Friday, May 23, 2008

TOP STORY > >LRAFB holds ceremony to mark Memorial Day

More than 200 airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base’s 314th Airlift Wing gathered in Heritage Park on Friday for a mass formal retreat ceremony to remember fallen service members and to commemorate Memorial Day.

“We should remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Bob Largent, Air Force Association chairman of the board and guest speaker at the event, said.

“All of us must step up and support our country,” he said. He commented on the professionalism and selflessness required of service members.

The base unveiled a memorial honoring fallen airmen earlier this month. The names of Sgt. John Self, 314th Security Forces Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Peters, 314th Logistics Readiness Squadron, who both died while fighting in Iraq, were placed on it.

TOP STORY > >Ceremonies honor those who served

Leader executive editor

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer and is also the traditional day to remember one’s dearly departed by visiting family burial grounds and military cemeteries.

Military cemeteries will be having observances including Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery on Maryland Ave. in North Little Rock which will have a Memorial Day observance beginning at 11 a.m.

Air Force MSgt. David Farrier, who is helping to organize the event, said Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to attend and will speak.

He said Gen. Rowayne Schatz, Little Rock Air Force Base commander, and Sen. Mark Pryor are also expected to attend. The Patriot Guard will be on hand and an Air Force detail will be there in full dress blues.

Jacksonville’s city offices will be closed on Monday in observance of Memorial Day. Monday’s garbage, yard waste and recycling routes will be collected on Tuesday, and Tuesday’s routes will run on Wednesday.

The schedule for the remainder of the week remains the same. Landfill day for bulk items is Friday, May 30.

Sherwood city offices will be closed Monday. Trash routes for Monday will be picked up on Tuesday along with Tuesday’s routes.

Cabot’s municipal offices will be closed on Monday, but the city’s trash pickup schedule will remain the same for Monday’s pickups.

In Ward, all city offices will be closed but trash pickup routes will remain the same.

In Austin, city offices are closed and trash routes will be one day behind.

Lonoke city offices will be closed on Memorial Day. Trash routes will run as usual on Tuesday and Thursday.

Lonoke County offices and the courthouse will also be closed.

Searcy’s municipal offices will be closed on Monday.

Trash pickup for Monday will be on Tuesday and Tuesday’s pickup will be Wednesday. Recycling pickup for Monday will be picked up on Tuesday along with Tuesday’s regular recycling route.

Beebe’s municipal offices will be closed on Monday. Trash routes will remain the same for businesses but are one day behind for residential pickups according to a Waste Management spokesman.

Lower White River Museum State Park will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday in observance of Memorial Day. The park is located at 2009 Main St. in Des Arc. For more information, call 870-256-3711.

Pat O’ Brien, circuit-county clerk and voter registrar, said his office at 401 W. Markham in Little Rock, along with other Pulaski County offices, will be closed on Monday.

TOP STORY > >Counting in Lonoke County is done early

Leader staff writer

Turnout for the Lonoke County primaries was up nearly 50 percent this year, according to Larry Clarke, chairman of the election commission, even though only about 20 percent of the county’s registered voters exercised their franchise.

He said 7,256 residents voted, compared to the usual 5,000. That’s out of about 34,000 registered voters.

About 20 percent of all ballots were cast in the early voting period, Clarke said.

He said the commission had the absentee paper ballots all scanned and in the computer by 3 p.m. election day, but didn’t announce those results until the polls closed at 7:30.

A runoff election June 10 will settle whether Ronald Evans or Bill Ryker will be the Lonoke County District 10 justice of the peace, and Austin voters will decide on a penny sales tax.

Early voting will begin June 3.

While there have been no challenges or requests for recounts, one race is still technically up in the air, he said. Janette Minton maintained her quorum court seat with a four-vote victory over Larry Ridgeway, but five overseas ballots have yet to be counted. Other absentee ballots have trended toward Minton.

Meanwhile, in a county where only a few years ago it took four days to get the result, and more recently final figures weren’t available until about 2 a.m., election officials began packing up about 9:30 Tuesday night.

Gone are the days when results from each township had to be hand posted on a giant grid, and in its place, a computer cycled continuously through the updated results in the lobby of the courthouse.

The large turnout was helped by interest in the circuit judge’s races and by a recent surge in voter registration in preparation for the November presidential race, Clarke speculated.

Nearly all votes in Lonoke County are cast on touch-screen computer voting machines. The only paper ballots are for absentee and provisional ballots, Clarke said.

Election officials from each of the 26 Lonoke County townships now bring a small electronic storage device not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes. At the courthouse, that device is plugged into the election commission’s laptop computer.

The results are downloaded instantaneously, and available to local observers immediately on the projection screen in the courthouse lobby.

“We were done about 9:30 p.m.,” said Clarke, but we were waiting for only two precincts since 8:30—Magness and England.”

He said they are farthest from the courthouse, but Clarke said he hoped they would get their election results into the courthouse more quickly in the future.

Clarke, who has been at the helm of the shift from paper to electronic voting, said the technology was 1950s when he started.

“It was totally out of control,” he said. Clarke says he convinced the other election commissioners and the quorum court to bring the county into the 21st Century.

“We’ve increased the confidence of the voters that when they vote, it’s going to count. We’re shooting results starting at 7:30 p.m. — no more of that two and three in the morning stuff.”

In the November general election, the only challenges for office within the county will be Republican Doug Hatcher against Democrat Walls McCreary to replace Democrat Lenville Evans as Dist. 15 state representative.

Also, Republican Sheriff Jim Roberson against Democrat Steve Rick for sheriff; Democratic County Clerk Dawn Porterfield against Republican Cassandra Pitts; Circuit Clerk Deborah Oglesby, a Democrat, against Susan Denise Browne, a Republican; Dist. 13 JP Mark Edwards, a Republican, against Kenny Ridgeway, a Democrat, and Dist. 5 JP Lynn Clarke, a Republican, against Barry Weathers, a Democrat.

“Everything else is uncontested,” Larry Clarke said of the county races.

Clarke, who installs swimming pools, says the amount of time and energy it takes to run elections is enormous and that he looks forward to a time in the not-so-distant future when someone else can take on the burden.

The general elections aren’t too hard on his swimming pool business, but the primaries fall at a time when people want swimming pools, he said.

TOP STORY > >Election in White County a mess

Leader staff writer

If it could have gone wrong with the election in White County, it did.

The machine that scanned the absentee ballots didn’t work. Some candidates were missing from the Union Township ballots and the poll workers couldn’t shut down the electronic voting machines because they weren’t set for daylight savings time.

Members of the White County Election Commission finally completed their counting at 1 a.m. Wednesday only to learn later that day that their tallies were wrong because they had used the wrong method to count the early votes. So Wednesday night they counted all the ballots again. The winners didn’t change, but the numbers did.

Now, Cathy Foster, who lost her District 1 race for the quorum court in the Democratic primary to incumbent Horace Taylor 146 to 145, has asked for a recount.

Dianne Thomas, who has been on the election commission for three years, said Friday that she has not been through an election with so many problems. But some were caused by mistakes that they have all learned from, and she expects the November election to run smoothly.

In the Democratic primary for the Arkansas House of Representatives, Kieth Williams won over Johnny Wheetley in District 49, 930 to 747. But there will be a runoff in District 58 between Jody Dickinson and L.J. Bryant. In that race, Dickinson received 253 votes to Bryant’s 199 while Jerry Carlew received 105 and Jamie Darling received 98.

There also will be a runoff for Searcy District Court judge between Mark Pate and Phyllis Worley, who received 2,875 and 1,341 respectively. Also in that four-way race were Greg Niblock, 1,297 votes and Robert Hudgins, 833 votes.

The runoff for the House of Representatives will be June 10, but the runoff in the judicial race will be held during the November general election.

Voters in White and Prairie counties got to choose the new circuit court judge. White County preferred Mark Derrick by a narrow margin, while Prairie County wanted Tom Hughes. But when votes from both counties were added together, Hughes came out the winner by 528 votes. In White County the vote was 3,112 to 3,095 in Derrick’s favor. But in Prairie County, the vote was 1,020 to 475 in Hughes’ favor.

