Saturday, February 16, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Nelson has right idea

Do we detect weariness on the part of Gov. Beebe, who has been trying to get the big gas companies and their robots in the legislature to agree to return to the people of Arkansas a small share of the mammoth income from Arkansas’ vanishing gas resources?

He said Monday that he was working on an initiated act raising the severance tax on natural gas to take to the voters in November, which suggests that common sense made no headway against greed in Beebe’s parleys with the corporations.

If he is serious, Beebe ought to simply embrace the initiated proposal of Sheffield Nelson, which would impose a tax of 7 percent of the market value of the gas. The tax rate is identical to Oklahoma’s but less than Texas’ and New Mexico’s to the west.

Nelson’s proposal would produce $100 million or more to maintain and modernize Arkansas highways, city streets and county roads within two years and provide enough money to colleges to stave off future tuition increases.

Beebe wants to use all the money for highways, none for colleges. We recognize the political appeal. The highway program is floundering because fuel conservation is producing a flat sum from motor-fuel taxes.

He does not want to ask the legislature to raise gasoline taxes or vehicle license fees, and a sound severance tax on the ballooning production of gas from the state’s rich shale formation would take care of highways for another generation without any further highway-user tax increases.Who could not vote for that?

But Nelson’s proposal would achieve substantially the same goal. Separately last month the heads of the two largest exploration companies in the Arkansas shale, from Houston and Oklahoma City, bragged about the robust production in their first ventures. One said his company was already pumping 100 million cubic feet a day out of Arkansas and the other said he was piping out 325 million cubic feet.

Taxed at 7 percent and assuming last month’s benchmark price of gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange ($8.13 per thousand cubic feet), the current production would come close to producing a highway program of $100 million a year to match federal aid. Exploration in the shale is just beginning, and gas prices on the national market are heading up, not down.

We can understand why Beebe does not want to be seen as surrendering leadership on such a pivotal issue for the people, but wise leadership is being pragmatic. This proposal will pass with his help and it will get the job done.

SPORTS >>Lonoke girls reach tournament finals with win

Leader sportswriter

Despite a shaky third quarter, the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits cruised through their semifinal matchup with Stuttgart on Thursday night at Bulldog Arena in Bald Knob.

Lonoke managed four points in the third quarter, but picked the intensity back up in the fourth quarter when the Lady Ricebirds threatened to make a game of it after trailing 35-13 at the half. The Lady ’Rabbits went on for a 53-35 win, but head coach Nathan Morris says one bad quarter of play is one too many, regardless of the cushion.

“We played pretty well in the first half,” Morris said. “But we had a slip of intensity when we came out for the third quarter. We have to get that back; you can’t have slips like that when it comes tournament time.”

The Lady Jackrabbits have been solid all season, but have suffered on occasion from limited shooters. That appears to be a problem of the past for Lonoke, with the addtion of freshman sensation Cara Neighbors.

Neighbors, appearing in her first varsity contest, made her entry known from the very start. She subbed in for senior guard Hayley O’Cain in the final minute of the first quarter, and got a steal that she took coast-to-coast for a layup. That gave the Lady Jackrabbits a 13-8 lead, but the youngster was only getting warmed up. She led Lonoke with 15 points.

“We feel like Cara can help us out in getting to the basket,” Morris said. “We need her to push the ball and attack zone defenses, and she certainly did that tonight.”

Neighbors started out the second quarter with an inside jumper set up by an assist from sophomore guard Ashleigh Himstedt. She came down with a defensive rebound on the ensuing Stuttgart drive, and then returned the favor to Himstedt.

Himstedt’s layup at the 7:08 mark put Lonoke up 17-8, and a steal by Michaela Brown led to a three-pointer by Neighbors to extend the lead to 20-8.

Stuttgart finally broke a seven-minute scoreless streak with a three-point basket by Sontreka Johnson, but O’Cain answered right back with a three pointer to make it 23-11 with 5:17 left in the first half.

It was Neighbors’ turn once again after that. She drove inside for a field goal and a free throw to give the ’Rabbits a 26-11 lead. Neighbors and O’Cain combined for five more points in the frame, and post players Carrie Mitchell and Asiah Scribner each hit shots from the inside to close out the half.

The highlights were scarce during the third quarter. Stuttgart outscored the Lady Jackrabbits 9-4 during the lackluster frame, enough to avoid the dreaded courtesy clock, and put itself back in the game. Lonoke’s only offense in the frame was generated by shots from Scribner and Mitchell. That led to a 39-22 Lonoke lead heading into the final eight minutes.

Neighbors finished 6-of-8 from the field, and 2-of-3 at the foul line. Asiah Scribner finished 5-of-7 from the floor for 11 points, and had seven rebounds. O’Cain had nine points from a trio of three-point shots, and Mitchell rounded it out with eight points and 10 rebounds.

Lonoke shot 52 percent from the floor (23-44) and 44 percent from the three-point line (4-9). The Lady Jackrabbits were 3-of-6 from the foul line, while the Lady Ricebirds shot 38 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the foul line. Stuttgart finished the season 11-16.

The Lady Jackrabbits improved to 21-7, and move on to face regular season champs Bald Knob in today’s 4A District II finals.The Lady Bulldogs made it to the finals with a close win over Heber Springs in the second semifinal game on Thursday.
Morris said the final game will be tough regardless of the opponent.

“We’ve lost to both of them this year, so we’ll take either one of them. You have to get up for a finals game no matter who you play; hopefully our girls will be ready for whoever we face.”

SPORTS >>Owls knock off Wildcats to get to district finals

Leader sports editor

ROSE BUD — Abundant Life survived a very quiet night from 6-7 post man Nelson Boren and a relatively quite night from leading scorer Dane Lottner and advanced to the 2-3A District finals with a 60-49 win over Harding Academy on Thursday night at Rambler Arena.

The reward for the win was another shot at top-ranked Rose Bud, which beat Riverview on Thursday in the other semifinal matchup. The finals were played last night after Leader deadlines.

“You’ve got to feel good when your leading scorer didn’t have a very good game and you win in double digits against a team that has given you fits all year,” said Abundant Life head coach Tim Ballard. “And Nelson got in early foul trouble and kind of disappeared.”

The Owls overcame Lottner’s cool hand — he managed 12 points — and Boren’s two-point outing with 25 points, five assists and three steals by Colby Woolverton, who led a stout defensive surge in the second half for Abundant Life. It didn’t hurt the Owls’ cause that they made 20-of-25 free throws after intermission — 24-of-31 overall.

“I tell you what, I told Colby before the game to just relax,” Ballard said. “He’s been feeling the pressure of this being his senior season. I just told him to trust the Lord, relax and play. He told me he needed to hear that.”

It was defensive pressure that turned around a close game early in the second half, when Abundant Life forced eight Wildcat turnovers over the first 5:40 of the third period. That sparked a 15-2 run that put the Owls up for good.

“Even though it was tied at 17 at halftime, I told the kids that [Harding Academy] was spending so much energy on offense that sometime in the third quarter, they’re going to be a step slower,” Ballard said. “We thought we might get some runouts and we wanted to stay on their young guards and try to wear them down.”

“We didn’t make a thing in the first half, but we thought if we could maybe get the lead to double digits, we could wear them out. That’s exactly what happened.”

During that third-quarter outburst, Andrew Chandler and Terrell Ghant delivered big three-pointers, while Woolverton was beginning to find his way through the HA zone for buckets and fouls.

Woolverton made 16-of-20 free throws in the game, including 14-of-16 after intermission.

His weave through the lane opened the lead to 42-29 with 5:24 left in the contest, but Harding Academy had life left. The Wildcats, behind some inspired play by reserve B.J. Roller, whittled the lead to 44-40 when Lance Carr scored off a baseline
spin with 2:28 left.

But Woolverton was there with the right response, making four consecutive free throws. The closest Harding Academy got after that was six points when Carr made a pair of free throws with 1:22 left.

Lottner answered with a baseline basket, and the Owls secured it by making 6-of-8 free throws for their ninth consecutive victory.

Both teams struggled offensively in the early going. Baskets by Zack Kirby and Daniel Stevens allowed Harding Academy to break out to a 17-12 lead midway through the second period.

But the Wildcats didn’t score the rest of the half, and Dustin Keathley’s layup in the final minute sent the teams to the locker room tied.

Sophomore Garrett South-erland added eight points for Abundant Life. Lottner had three steals and two blocks.

Harding Academy was led by Carr’s 14 and Roller’s 10. Chase Gentry added six points and eight rebounds, while Stevens added six points, five boards and four steals. Kirby scored seven points for Harding Academy, which missed all 10 of its three-point tries.

As far as the win being of the not-so-pretty variety, Ballard laughed.
“Rose Bud may be the only team to be able to beat Harding Academy and look pretty doing it,” he said. “And Rose Bud can beat you by 20 playing their ‘C’ game.”

Abundant Life’s most recent loss came to Rose Bud on Jan. 11.

SPORTS >>Another heartache for Panthers

Leader sportswriter

Bryant guard Chad Knight managed to break a lot of hearts on Tuesday night at Panther Pavilion. Knight launched the winning three-point shot for the Hornets with less than a second left on the clock to seal a 43-42 win after a steal by Austin Johnson that led to an Adam Sterrenberg layup, which appeared to have secured the win for Cabot.

It was the second consecutive one-point loss for the Panthers after they fell last Friday to Little Rock Central.

The Panthers held a lead of six at the 2:50 mark of the fourth quarter after a basket and free throw by Johnson. But Bryant answered with back-to-back three pointers by Taylor Masters, and Brandon Crowart tied the score at 40-40 with 1:31 left.
That’s the way it stayed until the final five seconds, when Johnson, who had given up the ball to the Hornets in the paint on the previous Cabot possession, came away with a steal when he deflected a pass by Masters. He quickly found fellow junior Sterrenberg in transition. Sterrenberg drove the paint and easily outmaneuvered Zack Lewis under the goal for what appeared to be the winner.

