Saturday, February 23, 2008

SPORTS >>Owls move into state, beat Atkins

Leader sports editor

Because Dane Lottner put the Owls on his back, Abundant Life got the monkey off its back.

The 6-4 junior guard scored Abundant Life’s finals 16 points to send the Owls to their first-ever state tournament with a dramatic 74-72 win over Atkins in the first round of the Region 2 regionals on Thursday at the Riverview Activity Center.

“It’s called getting the monkey off your back,” said AL head coach Tim Ballard, whose Owls had come up a game short of the state tournament each of the past five years. “The last five times we had a chance to go to state, we had to play a top three team. This time, we got a team that wasn’t ranked in the top 10, but they sure played like it tonight.”

Lottner finished with 34 points — 19 in the final period. He hit all six of his shots in the fourth quarter, including a pair of three-pointers. He also made 5-of-8 free throws in that stretch. His two free throws with 13 seconds left gave the Owls a 71-68 lead. He hit 1-of-2 free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining to set the final margin.

Atkins got off a desperation 70-footer as the buzzer sounded.

“Dane just bailed me out big time,” Ballard said. “Because we didn’t have an answer for [Atkins] tonight. The funny thing is, I told them I only wanted layups and free throws [down the stretch], and every shot Dane made was out away from the basket. It’s as good of a performance as I’ve ever seen in 16 years of coaching. It was so clutch.”

After trailing throughout much of the game — the result of some torrid shooting by Atkins’ D.J. Brinkley and some strong post play by Stephen Fletcher and Terence Bobo — the Owls turned to Colby Woolverton in the third period.

The senior point guard took over for the Owls at the midway point of the third quarter, scoring seven consecutive points over a 1:25 span to pull the Owls even at 43.

Lottner and Terrell Ghant hit threes and Woolverton added yet another drive and layup to send the Owls into the final period with a 51-49 lead. The drama — and Lottner — were just getting started.

“I’ve been riding those two horses all the way to the state tournament,” Ballard said of Woolverton and Lottner. “They just compliment each other so well. When one gets tired, the other takes over for a while. It’s a good duo to have.”

Atkins never led in the final period, and trailed by seven points on four different occasions. Each time, Ballard said he thought that the Owls might have locked it up.

“I kept thinking as soon as it got to seven, it was over,” said Ballard, whose 31-7 Owls took on third-ranked Conway St. Joe’s last night after Leader deadlines. “Because every time I get up like that on somebody, I know Colby can shoot free throws the rest of the time. But strange things happened tonight.”

One of those was Woolverton’s uncharacteristic miscue with 1:53 left, when he dribbled it off his leg out of bounds. That came in the midst of a 7-0 Atkins run that knotted the game at 66 with 1:46 left.

It took Lottner all of 17 seconds to put the Owls back on top with an eight-foot pull-up in the lane. Though Bobo tied the game with 55 seconds left, Lottner delivered another dagger — this one proved to be the mortal blow — when he hit a three-pointer from the top of the circle. The Owls never trailed again.

But it was far from over. Bobo hit a pair of free throws to narrow the gap to 71-70 with 35 seconds left. With 13 seconds left, the Red Devils sent Lottner to the line. He knocked them both down to push the AL lead to 73-70.

Atkins got three shots inside on its next trip down, with Stephen Fletcher finally drawing a foul with 3.6 seconds left. Fletcher hit them both.

Woolverton threw a court-length pass to a streaking Lottner who was fouled with 2.3 seconds left. He made 1-of-2 for the final margin.

“We told our guys, if [Atkins] has all five guys up, we’re going long,” Ballard said of the final inbounds play. “If they have four up, we’ll get the ball to Colby and let him shoot free throws. We didn’t have any timeouts left, so I told them, ‘It’s got go to one of those two, fellas.”

Lottner’s performance, which included seven rebounds, was so spectacular it nearly eclipsed Woolverton’s own 21-point, 8-assist output. Dustin Keathley didn’t score, but had six rebounds and five assists. Nelson Boren added six points and four assists.

Atkins was led by Brinkley’s 27 and Bobo’s 21. Atkins knocked down 28-of-54 from the floor, including 7-of-13 threes.
The Owls were equally torrid, making 29-of-54 overall and 8-of-18 from three-point range.

SPORTS >>Last-second steal sinks Cabot boys

Leader sportswriter

The Panthers watched yet another game go down to the wire on Tuesday night at Pan-ther Pavilion against Russellville. The Cyclones put a damper on senior night with a last-second steal and layup by A.J. Broadway to take a 52-50 win. It was the sixth straight Cabot game decided by two points or less, and the second straight home loss suffered on a last-second shot.
The loss cost the Panthers a No. 4 seed, dropping them to fifth. They will open state tournament play on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. when they take on Fort Smith Southside at Conway High School.

Cabot led almost the entire way until 15 seconds remained, when Derek Owens hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 50-50. Owens had made little noise from the outside leading up to that point, going 0-5 from the three-point line until his last triple attempt fell in.

“We’ve been snake bit our last two home games,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “For our seniors, Derek Clarkson, Sam Bates, Tim Lawrenceand Trey Rosel, they deserved a win in their last home game, but give Russellville credit for not quitting.

“It’s a freaky thing, but we just have to put it behind us and get ready to fight for a state championship next week.”

The Panthers built a lead of as much as 11 points in the middle of the third quarter, but Russellville slowly chipped away through the fourth quarter, and hit a pair of free throws at the 2:41 mark to pull to within two, 46-44.

Adam Sterrenberg hit both ends of a one-and-one to extend it back to four. Russellville lost the ball out of bounds, but the Panthers could not convert, and gave up the board.

The Cyclones missed on two tries after that, and an offensive foul by Owens gave the ball back to Cabot. Owens made up for his mistake with a steal that led to a three-point basket with 1:16 left to play that pulled Russellville to within one.

Junior guard Jack Bridges then hit both ends of a one-and-one to give the Panthers a three-point lead with less than a minute remaining.

Tim Lawrence pulled down a defensive board for the Panthers on a Cyclone miss, and Miles Monroe ended up at the free-throw line for a one-and-one. He missed the front end, and Broadway pulled down the rebound. That led to the three for
Owens with 15 seconds left, giving the Panthers one last chance to secure the win.

But Broadway had other plans and snagged the steal from Sterrenberg at midcourt.

He outran both Sterrenberg and the clock to lay it in off the glass as the buzzer sounded.

The last three minutes of the first half appeared to be the strongest for the Panthers. The opening quarter ended with a narrow 14-12 lead for Cabot, with Russellville taking its only lead of the first half with a free throw at the 4:55 mark.

The Panthers quickly answered back. Sterrenberg hit a three pointer on an assist from Lawrence on the ensuing Cabot possession to put the Panthers back up by two at 20-18.

Broadway scored to tie it again, but the Panthers went on a 6-0 run to end the first half. Two buckets by Johnson, with a goal by junior sub Gary Clark in between gave Cabot a 26-20 lead at intermission.

Sterrenberg led the Panthers with 14 points. Austin Johnson added eight points, while post players Monroe and Sam Bates each added seven points, with four blocked shots for Monroe.

Jack Bridges rounded it out with five points and five assists for the Panthers.

Russellville dominated the boards 29-19. Cabot shot 42 percent from the floor (18-42) and hit five of eight three-point attempts for 63 percent.

Russellville had 49 percent shooting (19-39) and was 39 percent from the three-point line (7-18).

The Panthers finished out the regular season with an 18-10 overall record, and 7-7 in the 7A-Central. Russellville’s conference season ended on a high note, giving them a final record of 13-14 overall and 4-10 in league play.

The Panthers ended up as the No. 5 seed out of the 7A-Central Conference, and will take on Fort Smith Southside, the No. 4 seed from the West in the first round of the 7A state tournament to be played at Conway High School.

SPORTS >>Ailing Raiders are game, but won’t defend 3A title

Leader sports editor

The strategy worked, but the shots wouldn’t fall.

As a result, there will be a new Class 3A state champion at Hot Springs next month. Third-ranked Conway St. Joe’s survived a gutsy performance by a flu-bedraggled Riverview Raiders team to post a 44-34 win in the quarterfinals of the Region 2 regionals on Wednesday at the Riverview Activity Center.

“The defensive game plan was good, how we were attacking offensively was good. The shots wouldn’t fall,” said Riverview head coach Danny Starkey, whose Raiders concluded the season at 17-12. “We forced a few shots and there were a lot of little things we did that you can’t do against a good team like that.”

Riverview hit under 30 percent for the game, and made only 3-of-18 from beyond the arc.

Defensively, the much shorter Raiders did their best to contain the Bulldogs’ twin towers — 6-5 Nick Heathscott and 6-6 John Kordsmeier. Mostly they did, limiting the two to 12 points.

“Last year, Heathscott had a field day on us,” Starkey said. “We felt like he was the one to control. We did a good job on him. But then they had [Wade Beck] come off the bench and pick up six points on us. That breaks your back.”

Beck scored all six of his points at a critical juncture late in the first half after Riverview had rallied from a 12-5 deficit to tie the game at 14 on Jordan Perry’s three-pointer from the right wing with 4:15 left in the first half.

Over a 2:36 span to close out the half, Beck got inside three times for buckets to allow the Bulldogs to capture the momentum and a 23-16 lead heading into intermission.

Though Perry scored twice inside in the third period to keep the Raiders within shouting distance, Luke Kordsmeier delivered a punishing blow with a three-pointer at the buzzer that extended the Bulldog lead to nine.

The Raiders got to within six on Thatcher Cooperwood’s baseline drive at the 4:43 mark, and Riverview had a good look to narrow the gap even further, but Dominique Baker’s four-footer along the baseline rimmed out.
St. Joe’s (34-1) put the game away with a 5-0 run to open up a 38-27 lead with 1:19 left.

Senior point guard Bo Banks, one of three Raiders, along with Ben Jones and Cameron Angerman who were playing at less than full strength due to illness, got his only points of the game on a putback with 43 seconds remaining but St. Joe’s made its final six free throws.

“With those three guys not feeling well, we didn’t push the ball like I wanted to,” Starkey said. “That’s where it affected us the most.”

Senior Thatcher Cooperwood ended his career at Riverview with solid 12-point, nine-rebound performance, while fellow senior Baker added six points and six rebounds. Perry added seven points, while Angerman grabbed six rebounds. The Raiders battled the taller Bulldogs to a draw on the boards, and committed only 11 turnovers.