In the Democratic primary for White County judge, Dennis Gillam won over Barth Grayson 2,221 to 1,880.

In the Republican primary race for District 2 of the quorum court, incumbent Larry Fisher lost to Bobby Burns, 81 to 67.

Thomas said a candidate brought to the election commission’s attention the problem with the counting of early voting ballots.

Something was noticeably wrong because the count showed that too many choices on the ballots were left unmarked.

A call to the secretary of state uncovered the problem, she said. With the electronic voting machines, the votes may be counted in two different ways. The ballots used by early voters are supposed to be counted after regular ballots and the tallying is supposed to be done from the computer chips in the PEBs called flashcards.

The commission counted the ballots first using information stored directly in the PEBs and as a result of those mistakes; some of the counts were twice as high as they should have been.

Thomas said the commission has learned that a ballot for early voting contains more data than a PEB can accurately process. Only the flashcard accurately processes early voting ballots.

White County has about 46,000 registered voters but Thomas said only about 12 percent voted in the primary.

Voter apathy is partly to blame, she said, adding that a low turnout was expected because the presidential primary was in February this year.

“I’ve had several people tell me they forgot,” she said. “They voted in February, but they forgot about this primary.”

EDITORIAL >>Let’s go back to old ways

When the luckless people of Zimbabwe turn out in far greater proportions to vote in a hopeless election than people in this old democratic commonwealth, we have a problem. We will not know the precise figures for a while, but 18 percent or fewer of the eligible voters in Arkansas went to the polls Tuesday in the preferential primaries.

You may have to go back to 1924 to find a lower numerical turnout in a statewide biennial election. That year, some 194,000 persons voted in the preferential primary.

There are a few ameliorating factors. Since the conversion to four-year terms for state constitutional offices like governor, the off-election seasons tend to produce a lower turnout. Nothing drives people to the polls like a spirited race for governor. A larger factor was that not many people were moved to run for public office — any political office — in 2008. Up and down the ballot, from the U. S. Senate to justice of the peace, people ran unopposed. It was not because people were discouraged about running against deeply entrenched incumbent politicians. Men running for a seat for the first time got no opposition. That is not a good omen for democratic institutions.

Bifurcating the primaries so that we voted on presidential candidates in separate primaries on Feb. 5 did not help. That was Sen. Tracy Steele’s idea, and he persuaded the legislature and the governor to go along. The idea was that shoving the presidential voting into the first week of February would give Arkansas a far larger role in the selection of presidential nominees in both parties. Candidates and their retinues would come trooping into Arkansas like they do to New Hampshire and Iowa, producing an economic and public-relations bonanza for the state and driving up voter interest. It failed on every count.
Arkansas might have received more attention, at least in the Democratic race, if we picked our candidate last Tuesday. Surely, the legislature next January will rectify that mistake and move the presidential primaries to May again. It will save money, too. Statewide elections are expensive, and one is cheaper than two.

But that does not account for the political lethargy of the season. One culprit, we are convinced, is term limits, the constitutional restriction on longevity that is only now fully kicking in. By preventing long tenures in the Senate and House of Representatives, it was supposed bring droves of people into legislative elections. Powerful incumbents would no longer intimidate the ambitious.

But this is the result: Sixty-three of the 100 House seats in 2009 will be filled without a contest either in the primaries or the general election. Only three of the 17 Senate seats up for election are contested.
In 1996, in the early stage of term limits, 34 of the 100 seats in the House of Representatives were contested in the general election in November, but this year only 21 are contested. Six of the 17 Senate seats were contested by the other party but this year only one. So much for the rise of two-party politics.

The common explanation is that since representatives may serve only three two-year terms, those ambitious to serve tend to wait until the newly elected legislator completes his or her allotted terms (three in the House, two in the Senate), so once elected to the House or Senate a person is virtually assured of finishing his allotted terms without a contest. A House term now is effectively six years, a Senate term eight. Is that better democracy?

But something else is at work. Legislative office is not as attractive if you must surrender it when you have barely mastered the mechanics of lawmaking, and fewer and fewer people are taking the risk at all.

Candidates are increasingly winning legislative office simply by filing for the first time. In an ordinarily highly competitive Senate district in Little Rock last week, David Johnson won his first term without facing a Democratic or Republican opponent. He will enjoy eight years in the upper chamber without having to expose his ideas to the crucible of an election.

We can and almost certainly will cure the bifurcated elections next year by returning to a single primary, and maybe we are approaching the day that people will reconsider the false appeal of term limits and reinstate a full measure of democracy.

SPORTS>> Jackrabbits return plenty of talent on both sides of ball

Leader sports editor

The progression from year one to year two in the Jeff Jones era at Lonoke was apparent last season when the Jackrabbits reached the second round of the playoffs after a 4-6 record in 2006.

And last year’s 8-4 turnaround was achieved despite a season of emotional upheaval, which included the death ofquarterback Alex Cash in a car accident in June.

“We had a lot of adversity last year and we weren’t able to overcome it all,” said Jones, whose Jackrabbits concluded spring football practice this past week. “So whatever the Lord presents us this year, hopefully, we can overcome it.

“Last season actually turned out to be a blessing. Fighting everything we fought through and making it to the second round of the playoffs, I felt this team really dug down deep and held on.”

It was a topsy-turvy season, for sure. The Jackrabbits lost their first two games of the season — one, the result of seven turnovers, and the other when they squandered a 21-point lead to Hot Springs and lost by a point on a last-second Trojan touchdown.

They bounced back to win seven in a row, but lost quarterback Rollins Elam to a broken leg in the eighth game of the season and went 2-2 the rest of the way. Elam threw for more than 1,900 yards in those eight games, and accounted for 70 percent of his team’s offensive production. But his loss meant more than just yards gained and points scored, Jones said.

“Rollins came in and did an outstanding job last season,” Jones said. “We knew he was an outstanding quarterback, but was just waiting his turn. He is really a good leader. The two we played at home after we lost him, we won easy. But the two on the road, where leadership matters, we lost.

“I’m not saying we would have won those games, but I would have liked our chances a lot better.”

Elam is back, along with almost all of the skill players and most of the offensive line. In fact, Jones has nine starters back on both sides of the ball. The big losses to graduation are receiver/safety Alvin Farmer, fullback/linebacker Amir Fleming, tight end/safety Daniel Smith and offensive/defensive lineman Kiefer Vaughn.

“It will be hard to replace our safeties,” Jones said, noting that Farmer, an Arkansas Tech signee, picked off 10 passes a season ago. “Both (Farmer and Smith) were two-year starters.”

But with leading tackler Joel Harris taking over for Fleming at the middle linebacker spot, as well as replacing Smith at tight end, most of those other holes have been filled. Jones said the defensive line looks solid with Morgan Linton and Nick Head as the anchors.

Jones figures the offense will be explosive this season, with outstanding receivers Clarence Harris and Michael Howard (1,000 yards, 15 TDs) returning and with a stronger-but-every-bit-as-fast Brandon Smith back at tailback.

“He’s put on 35 pounds in the weight room,” Jones said. “He’s a legit 4.6 (seconds in the 40-yard dash). And our fullback Morgan Linton is back and both of those guys are very capable of carrying the ball.”

Add to that move-in Eric Graydon, who can dazzle with his 4.4 speed, and it’s easy to see why Jones thinks the scoreboard might be lighting up this fall.

Despite all that talent at the skill positions, Jones still cites the offensive line as “the strength of the team.”

“I like the seasoning of our line,” Jones said. “We have a pretty intricate blocking system (in the spread offense), but I feel pretty good about us being on the same page. The timing will get better and we’ll get stronger through the summer.”

Having two years under their belt in the new spread offense makes everything so much easier, Jones said. All the offensive and defensive packages are already installed. Now, he said, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning things for the fall.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he admitted. “But I see a little improvement every day. The guys are getting so much more comfortable with the system and just understanding the game of football better.”

