Friday, May 02, 2008

EDITORIAL >>PCSSD’s war on Jacksonville

The Pulaski County Special School District continues its war against Jacksonville. The latest outrage is a refusal by PCSSD officials to approve two grant applications for Jacksonville schools, which were seeking federal grants for enrichment programs that the district refused to submit for approval.

The children were denied access to $150,000 in-tended for Kareer Kids Child Development Center in partnership with Warren Dupree Elementary School and money for an after-school summer program at Jacksonville Boys Middle School.

Since the city wants to break away from PCSSD, why channel money to local kids? The district is telling Jacksonville patrons: Drop dead.

Through its actions, the Pulaski County Special School District has confirmed once again what Jack-sonville patrons have suspected for years: The district doesn’t give a hoot about the students in the area and never will. PCSSD is punishing the children for the sins of their parents, who believe that in a smaller district, they would improve education standards and have better facilities than the decrepit buildings their children attend now.

Jacksonville has felt cut off from the district for a long time and has gone to court to win approval for a Jacksonville-area school district. It’s an uphill battle, but what can they lose? There’s little chance the Pulaski County Special School District will ever treat them fairly or care about their community. (District officials almost never return our phone calls.)

Patrons can save their schools by working harder to win court approval for their independent district.

TOP STORY > >Audit finds more problems in Cabot parks’ books

Leader staff writer

The State Police investigation into Cabot Parks that started this week will include several thousand dollars held out of employees’ paychecks for state taxes but not paid to the state.

The exact amount that was withheld but not remitted is unclear, though one source said it was about $13,000.

Mike Brannon, chairman of the commission that runs the parks, said he should have more information later, but it is likely that the unpaid tax bill is connected to the embezzlement by a park bookkeeper.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be a tremendous amount, but it’s going to be some,” Brannon said. “I think it happened when all the other stuff did.”

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain called for the State Police investigation in January after Sarah Michelle Rye, a former bookkeeper for the parks department, admitted to embezzling $8,063.44 by writing herself duplicate paychecks over a two-year period.

Brannon said he doesn’t think that sort of thing will happen again. He also believes the parks commission, which has four new members who were appointed since Mayor Eddie Joe Williams took office, is taking a more hands-on approach to the parks’ finances, especially since a shortfall at the end of 2007 required the commission to ask the city for about $100,000 to start 2008.

“The people on the board right now – all of them – it’s like we’re not going to put up with this stuff anymore,” Brannon said.
Carroll Astin, hired as parks director about 10 years ago, resigned in April, saying he had been a public servant most of his adult life and it was time to move on to the private sector.

Rye was sentenced in circuit court April 9 to five years probation, three of which are supervised. At the end of the five years, she may petition the court to have her criminal record sealed.

Rye also had to make restitution of $8,063.44 that day and pay a fine of $500 and other fees, including $150 court cost and $250 for DNA testing.

If the State Police investigation shows that Rye is connected to the failure to remit the state income tax and she is found guilty of other felony charges, she would face jail time and lose her ability to petition the court to have her record sealed.

Larry Tarrant, the program director for parks, took over as interim director when Astin resigned and is one of nine applicants for the director’s position.

Tarrant attended the regular commission meeting Thursday and talked about ways to increase revenue and cut down on expenses.

To increase revenue, for example, Camp Cabot, parks’ summer daycare program, will cost $12 this year instead of $5. To cut down on cost, Tarrant proposed giving up sponsorship of Strawberry Fest, which he said lost money for parks this year.

Instead, Tarrant proposed leasing the space for the festival but asking a nonprofit organization to host the annual event.

TOP STORY > >Tornadoes, storms slam through area

Leader staff writers

The little town of Carlisle is now shut down. A tornado tore through the center of town Friday, three city blocks wide by a mile long, leaving behind downed trees, power lines and debris, leaving residents without power.
Despite the widespread destruction, no one was seriously injured.

“There is a 9 p.m. curfew tonight and tomorrow,” said Chief Eric Frank of the Carlisle Police Department as he surveyed the damage Friday afternoon.

“Right now, we are not restricting access to any part of the town, but you have to be careful of the downed lines,” said Frank.

“Our chief concern was getting the students out of the school after the tornado went through, which wasn’t easy because of the power lines and trees blocking the roads,” he said.

But, everyone got out safely.

He said an advanced warning system alerted the town’s residents to get out of harm’s way.

The tornado was three blocks wide and touched down for about a mile through town, the chief said.

Kathy Zasimovich, from the state Office of Emergency Management, was in Carlisle to help the town coordinate the efforts to clear roadways and make sure everyone was safe. “There are no injuries and no fatalities,” she said.

“The main line into the town is Line 104, and Entergy shut it off in Little Rock,” said Zasimovich.

Entergy crews were expected to arrive Saturday to move the downed lines. Entergy will not declare the town safe until then.

Alta Snider’s home had a tree limb go through the roof and into her dining room.

The home is safe, as long as it doesn’t rain. The tree that fell on her house was quickly removed and the hole covered with tarp by volunteer workers.

There was damage to several area homes and mobile homes and to the roof of the fire station, according to Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman, who had a backhoe, chainsaw and some county workers standing by for downed electrical lines to be cleared, he said Friday afternoon.

“We can’t get our equipment in,” he said.

“There’s some damage but nothing earthshaking,” Troutman added.

Most of the damage appeared to be confined to the area east of Hwy. 13, toward Carlisle schools.

Emmanuelle Baptist Church and the Methodist Family Life Center were setting up relief stations for the town’s 2,500 residents.

There will be food and water available there.

Structural damage was done to some homes around the Hwy. 13-Hwy. 70 intersection, Troutman said.

“Out toward Keo, one house on Hwy. 15 was damaged, several farm shops and a lot of equipment,” the judge said.

Lonoke itself received no significant damage, a city worker said, and Cabot seemed to have escaped any major damage.

Lt. James Kulesa of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office said additional officers, county deputies, and state troopers will be patrolling the areas and anyone who does not live in the areas will be asked to leave.

Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson said, “I cannot thank enough all the agencies and citizens who came together today to ensure the safety and welfare of Lonoke’s citizens. I also ask people to cooperate and remain clear of these areas until it is safe.”

Seven people died in tornadoes in Arkansas on Friday.

For area information, residents may call the Carlisle Police Department at 870-552-7893.

TOP STORY > >Races for judges in White County

Leader staff writer

In White County, Circuit Judge Bill Mills, 17th Judicial District, is not running for reelection. The candidates for that position are Mark Derrick, the city attorney in Beebe, and Tom Hughes, former district court judge in Beebe.

Since the 17th Judicial District also includes Prairie County, voters there will help determine the winner in the May 20 voting.
The death of Searcy District Judge Phil Shoffner in February created a vacancy temporarily filled by Watson Bell, who was appointed by the governor.

Now, four lawyers are vying for the position: State Rep. Mark Pate of Bald Knob and Greg Niblock, Phyllis Worley and Robert Hudgins, all of Searcy.

White County has district courts in Searcy and Beebe, but voters all across the county get to decide who presides over them.
In Beebe, however, there is no choice to make. Judge Teresa Hughes is unopposed for the district court there.

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville to spend Gravel Ridge money

Leader staff writer

What to do with a million dollars? That was the question before the Jacksonville City Council Thursday night.
The city had been holding back about that much in anticipation of annexing Gravel Ridge, but that community opted to join Sherwood instead.

“We have no deadline on spending this money,” Mayor Tommy Swaim told the council, “but it is one-time money, so it can’t be used on salaries. It needs to be used on capital improvement projects.”

The mayor presented the council with four major road projects ranging from $2.1 million to just under $500,000 that the money could help fund.

“We’ve had these four projects in mind for quite a while, and they need to be done sooner or later,” the mayor said.

The project ideas include a 2,200-foot extension of Oneida south toward the proposed North Belt Loop.

“This project would help with flooding with the area and give us earlier access to land the Stone Ridge developer is going to give the city for a park. The extension would run from Main Street south to Oneida, giving the city better access to North Lake subdivision.

Looking at the map, Alderman Terry Sansing said that the extension would also open up a lot of land for development even though drainage and flooding would be issues.

The cost of the project is estimated at $2.18 million. More than half of that is for a needed bridge over the Bayou Meto. “We can probably get some bridge construction money from the county to help us,” the mayor said.

Another option the council looked at was the realignment of West Main Street to take out dangerous double curves. The estimated cost of the project is $920,330. The project would involving a new 2,100-foot portion of Main Street and the placement of a large four-lane box culvert, effectively moving a segment of West Main Street to the south. This would also open up some land for development.

