Saturday, September 27, 2008

SPORTS>>Lady Panthers come up short against Belles

Leader sportswriter

Cabot rallied for a big win in Game 1 before Mt. Saint Mary swept the final three frames on Tuesday to hand the Lady Panthers their second conference loss of the season. The absence of senior Sarah Fuller made Cabot a little less potent against the Belles, who took games two through four, 11-25, 21-25, and 20-25 at Panther Pavilion.

Morgan Young’s court leadership went a long way for the Lady Panthers during the match, as they recovered from an early 9-2 deficit in Game 1 to win 25-22, but MSM shut down the standout senior and teammates Brittany Basye and Katie Burchfield in the second game.

The final two games went down to the wire, with Cabot leading most of Game 3 before a Belles’ rally gave them a 2-1 lead heading into the fourth frame. The Lady Panthers had one final chance to stay in the match in Game 4, but the frequent substitutions for the Belles gave them fresher legs.

Young led the Lady Panthers with 17 kills, with 10 kills by Basye. Burchfield added six strikes for Cabot. The Lady Panthers finished with 11 team blocks.

Fuller returned for Thursday’s match against Van Buren, as the Lady Panthers swept the contest 25-12, 25-18 and 25-18 to improve their record to 10-3 overall and 5-2 in the 7A-Central Conference.

Young led scoring once again for Cabot with 19 kills, while Fuller, recovered from her injury at the Russellville tournament last weekend, added five more kills. Burchfield also finished with five, while Basye added four kills.

The Lady Panthers will travel to Jonesboro to compete in the ASU Invitational this weekend, and will return to league play on Tuesday at Russellville.


The Lady Falcons were one game away from handing Mills University Studies its first loss of the season, but a disastrous Game 5 allowed the Lady Comets to cruise to the finish in a 5-game shootout.

North Pulaski (5-3, 3-1 conf.) took Game 1 26-24 before Mills (8-0, 4-0) claimed the next two 20-25 and 23-25. The Lady Falcons hung on for a 25-22 win in Game 4 to send the match to a fifth and final game.

That’s where the wheels came off for the Lady Falcons, as Mills rushed out to a 13-3 lead, eventually taking the win 15-9 to claim a 3-2 overall win.

It was the Lady Comets who struggled early on in the fourth game. A pair of kills by junior Rae Robinson that sandwiched back-to-back aces by Kaylee Belcher quickly got North Pulaski out to a 6-1 lead, and consecutive blocks by Laura Dortch kept the Lady Comets out of their offensive rhythm until they began a furious rally after getting down 21-11.

Senior Kalayah Anderson came up big defensively for the Lady Falcons on the night, with a number of critical digs. She had to hit the floor for a few of those digs, mostly to offset the potency of MUS outside hitter Carrollee Charping.

The NP offense had been consistent most of the night, but only two kills in the final game allowed the Lady Comets to stay on top of the 5A-Southeast Conference standings.

“The better part of the last half, I want back,” NP coach Amanda Hill said. “I was proud of the kids and they played hard, but in the fifth game, they just lost it.”

The disappointment of the Lady Falcons’ first conference setback aside, Hill was still pleased to see the team chemistry holding up even in the face of adversity.

“The last few matches, we’ve really come together as a team,” Hill said. “I’ve talked about it since the beginning of the year that chemistry was going to be our key. We’re finally a team, so I’m proud of them.”

Robinson led the Lady Falcons with 11 kills, five aces and two blocks. Dortch added five kills and three blocks, while Shayla Clements and Lindsay Silvas each added four aces. Clements also had two kills for North Pulaski.

The Lady Falcons are now tied for second with Sylvan Hills. They will have the chance to take the spot outright on Tuesday when they visit the Lady Bears in Sherwood.

SPORTS>>Junior Devils storm back from 18 down

Leader sports editor

It’s hard to imagine a worse start or a better finish for the Jacksonville ninth-grade Red Devils on Thursday night at Sylvan Hills.

While the Devils were committing penalties, fumbling and generally sputtering, the Bears needed just 10 plays to cover a total of 138 yards and go up 12-0. After a Jacksonville fumble, Sylvan Hills needed just six more plays to make it 18-0.

But somehow, the Red Devils found a way to shut down the Bears’ ground game at the same time they got their own passing game going and Jacksonville stormed back for a dramatic 27-26 win to improve to 3-1.

“I’m proud of the kids for coming back,” said Jacksonville head coach Max Hatfield. “They could have quit when it was 18-0.

That’s a lot of points to overcome in a ninth-grade game.”

Kyle Perry’s 38-yard scamper with 1:53 left in the game knotted the score at 26. Kicker Demetre Jones got a second chance after missing the go-ahead extra point when Sylvan Hills was whistled for a personal foul. Jones made good on his second attempt to put the Red Devils up.

But Trey Bone, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for 147 yards for the Bears, nearly did it to the Devils again when he returned the kickoff all the way down to the Jacksonville 38. An interception by Cedric Young with less than 10 seconds remaining appeared to have ended it, but a roughing-the-passer penalty kept the Bears’ hopes alive at the Jacksonville 21.

David Johnson preserved the victory by making a tackle at the 15 yard line as time expired.

Jacksonville quarterback Jesse Harbin completed 6 of 9 passes for 114 yards, with four of those completions going to Devon McClure for 92 yards, including three for touchdowns.

After trailing 18-6 at the half, Jacksonville, which ran only 11 first-half plays, narrowed the margin to five on McClure’s 36-yard touchdown reception from Harbin. McClure caught the pass in the left flat, shook three defenders and raced down the left sideline. Jones’ extra point made it 18-13.

But Bone scored from 26 yards to extend the lead to 26-13 with 2:05 left in the third. The Red Devils failed to move on their next possession, but a bad snap on a punt by Sylvan Hills gave Jacksonville the opening it needed. Taking over at the Bear 25, Harbin scrambled 21 yards to the 4, then hit McClure for a five-yard touchdown pass four plays later to make it 26-20, but with only 3:22 left in the game.

The Red Devils opted for an onside kick, which Johnson recovered at midfield. Perry got the call three straight times. The third handoff he took up the middle, then cut outside to the left on his way to a game-tying 38-yard touchdown run.

After allowing the Bears to rush for 179 yards at halftime, the Red Devil defense buckled down to limit Bone and company to just 63 after intermission. Trey Smith added 81 yards on 12 carries as Sylvan Hills totaled 279 yards.

Terry led Jacksonville with 80 yards on seven carries. McClure rushed seven times for 23 yards. The Red Devils had 229 total yards.

SPORTS>>Panthers stay unbeaten, beat Wampus Cats

For the Leader

CONWAY — The Conway Wampus Cats gave top-ranked Cabot a scare Friday night, but the Panthers used a little trickery to spark their 21-7 win at JohnMcConnell Stadium in the 7A-Central Conference opener for both teams.

With the teams tied at 7 in the third quarter, Cabot (4-0, 1-0), ranked No. 1 overall by the Associated Press, called a fake punt on a fourth-and-9 play at its own 47 to set up the go-ahead score. Michael James, who ran for 98 yards on 18 carries in the game, gained 37 yards on the fake to put the Panthers in the redzone.

Three plays later, Wesley Sowell found the end zone from 4 yards out, and Logan Spry’s PAT gave Cabot a 14-7 lead at the 5:43 mark in the third. From there, the Panthers held the advantage.

“That fake punt was the difference in the ballgame,” said Cats coach Kenny Smith, whose team fell to 0-4 over all and 0-1 in conference play. “We can feel at the end of the first half we had (the Panthers) grabbing for straws.”

That’s partly because Conway was able to keep Cabot at bay, for the most part, in the first half.

The Panthers were forced to punt on their first two possessions and then missed field-goal attempts of 28 and 27 yards on their next two, allowing the Cats to stay even with Cabot at halftime.

The fake-punt conversion, however, led to the beginning of Cabot’s 14 unanswered second-half points.

“We had good field position and decided to give it a try,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “We got lucky, but we’re glad we got it to work.”

The Panthers also got their defense to work later on.

But Conway, trailing 14-7 and forced to punt on their first possession of the second half, showed the defensive muscle first.

The Cats stopped Cabot’s try on a fourth-and-5 conversion to regain possession.

Conway moved 11 yards on its first three plays, but Justin Wortman picked off a Chase Calcagni pass at the 40 and advanced and wasn’t tackled until he was two yards from the end zone. Two plays later, James scored, and Spry’s PAT gave the Panthers a two-touchdown lead with 9:04 left.

“Obviously, your defense fights so hard. They fought their guts out,” Smith said. “Then we throw a pick. That’s deflating.”
James’ touchdown run put the finishing touches on the Panthers’ 21 straight points, as the Cats struck first.

After the teams ended the first quarter scoreless, it didn’t take Conway long to capitalize on Cabot’s missed field-goal attempts. In fact, it took the Cats just under a minute to go 80 yards.

Calcagni hit Dakota Cornett for a 12-yard pass to start the drive.

Cornett then followed that with a 68-yard scamper down the right sideline two players later for a touchdown with 1:41 left in the first half. Ben Riner added the PAT to give Conway a brief 7-0 lead.

“Conway put up a good fight,” Malham said. “They made some plays. Nothing was easy.”

But Seth Bloomberg began the ensuing Panther drive with an 18-yard pass to Blake Carter. A 15-yard facemask penalty moved Cabot into Cats territory. Bloomberg followed with a 16-yard pass to Ben Wainwright, and five plays later, Bloomberg — who finished 8-of-9 passing for 103 yards — hit Wortman for a 15-yard touchdown pass. Spry added the PAT to tie the game with 39 seconds left before halftime to finish a somewhat unusual half for Cabot, which prides itself on a strong running game.

“We scored our first one through the air. Who would have thought that?,” Malham quipped.