Though most people think pass when they hear the word spread, Jones is hoping for balance in his attack again this season.

He’d like, he said, 50-50 production out of his running and passing game. He said his offense’s flexibility will be a big asset.

“Our offense is pretty inclusive,” he said. “We can do anything. We have the capability of an I-formation running game and the spread passing game out of any formation we have. We really like what we’re doing.”

Jones said having a multiple offense is not only a luxury, it’s vital.

“Today, as good as the defenses are, I don’t think you can sit on one formation unless you’re just that much better than the guys you’re playing” he insists. “It’s a necessity for us to be in something like that.”

SPORTS>>Numbers down, talent up

Leader sportswriter

The numbers are not overwhelming, but the talent returning is the best the program has seen in years.

The North Pulaski football Falcons ended their two-week run of spring practice this week, with numbers as high as 38 and as low as 27.

Player numbers have not been the only thing down this spring. There are currently three coaching vacancies among the North Pulaski staff, leaving the Falcons with just head coach Tony Bohannon and assistants Rich Rogers and Robbie Walker.

“This time of year, you (normally) have six of us,” Bohannon said. “You work three groups, and you have two coaches working with each one. So we’re half-staffed right now. That’s made it a little bit tough at times.”

Although the coaching situation is difficult, Bohannon says he is not concerned with the lower player turnout. He said the numbers don’t include most of next year’s sophomores, so the turnout should be higher come August.

Injuries have also played a role in the spring, most notably to starting returning senior Daniel Thurman, who is out with back problems. Junior Camaron Stoneking has also had back issues, but Bohannon expects both players to be back at full force by August.

A solid core of skill players are returning, including quarterbacks Andrew Allen and Marshall Shipley, along with senior running back Jerald Blair and sophomore Darius Cage. Senior Alex Harper will return at tight end and defensive end in the fall, and Huston Reagan will see time at fullback and linebacker this year. Defensive ace Arlando Hicks will also return for his senior year of football in August.

Four returning linemen return to the offense, including 6-foot, 9-inch, 325-pound Cliff Copeland. Copeland tipped the scales at over 350 during certain times last year, but Bohannon says he has done well with his exercise regimen over the past several months, which has him in much better shape over this time a year ago.

“This is the most returning starters we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Bohannon said. “We just hope we can keep them all together. There are some days when we will be thin on linemen and other days where we’re thin on backs. But the one thing about it is, the young guys that are out there, they get worked in, and a lot of them are guys that haven’t got a lot of work before. Everybody’s getting some this spring.”

Changes in both the offensive and defensive schemes have taken center stage for the Falcons this spring. The defense has been working on going to a five-man front, while the offense is adding another running back.

The Falcons have used primarily a wing-T formation for most of Bohannon’s tenure, but are now switching to the newly revived dead-T formation.

“The T we ran before was more of a veer-type,” Bohannon said. “Where you break it down and run the pro set out of it. What we’re going to now is more like what you see out of Cabot and Beebe. We’ll see if we can hang on to the ball a little bit more and get a little more out of it.”

The plan is to alleviate fatigue as much as possible on both sides of the ball, but Bohannon said that may not be a reality at the interior. Senior linemen Jared Pflaster and Dylan Shefield will most likely line up at both offense and defense throughout the season, and Copeland could even see time on the D-line in the fall.

Bohannon has high expectations for senior running back/defensive back Jerald Blair. Blair was the only Falcon to make All-State last year, and has lined up in the spring at running back and quarterback, along with his defensive job in the secondary.

Bohannon said it is more than just the Falcon faithful who have their eyes on Blair.

“He has gotten a lot of mail this spring,” Bohannon said. “We’ll see how it goes. They’re checking transcripts and all of that good stuff. We’ll have to see how it all works out.”

SPORTS>> Sports just one of Pastor’s loves, talents

Leader sportswriter

Some high school athletes think that being a champion is the only thing that matters. For 17-year-old Hannah Pastor, championships are just one more thing that make it fun to be a kid.

Abundant Life’s standout track star will return in the fall as the only female state champion in school history, and also as the
Lady Owls leading scorer from last season in basketball.

Pastor qualified for this week’s Meet of Champs at Lake Hamilton with her second state track title in as many years.

Last year, she broke the 3A state record in the 400-meter dash. That record was broken by Shiloh Christian’s Lindsey Roe this year, but Pastor responded by simply setting another record — this time, in the triple jump.

Her leap of 35 feet, 1 inch was a new 3A state record, and earned Pastor her second straight state championship. Although she did not repeat in the 400, she did run second in the event. She also picked up a second place in the 200 meters.

Pastor qualified for the Meet of Champs with her record-setting triple jump, and bested that mark by four inches on Wednesday with a 35-5 jump at the Meet of Champs, good for sixth-place overall. She also finished fourth in the 400-meter with a time of 1:00.27.

Pastor says the past couple of weeks have been tumultuous, but worth every bit of the hard work.

“After I went to state, it didn’t really hit me until the next day,” Pastor said. “Coach (Tim Ballard) was like, OK, we have to start training for the Meet of Champs now. So we started practicing and running 400’s like crazy so I would be ready.”

Ballard lists Pastor as the mosttalented overall athlete the school has ever seen. Abundant Life has no track facilities, only a strip of a vacant parking lot between the school and nearby church, but Ballard said that matters little to Pastor.

“The thing about Hannah is, all that extra hubbub about championships and all that other stuff doesn’t mean much to her,” Ballard said. “She’s already said that she doesn’t have much desire to do athletics in college. She’s more about enjoying life and having fun and doing whatever comes up.”

After winning her state title in the 400 last season as a sophomore, Pastor switched focus to the triple jump for the ’08 season. That move paid off, as she earned her second-straight trip to the prestigious Meet of Champs event.

“That’s the thing about her, too.” Ballard said. “Whatever she wants to do, she does. Whatever she feels like doing, she gets done. Last year, we focused on the 400, and she won the state championship in the 400. This year, we focused on the triple jump, and she won the state championship, and then got runner-up finishes both years, also. So whatever her focus is for the time being, that is what she excels at.”

Ballard noted that, because of her easy-going nature, motivation can sometimes be an issue for Pastor. He said he even has to go so far as to try to make her mad.

“Coach Ballard has taught me so much,” Pastor said. “He’s taught me how to channel my competitive energy, and how to get my adrenaline going, because sometimes I’m a laid-back person, and I just like to have fun.”

She also credited head basketball coach Justin Moseley with helping her keep a positive attitude when things get tough.

“He’s always been a very supportive coach, so I’m really thankful for both of them,” she said. “I love them both.”

But Pastor’s athletic prowess is only part of the story. There are also other things that make her who she is, such as perfect grades, devout spirituality and love of the arts.

She has matched her athletic achievements in the classroom. Pastor holds a 4.0 GPA, and scored 22 on her ACT exam. She is leaning toward Oklahoma State, but has not ruled out in-state universities such as Central Arkansas and Harding, and is also considering the University of Arkansas.

Even with sports and academics, Pastor still finds time to pursue her artistic endeavors.

She entered the Arkansas Flower and Garden show last year, where her painting earned a third-place ribbon. She sold one of her paintings for $250 at Art for the Heart.

She also plays guitar and writes her own songs.

Pastor is interested in marine biology as a career, but is unsure of living on one of the coasts thousands of miles from home.

Meteorology — specifically, storm-chasing — is another passion of hers.

With all those interests, Pastor said she is unsure whether she will continue her sports career in college.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m not really looking into doing sports in college. But it all depends on what the Lord has for me.

Whatever He gives me or whatever path He’s chosen for me to take is what I’ll do.

“I don’t know how it’s going to go because I really do have a competitive nature.”

She has one year left at Abundant Life and plans on savoring the camaraderie at the school.

“It’s really because we are a Christ-ian school, and because we have the Lord here,” Pastor said. “That’s God — God brings people together like that. I feel so privileged and so lucky to go to a school like this. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

SPORTS>> Celsor, Anderson win

Leader sportswriter

PEARCY — Beebe’s James Anderson and Searcy’s Kristen Celsor won the high jump competition at the Meet of Champs at Lake Hamilton High School on Wednesday.