A third project the council looked at was extending Emma Street north from West Main Street to General Samuels. This would be a 1,400-foot extension, opening up land for development and giving residents another way to move between Main and General Samuels Road. The cost is estimated at $471,110.

Another possible use for the Gravel Ridge money is to make the intersection of West Main and Harris Road safer by adding a traffic signal light and doing some necessary roadwork.

“This is a very busy intersection,” the mayor said, “and the site of fatalities in the past. We are going to have to fix this intersection sooner or later.” The estimated cost of the project is $463,174.

City Administrator Jay Whisker added that none of the estimates include the cost of buying needed property for the required rights-of-way.

“These are four projects we have been looking at. This doesn’t mean there aren’t others,” the mayor said.

And other projects are what Alderman Bob Stroud had in mind. “These are all good projects and I wish we could do them all right now. But we need to look at the biggest bang for our bucks for our residents to see…something downtown,” he said.

Stroud added that he’d like to look at some other things before voting.

The mayor reiterated that the city was not under any deadline and not locked into any one project.

TOP STORY > >Early voting set to begin on Monday

Leader senior staff writer

When early voting in the May preferential primary elections gets underway Monday, Lonoke County voters will decide on a sales tax to build a new jail and also choose between a sitting circuit judge being challenged by the prosecuting attorney for a circuit judgeship.

Meanwhile, in Pulaski County, the county judge is being challenged both in the primary and, if he wins, in the general election.
Lonoke County long ago outgrew its decrepit jail and officials have been trying for years to expand and update the existing jail or to build a new one. The quorum court voted unanimously to put the sales tax before voters in the primary election and a meeting of the county Republican Party signed off on the tax nearly unanimously.

Lonoke Republicans, who usually work against new taxes, have gotten behind the effort to pass the one-cent, 12-month sales tax, expected to raise about $5 million for the construction of a new, 140-bed jail.

No one seems to think a new jail isn’t necessary. Those who oppose it seem to think it should be paid for in some other fashion.


Circuit Judge Lance Hanshaw is retiring after 30 years on the bench and all three circuit judgeships are up for grabs. By state law, the primary serves as the election of record for all judgeships, which are nonpartisan.

That said, candidates Lona McCastlain and Chuck Graham have been active in Lonoke County Republican politics. McCastlain, the Lonoke County prosecutor, will serve out the final two years of her four-year term if she fails to beat Judge Philip Whiteaker in the race for the Division 2 judgeship. If she wins, Gov. Mike Beebe will appoint a Lonoke County prosecutor to serve out her term.

McCastlain successfully prosecuted former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife Kelly Harrison Campbell on a variety of drug and theft charges last year.

Whiteaker has been reelected without opposition since he won over Cabot District Judge Joe O’Bryan 11 years ago.

Graham, who serves as a deputy prosecutor under McCastlain, is running against Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore for the Division 1 circuit judgeship. Elmore served as district judge until Beebe appointed her circuit judge beginning last July after the state Legislature created a third division in Lonoke County.

Sandy Huckabee, Hanshaw’s son-in-law, is running unopposed for the Division 3 judgeship.


Dissatisfaction with the current, 880-bed Pulaski County Detention Center has spilled over into both the Democratic primary and November general election races for County Judge.

County Judge Buddy Villines, 60, seeking his sixth two-year term, is being challenged for the second consecutive time by Buddy York, 70, a bail bondsman in the Democratic primary.

In the November general election, the winner will face Phil Wyrick, 58, a businessman, former legislator and former head of the state’s Livestock and Poultry Commission.

York, a bail bondsman for 30 years, says he would “cut off some of the fat from all of the departments,” to fund expansion of the jail.


On the Lonoke County Quorum Court, these races will be on the primary ballot: In the Republican Primary, District 2, JP Jannette Minton against Larry Ridgeway; District 3, JP Larry Odom against Lisa F. Shotts; District 4, JP Donna Pedersen against Tim Lemons; District 6, JP Alexis Malham against Harry Roderick.

Davy Carter of Cabot faces Randy Minton of Ward in the Republican Primary for the state Representative 48 seat currently held by Susan Schulte. Schulte can’t run again because of term limits. The winner of this race faces John W. Harty, a Cabot independent.

Tom Raley and Steven Meck-fessel, both of Sherwood, are competing for the Republican nomination for the state Representative seat now held by Jeff Wood. The winner will face Democrat Jim Nickels.

These races will be on the ballot for the Democratic Primary: District 7, Adam Sims against Robert I. Depriest III; District 8, JP Roger Dale Lynch against Richard Kyzer; District 10, Wes Clement, Ronald L. Evans and Bill Ryker.

Kyzer recently moved and resigned from the quorum court, but will now challenge Lynch for the District 6 seat.

If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the District 10 race between Clement, Evans and Ryker, it will be settled in a June 10 runoff election.


Early voting sites include Jacksonville City Hall, Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood and in Little Rock, a new site at the Pulaski County Regional Building at 501 Markham St, across Broadway from the previous early voting site, the Pulaski County Courthouse.

Early voting at Jacksonville and Sherwood sites will be weekdays, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday, May 17 is the last day of early voting.

At the Pulaski County Regional Building, voters can go weekdays, 8 a.m.- 6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The last day for early voting at this site will be Monday, May 19, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Moving early voting from the Pulaski County Courthouse to the Regional Building will help alleviate overcrowding in the courthouse and also voters won’t have to go through the metal detectors, according to Susan Inman, election coordinator.


In Lonoke County, early voting will be at the Lonoke County Courthouse and in Cabot at the Veterans Park Community Center, according to Larry Clarke, chairman of the Lonoke County Election Commission.

Early voting at the courthouse will be weekdays from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through Monday, May 19.

Voting at the community center in Cabot will be weekdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

SPORTS>>In search of a repeat performance

Leader sportswriter

For the second straight year, both Searcy teams will play for the 6A state soccer championship in Fayetteville at Lady’Back Field. The Lions and Lady Lions both won the title last year, and have a chance to make history today by winning back-to-back crowns.

The Lions will enter Saturday’s championship match against Mountain Home with a 20-2-2 record. After clinching their second straight conference title in April, they cruised through the playoffs over the week with a 4-0 second-round win over Benton, and recorded another shutout over Texarkana in the semifinals 3-0.

The Bombers have the distinction of being the only 6A East opponent to hand a loss to Searcy during the regular season. Their only other loss came at the hands of 7A quarterfinalist Russellville.

The Lions are led offensively by freshman Steven Seitz, who comes into the title game with 14 goals for the season. Junior Brandon West is a close second with 11 goals, and another freshman, Isca Garcia, has eight goals on the season.

“We’re pretty well balanced,” Searcy coach Jeff Davis said. “We know what (Mountain Home’s) strengths are, and our kids know what to expect.”

Davis says that he has no shortage of capable scorers, but it’s the Lions’ defensive prowess that has gotten them to this point.
Senior goalkeeper Ryan Wilburn leads that front. Wilburn has posted 10 shutouts this season, including both playoff games, and had a four-save performance against Texarkana in Tuesday’s semifinal game.

“He has had some key saves in a couple of games,” Davis said. “But our defensive four in the front is such a quality bunch, that he doesn’t have to make a lot of saves. Our defense has played well all season; they do not allow a lot of goals.”

For the second straight year, Jonesboro stands in the way of the Lady Lions and a state championship. They downed the Lady Hurricane in a thrilling 3-1 championship match in 2007, and Searcy coach Cindy Emfinger said her squad should be even more comfortable entering this year’s game. Only two players graduated from last year’s team, and Emfinger is hoping the experience will pay off.

“We know what to expect a lot more this year,” Emfinger said. “Things won’t be quite as suspenseful for us. There will always be nerves before any game, but the overall anxiety should be diminished.

The Lady Lions are 19-2-1. They went 12-0 through their East schedule this season to capture their second-straight league title, and have already beaten Jonesboro three times this year.

McKenzie Clark, Jamie Lancaster, Rachel Mina and Lindsey McGary are Searcy’s biggest scoring threats. The Lady Lions outscored conference opponents by a total of 80-2 over a 12-game span.

Three different players have spent time in front of the net for the Lady Lions this year. Jordan Fust, Aly Eaves and Rachel Brumon have started at goalkeeper.

