Saturday, December 29, 2007

OBITUARIES >> 12-29-07

Irving Freck

Irving Eugene Freck, 62, of Cabot died Dec. 21.

He was born Aug. 3, 1945 in Jackson, Mich., to the late Robert John and Erma Skinkle Freck.

He was a truck driver and a member of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church as well as the Army National Guard.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a sister.

Survivors include his wife, Joann Vande Ville Freck of Cabot; two children, Michelle Freck of Cabot and Bob Freck of Sherwood, as well as four siblings including Robert Freck and wife Pat, of Jackson, Mich., and Marilyn Booth and husband Sharon, of Cabot; five grandchildren, Zachary, Christopher and Nathan Gates and Joseph and Katherine Freck.

A memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30 at Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Funeral arrangements are by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

Katie Ingram

Katie Bledsoe Ingram, 87, passed away Dec. 20.

She is survived by her husband Earnest Ingram; sons, Louis and wife Linda Trimble, Earnest and wife Darlene Ingram, Jr., and Ulyssis and wife Rita Ingram of Allport; daughters, Gertha Dodson and Mildred and husband Levorn Brown of Lonoke, Lorraine and husband James Bradley of Los Angeles, Calif., Onetha Webb of Seaton, Linda and husband Columbus Moss of Pine Bluff and Sandra and husband Eddie Robinson of Allport; 21 grandchildren; 33 great-grandchildren; seven great-great-grandchildren; brothers, Joseph Bledsoe and Preston Bledsoe of Keo and Lawrence Bledsoe of Lonoke; sisters, Veria Dodson and Alice and husband Virlee Ingram of Allport and numerous other relatives.

Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29 at Allport Community Fellowship Church. Burial will follow in Sunset Memorial Gardens in Lonoke. Funeral arrangements by Boyd Funeral Home in Lonoke.

A special thanks to Dr. Tommy Love, his staff and St. Vincent Infirmary; and caretakers, Annie Armstrong and Jackie William.

Floyd Gage

Floyd “Buster” Gage, 94, of McRae departed this life on Dec. 24. He is survived by his sister, Deana Keith of McRae and a host of nieces and nephews. He also leaves behind two special friends, Lottie and Bill Walters.

A memorial service will be held at Westbrook Funeral Home of Beebe at 2 p.m. Jan. 11.

Flora Whalin

Flora Merle Whalin, 84, of Jacksonville passed away Dec. 21.
She was born Sept. 21, 1923 in Hoxie.  

In addition to her parents, her husband, William Maston Whalin, one brother and her grandparents preceded her in death.  
She volunteered and worked as a “Gray Lady” at the Air Force base hospital during the Second World War and taught at the United Methodist Day Care for over 20 years.  She was a member of First United Meth-odist Church in Jacksonville.  

She is survived by two children, William Maston Whalin III of Brewer, Mich., and Charles Evan Whalin of Cabot; one sister, Wanda Lea Matelinas of Hunlock Creek, Penn.; adopted children, Nancy and Dean Wilborn; three grandchildren, Robyne Smith of Marietta, Ga., Cory Whalin of Cabot and Wendy Whalin of Michigan and two great-grandchildren, Logan and Layne Smith.

Funeral services were Dec. 24 at First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville.  Burial was in Rest Hills Cemetery.  

Memorials may be made to the First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville’s youth fund.  Funeral arrangements were by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.  

Jewel Williamson

Jewel “Judy” Williamson, 90, formerly of Cabot, died Dec. 24 in Duluth, Ga. Born in 1917 in Fulton, Mississippi, to Lillie Killingsworth and William Thomas Benson, she moved to Washington, D.C. in the mid 1940’s.

She was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend.

She got a job in the War Department, where she was part of the Refugee Food Program. Cleverly using her initial to conceal her gender, J. Benson was able to direct ships with crucial supplies to ports around the world, reaching populations in desperate need.

She married Louis Woodrow “Woody” Williamson of the Navy in 1947, in Washington, D.C., Moving to San Diego, they had their first child, Lynn Arthur in 1949. Moving to San Francisco, their next child, Kathleen Denise, was born in 1952.

Relocating again to Los Angeles, they had David Lee in 1956. She generously volunteered for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the P.T.A., and later, she worked in the Glendale Human Development Department. After having raised three children in Los Angeles, she and “Woody” – with David - moved to Cabot for their retirement.

After her husband’s passing in 1999, she moved to Buford, Ga., to be close to her children.

She was preceded in death by her husband of 54 years, Louis Woodrow Williamson.

She leaves behind her three children; and her beloved grandchildren, Matthew, Brad and Sarah; numerous nieces, nephews and cousins, and of course, cherished friends.

The family wishes to thank Vista Care and Peachtree Christian Hospice in Duluth for their compassionate and generous care of our mother. Funeral services were held at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Cabot Dec. 28. Burial followed at Sumner Cemetery in Cabot.

Donald Crandell

Donald Louis Crandell, 80, of Ward passed away November 21.

He was a retired school teacher having taught in Arkansas and Indiana for 36 years. He received his Bachelor’s degree at University of Central Arkansas in Conway and Masters at University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

He is survived by his sister, Frances and husband Billy Joe Bailey of Ward; nieces and nephew, Deborah and husband Ed Balentine of Ward, Lynette and husband Wayne Farnsworth of Ward and Danny Crandell of Damascus; four great-nieces and one great-great-niece.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Elmer and Wilma Crandell and a brother, Roy Crandell.

Service will be private by West-brook Funeral Home of Beebe.

Ronnie Dill

Ronnie Dean Dill, 45, of Ward died Dec. 24. He was born July 20, 1962, at Searcy to Sydney Ann and the late J.C. Dill.

An avid horseman his entire life, he was also an auctioneer throughout the state, selling autos and livestock. He attended Harrison Chapel Baptist Church.

In addition to his father, he was preceded in death by his grandparents, William and Myrtle Dill and Sid and Lorene Guyot.
He is survived by his mother, Sydney Ann Dill Blakemore and husband John of Beebe and many beloved aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.

Funeral services were Dec. 27 at Westbrook Funeral Home of Beebe with burial in Sylvania Cemetery of Ward.

William Brewer

William “Bill” Nicholas Brewer, 87, of Jacksonville passed away Dec. 23.  He was born July 20, 1920 in Lonoke County to the late Carl S. and Emma Johnson Brewer.  

After his retirement from Mississippi Chemical Co. he avidly pursued his interest in genealogy and local history.  He was a lifelong Baptist and a consistent Christian.  

He was preceded in death by his wife, Daphene Chamblee Brewer; his parents; two sisters, Martha Brewer and Helen Hubbard; and two brothers, Jack and Bobby Brewer.

Survivors include a daughter, Vickie E. Soles and husband George of Cordova, Tenn.; a son, William N. Brewer, Jr. and wife Becky of Jacksonville; four grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; a sister, Maridelle Wright of Lancaster, Calif.; and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews.

Graveside services and burial were Dec. 28 at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Cabot.  Funeral arrangements were by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

William Burlison

William Ellis Burlison, 40, of Amarillo, Texas, went home to be with the Lord Dec. 24. He was born April 17, 1967 in Little Rock.

He is survived by his wife, Tracey and two step-daughters, Megan and Holly Larson of Amarillo, Texas; parents, Danny and Sula Eaker of Jacksonville; father and step-mother, Mike and Gina Burlison of Lonoke; brother, Jeremy and wife Amanda Eaker; sister, Dawn and husband Randy Peeples; and sister, Suzie Baxter all of Jacksonville; four nieces, one nephew and a host of extended family.  

Graveside services were Dec. 28 at Rest Hills Memorial Park Cemetery in North Little Rock.  

Funeral arrangements were by Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

Nancy Gullick

Nancy Mae Gullick, 68, of Jacksonville passed away Dec. 21.  She was born Oct. 23, 1939 in St. Louis, Mo., to Monroe and Rokie Ritter Hulen.  

She is survived by four children, Shane and Charlie Mallonee both of Jacksonville, Melody Wherry of St. Louis, Mo., and Kelly Davis of Jacksonville; one sister, Janet Mullen of Soloman, Kan.; 10 grandchildren; Roy Davis, Jonathon Mallonee, Craig and Michael Mallonee, Brandie Lucena, Courtney Jones, Shannon Thomas, Jessie Whemy, and Christopher and Mercedes Mallonee and 12 great-grandchildren, Joshua Mallonee, Caitie Lucena, Emma Lucena, “J” Jones and Logan Jones, Jacob and Michael Whemy, Laryn Thomas, Matthew and Madison Whemy, Carson Lucena and Jadyn Jones.

A memorial service was held Dec. 26 at the chapel of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.  

Alfreda Gregory

Alfreda May Rea Gregory, 92, of Ward died Dec. 26 at Searcy. She was born Nov. 10, 1915, to William Andrew Rea and Anna Holden Rea at Van, Penn.

She married Thomas B. Gregory August 6, 1934, at the home of her parents at Cyclone, Penn. She moved from Limestone, New York in 1952 to Hobbs, New Mexico, then the family was transferred to Lovington, New Mexico. She was society editor for the Lovington Daily Leader and correspondent for the Hobbs News Sun and the Lubbock Avalanche Journal.

She worked for B & J Drug for 11 years.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Thomas; a son, Lawrence; her parents and four brothers and four sisters.

She is survived by a son, James L. Gregory and wife Gladys of Midland, Texas; a daughter, Judy Gore and husband J.W. of Ward; daughter-in-law Herriet Gregory of Hobbs, New Mexico; seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

Burial will be in Lovington Cemetery at Lovington, New Mexico, by Stevens Funeral Home. Local arrangements by Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe.