However surprising that fact was, it helped the Panthers hold off the Cats. Smith, though, knows with the continued progress he’s seen each week, that’s not a trend that will necessarily last.

“One of these nights it’s going to happen,” Smith said of that elusive victory.

Cornett led the Cats in rushing with 66 yards on seven carries. Chris Bayles followed James’ running production with 62 yards on 20 carries for Cabot.

Cabot continues conference action next week at home against Little Rock Catholic.

SPORTS>>Late Lion score sinks North Pulaski

Leader sports editor

With the exception of a couple of mistakes, the North Pulaski defense played well enough to win most games on Friday night at McClellan.

But those two mistakes were big ones and the Falcon offense offered little support as North Pulaski suffered a disappointing 22-15 loss to the Lions in Little Rock.

“We could easily be 2-2 right now so it’s disappointing,” said North Pulaski head coach Tony Bohannon. “The defense played real well and got us the ball back several times. We cashed some of those in but not some of the others.”

The Falcons managed just 113 total yards — minus-1 through the air — in falling to 1-3 and 0-1 in 5A-Southeast Conference play.

But the defense was solid and forced three Lion turnovers to keep the Falcons in it. It was Jerald Blair’s interception and return to the McClellan 2 with 9:01 left in the game that set up the Falcons’ go-ahead score when Billy Barron went two yards on a trap play to give North Pulaski a 15-14 lead with 7:41 left.

With the Falcon defense even stingier in the second half than the first, it appeared that might just hold up, especially when the Falcons forced the Lions into a third-and-11 and a fourth-and-five.

But Cleo Gray got the first down by inches to keep the McClellan drive alive with 5:30 left. Again, the Falcon defense stiffened, and put the Lions on the brink with a third-and-nine with three-and-a-half minutes remaining.

That’s when the Falcon defense had its second big letdown of the night. Terrance Ingram got behind his defender and hauled in a 48-yard pass from Elgin Harris to set the Lions up at the 3. Darren Mackey went in on the next play and the two-point run made it 22-15 with 3:30 left in the contest.

The Falcons, who struggled to get anything going offensively all evening, managed a first down on Darius Cage’s 13-yard run on third and two. But on fourth down, Blair took the direct snap and was caught in the backfield and McClellan ran out the clock. Blair’s only highlights came on defense as the big-play threat finished with five carries for minus-5 yards.

“We’ve got to start getting him the ball more,” Bohannon said.

The defense’s only other letdown on the night came on the first play of McClellan’s second possession, when Gray went 63 yards untouched to put the Lions on top 7-3. Earlier Matt Ingersoll had nailed a 25-yard field goal to put North Pulaski on top.

That field goal followed a fumbled McClellan pitch that was recovered by Jon Wlock at the Lion 30-yard line. Cage carried a pile 17 yards on first down, but the drive stalled at the 7.

North Pulaski continued to sputter offensively against a big McClellan defense that disrupted nearly every play the Falcons tried to run wide. North Pulaski ran 26 first-half plays and totaled only 30 yards and two first downs.

Andrew Allen made an ill-advised throw when he was in the grasp of a McClellan defender midway through the second period, setting up the Lions’ second score of the night when Gray rumbled 15 yards to make it 14-3.

But the Falcons came out with renewed purpose in the second half. Daniel Thurman recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the half and North Pulaski went 35 yards in four plays. Cage went off tackle and into the end zone from four yards to make it 14-9. A two-point run failed, but the Falcons had momentum, especially after the defense stalled a McClellan drive at the North Pulaski 26.

The Falcons had their only sustained drive of the night at that point, holding the ball for over five minutes, but stalling at midfield.

But Vinnie Osmun pounced on a fumbled snap on McClellan’s first play after a Falcon punt to give the Falcons the ball at the Lion 15. But the Falcons failed to cash in when on fourth down Michael Fleshman couldn’t quite hang on to Allen’s pass in the left corner of the end zone.

McClellan took over and two plays later, Blair stepped in front of a Harris’ pass down the middle and picked it off at the 19, returning it to the 2 to set up Barron’s go-ahead run.

Cage led North Pulaski with 53 yards on 15 carries. Barron and Bryan Colson added 36 each as the Falcons gained 114 yards on the ground on 47 carries.

The Lions were led by Gray’s 157 yards on the ground. McClellan finished with 240 total yards.

North Pulaski hosts Beebe next Friday.

SPORTS>>Devils bounce back in a big way

For the Leader

Having a sophomore quarterback can sometimes be a roller coaster ride for coaches. For Jacksonville, that ride hit a high peak Friday night as the Red Devils opened conference play with a 42-17 win at home against Mountain Home, led by a stellar performance from sophomore Jacksonville QB Logan Perry.

Perry hit 14 of 15 pass attempts for 260 yards and four touchdowns in leading the Devils to the 6A-East win. He hit senior receiver Demetris Harris with six of those passes for 180 yards and all four touchdowns.

“He came back and had a great night after having a tough night last week at Mills,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “I was real pleased with him. He did some things real well tonight. The line did outstanding tonight giving him some time and he did a good job of moving around in the pocket and putting the ball where it needed to be.”

Jacksonville scored on the first play of its first drive when Perry found Harris over the top for 69 yards. They followed that by scoring touchdowns on all six subsequent drives.

The game was tight in the first half, with both offenses moving the ball with relative ease. Jacksonville took a 21-10 lead into the half thanks to two defensive stands deep in its own territory. The Bombers settled for three after one stalled drive, but it was the second stand that sparked the route that ensued.

The Bombers had first and goal at the Jacksonville 2-yard line and got no further. Junior Caleb Miller stopped Bomber fullback Chase Walker for a 3-yard loss on first down. Walker went nowhere again on second, Mountain Home quarterback Zachary Hawthorne got back to the 2 on third down and the Bombers went for it on fourth. They again called Walker’s number, and he again went down in the backfield, this time for a 1-yard loss thanks to the efforts of junior Nick Nowden, who made the initial hit that stopped Walker’s momentum.

The Red Devils took over on their own 3 while holding a 14-10 lead with 5:04 left in the half. They covered 97 yards in nine plays, with 74 of those yards coming from Perry-Harris hookups. The first was a 24-yard strike on third and seven from the 6-yard line. After a 7-yard pass to Devon Featherston, Perry hit Harris again for 25 yards to the Mountain Home 38. Three more plays made it first down at the 25, where Perry found Harris along the right hashmark for their third touchdown hookup of the game. The extra point made it 21-10, and that’s the way the game went into halftime.

The second half was all Jacksonville. The starting Red Devil defense gave up 226 yards in the first half, but only 24 in the second half.

“The defense stepped up and did a tremendous job,” Whatley said. “You hold that bunch to 10 points you’ve done something. We were showing a lot of different looks in the first half, but coach (defensive coordinator Rick) Russell got them in one look and challenged them a little bit in that second half, and they responded. Even in the first half when they were on their heels, they stepped up and made a couple big stops.”

Meanwhile, the offense kept on ticking, although mostly on the ground in the final 24 minutes.

Jacksonville started the third quarter with the ball at their own 17 and needed nine plays to add another score. The drive saw Perry miss his only target, but he completed three other pass attempts to Keith Rodgers, Terrell Brown and Stanley Appleby.

The story of the drive was senior tailback Patrick Geans, who carried three times for 54 yards, including the final 29 on first down.

After the defense forced a three-and-out despite a first-down face mask that made it first and 2 for the Bombers, Jacksonville scored again on an eight-play, 78-yard drive capped by a 9-yard hookup between Perry and Harris.

Another three-and-out got the ball back to the Red Devils to start the fourth quarter. This time they only needed seven plays to 84 yards. Geans picked up the final 45 off left tackle on fourth and 2.

The Bombers added a score with 30 seconds left to set the final margin.

Jacksonville’s second score came after Corey Bester returned a Bomber kickoff 40 yards to the Mountain Home 44. On just the fourth play, Perry found Harris for a 28-yard scoring strike.

Geans, who had just 3 yards rushing in the first half on two carries, finished with 10 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

The win lifts the Red Devils to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in conference play. Mountain Home dropped to 1-3 and 0-1.

The Red Devils will host Jonesboro next week at Jan Crow Stadium.

SPORTS>>Not done yet

Leader sports editor

All in all, Terry Tiffee would rather be hitting .226 in the big leagues than . 378 in the minors.
He would know. He’s done both.

The former Sylvan Hills baseball star got a shot with the Minnesota Twins over a three-year span that ended in 2006, then was called up ever so briefly with the Los Angeles Dodgers in June of this year.

But other than four official at bats during that 3-week stint with the Dodgers, Tiffee has spent the better part of the past three seasons laboring in the minors.

And yet, the disappointment of playing AAA ball, of taking buses instead of planes and of staying in Holiday Inns instead of Marriotts, may have proved to be worth it.

Tiffee blistered the ball this summer for the Dodgers’ AAA Las Vegas 51s, winning the Pacific Coast League batting title and earning the notice of U.S. Olympic baseball coach Davey Johnson in the process.

From a pool of 60 players originally selected, Tiffee not only survived the final cut to make the 25-man roster that traveled to Beijing for the Olympic Games last month, he was a mainstay on the bronze medal American team. Tiffee, in fact, led the U.S. team in at-bats, hits (12) and doubles (6). His .324 batting average was second among the Americans.

The first baseman/third baseman also handled 80 chances in the field without an error.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” Tiffee said shortly before talking to a group of young pupils at Cato Elementary in Gravel

Ridge on Monday. “I would say it was right up there with playing in the big leagues.”

For Tiffee’s mother, Sherry, a teacher at Cato Elementary, it may have been an even bigger deal.