But they made only 13-of-45 from the field, compared to 15-of-34 for St. Joe’s.

“Defensively, I can’t complain at all,” Starkey said. “Part of our game plan was good enough to win. But that’s a good ball club and every possession counts. I wasn’t against the shooting the three, but it was who was shooting it. We had some guys out there launching those that shouldn’t have been.”

Sad and frustrating as Starkey said it is not be back at state after winning it all last season, he is mostly pleased with what his team was able to put together.

“We knew early on, with who we lost, it was going to be a struggle,” he said. “But we figured as the season progressed, we’d be pretty tough. The only thing I’m disappointed in is I didn’t feel like we learned from our mistakes this year like good teams have to.

“But it was a good bunch of kids that laid it on the line,” he added. “It was not the season we wanted. After coming off a state championship, the first goal is to repeat. But when you lose what we lost, that’s asking a lot. Hopefully, next year, we’ll get back to the level we want to play at and are used to playing at.”

SPORTS >>Just one more goal to reach

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke’s win over Highland on Wednesday in the first round of the 4A East Regional tournament put the Jackrabbits into the state tournament for the second straight season.

It will also be the second trip to state for senior Bradley Spencer, who currently serves as Lonoke’s ultimate all-purpose player.
Spencer and the ’Rabbits are currently riding a huge wave of momentum entering the final rounds of the East Regional tournament. They swept the last half of the conference season to win their second-consecutive 2-4A Conference title, and backed it up with a virtual cruise through the district tournament two weeks ago.

Clean cut, well spoken, and not hesitant to share his aspirations, Spencer, an All-Conference and All-State selection last year as a junior, also took home the Tip-off Club’s Arvest Player of the Week on Monday for his late-season efforts as the ’Rabbits point guard and leading defender.

Spencer is the son of Danita Spencer, and attends Gateway Fellowship International Church in Lonoke. He has one older brother, Brentley, and plays on the Jackrabbits team with younger cousin Trenton.

He lists fishing and hanging out with friends as a couple of his favorite pastimes, but minces few words when it comes to his greatest enjoyment in life, or his biggest ambition.

“I love the game of basketball,” Spencer said. “I want to accomplish the things that other people in my family didn’t get to. Some of them had some big challenges in life, and never made it to college. I want to be one of the first people in my family to go to college and decide my own future.”

That future will most likely include four years in Searcy, as a member of the Harding Bison. Other offers currently circulate, but Spencer became enamored on a recent trip to legendary Rhodes Field House for a Bison home game.

He says his future could include anything from technology to sports reporting, but is pretty sure it will be pursued wearing black and gold.
“It was just like watching a game on TV,” Spencer said of Harding’s gym. “The crowd was just going
wild. I know it’s a Division II school, but that’s one of the greatest places I’ve ever seen a basketball game.”

Team chemistry is something any coach will tell you is vital to having a strong squad. Spencer, along with teammates Tyrone Dob-bins, Clarence Harris, Michael Howard and Juice Lambert have plenty of it. Watching the Jackrabbits dismantle an opponent can sometimes make one wonder how a team can be on the same page so closely, but Spencer says it is just one aspect of a number of very tight friendships.

“We call each other up all the time and keep up with each other,” Spencer said. “We make sure we’re all staying out of trouble, and sometimes we’ll just load up in someone’s car and go out. We’ll go check out other people’s games, or sometimes we’ll just ride around in Little Rock.”

Spencer’s grades back up his academic prowess. He currently holds a 3.2 GPA, and also has an ACT score of 18. He hopes to improve his ACT before his freshman year of college, saying his current score is “completely unacceptable.”

Lonoke head coach Wes Swift has no shortage of praise for the 6-2 senior. He compares Spencer’s attention to detail to that of former Duke star Shane Battier, and says he is happy to make even the smallest of contributions.

“I’ve never seen anybody get as excited over an assist than Bradley,” Swift said. “If he’s on the bench, and a big play happens, he’ll jump up and start waving a towel. He defends, he’s a leader all the time, and I think he’s one of the main reasons we are going to the state tournament.”

Spencer echoed Swift’s admiration.

“He’s a good guy, and a great coach,” Spencer said. “He keeps us out of trouble and works us hard, but we know it’s for a reason. He sees potential in all of us, and pushes each one of us to achieve everything we can.

“He will definitely make you get after it, though,” Spencer added with a laugh.
Spencer looks forward to this week’s state tournament, and likes his team’s chances.

At a pow-wow at the start of the season, the team put together a blueprint for success, and Spencer says the Jackrabbits are right on target, save for one final goal.

“It would mean a lot for us to win it all,” Spencer said. “That’s every player’s dream, to win the state tournament. We set goals at the first of the season, and so far, we have accomplished all of them. Now, there’s one more to be accomplished.

“I love this team to death, and I think a state title would bring us even closer together,” the Jackrabbits senior guard said.
Swift says that aside from being a top scorer for the Jackrabbits for the past three seasons, he is also strong on the other side of the court.

“He’s the best defender I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching,” Swift said. “Playing good defense is all about heart, and nobody has a bigger heart than Bradley.

SPORTS >>Devils tumble at Mt. Home

Leader sports editor

West Memphis gave Jacksonville its chance on Tuesday night. The Blue Devils were stunned by Marion, giving the Red Devils an opportunity to move into a second-place tie with West Memphis in the 6A-East.

And with about 20 seconds left in the Red Devils’ battle at Mountain Home on Tuesday, it looked like they would seize that opportunity.

But Mountain Home’s Garrett Wilhite hit a buzzer-beating, well-guarded three-pointer to send the game into overtime, and the Bombers held on to beat Jacksonville, 67-58.

Worse, Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner was assessed two technical fouls in the overtime, meaning he was not only ejected from that game, he had to sit out the regular-season finale against defending champion Jonesboro last night at the Devil’s Den.

“If there’s anybody in the conference in terms of rivalries we’ve established over the years, there isn’t anybody on the schedule
I’d rather coach than that one,” Joyner said.

The technicals came when Joyner requested an explanation after Mountain Home called a timeout in overtime that they didn’t have. The rules state that a team that calls a timeout when they have none left is assessed a technical foul.

According to Joyner, the referees decided not to award the timeout to the Mountain Home player, who tried to call it as he was falling out of bounds. Instead, the officials awarded the ball to Jacksonville with 12 seconds left and trailing by two.

“I guess they just decided to compromise,” Joyner said. “But I wanted the technical, which would have given us two free throws and the ball. Deshone [McClure] is almost automatic and probably would have madethose free throws. Then, we would have had the ball and a chance to win.”

Instead, Joyner was whistled for a pair of technicals, resulting in four Mountain Home free throws. The Bombers scored 11 of their 19 points in the overtime at the free-throw line.

Jacksonville looks almost certainly to be the three seed, and will likely face Texarkana in the opening round of the 6A state tournament next Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at Little Rock Hall.

“We’re not dejected about getting the three seed,” Joyner insisted. “We think it might have been a best-case scenario for us looking at the bracket. The first game is always the hardest game anyway.”

The Red Devils had a chance to ice the game in regulation when McClure went to the line with 12 seconds left and Jacksonville up two. He made one, but missed the second, allowing Wilhite to hit the desperation three to tie it.

“In overtime, they hit a bunch of deep threes on us, but we battled back to get it within two,” Joyner said. “[The timeout controversy] was a travesty because it was a well-played game by both teams. But we executed well and did everything we needed to do to win the game in regulation.”

Jacksonville (12-13, 9-4) trailed by three at the half and by one entering the final period.
LaQuinton Miles led the Red Devils with 17 points, while McClure added 11.
For Joyner, missing last night’s game was going to be painful.

“I can hear the roar of the crowd from my front porch, that’s how close I live to the school,” he said. “That’s going to kill me. I’ve already got it arranged to have someone calling me with updates.”

As for the disappointing, controversial loss at Mountain Home, Joyner thinks the Red Devils will be able to shake it off.

“The kids represented Jacksonville well up there,” he said. “They showed a lot of character and kept their cool. They’ve done that the entire year, starting when they were 3-9 to begin the season.”

EDITORIAL >>Usurers lose another round

The cat that is the payday lending industry perished Thursday for the eighth time by our calculation. It should be getting its affairs into order, for its ninth life ought to be short, maybe until summer.

For the second time in five weeks, the Arkansas Supreme Court said the practices of payday check cashers are illegal because they charge people more than 17 percent interest on loans, which is all that is allowed by the state Constitution. The court did not flatly declare the law under which the lenders operate unconstitutional because the law was not directly challenged in the case.

The issue was whether Emma Staton of Jacksonville, who got entangled with a payday lender, could collect on the lender’s surety bond. The justices said she could. It ruled almost identically in a Russellville case in January.

Now it only remains for the Supreme Court to say unequivocally that the law under which the check cashers operate violates the Constitution, which the court surely will in a third case that the court likely will decide before it recesses this summer.

It is hard to imagine the court reaching any other conclusion because in both the surety bond cases the justices held that companies that insured the payday lenders could not hide behind the Arkansas Check Cashers Act of 1999 to avoid paying borrowers who had been harmed by the lenders. The bond companies argued that since the check cashers were merely following an act passed by the legislature and signed by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, their actions and the companies’ bonds were protected from the injured borrowers.

They ought to have known better. An act passed by the Arkansas legislature, even when the infallible Rev. Michael Dale
Huckabee endorses it, does not trump the Constitution.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saw the light. Although his office had defended the insurance companies because it represents the state agency that screwed up and aided the insurers and the lenders, McDaniel immediately praised the court’s decision as a victory for consumers. He said he was going to take immediate action.

Noting that the court said plainly that payday lenders were making illegal loans that took advantage of people, McDaniel said he was going to protect the people of Arkansas “with all legal tools at our disposal.” He is forthwith going to write a letter to payday lenders notifying them of the decision.

He should save the postage. The headquarters of all the loan sharks know about the decision and what it means and they know that they will have to shut down their operations before fall when the court’s final judgment comes down. You can be sure that no company is writing surety bonds for them any longer.

What is mournful is that it has taken nine long years for justice to be done. Any first-year law student could have told the lawmakers and Huckabee that the law contravened the Constitution, which says that any interest rate above 17 percent on consumer loans is usury and illegal. The check cashers charge upwards of 300 percent on short-term loans, although they do not call the fees interest. Borrowers frequently get trapped in the loan cycle, borrowing again each payday to keep up with the payments.

