jacksonville cut it to 41-37 on an and-one by Devin Campbell with 2:22 remaining in the third, and had two possessions to get closer but failed to score. The Lions took a 45-39 lead into the fourth quarter, but that was cut in half when Tyree Appleby hit a 3-pointer 30 seconds into the final period.

Hayes wasted no time changing that, taking the inbounds pass after the bucket and going the length of the court for a layup with 7:18 remaining.

With 5:45 remaining, Appleby hit another 3-pointer that made it 49-47. The Red Devils got a defensive stop and several shots on the next possession, but one long-range jumper and three offensive rebounds and putback attempts didn’t produce a basket.

Jones then scored for McClellan to make it 51-47, and Tedrick Wolfe answered for Jacksonville to make it 51-49 with 4:32 left in the game.

Jones then scored again and Jacksonville missed. Hayes then got inside for a 3-point play to make it 58-51 with 3:14 remaining.

Jacksonville missed again, but defended for more than a minute before forcing a turnover. Campbell then drained a 3-pointer to make it 58-54 with 1:40 on the clock. That’s when impeccable timing by McClellan coach Chris Threatt came into play.

Campbell got a 5-second call on Hayes with 1:27 on the clock, but the official across the court blew his whistle simultaneously and awarded McClellan a timeout. Almost immediately out of the break, Jacksonville trapped Johnson and drew a traveling call, but again, that official was overruled and another timeout was awarded to Threatt.

This time, Hayes got to the line after the timeout. He made both, but was called for a lane violation on the second, giving Jacksonville the ball with 40 seconds remaining, trailing by five. But it didn’t stay five long.

Appleby took the inbounds pass and immediately faced two defenders at the free-throw line.

He tried to split the defenders, was stripped and Jones got his fifth dunk of the game. This one basically sealed the win, making it 61-54 with 35 seconds remaining.

“That’s what I’ve been dealing with,” Joyner said. “Everybody trying to do their own thing instead of playing the way I coach them. That was Campbell’s man that rotated over for the double team. Campbell was standing there wide open. All he had to do was throw it to him and he was going to get up the court. That was easy. But we’re making everything harder than it should be.”

Hayes and Jones combined to hit 11 of 12 shots in the second half. Jones finished with 25 and Hayes 21. Campbell led Jacksonville with 22 points while Wolfe had 14 and Appleby 10.

The Red Devils finish the first 5A-Central round robin in third place behind McClellan and Mills (6-1). J.A. Fair is fourth at 4-3 while Pulaski Academy is 3-4, North Pulaski 2-5, Sylvan Hills 1-6 and Beebe 0-7.

SPORTS STORY >> Late pressure lifts Falcons over Badgers

Leader sportswriter

Beebe hung with North Pulaski for the first three quarters of Tuesday’s 5A-Central Conference game at NPHS, but the more talented Falcons wore down the Badgers in the fourth quarter, and used their defense to pull away for a convincing 73-53 win.

The Falcons led by three at halftime, and only managed to further their lead to 43-37 by the end of the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter, North Pulaski came out pressing, and forced a number of Beebe turnovers that led to easy points in transition for the hosts.

“I think Beebe came out on a mission,” said North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson. “Their head coach wasn’t here, but I told our guys that their guys were going to play hard and they were going to compete.

“I’ve been in their shoes before. When you’re the underdogs, you’re going to come in and try and fight and scrap, and that’s what they did. I think we did a good job of just keeping the constant pressure on them, and we just wore them down in the fourth quarter and were able to get some transition buckets.”

Beebe coach Ryan Marshall wasn’t at Tuesday’s game because he was serving a one-game suspension for being ejected at the end of the Badgers’ previous game at Sylvan Hills.

Even without Marshall on the bench, the Badgers (2-17, 0-7) competed, like Jackson thought they would. The favored Falcons (4-12, 2-5) only led by three at the end of the first two quarters. They led 11-8 after one, and 25-22 at halftime.

Beebe point guard Austin Moore started his stellar second half with a game-tying 3-pointer 15 seconds into the third quarter, which made the score 25 all.

North Pulaski’s Jakarie Crutcher answered on the Falcons’ ensuing possession to give the hosts the lead again, but Beebe tied the game again at 29 with a pair of free throws by Moore.

The Falcons, though, like before, regained the lead on the following possession with a lane-penetrating layup by De’Marik Brown.

North Pulaski later pushed its lead to eight toward the end of the quarter. With nine seconds remaining in the third, Breon Baker converted a four-point play after being fouled on a made 3-pointer, and then calmly sinking the free throw that followed.

Baker’s four-point play pushed the NP lead to 43-35. Beebe cut the Falcon lead to six with 6.6 seconds remaining in the quarter on a pair of 1-and-1 free throws by Moore. That set the third-quarter margin at 43-37. The Falcons came out in the fourth quarter pressing, and by the 6:30 mark, they gained a double-digit lead on a Brown steal and dish up court to teammate Isaiah Brown, who scored on the transition layup, which made the score 49-39.