Cabot Chamber seeks items for first auction

The Cabot Chamber is currently seeking 10 quality items for the first “live auction” to be held at the annual chamber of commerce banquet on Friday, Jan. 18. If you are interested in making a tax-deductible donation, contact Angie at 501-843-2136.

The speaker for this year’s banquet will be Governor Mike Beebe. Tickets are available at the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and are $30 a person or $240 for a table of eight.

Nominations sought for Jacksonville citizen award

Do you know someone who enriches Jacksonville through meaningful service to the Natural State? Nominate your ideal civic leader for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year award.

The Citizen of the Year award is given to a person who: 1) Has made major contributions to the betterment of Jacksonville; 2) Has distinguished himself or herself through outstanding service to the community; and 3) Typifies the true spirit of service and self-sacrifice in representing the finest ideal of Jacksonville citizenship.

The 2007 Citizen of the Year will be honored at the 60th Annual Banquet on Jan. 29. The application includes a nomination form, a brief biographical sketch of the nominee, and supporting testimonials. The deadline for nominations is Jan. 20.
Contact Amy Mattison at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce with questions or to receive a nomination form at or call 982-1511.

CADC offers make-your-money-work classes

Central Arkansas Development Council is offering individuals the chance to take Make Your Money Work classes at their convenience.

Computer discs containing the MYMW curriculum are available from Angel Clingmon at the CADC Lonoke office at 117 SE Front St. The discs can be taken home and completed, or persons interested in completing the course may use a computer in the office to do so.

Classes are available for individuals or groups as requested. The MYMW class is free and available to the public.

Through this curriculum, persons learn a multitude of tips to increase their earning power. That includes learning how to budget, spend money more wisely and improve their credit.

CADC is a private, nonprofit community-action agency that was formed in 1965 to fight and win the war on poverty. The mission of CADC is to improve the quality of life and build strong communities in Arkansas. For more information, contact Clingmon at 501-676-0019.

Melody Boys and others perform on New Year’s Eve

The Melody Boys Quartet will host their annual New Year’s Eve concert at 8 p.m. Monday at the community center ballroom in Jacksonville.

Advance tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children. At the door, tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children. Advance tickets for groups of 20 or more are available for $10 each in advance and $12 each at the door.

In addition to the Melody Boys, other performers will be The Apostles and the Hallelujah Harmony Quartet. The Apostles’ bass singer, Steve Williams, is the son of Gerald Williams, bass singer for the Melody Boys, and the group’s baritone singer, Daran Robertson, is brother of Terry Robertson, lead singer in the Melody Boys Quartet. Gerald Williams was a 2006 inductee into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Order advance tickets by calling 501-835-6471.

EDITORIALS>>Pure fiction from Rollins

When he famously directed Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984, Ed Rollins showed a knack for creating agreeable fancy about the president’s leadership.

With the communist-bloc countries boycotting the summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the United States swept them in a glorious way and Rollins fashioned the campaign around that triumph, boasting that it was Morning in America.

As the new chairman of the Mike Huckabee for president campaign, Rollins has a bigger job minting the former Arkansas governor as a conservative leader in the Reagan mold. It looks like his tactic will be fiction.

Appearing before a national audience for the first time on CBS News over the weekend, Rollins had this to say about Huckabee as a fiscal conservative:

“You know, one of the things he had to do was fix the educational system. The state Supreme Court ordered him to raise $300 million to add an additional $300 million to education. The voters in the state had voted for a highway program that was totally unfunded. He went forth and made it an issue.

And then the voters themselves voted for a three-cent increase in taxes. He cut income taxes. At the end of the day the story that’s not told is this is a guy who inherited a $250 million deficit. And, at the end of the day, he left $850 million in the treasury.”

It was pure fiction. None of it ever happened, although there was a tiny grain of truth in a couple of phrases. Let’s take them in order:

“The state Supreme Court ordered him to raise $300 million. . . .”

The Supreme Court never ordered the governor or the state to raise a dime of taxes. It said the quality of education across the state was uneven and by and large inadequate. It left it to the legislature how to equalize and strengthen the schools.

The legislators and Gov. Huckabee decided to do it by raising taxes rather than redirecting existing resources. Huckabee also wanted to achieve equality by consolidating most of the state’s school districts, which the Supreme Court did not order and the legislature ultimately did not accept.

“The voters in the state had voted for a highway program that was totally unfunded.” What Rollins was talking about we have no idea. The voters approved an interstate highway program in 1999 but it was 100 percent funded. It was a bond issue supported by Huckabee. The bond issue was paid off from existing state taxes and federal receipts.

“He went forth and made it an issue. And then the voters themselves voted for a three-cent increase in taxes.” Didn’t happen. The voters never voted for a tax increase of any size to pay for highways. That three-cent gasoline tax, which Huckabee proposed, was passed into law by the legislature and was collected before people voted on the highway bond issue. Again: Although Huckabee has said so repeatedly, voters never had a chance to vote on taxes.

“He cut income taxes.” Okay, a grain of truth here. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker proposed an omnibus income tax cut — actually, seven separate tax cuts rolled into one bill — but he resigned from office in 1996 before the legislature assembled.

Democratic legislators — 83 of them and not one Republican— picked up Tucker’s proposal and sponsored it in the session that assembled soon after Huckabee became governor.

His own tax plan (a $25-a-person rebate) having foundered, Huckabee capitulated and signed the Democratic tax cut. The lawmakers were amazed when, during his re-election campaign the next year, Huckabee took credit for forcing the tax cut through the legislature. That has been his account of it ever since.

“At the end of the day the story that’s not told is this is a guy who inherited a $250 million deficit. And, at the end of the day, he left $850 million in the treasury.” Not true. Huckabee did not inherit a $250 million deficit but a SURPLUS of close to that sum.

Conservative budgeting by the legislature and Gov. Tucker in 1995 produced a surplus that was $107.4 million the day that Huckabee took over from Tucker in July 1996.

The Tucker budget produced another surplus of $118 million in the new fiscal year that was beginning and which Huckabee had absolutely nothing to do with. So Huckabee and the new legislature had a surplus of about $225 million to spend when it assembled in January 1997. It was that surplus that gave them the leeway to cut income taxes.

As for the $850 million surplus that Huckabee left, there is some substance to it. The surplus, built by tight budgeting under the direction of House Speaker Bill Stovall, was actually about $470 million when Huckabee left office in January but a batch of tax increases that he had helped pass between 2001 and 2005 sent the surplus soaring to $850 million by the end of this June, six months after he left office.

All those tax increases help account for the increase in size of the state government from $7.1 billion a year when Huckabee took office to about $17.1 billion when he left 10 ½ years later.

No court ordered him to do it and Arkansas voters had almost nothing to do with it. That is a Reagan-sized accomplishment all right — remember that Reagan tripled the national debt in eight years — but fiscal conservatism is a description that only Ed Rollins could apply.

TOP STORY >>Cabot soldier is back from Iraq

Leader staff writer

Master Sgt. Terry Martin of Cabot is happy to be home for the holidays after serving in Baghdad, where he worked 14- to 16-hour days for a year without a day off.

“The loud noises still make you jump, but it’s nice to sleep in your own bed and not have to worry about rockets or mortars,” says Martin, who served at Camp Victory in Iraq.

Martin is a member of the 77th Aviation Brigade’s Army Airspace Command and Con-trol Team (A2C2) based out of Camp Robinson. He returned with a team earlier this month.

The team left Arkansas in November last year for an abbreviated training period before going to Iraq just a week later.
Martin spent Christmas in Cabot with his wife and two daughters and then traveled to Michigan, where his wife’s family lives near Detroit.

“After spending a year in Iraq with 130 to 140 degree heat, it will be nice to see snow,” he said.

Martin is a full-time battalion operations sergeant of an aviation unit on Camp Robinson. Before he starts working again in January, he is catching up on sleep and looks forward to going hunting.

He has also been busy getting reacquainted with his family and enjoying the food here at home.

“Eating food with taste, good flavor and properly cooked is a welcome change,” he said.

He and his wife spent six months of their two-year marriage together before he was deployed. His wife is not the only one who missed him.

“My co-worker and friend who took over my job on Camp Robinson is ready for me to get back and take my responsibility back,” Martin said. “I can’t say I blame him.”

While serving in the National Guard, Martin has seen much of the world since graduating from Jacksonville High School in 1985.

This was his first deployment to Iraq and his fourth overall. He has also served in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo along with New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and the Southwest border mission in support of the Border Patrol.

Since joining the Guard, Martin has been on six missions.

He joined in 1986 to earn money for school. “It was a good deal then, and a better deal now,” he said. “I have no regrets. The Army has been good to me and my family.”

“I spend time abroad from time to time, but it also helps take care of my family,” he said. “They understand the commitment, and I couldn’t do it without them and their support.”

Martin says he was fortunate during this deployment, working as the NCOIC for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq C3 Air section, which controlled all aviation assets in Iraq.

He also believes the war is not as bad as some think.

“It’s getting better over there,” he said.

“Like most other soldiers who deploy there, I worked outside of my occupational specialty,” he said.

“We worked inside a palace with the rest of the Corps staff,” Martin said. “It was an incredible experience to get to work around and with people that my grandchildren will one day be reading about in history books, such as Gen. Patraeus and Maj. Gen. Odierno,” Martin said.

Martin says he spent a fair share of time dodging mortars and rockets.

“The guys who were doing the hard work were the young troopers on the streets, kicking in doors and keeping people safe,” he said. “I feel honored to have served with them.”

Martin expects to serve in the Guard for another 8 to 10 years. “I love the Army,” he said. “Family first, then Army.”

The Arkansas National Guard still has 300 soldiers and airmen mobilized in Iraq.

An additional 3,000 more soldiers are preparing for deployment with the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team for that unit’s second tour of duty in Iraq.

Martin thinks he could be deployed again.