“Its just unbelievable,” she said. “It’s such a major honor. Terry’s so nonchalant about it. He told my husband at the (AAA) All-Star Game that he might be picked for the Olympics. He’s been so low-key about everything throughout his career.”

At 29, Tiffee might have been considered too old to participate in the Olympics. But he said Johnson was looking to fill the position roles on the roster with more veteran players to counteract the veteran competition in Beijing.

The USA team reached the semifinals before losing to Cuba for the second time. They rebounded to beat Japan and take home the bronze medal.

The thrill of being an integral part of an Olympic-medal winning baseball team behind him, Tiffee will now once again turn his focus to finding steady work in the major leagues. His age works against him, of course, but that PCL batting title — he hit .378 with nine home runs and 39 doubles in just 93 games — has not only boosted his confidence but elevated his prospects as well.

“It was my best year hitting overall so I’ll have some teams interested, no doubt,” said Tiffee, who will become a minor league free agent in October. “But a lot of teams, when you get my age, they just want you for Triple A. And I’m wanting to get back in the big leagues.”

Tiffee spent two years at Pratt (Kan.) Community College after graduating from Sylvan Hills, and had just signed a letter of intent to play at LSU when the Twins drafted him in the 26th round in 1999. He spent his first two seasons at Quad Cities, the Twins Class A affiliate, before moving up to Advanced A Fort Myers in 2002. There, he hit .281 with eight home runs.

Tiffee advanced to AA New Britain the following season, belting 14 home runs, driving in 93 and compiling a .315 batting average.

Those New Britain numbers earned him a spot on the Twins’ roster late in the 2004 season, where he saw limited action but made a splash in his third game when he belted a walk-off home run against the Kansas City Royals.

“It was great,” Tiffee said of his first major league home run, exhibiting the nonchalance his mother says has always characterized his demeanor. “I was playing every day then and had played every day in AAA and it was going pretty well.”

But that playing every day would prove to be an anomaly in Tiffee’s big league career. He hit .273 in 2004 in 44 at bats. But while cracking the starting lineup only occasionally and pinch hitting the rest of the time in 2005, Tiffee’s hit only .207 with 15 RBI in 150 at bats. His plate appearances dropped all the way back to 45 in 2006, when he hit .244.

His run with the Twins ended after that season.

“I could see the writing on the wall,” Tiffee said. “I wasn’t really getting a shot at the big league level and it was just time to move on and get a shot with someone else.”

Tiffee moved on but never got the shot. Baltimore signed him in 2007, but he never made it past the minors with the Orioles.

Finally, the Dodgers signed Tiffee in the winter of 2007.

“It’s frustrating,” Tiffee said of not being able to get a consistent chance in the majors. “But it’s just the way it is. You play two or three times a week or you pinch hit. It’s a tough situation. Being a young player, I wasn’t used to that role. And when they did put me in there on back-to-back days, I was already under water with my average and mentally, I was already beaten.”

Tiffee’s outstanding season at Las Vegas has him feeling a lot more confident these days. He says he changed his stance and his approach at the plate, focusing on just making solid contact and hitting line drives.

“I’m trying not to worry about anything else,” said Tiffee, who describes himself as more of a line drive hitter with occasional power. “Fifteen home runs is probably about max for me. I try to hit 30 to 50 doubles a year, 100 ribbies and hit at least .300.

Those are my goals.”

The dream remains alive, but Tiffee, who has a wife and three young children, recognizes he can’t chase it forever. The plan is to try to get another shot with a major league team or, barring that, heading to Japan where good ball players who haven’t caught on in the bigs in the U.S. can make a much better living than in the minor leagues in the states.

Tiffee, his wife Kelli, who he met while playing fall ball in Liberal, Kan., 3-year-old daughter McKinley, and twin 2-year-old sons Talan and Brennan, live in North Little Rock. When he is traveling during the season, Kelli and the kids will sometimes spend time with her parents in Liberal.

Whatever happens, Tiffee seems content with where he’s at and whatever the future may hold.

“I definitely think I can still play at (the major league) level,” he insists. “I’d like to go with anybody that’s going to give me a chance. It’s still fun, definitely a good way to make a living.

“But it’s getting to the point where, either you get back to the big leagues, or you stay in the minors and make fairly good money. It’s just a matter of whether you want to do that. I’m not planning on giving it up right now, but I don’t see myself doing this past another three or four years if I don’t get back in the big leagues.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Lottery could mean casinos

Unless the Arkansas Supreme Court diverges from its historical interpretation of the Constitution, the drafters and sponsors of the lottery amendment have made a fatal mistake. The court will be obliged to invalidate the proposal before the election.

What voters will see in the voting booth is the popular name and ballot title, and the Supreme Court has always said that the ballot title must tell voters every significant thing in the actual amendment. Voters must not be misled into voting for something they didn’t know about.

The proposed amendment would allow the legislature to create the first state lottery. What the ballot title does not tell voters is that the amendment would repeal the current prohibition against lotteries. It is how the amendment begins. That sounds like a harmless omission, but it is not.

The prohibition against lotteries in the 1874 Constitution has been interpreted by the courts over the years to prohibit any game of chance — that is, any form of gambling where someone puts up some money in the hope of winning money and where the outcome is determined by chance, not by the skill or judgment of the bettor. Betting on horse or dog racing does not violate the Constitution because the court said at least some skill or knowledge improved the bettor’s chance of winning.

The skill of the animals also is a factor in winning the bet. It is not left entirely to chance.

By not telling voters that the provision of the Constitution is repealed, the ballot title does not inform voters that if the amendment is ratified the legislature could thereafter legalize any form of gambling that any casino might offer from blackjack to slots. There are statutes against casino gambling, too, but those could be changed at any legislative session once the lottery prohibition is repealed.

Oh, but the legislature would never do anything like that, say the sponsors, including Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The people do not want wide-open casinos and the legislature just would never authorize them.

Oh, no? The legislature did just that 40 years ago, and it took a veto by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller to kill it. The sponsors hoped that if the bill became law the courts might alter the precedents and uphold it.

In 2007, the legislature authorized casino gambling as long as the casino games had an element of skill and were not simple games of chance. Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had got a little political help from the tracks, let it become law. There is little, if any, skill involved in the electronic games now going on at the state racetracks.

The sponsors would have achieved their stated purpose, legalizing only what is commonly known as lotteries, if they had not repealed the lottery prohibition but merely carefully defined the lottery they say they want to authorize to raise money for college scholarships. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who reviewed the ballot title, strongly advised them to do that, but they refused. If their only interest is a lottery, why would they not make that simple gesture? It makes you wonder what their purposes are.

Now the ballot title is under attack for trying to mislead voters, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Oct. 13. If the current justices ignore precedent and hold that “lottery” does not mean any game of chance but only the narrow form of betting used in state lotteries across the country, then the ballot title will stand and the lottery election will go on. And we will know, finally, that casino gambling is not prohibited after all by the Constitution.

Remember, if the courts strike a lottery proposal from the ballot once again, it will not be the fault of a meddling judiciary but the arrogance and duplicity of the sponsors.

TOP STORY > >Search for bodies continues after arrest made Thursday

Leader senior staff writer

At least two serial killers may have lived among us for years in Jacksonville and Cabot, according to a source familiar with the investigation into as many as 15 murders in Arkansas and other states.

Jacksonville police on Thursday ar-rested George Alan Smith, 33, of 3015 Graham Road, Jacksonville, and charged him with capital murder in connection with the remains of a woman found this week in a wooded area off Cory Drive, Jacksonville police said.

But Ronald Dean Charles, 31, of 45 Oak Meadows Drive in Cabot, already charged in Faulkner County in connection with killing two Vilonia-area cousins, has apparently confessed to killing about 15 people, the source said, including taking part in the murder with which Smith is charged.

Smith, who had been on probation for filing a false report, is in the Pulaski County Detention Center on a $250,000 bond. Several of Smith’s weapons were confiscated.

Charles reportedly helped lead officials to the site of the dead female recovered in Jacksonville this week, and law-enforcement officials from several jurisdictions, including the State Police and the FBI, are involved in checking out his claims to have murdered many others.

Cadaver dogs from Saline County Search and Rescue and from the Arkansas Search and Rescue team helped Jacksonville police recover the remains, according to April Kiser, a public information officer.

Jacksonville police believe they know the identity of the victim, but won’t release it until they are certain.

The cadaver dogs and Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office deputies looked over the course of a day and a half for a second body Charles apparently said would be found at a wooded site on Ann Lane.

Charles, who grew up in Jacksonville, apparently implicated Smith in at least the one murder. He has been moved from the Faulkner County Jail to another facility for his protection.

Charles and Troy Allen Crook, 29, of 2716 Moro Lane, Jacksonville, were charged about a year ago in connection with the April 9, 2007 murders of cousins Bobby Don Brock, 45, and Lonnie Franklin Brock, 62, according to documents at the Faulkner County Courthouse.

It is not clear whether Charles has implicated Crook or Smith in other murders.

For the Brock killings, Charles and Crook are charged with two counts each of capital murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of theft of property and two counts of being felons in possession of a firearm.

Firearms were among items allegedly stolen by the pair during commission of the crimes, according to the felony information on file with the Faulkner County circuit clerk.

Both men have prior records, Charles’ stretching back to a 1995 Pulaski County conviction for two counts of commercial burglary and two counts of theft of property. He was 18 at the time, and was sentenced to two years in prison. In 1999, he was sentenced to six years for residential burglary and theft of property.

Crook was convicted in Pulaski County for residential burglary in 2000, probation revocation in 2001, and was convicted in 2006 of fraudulent use of a credit card.

Law-enforcement officials Thursday would not confirm any connection between Charles and the suspected serial killings.

TOP STORY > >Metroplan is backing three road projects

Leader senior staff writer

Two jobs, one in Sherwood and one in Jacksonville, are scheduled to go to bid after Oct. 1, according to Richard Magee, assistant director of Metroplan.