Anderson’s leap of 6 feet, 9 inches edged out Chris Gragg of Warren. Celsor won with a jump of 5-5.

Cabot’s Amber Rizoff took sixth (5-2), while Searcy’s Shalisha Anthony was 10th (4-8).

The Meet of Champs features the winners of each event in all seven classifications from the state track meets last week, plus a select group of extras.

Abundant Life’s Hannah Pastor, who set the 3A state meet record in winning the triple jump last week, finished sixth on Wednesday with a jump of 35-5, four inches better than her state meet jump. Pastor also took fourth in the 400 meters (1 minute, 27-hundredths of a second).

The Cabot boys earned a second-place finish in the 1,600-meter relay (3:24.68) and third in the 3,200-meter relay (8:13.22).

The Cabot girls finished second in the 3,200-meter relay (9:57.82).

Emily Carpenter of Cabot was fourth in the 3,200 meters (11:48.57), while Cabot’s Brandon Tucker was fifth in the boys 3,200 (10:09.32).

Reilly McAfee of Cabot took home a sixth in the 800 meters (2:25.42), while Searcy’s Kyle Campbell was sixth in the 100-meter hurdles (15.36). Taking seventh place in the long jump was Searcy’s Josh McFalls (20-9.25). Anthony also took seventh in the 200 meters (26.20).

Searcy senior star and University of Arkansas signee Whitney Jones missed the Meet of Champs after sitting out the state meet with a hamstring injury. Jones won four Meet of Champs events last year. Jones is planning on defending her heptathlon title next week at Cabot. Jones has won the event the past two seasons.

Thursday, May 22, 2008



Arkansas Court of Appeals
Wendell Griffen..............12,583
Rita Gruber....................16,953

Ninth Division Circuit Court
Mary Ann McGowan........17,780
Cecily Patterson Skarda....9,225

Division 11, Subdistrict 6.2
Cathi Compton..............12,365
Melinda Gilbert................9,420
Jewell Harper...................2,828

District 23, LONOKE COUNTY

Division One
Judge Barbara Elmore........4,780
Chuck Graham...................2,257

Division Two
Judge Phillip Whiteaker.......4,196
Pros. Lona McCastlain.......2,962

Lonoke County Northern District Court in Cabot
Judge Joe O’Bryan...........3,043
Ken Williams...................1,437


Teresa Hallum Smith.......1,296
Ginger Stuart Schafer......1,115

Teresa Hallum Smith......1,147
Joe Svoboda...................1,260

Teresa Hallum Smith.....1,082
Joe Svoboda..................1,279



Samuel L. Chamberlain..1,607
Steve Rich.....................1,755

Jim Roberson.................2,513
John W. Staley..................830


Dist. 7 Adam Sims...........183
Dist. 7 Robert I. Depriest..105
Dist. 8 Roger Dale Lynch....279
Dist. 8 Richard Kyzer..........200
Dist. 10 Ronald L. Evans....212
Dist. 10 Wes Clement .......125
Dist. 10 Bill Ryker..............244

Dist. 2 Janette Minton......141
Dist. 2 Larry Ridgeway......137
Dist. 3 Larry Odom...........226
Dist. 3 Lisa F. Shotts........207
Dist. 4 Donna Pedersen....209
Dist. 4 Tim Lemons...........359
Dist. 6 Harry Roderick..........84
Dist. 6 Alexis Malha...........203


Dist. 48 Randy Minton...1,086
Dist. 48 Davy Carter......1,338


TOP STORY > > Pulaski Judge and Legislature

Buddy Villines..............15,341
Buddy York....................5,760

State Legislature
Dist. 43 Tom Raley...........326
Dist. 43 Steven Meckfessel....467

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TOP STORY > >Deal to increase county pay falls apart

Leader senior staff writer

Raw feelings emerged at the Lonoke County Quorum Court last Thursday night as a deal to approve both a study of compensation, benefits and job responsibilities and also a new personnel policy that set starting pay at $18,500 broke down.

“I’m going to ask all of you to pass both of them tonight to keep a little peace,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman.

That said, all of his fellow Democrats—some reluctantly—joined the four Republicans to unanimously approve $27,642 to fund the JSEP study originally proposed by Republican Janette Minton. It’s intended to make county compensation fair and competitive with compensation for similar work both in area governments and in the private sector.

But when the court considered the personnel policy changes that would set starting pay for county employees at $18,500, Republicans Minton, Mark Edwards and Alexis Malham argued that the court should wait for about three months until it had heard recommendations from the Johansson Group, which would conduct the JSEP study.

Minton, Edwards and Malham abandoned their usual seats at the beginning of the meeting and sat as far as possible from fellow Republican Larry Odom. The three saidthey were willing to accept an $18,000 a year starting pay level.

They were unmoved when Troutman said it would only affect five employees and that step-grade increases had been stripped out to more than offset the $500 difference.

“What else would you like to fund?” asked Edwards. “We’re just giving money away. Why not wait for JSEP?”

Minton said the $18,000 level already represented an 11 percent increase in the starting salary.

Democrat Mike Dolan, arguing for the higher pay, said “I wasn’t crazy about JSEP, but I voted for it.”

He was among those who felt that the Minton, Edwards and Malham had reneged on the deal to vote for the pay increase in exchange for support on the JSEP proposal.

The pay increased passed its first reading 8-3, but without nine votes, it requires two more readings, which means it could be the July meeting until the proposal becomes law.

The JSEP study could be ready by the July or August meeting.

The Republicans, still smarting over the rebuke when Troutman used his position as County Judge to over ride their choice of agent—but not the plan—for the health care provider, said that Legacy Group was illegally paying the county’s share of premiums on COBRA policies for former employees.

“That’s an illegal rebate,” said Edwards, himself an insurance agent.

In other business, the court agreed to accept a $450,000 Harper Grant to help fund a new county health unit in Cabot. Milt Garris, director of the Lonoke County Health Department, said it would take another grant of about the same amount to make the new unit a reality.

JP Jodie Troutman congratulated acting JP Hollon Crum on his 59th anniversary and acting JP Virgil Turner announced he would be celebrating his 5oth anniversary May 31.

TOP STORY > >Deal to increase county pay falls apart

Leader senior staff writer

Raw feelings emerged at the Lonoke County Quorum Court last Thursday night as a deal to approve both a study of compensation, benefits and job responsibilities and also a new personnel policy that set starting pay at $18,500 broke down.

“I’m going to ask all of you to pass both of them tonight to keep a little peace,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman.

That said, all of his fellow Democrats—some reluctantly—joined the four Republicans to unanimously approve $27,642 to fund the JSEP study originally proposed by Republican Janette Minton. It’s intended to make county compensation fair and competitive with compensation for similar work both in area governments and in the private sector.

But when the court considered the personnel policy changes that would set starting pay for county employees at $18,500, Republicans Minton, Mark Edwards and Alexis Malham argued that the court should wait for about three months until it had heard recommendations from the Johansson Group, which would conduct the JSEP study.

Minton, Edwards and Malham abandoned their usual seats at the beginning of the meeting and sat as far as possible from fellow Republican Larry Odom. The three saidthey were willing to accept an $18,000 a year starting pay level.

They were unmoved when Troutman said it would only affect five employees and that step-grade increases had been stripped out to more than offset the $500 difference.

“What else would you like to fund?” asked Edwards. “We’re just giving money away. Why not wait for JSEP?”

Minton said the $18,000 level already represented an 11 percent increase in the starting salary.

Democrat Mike Dolan, arguing for the higher pay, said “I wasn’t crazy about JSEP, but I voted for it.”

He was among those who felt that the Minton, Edwards and Malham had reneged on the deal to vote for the pay increase in exchange for support on the JSEP proposal.

The pay increased passed its first reading 8-3, but without nine votes, it requires two more readings, which means it could be the July meeting until the proposal becomes law.

