Friday, March 27, 2009

SPORTS >> Bears go 3-1 in Memphis

Leader sports editor

MEMPHIS — The Sylvan Hills Bears lost a 10-4 lead in the sixth inning, then went on to lose their first game of the season at a tournament in Memphis last weekend.

The defending 6A champion Bears took a big lead into the sixth inning against Bartlett (Tenn.), pulled ace D.J. Baxendale, then gave up 12 runs on their way to a 16-10 loss. The Bears went on to win 3 of 4 games at the tourney to improve to 16-1 on the season.

Bartlett scored its 12 runs on just four hits, while receiving five walks and benefiting from three hit batters and two errors.

The Bears, behind home runs from Nathan Eller and Justin Treece, raced to leads of 6-0 and 10-4. Eller was 3 of 5 in the contest, while Baxendale was 3 of 4 with a double. Treece, Tyler Van Schoyck and Jordan Spears each added two hits.

The Bears opened the tournament with a 12-2 cruise past Arlington (Tenn.) behind six solid innings from winning starter Eller. Eller allowed only three hits and struck out three.

Sylvan Hills needed only seven hits to pile up 12 runs, scoring four in the third and six more in the fifth. Treece led the way, going 3 of 4 with a double, while Eller also had a double.

After falling to Bartlett, Sylvan Hills got back on track by squeezing out a 5-4 win over Blackmon High of Murfreesborough. Mike Maddox led off the seventh inning of a 4-4 tie with a single and eventually came around to score the go-ahead run. Eric McKinney struck out the side in relief in the seventh to close out the win.

Spears pitched six solid innings of four-hit ball to pick up the win.

The Bears jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first on a walk to Eller and Baxendale’s double.

Though they fell behind 2-1, they tied it in the fourth on Blake Baxendale’s single, a wild pitch and Maddox’s RBI single.

Back-to-back home runs by D.J. Baxendale and Spears put Sylvan Hills up again, 4-2 in the sixth. But Blackmon tied it on a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning.

Sylvan Hills picked up six hits — two each by D.J. Baxendale and Maddox.

The Bears closed out tournament play last Saturday with an 8-2 win over Collierville (Tenn.). D.J. Baxendale picked up the win, while Treece went 3 of 3 with two doubles. Sylvan Hills, which scored four in the third and two each in the fourth and fifth, collected 10 hits.

The Bears began play in the Conway tournament last night after Leader deadlines.

SPORTS >> Arkansas’ women are beaten by KU in WNIT

Arkansas sports information

LAWRENCE, Kansas – The Arkansas Razorbacks ran into a Kansas twister as junior forward Danielle McCray scored 35 points in just 28 minutes to lead the Jayhawks to a 75-59 win in the third-round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

Seniors Ayana Brereton and Whitney Jones led the Razorbacks in their final game at Arkansas.  Brereton had 15 and Jones 11 as the Razorbacks, who closed the season at 18-14 while the Jayhawks moved to 20-13.  Kansas advances to the WNIT fourth round to face the winner of Oregon State and New Mexico.

“Give our seniors a lot of credit, both for battling tonight and for the season,” UA head coach Tom Collen said.

As the game slipped away, Collen went to some of his less experience players to give them an opportunity in the post season, but the seniors approached him with a request.

“They came to me and asked if they could finish their careers on the court,” Collen said. “That’s the least we could do for them.

They have been two of the hardest working players I’ve had in my two seasons at Arkansas, and for what they have done to help build the foundation of what’s about to come at Arkansas, they deserved to go out as they wished.”

In only the second visit to Allen Fieldhouse in the 33-year history of the Razorbacks, Arkansas could not overcome the combination of a poor-shooting first half and the rocket-hot shooting of McCray.

“She’s an All-American and might be the best player in the Big 12,” Collen said.  “We’re a young team, and we struggled once we got down in the second half.”

Both teams had slow starts until Sade Morris cranked it up for the Jayhawks.  Morris scored seven straight points, helping launch a 14-0 run for Kansas to give the Jayhawks a 19-5 lead with 11:46 in the first half.  A three-pointer from Brereton snapped the three-minute scoring drought for Arkansas, but the damage was done.

The Jayhawks extended their lead to as many as 17 as McCray got her game on track.  The Razorbacks used the free throw line to close back to a 13-point spread at halftime.

“We couldn’t find the bucket early in the game,” Collen said.  “But we battled back early in the second half.”

Poor shooting crippled the Arkansas offense in the first half, hitting only 23 percent while the Jayhawks were well over 60 percent most of the period before cooling to 50 percent.

Foul trouble put McCray and Morris on the bench at the end of the first half, but before exiting they scored at almost a point-a-minute clip.

Razorbacks opened the second half with a 7-2 burst to get within single digits for the first time since the opening minutes, 38-30.  McCray and Morris responded for Kansas to put the Jayhawks back up by double digits.

“We came out of the locker room hard-nosed and fighting,” Collen said.  “And we kept with them until the second run.  We’re a young team, and when they looked up at the clock and saw that score later in the half, it was tough.”

A three from Brereton started a 7-0 run by Arkansas to get back to nine, 51-42, with 12:09.  After a poor shooting first, the Razorbacks started the second half hitting almost 70 percent from the field.

Kansas weathered the Raz-orback storm and as the Arkansas shot cooled McCray got hot. 
The junior forward scored 18 of 19 Kansas points to lead the Jayhawks to a 60-42 lead with 7:24 to play.

“They (Kansas) is getting ready to make a run in the WNIT,” Collen said.  “They could win the whole thing.”

A night of bumps and knocks for Arkansas saw Ceira Ricketts leave in the last two minutes with an injury, and both Shanita Arnold and Whitney Jones spent time on the bench with injuries.  The Razorbacks played without junior Ashley McCray, out after a bruised knee in the previous round.

Ricketts finished with 10 for Arkansas, while Morris added 23 for Kansas.

SPORTS >> Character study

Leader sportswriter

Success builds character and character often leads to success. No one understands that dynamic better than Jacksonville senior Terrell Brown.

His coaches, as well as Boys and Girls Club supervisor Terry Brown, will attest to his character. The success speaks for itself.

Brown earned both all-conference and all-state honors in football this past season, as well as making all-conference his junior season in baseball. He was named to both the Leader newspaper’s all-defensive and all-offensive teams.

And he just signed to play baseball with Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.
Brown has been just as successful off the field.

The 17-year-old played basketball at the Boys and Girls Club as a kid, and now works at the facility just off Graham Road. His duties include everything from trash detail to basketball officiating, but Terry Brown said his biggest contribution is his positive influence on the kids.

“They seem to look up to him a lot. The younger ones just think he’s so cool,” said Terry Brown. “He’s very patient and playful with them. He has been a really big asset to us. Without saying a lot, he’s a good role model, because kids can see what happens when you stay in school, do your homework and work at your sport.”

Terrell Brown had opportunities to play at the next level in both football and baseball. He chose to go with baseball, a sport he has played since the age of four. He received interest for his baseball from five other area schools before choosing Coffeyville. He also got interest from several football programs, including Harding University, Mississippi Valley State, Arkansas Tech and Arkansas State.

With all the opportunities presented to him, Brown said the decision to become a Red Raven was an easy one.

“It felt like home,” Brown said of Coffeyville. “The coaches called me every day and texted. When I went on my visit, the players on the team made me feel like a brother. So when I go off to college, it will be like going to be with my second family.”

He gives much of the credit for his success to his parents, Harold and Evelyn Brown, and said his grandfather Lawrence, who also played baseball, was a big influence on him in his developmental years.

“My mom and dad always kept a glove and a bat in my room from the time I was really young,” he said. “They have always inspired me. And my grandfather also played baseball. I’ve always looked up to him. He taught me how to play with pride.”

Brown almost exclusively plays shortstop for the Red Devils and for the Gwatney Chevrolet American Legion summer baseball team.

Football was a different story. Brown was an all-purpose player for Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley, shifting from wideout to secondary to, occasionally, quarterback.

“He played anywhere you put him and always gave the same effort,” said Whatley. “He led by being committed to what he was doing and giving his all no matter where we stuck him on the field.”

Whatley said that, despite Brown’s speed and ability, it was more than raw talent that made Brown such a big asset.

“He’s a very intelligent young man,” Whatley said. “Usually the intelligent kids are the ones who are going to come up with those big plays for you. We’re certainly going to miss him. He did some great things, and always came up with a big play when we needed it.”

Whatley cited the Searcy game, when Brown scored two offensive touchdowns and two defensive touchdowns.

Brown finished with 26 receptions for 405 yards and six touchdowns. On defense, he had 31 tackles and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

He received player-of-the-week honors from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Fox 16 sports.

His senior year of baseball is going just as well. Through the first half of the season, Brown is hitting .484, and has an on-base percentage of .660. He has four doubles and two home runs. He also leads the team in walks, hit-by-pitches, stolen bases and runs scored. The only offensive stat that Brown does not top is the RBI category.

“He’s got a lot going for him,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “He has good character and a great personality. He’s just a good kid, that’s simply the best way to put it.”

Brown’s competitive nature and enthusiasm were the biggest factors in Burrows’ decision to make him the Red Devils’ leadoff hitter this spring.

“We expect him to get up there and spark us,” said Burrows. “He’s drawn a lot of walks from his leadoff spot. He would probably like to swing the bat a little more, but he does a good job of getting on and letting his teammates drive him in.”

Brown’s desire to stay in the world of athletics — and watching longtime Jacksonville trainer Jason Cates in action over the years — has given him the idea to pursue sports medicine.

“It’s a way for me to keep being around sports,” said Brown. “I may even get to come back to Jacksonville and be a trainer one day. The main thing is that it’s about helping people, and being a better person.”

SPORTS >> Golf hands out rewards, punishments arbitrarily

Leader sports editor

Two weeks ago, 62-year old Norwegian Unni Haskell recorded a hole-in-one on her very first official shot on a golf course.

Let me start by saying, golf is among the cruelest of sports. It is a game that once had my father hopping the fence and heading to a pub after missing a short putt on the fourth hole. It is a vile, pernicious activity, one which directly or indirectly is responsible for the luxurious lifestyles of many a psychologist.

