Friday, December 23, 2016

TOP STORY >> I love Christmas (well…)

Leader staff writer

’Tis the season of smiles, giddiness, giving, presents, food and candy.

Everyone loves Christmas.

I love Christmas.

Well, except for wrapping presents because no matter what I do, it’s wrong. Most years I help my wife by just staying out of the way and then listening to her commiserate about how there were too many gifts, not enough tape and her back, feet and gallbladder all hurt from all that wrapping.

So this year, I decided I would loan my skills and help wrap. I was quickly told that I didn’t know how to cut the paper, fold the ends or even tape the wrapping paper.

My wife spent more time telling me how to wrap each present than it would have taken her to do it all herself.

Plus, I still had to give her my shoulder to cry on about her back, feet and gallbladder.

I just don’t know, but I think the gift inside the wrapping is more important than making sure that my wrappings include hospital corners.

But other than that – I love Christmas.

Well, except trying to coordinate a Christmas with the entire family. Mom, at 90-plus, refuses to budge from her home. The daughter who lives farthest away will only meet halfway. It seems she and her husband don’t like driving hours in the snow, ice and even tornadoes one year. Just no sense of adventure.

Then the other says Santa only delivers at home, and that’s where her husband and younguns will be come Christmas morning. So maybe a few days before or after? How dare we try to interfere with hunting season? This is Arkansas, isn’t it always hunting season for something?

The third child, the boy, is all attitude and made it clear that if he has to wait and have Christmas in January he’ll just mail everything, declaring, “I’m not going to have a Christmas tree still up in January.”

But other than that – I love Christmas.

Well, except all the junk mail catalogues and pleadings to give to this group or that group, and if not, all the little children in the world will die and the dogs will howl and cows will tip over.

I get all these catalogues marked “last copy unless you order.” Well, I never ordered the catalogue to begin with. I even skimmed through one innocent-looking booklet of sales and in the middle of that catalogue there was, well, stuff I wouldn’t send to my former boss.

Plus, it’s unbelievable how many charity groups need the help of my small, flat wallet…and if you give once, oh my, permanent dollar draining occurs.

Let’s see, just this week my mailbox was flooded with pleas from state troopers, the Salvation Army, Patriot Paws, local pet rescue groups, a school for Native Americans, a cancer research group and a pro-life send-cash-now envelope sitting right on top of a pro-choice cry for funding. Oh, please.

But other than that – I love Christmas.

Well, except shopping. I don’t mind parking almost at the end of a row and walking, but when I have to park three lots, two shopping malls and one county away, I become more interested in finding a hospital rather than that store with the sale items.

And it’s amazing how the store is always out of the item, even if I’m one of the first in the store.

Many times a rain check is offered for the next time the item is stocked, usually mid-summer. Then wall-to-wall people, checkout lines are longer than the day and you end up really wanting to deck Holly, whoever she is.

But other than that – I love Christmas.

TOP STORY >> Little girl tells Santa her wish for Christmas

Leader executive editor

This is my perennial Christmas column from 31 years ago.)

When my friend Jack Sallee was with the Jaycees in Fayetteville, they’d put an ad in the paper at Christmastime saying that for $2 you could have Santa come to your place.

There’d be a group of Santas going out every night, and Sallee was among them.

“Each Santa went to about 10 homes a night,” Sallee says. “Each Santa had a driver. Mine was named Larry Nixon. He was a big fellow, and I would tell the kids Larry was driving me around town.”

Usually nothing out of the ordinary happened. Kids got to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and Santa gave them lots of candy, and everybody went to bed happy.

But then something different did happen. Sallee says, “One night, we had two houses left to go. We drove around for a while, and, when we found one, it was a one-room house. We went inside, and the house had a dirt floor and hardly any furnishings.”

A young girl was there with her mother. They were as poor as they could be: They had nothing — or very little.

The two Jaycees, college educated and professionals who had seen dozens of nice homes, couldn’t believe what they had walked into.

“There were two cots to sleep on and a table and a chair,” Sallee says. “The house had a potbellied stove. She had one of those small Styrofoam ice chests. So needless to say, I was taken aback because I didn’t think people still lived like that. This was inside the Fayetteville city limits.

“The girl was 7 or 8 years old,” Sallee continues, “and she had long hair and blue eyes. She wore a nightgown that looked like a man’s T-shirt her mother had cut off. She was flabbergasted that Santa Claus would actually visit her.”

He says, “For a Christmas tree, her mother had brought in a branch and put it on the table.”

Her mother had found her Strong Tower Apostolic Ministries, Immanuel Family Worship Center, St. Marks Community Church, Christian Church of Jacksonville, New Commandment Church of God in Christ with additional support from personal donations by local business and residents.

Jacksonville First United Methodist Church will hold two candlelight Christmas Eve services at 4 and 7 p.m. today.

Cabot United Methodist Church is holding services today and Sunday.

Its Christmas Eve services will be at 1:30 p.m. in the sanctuary, and a contemporary candlelight service at 5 p.m. in the Family Life Center, a traditional candlelight service at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary and again at 11 p.m. in the sanctuary.

A nursery will be provided for all services except at 11 p.m.

“Join us Christmas Eve for one of our worship services as we celebrate the birth of Christ. This year Dec. 25 falls on a Sunday. That couldn’t be more fitting or appropriate. We will have one worship experience at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 25. We joyfully extend an invitation to join us in worship in the sanctuary at 1:30 p.m. at Cabot United Methodist Church, 2300 South Pine St. in Cabot on Christmas Day,” according to the announcement.

There are also two Christmas lights drive-through displays that are worth visiting.

Sherwood’s Enchanted Forest Trail of Lights at Sherwood Forest will continue to be open every night until Dec. 30.

The mile-long display features dozens of Christmas decorations with millions of lightbulbs. The entrance this year has been moved from Maryland Avenue to the parking lot of the Sherwood Sports Complex on Bear Paw Road.

