Friday, August 04, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Hwy. 89 Extension

Almost $200 million in Hwy. 67/167 construction projects are nearing the halfway mark from Jacksonville to Cabot. Although the construction has caused some disruption for commuters, especially with the recent closing of the Main Street exit, the inconvenience is well worth it once construction is completed in a couple of years.

Two overpasses are under construction at Redmond Road and Main Street at a cost of $2 million. In addition, the widening and repaving to six lanes to Hwy. 5 is also underway, along with a $20 million north interchange going up between Cabot and Austin.

Widening from Jacksonville to Hwy. 5 in Cabot should be completed next at a cost of $70 million. The widening will then resume from Main Street to Vandenberg Boulevard for $61 million.

Now comes or Garver Engineers, who by the end of next summer are expected to complete a $200,000 study on the feasibility of turning Hwy. 89 into an east-west corridor connecting Hwy. 67/167 at Jacksonville and Cabot with I-40 at Mayflower and perhaps on to Conway.

At the behest of many central Arkansas mayors, county judges and legislators, Metroplan and the newly renamed Arkansas Department of Transportation will split the study tab 50-50, according to Casey Covington, Metroplan deputy director.

He said priorities and critical issues must be identified and that there would be a public meeting later this month or in early September.

Complicating factors for such a highway project include its proximity to both Camp Robinson and flight paths at Little Rock Air Force Base, which could have safety and national security implications.

Officials pursued building the Hwy. 89 corridor when cancellation of the $600 million Northbelt Freeway left north Pulaski and southeast Faulkner counties without a loop around Little Rock.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said a Coffelt crossing ramp onto Hwy. 67/167 could eliminate a lot of the upstream congestion coming from the north part of the county and Cabot, Austin and Ward, which backs up at Vandenberg Boulevard.

“It could also open up the five miles stretch between Jacksonville and Cabot to development,” Fletcher told The Leader. So it’s not just about an east-west connection between Conway and Mayflower on the west and Jacksonville and Cabot on the east, he said.

The Hwy. 89 extension would be a welcome addition to the road improvements underway, leading to economic development, more jobs and better schools.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke golfers set season goals high

By ANN THARP Special to The Leader 

After losing one from the girls’ side and two from the boys’ side to graduation, this year’s Lonoke High School golf team is comprised of two young men, Ryan Robinson and Will Armstrong, both experienced seniors. The team will be unable to qualify for the state tournament with only two players, but both aspire to qualify for state as individuals.

“Both are good kids and fun to be around,” said Lonoke golf coach LouAnn Howell. “Both are good students. You don’t have to worry about them when checking for eligibility, and they have extremely supportive parents.”

Robinson, a four-year letterman for the Jackrabbits, has been playing golf since age six. He played U.S. Kids Golf in various states and Arkansas Junior Golf. He played Pinehurst at ages 8 and 9 and has played St. Augustine.

His most memorable golf moment was his only hole-in-one on No. 8 at Rolling Hills in Cabot at age 10. He has been the No. 1 player for Lonoke both his sophomore and junior years, has been named all-conference in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and All State in 2016.

He just missed qualifying for all-around in 2016 and was on the team that qualified for state in 2014 and 2015. This year’s goal is to play in the high school overall tournament, and he would like to play golf at the next level.

“Ryan has all the skills needed to play golf in his bag,” Howell stated. “He just has to play smart.”

Armstrong is also a four-year letterman. He has been around golf all his life but picked it up when he started playing as a freshman. Armstrong enjoys the tradition that he and his father have of playing in the ASGA father-son tournament every year.

He was also on the Lonoke team that qualified for state in 2014 and 2015 and hopes to qualify for the state tournament this year. “Will has a heart as big as the state of Arkansas,” Howell commented. “If his competitive edge was as big as his heart, he would be hard to beat.”

Lonoke plays in the 2-4A conference, which includes Baptist Prep, CAC, E-Stem, Heber Springs, Riverview, Southside Batesville and Stuttgart.

Their first match will be Tuesday at Heber Springs. The first home match will be Monday, Aug. 21 at Rolling Hills in Cabot.

This will be the third year that Rolling Hills has been their home course, and the second year where home matches have been played.

“Rolling Hills has been very supportive to the ASJGA and to Lonoke High School golf,” coach Howell said.

After the Tuesday’s match, the Jackrabbits play on Thursday at Tannenbaum near Heber Springs, Aug. 17 at Stuttgart, Aug. 21 at Rolling Hills, Aug. 28 at DeWitt, Sept. 7 at the Red Apple Course in Heber Springs, Sept. 12 at the Greens at North Hills hosted by Sylvan Hills, and on Sept. 14 again at Rolling Hills.

The District Tournament will be hosted by CAC on Sept. 18-19. The state tournament will be Oct. 2-3 at the Red Apple in Heber Springs.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers making strides

By RAY BENTON  Leader sports editor

When the Cabot volleyball team started play in a team camp at Benton earlier this week, head coach Kham Chanthaphasouk’s main objective was too see improvement since an early July camp at Missouri State University.

That objective was met.

Over the course of the camp, the young Cabot team played four teams it went a combined 0-7 against in last year’s regular season. At Benton, they went 2-2 against those same four teams and were competitive in close matches in the two losses.

Cabot beat Batesville and Mount St. Mary, while losing close sets to 2016 7A-Central co-champions North Little Rock and Conway.

“It went very well,” said Chanthaphasouk. “When you compare it to how we played at MSU, we improved tremendously. We have so many that have no real varsity experience, so I wasn’t really too upset with how we did at MSU, but I knew we were going to have to get a lot better. This camp was encouraging because I think it shows that we are getting better.”

Final scores, however, were not what the head Panther was most concerned about. After the MSU camp, Chanthaphasouk and assistant coach Ann Robertson implemented some specific drills and address the problem areas. He also wanted to see improvement in some of the intangibles. He was encouraged by all of it.

“The main thing that I was most excited about was the teamwork,” Chanthaphasouk said. “They were talking and communicating on the floor. They were transitioning faster and helping each other do that. Everybody, every single player, it looked like to me, took a step forward.”

The head Panther said there were still a few errors, and some of the competition held distinct size advantages the squad struggled to deal with at times. But the prevailing mood of the camp was extremely positive.

“We’re definitely not perfect and no one expected us to be,” Chanthaphasouk said. “What we did, though, without a doubt, was showed that we’re moving in the right direction. We made a plan to improve on certain things and we did that in leaps and bounds. Compared to MSU it was night and day.”