“Everyone is on an even playing level now,” Emfinger said. “No one team has any advantage or disadvantage. We’ve been trying to guard against having any false senses of security. Jonesboro is a really tough team to play, and we don’t want to be overconfident and end up not being prepared.

The Lady Lions will take on Jonesboro at 4 p.m. today, followed by the boys match at 6 p.m.

SPORTS>>Panthers grab a critical win over Cyclones

Leader sports editor

You could do a whole lot worse than drawing a comparison to Willie Mays.

But that was the inevitable response to a spectacular over-the-shoulder, back-to-the-infield, falling-down catch by Cabot’s Drew Burks on Tuesday in the Panthers’ dramatic, nine-inning 7-6 win over Russellville.

“Phenomenal,” said Cabot head coach Jay Fitch of the acrobatic catch that saved at least two runs in the first inning. “It was almost better than (Mays’ famous over-the-shoulder catch). Willie made it standing up. Drew just full laid out and caught it over his shoulder. One of the best plays in my high school career.”

Cabot finally won the game when Jackson Chism laced a walk-off single down the right-field line with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. It was a critical win in the race for the final state tournament berth from the 7A Central. It completed a season-sweep of Russellville.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, they followed the rousing win over the Cyclones with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to second-place Conway on Thursday when the Wampus Cats rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the sixth and seventh innings. The 1-1 week for the Panthers pushed their record to 3-8 in league play, and still very much in the race for the sixth and final state tournament berth.

They currently lead 2-10 Little Rock Central by 1 ½ games, and Russellville by two games. The Panthers (11-11 overall) travel to first-place Little Rock Catholic on Monday and finish the regular season with what could prove to be a do-or-die finale with Central. Central beat Cabot earlier this season.

“We’ve got to win one more game to get in there and get a shot [in the state tournament],” Fitch said.

Against Russellville, the Panthers got a sterling relief performance from winning sophomore pitcher Tyler Erickson, who allowed only one hit over five shutout innings. Burks and catcher Ben Wainright bailed Erickson out of his only jam after Kyle Johnson led off Russellville’s seventh with a triple to center.

Nathan Cathcart sent what appeared to be a tie-breaking sacrifice fly to Burks in right field. But Burks delivered a one-hop throw a couple of feet up the third-base line, which Wainright caught and held on to as Johnson bulled into him and knocked him over. The big-hitting Johnson was not only out on the play, but was tossed from the game for running into the catcher.

“Ben’s a tough kid and just works his tail off,” Fitch said. “And that’s why Drew Burks is a Division I prospect, because he makes those kinds of plays. That was a big, big turning point in that game.”

Cathcart had battled Erickson goose egg for goose egg in relief after coming on in the fourth inning. Russellville jumped to a 1-0 lead, but an error, two wild pitches and Sam Bates’ ground out tied it in the bottom of the inning.

The Cyclones led again 2-1 in the third, but Cabot collected three of its seven hits in the bottom half to claim the lead. Powell Bryant singled, stole second and scored on Burks’ single to left. Bates brought him home with a base hit.

But Russellville cashed in a pair of Cabot errors for four runs in the fourth to reclaim the lead, 6-3.

Chism and Shayne Burgan drew one-out walks in the bottom of the fourth and, after a wild pitch, Matt Turner lined a single to right to bring them home and make it 6-5. Bryant’s double tied it.

But after all the fireworks through the first four innings, neither team could dent the plate over the next five innings. Cabot’s best chance to end it came in the seventh after Wainright was hit and Chad Bryant was intentionally walked. A wild pitch got the winning run to third with one out, but Cathcart got a strikeout and a pop out.

In the winning rally, Bates drew a one-out walk. Wainright sacrificed courtesy runner Chase Thompson to second. Cathcart intentionally walked Chad Bryant. Chism, who had struggled in his three previous plate appearances, lined a solid single over the first baseman’s head to easily score Thompson.

“Chad’s a senior and I wanted to try to let him drive in [the winning run],” Fitch said of his decision to have Wainright sacrifice.

“But they walk Chad and Jackson steps up and gets the big hit. He’s a lot better than what he showed in those first three at-bats. He looked lost.

“But he’s a good hitter and he stepped right up there. I’m extremely proud of him. We needed that in the worst way.”
As for Erickson’s performance, Fitch didn’t seem all that surprised.

“We’ve been needing him all year, but his elbow’s been tender,” Fitch said. “I’d been telling him to stay ready, we may need you. And sure enough, he came in and didn’t give them anything at all.

“He threw great in the Jacksonville tourney [early in the year]. But he’s been tender ever since. Tonight’s the first night he looked full speed.”

Erickson picked up all three RBI against Conway. Sean Clarkson started and allowed just one earned run over 3 1/3 innings, striking out three and walking two.

Cabot played severely shorthanded against the Cats. Wainright injured his thumb on the collision at the plate on Tuesday and sat out, while Drew Burks and Powell Bryant were away at the conference track meet.

SPORTS>>Lady Devils suffer 10th-inning heartbreak

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville catcher Alexis Oakley was there for the tag, but Mountain Home’s Jenna Gilbert was somehow able to slide underneath it for the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

A single to left field by Miranda Manchester one inning later brought in the winning run for the Lady Bombers on their way to a 3-2 win on Thursday night at Dupree Park. Mountain Home completed the sweep with a 9-0 win in the nightcap.

The two wins gave Mountain Home the outright 6A-East Conference title, while Jacksonville, which finished league play at 10-4, must await the Marion-West Memphis games to determine what seed it will take into the state tournament next week.

The winner-take-all format provided for one of the most competitive softball games of the season in the opener, but the emotional letdown, combined with sophomore pitcher Jessica Lanier’s lingering illness in the waning innings led to the Game 2 blowout for the Lady Bombers.

“These kids are nothing but overachievers in my book,” Jacksonville head coach Tanya Ganey said of her young team. “I can’t say enough about what they’ve been able to accomplish this season. We don’t have what I would consider to be a superstar athlete. What we do have are a bunch of unique young ladies who play from the heart and go out and give everything they have when they’re out there. I’m very proud of all of them.”

Mountain Home grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the opener with an RBI by Shelby Anderson that drove in Domino Miller. They held that lead until the top of the sixth, when Bailee Herlacher charged all the way home from first base on a sacrifice bunt by Jennifer Bock.

Herlacher never slowed when she got to second, and after MH third-baseman Miller missed the throw from first, the Lady Red Devils’ fastest base runner had a clear path home for the tying run that eventually forced extra innings.

The Lady Devils managed to load the bases in the top of the eighth, but Mountain Home pitcher Manchester got out of the jam, striking out the side in the process. Jacksonville then sent the Lady Bombers three-and-out in the bottom of the eighth.

Paula Burr took second base to start out the top of the ninth, and eventually came in for the score on a sacrifice bunt by Alana Whatley to give Jacksonville its only lead of the night.

Gilbert started at second base for Mountain Home in the bottom of the ninth. After Gilbert moved to third on a ground out, Herlacher fielded a ground ball deep in the hole at short and made a strong throw home. But Gilbert made a spectacular slide to avoid the tag by Oakley to knot the game at 2.

“They’re hurt, and that’s understandable,” Ganey said. “To play as well as we played and not be able to win the conference championship is disappointing, but these girls have earned the right to go to the state tournament. We’re not going in as a five or a six seed, we’re right there in the top half of the conference, and that’s a tribute to how hard they’ve worked this year.”

The Lady Red Devils dug a hole early in Game 2 when Mountain Home scored five runs in the first inning, but they were able to regroup defensively, and gave up only one more run through the next three innings.

Lanier, who threw a total of 17 innings on Thursday while still recovering from sickness, collapsed outside the batter’s box while at the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Trainer Jason Cates got her back on her feet, and she was able to make it back out to the mound to start out the fifth inning. The umpires questioned Cates as to whether she was able to continue, but the longtime JHS trainer checked her reflexes and vision, and deemed her fit to continue.

“How many people are going to do that?” Ganey said. “She’s been sick, and she has asthma. Between those two, she just lost her breath. For her to get back in there shows a lot of determination. I’m pretty proud of the fact that even with that kind of setback, she still got back in there to do what she could.”

Lanier looked weakened on the mound, but she still managed to strike out three batters in the top of the fifth.
The Lady Red Devils were still able to keep the game within reach until the top of the sixth, when Adams’ three-run, inside-the-park home run set the game’s final margin.

Lanier finished with 18 strikeouts on the evening, while giving up six hits in Game 1, and only one walk for both contests. The Lady Red Devils had eight errors over the two games. Herlacher went 3 of 5 for Jacksonville in Game 1.