The event is free, but donations are welcome.

In Lonoke County, the Christmas Road to Bethlehem annual holiday display in Lonoke County is open through New Year’s Day along Bethlehem Road, off Hwy. 31 North, 11 miles north of Lonoke and 11 miles south of Beebe.

Leading to Bethlehem United Methodist Church at 2540 Bethlehem Road, it features 30 hand-painted scenes and scriptures along the roadside telling the story of Christ’s birth.

According to the announcement, “Since its beginning in 1987 the exhibit has been a popular destination for visitors from all over central Arkansas and beyond at Christmastime.

Many who have visited share memories of driving down Bethlehem Road and reading the Christmas story together with family and friends.

The displays are lighted at night but are also enjoyable for daytime drives.

“You are invited to bring friends, relatives, large groups, church buses, and senior citizen groups to come enjoy the Christmas Road to Bethlehem this Christmas Season,” the announcement concluded.

TOP STORY >> An interview with Santa Claus

Leader staff writer

Santa Claus spent a lot of time this month at the Santa Shack at the Walmart Supercenter in Cabot.

It was his 20th year at the shack. Children and adults were able to tell him what they want for Christmas and get their photo with Santa for a $3 donation to Cabot City Beautiful.

Santa said he likes the Santa Shack for many reasons.

“I get to spend time and talk with the children. I get to hear what they want for Christmas while they are waiting for the photo to print. It is convenient for the people of Cabot,” Santa said.

Santa said the most requested toys this year are Xbox video game systems, American Girl dolls, Shopkins and Hatchimals.

“I don’t promise Hatchimals because I’m running out of them,” Santa said.

Some children ask Santa for things other than toys.

“I have some who want their family to get along; their parents to stop fighting and to be happy at home. I had one who wanted their sick grandfather to get better,” Santa said.

Santa has adults visit who never had their picture taken with him before. Some people even bring their dogs and cats.

He has a lot of younger visitors.

“I like babies’ first Christmas the best. I had one that was two days old,” Santa said.

He said some children get scared and cry when they sit on his knee. They like him from a distance, but they get nervous when they get close.

“Some will run right up to you. I never had anyone get sick, but I had one pee on my hands. I always carry an extra set of gloves,” Santa said.

Santa gets asked many questions.

“Kids ask where the reindeer and sleigh are at. What’s my favorite cookie? I like chocolate chip but like any they have,” Santa said.

His favorite meal on Christmas Eve is ham, mashed potatoes, green beans and a slice of pumpkin pie, but not too much because he has to eat a lot of cookies.

Santa hears a lot of Christmas music. His favorite songs are “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and of course “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

Flying around in a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer might seem problematic with Little Rock Air Force Base and C-130s, but Santa has it figured out.

“I have a special beacon that NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) uses to track me,” Santa said.

SPORTS STORY >> New rules for Little Red River


HEBER SPRINGS – Anglers visiting the Little Red River below Greers Ferry Dam in Heber Springs will find a few new regulations in place when they hit the water in 2017.

The Commission voted unanimously to approve many changes which were adopted to help protect the world-famous trout fishery and spawning areas. The regulations were presented to the Commission in October, and public surveys were conducted throughout October on to gather public input before the final vote.

The following regulation changes are effective Jan.1, 2017:

The 16- to 24-inch protected slot limit for all trout species on Greers Ferry Tailwater has been removed, and a five-fish daily limit with only one trout over 16 inches allowed has been instituted.

The no culling regulation has been expanded to cover all species of trout on the Greers Ferry Tailwater. Once a trout of any species is caught and placed on a stringer, in a fish basket or in a livewell, it must be kept and counts toward an angler’s daily limit.

Mobility impaired anglers may now fish on Collins Creek downstream of the wooden vehicle bridge in JFK Park.

The JFK and Mossy special regulations areas have been converted into year-round catch-and-release areas.

The Cow Shoals Seasonal Catch-and-Release Area is now a year-round catch-and-release area.

Fishing times at Cow Shoals Catch-and-Release Area are from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset Oct. 1-Dec. 31.

All trout regulations for 2017 will be available in a copy of the 2017 Trout Fishing Guidebook, which is currently at the printer and scheduled for delivery during the first week of January.

SPORTS STORY >> Mills wears down Wolves

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville Lighthouse got its first shot at one of the state’s elite on Wednesday in day one of the Titan Classic at JHS. The Class 2A Wolves took on 5A powerhouse Mills University Studies, and the experience difference was evident. The Comets jumped out to a quick 12-4 lead and went on to a dominant 95-62 victory.

The Wolves didn’t go away quietly. The Comets appeared to be on the verge of blowing the game open several times as early as the second quarter, but it wasn’t until the fourth period that they finally were able to pull away.

JLC’s two leading scorers are freshmen while Mills’ top two players are seniors who have already signed college scholarships. And experience wasn’t the only difference that was evident.

“I think you could see the physicality difference was pretty obvious,” said Lighthouse coach Kelvin Parker. “I think that had something to do with why it got away from us in the fourth quarter. They were just able to wear us down.”

Mills (9-1) led 23-11 at the end of the first quarter, and then scored the first eight points of the second to force Parker to call his third timeout just 11 minutes into the game.

But the Wolves weren’t ready to go just yet. Zack Bobo hit two 3-pointers to lead a 12-5 run that pulled Lighthouse to within 36-23 with 2:40 left in the second quarter.

That forced Mills coach Raymond Cooper to call timeout, and his team came out of the break with renewed vigor.

The Comets scored eight points in 55 seconds and were back up 21 with 1:45 left in the half. Lighthouse got to within 46-28 by intermission, and opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run to pull within 48-36 just one minute into the period.

Mills was able to stretch the lead back to 60-43 by the end of the third, but again Lighthouse (14-2) started the fourth with five-straight points by freshman Devonte Davis to make it 60-48 with 7:15 to go in the game.