SPORTS STORY >> Titans take on big boys

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

It’s a given that when a team is forced to play in a division larger than its actual enrollment, there will be numbers discrepancies on the rosters as well. That’s the situation the Jacksonville Titans are facing this season as they prepare for their second of four years in the 6A-East, even though the school’s enrollment falls within the 5A classification.

Five of Jacksonville’s conference opponents boast a roster more than 50 percent larger than Jacksonville’s, including two that more than doubles the Titans’ team numbers and another that almost doubles it.

In the first week of practice, Jacksonville has worked out with about 40 players each day. Meanwhile, West Memphis, Jacksonville’s week 8 opponent, starts the season with 97. That’s about 120 percent more players.

Jonesboro comes in just below 90 with 86, which is an advantage of more than 90 percent. Pine Bluff’s preseason roster has 67 players listed. A call to Marion reveals a team of about 65, while Searcy’s preseason MaxPreps roster shows 64, but observations and team camps appear even higher.

Mountain Home’s roster online is comparable to Jacksonville’s, showing just 37 players. No information could be obtained from Little Rock Hall, the final 6A-East team.

Jacksonville, Mountain Home and Hall played close competitive games last year, with Jacksonville beat Hall 20-18 and losing 34-27 at Mountain Home. The Bombers picked up steam late in the season after getting blown out by Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Marion. They managed to beat Hall, Searcy and West Memphis in the final three weeks of the season. But that team had a few more players last year, 49.

The situation Jacksonville is in is due to the creation of the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District. The Arkansas High School Activities Association ruled that the elimination of North Pulaski High School constituted a merger between it and Jacksonville, and so counted 100 percent of North Pulaski’s final grades 9-11 enrollment as part of Jacksonville’s enrollment for classification purposes.

Jacksonville appealed that ruling during the reclassification process that began the current cycle, citing a study of households within the new district’s boundaries that showed only 43 percent of students enrolled at NPHS would be attending JNPSD.

But the actual numbers are worse than that. Only 17 percent of students who were enrolled at North Pulaski in its last year of existence ended up attending Jacksonville High School.

But still, the AHSAA continued to count 100 percent of North Pulaski students against Jacksonville for purposes of reclassification on its system of a three-year average.

“All I wanted was for us to be dealing with the real numbers,” said Jacksonville football coach Barry Hickingbotham. “We didn’t really have any definite figures we could show them when we appealed the first time. We only had that study that projected 40 percent. Now we have the actual numbers at 17 percent, but we’re still counting 100 percent.”

Because of the way the classifications were restructured for non-football sports in the new cycle, the way the AHSAA counted the NP numbers will only affect football.

Counting 100 percent of former NP students in the three-year average gave Jacksonville an operating number of 912 by the AHSAA. For football, that makes it the 31st largest district in the state, or the second smallest district in Class 6A.

The smallest 6A school is Greenwood with 893 students in grades 9-11, but only counting the actual 17 percent of NP students for Jacksonville, instead of the figurative and fictional 100 percent used by activities association, would drop Jacksonville well below the 5A threshold of 857.

The NP numbers won’t stop counting against Jacksonville until reclassification for the 2020-2022 cycle.

TOP STORY >> Coyotes common, mostly harmless

Coming across a coyote may be jolting, but the wild dogs are common – and relatively harmless – everywhere from Central America to the Arctic. That includes Arkansas, and there have been several sightings recently in Jacksonville.

Sherri Mattocks of Jacksonville contacted The Leader recently to report coyote sightings at First Presbyterian Church on Crestview Street, at the James Street overpass, one down the road near Cooper Dentistry and one on Vine Street.

Coyotes generally run away if they see someone, said Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens.

“Coyotes are afraid of humans. They are very nervous around people. Small pets could be a target, but that’s a rare occurrence. When you let your smaller pets outside, just keep an eye on them. Keep your pets in a fenced area,” he said.

Coyotes come to urban areas because of the ample food sources like dumpsters, garbage cans and, occasionally, maybe some dog and cat food.

Coyotes probably have dens in wooded areas in or near towns.

Stephens emphasized that coyotes are not aggressive toward people but can spread diseases. He also noted that coyotes thrive in New York City, the most populated city in the United States.

“Attacks on humans are rare. I can’t remember hearing of a single incident in the 16 years I’ve worked at (AGFC), but it could happen if you got too close. As with any wild animal, just stay away from them. They will get into trash looking for an easy meal, so keep your garbage in a closed receptacle. Don’t feed your pets outside. Keep your pet food in a closed container,” he said.

“I make sure to carry protection with me now. It just really concerns me that someone is going to get hurt or Fluffy isn’t going to make it home one day. The way one was watching me, or my little dog, it wasn’t concerned to see a human. The coyote is beautiful to look at, but I would just rather not have such a close up,” Mattocks said.

Mattocks said she emailed Mayor Gary Fletcher and asked him to issue a public alert. She said he did not reply.

Mattocks said neighbors are detailing their encounters with coyotes on Nextdoor, a social media app.

“A mother did post how her daughter was chased earlier this summer by one as she was walking from Stonewall toward Collenwood to get to the high school,” Mattocks said.

“I would just like everyone to be safe out walking and take precautions with their pets,” she said.

She also said a relative spotted two more on the other side of town.

Jacksonville Animal Services often receives calls from residents about coyote sightings. Two department employees said they do not track or record where the sightings occur and that they are not ordinarily a nuisance and don’t endanger anyone.

Stephens said if coyotes are persistently causing problems, residents may call nuisance wildlife control companies in the area.

Most times coyotes will flee when they see people. “Make some noise and they will run off,” Stephens said.

“It’s not unusual to see them in an urban setting. There are plenty of food sources in a city. Leave them alone. They can spread disease such as distemper or rabies,” Stephens said.

Distemper is a virus that affects dogs’ gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems.

Stephens said the state’s coyote hunting season opened July 1 and runs through Feb. 28. Coyote trapping season started Tuesday and runs through March 31. Coyotes are prized for their fur.

Hunting is not allowed in city limits and trappers are advised to check with local authorities about trapping rules.

TOP STORY >> Youth lockups will stay under control of state

By BENJAMIN HARDY Arkansas Nonprofit News Network

Six juvenile treatment and correctional facilities that were unexpectedly taken over by the state in January will not be returning to private hands anytime soon, a spokesman for Gov. Hutchinson said last week.

On Dec. 16, Hutchinson directed the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Youth Services (DYS) to assume provisional management of the lockups in response to a political dispute over which private entity would be awarded a DYS contract to run the facilities. Although they have always been owned and overseen by the state, the DYS has paid two Arkansas-based nonprofits to operate the lockups for over two decades.