The four-laning of Brockington Road from Maryland Avenue to Kiehl Avenue will be constructed with about $4.6 million in federal funds and 20 percent local match, Magee said.

Also let to bid will be engineering, purchase of right of way and moving utilities for widening Graham Road from Oak Street to Loop Road. That will cost an estimated $1.7 million, he said.

The board authorized adding a new Hwy. 67/167 interchange between Austin and Cabot to meet up with the new rail road overpass running from Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38.

Known as a rail-grade separation, the overpass and approaches are already under construction.

Cabot has $500,000 toward its study for alignment, firming up the concept defining the specific alignment for the new interchange. Construction awaits other funds, probably earmarked federal funds.

The federal Highway Trust Fund, from which most federal highway funding comes, had run dry, but Congress recently transferred $8 billion from the general fund, forestalling a 30 percent cut in funding, according to Jim McKenzie, Metroplan’s executive director.

He said staff would present a budget reflecting full federal funding for the 2009 fiscal year.

The proposed budget will reflect roughly a 5 percent payroll increase over 2008 and an overall increase of 1.6 percent to the overhead budget, he said. In other business, trip mileages have been added, at the request of North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, to the regional bikeway map being printed by Metroplan, according to executive director Jim McKenzie.

He told board members that advertising on the map would defray about 30 percent of the printing costs.

The map will be shipped to the printer by the end of September and should be back within 30 days, in time for the National
Trails Symposium being held in Little Rock on Nov. 15.

TOP STORY > >Water rates will go up for Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville water customers will likely be paying more for the precious natural resource in 2009. Central Arkansas Water (CAW) is proposing rate increases to its wholesale customers, of which Jacksonville Water Works is one.

Central Arkansas Water is proposing a 5.6-percent rate increase for water pumped during peak-demand hours, to go into effect the first day of 2009. Subsequent increases of 8.4 percent in 2010 and 7.8 percent in 2011 are also proposed.

Higher rate increases are proposed for water pumped during off-peak hours: 9.4 percent in 2009, 8.6 percent in 2010, and 9.0 percent in 2011.

A 90-day public-comment period on the proposed increases will end in early December, after which local officials will iron out the details about implementation.

The Jacksonville Water Com-mission at its monthly meeting on Wednesday heard the details about the proposed rate increases and why they are needed from Graham Rich, CEO of CAW. In the last three years, the cost of fuel has risen 100 percent, electrical power by 30 percent, water treatment chemicals by 60 percent, 1-inch copper pipe by 166 percent, and ductile iron pipe by 106 percent.

The last CAW rate increase was in 2005. By 2011, rates for CAW wholesale customers are predicted to have increased 27 percent in 10 years, an average of 2.7 percent annually, according to Steve Morgan, director of regionalism and future water source for CAW.

For Jacksonville water rate-payers, the proposed increases will be a continuation of a series of four annual “in-house” rate increases by Jacksonville Water Works that started in 2005.

Central Arkansas Water is also proposing a watershed-protection fee of 45 cents per standard-meter customer, to go into effect May 2009.

The amount billed to wholesale customers would be pro-rated according to the proportion of total water usage that comes from CAW.

The anticipated annual revenue of $900,000 would be used to fund the watershed-management program, and associated projects, for Lake Maumelle and Lake Winona, sources of water supplied by CAW.

Customers would not be billed the fee when the fund reached $3 million; it would resume when the fund dipped below $2 million.
In other business, the commission heard an update on the Lonoke White Project, which someday will broaden water access for Jacksonville.

The Lonoke White Public Water Authority has received a $309,000 grant and has applied for an additional $1.5 million to fund a pilot program to test a new treatment facility for Greers Ferry Lake. The program is one step towards opening up the lake as a source of water for Jacksonville and Cabot. The grant will pay for engineering and construction costs for the pilot project.

The commission voted unanimously to contract the services of Craft, Veach and Company of North Little Rock to conduct the Jacksonville Water Works’ audits for 2008 through 2010.

The firm’s proposal was $41,000 for the three-year period. Other submissions were from Ellis, Tucker & Alderidge of Cabot, for $43,220, and JPMS Cox of Little Rock, for $66,650.

According to an annual review of utility rates in metropolitan areas around the country, CAW water customers currently pay some of the lowest nationally. For 3,740 gallons, Little Rock households pay $8.64, North Little Rock households pay $8.94, and Jacksonville households pay $10.66.

By comparison, residential customers in Memphis pay $5.70, and Los Angeles households pay $27.22.

TOP STORY > >Water rates will go up for Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville water customers will likely be paying more for the precious natural resource in 2009. Central Arkansas Water (CAW) is proposing rate increases to its wholesale customers, of which Jacksonville Water Works is one.

Central Arkansas Water is proposing a 5.6-percent rate increase for water pumped during peak-demand hours, to go into effect the first day of 2009. Subsequent increases of 8.4 percent in 2010 and 7.8 percent in 2011 are also proposed.

Higher rate increases are proposed for water pumped during off-peak hours: 9.4 percent in 2009, 8.6 percent in 2010, and 9.0 percent in 2011.

A 90-day public-comment period on the proposed increases will end in early December, after which local officials will iron out the details about implementation.

The Jacksonville Water Com-mission at its monthly meeting on Wednesday heard the details about the proposed rate increases and why they are needed from Graham Rich, CEO of CAW. In the last three years, the cost of fuel has risen 100 percent, electrical power by 30 percent, water treatment chemicals by 60 percent, 1-inch copper pipe by 166 percent, and ductile iron pipe by 106 percent.

The last CAW rate increase was in 2005. By 2011, rates for CAW wholesale customers are predicted to have increased 27 percent in 10 years, an average of 2.7 percent annually, according to Steve Morgan, director of regionalism and future water source for CAW.

For Jacksonville water rate-payers, the proposed increases will be a continuation of a series of four annual “in-house” rate increases by Jacksonville Water Works that started in 2005.

Central Arkansas Water is also proposing a watershed-protection fee of 45 cents per standard-meter customer, to go into effect May 2009.

The amount billed to wholesale customers would be pro-rated according to the proportion of total water usage that comes from CAW.

The anticipated annual revenue of $900,000 would be used to fund the watershed-management program, and associated projects, for Lake Maumelle and Lake Winona, sources of water supplied by CAW.

Customers would not be billed the fee when the fund reached $3 million; it would resume when the fund dipped below $2 million.
In other business, the commission heard an update on the Lonoke White Project, which someday will broaden water access for Jacksonville.

The Lonoke White Public Water Authority has received a $309,000 grant and has applied for an additional $1.5 million to fund a pilot program to test a new treatment facility for Greers Ferry Lake. The program is one step towards opening up the lake as a source of water for Jacksonville and Cabot. The grant will pay for engineering and construction costs for the pilot project.

The commission voted unanimously to contract the services of Craft, Veach and Company of North Little Rock to conduct the Jacksonville Water Works’ audits for 2008 through 2010.

The firm’s proposal was $41,000 for the three-year period. Other submissions were from Ellis, Tucker & Alderidge of Cabot, for $43,220, and JPMS Cox of Little Rock, for $66,650.

According to an annual review of utility rates in metropolitan areas around the country, CAW water customers currently pay some of the lowest nationally. For 3,740 gallons, Little Rock households pay $8.64, North Little Rock households pay $8.94, and Jacksonville households pay $10.66.

By comparison, residential customers in Memphis pay $5.70, and Los Angeles households pay $27.22.

TOP STORY > >Teen prescription drug abuse starts at home

Leader staff writer

Editors note: This is part one in a series on teen abuse of prescription drugs, and what parents and communities can do to curb the epidemic.

Parents concerned about their teen getting high may lock up the liquor, but then forget the medicine cabinet, an easy source of the popular drugs shared, sold and abused by teens.

Prescription drugs have become the second-most-abused illegal substance among U.S. youth, after marijuana. As many as one in five teens have abused prescription drugs at some point in their lives, according to national studies.

One such study – the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – found that Arkansas teens and young adults lead the nation in abuse of prescription pain relievers. The same study found that Arkansas also leads the nation in the percentage of teenagers needing but not receiving treatment for illicit drug-use problems.

Ten percent of Arkansas teens ages 12 to 17 reported using prescription pain relievers for non-medical use in the past year; for young adults, ages 18 to 25, the rate was even higher – 17 percent, according to the most recent NSDUH survey, conducted in 2005-06. The national rates are 7 percent for 12 to 17 year olds and 12 percent for 18- to 25-year-olds.

The federally funded NSDUH has been keeping tabs on Americans’ use and abuse of harmful substances – tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs – since 1971 with its annual, door-to-door survey. To protect the privacy of interviewees, participants key in their responses to sensitive questions about substance abuse on a hand-held computer device.

The drugs most commonly abused by teens are pain relievers, followed by tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants as well as over-the-counter and prescription cough medicines, according to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

So why are so many young people using these drugs? Stress relief is one reason. Teens get high for the same reasons adults do: It feels good, better than the sometimes tough reality they must deal with at home, school, and on the job. Teens say that they are seeking a way to “manage their lives” or “tone down” the stress associated with family life, friendships, romantic relationships, academic pressures, competition for honors in the classroom and playing field, and the pursuit of the “perfect” physical image. And, then there is peer pressure, a perennial driver behind why kids do what they do, including abusing drugs.

Rena Kinney, who graduated from home school in 2007 after attending Jacksonville High in her senior year, remembers “a lot of kids popped pills, because everyone wants to be cool.” She was quick to name off the drugs of choice among kids – “and some adults too”: the anxiety reducer Xanax, the pain reliever Vicodin, and Ritalin, widely prescribed to manage attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For those without an attention-deficit problem, taking Ritalin or similar drugs induces a high, so “a lot of kids do Ritalin; a lot of people were running around selling it,” Kinney recalled.