The clock stood at 4.8 seconds, which the officials adjusted to an even five. The Panthers then fouled Bryant on two inbound attempts, which gave the Hornets a chance to inbound for the winner on the offensive side of the court. The Hornets formed a victory dog-pile at the free-throw line, and the Panthers stared in disbelief.

The game was a defensive struggle, and the Panthers made no secret early on that they planned on taking the ball inside. Sterrenberg put the first points of the game on the board at the 3:46 mark for Cabot on an assist from Miles Monroe, but senior post Sam Bates scored the other two first-quarter goals on inside putbacks.

The Hornets got six points from Crowart alone in the first quarter, combined with a three pointer by Masters, and a dunk from their post sub that gave them an 11-6 lead heading into the second quarter.

Bryant led 22-16 at intermission and maintained the advantage until the 4:02 mark of the third quarter, when Johnson and Monroe sparked a rally for the Panthers that almost carried them the rest of the way.

Monroe assisted Johnson on a shot to cut the lead to 28-24, and Monroe followed that with back-to-back baskets. The first one was a lane-driver assisted by Derek Clarkson at the 3:25 mark, the second was an inside shot set up with a pass by Bates from the high post. That tied the score at 28-28 with 2:48 left in the third.

Sterrenberg then gave Cabot its first lead since the opening quarter with a transition shot with 43 seconds left.

Monroe extended the lead for the Panthers to start the final period with a put-back. That gave Cabot a 32-28 lead. Bates and Monroe continued to work the inside, and a spin move by Bates on an assist by Jack Bridges put the Panthers up by five with 3:36 remaining.

Bates led all scorers for the Panthers with 12 points. Monroe and Sterrenberg each finished with 10 points, and Johnson added eight. For Bryant, Crowart led with 11 points.

Cabot, which is already assured of a berth in the state playoffs, is now 17-9 overall and 6-6 in the 7A-Central Conference, while Bryant improved to 15-10 and 7-5 in league play. The Panthers dropped to fifth place, still a half-game ahead of North Little Rock.


Someone forgot to tell the Lady Hornets that a team which holds an 0-11 record in conference play is not supposed to play Cabot a close game on its home court. The Lady Panthers, whose bench currently resembles a MASH unit, struggled to put
Bryant away until the fourth quarter.

With losses by Little Rock Central and Pine Bluff, Cabot moved alone into third place in the 7A-Central.

Junior post player Stephanie Glover had a big night inside for Cabot, but not without a few hitches.

Glover finished the game with four fouls, three of which came in the latter stages of the third quarter and opening minute of the fourth quarter.

In the end, it was Glover’s solid inside play, combined with senior Lauren Walker’s heroics that finally put the Lady Hornets away.

“Stephanie played really well tonight,” Cabot assistant coach Charles Ruple said. “She took it upon herself to make things happen for us inside. She had eight or nine feeds during the game, and she got all but two of them. They brought some of their younger kids in to play tonight. A couple of those sophomores shot really well for them.”

Hannah Goshien and Anna Simpson gave Cabot fits in the first half. Goshien shot with confidence for a sophomore, and it paid off with eight first-half points. The Lady Panthers stepped up their defensive efforts in the second half to deny her any looks in the final two frames.

Walker led the Lady Panthers with 17 points, and was recognized after the game for her scholarship to South Alabama. Glover added 14 points for Cabot, and guard Leah Watts finished with 12.

Junior post player Shelby Ashcraft sat out the game with a lower-ankle injury suffered at Central the previous week, but Ruple said he believed the injury is not significant enough to keep her out for the rest of the season. The win improved the Lady Panthers’ record to 14-10 overall and 7-5 league play. The Lady Hornets remain winless with a 0-12 league record.

Cabot played at Pine Bluff last night after Leader deadlines, and will host Russellville on Tuesday night for senior night.

SPORTS >>Devils solid in win over Bears

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner was more interested in talking about his team’s character than its court savvy after the Red Devils beat Sylvan Hills 63-48 on Tuesday night at the Devil’s Den to keep pace with front-runner Jonesboro.

“Terrell Eskridge hurt his ankle bad during that game and he came back and toughed it out,” Joyner said. “Antwan Lockhart has been playing with a sprained ankle and Cortrell Eskridge has been battling some health problems.

“But it’s a testament to our kids’ toughness that they’ve been soldiers and gutted it out. We’ve been talking to these kids, telling them it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about commitment and dedication. And winning comes from that.”

The Red Devils’ dedication paid off on Tuesday with one of their most solid performances in just about every phase. Jacksonville shot it well, took care of the basketball, dominated on the boards and shut down Sylvan Hills’ potentially explosive offense.

With the Bears (0-11 in the 6A-East) packing it in against Jacksonville’s taller and more physical front line, the Red Devils turned to super soph Deshone McClure, and junior LaQuinton Miles, both of whom delivered. McClure scored a game-high 18, while Miles added 13 points and seven rebounds.

Their play eventually opened up the inside for Lockhart, who scored 11 of his 15 points after intermission.

“They did some things defensively that made us play a different style,” Joyner said. “They were sagging to keep the lanes packed. I thought our kids followed the game plan. Deshone had one of his better performances. He scored 18 points and I asked him, ‘How many threes did you take?’ He took one. I want him to be more of a mid-range player.”

Despite limiting Sylvan Hills leading scorer Kai Randolph to only six points and despite finishing with a plus-15 rebounding advantage, the Devils had trouble shaking the Bears, who jumped out to a 10-4 lead, and trailed by only six at the break.

Jacksonville began to pull away late in the third period and early in the fourth when Demetrius Harris scored off a rebound and Terrell Eskridge scored on a pair of runners along the baseline to open up a 42-28 lead.

But the Bears got consecutive three-pointers from Randolph, P.J. Ross and Deyonte Davis, and a pair of free throws from Nick Zimmerman to narrow the gap to 46-40 midway through the final period.

Jacksonville then hit eight consecutive free throws — six straight by Lockhart — to push the lead back to 13 and end the suspense.

“Sylvan Hills was playing like a team that had nothing to lose,” Joyner said. “They really didn’t have any pressure on them. They may not have won a conference game, but they’ve played just about everybody within three or four points.”

Joyner said the Red Devils didn’t game plan to stop Randolph; he was more interested in his team’s continued progress on defense. Overall he was pleased, despite a few breakdowns, he said.

Jacksonville (12-11 overall and 9-2 in league play) once again got good balance on the boards, with Cortrell Eskridge and Miles grabbing seven each and Lockhart and Harris getting six more as the Red Devils out-rebounded the Bears 37-22.

Cortrell Eskridge also had an assist, a steal and two blocks.

McClure handed out three assists, while Miles and Harris added two apiece.

Sylvan Hills was led by Ross’ and Harold Ward’s 11 points, while Davis added 10.

Jacksonville showed plenty of patience offensively, taking only 36 shots, but making 20 of them, while knocking down 22-of-34 at the line. They took only four three-pointers, making one.

The Bears made only 16-of-50 shots overall, 5-of-19 from beyond the arc. They were 11-of-15 from the line.

The victory kept the Red Devils one game behind defending 6A champion Jonesboro. They had a big game last night with West Memphis, played after Leader deadlines. But Joyner continued to stress those things that go beyond winning games.

“We’re trying to get these kids to be productive citizens, to talk to them about their faith,” he said. “We’re trying to build a family program over here, to instill in these kids the things that will make the rest of their lives productive.

“It’s time for us all to pay a little more attention to these kids’ moral fiber, because things are getting worse out there. The kids are going to go out there and do the best they can on the court, and we hope people in Jacksonville will come out and support them.”

TOP STORY > >C-130J from LRAFB lands in war zone

379th Air Expeditionary Wing

Members of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing welcomed the newest member of their fleet as a C-130J Hercules from here landed last week in the Middle East.

“We’re not only the first active duty, C-130J deployment, it’s also a record-setting event,” said Lt. Col. Dan Tulley, the 41st Airlift Squadron commander at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“We stood up two squadrons, people and airplanes, and deployed in 10 months,” the colonel said.

“We have already seen what the J model’s capabilities are through defense training over the past 10 months and now we are looking forward to testing the aircraft in combat,” Tulley said.

The 41st AS moved in 2007 to Little Rock Air Force Base from Pope AFB, N.C. The new unit stood up and converted to a new weapon system at the same time, starting last April, and now is deployed overseas, Tulley said.

The C-130Js from the 41st AS will combine with C-130Es from both the 61st Airlift Squadron from Little Rock AFB and the 2nd Airlift Squadron from Pope AFB, as well as C-130Hs from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 357th Airlift Squadron at Maxwell AFB, Ala., to form the 746th AS. The squadron will reactivate in mid-February.

“AFRC brings a lot of experience, and between the different units – Maxwell, Pope and Little Rock (Air Force bases) – (working together) should be a great opportunity to share knowledge and expertise on handling a C-130 in combat,” Tulley said.

“The J model has much longer legs and a much greater lift capacity because of the extra two pallet positions. It’s also very reliable because it is brand new,” Tulley said. “(The C-130J model) has been lucky enough to be among the first to get the benefit of being recapitalized.”

Combining the Reserve and active-duty squadrons into one cohesive unit creates a unique opportunity for the crews to learn from one another. Taking four distinct squadrons that don’t normally work together at their home stations, and uniting them in a deployed environment, may seem like a daunting task, but Tulley said the strengths each of them brings to the fight far surpasses any challenges they will have to overcome.

The C-130J began to replace the aging C-130E in 1999. Although the J model has deployed on other missions before, this deployment is significant because it’s a total force effort, the colonel said.

