Saturday, May 23, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Thirty out for Bison spring ball

Leader sportswriter

The Carlisle Bison got their spring football practices underway last week, and had only two this week because of heavy rain on Wednesday, but the Bison will look to finish their spring practice sessions on a high note next week.

Carlisle’s numbers this year are typical, with 28 to 30 participants taking part in spring drills thus far. The Bison football team graduated 12 seniors this month, including their two leading rushers and starting quarterback from last season.

As far as how this spring has gone for the Bison, it, like the team’s numbers, has been typical so far, according to Carlisle coach Jack Keith.

“It’s been a pretty typical spring,” said Keith. “There are times where it looks great and there are times where we look real rusty. We’ve got a long ways to go, but that’s why we have spring.”

Even though the team has looked rusty at times this spring, Keith is pleased with the work ethic his team has displayed in the last two weeks, and the promise that’s there.

“There’s plenty of promise,” Keith said. “We’ve got a long ways to go, but they’ve been working hard and we’re getting better.”

Offense has been an emphasis for the Bison these last two weeks – the reason for that being the fact that many of the Bison starters on that side of the ball were seniors.

“We’ve been practicing mainly offense more,” Keith said. “We lost a lot up front and in the backfield, so we’re just focusing real hard on fundamentals up front and with the backs. So we’ve been focusing on offense a little more.”

As far as what Carlisle’s been working on, scheme-wise, offensively and defensively, it’s very similar to last year’s units and what the Bison football team has run in recent years.

“We’re real similar to what we were doing last year,” Keith said. “So it’s not too hard to get back in the groove. Of course, there’s always going to be a few wrinkles here and there, but we’re basing out of what we normally do.”

Up front, Keith said his linemen this year are a little smaller compared to years past, and that they’ll need to find ways to make up for that lack of size.

“We’ve got a little bit of size,” Keith said. “We’ve got a couple of guys that are good-sized and some that aren’t. Overall, we’re probably smaller than we’ve been. We’ll have to make up for that with quickness and tenacity.”

Though the team has promise, there’s still plenty left to work on, which Keith said has led to some head scratching at times throughout the spring.

“Oh, there’s been some head scratching,” Keith said. “There’s times where we’ve looked like we’ve hardly ran a play before. We’ve got a long ways to go, and I think we need to start cleaning that up with the fundamentals. That’s where we’re the furthest away at.

“I think the knowledge of where we’re going, offensively, we’ve got the knowledge and know what to do, it’s how to do it is the problem so far. That’s what we’re working on.”

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils focusing on basics

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville football team practiced just twice last week in its first springtime action. After early reports of as many as 83 student-athletes participating in offseason workouts, only 50 suited up and donned the pads for spring contact drills.

Those 50 have done only a small amount of football contact. Coach Barry Hickingbotham has taken a slow approach to things at the start.

“We’re focusing on attention to detail,” said Hickingbotham. “Things like proper technique, alignments, stances, ball security drills. It’s like starting over. Important things for us right now are ball security – catching and tucking. For the linemen, we’re learning to step with the right foot. We’re running routes, catching balls, seeing if any kids are going to surprise us.”

The two score and 10 players working out in pads is not the total number the Jacksonville coaches expect to have. Another dozen or so watched from the sidelines.

“You come to our practice and you’re going to see 10 or 12 guys in black T-shirts and gray shorts standing there watching, and they’re not injured,” Hickingbotham said. “You’re not going to have an F on your report card and practice. You have to get people’s attention, and we’re talking about some starters included in that. When we handed out pads, some kids wanted to know why they weren’t getting any, and we’d show them their report card. It gets their attention in a hurry.”

For the ones who did practice, coaches are letting players practice in positions they may not have played often.

“We’re giving kids a chance to try something different if they think they can help the team in certain positions,” Hickingbotham said. “We’ll evaluate where they’re at, but we’re still going to put people where we think they’ll help the most. We just wanted to give some kids a chance to prove something to us if they really wanted to try something.

“I don’t want to say it’s been totally laid back, but it’s been a little more relaxed. We’re not going crazy knocking each other around just yet.”

One thing coaches did try to step up the intensity with was offseason weight lifting. Defensive coordinator Brian McDermott took a group to the state weight-lifting competition for the first time in many years. While the team didn’t win any events, the preparation did help to make great strides in several players.

“We had quite a few make solid gains in the weight room,” Hickingbotham said. “Avery Wells is a senior and he had big gains. Pound for pound he’s probably our strongest guy. Terry Brown’s another senior that’s worked hard in the weight room and he’s made big gains.

“We wanted to let kids know what it’s going to take to be successful. And when you get to that competition and see the kids that are winning those events and those weight classes, it’s the guys from those teams that are getting to the semifinals and state championship games.”

Jacksonville will resume workouts on Monday, with a team scrimmage tentatively planned for Friday.

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats explode early, take title from Panthers

Leader sportswriter

FAYETTEVILLE – North Little Rock entered Friday’s Class 7A state softball championship game at Bogle Park with big-game experience that Cabot didn’t have.

It showed from the start. The Charging Lady Wildcats scored early and often en route to their third-straight 7A state championship victory with a 10-3 win over Cabot.

Cabot, which ended its season with a 27-5 overall record, swept North Little Rock (21-8) in their 7A-East Conference games in late April, but Friday’s game was a different story from the very first at-bat.

NLR junior second baseman Sydney Parr led off the game with a triple to deep right-center field, setting the tone for what was to come. She scored the next at-bat on a stand-up double to the left-center gap off the bat of Morgan Seaton, and the Lady Cats scored two more runs in the top of the first to lead 3-0 after one.

“I think it helped us a lot when we got three runs in the first inning,” said NLR coach Anthony Cantrell. “Sydney Parr leading the game off with a triple – she did the same thing against Rogers two years ago in the state championship game and had three triples that day.

“That kind of got us started, and we just didn’t turn around from there.”

The Lady Cats added three more runs to their side of the board in the top of the second – the highlight of which was a two-run home run by catcher Mckenzie Escovedo that made it a 6-0 game. All three of NLR’s runs in the second inning came with two outs.

Cabot did put a run on the board in the bottom of the third. Ashlyn Spears and Macee Abbott drew back-to-back walks to lead off the inning, and leadoff hitter Heather Hill drove in Spears the next at-bat with a line-drive single to center field.

Still with no outs in the inning, the Lady Panthers loaded the bases when Bethany Knowles was hit by a pitch after Hill’s RBI single, but NLR winning pitcher Rachel Gregory retired Cabot’s three-through-five hitters to get out of the jam.

The Lady Charging Wildcats went on their next scoring tear in the fifth. They scored four runs in that inning to push their lead to 10-1. Ashton Bobbitt scored the first run in the fifth on a wild pitch with the bases loaded.

Cassidy Tucker scored the eighth NLR run on a sacrifice fly to center field off the bat of Lydia Belew. A two-out single up the middle by Parr made it a 9-1 game, and Seaton drove in Parr the next at-bat with her third hit of the game and second double, which made the score 10-1.

Despite being down nine runs after five innings of play, Cabot didn’t quit, and added two more runs to their side of the board in the bottom of the sixth.

Both of the Lady Panthers’ runs scored in the sixth came on bases-loaded walks. Hill earned the first RBI that inning with a one-out walk that scored Hannah Montgomery, who was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning.

With two outs, Megan Goodnight drew the second RBI walk of the inning. Parker Steadman scored that run as a courtesy runner for Abbott, who reached base on a single three batters earlier.

That was all the damage Cabot could do, though, the rest of the way, and the game ended in the bottom of the seventh on a 9-3 double play.

“We didn’t start out good,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope. “They (NLR) had three good innings of hitting and we only had two, but they scored more runs than we did today. We could’ve given up a long time ago, but we didn’t and I’m proud of my girls.

“We made it to the finals for the second time in Cabot history and we accomplished several goals that we wanted to this year, and 27-5, that’s nothing to look bad on.”

NLR outhit Cabot 10-2 Friday. Seaton led all batters, going 3 for 4 with three RBIs. Parr and Bobbitt had two hits each, while Escovedo, Tucker and Bailey Harris had one hit apiece.

Hill and Abbott had Cabot’s two hits, both of which were singles.

Gregory earned the win in the circle. The senior threw all seven innings and walked nine batters and plunked three more, but gave up just two hits and recorded a game-high three strikeouts.

SPORTS STORY >> Twins finish first, second by one point

Leader sports editor

Not only have they been the two most decorated track and field athletes in Cabot school history, they also have a flair for the dramatic. Lexi Weeks led twin sister Tori Weeks by six points when the last event in the 2015 Heptathlon at Panther Stadium began.

Even though Tori won the 800-meter race, Lexi won heptathlon – by one point. Tori needed to win by .50 seconds to eclipse Lexi’s lead going into the race, and even less to tie. She won by .34, leaving Lexi with 4,481 points to Tori’s 4,480.

“It was great,” said Lexi Weeks. “One point separating the two of us, you couldn’t ask for a better way to finish. I thought she had finished far enough ahead of me she would’ve passed me in points. I was following on her heels the whole way and coming out of the last curve she made a push. I decided to push with her but I didn’t know if I stayed close enough.”