With 4:23 to play, the Badgers got their deficit back down to single digits on a driving bucket off the glass by Moore, making the score 52-43, but the Falcons quickly got it back to double digits, and only furthered their lead from there.

With 3:04 remaining, the Falcons pushed it to 15, 60-45, on a steal and and-1 by Crutcher, and led by as much as 21 until Beebe’s Bryson Bell made 1 of 2 free throws with one second remaining, setting the final score.

North Pulaski finished the game 27 of 54 from the floor for 50 percent. Beebe made 14 of 35 shots from the field for 40 percent. Both teams made 17 free throws. The Falcons made 17 of 21 attempts from the stripe for 81 percent, and the Badgers made 17 of 19 attempts for 89 percent.

The Falcons won the rebounding and turnover categories. North Pulaski outrebounded Beebe 31-17, and committed 15 turnovers to Beebe’s total of 25.

Four different Falcons scored in double figures Tuesday. Crutcher led the way with 16 points. Brown had 15 points and a game-high six steals. Myles Bush scored 13 points for NP, and Baker scored 11.

Moore led all scorers with 25 points, including a 14 for 14 showing at the free-throw line. Grant Brown was the second-leading scorer for Beebe. He had nine points.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devils come back

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils overcame a slow start to pull off a home win over McClellan on Tuesday, beating the Lady Lions 49-37. Rebounding and second-chance points won the game for Jacksonville on a night when it shot poorly. The Lady Devils shot just 26 percent from the floor on 18 of 70 shooting, but outrebounded the much bigger Lady Lions 48-27.

“That’s good because we needed it tonight,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree. “We sure didn’t shoot it very well.”

Jacksonville (10-8, 5-2) missed its first seven shots and didn’t score until almost halfway through the first quarter. But when it did finally score on an Antrice McCoy running jumper, it tied the game. While Jacksonville wasn’t making shots, McClellan wasn’t getting any. The Jacksonville defense forced four turnovers early, but finally moved ahead with 4:46 on the clock when 6-foot-3 Justina Larigan hit a turnaround jumper from the low block.

McClellan (4-11, 3-4) then heated up from outside, hitting three 3-pointers the rest of the quarter and taking a 13-9 lead into the second period.

The Lady Lions also scored the first four points of the second quarter to move ahead by eight. With 5:30 left in the first half, they got their biggest lead of the game at 20-11 on another Larigan bucket.

Jacksonville got the lead down to five with 1:40 remaining on a putback by Kiarra Summerville, then got it to four on a 3-pointer by McCoy that made it 24-20.

Both teams got a few more possessions, but all three of Jacksonville’s resulted in rushed shots and misses by McCoy. The senior point guard became frustrated and was practically walking off the court when her man shot a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer.

“She’s lucky they missed it,” Rountree said. “Things like that can change a game.”

The score was still 24-20 at halftime, but sophomore Taylor Toombs played a big role in changing that quickly in the third quarter. She scored the first points of the second half with a pair of free throws with 6:50 on the clock. She then made a nice entry pass to a wide-open Tatiana Lacy, who scored to tie the game.

Lacy then took a charge, and McCoy scored at the other end to give Jacksonville its first lead of the game with 6:02 remaining in the third.

McClellan’s Sasha Casey nailed a 3-pointer to briefly put her team back in front, but a foul and then a technical foul on Andrea Meadows sent Jacksonville to the line where McCoy made both shots. That gave the Lady Red Devils a 28-27 lead with 3:59 left in the third, and they never trailed again.

But the home team didn’t separate right away. In fact, it made just one more basket over the next three and a half minutes, and McClellan tied the game with 36 seconds left in the third. Jacksonville’s Desiree Williams hit a 3-pointer to make it 34-31 going into the fourth.

Williams also hit a deep 3-pointer with five minutes remaining that made it 40-33 and kicked off a 9-0 Jacksonville run that sealed the game.

“She played well tonight,” Rountree said of Williams. “She’s capable of a lot more than she’s doing right now. She’s a talented player. She just has to take it more seriously. But she was good tonight. Those 12 points helped us on a night when we weren’t shooting well at all.”

McCoy led all scorers with 22. Ophelia Perez led McClellan with 12 points while Casey scored 10. Five different Lady Devils finished with at least five rebounds, led by Jerrica Hardaway’s 12.

Through one round robin in the 5A-Central, Jacksonville is 5-2 and in a three-way tie for second place with Sylvan Hills and Beebe. Pulaski Academy is first at 7-0. McClellan is fifth at 3-4; North Pulaski is 2-5, Mills 1-6 and J.A. Fair 0-7.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville falls at Mills, in standings

Special to The Leader

The Jacksonville Red Devils led by two at the end of three quarters Friday night when they visited the Mills Comets, but could not hold on for the win, as the Comets scored 18 points to Jacksonville’s nine in the final quarter to secure the 59-52 victory. The two teams ended the night tied with a 5-1 record in the 5A-Central Conference. The Red Devils’ overall record is still an impressive 16-3, and the Comets’ overall record improved to 12-4.