TOP STORY > >District loses students and funding for new schools

Leader senior staff writer

Proposed construction of a new middle school and elementary school in Jacksonville already depends upon voter approval of a millage increase, but declining Pulaski County Special School District enrollment has cut so deeply into annual revenues that even the more imminent construction of the new Sylvan Hills middle school and Oak Grove high school could be threatened, according to District Chief Financial Officer Larry O’Briant.

O’Briant said enrollment loss this year cost the district about $1.6 million and decline in the number of minority-to-majority transfers cost another $1.7 million.

That’s $3.3 million a year the district could have used to help pay for the new $25 million Sylvan Hills middle school, still in the engineering stages, and the $40 million Oak Grove high school, according to O’Briant. A vote of the school board would be sufficient to finance that construction with second-lien bonds, but O’Briant estimated the annual note on that construction would be about $4 million to $5 million, and with those declines in revenue, the district may not have that money.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t continue, but we’ll have to reevaluate,” said O’Briant.

Those schools are slated to be completed in the 2010-2011 school year.

And a similar decline in enrollment and minority to majority transfers of students could cost the district another $3 million next year.

Many see construction of new schools as an important element in staunching the enrollment decline.

The board left a workshop prior to the regularly scheduled school board meeting Tuesday having brainstormed the notion of a millage increase, its amount and when to place it before voters without coming to any conclusions, O’Briant said.

“Most voiced the opinion that they could support a millage if we put together a package saying where the money will be spent and how much we need,” he said.

The current PCSSD millage is 40.6 mills, about what North Little Rock patrons pay and less than the 46.4 mills Little Rock patrons pay.

“We’ve got to visit with the community and business community,” he added. “It would be foolish to put a millage on a ballot with doing the groundwork (to know if it’s likely) to pass.”

He said public meetings would be required to see if there was support around the district for an increase.
When talking to the board, he has generally referred to a 7.7-mill increase, which would raise an additional $200 million. That exceeds the $128 million worth of needs identified on the current 10-year facilities plan, but leaves room for construction inflation and an addition of projects.

A millage increase is always a tricky sell in this district, where voters have decisively turned down the last two such proposals.
But by linking construction of schools in the Jacksonville, Sherwood and Maumelle areas as well as the just-completed Chenal Elementary School, the administration hopes that voters throughout the district will understand they have a stake in approving an increase.

The major construction to be funded would be included in the ballot title of any proposed millage increase, thus requiring the district to use the money to build the facilities named.

Last month, the PCSSD Board unanimously approved a new 10-year-facilities plan, which includes a new Jacksonville middle school and a new elementary school to serve the areas previously served by Arnold Drive and Tolleson Elementary schools.
Previously, a new middle school was not on the list and a school to replace the Arnold Drive building was closer to the end of the 10-year plan.

Members of the Jacksonville World Class Education Orga-nization have promoted the Jacksonville Middle School for inclusion on the list and members of the congressional delegation and Little Rock Air Force Base officials have pushed for a new school to replace Arnold Drive Elementary School, which is located on the base.

Members of that organization have suggested that a smaller increase—say 2 mills—would be sufficient to pay for the Jacksonville schools, but administrators and some board members question whether that proposal would get the support of voters in other parts of the district.

“We’re hoping that by including something for Maumelle, Sherwood and Jacksonville…it’s hard to get support from one end of the county to the other without tangible benefits,” O’Briant said. “Obviously, we can’t build four schools without a millage increase.”

If the board proposes a millage increase, it could be placed on the September school election ballot, although there are other options, including a special election.

TOP STORY > >Sherwood wants parks built with subdivisions

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood Planning Com-mission wants developers to provide parks in their subdivisions.

Commissioner Wayne Smith was so adamant about it Tuesday night that he proposed that the commission stop all subdivision approvals until the city council and the mayor develop an ordinance requiring developers to provide parks.

“It chapped me,” Smith said, “when a developer stood right here at the microphone and said to us a few months ago that he would not put in a park unless we told him he had too, and we didn’t have the teeth in the ordinance to make him.”

City Attorney Stephen Cobb told Smith and the commission that they were taking a risk if they decided to stop approvals. “If a developer has complied with all of the current requirements, you run a risk saying no to the plans.”

Commission chairman Freddie Hudson agreed. “We just can’t shut down the commission.”

Smith said the city and the commission was being abused by developers and being piecemealed by not getting parks. “We have to put pressure on the council and the mayor.”

Resident Doris Anderson supported Smith’s efforts and provided the commission with information from North Little Rock and Maumelle.

North Little Rock’s comprehensive land-use plan calls for “promoting and preserving trees, urban forests and natural open spaces during development.” It also calls for the development of “neighborhood-oriented, community and regional parks.”
Maumelle’s subdivision ordinances require each development to have up to 15 percent of the “gross area” designated as “common usable open space.”

The commission decided it was best not to stop all approval, but agreed to an ordinance calling on the council to come up with a plan to help provide for parks and asked Smith to present the case to the council Monday, Feb. 25.

In other commission business:

The commission refused to act on plans to develop the 106-acre North Hills Country Club. Basil Shoptaw, with Thomas Engineering, representing Club Properties, presented two plans at the last commission meeting. Those plans were tabled by the commission until a new city engineer was hired to be able to review the plans fully.

The city has hired a consulting engineer to oversee developers’ plans, but the commission refused to bring the golf course subdivision plans back to the table.

“It’s a moot point,” said the city attorney. “We have condemned the property and served the papers. It is our property. We just have to go through the courts to settle on the price.”

Commissioners approved the rezoning of a piece of property at 7777 Warden Road from C-3 to C-4 to allow a wholesale car business to use the property.

TOP STORY > >Sheriff hopeful of more funds for jail repairs

Leader senior staff writer

Work has begun on repairing the roof of the old jail, and Sheriff Doc Holladay will be shocked if the Pulaski County Quorum Court doesn’t authorize new heating and air conditioning, mold removal and painting when it meets in regular session February 26, according to John Rehrauer, the sheriff’s spokesman.

That’s step one of the sheriff’s four-stage, $10.4 million – $12.4 million fix, intended eventually to nearly double the number of inmate beds to 1,530 from the current level of 880.

He expects the quorum court to authorize about $400,000 from the public safety fund to rehabilitate the old jail, Rehrauer said Thursday. That wouldn’t add to the existing capacity of the Pulaski County Detention Center, but it would keep the 160 non-violent inmates currently housed at the Work Release Center more securely in rehabilitated old jail pods A and B.

“We found some money in our own budget to get started on the roof,” Rehrauer said.

Holladay has to get final approval from quorum court to proceed with the old jail rehabilitation.

Holladay say he hopes those inmates and some administration offices can move into the old jail “within this calendar year,” Rehrauer said.

The plan, presented to quorum court subcommittees last Tuesday, has widespread approval, including that of former UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway.

Hathaway authored the study that helped create a roadmap for expanding jail capacity and straightening out county funding and bookkeeping.

The speed with which the sheriff can implement the other steps of his plan may depend more on finding money to staff and operate additional jail space than on finding construction money, much of which could come from second-lien bonds, according to quorum court member Allen Kerr.

The sheriff’s office projects additional maintenance and operations costs to house the additional 660 inmates at about $6.2 million a year.

The other steps of the sheriff’s plan include:

Building a 200-bed warehouse-style facility within the fenced perimeter of the new jail to house the most serious non-violent felons. Detention center capacity would increase to 1,080 prisoners. Construction costs are estimated at $4 million for annual maintenance and operations, $1.5 million.

Reopening the work center to house 250 misdemeanor inmates who could help offset their cost to the county by performing work. Jail capacity would be 1,330. No construction cost, annual maintenance and operation $3 million.

Building a 200-bed secure wing—bricks and mortar—connected to the new jail for violent felons would up capacity to 1,530. This wing would cost $6 million to $8 million and cost about $1.6 million a year to operate.

TOP STORY > >State audit finds fault with Cabot

Leader staff writer

The state audit of Cabot’s city books for 2006 has been deemed the worst in the city’s history.

There is no allegation that money is missing, only that the books are incomprehensible. Marva Verkler, city clerk-treasurer, on Tuesday told a budget committee made up of city aldermen that the financial statements for that year were so inaccurate the auditor had been unable to verify them.

“The books are just terribly out of balance,” Verkler said.
The committee agreed that the audit should be on the agenda for the March council meeting so it can be discussed with all council members and the mayor present.

Alderman Ken Williams, a lawyer and the former city attorney, was the first to address the audit during the meeting. Williams said he had looked at a lot of audits and all are difficult to understand because they are written in “legislative audit speak.”

But even with the difficult language, it was clear that Cabot’s 2006 audit was bad, the worst he had ever seen.
“It’s pretty rough,” Williams said.

Verkler agreed. “It’s the worst the city has ever had,” she said.

These are some of the findings of the 2006 audit: “Arkansas code requires city management to maintain financial records. The financial records contained omissions/errors that are considered material as enumerated below:

“The city converted to a new accounting system in July 2006. The beginning general fund account balances reported in the new accounting system were different from the ending balances reported in the previous accounting system, and these differences in the financial records were not reconciled.

“Also, the General Fund financial records omitted cash and investments in the amounts of $82,112 and $205,863, respectively, receipts and disbursements in the amounts of $301,699 and $278,064, respectively, due to the failure of the city to record investment and loan activity.

“The other funds in the aggregate financial records contained misstatements for cash and investments in the amounts of $19,528 and $30,379, respectively, primarily due to the lack of record-keeping for investments. The other funds in the aggregate financial records also contained misstatements for receipts and disbursements in the amounts of $220,807 and $2,164,236, respectively, due to the city not recording receipt and disbursement activity in the debt service construction funds.”