The JSEP study could be ready by the July or August meeting.

The Republicans, still smarting over the rebuke when Troutman used his position as County Judge to over ride their choice of agent—but not the plan—for the health care provider, said that Legacy Group was illegally paying the county’s share of premiums on COBRA policies for former employees.

“That’s an illegal rebate,” said Edwards, himself an insurance agent.

In other business, the court agreed to accept a $450,000 Harper Grant to help fund a new county health unit in Cabot. Milt Garris, director of the Lonoke County Health Department, said it would take another grant of about the same amount to make the new unit a reality.

JP Jodie Troutman congratulated acting JP Hollon Crum on his 59th anniversary and acting JP Virgil Turner announced he would be celebrating his 5oth anniversary May 31.

TOP STORY > >Easy win for judge, still facing fall hurdle

Leader staff writer

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines had an easy time Tuesday in the Democratic primary, defeating his opponent Buddy York by a 3-to-one margin.

With 118 of 118 of precincts reporting, Villines captured 15,341 votes, or 72.7 percent, compared to York’s 5,760 votes, or 27.3 percent.

Villines will face Republican Phil Wyrick in November.

The rest of the contested Pulaski County races were much closer, including one judicial race that will be decided in a run-off.

Steven Meckfessel moved past fellow Republican Tom Raley in the late hours in the House District 43 contest. Meckfessel garnered 467 votes, or 58.9 percent, compared to Raley’s 326 votes, or 41.1 percent.

Meckfessel will face Democratic challenger Jim Nichols in the November general election for the open seat left vacant by the term-limited Jeff Wood.

District 43 covers portions of Sherwood and North Little Rock.

In the non-partisan judicial races, Judge Rita Gruber solidly beat out Judge Wendell Griffen for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Gruber captured 16,953 votes, or 57.4 percent to Griffen’s 12,583 votes, or 42.6 percent. The win puts Gruber on the appeals court

In the race for the judge’s bench in Circuit Court, District 6, Judge Mary McGowan bested Cecily Patterson Skarda, 65.8 percent to 34.2 percent. McGowan netted 17,780 votes, while Skarda landed 9,225 votes.

The Circuit Court, District 6, District 6.2 (juvenile court) race was the only contest with three candidates and has ended with a run-off between Cathi Compton and Melinda Gilbert, which will be decided in November’s general election.

Compton received 10,365 votes, or 45.8 percent, compared to Gilbert who received 9,420 votes, or 41.7 percent, and Jewel Harper garnered 2,828 votes, or 12.5 percent.

TOP STORY > >Filing period ends for local councils

Leader staff writers

There will be no new faces on the Jacksonville City Council, one in Lonoke, at least one contest in Sherwood and Ward, but Sherwood could end up with as many as three new aldermen come November.

Candidates for offices in Cabot, Austin and Beebe file in August.

The filing deadline to run for city council seats in Jacksonville, Sherwood and Lonoke was Monday.

Jacksonville and Sherwood have staggered terms, meaning half the council is up for reelection every two years.

In Jacksonville, five aldermen are up for reelection—Marshall Smith, Ward 1, Position 2; Terry Sansing, Ward 2, Position 2; Linda Rinker, Ward 3, Position 2; Bob Stroud, Ward 4, Position 2; and Bill Howard, Ward 5, Position 2.

All five filed to run again and drew no opposition.

But it’s a completely different story in Sherwood.

Alderman David Henry optednot to seek reelection to his Ward 2 Position 2 seat. Vying for that seat will be newcomers Steve Perry and Kevin Lilly.

Alderman Marina Brooks filed for reelection in Ward 3, Position 2, but has opposition as Bill Montgomery has also filed for that seat.

Alderman Steve Fender filed to run for another term representing Ward 4, Position 2. He has not one, but two challengers in Norman Cartwright and Justin Smith.

The only Sherwood alderman given a free pass was Charlie Harmon, Ward 1, Position 1. No one filed to run against him.

City Clerk Treasurer Angela Nicholson also has no opposition in November has she seeks her first full term as city clerk. She was appointed to that position about nine months ago when the former city clerk Virginia Hillman beat out Bill Harmon in a run-off special election for the mayor’s chair.

Kevin McCleary was the last new face to join the Jacksonville council when he was appointed to the council in July 2006 after the death of Alderman Robert Lewis. Before that, Rinker was appointed to the council in May 2004 to complete the unexpired term of Larry Wilson who resigned for personal reasons.

William Todd Wheat, the son of former Lonoke Mayor Jack Wheat and former County Health Director Vada Wheat is likely to be the only new face on the Lonoke City Council in January.

Wheat, a senior lineman for Entergy, is running for the District 2 seat being vacated by Woody Evans.

Wheat’s spent a lot of time recently helping restore power after storms in Carlisle and Stuttgart.

Wheat filed as a Democrat as did incumbents Jane Derning, district 1; Pat Howell, district 3; Wendell Walker, district 4; Efrem Z.
Jones, district 5; Raymond L. Hatton, district 6 and Michael Florence, district 7.

Phillip Howell, who was out of town and missed the filing deadline, will seek reelection to his district 8 seat as an independent, according to Mayor Wayne McGee.

In Ward, where elections are nonpartisan, the only contested raced will be between Charles K. Gastineau, the incumbent, and Ron Bissett for the Ward 3, Position 1.

Unopposed incumbents include Ginger D. Tarno, Ward 1, Position 1; Marrice Jackson Ward 1, Position 2; Glen C. Walden, Ward 2, Position 1; Don Howard, Ward 2, Position 2 and Jeff Shaver, Ward 3 position 2.

Also in Ward, City Clerk John E. Barclay is running unopposed for reelection.

In England aldermanic races, Peggy D. Baker is unopposed for Ward 3, Position 1, as are Rick Douglas, Ward 1, Position 1; Dudley R. Webb Jr., Ward 2, Position 1 and Bill Newton Jr., Ward 2, Position 2. All are Democrats.

TOP STORY > >Lonoke County jail tax approved

Leader staff writers

The idea of a tax to build a big, safe jail to lock up those who need it just squeezed by in Lonoke County Tuesday.

By a vote of 3,774 to 3,336, voters agreed to tax themselves with a one-cent countywide sales tax for one year to raise about $5.5 million to build a 140-bed jail. The current jail is built to hold about half that number, but sometimes has more than 90.

It is dark, dank and dangerous for both prisoners and guards.

The Lonoke County Quorum Court unanimously placed the tax on the primary ballot, and all the candidates for the quorum court said they favored the one-year sales tax proposal. Even the Lonoke County Republican Party endorsed the tax.

County residents can hardlyremember approving a tax increase other than for schools.

Well-known county Prosecutor Lona McCastlain lost her bid to unseat District 23 Division Two Judge Phillip Whiteaker by a three-to-two margin.

Whiteaker grabbed 4,196 votes, while McCastlain garnered 2,962. She will continue in her role as county prosecutor.

Division One Judge Barbara Elmore maintained her position on the bench, defeating Chuck Graham by a 2-to-1 margin, 4,780 votes to 2,257.

In the sheriff’s race, Sheriff Jim Roberson will run on the Republican side and Steve Rich on the Democratic ticket in November.

Roberson handily defeated his challenger John Staley, 2,513 to 830 votes, while Rich pushed past his Democratic challenger Samuel Chamberlain, 1,755 to 1,607 votes.

Lonoke County justice of the peace primary winners were Democrats Adam Sims and Roger Lynch and Republicans Janette Minton, Larry Odom, Tim Lemons and Alexis Malham.

The three-way race for Justice of the Peace District 10 seat will result in a run-off between Ronald Evans and Bill Ryker.

Former Rep. Randy Minton lost his bid to return to the state legislature. He was defeated by Davy Carter, 1,338 to 1,086. Since there was no Democrat on the ballot, the seat will go to Carter.

Judge Joe O’Bryan easily defeated his opponent Ken Williams, 3,043 to 1,437, to stay on the bench of the Lonoke County Northern District Court in Cabot.

However, things are murky for the Lonoke County Southern District Court.