“We’ve been patient all year in running our offense,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “We didn’t do that tonight. That’s why we got this loss. I think they got a little too hyped up. They wouldn’t slow down and execute. They stayed in a rut the whole game. I just couldn’t get them to slow down. There were too many forces of the ball.

“Every game in this conference is huge. It’s a tough conference. That was a big win for Mills. That’s what makes this conference tough. Every night you’ve got to come out and battle.”

Mills got on the scoreboard first with five quick points, a 3-pointer from the wing by Grehlon Easter and a steal and layup by Cameron Ricks. The Red Devils came storming back with 13 unanswered points of their own.

Tyree Appleby sank a pair of free throws and Devin Campbell two driving layups, a free throw and two 3-point baskets to give Jacksonville the 13-5 advantage. The Comets answered with seven straight, including a traditional 3-point play by Jereme Allen to cut the lead to 13-12.

Jacksonville responded with six points before Easter hit a layup for the home team just before the buzzer to end the first quarter with the Red Devils holding a 19-14 lead.

Kaevon Jones started the second quarter scoring for Mills with an old fashioned 3-point play, followed by an offensive tip-in by Ricks to knot the score at 19. After the Comets gained a 21-20 lead, a dunk by Campbell gave the lead back to Jacksonville.

The lead changed hands twice before being tied again at 27-27. Ricks sank a three to give Mills a 30-27 halftime advantage.

The Comets took a 37-32 lead in the third quarter before Appleby connected on a 3-pointer, then a steal and layup to again tie the game. Appleby struck again on a scoop and score layup, and Marice Young hit a 3-point basket from the corner to give the lead back to Jacksonville at 42-37. Mills answered with a steal and dunk by Darius Hall and layup by Ricks. Campbell was fouled on a putback at the buzzer and sank 1 of 2 free throws to give the Red Devils the 43-41 lead at the end of three quarters of play.

The Comets went ahead 47-43 on a three by Easter and a 3-point play by Hall to start the final quarter. Jacksonville went on a seven-point run with a 3-pointer by Appleby, an offensive rebound and putback by Campbell, and a driving layup by LaQuawn Smith.

Easter knotted the score again at 50-50 with a three. Mills regained a 55-52 advantage, and Campbell attempted to tie the game with a 3-pointer. Missing, he got his own long rebound, but then committed an offensive foul.

The Comets turned the ball over on a five-second count inbounding the ball following a timeout, but the Red Devils could not score on the possession, and Campbell fouled out on the play. Ricks made 1 of 2 of the ensuing free throws, and the lead was 56-52 with 28.9 seconds remaining.

Appleby tried a three to no avail, and the rebound went to Mills. Jacksonville fouled with 13.7 seconds on the clock, and Jeremiah Toney sank both free throws of the double bonus to up the lead to 58-52. The Red Devils had one more shot but missed, Ricks rebounded, was fouled, and connected on 1 of 2 free throws with 6.6 seconds remaining to set the final margin at 59-52.

Turnovers were even for the teams with 12 each. Jacksonville outrebounded the Comets 33-26. Mills sank 15 of 21 from the free-throw line, while the Red Devils hit only 11 of 24 from the stripe.

Campbell led Jacksonville in scoring with 19 points. Appleby had 14, and Smith added 13 points. Ricks had 18 points to lead Mills, and Easter was next with 13 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers split with Mt. Home

Leader sports editor

The Cabot basketball teams picked up a 7A/6A-East Conference split on the long annual road trip to Mountain Home on Friday. The Lady Panthers trounced their hosts 49-15, while the boys watched the Bombers pull away from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter for a 44-34 victory.

The Mountain Home boys led just 22-21 going into the fourth quarter, but Cabot’s Hunter Southerland scored first in the fourth to give the Panthers the lead. With 6:46 remaining in the game, Bomber guard Howie Wehmeyer shot the first of 18 Mountain Home free throws in the final frame, making both to make it 24-23.

After Cabot (10-7, 0-5) failed to score on the ensuing possession, Wehmeyer went to the line again, making the first and missing the second. It was the last missed free throw by the Bombers, who made their final 14 in a row to finish the game.

Minutes later, Wehmeyer buried a 3-pointer that put his team up 28-23 with 4:33 left in the game, and the Bombers (11-7, 2-3) scored almost exclusively from the foul line the rest of the game.

“I honestly thought they were fouling as much as we were,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “We have to do a better job of moving our feet and showing our hands I guess. We’ll continue working to get better at that.”

Southerland scored to bring Cabot to within three points, but four free throws by Bomber Preston Groesbeck and a bucket by Skylar Culver put the home team up by 11 with 2:17 remaining.

Cabot, who had only four players score while still playing without three key players, answered each possession from that point, but Mountain Home went to the floor on each of its last four possessions, making all eight free throws to set the final margin.

Southerland led all scorers with 21 points and was the only Panther to score in double figures. Wehmeyer led Mountain Home with 17 while Groesbeck added 13 for the Bombers.

The Lady Panthers also had just one player in double figures, but saw 10 different players get on the scoreboard in their runaway win. Cabot scored the first eight points of the game, but took just a 10-4 lead into the second quarter. That changed quickly in the second period, when Cabot scored 14 unanswered points for a 24-4 lead and complete control of the game. CoCo Calhoon scored six in a row to start the second quarter and eight of her game-high 10 points during the run.