The $220,807 and $2,164,236 were bond money overseen by an independent administrator, Verkler and City Attorney Jim Taylor told the committee. The oversight was in not having those records included in the city books.

The audit report continued, “The effect of these omissions and misstatements constitutes a significant control deficiency in the process of preparing financial records. City management should implement procedures to ensure that all assets and fund balances are properly accounted for and that receipts and disbursements are properly recorded.”

Verkler told the committee that she has implemented procedures to ensure that records will be correct from now on. But she said the bad report had nothing to do with her. Although Verkler is the elected official responsible for city records, in 2006, Dale Walker was over finances and the problems for that year were his, she said.

The city council stripped Verkler of most of her financial duties in 2003 after Stubby Stumbaugh became mayor and gave them to Walker.

Alderman Terri Miessner pointed out during the meeting that both Verkler and Walker said they worked together in 2006, after three years of being at odds.

Alluding to the bad relationship between Verkler and Stumbaugh and eventually between Stumbaugh and Walker, Miessner reminded Verkler that she and Walker “worked undercover” in 2006. Verkler would not accept any of the blame for the poor record keeping.

“I helped Dale with a lot of things, but I didn’t keep the books,” she told Miessner.

Although Walker was given most of Verkler’s duties in 2003, the council gave them back in 2007 and made Walker the budget manager.

Walker said Friday that he switched from cash to accrual accounting in 2005 and then at the city council’s request from accrual to cash in 2006. He was fired in June 2007 during budget cuts before he had time to get the books in order from the transition. “Verkler should have made sure the books were in order before the audit because she was the one in control,” Walker said.

“I was relieved of my duties effective Jan. 1, 2007,” he said. “I was no longer the finance director. I was a budget manager. That falls right back on Marva.”

Contacted later, Verkler responded to Walker’s criticisms: “I was not in charge of the books in 2006; he was,” Verkler said. “He should have had the books in order before he left. He had six months.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Which one’s lucky party?

Eight and a half months before the election, Republicans have identified their candidate and the Democrats are not close. For the first time in a quarter-century, Democrats are apt to go to their convention not knowing for sure who the nominee will be. Which is the lucky party?

Republicans are uniting behind John McCain, who is all but a mathematical certainty to win the nomination. By nightfall on March 4, the next big primary day, McCain will have the requisite pledged delegates to win. All the departed candidates but one have endorsed him. Even Mike Huckabee will throw in the towel on March 5 although he will want to keep going and keep the attention and the speaking honoraria flowing. Democrats, meantime, will be riven by the forces of two powerfully magnetic candidates, and some are wringing their hands, believing that there will be too little time to heal and confront the united Republican attack.

But look at it another way. From the Iowa caucus in January through the Potomac primaries this week, record throngs have turned out to choose between Democrats who ignite enthusiasm like no candidates in modern times while Republican voters have manifested no ardor for any of their choices. McCain won almost by default. Only when the field narrowed to him and Huckabee was he able to muster more than 45 percent of the votes except in his home state of Arizona, where he won 47 percent.

In Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday, 1,871,265 people went to the polls to choose between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama and a handful of candidates who had withdrawn but whose names still appeared on the ballot. Far fewer than half that many — 789,674 — voted in the Republican primaries that day.

The margins between the parties have been almost that great in primaries and caucuses across the country. Only in Alabama, Utah, Arizona and Michigan have the Republican votes exceeded Democratic votes, and those by very small margins, except in Michigan, where Democrats did not campaign and only Clinton of the major Democratic candidates appeared on the ballot.
We would take Democratic uncertainty over Republican lethargy.

But the Democrats have a perilous situation. Because neither candidate will have a majority of delegates, the nomination will almost certainly be decided not by elected delegates but by superdelegates, the party leaders and officeholders who are designated as delegates by party rules.

Obama now holds a lead of roughly 50 delegates over Clinton among the 2,000 or so delegates who have been elected by caucuses and primaries. Tuesday, Obama will add to the margin with victories in Wisconsin and perhaps Hawaii. In the spring, he will win more caucuses in western states and probably North Carolina and Mississippi. In March, Clinton must win, decisively, in Texas and in the industrial heartland — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky — to maintain her legitimacy. Victories in all those states would still not give her the needed delegates, but they would be a strong inducement to superdelegates who tend to favor her to stay hitched.

The party’s terrible dilemma is what to do about Michigan and Florida, two big states that the Democrats need to win in November. Clinton won those primaries decisively and those delegates would give her a lead today, but because those states defied party rules and held their primaries early, those delegates will not be seated. Denying those states a voice in the nomination will be destructive to the party’s hopes.

It would give Clinton a leg up if the party arranged for fresh primaries — even nonbinding plebiscites — in those states this spring, but it is not merely in Clinton’s interest to do that. The party and its eventual nominee, even if it is Sen. Obama, will need that legitimacy and those states in the fall.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Flu cases increase, still time for shots

Leader executive editor

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” according to Melissa Eads, nurse coordinator at the Lonoke County Health Unit in Lonoke.

She said the area is beginning to see an increase in the number of reported flu cases and that after a temporary lull, the health unit is also seeing more people coming in to receive flu shots, she said.

“We tell them to stay away from those with the flu for two weeks while their immunity builds up,” she said. “We’ve had a lot come in for shots in the last few weeks.”

Eads said the unit’s secretary had gone to a local emergency room to pick up some paperwork and reported the ER was full of flu patients and Eads said some local pharmacies reported running out of Theraflu (an over-the-counter symptom reliever).

Eads said the Lonoke unit still has about 600 doses of vaccine and will continue to vaccinate through the end of April as will Cabot’s Health Unit. She said more vaccine is available if the health unit runs short.

Eads points out that because one is immunized, that is not a guarantee one will avoid getting the flu, although she said she is confident most influenza viruses circulating are covered by this year’s vaccine.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, so far this year, the virus strain H1N1 is causing the vast majority of flu-like illnesses, according to Ann Gerberding, head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But a new H3N2 strain emerged near the end of Australia’s flu season, too late to be included in this season’s U.S. vaccine. Called H3N2/Brisbane-like, or A/Brisbane, it is now beginning to sicken Americans, although it still is making for a small proportion of cases, Gerberding said. H3N2 viruses are associated with more severe illness, according to the CDC.

The CDC reported widespread flu activity in 31 states as of Feb. 2.

The CDC also advises that it is too early to tell how widely A/Brisbane will circulate in this country or how well this year’s vaccine will provide protection.

Eads said clinics and emergency rooms get nasal swabs on patients who come in seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms. The virus strains are identified through the swabs and the information is sent on to the CDC which keeps statistics on numbers of reported cases and strains.

Although the Jacksonville Health Unit doesn’t see people who are suffering from the flu or other influenza-like illnesses, the staff there usually has their ears to the ground for reports of sickness or infection.

Patricia Henderson, the unit’s administrator, said that she’s heard few reports of the flu or other infectious illnesses in the area but she said the clinic doesn’t see patients suffering from cold or flu as its purpose is to provide vaccinations and health information, among other services.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that flu cases are on the rise in Arkansas.

Patients suffering from the flu should see their family doctors or visit the emergency room if their symptoms are severe enough they seek treatment, Henderson said.

The health unit does however inoculate for the flu and while this may seem somewhat late to be getting a flu shot, health professionals suggest those who want protection from the flu still have time to be vaccinated. Henderson said the flow of patients to the unit to receive a flu shot has “remained pretty steady” since the vaccine first became available in November.
Henderson recalled the mass vaccination held that month as an exercise testing preparedness of a mass dispensing plan. She said the Jacksonville unit inoculated “roughly 1,000 people in one day” which protected them perhaps from this year’s round of flu.

Cabot and Lonoke participated in the mass vaccination. Eads reported at least 1000 people were inoculated during that round and since then more than another 1,000 flu shots have been given.
There are everyday reports of cold and flu including increased absenteeism from work and school. But Dr. Belinda Shook, Beebe superintendent, said her principals have not reported high absenteeism. But some schools have been hard hit, Bald Knob considered closing down because of so much illness, according to Stacey Whitfield, a registered nurse with the Lonoke School District.

She said out of approximately 1,800 Lonoke district students, there have been about nine children and some adults and teachers out with the flu. “We’ve had about three cases in each school,” she said. “We’re not really seeing a whole lot of cases of flu but there’s been some strep throat and a real bad stomach virus going around.”

She said the season started late this year, after the Christmas break, but she said a lot of teachers and students had gotten their flu shots earlier.

“We started sending notes out in October and Cabot had a free clinic. Searcy Healthworks (from White County Medical Center) came out and inoculated teachers and other staff,” Whitfield said.

Most healthy people recover from the flu without complications, according to the CDC, but those who do get the flu should:

Stay home;

Get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco;

Some over-the-counter medications can relieve symptoms of the flu (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever).

Serious illness from the flu is more likely in certain groups of people including people 65 and older, pregnant women, people with certain chronic medical conditions and young children.

On its Website, the CDC recommends actions everyone can take to help prevent the spread of influenza including:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick and keep your distance from others if you’re sick;

Whenever possible, stay home from work, school or errands when you are sick;

Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and

Wash your hands with soap often.

Symptoms of the flu include high fever, aches, chills, tiredness and sudden onset of symptoms. There may also be extreme tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches and diarrhea and vomiting (although these are more common among children). Having these symptoms does not always mean one has the flu. Many different illnesses, including the common cold, can have similar symptoms, according to the CDC.

Two antiviral drugs are approved for treatment of the flu and available by presription. Treatment lasts for five days and should be begun within two days of becoming ill.