“This is a different Guard today than the one I joined. We play a more active role in the world, both domestically and abroad,” he said.

“We are prepared for that, and I try to stay prepared for any eventuality, whether it be hurricanes, ice storms, or wars on foreign lands.”

TOP STORY >>Burger tax is bringing in revenue

Leader staff writer

Since Jacksonville has started to collect the 2-cent hamburger tax in October, the levy has added more than $60,000 to the coffers of the city’s promotion and advertising commission.

When the council approved the 2-cent tax on prepared foods, it was with the hopes that it would generate close to $550,000 a year for the commission to use to generate publicity, activities and tourism for Jacksonville. As part of the ordinance creating the tax, half the collected amount goes to the parks and recreation department.

At the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission meeting in December, the city’s Finance Director, Paul Mushrush, pointed out that 64 businesses turned in $56,728 worth of tax on taxable receipts of $2.9 million so far this year.

“That’s not quite two months worth of collections,” explained Mushrush.

Based on the amount of prepared food tax paid so far, Chili’s is the busiest restaurant in Jacksonville, bringing in more than $345,000 in taxable business and paying almost $7,000 in taxes. Second is McDonald’s #11417 with $217,000 of taxable income and paying taxes of $4,262. However, if all three McDonald’s are combined, it becomes the number one restaurant in the city with taxable receipts of about $400,000 and prepared food taxes of about $8,000.

Based on tax receipts, the top five grossing individual restaurants in Jacksonville are Chili’s, McDonald’s #11417, Western Sizzlin, Wendy’s and McDonald’s #1803.

At the meeting, the commission agreed to back Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society’s effort to obtain a $5,000 matching grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage to improve McCraw Cemetery. To get the grant, the society has to show the state that it has $5,000 to match the grant. The commission voted to put up the money for the grant.

Two other requests for funding were tabled until February. They included another $7,000 request from the Reed’s Bridge group to develop educational brochures about the history of Military Road, Reed’s Bridge battlefield and Indian removal in the area.

Angie Mitchell had asked the commission for $22,000 to help fund the annual Patriotic Spectacular. The commission has partially funded the annual liberty-themed event, held the first week of July, in the past. The commission did not budget any funds for the event in its 2008 budget.

TOP STORY >>New mills to finance buildings in district

Leader staff writer

If Cabot’s 3.9 mills increase does not get voters’ approval March 11, the Cabot School District will have to look elsewhere for the $2.5 million it will owe on Cabot Junior High North once construction is completed.

Junior High North, lost to an electrical fire in August 2006, is being rebuilt on its former site at a total cost of $11.6 million, with Cabot’s share being around $640,000 for the new 1,200 capacity, 134,000 square-foot campus. The district received $10 million from its insurance company and $960,000 from the state through partnership funding for the rebuilding.

However, the district has taken more than $2 million from its operating fund to pay for the operating expenses of CJHN since the fire, Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said.

District officials estimate the total expenses for JHN to total at least $2.5 million once they are able to return the portable buildings, which currently make up the junior high campus, and move faculty and students into the new structure.

“If the millage fails, we’ll have to look at other financing options to take care of this facility,” Thurman said. “There is not enough money in the operating budget to cover additional second lien bonds at this time,” he said.

Cabot currently has a $6,015,000 second-lien bond issued, with annual payments of about $400,000 that must be repaid by 2032. Second lien bonds are repaid with surplus debt service millage revenue.

Of Cabot’s current budget of $59.1 million, $26,667,261 is devoted to the operating fund and $2,615,000 is earmarked for the debt service fund.

“It would be difficult to add to our debt payment right now since we are having to cut the budget just to return to our ending balance (of $2.69 million) from last July,” Thurman said. “We’ve got to be careful about the declining balance in our operating fund.”

The district’s ending operating fund balance has dropped the last eight years. From July 2006 to July 2007, Cabot saw a loss of $704,841 in its operating fund and the district is working to have no change for July 2008, according to Thurman.

If patrons approve the millage increase, the 3.9 new mills, making Cabot’s millage 39.9 mills, would generate $23 million for the district and allow for over $50 million in capital improvements across the district.

At $47 per student, Cabot brings in $433,622 per year from each of its 36 mills, or a total of $15,610,392.

The state will partner with the district on all approved projects at a wealth index rate of 60 percent to the state and 40 percent to the district. Every district’s wealth index is different and is based on the amount of money a district is able to generate based on its tax base.

“We stand to benefit greatly from this partnership program but must be able to generate our share of the funds,” Thurman said.

The 16 proposed projects for the next three to five years include a $13 million health, physical education and recreation complex at the high school attached to a new cafeteria/student center; $11.3 million for a new elementary school; $9.04 million to install heating, ventilation and air conditioning units in 10 kitchens in the district as well as HVAC systems at Southside Elementary, Junior High South and Central Elementary; $7.3 million to add 40 classrooms at the high school to accommodate future growth; $3.66 million for renovations to the high school auditorium; $3.6 million to renovate the high school S-building; $2.27 million to upgrade the science labs at Junior High South to accommodate growth in the next four years; $1.86 million for a new roof and HVAC system at Eastside Elementary School; $1.77 million for HVAC systems in the physical-education facilities at eight campuses; and $1.82 million to construct a new facility for the district’s charter school.

Also included in the projects are two items the district knows are not eligible for any state assistance – purchasing the land for a new elementary school, estimated to cost $200,000, and paving Stagecoach Road from Stagecoach Elementary School to Campground Road, at an estimated cost of $50,000.

TOP STORY >>City eyes long-term planning

Leader staff writer

Along with the city’s 2008 budget of $17.8 million that Mayor Tommy Swaim presented recently to the Jacksonville city council, he also turned in a $17.8 million plan of long-range capital improvements.

Some of the work, such as the new library, has already started, while others will get a green light in 2008 and yet others are planned for some time in the future.

Jacksonville’s capital improvement plan identifies $13.4 in infrastructure construction improvements and $600,000 in drainage projects, plus $3.7 million in library bond construction.

The capital improvement plan, according to city officials, stems from the considerations of Jacksonville’s present condition, its past trends and its aspirations for the future.

The mayor, in the plan’s introduction, calls it a “guide for achieving a more orderly, convenient and attractive community.”
Two projects on the capital improvement list will be funded from a 1-cent sales tax city residents passed in 2003. The money from that tax funded the cost of Jacksonville’s aquatic park, the Splash Zone.

It will also fund the Joint Education Center, a $14.4 million college campus to be built by the city and the Air Force. President Bush recently signed into law Congress’ $555 billion spending bill, which includes funds for the center. The city’s portion of the bill is $5 million and comes from the one-cent sales tax.

The education center will be located off Vandenberg Boulevard near Highway 67/167 outside the Little Rock Air Force Base.
Up to six public and private colleges will offer courses at the center and will be used by the military as well as civilians.

The Capital Improvement Plan also lists the multi-million dollar joint police and fire training facility, which will also be paid for from the one-cent sales tax. Originally projected to cost slightly more than $1 million, the facility is expected to cost $ 4 million by the time it is built.

Currently, police and firefighters have to receive a large portion of their training outside of Jacksonville. This facility would keep them here and would be used by other fire and police departments in central Arkansas as well.

Also on the city’s to-do list is a $275,000 expansion of Station Four, which was built in 1978 and designed to house two firefighters. Current industry standards and response needs require that each engine company be staffed with at least three firefighters.

The station, at just 600-square- feet, has reached its capacity. An expansion would provide more living space as will as room for an ambulance and its crew.

Station Three, which was identical to Station Four, was remodeled this year.

Another $500,000 will be needed to add a fifth station to the Jacksonville Fire Department. An additional station is needed because of the increase of new subdivisions on the west side of the city.

The new station would probably be located, according to the improvement plan, on West Main Street, east of Bayou Meto.
This station would also be responsible for responding to Gravel Ridge and supplementing that community’s fire department.

The city is also looking at widening west Main Street at a projected cost of $1.5 million, making the road four lanes from Redmond Road to Harris Road. This project will improve the dangerous “s” curve in the area and rework the area around the bridge to improve traffic safety.

At $1.4 million is the planned widening of Graham Road. The project will widen the road from Loop Road to Oak Street where drivers must turn to get on the Main Street overpass.

The original cost of the planned widening was $5 million with state and federal funds paying for the rest, but current estimates have the price placed at $7 million.

The capital improvement plans also include $250,000 for a traffic light at Main Street and Harris Road, $100,000 for land acquisition to add to the city’s parks and historical sites such as the Reed’s Bridge Battlefield, $401,626 to foster commercial and industrial development, especially along Redmond Road and General Samuels.

Drainage projects include a $100,000 improvement to Toneyville Road to Max Howell drainage system, $300,000 to replace the Northeastern culvert bridge, $150,000 to repair, replace and improve a culvert area at Woodbriar and Canady, and $45,000 to help with Fox Glen drainage.

TOP STORY >>School at base to go up in ’09

Leader senior staff writer

Ground could be broken for the $15.7 million, first-of-its-kind Joint Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base in 2009, according to Tech. Sgt. Kati Garcia, spokesperson for the 314th Airlift Wing, now that President Bush has signed the $555 billion omnibus funding bill.

The center will make college classes available to both airmen and area residents. The Jacksonville community has sought a new building for this educational partnership for several years.

Attendance by area residents at the existing facility dropped off after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when security was beefed up at the base. The new center will be on base, but outside the fenced perimeter, near the intersection of Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden Drive.

The existing facility is old and inefficient, according to Nancy Sheflette, director of the ASU-Beebe branch on the base. She said the prospect of a new, more accessible facility is exciting. Jacksonville residents voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves to support the new education center.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said the city is ready to write its $5 million check to the Air Force as soon as he is asked.
Because such a joint venture between a community and an air base is apparently unprecedented, officials have had to find a way for the base to accept the city’s money. Swaim said he believes that had been resolved.