Teresa Hallum Smith bested challenger Ginger Stuart Schafer in the city of Lonoke, but lost to Joe Svoboda in Carlisle and England.

EDITORIAL >>Huck shoots himself in the foot (again)

Mike Huckabee committed not one but two faux pas last week that sharply lowered his standing in the vice presidential sweepstakes. His best hope is that John McCain was too busy with other demons in his campaign to notice.

A cardinal rule is that no one should appear to be too eager to be on the ticket. It is better to be indifferent or reluctant than to be a supplicant for the job. But there was Huckabee in network interviews almost pleading for the nomination, pointing out how much kinder he had been to McCain during the presidential campaigns than the others and how he could not imagine anyone he would rather be on the presidential ticket with than McCain. He said he would like very much to be the running mate.

That might be survivable, although it was embarrassing to watch. It is far worse to be the perpetual clown who finally told one lame joke too many.

Huckabee did that in a speech to the National Rifle Association, which had invited a parade of Republican politicians to speak.
Jokes have always been a Huckabee trademark and sometimes they are quick and clever. But he has an uncontrollable impulse to force a joke when the occasion doesn’t call for it or before the wrong audience. It’s as if he wants to show people that he is not the usual stiff-necked Southern Baptist preacher. Before lawmakers, to embarrassed silence or counterfeit laughter, he would tell a poor joke about animal sex or about flatulence.

Outside Arkansas borders, he has been prone to make jokes about his native state, sometimes with a hard edge. On a New York radio show he called Arkansas “a banana republic” that stole votes from good Republicans like himself. In Oklahoma, he chided the state for having tough environmental standards and threatened jokingly to dam the Illinois River in Arkansas so that it would not flow into Oklahoma if the state kept trying to make polluting Arkansas industries clean up their discharges into the stream, which supplies drinking water to eastern Oklahoma.

During the presidential de-bates, Huckabee early on won some attention for his lighthearted jabs, so he thought it was expected of him. So he interjects little jibes throughout every appearance. When they fall flat or someone takes them seriously, he protests that people should lighten up.

But the NRA prank was of a different magnitude. When a clatter backstage interrupted his speech, Huckabee paused, grinned and quipped that it was Barack Obama tripping a chair and diving to the floor when someone aimed a gun at him. One of the sub-rosa fears of the election season is of a racist crank taking a potshot at the putative Democratic nominee for president.

There are some scary web sites.

The crack brought not a grin from the NRA audience but a rumble of amazement at his obtuseness. Afterward, he issued something of an apology — he did not intend to disparage Sen. Obama — but he said he did not remember making the remark. He had to listen to a tape to realize he had said it. It was just a little inept humor and people should move on, he was saying by weekend.

A vice presidential candidate cannot help the ticket very much — people vote for the president — but the rule is that he should at least not hurt. McCain makes enough gaffes himself.

He doesn’t need a loose cannon either as a running mate or a vice president. He needs a sober-minded adult, not a jester.
—Ernie Dumas

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Most don’t see tax benefits

Here is a small statistic that might have big meaning for you. It’s supplied by Citizens for Tax Justice, the think tank that constantly crunches numbers from the Treasury Department’s data files on taxes.

Almost four of every five dollars in tax cuts given to Arkansas taxpayers in the big capital gains and dividend tax cut in 2003 goes to the richest 1 percent of Arkansans. There are a little more than 11,000 of them — out of roughly 1,100,000 people who file federal tax returns — and they earn from $365,000 on up each year.

The big tax cut in 2003, plus others offered by Presi-dent Bush and enacted by Congress between 2001 and 2004, account for a little more than half of the $3 trillion that have been added to the national debt since 2001. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and general spending on research, development and production of military hardware account for most of the rest of the debt.

The president wants the tax cuts made permanent before they expire soon after his term ends. Sen. John McCain, who once opposed most of them because he said they were weighted toward the richest Americans and would expand the national debt, now joins Bush in demanding that they be continued.

So how did the tax cuts affect us in Arkansas? Have they been a bonanza for working Americans, as Bush and McCain maintain?

You know that phasing out the estate tax benefited only about 1.5 percent of the heirs of estates, those inheriting estates valued in the millions of dollars. The corporate tax cuts benefited only the — well, corporations and their owners. As for the big reduction of income taxes on capital gains and on corporate stock dividends, which Bush says was a bonanza for middle-class Americans, the lowest earning 60 percent of Arkansas taxpayers — those with net incomes of $44,000 a year or less — received slightly less than half of one percent of the benefits to Arkansans.

In other words, some 650,000 Arkansas families divided half of one percent of the tax savings for Arkansans. The lowest 80 percent received less than 5 percent of the proceeds. The top 1 percent, people netting more than $365,000 a year, got 78.3 percent.

So you know who were helped by the vast accumulation of national debt, you and your children will one day have to pay.
Now, another question: Which income groups bear most of the personal burdens of war, the other big component of the debt?

SPORTS>> A reminder why it’s still the greatest game around

Leader sports editor

There is a reason the greatest authors and essayists have more often than not chosen baseball for their topic.

It is a game that lends itself to eloquence better than any of the other sports. Football is a slog through the mud; basketball a frenetic box of chaos. But baseball is graceful and expansive. Just gazing down on an empty diamond settles the mind.

From the crisp dignity of its uniforms to the fluidity of its unimpeded players moving about the field to its languid (literally) timeless pace, it is a game that quietly excites the heart. Football may awaken your inner beast, basketball might stir the blood into a froth.

But baseball – when played exquisitely and with just the right dash of drama – has a quality about it that almost has to speak for itself. (Poorly played, by the way, it can be a maddening thing to watch, very nearly an insult to the senses. Which is why, when people ask me my favorite sport to cover, I hesitate to say it is baseball. Yet, it is.)

It is a game that rewards attention to detail. It may be scoreless in the third inning, but did you notice that their pitcher is starting to work behind in the count? That he is starting to leave his curve ball up a little? Aren’t the batters starting to make better swings the second time through the lineup?

Perhaps that is why writers have struggled so mightily over the years to capture the soul bliss it can on rare occasion confer upon us.

Last Saturday evening was such an occasion. It was, first of all, an absolutely perfect evening weather-wise. And the panorama of Baum Field and the surrounding countryside hardly hurt matters any.

Then, too, there was this: Watching the field being dragged and smoothed, the crisp white perpendicular lines re-stamped, the plate, the batter’s box and pitching rubber brought back to pristine condition, the Sylvan Hills and Watson Chapel players playing long toss, the ball seeming to hang in the air forever, watching the clean, precise movements of the infielders fielding ground balls, the bullet throws across the diamond, hearing the pop of the mitt and the exhortations and praise of the coach, the anticipation of a state championship game, the near-certainty that it would be well-played and probably close as well.
In my six years of writing about sports, there are a few games that stand out, games I’m certain I’ll hold on to in memory forever. Who knows? Maybe as my life is flashing past at the end, a moment from one of those games will be among those final images. Hey, I’ll take that over a boring seascape or sunset.

I could probably go to my grave with a serene smile if among my last recollections is the sound and sight of Clint Thornton’s 3-run home run in the seventh inning on Saturday. As irritating as the ping of an aluminum bat may be, you’ve never heard such a clean, explosive pop. It was so clean that I don’t even recall the usual accompanying reverberations from the contact, just the gasp of the Sylvan Hills fans and the words of a parent behind me: “That baby is gone!”

Then, of course, the roar of the crowd as the Bears, looking all but dead, miraculously, just two outs away from extinction, turned a 4-1 deficit into a brand new ball game.

Was there any way the Bears would lose? I suppose it was possible. After all, as much as writers wax poetic about the game, this was still real life. Nothing was yet ordained and baseball can be as indiscriminate and cruel as any other sport. The Watson Chapel Wildcats will certainly attest to that.

When stunned Wildcat relief hurler Chance Cleveland gathered himself one batter later to record a strikeout, it sure looked as if the Bears would have to win it in extra innings if they were to prevail.