In 2016, the agency decided to switch to an Indiana-based for-profit company called Youth Opportunity Investments. The two ousted nonprofits — South Arkansas Youth Services and Consolidated Youth Services — decried the bidding process as unfair, and some legislators of both parties sympathized with their complaints.

In December, a legislative committee blocked the contract with the new provider. With the old contract set to expire at the end of the year and the new contract stalled, the governor was forced to step in at the last minute to avoid a shutdown of the facilities on Jan. 1. At the time, Hutchinson said the state takeover would last for at least six months.

Seven months later, the state is still determining its course of action. “(The) review, which will assist with what to include in any future facilities contract, is still ongoing,” J.R. Davis, the governor’s communications director, wrote in an email. “The governor receives regular reports from the DYS on the operations of those facilities and expects to have a recommendation in the future as to whether there’s a necessity for a third-party operator of these facilities through the DYS. A final decision is expected before the end of the year.”

Marq Golden, the DYS assistant director for residential programs, said the timeline built into the human services agency’s budgeting process means the state will keep managing the lockups until at least the end of the current fiscal year, in June 2018. “If we decided to go out tomorrow with the bid, it’s still almost a year-long process,” he said. “What’s critical right now is looking at the services being provided — what should be outsourced and what should be maintained by the state.”

The six lockups — comprised of facilities in Dermott, Mansfield, Lewisville, Colt and Harrisburg — housed 191 youth as of July 25. (Another 109 are confined at the state’s seventh and largest facility, the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center in Alexander, which is managed by a private provider, Rite of Passage, a Nevada-based for-profit company.) Thirty-eight more youth remanded to DYS custody are waiting in county juvenile detention centers for space to become available at the state lockups. Youth in DYS custody can be placed in county facilities for up to 90 days before being placed in one of the treatment facilities.

Although the proximate reason for the takeover was last year’s contract skirmish, the question now is whether those youth are better served — and the facilities more efficiently managed — directly by the DYS or by a private provider.

The initial transition to state control was rocky. Scott Tanner, Arkansas’s juvenile ombudsman at the state Public Defender Commission, said the DYS struggled with procurement of basic resources, including hygiene products. “Toilet paper, clothes, detergent, cleaning supplies, food, propane, all that stuff. It requires multiple bids, because of state law, and there was a real concern about programs running out of supplies. Do we have enough food to make it through the week? There was a learning curve — how to find the vendors, how to get them paid administratively.”

Most lockup staff were retained and transferred to the state payroll, but some departed and weren’t replaced, leading to staffing shortages. Some sites were left without adequate vehicles to transport youth to appointments. Mental and behavioral therapy services unexpectedly ground to a halt.

“The state learned the therapy was being provided by subcontractors. That was news to the state, and news to me,” Tanner said. “So, when the state severed its contract with South Arkansas and Consolidated, the subcontractors went away.”

On Jan. 26, the advocacy organization Disability Rights Arkansas sent a letter to DYS Director Betty Guhman outlining “neglect that rises to the level of abuse” at several lockups. The DRA letter warned of “critical shortages of staff ... and deplorable, unhealthy physical conditions.” It emphasized the “complete lack of mental health therapy for youth at these facilities” — especially troubling because the stated purpose of the facilities is to provide rehabilitative treatment to children. Typically, therapy is part of the treatment plan that youths are required to complete in order to be released. “Youth feel concerned that they are being held without any opportunity to complete the treatment which will lead to their release,” the letter stated. “Youth feel like they are trapped in a bad situation without any hope.”

The disability rights organization said it also found “a failure to provide required and necessary education” at the lockups. “At Lewisville, monitors observed students in both classrooms watching movies, including the math class viewing a documentary on lions,” the organization wrote at the time. At the Dermott Juvenile Treatment Facility, “youth attend only three or four periods a day where they receive instruction and then have ‘electives,’ which as described by staff and youth alike consists of playing hangman, sitting around, and sometimes going outside when the weather allows.” Students with disabilities were not receiving accommodations, DRA said, in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act. The organization noted that it had raised concerns about special education deficiencies at the lockups “for more than two years” — long before the takeover. DRA expressed hope that state control might bring improvements. But the January letter concluded, “at this point, things have only worsened.”

The situation appears to have somewhat stabilized in the ensuing months. Disability Rights Arkansas attorney Sharon Cowell said in a recent interview that youth are now receiving therapy, after an initial lapse of several months. Golden said treatment is being provided by way of a separate arm of DHS, the Division of Behavioral Health Services: “Beforehand, they were sending kids off-site for therapy. There were no offices for therapists on campus. ... We feel that having the therapists right there on campus is a big asset for our kids.”

The organization remains dissatisfied with the “quality and quantity of mental health treatment the children are getting while in custody,” Cowell said. “My sense is that the therapists are coming, but it’s taken so long to get everyone through intake and to assess their needs that I don’t know how regularly they’re seeing each kid and how much progress is really being made toward their goals.”

In June, the DYS announced a partnership with Virtual Arkansas, a project of the Arkansas Department of Education that provides online coursework to public schools across the state, particularly campuses in rural communities. Golden said Virtual Arkansas will be the primary means of educational delivery at the six lockups beginning in August. “Students will do their classwork online every day, and then [some] days out of the week, the teachers will broadcast themselves to the students,” he said, meaning teachers will remotely deliver video lessons that are streamed to students in real time. Educational coaches and special education teachers will be on-site to assist students in the classroom, he said. “In addition to that, we’re keeping our GED courses ... and we’re also adding some vocational skills courses for older students on-site.” Four teachers system-wide will be displaced by the Virtual Arkansas contract, Golden said; that number is small in part because the facilities were already short of teachers.

Cowell said DRA “still has concerns about the education of the kids while they’re in DYS custody. The quality and the rigor — we don’t feel that it’s aligned with state standards.” She also expressed some skepticism about the plan to use Virtual Arkansas. “I don’t think sitting in front of a computer is the same as what they would get if they were in a regular public school.”

Still, Cowell continued, the state has made progress since January. “They didn’t have nurses on staff [at first],” Cowell said. “So, basic physical, medical needs — they didn’t have a way to take care of that. They hadn’t really figured out dentists or eye doctors ... and they didn’t have contracts with suppliers for basic hygiene products. Now, those things seem to have been taken care of.” Various facility needs — such as roof damage at the Dermott Juvenile Treatment Center caused by a tornado — have since been addressed, she said.