The Lady Panthers led by 29 twice in the third quarter, ending the frame with a 39-10 lead. They quickly enacted the sportsmanship rule just seconds into the fourth quarter. After a technical foul on Mountain Home, Josie Vanoss sank two free throws that started the continuous clock the rest of the game.

Danielle McWilliams added nine points, four assists and four steals for Cabot (15-5, 3-2).

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot third in Conway

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers continue their impressive run through the wrestling season. On Saturday, the Panthers finished third in the 27-team meet at the Conway Expo Center, hosted by Greenbrier High School.

Rogers High won the meet with 218 team points while Springdale Har-Ber took second with 204.5. Cabot compiled 152 points while Catholic had 149.5 and Greenwood 147.5 to round out the top five.

The Panthers have not lost a dual or tri-match this season, and have also won two tournaments and finished second and third in two others. The Cabot team didn’t win any first-place medals at Conway, but did send 11 wrestlers beyond preliminaries into the championship rounds, and garnered two second-place performances.

Dillan Friesner lost for just the second time in 31 matches this season in the championship match of the 126-pound division. Michael Morgan ran his season record to 30-3 by advancing to the final of the 138-pound division.

In the championship round one on Saturday, Morgan defeated Patterson Abon of Springdale by fall at the 1:28 mark. He also took little time in pinning North Little Rock’s Gabe Curlin 2:22 into the match. That advanced Morgan into the quarterfinal round where he pinned Tanner Collins of Springdale Har-Ber. In the semifinals, he won a decision over Rogers’ Heath Henman.

In the championship match, Morgan lost by technical fall to Pulaski Academy’s Nick Noel, who improved his season record to 40-2 with the win.

Friesner pinned Fayetteville’s Noah Logan in round one on Saturday, then pinned Catholic High’s Kevin Roach in round two. In the quarterfinals, he won by technical fall over Central Arkansas Christian’s Cody Reynolds, and then advanced to the championship when Caleb Royal of Rogers Heritage forfeited his semifinal match.

There he faced undefeated Pulaski Academy Bruin Michael Crockett, and gave Crockett one of his toughest matches of the season. But the 33-0 Bruin pulled off a hard-fought 6-4 decision for the first-place medal.

Cabot’s Tyler Giorgini took third place in the 220-pound division and improved to 30-6 this season. He lost his quarterfinal match to Max Wester of Rogers after winning in the first two rounds. He then pinned CAC’s Jackson Kirby at the 1:24 mark. Further along in the consolation bracket, Giorgini made it three pins in a row, winning by fall over Conway’s Hunter Bogard and Sheridan’s Maleek Caton. He then won the third-place match by an 8-6 decision over Bobby Hill of Bentonville.

Other medal winners for Cabot included Clayton and Cameron Pitchford, who finished fifth in the 106- and 120-pound divisions, respectively. Clayton Pitchford is now 23-7 on the season and Cameron Pitchford is 20-5. Erik Cooley took fifth in the 145-pound division and ran his season record to 15-3.

Cabot’s next competition will be at Catholic High on Friday in a tri-match with the Rockets and Mountain Home. The next home match will be next Tuesday with North Little Rock, Benton and Sheridan.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS girls run over hosting Comets

Special to The Leader

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils improved to 4-2 in conference play and 9-8 overall at the home of the Mills Lady Comets Friday night, winning easily by a final margin of 58-21. Jacksonville outscored the Lady Comets 22-4 in the opening quarter to set the tone and outscored the home team in every quarter after that for the commanding victory. Mills fell to 0-6 in conference play and 9-11 overall.

“A good win on the road,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree. “Any time you get in the conference and win ballgames, you’ve got to feel good about that. A lot of clock for everybody, some kids off the bench probably got a little more offensive expertise and things like that. A good all around performance. I thought the kids played hard and did what we needed to do. Any time you go out on the road and get one, you’ve got to feel happy about that.”

Jacksonville’s Antrice McCoy scored 12 of her 21 points in the first quarter with six 2-point baskets, two of those steal and score layups.

Taylor Toombs added two 2-pointers, Alexis James a 3-point basket, and Desiree Williams 1 of 2 free throws to round out the scoring for the Lady Devils. Shilett Girley sank a 3-point basket to give Mills its closest deficit of 4-3, and Tionna Cobbs added a free throw for a total of four points in the frame for the Lady Comets, while Jacksonville accumulated 22 points.

Katelyn Withers scored first for Mills in the second quarter with a 2-pointer under the basket. Lady Red Devil Tatiana Lacy was fouled on an offensive rebound and putback and sank the free throw for the old fashioned 3-point play to make the score 25-6.

McCoy added four points on a 2-pointer and a layup. Williams hit two 2-pointers in the lane. Jerika Hardaway added a pair of free throws and Emily Lovercheck closed out the scoring for the quarter with a three from the corner.

Mills had only managed to add 3 of 8 free throws to the scoring effort to make the Lady Red Devil lead 38-9 at intermission.

