Friday, April 24, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cabot’s new health unit fully funded

Leader staff writer

The new health department building in Cabot is now fully funded with construction expected to begin in early June.

The Arkansas Department of Health announced Thursday that an additional $324,911 had been authorized to add to the $450,000 already set aside for the facility. It will be built in downtown Cabot on the corner of First and Elm.

The low bid of $764,911, plus $10,000 for contingencies on the 6,000 square-foot building, came from AMB General Contractors of North Little Rock, but all the subcontracts will go to Cabot companies: Steadfast Mechanical, Conrad Electric and Westlake Plumbing.

The new facility will be about five times the size of the one currently in use that was built about 25 years ago before Cabot started to grow.

Since the lot is small, Cabot architect Bob Schelle has designed the new building to attach to the old post office that was used for many years as the city water department. The metal-frame building will have a veneer of period brick to blend with others in the area.

Cabot applied for the new health unit in 2007.

Health Department officials said they needed a larger facility to allow for expanded services for women and children and to place more emphasis on communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, which is making a comeback.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams wanted the new facility downtown to help ensure the continued stability of that area. If the health unit is downtown, more doctors and pharmacies are likely to locate downtown as well, he said.

Also, the new facility will be within walking distance of the high school and the homes of many elderly residents who might need the services it will provide.

Milton Garris, administrator over all three health units in Lonoke County, said Friday that Lonoke County Judge Charlie
Troutman will be in charge of the funds to build the new health unit.

But once it is completed, it will be turned over to the city, which will be responsible for maintenance.

TOP STORY >> Surveys show golf course idea is expensive

Leader staff writer

At last week’s city council workshop on making North Hills Country Club a viable golf course again, Sherwood Parks and Recreation director Sonny Janssen said he wasn’t sure how much revenue would be generated from greens fees, cart rentals or purchases at the snack bar.

But perhaps he does have an idea.

In 2007, three different studies were done to determine the cost of bringing the golf course back up to par, the cost to maintain the course and the number of rounds that had to be played to break even.

All three studies suggested the course would lose money for the first three years before holding its own in its fourth year of operation and those figures were based on 23,000 to 30,000 rounds of golf being played there annually.

Many of Sherwood’s aldermen have expressed a desire to spend up to $500,000 to turn the defunct North Hills Country Club into a playable golf course even though three previous studies have suggested much higher costs.

City officials will listen to residents’ input at two public hearings – one from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at city hall and the other May 11.

Council members are considering reopening North Hills Country Club by next spring as a golf course, but in increments to help offset costs.

Just how much it would cost to maintain the course year to year at this point is another unknown, Janssen said at Monday’s meeting, adding that consulting with a knowledgeable golf course manager to pin down costs is needed.

Yet the city has already consulted with three different professional organizations and has cost figures available.

In May 2007, the city received an analysis and projections report from W.P.D. Golf Management and Consulting. Also in May 2007, the city reviewed a market profile report from Paladin Golf Marketing, and about the same time the city received a 28-page golf course maintenance evaluation for North Hills Country Club from International Golf Maintenance. A month earlier the city reviewed a preliminary “Review for Financial Viability of North Hills Public Golf Club” from Spears Consultants.

Spears Consultants projected a reasonable cost for the 106-acre country club and golf course was $1.5 million. The city, through its condemnation procedures, ended up paying $5.5 million for the property, meaning a $28,000 monthly payment.
Spears projected that the cost for the necessary improvements to make the facility a viable course again was $1.19 million, plus another $81,500 in pre-opening costs. The consultant estimated first year expenses at $234, 587 for clubhouse expenses and another $357,409 for course maintenance and $124,339 in general administrative expenses.

The city has already spent more than $100,000 renovating the clubhouse so it can be used for meetings and gatherings and more than $20,000 to fill in the old pool on the property.

The council now wants to spend $500,000 to get the golf course going.

So the tentative plan as it stood after the long discussion on Monday was to “go slow, try it out two or three years, then re-evaluate,” Janssen said. “If it makes a profit or breaks even, it could be a good venture.”

In looking at probable income, Spears based its figures on 23,380 rounds of golf the first year at $24 a round, plus incremental increases in rounds played each year. If everything went according to the projections, the course could see about a $50,000 profit at the end of its full second year.

International Golf Maintenance estimated a maintenance budget of $424,000 annually for the golf course, which included $284,000 for staffing and $139,000 for maintenance supplies and equipment.

IGM also suggested leasing all new maintenance equipment because “virtually all of the existing maintenance equipment is in need of replacement.” That cost, according to IGM, is about $400,000.

Now, the city can circumvent some of that cost using its own equipment, but then its equipment will wear out faster.

The report from Paladin called the local golf market healthy but “nearly saturated,” adding that there were about 20 golf courses already in a 20-mile radius.

The Paladin report stated that it sees “an opportunity for North Hills Golf Course to garner more than their “average” share of golf play by offering a respectable product and service while monitoring demand and pricing closely.”

Currently, upkeep of the 106-acre facility requires two full-time workers plus the help of a crew of other city workers one day a week. The golf course is open to the public now for hikes, dog walks and the like, said city parks and recreation director Sonny Janssen.

Landscape architect and golf course designer Steve Hales of ETI has suggested that it will cost $150,000 to rebuild the greens,
Other costs, according to Hales and others, just through 2009, include sprinkler system repairs at $100,000; maintenance and cart repairs at $50,000, clubhouse repairs at $50,000; signage, tools and flags at $25,000, and equipment leasing at $28,000.

Salaries for six months would be $35,000 for a golf course superintendent; $13,500 for a full-time maintenance worker and $20,400 for two part-time laborers.

Janssen said that “there are a lot of things we can do in-house” to cut costs on the project.

On a scale of 1 to 10, the initial investment of $500,000 would bring the course up to a three or four in quality, said Hales.

“That golf course has great bones and is extremely visual and fun to play,” Hales said, acknowledging also it has the reputation among some as being somewhat challenging.

“Why don’t we do a trial run to just get it up and running to see how it holds up and to limit your investment, then later bring it to full potential,” Hales suggested.

That way, the city would see if the course attracts enough golfers to justify more improvements

TOP STORY >> Lottery decides who gets into charter school

Leader staff writer

Approximately 250 people attended the first Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School lottery at the community center Thursday evening.

The lottery determined who would get into the new school this fall.

There were 344 spots available, but 611 applicants.

Children whose names were not drawn to fill those slots were later drawn and placed on a waiting list. The waiting list will carry over each year. A lottery from that list will most likely be held next year to fill the kindergarten spots.

The lottery began with a welcome and introduction from newly appointed board president Keri Urquhart. Board members were introduced, as well as the principal Nigena Livingston.

Laura Peeples of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, who doesn’t have children attending the school, was chosen to draw names.

“I felt she was a good representation for Jacksonville,” Urquhart said of Peeples. “She’s a non-biased person. She does not have children or relatives (who applied to the school).”

Rebel Wilson, who serves as treasurer for the board, reviewed the lottery procedures, and Roger Sundermeier called the names of applicants before their grades were drawn.

“I thought it went really well,” Urquhart said Friday. “You really hate for anyone not to get in.

“I think it’s going to be a good, diverse school and a good school year,” she added.

Urquhart was appointed school board president at a special board meeting April 16, after board president George Biggs resigned. The board learned of Biggs’ resignation after its regular monthly meeting April 14, which Biggs did not attend. He resigned after The Leader revealed he had a felony conviction from 1990 in the shooting death of a man in Texarkana, Texas.

The board also selected Livingston as the school’s principal at the special meeting. Livingston is currently principal at Cleveland Lighthouse Community School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Lighthouse Academies is a national organization that assists in establishment of charter schools and has been instrumental in formation of the one in Jacksonville.

The school will be located at 251 N. First St. and will open on Aug. 17.

TOP STORY >> Districts grapple with new funds

Leader senior staff writer

While the Pulaski County Special School District’s $12.4 million share of the State Fiscal Stabilization Program stimulus funds could legally be used toward construction of the new school at Maumelle or perhaps Sylvan Hills, district officials hinted broadly Friday that they’d like it used for remodeling or repairing schools in each of the seven attendance zones.

As long as expenditures conform to the federal requirements, the final decision on how to spend the money at PCSSD or any school district rests entirely with the school board, according to PCSSD interim Superintendent Rob McGill.

“It is our desire in learning services and Mr. McGill’s, that every (zone, maybe every) school will get money,” said deputy superintendent Beverly Ruthven. “It is for the whole district.”

In the midst of dealing with the stimulus funds, McGill has been preparing a new application to the state Board of Education for the $81 million second-lien bond to build the two new schools.

The state board rejected that application at its April meeting. Although the state board wouldn’t routinely consider bonds again until June, McGill has been assured that it would consider a new application at its May meeting.

“I’ll present a plan to pay off the second-lien bond, a new plan going in a little bit different direction,” he said. McGill declined to elaborate until he had presented his idea to the school board, but it apparently depends less on staff cuts.


The Pulaski board is slated for a two-day financial workshop at the central office beginning at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. McGill said important decisions could be made as the result.

Stimulus educational funds allotted to Arkansas total $560 million. Of that, PCSSD, Lonoke, Cabot, Beebe, Carlisle and England are slated to receive $32.8 million.

Including SFSF, Title I and IDEA categories, PCSSD will receive roughly $20.6 million.

Lonoke will receive about $1.76 million, with $1.03 million of that in the relatively unencumbered SFSF category.

Cabot will receive about $2.2 million in SFSF, part of a $4.9 million total.

Beebe will get about $1.3 million in SFSF, part of the $2.37 million it will receive.

England will get $2.1 million in SFSF funds, part of a $2.4 million total.

SFSF can be used for any activity authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including new construction, modernization, renovation or repair of public school facilities or to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to instructions.