Because the nonprofit providers owned the vans used to transport youth, the DYS also faced a vehicle shortage after the takeover. “We had to purchase all new vehicles for the facilities through our motor pool,” Golden said. The providers took other hardware with them as well, he said, while some items simply needed to be upgraded. “There were a number of small items that we had to come back and replace — uniforms, linens, kitchen equipment, bed mattresses. And we also had to clean up facilities. We probably spent an excess of a million dollars trying to get those facilities up and going within that timeframe,” he said. “That’s hard cost, not payroll.”

The state paid the nonprofits $12.7 million in the last fiscal year to operate the six lockups. Golden said that while the state has been operating under budget since the takeover, he expected the cost of the state running the facilities eventually would be similar to the cost of the state paying the nonprofits to run them.

Asked whether the facilities were in poor condition at the time of the takeover, Golden replied, “I’m not going to say that. They were in adequate shape. They just needed some upgrading.”

Cowell said it was too soon to tell whether or not the lockups are better off under state control than in the hands of the nonprofit providers. “I think you can argue that, yes, in some areas we’ve seen improvements; I don’t know if overall it’s a whole lot better. It was quite a learning curve for the state to take over, because they really don’t have any experience in running juvenile facilities. I don’t know that I would argue the previous providers were any better, but there were some things where they did have experience in running juvenile facilities. So I don’t know if I can answer that yet. I think we need to see how this plays out a little bit longer.”

Tanner, the juvenile ombudsman, said it was “healthy” for the state to be forced to examine how the DYS lockups operate “on a molecular level.”

“DYS is learning more about the programs that they, in theory, have always administered,” Tanner said.

Ultimately, he continued, it doesn’t matter whether the facilities are state-run or contracted to a private provider — the state must be held accountable for conditions there. “Whether nonprofit provider or state provider, both entities made an effort to provide consistency and structure. ... I find failings with both,” Tanner said. “Part of the logic the state used in 2000, 2001, when the [Alexander] facility was privatized, was to minimize the state’s liability. ... But that’s not how it works. Youth are remanded to the care of the state, and so the state is responsible for what happens, regardless.”

This reporting is courtesy of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.

TOP STORY >> Traffic lines anger many commuters

By RICK KRON Leader staff writer

The recent traffic-flow change on Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville on Thursday morning is causing long lines, delays and poor decisions by drivers, as well as heavy traffic on Hwy. 161 South during rush hour.

It seems many drivers didn’t realize the long-closed Redmond Road exit was opened and the Main Street exit was closed.

About 77,000 vehicles come through Jacksonville daily on Hwy. 67/167. “With everyone trying to get off at the Gregory exit, it was backing up a half mile or more on the highway,” Fletcher said.

“Since construction began, I’ve told people the inconvenience is worth the long-term gains, but yesterday it was not about in-convenience, but public safety,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said Friday.

“Drivers were using Gregory Street exit to turn back down to Main, and traffic was backing up. Some started to cut across the median between the highway and the frontage road. Once one driver does something illegal like that, others follow,” the mayor said, adding that in one 60-minute period Thursday, city police pulled over 10 drivers for illegal actions in their efforts to get off the highway.

“We even had drivers using on ramps as off ramps,” the mayor exclaimed.

“There could have been some very serious accidents. Luckily, none were reported,” Fletcher said. “We will have our police officers monitor the traffic as much as possible and we’ve called State Police to help.”

The mayor called officials at the Transportation Department a number of times Thursday and the department sent out a crew Friday morning to observe the traffic flow. “It was determined that we needed to improve the signage letting drivers know that Redmond was opened and Main Street was closed,” explained Danny Straessle, spokesman for the state highway department.

“This is just day one or two of the traffic changes, and we have to retrain the drivers,” Straessle said.

The mayor said it would be best for drivers who normally use the Main Street exit to now use Redmond Road and then snake through city streets to their destination.

Straessle said the Main Street exit will be closed about a month and that the $41.9 million construction project still has about a year to go.

The James Construction Group of Baton Rouge, La., is working to replace the Main Street and Redmond Road overpasses. The new overpasses will be wider, with three lanes of traffic north and south, along with a substantial shoulder at Main Street.

The company is also building new approaches and ramps for the Main Street and Redmond Road overpasses as well as a new stretch of highway between them. The highway from Jacksonville to Hwy. 5 in Cabot should be completed next at a cost of $70 million. The widening will then continue from Main Street to Vandenberg Boulevard for $61 million.

A $20 million north interchange between Cabot and Austin is expected to improve traffic and economic development in the area. It should be completed in 2018.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

TOP STORY >> JANE’S ADDICTION


By Christy Hendricks, Leader staff writer

Jane is around 30 years old, married, has kids and has a decent job. She’s been taking prescription opiates since she was 24. A few days ago, Jane had a scare.

“The other night, I was sitting in my room. I had taken three or four hydrocodones around 4 or 5ish. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go to sleep. I decided to take some Nyquil. I took 60 milliliters instead of 30. Those were still in my system on top of the 60 milliliters of Nyquil,” she said. 

“I was laying down and my heart starting skipping a beat. About every six breaths I would take, it would just skip. Then it was every two breaths. I mentioned something to my husband, and he said, ‘Oh, it was probably the pills you took earlier.’ But he didn’t know I took Nyquil on top of them. He fell asleep, and I was laying there scared thinking ‘Is my heart about to stop? Am I going to have to tell him I need to go to the hospital? But if I go to the hospital, and they find it in my system, and that it’s not prescribed to me, I’m gonna lose my job. If I didn’t lose my job, then I would lose the respect of the people I work with.’ Which is really important to me. I’m laying there and now it’s every breath I take my heart is skipping a beat. The Nyquil has started to kick in. I’m fighting my sleep because I’m trying to make sure I’m taking nice deep, long breaths, in through my nose out through my mouth. And I fell asleep. Luckily, I woke up the next day.”

Jane has been abusing prescription painkillers for about seven years.

“Going behind my husband’s back is the one thing I feel the worst about,” Jane says of her addiction to prescription opiates. “We tell each other everything.”

Jane didn’t always like taking prescription opioids.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I had a toothache. I was 19. I was taking over the counter painkillers and my doctor ended up prescribing me hydrocodone, because evidently you can take hydrocodone but not aspirin when you’re pregnant,” she said. “I was so whacked out of my head, I swore I’d never take it again. I took it and lay down. The whole room was spinning. I was in no pain, but the whole room was spinning. I’d smoked pot before, but this was a completely different high.”

Jane says her boyfriend and roommate decided they were going to split up the pills. She also gave them the prescription she got after she had the baby.