That’s when the Comets exploded. Mills closed the game scoring 35 points in less than seven minutes. The mercy rule was reached with 2:14 remaining when Orion Virden hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game to make the score 88-58.

Cooper couldn’t find much to critique about his team’s performance, but did think the game should’ve been in hand a little earlier.

“I thought we lost focus a couple times when we got up by 20 or so,” Cooper said. “We were able to get it back when they’d make a little run. And I was very pleased that I was able to go pretty deep in my bench and those guys played well. I was hoping to be able to do that because I’m looking for a little more depth for rotation in conference. We may have found one or two.”

Virden joined Razorback signee Darious Hall for high-scoring honors with 23 points. Jeremiah Toney scored 12 and Grehlon Easter had 11 for the Comets, who outrebounded Lighthouse 34-13.

Davis led the Wolves with 17 points while Zack Bobo and Gerald Doakes scored 12 apiece.

Mills took on Little Rock Central on Thursday while Jacksonville Lighthouse played Jacksonville High. Look for details of those games in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS piles on JLC girls

Leader sports editor

The mercy rule was put into effect, but that was about all the mercy shown when the Jacksonville Lady Titans beat Jacksonville Lighthouse 100-15 at JHS on Wednesday.

Leading 82-13 at the end of the third quarter, Jacksonville High starters checked back into the game and continued fullcourt pressure for a little more than half of the fourth quarter en route to the century mark.

With the clock running and Jacksonville leading 95-15, the Lady Titan second string checked into the game with 3:30 remaining and continued with an extended defense.

The Lady Titans reached 98 quickly, but missed several shots before Sharonda Perry got a steal (the 37th of the game) and a layup to set the final margin.

Jacksonville coach Marian Kursh recently began to implement the pressure attack, and says Wednesday’s game was just an effort to improve defensively.

“We’re just trying to get better,” said Kursh. “We didn’t want to play on a lower level than we’re capable of. We have a tendency to do that depending on the teams we’re playing. We’re trying to work on everything and trying to get better. Our next game is a conference game, so that’s all we were trying to do.”

Jacksonville Lighthouse coach Chris Collier knew his team was overmatched, but was still disappointed in the effort his team gave. He was also unhappy that JHS continued to press a beaten team.

“A lot of it was on us because you should never stop playing defense,” said Collier. We’d lose the ball, after the first few times, we just started watching.

“On the other hand, I knew early in the third quarter she was just trying to score 100. There was no other reason. There’s good sportsmanship and there’s a lack of it, and that was a lack of it.”

The basketball sportsmanship rule states that if the point margin is 30 points or more in the fourth quarter, the game clock will run continuously, stopping only for timeouts and injuries. But there’s a built-in caveat that allows the continuous clock to start earlier if both head coaches agree to it.

Collier was asked if he wanted to run the clock the whole second half, but opted to wait until the fourth quarter. Jacksonville led 54-10 at halftime, and outscored Lighthouse 28-3 in the third.

“In hindsight I shouldn’t have done it,” Collier said. “My thinking was, we’re so inexperienced and inefficient at things, I wanted to get them as much time on the floor as possible. We don’t even have a full court to practice on 90 percent of the time. We have half a court and we don’t get to get up and down like we need to. But it was probably fruitless last night because we couldn’t even get into anything.”

Jacksonville scored the first 16 points of the game, including 10 by freshman Shymaryia Christopher.

Lighthouse got on the board with 2:31 left in the first quarter on a running floater by sophomore Amaya English. From that point, the two teams played almost evenly for the next few minutes.

After English’s basket, Jacksonville outscored Lighthouse 12-8 to take a 28-10 lead with about six minutes left in the second quarter. Jada Guy scored the Lady Wolves’ last basket of the half before the Lady Titans closed the second period with a 26-0 run.

The third period didn’t get any better for the visiting team. Jacksonville made it a 43-0 run by scoring the first 17 points of the third. When JLC’s Marla Dukes made 1 of 2 free throws with 3:11 left in the third, Jacksonville led 71-11.

Christopher and Dayzya Jordan posted double doubles for the Lady Titans. Christopher finished with 39 points and 11 rebounds. Jordan had 13 points and 11 steals.

Christopher and Perry each had seven steals while Alexis James had five for JHS.

Lighthouse only managed 16 shot attempts and committed 53 turnovers. The Wolves went 5 of 14 from 2-point range and 0 for 2 from outside.

Jacksonville went 40 for 92 from the floor, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range. The Lady Titans were 17 of 31 from the free-throw line while JLC was 4 for 6.

Jacksonville (8-8) outrebounded Lighthouse (1-15) 43-11.

JHS is off until Jan. 3 when it opens conference play at home against J.A. Fair. Lighthouse is off until Jan. 6 when it hosts Abundant Life.

SPORTS STORY >> Central owns second half against Titans

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans executed their offense with the precision of an expert marksman for about a quarter and a half on Wednesday. But that fell apart midway through the third as Little Rock Central rallied from 12 down to beat the Titans 77-64 at JHS.

The Tigers started strong. Their length and athleticism was a problem for the host team as they built a 15-11 lead.

When Jacksonville’s Christian White picked up two quick fouls, it left Central with two players at least three inches taller than anyone the Titans could put on the floor. Central forwards Tyler Moore and Raekwon Rogers combined for 10 of Central’s first-quarter points.

Jacksonville got adjusted in the second quarter and began to pick apart Central’s defense. Swing passes and backdoor cuts led to some open layups against the Tigers’ zone. Caleb Kendrick and Tyree Appleby added 3-pointers from outside.

Jacksonville outscored Central 22-13 in the second quarter and took a 33-28 lead into halftime.

The home team picked up right where it left off in the third. Jacksonville scored the first seven points of the second half, and Central was showing frustration. Central’s Cameron Johnson picked up a technical foul after Kavion Waller hit a wide-open layup for Jacksonville.