Districts should use facility enhancements to support academic initiatives under stabilization funds.


In addition, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocations of the state fiscal stabilization fund program will fund improvements in Arkansas to the tune of $341 million.

Of that money, about two-thirds–$228.5 million—will be available for this year, with the balance due the following year.
PCSSD’s $12.4 million will arrive in installments of $8.3 million the first year and $4.09 million the second year.

These districts will receive the following amount, with roughly two-thirds of it the first year and one-third the second year.

Lonoke, $1.03 million; Beebe $1.3 million; Cabot $2.2 million; Carlisle $489,000 and England $2.1 million.


In preparation for spending the stimulus funds, McGill and some staff and board members have held meetings in each of the zones to get ideas from parents and teachers over how best to spend the money.

Examples of ways to spend the money would be partial roof replacement at the Crystal Hill Elementary School, remodeling bathrooms at Northwood and North Pulaski and preparing Jacksonville’s Boys Middle School for the addition of girls next year.

A widespread distribution of the SFSF money for PCSSD—approximately $8 million the first year and $4 million the second year—could help ease tensions among board members, each of whom advocates vigorously for the patrons in their far-flung zones.


Cabot is eligible for $4.9 million, although there’s been no decision on how the money will be spent, only that it must be spent by Dec. 20, 2011. Not all uses are allowed.

For example, the money shouldn’t be used for salaries unless a district has the money to keep funding those salaries. The state gets to decide based on whether the answer is “yes” to these questions:

– Will it invest in the economy?

– Is it a one-time, short-term (no longer than two years) investment with long-term benefits?

– Is the expenditure allowable under the funding mechanism?

– Can the school district define (through performance measures) how the program, activity or item proposed can lead to improved student academic achievement?

Kelly Hayes, comptroller for the Cabot School District, said Thursday that the staff has been brainstorming since they learned that the money would be available. Some of the suggested uses: wiring for older buildings to allow for upgraded technology, updated technology and new heat and air units to save on electricity.

The earliest the spending plan can be submitted to the state is May 15, Hayes said.

The only caveat that could be problematic for some districts, he said, is that the state will only send 5-percent of the money initially and the district will have to fund the rest, then get reimbursement from the state.


Beebe is eligible for $2.4 million and it most will likely go for improved technology, Dr. Belinda Shook, school superintendent, said.

“We’ve had two meetings with the administrators from the schools, and they’ve been meeting with their teachers,” she said.

“And we’ve decided to focus on technology that will enhance student achievement.”


Lonoke Superintendent John Tackett met Thursday with principals and formed a district committee to propose options for use of the SFSF stimulus money.

Lonoke is also beginning some major construction, but the state has not yet said whether it will partner with the district to cover much of the cost.

The district plans to demolish the existing science building and construct a 20-room addition on the east side of the main high school complex.

“The crux is we’ll use Title I and IDEA (money) to put Lonoke in position to provide services that are innovative and reflect what we’d have to do five years down the road,” Tackett said.

Money could be used to catch up with technology by purchasing equipment that would help the students.

For instance, the district could buy equipment to digitally measure pH and then use laptops to run data sequences, he said.
He said the district would consider technology for distance learning, with college graduate students working with students on writing.


“We’ve talked about Kindles—which would electronically download books,” Tackett said.

“We’ve formed a stimulus review committee to make sure we understand what the requirements are for expenditures and what are our needs in Lonoke,” Tackett said.

Then, he said, the committee will consider “How can we bring the two together to get the best outcomes?

“We have to do what’s most efficient and effective, not just spend a lot of money,” Tackett said.

They would look at outcomes and “bang for the buck,” he said, while abiding by restrictions, guidelines and providing transparency and accountability.

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this report.

EDITORIAL >> State lags behind EPA

In the least surprising development in memory, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said last week that industrially generated carbon dioxide, the kind that is pumped from electricity generating plants like those in Arkansas, is polluting the earth and endangering public health and the welfare of everyone on it.

It was an unmistakable signal to the power industry and to the states that they need to take steps immediately to reduce carbon emissions from generating plants and from automobile tailpipes. The signal, alas, will be lost on Arkansas, or that is our fear and our strong hunch.

The finding by the EPA was unsurprising because the U. S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit brought by the states (not Arkansas) said that carbon dioxide was a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act and that the EPA should begin a comprehensive study leading to the regulation of the greenhouse gas. The Bush administration stonewalled for two years, but last week the EPA delivered the study and the unambiguous conclusion: Carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases that occur far less often are polluting the atmosphere and contributing heavily to the warming of the earth. Scientific research the world over clearly shows, the EPA said, that concentrations of the gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human enterprises and that they are almost certainly the cause of the dramatic rise in average temperatures around the globe.

Unfortunately, this is legally only the beginning. The EPA will take public comment for a few months and it may be a year or longer before emission standards and rules are adopted.

You might expect that this is the death knell for the big coal-burning generating plant that utilities are building between Hope and Texarkana, but that is not likely. The state Pollution Control Commission, which must grant the utilities an environmental permit, has told the utilities that they should proceed full speed with construction of the plant while it ponders what to do.

Anyone who thinks the commission will conclude that the plant presents too many environmental hazards may also want to bet their life savings on winning the first Lotto jackpot in the Arkansas Lottery.

The state Public Service Commission, which had the first shot, gave the utilities a certificate of convenience and necessity 18 months ago after concluding that since the U. S. government had never ruled that carbon dioxide was an unhealthy pollutant it had to grant the certificate.

The Department of Environmental Quality took substantially the same position in recommending that the companies be given an air permit to build the plant. Whatever the dangers might be to the surrounding and global environment, the utilities met the regulatory requirements for an air permit, the agency said. Our sad prediction: the commission will say ditto.

The plant at McNab will puff more than 5 million tons of CO2 a year into the atmosphere, which will add to some 30 million tons a year generated by the existing three coal plants in Arkansas and yet more gases from other, smaller plants that are under way.

Regardless of the standards and the rules that the EPA may ultimately adopt, power from the plant — and, for that matter, from all the coal plants in Arkansas — will be far more expensive than the companies estimated when they were arguing for a certificate of convenience and necessity. Congress will adopt an energy bill this year or next that will impose huge costs on power generation from coal and maybe to a lesser extent from less-polluting natural gas. It will be in the form of the cap-and-trade system that President Obama is pushing or from a straight carbon tax, which seems less likely.

Even Republican lawmakers, who had stuck with the flat-earth people on the science of global warming, now recognize that something has to be done. Our own senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, are so far standing with the coal industry and the utilities in opposing anything that puts much higher cost on coal as a generating fuel. But global-warming concerns are now pandemic and everyone but the true believers knows big steps have to be taken.

Meantime, here in Arkansas, we are going to make the problem measurably worse by putting on line a huge coal plant that will send out the most expensive electricity those customers have ever seen. But no one expects Arkansas to be in the forefront of progressive change, do they?

SPORTS >> Lanier takes tough-luck loss to Searcy

Leader sportswriter

The rematch ended with the same result as their first meeting, as the Lady Lions of Searcy squeaked by the Lady Red Devils of Jacksonville with a 1-0 win on Tuesday at Searcy.

The opposing pitchers on Tuesday put up similar numbers. Jacksonville junior hurler Jessica Lanier finished with five strikeouts and gave up two hits, while Searcy sophomore sensation Amber Rollins gave up four hits and had six strikeouts.

The Lady Red Devils’ best opportunity to score came in the second inning, when Lanier led off with a stand-up triple. But Lanier had to hold at third when Paula Burr was safe on a fielder’s choice. Rollins then struck out the next three Jacksonville batters to end the threat.

Searcy came away with the game’s only score in the bottom of the second with a leadoff single, followed by a sacrifice and an RBI single.

A spectacular defensive play by Searcy junior left fielder Olivia McConnaughhay ended the Lady Devils’ chance to tie the game in the top of the sixth inning. Jennifer Bock led off with a line single to right field, and advanced to third on bunts by Raven Pickett and Brandi Holder.

With two outs, Burr sent a fly deep into left field that began to go foul, and McConnaughhay chased it down to make the catch as she ran into the fence.

Pickett, Burr and Bock all finished with singles, with a triple by Lanier.

The Lady Red Devils are now 11-7 overall and 8-5 in the 6A-East Conference.

Jacksonville took a 7-2 non-conference loss against Arkansas Baptist on Thursday, and closed out the 6A-East schedule on Friday when it hosted West Memphis. The Lady Red Devils had to beat the Lady Blue Devils by more than one run in order to get the No. 3 tournament seed; a win for West Memphis or loss by only a run gave it the third seed and moved Jacksonville to a No. 4.

SPORTS >> Falcons narrow coaching search

Leader sportswriter

North Pulaski High School is close to having a new varsity football coach. The position, which is also tied to a math teaching position, received a number of applications, but only 12 of the applicants had the proper credentials.

Those 12 were narrowed down to three initially, and North Pulaski principal Tracy Allen told The Leader that a tentative selection has been made. He added that the school was awaiting superintendent and school board approval. Allen plans to have a press conference to announce the new coach once the selection is made official.

The job became available when Tony Bohannon resigned soon after the end of the 2008 football season. The Falcons suffered a 1-9 record. Bohannon went 5-65 in seven years as Falcons coach.

SPORTS >> Early run holds up for Lady Panther

Leader sportswriter

It was the hardest possible way to earn a win, but it proved effective for a defensively stout Cabot team on Thursday. The Lady Panthers (18-6, 10-4 conf.) picked up one run in the opening inning and held on for a 1-0 win over Van Buren at Conrade Sports Complex to all but capture the No. 4 state tournament seed out of the 7A-Central Conference.

Cabot could still earn the No. 3 seed if Bryant (9-2) loses all of its remaining makeup games.