The 2008 budget held an unusually large number of blessings for the nation’s premiere C-130 training, maintenance and operation center, including money for additional landing capacity and repair of the existing, worn runways, Garcia said, and also for additional C-130J military transport aircraft.

It authorizes $1.356 billion for 17 state-of-the-art C-130Js and another $495 million for seven KC-130Js for the Navy.
A spokesman for Cong. Vic Snyder said Friday nine more C-130Js are destined for the Jacksonville base, bringing their total to 20 and 100 more airmen.

Crews for all C-130s are trained at the base.

In addition, the Base Realign-ment and Closure process has expanded the base’s training mission to include C-130E and H training previously done by the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. That should bring 100 additional airmen and three more older planes to the base.

“All told, there should be about 250 additional bodies coming to the base by 2009,” Garcia said.

She said that delivery of new C-130Js should be completed by 2010.

If they were ordered today, it would take about four years to get the aircraft built, she said, but Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the C-130J, has “aircraft coming continuously off the line. They are leaning forward and we should have them in the next two years.”

Garcia said plans for the educational center are likely at least roughed out at this point and could go out for bids as soon as they are finalized.

“I can’t say when it will be done,” she said, but that Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz was pleased that the education project and the others were being funded.

“He understands that without support (of the community and the congressional delegation)—we’re not getting this kind of money. The amount is a lot of money for one base.”

“A lot of the groundwork was done by the people who came before him,” she said. “But he will be here for at least the ground- work. He’s going to start looking for things he can improve on that base.”

Schatz has lobbied the local school board for a new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive Elementary School on the base.

TOP STORY >>Looking back on 2007

Leader staff writer

One of the top stories of 2006 was the arrest of Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell, his wife Kelly, and others on a multitude of drug and sex charges. Their trial and ultimate sentencing makes this year’s Top Ten list.

Also among the top local stories of 2007 is the mayor’s seat of Sherwood, which has had three different people sitting in it this year. But while the leadership for the city was up for grabs for a chunk of the year, Sherwood also managed to cause controversy over its willingness to spend millions of taxpayer’s dollars to buy and operate the North Hills Country Club while stopping any other development of the land.

Jacksonville spent most of 2007 in a fighting mode. Fighting to get a new school district, fighting to annex Gravel Ridge, fighting to stop Sherwood from getting 2,000 acres of land near the air base and fighting to improve its image and bring more people to the city through a two-cent hamburger tax.

For Cabot, the year-long story was mostly about school growth, school growth and more school growth.

These are the Top Ten stories of 2007 taken from hundreds of pages of The Leader throughout the year and selected by staff members.

The Campbells

Jay Campbell, the former Lonoke police chief, was sentenced to 315 years in prison on 23 charges, and his wife Kelly received 304 years on 26 counts. The sentence came after long trial that included sordid sex details, threats and even testimony by a self-professed hit man.

Because the jury recommended all the sentences run concurrently, Campbell’s actual sentence worked out to 40 years with a chance of parole after 10 years. Kelly Campbell’s sentence work-ed out to 20 years. She can get out after three years and four months.

Campbell was sentenced to 40 years as the kingpin of a continuing criminal enterprise, 30 years for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, 20 years for each of six counts of residential burglary, 10 years for each of seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and various other drug or theft related charges.

Kelly Campbell was sentenced to 20 years of each of nine residential burglaries, 10 years for each of nine charges of obtaining a controlled substance by theft and various other charges.

Campbell was initially sent to the correction department’s Diagnostic Unit at Pine Bluff, while his wife Kelly was transported to the McPherson Unit, a women’s prison, at Newport to begin her 20-year sentence. Campbell was later moved to an out-of-state facility for his safety.

Prison spokesman Dina Tyler said she didn’t remember having another former police chief in the prison population, but “It won’t be the first lawman we’ve had.”

Kelly Campbell’s lawyer, Mark Hampton, filed a motion for a directed verdict of not guilty and has asked for a new trial, but Kelly will remain in jail until the appeals are ruled on.

The prosecutors drew a picture of the Campbells as a team that preyed on friends, fellow church members and people in ill health or recovering from surgery. Jay Campbell, a charming and likable man by all accounts, would routinely visit with them while his wife rummaged through kitchen or bathroom cabinets for prescription narcotics.

Charles McLemore, the State Police investigator who compiled most of the information that led to the Campbells’ arrests, called it the worst abuse by a lawman in his 12 years as a lawman.

Bail bondsman Bobby Junior Cox, accused of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, participating in an ongoing criminal enterprise and intimidating a witness, and bail bondsman Larry Norwood, charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, are still awaiting trial.

Ron (Bear) Tyler, a prosecution witness, testified in the absence of the jury that Cox had solicited him to kill the prosecutor and a witness, and that Norwood was involved as well, but so far no additional charges related to that solicitation have been filed against the bail bondsmen.

Former Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett, arrested in the same net as the Campbells and others, and charged with misdemeanor theft of services for having Act 309 jail trustees hang his Christmas lights and work on a faulty air conditioner, pled “no contest” in November and Circuit Judge John Cole fined him $300, charged $150 in court costs and sentenced him to one year unsupervised probation.

Thus ended the saga of a local official whose bad judgment made him a footnote in the sprawling, lurid prosecution featuring the police chief, his wife, a jailer and two bail bondsmen on a bevy of conspiracy, theft and drug charges that made made national news.

The former Lonoke mayor never denied that he had two state work-release inmates hang his Christmas decorations or fix his air conditioner. Privett said he paid the two inmates a small stipend and thought the work fell under the types of things they could do to earn spending money.

“I’m pleased that this case is finally resolved and look forward to the trial of the two remaining defendants, (Bobby Junior) Cox and (Larry) Norwood,” said Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain after the Privett trial. “It will only be then that the citizens of the city of Lonoke will have closure.” The two bondsmen are set for trial in 2008.

Former police dispatcher Amy Staley, charged with having sex with an inmate, was found not guilty.

Sherwood golf course

To buy or not buy the closed North Hills Country Club was one question Sherwood has wrestled with most of the year. The other question was whether or not to let anyone else buy it and develop it.

The issue first appeared in The Leader’s pages in March and has continued to be a news item right through December.

According to James Rodgers, his company, Club Properties, which owns the 106-acre golf course, had come to the city numerous times suggesting the city buy the property. “It wasn’t until we had a buyer for it that the city became interested,” he said.

That buyer was a development group led by businessman Ray Campbell. The group wanted to buy the acreage for $5.1 million and turn it into a high-end 200-home subdivision.

Arkansas National Bank had plans to close the financing on the sale in mid-April, but the council approved a six-month building moratorium the property that scuttled the Campbell purchase.

The owners of the property have taken the city to court over the moratorium. A court date has been set for early 2008.
Water was turned off in May and the greens quickly died as the city continue to debate whether to buy the property or not.

Attorney Tim Grooms, who specializes in land acquisitions for cities, suggested that the city condemn the property, which it could do, but the city would still have to pay a fair market price for the land and that turned out to be the sticking issue. A feasibility study suggested the city could manage the golf course if it bought the land for $1.5 million. A feasibility study showed the acreage to be worth well over $2 million. The county tax office had the property appraised at more than $3 million and the owners had a legitimate offer of $5.1 million for the land.

Dan Stedman, the mayor in March, wanted to be careful and not throw the city’s money down a black hole. A month later, the interim mayor, former Mayor Bill Harmon, wanted the city to purchase the property, period. Then the new mayor, Virginia Hillman, wanted the city to purchase it, if the price was reasonable and was what the residents wanted.

City Engineer Mike Clayton said the sewer collection system in the area was not designed for heavy residential use and would have to be rebuilt, and along with other necessary infrastructure improvements, any residential development would cost the city about $2 million.

In September, just as the building moratorium was expiring, the Sherwood City Council voted to allow the city attorney to start negotiations with the owners of North Hills to buy the property.

At the meeting, Hillman said Sherwood didn’t have the money, but Alderman Becki Vassar said the city could put its hands on $5 million right away if it needed to or wanted to for the purchase of the 106-acre golf course and related facilities.

Vassar said the city had about $1.4 million in savings, more than $2 million in a certificate of deposit and another $1.5 million in a cash trust. “That’s $5 million right now we can get our hands on,” she said.

Although the city attorney and property owners talked, there was a deep chasm in the price that has yet to be bridged.
In December, another set of plans to turn the 106 acres into a mix of residential homes and commercial property was submitted to the Sherwood Planning Commission.

Rodgers’ company, which owns the acreage, has asked that 14 acres of highway frontage be rezoned to C-3 for commercial development and the remaining 92 acres be approved for single-family homes. The rezoning should be on the planning commission’s agenda for its January meeting.

“We needed to do something,” Rodgers explained, “rather than just sit here.”

In late December he said there were no active talks with the city about purchasing the property.

Annexation battles

Two areas to the west of Jacksonville and north of Sherwood are items of contention between the two cities. Sherwood drew first blood in 2006 taking in 2,000 acres of undeveloped land that Jacksonville had wanted and had slowly been improving its western infrastructure to prepare to annex in the future.

Then in November, partially to prevent Sherwood from advancing on it and partially because Jacksonville had its eye on it for a long time, the city set up an election to annex the rural community of Gravel Ridge.

Less than a month later, Sherwood countered with its own annexation election. Jacksonville will vote to bring the property in on Feb. 5 and Sherwood will vote on March 11. If both elections end up in yes votes, then Gravel Ridge will have a separate vote to decide whether the community will go into Sherwood or Jacksonville.