It is a game (though “game” normally connotes joy and frivolity so I use that word reluctantly here) known for arbitrarily handing out punishment and reward without regard to the innate goodness or evil of its practitioners. Sadaam Hussein might have been blessed with a beautiful game while Mother Theresa probably would have suffered though a lifetime of shanks. North Korea maintains that crazed, evil leader Kim Jong Il once made 18 straight holes-in-one. Propaganda? You’d think so, but I’ve seen enough of this game to believe it could be true.

True story: A golfer many strokes my inferior once made a bet with me that he could get up and down in two from 30 yards off the green. I greedily accepted the bet as it required nothing from me or my hopelessly neurotic game.

The fellow chunked the first shot about 15 yards, then turned to me and asked for double-or-nothing on the same bet. Whereupon he holed his chip, winning BOTH bets.

Another true, equally odious story: I came into the 18th hole tied in three Nassaus with a fellow who proceeded to hit the ball way, way out of bounds … or so it seemed. Turns out his ball hit a condo some 50 yards off the fairway and bounded back into play. Shook beyond all hope of recovery, I ended up missing a two-footer to lose all three bets.

Anyway, it got me thinking about Ms. Haskell and the unlikely and, I hasten to add, wholly undeserved result of that first swing of hers.

Especially when I saw that she used a driver on the 75-yard hole and that the ball sprayed across the ground and “bumped, skittered and rolled” into the cup.

“I didn’t know it was that big of a deal,’’ she blithely told the St. Petersburg Times. “I thought all golfers do this.’’

No, Ms. Haskell, we do not. Oh, yeah, we hit shots like that – they just don’t go in the hole. They go into lakes, yes. Out of bounds, certainly. Into sand traps — if we’re lucky.

Anyway, it all got me thinking just how Mrs. Haskell’s husband must have reacted to his wife’s good fortune that day:

“Honey, it’s only 75 yards. Are you really going to use a driver?”

“Bjorn, please, it’s my first shot.”

“Look at that thing scoot! Why, it’s heading for the green! By God, it hit something and kicked right toward the hole … where did it go?”

“Why, I think it went in the hole, dear. Isn’t that the idea? You go ahead and hit. I think I’ll just walk around the rest of the day. This game seems stupid.”

“But … did … it really … go in the … the hole?”

“What’s the big deal, baby? I thought that was the object of the game.”

“But I’ve been playing 37 years. I was a six-handicap at one time. I NEVER got a hole-in one.”

“Maybe you try too hard, Bjorn. Honestly, it just doesn’t seem that difficult to me. Now go ahead and hit … Ooh, in the trap. Why did you hit it there, dear?”

“Well, of course, I didn’t mean to … Unni, do you realize how improbable what you just did is?”

“Really, you’re making too big of a deal of this … Ooh, you missed another one.”

“Missed another one! Why I just hit a sand shot to within a foot! That was a great shot!”

“It’s a miss, dear. But I think your trying to put a happy front on it is charming.”

“So you think every shot is supposed to go in the hole? That’s it! I can’t wait to see your drive on No. 2.”

“No, really, I’m done with this game. I just don’t see the point … Oh, dear, were you trying to miss that putt? Come on, quit joking around.”

“I’m NOT joking. Those are called yips. And I assure you, if you’ll just stick with this game, they’ll soon have you by the throat.”

(Yawning) “I’m sure you’re right, dear. But, really, I think I’ll try some other sport, one that presents a little challenge or has a little higher learning curve.”

“But I assure you, Unni, golf IS the most difficult game you’ll play. It is a vile, ugly, wholly unrewarding activity … Why, see there? See how I just duck- hooked my drive out of bounds? THAT’S what golf is! Now I insist you select a club and hit.”

“That’s sweet of you dear. But I think I’ll pass. Let’s go try to find your ball. If you’d just hit it in the hole, we’d always know where it was ... Try aiming for the green this time ... no, not at me, dear, the GREEN.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> An old bank gets a new name

Leader staff writer

Community Bank is changing its name this week. The familiar red, white and blue diamond-shaped logo of the bank will stay the same, but the name in the center is now “Centennial.”

“It is simply a name change for convenience for customers and shareholders – no ownership change,” said Tracy French, who has served as chief executive officer and president of Community Bank’s 11 locations, which are in Beebe, Cabot, Jacksonville and Ward.

With the change, French is now regional president over those locations as well as banks owned by the same holding company, located in Heber Springs, Mountain View and Searcy.

Community Bank is part of a banking network owned by HomeBancShares. Its other holdings include the former First State Bank of Conway, Centennial Bank of central and south Arkansas, the Bank of Mountain View, Twin City Bank of North Little Rock, and the Marine Bank of Florida. The conversion, which will put all six banks under one name, started last fall and will be completed in a couple of months.

The change will help customers “know that when they go to any of the 64 locations, they will be treated the same,” French said.

That has always been true, but the different names have created confusion for some, he said. “On vacation to the Florida Keys, they can bank there, just like you’re in Cabot,” he said.

The change will also mean greater efficiency for the Home-BancShares system. With six names, “there were so many things we had to do in sixes,” such as banking audits, French said.

Opening in 1903, Community Bank is one Arkansas’ oldest financial institutions. In December 2003, it was acquired by HomeBancShares, which has over $2.6 billion in assets. Its services include personal and business checking accounts, insurance, home lending, investments and title work.

The bank prides itself on its strong partnerships with the schools and communities where it is located.

TOP STORY >> Governor to speak to Ward chamber

Leader staff writer

Gov. Mike Beebe will be the guest speaker for the 35th annual Ward Chamber of Commerce banquet set for Thursday, April 2.

Jennie Sue Guess, who has organized the event for many years, said she got the governor to agree to come the same way she always gets top state and national leaders to attend. She asked.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee al-so has been the guest speaker at a Ward chamber banquet as have former Senators David Pryor and Dale Bumpers.

Guess said the best turnout to date was when Pryor was the speaker.

Last year, the guest speaker was Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. In 2007, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter spoke.

Guess says she has never been timid about asking prominent people to attend the banquet so she really doesn’t understand how she neglected to ask Bill Clinton.

In addition to being known for the caliber of its speakers, the Ward chamber banquet is also known for the quality of its food.

Guess said she only serves food that she knows to be good. This year, the banquet will be catered by Grandpa’s, a Cabot restaurant. Brisket, potato salad and green salad will be served with lemon cheese cake and Coca Cola cake for dessert.

“The brisket is so tender you don’t need a knife to cut it,” Guess said.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland will be the master of ceremony for the evening. State Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle) will introduce the governor. And just to make sure no one is left out, State Rep. David Carter (R-Cabot) will lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

Celina Miranda, a 13-year-old guitar player and vocalist from Cabot, will perform.

The 2009 board members are officers Mayor Art Brooke, president; Sharon Roberts, vice president; Karen Thomas, secretary; Nancy Myers, treasurer; and board members Billie Haymes, Jaunita Horn, Shirley Sanders and Richard Bradshaw.

The evening begins with a social hour from 6 to 7 p.m. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $20. Guess said she expects about 200 guests.

For reservations call 843-8348.

TOP STORY >> Austin native returns to run police department

Leader staff writer

Austin’s new police chief says he is grateful for his six years at the Jacksonville Police Department, which he calls “one of the top-notch police departments in the state.”

But he’s happy to be back in Austin where he grew up and where he started work as a part-time police officer eight years ago.

John Staley, 29, moved into his new position on March 16, taking over from interim Police Chief Woody McEuen, who replaced former Chief J.J. Martin when he left in January to head the public safety department at ASU-Beebe.

Staley was one of 11 applicants for the job, which Mayor Bernie Chamberlain calls an astounding number considering that the job pays $545 a week plus benefits.

But Staley says the money is less important than the work.

“Law enforcement isn’t about the money; it’s about making a difference in your community,” Staley said. “I think the sign says Austin has a population of 608 but as I drive around looking at the houses, I think it’s between 2,000 and 3,000.

“This is home,” he said.

“And it’s not just about enforcement; it’s about being community-oriented. It’s kind of like being a preacher. It’s a calling. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re not going to do it very long.”

Chamberlain said she was impressed with Staley’s work experience and training. In Jacksonville, he was a patrol sergeant working he midnight shift. But he also had worked as a school resource officer and he was trained in crisis negotiation.

“He’s got a good personality and he’s been around,” the mayor said. “I think he’ll do a good job for us.”

His first major undertaking as police chief will be a “round-up” Saturday when police officers will knock on doors and serve outstanding warrants. Again, Staley says it’s not about the money the city could potentially gain in unpaid fines.

Having a warrant hanging over your head is a needless burden, he said. It is far better for speeders and other minor offenders to go to court and make payments on their fines than to worry about it.

Staley says he prefers warning tickets for traffic violations whenever possible.

“We don’t want to punish people. We want to educate them,” he said, adding that good law enforcement officers are a lot like teachers.

“Law enforcement is about communication,” he said.

Although he has run twice for Lonoke County sheriff, Staley said he won’t run next year. His goal now is to get his officers better trained and make the Austin Police Department as good as it can be, he said.

TOP STORY >> Treasure hunter tells trade secrets

Leader staff writer

Wilf Blum, an underwater treasure hunter and founder of Deep Blue Marine, loves his job because it’s as rewarding and exciting as an adventure movie.

He recovers long-lost ships deep underwater, using modern technology and a sixth sense. He says there’s money to be made going after sunken treasures.

Blum spoke last week at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History about his explorations in the Caribbean. He brought one of his large finds from the French ship Scipion, a 241-year-old cannon used by the French against the British during the American Revolutionary War.

Before starting his treasure-hunting business four years ago, Blum was in public relations. Blum took a risk when he started his business. Plans with another treasure diver did not materialize but Blum had researched salvaging shipwrecks and Deep Blue Marine was formed.

Deep Blue Marine has one more year of work with the Scipion before moving on to another shipwreck. Blum says that while shipwreck work can be lucrative, it’s hard to put an exact figure on historical items.

Blum and his company, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, started work in 2007 recovering artifacts from the Scipion, a sunken 18th century 74-gun ship from France. The Scipion was one of 20 ships France sent to the U.S. to assist in the Revolutionary War. The ship was involved in the Chesapeake Bay blockade between the French and the British from Aug. 28, 1781, until Sept. 9, 1781.

Some historians claim the blockade was the turning point for the U.S. in the fight for independence from England.

According to Blum, the Scipion had a crew of 750. The copper-bottom ship was 171 feet long and 44 feet wide. The deck was five-stories tall. The ship with full masts and sails looked like a 22-story building going by on the sea.