Pete Reed set up the game’s only score when she grounded a single to left field, and Jenny Evans tripled with a grounder that rolled to the fence in center to plate Reed.

It was in the defense’s hands from there, and the Lady Panthers did not disappoint. Pitcher Cherie Barfield gave up only two hits while fanning 11.

“It may have been a little letdown after earlier in the week, because Tuesday night (versus Bryant) was a big win for them,” coach Becky Steward said of her Cabot team. Cabot beat first-place Bryant 7-6. “They probably came out a little flat today, but a win is a win.”

Mistakes were few and far between for the Lady Panthers. Barfield hit one batter and another reached on a bunt. Becca Bakalekos misplayed a fly ball, but recovered to force the runner at second on the play.

Lauren Burnett had the only other Pointerettes’ hit of the game when she sent a line drive into right field in the top of the fourth inning, but she was left stranded when Barfield struck out her seventh victim of the afternoon and then fielded a pop up by Lauren Bryant for the third out.

“We’ve been solid, it hasn’t hurt us too many times this year,” said Steward. “As long as I keep telling them that defense wins, hopefully they will keep playing defense.”

Barfield recorded a strikeout in every inning. Only in the fourth and sixth innings did she have fewer than two. She struck out four straight across the first and second innings to set the tone for the game.

Third baseman Tara Boyd had the trickiest defensive play of the game when she dove for an infield fly in the top of the fourth inning. Boyd could not get control of the ball with her glove, but was able to grab it with her right hand as she headed for the dirt to get the first out of the frame.

Cabot had a chance to add some insurance in the bottom of the sixth inning. Evans singled to left, and advanced to second when Brooke Taylor was walked by Van Buren pitcher Bethany Bailey. Both moved along on a sacrifice bunt by Flesher, but a great defensive play by Pointerettes left fielder Dakota Counts on a pop fly by Chelsea Conrade left both runners on.

Evans led the Lady Panthers at the plate, going 2 of 3 with a triple and an RBI.

The Lady Panthers came up with one of their biggest wins of the season on Tuesday with a 7-6 decision against league-leading Bryant. Cabot jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning before the Lady Hornets went on a four-run spree, including a three-run home run.

Cabot reclaimed the lead in the fifth inning, and catcher Pete Reed preserved the win in the final inning when she picked off the tying run at third. Evans and Tara Boyd were both 2 of 4 with doubles, and Barfield was 2 of 5 with a double. Bryant had nine hits off Barfield, while she struck out four batters from the fourth inning on. The Lady Panthers also made up the remainder of their suspended game against North Little Rock on Wednesday, as the Lady Wildcats handed them their fourth league loss of the year, 4-1.

“I kept thinking that losing those two tournaments would hurt us, because that’s six games that we didn’t get to play,” she said. “But also, we’re not tired mentally. We’ll see come next week. We’ve got Nettleton on Monday, and that’s a good tune-up game.”

SPORTS >> Bears complete unbeaten run through league

Leader sportswriter

Beebe hung with Hillside for one game, but the bottom fell out in the nightcap.

Sylvan Hills ended its 5A-Southeast Conference season with 4-1 and 16-2 wins over the Badgers on Tuesday night at Gillam Fields. University of Arkansas signee D.J. Baxendale earned the win for the Bears in Game 1 before Nathan Eller pitched a one-hitter in the second game to give Sylvan Hills a 28-2 overall record and a final league record of 14-0. Beebe finished Southeast play with a 10-4 record.

The Bears will take the No. 1 seed out of the 5A-Southeast Conference and will likely take on Nettleton next Friday at noon at Lakeside in Hot Springs.

White Hall will be the No. 2 seed by virtue of a face-to-face tiebreaker with Beebe, which shares a 10-4 final league record with the Bulldogs. Monticello needed one win over North Pulaski on Thursday to wrap up the fourth and final seed in the Southeast. The Badgers will play the No. 2 seed from the East on Friday at 2:30 p.m.

Beebe ace Roger Glaude held the Bears in check through three innings of the opener, until the elder Baxendale sent an offering over the left centerfield wall to lead off the top of the fourth inning. Centerfielder Zach Kersey had a play on the sinking bomb, but couldn’t come down with it.

Blake Baxendale then doubled to right, and Jordan Spears brought him in with another home run.

“We needed a game where we swung the bats real well,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “We hit the ball well tonight. We needed this. The past couple of weeks, we’ve been a little flat. We made a few errors and haven’t hit the ball as well.

“Yesterday, we talked about how we have two weeks to try to turn it on and get ready for tournament play. We still had a few mistakes out there tonight, but I was real pleased with our approaches at the plate and how well we hit the ball.”

The hits came right away for Sylvan Hills in the second matchup, starting with a leadoff home run by shortstop Justin Treece in the bottom of the first. The next three runs made it in after Ty Van Schoyck and Eller were hit by pitches. Van Schoyck came home on a sacrifice fly by D.J. Baxendale, and Eller scored when Blake Baxendale blasted out the fourth Bear homer to give Sylvan Hills a 4-0 lead after one.

Treece singled to open the second inning and advanced when Van Schoyck reached on an error. D.J. Baxendale loaded the bases when he was struck by a pitch, and singles by Jordan Spears and Blake Evans drove in the three runs.

Glaude prevented a shutout for Eller with a pair of scores for the Badgers. He reached on a Bear error in the top of the first to set up the first score, and got Beebe’s only hit of the game in the top of the third with a single that led to the only other run.

Badger first baseman Lane Wood scored the only Beebe run in Game 1. He and Tanner Ball were hit by pitches, and Glaude delivered the RBI single to right field.

The Bears put Game 2 away in the bottom of the third with a six-run effort. They had only three hits, but Beebe’s defense had an equal number of errors that allowed Sylvan Hills to up its advantage to 15-2.

D.J. and Blake Baxendale were safe on errors in the inning. Spears doubled in a run and Evans brought home Spears with a base hit. Another error scored Evans.

Casey Cerrato set the final margin in Game 1 when he walked and scored when he stole third and the throw went into left field.

Pitching once again led the way for Sylvan Hills.

“The game is pitching,” said Tipton. “In all my years, this is the most depth we’ve had on the mound. In conference play, D.J. and Nathan have started every game. D.J. finished every game, and there was only one game Nathan didn’t complete. But we have Justin Treece and Blake Evans and Jordan Spears who have done really well for us in non-conference.”

Treece was 3 of 3 in Game 2 with a home run. Spears was 3 of 3 with a double and two RBI. D.J. Baxendale’s win in Game 1 was highlighted by 12 strikeouts, while he gave up four hits and sent three on with hit-by-pitches.

SPORTS >> Panthers rally for win

Leader sports editor

Cabot coach Jay Fitch admitted he was still smarting from an extremely difficult loss to Bryant 48 hours earlier. So the last thing he needed was a 3-0 deficit right out of the chutes on Thursday.

But a couple of errors in the first inning put Cabot in an early hole against Van Buren at Brian Wade Conrade Field.

“I was a little worried,” Fitch said. “It was like one of those games that almost wasn’t meant to be. They’re hitting little bloopers and we’re smoking balls in the outfield that are caught.”

But no one could catch Cole Nicholson’s controversial game-tying home run over the left field foul pole and the Panthers caught another break when Drew Burks’ sharp grounder bad-hopped over the second baseman to drive in what proved to be the game winner in Cabot’s 4-3 victory on Thursday.

Nicholson’s home run in the fifth inning was a high drive down the left-field line. The ball landed in foul territory beyond the fence, but the umpire ruled it crossed the foul pole in fair territory, much to the delight of Fitch, who was waving it fair while it was in flight.

“It was close,” he said. “It was a tough call and it was hard to tell from where I was standing. We got a break with the home run, maybe, and then Drew just smashes the ball and we get a little break there with the winning run. So hopefully, it all evens out in the end. We’ll take it.”

The victory assured the Panthers of a spot in next weekend’s 7A state tournament, where they will be anywhere from a fourth to a sixth seed. They improved to 7-6 in league play with a game at Conway set for Tuesday to close out the conference season.

Two days earlier, Cabot coughed one away against Bryant after taking a 5-3 lead into the sixth inning. A balk, a passed ball and an error proved the Panthers’ undoing in that one.

“The Bryant game I’m still mildly depressed over,” Fitch admitted. “That was just a weird, weird thing. You talk about handing a game away. We knew (if we beat Bryant) and won this game (against Van Buren) we had a chance to win the conference.”

Cabot, which had been playing nearly error-free defense during their four-game winning streak, kicked it around early against Van Buren, and two errors along with three Pointer hits led to three unearned runs.

Cabot pitcher Tyler Erickson absorbed the blow well and pitched a magnificent six innings, striking out eight and allowing six hits to pick up the victory.

“It was another great outing,” Fitch said. “We’re going to need him. Our big three (Erickson, Nicholson and Andrew Reynolds) are going to each throw about 30 pitches against Conway.”

Cabot got one of the runs back in the third when Nicholson landed on second after a throwing error, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on Ty Steele’s sacrifice fly.

Erickson pitched out of a jam in the fourth, getting a couple of defensive gems along the way. Burks out in right field forced a runner at second on a looper into right and Nicholson saved a run when he charged a slow roller to short and threw out the runner to end the inning.

The Panthers finally made their game-winning push in the fifth. Reynolds led off with flair single to left. One out later, Nicholson belted his home run to tie it. Steele followed with a single to right and Powell Bryant sent him to second with a base hit.

Burks, no stranger to game-winning hits this season, hit a sharp grounder but right at the second baseman. The ball took a bad bounce over the second baseman’s head and pinch runner Daniel Fox came around to give Cabot a 4-3 lead.

Erickson pitched around a one-out bloop single in the sixth and Reynolds came in to collect the save with a 1-2-3 seventh.