The Lady Red Devils finished the regular season with a record of 12-6 overall and 10-4 in the 6A East Conference. Mountain Home is 23-4 overall and finished 12-2 in the East.

Mountain Home’s Keller Park will be the sight of the 6A state tournament next week. Tournament play will begin Friday at 4 p.m.

SPORTS>>Jacksonville, Cabot will field teams in NDFL this summer

Leader sportswriter

For those disappointed by the false start from the newly formed All-American Football League this summer, there is another option in town. The eight-team National Developmental Football League will be centered in the central Arkansas area, with teams representing Cabot, Jacksonville, North Little Rock, Conway and Pine Bluff.

The league is being put together by longtime football coach and New York transplant Michael Merritt. Merritt is CEO and President of the NDFL, but will also serve as head coach of the Arkansas Golden Knights, which are based out of North Little Rock.

“This is going to be a different style of football from what people around here are used to seeing,” Merritt told the Leader.

“We’re going to be playing that East-coast style football. We use the Delaware offense, and spread it out also.”

Arkansas football fans should be familiar with the spread offense, but the Delaware set is most comparable to a double-wing or wishbone, with two offset backs set up for misdirection snaps.

The NDFL will consist of eight teams, grouped into two conferences. The Independent Division will consist of the Golden Knights, Pine Bluff Cobras, Central Arkansas Generals and Texas Outlaws, one of two out-of-state teams in the league.

The Pioneers Division will feature the Jacksonville Golden Eagles, Memphis Panthers, Cabot Silver Lions and Conway Red Bears.

Each team will play a 10-game schedule starting June 7 and ending in late August. The top six teams will then begin playoff games, with the No. 1 seed from each conference taking a first-round bye while the second and third place teams will play a wildcard game to determine who will meet to decide the division crown.

The two division winners will then play to determine the overall NDFL champion. The NDFL champ also gets to play a challenge game against the champion from the Premiere Football League in Texas.

The format for the NDFL is as follows: Players hoping to go pro can earn money by selling tickets for each of the games, but those still looking to grab a scholarship can play in the league without compensation and still maintain amateur status.

Bryant graduate Robert Wheeler played for the Golden Knights last season, and will move up to the coaching ranks in the new league as head coach of the Cabot Silver Lions.

Wheeler, 20, says that despite his prime playing age, he is happy to stay on the sidelines.

Among notable names for the Cabot team will be Chaz Robinson and current track standout Will Paschel.

Although it is an upstart team, the Silver Lions have already acquired 46 players on their roster. The Silver Lions will use
Panther Stadium as their home field when the season starts on June 7.

SPORTS>>Bears take two from Devils

Leader sports editor

As doubleheader losses go, this one was among the easiest to take.

The Jacksonville Red Devils dropped a pair of games to top-ranked Sylvan Hills on Wednesday at Dupree Park, but showed they may be ready for prime time.

Sylvan Hills’ Hunter Miller out-dueled Michael Harmon to complete the sweep with a 3-0 win in the nightcap after the Bears shook off the pesky Red Devils, 9-4, in the opener.

“There’s no doubt about it,” said Jacksonville head coach Larry Burrows. “We’ve come a long way [since the first of the year]. We played that well against Forrest City [two weeks ago] and we’ve talkedabout it all year: Get a little better each week.”

Not that the Red Devils were happy to lose two, but the performance they got on the mound from Harmon in the nightcap gives Burrows plenty of reason for optimism as they prepare for state tournament play next week.

Harmon tossed a five-hitter and carried a two-hit shutout into the sixth inning before D.J. Baxendale lined a sharp single to left to score Hunter Miller and break the scoreless tie.

As good as Harmon was, Miller was just a little better, allowing three hits through six innings before Nathan Ellers closed it out with a 1-2-3 seventh.

“Harmon threw a great game,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “We didn’t hit it very well, but I give him a lot of credit.

“Hunter pitched really well, too. That was six good, quality innings. We needed that before state.”

The losses evened the Red Devils overall record at 13-13 and their 6A-East Conference mark at 6-6. They close out the conference season with the completion of a doubleheader with West Memphis on Monday at Dupree. The Blue Devils led the Red Devils 6-2 when the game was suspended on April 8 because of rain.

A pair of wins over West Memphis would secure a No. 4 seed for Jacksonville, but they could drop to as far as a six seed with two losses.

Sylvan Hills, which improved to 24-6, and finished the 6A-East 13-1, clinched the conference title last week and will take a No. 1 seed into state tournament play. The Bears added a pair of insurance runs in the nightcap on Wednesday when Jordan Spears lined a single to right and moved to second on Tyler Van Schuyck’s bunt single. Spears eventually scored on Clint Thornton’s sacrifice fly, while Van Schuyck plated the final run on a wild pitch.

Harmon struck out five, walked one and hit two batters. He threw his best game by far this season, Burrows said.

“Our coaches, at the beginning of the season, thought he had shut-down potential,” Burrows said. “He’s shown glimpses of that the last two relief appearances. He shut the door against Forrest City, and threw well against Mountain Home.”

The Red Devils managed only five base runners in the nightcap, and had their best scoring opportunity in the fourth after a one-out single by Cameron Hood and a walk to Patrick Castleberry. The only other baserunner to reach second came on Jason Regnas’ one-out double in the sixth.

After Regnas moved to third on Hood’s sacrifice fly, Castleberry, who homered in the first inning of Game 1, brought the fans to their feet with a deep fly to left, but it was caught on the warning track for the final out.

The Red Devils got off to a good start in the opener against Sylvan Hills ace D.J. Baxendale when, with two outs, Hood singled and Castleberry homered to left. Baxendale settled down after that, retiring the next 13 Jacksonville batters.

That gave the Bears’ offense plenty of time to mount a comeback. They tied it in the second on Chambers’ RBI single and a double steal. Miller gave them a 4-2 lead by following Mark Turpin’s leadoff single in the third with his 11th home run of the season.

The Bears put it away by scoring five runs on just one hit in the fifth and sixth innings. But that hit was a big one — a three-run shot by Thornton over the fence in left-center that made it 7-2.

The Red Devils loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth on a walk to Noah Sanders, Terrell Brown’s single and an error. Hood grounded into a force at third that allowed Sanders to score, and Regnas came around on the play when Ellers throw to first was wild. But Ellers made up for it by starting a sterling 5-4-3 double play to end the game in the seventh.

Tyler Wisdom took the loss for Jacksonville, allowing five hits, three walks and four earned runs over 2 1/3 innings. Baxendale went the distance for the Bears, allowing four hits and a walk, while fanning eight.

Sylvan Hills finished with seven hits in the opener, two by Miller.

The Red Devils trail West Memphis, 6-2, in the fourth inning when they resume play on Monday. Forrest City (5-7) finishes with a pair at Jonesboro, while Searcy finished 7-7.

“We obviously wanted to win today,” Burrows said. “But we haven’t really talked about wins and losses this year. We’ve talked about what we can do better. We try to play a little better each week. We wanted to be close to clicking come tournament time, and I think we’re there.”

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

SPORTS>> Lady Panthers reach quarters but come up short to Belles

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers made it to the quarterfinal round of the 7A state soccer playoffs in Bentonville over the weekend. The Lady Panthers took a 1-0 win against Springdale Har-Ber during Saturday’s opening round in a defensive struggle, but couldn’t answer a four-goal performance by Mount St. Mary standout Katie Udron on Monday.

The Belles, who entered as the No. 1 seed from the Lady Panthers’ own Central Conference, ended Cabot’s season with a 5-0 shutout.

Saturday’s game was scoreless through the first half, but the Lady Panthers got the only score of the game mid-way through the second half when Jamie Dillon took an assist from Calli Anderson off a throw-in by Kaitlin Spry.

The Lady Wildcats had opportunities to tie late, but Cabot goalkeeperRicci Brooke thwarted all comers on her way to posting the shutout.

Brooke was much busier on Monday. Udron’s four strikes, and another goal by Lucia Trujillo proved too much for the Lady Panthers, who finished with a final record of 5-11.

The Cabot boys had anything but a defensive struggle during their 6-3 opening-round loss to Van Buren. Alfonso Olvera, Matt Zenddejas and Frederico Ferrari all had successful strikes for the Panthers, but the difference maker was Van Buren’s Alex Rodriquez, who scored half of the Pointer’s goals in the contest. The Panthers finished with a final record of 8-12.