McCoy opened the third quarter with a three from the top of the key, followed by a 2-pointer and two free throws by Raisa Reed for the Lady Comets. McCoy followed with a steal and layup to complete her scoring for the night. Lovercheck connected on another three and Hardaway 1 of 2 free throws to up the lead to 48-15 at the end of three quarters of play.

Jacksonville added 10 more points in the fourth, with Hardaway hitting a 3-pointer, Angel Robinson two 2-point baskets, and Lovercheck an offensive rebound and putback. Mills could only manage six points to set the final score at 58-21. Jessica Stout had four points to lead the Lady Comets in the quarter.

McCoy led Jacksonville in scoring with 21 points, Lovercheck and Hardaway each had eight points, Toombs and Williams added five each, Robinson and Lacy four points each, and James contributed three points. Stout led the Lady Comets with six points.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe ladies knock Bears off top spot

Leader sportswriter

Beebe’s girls handed Sylvan Hills its first conference loss of the season in Friday’s 5A-Central matchup in Sherwood, as the Lady Badgers came from behind to beat the Lady Bears 48-38.

Sylvan Hills (9-8, 5-1) got off to a solid start, and led at the end of each quarter, except the one that mattered. Beebe (8-10, 4-2) grabbed its first lead since the beginning of the game at the 4:33 mark of the final quarter, and the Lady Badgers never let that lead go en route to the 10-point win.

“When we got the lead, we just kept pushing it up,” said Beebe coach Greg Richey. “We followed our game plan all the way through. That was big. They got off to a real good start shooting and we didn’t.”

The Lady Badgers beat the same Sylvan Hills team by one point in the Beebe Christmas Tournament in late December. It was a game where neither team shot well from the floor, but on Friday, Richey thought his team played a more complete game, especially in the second half.

“When we played them at home, neither one of us shot very well,” Richey said. “We just shot one point better. We were just lucky that night. Tonight, I feel like we played a complete second half.”

Beebe made the first shot of the game – a 3-pointer by Natalie Henley. Sarah Beckwith answered with a 3-pointer for Sylvan Hills, but the Lady Badgers took a 4-3 lead with a Taylor McGraw free throw.

However, the Lady Bears took a quick 8-4 lead on a Jessica Brasfield basket and Beckwith’s second three of the game. At the end of the first quarter, Sylvan Hills led 14-8.

The Lady Bears led by as much as 19-10 in the second quarter, but Beebe responded with a 6-0 run to cut the hosts’ lead to three, and at halftime, Sylvan Hills led 25-20.

With 50.7 seconds left in the third quarter, Beebe tied the game at 28 on a pair of free throws by Hannah McGhee, but with 39 seconds left in the period, Beckwith sank a corner three to push the Lady Bears’ lead to 31-28.

McGhee set the third-quarter margin at 31-30 with an inside bucket on the ensuing possession. The Lady Badgers took their first lead of the second half with 4:33 remaining in the game.

The go-ahead bucket was a 3-pointer by Henley, and the Lady Badgers never lost the lead from there. As the game came to a close, Sylvan Hills was forced to foul, and McGraw made seven-straight free throws to give Beebe the double-digit win.

“We didn’t give up when we got down nine,” Richey said. “We kept battling back and it took us forever to get the lead, but I’m really proud of those girls. We’re 3-0 on the road in this conference and that’s not an easy thing to do, especially against a team that’s tied for No. 1 in the conference.”

Beebe finished the game 15 of 47 from the floor for 32 percent. Sylvan Hills made 13 of 53 shot attempts for 25 percent. From the free-throw line, the Lady Badgers made 14 of 19 attempts for 74 percent, while the Lady Bears made 7 of 12 shots for 58 percent.

The Lady Badgers also won the rebounding and turnover categories. Beebe outrebounded Sylvan Hills 32-26, and committed 10 turnovers to the Lady Bears’ total of 15.

Each team had two players score in double figures. Beckwith led all scorers with 16 points, and Brasfield scored 10 points. McGraw led Beebe with 14 points, and Kiersten Miller scored 10 points.

Ashlyn Johnson scored five points for Beebe, and had a game-high 15 rebounds.

Both teams continued conference play last night after deadlines, and they’ll each play another 5A-Central game Friday. Beebe will host McClellan on Friday, and Sylvan Hills will play at Mills University Studies. Both games start at 6 p.m.

EDITORIAL >> Honoring ‘The Boss’

The closing of Arkansas Funeral Care in Jacksonville, where more than 30 bodies piled up while awaiting a decent burial or cremation, overshadowed the news last week that Dr. Thomas Wortham, a much-loved local physician, had passed away at the age of 88.

The ghoulish images of neglect at the funeral home contrasts with Dr. Wortham’s dedication to treating his patients for over six decades. He became a physician in 1953 and worked in Jacksonville for 43 years, from 1956 to 1999. He healed the sick, delivered babies, performed surgeries, made house calls and found time to establish Rebsamen hospital in 1962.

Dr. Wortham, an unassuming physician who was affectionately called “The Boss,” later taught for 13 years at UAMS, training young doctors who established medical practices across the state.