“We’ve fought back from behind before,” Fitch said. “We talked about it in the fourth inning. They’re getting all the breaks but something good is going to happen if you keep hitting the ball hard.”

Cabot got five of its six hits in the fifth inning.

Cabot (17-8 overall) takes on Nettleton in a non-conference game on Monday before heading to red-hot Conway on Tuesday.


Cabot gave one away on Tuesday afternoon in Bryant, letting a 5-3 lead disappear in the sixth inning with an error, a passed ball and a balk as the first-place Hornets rallied.

It appeared Andrew Reynolds was about to pitch around a two-on, one-out situation in the sixth when he got a popup to third. Cabot first baseman Matthew Turner then nearly made a great catch on a foul pop that would have ended the threat, but it popped out of his glove as he crashed into the fence.

That led to a walk to load the bases, and a balk that made it 5-4. A passed ball tied it.

Hunter Mayall then sent a grounder deep to behind the third base bag. Ty Steele, who had been magnificent on a pair of early defensive plays, made the tough play, but his throw to first was low and got past Turner as Bryant took the lead.

Ben Wells, brother of University of Arkansas relief pitcher Justin Wells, then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh for the win.

The Panthers’ four-game winning streak ended with the loss. They fell behind 1-0 after one, but Ben Wainwright’s double and a passed ball tied it in the second. Bryant reclaimed the lead with a run in the bottom half.

Steele saved more from coming in when he dove to his left to stab a hard grounder and threw out Joiner.

Cabot then took advantage of a pair of Bryant errors to take 4-2 lead in the third. Joe Bryant reached on an infield single and Powell Bryant forced him at second. After Drew Burks lined an 0-2 pitch into center for a hit, Ben Wainwright brought home Powell Bryant with a sacrifice fly to left that was dropped for an error.

Reynolds dunked an RBI single into right to score Burks, and courtesy runner Zach Uhiren, running for Wainwright, scored on an error on the throw in from the right fielder on the play.

Two singles narrowed the lead to 4-3, but again Steele saved a run when he made a backhand play behind the bag to rob Justin Blankenship of a hit and an RBI.

Reynolds pitched out of a jam in the fifth and Cabot had a chance to blow it open in the sixth when Cole Nicholson and Steele reached on singles with one out.

Joe Bryant’s sharp grounder to third went through Mayall’s legs for an error as Nicholson scored. One out later, Burks drew an intentional walk to load the bases. But Wells, on in relief for Bryant starter Kaleb Jobe, got Wainwright on strikes.

Cabot stranded eight in the game — five in scoring position.

The Panthers pounded out 10 hits — two each by Joe Bryant, Reynolds and Nicholson. Reynolds went the distance for Cabot, allowing 10 hits, while striking out three, walking one and hitting one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Going after polluters

Here is a shocker: The state Department of Environmental Quality reports that those waste pits that commercial operators built in the hills north and east of here to handle gas drilling refuse are poisoning the environment.

It turns out that the people who got permits to build the 11 “land farms” to hold the wastes did not put in the protections that their permits required, and the land, streams and underground water in the neighborhoods are being adulterated at a rapid rate. The department made the companies stop operating in December, and it has revoked permits in Lonoke and White counties.

The director of the agency said she hoped the others would start operating the sludge lakes as they are supposed to under the provisions of the permits that the agency gave them. She doesn’t want to make them close or otherwise impede the drilling for gas in the Fayetteville Shale.

Who will say that they are surprised at this revolting development — well, besides the cynics who never expected the department to do anything? While the agency by law is supposed to be the fierce protector of the natural state, its governing board by law is made up mostly of representatives of interests whose work ordinarily degrades the environment and needs policing. In the end, regulation and enforcement are always notoriously lax, and industry knows the record. It is an invitation to cut corners and to shave inconvenient steps that only serve to depress profits because there is no reason to expect a reckoning.

The mere name that the industry gave these wastewater lakes — land farms — ought to have been a tipoff. We are a nation of euphemists. If you give something heinous a sweet name it will not be so bad. But it always is.

“It is certainly disheartening that there was so much blatant noncompliance with the terms of the permits,” said the director, Teresa Marks. The drillers are not supposed to put oil-based wastes in the ponds but they apparently did. The agency left it up to the operators to take their own samples around the ponds and report the results. Marks said her handful of inspectors found that the results were not accurate and that the companies were vastly “overapplying” wastewater.

“It makes you realize that there needs to be action taken to deal with environmental harm that might have occurred and might occur in the future,” the director said. Ah, the beginning of enlightenment, and perhaps of justice.

EDITORIAL >> Dysfunctional school district

Almost everyone agrees Pulaski County Special School District is a snarky, dysfunctional body inclined when it deliberates to generate more heat than light.

And that’s essentially what Don Farley, executive director of the Arkansas School Boards Association, told PCSSD board members in an unprecedented letter he sent April 16.

“I read and hear about your board meetings and am amazed by how a board, which is supposed to make policy and stay out of the way of the district’s day-to-day operations, continues to carelessly disregard the concerns of the patrons of the district whose taxes allow it to operate,” wrote Farley.

“It’s time to behave as adults who have an awesome responsibility to the children of Pulaski County and to behave in a way that sets an example for the young people you presumably represent in their quest for an education,” Farley wrote.

“Do some soul searching,” he told the board. “Read and then follow your policies and try to begin a process of reconciliation and healing so you can focus your energies on living up to the standards of the Arkansas school boards. It’s the only right course of action.”

That certainly validates the belief of many district patrons and employees, who can often only shake their heads or curse the fates as they watch the board’s petty, vindictive and sometimes nonsensical actions.

As Alice said, “Curiouser and curiouser.”

This, after all, is a school board that passed a special policy to kick out one veteran board member, installing in her place a rookie with his own agenda and little enough idea of the restraints on his authority and power.

He can’t be bothered with the niceties of abiding by board policy, abiding by the spirit and the law of the Freedom of Information Act, and he’s making waves as he pushes for a new high school in Maumelle, whether or not the district can pay for it.

Now we couldn’t agree more with Farley’s assessment, but we do find it, well, curious, that his letter castigating the board—the only such letter he’s felt compelled to write in 30 years—coincides with proposed legislation that would provide for recall elections of school board members.

If state Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, gets his bill turned into law, any school board member could face a recall election on the grounds of “misconduct in office, incompetence, failure to perform prescribed duties, or public dissatisfaction.”

Of the PCSSD board’s storied problems, Farley wrote: “Such behavior was the reason we were left in the recent legislative session to battle a school board recall bill. It wasn’t clear why the bill was even introduced. You, my friends, were the reason for it. And it isn’t going to go away.”

More than ever, north Pulaski County needs its own school district. Farley’s missive makes a convincing case for it. Thank you, sir, for your timely letter.

TOP STORY >> School board on defensive

Leader senior staff writer

With the threat of legislative intervention to allow recall elections of school board members, the head of the Arkansas School Boards Association last week took the Pulaski County Special School District board to task for casting all school boards in a bad light and placing all in jeopardy.

“I read and hear about your board meetings and am amazed by how a board, which is supposed to make policy and stay out of the way of the district’s day-to-day operations, continues to carelessly disregard the concerns of the patrons of the district whose taxes allow it to operate,” wrote Dan Farley, the association’s executive director. (See editorial, p. 8A.)

“This is a letter without precedent. In my 30 years with the (association) I have never felt compelled to speak out about the behavior of a school board,” Farley said.

“Such behavior was the reason we were left in the recent legislative session to battle a school-board recall bill. It wasn’t clear why the bill was even introduced,” said Farley. “You, my friends, were the reason for it. And it isn’t going to go away.”

State Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) proposed a bill in the session just ended that would allow recall elections for school board members on the grounds of “misconduct in office, incompetence, failure to perform prescribed duties or public dissatisfaction.”

Perry’s bill wasn’t enacted, but Farley says it could be reintroduced in January 2010 and Perry says it will be re-introduced not later than the 2011 session.

Perry said his bill was introduced with Pulaski County in mind.

Perry said he visited with the school board association, and “they weren’t in favor of it.”

Farley wrote that because of the PCSSD board, he’d have to make the other 244 boards in the state understand that their members, too, could be “victims of a law that will allow quick and easy recall.”

He said he’s fielded calls and emails from around the state from people asking the association to crack down on PCSSD board. “There is simply nothing we can do,” he wrote. “Your board, like all the others, is governed by policies adopted by you. The assumption is that, at the very least, the board ought to be bound by its own policies.”

“It has been obvious for months that you have internal issues and we have offered on more than one occasion to try to help you work out your problems,” wrote Farley. “Clearly you don’t want help. Even more clearly, you don’t seem to be able to function in a constructive manner.”

Farley’s harsh criticism continued, “Until such a time as each of you comes to the realization that you are powerless outside those times where you are constituted in an official meeting, you will continue to spiral out of control — losing the confidence of the patrons of your school district…and promoting your own personal agendas and power plays.”

When he got the letter, “I thought, Yes, finally someone who understands our plight,” said board member Danny Gililland, who represents parts of Jacksonville and north Pulaski. “Then realized it was a reflection on me too. I’m hopeful that it will bring all the issues to the forefront to deal with this — that we’ll get something positive out of it. I’m embarrassed they had to go that route.”

“I don’t think there’s a board member that didn’t think there was a problem,” he said.

Gililland said he has scheduled an appointment with Farley for next week “to see if he can give us any insight.”

Gililland said board president Tim Clark seems too involved in the day-to-day operations. “I’m not defending him, but it’s happened to others in the past, maybe not this extreme.”

While most board members interviewed generally agreed with Farley’s assessment, Charlie Wood, who represents Sherwood, said, “I think he’s wrong—I don’t mean every detail is wrong. But it was inappropriate and I was disappointed.”