“Then I had my second child, and I had real horrible cramps with her,” Jane says. “I took the Percocet because it was the only thing that numbed the pain down. I would split a pill in half. After I had her, I got the prescription. I went through that faster than I should have.

“My doctor said ‘I’m’ going to write you another one, but don’t over do it on them.’ He prescribed me hydrocodone because he felt I was abusing the Percocet. I wasn’t abusing them at the time, I was in so much pain. When I started taking the hydrocodone I got headaches. I’m pretty sure I got them because I was so used to taking the Percocet, and I was still splitting the hydrocodone. I’m pretty sure my body was needing something I wasn’t giving it enough of.”

The doctor wrote Jane three more prescriptions after the birth of her second child. “Halfway through the last prescription I realized I had a problem. I wasn’t taking them because I was in pain after having a baby. I was in pain because my body was coming down off them,” she said. Jane flushed the pills down a toilet “It probably took about a week to come off them.”

Not long after, Jane’s sister-in-law brought opiates back into her life. “I didn’t think that taking a couple of them to get high at the time would bring me to the point where I’m at now – feeling like I’m dependent on them. I would go over to her house, behind my husband’s back.”

Jane’s husband is supportive of her, but he doesn’t know the extent of her problem.

“If I came to him right now and told him I had a problem, I wouldn’t get them anymore. I would have to keep everything behind his back. Does he know that I buy 20 oxycodones from my mother a month? Yes. Does he know that I go to one person’s house whenever I ask him? Yes. Does he know if I have a couple extra dollars that I go and get them? No. Does he know that she loans them to me? No. Does he know that my mother gives me extras when I go to her? No,” she said.

“He thinks it’s controlled,” she continued. “I do have a back problem. It hurts constantly. My teeth hurt sometimes. Sometimes I might over exaggerate to him, because I know what he’ll tell me to do – he’ll tell me to get more. If he knew how much I intake a month, he would probably soil himself.”

In the beginning, Jane would spend around $50 a month on pills. “Now, I probably spend $400, close to $500 a month. My husband probably knows about $150, maybe $200 of it. My checks, he knows how much I make, minus $50 of it. Sometimes I go over to my person’s house and I’ll ask her if I can hold out (paying) until the next week, and she’s cool with it. Going to the store and buying a candy bar and a coke, that’s $5 right there. It’s not that hard to misplace the money or say I spent money on something else. If I stopped, I’d have to hide that money. I’d probably become rich.”

Despite knowing her husband would support her getting sober, there are other obstacles in her way. She buys pills from an elderly woman. “She has a prescription, but she only takes one a day. So she sells the rest. She’s on a fixed income, and she uses the money from the pills she sells for things she needs,” Jane said. “She’s old and needs someone to hang out with. I wouldn’t be able to go over there because I know she’d give them to me without me asking.”

Jane’s other source of pills is her mother. “I could go to rehab for two years and be completely clean, but that’s two years of my kids life I would miss out on, and they’re little. It would also mean that I couldn’t talk to my mom anymore.”

Read more about Jane in Saturday's Leader.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

TOP STORY >> Ex-airman enters race for Congress

Gwendolyn Combs, a former Air Force C-130 maintainer and the woman who organized the widely attended Women’s March at the state Capitol in January, has announced she will seek the Democratic nomination for the Second District Congressional seat held by Republican French Hill.

Combs, a teacher in the Little Rock School District and a jewelry maker, will face Paul Spencer of Scott, a farmer and activist who teaches at Catholic High, in the Democratic primary.

She was an Air Force navigation systems technician in Okinawa, Japan, from 1996 through 1999.

On Facebook, Combs said, “I served in the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command overseas for three years. I have a master’s of gifted education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Along the way, I also earned a bachelor’s degree in English with secondary emphasis on education and psychology and an associate arts degree in general curriculum from the University of Maryland University College Asian Division, as well as an associate in applied science degree in avionics systems technology from the Community College of the Air Force. I’m currently an educator in the Little Rock School District.”

She is a founder of Be the Change Alliance and organized to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

TOP STORY >> Exit set to open Tonight

Traffic on Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville will be reduced to one lane between 9 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Thurs-day, according to the state Highway Department.

The lane closure will allow for the opening of the Redmond Road exit ramp and the closure of the Main Street exit ramp for a month.

Traffic will be controlled with signage and traffic barrels.

Meanwhile, the Highway Department has changed its name from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department to the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

Arkansas Department of Transportation director Scott Bennett said, “We are the backbone of economic development in the state. And nothing makes job creation more possible than the work we do. Although we have a new name, we still have the same commitment to safety, efficiency, quality and trust.”

Bennett said the name change will “bring the department into the mainstream of the vast majority of transportation entities, align the department with specific language in federal law, which refers to the various ‘Departments of Transportation’ and identify the department as the point of contact for intermodal development in coordination with Aeronautics and Waterways, for purposes of economic development.”

TOP STORY >> Hwy. 89 extension on horizon

By JOHN HOFHEIMER Leader senior staff writer

Garver Engineers are expected to complete by the end of next summer a $200,000 study on the feasibility of turning Hwy. 89 into an east-west corridor connecting Hwy. 67/167 at Jacksonville and Cabot with I-40 at Mayflower and perhaps on to Conway.

At the behest of many central Arkansas mayors, county judges and legislators, Metroplan and the newly renamed Arkansas Department of Transportation will split the study tab 50-50, according to Casey Covington, Metroplan deputy director.

Complicating factors for such a highway project include its proximity to both Camp Robinson and flight paths at Little Rock Air Force Base, which could have safety and national security implications.

IN LIEU OF NORTHBELT


Officials pursued building the Hwy. 89 corridor when cancellation of the half-billion dollar Northbelt Freeway left north Pulaski and southeast Faulkner counties without a fairly direct transportation route.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said a Coffelt crossing ramp onto Hwy. 67/167 could eliminate a lot of the upstream congestion coming from the north part of the county and Cabot, Austin and Ward, which gets backed up at Vandenberg Boulvard.

“It could also open up the five miles stretch between Jacksonville and Cabot to development,” Fletcher said. So it’s not just about an east-west connection between Conway and Mayflower on the west and Jacksonville and Cabot on the east, he said.

Stated in the scope of work, “as a result of the removal of the long-planned Northbelt Freeway from the Metropolitan Transportation Plan…the Hwy. 89 corridor has risen in importance on the Regional Arterial Network as a key route in connecting the northern parts of the region to each other.