According to the CDC, high risk groups (sucvh as those more susceptible to the flu) who should be innoculated include:

People 65 years of age and older;

Children ages 6 months to 23 months;

Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic lung or heart disorders including heart disease and asthma;

Pregnant women;

Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes), kidney diseases, blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia), or weakened immune systems, including persons with HIV/AIDS;

Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;

Children and teenagers, 6 months to 18 years old, who take aspirin daily;

Health-care workers involved in direct, hands-on care to patients and household members and out-of home caregivers of infants under the age of 6 months. (Children under the age of 6 months cannot be vaccinated.)

Caregivers and household contacts of persons in high-risk groups;

Children and adolescents aged 2 through 18 years who qualify under the Vaccine for Children (VFC) Program and who are household contacts or out-of-home caregivers of persons in high-risk groups.

TOP STORY > >Austin might add a tax on construction

Leader staff writer

Austin City Council is considering asking voters to approve a one-cent sales tax that will allow the city to cash in on the building material for the hundreds of houses going up there.

“I’ve been talking to the people about it and most aren’t opposed to a sales tax,” Mayor Bernie Chamberlain said. “I’ve even had people who have said they would go out and talk for us.”

Since Jan. 1, all merchandise purchased in Arkansas that isn’t carried away by the shopper is taxed at the point of delivery rather than sale.

That means that the city and county tax on groceries and clothing likely will be collected where it is sold. But the sales tax on any furniture, appliances or building material that is delivered will be collected in the city or county to which it is delivered.

For example, Cabot, Austin’s closest and biggest neighbor, will continue to receive revenue from the two- cent city sales tax collected at the Wal-Mart store there. But if Ridout Lumber takes a load of building material to Austin, Cabot doesn’t get to collect its two-cent tax.

Since Austin doesn’t have a city sales tax now, it doesn’t collect the tax either. Currently the only local tax collected in Austin is the one-cent county tax that is collected across Lonoke County and divided according to population among the county and all the incorporated cities and towns.

For most cities, the tax revenue that is now leaving could be offset by the new tax revenue from merchandise purchased elsewhere.

But in Austin, which currently has no city sales tax, the truckloads of building material delivered every day represent money the city isn’t getting to help pay for city services like police and fire protection.

Before the sales tax can be placed on the May 20 ballot, the city council must approve it by ordinance. Chamberlain said City Attorney Tim Blair is currently drafting the ordinance and she is trying to put together information for the council to show how much the city could expect to collect on building materials alone.

Chamberlain said builders recommended that the tax be passed. The tax on $50,000 for building materials would bring $500 to the city, which has a general fund budget for 2008 of $388,500.

The new state law was passed as part of an initiative called the Streamlined Sales Tax Project aimed at showing Congress that it is not difficult to standardize sales tax laws to make it easier for catalog and Internet companies to collect sales tax from their out- of-state customers. At the time Arkansas passed its law, 23 of 45 states with sales taxes were part of the project.

Tom Atchley with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration said that for now, those businesses collect taxes on a voluntary basis only.

With federal legislation, all Internet and catalog businesses would be required to collect taxes for the point of delivery, he said, and that could mean a significant increase in revenue for the state and its cities.

Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League, said businesses like Wal-Mart support the initiative because they are being undercut by Internet companies. Getting Congress to pass legislation streamlining tax collection would level the playing field, he said.

Exactly how the Arkansas point-of-delivery tax law will affect cities is not yet known.

Although tax is paid at the time merchandize is purchased, it takes two months for the revenue to get to cities and counties.

December is the biggest shopping month of the year, but February is when the biggest tax checks from the state arrive.

Cabot City Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler said last fall after she attended a workshop on the new tax law that it would be March before she would have any idea about the impact of the new law and months after that before she would likely be able to make solid predictions about how the loss of taxes on building materials will affect her city.

TOP STORY > >Manhole contaminates creek

Leader staff writer

The rain that fell last week had sewer water spewing from a manhole beside a ditch where children play in the Cabot park on Richie Road, but that problem was remedied by cleaning grease from the sewer line.

To keep down such problems, Cabot WaterWorks has stepped up its inspection program for restaurants and is requiring that grease traps be cleaned before they dump their contents into the city sewer system.

Tim Joyner, general manager of Cabot WaterWorks said the manhole that one resident complained about last week to the mayor, his office and The Leader has overflowed in the past.

“That particular location has been a problem,” Joyner said. “But in every situation, it has been grease in the line. That particular line picks up the restaurants on Main Street.”

When too much water is combined with lines that are too small because they are clogged with grease, overflows happen, he said.

Joyner said workers cleaned the line that runs through the park and spread lime in the area of the overflow to kill any bacteria. The spill was minor, he said. If it had been worse, a vacuum truck would have been brought in to clean the contaminated area.

On Tuesday morning, following a night of steady rain, the ditch was running full and the lid to the manhole remained tight.
But that manhole is not the only one that overflows, he said. The city has an infiltration problem in the older part of the city caused by broken lines that allow rainwater into the sewer system.

Money to address the city’s infiltration problem was included in the bond issue supported by a one-cent city sales tax that also paid $15 million for the new wastewater treatment plant that has been in operation since December.

Joyner said engineers are currently working on plans to replace the concrete sewer lines in the older part of the city. The new treatment plant still needs finishing touches like roads, but Joyner said there could be as much as $2.5 million left over for new sewer lines.

Before construction began on the new sewer treatment plant, the city was fined $18,000 by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality because the water released from the old plant did not meet standards set by the state and federal governments.

Now, the commission that runs Cabot WaterWorks says they will have to address the infiltration problem if they expect to meet the expectations of the agency that keeps an eye on their operation

TOP STORY > >Airman’s efforts earn Bronze Star

MSgt. Mark Evans of Little Rock Air Force Base received a Bronze Star at the base Tuesday for distinguishing himself with his achievements in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Evans, a member of 314th Security Forces Squadron Antiterrorism and Force Protection NCOIC, led in thwarting three separate mortar and rocket attacks at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq as a battle noncommissioned officer assigned to the Battalion Tactical Operations Center.

His performances in a variety of positions while fighting insurgents, culminating in becoming flight sergeant of the 586th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron in support of Iraqi Freedom, were exemplary, his citation read.

Evans had trouble putting his feelings about receiving the honor into words.

“I was speechless,” Evans said. “I really just want to give credit to my team.”

After Camp Bucca was attacked, Evans quickly directed defense forces to covered positions around the base, providing 360-degree security to identify and neutralize the attacking insurgents.

While a flight sergeant with the 586th, his leadership improved the comeback effectiveness of joint forces charged with protecting the largest internment facility in the Department of Defense with more than 14,000 detainees and a logistical support area housing more than 3,000 coalition forces.

As squad leader for area security operations, Evans was responsible for a large tactical and defensive footprint “outside the wire.”

In three months, he led 117 combat patrols over 5,000 miles of Iraqi roadways conducting mounted, dismounted and presence patrols, improvised explosive device and wire sweeps, personnel security details, listening and observation posts and vehicle checkpoint operations into and out of Iraq.

He conducted 40 counter-improvised explosive device sweeps along the main and alternate supply routes, helping to secure 253 coalition convoys carrying more than 1,000 personnel and 2,000 vehicles delivering food, water, fuel, ammunition and other critical items.

Evans led his team on 11 personnel security-detail missions, where he transported communications experts from Camp Bucca to the Port of Umm Qasr to troubleshoot critical communications problems with British forces.

As a result of his efforts, critical mission command-and-control equipment was fixed and communications between British forces and Camp Bucca’s Tactical Operations Center were restored.

When requirements for the area security operations mission increased by three squads, Evans was selected to identify and obtain the resources needed to support the mission increase and reorganize existing forces to fill the new manpower requirements. In less than a week, the squads were operationally prepped and countering enemy activity.

As a flight sergeant, Evans led a joint-service flight that included 60 soldiers and airmen assigned to perimeter security, internal base defense and entry control.

Shortly after Evans took over additional duties, insurgents again launched multiple rocket attacks against Camp Bucca. After being attacked, Evans quickly responded to the call, secured his off-duty forces and began assisting with additional security posting.

Within minutes of recall initiation, Evans had five additional mobile teams on the road, conducting area sweeps for injured personnel and unexploded ordnance.

TOP STORY > >Firefighters help victims

Leader managing editor

The South Bend Fire Department near Furlow spearheaded a relief effort for the demolished Highland Fire Department that was destroyed in last week’s tornadoes.

Six fire departments from central Arkansas donated more than $2,400 in cash and about $25,000 worth of equipment to fire departments in Highland and Ash Flat in north Arkansas. The group delivered the donations in two trucks on Saturday.The Highland Fire Department was obliterated by a direct hit from one of the tornadoes that swept through the state on Super Tuesday. Most of the relief went there, but some was redirected to nearby Ash Flat, which suffered some minor damage and loss of equipment.

The proce Clear Channel Communications contacted the riding club about organizing a drive to help out in Highland.
About half of the South Bend Volunteer Fire Department is made up of Red Knight members, and the whole process quickly became a fire department movement.

The South Bend department got other fire departments in the area involved, including Turtle Creek, East Pulaski, Kiehl, Rockport and Cabot.

After three days of taking donations from individuals, businesses and fire departments, the South Bend department, under escort by the Red Knights, took two tractor-trailer loads of equipment to Highland early Saturday morning.

The group was surprised by what it found in the north-central part of the state.

“It wasn’t what we expected at all,” South Bend Department battalion chief and president of the Red Knights Wesley Harris said.

“You couldn’t even tell it was a fire station. It was just gone.”

The group located the United State Flag in the rubble, straightened the flag pole, which had been bent at a 45-degree angle and raised the flag next to the old department’s foundation.

A house near the fire department had about a dozen two-by-four boards driven into and standing erect in its roof.

One vehicle had a telephone-pole-sized hole in its windshield left after the Highland Fire Department removed it from inside the car. The tornado had broken the pole off at the ground and threw it like a missile into the car.