The defending champion Searcy Lions and Lady Lions advanced to the semifinals of the state soccer tournament at the Letain DaVore Soccer Complex in Searcy.

The Lions dispatched Benton, 4-0, on Monday and took on Texarkana in one seminfinal matchup last night after Leader deadlines.

El Dorado and Mountain Home will tangle in the other semi.

The Lady Lions beat Benton, 2-0, and will take on Mountain Home in a girls’ semi tonight, while Sheridan and Jonesboro will do battle in the other game.

The Sylvan Hills boys advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-0 win over Lake Hamilton on Saturday. The Bears fell 3-0 to El Dorado on Saturday.

The Lady Bears lost in the opening round, 3-1, to Benton.

Jacksonville’s boys lost 1-0 to Benton in the first round.
The winners of last night’s games will play for the state title on Saturday afternoon at the University of Arkansas.

SPORTS>> Lady Falcons earn first league victory

Leader sportswriter

The Lady Falcons sent their senior teammate Kristen James out in style, with a sweep over Blytheville on senior night at Dupree Park on Monday night. North Pulaski scored five runs in the fifth inning of Game 1 to win 11-7, and freshman shortstop Andrea Sneed’s heroic efforts in the nightcap helped seal a 7-3 win for its first conference wins of the season.

Sneed ended the Lady Chickasaws’ efforts in the top of the fourth inning of Game 2 with a double play, nabbing a Blytheville line drive and catching the first base runner out of position with a quick throw to first baseman Elizabeth Swaggerty. Her biggest stop of the night, however, was during the following frame.

Blytheville had the bases loaded after making up two runs of a 5-1 deficit, and was threatening for more. Sneed made a quick grab on a one-hopper in the middle for an unassisted out at second base.

“We were thrilled to get two conference wins,” said North Pulaski coach Anne Tharp. “Our defense was good, but I thought our batting was a little sporadic. We hit well for an inning here and there, but we struggled at times too. We’re a young team. We have one senior and one junior — the rest are ninth and 10th graders.”

Swaggerty played most of the second game at first base after earning the win at the mound in Game 1, but returned in the top of the sixth in relief of Ashley Bures.

She closed the game out solid, striking out four of the final six batters she faced, and forced a groundout to end it.

James was honored in between games by teammates, faculty and fans, and scored the first NP run in the second game after hitting a double to centerfield. A single to left by Bures brought James in for the score to give the Lady Falcons a 1-0 lead after one.

Porcha Anderson started the winning rally with a single to centerfield to start the fourth inning, and a walk for Katie Vidal put her at second. Alex Walls drove in the first run, followed by another single, this time by Sneed to score Vidal.

A walk to James loaded the bases, and a single to right field two batters later by Amber Kirschner plated the final two runs of the inning.

The Lady Falcons survived Blytheville’s rally in the top of the fifth, and answered with a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth with a single to right field by Walls that brought in Anderson and Vidal.

The top of the fifth was also rally time for the Lady Chicks in the opener. They made up all four runs of a 5-1 deficit, but North Pulaski took back control in the bottom half of the frame with a six hit effort, highlighted by a bloop into left field by Sneed that scored two runs.

The Lady Falcons were not quite as fortunate against Batesville on Friday. North Pulaski watched an 8-2 lead disappear in Game 1, as the Lady Pioneers scored seven runs in the top of the third inning on the way to a 16-13 win. The second game was all Batesville, with a 13-1 result at the end of the night.

The Lady Falcons are now 2-6 in 5A East Conference play, and played at Beebe last night after Leader deadlines. They will face Greene County Tech on Thursday in a pair of East matchups before returning home to close out their league schedule next Monday against Wynne.

SPORTS>> Lanier leads Lady Devils to sweep

Leader sportswriter

JONESBORO — The long bus ride had no adverse effects, nor did the drizzly conditions.

Jacksonville dominated both games of a 6A-East Conference doubleheader at Jonesboro on Saturday with a career day for sophomore pitcher Jessica Lanier. Lanier struck out all but six of the batters she faced on her way to throwing a perfect game during a 4-0 win in the opener, and hit it over the wall during both of her trips to the plate in Game 2, which led to a 8-0 Lady Red Devil’s win.

“Jessica had a great day, shepitched well and had two home runs,” Lady Red Devil coach Tanya Ganey said. “But the whole team was really incredible. Defensively, we all stepped up. We had girls that got their first varsity hits.”

Lanier ended up with 28 strikeouts in the two games, with 13 more coming in the nightcap. She did give up a pair of hits and a walk in the second game, but the Lady Devil defense held strong with their second error-free performance of the day.

The victories allowed Jacksonville to keep pace in the conference as one of three teams with two losses. The Lady Red Devils improved to 9-2 in league and 11-4 overall.

Bad weather threatened to cancel yet another day for the Lady Red Devils.

Upon arrival, the two teams had two wait out the rain and lightning that was in the northeast Arkansas area, but it finally subsided, and the games went on as planned.

Jonesboro allowed seven hits in the first game. Jennifer Bock landed two of those hits for the Lady Red Devils, as did Riley Zinc. Taylor Norsworthy, Paula Burr and Chyna Davis each finished with one hit.

Many of the usual suspects stepped up to have good offensive performances in Game 2, and even a couple of new faces.

Lanier’s 2 of 2, two-home-run performance led the way, but Davis also backed up her Game 1 performance by going 2 of 3.

Ganey put some fresh faces into the lineup late after they had the game in hand, and first-timers Casey Tyson and Frederika Hart took advantage by coming away with their first varsity hits.

“We have some big games coming up this week in Marion and Mountain Home; we’ll find out what we’re really made of after those.”

The Lady Devils played at Marion last night after Leader deadlines. The Lady Patriots took the win 2-0 during the first meeting between the two teams, but Jacksonville had one runner on and no outs in the bottom of the sixth when the game was called for weather.

SPORTS>> Red Devils cruise past Bombers

Leader sportswriter

It’s hard to put an exclamation point on a 14-1 romp, but Jacksonville freshman Nick Rodriquez did just that on Saturday. Rodriguez, in only his third varsity at-bat, sent a Mountain Home pitch over the left field wall to bring in the final two scores of the second game of a 6A-East Conference doubleheader at Hickingbotham Field in Dupree Park.

The Red Devils dominated both games, taking 11-4 and 16-1 wins over the Bombers, who were their own worst enemies at the mound for most of the afternoon.

Jacksonville racked up seven runs during the second inning of Game 1, but didn’t take as long during the finale. The Devils went through their entire lineup in the top of the first inning of Game 2 all the way back to two-hole hitter Jason Regnas, picking up five runs on four hits.

Mountain Home helped them out with a pair of errors during the frame, and watched its pitchingtake a steady nosedive during the run-ruled contest.

“Since we’ve been in the conference, we’ve battled 100 times better,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “We’ve had quality A-B after quality A-B. They’ve competed well with the stick. We’re really happy — not necessarily with the way we’re swinging, but just the quality at bats that we’re having.

“We’re making it tough on the opposing pitcher. No matter how good they are, we’re standing in there and competing. I don’t know how many 0-2 walks we’ve gotten. If we get in a hole, they just keep battling back and fighting.”

The Red Devils held a big advantage at the plate all day, and their defense and pitching were also on the mark. Seth Tomboli went six innings to claim the win in Game 1, while his reliever for the seventh inning, Regnas, threw the first three innings of Game 2 to earn the win. Junior Michael Harmon took to the mound to start the fourth inning in relief of Regnas, striking out four of the seven batters he faced.

The pair of wins didn’t exactly clinch Jacksonville (13-11, 6-4 East) for the upcoming state tournament, but did bring it a little closer to securing at least a six seed. The Red Devils are currently in fifth place, ahead of Forrest City, West Memphis and Mountain Home.

After hosting first-place Sylvan Hills on Wednesday, the Red Devils will close out their regular season with West Memphis.

“We still control our own destiny,” Burrows said. “If we win one more game, then it’s for sure clinched, or if West Memphis loses another.”

Harmon led off the fifth with a double to right field, but was stuck in the middle as Mountain Home retired the next two Devil batters. That put Rodriguez up to the plate, who sent it into the road behind the left field fence.

Rodriguez was greeted at the plate by teammates after he rounded the bases.

Regnas got the win, allowing one earned run on three hits, two walks and four strikeouts. He was also stout offensively in
Game 2, going 3 of 5 with a double and three RBI. Cameron Hood was 2 of 3 with a triple and a RBI. Patrick Castleberry led the Devils, going 4 of 4 with two doubles and three RBI.