Appleby made both free throws to make it a 9-0 run and give the Titans a 42-30 lead with 5:24 left in the third quarter.

It was almost all Central from that point. Over the next two minutes, the Tigers outscored Jacksonville 9-2, and Titan coach Vic Joyner called timeout with 3:20 left. The timeout stopped Central’s run momentarily, but Jacksonville never got its offense clicking like it had been in the second and early third quarters.

Central scored 21 points in the final five minutes of the third quarter and took a 51-49 lead into the fourth period. Making things worse for Jacksonville, Central guard Jacobia Platt got hot from outside, propounding the Titans’ difficulties in stopping Rogers inside.

Platt hit three long 3-pointers and Rogers scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to lead Centrals’ charge.

The Tigers opened the quarter with a 9-2 run to take a 60-51 lead. Appleby got the line to cut it to seven, but Platt hit his second 3-pointer to make it a 10-point game.

The lead reached 11 at 66-55 before Jacksonville scored six-straight. Appleby lobbed an alley-oop pass to Joe Phillips for a slam dunk that made it 66-61 with 3:20 remaining, and the Titans had three possessions at that same score but could never get any closer.

Their next three possessions ended in two turnovers and a missed 3-pointer. It should’ve been four possessions, but the officials mistakenly called a loose ball out of bounds on Jacksonville, and Central scored on the ensuing possession.

The Tigers eventually scored eight in a row to put the game away.

Joyner believes his team is close to being one of the elite in the state, but needs someone to step up and be a point guard.

“We just don’t have a true point guard and that’s what’s killing us right now,” Joyner said. “Appleby can do it, but he’s really a two and he wants to score first. He was running it like a veteran in the second quarter and we were picking them apart. But he got out of it and started forcing it. I put DaJuan (Ridgeway) out there and he wanted to go for his shot. If we can get somebody to sacrifice just a little bit of their offense and be a point guard, I’ll put this team out there against anybody. We’re so close, we just have to have a point guard.”

The Titans (7-5) were 20 of 55 from the floor, and made just four of 20 3-point attempts against Central’s zone defense. They were 20 of 29 at the free-throw line while Central made 24 of 36. The Tigers (8-2) outrebounded the Titans 31-29.

Appleby led all scorers with 27 points. He also had six rebounds and five assists. Phillips came off the bench to contribute 11 points and seven rebounds.

Platt led Central with 19 points, including 13 in the second half. Johnson scored 17 and Moore 13 for the Tigers. Rogers made it a double-double by adding 11 rebounds to his 16 points. Moore also had a double-double with 10 rebounds.

The Titans will play next week in the Coke Classic at UA-Fort Smith. Their first round game will be 2:30 p.m. Wednesday against Little Rock Hall.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers blow through Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville defense was stingy in the early going, but Cabot’s was stingy the entire game Friday at Panther Arena. The Lady Panthers held Jacksonville to just 7 of 49 shooting (14.3%) en route to a dominant 50-19 victory over the Lady Titans.

The guard-oriented Lady Titans led most of the first quarter until Holly Allen hit a 17-footer with 1:30 left on the clock. That put the Lady Panthers up 7-6, and they would add one more basket to lead by three at the end of the frame.

From that point, Jacksonville had no answer for Cabot post player Haley Sobczak. The 6-foot-1 senior didn’t start and didn’t post any statistics in the first quarter, but finished with game highs in three categories. Sobczak posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and added four blocked shots to her stat line.

“We’re hoping Haley has kind of woke up a little bit,” said Cabot assistant coach Jeremy Holbrook. “She’d been starting but hasn’t really played up to where we think she should’ve been, so we decided to give someone else a try. But she came off the bench and had her best game of the year. If she’ll keep being aggressive and playing strong like she did tonight, it would be a big help to us.”

Jacksonville (7-8) took a 6-3 lead on a 3-point play by Alexis James with four minutes left in the first period. Cabot’s defense then held the Lady Titans without a field goal until 5:18 remained in the third quarter.

Jacksonville managed just one free throw the rest of the half, and that came with 5:16 left in the second quarter.

Cabot’s defense harassed Jacksonville into missing 17 straight shots the rest of the half after taking the 6-3 lead.

The Lady Panthers also forced 15 Jacksonville turnovers while building a 26-7 lead by intermission.

Freshman forward Shy Christopher was the Lady Titans’ leading scorer entering the game, but Cabot (9-1) focused most of its defensive attention on Jacksonville’s guard play.

“We got scouting reports on number five (Dayzya Jordan) and number two (James),” Halbrook said. “We thought we should have an advantage inside, so we felt like if we could stop those two we’d have a pretty good chance. I thought our girls did an outstanding job on what we worked on, and really kept those two from hurting us too much.”

James and Jordan led Jacksonville in scoring, but with just seven and five points respectively.

Cabot made 18 of 32 2-point shots and went just 2 for 15 from beyond the 3-point line. The Lady Panthers were also 6 of 14 from the free-throw line, where Jacksonville was even worse at 3 for 11.

Sobczak was the only player to score in double figures, but Josie VanOss added nine points and Allen seven for Cabot.

The Lady Panthers, now winners of nine-straight after a season-opening loss, are off until next Wednesday when they will play Clarksville at 10 a.m. in the first round of the Hoops for Hunger tournament at Russellville High School.

Jacksonville hosts Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter at 5 p.m. tonight, and will be off until Jan. 3 when it opens conference 5A/6A-Central Conference play at J.A. Fair.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bison overcome early deficit to beat LHS

Leader sports editor

The Carlisle Lady Bison got their first win in 20 years over county rival Lonoke on Saturday at the Gina Cox Center. Things didn’t go well for the visiting team early, but the Lady Bison rallied for a 37-31 victory over the Jackrabbits after falling behind by 11.