“I think that his letter to us was almost devoid of specifics. If our board has done something wrong—you can’t solve a problem with broad generalities. We’ve had a lot of unfavorable press. People in Jacksonville don’t agree with me. People in Sherwood don’t agree with people in Jacksonville.

“We’ve invited state to come audit us. If there are things inappropriate, they need to tell us. I don’t see us staking out territories. Argument isn’t bad. But you can’t slap us on the hand with generalities.”

“Everybody is on the hot seat right now, and it shows,” said Bill Vasquez, the other board member representing Jacksonville. “It’s a whole place full of stuff — tensions are kind of high.”

“There’s lots on the table right now, and we don’t have a read good handle,” he added.

As for the notion that interim Superintendent Rob McGill allows Clark, his benefactor, to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the district, Vasquez said that previous school board presidents also spent a lot of time with the superintendents on their shift.

But Vasquez, the board’s treasurer, said board officers “don’t have authority others (board members) don’t have.”

“I was very impressed with the letter,” said Mildred Tatum, a board member for more than 20 years. There’s too many things wrong in our district,” she said. “We’re always going in to executive session.”

She said Clark takes authority he doesn’t have and consults only with Vasquez, Gwen Williams and Charlie Wood — the others in his usual voting block.

TOP STORY >> Districts to receive federal aid

Arkansas schools will be receiving up to $569.9 million over the next six months as part of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and about $18 million of that will filter down to local school districts.

Pulaski County Special School District is slated to get about $12.4 million. Cabot will see $2.19 million. Searcy is to get about $2 million. Beebe will get $1.3 million, and Lonoke is to receive $1.03 million.

The districts will get about 65 percent of the funding this spring and summer and the remaining part will be doled out in the fall.

Arkansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Ken James, met recently with more than 1,000 school district, charter school and education cooperative personnel to share the Arkansas Department of Education’s guidance for wisely investing those funds.

TOP STORY >> Gas waste farms hit with fines

Leader senior staff writer

A pair of area land farms for Fayetteville Shale waste have been fined $112,000 and had their permits revoked last month.

The permits for Fayetteville Shale Land Farm LLC in Lonoke County, just off Hwy. 70 on Hwy. 381, and Central Arkansas Disposal LLC, in White County, 2.5 miles northeast of Griffithville, were revoked March 13, according to Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

Marks determined that the land farms were guilty of numerous and repeated violations of various clean air and water regulations, including discharges resulting in fish kills. (See editorial, p. 8A.)

Land farms are disposal sites for drilling fluids and mud generated in natural gas drilling in the Fayetteville Shale.

Oil-based drilling fluids were stored on site and storage ponds weren’t properly lined or bermed. An unpermitted discharge had flowed into a ditch, which flows into White Oak branch.

At the Central Arkansas Disposal site, the department found similar repeated violations, including discharge into a stream that caused a fish kill.

Both sites are owned by Ron Carl, who has appealed the revocation.

The other White County disposal site, Big Mac Tank Trucks, 2.5 miles south of Griffithville off McDoniel Road, was inspected Dec. 1, 2008. It is still in operation, according to ADEQ spokesman Aaron Sadler.

At the Fayetteville Shale waste site in Lonoke County, “land application at the site is limited to drilling fluids generated or utilized during natural gas drilling and production operations that consist of fresh water, water-based drilling mud, drill cuttings, and flow-back water from reserve pits,” according to the revocation.

Not allowed are oil or solvents used in the process. The site must have containment berms.

Some Carlisle-area residents have been concerned about Prairie County Land Farm, literally across the street from Lonoke County. That permit is pending, waiting financial assurances, Marks said.

The Carlisle residents appeared before the Lonoke County Quorum Court last year trying to keep the land farm from operating. They have hired Sam Ledbetter, a Little Rock attorney who is familiar with environmental law.

On March 16, ADEQ issued a permit to Arkansas Petro 1 in White County, but that permit has been stayed on appeal by the town of Griffithville.

Marks said the sudden influx of drillers for natural gas in the Fayetteville Shale caught ADEQ unprepared — or partially prepared. But the agency has gotten up to speed and only about half of the disposal sites ever given permits are currently in operation, she said.

Marks said she hoped the department would be getting money for additional inspectors in the next fiscal year.

ADEQ’s study of 11 land farms found areas of concern in all. Now there are 12 or 13, Marks said, with a couple pending. Of those, six are still in operation.

In many places, the waste from such drilling is injected into lined, deep wells, but few existed when the drilling began, Marks said.

She said others are now under construction and should help alleviate the demand for land farms.

The actual drilling occurs elsewhere and is trucked to the sites in Lonoke and White counties and that’s part of the problem, as far as residents are concerned. Some sites receive waste at the rate of one truck every few minutes around the clock.

In addition to environmental threats such as oil or the toxic drilling fluids running off into bayous, streams or rivers, local residents are concerned about the heavy truck traffic and damage to their roads.

State Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle) sponsored a law that requires the waste trucking companies to compensate counties or cities for damage to their roads from so many heavy trucks.

Glover did back away from another bill he proposed which would have given cities and counties standing in the permitting process.

TOP STORY >> Some crime less serious than others

Leader editor-in-chief

George Biggs, who resigned last week as director of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department, hardly served any time in prison for killing a man 18 years ago in Texarkana, Texas.

He served less than six months behind bars, which is as startling as his getting hired without a background check.

Biggs had killed a black man for seeing his estranged wife. Until a generation ago, black-on-black crime wasn’t even prosecuted in many parts of the country. Had Biggs shot a white man, would he have gone free after a few months?

Probably not.

Biggs hired a good lawyer who had the charge reduced from murder to manslaughter. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

But he served just one-tenth of his sentence. And you thought in Texas, they throw away the keys after they send you to prison.

You probably thought they didn’t have parole or pardons in Texas. Even in Arkansas, criminals must serve at least a third of their sentence.

Biggs held his job longer with the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department than he served time for manslaughter. People have spent more time in jail for nonpayment of fines than some do for a heinous crime.

Biggs was still on parole when Jacksonville hired him in 1995. Even if city officials had just checked his references — it looks like they didn’t even bother calling the Texarkana-area school district where he’d coached before he went to prison — somebody would have told them it wasn’t a good idea to let someone with his violent past work closely with children.

Biggs became a popular member of the community, rising to director in just a few years.

He joined the Jacksonville Rotary Club and was named president of the Lighthouse Academy charter school, which will open this fall.

Biggs quit as parks director and school president just hours before The Leader revealed that he was a convicted felon and was hired without a background check, which is now mandatory for all city employees.

Biggs could have rebuilt his life and no one would have known about his past — another newspaper even ran a puff piece about him last year, every sentence, we now know, a lie — but his philandering and short temper brought him down.

He’d told one of his girlfriends he had killed a man in Texarkana. Last summer, he posed for a magazine ad in handcuffs, urging employers to do background checks on their workers because you never know what they might be hiding. It’s as if he was begging to be caught.

A few weeks ago, he pushed his girlfriend to the ground in front of the community center, and it was downhill from there. The girlfriend’s mother, a former Benton police officer, did a background check and took the report of Biggs’ arrest to the mayor.

Although he’s been here almost 15 years, Biggs and I never talked. He never returned phone calls or even made eye contact. He avoided me whenever he saw me. I thought that was strange, but I didn’t think that made him a killer.

There are other city officials who don’t make eye contact. At least one hasn’t returned phone calls in more than 20 years — not once.

That doesn’t mean he’s a convicted felon, but still you wonder about someone who’s working on the public’s dime.

Allegiance Health Management, which now runs North Metro Medical Center, hasn’t returned phone calls all year. I guess they don’t think keeping the public informed is part of the job, even though they’re leasing a city-owned facility.

They just never took public relations 101 or know what that is. Biggs was smarter than that, but not smart enough.

TOP STORY >> Church will build apartments

Leader staff writer

CrossPointe Church of Cabot will soon build its own 15,000-square-foot church and 10 duplexes on South Polk Street for recovering addicts.

The church now holds services in a commercial building on West Myrtle Street in Cabot for recovering addicts.

Why apartments?

“That’s the kind of ministry we have,” Pastor Russell Stewart said after the planned unit development between the railroad tracks and Second Street breezed through the city council Monday night with unanimous vote among the seven aldermen present.

The homepage of the church Web site defines its ministry this way: “Worship at CrossPointe is like being at an old friend’s house. We’re the kind of place where it’s not about the clothes on your back, but the hunger in your heart.”

It’s a church that targets two distinct groups, Stewart said: those who have never been involved in church and those who have become disillusioned with it.

In a more narrow sense, CrossPointe Church is a place for people who need help and people who want to help others.

Specifically, the church hopes the apartments will provide a home to addicts to help them not go back to their old lives. Stewart said rehab fails for most addicts because they have nowhere to go when they get out of rehab. To live in the apartments, recovering addicts will have to find jobs with the help of the church, and they will have to attend 12-step programs and life-skill classes.

Stewart said the church now has about 50 members, but about 100 usually attend services. Of that number, 30 to 40 percent are recovering from addictions.

The council’s vote rezoned the 10.3 acres where the church and duplexes are supposed to be built from R-1 to PUD (planned unit development).

Ron Craig, planning commission chairman, told the council that no one attended the planning commission earlier this month to voice any concern about the proposed project.

The commission will still have to approve a site plan, Craig said, but the rezoning the council approved prevents any other structures other than the church and duplexes from going up.

Craig said the commission asked for two additions to the plans the church submitted, a second driveway and a privacy fence between the railroad track and the apartments for the safety of children who may someday live there.

The Monday night council meeting was unusually short, lasting only about 15 minutes. The rezoning for the church was the only “new business” on the agenda.