More than 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that banks and merchants that used installment credit could not add costs to loans by calling them something other than interest. The fees and carrying charges were still interest, wrote Justice George Rose Smith. The court redeemed that doctrine over and over again.

But in 1999, the industry and lawmakers apparently believed that since the constitutional usury law had been liberalized a little since the days when it imposed a strict 10 percent limit, a new set of justices who were not imbued with the strict-construction notions of Mr. Justice Smith might look the other way when someone challenged the mammoth interest rates.

Clearly they won’t, although all of these cases have bounced up and down through the courts for more than five years, when the final judgment was clear at dawn on the day after Huckabee’s imprimatur on the bill opened the gates to the lenders.

TOP STORY > >Spending more on military for readiness

Leader senior staff writer

If Congress approves President Bush’s proposed $515 billion 2009 Pentagon budget, even adjusted for inflation, it will be the largest defense budget since the Second World War.

That doesn’t include the $600 billion supplemental war-spending appropriation already approved for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and for counterterrorism.

“We’ve had several issues that we haven’t had in the past,” said Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock. “We’re increasing the size of the military, particularly the Army and the Marines. We have immediate and long-term personnel costs. We have the whole issue of replacement or repair of equipment and other issues, like increased fuel costs.”

Snyder said other costs pushing up the defense budget include the cost of military health care for members of the military, dependants, retirees and those disabled.

“There are a lot of issues like that,” he said. “We haven’t had the budget very long.” Snyder said PresidentBush may have intentionally downplayed some costs, leaving it for the future president and Congress to increase costs.

“It appears that in real numbers, his budget drops in the next few years.”

He said the possibility of more C-130Js in the U.S. fleet seemed to be the only impact on Little Rock Air Force Base, where virtually all C-130 crews, including C-130J crews, are trained.

New C-130J military transport planes to replace the aging Viet-nam-era fleet of air lifters is one example of such costs, according to Snyder, chairman of the House Armed Services oversight subcommittee.

“The (C-130E)—a lot need to be retired and replaced by modernized H and J models.”

He said desert fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq was “really good for wearing out planes.”

“The J model is getting very high marks for its performance so far in the war environment,” Snyder said. “The Air Force likes the J model. On the other hand, it’s expensive.”

Currently, the Air Force wants another $576 million to buy eight more C-130Js, which is $72 million per plane.
“We are going to buy enough C-130s to reduce the price by $10 million a copy,” according to Cong. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee.

“When we buy things in larger numbers, we get better costs,” Snyder said.

He said that both domestic and foreign sales could help reduce the cost.

Snyder said Congress had not yet thoroughly studied the president’s proposal, but it seemed to include no new weapons systems.

TOP STORY > >Decision put off on county jail upgrades

Leader senior staff writer

With a wide range of proposals under consideration, the Lonoke County Quorum Court on Thursday deferred until next Thursday discussion on building a new jail or an addition to the old one.

The quorum court building committee, chaired by Larry Odom, debated some of those possibilities in a Tuesday night meeting at Cabot, but the Thursday night’s quorum court agenda was so full that the justices approved Odom’s motion to table discussion until the special meeting next Thursday.

In other action, the court unanimously voted to hire Johanson Group Systems to study the duties and pay of county employees, compare them to other, similar counties and private industry and come up with a proposed pay schedule for all employees.
The three-year project will cost about $35,000, $27,000 of it the first year.


It was JP Jeanette Minton’s idea at least half a year ago to hire Johanson, but the county faced big building
expenses and the court deferred action at that time until it had a better idea of its 2008 finances.

The actual ordinance will be presented at the March meeting, as will modifications to the county personnel policy.
In other business, the court rejected the Southbend Volunteer Fire Department’s proposal to adopt the 2000 edition of the

International Fire Code.

Under the new code, the fire department would inspect businesses, including daycare facilities or nursing homes in their district. Odom said the reason some people live in the country is to avoid regulation and that he wouldn’t vote for the proposal. The court rejected the proposal 7-5.

Also, the court appropriated $27,389 toward finishing the Brownsville Branch project. The project is intended to reduce or alleviate flooding in about 28 acres north of Lonoke on state Hwy. 31.

It amended its budget to account for $4,850 from the state, which will be passed through to the Lonoke Health Clinic to pay for an emergency generator.

Dist. 10 Justice of the Peace Kyle Lackey resigned his seat because he was moving to Sherwood and the court unanimously approved a resolution declaring a vacancy to exist and asking Gov. Mike Beebe to appoint a new JP.

In other action, the court approved a resolution authorizing Troutman to sign resolutions applying for several grants.

The Woodlawn Community is seeking $190,000 to renovate and restore the community/senior center.

The Martin Loop Park is seeking $8,583 to resurface the playground and buy new equipment.

The sheriff’s office is seeking two General Improvement Fund grants totaling $79,000 to repair and rewire part of the Lonoke
County Jail.


The county had intended to build a 17-bed addition to the jail, but the low bid was about 50 percent higher than anticipated, and the bid was rejected.

After talking with the apparent low bidder and factoring in cost-savings changes, the cost of expanding the jail dropped about $100,000 to $495,000, but the building committee members said Tuesday that they weren’t about to recommend spending that much money for 17 new beds.

Odom said he liked the idea of building a no-frills jail for about $2.2 million, using inmate labor when possible.

Justice Lynn Clarke is investigating the feasibility of redirecting revenues from existing taxes to pay off a new $4.5 million jail.

Also under consideration is adding space to the existing jail by building in the middle of the U-shaped building.

Attending that building committee meeting were justices Odom, Lynn Clarke, Mark Edwards and Donna Pederson, and Sheriff Jim Roberson and former Justice Pete Pedersen.

TOP STORY > >Phone calls irk Sherwood

Leader staff writer

“It’s like someone’s piping negativity into our city,” Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said Friday afternoon after being bombarded by calls about a telemarketing survey.

“I got the first call about 11:30 this morning, and residents have been calling since, and they are very upset,” she said.

The survey company, identified as ARM Services, asks residents their opinion on the city condemning the golf course property and emphasizes that the final cost of the takeover could be millions of dollars.

Then, Hillman said, the marketers quickly start asking questions about the annexation of Gravel Ridge, which Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents will vote on March 11. “And all the questions are very negative about Sherwood, or about the cost of this or that,” she said.

“Our people are real upset by this blitz and this has to be costing somebody a lot of money,” she added. “We may be divided over the golf course issue, but I can tell the city is united in wanting Gravel Ridge and these calls aren’t coming from anyone here in the city,” she said.

“I don’t know whose idea this is, but negative campaigning usually backfires, and this will too,” Hillman said.

Hillman even called Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim to see if he could shed any light on the calls. He knew said he knew nothing about it.

“We certainly have not authorized or paid for any kind of polling or survey. I’m as interested in finding out what’s going on as Mayor Hillman,” Swaim said.

Jacksonville voted Feb. 5 to an-nex Gravel Ridge. If the Sherwood and Gravel Ridge voters say no to bringing Gravel Ridge into Sherwood, then Jacksonville gets the community.

If the Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents say yes, then another election is set for April 1, when just Gravel Ridge residents will vote for either Sherwood or Jacksonville as the city that gets them.

Alderman Butch Davis was one of the many Sherwood residents to be called Friday. “The first question was about the golf course,” he said. “They asked, ‘Did you know that the golf course could end up costing more than $9 million? With that in mind, do you think the mayor and city council are spending your money wisely?’

“Naturally, I said yes,” Davis said, “but I have no idea where they got that figure. Nothing that high has ever been discussed.”

He said then questions turned toward annexation, and again the cost to the city of Sherwood.

“I asked the lady where I could see the results of the survey, but she didn’t know,” Davis said. He added that a neighbor, who was also called, was told by the telemarketer that the group was in Oklahoma.

“But they gave him a different company name than they gave me,” Davis said.

“It’s really kind of underhanded,” Davis said about the survey.

“One of our residents started asking the telemarketer questions and was told that an Ann Garrett was behind the survey,” Hillman said.

There is an Ann Garrett living in Jacksonville, but a call to the residence got her husband Paul who said her wife was at her manufacturing job in Cabot and was not a political activist.

“Now had you asked for me,” Paul Garrett said, “I do get involved on political issues, but I don’t know nothing about this and can guarantee that my wife doesn’t either.”

A call to the company’s toll-free number provided by Sherwood residents who had it show up on their caller-ID system produced a recording stating that the company had called conducting a marketing-research survey and was not trying to sell anything.

The recording said the firm was open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday Central time and to leave a message. There was a short pause, but after a short delay, it came back on and said no one was there to take a message and then disconnected.

TOP STORY > > No Asian mall for Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

Despite a hoped-for sale of Jacksonville Shopping Center, the city’s oldest strip mall now sits half empty as plans to turn it into an Asian mall have fallen through.

Some long-time tenants were given non-renewal notices of their leases, while others said they chose to leave. At least one business closed.

“Some leases expired and others wanted to move,” Mike Wilson said. Wilson owns the 12-acre, 130,000-square-foot

Jacksonville Shopping Center with Jim Peacock and Jim O’Brien, under the real estate company MJMJ LLC.

Storefronts formerly occupied by Stroman’s Furniture, Abdin Jewelers, Crafton’s Furniture and Executive Cleaners are now vacant.

Sue Khoo — owner of Unique Furniture, which occupies the 638 section of the shopping center — had hoped to buy the shopping center by the end of January. Many tenants expected she would soon own the property, but for now, MJMJ LLC is still its owner.

“Right now, there are no plans to sell it,” Wilson said.

Business owners who occupied Jacksonville Shopping Center heard last summer that Khoo had announced plans to buy the strip mall. Some tenants did not receive official word that they would have to leave until last month.

They believed Khoo had plans to create an Asian-inspired shopping complex with restaurants and a grocery store.

Khoo had proposed buying the strip mall that occupies the entire 600 block of West Main Street. She now leases the 35,000-square-foot space for her business, in addition to three other businesses, from MJMJ LLC.

A “for rent” sign now sits in the lawn on Main Street in front of the shopping center. Wilson said a grocery store will rent one of the vacant spots.

Chamber’s Drug has occupied its space since the 50s. Owner Ron Lucas expected the store would remain in its longtime space when Khoo made her plans public.

“We’re not moving anywhere,” Lucas said this week.

A few doors down from Chamber’s, the store Abdin Jewelers occupied for 43 years is now empty.