It was the first varsity win over Lonoke in the Jonathan Buffalo era of Lady Bison basketball, and he was proud of his team for overcoming the early deficit.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that we kept playing hard and didn’t quit,” said Buffalo. “The girls stuck with the game plan and kept executing, and finally started getting some easy baskets. It’s a big win for Carlisle. I’m proud of this team.”

Lonoke scored the first 11 points of the game before Carlisle’s Ashby Harbison came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer with 1:21 left in the first quarter.

The margin stayed between four and 10 points throughout the second period. Carlislegot to within 13-9 with 3:22 left in the first half when Kayla Golleher got a steal and a layup for the Lady Bison.

Lonoke then scored five-straight points, the last two on free throws after a technical foul was issued to Golleher with 2:12 remaining. Mickenzie Williams’ two free throws were the last two points as both teams went scoreless the rest of the half.

The game began to turn in the third quarter when Carlisle opened the second half in a 2-1-2 fullcourt press. Lonoke turned it over on four-straight possessions as Carlisle scored seven-straight points to get to within two.

Lonoke coach Heath Swiney called timeout and made some adjustments on attacking the press.

“I just told somebody to flash in the middle, and once the ball was reversed, to attack,” said Swiney. “We had no trouble breaking the press after that. We started getting layups. We just weren’t making them. We got open threes and couldn’t make them. We hit those shots in the first half, but I think we were dead dog tired later in the second half.”

Lonoke played the game without two starters, including its leading scorer. That added a fatigue factor that Swiney thinks played a big role in the second half.

“No doubt defensively fatigue was an issue,” Swiney said. “In the first half we held them to nine points. We held their best player to three points. Late in the game we didn’t rotate fast enough on the back side and gave up three or four backside layups, and I think that was without a doubt because we were tired.

“I basically had no subs, and we were just tired. We couldn’t get to the spots we got to early.”

Carlisle tied the game with 2:31 left in the third quarter on a 10-foot jumper by Kylie Warren, and then took the lead for the first time a minute later on a 3-pointer by Golleher.

Lonoke’s Gracie Hyde answered with a 3-pointer and the two teams went into the fourth quarter knotted at 23-23.

Williams then scored the first basket of the fourth period for Lonoke before Carlisle went on a 10-0 run over the next 3:30 to take a 33-25 lead.

Mia Brown and Kaley Woodruff scored back-to-back baskets to make it 33-29 with just less tan three minutes remaining, but the Lady Rabbits could get no closer than four points the rest of the way.

Kiara Miller led Carlisle (9-2) with 10 points, all 10 in the second half and eight of those on those backside layups. Warren finished with nine.

Williams led Lonoke (7-4) with 10 points while Woodruff and Brown scored eight apiece.

Both teams will be back in action on the same floor Dec. 27 in the Goldfish Classic. Carlisle will face Des Arc 11 a.m. and Lonoke plays Hazen at 7 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot pulls away from Titans

Leader sports editor

What would a Cabot vs. Jacksonville game be without a little contention? It may have been six years since the two boys’ basketball teams had met, but the rivalry picked up right where it left off, only this time the Panthers reversed the outcome.

The defending Class 7A state champions knocked off the Titans 73-53 Friday at Panther Arena in a game that featured 54 personal and four technical fouls.

“I wish they would have let the kids play a little bit more,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “There wasn’t any flow to the game like you like to see in basketball. But I thought our kids defended really well. And then when we finally started making some shots in the third quarter we were able to pull away. Jalen Brown stepped up and got us going offensively.

“But Victor (Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner) is a good basketball coach and he had those guys ready.”

Joyner was a bit more direct with his assessment of the officiating.

“They ruined a good basketball game,” Joyner said. “Jacksonville vs. Cabot, this should’ve been a good basketball game. But we never got to play any basketball. We practiced inbounds plays and shot free throws for two hours.”

The first delay came before tip-off when the officiating crew didn’t like the game ball, and had the Cabot coaches get a different one out of the equipment room.

Neither team started well offensively. Jacksonville had three turnovers on its first three possessions, but also held Cabot scoreless.

The first points of the game came when Cabot’s Matt Stanley hit two free throws 86 seconds into the game. After a Jacksonville miss, Stanley flashed through the lane after Logan Gilbertson missed and slammed home a putback for a 4-0 Cabot lead.

Jacksonville’s Kavion Waller hit two free throws with 4:53 left for the Titans’ first points of the game.

Cabot (8-1) led 8-5 with three minutes left in the period, but Jacksonville closed the first quarter on a 10-1 run and took a 15-9 lead into the second quarter. Jacksonville was already in the double bonus by the 2:04 mark of the first quarter, and Cabot wasn’t far behind. The Panthers were shooting two foul shots just seconds into the second quarter.

The Titan lead was up to 17-10 when Cabot’s first of two six-free-throw possessions took place.

Waller was called for a personal foul while jockeying with Gilbertson, and then for a technical for apparently continuing to shove after the whistle.

Gilbertson made all four free throws with 6:16 left in the second quarter, and then was fouled just seconds after the ball was thrown in on the ensuing possession. He made 1 of 2 on that trip to pull Cabot to within 17-15.

Jacksonville (7-4) stretched the lead back to 24-18 on a 3-pointer by Tyree Appleby, who was playing with a sprained ankle. Cabot then got a 2-pointer by Noah Allgood and a 3-pointer by Jared Vance to make the score 24-23.

Jacksonville’s DaJuan Ridgeway then scored the final four points of the half to send the Titans into the locker room with a 28-23 lead.

Appleby hit a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the second quarter to give Jacksonville its biggest lead of the game, but he picked up his third foul just 11 seconds later and didn’t play the rest of the period.

The Panthers went with pressure at that point and caused a series of Jacksonville turnovers. Brown dived to the floor to knock a ball loose that Jacksonville appeared to have corralled. That led to a fastbreak dunk by Stanley, who was then hit with a technical foul for taunting.