On Oct. 18, 1782, the Scipion dropped anchor off the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic and then crashed on the neighboring coral head and sank.

The ship rests in Samana Bay under 25 feet of sea water at the mouth of a river. The force of the wreck on to the coral bent the brass nails used in the construction of the ship.

“There’s no history of anyone dying in the wreck,” Blum said.

He said if the salvage crew were to find human remains, they would be gathered and returned to the country of origin for burial.

Blum estimated there were 15 other ships to find in the bottom of the Samana Bay.
Deep Blue Marine has an agreement with the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Navy protects the site.

“Fifty percent of the artifacts we find stay in the museums in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican government allows us to bring up eight cannons,” Blum said.

The company’s 93-foot long recovery boat is equipped with outriggers that can lift 80,000 pounds. The boat goes out to the recovery site for 10 days and comes back to port for six.

A team of nine divers are in the water from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. They break for lunch and take a 20-minute rest. They average five to nine dives a day pulling up artifacts. With the shallow water, the divers have no problems with the “bends.”

Visibility ranges from several feet to an inch. They work without dive computers. The worksite is murky with artifacts encrusted with sulfides, algae and mussels. Many relics are buried deep in the protective sands.

Blum said, “Two of the cannons we found still have the fuses. The best finds are found in the sands under the hull.”

The cannon he put on display in Jacksonville was made in 1768. It weighs 4,493 pounds and is nine feet long. It was the 39th gun located on the portside of the Scipion. The gun fired 18-pound shot balls. Inscribed on the cannon are the craftsman’s initials and the foundry’s name.

It took 18 months to restore the cannon, filling in the pits and cleaning the gun with electrolysis.

The gun carriage was constructed from blueprints in reference books.

The Deep Blue Marine crew maps the location and photographs the recovered artifacts. All items are transported in water back to the company’s headquarters. It takes about two years to conserve the artifacts.

Preservation is a necessity, Blum said. If it wasn’t for preservation, the wooden objects would shrink and be destroyed within two weeks.

It takes several steps. For six to eight months, timber is put in fresh-water tanks for the sea salt to seep out. Then the wood is submerged in acetone to replace the water. The wood then goes to a freeze-dryer to remove the acetone as the final step.

When rope is found from the Scipion, it is sun-dried. The brittle rope is then preserved in fiberglass resin.

Deep Blue Marine has recovered barrel hoops, 47 blocks and dead-eyes from the ship. They found bar shots fired by cannons, a pure silver sacrament cup, a brass chandelier base, kitchen utensils, a telescope and the captain’s copper wash basin.

Among other items the divers have recovered are full bottles of wine, coins, buttons, old rope, lines, lots of sulfur and a bilge pump that many museums are interested in owning.

The weather has not always been calm at the recovery site. The crew fought seven hurricanes in 2007.

“We go into port when there are hurricanes,” Blum said.

Blum, a U.S citizen born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, lives in Utah. He is married and has three grown children who have assisted with the salvage dives.

EDITORIAL >> Lacking compassion

The Know Nothing Party foundered 150 years ago because it could not stir enough Arkansans to fear being overrun by their culture, corrupted by Irish and German Catholics, but its descendants are alive and well. Still another bill to allow some undocumented immigrants to attend college in Arkansas at regular tuition rates died in the state Senate after a few people complained that it would invite a horde of Mexicans into the state.

The Senate Education Committee buried a bill by Sen. Joyce Elliott to allow immigrant kids to attend state universities and technical colleges at the regular tuition rates if they attended Arkansas high schools the previous three years and graduated with the requisite course work and if they signed affidavits saying they intended to seek citizenship.

Sen. Elliott tried to do it in 2005 and had the warm support of Governor Mike Huckabee, who took a beating from nativist Republicans for his stand for Christian compassion. Rush Limbaugh, Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo gave him a pounding in the presidential campaign, but he sometimes stood his ground. It is the only premise for the case that Arkansas traded down when it elected Mike Beebe to take Huckabee’s place. Beebe says that while he is somewhat sympathetic, he opposes in-state tuition for undocumented youngsters because he believes it conflicts with federal law. His education director naturally adopts the same attitude.

It is a thin argument. Eleven states, including fiercely anti-immigrant Oklahoma and Texas, have adopted the same in-state tuition policy. It is less than clear that the bill would flout the federal mandate, which says that an unlawful alien cannot be eligible for any post-secondary benefit that is not available to citizens from other states if the benefit is based only upon residency in the state.

Of course, it would not be based purely upon Arkansas residency but upon the students having mastered three years of high school in Arkansas and met other requirements.

But the federal law conveniently allows the governor and legislators to please the nativists without answering to their own consciences: I just hate it, but the feds made me do it.

Dr. David Gearhart, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, needed no such alibi. He did not think the bill violated federal laws and he believed its passage “is very important to the future of this state.” But he didn’t prevail. The legislators thought it better to keep the youngsters uneducated and unproductive than to risk letting them enjoy even one small benefit of our benevolent society. —E.D.

EDITORIAL >> ‘Reform’ hard to stomach

When lawmakers take up something labeled “reform,” particularly if it deals with ethics and public service, it is no time to be complacent. The state Senate confirmed that with its handling of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s “ethics reform” package.

From the start, McDaniel’s proposals contained a minimum of ethics, and even that was laden with sweeteners for public officials who are loathe to surrender the disguised perks of office, like meals and gifts from lobbyists and other agents for interests seeking the favor of government.

Easily the best bill in McDaniel’s package imposed a cooling-off period after public office during which legislators and other public servants could not be hired to lobby the legislature or other divisions of the government they had just left. The idea is that lawmakers and executive decision-makers should not be influenced by the prospects of future employment.

Arkansas Business supplied a good case in point last week, although the specifics would not be covered by McDaniel’s bill. Attorneys for three surgical hospitals who are in a dispute with United HealthCare supplied evidence that Julie Benafield Bowman, Gov. Mike Huckabee’s state insurance commissioner, who left last year to take an executive position with the insurance company, was wined and dined by lawyers and lobbyists for the company before and after she ruled in its favor against the hospitals. She is now the company’s director of regulatory affairs for Arkansas and Tennessee. Bowman insisted that the country club dinners did not influence her decision for the company and neither was she angling for a job when she favored the company. Fine, but does her explanation engender trust?

McDaniel’s bill would prevent state officials from becoming a lobbyist for one year after leaving their office, although it would not bar them from taking other jobs like Bowman’s with companies or organizations that have been affected by their official actions. We need not worry about that omission because even the lobbying moratorium was more than the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee could stomach. Term-limited former legislators populate the hallways at the next legislative session, working for interest groups they had helped during their legislative sojourns. The committee did not want to close that career prospect and killed the bill.

It did breathe some life into another small ethics bill, which would ban so-called “absentee lobbying.” Lobbyists could not pay for drinks and meals for lawmakers if they were not present. Lobbyists sometimes provide a credit card to treat lawmakers when they are not around.

To no one’s surprise, the senators grabbed hold of another McDaniel bill that was meant to be a sweetener for the ethics package. It would double the amount of carry-over funds that elected officials can keep in their campaign coffers and spend on political activities after the election. Officials who face no competition in an election nevertheless build large campaign treasuries, which they are then free to use up to a maximum. Lobbyists kick in to these slush funds, which buys just as much influence as free meals, travel, lodging and entertainment.

Legislators cannot be counted upon to place principle ahead of self-interest. We need an initiated act to strictly protect the public interest. Is there a group with the interest and money to undertake it?

TOP STORY >> Doctors say rent increase too high

Leader publisher

Two medical practices — one in Jacksonville and the other in Cabot — could move because of a dispute over their rent, which has more than doubled this year.

Eleven doctors who have worked in Jacksonville for decades are considering moving their practice to Sherwood, where they’ve been offered lower rent. The Cabot doctors are younger and are thinking about building their own clinic.

The groups have severed their employee contract with North Metro, which led to the higher rents. Some doctors did not receive any pay in January and early February because of the split and had to wait for insurance reimbursements before they could draw a paycheck.

The two clinics — one next to the Jacksonville hospital on Braden Street, the other on West Main Street in Cabot — were affiliated with North Metro Medical Center but split from the hospital this year. Jacksonville owns the properties and told the doctors their rents would rise to reflect their fair-market value.

The rent jumped from $5 per square foot to $17 per square foot in Jacksonville, or $459,000 a year. The rent increased from $9 a square foot to $18 a square foot in Cabot, or $270,000 a year. But the higher rent includes maintenance and other services provided by the hospital, which the doctors used to pay for until this year because of the lower rent.

St. Vincent Medical Center/North in Sherwood has offered the Jacksonville doctors $14 a square foot, which would save them about $100,000 a year. They’re considering the offer because some of the doctors, after paying malpractice insurance, make just about that much a year.

The doctors in Cabot have offered Jacksonville $4.5 million for the clinic. The city says it’s worth $4.9 million. They’re thinking about building their own clinic if they can’t reach an agreement with Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville doctors have practiced in the area for decades and say they don’t want to abandon their patients, many of whom are on Medicare and may find it difficult to drive to Sherwood.

“We don’t want to, but we may have no choice,” Sharon Stephens, administrator for the medical groups, said about the possible move to Sherwood.

“We’d like to see the lease lowered and stay in Jacksonville,” Stephens said. “All are committed to staying together,” Stephens said.

The doctors are glad to take care of elderly patients, even though Medicare doesn’t cover their costs, Stephens said. They also offer care to military patients at cost, she said.

The doctors were told last March that their rent would be going up, so they sought an appraisal. Both appraisals were by Arkansas Appraisal.

But the doctors say the appraisal is unfair because it considers Jacksonville property as valuable as west Little Rock and Conway, where rents are about $20-$22 per square foot.

The Jacksonville clinic opened in June 1998. The Cabot clinic opened in February 1997. 
As of the end of 2008, the group no longer had an employee contract with North Metro.

But they “never received a dime” from the hospital, Stephens said.
The clinics are owned by the hospital and are under the authority of the hospital board.

The board is required by federal rules to charge a rent that aligns with the appraised value of a medical facility, explained Mayor Tommy Swaim, who is also the chairman of the hospital board. He says he is supportive of possible efforts by the doctors to get a second opinion about the value of the building.