CONTINUOUS ARTEREIAL


Garver will perform a study of a continuous arterial path. The study corridor generally follows existing Hwy. 89. “The objective of this study is to determine options for improving and/or constructing a continuous multimodal linkage from the western portion of Conway through Mayflower to Cabot, including a potential new interchange with Hwy. 67 in the vicinity of Coffelt Road,” as stated in the scope of work.

The study would include alternative solutions, a cursory environmental review, cost estimates and recommendation on phasing in construction in consideration of potential funding.

ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED


Garver is charged with holding meetings with stakeholders and public involvement meetings and “shall use the results of the alternative analysis and the environmental constraints map to show the positive and negative impacts that would result from implementing each of the alternatives.” 


If any alternatives are determined to be feasible, (Garver) shall perform a detailed analysis to determine a recommended alternative, according to the scope of work document. 


In the letter Metroplan sent Dick Trammel, chairman of the state Transportation Department, officials noted, “The department is already working on improvements on each end of that corridor. In Cabot the draft STIP (Surface Transportation Improvement Plan) contains a project to reconstruct and add capacity to the state Hwy. 89 interchange on U.S. 67/167 and the roadway has been improved west to state Hwy. 5. On the west end, the draft STIP contains a project to reconstruct the Mayflower interchange on I-40 and include a rail-grade separation as part of the project.”

JUST GETTING STARTED

“There’s been discussion about a Coffelt connection,” said Metroplan’s Covington, but the entire process is “just getting started.”

He said priorities and critical issues must be identified and that there would be a public meeting later this month or in early September.

“We want to make sure the connection back into Hwy. 67 doesn’t have an adverse effect on Little Rock Air Force Base. We believe that the corridor is almost uniquely situated to that it can be improved in phases as demand warrants once the full connections have been made. The planning study should lay out a road…of those phased improvements,” local officials wrote to the highway commission.

EDITORIAL >> Cabot offers homeless help

Allen Miller of Central Arkansas Team Care for the Homeless wants to help the homeless in Cabot.

Miller, who has been with CATCH for 10 years, recently told the Cabot City Council the town needs a homeless shelter.

Although homelessness may not be a serious problem in north Lonoke County, an estimated 25 homeless people scattered around Cabot. Some are camped in the trees near Walmart, Hope’s Closet, inside garden sheds for sale, living in their cars and at Lake Pickthorne.

“They don’t want to go to Little Rock because they don’t feel safe,” Miller said.

He said the homeless in Cabot include both veterans and non-veterans. Some are transients and others are locals.

The homeless are usually by themselves, but some have families with children enrolled in the Cabot School District, he said.

“We have some homeless people camped out in Cabot, Austin and Ward areas. We are going to try and address the homeless problem in this three-city area. We’re trying to get something established here — a facility or a building donated that we can open up to get the people off the street and try to get them some help for those who want to be helped,” Miller said.

He said CATCH is trying to get several organizations to work together with Housing and Urban Development funds to establish a transitional shelter by September 2018, where families don’t have to be separated; to get them to Goodwill for their GED or job training to get them back to being functional part of the community.

He said there is no shelter in Cabot for the homeless. The closest day shelter is in North Little Rock. They choose Cabot because of the freeway, schools and jobs. It is one of the fastest growing areas.

CATCH is working on a count to find out how many homeless people are living in Cabot, Austin and Ward. The nonprofit covers Lonoke, Pulaski, Prairie and Saline counties. The group provides substance-abuse services, behavioral health and counseling services, crisis intervention and emergency shelter.

CATCH held a meeting on Saturday at First Baptist Church. Attending were Aldermen Ann Gilliam and Damon Bivins, members of Hope’s Closet and Pantry, Cabot First Baptist Church’s First Care, Feed Our Vets food pantry, Cabot American Legion and Auxiliary, Bible Church of Cabot and the Lonoke County Veterans Services Office.

Its next meeting is at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 at the American Legion Post 71, 114 N. First St. in the mini-mall.

“There is an interest to help. Hopefully, we will get more people involved,” Miller said.

Miller can be reached at the Cabot American Legion Post at 501-203-5715.

“We’ve got a problem that’s not going to get better,” Miller said.

SPORTS STORY >> Rebuilding year for Lady Panthers

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

A lot of new faces will grace the court when the Cabot volleyball team steps onto it to begin the 2017 season, and they’ll have a new look as a large personnel turnover will also mean a new style of offense.

Cabot returns only three varsity players from last year’s 17-16 overall, 5-9 conference team that finished sixth in the 7A-Central. Lady Panther coach Kham Chanthaphasouk believes the relative inexperience could be offset by better team chemistry.

“We saw where one poll had us finishing fourth in the conference,” said Chanthaphasouk. “I’m not sure where that came from, but that would be a step in the right direction. It’s very hard to say when you have so much inexperience, but I think this team has the potential.”

Internal issues hampered a talented group that included a Division I signee and three other two-year starters. Offseason this summer hasn’t seen those same issues.

“So far we don’t really have girls that don’t get along,” Chanthaphasouk said. “We only have one senior this year. We had three juniors last year, so we lost a couple. There are more new girls this year than returning players, but the chemistry has been much better.”

Chanthaphasouk is switching his offense from a 6-2 to a 5-1, with junior Sydney Teer staying on the court as setter throughout the rotation.

“It’s the first time we’ll have a 5-1 setter in my three years to be here,” said Chanthaphasouk. “I’m excited about that because that’s my favorite offense. Sydney is getting more and more consistent, and I’m getting more and more comfortable with her in that role.”

Two of the three returning varsity players are outside hitters, and both are responsible for helping replace Arkansas State freshman Maddie Brown, including lone senior Mollie Johnson.

“Mollie has become a stronger player,” Chanthaphasouk said. “ She’s not as athletically gifted as Maddie, but she’s smarter at the net.”

Kallie Cavin will be on the right side as a key hitter.

“She really started to come along last season and got better and better,” Chanthaphasouk said. “She is going to play a very important role for us this year.”

Junior Morgan Brown returns in the middle, and at 6-feet, she is the tallest player on the team.

“She’s not yet as strong of a jumper as her sister, but she’s swinging pretty hard these days,” Chanthaphasouk said. “People will notice her improvement and better strength this year.”

Chanthaphasouk and assistant coach kept eight juniors and 12 sophomores on the roster this season, but the key varsity players are almost settled.

Solidly in that lineup will be junior Devyn Britt, who is only 5-7, but has strength and athleticism and play outside hitter. Ashley Wilkerson, who Chanthaphasouk says is just a shade under 6-feet, will help out in the middle.