The free throws put Jacksonville up 35-30, but Cabot closed the quarter with a 22-10 run.

It started with a 3-pointer by Brown, and Bobby Joe Duncan followed with a steal and a layup that tied the game with 3:21 left in the third.

Jacksonville’s Harderrious Martin answered with a 3-pointer, but Brown came right back with another one to make it 38-38. Brown’s third 3-pointer of the run gave Cabot it’s first lead since the first quarter with 1:55 left in the third.

Another Jacksonville turnover led to free throws by Duncan and a five-point Cabot lead.

At 44-40 Cabot, the Panthers got their second six-free-throw possession with 36 seconds to go.

The first came when the Titans checked in a player wearing a different number from what was listed in the official scorebook. Joyner was then hit with a technical while at the scorer’s table, and he hotly disputes the referee’s decision.

“I was up there talking to the scorebook guy and the referee comes in there and just starts yelling at me,” Joyner said. “We were getting things straightened out, and he’s the one that came there and escalated everything. He was completely disrespectful.”

Cabot made all four free throws, and then got two more when Brylin Estes was called for a foul before the ball was thrown inbounds. The Panthers made 1 of 2 to take a 49-40, and Brown made his fourth 3-pointer of the quarter to send the home team into the final period with a 12-point lead.

“That was a turning point,” Joyner said. “It’s a four-point game with 30 seconds left. They get six free throws and the ball back, and now we’re down 12 in the fourth quarter.”

Bridges noted how the game was being called and decided early to just keep quiet.

“There was one point where they called 10 straight fouls on us in that first quarter,” Bridges said. “I didn’t see what happened on any of those technicals. I didn’t see what the Jacksonville kid did. Matt told me all he said was ‘let’s go’. They were just real touchy tonight and I just told myself I better just sit down and stay out of it. But it’s frustrating. I know Victor is frustrated, too.”

Appleby re-entered to start the fourth quarter, but again played for just one minute before sitting the rest of the game. He suffered a high ankle sprain six days earlier, and Joyner wished after the game that he hadn’t played at all.

“I shouldn’t have played him,” Joyner said. “I hope I didn’t set him back. It was Cabot so he wanted to give it a try. But I shouldn’t have let him. We’ll see how it goes from here.”

The 6-foot senior guard still led the Titans with 13 points despite only playing seven minutes.

Duncan, a three-year starter who didn’t start on Friday, came off the bench to lead all players with 20 points. Brown added 17 while Stanley had 14. Gilbertson scored 13, including 11 from the free-throw line.

Cabot went 26 of 34 from the foul line as a team while Jacksonville made 17 of 26 attempts. The Panthers were an impressive 9 of 17 from 3-point range, with Brown going 5 for 8. Jacksonville was 5 of 16 from outside.

The Panthers will play at 2:30 p.m. next Wednesday against Clarksville in the first round of the Hoops for Hunger tournament at Russellville High School.

Jacksonville will host Little Rock Central at 8 p.m. tonight in the first round of the Titan Classic at JHS, and will face Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in day two of that event.

EDITORIAL >> Will it snow Christmas?

Will it snow in Arkansas on Christmas Day?

The long-term odds are against it and so are the short-term odds as temperatures are forecast to be close to 70 degrees – that’s right, a Florida Christmas.

But this is Arkansas and things can change quickly. Look at last Saturday when, at a balmy 77 degrees, we nearly broke the all-time warmth record for that day of 78 degrees…then five hours later, boom, it was in the mid-30s, and continued downward. On Sunday, it never got above 33 degrees. Monday night the low was 13.

So even though the forecast says no snow, one never knows.

Back in 2012, central Arkansas was hit with nine to 11 inches of snow, depending on your exact location, piled up officially on Dec. 25. This was the first Christmas snow that stuck in more than 80 years!

Looking at the entire period of weather records from 1875 to 2015, snow fell on Christmas Day a dozen times (measurable four times and flurries or trace amounts the other eight times), meaning, on average about every 12 years.

In three other years, no snow fell, but there was measurable snow already on the ground. Add them up, and we have snow on Christmas Day about every nine years.

In 1887, 1914, 1918, 1935, 1939, 1975 and 2009 snow fell with no accumulation.

In 1876, two inches of snow was on the ground from snowfall on Christmas Eve.

In 1879, Christmas Eve rain changed to a mix of sleet and snow during the afternoon. By night the ground was covered with snow and still was Christmas morning.

In 1897, an inch of snow fell on Christmas Day but most was gone that evening.

In 1913, snow started late Christmas Eve and continued for about 12 hours, dropping 1.5 inches of snow, but a warm Christmas afternoon melted most of it away.

On Christmas Day in 1926, sleet began falling and then changed to snow, leaving us with 1.7 inches of sleet and 2.5 inches of snow.

On Christmas Eve in 1962, it snowed an inch and a half during the day but melted quickly during the night leaving only patches of snow on the ground Christmas morning. But that still counts.

In 1963, four inches of snow were on the ground Christmas Day, left over from a 9.8-inch snowfall on Dec. 22.

In 1975, it snowed on Christmas afternoon, leaving a trace.

Then in 1983, it snowed two inches a few days before Christmas, but because of the cold weather, it was still on the ground for Christmas.

In 1990, 2.4 inches of snow and sleet fell on Dec. 22-23 and some of it remained for Christmas.

In 2000, there was some snow on the ground in northern and western Arkansas on Christmas Day. In central Arkansas, a trace of sleet and freezing rain had accumulated on the ground, but later on Christmas, one of the largest ice storms in recorded history hit and shut the state down for the remainder of the year.

In 2004, roughly three inches of snow fell Dec. 22 with an inch still on the ground on Christmas Day. In 2009, light snow began a little before midnight on Christmas Eve, leaving patches on the ground for Christmas ambience.

But whether it’s a white Christmas or not, it is the season to check on neighbors, friends and pets. Be sure they are safe from the cold and from the heat.