Jada Baylark of Little Rock Parkview actually held the points lead over Lexi and Tori going into the 800, leading by 14 points over Lexi and 20 over Tori. But the triple-jump state record holder and Meet of Champs sprints champion finished fifth in the half-mile race, and more importantly, more than 12 seconds behind the twins, dropping her to third place with a final total of 4334.

To make the ending even more fitting, both athletes broke one last state record as they crossed the finish line in the 800m – and they were their own records. Lexi’s heptathlon point total is highest in school history – eclipsing last year’s mark, while Tori broke her own school record in the 800-meters by .19 seconds, finishing in 2:19.47. They each leave CHS with five school records in track and field events, as well as Lexi’s record in the heptathlon.

In the two-day heptathlon, Tori fell into a big deficit in the very first event – the 100-meter hurdles. She hit the first hurdle and finished with her slowest time all year at 16.01. Lexi finished second of all competitors at 14.86, and immediately jumped out to an 860-713 lead over Tori. Baylark had the fastest time and scored 880 for the overall lead.

Lexi had the best long jump at 17-feet, 11-inches, beating Baylark by two inches and pulling to within three points. Tori jumped 17-8 3/4 to fall behind another 17 points. After two events, Lexi’s lead over Tori was 1,548 to 1,384.

Tori threw the discus four feet farther than Lexi with a toss of 89-1, gaining 32 points back, but lost 30 of those in the 200-meter dash, the final event of day one. Lexi finished with the fourth-best time at 25.68 while Tori was fifth best at 26.02. Baylark, who had fallen to third place with a 61-foot discus throw, climbed back into second place with the best 200 time of 24.92.

After one day, Lexi led the heptathlon with 2,760, Baylark had 2,701 and Tori was third, but 172 points behind with 2,588. She beat Lexi in all three events of day two, but the deficit proved too large.

Tori jumped right back into contention with a personal best high jump of five feet while Lexi managed just 4-6. Baylark only did 4-7 3/4, instantly pulling Tori back into contention with 644 points to Lexi’s 481 and Baylark’s 534.

With two events remaining, Lexi led Baylark by six points and Tori by nine. Tori threw the shot 27-2, a mere two inches farther than Lexi, and picked up three points to pull within six. Baylark threw it 28 feet to take the lead going into the last event.

“I’m excited,” said Tori. “After yesterday and looking at the points, I didn’t think there was any chance I would come back and beat her. After the high jump I almost caught up. In the shot put we were almost the same, so I knew I had to beat her in the 800. I did but just not by quite enough. I’m still very happy we were able to finish one and two.”

Cabot senior Danielle McWilliams finished seventh for the second-straight year, marking back-to-back years in which a trio of Lady Panthers finished in the top seven. Asia Anderson of Joe T. Robinson was fourth, Allie Hensley of Clinton took fifth, Haley Hood of Bryant was sixth, Kirby Smith of Des Arc finished eighth, Lauren Holmes of Fayetteville was ninth and Nikirah McKinney of Forrest City rounded out the Top-10.

Cabot junior Caytee Wright finished 28th in her first heptathlon. There were 72 competitors in the event.

In the Decathlon, Beebe junior Connor Patrom turned in the second Top-10 finish of his career, finishing 10th overall. Joey Saucier of Heritage High School in Rogers won the decathlon. Patrom finished in the top-10 in five of the 10 events in the 73-athlete competition.

Cabot sophomore Britton Alley finished 35th overall. He finished fourth in the 100-meter dash and fifth in the 400-meter race.

EDITORIAL >> Socializing industries

A conservative governor and a conservative legislature in a conservative state that ranks as one of the poorest in the nation are about to commit a big lump of taxpayer money to support the national military budget and fatten the profits of one the biggest, richest corporations in the world. Does that make sense? Does it pass the smell test?

Of course not, but it will happen routinely next week. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has summoned the legislature to the Capitol to issue state bonds to help Lockheed Martin build a plant near Camden that would make the next generation of military vehicles to succeed the Humvee.

The promise of the Arkansas taxpayers’ bailout may allow Lockheed Martin to lower its bid to the Defense Department enough that it can win the government contract to build the vehicle. In that way, we will be subsidizing the national defense budget, which exceeds all the military budgets of the rest of the world combined.

We describe the issue in terms that neither the governor nor the promoters of the Lockheed bonds use. It doesn’t sound fetching when you describe it that way, as a subsidy to a company that is bigger than the state of Arkansas (Lockheed made a profit of more than $5 billion last year on sales of $45 billion while Arkansas’ total general-revenue budget barely exceeds $5 billion) and a national defense budget that has been very generous to Lockheed.

But like all forms of corporate welfare, it is salable and is sold as a job creator. Lockheed will hire hundreds of workers in the next several years if it underbids the other big defense industries and gets the contract. Ah, so it is the little people hungry for jobs that we are doing this for? All right, we all say, let’s do it.

Who would stand in the way of creating jobs for hungry people? Arkansas voted to underwrite with state funds the development of a big new steel mill in Mississippi County because it promised jobs.

If we did it for Mississippi County, shouldn’t we do it also for people in Ouachita and Calhoun counties? The big steel project still looks like a giant risk to the state and the taxpayers and to Arkansas schoolteachers, whose retirement system invested heavily in the scheme, but the mill is under construction.

Yesterday, an industrial consultant hired to examine the Lockheed investment produced its report and—don’t be shocked—it says it would be pretty good for the state, or at least not very bad. The state would give Lockheed $83 million for its facility and then there are some $4 million in bond costs. The state will pay interest on the bonds for 15 to 20 years.

To calculate that the bond deal would be good for the state budget in the long haul, the consultants used dynamic scoring. It calculates how much more economic activity and state taxes the plant and all its workers would generate. So over the first 20 years the state would still be slightly in the hole, but in the five years after that—if the plant is still operating—the state would no longer be paying interest and would come out ahead.

Our conservative lawmakers would not tolerate dynamic scoring in calculating the budget impact of a billion dollars a year of federal medical spending in Arkansas under Obamacare, but it’s okay to make pie-in-the-sky guesses if it helps Lockheed Martin.

If you think this is all a bit of corporate socialism, don’t blame Gov. Hutchinson and the Republicans altogether. Like the steel project, it was hatched under Gov. Mike Beebe. Hutchinson gets to claim credit—and the blame if it should turn sour.

While we are taking the conservative pulse of the governor and the legislature, we cannot pass up the other popular part of the governor’s special session agenda: moving Arkansas’ primaries in 2016 from May to March so that former Gov. Mike Huckabee can get a leg up on the vast field of Republican presidential candidates.

He needs a few early Southern victories to keep his moribund campaign alive. Presumably, Arkansas voters will give him a win, though he now calls Florida home so that he does not have to pay any income taxes into the Arkansas treasury.

Moving the primaries up will be a huge benefit to current legislators and other officeholders, whose chances of avoiding an opponent will be vastly improved. It will require moving the 2016 fiscal session of the legislature farther into the year and other costs. Our debt to the Huckster has no end.

TOP STORY >> Mistakes result in parolee’s shooting

Leader staff writer

Jonathan McIntosh may have been a modern-day Harry Houdini, and that may have cost him his life.

The 35-year-old parolee was in the custody of law enforcement on Tuesday night in Cabot when he deftly maneuvered his cuffed hands from behind his back to the front of his body. He then fired a pistol at officers from inside a patrol car. Officers returned fired, striking McIntosh. He died later that night at a local hospital.

Dina Tyler, deputy director of communications for the Arkansas Department of Community Correction, told The Leader on Wednesday about the events leading up to Macintosh’s fatal escape act.

Five parole officers with the ACC’s special response team and a Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy went to a house at 905 E. Main St., seeking a man wanted for questioning about a crime in Lonoke.

That man was not at the house, but there were two other men inside the home. McIntosh, 35, identified himself as a parolee.

Officers searched McIntosh and found a small bag of methamphetamines. This violated McIntosh’s parole. His hands were handcuffed behind his back and he was placed in the back of a Lonoke County deputy’s car.

While the investigation continued inside the house, two ACC officers went back to the patrol car to question McIntosh.

Upon opening the car door, they discovered he had worked his cuffed hands to be in front of his body. McIntosh was holding a pistol, and started firing at them, according to police.

The two officers and a sheriff’s deputy returned fire, striking McIntosh several times. An ambulance was called. One of the ACC officers was a medic and performed life-saving treatment on McIntosh.

He was taken to an emergency room and died later.

No law enforcement officers were injured.

The ACC officers have been placed on administrative duty until the investigation into whether using deadly force was justifiable is concluded.

“He was released from prison in September 2014. He had six weeks left of his parole. He met the reporting requirements. He was employed, and he passed the drug tests,” Tyler said.

State Police and the sheriff’s office are continuing to investigate the incident.


How McIntosh was able to move his handcuffed hands from behind his back to the front of his body is an agile feat.

This Leader reporter went to a local police department to see if he could do it but was unsuccessful. He could not move his shoulders enough to get his cuffed hands above his head.

He then tried to slip his cuffed hands under his legs but could not get his arms around his hips.

An officer said one out of 100 people are able to do it. It depends on the person’s body size and how flexible they are.

It also depends on how motivated they are. If under the influence of drugs, they will not feel pain, the officer said.

A detective said rarely does someone handcuffed bring his arms over his head. They would have to be able to dislocate their shoulders and bring them up and out.