“Nobody wants to pay any more rent than they have to, and we don’t want to make them pay any more, but the hospital is obligated to charge a rent that is based on fair-market value,” Swaim said. “The doctors are the backbone of the medical community, and we want to work with them, and that is what we are trying to do.”

The Jacksonville clinic has 60 employees in addition to the 11 doctors. The Cabot clinic has 30 employees in addition to the six doctors.

Nancy Dockter contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Bids taken for $11.4M water line to Cabot

Leader staff writer

Bids will be opened April 2 on an $11.4 million water line from Gravel Ridge to Cabot to connect the city’s water system to Central Arkansas Water, which will be the city’s supplier in the future.

The project will be funded by the savings from a rate increase about five years ago.

By order of the state, Cabot must pull out of its well field between Beebe and Lonoke by 2023. At that time CAW is supposed to supply most if not all the water used by Cabot WaterWorks customers. But the commission that runs CWW reaffirmed last week that it is still interested in the Lonoke White Water Project as a backup supply of water from Greers Ferry Lake.

However, the commission said, its still doesn’t have enough information to sign an agreement and it won’t raise customers’ water rates to help build the Lonoke White Water Project.

“This is our main priority,” commission chairman J.M. Park said of laying the water line to connect Cabot to CAW.

The Lonoke White Project has been in the works for about 15 years. The estimated construction cost is $65 million.

The commissioners said that they have already signed a contract to pay for 250,000 gallons a day from the Lonoke White Project even if they don’t need the water. But they aren’t willing to pay for four times that amount as they have been asked to do.

And the fact that Tommy Bond, engineer for that project, said a month ago that the contracts needed to be signed within 45 days and the project needed to be started by June to be eligible for the economic-stimulus money has not persuaded them.

“We’ve got a lot of analysis yet to do,” said commissioner vice chairman Gary Walker.
“We won’t do a knee jerk to secure a one percent loan,” said Bill Cypert, commission secretary and spokesman.

Cypert said he didn’t want any of the commission’s remarks to be interpreted negatively, but the commission needs more information before it can make any decisions.

The Friday commission meeting was called to pass a resolution increasing the engineering fees for the water line from Gravel Ridge by $282,000.

The original agreement with USI Consulting Engineers was signed in December 2003 and since then more features have been added.

The commission agreed to the additional charges, but told Vernon Williams, the project engineer, that they would not approve any more charges.

“After this right here, there won’t be any more,” Walker said.

Tim Joyner, CWW general manager, told the commission that 26 companies picked up bid packets for the Gravel Ridge water line.

Williams told the commission that all the indicators say the cost of the project will be less than estimated. Material prices are down and gas is cheaper, he said.

“You guys picked the perfect time to do this,” Williams said.

TOP STORY >> Police are understaffed

Leader staff writer

Nationwide law-enforcement agencies are seeing shortages because of tough economic times, which has forced many cities and counties to delay hiring officers. Some layoffs have also occurred.

To help, the federal Justice Department has reauthorized the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program in efforts to put 55,000 new officers on the streets as soon as possible.

There are shortages locally, too. Sherwood is down nine officers, Jacksonville is down three, Cabot is down two, while Lonoke County is even. The local shortages have nothing to do with the economy.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim made it very clear at last week’s council meeting that even though there are openings, all of the city’s police positions are fully funded.

Both Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes and Sherwood Police Chief Kel Nicholson said the problem is with background checks.

“Most applicants do well on the civil service exam and the psychological evaluation, but are dropped because of something in their background check,” Sipes said. That something is usually a run-in with the law when the applicant was younger.

Sherwood has nine open spots on the police force, but seven of those are positions that the city council recently approved and budgeted for, bringing the total number of slots for certified officers to 83.

The chief adds that he is losing three more officers soon, and has another three deployed fighting the war on terrorism. “We may have 12 openings to fill by testing time,” Nicholson said. “But our prospects are good.”

The chief said the city has scheduled its police testing for next month and there are already 172 applicants. “We normally only get about 75,” Nicholson said. He thinks the poor economy is actually helping.

“People are looking for something stable and a career with good benefits. Many of these applicants, if the economy was good, wouldn’t be thinking about law enforcement,” he said.

Nicholson said even though his certified police force is down about 15 percent, the city has not cut down on patrols. “We’ve pulled officers from different areas in the department to make sure we have them on the streets,” he said.

Jacksonville has 75 positions funded and three openings. “We had two deployed,” said April Kiser, spokesperson for the department, “but both returned last month.”

Cabot has 36 funded positions for certified police officers and is currently trying to fill the two vacancies it has. The department has one officer deployed and two in the academy, set to graduate in a few weeks.

Even though Lonoke County has all 24 of its positions filled, it’s in a unique situation. “Based on the federal standard for the population of our county we are actually down 30 deputies,” said Chief Dean White of the sheriff’s department. “But we work with what we have.”

The chief said five years ago the county had a call load of about 10,000, and last year that number was up near 20,000.

“But during the same time period we only added one deputy,” White said.

“Last year we asked the quorum court to fund eight positions, but they only gave us two,” he added.

Under the COPS grant program, the federal government will pay salaries and benefits of new officers for the first three years, then the cities or counties would have to take over.

Both Sherwood and Jacksonville are looking into the program.

Jacksonville Alderman Gary Fletcher thinks it’s a great idea. “Let’s say the cost for an officer is $45,000 a year, that means we can budget $15,000 a year for the first three years and have that fourth year covered. That’s a good investment.”

Under the Omnibus Appropriation Act signed by President Barack Obama on March 10, the COPS funding includes $187 million to update law enforcement technology, $39.5 million for increased meth investigations and enforcement, $20 million for Indian nation law-enforcement agencies, $18 million to aid in child-sexual predator elimination, $16 million for the Secure Our Schools program and $4 million for community policing development.

This is in addition to the $1 billion appropriated for the COPS hiring-recovery program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

TOP STORY >> Automated-trash pickup set

Leader staff writer

Sherwood is spending more than $1 million to convert to an automated-refuse collection.

The city council on Monday authorized spending $1.107 million in a lease-purchase agreement for three Freightliner garbage trucks with an automated arm to pick up trash cans and 10,000 green trash carts.

The carts will all have serial numbers and be assigned to specific addresses.
Alderman Sheila Sulcer pointed out that the expense is no greater than what the city is already spending on garbage pickup.

Mayor Virginia Hillman added that the city would save money because each truck would have just one driver-operator rather than the current three-person team.

The automated system, which would require residents to bring the green cart out to the street curb on their designated pickup day, should also reduce workers’ compensation claim.

The trucks and carts will come in during the summer, and the carts delivered to residents sometime in late August. The new pickup system is projected to start Sept. 1.

The council approved a five-year lease agreement for the trucks and carts through Bancorp South with an interest of 3.62 percent and annual payments of $246,610.

In other council business:

– The council passed a resolution prioritizing its major road work, when and if funds become available.

According to the resolution, the city’s first concern is Brockington Road, followed by Oakbrooke Avenue, Maryland Avenue, Woodruff Avenue and Jacksonville Cut-Off.

According to the resolution, “the growth of the city has resulted in need for significant improvement of existing streets.”

The streets listed and their order was decided after a study by the city’s street committee.

– Aldermen passed resolutions condemning the structures at 9607 Hwy. 107 and 4600 Rixie Road, Lot 304 as public nuisances.

The owners have 30 days to bring the structures up to code or tear them down. If neither is done, then the city will go in and remove the structures.

The structure at 9607 Hwy. 107 is owned by Collins Development Co., and the one at 4600 Rixie Road is owned by Darryl Copeland, Chas Wakefield and Ted and Carol Merrill.

TOP STORY >> Alamo ploy is an effort to hide past

Leader publisher

With all the economic problems around us, you may not have noticed that the imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo is about to go to trial on child-abuse charges.

Maybe you didn’t even know he was in prison again or that he has fired his lawyer and hired a new one who has made a name for himself defending accused child abusers like Alamo.

The Associated Press had a bombshell of a story last week informing us that Alamo’s new lawyer thinks Tony is too old and decrepit to have sex with underage girls.

The disgraced evangelist, who is 74, is accused of transporting young girls across state lines and taking them to motel rooms out West. He was caught with a couple of them last year, but who are you going to believe: Your lying eyes or an honest country preacher like Alamo?

California lawyer Danny Davis told the AP that poor eyesight and diminishing physical powers would make it difficult for Alamo to molest little girls.

Facing a 10-count federal indictment for transporting young girls across state lines for sex, Alamo remains in prison and is scheduled to go to trial in May.

“If the sexual act is impossible, the intent may be highly doubtful,’’ Davis pointed out to the AP. You have to wonder if Davis will put Alamo in the witness chair and try to convince the jury his client is all talk and no action.

After all, Tony has claimed he’s an honest-to-goodness bigamist, but maybe he didn’t really mean it.

Davis, whose office is in Beverly Hills, years ago defended Alamo in another molestation case, but it wasn’t tried because he went to prison for tax evasion.

Davis was one of the attorneys in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case, where his client was eventually acquitted.

He may be a good lawyer, but I was sorry to see Alamo has dumped John Wesley Hall Jr. as his attorney. Hall was ready to try the case, but maybe Alamo thought he needed a high-profile attorney to save him from prison for life.

Alamo doesn’t want to die behind bars, but if he’s convicted, he’ll get out of prison in a casket.

Davis will almost certainly ask for more time to prepare for the trial.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SPORTS >> Devils rout W. Memphis

Leader sports editor

WEST MEMPHIS — Jacksonville pitching just keeps getting better and better and, with the return of injured hurler Michael Harmon expected next week, prospects look even brighter.

The Red Devils have allowed only two runs over the past three games after routing West Memphis in a doubleheader on Monday, 14-0 and 7-2. Last Friday, Tommy Sanders threw a five-inning shutout in the Red Devils’ 10-0 win over Little Rock Central.

“We’re pitching like I thought we’d be,” said Jacksonville head coach Larry Burrows after watching Seth Tomboli pitch a one-hitter and Michael Lamb pitch five strong innings in the nightcap.

Tomboli came within a strike of a no-hitter on Monday, but still got the win and the shutout while striking out nine. Jacksonville, which improved to 8-5 overall and 4-2 in the 6A-East, took advantage of a lot of walks to parlay eight hits into 14 runs. Sanders led the way with a pair of hits, while Caleb Mitchell drove in three runs.