Crafton’s and Abdin Jewelers have moved to 2126 N. First in the old Wal-Mart shopping center in Jacksonville.

Stroman’s also moved into its new space on the other side of Jacksonville this month, to 1811 N. First St., next to Payless Shoes.

That Little Flea Market was the first to receive notice. Jim Peacock gave owner Mary Little notice to vacate 632 W. Main last summer, she said.

Little leased her space in the Jacksonville Shopping Center for 15 years. After getting notice she would have to move, she now rents at 345 S. James St. in the Knight’s grocery store complex.

After five months in her new store, customers are still surprised to find she moved, she said.

“Some people still come over and say, ‘We found you!’” she said. “They done screwed up,” Little said about the shopping center owners. “I feel like it was nasty and ugly,” she said.

Referring to Khoo, she said, “They shouldn’t have made plans for her before they had everything straightened out.”

Little said her business was able to withstand the move. “I’m satisfied now, they can have it,” she said, referring to her old location.

Khoo now rents the space That Little Flea Market once occupied. She also leases the store that houses TS Beauty Supply at 640 W. Main, which has posted a notice on its door stating it will move to the space Stroman’s occupied for 10 years.

Khoo also leases the Unique Connection Center, in the former Jax movie theater building, occupied by Sun De Yao, a boxing and tai-chi teacher.

TOP STORY > > County gets drug grant

Leader senior staff writer

John P. Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, on Wednesday designated Pulaski, Jefferson, Benton and Washington counties as new counties in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, making them eligible for money and assistance to help control trafficking.

“This is an early step in the process,” said Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay. “We’re very excited that we’ve been designated.”

He said his office would meet with local police departments to see what else they can do to stop drug trafficking.

“We’ve been working toward this for a long while,” Holladay said. “Now we’re on the road, so we’re very pleased.”

Holladay said it was too early to know what the financial implications of the designation were and what changes and improvements would be implemented.

“The designation of Benton, Jefferson, Pulaski and Washington counties into the Gulf Coast HIDTA will support the important work already being done at the state and local levels in Arkansas,” said Walters. “Working in collaboration with law enforcement professionals on the frontlines of our streets, the HIDTA program enhances operational capabilities, and its expansion will help disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations in Arkansas and across the nation.”

Law enforcement officials in those counties will use the new Federal resources to coordinate investigations, and interdiction efforts against Mexican methamphetamine trafficking in Arkansas, as well as the abundance of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories.

“While our local and state law enforcement have done an exemplary job keeping our families and communities safe, the fact is that Arkansas’s geographic location makes it a battleground in our nation’s fight against illegal drugs,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

“We have been working for a long time for this HIDTA designation, and I’m pleased that our state will receive the critical federal resources, technology, and manpower needed to fight the drug problem in Arkansas more effectively.”

“I’m pleased our persistence to receive this designation has paid off,” said Sen. Mark Pryor. “As a result, these counties will receive much-needed firepower to combat drug activities, including more manpower, coordination and federal dollars to keep our communities safe.”

“This additional funding is an invaluable resource for central Arkansas law enforcement agencies,” said Cong. Vic Snyder. “This support will improve the important and sometimes dangerous coordinated efforts of those who dedicate their lives to eradicating drug trafficking in our state.”

The 26 new HIDTA counties are located in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. The newly designated HIDTA counties have demonstrated that: their location is a significant center of illegal drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution, according to Walters.

The HIDTA program provides additional federal resources to those areas to help eliminate or reduce drug trafficking and its harmful consequences. Law enforcement organizations within HIDTAs assess drug trafficking problems and design specific initiatives and strategies to reduce or eliminate the production, manufacture, transportation, distribution and chronic use of illegal drugs and money laundering.

About 14 percent of all U.S. counties are now designated.

TOP STORY > >Mayor hosts traffic summit

Leader staff writer

Last year, when Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams hosted a traffic summit, he took high ranking elected officials and bureaucrats on a tour of many of the problems in the city and asked their help in beginning to solve them.

Friday afternoon, many of those same people were again on a bus donated by the Church of Christ and driven by Realtor Bill O’Brien for a tour of some of the achievements of the past year as well as the areas the mayor would like help with in 2008.

“If you have to do it alone, it will overrun you pretty quick,” the mayor said.

From his spot at the front of the church bus, the mayor introduced Cong. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, Sen. Bobby Glover, D-
Carlisle, and “the honorable” Charlie Troutman, Lonoke County judge.

Troutman partnered with the city on several projects in 2007 such as completing South Rockwood and replacing bridges on First Street, and he is helping widen Locust Street this year. Troutman says as Cabot grows, the county collects more in sales tax, so what’s good for Cabot is good for Lonoke County.

His teasing response to Williams’ introduction showed that he understands well the nature of their association.

“When you say honorable, I know you want something,” Troutman told the mayor.

As the bus rolled past the construction site for a $7.2 million railroad overpass connecting Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38, Williams was surprised to learn from Highway Department officials that the overpass might not be completed in the summer of 2008 as he believed it would be, but in the summer of 2009.

But when the summit was over, he called Southern Pavers, the contractors on the project and was told it is running behind because of the weather, but it should be completed this September.

On the Hwy. 38 end of the overpass, the bus rolled past Shadow Creek, a subdivision of large homes that were annexed into Austin, not Cabot. But Williams said all the homes in that area would eventually benefit from the overpass and the north interchange that he hopes will be built soon in connection with the overpass.

From the Hwy. 367 end of the overpass, he pointed to the route the proposed north interchange would take.

Continuing to Austin onramp to U.S. 67-167, the tour included a demonstration of the difficulty of left turns from the freeway to Hwy. 5, and the improvements on Hwy. 321, where re-striping has created a turn lane that keeps traffic from backing up.

Back at the community center where the rolling tour began, the mayor learned during the presentation phase of the summit that the Highway Department will allow the traffic light he wants at South Rockwood and Hwy. 5, which sees 10 or 12 wrecks a month, if the city will find the money to pay for it.

With 16,440 miles of highway to maintain, the state, like the city, is short of money.

The needs for the next 10 years are estimated to cost $19 billion, while the revenue to pay for those needs is estimated at only $4 billion.

Still, the first step in getting any project completed is to have a plan, Williams learned during the last summit.

This year, with the help of Metroplan, the city adopted a master street plan and a plan for controlling traffic on Hwy. 321, which is expected to be a major commercial area.

In addition to opening South Rockwood and replacing the First Street Bridges, the completed projects this year include revamping the exit 16 interchange, reconfiguring the intersection of Hwy. 89 and North Rockwood to allow two turn lanes into Wal-Mart and tweaking the timing of traffic lights so traffic flows smoother.

None of those projects were done without the help of those who attended the traffic summit.

“Without help, this city would go under,” the mayor told those who assembled for the summit.

TOP STORY > >Locals oppose landfill growth

Leader staff writer

Two Pine Landfill plans a 239-acre expansion of its facility, bringing the landfill across the North Belt Loop and closer to Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville resident Joey Price and others are against the idea because the dump would be near their homes in south Jacksonville.

“This will be a 24-year project that will bring 34 million cubic tons of trash to our front door,” Price told the city council on Thursday. “It will not be a good way to introduce people to Jacksonville.”

He also said a second landfill would violate federal highway beautification laws and cause flooding in nearby Dupree Park.

Price said that traffic count figures show more than 2.5 million cars a month drive through the I-440-Hwy. 67/167 area south of the city, and theexpansion will not shed any kind of positive light on to the city.

“That is the front yard of our city,” said Alderman Marshall Smith.

The company operating the landfill, Waste Management, has asked for a draft permit from the state to allow for the expansion. The public-comment segment of that process ended Tuesday.

“We turned in our objections on Monday and the state is well aware of our concerns,” Price said as he presented each council member with a binder that included the objection letter signed by about 140 residents, maps of the area, copies of federal laws that Price and others believe are being violated by the expansion, and other items related to the case.

Agreeing with Price’s concerns, Alderman Terry Sansing said, “This clearly contradicts what we are trying to do with our city and the image we want to project.”

Mayor Tommy Swaim was asked what steps the city could take. The mayor said this was a draft permit, and the company would have to clear a number of other hurdles before it could actually start the expansion. The city, he explained, could let its wishes be known during those steps.

David Conrad, a representative for Waste Management Inc., said the company was in a unique situation. “We already have a permit that allows us to use both sides of I-440 for our operations.”

He said that when I-440 was built, the state came in through the middle of Waste Management’s property, condemning what was needed for the interstate, but leaving company land on the north side of I-440.

Price said the plans for the expansion violate federal highway beautification laws that President Lyndon Johnson signed into law back in the 60s. Price was also concerned about flooding. The expansion into the lower lands north of I-440, Price said, would displace more water into Dupree Park.

Alderman Gary Fletcher was very concerned about this. “We’ve spent a lot of money, time and effort making Dupree Park one of our premier parks and now it’s going to flood more.”

Conrad said that plans called for the company to build a channel to collect the displaced water.

“But that water is still going to end up in the Bayou Meto with no place to go but Dupree Park,” Alderman Bob Stroud said.

“I just don’t like this idea at all,” Sansing said.

Conrad said he would be happy to come back and answer more questions the city has about the planned expansion.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SPORTS >>Nettleton sends Falcons to brink with big victory

Leader sports editor

The one thing North Pulaski head coach Ray Cooper could hold on to throughout this tumultuous season was that his Falcons controlled their own postseason destiny. That all changed last Friday night.

Nettleton completed a two-game sweep of the Falcons with a 68-60 win, giving the Raiders the decided advantage in the battle for the final state playoff berth from the 5A-East. Now, Nettleton, which along with North Pulaski is 7-5 in league play, controls its own postseason hopes. By winning out against Beebe and Paragould, the Raiders would eliminate the Falcons from postseason contention. But the Falcons can’t worry about what Nettleton is doing. They still have their own business to take care of, beginning with a battle with conference co-leader Wynne last night. A loss in either that game or against Paragould on Friday would also dash the Falcons’ state playoff hopes.

“I told them to finish, to keep control of what we can control,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to go out and compete and let the chips fall where they may.”

It was Wynne that set the Falcons reeling midway through this season when the Yellowjackets came into Jacksonville and edged North Pulaski. The following night, the Falcons dropped another home game, this one to Nettleton, and NP was on its way to losing four of five games.