The type of cuffs makes a difference, too. Hinged cuffs allow less movement than chain cuffs.


Tyler said there were three possibilities as to how McIntosh could have had a gun inside the patrol car.

She said officers could have missed it during a search of McIntosh but that was highly unlikely since a bag of meth was found on him.

Second, a gun was left in the rear floorboard of the deputy’s car. Or there were many other people around and someone could have possibly passed the pistol into the car.

A local detective suggested that, during the search, the officers involved may not have checked McIntosh all the way from his waist to his boots.

It also depends on how “personal” the officer wanted to get with the McIntosh during the pat down.

TOP STORY >> Another report card stuns district

Leader staff writer

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles examining the state-issued report cards on area schools.

Three years ago, all six Searcy schools were deemed “schools of excellence” by the state, but, on this year’s report card for the Arkansas Department of Education, five of the schools need improvement, one was graded a “C” and another a “D.”

All state schools this year, for the first time, were given letter grades (A-F) by the state and many superintendents, including Searcy’s superintendent, Diane Barrett, felt the report cards didn’t paint a complete picture.

“The report card grade is one snapshot in a whole collage of information,” she said. “Basing a judgment of a school’s quality on just the assigned report grade may be misleading.”

Her district received one “A,” three “B’s,” a “C” and a “D.”

The “A” school, Westside Elementary, was three points shy of a perfect 300 score, yet the state placed the school in its “achieving” category, not “exemplary.”

McRae Elementary missed an “A” by just one point, but is considered a needs improvement school, just like Sidney Deener Elementary, which received a “D.”

“A school may be performing well overall but receive a lower grade if the school has not met performance goals, which vary from school to school and district to district,” said Barrett in an effort to explain why the letter grades vary so much.

Regardless of any poor grades from the state, Barrett pointed out that “within the last three years, all six of our schools have received recognition from outside agencies for their academic programs, in some cases even receiving recognition in the form of monetary awards for their performance.”

The state report cards on schools are part of a 2013 law requiring an easy-to-comprehend system that parents and others can understand.

What the state produced was report cards for each school averaging 18 pages each full of information, often conflicting, and no clear summary or explanation of the grade, which is not featured on the front page of the report cards, but instead in the middle of the report as a line item.

Taking an in-depth look at the state-issued report cards on Searcy and its schools, the data shows that the district spends about $1,400 less to educate a student than the state average. Searcy spends $8,086 per student, and the state average is $9,457.

Teacher salaries are about $5,000 above the state average: $53,489 compared to $48,060.

The total budget for the school district in the 2013-14 school year was $38.47 million, according to the state reports. That broke down to $19.2 million for instruction expenses, $2.7 million for administrative costs, $1.8 million for extracurricular activities, $3.2 million for capital expenditures and debt service of $1.8 million.


According to the state report card, the school received 269 points and an overall grade of “B,” one point shy of an “A,” and is listed as a needs improvement school. Three years ago, using a different rating system, the state said McRae Elementary was a “school of excellence.”

The school, last year, had 484 students, an average class size of 16 students, and teachers had an average of 16 years of experience. The student population was 77 percent white, 11 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic.

McRae Elementary’s accreditation status was at the highest level. The report said that 100 percent of the teachers were completely certified (better than the state average) and that 53 percent had master’s degrees, which also beat the state average.

In 2013-14, the school retained 11 students.

On the literacy portion of the annual Benchmark, the school’s third graders were 75.4 percent proficient or better, a 13-point drop from the previous year and 9 points shy of the state-mandated goal of 84.49 percent.

In math, third graders did much better at 88.2 percent proficient or better, a two-point increase from the previous year that beat the state requirement of 87.03 proficient or better.

First, second and third graders beat the state average on the norm-referenced test used to compare students nationally.


This elementary school, with 438 students, average class sizes of 16 students and teachers averaging 12 years of experience, garnered 204 points from the state for a “D” grade, six points short of a “C.” It was listed as a needs improvement facility even though, three years ago, it was, according to the state, a “school of excellence.”

The student population was 63 percent white, 16 percent black, 14 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian and 1 percent Native American.

The school’s accreditation status was at the highest level, but only 95.7 percent of the teachers were completely certified, and 41 percent had master’s degrees.

In 2013-14, the school retained four students.

On the literacy portion of the annual Benchmark, the school’s third graders were 64.4 percent proficient or better, close to an 11-point drop from the previous year and 23 points shy of the state-mandated goal of 88.68 percent.

In math, third graders fared even worse as 67.1 percent were proficient or better, a 10-point drop and 27 points below the state requirement of 94.81 proficient or better.


This elementary school, with 507 students, average class size of 17 and teachers with an average of 16 years of experience, garnered 297 out of 300 points for an “A,” and the state listed it as achieving, the second highest category possible. Only one school across the state made it to the highest category of exemplary.

Three years ago, like all Searcy schools, the state called Westside a “school of excellence.”

The student population is 85 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic, 4 percent black and 1 percent Asian.

The school was fully accredited with 100 percent of its teachers fully licensed and 43 percent having master’s degrees. The school retained eight students during the 2013-14 school year.

On the literacy portion of the state Benchmark, the third graders were 86.5 percent proficient or better, a nine-point drop from the previous year and about five points below the state-required goal of 91.27 percent.

In math, the students also dropped in proficiency and missed the state goals. Students were 88.3 percent proficient or advanced , nine points under the previous year and about five points short of the mandated 92.89 percent.

The school’s second and third graders beat the state average in literacy and math on the norm-referenced test, which is used to compare students nationally.


This middle school was listed by the state three years ago as a “school of excellence” but, on the recent report card, received 227 points for a solid “C” -— 13 points away from a “B” and 17 points above a “D.” It was also listed as a needs improvement school.

The school has 941 students, an average class size of 20 and teachers have an average of 11 years of experience.

The student population is 74 percent white, 11 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent Asian.

The school reported one weapons incident in 2013-14.

The school was cited for accreditation issues and 97.6 percent of its teachers were completely certified. Almost half the teachers had master’s degrees.

Neither the fourth, fifth or sixth graders reached state- mandated goals on the annual Benchmark exam.

On the literacy portion of the test, fourth graders were 84.4 percent proficient or better, down four points from the previous year and missing the state mark of 92.64 percent by eight points. In math, 74.5 percent of the fourth graders made the cut, down 13 points from the previous year and 14 points below the state mark of 88.79 percent proficient or better.

The school’s fifth graders were 88.9 percent proficient or better in literacy, down four points from the previous year and four points shy of the state mandate of 92.64 percent.

In math, the students were 76.5 percent proficient or advanced, down three points from the previous year, and 13 points under the state bar of 88.79 percent.

Sixth graders were 79.5 percent proficient or better on the literacy exam, down three points from the previous year and about 13 points shy of the 92.64 percent required by the state.

In math, the sixth graders were 83.8 percent proficient or better, up two points from the previous year, but still and under the state requirement by five points.


The district’s junior high went from a “school of excellence” three years ago to a needs improvement school.

The school, with 672 students, an average class size of 20 and teachers averaging 10 years of experience, garnered 244 points for a “B,” just five points above a “C,” on the state’s report card.

The school has a student population of 77 percent white, 12 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Asian.

In 2013-14, the school retained eight students and reported two expulsions, five weapons incidents and one staff assault.

The school was properly accredited, but only 96.8 percent of its teachers were completely certified.

About 40 percent the school’s teachers have master’s degrees.

Neither the seventh nor the eighth graders beat the state averages in literacy or math.

In seventh grade, 85.5 percent scoring proficient or advanced, down about six points from the previous year and falling six points short of the state bar of 91.13 percent proficient or better.

In math, 79.9 percent of the students made the grade, down nine points from the previous year and short of the 89.97 percent proficient or better required by the state.

In eighth grade, students were 86.3 percent proficient or better in literacy, down six points from the previous year, but only five points short of the state goal.

In math, the eighth graders were 76.6 percent proficient or advanced, a drop of nine points from the previous year and about 13 points under the state mandate of 89.97 percent.


The high school, with 1,171 students, average classes of 16 students and teachers with an average of 14 years of experience, garnered 257 points from the state for a “B” and was listed as a needs improvement school.

Three years ago, the state categorized the high school as a “school exceeding standards.”

The school’s population is 82 percent white, 10 percent black and 5 percent black.

It is fully accredited with 98.1 percent of the teachers completely certified, 1.9 percent holding emergency or provisional licenses and 44 percent of the school’s teachers having master’s degrees.

During the 2013-14 school year, two students were expelled, and there were 11 weapons incidents.

The school had a graduation rate of 85.8 percent, down slightly from the state average; a grade inflation rate of 3.9 percent, about half of the state average; a college- going rate of 52.4 percent, one point better than the state average; and a college remediation rate of 28.9 percent, 16 points better than the state.

Beebe High School students outperformed the state average on all portions of the ACT, but were below state averages on the SAT.

Of those students taking the algebra I end-of-course exam, 82.5 percent scored proficient or better, down about five points from the previous year and 11 points shy of the state mark of 93.06 percent proficient or advanced.

In geometry, 94 percent of the students made the grade on the end-of-course exam, up about two points from the previous year and besting the state requirement by about a point.

Students also take an end-of-course test in biology, but the state doesn’t use it to calculate a school’s ranking or overall performance.