In Cabot, “schools are dealing primarily with hydrocodone, oxycodone, all types of muscle relaxers, codeine from different types of cough syrups, and Xanax,” according to Tony Thurman, superintendent of Cabot public schools.

But for the kid who experiments with prescription drugs, all the blame can’t be placed on his or her peer group.

Adults too are using – and abusing – these drugs in record numbers, which is why they are in the family medicine chest in the first place. It can safely be said that the United States is a medicated society, increasingly looking for a quick fix for its ills.

The number of Americans with at least one prescription annually rose about 70 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to a study by pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts. The number of prescriptions filled per person each year increased from 11 to 14 – a 32 percent jump, the study found. Although most of increase was for drugs to treat obesity-related disorders such as diabetes and high blood pressure, the study also reported a 33 increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants.

In recent years, the abuse of prescription drugs has also increased dramatically.

According to a 2004 report of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, “from 1992 to 2003, abuse of controlled prescription drugs grew at a rate twice that of marijuana abuse; five times that of cocaine abuse; 60 times that of heroin abuse,” prompting Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairperson and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, to declare: “Our nation is in the throes of an epidemic of controlled prescription drug abuse and addiction.”
In regard to teens’ abuse of prescription drugs, the CASA report noted, “The explosion in the prescription of addictive opioids (painkillers), depressants and stimulants has, for many children, made their parents’ medicine cabinet a greater temptation and threat than the illegal street drug dealer.”

School superintendent Thur-man concurs that the home is the prime source of the drugs that kids are abusing.

“We have dealt with more situations in which students would target other students and befriend them for the sole purpose of gaining access to their home and medicine cabinet. It is crucial that parents keep a close watch on who their child is visiting and who is allowed into their home. All prescription medications must be locked in a secure location.”

Fraudulent prescriptions, theft from pharmacies, doctor and dentist “shopping,” unethical health practitioners, and online sales are also means by which teens or dealers illegally obtain prescription drugs.

A 2008 study by CASA reports that teens now say that prescription drugs such as the painkillers OxyContin, Perocet, Vicodin, and Ritalin are easier to buy than beer. Jessica Hale of Jacksonville has been out of high school for a few years, but recalls that drugs prescribed for ADHD, such as Ritalin and Adderall, were popular drugs of choice among abusers.

A lot of kids that are supposed to take Adderall don’t like it, Hale contends, so they “make money selling it; that puts it in a lot more kids’ hands.” Of the abuse of prescription drugs in general, she observed, “It seems like a lot more would be doing it if they had the money. I knew a lot of kids even in junior high. I was surprised at how early it was happening. She recalled going to a party in seventh grade, “at a rich family’s home. Kids were getting into the liquor cabinet. They’d allow alcohol and marijuana.”

TOP STORY > >Many firms still making expensive loans here

Leader senior staff writer

With Advance America closing its Jacksonville location and all 29 other Arkansas stores, only about a third of 275 payday-lending stores remain in business in the state, according to Hank Klein, founder of Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending.

“Closing all their stores down is very positive,” according to Klein, who used to be CEO of Arkansas Federal Credit Union, headquartered at Jacksonville. “My expectation is that there won’t be many left by the end of the year.”

Currently there are 98 still in business. Advance America has been the largest provider of payday loans in Arkansas over the last several years. It will close all Arkansas stores by Oct. 31.

Nonetheless, other payday stores operate in Arkansas, including those still in Jacksonville, Gravel Ridge, Sherwood, Lonoke, Cabot and Searcy.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel sent cease-and-decease letters to Advance America and about 60 others in March, noting that their lending practices violated the state’s 17 percent interest cap and warning that the state would sue them.

“This is a major victory for the consumers of Arkansas and a huge victory in our battle against predatory lending in Arkansas,” said McDaniel. “The largest provider of payday loans in the state has closed its doors, without litigation, in response to our efforts.”

“What (payday lenders) are doing isn’t right in Arkansas, never has been right,” said Klein. “The Constitution rules in Arkansas and this is the proof.”

Klein said the efforts of the state attorney general and of Peggy Madsen, the once-reluctant regulator of payday lenders, plus the lawsuits by Todd Turner have made it too difficult and too expensive for the payday lenders to operate in the state.

Advance America, listed on the New York Stock Exchange as AEA, also announced that it had completed closing of all nine payday stores in New Mexico.

“In Arkansas, the attorney general and the State Board of Collections have made regulatory decisions that do not allow the company to operate profitably in that state,” according to a company spokesman. “The company has worked closely with the attorney general’s office on this matter, and reached agreement that no further legal action would be forthcoming.”

“We respectfully disagree with the interpretations of the law by the attorney general and the State Board of Collections,” said Advance America’s president and chief executive officer Ken Compton. “We have always strictly adhered to all applicable laws in Arkansas, under the supervision of state regulators, as we do in all of the states where we operate. Indeed, there has been no determination by any Arkansas court that Advance America’s practices ever violated state law. Still, after lengthy discussions with the attorney general’s office, we have determined that it is in the best interest of both parties to avoid litigation and to resolve this matter at this time.”

During the first six months of the year, Advance America generated revenues in Arkansas of $2.34 million.

“We regret that the elimination of a regulated and market-based credit option in Arkansas and New Mexico will, unfortunately, leave tens of thousands of consumers without a simple, sensible and responsible avenue for managing short-term financial challenges,” Compton said.

After the closings in Arkansas and New Mexico, the company will operate more than 2,800 centers in 33 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

TOP STORY > >Mayor: Stagger working hours

Leader senior staff writer

If the state would stagger workday starting times for its thousands of workers, much of the storied rush-hour congestion on Hwy. 67/167 could be avoided, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said Thursday night at Cabot’s public meeting to identify area bottlenecks and safety concerns.

Williams pointed out that wider highways, although helpful in the Jacksonville and Cabot areas, would just shift the congestion further south, where virtually all those with a downtown Little Rock work address still have to cross the I-30 bridge.

Of nine Operation Bottleneck public input meetings planned in four counties before crafting its next Long Range
Transportation Plan, Metroplan has only the Jacksonville meeting left. It’s slated for the Jacksonville Community Center, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Jay Whisker, the former Jacksonville city engineer turned city administrator, has several ideas to address traffic and safety issues in his area, ideas which he is likely to reiterate either by email or in person Tuesday at the Jacksonville meeting.

Whisker said recently that the town’s biggest problem was Vandenberg Boulevard at Hwy. 67/167, including both frontage roads and North First Street.

The congestion—sometimes even gridlock—starts around 3:30 p.m. on weekdays and continues until about 6 p.m., he said.

Whisker said there was no one simple solution to getting more traffic through the intersection in less time. He said that the state Highway Department and Little Rock Air Force Base solved one bottleneck in recent years that choked John Harden Drive at Vandenberg and backed up past the interstate to the Bible Fellowship Church.

So far, about 3,000 problems have been identified through Pulaski, Lonoke, Saline and Faulkner counties, most of them by 1,100 people filling out an electronic survey online at, according to John Hoffpauer, a Metroplan planner.

He said participants going to the Web site should click on the Operation Bottleneck logo, then choose a questionnaire for congestion or one for safety concerns.

As has been the case throughout the previous meetings, only a handful of people came to the Cabot meeting, most of them officials of Cabot or Metroplan.

Kelly Coughlin came to report a couple of problems, mostly getting children to and from school safely on foot. Coughlin, who lives near schools at Shiloh Subdivision, says she would like Cabot to abide by the Walkable Cabot plan drawn up after several public meetings.

Coughlin represents Cabot on Metroplan’s Transportation Advisory Council.

“In just a few minutes, I was able to come up with 20 congestion and safety issues that I experience within a few miles of where I live,” said Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan.

Two weeks into operation bottleneck, residents of Pulaski County, which has most of the population, have provided 51 percent of the suggestions, according to Metroplan.

Feedback has included local community concerns such as the need for better traffic-signal coordination as well as commuting issues throughout central Arkansas that would require additional lanes, exits or public transits as possible solutions.

A Sherwood resident identified the intersection of Kiehl and Brookswood for northbound traffic on Brookswood trying to turn onto Kiehl or continue north onto Brockington. The person identifying the problem suggested readjusting the traffic signals.

A Jacksonville resident identified congestion at the intersection of Vandenberg and John Harden Drive at the traffic light and also at North First Street and T.P. White Drive. “These intersections are very dangerous between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and all weekend long.”

Another Jacksonville respondent identified the light at Brockington and Maryland at the rush hours. The person who identified the problem suggested it could be fixed by adjusting the timing of the traffic signals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Baker’s ethics

Only in the Arkansas state government could a lawmaker use a vacuous legal opinion from a spineless state agency to justify unethical conduct.

That was the spectacle last week when the state Ethics Commission issued a legal opinion saying it could not say whether it was wrong for the University of Central Arkansas to rent a tent for a political fund-raiser for a former university professor, Gilbert Baker, the former state Republican chairman who is in a hard race for re-election to the state Senate.

Baker was a personal and political friend of the free-wheeling pol who was president of the university at that time, Lu Hardin. Hardin has since resigned after serial misdeeds and taken a $1 million parachute with him. Baker’s fund-raiser was at the home of a Republican member of the university’s board of trustees.

Baker issued a statement saying he was thrilled that the Ethics Commission had vindicated him.

What the Ethics Commission said, in answer to a query from Baker, was that it probably was legal for UCA to rent a tent to someone as long as it was available for renting to anyone under the same conditions. The commission couldn’t say under what conditions the tent would have been available to others, for example, Baker’s opponent, Joe White.

White said it never occurred to him to ask to borrow the state tent and he wouldn’t have been so unprincipled as to ask.