SPORTS>> North Pulaski teams fall

Leader sports editor

Both the North Pulaski girls and boys soccer teams had insult added to injury in first-round playoff losses at the 5A state soccer tournament at Burns Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Lady Falcons fell 4-0 to Greenwood, losing top scoring Claire Crews to a severe ankle injury late in the first half. The boys took on second-seeded Harrison — winners of state titles from 2000-06 — lost goalkeeper Matt Ingersoll early, and lost the game, 7-0.

“[Harrison] could put 11 6-footers out there,” said North Pulaski boys coach Tony Buzzitta, whose Falcons finished 8-9. “They were just bigger and faster than us. But I’m proud of our team. We doubled our victories from last year, and we’re still a young team.”

The Falcons fell behind quickly 1-0 and trailed 3-0 29 minutes into the contest. Ingersoll was hurt two minutes later, when he leaped to make a save and hit his head on the post. He collapsed in a heap and didn’t move for several frightening seconds. But he was able to return to the game in the second half, though not in goal.

Dylan Gililland came on in relief in net and immediately made a couple of spectacular saves back to back, the second one on a dive and cover up. He shut out the Goblins over the final nine minutes of the half.

Meanwhile, the Falcons mounted their only promising attack when Greg West dribbled through three defenders. But he was unable to get off a shot.

The three Harrison goals in the first half were all rebound goals, but the Goblins scored a couple of outstanding individual goals over the first six minutes of the second half to go up 5-0 and put it away.

West got a direct kick from out in front of the net, but the Harrison keeper was there to stop it.

“I didn’t have a lot of subs who weren’t inexperienced or real young,” Buzzitta said. “It was really tough because some of our defenders needed a break out there because of Harrsison’s speed and size.”

West, Jingxiao Lu and Tyler Gilbert are graduating, but a lot of starters will be returning.

“The biggest problem will be goal scoring,” said Buzzitta of losing West, who recorded 29 goals this season. “The positive is the guys realize they can’t rely on him next year and will have to be more aggressive.”

Buzzitta said the season was really two seasons — pre- and post-spring break.

“We never played consistently after spring break,” he said. “We don’t have any indoor facilities so [with all the rain] we didn’t get to practice for almost a month. That really hurt our conditioning and our ball-handling.”

The No.2 seed Lady Falcons also got off to a poor start, falling behind 1-0 within the first five minutes. It was 2-0 at halftime, despite some nifty saves by North Pulaski freshman goalkeeper Jennifer Waylan and some inspired defensive play by defenders Meagan Delao and Ellen Weld.

“Jennifer and Ellen were awesome today,” said North Pulaski girls coach Christie Delao, who is retiring after this season. “And Jennifer is just a freshman so North Pulaski will have her for the next three years.”

Waylan made a slew of early saves in the second half before the Lady Bulldogs broke through to make it 3-0 after a corner kick 27 minutes into the second half. They added their final goal four minutes later.

“Our girls got tired,” Delao said. “Greenwood was fast and they got even more aggressive in the second half. I was thinking, ‘Can’t you give us a break? You’ve already hurt one of our players.’ But that didn’t happen.

“We weren’t really going to the ball today. [Greenwood] won most of the battles.”

Crews was hurt with six minutes left in the first half when her ankle got pinned between a pair of Greenwood defenders and she went down in pain. After tending to her for almost 15 minutes, medics put her on a stretcher and she went off in an ambulance.

“That really hurt us,” Delao said. “She was our main scoring threat.”

Other than a couple of aggressive runs by Cara Sargent and Brittany Hettinger early in the second half, the Lady Falcons never mounted a serious attack.

The Lady Falcons finished 6-5-1.

EDITORIAL >>A landmark shuts down

When times are tough, even well-established companies struggle and face the prospect of closing.

Gate Precast, the successor to Arkansas Precast, the 40-year-old Jacksonville construction company, will shut its doors at the end of May, the victim of the recession and consolidation in the building industry. About 65 local people will lose their jobs, and a skeletal design team will remain here to serve other plants owned by Gate Precast.

The late Tom Cory, who founded Arkansas Precast in 1968, helped make the business one of the leading suppliers of precast concrete in the nation. It helped build First Arkansas Bank in Jacksonville, Razorback Stadium, the Oklahoma state Capitol, Alltel’s and Axciom’s headquarters in Little Rock and hundreds of other projects, both large and small.

Arkansas Precast built the fountain in front of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce building in memory of Tom Cory, who moved down here from up North to build his successful business.

He helped organize the Jacksonville Commerce Corp., which sought to bring new business to town. That was not always an easy task, but his company’s presence inspired others to start their businesses here, making them feel welcome and assuring them that they, too, could do well if they gave it their best shot and took care of their employees and their customers.

He was the self-made man who worked extra hard when the going got tough, but the company changed hands a couple of times since his passing, and corporate ownership —Arkansas Precast was sold last year to Gate Petroleum of Florida — cares little about the community and more about the bottom line. Companies like that don’t get too sentimental about putting 65 people out of work.

They will have a hard time finding manufacturing jobs around here anytime soon. Tom Cory would have wept.

EDITORIAL >>Forced to tell the truth

Mike Huckabee squared himself with the law again last week, but like so many times before it was after they made him do it. After he was hauled before the state Ethics Commission on a complaint by a Republican critic, the former governor’s lawyer surrendered the names of the donors to a secret fund managed on his behalf by the state government in the last year of his tenure.

The “Special Events Fund,” platitudinously named like so many preceding secret accounts set up by Huckabee since he became lieutenant governor (you will remember the Action America fund set up in 1994 with the help of tobacco lobbyists to help him supplement his low government wage), came to light late last year when a nosy Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporter made one too many freedom of information requests. He found the Special Events Fund, a private bank account set up for Huckabee and operated by his chief of staff but managed by the state Department of Finance and Administration.

It turned out that the fund was created primarily to pay for a portrait of Huckabee that would be hung in the Governor’s Conference Room at the Capitol. But the governor never reported it nor did he disclose the names of people who gave him the money for the portrait, as state law clearly required. When the fund’s existence was disclosed, Jim Parsons of Bella Vista lodged a complaint with the state Ethics Commission.

The commission’s director said the law did seem to require the disclosure but still Huckabee stonewalled. Finally, on the day of the ethics hearing at Little Rock, Huckabee’s attorney released the list of donors and huddled privately with the Ethics Commission. The law finally requited, the commission did not pursue the complaint.

All’s well that ends well, right? Not quite. There is still the little matter of Mike Huckabee’s honesty. He was, after all, the exemplar of virtue in the recently ended (for him) presidential campaign. He talked about bringing a higher level of morality to office and public life. In matters of getting and spending money he has never been quite the moral exemplar he claims to be and that people have a right to expect.

Public officials are required to disclose all gifts made to them outside their circles of family and friends. Huckabee’s annual report to the Ethics Commission said that Nancy Harris of Williamsburg, Va., had donated a portrait that she painted of him.
But that was not true. She was paid for the painting and the governor hit up lobbyists and people he had appointed to state boards and commissions to pony up the cash for the painting. They pitched in $32,000 and it was channeled through a private bank account.

The largest contributors, if you want to measure influence with Mike Huckabee, were Entergy Corp., the power company regulated by the state, and two businessmen whom Huckabee appointed to the state Game and Fish Commission and the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. They gave $5,000 each.

TOP STORY > >Recognition for mayor is deserved

Leader staff writer

Art Brooke, the Ward mayor who for the past 10 years has worked to upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems to get ready for the growth that he knew was almost certain to come, was named last week the Ward Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.

He was given the honor because he de-served it, said Sharon Roberts, branch manager of Community Bank in Ward, vice president of the board of the Ward Chamber of Commerce and Brooke’slongtime friend.

“He’s just an outstanding citizen,” Roberts said. “He volunteers in everything in the Ward area. He’s an outstanding Christian man and I just think the world of him. A lot of people do.”

John Barclay, last year’s citizen of the year, made the presentation, saying Brooke was chosen because of his integrity and his dedication to taking care of people first.

When Brooke became mayor in 1999, the outgoing mayor had asked the council to cut the salary for the office from $20,000 to $10,000 and it stayed there for almost a year even though Brooke routinely worked 70 hours a week and attended long meetings in Little Rock and across the central part of the state while he worked on improvement projects for the city.