A native of Magnolia, Dr. Wortham was a veteran of the Second World War — one of the last surviving members of the Greatest Generation. He was only 17 when he joined the Navy. His ship was headed for Japan in the summer of 1945 when it turned back after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August.

When he was discharged in 1946, he hitchhiked up to Fayetteville, graduating with the help of the GI Bill.

Receiving his medical degree from UAMS at the age of 26 — 62 years ago — Dr. Wortham did his residency in St. Louis and moved back to Arkansas three years later.

He and his wife, Betty Jean, moved to Jacksonville in 1956, right after the Little Rock Air Force Base opened. Other physicians who established practices here included Drs. Jan Crow, Albert Johnson, J.W. Durham, Joseph Calhoun and others. They were small-town physicians with a huge desire to heal and serve.

Retiring from medicine in 2013, Dr. Wortham died a couple of years later in hospice under the care of one of his former students.

“He loved what he did,” his daughter Jan said of Dr. Wortham after he passed away. “He loved Arkansas. He said you had to talk Arkie to your patients so they could understand you.”

Dr. Wortham’s funeral was Saturday. He’s interred next to his wife at Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Jacksonville.

But the challenge of delivering quality health care remains. Lesser lights than Dr. Wortham would rather see the Jacksonville hospital close than support health insurance from Medicaid.

Fortunately, Asa Hutchinson, our new governor, announced last week that, for at least two more years, he wants to continue the private option, the Medicaid program that provides health insurance to the working poor.

The program’s future remains uncertain. We’d like to think that Dr. Wortham, like other physicians we know, would have favored its continuation. The program is helping small hospitals stay alive with millions of dollars in new funding from Medicaid.

There are those who don’t care about their local hospitals staying open and want to kill the program, even if it means turning back hundreds of millions of dollars in additional health-care funding for hospitals, clinics and doctors. Republican governors across the country, like Gov. Hutchinson, have come around and announced their support of Medicaid expansion.

Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio told a group of Montana Republicans last week that they should accept the program. “I gotta tell you, turning down your money back to Montana on an ideological basis, when people can lose their lives because they get no help, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said.

The federal government pays the entire cost of the private option. The state will have to assume 5 percent of the cost in two years and 10 percent in 2020. A 90-10 match is a bargain. Former Gov. Huckabee’s ArKids program has a 70-30 match. So which is the better bargain?

Let’s honor Dr. Wortham’s legacy by preserving Medicaid expansion and promote better health care for all Arkansans and keep our hospitals open.

TOP STORY >> Chamber dinner looks ahead

Leader staff writer

Volunteerism and having a strong foundation for future economic growth were themes of the 54th annual Cabot Chamber of Commerce membership banquet held Friday at Freshman Academy.

Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce president Mark Young was the guest speaker. He explained that, for a community to be successful in recruiting new businesses and industry, it has to have the workforce, leadership, infrastructure and existing business.

Young is chairman of the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition. He has been the Jonesboro Chamber president since 2006. Before that, Young served as director of the Delta Center for Economic Development at Arkansas State University from 2000 to 2006.

Previously, he was director of the Cross County Business Development Center in Wynne. He was also director of the East Arkansas Community College Business Development Center in Forrest City.

Young has a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations from ASU.

“Communities that are successful invest in their workforce. Baby boomers are going to retire and there is going to be a tremendous need for skilled workers,” Young said.

He believes successful communities will be those that prepare for a workforce they need today and in the future. Young suggested looking for ways to partner with universities in the region.

“Try to determine what jobs are needed in the next five to 15 years. Have programs that allow you to work toward that. I think it critical to have great K-12 programs,” he said.

Young said communities need quality infrastructure to support growth. He said that includes highways, high-speed Internet access, water and sewer capacity and qualities.

Another key for successful communities is congenial leadership by elected officials and businesses. Competition is put aside when it is time to do something right for the community, Young noted.

“If we aren’t doing everything to enhance those existing businesses and industries, we aren’t doing a good job for them. I know the Cabot chamber is dedicated to doing that,” he said.

Young said, when a local business adds one or five jobs, the overall impact to the community, families and employees is phenomenal.

“When a new business comes to town, it is on the front page. Everybody is excited, and it’s extremely important. Growing communities need more businesses, jobs, tax base, a chamber of commerce geared for that type of environment for your business to be successful,” Young said.

He said existing companies are the key ingredient to the continued growth of the community. Tell prospective companies what it is like to do business, work and live in Cabot, Young suggested.

Outgoing Cabot Chamber president Mark Stocks also spoke. He said, “What separates a good community from a mediocre community is having people that care about the community and giving back. That is why Cabot is good. We have volunteers in the civic clubs, churches and schools. None would operate efficiently without the volunteers.”

Stocks said the chamber cannot function to its fullest with events like Cabotfest or even ribbon cuttings without people who care. The chamber can only do so much with its budget and needs volunteers, he noted.

Vikki Parker was recognized as the chamber’s Volunteer of Year, her second time for the award. She was previously honored in 2006.