In 2006, the four owners of the 2,000 acres of land to the north of Sherwood and south of the air base acreage – Greg Heslep, Byron McKimmey, Metropolitan Realty and Lilac LLC – asked that their land be a part of Sherwood. Sherwood accepted the request, but Jacksonville objected.

The issue went before County Judge Buddy Villines who ruled in favor of Sherwood in August 2006. Jacksonville appealed and the case went before Circuit Court Judge Collins Kilgore. In late May, Kilgore also ruled in favor of Sherwood.

In circuit court, the land owners testified that they felt Sherwood was the better deal for them and that their land would be more valuable as part of Sherwood as opposed to being part of Jacksonville.

Villines said in his 2006 order said that the only reason Sherwood could refuse the annexation was if it were “unable to provide services to the annexed area.”

“Don’t worry,” said Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon, “we’ll provide service,” adding that Sherwood has about $2 million saved up to help provide water and other utilities to the area.

Jacksonville has since appealed the annexation decision to the state Supreme Court where it should be decided earlier this year.

Despite the appeal to the Supreme Court, Sherwood officially annexed the acreage in June.

“Of course right now it’s unpopulated, but it won’t be long before it’s full of new residents,” said Harmon.

Jacksonville aldermen voted unanimously in late November to bring in about 2,500 acres west of the city, which includes most of Gravel Ridge.

City Administrator Jay Whisker added that “there’s a lot of tax revenue out there that would be good for the city. I-440 will also be going through there with a planned interchange.”

Whisker said the general area sought for annexation runs from the western city limits to west of Highway 107, south of Kellogg Creek and north to Bayou Meto.

But because the city is initiating the annexation, a special election must be held for the voters in the affected area and city residents.

The ordinance setting the election states the annexation is necessary “for the orderly and continued growth of the city.”

Sherwood Alderman Becki Vassar pointed out the annexation into Sherwood is in the “best interest of the city.”

Former Sherwood Alderman Tom Brooks even offered to head a committee of citizens to raise funds to walk door-to-door through Gravel Ridge garnering support for that community to become part of Sherwood. He even volunteered to contribute $1,000 to the cause.

Who’s the mayor?

Sherwood went through two mayors this year before settling on a third one to see them through the next three-plus years.
Alderman Danny Stedman, elected by a 60 percent margin over businessman Mike Presson in the November 2006 election started the year as the mayor, but he ran into a brick-wall council that refused to give him the reins and heart trouble that forced him to step down in early April.

The council quickly appointed former Mayor Bill Harmon, who had opted to retire rather than run again, as the interim mayor while an election was set for a more permanent replacement.

Harmon was one of five residents who filed for the position. The others were Air Force retiree Victor Sierra, Arkansas Department of Labor employee Doris Anderson, Army Corps of Engineers employee Richard Devine and City Clerk Virginia Hillman.

Hillman was the top vote-getter in the July 10 election, besting interim Mayor Harmon by 10 votes, but neither was able to get 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

The runoff election was set for July 31.

In the July 31 election, Hillman beat Harmon by 1,285 votes to become Sherwood’s new mayor.

New school district

Jacksonville continued its efforts throughout the year to try to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District to form its own. City aldermen made it clear numerous times that one of the biggest pluses for the city would be to have its own school district and not be the stepchild of the PCSSD.

Even the base commander told area residents that the city and the base would be better off with its own school district. In all, four local groups are either working toward a separate school district or working hard to get the PCSSD to make improvements to Jacksonville area schools.

The state Legislature early in the year, with a push by Rep. Will Bond, passed a law allowing the formation of a north Pulaski County school district, but the legislation has been tied up in federal court. The law allowed for a feasibility study on the viability of such a district and which the study found would be self-supporting.

The new law does not create a stand-alone Jacksonville-area school district, but it makes one possible.

“The law is an attempt to move the desegregation case along until all three districts are declared unitary,” Bond said. The Little Rock district was declared unitary – sufficiently desegregated – and released from the agreement earlier this month.
Federal Judge Bill Wilson cited failure of the districts to achieve unitary status in his decision to disallow a vote on the issue of a stand-alone Jacksonville-area school district about three years ago.

“There hasn’t been any incentive or stick in the past to move toward unitary status and save on funding,” said Bond.
“Hopefully, this will do it,” Bond said. “But I don’t want to over-promise.”

The law includes language that allows, but does not mandate, creation of an additional school district and it also prohibits dissolution of the Pulaski County Special School District.

Then in June, now-Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, the commander of the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, said he wanted an independent school district for north Pulaski County, saying that outdated school facilities in Jacksonville have not provided adequate educational opportunities for the children of airmen stationed at the base.

Schatz said education is one of his priorities, along with better housing and family support. He pointed to Cabot School District, where many airmen live and send their children to new schools, while Jacksonville schools are in poor shape.

“Arnold Drive Elementary School is substandard and needs to be replaced,” Schatz said. Some 400 children of airmen attend Arnold Drive on base and Tolleson Elementary School just outside the base.

He pointed to the Cabot School District, which continues to build new schools, while PCSSD is languishing. “If you look at Cabot compared with Jacksonville, you have a visible example of how good schools can drive growth in a community,” the commander said.

Late in the year, the World Class Education Organization of Jacksonville prepared a five-minute video detailing the deteriorating condition of many Jacksonville schools – a video that has been shown at the Pulaski County Special School District board meeting, the Chamber of Commerce Education meeting, the Rotary Club and elsewhere.

Filmed and edited by realtor Daniel Gray, the video is intended to bring home the message that the district and the community need to get busy. The video has gotten hundreds of hits on YouTube, Gray said.

New PCSSD School Board members Bill Vasquez and Danny Gilliland have said they favor a new Jacksonville district and support the notion of building new schools in Jacksonville and refurbishing others.

Former board member Bishop James Bolden said he would continue to work to make sure the district gets its share of PCSSD money and attention.

In the latest move toward better facilities, the PCSSD school board said work could start on a new Jacksonville middle school as early as 2009 if an extra 5-mill property tax for the Pulaski Special School District is approved.

A new school to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools is slated to be started no later than 2012.
The cost of the proposed middle school is estimated at $25 million.

Col. Scott Lockard, 314th Missions Support Group commander, has shown the board three potential locations the base engineers had identified as possible sites for a new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive.

He also said a 13-acre site across from North Pulaski High School was available.

Gen. Schatz has lobbied hard for a new school to replace Arnold Drive Elementary and has offered free base land – outside the fenced perimeter – upon which to build it.

Vasquez has suggested that replacing both the boys and girls middle schools with one middle school would save money and combining Tolleson and Arnold Drive students into one new building also would be cost effective.

Cabot school growth

The Cabot School District opened its newest elementary school, Stagecoach Elementary, in late August to an already overflowing student population as school growth continues in the city.

When Stagecoach opened, it had more third graders than the law would allow. According to Superintendent Dr. Tony Thur-man, Eastside and Westside Elementary schools were over the limit in kindergarten and Westside was over in first-grade.
“But no school is over by more than three students at this time,” he said.

Thurman said the district has plenty of open seats at other schools in the district. “We can’t hire a teacher being only three over with plenty of room at other schools, so we are asking parents if they’d like the option of moving to one of the schools with open seats,” Thurman said.

But the moving of students made it clear that the district has to keep building and expanding.

In October, when districts reported their total student population to the state, it was clear that Cabot had grown. The Cabot School District had an official enrollment of 9,245 students this school year.

There are 3,734 students among the district’s eight elementary schools, an increase of 83 students from last school year. At the middle school level, there are a total of 1,420 students among two middle schools; last year there were 1,406 fifth- and sixth-graders in Cabot.

The junior high population grew by 97 to 2,231 students.

Cabot High School also saw an increase in population, adding an additional 208 students for this school year, bringing the grand total to 1,861 10th- through 12th-graders.

The district also opened bids and started the work to rebuild the junior high it lost in a fire in August 2006 and discovered the new facility, to hold up to 1,200 students, will cost about $11.6 million to build, about $7 million less than the state had calculated.

Insurance money will cover about $10 million of the cost, and the state will pick up nearly $1 million of the tab, leaving the district with a bill of around $640,000.

Dirt work, at a bid of $336,000, is complete and footings have been poured.

The costs for asphalt, curbs and gutters for the parking lots, as well as landscaping, will be bid out at a later date. The landscaping bid will not be bid out until three or four months before construction is completed.

The new Cabot Junior High North will include 51 classrooms meeting the new building standards of 850 square feet each. It will have a sprinkler system, meet the indoor air quality standards and have a larger cafeteria to hold more students.

The air base

The importance of Little Rock Air Force Base puts it in the Top Ten stories of the year, and this year is no exception. The economic impact of the base to central Arkansas is second to none, but this year the air base makes the list not only because of its financial impact, but also because of its base housing construction woes.

In early February, Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines ruled that 1,200 homes owned, managed and being built by American Eagle Communities – a private company – on LRAFB were exempt from property taxes even though Pulaski County Assessor Janet Troutman Ward disagreed, saying the houses previously were exempt because the federal government owned them, but not now.

LRAFB privatized its family housing, turning the existing homes over to American Eagle Communities in August 2004. The company and the base entered into a $500 million agreement that called for the demolition and then construction of 468 homes and remodeling of another 732 homes.

Project director Tom Brockway said in February that the construction is on schedule to be done by 2010 although only three homes were completed, six were being finished and another 123 new homes were in progress.

American Eagle had completed a $1.2 million town hall, but by the end of the summer had declared bankruptcy and left the base in a mess.

But in August, just three years into its 50-year military housingprivatization contract at LRAFB, the developer reportedly was working to sell properties and contracts here and at four other military housing-privatization projects around the country.
Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, the base commander, said in August, “We’re supposed to have 120 new homes and we’ve only got 25; we’re supposed to have almost 500 renovated homes and we’ve got three.”