North Pulaski led by two points at the half after attacking inside against big Nettleton post man Otto Collins. The Falcons shut out the burly Collins in the first half, and sent him to the bench with three fouls.

But Collins scored 18 points in the second half and the Falcons got away from the game plan to take it inside.

“We knew he was the only presence they had inside and the only match-up problem we had defensively,” Cooper said. “We were doubling down on him. He would turn into us and initiate contact, but they were calling the fouls on us.”

As a result, Daquan Bryant, Cliff Harrison and Carlos Donley all fouled out. Nettleton took a 43-37 lead after three periods and grew the lead to 10 in the final quarter.

Though the Falcons were able to whittle the deficit to as few as four points, Nettleton hit 17-of-19 free throws in the fourth period to hold on.

“In the second half, [Nettleton] went into a 2-3 zone and we didn’t attack it very well,” Cooper said. “We settled for jump shots instead. We went cold. It was pretty much all [NP guard Aaron Cooper] in the final period.”

Cooper led the Falcons (14-10 overall) with 21 points on four three-pointers. Cliff Harrison added eight, while Bryant, Ridge Williams and Kelvin Parker chipped in seven apiece.

Now, North Pulaski must take care of its own business and hope for some help from Beebe or Paragould.

“Beebe is very well coached,” Cooper said. “They shoot it well and they handle it well. They’re very dangerous. They can beat anybody on any given night. I’ll be pulling for them. But we have to be totally focused on Wynne.”

SPORTS >>Bald Knob edges out Lonoke girls in district finals

Leader sportswriter

BALD KNOB — A putback by Desiree White at the buzzer gave the Bald Knob girls their only lead of the game, and the 2-4A District championship with a 27-26 win over Lonoke on Saturday at Bulldog Arena.

Lonoke led the entire way, but a 9-0 run for the Lady Bulldogs over the last 4:55 of the game helped the Bald Knob girls back up their regular-season league title. The Lady ’Rabbits kept the game low scoring, which on most occasions throughout the season meant victory, but BK junior guard Phagen Altom sparked a rally with a steal that she took coast to coast for a layup with 7:14 to play that cut the Lonoke lead to 22-18.

Lonoke had built a lead as high as ten points during the third. Asiah Scribner scored four points inside to put the Lady ’Rabbits up by six, with free throws by Michaela Brown and Cara Neighbors that extended it to 22-12 at the 2:07 mark.

Altom’s steal and layup to start the third quarter served as Bald Knob’s only points in the frame until, with seven seconds left, Brittany Fulks scored inside to cut Lonoke’s lead to eight as they entered the fourth quarter.

“Low scoring favors you until you have a let- down and give up 14 points in the fourth quarter,” Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris said. “You can’t let that kind of thing happen, but even then, we still had a chance to win. We needed one laststop, but that three pointer they had at the end was huge in a close game like this one.”

Chelsea Kyle drew the Lady Bulldogs to within a single point when she hit a three pointer that put Bald Knob to within one with 2:46 left. Lonoke turned it over with 1:20 left, and the Lady Bulldogs held for one last shot.

Post Khali Garner got the first call inside with five seconds left, but her shot bounced just off the cylinder, and White was there for the instant putback as time expired.

A half-second was ultimately put back on the clock for one last shot, but Lonoke could not convert.

Despite the loss, Morris said there are plenty of things to take from the game.

“This will help us out down the road,” Morris said. “You know you’re going to keep drawing tight games in region and state. It’s a tough way to end it, but it’s going to make us better down the stretch.”

With the win, Bald Knob claimed both the 2-4A Conference title, and district championship. The Lady Bulldogs will once again play host this week at the Class 4A East Region tournament. Bald Knob will be the No. 1 seed from District 2, and will play District 3 No. 4 seed Jonesboro Westside today at 4 p.m.

The Lady Jackrab-bits will be the No. 2 seed out of District 2, and will play Pocahontas, the No. 3 seed from District 3, tomorrow at 7 p.m. It is a first-round rematch of last year’s regional finals, which the Lady Jackrabbits won on a last-second inbounds play on their way to the state finals.

“A coach will tell you that those four or five days between the end of the district tournament and the start of regionals are the longest days of the year,” Morris said.

“Pocahontas is a tough team. They come out with a man-to-man defense, and they drive to the basket hard. It’s game-to-game from here; we’ll see where we end up.”

SPORTS >>Cabot holds on for close victory

Leader sportswriter

Add Cabot head coach Jerry Bridges to the list of coaches who don’t enjoy the endless seed scenarios that dominate basketball discussions this time of year.

And, yet, the Panthers find themselves right in the middle of one of those scenarios.
The Panthers held off Pine Bluff for a vital 59-57 win last Friday on the road, which kept them in the running for a No. 3 or No. 4 seed for the 7A state tournament.

Cabot has known for nearly two weeks now that it was making a playoff appearance for the first time in 31 years with at least a No. 6 seed. The close wins and losses since then (five straight games decided by two points or less) have only added to the seeding confusion.

“As long as we’re in the thing, I could care less to be honest with you,” Bridges said. “Give us the No. 6 seed, bring on the three-seed out of the West. I don’t care. We’ll just beat them and prove that if we came out of the West, we would deserve at least a No. 3 seed; that’s the way I look at that.”

The win over Pine Bluff was led by the dual junior attack of Austin Johnson and Adam Sterrenberg. Johnson led with 22 points, and Sterrenberg added 20 points for the Panthers.

At press time, Cabot sat in a tie for fourth place with Bryant, both with 7-6 records. The Panthers hold the tiebreaker after winning the first meeting by 11 points, compared to a two-point decision for Bryant last week. Conway, at 8-5, is only one game ahead of the Panthers in third, and North Little Rock sat a half-game behind in sixth placewith a 6-6 record in the 7A-Central Conference.

Bryant also played last night at Little Rock Central, and a loss by the Hornets and a win for Cabot will make the Panthers the No. 4 seed, whereas the opposite will land Bryant in the four-seed and Cabot a five.
With all that, Bridges said that teams should be thankful to just make it, and not get so caught up in the seeding.

“That’s all your football coaches bringing that stuff up,” Bridges said. “There’s not nearly as much parody in football as what we have. Let’s compare players — how many around the state have gone to the NBA as opposed to the NFL? Let’s see who really makes a big impact.

“I want to finish up as high as we can get, but that’s just because I don’t like to lose. You could probably put all eight teams from each conference in the tournament and still have a good one, but I realize that it has to mean something for teams to make it in.”

The Panthers are now 18-9 overall. Cabot hosted Russellville last night after Leader deadlines to finish out the regular season before the state tournament begins next Tuesday.

The Lady Panthers fell 53-50 to drop into a three-way tie for third place with Little Rock Central and Pine Bluff at 7-6.
Lauren Walker led the Lady Panthers with 23 points. Fellow senior and point guard Leah Watts added 19 points for Cabot. The Lady Panthers are now 16-10 on the season.

SPORTS >>Devils fall short

Leader sports editor

If Jacksonville enters the state tournament as low as a No. 3 seed — which appears more and more likely — they can chalk it up to several missed free throws and a lot of second chances for West Memphis on Friday night in the Devil’s Den.

The Red Devils made only 12-of-26 free throws and got out-rebounded by 14 in falling 54-52 to the Blue Devils.

Jacksonville got a basket by Terrell Eskridge with nine seconds left, and a steal on the other end, but couldn’t get off a potential game-winning shot when a desperation pass to Deshone McClure went off his hands and out of bounds as time expired.

The loss dropped the Red Devils to 9-3 in the 6A-East, a game behind the Blue Devils, who would seem to be a lock for the No. 2 seed with closing games against Marion and Searcy.

West Memphis still has a chance to win the regular-season title as first-place Jonesboro still has Forrest City at home (last night) and Jacksonville here on Friday.

Jacksonville has a two-game lead over Forrest City and owns the tiebreak with the Mustangs, so the Red Devils are assured of nothing worse than a three seed when the state tournament begins next week.

Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner said he couldn’t fault his team either for the poor free-throw shooting or for West Memphis’ dominance on the boards.

“They got guys a foot taller than your kids, that’s responsible for the second shots — and the lack of second shots on our end,” Joyner said. “We blocked out. I wasn’t disappointed at all with that.

“Our free throws have been on and off all year. It’s been hit and miss. We hit 87 percent in one game and then there are games when we hit 40 percent. It’s a psychological thing. You can’t harp on it. It’s not like the kids are going up there trying to miss.”

The Red Devils got a big game out of point guard Terrell Eskridge, the only senior on the team that sees significant action.
Eskridge took over the game in thefinal 1:43, when he scored six of Jacksonville’s final eight points. He provided the assist on the other basket.

Eskridge, who finished with 14 points, two assists and two blocks, hit a tough fall-away bank shot along the baseline with 1:43 left to get the Red Devils within 48-46. Trent Littlejohn, who ultimately provided the game-winning free throws for West Memphis, scored inside to extend the lead to four, but Eskridge drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws with 1:18 left.

Six-foot, seven-inch Michael Smith, one of three front line players 6-7 or taller for the Blue Devils, made a pair of free throws at the other end to push the lead to 52-48 with 43 seconds left. On the play, Demetrius Harris appeared to have a steal on Smith, but Harris was whistled for the foul

On the other end, Eskridge grabbed an offensive rebound and dished to Antwan Lockhart for a lay-up to again narrow the West Memphis lead to two with 25 seconds left.

Littlejohn made two free throws with 16 seconds left to extend the lead to four, setting up the furious finish. Eskridge drove the lane to score with nine seconds left. The Red Devils were able to chase down a long errant inbounds pass on the other side of the mid-court stripe, but it’s not certain McClure would have been able to launch the potential game-winner in time even had he corralled the long pass along the right elbow.

By going inside to Smith, 6-7 Ivan Reliford and 6-10 Anthony Borden, West Memphis was able to knock down 12-of-18 second-half shots, yet Joyner was anything but unhappy with his team’s defense.

“We made them make difficult shots,” he said. “The defense was solid and the kids followed the game plan of forcing their big men off the blocks. But they were knocking down 10-12 foot shots with our people right on them.”

With West Memphis playing a box-and-one on sophomore Deshone McClure, the Red Devils got some open looks in the corner, but made only 4-of-15 from beyond the arc. That, Joyner said, may have been more of a turning point than the free throw and rebounding woes.