Parker founded the Cabot Crisis Pregnancy Center in 2001. It is known today as the Options Pregnancy Center. Parker has served on the chamber’s board of directors and ambassador committee for three years. She is also a member of the Cabot Kiwanis Club and Grace Fellowship Church.

“Vikki is passionate about people in her community. She served on numerous boards and committees. She is one of the first people you see when help is needed,” a nomination letter reads.

The new chamber president, David Butler, spoke, too. He said one of the main goals for 2015 is to add value to the chamber membership.

The chamber will hold a luncheon meeting in February about using social media for business.

Butler then acknowledged Cabot American Legion Post 71 for helping out the past six years at the spring and fall cleanups, sprucing up the Veterans Cemetery and working many hours for Toys for Tots.

TOP STORY >> Governor’s budget offers more for schools

Leader senior staff writer

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed $5.2 billion 2016 budget would increase state funding for school districts needing to replace or repair deficient academic facilities, funding to reimburse county jails—and thus counties—for holding prisoners for the state, and at the Department of Human Services, more money for Children and Family Services and also for Medical Services.

Hutchinson’s budget is about $150 million more than forecast.

He says his budget is balanced—as required by law—despite a $100 million tax cut to middle-income Arkansans.

The big winner is the Educational Facilities Partnership fund, which would receive a $10 million increase—29 percent—for 2016 over the $34,828,951 budgeted this year, and a $16.5 million increase—another 14.5 percent—for the 2017 budget. That totals $97 million in school facilities matching funds for the next biennium.

That’s a small help to the Pulaski County Special School District, which receives less than a penny on the dollar for its approved academic facilities, because it’s considered a wealthy district, and no help at all to the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, which will first be eligible for matching funds in the 2017-2019 biennium.

At that time, it’s anticipated that the state will match the new district dollar for dollar for approved academic facilities. PCSSD has estimated the needs of schools that will be transferred to the new district at $93 million.

The new Jacksonville-North Pulaski schools will not be eligible for the approximately 50 percent matching until the 2017-18 school year, according to Charles Stein, director of the Division of Educational Facilities and Transportation.

That means, other than the 0.5 percent match PCSSD is eligible for, Jacksonville will receive none of the approximately $97 million the governor proposes for academic facilities matching in the 2016-17 biennium. The new district is still under the umbrella of PCSSD.

Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester said he had given the new district’s two-year building plan to PCSSD, ahead of the Feb. 1 deadline. The master facilities plan for both districts will be submitted together because the state has not yet issued the new district its own identification number.


Hutchinson proposed in-creasing county jail reimbursement for state inmates backed up in the system by $11.4 million a year to $27,853,607 — an increase of 69 percent the first year — and maintaining that funding through 2017.

“We met with the governor this afternoon, and his proposal is to increase funding on reimbursement and paying what is already owed,” according to Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay.

Hutchinson’s proposal would increase state reimbursement to $30 a day from $28. The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association puts the actual cost of housing an inmate at $44 a day.

Holladay says the state usually owes his jail between $2 million and $3 million.

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley says the state keeps pretty current with his jail. “We communicate almost daily, and they are usually about two months behind,” Staley said.

The state Sheriffs’ Association has been meeting in North Little Rock this week, and Holladay said many of the 44 sheriffs attending would be visiting with their representatives to impress upon them the importance of leaving the money in the budget and of increasing the daily reimbursement.


Big losers seem to be the merit-raise fund — reduced from $5.2 million to zero — and the governor’s rainy day fund. Both have been used in the past at the governor’s discretion to entice businesses or help reimburse county jails.

That fund was forecast at $12 million, but it will not be funded under Hutchinson’s proposed budget.

The General Education Fund increased by 9.1 percent, but most of that was money for the academic facilities partnership. Accounts funded at less than forecast in that fund include the Department of Career Education, the School for the Deaf and the Department of Education.


State Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) is so strong an advocate of reforming and streamlining workforce education that she traded the final yes-vote on private option, of which she was a foe, for promises of a taskforce to strengthen workforce education.

Hutchinson would cut the Department of Career Education by $216,000, or nearly 6 percent, and Career Education by $319,000 — 1 percent.

“I don’t think this is finished,” English said. “This is just the beginning. Career education is pretty important.”

In a release about his budget, Hutchinson said it meets the adequacy requirements for funding K-12 public schools and that he’ll assess the need for additional pre-K programs. He says the schools will get a four-year $60 million federal grant.

The budget creates a $5 million Computer Science Initiative Grant program, increases funding for drug courts, fulfills the commitment to maintain higher education spending and provides a cost-of-living adjustment for state employees.

Most state agency budgets were cut by 1 percent, $5 million, of which $3 million is coming from one-half of the special revenue assessment on natural gas production and is directed to general revenues.

The other $2 million, from the Tobacco Settlement funds, is redirected to Medicaid.

TOP STORY >> Shut up and color

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In 1991, he was on top of the world, in the prime of his life and the healthiest he’d ever been.

Then 24-year-old “Buck” Sgt. Jimmy Ku, a crew chief stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., was six years into his Air Force career as well as a year into his marriage and new role as stepfather to two daughters.