TOP STORY >> Input sought on city parks

Leader staff writer

Before allocating up to $500,000 needed to refurbish a municipal golf course, Sherwood officials want to hear residents’ ideas about how to use the facility as well ways to expand recreational amenities at Sherwood Forest.

City council members are considering reopening North Hills Country Club by next spring as a golf course, but in increments to help offset costs.

To garner public input, two public meetings are scheduled: one next Monday and the other on Monday, May 11. Both will be from 5 to 7 p.m. in Sherwood’s City Council chambers.

At a workshop Monday, council members listened to recommendations from ETC Engineers Inc., a Little Rock firm hired to evaluate Sherwood’s existing recreational offerings and suggest improvements.

Long-range possibilities for the 187-acre Sherwood Forest included tennis courts, walking trails, a fish pond, camp ground, dog park and skateboard park.

The two-hour session was dominated however by discussion about what to do with the once privately owned North Hills Country Club, which the city bought last year for $5 million and now makes a monthly $28,000 mortgage payment for the property.

Other than revenue from an occasional rental of the clubhouse, “we are not getting much back,” said Mayor Virginia Hillman.

Upkeep of the 140-acre facility requires two full-time workers plus the help of a crew of other city workers one day a week. The golf course is open to the public now for hikes, dog walks and the like, said city Parks and Recreation Director Sonny Janssen.

Janssen, who estimated costs of getting the course in shape, said that he regrets having no idea what the course might bring in revenue from greens fees, cart rentals or purchases at the snack bar. Setting greens fees will entail research into the local market that is yet to be done, he said.

The course is reputed as the only one in Arkansas redesigned by nationally renowned golf course planner, Robert Trent Jones. Built more than 50 years ago, the course was redone by Jones in 1979. The aldermen think capitalizing on that distinction might prove lucrative.

So the tentative plan as it stood after the long discussion on Monday was to “go slow, try it out two or three years, then re-evaluate,” Janssen said. “If it makes a profit or breaks even, it could be a good venture.”

Janssen noted after the meeting, other than the hot checks court, “No city department makes money. We provide a service. If we were trying to make a profit, nobody could afford the services. The idea is to try to recoup some of the city’s investment.”

Just how much it would cost to maintain the course year to year at this point is another unknown, Janssen said, adding that consulting with a knowledgeable golf course manager to pin down costs is needed.

If the course is to be ready for play by next spring, city officials need to act quickly. Landscape architect and golf course designer Steve Hales of ETI, recommended replacing the existing grass – a bent grass variety long considered a superior putting surface – with a new, dwarfed variety of Bermuda that can hold up better in scorching Arkansas summers and takes less maintenance, but also makes for good play.

“It’s all the craze now,” Hales said, and several central Arkansas country clubs have switched over to the Bermuda.

The greens will have to be hand planted, then covered in sand and kept moist, then “in eight weeks – bam – they are going to be perfect,” Hale said. “In the summer, Bermuda just takes off.”

The most affordable way to re-do the greens is by sprigging with Bermuda grass runners and that needs to happen before Aug. 1 to take advantage of the long, sunny days of summer. Removal of some trees and thinning branches on others will open up the shady course to sunlight to help the new grass take hold.

Rebuilding of the greens alone will cost $150,000.

Other costs, just through 2009, include sprinkler system repairs at $100,000; maintenance and cart repairs at $50,000, clubhouse repairs at $50,000; signage, tools flags at $25,000; and equipment leasing at $28,000. Salaries for six months would be $35,000 for a golf course superintendent; $13,500 for a full-time maintenance worker and $20,400 for two part-time laborers.

“Until we actually get started, we don’t really know,” said Janssen, “but it is like that with all budgets.”

Janssen told the council that “there is a lot of things we can do in-house” to cut costs on the project. That could eventually include digging a second retaining pond to capture groundwater for irrigation of the greens and fairways. In the past, the front nine holes were watered with water from the existing pond. City water – purchased from Central Arkansas Water – took care of the back nine holes. The loop design of the irrigation connects mains for the front and back courses, so surplus water from two ponds could go where needed.

The fact that the pond refills in a matter of hours makes officials optimistic that there is plenty more where that came from to entirely wean the course off bought water.

“It would refill each day after watering at night,” Janssen said. But it will take building the pond to know for sure.

On a scale of 1 to 10, the initial investment would bring the course up to a 3 or 4 in quality, said Hales. “That golf course has great bones and is extremely visual and fun to play,” Hales said, acknowledging too that it has the reputation among some as being somewhat challenging.

Smoothing out the sand traps “to make the land forms more subtle” might make playing more enjoyable for some golfers and would bring the course up to a 6, Hale said. The work is estimated at $100,000.

“Why don’t we do a trial run to just get it up and running to see how it holds up and to limit your investment, then later bring it to full potential,” Hale suggested.

Alderman Becki Vassar liked the idea of doing improvements in phases.

“We don’t have to write a big check at the beginning,” she said.

TOP STORY >> 35 help to prepare Cabot clinic

Leader staff writer

About 35 volunteers came out Saturday to prepare the Lonoke County Christian Clinic in Cabot for electrical wiring during a second communitywide work day.

Renovation work is transforming the 7,400-square-foot, city-owned gymnasium at 502 Richie Road in the city park area into a facility that will offer medical and dental care to uninsured people who live in and around Cabot.

The clinic is leasing the building from the city. It is scheduled to open in the fall.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said he is “thankful for everyone’s willingness to help. People have a heart to help the less fortunate.”

Treadway Electric donated electrical equipment, wiring, electrical boxes and conduit for the clinic.

Doug Gates of Gates Electrical provided preliminary electrical work and supervised volunteer wiring crews.

Karla Evans of Lonoke was part of a group of volunteers from Fellowship Bible Church in Cabot.

“I go to church here and I have been doing lots of mission work. It is a joy to help out,” Evans said.

Patients of the free clinic must not have employer-provided insurance. Their income must be below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and they cannot be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.

They cannot be 65 or older since that population qualifies for Medicare.

They cannot not be on disability or receive any veterans’ benefits either.

Medicaid recipients may use the clinic for tooth extractions, though, since they do not receive any dental benefits. 
The clinic is planned to be open two nights each month to provide medical exams and services.

The facility will have 12 examination rooms and three dental rooms.

A teaching room will serve as a classroom to educate residents on good nutrition, health and other topics.

The clinic will have dental care and extractions available.

X-rays and local anesthesia will be provided.

The clinic will also provide free access to life-sustaining and short-term medications. 

Clients will be able to receive long-term prescriptions in 30-day supplies for medications such as insulin and blood pressure and heart medications.

There will be access to short-term prescriptions such as antibiotics and steroids to treat conditions identified and treated at the clinic.

Pain medications and antibiotics will be made available for dental patients. No controlled substances will be stored or dispensed at the clinic.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SPORTS >> Lady Devils post sweep of Jonesboro

Leader sportswriter

It was a 6A-East Conference doubleheader sweep for the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils on Friday. The Lady Devils took a 9-0 shutout win over Jonesboro in Game 1, and outlasted a small rally by the Lady Hurricane in the nightcap for a 7-1 win at Dupree Park.

Jacksonville is now 11-6 overall and 8-4 in the 6A-East Conference. The Lady Red Devils played last night at Searcy, and will wrap up league play tomorrow at Little Rock Parkview.

The Lady Red Devils collected more insurance than the Aflac duck in the top of the seventh inning of the opener, scoring five runs on six hits, including a triple by Baylee Herlacher that scored two runs, followed by singles by Jennifer Bock, Raven Pickett and Brandi Holder.

The Lady Hurricane held Jacksonville scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning in Game 2. Jessica Lanier doubled before senior third baseman Paula Burr hit an RBI double to drive her in.

Pitcher Lanier gave up little at the mound on Friday. The junior hurler held Jonesboro to only two hits while striking out eight, although she did give up a rare walk in the bottom of the fourth inning.

She continued to shut down the Lady ’Canes in the second game with seven strikeouts and three hits, two of which came during a last-ditch effort by Jonesboro in the top of the seventh inning.

Riley Zink began the clinching seventh inning for Jacksonville with a pop single to left field. Oakley then bunted to reach on a single and advance Zink, and both scored when Herlacher blasted a triple into deep right field to put the Lady Devils up 5-0.

Bock brought Herlacher in with a single to right, followed by a single by Pickett and an RBI single by Holder that plated Bock.

Burr drove in Pickett and Holder when she hit a grounder to shortstop that was misplayed to set the final margin.

When Lanier wasn’t striking out the Hurricane, the Jacksonville defense was gobbling up. It was a busy game for second baseman Bock, who saw seven of the 14 balls put in play by the Lady Hurricane come her way. Her only bobble in the bottom of the sixth inning was sandwiched between three strikeouts by Lanier, and the rest looked easy for the consistent junior.

Scoring was scattered for Jacksonville in the opening innings of Game 1. Holder singled to right field to start the second inning, and scored when Burr grounded out to shortstop.

The Lady Red Devils had four hits in the top of the third, but were able to only cash in on one of them. First baseman Alexis Oakley started things off with a single, and advanced on an infield bunt single by Herlacher. Pickett loaded the bases with a bunt single, and Holder’s second single of the game drove in Oakley.

The fourth and fifth innings were scoreless for Jacksonville, and the sixth inning was beginning to look similar when Lanier stepped up to the plate for the Lady Red Devils with no one on and two outs. Lanier sent a sharp grounder up the middle, which made its way under the glove of Jonesboro’s second baseman and all the way to the fence. That gave Lanier ample time to round the bases for an inside-the-park home run and put the Lady Devils up 3-0.

Holder was 3 of 4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Herlacher was 2 of 4 with a triple and two RBI. Pickett was also 2 of 4, while Oakley was 2 of 3 with two runs scored and Burr finished with three RBI.