“[LaQuinton Miles] had about four open three-pointers,” Joyner said. “If he hits those, they’re in trouble. I felt bad for him because he’s been struggling a little bit from outside. But he has such a passion for the game, and he and I went and worked on his shot [Sunday] for about an hour and a half.”

In addition to Eskridge’s 14 points, Lockhart scored 12, and McClure added 11. Miles added six and Harris had five points and six boards.

“Demetrius had a big game for us,” Joyner said. “And Antwan is only at about 75 percent. His ankle is still really sore, but he’s limping around out there battling with the big boys with all his heart.”

As far as Eskridge’s big game, Joyner said he has had that in him all year.

“Terrell has been a little frustrated all year because of the lack of experience of this team,” Joyner said. “He’s been taking a backseat to his teammates to try to get some confidence in them. He’s a totally unselfish kid. He can [take it to the basket] on almost any possession. But he has the mind frame that his role is to initiate the offense and not be the offense.”

Last night, the Red Devils traveled to Mountain Home, a trip that is always a difficult one, Joyner said.

“You’re already 10-12 points down when you get off the bus up there,” Joyner said. “We know what we’re getting ready to face. The kids just have to come out and know what they’re dealing with.

“But they know how to play with character in the face of adversity.”

SPORTS >>One last chance to shine

Leader sports editor

The state indoor meet in Fayetteville every February marks the beginning of high school track and field season in Arkansas.
This year, it will mark another beginning: The beginning of the end of one of the most dominant high school track careers this state has ever witnessed.

Searcy’s Whitney Jones is expected to cart home another parcel of hardware this weekend when she competes in the long jump, the triple jump, the 60 meters, the 200 meters and the 400 meters.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine the Lady Lion senior not winning the long jump — which has emerged this year as her best event — or the triple jump or the 60 or 200 meters. The 400 meters, one of her best events as a sophomore, may be the only one in doubt this weekend after injuries as a junior limited her effectiveness in that race last year.

Yet, here’s something to deflate the spirits of Jones’ closest competitors, who are all outstanding athletes in their own rights, but who no doubt have some idea how Phil Mickelson feels to have come along in the Tiger Woods era: Jones posted a time so low in the 400 meters that it surprised even her.

“I really don’t care for [the 400], but I think it’s my strongest event,” says Jones, who won the 400 at the Arkansas Track Coaches Association indoor meet at Fayetteville two weeks ago with a time of 58 seconds.
In other words, better make even more room in the trophy case.

You could fill up an entire article about Whitney Jones just listing her achievements: two-time defending heptathlon champion, triple jump All-American, triple jump state record holder, winner of four events at both the Meet of Champs and the 6A state meet last year, winner of two Meet of Champs events as a sophomore.

Or you could listen to Charlie Carroll, the Searcy track coach who has coached Jones since she was a seventh-grader.

“She’s the best athlete I’ve ever had, no question about that,” says Carroll, who has been at the school 16 years. “And not only is she the best athlete; she’s so pleasant to be around. Sometimes you get athletes as good as her that are prima donnas, that are hard to be around or are temperamental. She’s not like that.”

In fact, Carroll says, Jones has remained pretty much the same person she was when she was 12 years old and discovering her talents.

Always mature, he says, always serious and focused and studious and modest.

“She has always carried herself well,” he says. “Ten, 20 years from now, it’s going to be the same. It will. There are a handful of people like her.”

Fewer than that when you add her talent into the mix.

Jones made it official two weeks ago when she signed to run track with the University of Arkansas. She chose the Razorbacks over Miami, Ole Miss, Alabama and Kansas State.

“I had a checklist,” Jones says of her decision. “Arkansas was the only school with a masters program in sports training; it was close to home so my family can come and watch; I know the pastor of a church up there so I already have a church family and my dad’s brother lives up there so I have family.”

And, she adds, she has faith that Arkansas track coach Rolando Greene can help her reach her goals, one of which is to run professionally.

Carroll figures that once she gets to UA, and begins to narrow her events, the sky is the limit.

“What’s going to help her is when she and her coach zero in on one or two things that he sees in her and that she really likes doing, she’ll take off,” says Carroll, who considers the long jump and the 200 meters her two best events.

“I mean, she’s the best in state at the 100. But she just looks so pretty in the 200. When she turns that curve, she’s just so strong. That final 60 meters or so, she just looks pretty running.”

So, with her college chosen and with a senior season in which, barring the emergence of another prodigy, Jones will likely go unchallenged again, how can she stay motivated?

That could be her toughest obstacle, and she’s pretty honest about it.

“I’m really not that motivated for some reason,” she says, a fact she insists her father and AAU coach Wilfred Jones appears to understand.

But perhaps to motivate his daughter, Wilfred warned her there could always be another version of herself, exploding unexpected on the scene to blow everyone away. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, Jones says.

“I’m going to be ready for whoever comes out,” she says. “I hope there’s competition. Maybe there’d be more motivation. I’m sure I’d improve if I had more competition.”

Two years ago, when Jones was just coming on the high school scene, when she was the challenger and not the challenged, she showed just how big a part motivation can play.

At the 2006 state meet, she went head to head with Camden Fairview’s Karen Thomas in the triple-jump competition.
Each kept outdoing the other until Jones emerged with the title and a new state record at 39 feet, ¼ inch.

Last year, with no Thomas and no one else to push her, Jones tried to motivate herself by shooting for state records in her five events. But a nagging case of tendonitis in her knee hampered her — thought not enough to keep her from winning the long jump, triple jump, 100 meters and 200 meters in both the state meet and the Meet of Champs — and she failed to set any records.

This year, fully recovered from the injury, she claims she is not focusing on breaking records.

Carroll has his doubts about that.

“She may say that, but in real life, she competes against herself,” he said. “She has since she was a little girl because she out-runs and out-jumps everybody. This year, I guarantee you, she’s going to put one last pop on everybody.

“She going to say, ‘See you all, catch this stuff.’ I don’t care what she says. Inside her, there’s too much firepower.”

In late May, Jones will go for an unprecedented third-consecutive heptathlon title. The soft-spoken senior finally betrays that inner firepower her coach knows is always lurking

“I’m looking forward to winning the hep again,” she says with a laugh. “No one’s ever won it three times.”

EDITORIAL >>Tale of two chairmen

Asa Hutchinson and Sheffield Nelson, who once shared the chairmanship of the Arkansas Republican Party and repeatedly frustrated ambitions for high office, re-emerged this winter from the shadows of history. We like the reincarnated Nelson better.

Nelson has driven the movement to reverse the state’s shameful legacy and finally collect a small recompense for the exploitation of an evaporating natural resource that has been virtually given away for 50 years. He proposes an initiated act that would impose a real severance tax on the natural gas produced from Arkansas soil. The tax receipts from gas shipments would match federal aid to repair and rebuild highways, roads and streets and to curtail tuition increases at state colleges and universities.

Hutchinson, true to his past, wants the big gas companies to keep all the money and maximize their profits. While he acknowledges the need for more money for highways, Hutchinson would take it from the schools, colleges and health care. Arkansas school children are better candidates in Hutchinson’s mind to shoulder the cost of highway maintenance than are the Texas and Oklahoma companies that pipe Arkansas gas to the Ohio River Valley and beyond.

Asa!, which was the logo of his 2006 race for governor, outlined his plan in an op-ed article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Hutchinson has been reasserting his leadership of the party, which he led to massive defeats in the 2006 election. In recent missives to party leaders, he has called for intense recruitment of Republican candidates for elections in 2010. The party is pretty much surrendering in the 2008 election. Stymieing a severance tax and highway program will serve as adequate achievement for 2008.

Hutchinson misstates the case for a severance tax by raising fears that everyone’s utility bills would shoot up. But as Nelson pointed out as long ago as the 1970s when he was running the state’s largest gas utility, little of Arkansas’ severance tax would be passed on to Arkansas homeowners and businesses because of the configuration of the distribution system.

Most of the gas consumed by Arkansas homeowners comes from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana and the companies pass those states’ severance taxes on to us. The gas produced from the freshly developing Fayetteville shale play is being exported almost altogether to other states. If Chesapeake and Southwestern Energy, the largest producers, pass the tax on it will be to industries and homeowners in other states. Those companies are piping some 425 million cubic feet a day from the state.

Oh, but the owners of mineral rights will have to pay an eighth of the tax and it would be a crushing reduction in their windfalls, Hutchinson warned. The thousands of owners, many of them individuals, indeed would typically pay an eighth of the tax, but it would be a minuscule burden. Like the big energy companies, they deduct the taxes from their state and federal tax returns, which means the government would absorb much of the tax.

Hutchinson also raised the specter that Arkansas would raise taxes higher than the gas-producing states to the west. Nelson’s 7 percent would be the same as Oklahoma’s and less than Texas’. But Texas doesn’t have an income tax and Oklahoma’s is lower than Arkansas’, he said. Texas has a heavy franchise tax that taxes corporate income and capital, and Oklahoma’s tax is virtually identical to Arkansas’. Texas land and royalty owners pay a much higher property tax on resources than Arkansans do.

Arkansas badly needs a new source of taxes for highways and the rest of the transportation infrastructure, Hutchinson acknowledged. Like a good Bush Republican, he offered a pain-free way to do it. Since the state is rolling in surplus money, he said, the legislature should earmark sales taxes from the sale of automotive parts and services for the highways. That’s what he would do if he were governor. The schools would not miss $50 million to $75 million, he implies.

If Hutchinson kept up with fiscal developments, he would know that the surpluses disappeared after Gov. Beebe and the legislature halved the sales tax on groceries. Before the year is out, the state will be cutting allocations to education and other general services.

Let us be thankful again for the 2006 election verdict and be hopeful that the Republican Party hews to the progressive leadership of the Nelsons, not the Hutchinsons

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TOP STORY > >Halter promotes lottery for education

Leader editor

Lieut. Gov. Bill Halter’s job isn’t all that demanding. He’s required to preside over the Legislature when it meets every two years and the occasional special session, so he’s spending much of his time promoting a lottery amendment that will go before the voters in November if he gets enough signatures for the proposal.

According to the proposed amendment, all proceeds from the lottery would go toward scholarships and grants for Arkansas residents who attend two-year and four-year colleges. Halter thinks the lottery would produce $100 million in revenues a year after prizes and administrative costs. Critics think that figure is too optimistic.

But Halter is convinced that amount could be raised for college students, providing them with opportunities for an education they might otherwise not have. In an interview with The Leader on Friday, Halter said Arkansas ranks 49th in the nation in the number of college graduates.