He woke up one October morning with severe pain on the right side of his groin that changed his life.

“It felt like I’d been kicked in the groin,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jimmy Ku, 19th Maintenance Group superintendent at Little Rock Air Force Base.

At first, doctors diagnosed his pain as an infection. For three weeks, they treated it as an infection, and for three weeks there was no response.

An ultrasound located masses on both the right and left side of his groin area, and though doctors assured Ku that most likely it would be benign, it wasn’t.

A biopsy revealed that Ku had testicular cancer.

It was so bad, the doctors didn’t have to send it to pathology to identify it, but they did anyway.

With his wife, Annette, by his side, Ku had a bilateral radical orchiectomy in November. It not only removed both testicles, it took away his chance to have children of his own.

“I was in shock,” he said. “I was in disbelief. It didn’t really sink in until the doctor said I may have to receive testosterone treatments for the rest of my life, and I will never be able to have kids. It was a low blow. I mean, I was 24. I had just moved to Florida. I was at the healthiest point of my life, so I thought, and then my world came crashing down with that news.”

After more tests in December, Ku and his team of doctors discovered that his cancer, embryonal carcinoma, had spread, and there was only a 40 percent chance of him surviving. He was immediately sent to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, his hometown, for chemotherapy.

Hearing those words, Ku said he found himself in a low and dark place. A man who was once strong in his faith was now questioning God, asking the question most people ask when impossible circumstances occur: Why me?

For the next five months, the new normal for Ku was three cycles of chemo that included long days of treatment, the breakdown of his immune system, the loss of his hair as well as his will to go on. His cancer was so aggressive, he received the amount of chemo in a week that others would receive in a month.

“It was tough,” Ku said, “but family, friends and mylocal childhood church were very supportive. Even the hospital was supportive. They offered a cancer survivor support group.”

But Ku wanted nothing to do with it. He was still bitter. He was still angry. He was done.

“To me, at the time, I just wasn’t in that right mindset to cope with it,” he said. “I didn’t want to listen to people tell me, ‘we support you,’ because even though I knew other people were going through cancer and chemo, none of them knew what I was going through.”

After weeks of sulking, Ku received a tiny unexpected gift that shined a bright light into his darkness.

“It was the second cycle that I was in, and my wife was staying at the Fisher House, which is something like the Ronald McDonald House,” Ku said. “She was walking down the hall to go to the kitchen, and she saw this little girl. She was 3 years old, dragging her IV tree down the hall. She asked my wife, ‘Do you have a sick little girl?’ My wife said, ‘No. It’s my husband that’s sick.’”

The girl asked if she could play with her husband. So, the next day, Annette proposed a play date with her husband and this little girl.

At first, Ku was unmoved in his despair. Entertaining a toddler was not his idea of therapy or relaxation.

Despite his objections, she showed up anyway, right before Ku had to leave for chemo. She refused to take no for an answer.

She came in with her IV tree and little satchel bag, holding coloring books and crayons, climbed on Ku’s bed and changed his life forever.

“She just wanted to color and play,” he recalled.

“And, as we were doing that,” he said, “it slapped me in the face: I’d been a brat and idiot all this time. This little girl didn’t know any different. This was life to her.

“I’ve lived a full life up until now, and I’m mad at the world because this happened to me. She was born with this. And she was living life every day to the fullest, coloring with not a care in the world. There was my resilience. It hit me in the face right then and there and said, ‘Jimmy Ku, you need to wake up. You need to grow up.’ She was the adult. I was the spoiled little kid.”

That girl walked out of his room that day, and he never saw her again.

But what she left behind was something greater than some pictures to hang on the wall. Ku had a new outlook on everything in his life. He was changed inwardly and began to show it outwardly. Not only did Ku attend the support groups, he spoke there, telling others that faith and a positive attitude will go a long way.

Holding back tears, he said, “That little girl saved my life. I would have stayed in that dark time if she hadn’t basically told me to shut up and color, handed me the crayons and ultimately altered my attitude. It helped me. It helped me a lot. Seeing her carry on taught me that there’s more to life. I saw how positive she was, and I tried to be that going forward.”

At the end of his chemotherapy, Ku became a part of that 40 percent and was cancer free.

“I went back to Patrick (AFB) in May 1992 and was placed on temporary disability,” he said. “Basically, it was kind of like me being forced to medically retire. I didn’t want to retire, so I fought it. After one year and another medical evaluation, I was placed back on active status.

“I’m very fortunate that I was able to overcome all of this adversity and enjoy life with a different perspective, while serving my country. I never imagined while going through all of this that I’d be where I am today. I wasn’t given a high probability of beating the cancer, so the thought of eventually making chief certainly wasn’t in my mind then.

“I was fortunate to have the support of my family, specifically my wife, great supervisors and leadership throughout the illness as well as after. The Air Force has been extremely good to me and my family.”

Today, Ku is free spirited, has fun, does his job and doesn’t take everything seriously. He and his wife of 25 years are now grandparents.

Ku will be retiring this summer from a successful 30-year military career.