Another heavily damaged vehicle sitting alone in a parking lot across from the department has yet to be identified, and locals don’t know to whom it belongs or from where it came.

Despite the condition of the town, Harris said spirits are high in the area.

“They’re not down and out. They’re looking at it as nowhere to go but up. Their fire chief just said hey, it can’t get any worse, so it can only get better.”

TOP STORY > >Sheriff’s jail plan gets key backing

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County has a jail plan, or at least it will if the entire quorum court approves the proposal presented by Sheriff Doc Holladay on Tuesday morning and endorsed by the county’s ways and means committee.

Relatively modest compared to the proposed sales tax increase for the jail which voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2006, part if not all of this new plan can be paid for by county officials out of existing revenues and money they can borrow on authority of the quorum court.

Not only did the ways and means committee endorse the plan, but former UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway, Jim Lynch of the Association of Little Rock Neighborhoods and Bob Birch of Twin Cities Bank took turns at the microphone to speak in favor of the proposal.

“You’re on the right track,” County Judge Buddy Villines called from the back of the room.

Hathaway, who chaired the committee that recommended steps for the county to take to deal with its jail problems and its overall financial problems, said Holladay’s plan would give the county the capacity his committee recommended and “was very affordable.”

“I worked the numbers,” said Hathaway, “and this is absolutely possible and positive.”

“This is not the gold-plated plan of 2006,” said Lynch, a community activist who worked against the millage increase two years ago. Calling it a reasonable approach, he warned nonet unknown future obstacle.

The county has a real jail plan and, according to Treasurer Deborah Buckner, some funds to work with, said Birch.

Quorum court member Allen Kerr said the county budget already reflects payments on $8 million worth of notes used to renovate a derelict old building into a modern office for the county prosecutor and that after the notes are paid off, the county could use that mortgage money to fund new buildings for the jail.

Kerr suggested starting soon on the first new building for 200 additional, non-violent inmates.

Holladay’s plan, if fully realized, would accommodate 1,530 inmates, an increase of 660 inmates over the current allowable capacity. As of Tuesday, the jail held 967 inmates, 87 more than it is designed for.

Repair and construction would cost an estimated $10.4 million to $12.4 million—which is so-called one-time money, while staffing and maintaining the additional beds would cost about $6.2 million a year once the new beds were fully occupied.
His four-step plan breaks down like this:

First use about $400,000 from the public-safety fund to repair, re-roof and reoccupy pods A and B of the old jail. Some sheriff’s office personnel and 160 prisoners could be moved into that building from the work-release center. Repair could include new boilers and new air conditioning units.

The first step would not add any beds to the current population.

Step two—Build a 200-bed warehouse-style facility within the fenced perimeter of the new jail to house the most serious no-violent felons. The detention center would then hold 1,080 prisoners. Construction costs $4 million, annual maintenance and operation $1.5 million.

Step three—Reopen the work center to house 250 misdemeanor inmates who could help offset their cost to the county by performing work for county and the cities. Jail capacity would then be 1,330. No construction cost, Annual maintenance and operation $3 million.

Step four—Build a 200-bed secure wing—bricks and mortar—to the new jail for violent felons. Implementation would bring inmate capacity to 1,530. This wing would cost $6 million to $8 million and cost about $1.6 million a year to operate.

“I would recommend that we move forward, step by step, to identify funding sources for implementation of this plan,” Holladay told the committee.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Huck: Our happy warrior

The merriest man in America beyond a doubt is Mike Huckabee. Sure, John McCain climbed to almost a mathematical cinch on the Republican presidential nomination in the three Potomac primaries yesterday, but why should Huckabee worry? He knew on Feb. 6, the day after the Super Tuesday primaries, that his long-shot ambition was hopeless like that of all the better-known candidates who have halted their campaigns in the face of the obvious.

No one blames Huckabee for continuing to run when he has no chance as they would if Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney had kept hammering away. Giuliani and Romney would be fracturing party unity and weakening the party’s chance of winning in November. Huckabee and Ron Paul, the upstarts who never had a chance, do no harm to unity and are collegial foils for McCain’s final lap toward nomination.

Huckabee now basks in attention such as he has never enjoyed, and the sheer joy of his circumstance is evident every day. Rested and beaming, he is on the front pages of the major newspapers every day and shares time on every television news show and commentary, happily delivering the bon mots he has perfected over 15 years of public life and crafting fresh ones. He is a cinch, they say, for a national talk show when the campaign is over. He is a national figure. He is the little engine that could.

When they started voting yesterday morning in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Huckabee breakfasted with Washington journalists in a popular ritual hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. A captivated New York Times blogger recorded a bunch of his quotable one-liners.

Is he going to go back to Arkansas next month when the presidential race is officially finished for him and file for the United States Senate against Sen. Mark Pryor?

“It’s more likely I’ll dye my hair green, get a bunch of tattoos and go on tour with Amy Winehouse,” Huckabee chortled.
Why shouldn’t he enjoy the presidential race? Compared to the “savagery” of the campaigns against him when he ran in Arkansas, he told the journalists, running for president is a piece of cake. That rebuke might be mystifying to Arkansans, who may barely remember the milquetoast campaigns against him by Nate Coulter, Charlie Cole Chaffin, Bill Bristow and Jimmie Lou Fisher. The charges leveled against him were that he took credit for tax cuts drafted and passed by the Democratic legislative caucus and that he collected gifts from groups beseeching rewards from the government. As we recall, Huckabee answered quite sensibly that whoever was governor got to take credit for whatever happened that people liked and that he was entitled to all the gifts people wanted to lavish on him.

The Times recorded that when he was asked why he would be a better bet to win in November than John McCain, the former governor explained: “Moderate Republicans lose. Conservative Republicans win.”

It was a good line, if not necessarily true. Based simply on their records, not their campaign rhetoric, Huckabee was the most liberal Republican in the race from the start, McCain the most conservative if you discount the weird but principled little Texas congressman, Ron Paul. Huckabee raised more taxes, generated more government spending, enlarged government more and ballooned the taxpayers’ debt more than any governor in his state’s history. In a quarter-century in Congress, McCain was the leading foe of government spending, enraging members of his own party along the way. The leading pork-barreler on the Republican side, the Alaska congressman who got mammoth federal appropriations for the “bridge to nowhere,” which McCain bitterly opposed, is Huckabee’s congressional chairman, or was until he became the subject of a criminal investigation.

But Huckabee’s remark raised no rejoinder from the assembled reporters. That is why our man is going all the way to the top — not to the White House but to the wide, wonderful world of broadcasting. Anything he says is to be believed. He’s proved that he’s that good. Move over, Bill O’Reilly.

SPORTS >>Abundant Life gets ready for district with

Leader sports editor

Tim Ballard isn’t afraid to set lofty goals for his Abundant Life Owls as they head into postseason play this week.
Eight straight wins will do that to a head coach.

The Owls tuned up for 2-3A district tournament play this weekend in Rose Bud with an easy 62-32 win over Kirby last Friday in the final regular-season game for the Owls.

Abundant Life, which earned a No. 2 seed after turning a 4-3 conference start into an 11-3 finish, is already guaranteed a berth in the regionals next week at Riverview and has a bye into the district semifinals this Thursday at 5:30. The Owls will play No. 3 Harding Academy, if the Wildcats are able to get past the Brinkley-Barton winner on Tuesday.

Last Friday, the Owls got 18 points from Dane Lottner and 15 from Colby Woolverton, who saw limited action due to the lopsided nature of the win.

“We were hoping for a tune-up,” said Ballard, whose Owls improved to 25-6 overall. “We were wanting a tough game on the road. Kirby’s down a little this year. That’s the first time they’ve been down in a while.”

Though it didn’t turn out to be the tune-up Ballard wanted, he still thinks his Owls are playing top-notch basketball at the right time.

“I still don’t think we’ve played our best basketball,” he said. “There were a couple of weeks early in the season where we were playing lights-out basketball.”

Ballard is hoping that the addition of a much-improved post game to go along with outstanding guards Woolverton and Lottner is going to make the Owls that much tougher to defend. Senior center Nelson Boren has added scoring prowess to his already dominant defensive play.

“If you talk to people, they’ll say our inside game is non-existent,” Ballard said. “I think with Boren playing like he is, we’ll catch some people off guard. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the offseason. We’re hoping to get 10 points from him. He’s going to get his five or six blocks.”

Ballard also hopes that Dustin Keathley’s ankle will continue to improve. Keathley injured the ankle the first of December and has never fully recovered.

“He was going to be our focal point inside,” Ballard said. “I’ve never seen an ankle injury like this. It’s still swollen double its size. He’s just now starting to get some lift off it. He’s one of our few players that plays with his back to the basket.”
If there’s any good news resulting from that injury, it’s that it has given Boren and sophomore post Garrett Sutherland an opportunity to log some valuable minutes.

“They’ve developed some confidence,” Ballard said. “If Keathley can come back, we should be even stronger.”

Asked if the fact that Abundant Life played top-ranked, unbeaten Rose Bud its toughest game of the year — a 58-53 loss on Dec. 13 — gave the Owls extra confidence, Ballard said no.
“I’ll be honest with you, we were confident we could beat them going into that game,” he said. “They’re good and they’re better than we are. But the guys were sorely disappointed. We didn’t feel like we were happy just to play them close.”

So if the Owls figure they can play with the best, what are their hopes for the postseason?

“I’ll tell you this: The way we’re playing right now, we feel we can go all the way,” Ballard said.

SPORTS >> Falcons avenge earlier GCT loss

Leader sportswriter

Ridge Williams had a big night rebounding for North Pulaski, but his final rebound kept the Falcons alive in the 5A-East playoff chase. NP held on for a thrilling 53-52 victory in an intense rematch with Greene County Tech on Friday night in front of a capacity crowd at the Falcons’ Nest.