The fact was that Baker was the only person who ever rented a tent from the state university. No one else knew that it was available.

Most people would have qualms about it anyway. There may be no legal prohibition in the case of the university, but government employees and government property should never be used in partisan political campaigns. If the university were a civil-service agency subject to the Hatch Act, it would be flatly illegal and someone at UCA would be in deep trouble.

Baker should not boast of his moral conduct but instead apologize.

EDITORIAL >>Privatization is no answer

What does it take to bury a bad idea? The Legislative Council last week undertook a study of turning Arkansas’ prisons over to a private company, an idea suggested by Rep. Johnny Hoyt of Morrilton.

Hoyt was not around, at least in the legislature, the last time this hare-brained but appealing idea was raised. The state contracted with a private national company, Wackenhut Correction Corp., to operate a couple of the state’s penitentiaries.

Arkansas’ prisons already were about the most cheaply run in the country, but Wackenhut said it could do it even more cheaply, and that was enough to sell the lawmakers.

The prisons’ cost was rising sharply every year, although the reason was no mystery.

The number of inmates climbed every year, and the state had to pay for new prisons and bigger staffs and it had to reimburse cities and counties for holding prisoners for whom there was no room in the penitentiaries.

There also was no mystery about how a private contractor could do it. It calculated the profit that the investors needed, then reduced the number of employees, salaries and insurance costs and services to a level that would fit within the state appropriation.

That is what Wackenhut did and in three years the scandal was so electrifying that the state canceled the contract and every lawmaker swore off privatization.

Arkansas prisons are a fair-sized city, roughly 15,000 inhabitants housed in close proximity and needing many of the necessities a city needs: food and medical assistance among others. They didn’t get much medical help. Who, after all, would feel any compassion for a whining criminal?

Arkansas spends far more on corrections than any civilized society should, and under the existing criminal code it is going to have to spend tens of millions of dollars more every year.

But privatization is not the answer.

Reforming the criminal code to shorten the sentences of non-violent offenders and resort to alternative sentences for some victimless crimes would help. It would end the massive glut in the correctional system and make punishment certain once again.

That is the best deterrent of all, and the cheapest, too.

TOP STORY > >Advance America shutting its doors

Advance America of Jacksonville, one of several cash-advance centers in the state forced to reduce interest rates they charged customers, announced Tuesday it will shut its doors in Arkansas Oct. 31.

New state laws no longer allow Advance America to earn the profits that it once did, according to the company, which reported $165.5 million profits for the first quarter of this year, slightly down from 2007.

“This is a major victory for the consumers of Arkansas and a huge victory in our battle against predatory lending in Arkansas,” said Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in the press release.

“The largest provider of pay day loans in the state has closed its doors, without litigation, in response to our efforts. I hope the decision of Advance America will persuade all lenders that operate in violation of Arkansas law to shut down,” McDaniel continued.

“Now, we continue our efforts against those that still engage in illegal lending practices in Arkansas,” McDaniel said.

TOP STORY > >The man who couldn’t stay out of trouble

Publisher and Editor-in-chief

After he went to prison for six years for tax evasion and cheating his followers out of millions in wages, Tony Alamo should have thought about retiring from his phony Christian cult and stayed on the right side of the law, living out his golden years in a double-wide trailer somewhere in the Ozarks, not far from his native Missouri, singing “Volare” to himself as the sun went down.

But, no, this con man and former lounge singer hasn’t retired at all. Here he is, 74 years old, finally out of prison, and he’s still running his cult and exploiting his followers. But he could face new charges of child abuse, pedophilia and polygamy, not to mention selling fake Nikes to help make ends meet.

He denies all charges after federal authorities rescued six children from his compound in Fouke near Texarkana over the weekend. This is the Bible-quoting preacher who says pedophilia and polygamy are fine with God, not that he would necessarily get involved in such things himself, but it might be OK for others.

Many Arkansans think of Alamo as the poor man’s Jimmy Swaggart, but Tony has made a bundle in the preaching racket, losing most of it along the way. Before he went to prison, he filed for bankruptcy owing $12 million — he wound up losing his property in Crawford County, and he even stiffed his lawyers.

Law-enforcement officials consider him a racketeer who did not pay his workers at dozens of his businesses or pay their withholding and Social Security taxes — but he now faces possibly more serious charges of statutory rape and child pornography, if federal authorities can make a case against the dime-store preacher.

Tony talks so much about child brides, it’s no wonder he’s been suspected of not only pedophilia and polygamy — at least since the time his wife Susan died from cancer back in 1982. Before she passed away, she claimed in her sermons that God had cured her, but she was wrong about that. Tony kept her remains in their home for a long time, waiting for a resurrection, but she was eventually buried or cremated.

It’s a bit odd that he picked Fouke for his newest headquarters after leaving prison. But Tony has a weird sense of humor, and he probably liked the sound of the place, where this semi-literate has-been would plot his comeback, fighting the feds and the Vatican and ranting about how the government destroyed the World Trade Center on 9/11.

He’s not the brightest bulb in the house, but he figured out 40 years ago that when he combined his brain with Susan’s, they’d do all right. They ran the Susan and Tony Alamo Christian Foundation and lived lavishly as they exploited thousands of young people, who worked for him without pay and took all kinds of abuse for years.

Law-enforcement agencies are just now beginning to make a case against Tony and his sidekicks over the latest abuse allegations.

They could land him in prison for a lot longer than the last time, which would make him a very old man indeed when he gets out.

TOP STORY > >Roads still sticky issue in Sherwood

Leader staff writer

Will Maryland Avenue be completed anytime soon? Will Hemphill Road ever be extended?

Those two questions have been long- standing items on the Sherwood City Council agenda and will stay on the agenda at least one more month.

After more than 30 minutes of heated, and even testy, discussion that went around and around, Alderman Becki Vassar asked if the mayor could set up a meeting with the council, the developer, Cypress Properties, and area residents to resolve the issue.

Cypress Properties, owned by Andy Collins, has developed subdivisions along Maryland Avenue and Hemphill Road and still has land in those areas to develop. According to city ordinances, a developer does not have to construct or extend any streets until that area is developed, and Cypress Properties has no plans at this time to develop their remaining land, meaning the company does not have to extend either Maryland Avenue or Hemphill Road.

The city wants at least one of those two roads completed to give Sherwood another thoroughfare, but as long as the developer is not building the subdivisions, the city can’t force him to open up either roadway.

Mayor Virginia Hillman has been working with the developer on a plan to open Maryland Avenue and suspend for a period of time any requirement for the developer to open up Hemphill Road.

The latest compromise, presented to the council Monday night, had the developer, Cypress Properties, constructing the portion of Maryland Avenue that is set to run through its property and the city completing the remainder of Maryland to give Sherwood another major east-west thoroughfare.

In exchange for building its portion of Maryland Avenue, Cypress Properties would receive at least a seven-year moratorium on building the rest of Hemphill Road.

Building either section would cost the developer between $350,000 and $500,000.

“I don’t think it’s the city’s job to negotiate with a developer to build streets that they are supposed to build,” said Alderman Ken Rankin. “I’m not going to compromise,” he added.

Alderman Charlie Harmon supported suing the developer. “He should have already built the roads. Let’s sue him now.”

Looking at the proposed compromise, Harmon added, “He never has to build Maryland—the seven years doesn’t start ticking until it’s built and there’s no completion date.”

Vassar added, “The developer has let his residents down. He has let us down. Let him tell those residents that he’s not going to build the road.”

Hillman said, “We need to be willing to compromise to get this road done. Right now we have nothing and we can’t afford to build the entire road ourselves.”

Alderman Butch Davis called completion of Maryland Avenue “critical.”

A number of aldermen were concerned that Cypress Properties was able to develop its properties out of sequence and avoid building the two roads. The mayor said everything the developer has done to this point had been approved by someone in the city. “He got the blessing from somewhere.”

“You’re pointing fingers at previous administrations,” Harmon said, “and other mayors have not done that.”

Alderman Sheila Sulcer said, “If we are fussing about this developer, then we need to look at what other developers have done to the city. I’ll be happy to spill names, but it’ll clear the room.”

Vassar reiterated she wants to meet with the developer. “I want the council to be there, the residents and the press. Lets open it up and get something done.”

City Attorney Stephen Cobb said he would arrange the meeting “sooner rather than later.”

TOP STORY > >Girlfriend accused in death

Leader staff writer

Two Jacksonville women remain in jail as they await trial on felony charges related to the abuse of their children and a Sherwood man is out on bail as he awaits trial for capital murder in the death of a Jacksonville toddler.

Nicole Lloyd, 20, has been charged with capital murder in the death of her boyfriend's son, Joseph Clyde “Jojo” Roberts, who passed away Sept. 15 at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where he had been hospitalized since mid-May with severe injuries sustained while in the care of Lloyd.

Lloyd initially told authorities that she found the boy lying unconscious in front of his dresser and believed that he fell and was injured. She later signed a statement to Jacksonville police confessing to battering the child. She has pled not guilty.

Jojo Roberts’ funeral was last Saturday.

He is survived by his father, Jay Roberts of Jacksonville; three brothers; grand-parents; great-grandparents, and a large extended family.

Manuella Roberts, 25, is in Pulaski County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond. She is charged with three counts of first-degree battery for the alleged physical abuse of her daughter and son in July.

She twice fractured her son’s skull while his unconscious sister was undergoing care in the hospital for injuries, according to a police report.

A CT scan detected the boy had sustained two skull fractures. Arkansas Children’s Hospital physicians told the police that the fractures were not consistent with injuries from an accident.

Her son was a year old and her daughter was 7 months old at the time.

Whitfield told police that she often took her anger out on her children.