“How do we move up from 49th?” Halter asked. He’s convinced that a lottery devoted to education is the way to go.

“We need to do something dramatic,” the lieutenant governor said. “We can have a big impact on scholarships. Funding would be exclusively for colleges.

“Five of six states bordering Arkansas have lotteries,” Halter said, explaining the only nearby state that doesn’t have a lottery is Mississippi, which is cash-rich with casino revenues. Halter says many Arkansans cross state lines to buy lottery tickets, and he wants them to spend their money at home instead.

The state AFL-CIO has endorsed Halter’s initiative. Halter is trying to gather 78,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Halter, of North Little Rock, is a former Rhodes Scholar and chief operating officer of the Social Security program during the Clinton administration. He also served as an economic adviser in the Clinton White House.

Halter is a business consultant who serves on the board of Threshold Pharmaceuticals, which is trying to develop cancer-fighting drugs. Sheffield Nelson, a former utility executive, is also gathering signatures for a ballot proposal that would raise the severance tax on natural gas producers.

The additional income would go for state highways as well as education. The lieutenant governor said 42 states and the District of Columbia have lotteries. The only states without lotteries are those with casinos — Nevada is another such state besides Mississippi — and those with strong religious feelings against gambling, such as Utah, North Carolina and Alabama and, of course, Arkansas, or Alaska, which is rich in oil income and doesn’t need revenues from a lottery.
Wyoming doesn’t have a lottery either, presumably because it doesn’t have enough people to support a lottery.

Critics accuse lottery proponents of exaggerating the potential income for education. Illinois, for example, has just the type of lottery that Halter is proposing for Arkansas. All lottery profits must go for education, but according to a recent report, even though Illinois sells more than $1.59 billion in lottery tickets a year, education received only $555 million from those ticket sales.

That figure is only about 7.7 percent of what the state contributes to education. Combined with federal, state and local contributions, the lottery represents only about 3 percent of the $18.6 billion Illinois spends on education each year.

A study at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., concluded: “Regardless of when or where the lottery operated, education spending declined once a state put a lottery into effect....This study indicates that states without lotteries actually maintain and increase their education spending more so than states with lotteries.... Hence, citizens should recognize that claims that lotteries will improve education funding are likely to be as misleading as their odds of winning those lotteries are meager.”

Critics point out that lotteries overplay the chances of winning, with most prizes turning out to be only token payments, such as free lottery tickets.

Halter said he doesn’t accept contributions from lottery firms. He believes lotteries are a good way to provide educational opportunities for Arkansas students.

The games are run by a handful of private firms, such as Automatic Wagering, Scientific Games and G-TECH, which pocket hefty administrative fees, anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent, although some of the money goes to convenience stores that sell the tickets.

“I respect people’s opinion if they don’t like this funding mechanism, but we’re not stopping Arkansans from buying tickets out of state,” Halter said.

He thinks he can keep that money at home and help students further their education. He doesn’t like to call his campaign for a lottery an obsession, but Halter thinks it would raise many Arkansans out of poverty through education.

Critics say those who buy the tickets could end up in poverty as they chase the elusive dream of huge winnings. Gambling problems are one of the side effects of lotteries, which states often fail to address.

TOP STORY > >Traffic summit set for Cabot

Leader staff writer

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams started his first year in office with a traffic summit that brought county, state and national leaders to Cabot for a tour of areas with the worst traffic congestion.

Since then, the state has widened and re-striped some congested areas; the city has helped the county complete South Rockwood from Hwy. 5 to Wal-Mart; and a new traffic light has gone up on Hwy. 5 to help get evening rush-hour traffic off the freeway.

The mayor says his first attempt at fostering goodwill and bringing attention to the city’s needs was such a success that he’s doing it again Friday afternoon with a second annual traffic summit, starting with a tour at noon and a meeting at 1 p.m. at the community center.

His invited guests include Cong. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, Arkansas Highway commissioner Carl Rosenbaum, State Sen. Bobby Glover, D- Carlisle, and Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman.

Discussion will include three projects: The first is a reconfiguration of the Hwy. 5 interchange that would include installing a traffic light at Hwy. 5 and S. Rockwood, exiting freeway traffic onto South Rockwood instead of Hwy. 5 and turning the exit ramp into an entrance ramp. The second will be adding center turn lanes and widening Hwy. 89. The last will be building a north interchange in connection with the $6.4 million overpass that is now under construction in Cabot and expected to be completed this year.

Metroplan, which distributes federal money for road projects, estimates the overpass together with a north interchange will take 4,000 to 5,000 cars a day out of downtown Cabot. The overpass alone will not relieve downtown traffic, but it will keep about 100 buses off the railroad tracks.

The overpass, which will connect Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38, is the first phase of a three-phase plan to eventually connect Hwy. 5 to Hwy. 38. Phase two would connect the overpass to a north interchange and phase three would connect the overpass to Hwy. 5.

Asked this week if he truly believes the north interchange will be funded in the near future, Williams said, “I’m hanging my hat on that.”Williams said the state only agreed to build the overpass if the plans also included a third interchange.

Metroplan has identified $200 million in work that needs to be done in Cabot, including widening Hwy. 89, which has been identified as the third most congested street in central Arkansas, at a cost of about $20 million.

When that Metroplan study was released last year, Cabot had about $2 million in bond money for streets, much of which is being spent for repairs. A growing population gets the city a bigger cut of state tax money for streets, but Williams says the only way Cabot’s needs can be met is through partnering with the state and county so that city money goes farther.

TOP STORY > >Group is collecting ideas for planning

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville city officials are considering a consultant’s report of a recent strategy meeting on the city’s development.

When representatives from business and city government gathered last week to discuss how they envision Jacksonville meeting the city’s future needs and the improvements needed now, the session was taken as an opportunity by many attendees to air their concerns. Mayor Tommy Swaim asked Mary Dillard, a strategic planner based in Farmington, to lead the session.

“I thought it went well, everyone seemed to be positive and upbeat,” Dillard said Tuesday. “Everyone said they were pleased that everyone seemed in agreement.”

Dillard has worked for Jacksonville on various campaigns, including sales tax increases that helped contribute funds for the community center, financed sewer improvements and helped build Jacksonville’s new library, which is scheduled to open this fall.

She said it’s helpful to have someone not involved in the day-to-day operations of the city to lead such a strategy session. “It’s kind of a luxury to use a facilitator,” she said.

Dillard would not disclose how much she would be paid for the development session.
She thought main concerns at the meeting — to improve traffic flow and city beautification — are feasible goals.

“One of the most striking things was how proud this bunch was of the progress and things happening in Jacksonville,” she said.

“My role is not to be an advice person but to facilitate their discussion and in this role. My job is to be neutral,” Dillard said.

She has not yet heard if Swaim will decide if the planning session will develop into a more involved strategy to improve the city. The city council could look into how and if the group’s recommendations, summarized in a report by Dillard, should be followed.

“My experience working with other organizations is they tend to look at big picture stuff every few years,” Dillard said. “At this stage they will look at the report and decide.”

“I sent a summary of the meeting to the mayor and he will share it with staff to see if everything was captured correctly. What I give them back is feedback from the meeting,” she said.

“They will edit it and narrow things down and look at developing a wish list, and what are (their) priorities,” she added.

Dillard said she thought the meeting was successful. “People left feeling good about their work,” she said. “One thing they talked about is how proud they are,” she said. Dillard believes Jacksonville’s leadership has remained stable.

Dillard said she is pleased with the city’s leadership. She did say she took away a sense that the discussion group wanted more community involvement among Jacksonville residents. “We did an exercise on all the ways in which citizens could be more involved,” she said.

Many attendees at last week’s meeting said they were concerned that the city’s population has not grown. They said better services are needed to attract young families and the need for a sense of community.

Some said they wanted an independent school system, separate from the Pulaski County Special School District. There has been legal action initiated to attain an independent district.

“The biggest thing holding Jacksonville back is the schools,” Alderman Bob Stroud said.

“Our concern was over flight,” parks commissioner Bobby Altom said about people looking to move to the area. “They were directed away from Jacksonville,” he complained. Altom said, “The one thing Jacksonville can do to ensure a successful future (is to have) our own school system.”

“Jacksonville is not growing like other places are,” Jack Danielson, a water commissioner, said during the meeting held at the community center. The six-hour meeting began with conversation about what the city lacks.

After two hours of discussion, the group of about 30 — including Swaim, city aldermen, city employees, city commissioners and business owners — selected their top concerns as the need for school improvement, improvement of transportation and roads, maintaining the city’s good relations with Little Rock Air Force Base and attracting youth and families to the city.

Many attendees talked about the need for better services to attract young families and the need for a sense of community among its residents. Transportation problems were also discussed, specifically the widening of Hwy. 67/167.

Judy Beale of Dupree Brothers Ltd. said for Jacksonville to be a true destination, Hwy. 67/167 would have to be widened and the North Belt Loop completed. Concerns about Jacksonville’s appearance and crime rate were also expressed.

Bart Gray said he thought the city should “make people feel secure in their own homes.” Alderman Bill Howard said he is concerned about the city’s appearance. He complained that “unsightly conditions of the town” prevent people from moving into Jacksonville.

“I agree people come in and won’t locate here,” Alderman Marshall Smith said, pointing out that the city’s abandoned buildings add to its unsightliness. He later suggested the city should hire Rambo to clean up Jacksonville.

Alderman Gary Fletcher said aging housing deteriorates the city’s appearance.

“A lot of people relocate because of the air base,” parks commissioner Joey Price said.

Most attendees said partnering with the air base is critical, but they said the condition of the city might be stopping people from relocating permanently.

TOP STORY > >New chief hired for schools in Lonoke

Leader senior staff writer

It’s likely to be more of the same at the Lonoke School District, and board members must like it that way because Monday night they unanimously offered the superintendent’s job to Assistant Superintendent John Tackett, 45.

Current Superintendent Sharron Havens has announced her retirement effective at the end of this school year. She said on Tuesday that Tackett had worked closely with her for the last six years as the district undertook an ambitious building program and worked to improve the academics.

“It will be an easy transition,” Havens said. “He’s a very visionary person, looking for the future.”
The board considered applications from 20 job seekers before interviewing Tackett and the other finalist, Geary Brown, currently the Texarkana assistant superintendent, on Monday evening.