Jacksonville trailed for the only time in the twin bill when it fell behind 2-1 in the nightcap. But the Devils rallied to take a 4-2 lead into the seventh, then added three insurance runs. Terrell Brown had a single, double and RBI in the game.

Lamb allowed only two hits over five innings while fanning five. Sanders closed out the final two innings. The Red Devils turned double plays to end the fifth and sixth innings.

The Red Devils had little trouble dispatching 7A Little Rock Central on Friday night, turning in a near-flawless performance in a 10-0 win.

Seven of the nine spots in the lineup had hits, with Sanders going 3 of 4 with three RBI. Sanders was masterful on the mound as well, pitching five innings of two-hit ball. He struck out six and walked four.

“Two of his outings have been like that,” Burrows said. “We expect that out of him. The big deal on Friday was he was throwing strikes. In the five games we’ve lost, with the exception of Catholic, we haven’t been around the plate. The games we’ve won, we’ve thrown strikes.”

Jacksonville wasted little time pouncing on the Tigers. Sanders beat out an infield single and scored on the first of Patrick Castleberry’s two doubles.

The Red Devils added three more with two outs in the second. Tomboli led off the inning by lining the first pitch left for a base hit. With two outs, Brown drew an intentional walk and Sanders doubled down the left field line to score Tomboli. Castleberry ripped a double to left to drive in two more for a 4-0 lead.

Sanders pitched out of a couple of early jams after walking two in the first, and loading the bases in the third on a walk, a hit batter and a single.

Jacksonville invoked the mercy rule with a six-run fifth, which included four hits. Nick Rodriguez walked, and Devon McClure was safe on an error when he laid down a sacrifice. After Logan Perry singled, Jacob Abrahamson was safe on a throwing error as McClure scored. Brown followed with an RBI single and Sanders lined a 0-1 pitch to right to bring home two more.

Mitchell then cleared the bases by lining the first pitch down the right-field line for a three-run double.

Jacksonville finished with 11 hits — three by Sanders and two each by Perry and Castleberry.

“It wasn’t necessarily how many hits we got, it was the way we competed at the plate,” Burrows said. “The last (Central pitcher) was tough with a good change up. We were fouling off pitches with two strikes. That’s the best we’ve done from top to bottom down the lineup.

“Even our nine-hole hitter (Abrahamson) got two strikes on him twice, put the ball in play and scored.”

Burrows said having two hard-throwing starters like Sanders and Tomboli that he can mix in with the lower-velocity pitching of Lamb should really help keep conference foes off stride during the doubleheaders.

“Seth and Tommy are up around 85-86 (miles per hour),” Burrows said. “When people see that for a full game, then see someone like Lamb — it will be nice to be able to change speeds a little.”

Burrows was quick to add that Lamb, who is just a sophomore, will eventually be a fast-ball thrower.

“He’s throwing around 80 right now, but he’s just a pup,” he said. “He’s eventually going to be like Harmon.”

Harmon, who hurt his hip several weeks ago, has been cleared to pitch and may see some action at the Xtra Innings Tournament in Jonesboro this weekend.

Jacksonville will play Nettleton on Thursday, Russellville on Friday and Pocahontas on Saturday.

SPORTS >> A look back on a remarkable season

Leader sports editor

Pear trees are in bloom and azalea bushes are budding. Pollen is in full flight and people everywhere are reaching for their handkerchiefs and their Claritin.

Yes, spring is upon us, meaning the squeak of sneakers and the thud of basketball on hardwood has been replaced by the crack, err …, ping of the bat and the pop of ball in mitt.

Yet, it’s not too late to take one last look back at basketball season and one quick look ahead to next winter and our area teams’ prospects.

It’s hard for me to quite let go of this past season, special as it was with 16 of our 20 area teams reaching state. It culminated with a Jacksonville championship in as dramatic a fashion as you could hope for. (Although head coach Victor Joyner, whose team led by nine with 3:53 left, probably would have just as happily accepted the title without all the drama). The Red Devils captured their first-ever state basketball crown when Deshone McClure hit two free throws with 1.2 seconds left in their 63-62 win over Little Rock Hall on March 14.

The stars seemed to be in alignment for Jacksonville this season and a loss to Hall would have been a bitter pill to swallow. The Red Devils’ success this year was forged in the turmoil of last year’s 3-9 start. Everyone returned with the exception of point guard Terrell Eskridge, a big loss as it turned out, as it left Jacksonville with a hole at the position that it never quite filled.

Next year, Laquinton Miles, Demetrius Harris, Antwan Lockhart, Cortrell Eskridge, Antonio Roy, Darrius Morant and Stan Appleby depart, or about 80 percent of the Red Devil scoring.

Two other area teams were fortunate enough to reach the title game, but not so fortunate as to win it. Lonoke’s girls suffered their third consecutive Hot Springs heartache. This year, the Lady Jackrabbits were the victims of Shiloh Christian’s big Megan Herbert and a veteran Lady Saint squad, as well as their own futility shooting the basketball.

From the outside, it’s easy and glib to say Lonoke should be happy to have been on the brink three straight years (and in the long view, it is something remarkable that the Lady Jackrabbits can always look back to with pride), but there has to be a hole in their hearts.

Next year, they should have another opportunity to fill it. Everyone, with the exception of Emily Shoemaker and Lauren Harper will return. The sensational guard trio of Michaela Brown, Ashleigh Himstedt and Cara Neighbors will rejoin dominating post player Asiah Scribner in another quest next winter. If coach Nathan Morris can plug in some new role players to develop sufficient depth, those four returning starters should have the talent, experience and, most importantly, the hunger to play for the trophy again.

North Pulaski’s boys, too, will return just about everyone. Only big man Carlos Donley and speedy slasher Jerald Blair will graduate, leaving the solid nucleus of Aaron Cooper, Daquan Bryant and Kyron Ware behind. The Falcons will have the extra incentive of trying to erase the memories of a 19-percent shooting nightmare in their loss to Greene County Tech in the 5A state championship on March 14.

It may take winning the crown to get that one behind them.

Sixteen of our 20 area teams reached state this year, a remarkable 80 percent. The Lonoke boys’ sensational senior class of Michael Howard, Clarence Harris, Lance Jackson, ‘Juice’ Lambert, Pierre Smith and Trenton Spencer conclude their fine three-year run, which included a state title in 2008. Coach Wes Swift will be looking to reload.

The Beebe girls, who lost a 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of their semifinal matchup with Siloam Springs, will match North Pulaski and Lonoke in hunger. Unfortunately, they lose just about everyone to graduation, including the irreplaceable Ty O’Neill and her 24 points and four steals per game.

Brian Martin continues to lay in place the foundation for the resurrection of the Beebe boys’ program, though he will have to reload next season with the loss of 10 seniors, including Zach Kersey, Will Scott, Trey Smith, Anthony Forte and Donte Myles.

Some up-and-comers to keep an eye on next year include the Sylvan Hills boys who, despite the departures of P.J. Ross, Harold Ward and Nick Zimmerman, can look forward to Archie Goodwin, the sophomore-to-be, who poured in a team-high 16 points in the Bears’ narrow loss to eventual state champion Greene County Tech in the first round at state. He’ll be one to watch.

The Lady Bears, who rose from the ashes of back-to-back winless seasons in conference play to win 12 games in the 5A-Southeast, must overcome the loss of Latrina Brandon. But some good ones return, including Ashley Evans, Dede Lewis and Ashley Johnson.

Both the Cabot girls and Cabot boys will be depleted by graduation. The boys, who reached the state semis for the second year in a row, lose all five starters, including Arkansas State-bound Adam Sterrenberg. The junior varsity went undefeated, which bodes well. But there will be some growing pains for coach Jerry Bridges next year.

The nucleus of the Lady Panther squad will depart, including Shelby Ashcraft, who will don a UALR uniform next year. Also gone is Jenna Bailey, Stephanie Glover and key reserve Amalie Benjamin.

Up north in White County, Riverview will count on the development of young prospects Taylor Smith and Donald Teague. The young and talented Searcy Lady Lions return just about everybody from their state tournament team.

Over at Harding Academy, boys coach Brad Francis must cope with the loss of heady senior point guard Zack Kirby, but super sophs Daniel Stevens and Seth Keese should provide a solid nucleus. Francis must find more scorers and more depth, two things he lacked this year, though he still was able to get them into the state tournament.

Rusty Garner loses a couple of good ones in point guard Taylor Mote and solid rebounder Ciarra Farmer, but everyone else is back, including the sensational Anna Bangs, as well as Ariel English, McKenzie Miller and Molly Koch.

So there it is, a look ahead as well as a look back at a most remarkable season for our schools. Sixteen state tournament teams, three state finalists, one state champion.

All in all, nothing to sneeze at.

SPORTS >> Panthers settle for 2nd when Wildcats rally

Leader sportswriter

PINE BLUFF — The Cabot Panthers made it to the championship game of the Billy Bock Invitational baseball tournament at White Hall over the weekend. The Panthers downed Bryant in Thursday’s opening round before squeaking by White Hall 2-1 in the semis at their own Taylor Field in Pine Bluff.

Their luck did not hold in Saturday’s title game with North Little Rock, however, as the Charging Wildcats overcame a 3-2 deficit with a sixth-inning rally, eventually winning 6-3.

Pitcher Tyler Erickson had tallied a high pitch count by the sixth inning when NLR began to rally, leaving head coach Jay Fitch with the difficult decision of pulling or not pulling his ace.

“There was a little frustration, but we didn’t want to take a chance,” said Fitch. “We wanted to win, but it wasn’t a conference game, and I told the guys the main thing with these games was to learn what we can now before we have to face them in league play.

“We feel really good about Tyler Erickson. He is a complete pitcher, and he mixes it up well.”

North Little Rock took an early 2-1 lead in the first inning before the Panthers put up two runs in the second inning. The score remained 3-2 until the Wildcats added two runs in the sixth inning to go up by one, and they finished with another pair of runs in the top of the seventh to set the final.

Breaks were few and far between for the strong-hitting Panthers. They won the hits battle 8-6, but a number of long fly balls with runners in scoring position stayed in the park.

Joe Bryant was 3 of 4 with a RBI and Drew Burks was 2 of 3 with a RBI.

Friday’s game with White Hall was scoreless until the top of the third inning, when Matt Williams led the inning off with a single. Burks then reached on an error, and a single to left field by Matt Turner loaded the bases with only one out.