In Searcy, 68.1 percent of the students were proficient or advanced in biology, about two points more than the previous year.

On the grade 11 literacy exam, which measures whether a student can read and write on grade level, 86 percent were proficient or better, up nine points from the previous year, but not up to the state-required 97.96 percent proficient or advanced.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TOP STORY >> For air base, commitment always there

Col. Patrick Rhatigan, who is stepping down next week as commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, says he’s retiring from the Air Force at a time when the air base continues to modernize and better meet the needs of airmen.

Despite the many difficulties ahead, Rhatigan said the commitment never wavers and the air base continues to do well as it approaches its 60th anniversary this fall.

Rhatigan became 19th Airlift Wing commander in July 2013. His successor, Col. Charles E. Brown Jr., takes over the 19th Airlift Wing in a change-of-command ceremony next Wednesday morning. Brown is vice commander of the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base in Japan. Brown was previously commander of the 62nd Airlift Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“My time at Little Rock Air Force Base was a time of unprecedented change in our Air Force,” Rhatigan said. “From sequestration to government shutdown to force management, our airmen and civilians have endured the continued turbulence of fiscal restraints and uncertainty. Yet, we buckled down every time to accomplish the mission safely and effectively. Combat airlift is the heart of this base, and I could not be prouder of the men and women of Team Little Rock and their incredible resilience and dedication to the mission.”

Rhatigan focused his leadership on three primary priorities during his time here: Mission, airmen and partners.


When Rhatigan arrived, the 19th Airlift Wing was beginning its transition from C-130H models to C-130J models.

By the end of 2014, the wing transferred 28 of the C-130H legacy aircraft to 13 different units and now has 23 of the 28 C-130Js planned for assignment to the base.

“During this large operational muscle movement, there was zero dip in mission accomplishment,” he said.

The base hosted the first-ever Air Mobility Command unit-effectiveness inspection in September 2013, earning an overall effective rating for the wing.

The inspection concluded only days before the government shutdown on Oct. 1, 2013.

“Again, Team Little Rock airmen covered down and rolled right into the next challenge,” the colonel said.

Under Rhatigan’s leadership, the 19th Airlift Wing had nearly 400 airmen and 11 C-130 aircraft deployed at any time in support of operations in Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

Construction has started on a new 12,000-foot runway and adjacent landing strip that were built in the 1950s. The project will cost $107.9 million and will be completed in April 2017.
The base celebrated a historic end-of-year funding for 2014, receiving $204 million for many of these renovations and upgrades.

One of the biggest challenges during Rhatigan’s tenure was modernizing the infrastructure of the base.

After his arrival, the roof on the base theater collapsed, the bowling alley had similar issues and the pool could not open (as it was still in its 1955 original design).

The roads needed repairs. The barricades at the gates needed updates for security and safety measures.

The base pool is opening for Memorial Day weekend.


The wing held the first-ever LRAFB Facebook Town Hall. This was also a first for Air Mobility Command.

“This four-time repeat event was a convenient, virtual way to include the Team Little Rock community in discussing issues that directly affected the 17,000 base personnel,” Rhatigan said. “From medical to infrastructure to morale and welfare, the town halls covered a myriad of topics and gave airmen and their families a direct line to wing leadership.”

One of the greatest successes happened just this April 3, when the $3.7 million Walters Community Activity Center opened. The new facility is dedicated to one thing: taking care of Team Little Rock’s airmen.

The center is a multifunctional gathering place from airmen and their families. Centrally located on base, airmen now have one-stop access to the library, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Community Activity Center, classrooms, study rooms, computer rooms, free Wi-Fi and, coming soon, a new coffee shop.

“Not only is this facility an incredible quality-of-life project, it’s also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) facility.”

The construction of the WCAC also led to the demolishment of five outdated buildings that saved the Air Force $875,000 annually.

The Leadership Pathways program got wings during Rhatigan’s time here. This resilience program is dedicated to airmen and families. More than 60 classes were offered in 2014 and attended by more than 21,000 personnel, Rhatigan said.

The commander focused efforts into the Air Force Chief of Staff’s highest priority — sexual assault prevention and response.

Rhatigan facilitated growth and new voice to the SAPR program through small group talks, guest speakers, publishing prevention and victims’ stories and wing stand-down days. Airmen spoke up and LRAFB saw a 100 percent increase in reporting and five reports switched from restrictive to unrestrictive reports.

“This is when I always say leadership matters. The dedication of our airmen, from group commanders to frontline supervisors, to creating a climate of dignity and respect is why we’ve seen this program continue to improve.

“And, ultimately, we can help the victims who now feel safe to come forward and seek help,” Rhatigan said.

The airmen of the 19th Airlift Wing won four Department of Defense, 11 Air Force, 99 Air Mobility Command and 21 national organizations awards.

The 19th AW also earned the 2014 Jimmy Doolittle Award from the Air Force Historical Foundation for sustained, significant contributions to Air Force history as well as the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the first time since 2007.

“We know it’s not about the awards, but this is a living example of how Team Little Rock airmen get it done,” the commander said.

“Even during these challenging budget and manning constraints, our team continues to excel in everything we do,” Rhatigan said.


• In April 2014, after the E-4 tornado struck Vilonia, Team Little Rock responded by establishing local donation points and overseeing the bed-down of FEMA within three hours.

Then, with only three days of notice, the wing welcomed President Barack Obama on the flightline to support his visit to the community and victims of the tornado.

• Recently, Little Rock Air Force Base was submitted as a trial base for the Air Force’s Integrated Wing concept.

This concept is part of a series of efforts by the Air Force to operate more efficiently in the future.

“The great news: Team Little Rock is already living total force integration every day through formal associations between the 19th Airlift Wing (AMC) and 913th Airlift Group (Air Force Reserves) and informal agreements with the 314th Airlift Wing (Air Education and Training Command) and 189th Airlift Wing (Air National Guard),” Rhatigan said.

• The Public-to-Public and Public-to-Private Partnership Program (P4) has flourished for Team Little Rock with Rhatigan’s leadership.

Eight joint initiatives/projects were identified that would see an estimated $4 million annual positive financial impact.

The Air Force’s Strategic Master Plan calls for a vision of Installations 2023, where bases will be a hybrid of military assets and community resources. Through P4, LRAFB is leading the way.

“We’ve already privatized our food, housing, electric and are working on privatizing water. The goal is to lower costs and increase our capabilities,” Rhatigan said.

“The unwavering support of our community partners has been the foundation of Little Rock Air Force Base since its inception in 1955. The community’s established concerted efforts and partnerships with Team Little Rock helped pave the way forward into the P4 program.

“Before I depart, it’s a rewarding feeling to know this program will continue to succeed and lead LRAFB into the future, toward a true hybrid base,” Rhatigan said.

First Lt. Amanda M. Farr, acting chief of public affairs at the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, contributed to this report.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

TOP STORY >> New Sherwood library step closer

Leader staff writer

Sherwood will have $3.9 million to actually build its new library and close to $1 million to purchase the four to six acres needed for the facility, according to Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System.

Roberts made the announcement at an organizational meeting of the land selection committee Monday night at the city’s current library.

The committee should have the site selected by the end of summer.

Roberts said plans call for a new 14,500-square-foot library, which would be 6,000 square feet larger than the city’s current facility, the Amy Sanders Library.

He said voters approved a temporary 1.3 millage increase in November to issue $6 million in bonds. The estimated annual cost to taxpayers is about $39 on a $150,000, or the cost of two new hardback books a year. The tax will end when the bonds are paid off, which Roberts said typically takes about 12 years.

He told the committee that breaks down to $3.9 million for the building, a $195,000 contingency fee, $274,000 for extra architectural and engineering expenses and $435,000 for furnishings, leaving $980,200 for purchasing the land.

“If we get the land for less than that, the savings can be used on the building or another aspect of the library, but it must be used on the library,” Roberts said.

The committee will advertise for site possibilities through the newspaper, the city website and the CALS website.

Alderman Ken Keplinger, one of the seven members, suggested that all site suggestions get turned in by 5 p.m. June 19.

Roberts said it would take about a week for CALS to develop a list from the sites turned in.

He then said committee members needed to visit the sites before meeting to rank them.

Once the committee ranks the sites based on such criteria as visibility, city growth patterns, access and price, Roberts said the architects and engineers will rank the sites based on technical criteria, including the ease or difficulty of preparing the site, utilities and soil conditions.

“Often the committee’s picks mesh with architect’s rankings,” he added.

Roberts suggested the committee narrow the selection to three or four. “No site will be perfect, so it will be a compromise and what is best for the city,” he said, noting that if three or four sites are in the running that often helps reduce the price.

Roberts pointed out that, at times, the library system has had land donated to them, but the cost of preparing the land because of flood issues or soil conditions actually made it more expensive than going out and buying a good piece of land.

The committee decided that all site suggestions be sent to the library, and they are hoping to start with 30 or 40 possibilities.

“The biggest requirement is that the land has to be within the city limits,” Roberts said. “And then the acreage and the price cannot exceed $980,000.”

Mayor Virginia Young re-emphasized the need to have at least four acres. “We’ve already built on a small size and don’t want to do that again,” the mayor said.

Keplinger said, wherever the library ends up, he wants to “make it easier for Gravel Ridge to come to the Sherwood facility than Jacksonville.”