December, January and February are the leading months for house fires in this country. More than one third of fire deaths typically occur during the winter months.

To avoid fire accidents, make sure central heating systems are in proper working order. Space heaters need to be at least 36 inches away from any flammable materials. The heaters should not be left on when no one is present or when people are asleep. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed to provide an early warning when gas begins to build up.

’Tis the season to be safe, above all else.

TOP STORY >> Schools rewarded for improving

Leader staff writer

The state recently gave out almost $7 million as a reward to schools that have seen academic improvements and higher graduation rates.

Three Searcy schools, along with one from Cabot, one from Jacksonville and both Lisa Academy campuses were honored.

The best in the area was Searcy’s Alhf Junior High, which made the state’s top five percent performance list and is receiving $60,600.

Westside Elementary, also in Searcy, was another top five percent performer and is receiving $53,300.

McRae Elementary in Searcy was in the state top six-to-ten percent performance list for the 2015-2016 school year and is receiving $25,150.

Cabot Middle School South was also in that second upper echelon category like McRae and is getting $34,900.

Arnold Drive Elementary on Little Rock Air Force Base is the only school in the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District to be rewarded, landing in the district’s top 5 percent improved for last school year when it was part of the Pulaski County Special School District. For its efforts, the school is receiving $17,500.

Construction of a new school combining Arnold Drive with Tolleson Elementary will start in May.

Lisa Academy Middle School North landed in the top five percent performance category and will get $22,300. Its high school, on the top five percent growth and graduation rate list, will receive $11,200.

“I am proud to recognize the 201 top Arkansas schools that have qualified for additional funds from the Arkansas School Recognition Program,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said earlier this week. “These schools have demonstrated exceptional academic improvement and have inspired students to work hard to achieve their goals. I am excited to see how these schools use their School Recognition Program funds to continue to increase student success.”

Dr. Janice Walker, principal at Arnold Drive, is having the staff decide how to best use the money to continue student improvement.

Cabot’s superintendent, Dr. Tony Thurman, said, “A final decision on how to use the funds must be made by a committee from the school. It’s been past practice that the administrators have requested to use the funds to purchase additional Chromebooks for student use.”

He added, “The reward and incentive funding is based on a unique calculation for not only achievement, but for overall improvement, such as the case at Cabot Middle School South last year. The staff worked very hard and our students responded by doing extremely well.”

The state created the Arkansas School Recognition Program to provide financial awards to public schools that experience high student performance and academic growth as measured by the annual state-mandated battery of tests. Secondary schools are also awarded for increased graduation rates.

If a school scores in the top five percent of all Arkansas public and charter schools in student performance or student academic growth, it receives $100 per student. Those schools finishing in the next level (six to 10 percent) receive $50 per students.

However, schools classified as focus schools or priority schools under the “needs improvement” list do not receive financial rewards.

The state has been awarding schools since 2013.

TOP STORY >> Retracing history to Budapest

Leader executive editor

“The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”
— William Faulkner, “Requiem for a Nun”

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” — George Orwell

Yuri Andropov, the former Soviet leader who made Vladimir Putin a lieutenant colonel in the KGB back in the 1970s, called in the Red Army tanks through my hometown in northeast Hungary in November 1956. Andropov, who was the Soviet ambassador to Budapest, was putting down a popular uprising that started a month earlier.

On Nov. 4, hundreds of Red Army tanks and thousands of troops stormed back into Hungary, many of them through Nyiregyhaza, our hometown, not far from the Ukrainian border where they crossed into Hungary.

I watched those tanks and soldiers as a little boy, many of them Mongolians who were told they were going to the Suez Canal.

Andropov had called for the Soviet troops as he looked out his embassy window in Budapest and saw communist secret service agents hanging from lampposts. Andropov pleaded with his superiors in Moscow for more troops and not to withdraw from Hungary.

The Kremlin appeared ready to abandon Hungary and its puppet government, but Andropov convinced his bosses back home that other captive nations in eastern Europe would also rise up against the Soviet occupiers just as they did in East Berlin and Poland before.

The Red Army quickly crushed the Hungarian uprising and preserved the Soviet empire for another 35 years.

Six weeks after those tanks rolled into Hungary — exactly 60 years ago this week — my parents, my little brother and I and a group of frightened refugees traveled west across Hungary as the fighting ended, and we made it across the border to freedom in Austria.

Andropov, the butcher of Budapest, helped postpone the inevitable and briefly led the Soviet Union after a long run as head of the dreaded KGB. Putin, his most famous recruit, rose quickly through the ranks and eventually headed the FSB, the KGB’s successor following the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

The man who hired Putin is long gone — he died of kidney failure at the age of 69 in 1984 — but Putin put a statue of Andropov in front of the old KBG building, a reminder of the glory days of the Soviet empire.

But there is a price to pay for invading Ukraine and meddling in foreign wars and U.S. elections. Monday’s assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey is just the latest blowback over the Kremlin’s interference. There will be others.

Russia is a Third World country with oil and gas and nuclear weapons, but Putin thinks he could bring back his nation’s lost empire and prestige and win back the world’s respect despite all the blood on his hands.

Putin is not just a killer, like Andropov, but also a thief who gets a 40 percent cut of all major transactions in Russia, such as oil deals made with Exxon, whose chief executive, Rex Tillerson, has just been nominated as Donald Trump’s secretary of state.

Putin, who is said to have stolen $40 billion from the Russian people, heads a post-communist Mafia state who runs the risk of provoking more terrorist attacks against Russian officials and targets at home and abroad. He’ll have to fight an expensive war on several fronts while facing congressional investigations in the U.S. over hacked Democratic emails in the last election.

Many of the findings will prove embarrassing even to a hoodlum like Putin, who has poisoned and assassinated his enemies across Europe.

Putin is said to have ordered the bombings of apartment buildings in 1999 in Russia, where nearly 300 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

He blamed Chechen rebels for the bombings, although local police arrested his own FSB agents at the scene before they were released.