In addition, the developer failed to pay some area contractors and suppliers and fell far behind schedule for construction and refurbishing of 1,200 base homes and stopped work May 7.

The air base is working with Air Force headquarters to hold the developer in the default process or have American Eagle sell to another developer because of failed military projects at LRAFB and other bases around the country, all because American Eagle has not lived up to their end of the bargain, Schatz said.

Even though the developer stopped its work on the homes, it continued to collect rent. It received $9 million in 2006 alone, according to a base spokesman.

In late November, Sen. Mark Pryor said the developer would pay about $778,000 of the $2.4 million the company allegedly owes contractors and suppliers for its now-abandoned housing-privatization contract at LRAFB.

Contractors here have been trying to get paid by American Eagle or by the surety bond company since at least last January, and some have now filed suit in Federal District Court.

American Eagle, which hasn’t paid a nickel since early 2007, announced the decision to pay some debts just before a national press conference on the issue.

Pryor and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, had just completed a teleconference with the national press about the failings of the developer that had defaulted on four Air Force housing privatization contracts when he met with local reporters at the base.

“We have a lot of questions about how a company with a history of bankruptcy, defaulting on government contracts and not paying subcontractors landed four Air Force base housing-privatization contracts,” Pryor told assembled press on base, against the desolate backdrop of vacant concrete slabs behind locked gates at the corner of Minnesota Circle and Texas Boulevard.

Pryor and Chambliss have called for an investigation to determine how a developer with a checkered past was awarded six military-housing privatization contracts so this doesn’t happen again in the future.

Even though the base housing suffers, other base news has been good. In a Sept. 12 story in The Leader, it was pointed out that LRAFB could soon have half a billion dollars in construction projects and upgrades once Congress approves $22.4 million in additional funding, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new aircraft the base will see in the coming years.

Current construction projects at LRAFB, according to the September article, total around $28 million – $7 million for a new headquarters building for the 463rd Airlift Group, $10 million for a C-130J corrosion-control facility, $7 million for a new dining facility and $3.9 million for a new child-development center completed during the year.

There will be a net gain of 22 airplanes and a possible 300 airmen at the base.

During 2007, the 463rd Airlift Group broke ground for two new projects, a $7 million headquarters building and a $10 million C-130J corrosion-control facility.

The new 18,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Hercules Dining Facility, scheduled to open in the spring of 2008, will replace the current dining facility, Razorback Inn, which was built in 1955, and will have a 60 percent increase in seating with a total seating capacity to accommodate 250 customers.

In November it was announced that LRAFB would add more feathers to its training hat as the 314th Airlift Wing would begin training crews on the C-130H model and will also expand its J model training to include training international partners.

These expansions, expected to begin in 2010, will increase the numbers at the C-130 Airlift Center of Excellence by an expected nine aircraft and about 200 additional airmen over the next four years.

Schatz said the partnership made sense for the future of the Air Force.

“Our combat airlifters are known throughout the world for their excellence,” he said.

Then in December, the president signed the $555 billion omnibus spending bill which included $10.7 million for the Little Rock Air Force Base/Jacksonville Joint Education Center and $9.8 million to repair and update runways at LRAFB.


Five homicides in Jacksonville, three in Sherwood and one in Cabot, made eight too many in 2007.

Cabot had its first murder in 16 years with the shooting death of Kevin W. Bell, 39.

Sherwood’s first murder of the year occurred in June, one in late August and one around Thanksgiving.

Jacksonville had a double murder at a local motel in September, a baby shaken to death in August, a young man stabbed to death in August and a domestic dispute that ended in death in June.

In Cabot in late September, police found Bell’s body in his South First Street home. Bell had been shot five times with a 9-millimeter pistol.

The suspect, Shawn Kelly Yielding, 36, also of Cabot and an acquaintance of Bell’s, had been found guilty of second-degree murder in June 2000 in White County after killing a man over $20, but was out on parole. Yielding goes to trial in February.
In Sherwood, Alfred Polk, 43, was found dead in his home on Newcastle Street on June 20 by relatives. Police classified his death as a homicide. No arrests have been made and the case is still open.

A burglar was found shot dead in a creek near a home on Hwy. 107 he tried to enter the night before. The homeowner shot at two would-be robbers but didn’t think he hit anyone. Police canvassed the area that evening and found nothing.

The homeowner’s wife discovered the body of Bryant Cross, 18, of McAlmont the next day. No charges have been filed against the homeowner at this point.

On Thanksgiving day, the body of Ray Hart, 66, was found in his travel trailer. A few days later, police made two arrests in the murder.

Melvin L. Lockhart III, 26, of North Little Rock was arrested and charged with capital murder, aggravated robbery and residential burglary. He is in custody and bond has been set at $1 million. Toni Boggs, 36, also of North Little Rock, was also arrested and charged with two counts of fraudulent use of a credit or debit card and theft by receiving after using Hart’s credit cards in Jackson, Tenn.

The suspect in the Jacksonville double murder turned himself in to police in early December. Suspect Xavier Butler turned himself in to Lonoke authorities when he went to pay some outstanding fines.

Butler is accused of shooting three black men in the parking lot at America’s Best Value Inn and Suites on John Harden Drive in Jacksonville in September. Two of the victims, Daryl Wiggins, 23, of North Little Rock and Brian Washington, 18, of Jacksonville, died from their gunshot wounds.

The third victim, Michael Jenkins, 22, was transported to St. Vincent Hospital North in Sherwood, where he was treated and released for a gunshot wound to a foot.

In June, Marlin Marbley, 24, was accused of beating his long- time girlfriend, Cassondra L. Speer, 24, to death after a domestic dispute turned physical.

In mid-August, Jackie Tredell of 3A N. Simmons was stabbed to death in a domestic disturbance. His girlfriend, Paulette Coleman, 22, was charged in the death.

About a week earlier, a 2-year-old was declared dead after being abused by his parents. The stepfather, Ausencio Lopez, tried to commit suicide by jumping off a Little Rock overpass into traffic. He died in November while in surgery for his injuries. His wife, Senior Airman Sharilyn Lopez was charged as an accomplice in the young boy’s death.

Work is quickly proceeding on the new Jacksonville library being built on Main Street across from the new Wendy’s. It should be open sometime in 2008.

Bids were submitted in August much higher than anticipated, but the city decided to use $400,000 in sales tax money, a $300,000 donation from the Central Arkansas Library System and promised to scale back some of the plans in order for the library work to go forward.

The city council accepted the $3.77 million construction bid from Wilkins Construction of Little Rock, which was substantially more than the $2.5 million the city had projected to pay for the new facility.

In July 2005, residents ap-proved a one-mill property tax increase to pay off $2.5 million in bonds to build the new library.
The 13,500-square-foot multi-use facility is being built on about four acres of land purchased with $900,000 of private donations.

The plans, developed by W.E.R. Architects of Little Rock, call for the library to be a centerpiece for the downtown area.
Pit Bulls

Pit bulls were banned in nearly every city in central Arkansas during 2007. Ward is about the only city in the area that still allows pit bulls within city limits.

Jacksonville’s ban went into effect in July. Pit bulls already in the city were grandfathered in, provided owners had the dogs registered, spayed or neutered and micro-chipped.

Beebe, Cabot and Lonoke all followed suit with bans.

The Beebe City Council passed a pit bull ban in July for all but the 11 pit bulls that were registered at that time. Other owners were given 30 days to find new homes outside the city for their pit bulls.

The estimated 140 dogs that remained unregistered are now in the city illegally and could be destroyed. Sherwood has had a ban on the dogs for a number of years.

SPORTS >>Jackrabbits slowly pull away from Academy

Leader sports editor

There was no sudden burst of scoring to bury the opponent, and it couldn’t quite be called a dominant performance, but it was an impressive one as Lonoke handled Harding Academy 67-44 Thursday afternoon in the opening round of the Badger Christmas Classic at Beebe High School.

While there was no burst of scoring for the Jackrabbits, there was a steady sustained run late in the third quarter.

The Jackrabbits went into halftime up 31-19, and scored the first bucket of the second half, but gave up a quick 10-2 that saw the Wildcats climb back to within 35-29 at the 4:26 mark of the third quarter.

Lonoke coach Wes Swift called timeout, and his team controlled the next several minutes of play.

The Jackrabbits went into the fourth quarter ahead 48-34, and extended that lead to 20 in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats tried to pressure Lonoke to get back into the game.

“That just plays into our hands,” Lonoke coach Wes Swift said. Swift’s squad couldn’t press like it would have liked because it was called for 13 fouls in the first half.

Still, Swift was glad to see his team perform well in a game it was forced to play at a slower tempo.

“It was a difficult game for us to play, but it’s good for us to play in these types of games and do well,” Swift said.

His team experienced a similar, but much worse disparity last Friday in a tough conference road loss at Stuttgart.

Against Academy, Lonoke was called for 13 fouls in the first half to Academy’s four. The Wildcats shot 14 free throws to Lonoke’s one.

The previous Friday in a conference matchup at Stuttgart, the Ricebirds shot 24 second-half free throws to Lonoke’s one while the foul count was Lonoke 16, Stuttgart 3.

“In four quarters between the second half at Stuttgart and the first half of this one, our opponents shot 38 free throws to our two,” Swift said. “So we’ve gone through some learning experiences.”

The second half free throws against Academy tipped in the Jackrabbit’s favor. Lonoke shot 17 free throws to Academy’s five.
Lonoke’s lead reached double digits for the first time at 21-11 on a Lance Jackson three pointer with 4:36 left in the second quarter. Jackson scored all 10 of his points in the second period and sparked a run that saw the Jackrabbits push their lead from four to 12 points by halftime.

Harding Academy post player Lance Carr led the comeback attempt in the third quarter. Sophomore guard Zach Kirby’s transition three-point play cut the margin to 35-29 before Lonoke pulled away.