Starting Panther pitcher Cole Nicholson drove in the first run on an error, and Erickson brought in what turned out to be the winning run with a sacrifice fly to right field.

Nicholson earned the win with a complete-game performance. He gave up seven hits, one run and no walks while fanning five. He also worked his way out of a big jam in the bottom of the fourth when the Bulldogs began to rally.

They scored to pull within one and had the go-ahead run at first with no outs, but Erickson struck out the next batter, then forced a pop-up and got another strikeout to retire the side.

“That was a big inning,” said Fitch. “Things got a little hairy there for a while. They had a lot of fans there, and they were whooping and making some noise. Tyler had a JV outing that didn’t go that well, and we had to have a heart-to-heart before this one.

“I think it helped him get some confidence. He threw a magnificent game.”

The Panthers had six hits. White Hall finished with seven hits.

With the departure of projected ace Matt Evans, the pitching staff has gone through a shake up to start the season, but Fitch said the pieces are starting to fall back into place with Erickson, Andrew Reynolds and Nicholson. He also said that C.J. Jacoby and
Chase Beasley should fill out the pitching depth with a little more work.

The Panthers are 7-3, and are enjoying a week off for spring break before returning to action next Monday at home against Little Rock Hall. They will resume 7A-Central Conference play that Tuesday at Van Buren.

SPORTS >> Competitive races open season at Beebe Speedway

Leader sportswriter

E-mod driver Dallas Everett was the only one determined to stink up the show on opening night at Beebe Speedway. On a first night full of surprises and good, close racing, the young hometown pilot spanked his competition in the night’s first feature.

The sandy clay, quarter-mile oval kicked off its 28th year of operations on Friday under new management. Harold Mahoney took over the speedway from former promoter Kenny Morden late last season, and Friday was the beginning of the first full season with Mahoney at the helm.

Special shows at other area tracks kept the car count down, particularly in the modified class, but the chilly temperatures did not deter a fair number of race fans from coming out for opening night.

The E-mod feature was the first of six feature races on the night. Everett started on the outside pole alongside Allen McElroy, and took the lead on the opening lap going into turn one. He checked out by lap 3 with Robert Woodard five car lengths behind in second.

Fast qualifier McElroy fell into a good battle for the third spot with former class champ Kevin Conway in the 100 car and Beebe’s Blake Jones. McElroy held court and even pulled away from the pair briefly, but Conway and Jones caught up in the final two circuits.

The racing got close coming to the checkers, as Conway and Jones made contact entering turn four. Everett had already taken the checkered flag at that point with Woodard finishing second, with McElroy, Conway and Jones completing the top five.

The old saying that it’s just as important to be lucky as good proved true for one of the most sucessful drivers in the mini-stock class on Friday. Paul Shackleford took the win in the mini-stock division when fast qualifier Parker Sellars cut down a tire while leading with two laps to go. Shackleford, who had spent most of the 15-lap feature in the fourth spot, benefited first when second-place driver Doyle Blankenship of Cabot jumped a restart and was sent to the back, then moved up to second before misfortune struck for Sellars in turn four.

Blankenship showed muscle in his OFR number 4 car by making his way back up to second, while Sellars had to settle for third.

Former speedway flagman William Essex proved his move to the drivers’ side was a smart one in the hobby feature. The driver from Hazen, known throughout the area as ‘the Pizza man’ — he owns a pizza parlor — battled hard with Brandon Oliver for the lead until Oliver got out of shape exiting turn four with three to go.

The two had already traded the lead once before a restart, and Oliver continued to put pressure on Essex in the final laps despite showing some smoke in his number 14 machine. Essex held on for a popular win, while Oliver took second.

Jacksonville’s Brandon Capps took the win in the factory-stock division over Gage Raines and Thomas Payne. The 15-year-old, second-generation driver, who is also the defending class champ, took the early lead and never looked back.

Young Capps added a bit of humor to his win after the race by repeatedly honking his car horn while pulling up to the winner’s platform for the celebration and pictures. It was his second straight year to take the checkered flag in the factories on opening night.

Veteran driver Todd Greer took his first win in nearly a year in the modified division by putting a quick end to the Jayson and Jason show at the start of the race. Cabot drivers Jayson Hefley and Jason Flory started the race on the front row, but rear-end problems for Flory brought out the yellow on lap 1. It didn’t take long for Greer to make his way to the front with Searcy driver Robert Davis in tow for second. Davis’ night also ended early due to mechanical problems, as Greer held on for the win with Hefley taking second and the 53 car of Dale Armstrong in third.

Al Bradshaw took the win in the mod-lites division over Charles Chapmon and Tex Myers. The mod lites are now a semi-regular class to the track.

Points racing for all classes will start on April 3, with the first special show on April 17 featuring the MSRA late models.

Monday, March 23, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Vic Snyder right again

Republicans, who would not be caught dead voting to raise even slightly the taxes of billionaires, rushed Thursday to put their names on a roll call to tax away the ill-gotten bonuses of the AIG executives who helped undermine the world financial system. Among them was Arkansas’ own Rep. John Boozman, who ordinarily takes pains never to vote for legislation initiated by Democrats. But this was panic time.

Only six Democrats voted against the tax measure, which was put together in the middle of the night and rushed to a vote in response to the mighty roar from people who were angered by the payment of $165 million of “retention bonuses” to AIG executives after the government pumped $180 billion into the insurance giant to prevent its collapse.

One of the six, to the surprise of many, was Vic Snyder, our own contrarian congressman. It should have been no surprise. For nearly two decades, in the Arkansas legislature and Congress, Snyder made his mark by voting the other way when a swell of popular emotion dictated that politicians fall into line. Every member of the House must have envisioned the political ads attacking him for defending the bonuses if he dared vote against the bill. But Snyder invests more faith in the people that they will recognize political theater and appreciate reason.

The bill would impose a tax rate of 90 percent on bonuses paid to executives of companies that received at least $5 billion of federal assistance under the troubled asset program. Its purpose was to deflect rising criticism of Congress, the administration and the Federal Reserve for not stopping the bonuses before now.

Is there such a person as an un-demagogue? If so, he is Vic Snyder. Here is the statement Snyder made when reporters pressed him to explain his vote:

“During times of universal anger, political fear, and economic uncertainty, our nation deserves a legislative process that results in meaningful and effective solutions to the very complex and serious challenges facing the American people. It was late last night before the text of this bill was available, there was very limited discussion today, and no time at all for the kind of analysis, both in and out of Congress, necessary to avoid unintended consequences harmful to our long-term goals of reinvigorating our economy and restoring the American dream. I am confident that ultimately we will achieve these long-term goals.”

A legislative body should be reflective and analytical before voting? Who does that anymore? Congress has done enough hasty lawmaking and we regretted it in our leisure. Remember the mammoth USA Patriot Act, crafted in secret and sprung on the country without the lawmakers or anyone else reading it. Snyder would cast one of the few votes against making it permanent.

If the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and the relentless tide of public opinion cannot force the repayment of the bonuses, then Congress should seek some remedy, a responsible and clearly legal one. Some argue that a retaliatory tax would amount to a bill of attainder, which is prohibited by the Constitution, or at least the unlawful abrogation of a contract. AIG had contracted with the executives to pay the bonuses. It is not clear that a narrowly targeted tax to discourage or thwart an unwholesome activity is a bill of attainder, but we have no doubt that the currently constituted federal courts would find it so.

Now that the House members have protected their flanks by passing the bonus bill, they can buckle down and figure out how to fix the problem without disturbing the Constitution or deepening the turmoil in the financial system. We have a faith that Snyder will have less to fear from angry voters than the rest.

TOP STORY >> Finance director quits PCSSD post

Leader senior staff writer

An internal investigation into an oversized buyout check issued to former Superintendent James Sharpe lead to the resignation on Friday of Larry O’Briant, chief financial officer of the Pulaski County Special School District.

Interim Superintendent Robert McGill said O’Briant was helpful and forthcoming during the investigation. McGill said he appreciated O’Briant’s years of service to the district.

O’Briant was out of his office and unavailable to speak to The Leader since at least Tuesday.

McGill said Anita Farver, who has overseen some federal funds at the district, would be the interim chief financial officer.

Meanwhile, the state Bureau of Legislative Audit has seized about 10 key computers from the central office of the Pulaski County Special School District, but they should be returned in time for the district to meet payroll, board president Tim Clark said Friday.

The computers are being “data mined” and copied, but the auditors have not yet committed to doing the audit that the school board asked for unanimously after Sharpe received a check for about $79,000 more than the flat sum of $185,000 the board had approved in his buyout on March 11.

While negotiating Sharpe’s resignation, the board insisted he could not get more than $185,000.

Sharpe’s check was for $264,884.20, McGill said. That included the $185,000 severance payment, $33,072 worth of vacation time, $44,831.90 worth of accrued leave time, an additional severance of $6,614.50, and a deduction of $4,635.80.  The total after taxes amounted to $185,746.

Since being confronted by the district, Sharpe has written a personal check reimbursing $50,000 and the district has put a hold on $20,000 in Sharpe’s retirement fund.

If the Bureau of Legislative Audit is too busy or otherwise chooses not to conduct the rigorous audit that the board has requested, Clark and McGill are authorized to request proposals from accounting firms and to hire one to conduct a comprehensive audit of the district’s books.

The board also agreed to ask the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley to investigate.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson said he referred the district to the sheriff’s office.

John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said, “We told them that at this point it is a civil matter.”

McGill said computers were seized from the superintendent, all assistant superintendents, the chief financial officer, the executive director of maintenance, the director of federal programs, and the director of special education. 

McGill said they also made a backup file of all Internet activity over the past year.

Sharpe also was to have signed a separation agreement before picking up his lump-sum check, which he did not do, Clark said.

TOP STORY >> Mayors say trip to D.C. was worth it

Leader staff writers

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams went to Washington this week looking for $19.5 million to build the proposed north interchange and came back with a promise of help getting $3 million to $5 million for engineering and right-of-way acquisition.

It’s not what he hoped for, but the mayor says it’s a good start.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, along with aldermen Kenny Elliott and Gary Fletcher, also attended the National League of Cities meeting and said the trip was worth it.

Elliott and Fletcher are two of the six candidates vying to replace Swaim when he retires in July.