Junior Caitlyn Rogers will be one of two liberos, and will be the starter. Junior Aria Bolman is an outside hitter that will see plenty of time on the floor, and junior Hayden Chapman will be a key defensive specialist.

There are also a few sophomores Chanthaphasouk believes has a chance to step in and earn more playing time if they continue to improve and pick up on the speed of varsity competition. The team went to a camp at Missouri State University in Springfield in early July. The team’s record at the camp was average, but the head coach felt it was a positive experience.

“For one thing, the competition there was very high level,” Chanthaphasouk said. “Being so young, I think we were a little overwhelmed when we first got there. But I’d do it again. I think it’s good for them. I was able to find things, weaknesses, that we have, and use those observations to tailor practices in order to address those things. And I feel like I’ve seen improvement. We’ll find out this week.”

Cabot is taking part in day two of a two-day team camp at Benton High School today.

“I’m curious to see of our drills we worked on are going to translate into competition.”

Last year’s conference co-champion, Conway, is again expected to lead the pack. Mount St. Mary’s has a lot back from last year’s fifth-place team. Fort Smith Southside is always strong, as is Northside.

North Little Rock, the other co-champion from 2016, is an unknown quantity this season. The Lady Wildcats lost a few seniors, but also several other varsity players that chose to give up volleyball.

Bryant, which finished seventh last year, was a young team and is expected to be better. Little Rock Central didn’t win a conference match last year, and was again picked last this preseason.

Cabot plays in a benefit jamboree at Conway on Aug. 17, and will officially begin the regular season on Aug. 22 at Benton. After that it’s to Batesville, the annual Spike Fest tournament and then the conference opener at Mount St. Mary. The Lady Panthers won’t play a home game until Sept. 5 against conference foe Fort Smith Southside.

SPORTS STORY >> Classifications restructured for next cycle

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

The Arkansas High School Activities Association had its annual governing body meeting on Monday in Little Rock, and again members voted to restructure the state’s sports classifications for all sports except football.

While football’s structure remains the same, with six classifications ranging from 2A to 7A, other sports will drop from seven classifications to six, ranging from 1A to 6A, while still others will add classifications.

The major change, after a very close vote for proposition 9, will be to rename the current 7A classification for basketball, baseball, softball, golf and track to 6A. Starting in 2018, what is now 7A in those sports will simply be called 6A, and the conferences, the Central and West, will consist of the same teams.

But in those other sports, the structure changes along with the name. Currently, after the top 16 teams in 7A, the next 16 make up 6A. In 2018, the second largest classification, which will be called 5A, will consists of the next 32 schools. 4A will be the next 48 schools while the number of remaining schools will be divided by three, and placed in 3A through 1A by descending enrollment.

Cross country, volleyball and tennis, which has seen a growing amount of participation in recent years, will move from four classifications to five. Soccer and bowling will go from three classifications to four while swimming and diving will move from two classifications to three.

As far as competition goes, the new structure doesn’t change much for The Leader’s local teams, with the exception of Beebe. Because Beebe was in the upper half of the current 5A, the Badgers will move from a conference exclusively of current 5A teams, to one mixed with current 6A teams.

The conference alignments for the new structure have not been finalized, but it’s almost a certainty that the Badgers’ will begin to compete with several schools of much larger enrollment.

Jacksonville gets no relief from the ongoing injustice perpetrated against it by the AHSAA ruling that it must count 100 percent of the old North Pulaski High enrollment towards its three-year average, even though well over half of NPHS students enrolled at Sylvan Hills.

The result is that Jacksonville must compete for three more years in Class 6A, despite a 5A enrollment, while Sylvan Hills competes in 5A with a 6A enrollment. Jacksonville appealed this ruling during the last cycle change, and this one, but were denied each time.

In other votes, the AHSAA clarified its ejection rules due to last year’s eventually dropped lawsuit brought against it by Pulaski Academy.

Because of the vagueness of the rule, PA played politics after one of its key players was ejected, suing the AHSAA and thereby postponing the automatic one-game suspension until the case could be heard in court.

A representative of the player in question at PA dropped the lawsuit and the player served the suspension the week the Bruins played winless J.A. Fair.

Proposal 2 reduces the number of quarters a player can participate in one day from six to five. It’s to limit teams from risking injury to student-athletes by playing in junior varsity and varsity games.

Proposal 3 allows students at district conversion charter schools to play sports for the public school in its district. This rule does not apply to open enrollment charter schools like Jacksonville Lighthouse.

Proposal 4 enforces a second dead period in which student athletes are not allowed on campus or contact with coaches. For several years there has been a two-week dead period during the summer. The new rule will enforce a three-day dead period over Christmas break.

Proposal 5 gives the association a clear, written definition of ‘amateurism’, and assesses a 365-day suspension for athletes that violate the terms.

Proposal 6 limits the number of competitive activities teams can enter during the summer months to eight. Competitive activities include team camps, jamborees, 7-on-7 tournaments and passing leagues.

Proposal 7 moves up the start of tennis season by two weeks.

Proposal 8 was a different classification restructuring, and the measure failed in favor of Proposal 9.

SPORTS STORY >> Championship streak can’t reach three

By RAY BENTON
 Leader sports editor

After winning the 2016 American Legion AA state title, and then the 2017 Class 7A high school championship, Cabot’s 2017 American Legion baseball season came to an end Friday in the semifinals of the Senior division state tournament.

The Centennial Bank squad dropped a 6-2 decision to Fort Smith-Kerwins at the University of Central Arkansas.

Fort Smith had just played a 13-12 marathon against Paragould in order to advance to the Cabot game, but managed to save ace hurler Seth Key for Cabot.

Facing a stout arm, combined with Cabot’s propensity to start slow, put the Centennial Bank squad in a hole from which it couldn’t climb out.

“I was surprised to see that good of an arm after a game like they played just previous to our game,” said Cabot coach Casey Vaughan. “But I still think we should have won that game. We just came out flat. We made some senseless errors, just lack-of-effort plays that I was disappointed in. We looked up in about the seventh inning and realized our season was about to be over, and we finally started putting together some good at-bats and playing solid defense. But by then it was too late.”

Cabot had a similar start in its previous game against Little Rock, but a two-hour weather delay allowed the team to regroup and dominate after the restart.

“We got lucky against Little Rock because that break allowed us to refocus,” Vaughan said. “But a team can’t count on that, and we didn’t get it together until very late in this one.”

Fort Smith scored twice in the bottom of the first inning, but could have scored a lot more if not for a spectacular defensive play by shortstop Blake McCutchen. The first four batters reached base.