But Hunter Miller beat out an infield hit. Everyone knew the speedy Miller would be on his way to second shortly after he arrived at first. He made it without a throw as the ball got away from the catcher.

Then, with a 3-0 count, D.J. Baxendale got the green light and ripped the go-ahead single into right center. Nathan Eller pitched a three-up, three-down seventh and that was your old ball game – a 5-4 classic that brought Sylvan Hills its seventh state title.

The contest turned out to be an ideal example of one of baseball’s great gifts: The reward for patience. A game that began with goose eggs through the first three innings – no runs, no hits, no errors for either team – finished with nine runs and 15 hits.

Though there were two errors in the contest – both by Watson Chapel – there were, thankfully, no unearned runs, which is as it should be in such a game.

So, yes, the poetry that writers so often try to lend to the game of baseball can often trigger the gag reflex. The descriptions, the parallels, can often be contrived and hopelessly overwrought.

But baseball played at its highest level is a wonderful thing to behold. Saturday night, it provided its own poetry.

SPORTS>> Eighth time is charm for Carr

Leader sports editor

Senior Lance Carr, a three-sport star at Harding Academy, had been to the postseason seven times before finally breaking through with a state championship in his very last opportunity.

Carr played three years on the basketball team, one year on the football team and four years on the baseball team. The Wildcats reached the semifinals of the state tournament last year, where they lost to current Sylvan Hills Bear D.J. Baxendale and the Abundant Life Owls.

“I waited my whole career (for a state title),” said Carr, who was 1 for 4 with two RBI on Saturday. “I won it in my last sport. It was really important.”


Harding Academy may have out-hit Marmaduke only 9-8 on Saturday, but six of those went for extra bases.

One-third of them were triples — two by Ty Finley and one by T.J. Thompson. The Wildcats also got doubles from Carr, MVP J.T. Fisher and Matthew Calhoun.

Only two of Marmaduke’s hits went for extra bases — Kyle Huckabay’s double and Dexter Jordan’s home run.


The team that committed the fewest errors won all seven baseball championship games.

But no game had a wider disparity than the Harding Academy-Marmaduke game. Not only did the Wildcats play error-free while the Greyhounds kicked it around to the tune of six miscues, the Wildcats turned two double plays.

Only three of Harding Academy’s eight runs were earned.

Carr began a 4-6-3 double play to end the fourth when shortstop Matt Lincoln took his relay, then made a nifty 360 spin and throw to Calhoun at first.

In the final inning, Lincoln, on in relief of winner Braxton Bennett, took the winds out of Marmaduke’s comeback sails when he fielded a comebacker to the mound and turned a 1-2-3 bases-loaded double play.

“We’ve learned to take advantage of mistakes,” said HA head coach Dennis Rine. “We tried to do that all year.”


The Wildcats came up empty in only one inning on Saturday.

They scored one run in the first, second and third innings, added one more in the fifth and four in the sixth.

Their only goose egg came in the fourth when Fisher was stranded after a two-out double.


The Harding Academy Wild-cats needed just five seasons to reach the pinnacle of their sport.

After suffering through what Rine called “growing pains” in their first season, they improved to 13-12 in season two before winning a conference title in their third year.

Last season, they got all the way to the state semifinals.

“It’s been a quick trip, and expectations have gotten very high very fast,” Rine said. “I’ve had great people to work with: (assistants) Jerry Laird and Scott Diles helping me this year. And Mark Jackson and Roddy Mote helping me last year.

“And we’ve obviously had great players.”

SPORTS>> Positions up for grabs at Sylvan Hills

Leader sportswriter

The buzz over the diamond Bears’ state championship this past the weekend was still in the air on Monday afternoon, but it was back to work for the Sylvan Hills football team. The Bears began their two weeks of spring practice on Monday under second-year coach Jim Withrow.

It is not talent or even numbers that concerned Withrow after the first day— it is leadership.

“Right now, we’ve just got a long ways to go,” Withrow said. “We’re older in some ways, and a lot younger in other ways. Right now, we’ve got to find some leadership. These seniors need to be a lot more vocal in a positive way.”

Withrow said he thinks there are plenty of qualified upperclassmen who can take the leadership reigns, but added that he needs someone to step up quickly to offer encouragement to incoming freshmen, and to pick up the pace after a somewhat lackadaisical practice on Monday.

“We’ve got a lot of teaching to do,” Withrow said. “The main thing is, we have to practice at a tempo that we’re moving. We practiced at about as slow a tempo as I’ve seen since I’ve been here. We’ve got a lot of young guys, and a lot of craziness here at the end of the school year, but we need to practice at a lot faster tempo.”

There are a number of high-profile vacancies left by the departing seniors, none more so than at the quarterback position. Junior Jordan Spears and senior Casey Cerrato appear to be the two major candidates to replace Ole Miss-bound Hunter Miller.
“Both of those guys have a lot of positives, and they have some minuses,” Withrow said. “Obviously, the biggest minus is that neither one of them has played a lot (at QB), but the thing about it is, Casey was in the secondary quite a bit last year, Jordan got to get on the field every once in a while — those guys know how to win.”

Withrow says a lot of positions will be up in the air until the fall.

“We don’t have a starter yet at any position,” Withrow said. “We’re looking really hard at effort and technique. The first few days, we will be strictly drills, trying to see who is going to move, who is going to get where they need to be, and then Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll put the pads on and knock around.”

The number of players on the field on Monday was close to 70, including what Withrow refers to as the ‘core 30’. Caleb Burnett, Devin Shaw and Kris Karolchyck are included in that group of core players. Tight end Shaw will be out until the fall recovering from a shoulder operation, but the three seniors will return as probable starters on the offensive line.

Defensively, Withrow listed Nick Brewer and Patrick Onuigbo as his most experienced players. They are two seniors that he would like to see slip into leadership roles.

He also says it’s not X’s and O’s that concern him, but execution.

“Our running game and passing game is already in,” Withrow said. “We put that in during the offseason. What I want to do is, for us to get a lot better fundamentally, better technique, better tackling. We want to practice the way you’re supposed to practice, and ingrain in them the way we do things.”

A talented group of receivers will return, including Barry Bir, Ahmad Scott and Shaw. Juliean Broner and Lawrence Hodges return in the offensive backfield, but Withrow said to look for Broner in a variety of positions on both sides of the football this fall.

SPORTS>> Wildcats cash in on 5-year plan to pick up 3A title

Leader sportswriter

FAYETTEVILLE — Marmaduke’s rally to start the final inning was enough to put a scare in Har-ding Academy, but the hole the Greyhounds dug for themselves with errors in the previous six innings proved too deep to climb out of.

The Wildcats captured their first-ever 3A state baseball championship on Saturday afternoon at Baum Stadium on the
University of Arkansas campus with an 8-4 win over Marmaduke.

With the Wildcats already holding a 4-2 lead, the four runs they scored in the bottom of the sixth inning appeared to be more than enough. But the ’Hounds were finally able to break through in the seventh on a pair of hits, a misplayed pop up and three walks.

Lincoln was able to turn a pitcher-to-catcher-to-first double play and right fielder James Dillard finally ended it when he hauled in a shallow fly ball as Harding Academy reached the pinnacle of 3A in just the program’s fifth year.

“We take advantage of what the other team gives us,” Harding Academy coach Dennis Rine said. “And keep putting the ball in play. That’s what we’ve tried to do all year. They’ve hit the ball well all year. They’re athletic and can run, and so here in the biggerpark, when it hits the wall, we’re going to turn them loose and let them run.”

Solid defensive play across the diamond was no surprise to Rine, and neither was the fact that two-thirds of the HA hits came out of the bottom of the line-up, including a trio of triples that led to two runs and drove in another.

“We’ve been good all the way through the lineup all year,” Rine said. “The top of the order has carried us a lot, but the bottom of the order was able to come in and hit the ball as well.”

The Wildcats ended the game with just one more hit than Marmaduke, but a pair of triples by Ty Finley, and one more for Thompson gave Harding Academy far better opportunities. Four errors by Marmaduke shortstop Ray Taylor — six overall by the Greyhounds — also aided the ’Cats cause. Only three Harding Academy runs were earned.