Members of the committee include Keplinger, Bonnie Bratcher, William Paul Cummings, Planning Commissioner Lucien Gillham, Dr. Kelly Sanders, Martha Van Pelt and CALS Board of Trustees member Lupe Pena-Valdez, who will act as the chairman.

TOP STORY >> Dividing assets by Jacksonville, PCSSD expected

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville-North Pulaski and PCSSD may settle the division of assets and liabilities in time for consideration when U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall holds his status hearing on Aug. 21, PCSSD attorney Allen Roberts told the judge Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Joshua Intervenors’ lawyer John Walker told Marshall that the minority group won’t support the detachment unless they have assurances that the Jacksonville-North Pulaski County School District will move forward with an ambitious plan to build new facilities and rehabilitate others and fairly elect a school board.

Moments later, JNP attorney Scott Richardson told the judge Jacksonville already has its own district thanks to a multi-party agreement that Walker and others signed off on a couple years ago and actions taken by the state Board of Education and the court.

The district has already been created, Richardson said. It’s working on refining its facilities planning beginning July 1 with Charles Stein, the current director of the state transportation and facilities planning division. Stein retires from PCSSD June 30 and starts contract work with JNP the next day.

The new district has already submitted a rough draft facilities plan itself and another, with narrative, under the umbrella of PCSSD, according to JNP Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart.

The district plans to submit a new facilities plan, with Stein’s guidance, at the first possible opportunity, and matching money could be available from the state during the 2017-19 funding cycle.

The state is expected to pay at least 50 percent of all qualifying construction and remodeling for JNP, because it’s a relatively poor district.


Walker wants Jacksonville to elect its own school board, then secure construction funding through the state facilities partnership program — things they can’t do unless they are a functioning, detached district.

JNP is currently operating with an appointed board, but will have board elections in September.

Meanwhile, PCSSD had planned a complete makeover of its facilities, including two new high schools and two elementary schools, but the millage increase to fund a $220 million program failed at the polls last week.


Instead, PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess told Marshall that the district would proceed with Plan B, which will issue second-lien bonds to help raise $55 million to replace Mills High School and to move Fuller Middle School to the refurbished Mills building.

In other matters, Marshall ruled that, for now at least, JNP would not be a party to the existing desegregation suit before him, but that in some circumstances its lawyers could brief the court and address issues related to desegregation.


Still on the issue of facilities and the failed millage increase, Walker noted that Maumelle was an affluent community that had “already raided the treasury.”

He asked Guess how the Maumelle patrons had voted on the issue. “Maumelle rejected it by 84 percent.”

“They got theirs and then dramatically rejected improvements for the rest,” Walker said.

On the issue of unitary status, PCSSD attorney Brittney Moore said the failure of the millage increase scuttled efforts to solve the facilities piece of the unitary solution.

The district also has yet to become unitary in student discipline, staffing and monitoring.

She said the district was working next on staffing, which will depend in part on how teachers and support staff are divided for the JNP detachment.


The Donaldson Scholars Program at University of Arkansas at Little Rock and also Philander Smith College was making good progress in helping at-risk students, founder Charles Donaldson testified, but instead of the 600 PCSSD students it had hoped to work with, only 140 signed on.

This is part of the solution in the academic scholarships piece.

TOP STORY >> Mom upset over reckless driving

Leader staff writer

At Monday’s Cabot City Council meeting, a mother asked that neighborhoods be made safer after describing how a 16-year-old driver “joy riding” nearly struck her three children in front of their home.

Also, an ordinance lifting the ban on fireworks was read for a second time. It must be read a third time before it can be approved, and aldermen appear to be split on the matter. No one spoke for or against the ordinance.

Teresa Winningham was inside her house on Confederate Drive when she heard screaming and “squealing tires.”

She said, about seeing the car spun around and a brick mailbox next door that the teen had destroyed, “My heart dropped. I thought my children were underneath that vehicle.”

Cypert told Winningham the city would do all it could to address her concerns.
Options include installing “speed-calming devices” like bumps or rumble strips, signs prohibiting through traffic and an electronic radar sign Cabot police bought recently because accidents like that have become more common.

The mother lives in the Shiloh Subdivision, where the mayor said he had already requested greater police presence to enforce the speed limit.

Winningham told The Leader she is willing to consider every available course of action and would circulate the petition required to get speed bumps or strips there.

The mayor said two-thirds of the homeowners must sign in favor of a “speed-calming device,” a 24-hour study must show that there are enough people driving over the limit there, and the city must find an appropriate place to install one.

Cypert said speed bumps or strips couldn’t go in front of a driveway, mailbox or between two driveways set too close together. The city will also decide what type of “speed-calming device” to install, he noted.

City Attorney Jim Taylor added that he would look into charging the teen with endangering the welfare of a minor. He has already received a reckless driving citation.

Winningham told The Leader her 20-year-old son had to grab both and throw one of his younger brothers — ages 3 and 5 — to get them out of the car’s path.

The family recently lost a cousin who was killed after being struck by a driver in his Arizona neighborhood, so the accident hit close to home, Winningham and her husband told the mayor after the meeting.

All three of the couple’s children were playing Frisbee in the front yard around 3:30 p.m. May 6, the mother said, when the teen driver lost control of his car after “squealing his tires around the turn” to impress a friend in the passenger’s seat.

Winningham said the teen, whose permit was suspended, wasn’t the first to cut through her neighborhood and come close to hitting people.

Another teen driver recently struck a car parked on the street about 10 feet from kids who were waiting at a nearby bus stop.

Cypert thanked Winning-ham for bringing her concerns to the council’s attention and said, “We’re sorry you had to go through this traumatic event. I can only imagine how you felt and what the neighbors thought.”

He also suggested partnering with the school district to educate students and parents that they shouldn’t cut through neighborhoods.

In her comments, Winningham noted that there aren’t sidewalks or bike trails in her subdivision. But, the mayor explained, that mistake couldn’t be remedied.

The developer should have included sidewalks, and possibly bike trails, in his plans, but the city didn’t press the issue, Cypert said. Winningham said she understood.

After the meeting, the couple also told him they were concerned about former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh appearing at the scene of the accident and speaking with the police officer who wrote the citation.

Cypert said he had already heard of and followed up on that. He reassured the Winninghams that the former mayor was just a family friend of the teen and had asked the officer to issue a citation.

In other business:

• Winningham was the only resident who spoke at the meeting, although a crowd was expected to comment on the proposed lifting of the city’s fireworks ban.

It appeared that about half the council wants the ban and the other half doesn’t, as a two-thirds vote is needed to suspend further readings required before it can be adopted and become law.

The vote on a motion to do that was 5-4, with Cypert breaking the tie. But a sixth vote for suspending the readings was needed, the city attorney said.

The council voted on adopting the ordinance, but the city attorney clarified that the motion hadn’t passed as they thought and stopped the vote before a roll call that would have showed where everyone stood.

The ordinance will have to be read again, for a third time, at next month’s meeting before it can be adopted or voted down. However, it was amended from allowing fireworks on New Year’s Eve and July 1-5 to allowing them New Year’s Eve and July 3-5.

• The council passed, with no discussion, a resolution authorizing the mayor to negotiate selling the Richie Road Gym to ARcare.

Mayor Bill Cypert said earlier this month that ARcare had offered $375,000 for the building, parking lot, two baseball fields behind it, the easement and 10 feet of property immediately behind the gym, 502 Richie Road.

ARcare is a private, nonprofit corporation developed to provide affordable care to meet the primary medical and dental needs of residents in rural Arkansas, according to its website.

ARcare wants to open a clinic at the Richie Road site and share the facility with the Lonoke County Christian Clinic, which has been leasing the gym for $1 per year since 2008.

The Christian nonprofit has about $150,000 in loans to pay off, the mayor told the council previously. The loans funded renovations to the old gym that raised the property’s value, and the Christian clinic should be compensated for them, Cypert said then.

The city may still get about $225,000 from the sale that could be used for ongoing parks projects, like improvements to the municipal pool or the under-construction Cabot Sports and Aquatic Complex, the mayor said previously.

• The council approved, with little discussion, an ordinance authorizing the issuance of a $450,000 promissory note so that Regions Bank can provide financing needed to purchase a fire truck. The interest rate is 1.64 percent.

An emergency clause was added because ordinances that are approved without one go into effect after 30 days rather than immediately.

A portion of the city’s taxes designated for fire apparatus will be used to make payments on the loan.

EDITORIAL >> Jack McNally fraud, thief

Jack McNally, the disgraced former Lonoke County assessor, was arrested for fraud last week after a lengthy investigation that began long before last May’s Republican primary in which he was defeated by Jerrell Maxwell after two terms.

McNally snuck into office with few credentials by running as a Republican when the party cleared out Democrats from nearly all county offices. He was a code-enforcement officer in Cabot under Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh.

McNally promised to reform the tax code during his campaign, something no county assessor has the authority to do.

He seemed to have little understanding of the job even after taking office. He also seldom reported to work, according to a former deputy who was fired for telling her boss to help her. She had worked for the county since 1999. She said McNally’s wife told her that she wished he would go to work because he mostly stayed at home on the couch watching TV all day.

After she was fired, other county officials were not pleased and soon found another job for her at the county courthouse.

McNally was also a no-show during Lonoke County Quorum Court meetings, where justices of the peace would often note his absence and commented that his input was needed for them to do their jobs.