She admitted to shaking and beating them, as well as other forms of abuse, to the point that they lost consciousness.

A pre-trial hearing for Whit-field is scheduled for Dec. 22 in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Lekedrin Smith of Sherwood is out on bail as he awaits trial next year for capital murder in the death on July 1 of 2-year-old Braylon Alexander.

Smith was babysitting the 2-year-old boy when he received a severe head injury.

His mother, Delois Alexander of Jacksonville, was at work at the time. Smith told investigators that the boy was hurt when he fell from the porch.

A physician’s report stated that the child had multiple injuries to the head, back, and abdomen, including “a high force injury” to the head, which was not consistent with a fall.

A date for Smith’s trial has not been set, but is expected in early 2009.

TOP STORY > >Prosecutor for Lonoke

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain officially announced Tuesday that she is resigning Dec. 31 to accompany her husband Bruce, a colonel in the Army National Guard, on an overseas assignment.

She sent a letter Monday to Gov. Mike Beebe announcing her intentions because his office is responsible for filling the vacancy.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the Lonoke County prosecution attorney for the past 10 years,” McCastlain said in a press release that went out to local newspapers Tuesday morning. “I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every person who has extended their support and encouragement during my tenure.

“The prosecutor’s office is made up of very special people who have a sincere desire to see that justice is served. I have the utmost respect and admiration for each and every one of them and the job they do. I am confident the governor will appoint an interim prosecutor who will continue to ensure that justice is served in our county,” she said.

In a phone interview Monday evening, McCastlain was less formal. She said she had hoped the news of her leaving could be held off at least until the press release went out because she hadn’t wanted to answer questions about her decision while she was still somewhat emotional about it.

Monday at her office had been a little sad, she said.

“I’m really excited,” McCastlain said of her plans to accompany her husband to Europe. “We spent the first three years we were married there and now we’ll be taking Max (the couple’s 7-year-old son) there and probably stay for three years.

“But it’s hard to leave. After 10 years, it’s just like that office is a part of me,” she said.

Asked what she will do while she’s away, McCastlain said she intends to be a wife and mother.

“I’m going to set up house and put out resumes,” she said. “I hope I can find a job. I worked before when I was there. Of course I was a teacher then. I hope I will be able to find something.”

Bruce McCastlain, who serves full-time in the National Guard, was promoted Sept. 14 from lieutenant colonel to full-bird colonel as the higher rank is called because of the eagle insignia the officers wear on their right lapels.

Lona McCastlain said he got his orders for Europe Sept. 17.

Her husband leaves on Halloween, McCastlain said.

But she will stay on as prosecutor until the courts recess in early December.

She also said she hopes the governor appoints her replacement soon. Her opinion is whether the governor appoints a Democrat or a Republican should not really be an issue considering the nature of the work.

“With a prosecutor, I’ve always thought that was about the least of our concern,” she said. “I hope he makes that appointment by Nov. 1. I certainly want us to have time to make the transition.

“Whoever he appoints will do it their way, and that’s how it should be. But I certainly want a smooth transition, so I hope we have time to communicate.”

TOP STORY > >Bankers reassure depositors

Leader staff writers

Area banks say they’re safe and sound and are attracting new depositors who are fleeing bigger banks because of their financial problems.

Mark Stocks, president of First Security Bank in Cabot, said that overall, bank customers want to make sure their money was
FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insured, which is the kind of safety local banks offer depositors.

The deposits are guaranteed for up to $100,000 per account holder, and $200,000 for retirement accounts.

“We are seeing some of the local investors move from mega-banks to the local community-oriented banks,” Stocks said.

“Overall, the banking industry in Arkansas will be fine,” said Stocks.

Stocks said he has not seen a run to pull money from local banks.

Larry Wilson, president and chief executive officer of First Arkansas Bank and Trust, said, “We have had more inquiries than normal about the FDIC insurance and the condition of our bank in general.

“We are proud to say that our bank is one of the strongest in the state,” he continued. “Its capital ratio based on information sent to the FDIC June 30 showed that the bank had the highest capital ratio of any large bank in the state.”

The capital ratio is an indicator of a bank’s “cushion against economic downturn or other problems that a bank may have,” Wilson said.

His bank was ranked 14th in the state, with more than $100 million in capital assets and $500 million in total assets.

The 13 banks ahead of First Arkansas Bank in higher capital ratios were all smaller banks with an average size of just $70 million.

Total assets include loans, mort gages and real-estate holdings that a bank is responsible for.

Wilson said that it is important for the public to understand that Lehman Bros. and Merrill Lynch are investment banks, not commercial banks. Although there have been a few commercial banks that have failed, “the vast majority of them are safe and sound, especially in Arkansas,” he explained.

In 1933, the FDIC was established to protect deposits under $100,000, Wilson pointed out.

“The vast majority of deposits are under $100,000, so there is nothing to worry about if they are in an insured bank.”

Dewitt Yingling with Regions Bank in Beebe said Monday that he believes his customers, like most people, are monitoring the situation, but they don’t seemed particularly worried.

“On the local level, there really hasn’t been any panic,” Yingling said. “And I don’t know that there is any reason to panic. Everything still works.”

And like his customers and almost everyone else, Yingling said he also has more questions than answers about how the economy has reached the point where the government is considering a $700 billion bailout for investment bankers, more money than he can even conceptualize.

Yingling said he has been in banking for 30 years and when he worked with mortgages, they were simple to understand.

“Mortgages were cut and dried,” he said. “Either you could afford it or not.”

What he doesn’t understand, he said, is why that changed.

“For 75 years, no one has ever lost a penny of insured deposits,” said FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, “but as with any type of insurance, depositors are responsible for knowing how FDIC coverage works in order to ensure their money is protected. While awareness of the FDIC is high, understanding of deposit insurance is not. We want to encourage people to learn the basics and provide reassurance that, if they are within the coverage limits, their money is 100 percent safe.”

“No one should ever lose a penny of their deposited money, but Americans need to take the time to look at their accounts to ensure they’re covered,” said Suze Orman, who will be doing public-service announcements for the FDIC.

“I have donated my time to this FDIC campaign because I want everyone to go to EDIE the Estimator — an online tool that provides customized information about their insured accounts — and follow the simple steps to make sure their money is 100 percent FDIC protected,” Orman said.

Depositors can go to the FDIC’s Web site,

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this article.

SPORTS>>Bears take on another giant foe

Leader sports editor

Perhaps no coach on a two-game losing streak has ever felt so good about his team.

Sylvan Hills begins 5A-Southeast Conference play when it hosts White Hall on Friday night.

And though the Bears are taking on an opponent two classifications down from the 7A foes they’ve battled the past two weeks, the physical challenge could be nearly as daunting. White Hall (1-1-1) is every bit as big as Cabot and nearly as bigas North Little Rock, the schools that have dealt Sylvan Hills (1-2) its two losses this season.

Yet after watching his defense hold the Panthers to two offensive touchdowns and the Charging Wildcats to just one, head coach Jim Withrow said his Bears are ready for anything.

“Our confidence is up,” said Withrow, whose Bears lost 24-0 to Cabot two weeks ago and 7-6 to North Little Rock last week.

“After you play two like that, I don’t think anything scares you anymore.

“But I think we’re playing one of the better teams in the conference this week and I don’t really like that after playing those last two teams.”

The Bears laid it all on the line last Friday in North Little Rock when they scored on a Lawrence Hodges’ run to cut the Wildcat lead to 7-6 with just under six minutes to play. Withrow opted to go for two and the lead, but Jordan Spears’ pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage.

White Hall is coming off a 40-16 win over Sheridan after opening with a loss to Lakeside and tying Watson Chapel in Week 2.
“We were terrible on defense in our first game,” said White Hall head coach Mike Vaughn. “But we’re young. We replaced 10 starters on defense.”

What makes the Bulldogs scary is their size, which includes a 320-pound center and a pair of tackles who both go over 300 pounds. That’s nothing new for Sylvan Hills, who have used their quickness on defense to overcome size disadvantages the first three weeks.

Running out of a multiple, ground-oriented offense, the Bulldogs have a potent 1-2 punch in quarterback J.J. Martin and fullback Larry Walls, who have combined for more than 1,100 yards through three games.

“They’ve got two kids that run the ball real well,” Withrow said. “And they use different types of formations, widen their tight end, pull their guards. Coach Vaughn has a lot of tricks in his bag so you can’t just key on (Martin or Walls).”

Withrow said the key will be to once again play quicker on defense, to make the initial hit at the line of scrimmage.

“They do a lot of the same things in their offense that we did with (former quarterback) Hunter Miller,” he said. “They run a lot of misdirection stuff to keep you off balance.”

For Sylvan Hills, the challenge offensively will be to get back to a more balanced attack. Because of cramps to receivers in the season-opening win against Malvern, the Bears relied on the run. Against Cabot, Withrow opted to go airborne to keep running backs Juliean Broner and Hodges fresher for defense. Last week, the Bears played more conservatively to keep the ball out of the hands of the physical Wildcats, and threw just nine times.

“Yeah, we want to be as balanced as we can,” Withrow said. “We want to get back to what we normally do — to have our running game complement our passing game.”

Hodges rushed for 63 yards and Broner 58 more against North Little Rock.

Despite the size advantage the Bulldogs will enjoy this Friday, Vaughn said Sylvan Hills’ speed is of enormous concern.

“Sylvan Hills has great athletes,” he said. “They are quick and physical and have a lot of speed. Their quarterback throws the ball pretty well. We know that we probably can’t blow them out, but if we don’t contain them, they can blow us out.”

Safety Casey Cerrato is still questionable for Friday after missing last week. But linebacker Michael Richardson, who missed the first three weeks, is expected to start against the Bulldogs.

“We need to get Casey back,” Withrow said. “He’s a senior and we need seniors out there.”