Swaim said the one thing he got out of the general meetings and the number of committee meetings he chaired was that a lot of cities across the country are hurting. “Some cities have been laying off police and firefighters, not passing pay increases and cutting budgets.” He said Arkansas clearly seems to be holding its own compared to other states and Jacksonville is financially sound.

Swaim is proud of that fact, but admits that a large portion of the stimulus package does not reward the hard work of the city and its citizens to do right. “Many of the grants are based on financial needs,” he explained.

Fletcher referred to the four-day meeting as a giant pep rally. “I give the administration an A for effort,“ Fletcher said. He said the administration was trying hard to get city officials to buy into the stimulus. “They put a positive spin on everything and really wanted us to carry that message back home.”

Fletcher added that the various cabinet secretaries and department heads were tossing the words millions and billions “like we would talk about fives and tens.”

Fletcher said the stimulus plan is promising a lot. “I pray for its success,” he said.

Elliott said he learned a lot from the meetings and has piles of paperwork to look through and see what Jacksonville can use or be eligible for.

He’s excited about the $7.2 billion earmarked for broadband and computer access for low-income areas and families. “This could be a big help for Sunnyside,” Elliot said, but he is still looking at eligibility guidelines for the grants.

He said the city is also eligible for money from the justice department to hire additional police officers. “The federal government will pay 100 percent of the salaries and benefits of the new officers for the first three years, and then the city has to take over the costs,” Elliot explained.

He said officials hope the federal program would add 55,000 new police officers nationwide.

Williams said the interchange promise came from Cong. Marion Berry (D-Gillett) who said he would include a special appropriation to start the project in the next five-year highway-spending plan, which will be developed in the fall.

It will likely be January 2010 before it is known whether the money to begin the project is approved, the mayor said. If it is, then the money for construction could be included in the five-year highway spending plan that would start in 2015.

“Obviously, I’m hoping to get the whole thing funded in the next (five-year) cycle,” the mayor said. But realistically, he said it could take up to three years to identify the location, acquire the right-of-way and engineer the project.

So if construction funding isn’t available for five or six years, then at least the mayor says he has reason to be optimistic that it will come.

“Once you start down the road, you have to get it in phases,” he said.

This was Williams’ third trip to the capital, in search of financial help for Cabot.

“Up there, you’re outside your comfort zone,” he said. “I’m up there as a mayor of a small town with huge needs. We have to work hard to stay ahead of the growth. Anything short of that and we just get bowled over.”

The north interchange has always been part of a large plan to help manage traffic in Cabot, a plan that also includes the railroad overpass that is supposed to open in the early spring.

The overpass will connect Hwy. 38 to Hwy. 367. The proposed north interchange would connect the freeway to Hwy. 367 making it possible to exit the freeway and get to Hwy. 38 without going through downtown Cabot.

Metroplan, which distributes federal money for road projects, estimates the overpass together with a north interchange will take 4,000 to 5,000 cars a day out of downtown Cabot.

The overpass alone will not relieve downtown traffic, but it will keep about 100 buses off the railroad track.

Cabot was number 13 on the list in the state to get federal money for a railroad overpass. But when the school agreed to use the overpass instead of crossing the railroad tracks, the proposed project moved up in priority.

TOP STORY >> Principal named in reshuffle

Leader senior staff writer

In his first official personnel decision, Robert McGill, Pulaski County Special School District’s interim superintendent, has named Jacksonville Girls Middle School Principal Kimala Forrest principal of the combined, coeducational Jacksonville Middle School next year.

By a four-to-three vote, the PCSSD board voted March 10 to combine the boys and girls middle schools next year, rather than wait and allow the proposed stand-alone Jacksonville school district to make that choice.

Meanwhile, planning continues to consolidate the two schools in two buildings into one school in one building.

An earlier assessment had suggested that five portable buildings would be required, along with a network of sidewalks, site preparation, brand new electric service and significant plumbing.

James Warren, executive director of support services, had said that would have required shelving most other projects planned for this summer at sites across the district.

Warren says that a subsequent assessment concluded that portable buildings would not be necessary.

While it’s still too early to know all the details of the work necessary and the costs, he said that without the portable buildings, the district is likely to be able to perform the planned summer work throughout the district.

Mike Nellums, the controversial principal of the Boys Middle School, said he doesn’t know yet where he’ll be assigned.


“I’m excited about this new challenge and being able to work with an additional group,” Forrest said. “Middle school is exciting,” she said. “I love this age group.”

Forrest, 50, has been a principal in the district for five years — one year at Sylvan Hills Elementary, one year at Sylvan Hills Middle School and the past three years at Jacksonville Girls Middle School.

She is a Jacksonville resident and has worked in the district for 19 years.

Forrest says she’s confident that she can build on the progress made in the single-gender schools.

“I have the faculty and staff and I’m very confident we will meet and exceed expectations,” she said.

With an expected enrollment of 750-800 students, hers will be the largest middle school in the district. It will also have the most low-income students, which makes the challenge even greater, she said.


Forrest said that Thursday, she toured the current boys’ school, which will be converted to accommodate all the students.

She said that in addition to remodeling the girls’ bathrooms, there would have to be changes to some classrooms.

“We’ll have to add two more computer labs,” she said, “and reconfigure several rooms that have not been used.”

Floor tiles and ceilings will need replacing, and computer drops in some classrooms also need to be installed.

“I’m concerned about spaces for teachers. Teachers will have to roam. That’s a teacher morale issue. I know how they feel. Emotions are up in the air,” she said, particularly at the boys’ school, where the staff had really bent its back to the task of educating middle school boys.

“They have a great deal of respect for (Nellums),” she said. “I’m going to miss him, but he’s only a phone call away. He’s a very good friend and an outstanding man.”

Forrest’s task now is to work out a master schedule, get the teachers in place and then meet with them to relieve some of their fears.

“We need to work together to be successful,” she said.


Nellums said Thursday that Forrest was a great choice.

Said Nellums, who had hoped for the job, “If I’m not able to lead this school the way I think it should be led, she’s my top choice—a fine person and able administrator.

“She’s highly organized. She knows the community and the specific needs of the students in this community. This is a high-needs community.”

“They had two building principals and you had to move one. That’s a superintendent’s decision,” Nellums said.

He said he had enjoyed a smooth working relationship with Forrest. “I’ve very pleased with what we’ve accomplished over the past several years. Given what we were given to work with, we did a great job together.

“I look at moving on to the next place as a challenge,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville native a week closer to win

Leader staff writer

For the past few weeks, people across the nation have been glued to the TV following the current season of “American Idol.” Arkansans have had a special interest in this season’s show, and his name is Kris Allen.

Allen, a Conway resident formerly of Jacksonville, has earned praise from the judges, even Simon Cowell. After Allen’s performance of Garth Brooks’ “To Make You Feel My Love” (written by Bob Dylan, Cowell remarked that he “thought it was terrific.”

Allen plays multiple instruments, including the guitar, piano and viola.He has made the Top 10. He has tackled such songs as “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, “Everything” by Michael Buble and “Man in the Mirror” and “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson.

The Jacksonville native, a student at University of Central Arkansas in Conway, released an album in 2007 titled “Brand New Shoes.” Allen wrote the music for the album. He lives in Conway with his wife, Katy. He is the son of Neil and Kim Allen of Maumelle, formerly of Jacksonville. His grandparents, Charles and Linda Wood, still live in Jacksonville.

“He’s a great singer,” said Jack-sonville Alderman Marshall Smith. “He might go all the way.”

Smith was Allen’s choir director when the Allen family attended church at First Freewill Baptist (now Crossroads Baptist) in Jacksonville. “He had a great voice, even when he was younger,” Smith said.

Smith and his wife, Edith, had known the Allens for a long time. “They’re great people.” According to Smith, Allen often performed solos and specials at church services.

“I’ve always been his biggest fan,” said Chris Rodriguez, a medical student at UAMS. He and Allen met in kindergarten at Murrell Taylor Elementary School in Jacksonville. “Kris is the nicest guy in the world.”

“He was good at school, good at sports,” said Rodriguez. “He was popular but he wasn’t arrogant.”

“He was really shy and didn’t want to sing, but we pushed him,” he said of Allen. The two were members of the same youth group at the church. “I always thought he would do very well. We’ve watched everything, seen every blog, talked to every person. We’re obsessed.”

He and his wife, Susan, gather with friends each Wednesday night to watch the result show.

“He’s 100 times more confident,” Rodriguez said. Allen sang at their wedding.

“We had this running joke, that if he sang at my wedding I would sing at his,” he said. “I did not, lucky for him. He’s an incredibly good Christian. He’s a great guy.”

“Music is his passion,” said his wife. “He sings at our church in Maumelle.” She has known Allen for five or six years. “My first interaction with him was on the mission trip to Spain,” she said.

A few years back, the Rodriguezes, dating at the time went on a mission trip with Allen to Spain and Morocco.

While on the trip, Allen sang some gospel for the missionary group after being cornered by his fellow travelers. “I thought, Oh my gosh!” said Susan. “I couldn’t believe it. He’s deserving. He’s humble.

“He knows he’s good,” she continued. “But I don’t think he knows how good.” Mrs. Rodriguez teaches at Fuller Junior High School, where Allen attended junior high.

Her students are excited about Allen. “They’ve made T-shirts,” she said. I’m so excited he’s got this opportunity. “The exposure is just a blessing.”

Did she think Allen would be a successful singer? “I did think that. I just didn’t know when,” she said.

The next episode of “American Idol” will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the Fox network.

TOP STORY >> Another Cabot elementary school

Leader staff writer

The Cabot School Board unanimously on Tuesday approved construction of a 32-classroom facility for the Mountain Springs Elementary School.

The school will be the district’s ninth elementary school. The board considered building a 24-classroom school and adding more classrooms later.

With the additional classrooms, the building will be 78,641 square feet. The cost of will be about $7.3 million.

The per-square-foot cost to construct the building is estimated at $81.86. This does not include costs for land, engineering and architectural design, site work, utilities, or paving and parking or architect. Assistant superintendent Jim Dalton told the board that it would be more cost effective to go ahead and build all the classrooms, “rather than wait to add more later, at least $100 per square foot.”

The school is needed because of the student population, kindergarten through fourth grade, has grown by an average of 176 students each of the past five school years including 2008-09, according to Dalton. The school will serve the Hwy. 5 and Magness Creek neighborhoods, where the fastest growth has occurred in recent years.