The first two batters singled before a hit batter loaded the bases and a walk drove in one run. With the bases loaded, cleanup hitter Garrett Carter grounded to shortstop, where McCutchen applied to tag to Ryan Daggs as he head for third, and then threw out Brock Thibodeaux at home for the 6-2 double play.

Max Frazier then singled to drive in Cody Smith before Cabot pitcher Brett Brockinton struck out Daniel Demondesert for the final out.

Cabot went three up, three down the first two innings, and Kerwins added a run to its lead in the bottom of the second. Jake Melton led off with a single to center field and moved to second base on a passed ball. Leadoff hitter Kinner Brasher then doubled to the wall in left field to drive in the run.

Neither team scored in the third or fourth inning, and Fort Smith made it 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth with the help of two Cabot errors.

The Centennial Bank squad finally got a run in the top of the sixth inning. Dillon Thomas reached on an error at third base to start the inning.

He was still standing at first base with two outs, but moved to second on a single by Brian Tillery. Brockinton then singled to right-center field to score Thomas, but the inning ended when Tillery was thrown out on a 9-4-5 relay trying to reach third base.

Fort Smith got that run back in the bottom half of the frame. Ryan Reeves led off with a single to right and was thrown out on a 1-6 fielder’s choice by Brasher when he attempted a sacrifice bunt. Brasher then scored on an error after Thibodeaux singled to right field.

Cabot got two on with one out in the seventh, but failed to produce any runs. Logan Edmondson then doubled with one out in the top of the eighth, but was caught stealing on a Brockinton walk that would’ve put two on base.

Fort smith added it’s final run in the bottom of the eighth inning when Jake Melton singled and stole second base, and then scored on a single to right by Brasher.

Cabot (14-12) mustered a brief rally in the ninth. Michael Crumbly hit a one-out double to left field and scored on single to right by McCutchen with two outs. Thomas then walked, but Caleb Harpole’s comeback to the mound was corralled by relief pitcher Blake Pschier for the final out.

Cabot only managed two runs despite 15 base runners over the course of the game. The Centennial Bank squad had 10 base hits and four walks to go with one Fort Smith error.

Kerwins had 12 base hits, two walks, two hits batters and benefited from four Cabot errors.

McCutchen, Tillery and Crumbly had two base hits apiece to lead Cabot. Crumbly added a walk to go 2 for 3 with a double. Tillery was 2 for 4 at the plate and McCutchen 2 for 5. Harpole, Edmondson, Brockinton and Rail Gilliam each had one base hit.

Cabot’s team was made up mostly of players from the 2017 Class 7A high school state championship team, with one key exception being that team’s staff ace Logan Gilbertson.

Vaughan, though, was very proud of the pitching staff this season.

“I’m so proud of my pitchers,” Vaughan said. “Michael Shepherd I can speak very highly of. He’s a great young man and he’s poised to have a great future. Caleb Wilson is my guy. He’s an awesome kid with great leadership. Brockinton, too. That dude always gave me his best and he’s a competitor. He’d tell me to go back to the dugout sometimes when I’d walk out to take the ball from him. And I commend that. You need fighters and grinders on your team and he was one.”

Brody Schluter is another guy I wanted to let throw more pitches because he gets outs too.”

Vaughan, who will be a junior for the Arkansas State University baseball team when school resumes, didn’t reserve his praise just for pitchers.

“Caleb Harpole is not as experienced as a lot of the others, but my idea of a leader doesn’t have to mean a senior. That kid works his butt off. And even Easton Seidl. He had to report to UAM for his freshman year of football and wasn’t with us later on, but was a leader in the dugout and by example. He’d call out guys that weren’t giving it there all.

Vaughan didn’t expect to be the head coach this year, but a series of family and health issues kept longtime head coach Chris Gross away from the field this season. Vaughan plans to take a stab at professional baseball if the opportunity presents itself after college, but also has long-term goals of being a coach, and felt this summer was a productive experience.

“I told them and I tell the parents, too, these guys taught me,” Vaughan said. “The main thing is I hope I had a positive impact on them. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached as far as ability, and I hope they learned from me about giving it your all every single out, because that’s who I am as a player.”

Fort Smith lost on Saturday to Bryant in the final of the losers’ bracket. The Black Sox then went on to beat Texarkana twice to win the state championships.

TOP STORY >> Gold Star Families memorial for Beebe

By Jeffrey Smith
Leader staff writer

The Beebe City Council on Monday approved a spot for Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at the Veterans Park Memorial at Dewitt Henry Drive and ASU Boulevard.

Coordinator Bubba Beason told The Leader the monument will cost $44,000 and already has $17,000 in donations. Plans are to dedicate the monument by Veterans Day, Nov. 11. It will be the first one in the state.

Donations for the Beebe monument can be made through the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation website, www.HWWMOHF.org.

A Gold Star Family is a family who lost a loved one in defense of the nation.

Organizing the monument placement are Beebe residents Beason, a 25-year retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant and Army veteran Jeff Marshall, both are Arkansas Run for the Fallen board members and business partners in Old Arkansas Alarm in Beebe. Marshall’s wife, Chelsey is a Gold Star widow who lost her husband, Jeff Swindle, in 2012 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and former Beebe VFW Post 7769 commander Ken Adams.

“I’ve worked with Gold Star Families. There has never been a monument for the families left behind. They deal with it every day, it is for them,” Beason said.

The black granite monument has two sides. One reads Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Mothers, Fathers, and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom. The other side has four panels telling the story of Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice. The scenes on each panel reflect each community’s Gold Star Families and their fallen heroes.

At the center of the monument is a cutout representing the loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.

Beason said a Gold Star Families Monument is planned at the State Capitol but could take years of fundraising to install. Beason and Marshall are also project committee members for the State Capitol project.  

The goal of the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation is to place a Gold Star monument in every state and every city. So far there are 18 monuments dedicated and 45 projects in progress in 34 states.

Hershel Woody Williams, 93, is the sole surviving Marine from World War II to receive the Medal of Honor for valor during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was presented the Medal of Honor in 1945 at the White House by President Harry Truman.

In other news, the city will hold a free Family Fun Night with food and fireworks at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 at the Beebe Ball Park.

Rain forced the cancellation of the annual Fourth of July celebration. Some of the fireworks will be saved for next year.

The city is providing food, drinks and ice cream. Music is by Brock Entertainment.

There will be face painting and a bouncy slide.

At 8 p.m., the Disney movie “Moana” will be shown at on a big outdoor screen with fireworks afterward.