The credentials of the other applicants were impressive, with nine of them holding doctorate degrees and four others in doctorate programs. “He’s been a great person to work with,” Havens said of Tackett. “Very professional and knowledgeable whether its about the curriculum or facilities. He’s very well rounded.”

Tackett, a Lonoke resident since at least his high school days, has been the assistant superintendent since July 2002. Before that, he served the district as high school principal for one year and middle school principal for six years.

Tackett also served as principal at both Jacksonville-area junior high schools. As assistant superintendent, he’s been responsible for everything from instruction to the facilities master plan, Havens said.

He was unavailable for comment Tuesday because he was at a recruiting fair looking for teachers. Tackett has an undergraduate degree in French and international studies, a master’s degree in education administration and a doctorate from UALR, where he is an adjunct professor. Tackett is associate pastor for Apostolic Church of Lonoke. His parents live in Lonoke and his two children attend school in the district.

“He cares a lot about the community and school,” Havens said. In other business, the board voted unanimously to hire a Lonoke firm to keep the district’s 38 acres of grass mowed this year. Jared Skinner’s Lawn and Leaf Service’s bid of $29.47 an acre per cutting was the fifth-lowest bid, but in recent years, the low bidders have either quit or proven unsatisfactory midway through the contract, leaving the board members to question the lowest of the bids.

Last year, Skinner stepped in when the original bidder and his workers were unable to keep up with the demand, and the board decided they wanted to reward him for his good work by giving him the contract. Bids ranged from $17.17 an acre to $55 an acre.

Although Havens originally recommended the low bidder for a three-month trial period, she told board members that Skinner’s recommendations were all very positive. “There’s no question that Jared’s work is the best quality work we’ve had,” she said. Board member Mike Brown made the motion to hire Skinner, which was unanimously approved.

TOP STORY > >Guard acts on two fronts

Leader senior staff writer

Even as about 2,800 members of Arkansas’ 39th Infantry Brigade train at Camp Shelby, Miss., for deployment to Iraq, other Arkansas Guardsmen responded quickly and effectively to calls for support in the wake of the deadly tornadoes that recently devastated several Arkansas communities, according to Capt. Chris Heathscott, the Arkansas National Guard’s public information officer.

The 39th includes many area soldiers. “The recent tornadoes were a true test of our ability to support the state, and we were able to do so very successfully 24 times,” Heathscott said. A Government Accountability Office study released Feb. 1 found that deployment of National Guard soldiers and equipment overseas has reduced the Guard’s ability to respond to state-led domestic missions.

That’s not what the governor’s office found in the wake of the tornadoes, however. “The Guard was great,” said Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe. “They were definitely ready.” The first request came in from Atkins (Pope County) for search and rescue, and by dawn, Guardsmen from the Fort Smith-Van Buren area were on the scene, he said.

When the governor’s office found that a burst water main in Clinton (Van Buren County) had crippled firefighting capability, he contacted the Guard, which brought a water buffalo—a huge mobile water tank—to the site.

“The governor’s keeping a close eye, especially now that the 39th is mobilizing again,” said DeCample, but barring an event of massive proportions, such as a New Madrid Fault earthquake, the Arkansas Guard is ready.

The tornado calls included search and rescue, debris removal, generator support, fresh water, aviation support for damage assessment, and they delivered tarps, tents and food, Heathscott said.

The Guard also had as many as 50 soldiers in security missions to prevent looting.
“We answered every call and did so successfully,” he added.


Heathscott added that statewide, the Guard deployed about 3,000 Guardsmen, including some just returned from Iraq, with moving equipment, generators, water tankers and Black Hawk helicopters when Hurricane Katrina struck.

He noted that the 39th would leave most of its large equipment at home this time for the current deployment, using trucks and other equipment already in place in Iraq. Heathscott disputed accounts that large numbers of Guardsmen with post-traumatic stress syndrome from previous deployments interfered with the 39th’s ability to muster enough troops.


The 39th Infantry Brigade, based at Camp Robinson, is about 200 soldiers short of the 3,000 intended for deployment to Iraq, but “that’s not a show stopper,” according to Heathscott.
The Arkansas National Guard has about 10,500 members, 8,500 of them soldiers, the balance airmen.

By the time the Guard subtracts those who have been home from previous mobilizations less than 24 months, those who have not yet had sufficient training, those whose rank is too high and perhaps 1,000 who have been determined “not ready from issues ranging from easily corrected dental problems to much more complex issues,” you wind up with 2,800 ready for deployment, says Adj. Gen. William D. Wofford.


A recent study found that although National Guardsmen and Reservists account for only about 25 percent of the troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, their soldiers accounted for more than 50 percent of suicides.

The Arkansas National Guard had four suicides in 2006, Heathscott said, one in 2007 and one so far this year. Officials have speculated that returning Army soldiers remain in their units where unusual behavior can be easily noted and where there are resources to deal with problems, while returning Guardsmen go back to their jobs and families, where the access to mental-health help may be more difficult.

Wofford has mandated that all returning Arkansas Guard soldiers must go through a Veterans Administration LifeGuard program that helps identify soldiers with problems and get them help, Heathscott said. Also in Arkansas, soldiers and their spouses can go through the Strong Bonds program available through the Chaplain Service at Camp Robinson. Strong Bonds workshops are set up all over the state.

The brigade returned from its first mission to Iraq in February 2005 following an average deployment of 17 months. The brigade has been training full time since October, according to Maj. Craig Heathscott, public affairs officer for the 39th. At Camp Shelby, they will train in group activities and objectives.

EVENTS >> 5-20-09


The 13th annual Jacksonville Business Expo will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 21. Businesses can interact with more than 3,500 potential customers, exhibit products and services, develop new opportunities and enhance their organization’s marketplace visibility.

The expo is a great place to network with suppliers and companies and learn about other businesses in central Arkansas.

The event is sponsored by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. For more information call (501) 982-1511.


Arkansas veterans who are stationed out-of-state or overseas, or are here at home, can now receive small-business training on the Internet.

On, veterans who are aspiring business owners or who already own businesses and are returning from or preparing for deployment can access 20 small business courses at no charge. The site also offers information on starting a business and managing an already-open business during deployment. is a project of the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration.


Cabot yard-of-the-month judging has begun. Committee members of Cabot City Beautiful have started their rounds in each of the city’s four wards, searching for beauty and color. Residential yards and local businesses are considered.

One yard per month May through August will be chosen. Nominations may be made for any yard that is within the city limits.

Send the name and address of nominees to Cabot City Beautiful at, regular mail at Cabot City Beautiful, Inc. P.O. Box 1101 Cabot, Ark. 72023 or call 501-941-2028.


Due to flooding at Dupree Park in Jacksonville, the Friday Night Flick will be postponed until Friday, June 5.

“Kung Fu Panda,” the first movie of the series, is about a passive panda bear who rescues his village from the claws of a loathsome leopard.

Bring a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the show under the stars. Concessions will be provided by First Arkansas Band and Trust and all revenue generated will go to the Boys and Girls Club of Jacksonville.

Admission is free. The show starts at sundown.

The movie series is sponsored by First Arkansas Bank with the parks and recreation department. For more information, contact Dana at 982-0818 or


AustinFest 2009 is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 6.

The parade starts at 10 a.m. and includes area fire department trucks.

The Miss Austin Springfest 2009 Pageant will begin at 11 a.m. Lawren Fason will be organizing and officiating the pageant again this year.

Applications may be obtained at Austin City Hall, Chamberlain’s Corner Store or by contacting Fason at 501-605-4144.

The Cummins Prison Band will perform from 7 to 9 p.m.

For booth and concessions applications or more information, contact Tammy Williams at 843-9657 or Donna Soellner at 843-5590.


A fish fry fundraiser for the Arkansas’ Fallen Firefighters Memorial will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 23 at Ward City Hall, 405 Hickory St. The event will be catered by N&N Restaurant of Cabot. For ticket information, call 501-259-4275.


Jacksonville library’s schedule of events continues this month with book discussions, movies, art classes and even video games.

Wii Time, an after-school video game activity, will be held at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday.

The movie “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” will be screened at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 23. Free popcorn and drinks will be served.

The Book Club Divas will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 26 to discuss “Toujours Provence” by Peter Mayle.

How to Crochet for Beginners will meet at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. Registration is required for this class.

The library will be closed on Memorial Day, May 25. For more information call 501-457-5038.


Seniors at Jacksonville, North Pulaski and Sylvan Hills High Schools will graduate this weekend.

Jackonville seniors graduate at 8 p.m., Friday at the football stadium. If it rains, the ceremony will be moved to McArthur Assembly of God Church with seating limited to four for each senior.

Sylvan Hills High in Sherwood graduates at 9:30 a.m., Saturday at Jack Stephens Center on the UALR campus in Little Rock.

North Pulaski High School follows at 11:30 a.m.


Churches, schools and residents who want to be part of the 2009 patriotic spectacular on Friday, July 3 at Jacksonville High School will have their chance to begin singing this evening.

Adults and children at least in second grade who love to sing are invited to participate in the annual patriotic musical celebration.

Patriotic Community Choir practice begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Second Baptist Church, 1117 S. James in Jacksonville. Choir members will receive a free event T-shirt. Adult choir members will need to purchase a book and practice CD for $10, which they will keep.

Childcare will be provided by the church for preschoolers and children not participating in the event. Contact Second Baptist in advance by calling 501-985-2502, so they may plan for adequate staffing.


Law Enforcement Torch Run and the Jacksonville Police Department will hold a pep rally at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Pathfinders on West Main St. The rally will be held at Pathfinders to show the spirit of past and present Special Olympic Athletes with local law enforcement.

JPD officers will be carrying the Flame of Hope to the opening ceremony of Special Olympics Arkansas Summer games in Searcy.


The seventh annual Jimmie W. White II Memorial Ride Poker Run is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, June 6. The event will begin at the Jacksonville High School parking lot and finish at M and M Cycles in El Paso around 11:30 a.m. The poker run costs $15 per bike with proceeds to benefit the Jimmie H. White II Scholarship Fund.

For more information, contact Jimmie White at 501-982-7876.


Cabot Community Theatre will hold auditions for its upcoming production of “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” at 7 p.m.

Thursday, May 28. Director Brian Wolters has parts available for one female and one male performer. Teenagers and adults who look 20 to 25 years old should audition. Come prepared with a song to sing a cappella and ready to read from the script.

Those who play instruments should bring them. Auditions will be held at CenterStage Playhouse, 204 North First St. For more information, call 501-941-2266