Junior guard Clarence Harris led Lonoke with 13 points while Carr led Academy with the same total. Lonoke’s Myles Taylor and Jackson each scored 10 points.

The win lifts Lonoke to 10-4 overall while Academy fell to 7-2.

SPORTS >>JHS girls survive Dollarway

Leader sportswriter

Crystal Washington may have only had one field goal in the second half, but it arrived when the Lady Red Devils needed it the most. Trailing Dollarway with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Washington took an assist from Shanita Jackson and hit the bank shot that put Jacksonville ahead for the final time at 47-46, advancing the Lady Devils to the winners bracket of their own Community Bank Red Devil Classic.

The play was set up by a missed free throw by Dollarway. JHS sophomore post Jessica Lanier commited her fifth foul to send Dollarway to the line with 19 seconds remaining, but both ends were missed, and Jacksonville’s Sierra Morant pulled down the board for Jacksonville.

During Jacksonville’s inbounds play that followed, Johnson lost her balance as the Lady Cardinals triple teamed her in the paint, but was able to dish to a wide-open Washington under the goal as she fell. With no defender in sight, Washington knocked it off the glass for the winner in a dramatic conclusion to a closely contested matchup.

For Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms, it wasn’t just a thrilling win, but a career first for the second-year JHS coach.

“That’s the first time we’ve ever won a game like that,” Mimms said afterwards. “Usually, the ball will roll around the rim and bounce out, or not be counted, but we got it this time.”

Jacksonville had its hands full with Dollarway guard Meoshi Bradley in the first half. Bradley came away with 14 points in the first half, but improved coverage by Jacksonville in the second half held the standout to four points, until 1:06 left. In a matter of 15 seconds, Bradley single handedly generated six points, including a three-point field goal and foul shot. That moved the Lady Cardinals from a 43-40 deficit to a 46-43 lead.

Brittany Smith pulled the Lady Devils to within a point on the ensuing Jacksonville possession, before Lanier’s questionable foul-out sent the Lady Cardinals to the line.

It was Dollarway that jumped out to an early lead, but the Lady Red Devils responded with a full-court press that allowed them to close an 8-3 deficit at the 3:46 mark to a 15-11 lead at the start of the second quarter.

A three-point basket by Tyra Terry following a pair of free throws by Johnson was a great start to the second quarter for the Lady Devils at the 7:42 mark, but it was their only points until 1:41 left in the first half. In that time, Bradley got busy for the Lady Cardinals with six points that helped move Dollarway back out front 21-15 at the 1:58 mark.

The Lady Cardinals relied on slightly better shooting in the first half to carry a 22-19 halftime lead. Dollarway’s 36 percent may not have been stellar, but 27 percent for Jacksonville from the floor allowed the Lady Cardinals to have what little momentum that existed in the first half.

The Lady Cardinals sucessfully sealed off Jacksonville’s most obvious offensive threats in Washington and junior Tyra Terry, but couldn’t account for the off-the-bench heroics of Brittany Smith. Smith started her court time shaky, with a couple of botched three-point attempts, but once she found her touch, she began to sink the long ball on her way to leading scorer honors for the Lady Devils.

She hit a basket and drew a foul at the three-mintue mark of the third quarter, hitting the free throw to put Jacksonville up by two, 29-27, but it was her back to back three pointers in the middle of the fourth quarter that gave the Lady Devils complete momentum. Both shots came from the exact same spot on the floor, giving Jacksonville the largest lead enjoyed by either team in the entire game at 42-34 with 5:33 left to play. Bradley answered minutes later with her flurry, but it was not enough.

Smith led the Lady Red Devils with 12 points. Washington finished with eight points, and Lanier had eight points and seven rebounds. Terry finished with seven points, three steals and two blocks, and Kita Walker rounded out scoring for Jacksonville with six points. For Dollarway, Bradley led all scorers with 24 points and five steals. The win improved the Lady Red Devils’ record to 5-5 on the season, and moved them into a Friday afternoon matchup with Helena-West Helena Central.

SPORTS >>Beebe cruises in first round

Leader sports editor

The Beebe Badgers took advantage of a shorthanded and seemingly unorganized Carlisle team to hammer the Bison 81-41 on Thursday night in the closing game of the first round of the Badger Christmas Classic at Beebe High School. Twelve Badgers got on the scoreboard against a Carlisle team that refused to stop running, even though Beebe was beating the Bison easily at their own game.

Carlisle stayed close for about half the first quarter with nothing but superior quickness and spot-on shooting, even in contorted positions while hanging in mid-air.

The all-out freestyle blitz, though, couldn’t hold up to Beebe’s systematic pressure. While the Bison occasionally dazzled the crowd with acrobatic shots, the Badgers consistently forced turnovers, and turned them into points.

Beebe perhaps got too caught up in the moment in the first quarter and missed some chances to put Carlisle away very early, but nothing was in doubt by the midway point of the second quarter.

The Badgers led 21-8 after one, and 50-26 at halftime, although they got stuck at 47 for nearly three minutes until senior Charlie Spakes hit a three pointer at the buzzer to end the half.

Almost half of Beebe’s point total came off second, third and fourth chance shots. Carlisle, which only brought seven players to the opening round game, didn’t box out anyone the entire game, while the Badgers crashed the boards hard.
The final rebound tally favored Beebe by a margin of 49-15.

Four of the 12 Badgers who scored finished in double figures. Zach Kersey came off the bench to lead the team with 16 points. Charlie Spakes scored 13, Anthony Forte added 11 and Donte Myles scored 10 for the Badgers.

Spakes also had eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Brett Difanie came off the bench for six points and nine rebounds.

The Lady Badgers also had a relatively easy time with Riverview in their opening game. The Beebe ladies beat Riverview 58-36 after battling to 19-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Lady Badgers came out with all-out defensive pressure, but the Lady Raiders handled it well. A few adjustments between periods and Beebe controlled the action the rest of the way.

“I was pleased with how we executed our pressure defenses,” Lady Badger coach Lora Jackson said. “Riverview did a good job of handling it at first, but we did a good job of adjusting to that and pulled away from them.”

The contest wasn’t completely in hand until a quick burst early in the fourth quarter turned a modest 13-point lead into 20 and more.

Junior point guard Ty O’Neil was the only player for either team in double figures. She finished with 15 points, four assists and four steals.

Bailey Thomas and Audre Renneker scored eight apiece, with Thomas adding six rebounds and four steals to her total. Ashley Watkins and Neshia Upchurch added seven points each for Beebe, who improved to 7-2 overall with the win. Riverview dropped to 3-7.

In other Badger Christmas Classic first-round games, Star City’s girls beat Harding Academy 37-34, Star City’s Bulldogs beat White Hall’s Bulldogs 65-50, Carlisle girls hammered Newport 56-27, Lonoke handled Harding Academy’s boys 67-44, Lonoke’s girls beat White Hall 41-27 and Newport’s boys survived Riverview 53-51.

Look for details of the final rounds of the Badger Christmas Classic in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

TOP STORY >>Year not good to payday lenders

Leader staff writer

This has been a tough year for the payday lenders, check cashers and others of their ilk who essentially make small consumer loans at annual interest rates of hundreds of percent, according to Hank Klein, who founded Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending, which delights in confounding such lenders.

“The FDIC stopped banks from partnering with them,” Klein said Saturday, and those lenders that tried to disguise the lending as an expensive Internet service settled a lawsuit with the Arkansas attorney general for $1 million and a promise to stop doing such business in the state.


“That’s two of four schemes they can’t use here,” Klein said.

Arkansas’ usury law allows a maximum of 17 percent on loans, but some payday lenders affiliated themselves with banks and finance companies in other states where there were no limits, then claimed to “import” those interest rates to Arkansas.

Todd Turner is the payday lenders’ worst nightmare—a motivated consumer activist with a law degree and the inclination to use it.

Turner was given “a good court decision” from a Ouachita County judge last week in his suit against Advance America—one of the country’s largest payday lenders. Clauses in Advance America’s loan contracts stipulate that borrowers couldn’t take them to court, but had to resolve any complaints in arbitration.

“The judge said no,” Klein said.

In another case, where a bonding company has declined to pay a judgment against its payday client, Turner has made oral arguments before the state supreme court.

“On Jan. 10, we expect a good outcome,” Klein said.


In addition, Congress passed a law that lenders couldn’t charge more than a state’s legal interest rate when making loans to members of the military or their families.

The number of payday lending-type stores in Arkansas has dropped from 275 in 2006 to 239 now, Klein said.

In the past the numbers had continued to grow.

The one victory the payday lenders won in Arkansas this year was a significant one.

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would have found payday lending illegal and unconstitutional—charging 340 percent or more in a state with a 17 percent interest cap—but the bill was blocked in Senate committee.


In the past, every time opponents found a way to shut down payday lending, it morphed into a slightly different creature, Klein said. “They are running out of ways to hide this.”

The percentage of Arkansas’ payday-type lenders who submit to regulation has grown from 26 percent in March 2006 to 66 percent today, according to AAAPL.

Regulation is by the state Board of Collection Agencies.

In Jacksonville, First American Cash Advance on North First Street is among the licensed but unregulated lenders, as are American Check Cashers on West Main and on JP Wright Loop.

“Payday loans are a losing proposition every day, and this is especially true this time of the year, when payday loans and the holidays make for a very unmerry mix,” according to Michael Rowett, chairman of AAAPL.

“We commend the state Board of Collection Agencies for making continued progress toward better regulation, but consumers deserve nothing less than the protections of complete, comprehensive regulation.”


AAAPL believes that the Check-cashers Act, the 1999 state law that gave the industry legal cover to operate in Arkansas, clearly violates the Arkansas Constitution. But as long as the law remains in force, AAAPL believes that each of the state’s 239 payday lenders should be regulated under the provisions of the Checkcashers Act.