The elementary schools in the west part of the district are filled to capacity. The new school is slated to open in fall 2010.

Site work for the project has already begun. Construction of the building is expected to start in May.

At the meeting, it was announced that 123 Cabot sophomores received the Arkansas Student Achievement Award for their high scores on an exam that all 10th-graders are required to take to assess college readiness.

These high achievers comprise 21 percent of all Cabot students who took the exam, compared to the state average of 12 percent. That means that they are on track to meet or exceed American College Testing (ACT) benchmarks by graduation.

The empirically based benchmarks identify levels of proficiency in English, reading, math, and the sciences for a successful first year in college.

The following Cabot school teachers were recognized as recipients of $1,000 technology grants from the Panther Education Foundation: Mandee Carmical, Cabot High; Nadey Jo Dunn, Southside Elementary; Diana Graf, Southside Elementary; Jennifer Luchsinger-Garner, Cabot High School; Debbie Johnson, Middle South; Lindsay MacMillan, Northside Elementary; Peggy Magdaleno, Junior High North; Kelly Monroe, Middle South; Jayme Nyborg, Cabot High, and Kelly Spencer, Middle North. The grants will be used to enhance student learning in the classroom.

Also recognized at the meeting were four Cabot High School students – Emily Milam, James Ryan Miller, Matt Peckat, and Taylor Spence – for earning the career-readiness certification from the Arkansas Department of Workforce Readiness.

The credential is recognized by employers in over half the states in the country as demonstration that an individual possesses the basic skills necessary for success in the workplace. These Cabot students are the first in the state to earn the certification. All are students in Martha Marshall’s Workplace Readiness class at the high school.

A new payroll deduction program allowing Cabot Public School staff to contribute to the Cabot Scholarship Foundation has already brought a return of $398, reported John Thompson, the foundation’s chairman.

The program was started less than two months ago. The foundation will give scholarships averaging $1,000 apiece to 36 Cabot seniors. Since 1996, the foundation has given scholarships totaling more than $236,000, Thompson told the board.

One of the Cabot Scholarship Foundation’s major fundraisers, the annual roast and toast, will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 28 in the Cabot High School cafeteria. It will honor Cabot business and civic leader Bill O’Brien. Tickets are $25 per person.

Superintendent Tony Thurman was named honorary commander of the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard at the board meeting.

The wing’s commander, Col. James Sanders, made the presentation.

Following the meeting, Thurman said that the honorary position will be a great opportunity to strengthen the bond with Little Rock Air Force Base.

“The base is very important to our school and community,” Thurman said. “We have so many students in our district that have parents affiliated with the base in some way.

“This honorary position is a great opportunity for our school system to better communicate and work together on how we can support our students whose parents are a part of the military,” the superintendent said.

SPORTS >> Owls steal show at All-Metro Classic

Leader sports editor

Abundant Life — little 2A Abundant Life — made a big splash at the All-Metro Classic on Tuesday night at Little Rock Hall.

The games, which feature top seniors from around the Little Rock and Pulaski County areas, annually bring the high school basketball season to a close.

Amongst all the giants from around the area, it was a couple Owls from Abundant Life — the tiny school you can drive by with hardly a notice on your way to Sylvan Hills farther up Hwy. 107 — who stole the show.

Lady Owl Hannah Pastor and Owl Dane Lottner earned MVP awards in their games. Pastor shared co-MVP honors with Little Rock Parkview’s Micah Rice after scoring a game-high 22 points and leading the white team to an 86-78 win.

Later in the evening, Lottner, Abundant Life’s all-everything senior forward, dropped in the game-winning three-point basket as time expired in the dark team’s 111-110 victory.

His dramatic basket was the culmination of a special evening for Lottner, who opened the game with a three, won the slam-dunk contest and led his team with 21 points.

Jacksonville’s LaQuinton Miles had 23 points for the white team just three days after his Red Devils won the 6A state championship over Little Rock Hall. Fellow Red Devil Cortrell Eskridge added 14 points, while Sylvan Hills’ Harold Ward scored nine.

North Pulaski’s Jerald Blair added two points for the dark team.

In the girls’ game, Sylvan Hills’ Latrina Brandon scored 14 for white, while Tyra Terry scored six points for dark.

Jacksonville head coach Victor Joyner and assistant Jerry Wilson coached the boys’ white team. Sylvan Hills head coach Bee Rodden and assistant Donna Turner were the coaches for the girls’ white team.

SPORTS >> Panthers notch big win

Leader sports editor

Jay Fitch kept waiting for a big hit. And waiting.

By the time the Cabot Panthers had finished leaving the bases loaded in the fourth inning on Thursday night, the number of runners they had left stranded over the previous 11 innings had reached a staggering 18.

But, suddenly, in the fifth inning, Fitch had to wait no longer. Ty Steele came through with a two-out single to tie the game with Bryant, and Drew Burks and Ben Wainwright delivered in the sixth.

The result: Instead of a Cabot team heading into spring break mired in a three-game losing streak and limping along at 1-3 in conference, it has come to life with a 6-3 win over 7A-Central favorite Bryant after twice rallying from deficits in the late going.

“It was real big,” said Fitch, Cabot’s head coach. “We kind of had our backs to the wall. Going into the season, we told the kids that every day was going to be a battle. There is no dominant team in the conference and three or four losses may even win it.

“I asked them, ‘Are we going to fight for one of those top two spots or are we going to settle for a fifth or sixth seed?’”

The victory came just two days after the Panthers (6-2, 2-2) had stranded 11 base runners and lost a 5-1 lead in a 6-5 setback at Little Rock Central.

On Thursday at Conrade Sports Complex, there were plenty of heroes, but perhaps none bigger than Andrew Reynolds, who came on in relief and pitched six masterful innings. With starter C.J. Jacoby struggling early with five walks over one-plus innings against the potent Bryant lineup, Fitch didn’t hesitate to pull him.

“I still believe in C.J.,” Fitch said. “But he’s lacking in a little confidence right now.”

Reynolds allowed only five hits and two earned runs, and kept the Panthers in it against one of the state’s top hurlers in Bryant’s Tyler Sawyer.

“(The No. 2 pitching spot) is wide open,” Fitch said. “With Andrew, I think we found our No. 2. He probably has the best stuff on our team. He can run it up there 86-87 miles per hour. But last night, his curve ball had good bite to it and he really threw his changeup well, too.”

After Jacoby walked the first two Hornets to open the second, Fitch called on Reynolds. He might have escaped the jam entirely, but an infield single put Bryant up 1-0. Hunter Mayall grounded into a shortstop-to-second-to-first double play, setting another theme for the night: Cabot’s rock-solid defense. Cole Nicholson at short was especially good, errorlessly fielding all six of his chances, including some tough ones along the way.

“Cole played really well at shortstop, but overall, I thought we had a solid defensive game,” Fitch said.

In the first inning, Steele got the Panthers out of jam when he backhanded a sharp grounder at third, stepped on the bag and threw across to first to complete an inning-ending double play.

Bryant (6-2, 5-1) made it 2-0 in the fourth on a single and Justin Blankenship’s RBI double over the bag at first.

Two infield singles and a walk yielded only more frustration in the bottom of the inning when Sawyer froze leadoff hitter Joe Bryant with a slow two-strike curve.

The Panthers finally broke through in the fifth. Burks looped a single into right and went to second when Matthew Turner grounded a 1-2 pitch into right. Nicholson hit a slow roller to third baseman Hunter Alford, who fielded it cleanly but threw wildly past first as Burks came in. Steele then sent Sawyer’s first delivery sharply into left to tie the game.

Reynolds, with the aid of another fine defensive play from Nicholson, got out of a bases-loaded pickle in the fifth. Nicholson briefly juggled Tyler Brown’s hard-hit grounder, but recovered and threw him out.

But Bryant went back on top in the sixth on a walk and an RBI single.

Cabot’s winning rally began with one-out walks to Bryant and Reynolds. Burks then tied it when he rocketed a 1-2 pitch into left-center for an RBI double. Ben Wainwright grounded a two-run single over second. Wainwright eventually came home with an insurance run on a wild pitch to make it 6-3.

Burks had two of Cabot’s 11 hits and scored twice. Nicholson and Matt Williams each had two hits as well. Cabot stranded 12, while the Hornets left 11 runners on.


Against Central, Cabot seemed to have things well in hand before the Tigers rallied for two in the sixth and three in the seventh to overcome a 5-1 deficit. Reliever C.J. Jacoby walked in the winning run with one out in the final frame.

Oddly enough, Cabot’s quick starts to innings yielded little while the Panthers did much of their damage with two-out rallies. The Panthers put the first two on in the game on singles by Joe Bryant and Andrew Reynolds, but couldn’t get them in.

But Cabot scored three runs in the second after starting a two-out rally. Ty Steele had an 0-2 count on him when he lined a single to center, the first of five consecutive Panther hits. Chase Thompson singled and Bryant brought two runs in with a long double into the gap in left-center. Andrew Reynolds scored Bryant with a base hit. But, even though the Panthers led 3-0, they stranded two more in the inning.

They left another pair on in the third, and Central scored a run in the bottom of the inning on a rare mistake by Burks in right. His appeared to lose Christian Cooley’s lazy fly in the sun, allowing Russell Goss to score.

Cabot got that run back in the fourth — again the result of a two-out rally. Burks singled and Ben Wainwright delivered him with a lined double to left.

The Panthers stranded two more in the fifth. It didn’t appear that all those missed opportunities would haunt them when they used singles by Burks, Wainwright and Matthew Turner to go up 5-1 in the top of the sixth.

Central got its first two on in the sixth, but Cabot starter Tyler Erickson nearly escaped when he got the next two batters. Luke Montgomery, though, sent a soft flair into right center to bring in two runs and narrow the lead to 5-3.

After the Panthers went quietly in the seventh, Clayton Booth greeted Erickson with an infield single, and Fitch brought in reliever Chase Beasley, who gave up a seeing-eye single through the hole at short before recording a fly out. But Will Parham looped a single to right to load the bases and Mark Murphy walked to bring in a run and make it 5-4.

Jacoby entered and Adam Meeks singled in the tying run. Montgomery then drew the game-winning walk.

Burks had three of Cabot’s 13 hits and scored twice. Bryant had two hits and two RBI, while Reynolds and Wainwright each had two hits.

Beasley took the loss.