The Lady Devils had 14 hits against Jonesboro in Game 2, including fourth-inning singles by Zink and Oakley.

SPORTS >> Nicholson, Wainwright lift Panthers

Leader sports editor

If you had forecast a Cabot sweep of North Little Rock two weeks ago, you probably would have been laughed off as a loon.

After all, the Panthers had just lost their third straight game, which included a 17-1 shellacking by Conway. They were reeling at 3-5 in the conference and, suddenly, looked like they’d be fortunate just to earn a state tournament bid.

So yeah, you’d have had your sanity questioned if you’d made such a bold prediction.

Turns out you’d have been right. The Panthers won their fourth straight game and their second over formerly first-place North Little Rock in seven days with a 7-2 victory on Monday afternoon at Conrade-Wade Field. They did it with another sterling performance by sophomore pitcher Cole Nicholson and a pair of home runs from Ben Wainwright.

The victory propelled Cabot further up the 7A Central standings at 6-5, leaving the Panthers tied for third with Catholic (Catholic owns the tiebreak), a game behind Conway and North Little Rockand a half-game ahead of Van Buren. Cabot played Bryant last night and will host Van Buren on Thursday.

Cabot knocked NLR out of first, a half-game behind league leader Bryant. Little Rock Central is still in the hunt for a playoff berth at 5-7.

Since falling to Catholic on April 8, Cabot has beaten the Wildcats twice, Little Rock Central and Jacksonville in a non-conference game.

“What’s a little bit ironic is the same kid that got knocked around by Conway, that’s the same pitcher that beat North Little Rock twice,” said Cabot coach Jay Fitch. “We knew he had good stuff. But he’s just a baby growing up. You’re seeing him mature right before your eyes in the second half of this season.”

Nicholson pitched five shutout innings against North Little Rock on April 14, and threw a five-hitter on Monday, going the distance while striking out five and walking only two.

But it was Wainwright’s blasts in the fourth and fifth innings that tied the game and then put Cabot in front. The senior catcher sent a 1-2 offering over the 375-sign in left center leading off the fourth to tie the game against North Little Rock ace Andrew Hohn.

Nicholson had settled down after a single, double, error and sacrifice fly put the Wildcats up 2-1 in the second inning. He faced the minimum number of batters in the third, fourth and fifth innings. The only base runner, via a walk, was gunned down by Wainwright trying to steal.

Hohn recovered from Wainwright’s game-tying homer in the fourth to strike out the next three batters. Ty Steele, though, belted a one-out double in the fifth and courtesy runner Daniel Fox scored on Drew Burks’ two-out, go-ahead single. On the play, Joe Bryant, who had earlier walked, aggressively came all the way around from first to score.

Wainwright then hit a two-run homer to the exact same spot to make it 6-2.

“Ben has as good natural power as any kid I’ve had,” Fitch said. “It takes a man-shot to get it out of here. At a normal high school park, he’d probably have 11 or 12 home runs. And three of the four he’s hit have been at this park.

“He’s having an All-State type year. And he does a great job for us defensively, too.”

North Little Rock got a leadoff double and a one-out walk in the sixth and had big cleanup hitter David Stracener at the plate.

But Nicholson got the slugger on a slow curve ball and got Cody Grace on a harmless bouncer back to the mound.

“I’m really proud of Cole,” Fitch said. “I never dreamed he’d throw a complete game against such a good lineup. But he pounded the zone all night and his changeup was getting all those weak ground balls.”

The Panthers (got an insurance run in the sixth on a Tyler Erickson double and Andrew Reynolds’ RBI single to center.

The Wildcats put a little drama into it in the seventh with a pair of one-out singles. But Nicholson recorded his fourth and fifth strikeouts to end it.

Singles by Joe Bryant and Drew Burks and Wainwright’s sacrifice fly staked the Panthers to a 1-0 lead after one inning.

Cabot finished with nine hits and Wainwright drove in four runs.

Cabot was solid defensively, committing only one error, though it led to North Little Rock’s two runs in the second.

SPORTS >> Red Devils fall flat against Cabot, but knock off Sheridan

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers busted out of a hitting slump in a big way in a 12-7 win over Jacksonville on Friday at Dupree Park.

The Panthers belted 16 hits, including three by Cole Nicholson and Joe Bryant and a home run by Tyler Erickson, who also picked up the win on the mound.

Cabot roughed up both Noah and Tom Sanders on Friday. Noah Sanders lasted just 1 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and five earned runs. Tom Sanders went two innings and allowed five hits and four runs. The two combined to hit three Panthers and walk three more.

Jacksonville rebounded on Monday with a 9-7 win at Sheridan.

Despite falling into a 9-1 hole, the Red Devils tried to claw their way back into it, scoring three times in the fourth inning on Jacob Abrahamson’s two-out, three-run triple down the right field line.

But Cabot went right back to work in the top of the fifth to plate three more runs on singles by Ben Wainwright, Matthew Turner, Ty Steele and Nicholson.

Cabot relief pitcher C.J. Jacoby entered in the fifth and struggled with his control throughout his three innings of work. Jacoby struck out four, but walked six, including the first three batters he faced. But he was able to pick off a runner in the fourth and retire the final two Red Devils on strikes. Caleb Mitchell scored in the inning on a wild pitch to narrow the gap to 12-5.

Jacksonville left fielder Devon McClure saved a run in the sixth with a sterling defensive play. After Joe Bryant had doubled to center, Powell Bryant sent a sinking liner into left. McClure made a diving catch, then doubled up Joe Bryant at second base.

Jacksonville got within 12-6 in the bottom half after McClure walked, went to third on Terrell Brown’s single and scored on a wild pitch. Brown tried to score on the play, but Jacoby retrieved the ball and made a diving tag of Brown to end the inning.

Jacksonville loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh on Patrick Castleberry’s infield single and a pair of walks. Seth Tomboli beat out an infield hit to drive home Castleberry. But Jacoby recorded his fourth strikeout to end the game.

“We just didn’t play hard,” said Jacksonville head coach Larry Burrows. “That was disappointing because we’ve hustled in every game since maybe the third game. I guess you can chalk it up to playing 23 games with lots of doubleheaders. Hopefully, we got it out of our system.”

The Red Devils close out 6A-East action this Friday when they host Marion. A split with the Patriots would earn Jacksonville a No. 2 seed in the state tourney.

Brown, who led Jacksonville with three hits, staked the Red Devils to a 1-0 lead after he singled and eventually scored on Logan Perry’s sacrifice fly. Castleberry was out trying to advance to third on the throw home when Wainwright gunned him down with a good throw.

Cabot sent 11 to the plate in the second, scoring five of them. Turner walked before Erickson gave Cabot a 2-1 lead with a home run off the light stanchion in right-center field. That was just the beginning of Cabot’s offense. Ty Steele, was hit and Nicholson, Brandon Surdam and Joe Bryant followed with singles to make it 3-1. An RBI single by Drew Burks and Wainwright’s sacrifice fly put the Panthers up 5-1.

Singles by Nicholson and Surdam, followed by an RBI double by Joe Bryant, padded that lead in the third. Powell Bryant brought in Surdam with a groundout. Cabot made it 9-1 with two more in the fourth, this time aided by two hit batters and a bases-loaded walk. Wainright and Turner singled in the inning.

Jesse Harbin came on in relief in the fourth to get a bases-loaded pop out to end the inning. Harbin allowed five hits and three earned runs over 3 1-3 innings.

Erickson picked up the win, though he hit three batters and allowed five hits and four earned runs. Jacoby gave up two hits and three earned runs.


Seth Tomboli and Tom Sanders had three hits each and Terrell Brown and Jacob Abrahamson added two more apiece as Jacksonville improved to 17-7.

Michael Lamb got the win, going five innings and allowing just two earned runs. Seth Tomboli came in to pick up the save, striking out the final batter with the tying runs on in the seventh.

Jacksonville had 15 hits, while Sheridan collected 13.

SPORTS >> Wallace wins first-ever MSRA race at Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Perhaps his competitors should have worn steel vests. Even then, they may not have been able to stop the driver known as the Batesville Bullet.

On a night when several other late model veterans struggled, Batesville driver Wendell Wallace piloted to his second O’Reilly MSRA series win of the 2009 season with a mid-race pass of Eric Turner to collect the $2,000 winner’s purse at Beebe Speedway on Friday.

Wallace quickly worked his way from the fourth starting spot to position himself behind outside polesitter Turner, and simply waited for the chance to strike.

That opportunity came on lap 22, when Turner got pinned behind lap traffic out of turn two, allowing Wallace to get alongside and pull into the lead heading down the backstretch.

Wallace kept his familiar 88 machine out front for the duration of the 40-lap, caution-free event despite Turner’s late attempts to reclaim the lead, and a bold outside charge by standout Kyle Beard that fell short in the final laps.

“The racetrack was real tight and hard to pass on,” said Wallace, who became the first repeat winner in MSRA this year. “The race car got really good, and he caught traffic, so I just kind of bided my time to see if he would make a mistake. He made one mistake, and I pounced on him from there.

“I knew lap traffic would be a factor. I didn’t know if it would be to my benefit or his, but generally, the second-place guy has got an advantage when you catch all that traffic because he can pick and choose (which line to take).”

Despite Wallace’s good fortune, the night did not turn out quite as well for some of the other well-known veterans, including Bill Frye of Greenbrier, who ended up as the only retired car in the A-main feature after handling woes took him too far out of contention.

Fellow Greenbrier driver Jack Sullivan and Jeff Floyd of Walnut Ridge were two more big names who found difficulty at their old stomping grounds. Neither acquired enough passing points during the heats and had to claim the top two positions in the first of two consolation features in order to get in the big show.