The Eagles’ Russell Jetton had the winning three pointer in his sights in the final 10 seconds, but his shot from the left wing was just off, and Williams was there for the rebound — his seventh of the game.

It was a big win for a recovering Falcons team that has been plagued by illness, and redemption after the first meeting between the two teams ended in chaos, and resulted in the first league loss of the season for North Pulaski.

According to NP coach Raymond Cooper, the memory of the first game at GCT, in which both camps made accusations of bad sportsmanship afterward, wasn’t even a factor in the win.

“We never even talked about that,” Cooper said. “These guys know that you can’t bring personal stuff into a game this important. If you go in angry, you’re not going to play good basketball; we were just focused on the game.

“There was no big rah-rah speech before the game; these guys were up already,” Cooper added.

While it was Williams who secured the win, sophomore Duquan Bryant served up his own heroics during the game. Extra pressure on point guard Aaron Cooper gave Bryant multiple opportunities to have his way inside the GCT paint.

The Tech post players had struggled to contain Bryant’s moves inside. The sophomore standout cleared his way past the sizeable Eagles, and made the most of those chances to lead the Falcons with 23 points.

“Duquan is a unique player,” Cooper said. “He’s just touching the surface of how many skills he will have when he is fully developed. People don’t realize how great of a shooter he is. They think they can back off of him on the floor and let him miss, but I think he suprised some people tonight.”

The game featured seven lead changes over the final six minutes until two free throws by Bryant on back-to-back trips to the stripe put the Falcons up for the final time. Cooper followed that with a pair of foul shots to give NP a 50-47 lead, but Jetton pulled it to within one with a basket.

Kelvin Parker hit both ends of a one-and-one to give NP a 53-49 lead with 30 seconds left. Trase Davis hit a big three pointer for the Eagles to pull to within one, and an offensive foul by Parker set up Tech with one last chance to take it all, but Jetton’s miss and Williams’ rebound sealed it for the Falcons.

“I knew we had to have that last rebound,” Williams said. “We needed it, and we refused — refused to go out of here without a win. A loss for us would have meant no state tournament.”

The Eagles went up 14-11 at the end of the first quarter, and added a three pointer in the opening seconds of the second quarter for a 17-11 advantage.

NP closed the gap with an inside jumper and free throw by Bryant, followed by a steal by Cliff Harrison that led to a pair of free throws that made it 17-16 Tech with 6:16 left in the second quarter.

Greene County Tech built the lead to 27-21 at the intermission. The Falcons still trailed by six at the 5:48 mark of the third quarter until a basket by Parker also drew a foul to send him to the line. He missed the and-one, but Bryant was there for the rebound, and put it up for two more.

That cut the Eagles’ lead to 30-28, a lead they maintained until a six-point run by Bryant put North Pulaski ahead 36-32 at the 2:56 mark. Bryant then followed a Tech goal with a steal he took coast to coast to put the Falcons up 38-34 heading into the final period.

Neither team could produce points in the opening minutes of the final period, but Harrison finally found his way to the basket with an assist from Cooper at the 6:38 mark to give the Falcons a 40-34 lead.

Zach Mitchell quickly cut that lead in half for the Golden Eagles with a three-point basket and a layup, and free throw by Wes Livingston after an offensive foul by Williams gave possession back to Tech tied the game at 40-40 with 5:59 remaining.

“There was no praise for me,” Williams said of his game-clinching rebound. “That’s not what it was all about. We all praised each other for a good job and a great win. We have another big one against Nettleton next Friday, and we have to play like this all over again then.”

Bryant’s efforts earned him a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds, along with two steals and a block. Harrison added 11 points, six rebounds and three steals. Parker finished with eight points, including a perfect 6-for-6 at the foul line.
Joe Agee led the Falcons in assists with four.

For Tech, Livingston led with 16 points. The win improves North Pulaski to 13-8 overall and 6-4 in the 5A-East Conference, tied with Nettleton for fourth place in the East standings.

The Lady Falcons played toe to toe with Tech for 31 minutes of the girls opener, but it was the three unanswered three pointers for GCT in the opening minute that proved impossible to make up. The Lady Eagles went on to win 50-39 led by a 12-point performance from Brittany Chesser. Neisha Ridgeway led the Lady Falcons with 12 points. North Pulaski moved to 3-16 on the season.

North Pulaski hosted Beebe last night after Leader deadlines, and will play at Nettleton on Friday.

SPORTS >> Cabot senior going out a winner

Leader sportswriter

Sam Bates may not claim history as his favorite topic in school.

But the Cabot senior is about to become part of it later this month when Cabot takes to the court in the state playoffs for the first time since 1977.

It is a long time coming for a school noted for football excellence, and retribution for Bates and his fellow seniors, who have endured the typical message-board insults and the general lack of respect extended to Cabot basketball in recent years.
Bates, who turns 18 in just two days, is a starting post player for Jerry Bridges’ Panthers.

But it is baseball he will build his athletic future around. He has one more season under coach Jay Fitch on the Panthers baseball team, before he makes the move to Neosho, Mo., in the fall to play baseball for the Crowder Jr. College Rough Riders.
The son of Jennifer and Sammy Bates currently holds a 3.5 GPA, and plans on majoring in business/finance at CJC.

The 31-year drought for Cabot basketball officially ended last Friday when Russellville lost, ensuring the Panthers of at least a No. 6 seed when the state 7A state tournament begins Feb. 26. Cabot could reach as high as a No. 2 seed, depending on how the final two weeks of the regular season play out.

While Bates may not be putting up the eye-popping numbers of junior teammate Adam Sterrenberg, he still gets plenty of credit from his coach for Cabot’s success this season.

“Sam is a great teammate for these kids to have,” Bridges said. “He’s very likeable, never has a bad word to say about anyone, and he works very hard. Last year, he showed flashes of brilliance, but this year, he has been nothing but consistent. Every time I send him out on that floor, I know I’m going to get anywhere from eight to ten rebounds a night from him.”

For Bates, being a part of the team that has finally ended the state playoff drought is a culmination of lots of hard work and determination.

“It’s been three years in the making,” Bates said. “The coaches have told us that we’re good enough all along. It just took us making up our minds to do it. We finally got over the hump this year.

“We had a really good team during my sophomore year, but we were in such a tough conference [what is now the 6A-East], we just weren’t fortunate enough.”

Coach Jay Fitch is happy for Bates and for the basketball team’s success this season, but admits that he is ready to see him in the pinstripes.

“Sam has been a great one for me,” Fitch said. “In 11 years of coaching at Cabot, I’ve only had three kids start for me as freshmen, and he is one of them. He’s done so well at both sports all these years, it’s kind of scary to think what he can accomplish when he focuses all of his fundamentals into one sport.”

Bates finished the 2007 season with a .349 batting average. He has already been picked by his teammates to serve as a team captain this season, along with fellow senior and friend Shayne Burgan.

“Sam is not going to be a big vocal leader,” Fitch said. “But he has that Cal Ripken-effect. He’s not going to miss a single day, which is just as valuable an attribute. I’m expecting a big year from him — potential All-State numbers.”

Bates, a two-time All-Conference selection for baseball, says he has learned many valuable lessons about competition and life from both Fitch and Bridges.

“It’s not all that different, really,” Bates said of his two coaches. “Both are good, Christian men, and both of them are good role models to build upon for a student-athlete like me. Both of them stress the importance of hard work, and are just good guys in general.”

Among the many games played by Bates on both the court and diamond, he lists last year’s baseball 7A-Central Conference closer with Central as his most memorable moment. The Tigers had won the previous meeting, and went for a season sweep when they put current University of Arkansas freshman Drew Smiley on the mound. The Panthers went on to score in the final inning to take a 2-1 win over Central, which locked them into the No. 2 seed for the state tournament.

Thrilled as Bates is to have extended his baseball career beyond high school, he’s in no rush to play at the next level and intends to relish his last season at Cabot.

“You only get one senior year of high school,” Bates said. “Just like finding out we clinched the playoffs this year; that’s at least one more basketball game I will get to play. I’m trying to make the most of this year. You can’t waste your life away waiting on something else.

“You have to enjoy it while it’s here.”

SPORTS >> ’Rabbits hold off Panthers in finale

Leader sportswriter

With their second-straight 2-4A Conference title already in hand, the Lonoke Jackrabbits found motivation for Friday’s game at Heber Springs a little difficult. The Panthers stayed close until late, when Lonoke finally put them away with 27 points in the final quarter to take a 74-64 win.

The Panthers were up for the game. A two-game winning streak, senior night and saying goodbye to their old gymnasium made for a Heber team that was ready to pull off a major upset.

“We didn’t play well at all, especially defensively,” Lonoke coach Wes Swift said. “They had a lot of emotion going into that game, and they have been playing well at the end of the season.

“The guys that were supposed to make big plays finally started doing that in the fourth quarter, but I have to give Heber a lot
of credit. I thought they played well.”

The Jackrabbits had been focusing on their post game for the previous couple of practices, but early foul trouble for Juicy Lambert, combined with the sudden illness of freshman post Myles Taylor, blew previous plans out of the water, and made the team much, much smaller.

Lonoke led 37-28 at halftime, but the Panthers rallied in the third quarter to make it a one-point game heading into the final period. At that point, seniors Bradley Spencer and Tyrone Dobbins came alive offensively to help put away the stubborn underdogs.

Spencer finished with 15 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter. Dobbins added 12 for the Jackrabbits, and Michael Howard had 13 points, six of which came in the fourth quarter. Clarence Harris rounded out high scorers for Lonoke with nine points.