J.T. Fisher, who earned MVP honors, singled and scored on a passed ball to stake Harding Academy to a 1-0 lead in the first, and Taylor’s dropped pop up with two outs in the second allowed T.J. Thompson to come around from second and extend the Wildcats’ lead to 2-0.

Finley’s triple and Lance Carr’s double in the third made it 3-0.

Another error led to Harding Academy’s fourth run in the fifth inning. After Matt Calhoun reached on a miscue by Taylor, Finley tripled him home and the lead grew to 4-0.

Two more errors in the sixth helped the Wildcats put up four more runs and extend the lead to 8-2.

“Defensively, they were pretty good,” Marmaduke coach Larry Willis said. “And that’s been our downfall all year. When we lost, we had a tendency to cough it up some. And I knew we couldn’t do that today. But we did. And I thought that was the difference in the game. Some of the kids were scared. It was the state tournament and that was the first time for us in baseball. And that made a difference, I think.”

Willis said his team’s unfamiliarity with Baum’s much bigger, and wind-sensitive playing field accounted for some of his team’s defensive problems.

“The Horatio coach warned me, if the ball gets above the roof, the wind will play tricks with it and when it comes down, it will come down in a different area,” said Willis, whose Greyhounds finished 16-10. “I thought that played a little bit of a factor today, but both teams had to play on the same field.”

Fisher went 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI for Harding Academy.

“We come together as a team,” Fisher said. “That was a team effort out there. Everybody had hits; everybody produced for that one. (Coach Rine) just told us that the most relaxed team would win. He said that we were both really great teams out here, but we would come out on top if we were relaxed.

SPORTS>> No excuses needed

Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE — “No Excuses”? How about “No Quit,” instead?

A season filled with hardship and heartache prompted the Sylvan Hills Bears to adopt a no-excuses credo midway through the season, and they went so far as to emblazon those words onto their T-shirts.

Maybe that was in their minds when they entered the sixth inning of the 6A state championship game on Saturday, trailing 4-0, and facing one of the better pitchers in the state.

But Clint Thornton brought the Bears back from what appeared to be certain defeat with a rousing, game-tying 3-run homer in the seventh inning, and D.J. Baxendale delivered the go-head run with a 2-out single as the Bears held on for a dramatic 5-4 win over Watson Chapel at Baum Stadium. It was Sylvan Hills’ seventh state baseball title — their third in six seasons.

“Unbelievable,” said Sylvan Hills head coach Denny Tipton, whose Bears endured the death of former player Taylor Roark in January as well as the loss of their field to a tornado in April. “These kids have been through everything. They just never give up.”

Watson Chapel head coach Wayne Richardson, who just completed his 27th year as Wildcat head coach, gave all the credit to the Bears.

“(Baxendale) is a good pitcher and Sylvan Hills is a good ball club,” he said. “We played a great team and you’ve got to make the plays. We didn’t get a couple of them and it came back to haunt us.”

A game that figured to be a low-scoring pitcher’s duel between Sylvan Hills junior ace D.J. Baxendale and Watson Chapel’s dynamic duo of Michael Newby and Chance Cleveland, was precisely that through four innings. Goose eggs crept across the scoreboard, with neither team collecting a hit through the first three innings.

But after retiring the first 11 Wildcats, Baxendale suddenly began to run into trouble. He pitched out of a two-on, two-out jam in the fourth, but he wasn’t as fortunate in the fifth, when the Wildcats jumped on him for five hits and four runs to take a 4-0 lead. That had to seem like 40-0 the way Newby had mowed down the Bears through the first five innings.

“(Watson Chapel) has an excellent ball club and excellent pitching,” said Tipton, who captured his third state title in 11 years with Sylvan Hills. “You know, you’re down four with those two guys on the mound. Watson Chapel had to be feeling good.

“That’s why I’m so proud. It’s really easy right there to quit. You could say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to score any runs (against their pitching).’ But they battled and battled. That’s the key word right there. They never gave up and got the key hits when we needed them.”

The Bears got one of those four runs back in the top of the sixth on Thornton’s double and Mark Turpin’s RBI single to open the inning. That chased Newby for Cleveland. After Watson Chapel second baseman Antwoine Jackson turned Hunter Miller’s certain double play grounder into an error, the Bears were in position to get right back in it. But Cleveland got the next three batters, leaving the Bears facing a formidable 3-run deficit heading into the final inning.

Relief pitcher Chris Daulton, who got the win, kept the Bears in it with a 1-2-3 sixth.

Tipton said his club approached the final inning with the right attitude.

“They’re a close-knit group,” he said. “The last inning, right before they went up there, they just said, ‘Let’s just finish this thing strong. We started this thing; let’s finish it.’”

Jordan Spears beat out an infield single for a promising start and Jake Chambers lined a solid single to center. Blake Evans struck out, bringing the top of the order and Thornton to the plate.

After watching a pair of Cleveland’s curve balls miss wide, Thornton got the pitch he wanted — a 2-0 fast ball — that he sent soaring into early evening dusk and onto the hillside beyond the left-field fence.

“He had a real good curve ball,” Thornton said. “I was just hoping he’d throw me a fast ball because everyone was saying it was flat. He had been throwing his curve for strikes but we just kept waiting for the fast ball. When he threw it, he threw it right down the middle. I hit it, and that was the best feeling I ever had.”

Tipton said he knew from the moment the ball hit the bat that it was a brand new ball game.

“It was gone,” he said. “I knew it was gone. I was thinking, game tied. He’s been clutch for us all year. Just unbelievable.”

That, of course, merely tied the game. And after Cleveland settled down for a strikeout, it was beginning to look like extra innings would be Sylvan Hills’ only hope.
But the speedy Hunter Miller beat out an infield hit and stole second.

“I talked to D.J. before I got up to bat and he said, ‘Hunter, get on and steal, and we’ll do what we always did and I’ll get you in and we’ll win this thing,” Miller said.

Cleveland ran the count to 3-0 on Baxendale, who was granted the green light by Tipton. That proved to be the right decision as Baxendale, who won the Most Valuable Player award in the game, lined the 3-0 pitch into right center as Miller came around third to score easily and give the Bears (29-6) a 5-4 lead.

“Coach told me to look for my pitch,” Baxendale said. “I knew Cleveland was a great pitcher and he likes to come in with his curve ball. I looked away, he threw it away, and I just took it to right just like coach has taught us all year.”

Nathan Eller then came in to pitch the final inning. He set down the first two before Baxendale, who had moved to third base, hauled in Chase Smith’s pop foul near home plate to secure the win. Watson Chapel finished 23-4.

It was Sylvan Hills’ third title in as many classifications over the past six years. The Bears had won the 4A title in 2003, and the 5A title (then, the state’s largest class) in 2005.

Next year, they move back down to 4A again, and Baxendale said he sees no reason they won’t be right back at Baum, playing for their eighth title.

“We had the motto, ‘no excuses,’” he said. “And it just so happened it worked out perfectly this year. From the parking lot practices (the Bears didn’t have a field to practice on after the April storms) to dealing with Taylor’s death to helping our own player after his house got destroyed by the tornado, we had no excuses.

“We just had to find a way to get it done, and we finally got it done in the end.”

Miller, who will head to Ole Miss next fall to play football for Houston Nutt, said it was a rough season, but ultimately, the most fulfilling one.

“We could have given up when we lost a teammate,” he said. “But we didn’t. We stuck together and came closer as a team when that happened. We’re all like brothers now.

“This is what we wanted. This was our goal: to come up here and win this.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

EDITORIAL>> The Leader’s picks

The Leader’s considered recommendations in the primaries Tuesday:

Pulaski County:
Arkansas Court of Appeals — Judge Wendell Griffen
9th Division Circuit Court — Judge Mary Ann McGowan
11th Division Circuit Court — Cathi Compton
Pulaski County Judge — Buddy Villines

Lonoke County:
For the Jail Tax