As a code-enforcement officer, his professional record was even worse. He was suspected of stealing from vacant homes. In one case, he allegedly removed property, which was never recovered, from a backyard because he said he needed to mow the lawn. Lawnmowers were reportedly stolen, as well as barbecue grills and even a swing set.

No charges were ever filed, probably because then-prosecutor Lona McCastlain knew it would be difficult to prove. Firing McNally would have been an easier solution, but he wasn’t let go by the city until Eddie Joe Williams became mayor.

Former Cabot Alderman Odis Waymack knew McNally was not an honest city employee. Commenting on McNally’s arrest, Waymack told us, “I think he should have been arrested back in ’06 when he stole all that stuff. I think he’s always been a bully, forcing his way in. He’s just a thug as I see it.”

Waymack presumably told McNally as much when the two were involved in a scuffle at a candidates forum in Cabot back in 2010. Both men were convicted of disorderly conduct, but it’s hard to believe that Waymack — a legally blind octogenarian — was as responsible for the fight as McNally.

McNally went on to win that race by defeating Jerry Adams, who lost because he was a Democrat. But more accusations against McNally followed.

McNally was investigated for pocketing money from collection jars he distributed in the area to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. It would not have been the first time he ripped off veterans.

Last week’s arrest came after law enforcement discovered McNally did not disclose that he was a convicted felon when he filed to run for office. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to stealing nearly 5,000 military field coats from a government contractor.

That conviction made it illegal for him to vote, run for office or possess a firearm. A state investigator took away his gun when he was arrested. McNally claims he believed the conviction was expunged, but nothing in court records indicate that was ever done. He’s also accused of illegally using a county credit card for personal use.

Voters did the right thing when they turned him out of office last year. If he has any supporters left, they can join him at 9 a.m. July 6 in Lonoke County Circuit Court for plea and arraignment.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears fall in semis to defending champs

Leader sports editor

HARRISON – Sylvan Hills’ run in the 5A baseball tournament came to an end Saturday just one game away from playing for a state championship. The Bears fell 10-4 to defending state champion White Hall after building a 3-0 lead in the first two innings. The Bulldogs, the No. 4 seed from the 5A-South, have won two of the last three state championships, each time as a four seed. They will play tournament host Harrison on Saturday in this year’s championship game.

Sylvan Hills’ four starting seniors were phenomenal in the tournament. Marcus Long took over on the mound in the first round after Hunter Heslep was hit in the head by a thrown baseball, and shut down the Batesville Pioneers to clear the way for a comeback victory. Blake Maddox held 5A-South champion Watson Chapel to one run in the quarterfinal round.

In the semifinals, Heslep broke his left foot on his first at-bat, fouling three pitches off the top of it, but finished the game and went 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs scored, not knowing the foot was broken until X-rays revealed the extent of the injury the next day.

Lukas Burrow hit almost .500 for the tournament, including two doubles and scored four runs. Outfielder Nathan Thomas went 6 for 10 at the plate in the tournament with four doubles.

“I’m really proud of my seniors,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “They really pushed the team concept and helped these kids learn and get better. We’d lost in the first round five years in a row. They helped us break that and get started on another run. Hopefully these juniors, sophomores and freshmen we had in the dugout will learn from it and keep going. A few of them told me they could almost taste it. I told them don’t forget that and bring that back with you next season.”

Because he had only thrown three and a third innings on round one, Long had six and two-thirds innings left of his three-day allowed total. He picked up right where he left off in the first two innings. The senior southpaw struck out four in the first two frames as the Bears built their lead.

Heslep hit the RBI base hit in the first inning. In the second, Thomas hit a two-run double to put the Bears up by three.

Tipton, though, felt like the strike zone changed on Long later in the game, rendering him less effective.

“They stopped giving us anything on the outside,” said Tipton. “Marcus isn’t going to overpower you. Marcus’ forte is hitting his spots perfectly. If you make him throw right down the middle he’s not going to be as effective.”

White Hall scored four runs on four hits in the fourth inning to take the lead, but in the fifth, things fell apart for the Bears.

White Hall scored five runs on just three hits in an inning that included two Sylvan Hills errors and a home run by Kirk Baugh that made it 9-3.

In the quarterfinal round, Sylvan Hills beat 5A-South champion Watson Chapel 8-1. Maddox got the complete-game victory, giving up seven hits while striking out five and walking three.

Sylvan Hills (19-12) scored one run in each of the third and fourth innings before blowing the game open with six runs in the sixth. Carson Sanders hit a two-run double, the first of three-straight doubles by the Bears. Burrow hit one to drive in Sanders, and Thomas followed with another one to score Burrow.

“We made a good run and I think we learned a lot about how to play the game of baseball towards the end,” Tipton said. “We learned it’s going to be a battle. Early in the season it seemed like we went into every game wanting to blow people out, and when it didn’t go our way, it was a big letdown. But when you play good teams, you’re going to win by one or just a couple of runs most of the time, and things can turn at any time.

“And they didn’t quit. When you’re up and you’ve got all that excitement and energy, and then all of a sudden you’re down and it looks like it’s not going to happen, it’s tough. But they kept battling and I’m proud of that. Give White Hall credit, too. They’re the defending state champions and they played like it. We got them down early and had all the momentum, and they didn’t quit. They played like you’re supposed to.”

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils get upset by host of tournament

Leader sports editor

HARRISON – The senior heavy Jacksonville Red Devils entered the 5A state baseball tournament as one of the favorites and with hopes of winning a second state championship in four years. But that was hope was burst against an even more senior-heavy team and tournament host Harrison. The Goblins scored all of its runs in one huge inning and upset the 5A-Central champions 7-3 Friday in the quarterfinal round.

Offensively, the story for Jacksonville was one of missed opportunities. The Red Devils also scored all three runs in the seventh, but had at least one runner in scoring position in all but two innings. They put runners at second and third in the fifth and sixth innings, but came away empty.

“Even down like that, I felt like if we could’ve pushed any of those runs across in the fifth or sixth, we would’ve come back and won it in the seventh,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “If you’re down 7-2 instead of 7-0, even that changes things when you start putting runners on base like we did in the seventh.”

Jacksonville (23-7) loaded the bases with no outs in the final inning, and while it did manage to manufacture ways to get those base runners across the plate, it didn’t come up with another base hit to keep the rally going.”

The decisive fifth inning was all Harrison. Jacksonville committed no errors, though there was one fly ball to right field that should have been an out had Laderrious Perry not slipped and fell on the wet outfield grass. Other than that, the Goblins simply had a great inning.

Two drag bunts were placed perfectly and at unexpected times for base hits. The bunting strategy forced the Red Devil infield to play in, resulting in hard ground balls that got through that otherwise would not have had the infield been playing at normal depth. And when small ball put runners on, the Goblins came through with power.

The inning included three doubles into power gaps that each drove in at least one run. One, a two-run shot to left-center field, came on an 0-2 pitch just as it seemed Jacksonville might begin to get out of the jam.

“It wasn’t like we were kicking it around,” Burrows said. “They just executed everything they did. We talked about pulling (pitcher James) Tucker, but we only had one bad pitch. That 0-2 changeup was the only pitch I wish we had back. Other than that he was throwing good pitches. He’s good. He was hitting his spots. They were just hitting it.”

Tucker went back to the mound in the sixth and retired Harrison in order, including two strikeouts before being replaced by Brandon Hickingbotham in the seventh.

Harrison’s roster included 13 seniors on a team that expected to compete for a state championship this year. Though the Goblins had a disappointing regular season that resulted in a third-place finish in the 5A-West, they’ve been the best-hitting team in the tournament so far.

The seven runs against Jacksonville was the Goblins’ lowest total in the tournament. They beat Hot Springs Lakeside 9-7 in the first round, and mercy-ruled Magnolia 11-1 in five innings in the semifinals, ending that game with back-to-back home runs.

“I didn’t realize they had that many seniors, but they played like an experienced team,” Burrows said.

The head Red Devil says goodbye to eight of his own seniors, including seven who have been at least part-time starters for three years.

“It hurts,” Burrows said. “It hurts. My heart breaks for them because I know they wanted to win that championship together. But at the same time, my heart’s full because of them. It was a great group, a fun group. They worked hard, won a lot of games and we had a lot of fun.”

SPORTS STORY >> CHS ladies dominate state MOC

Leader sports editor

The Cabot girls’ track team got a modicum of revenge Saturday in Russellville, where the Lady Panthers dominated the Arkansas High School Meet of Champions.

The Lady Panthers lost the 7A state championship by a half point to Bentonville the week before, but outscored the Lady Tigers 92-46 on Saturday, easily beating the rest of the competition and doubling up the point total of the second-place Lady Tigers. Bryant took third with 36 points, and Class 6A teams Parkview and Lake Hamilton tied with 35 to finish fourth and fifth.

The most gratifying win for the Lady Panthers came in the 4x400-meter relay, the race in which Bentonville stole the 7A title on the last event with a time it had never come close to achieving before. The Lady Tigers beat Cabot by .57 seconds at the state meet, running a 4:00.82, almost six seconds faster than its best time before that meet. On Saturday, that same Bentonville team ran it in 4:19.61 to finish ninth and out of the points.