The win gives the Jackrabbits a final regular-season record of 22-5, 14-2 in the 2-4A Conference. They will have a two-round bye in the district tournament at Bald Knob, and will begin tourney play Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. at the Bulldog gymnasium.


The Lady Jackrabbits also knew their postseason fate going into Friday’s matchup with Heber Springs. Lonoke fell in a close 39-37 decision to the Lady Panthers.

While the game was essentially meaningless, Lady ’Rabs’ coach Nathan Morris was disappointed with his team’s performance.
“We just couldn’t get it going,” Morris said. “We already had the No. 2 seed. That could be an excuse. We’ve had some sickness — that could be another excuse.

“There are actually a hundred excuses I could throw at you, but the bottom line is, we got beat. We’ve got to get back and get this corrected quick.

“Last year, we were talking about winning the district and the regional tournaments kind of like it was a given. Not this year.”
Ultimately, it was free-throw shooting that made the difference down the stretch for Lonoke. The Lady ’Rabbits only hit 5-of-10 attempts.

Morris says a performance like that this week could spell disaster for the Lady Jackrabbits.

“We need to be gearing up for these teams,” Morris said. “We have to get the ship righted, or we could be sitting at home when the state tournament gets here. We’re the defending district champs, and I know these teams are getting geared up to play Lonoke. The question is, will Lonoke get geared up for them?”

Asiah Scribner led the Lady Jackrabbits with 12 points, while senior Hayley O’Cain added a trio of three pointers for nine points. The loss moved Lonoke to 20-7 overall and 13-3 in conference.

The Lady Jackrabbits will enter the district tournament at Bald Knob as the defending champions, with a No. 2 seed behind regular season champs and host team Lady Bulldogs. They will also have a bye through the first two rounds, and will play Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.

SPORTS >> Cabot boys nipped by Central, but reach state

Leader sports editor

Cabot coach Jerry Bridges can find several good things to take out of the Panthers’ tough 67-66 loss to Little Rock Central on Friday night.

A moral victory is not among them.

“We knew coming in we could play with anybody,” Bridges said. “We just have to regroup. It would have been a big win for us.”
A big win for a lot of reasons. It would have meant a season sweep of the state’s second-ranked 7A team. It would more importantly have moved the Panthers to within a game of the first-place Tigers, and into a third-place tie with Conway.

But, even with the disheartening loss, the Panthers secured their first state tournament berth in 31 years when Russellville lost on Friday. That’s one good thing. The other is that junior Austin Johnson turned in perhaps his best game of the season.

“That’s big for us,” Bridges said of Johnson’s 24-point performance. “He was hurt earlier in the year and he’s just now getting back to 100 percent. He’s shown a lot ofguts and courage for us this year.”

The Panthers lost, despite Johnson’s performance, and despite 29 more points from Adam Sterrenberg, when Erick Brooks hit a pair of free throws with 11.2 seconds left. Cabot never got a chance at a game-winning basket as Central’s Alandis Harris stole a cross-court pass at midcourt and was able to run out the clock.

“It was a tremendous game. That was the first time we had employed that defense all year,” said Central head coach Oliver Fitzpatrick of the zone press the Tigers ran on the final play. “We were saving that just for a situation like this. [Cabot] wasn’t prepared for it.”

The Panthers had rallied from a seven-point deficit over the final three minutes. Miles Monroe’s three and Sterrenberg’s baseline drive got Cabot to within 65-64 with 2:01 left. Brooks missed a breakaway layup with 35 seconds, and Johnson gave the Panthers the lead with a baseline drive and an up-and-under basket with 20 seconds remaining.

But Brooks was fouled near the top of the circle with 11 seconds left and made them both. Brooks led Central with 23 points.
Cabot did itself no favors by missing 8-of-11 free throws in the second half.

“Bottom line, we missed free throws,” Bridges said. “You’ve got to hit those. If we make our free throws, we win.”

Bridges wasn’t so certain the Panthers didn’t deserve a few more attempts than they got. Twice over the final four minutes of the game, Sterrenberg was stripped of the ball driving into traffic near the basket.

“They didn’t really protect Sterrenberg,” Bridges said. “There were some no-calls [that looked like] fouls. I mean, you’ve got to give those calls to a player like that. He’s earned them.”

With Monroe in foul trouble early in the game, the Panthers turned to Sterrenberg and Johnson, and they delivered, combing for all but one of Cabot’s first half points. The Panthers led 34-33 at intermission.

It was tough going offensively in the early going. Sterrenberg hit a pair of threes over the final two minutes of the first period, which had Cabot trailing 16-13 after one. Johnson scored nine consecutive points for Cabot over a span of 2:43 in the second quarter as the Panthers took their first lead at 23-20.

Sterrenberg scored the final nine points of the period for the Panthers to finish with 19 points at intermission. Brooks also had 19 at the half.

Monroe added six points in limited action.

“If you want to talk about foul trouble, we were in foul trouble,” Bridges said. “Monroe might have played 10 minutes tonight.”
Sam Bates added four points and nine rebounds as the Panthers finished with a six-rebound advantage over a Central team that went to a small lineup for most of the game.

The Panthers made 8-of-20 three-pointers and knocked down 24-of-52 overall, but they made only 10-of-19 free throws.
Central hit 25-of-45 shots overall, despite making only 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. They got several key breakaway buckets in the final period, which allowed them to build a 65-58 lead at the 3:02 mark. The Tigers made 15-of-24 free throws.


Add another to the Lady Panthers’ ever-expanding disabled list.
Shelby Ashcraft went down midway through the final period.

That merely added an injury to insult as Central was already having its way with the Lady Panthers.

Coming off an emotional one-point, buzzer-beating loss to North Little Rock two nights earlier, the Lady Panthers seemed strangely flat, especially in the second half, when they were outrebounded 24-8 to finish with an overall 38-25 disadvantage on the boards.

That wasn’t the end of their troubles against the Lady Tigers. Cabot committed 21 turnovers and made only 13-of-38 shots in falling into a three-way tie for third at 6-5.

“That’s eight or nine kids now,” said Cabot assistant Charles Ruple of the plague of injuries that have hobbled the Lady Panthers this season. “Nobody likes to make excuses, but we’re playing six or seven, and they’re playing eight or 10. That makes a difference.”

Cabot never led in the contest, falling behind 4-0 and 19-13 after one period. The Lady Tigers were able to get penetration throughout the first half for easy buckets and fouls.

Cabot got within one point on three free throws by Morgan Verkler, but Shawnessi Arnold hit a 40-footer at the buzzer to give

Central a 31-27 lead at intermission.

Ashcraft scored twice inside early in the third to keep the Lady Panthers within 33-31, and Jenna Bailey’s basket and free throw still had them within three. But the Lady Tigers out-rebounded Cabot 12-2 in the third period and eventually opened up a 44-36 lead after three. Cabot never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

Ashcraft suffered the injury when she drove under the basket for a reverse layup attempt with 3:51 left in the game. She hit the floor and was carted off in a wheelchair several minutes later. Ashcraft scored only six points, but grabbed 10 rebounds and two steals. She also had three assists and a block.

Lauren Walker led Cabot with 12 points. Leah Watts had 11 points and three steals. Bailey added eight points and four steals.

SPORTS >> Devils slip at FC

Leader sports editor

FORREST CITY — Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner is still trying to get his young Red Devils to understand what being a front-runner is all about.

They got another lesson in that on Friday night when Forrest City jumped up and beat Jacksonville, 58-54, to knock the Red Devils out of a first-place tie with Jonesboro in the 6A-East.

“For the third game in a row, we didn’t show up defensively,” Joyner said after his Red Devils fell to 8-2 in league play, 11-11 overall. “When you’re a front runner, you’re going to take people’s best shot. Everybody’s trying to take you down.

“You got to come out and play as a front runner and play hard in the first half, to send a message you are better. Or you’re in a dog fight.”

After leading by a field goal at the half against a Forrest City team the Red Devils routed in their first meeting at the Devil’s
Den, Jacksonville found itself trailing by nine heading into the final period.

But the Red Devils rallied to take a one-point lead late in the game. The Mustangs (4-4, 10-10) responded with a three-pointer to go back on top. Forrest City held the ball and a one-point lead with 17 seconds when the pivotal play of the game took place.

“We fouled the guy we wanted,” Joyner said. “He missed it, and Demetrius Harris and Antwan Lockhart blocked out beautifully.”
But each thought the other was going to grab the ball. When neither one did, Forrest City grabbed the ball, made a basket and got fouled. The free throw extended the lead to four, the final margin of victory.

“It’s disheartening to come back like that and lose on one of those freakish things,”
Joyner said of the late slip.

Lockhart led a balanced Jacksonville scoring attack with 15 points. LaQuinton Miles added 10. Terrell Eskridge scored nine, Harris eight and Cortrell Eskridge seven.

Joyner was disappointed in the Red Devils’ offense over the first half.

“We didn’t execute, and we were doing those things that had us 3-9 to start the season,” he said. “But Terrell ran the point extremely well. He took control and played point guard extraordinaire. Demetrius and Antwan handled their business well, too. Demetrius shut down their big man inside to give us a chance.”

It turned out to be a little man that hurt Jacksonville on Friday, guard Jessie Mitchell. Mitchell poured in 26.

“He just busted our heads,” Joyner said. “He was unconscious. He was hitting shots with kids hanging on him. He’s going to be big-time.”

The Red Devils are now tied for second with West Memphis, who they will face on Friday. Jacksonville hosted winless Sylvan Hills last night in a game played after Leader deadlines. Joyner said he had no concerns that his team would look past the Bears.

“That’s one thing I haven’t had to tell them after starting off 3-9,” Joyner said. “They see a game for a game. They know you’ve got to win this one.

“They’ve just got to play front-runner-style basketball. Teams are going to play their best and hardest against you. You have to impose your will.”