SPORTS>>Jackrabbits look to build on momentum

Leader sportswriter

The stakes will be raised this week when Heber Springs rolls into Lonoke on Friday for the first game of the 2-4A Conference season for both programs. The Jackrabbits took last year’s game at Heber after the Panthers won at Abraham Field back in 2006.

It has been a visitor’s series so far, but the Jackrabbits are hoping to turn that around this Friday. They started their home stand out strong last week with a 41-38 upset win over Central Arkansas Christian in a final-minute thriller, building crucial momentum heading into this week’s 2-4A opener.

“We feel like we’ve improved each week,” Lonoke coach Jeff Jones said. “We’re going to take that approach into practice this week. (The Panthers) have a big back, and they’re going to be showing us a lot of different looks. They’re also big up front, so it is going to be a good challenge for us.”

Heber Springs coach Steve Janski said there is one hope for his team to successfully defend and stop the Lonoke passing game on Friday.

“Only if they drop it,” Janski said. “They have speed at every position — just tremendous athletes. There’s really nothing youcan do when you’re outmatched like that. There’s no way to simulate the speed your kids will see on the practice field. The only thing we can do is the same thing we did when we beat them two years ago and that’s to keep their offense off the field as much as you can.”

That win came with a physical game out of the clock-killing Wing-T offense for Heber. This year, Janski has gone to a more multiple attack.

“I try to fit our offense around our kids,” Janski said. “We keep the fundamentals the same, but we line up a little different. We haven’t clicked just yet — we’ve been beating ourselves.”

Another thing that seems to be improving for the Jackrabbits is their depth. The usual suspects stepped up and had good games on Friday, and new names popped up on the radar as well. Junior Morgan Linton has been strong offensively since the start of the season, but came through on the defensive side with over 10 tackles. On the offensive side, fellow junior and tailback Brandon Smith came up big in the Lonoke backfield with close to 80-yards rushing, and converted several ’Rabbit first downs on both short and long yardage situations.

“How about Brandon Smith?” said Jones. “No one knew about him. That guy can run the ball too. He played an outstanding game for us offensively and defensively. Linton was all over the place. If he wasn’t making the tackle, he was allowing someone else to make it because of his play up front — he’s outstanding.”

The biggest opponent working against the Panthers so far this season has been the Panthers themselves, according to Janski.

He said a win is important on Friday, but only possible if the turnover and penalty situations improve.

Last week’s loss to Greenbrier featured four turnovers and a whopping 13 penalties, and the season-opening loss to Hoxie saw the Panthers give up three turnovers and commit eight penalties.

“We would love it if we got all the mistakes out of the way at this point,” Janski said. “We’re a young team, but our offense has the ability to be successful if we correct those mistakes. If we’ve got it all worked out, it could be a close, great game. If we don’t, it could be a long Friday.”

SPORTS>>Panthers aren’t taking 0-3 Wampus Cats for granted

Leader sportswriter

The opening week of the 7A Central Conference features some pretty interesting matchups, but none as intriguing as the Cabot – Conway game. The Panthers will make the journey this Friday to John McConnell Stadium to take on the Wampus Cats in Faulkner County.

Cabot has a two-game home stand against expected league contenders Catholic and North Little Rock beginning next week, but head coach Mike Malham said he just wants to get by a 0-3 Conway team that he feels has been underestimated up to this point.

“Everybody is 0-0 right now,” Malham said. “And they’ve played tougher competition than we have so far. They have taken on some heavyweights. Conway and Cabot is always a slugfest. They’re playing a bunch of young kids, and they have had all this time to improve. After playing teams like Bentonville and Southside, they’re not going to be in awe of us, that’s for sure.”

Conway was blown out by the Tigers to start the season, but has since played close games to both the Rebels in Week 2 and in a 15-14 loss to Benton last Friday.

Cabot brings a 3-0 record into Friday’s conference opener. A big win over rival Jacksonville to start the season faded into concern when the Panthers’ running game looked rather dicey against 5A contender Sylvan Hills. They got their offense going last week in a big win over Hall, but new problems presented themselves on the other side of the ball, in the early going in particular.
“We’ve played pretty well — we’ve had our lapses, but overall it’s been all right,” Malham said. “We had an offensive lapse against Sylvan Hills, but then they almost beat North Little Rock, so maybe Sylvan Hills is a little better than people thought they were going tobe. And then this past Friday, we had a defensive lapse against Hall there in the first quarter. These games are only going to get tougher from here, the more we get into the conference.”

Since losing senior tight end Les McGregor in the opening week, the Panthers have held off the injury bug pretty well. Last year was a trying one in terms of injuries, and while Malham said he’s happy to see people staying healthy, that there’s no fail-safe method to avoiding hurt personnel.

“Injuries are just a part of football — you can’t worry about what you can’t control,” Malham said. “There’s just nothing you can do about it. It happens to other people too. Everybody is pretty much in the same boat when it comes to that. Now, last year was one of those deals when an unusually high number of people went out, but you’re always going to lose one or two along the way in any season.”

This time last year, the buzz around then-sophomore sensation running back Michael James was just beginning, but his numbers are down from last season. Malham said it’s not a matter of James, now a junior, not playing hard, but more support in the offensive backfield this season.

“We spread it around quite a bit in the Hall game,” Malham said. “We had a pretty decent balance. They’re all doing a good job. In certain situations, our halfbacks get more carries depending on the situation. You just have to pick your spots.”

Wesley Sowell ended up with the biggest rushing numbers for Cabot last week with 7 carries for 81 yards, while Chris Bayles had 11 carries for 79 yards. James had the most carries with 13, gaining 77 yards on the night.

Conway coach Kenny Smith has never had a 0-3 start in his previous 17 years as head Wampus Cat. It has been a rocky start for his young squad which features three seniors on offense and four on defense, but Smith, now in his 18th season at Conway, is not yet ready to hit the panic button.

“These kids have been tested every way imaginable, there’s no doubt about that,” Smith said. “We’ve had a rough schedule up to this point, but we’ve shown improvement every week. We’ve given up fewer points and scored more from one week to the next.”

The Wampus Cats will have to battle a bigger Cabot line, but Smith said familiarity with the Panthers will help offset that disparity.

“Our kids are just used to it,” Smith said. “We’ve had great games with Cabot for the last 17 years. Our kids play against them from the seventh grade on, so we’re used to that style.”

Smith said he will rely on battle-tested senior fullback Ivan Mendoza (5-9, 195) to combat some of the physicality at the Cabot defensive line.

The Wampus Cats and Panthers will kick off the conference season this Friday at 7 p.m.

SPORTS>>Red Devils try to shake off upset

Leader sports editor

Oh, the frustrations of coaching a young team.

Just ask Mark Whatley.

With plenty of firepower on offense, speed on defense, and momentum from a dramatic comeback win at Vilonia to call on, the Jacksonville Red Devils seemed poised for a blowout of Mills last Friday.

Instead, Jacksonville will begin 6A-East Conference play this Friday at Jan Crow Stadium trying to shake off a disappointing, mistake-plagued 31-19 stunner at the hands of the Comets.

“We didn’t need to let them hangaround,” said Whatley, the Red Devils’ fourth-year head coach. “But we had mistakes that definitely hurt us, no question about it. We just didn’t get out of the box.

“Youth kind of reared its head a little bit.”

Mountain Home will be trying to shake off a 2-game slide after falling 37-14 to Harrison in Week 2 and 29-16 to Batesville last Friday.

“We’re a little disappointed because in all my years here, our teams have always played hard,” said Bomber head coach Shane Patrick. “But we haven’t done that all the time this year. Unless that changes, we won’t win another game.”

The Red Devil defense will be looking at a similar style in the Mountain Home Wishbone that they saw last Friday. Their attack is centered around fullback Chase Walker, who ran for 117 yards last week and has had three big games for the Bombers.

But they also have a quick option in quarterback Zach Hawthorne.

“We’ve been pretty effective running the football so far,” Patrick said.

The Comets bulled through and around the Red Devils for more than 300 yards last week, and that’s an obvious concern for Whatley heading into Friday night.

“Mountain Home will make you play assignment football,” he said. “They’ve got a good offensive line. Last Friday, we gave up the big plays we hadn’t been giving up all year. A lot of that had to do with their speed. Their quarterback was tough to deal with. We’ve got to be able to make that tackle at the line of scrimmage this week.”

Assuming the Red Devils are able to shore up that defense this Friday, the key will be to limit mistakes offensively and turn loose their various weapons on a Mountain Home defense that has surrendered 66 points the past two weeks.

Tailback Patrick Geans showed flashes of his slithery elusiveness in snaking his way to 112 yards against the Comets, but he got only 13 carries. Keith Rodgers provided a nice complement to Geans with more straight-ahead running, and Lawrence Tillman ripped off a couple of long runs.

“Keith gave us everything he had,” Whatley said. “The two backs are blocking well for each other, but we didn’t get the blocking on the perimeter from our receivers that we need. Geans doesn’t need much. He’s real elusive and can do a lot of things with it.”

Sophomore quarterback Logan Perry threw four interceptions, but also delivered a lot of passes right on the money, mostly to Demetrius Harris and Devin Featherston. Of Perry’s 15 completions in 21 attempts, six were hauled in by Harris — two for touchdowns — and five more were caught by Featherston.

“Demetrius has had three really good games for us,” Whatley said. “That’s six touchdowns he’s caught now. And Devin has come along and given us production on the other side. A lot of that has to do with them trying to stop Demetrius. Now we just need to eliminate mistakes.”

Whatley said his team appears to have shaken off the effects of the disappointing loss to Mills.

“The biggest thing is we’re undefeated in conference,” he said. “Hopefully we learned a lesson from (the loss). Every game from here on out is a bowl game. They all count from here.”