The Cabot team of Tori and Lexi Weeks, Danielle McWilliams and Tristyn Edgar almost broke the state record with a school record time of 3:55.96.

“It felt good beating them,” said Cabot senior Tori Weeks. “Especially in that one event, the 4x400. We lost state by a half a point and we really wanted to beat them. I thought that last race everyone of us ran the best we could.”

Rainy conditions weren’t ideal for record-setting, but Cabot senior Lexi Weeks still broke her own pole vault record for the third time, clearing 14-feet, two-inches. She broke the state record last week by clearing 13-7, and broke her all-time best record of 14-0 as well on Saturday.

Tori Weeks took second in the pole vault with a jump of 13-6. She was also second in the triple jump after winning the Class 7A state championship. She came up six inches short of her school-record jump at state with a leap of 37-1, but it wouldn’t have mattered for her placement Saturday. Parkview’s Jada Baylark became the first girl in Arkansas high school history to jump 40-feet, blowing away the old record by almost a foot and a half with a jump of 40-7 1/2.

Baylark also beat 7A champion Lexi Weeks by a hair in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing in 14.67 to beat Lexi’s 14.82. Baylark also won the 100-meter dash.

Lexi Weeks set a new school record in the 400-meter dash, breaking her mother Amy’s 30-year-old school record of 57.24 with a time of 56.96.

“It was pretty crazy,” said Lexi Weeks of breaking her mother’s record set in 1985. “I just started running the open quarter last year and didn’t break 58, but this year I had gotten close to it. I always had a problem getting out fast so this time I made sure I did that. But then coming around the last stretch, this girl from Crossett who I had never raced against started gaining on me and I barely beat her at the end. But I know if she hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have broken the record. She pushed me to finish strong and that’s why I got it.”

Lexi also admitted that breaking her mother’s record has been a goal since she began running the 400-meters as a junior.

In her first year of competing in the event, she came close to breaking 58 seconds, and felt like 57.24, which was also a state record at the time, was within her reach the following year.

“All year she’s been really supporting me,” Lexi said. “I guess maybe in a way she wanted to keep it, but she was really happy for me. She was screaming and cheering so it was nice. She was happy her own daughter was the one to break it.”

Tori Weeks and McWilliams finished first and second in the 300-meter hurdles. Tori broke another school record in the event with a time of 44.6, and McWilliams ran it in 46.02, beating her state meet time by .6 seconds.

Tori and Lexi now hold a combined 11 school records, including two relay records they hold together. Tori holds five event records, including the triple jump, 300 hurdles, 800-meter race and the 400- and 1,600-meter relays.

Lexi holds five event records, including pole vault, long jump, 400-meter and the two relays, plus the school record in total points in the heptathlon. They finished second and third in the 2014 heptathlon.

Cabot senior Micah Huckabee won the 1,600-meter race by a good margin, finishing five seconds off her personal best, but still beating everyone else by at least 14 seconds with a time of 5:04.83. Huckabee did not run in the 3,200, but her 11:21 time at the 7A meet would have won on Saturday by nine seconds.

Cabot took second in the 4x100-meter relay with a time of 49.07, just .21 seconds behind Conway. The girls’ 4x800-meter relay team finished seventh for two points.

The Cabot boys’ team scored 11 points on Saturday. Brayden Mercantel got six of them with a third-place finish in the 1,600-meter race behind Texarkana’s Tyler Braswell and Harrison’s Seth Waters. Senior Brandon Jones took seventh in the discus with a throw of 141.06. Sophomore Britton Alley finished eighth in the 200-meter dash, and the 4x400-meter relay team finished in eighth place for a point.

Other local athletes to perform well included Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter’s Jordan McNair, Lonoke’s Justin Meadows and Beebe’s Connor Patrom. McNair, the two-time Class 1A 100-meter dash champion, took fourth on Saturday behind Henri Murphy of Dollarway and Timothy Stuckey and Andrew Bishop of Texarkana.

Meadows finished second behind Fayetteville’s Caleb Cooper in the triple jump. Cooper’s jump of 45-10 was just 6 1/2 inches better than Meadows.

Patrom, the 5A state long jump champion, finished eighth on Saturday.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot brushes off Van Buren, earns title bid

Leader sportswriter

ROGERS – A two-hitter by Cabot junior Kaitlyn Felder and a Rachel Allgood home run helped catapult the Lady Panthers to a 4-0 win over Van Buren in the semifinals of the Class 7A state softball tournament Saturday at Veterans Park.

The win sets up a third meeting this season with North Little Rock in the Class 7A state championship game at 10 a.m. Friday at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.

Cabot (27-4), the No. 1 East seed, swept NLR (20-8), the No. 2 East seed, in their two 7A/6A-East Conference games in late April.

In Saturday’s semifinal against Van Buren (24-5), the No. 2 Central seed, the Lady Panthers scored their first run in the bottom of the second inning on Allgood’s solo home run that sailed over the fence in right field.

The one-out bomb helped set the tone for what was to come in the third and fourth innings.

“I think it woke us up a little bit and got things going, knowing that we could come out and score some runs,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope of Allgood’s home run, “and it kept us going for about three innings.”

Cabot added to its lead in the bottom of the third with two more runs. The Lady Panthers took a 2-0 lead on a one-out single up the middle by three-hole hitter Megan Goodnight.

Shortstop Heather Hill scored from second on the play, after singling earlier in the inning and Goodnight went to second base on the throw home. Goodnight scored two batters later on a two-out single to right field off the bat of Erin Eckert, which put the Lady Panthers up 3-0.

Cabot scored the game’s final run in the fourth inning. In that inning, Macee Abbott reached on a fielder’s choice at second base. Parker Steadman came in to run for Abbott. Steadman advanced to second base on a passed ball, and scored on a two-out double to deep right center by Hill, which set the final score.

Felder gave up Van Buren’s only two hits of the game the next inning, but that was the only time the Lady Pointers threatened to score. In the top of the seventh, Felder retired the side, striking out the final two batters, to end the game and send the Lady Panthers to the program’s second-ever state championship game.

“Felder came out and had a great outing and kept them off balance,” Cope said. “She did well and our defense made some good plays behind her and she did what we asked her to do.”

Felder gave credit to the defense behind her after the game, and said her curveball is what helped keep Van Buren’s hitters off balance.

“Nobody could touch the curve and the backdoor curve,” said Felder, “and the defense backed me up really well.”

Felder threw all seven innings and finished the complete game with nine strikeouts, allowing just two walks and the two hits. Cabot had eight hits total for the game. Goodnight led all batters, going 3 for 3 with three singles, an RBI and run scored.

Hill was 2 for 3 with an RBI and run scored, and Felder, Eckert and Allgood had one hit each.

Cabot got to Saturday’s semifinal with an 8-4 come-from-behind win over Springdale Har-Ber in Friday’s quarterfinal round. The Lady Panthers trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the sixth inning, but reeled off seven-straight runs in that inning to beat the No. 3 West seed Lady Wildcats and advance to Saturday’s semifinals.

North Little Rock has won the last two Class 7A state softball championships. The Lady Charging Wildcats got to this year’s finals by beating No. 6 West seed Fort Smith Northside 8-5 in the first round Thursday, No. 1 West seed Rogers 2-0 in the quarterfinals Friday, and No. 1 Central seed Bryant 6-1 in the semis on Saturday.

Cabot beat NLR by scores of 6-1 and 6-5 in their late April meetings, but Friday’s game has everything riding on it.

“You couldn’t ask for a better match-up,” Cope said. “We’re going to see what happens on Friday.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers Bogle bound

Leader sportswriter

On Friday morning at Bogle Park in Fayetteville, the Cabot High School softball team will look to do something the program’s never done before, and that’s win a state championship.

In order to achieve that goal, the Lady Panthers will have to knock off the defending two-time Class 7A state champion North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats for a third time this season. First pitch of Friday’s championship game is scheduled to start at 10 a.m.

Cabot comes into Friday’s game with a stellar 27-4 record. The Lady Panthers entered the Class 7A state tournament as the No. 1 seed from the 7A/6A-East Conference, while NLR, who has a 20-8 record this season, is the two seed from the East.

The two teams met twice this season. On April 21, Cabot beat NLR 6-1 at Burns Park in what was the 7A-East Conference opener, and on April 23, the Lady Panthers completed the season sweep over the Lady Charging Wildcats with a narrow 6-5 win at the CHS softball field.

Friday’s game will be the CHS softball program’s second-ever trip to the state finals. The Lady Panthers’ only other appearance was in 2000, where they finished as state runner-up to Rogers. That year was only the state’s second for fast-pitch softball at the high school level.

On paper, the Lady Panthers go into Friday’s game as the favorite, but NLR will be the team going in with the championship experience, and several of those current NLR players have been big contributors for those state championship teams the last two years.

“You would think they would have an advantage,” said third-year Cabot head coach Chris Cope. “They’ve been there the last two years. They know how to win a state championship. It’s the first time for our girls, but I think our girls believe they have a chance.

“We’ve made it this far, so I think it’s anybody’s game now. We’re giving ourselves a chance by being there.”

Despite NLR coming into Friday’s game with the big-game experience on its side, NLR head coach Anthony Cantrell doesn’t see it as a big factor.

“I don’t think so,” said Cantrell. “I think any time you beat somebody the way they beat us, they’re obviously going to be the favorite coming in, which they ought to be. They’ve had a great year. Head-to-head, they kind of handed it to us twice.