Putin, the butcher of Aleppo, may not appreciate comparisons to Yuri Andropov, whose tanks passed in front of our home 60 years ago. Those early memories prepared me to speak out against Russian imperialism, even when they’re attacking us in cyberspace.

TOP STORY >> Veterans to get break on taxes

Leader senior staff writer

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s $50 million proposed tax cut, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2018, is more than the tip of the iceberg, but still not the whole picture.

Hutchinson is among the supporters of a proposed $13 million state tax cut for retired veterans, being sold as “doing what’s right” for retired vets and also as an economic development tool to keep them here or attract them from other states, according to two local lawmakers promoting the cut.

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) and state Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) are the lead sponsors for one such bill, which would exempt military retirement pay for Arkansas veterans.

Little Rock Air Force Base is located in Johnson’s House district and English’s Senate district.

Sen. Charlene Fite (R-Van Buren), Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) and Rep. Scott Baltz (D-Pocahontas) are sponsoring a similar bill toward the same ends.

Currently, veterans areeligible for the same $6,000 exemption as other retirees.


The economic development impact of Little Rock Air Force Base is about $800 million a year and retired Col. Don Berry of the Arkansas Veterans Coalition says the economic impact of retaining and attracting military retirees across the state could be about the same.

This exemption, consistent with the governor’s approach to additional tax reductions, must be offset with the repeal of other tax exemptions.

Remove the exclusion from income on unemployment compensation, which would create $3.1 million in additional General Revenue.

Apply the sales tax on full cost of manufactured housing, which would create $2.4 million in additional General Revenue.

Levy the full sales tax on sale of candy and soft drinks. (Candy and soft drinks are currently taxed at a lower rate under the Grocery Tax.) This proposed change would bring in $13.8 million in additional General Revenue.

In all, closing exemptions would add $19.3 million to state revenues. It would provide $6.3 million for the Medicaid trust fund, leaving it intact.

Gov. Hutchinson would cut $50 million in taxes, mostly from the poor and lower middle class, in his proposed 2017 budget, but some say those cuts would be at the expense of unmet needs and services that would be helpful to low-income and others.

The state needs to expand the pre-K program and transition the juvenile justice system from a lockup model to a community-based model, according to Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

This tax cut would make nearly $300 million since the 2013 funding year. Most of the cuts in the two previous budgets were for middle and high-income people and business.

The total price tag for the tax cut is $50,517,296—the bulk of which, approximately $46 million, will substantively affect an estimated 657,000 Arkansans. Of that 657,000 (44 percent of the roughly 1.5 million individual income taxpayers in the state), approximately 120,000 taxpayers in the lowest bracket will be taken off the tax rolls completely.

Hutchinson’s proposed income tax cuts are expected to decrease the burden on Arkansans earning less than $20,999 breaks down like this:

Those earning up to $4,299, currently taxed at 0.9 percent will be taxed at 0 percent, a tax cut totaling $22,283,558. Those in the $4,300 to $8,399 range, currently taxed at 2.4 percent, will be taxed instead at 2 percent, a revenue reduction of $7,508,244.

Those in the $8,400 to $12,599 range, currently taxed at 3.4 percent, would pay only 3 percent, a revenue reduction of $5,617,899; and those in the $12,600-$20,999 range, currently taxed 4.4 percent will be taxed at 3.4 percent—that’s a revenue deduction of $10,898,058.


By way of example, a person earning $12,599 would currently pay $427 in state taxes, while at the reduced rate, the tax would be $378—a savings of about $50.

Huddleston said a state earned-income tax credit plan would be more helpful to the low income.

A single person earning less than $11,000 year already doesn’t pay state tax, he said, or a couple earning less than $19,000. With an earned income credit, they could actually get some cash back.

“We are sincerely appreciative that the majority of this tax cut is to low income people,” said Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Families and Children.

Other Republicans are going to push him for larger tax cuts, mostly aimed at businesses and wealthy people, Huddleston said. “He’ll be facing bigger challenges in his own party. Still it’s a big chunk of change,” he said.

Hutchinson said the state has so many unfunded needs, like further expansion of pre-K schooling, reforming its juvenile prison system and paying more than the bare minimum for highway and other infrastructure projects.

TOP STORY >> COPS Toy Patrol

The Cabot Police Department held its fifth annual COPS Toy Patrol on Thursday at the Cabot Walmart Supercenter.

Fifty children from pre-K to fourth grade in the Cabot School District were treated to a night of Christmas shopping that they may not otherwise have had. They were paired with a Cabot police officer and had around $100 to spend for themselves and their families. Students were nominated through teachers and staff members.

Money for the event was raised through private donations, the sale of a middle school student art contest calendar and a charity softball game.

Mountain Springs Elementary third-grader Alona Cherry thought it was cool to be shopping with an officer.

“They protect us, and it is nice. It is an honor to be here today,” Cherry said.

Westside Elementary third-grader Armanie Hill was happy for the opportunity to be shopping for herself with police.

“You get to meet the cops. We can get clothes,” Hill said.

April and Steven Pruitt had two children shopping with officers.

“It means a lot. I work all the time, but the money goes to bills. We wouldn’t have Christmas. We weren’t able to get anything.” April Pruitt said.

Steven Pruitt said, “It is a blessing. It is the magic of Christmas, the spirit of giving to someone—a Christmas miracle.”

Alexis Wilson, a parent said, “It means a lot for me and my children for officers to help out this year. I feel thankful and grateful.”

Capt. Brent Lucas said, “It is a lot of fun. It is a blast. You get to spend time with kids and see the excitement and enjoyment of Christmas.”

Police chaplain Tina Frost said, “I would like to thank the community and the businesses that helped. Without them it wouldn’t have been possible. I would also like to thank the police officers and the volunteers who wrapped the presents and helped the 50 kids have a merry Christmas.”