The average payday borrower ends up paying $800 to borrow $325.

Research shows that payday lenders are disproportionately located near military bases and disproportionately target customers who are minority or low-income.

The lenders challenge this characterization of their customers, saying they make loans to borrowers who might have no other recourse.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

SPORTS >>Head Hogs should pick assistants

Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE – Lord knows the University of Arkansas football program doesn’t need another shotgun wedding with a head coach and a powers-that-be pushed assistant brimming with ideas foreign to the head coach’s core.

Ask the last three to start a Razorback season as head coach how those shotgun weddings went.

If college football had a TV version of Divorce Court, they would have been on it.

Jack Crowe lasted one game in 1992 with a new coordinator bringing a new offense not of Crowe’s choosing. Danny Ford lasted just that 1997 4-7 season with a new coordinator bringing a new offense Ford never sought.

First with and then without his shotgun marriage partner, Houston Nutt combined the most victories for two straight years since before Arkansas joined the SEC.

Didn’t matter. Even going 10-4 and 8-4 and a combined 11-6 in the SEC with a SEC West championship one year and closing the next winning at then No. 1 ranked LSU, Nutt caught more hell than Crowe and Ford combined.

With Arkansas readying to play Missouri in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, Nutt has been gone since Nov. 26, taking over SEC West rival Ole Miss, a team his Hogs beat 7 out of 10. Those coordinators, Greg Davis, later a Broyles Award finalist as Mack Brown’s offensive coordinator at Texas, Kay Stephenson and Gus Malzahn no doubt have their own side of the Arkansas story, though none ever told it publicly.

However, the fallout from the Nutt-Malzahn breakup can be attributed in part to all that furniture moved out of the athletics director’s top floor office and second floor coaches’ offices of the Broyles Complex late last week.

So you can see why new coach Bobby Petrino and new athletics director Jeff Long wouldn’t be open to outside influence about what assistants should be hired.

By all means, logic present and records past mandate the choices they hire truly be their choices.

That said, somebody still should have prevailed on them before they let Louis Campbell slip away. Arkansas’ understated but super deluxe sometimes secondary coach, sometimes administrative troubleshooter and current interim defensive coordinator for interim head coach Reggie Herring, leaves after theCotton Bowl game to coach the Ole Miss secondary for Nutt.

Too bad, in this time of overwhelming change, Arkansas needed a longtime Arkansan on the Razorback staff.

Tim Horton, the running backs coach Petrino retained from the Nutt staff, is a sound choice as a good coach and current recruiting link to the 2008 prospects and Arkansas born former Razorback from one of the Razorbacks’ foremost families with Razorback Foundation vice president Harold Horton for a father. But Tim, hired away from the Air Force Academy, has only been back in Arkansas since last July.

How much more it would help additionally to have a solid, old pro without any agenda but helping Arkansas, always Hamburg native Louis Campbell’s trademark since he returned to his alma mater to coach in 1990.

If Petrino couldn’t find a spot for him on his staff – and that’s understandable – then it’s too bad Long couldn’t have made Campbell an administrative offer Louis couldn’t refuse even with this interim coordinating whetting his appetite for a permanent coaching return. Campbell is that valuable, anybody in the Broyles Complex will tell you.

Oh, well, at least they have him and Herring and a staff that even with the vast majority departing Jan. 2 to make way for the Petrino regime, has stayed loyal to these Razorbacks they still coach.

No matter whose colors they wear next in 2008, expect each coach to represent Arkansas well in Dallas through the Cotton Bowl New Year’s Day.

SPORTS >>Cabot wrestling underway

Leader sportswriter

In a long line of athletic tradition, the Cabot Panther wrestling team got off the ground in their inaugural meet last week against Lutheran High School. The Panthers started their stint in the newly formed state high school program for Arkansas Activities Association-sanctioned wrestling with a 58-18 decision over the Lions.

Cabot wrestlers in four separate weight divisions recorded falls during the event. The fall, more commonly referred to as a pin, earns a team six points, as does a team forfeit in which a wrestler in a specific weight division fails to report for his or her match. Four points are earned when a wrestler wins by major decision.

In the 130 lb. division, it was Cody Ealy who took the win over his counterpart with a fall. Ealy, easily the most advanced of the Panther wrestlers after coming to Cabot with six years of wrestling experience from his native Wisconsin, has set a good example for less experienced wrestlers in the program, according to coach Brandon Jay.

“This is a completely new experience for all of us,” Jay said. “I have three gentlemen helping me out on a volunteer basis that know the sport pretty well, and we have Cody, who has a lot of wrestling experience under his belt. But for the rest of us, it’s a whole new world. I think some of these guys, even the football players, didn’t realize exactly how physical it can be.”

Tate House won by fall for Cabot in the 135-pound class, while Leonard Mitchell took a win by fall in the 150-pound Division. In a light-heavyweight matchup, it was Jake Davis taking a win by fall in the 205 class.

Although it is the first year for the program, it has already been a busy one for the Panthers. Ealy, with an eye on an individual state title, is in consideration to drop five pounds to enter the 125-pound class.

House’s early success can be attributed in part to the instruction of three-time NCAA wrestling champ Pat Smith from Oklahoma State.

The volunteer efforts of Jeff Kelhoff, Bill Lauland and Dustin Warner have also been huge for the Panthers in the building process. Jay says the three men’s knowledge of the sport, combined with his own experience of coaching high school athletics, has made the formation of the program a lot less stressful than anticipated.

“Growing up in Arkansas, I didn’t really learn a lot about organized wrestling,” Jay said. “These guys have helped me to put it all together. They have really been the key to our success early on. They had the knowledge, I was just able to put it into a format that worked for the kids.”

The Panthers will have their first test against proven winners when they meet the wrestlers from the Arkansas School for the Blind on Jan. 8. The School for the Blind has had sanctioned wrestling for a number of years, and has had great success with its program.

SPORTS >>Senior leaves her mark

Leader sportswriter

It has been a long and very distinguished road for Sylvan Hills senior volleyball standout Megan Gwatney. Gwatney has earned the rarest of accolades during her stint on the Lady Bears’ varsity team, with three All-Conference and three All-State awards from her sophomore through senior years. She will represent Hillside this summer at the state all-star volleyball match in Fayetteville before reporting to college in Midland, Texas.

Her signing to the Lady Chaps came last week. It marked the first volleyball signing for Sylvan Hills High School since Traci Buie signed with Westark (now UA-Fort Smith) 10 years ago.

Gwatney, the younger of two children for Glen and Connie Gwatney, discovered volleyball during physical education classes while in grade school, and decided to try the sport on an intermural level when she reached junior high school. Her abilities really began to flourish once she reached high school, a foundation in which she would use to build one of the biggest reputations as a volleyball competitor in the Pulaski County area.

She also built a reputation as a consummate team player and floor leader. Always a steady and strong effort, as well as the vocal support giver when things get rough on the floor.

“She is just the kind of kid every coach loves to have,” Lady Bear volleyball coach Harold Treadway said. “She gives everything all the time. She practices just like she plays an does everything that is asked of her. If I had six Megan Gwatneys I’d have a championship team.”

Gwatney closed out her tenure with the Lady Bears on a strong during the 2007 season, as she led Sylvan Hills to a runner-up finish in the 6A-East Conference behind Marion, earning a bye in the first round of the state tournament. The Lady Bears were unceremoniously beaten by Texarkana during the first round of the tournament to take an unexpected early exit after being coined as one of the potential sleepers for the championship.

Gwatney says the memory of that match is somewhat disappointing, but that the Lady Bears made enough good memories over the three years she was on the team to absorb one sour note.

“We were very disappointed after that match,” Gwatney said. “We all kind of wished that we could have gone right back out there and play all over again, because we did so bad. I don’t know if it was because of the trip down there, or what it was, but it looked like none of us had played a game of volleyball ever.”

Gwatney was also a part of the Lady Bears’ softball team through her sophomore and junior years, but will take the coming spring season off to enjoy her last few weeks at school. Her plans for the future have been in place for quite sometime, according to Gwatney.

“I’ve always loved kids,” Gwatney said. “I’ve always wanted to become a teacher. Initially, I wanted to teach elementary school and work with younger kids. But once I got into volleyball, I started liking it more and more, until I decided that I wanted to be a volleyball coach.”

Megan is not the only star of her family. Older brother Austin is currently a sophomore at Arkansas Tech, where he is an integral part of the Wonderboys’ baseball program. Megan says the support that both she and Austin received from their parents during their formative years made a tremendous impact on the siblings.

“They’ve always been really supportive of us,” Gwatney said. “They were always going with either me or Austin to games.
When we both played, my dad would go to Austin’s game, and my mom would go to mine. They’ve never missed a game I’ve been in; if they both couldn’t come, at least one of them would be there, but both of them have been to most.”

Her support doesn’t end at her residence. Gwatney’s talents really took shape under the tutelage Treadway. Treadway, now in his 11th season as head coach of the Lady Bears, says Gwatney’s talents and contributions have been unmatched in the program.

“She has been an absolutely super individual to have,” Treadway said. “She’s always upbeat, she was elected team captain by her teammates, and she made All State the three years that she played varsity. Sometimes when we were playing, she would be hitting the ball so well and putting on such a good show that I thought about stopping my coaching duties so I could go buy a ticket and watch.”

As for her class, Gwatney says the closeness reflected at any SHHS sporting event is not contrived in any way, but genuine to a group of senior who have collectively set a high bar in many sports for graduating classes to come.

“Our senior class has just grown up together,” Gwatney said. “Everyone is real close, because we have all known each other so long. We’ve always gone to each other’s games to watch each other play, and have always supported each other.”