“Having said that, having that experience may give us a little bit of something as far as what to expect on how things go.”

Neither team has an edge over the other in experience. Both teams are loaded with experienced players, but not all are seniors. The Lady Cats have six seniors on their team, and all six have been major contributors for NLR in their time there.

Those seniors are Lydia Belew, Rachel Gregory, Morgan Seaton, Ashton Bobbitt, Bailey Harris and catcher McKenzie Escovedo, who’s one of the best hitters and catchers in the state.

Other key players for NLR are juniors Sydney Parr and Hannah Lovercheck. Parr, the team’s second baseman, is one of best leadoff hitters in the state with exceptional speed, and sophomore Reagan Sperling is another speedster that led the Lady Cats with five hits in the two April games against Cabot.

Cabot has four seniors, and several talented underclassmen. The most decorated Cabot senior is pitcher/first baseman Megan Goodnight.

Goodnight, an Arkansas Tech signee, transferred to Cabot from Conway for her senior year, and leads the Lady Panthers in batting with a .459 average. She has 50 base hits, 44 RBIs and nine home runs – all of which are team-highs.

Goodnight has also scored 28 runs this season, which is tied for third-most on the team, along with fellow senior Lane Justus. Goodnight and the rest of her classmates suffered through some struggles early in the season, but Goodnight said the quick turnaround can be attributed to hard work and coaching.

“He definitely pushed us,” said Goodnight of her head coach. “We did two-a-days and he really pushed us – him (Cope) and coach (Sean) Coker and coach (Allison) Astin. They’ve really been awesome coaches. These girls, they’ve really influenced me, and they’ve just made me work harder than I thought was possible.”

Goodnight’s senior teammates are Justus, center fielder Erin Eckert and right fielder Shauna Attendorn. All four seniors have contributed to the team’s success, and have done so in different ways.

Justus has spent the bulk of her senior season as a courtesy runner, with speed being one of her biggest strengths. Attendorn has made most of her plays in right field, while Eckert has made plenty of plays both in the field and at the plate.

Eckert has 29 base hits this season, 23 RBIs, 27 runs scored and a batting average of .362. Her fielding percentage in center field is .958.

The three seniors that have been with the program since their freshman year have been a part of one of the biggest turnarounds possible. Cabot won just three games during their freshman year, but when Cope took over head-coaching duties the next year, the team’s win total grew to double digits.

The Lady Panthers won even more games the next year, and have won 27 out of their 31 games played this season.

“I definitely saw us getting better each year,” said Eckert. “You could see us slowly getting better and we knew we had a chance this year.”

“Our freshman year, we only won three games,” said Justus. “So now being in the finals is real big for us. It’s good to have all of us (seniors) together for this last year, especially after the experience we had freshman year.”

The Lady Panthers know the challenge will be great on Friday, but the opportunity to win a state championship will be like a dream come true.

“They’ve been there before and we haven’t,” Goodnight said, “but it’s something we’ve always dreamed of. I mean, we’ve all been playing since we were like 6 (years old), and it’s a dream come true really.”

Though the senior Lady Panthers have been a big part of the program’s turnaround, the same could be said for the team’s underclassmen.

Six of the Lady Panthers’ regular starters in the field are juniors and below. Junior shortstop Heather Hill continues to make strides towards a promising career at the collegiate level.

Hill has a .427 batting average this season, which ranks second on the team. She has 38 base hits, six home runs, 35 RBIs and a team-high 36 runs scored, and she’s a vacuum at shortstop with a .963 fielding percentage.

Other juniors that have played exceptionally throughout the season are second baseman Rachel Allgood, third baseman Macee Abbott and catcher/pitcher Kaitlyn Felder.

Felder earned the win in the circle in the Lady Panthers’ semifinal win over Van Buren on Saturday. She threw a two-hitter that game, finishing with nine strikeouts, but she’s done a lot of damage at the plate this season as well.

Felder, the Lady Panthers’ cleanup hitter, has a .363 average this year, five home runs, a team-high 24 extra base hits (37 base hits total), and 33 RBIs. Allgood hit a solo home run in the semifinals against Van Buren. It was her third homer of the season.

Allgood is hitting .377 this season with 29 base hits, 22 RBIs and 27 runs scored. Abbott has 14 base hits and the same number of RBIs this year, and 22 runs scored.

Sophomores Hannah Montgomery and Lauren McCluskey are the other two regular starters for Cabot. Montgomery plays first base when Goodnight pitches, and when Goodnight plays first base Montgomery stays in the lineup as the designated player.

Montgomery is hitting .310 at the plate this season and has 22 base hits. McCluskey, the team’s left fielder, is hitting .303 with 30 base hits and a whopping 35 runs scored.

Ashlyn Spears is a freshman for the Lady Panthers, and has played well in whatever role she’s been given this season. She’s batting .379 this season, going 11 for 29 at the plate, with four of those hits being doubles. She’s also scored 24 runs.

In the field, Spears plays catcher whenever Felder pitches and Spears even has a win in the circle this season.

Cabot has totaled 280 base hits this season and an overall team batting average of .341. The Lady Panthers’ ability to hit the ball is something Cantrell is well aware of.

“They hit it up and down the lineup,” Cantrell said of Cabot. “One through nine, they hit it as well as anybody we’ve seen in a long time. So that’s the big thing – up and down the lineup they can hit the ball wherever you throw it.”

Cope echoed the same thoughts regarding NLR’s biggest strength.

“Every time they step in the box, they can hit it,” Cope said of NLR. “They’ve got some speed on the bases, but their biggest thing is they can hit it. Every one of them, from one-to-nine hitters, they all can hit it and all have a chance. And their pitcher, she does a good job as well, and they know how to win.”

Depth in the circle has been another strength for Cabot this season. Goodnight has been the ace this year for the Lady Panthers, with a 15-3 record and an ERA of 1.50. She’s also struck out a team-high 77 batters this season.

Felder is the strong No. 2 for Cabot. She has a perfect 8-0 record this year with an ERA of 0.77. She’s struck out 60 batters this season and has given up just six earned runs in the 11 total games she’s pitched.

McCluskey and Montgomery have also earned wins this season in the circle and both are ace-worthy pitchers that are capable of being successful at the position whenever called upon to do so.

Cope has been the head coach of two state championship teams in his coaching career. He won a state championship at Class 4A Dardanelle in 2007 before winning a state title at Class 6A Searcy in 2011, but said this team is the first he’s had that’s deep at pitcher.

“This is the first school that we’ve had depth at pitcher,” Cope said. “At any one time, we’ve pitched three or four different girls, and we have five – a freshman, two sophomores, a junior and senior, and they’ve all been a big part of our success.

“If somebody’s been struggling, somebody’s come in and they’ve taken their place. So that’s been a big factor for us as well.”

North Little Rock also has depth at pitcher, but the Lady Cats’ ace is Gregory, who pitched in the team’s state championship win a year ago. Gregory also pitched both games against Cabot this year.

“She’s our one,” Cantrell said of Gregory. “She pitched in the championship game last year and she’ll probably start this game again this year, but we’ve got a couple of different kids that have come in and pitched for us.

“Rachel’s kind of been our workhorse. At state tournament time, she kind of focuses a little bit more. She pitched really well in the last two games of the state tournament against Rogers and against Bryant. So, hopefully we can parlay that into a good performance Friday against Cabot.”

Having each won a pair of championships as coaches, Cope and Cantrell know how to prepare their teams in the week leading up to a championship game, and the key for Cope is treating it like it’s any other week.

“My philosophy is to keep it as business-like as we always have,” Cope said, “keeping our same routines in practice and since we know them a little bit, maybe work on some different things and fine-tune some things, but at this point we’re just going to keep it business as usual.”

Both teams overcame their share of challenging playoff games in order to get to Friday’s championship game. Cabot, who earned a first-round bye by getting the top East seed, came from behind to beat Springdale Har-Ber 8-4 in last Friday’s quarterfinal round at Veterans Park in Rogers.

The Lady Panthers trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the sixth inning of that game, but reeled off seven-straight runs in that inning to beat the No. 3 West seed and advance to Saturday’s semifinals, where they beat No. 2 Central seed Van Buren 4-0.

The Lady Charging Wildcats got to this year’s finals by beating No. 6 West seed Fort Smith Northside 8-5 in the first round Thursday, No. 1 West seed Rogers 2-0 in the quarterfinals last Friday, and No. 1 Central seed Bryant 6-1 in the semis on Saturday.

Both coaches agreed that the formula for success on Friday is simple.

“We’re going to have to put the ball in play and see what happens,” Cope said. “Our bats have to come alive and we have to score some runs against them.”

Cantrell expressed the same strategy.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to need to score more runs,” Cantrell said, “and I know that’s kind of a cliché, but you’ve got to score more runs than they do.

“Coach Cope I guarantee you will have his group prepared, and hopefully mine will be, too, and I think it’s going to be a treat for all the people that can get out and come watch the game at 10 o’clock on Friday.”

Cope is proud to be one of the two teams representing the 7A/6A-East Conference, and central Arkansas.

“It’s always exciting when your conference has some success in the state tournament,” Cope said, “and it shows how tough your conference is. Now one and two is playing for the state championship, and it’s great for central Arkansas.”