In his first years, improvements in the city sewer and water systems put the city 11 years ahead of where it had to be for the size of the population. Now the mayor says that margin is narrowing and he is working toward more improvements.

Brooke said he rejected initial proposals for the latest planned $2.7 million water project because it would have raised the flat rate by $5.70.

“The people couldn’t afford that,” he said.

By shopping around for the money and borrowing for 35 years instead of 30, that increase will be only $1.70, he said.

Brooke, 67, retired as chief of infrastructure at Little Rock Air Force Base to run for mayor.

In addition to improvements to water and sewer, he has to his credit the purchase of the Ward Elementary School building that now houses his office, the water department, police department, the library and parks.

Asked why he thought he was honored by the chamber, Brooke said he hoped the picture Barclay had painted of him is the one that most people see. Although planning for the future consumes much of his time, Brooke said he tries to never turn anyone away who comes to him with a problem.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was the keynote speaker for the 34th annual Ward Chamber of Commerce banquet. He talked about the importance of quality education for all children, and gave updates on current litigation and issues he is involved with.

He is currently reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the protocol used for lethal in-jection in Kentucky is legal. Since Arkansas’ is similar, he will soon talk to the governor and the department of corrections about what the ruling means for Arkansas.

He also has been looking into the legality of payday lenders and following the recent state Supreme Court decisions. His office sent cease-and-desist letters to about 156 business locations. McDaniel said he is thankful for the public support he has received on this matter, and is encouraged by the industry’s initial response.

Like Ward’s newest citizen of the year, McDaniel says he is concerned about people. His office has launched a new comprehensive initiative called “Be Street Smart,” which includes a Web site (, as well as some public service announcements featuring information on credit card fraud, Internet safety and drunk driving.

The purpose of the initiative is to educate and inform the public on ways to prevent identity theft, avoid consumer scams and learn more about Internet safety and senior protection.

The banquet is a fundraiser for the Ward Chamber of Commerce. Roberts said the proceeds will help pay for a program that is just starting to help the elderly cool their homes with donated fans and air conditioners.

Programs of that type are what Brooke means when he says he tries to not send anyone away from city hall without the help they need.

“If I or my staff can’t help them, we try to put them in touch with someone who can,” Brooke said. “I believe in helping. It’s who I am whether I’m the citizen of the year or not.”

TOP STORY > >Day Obama’s White House hopes ended

April 28 may be the date Barack Obama lost any chance he had of winning the White House.

After an incendiary address at an NAACP dinner and a rambling interview with Bill Moyers on PBS last weekend, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor, went before the National Press Club in Washington on Monday and left no doubt that he was a fool.

He lobbed a Molotov cocktail at Obama for distancing himself from Wright’s vicious sermons that accused the U.S. government of inventing the AIDS virus to kill black people, routinely called America “U.S. of KKK A,” compared America to al Qaeda and blamed the victims for 9/11.

Obama on Tuesday called his pastor’s comments “appalling,” but that won’t help him much as he sinks in the polls.

No wonder former Gov. Mike Huck-abee, himself a former presidential hopeful, thinks Hillary Clinton might be paying Rev. Wright to embarrass Obama, who was a member of Wright’s church for 20 years.

Obama must have heard plenty of bigoted sermons over the years at Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago, where the Nation of Islam has its headquarters.

Wright is a lot like Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, whom Wright calls a friend. Wright left the National Press Club with a phalanx of Nation of Islam bodyguards.

He complains about the media using only soundbites to make him look bad, but almost everything he says is weird.

“I believe our government is capable of doing anything,” the pastor told the Press Club. Perhaps blow up the Twin Towers? He also contradicted Obama’s claims that he wasn’t at church when the Rev. Wright gave his strange sermons.

Obama has looked grim all month, as if he’d been expecting some bad news. I guess he knew Rev. Wright was going to go nuts at the Press Club, and he was right.

Obama could still get the nomination, but if he does, Republicans will crucify him over his association with the Reverend. Be prepared for more of Rev. Wright’s soundbites 24/7 this fall.

Hillary and Bill Clinton are hoping the Reverend will scare primary voters and superdelegates away from Obama, who knows he’s been wounded and sees his presidential hopes are fading.

John McCain, meanwhile, doesn’t have to do anything except stay awake and not say anything dumb while Democrats duke it out.

Rev. Wright will never get a cabinet post in an Obama administration, but Sen. Clinton and Sen. McCain might reward him with a job if he helps either one get elected, and it looks like he will.

TOP STORY > >Ban on pit bulls is strengthened

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council updated its 20-year ban on pit bulls and other vicious animals Monday night.

The updated ordinance reflects “current standards for responsible pet owner... and provide a level of enforcement capabilities that will betterprotect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens and innocent animals from irresponsible owners.”

The new version gives marauding animals “that growl, charge, bite or attempt to bite or display extreme fear of people” just two days to be claimed by their owners or face “humane euthanasia.”

Stray pit bulls that exhibit acceptable temperaments and behaviors will be eligible for adoption “to a legitimate rescue group or to a qualified person.”

The ordinance also gives residents in newly annexed areas like Gravel Ridge 90 days to register or remove any pit bulls they may own.

Registration includes photographing, micro chipping and sterilizing the dog, as well as paying a prohibited-breed registration fee and purchasing a special permit, which must be renewed annually.

The ordinance specifically bans the pit bull terrier breed, the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the American bulldog or mixed breed that is predominantly pit bull.

TOP STORY > >Gravel Ridge annexed again

Leader staff writer

After three elections and an annexation ordinance, Sherwood still needed to approve one more ordinance to bring the community of Gravel Ridge into the city.

Now Gravel Ridge will officially become part of Sherwood on May 8 after the proper legal paperwork is filed with the secretary of state.

Monday night, the council unanimously approved an ordinance that verified the first ordinance and the election results, gave the legal description of the 2,500 acres taken in and split Gravel Ridge’s political base between two wards.

Part of Gravel Ridge went to Ward 1, whose aldermen are Becki Vassar and Charles Harmon, and the remaining portion of Gravel Ridge was put into Ward 2, whose aldermen are Butch Davis and David Henry.

The ordinance also states that all of Gravel Ridge will be placed under rules and regulations of single-family home (R-1) zoning until the city council has time to update the Sherwood zoning map.

This means any plans for apartments or commercial developments will have to seek special approval and variances before going through thenormal approval process.

On April 1, Gravel Ridge residents voted overwhelmingly to become part of Sherwood instead of Jacksonville, bringing to an end a four-month effort by both Jacksonville and Sherwood to annex the community of 3,500.

According the Pulaski County Election Commission, 632 residents, or 74 percent, voted to join Sherwood, while 221, or 26 percent, voted to become part of Jacksonville.

“We are so excited to have our neighbors in Gravel Ridge joining us,” said Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman.

That appreciation was emphasized in section four of the ordinance, which states “the city council extends its gratitude to the citizens of Gravel Ridge and welcomes them into the city of Sherwood.”

Jacksonville was the first to vote to annex Gravel Ridge back in December and set a February election date. Sherwood soon followed suit and set a March election vote.
When cities initiate annexation procedures as Jacksonville and Sherwood did, both the city and the affected area must vote on the issue.

Jacksonville’s annexation vote—which included Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge voters only—was Feb. 5. In that election, 66 percent of the votes were for the annexation, and 34 percent were against annexation, but about 70 percent of the Gravel Ridge voters were against the idea.

Sherwood’s vote to annex Gravel Ridge—which included Sherwood and Gravel Ridge voters only—was March 11.

In that election, 82 percent of the votes were for annexation and 18 percent were against. Even the Gravel Ridge residents approved of the annexation.

TOP STORY > >Contractors rebuilding sports fields

Leader staff writer

“Overwhelming,” is how Sherwood’s Parks and Recreation Director Sonny Janssen described the damage to the city’s sports complex the morning after an EF-2 tornado roared through the area.

The tornado also caused about $750,000 worth of damage to Sylvan Hills High School, forcing seniors to move to the Bill Harmon Recreation Center, but they’re now back as repairs are being made as quickly as possible.

“I was at the sports complex the night before just after the storms and it didn’t seem so bad, but I was seeing just what the flashlight was picking up. The next morning I saw the whole picture and it was overwhelming,” he said.

The complex has been closed since the tornado hit April 3. Janssen said it will remain closed as repairs are being made and the area is being made safe and secure. “We just need the general public to stay out of the area. We have heavy equipment going four five different ways as everyone is working fast and hard to repair the damage,” Janssen said.

As examples of why to stay out of the complex, Janssen said some light poles are being taken down and replaced. Between the old ones coming out of the ground and the new ones going in, big holes exist. The same is true for fence posts being replaced.

“We don’t want anyone breaking a leg or getting hurt in any way,” he said.

Most of the repair work, Janssen explained, is being done by contractors hired by the insurance companies.

“Contrary to rumors, we haven’t received any insurance money. Not even any estimates. But the insurers have hired a number of contractors directly to make repairs.”

At the Sherwood City Council meeting Monday night, Janssen gave the aldermen an update on the complex. “A lot of work and repairs have already been accomplished,” he said.

Janssen said contractors have removed most of the damaged fencing (about a mile’s worth), replaced most of the damaged sheet metal on the softball fields, repaired or ordered 14 sets of bleachers, ordered bleachers and dugout covers and are re-aiming all the softball field lights.

Janssen said the softball fields were not damaged as heavily as the baseball and other fields and should be ready for games first. “I can’t say if that’ll be tomorrow or the next day or five weeks from now. But as soon as they are ready, we’ll be playing ball on them,” he said.

In the meantime, the youth soccer, softball and baseball programs have been moved to other locations. The Sherwood softball and baseball programs, run by the Optimist Club, are playing games in Cabot, Jacksonville, Rose City and North Heights. The soccer programs have been moved to Victory Baptist School and Sylvan Hills High School. “The soccer season will probably be finished before we reopen the sports complex,” Janssen said.

He said overall the youth programs are running smoothly. “As smoothly as it can with games all over the place and parents having to get their children there,” Janssen said.

The parks and recreation director told the aldermen that the city gets daily updates on progress. “It’s coming together, but it takes time,” he said.

The tornado that hit the complex, according to John Robinson of the National Weather Service, was an EF-2 tornado with winds at 111 to 135 miles per hour.

Robinson said the tornado’s path was more than seven miles long. It started near the intersection of Camp Robinson Road and Donovan Briley Boulevard in North Little Rock, passed through the southeast corner of Camp Robinson, ripped through the North Little Rock airport, then through Sherwood, hitting the sports complex and the high school, before zipping through Gravel Ridge. The tornado’s path ended about 1.5 miles north of Gravel Ridge, according to Robinson.

“Understand that the city of Sherwood is committed to re-opening a safe and kid friendly athletic facility as soon as possible,” Janssen said.

TOP STORY > >Air base practices flights at Stuttgart

Stuttgart Daily Leader

Stuttgart Municipal Airport has seen some friendly military action flying above the area lately since Little Rock Air Force Base has chosen the airport as the spot to do some military training.

The C130s — models E, H and new largest model J — will be seen trying random approaches, different military maneuvers and flight training in general at the airport, according to Carl Humphries, Stuttgart Municipal Airport manager.

“For the past several weeks, they have been doing night stuff while we are not here,” Humphries said.

The reason for choosing the smaller airport is the lengths of the runways and availability for instrument approaches for flight training.

“It is closer to home and it saves on fuel,” he explained.

According to Humphries, the airport could see more military fuel sales in the future, which brings in money for the local airport because of the exercises.

The public is invited to watch the training, although a schedule has not been announced.

As the training progresses, Humphries said, LRAFB will send out 48-hour notices for spectators.

Training is scheduled late at night Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and randomly during the day.

The Stuttgart Fire Department will see extra training because of the exercises.

“It will be hands-on training on how to handle an aircraft crash,” SFD Chief J.P. Jordan said.

“Their mission is using the runway at Stuttgart to practice, and our mission as the city fire department is to assist them,” the chief explained.

LRAFB will bring a crash truck, Jordan said, and SFD will supply crews with water. The flights will let the department practice how to handle airplane crashes at the airport.

“Thankfully that is something we don’t see a lot of,” Jordan said.

The news was broken at the recent Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours held at the airport, when Humphries asked the base to provide tours of the planes and information about the base mission.

LRAFB is the home of combat airlift.

The 314th Airlift Wing is the host unit, which reports to Air Education and Training Command.

Two major associate units, the 463rd Airlift Group and the Air Force Mobility Weapons School, report to Air Mobility Command.

Additionally, the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard is located there. The 189th AW also reports to Air Education and Training Command.

TOP STORY > >Grant refusal upsets patrons

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District officials last week refused to sign two otherwise completed grant applications that could have brought $300,000 worth of educational services next year to Jacksonville-area children, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more over the succeeding four years. The funds were federal funds.

Those seeking the two 21st Century grants from the state say the district personnel either said or implied that PCSSD wouldn’t sign off because Jacksonville could have its own school district before the five-year grants expired.


Jacksonville school activists say it’s just another example of the district penalizing Jacksonville because some want the area to detach from PCSSD.

But at a board workshop Monday, acting Superintendent Beverly Ruth-ven denied that she or anyone had based refusal to sign off on a grant request to expand Jacksonville’s preschool programs because Jacksonville seeks detachment from PCSSD or that administration policy therefore discourages or prohibits helping them.

“That is certainly not true,” Ruthven said in response to a charge by Bill Vasquez, a school board member representing Jacksonville.

The grant discussed at the board workshop would have provided $150,000 for Kareer Kids Child Development Center to partner with Warren Dupree and some other areaelementary schools with planned activities based on the Arkansas Consolidated School Improvement Plan.


The second grant application that the district refused to sign would have provided after-school and summer programs at Jacksonville Boys Middle School to remediate English and math and to teach parents to deal successfully with issues like homework and discipline.

It would provide academic enrichment opportunities, tutoring and mentoring, according to Yvonne Montgomery, a teacher there. It was sought in cooperation with the Arthur and Ethel Johnson Foundation and with True Word Ministries, which would have provided any necessary matching funds, she said.


Here’s what Ruthven wrote to Montgomery in declining her grant application:

1. The district is waiting for a court decision on unitary status.

2. The district is not in a position to make a five-year commitment on fiscal obligations for a grant at this time.

3. The district is concerned about the sustainability of the project.

“I feel they are not giving our boys a fair playing ground,” said Montgomery.

She said she waited at the administration building April 24 for an hour in case any administrators had questions for her about the grant.

After administration refusal to sign the applications, she said she submitted the application to the state Education Department unsigned.

Kristy Brown, executive director of Kareer Kids, said Barbara Frederick at PCSSD told her that the superintendent’s cabinet had decided against signing any 21st CCLC grants for Pulaski County School District at this time.


“She then told me that this grant is a five-year commitment and we are still waiting on a legal decision regarding Jacksonville schools because they may not even be part of Pulaski County in five years and they were not willing to make that commitment because they may not even be tied to the school at the end of the grant,” Brown said.

“That was never said,” Ruthven told Vasquez. “The grant came in at 10:30 a.m. Friday by fax. It was 38 pages long, required matching funds from the district and needed to be singed (and faxed elsewhere) by 5:30 p.m.,” she said.

Cara Walloch, who owns Kareer Kids, said the district knew it would not be responsible for the matching money for the grant.


Ruthven said the 21st Century grant could have been considered if it had come earlier to the district.

Vasquez said he hated to think that eventual, possible detachment by Jacksonville would result in a district policy against providing things helpful to the students and teachers in the area.

“Is it district policy not to support Jacksonville schools because they might detach?” asked Vasquez.

Also discussed at the meeting, which was characterized as a workshop, was reducing the number of principals at Mills High School from two and a half to two and a quarter.

Board member Mildred Tatum said parents are already worried about their children’s safety at Mills and this was no time to reduce the number of principals.

Ruthven said that while there was a reduction of one-quarter of a principal position, that several other staff members were being added.

The board discussed having pre-meeting meetings to set the agenda and ask questions, but decided instead on just getting the agenda sent to them earlier, with opportunities to make changes or ask questions individually through Board President
Charlie Wood.


Chief financial officer Larry O’Briant said the district has eliminated two of three bidders from taking over school bus driving from the district, but was putting information from the third—First Student—into a spread sheet to compare to the costs of the district continuing to run its own transportation department.

Nationwide, First Student maintains 62,000 buses and transports four million students.

Moral reportedly is low among school bus drivers, waiting to see if the board chooses to hire a private firm and to get out of the transportation business.

Board member Gwen Williams said several drivers “think it’s a done deal,” and have begun looking for jobs elsewhere.

Drivers believe they will lose pay and benefits if service is privatized, although it is widely believed that a new firm would hire most.

Vasquez pointed out that the drivers would still lose accumulated sick leave.