Sullivan took the ‘B’ win while Floyd finished second, but Floyd was forced to limp to an 18th-place feature finish two laps down, while Sullivan managed to salvage a 12th-place finish after taking the green 16th on the grid.

MARS series teammates Terry Phillips and Jeremy Payne claimed the two transfer spots in the second consolation, while defending MSRA champ Joey Mack, Randy Mitchell, Brandon McCormick and Darrell Mooneyham took the four provisional spots that filled the 22-car field for the MSRA/MARS challenge race.

That sent nine cars, including local favorite Joseph Long of Bryant and Clarksdale, Miss., pilot Ross Camponovo home early.

The absence of yellows made lap traffic a factor early on, and allowed Wallace to stay on the back bumper of Turner once the race leader reached the back markers on the 16th circuit.

Fast qualifier Jeff Moss of Harrisburg, who earned the top starting spot by winning heat three, found the heavy traffic up front difficult to maneuver, and eventually fell back to a seventh-place finish.

The track surface stayed smooth throughout the evening, but never picked up enough rubber in the outside lane to provide enough grip for two-groove corners.

That did not deter Trumann driver Beard from taking his chances in the vacant line. His move up high paid off initially to take him from his eighth-place start to as high as third in the closing laps, but the Silent Assassin’s luck ran out with three to go when he carried too much momentum out of turn two, and his GRT 86 car washed up on exit. Beard was able to recover after losing three spots to collect a sixth-place finish.

“I just knew there wasn’t going to be any other way to get up there,” said Beard. “Everybody was just hugging the bottom down there, so I had to try something to get up there. If you got one car length up just right above them, you could get a little grip, but if you ever slipped up just the least little bit, you got up in the slick stuff and just couldn’t go anywhere.”

Wallace stayed out front in the late going by carefully clearing the lap traffic, leaving Turner to duke it out with fellow Missouri driver Tony Jackson, Jr. for the runner-up spot.

Turner held on to second with Jackson Jr. taking third, while SUPR series veteran Ray Moore worked his way from seventh at the start to finish fourth.

A quiet but solid run for Russellville’s Jon Kirby rounded out the top five and earned him the hard-charger award for the race after starting in the ninth position.

For Wallace, it was his fifth overall super late model win of the ’09 season in only 15 starts.

“We’ve been running good here lately,” said Wallace. “The first of our year, we kind of struggled changing some things up. Now we’ve got some things headed in our direction, and hopefully it will keep going for us the rest of the year.”

David Ashley finished eighth, while Batesville’s Billy Moyer, Jr. held on to the MSRA points lead with a respectable ninth-place finish, and veteran Dewaine Hottinger rounded out the top ten.

MSRA will return to action on May 8 at Batesville Speedway in Locust Grove, and will make its way back to Beebe on June 26.

SPORTS >> Bears battle big dogs to a split

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bears are more than just a state power these days.

The defending 6A champs, who have dropped down to 5A this season and have dominated even more thoroughly in their new classification, have earned a No. 11 national ranking from Collegiate Baseball Magazine and are No. 21 in the USA Today Super 25 poll after running up a 25-1 record.

Sylvan Hills headed to northwest Arkansas this past weekend to tune up for what should prove to be a rugged 5A state tournament next month by taking on a couple of 7A powers in Fayetteville and Springdale. Fayetteville handed the Bears their second loss of the season, avenging an earlier setback to Sylvan Hills with a 5-4 win on Friday night.

But the Bears proved resilient and pounced on Springdale early, then held on for a 7-6 victory to improve to 26-2.

“We just didn’t hit the ball against Fayetteville,” said Sylvan Hills head coach Denny Tipton. “We battled back from a 5-1 deficit and we had our opportunities but we just couldn’t get anything going at all. It wasn’t a very good night all the way around.”

The Bears managed only three hits against one of Fayetteville’s top starters in Scott McFall, while the Bulldogs jumped on Nathan Eller for all five of their runs over the first three innings. Franco Broyles’ two-run homer in the first staked Fayetteville to a 2-0 lead but the Bears cut that in half with a two-out RBI double by Tyler Van Schoyck in the third.

Three hits and two Sylvan Hills errors allowed the Bulldogs to push the lead to 5-1 in the bottom half of the third. Justin Treece replaced Eller and shut down Fayetteville the rest of the way, allowing the Bears to get right back in it with a three-run fourth on just one base hit. D.J. Baxendale led off the inning with a single. Jordan Spears was hit with a pitch and walks to Blake Baxendale and Ryan Dillon forced in a run. Spears came across on a ground out and Blake Baxendale scored on the front end of a double steal to make it 5-4.

But the Bears had only three more base runners. They got the tying run into scoring position in the sixth, but Casey Cerrato flied out to end the threat. Van Schoyck, Eller and D.J. Baxendale were the only Bears to record hits in the game.

Sylvan Hills bounced back on Saturday by jumping out to a 7-0 lead after four innings, but had to call on ace D.J. Baxendale in the seventh to save a 7-6 win. The Bears led 2-0 after an inning. Treece was hit to start the game and Van Schoyck singled.

After Eller bunted them over, Blake Baxendale delivered a two-run single.

Starter Jordan Spears pitched around a walk and an error in the first and an error and a single in the second. In the fourth, the Bears broke the game wide open with five runs on a walk and five hits — singles by Blake Baxendale, Cerrato, Treece, Eller and D.J. Baxendale.

But Springdale got back in it with three in the fourth and a home run in the fifth to cut it to 7-4. Two walks, a hit and another error got Springdale to within a single tally in the sixth, but a strikeout and a groundout preserved the lead.

D.J. Baxendale struck out the side in the seventh, though Springdale put the tying run on with two outs on an error.

“We did not play as solid as we have defensively,” Tipton said. “We’re hoping to get on a roll this week.”

Collegiate Baseball Magazine ran a two-page story on the Bears’ 2008 season of triumph and tragedy in its most recent issue, focusing on the loss of the stadium to a tornado to the death of former player Taylor Roark to the dramatic 5-4 comeback win over Watson Chapel in the 6A state championship.

The Bears, who last week clinched their ninth conference title over the past 10 seasons, have received little competition among their 5A-Southeast foes, though Tipton is quick to point out that White Hall may be as good as anyone out there. The Bears beat White Hall in a doubleheader early in the season.

Sylvan Hills has gone out of conference to tune up for the state tournament, including playing in prestigious tourneys in Shreveport — where it beat Fayetteville — and in Memphis, where it suffered its only other loss.

“We’ve needed to see some good quality arms thrown at us,” Tipton said. “Fayetteville threw one of their conference guys at us. We know in the state tournament we’re going to see some good arms.”

Tipton said that, despite all the acclaim his Bears have received this year and the gaudy record they have posted, it will be a dogfight in the state tournament.

“Greenwood is 21-3, Greene County Tech is undefeated in conference,” he pointed out. “Then you’ve got Lakeside, Pulaski Academy, Greenbrier. We’ll probably draw Nettleton in the first round and if we win that, we’ll get the Lakeside-Greenbrier winner. It’s not going to be easy.”

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville soldier is back home

Leader editor

When William Montgomery expected that his sons would join the military, he knew that serving in a war would be a possibility. But he could not have imagined the sacrifice required by the families of military members until one of his sons was deployed to Iraq.

Montgomery tied a yellow ribbon around a tree in his front yard in the Foxcroft neighborhood in Jacksonville to honor his son’s service and to let anyone who drove by his house know that he had a family member deployed in Iraq.

His son, Army Spc. William Saucida, 22, helped him cut the ribbon soon after he returned home.

William, known as Clinton to his family and friends (an homage to the former president, according to his father), returned on March 21 to Fort Sill, Okla., where he is stationed with the Army. He was in Jacksonville to visit his family last week.

“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve had,” he said about being home with his family. He will serve in the Army for another five years and will wait for orders to return overseas during that time.

While he was in Iraq, his wife Kristina took care of their son, Dillon, who was just a month old when he was deployed.

“It was difficult,” Saucida said about being away from his newborn baby. But, he said, he was comforted that his son’s grandmothers were both helping Kristina take care of Dillon while he was deployed.

“I wished I was there to help out,” he said.

He was able to see Dillon grow by talking almost every night through a webcam with his wife while she held their baby.

He is just now getting to know Dillon in person. “I’m trying to do everything I can to hang out,” Saucida said.

While staying in Jacksonville, he went bowling, out to eat and to the movies with his parents, wife and his wife’s parents, who also live in Jacksonville.

Saudica went to Jacksonville Elementary School and Jacksonville High School.

He enlisted in the Army when he was 18.

He was stationed in Takrit at Contingency Operating Base Speicher. At Speicher, he tracked indirect fire to determine if the base was under attack. The base is named after Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot who has been missing in action in Iraq since 1991 when his helicopter was shot down. His body was never returned to the United States.

Montgomery is not Saucida’s biological father but raised him and considers him his son. He said that his neighbors’ support for his family while his son was deployed is a “tearjerker.”

One neighbor also tied a yellow ribbon to a tree in his front yard and removed it once he heard Saucida was back home.

“We had good days and bad days,” Montgomery said about his son’s deployment. “It’s a big blessing now that he’s home.”

Montgomery said his son’s return has given him a different perspective on life. “People are always complaining about small things,” he said. “We are blessed,” he added.

“It feels good because they are taking care of us,” Montgomery reflected on his son being in Iraq. “But we’re parents and we wonder about them every day.”

He talked to his son about once every six weeks during the deployment. Montgomery, who works in a funeral home in Little Rock, made care packages for Saucida with his co-workers. He will soon be sending care packages to Afghanistan when their other son, Christopher Saucida, 23, of Fort Hood, Texas, is deployed there in December.

Montgomery also made Saucida a scrapbook with pictures of Dillon so that he would have a record of all the milestones babies have in the first year.

Now, Saucida is enjoying well-earned time with his son. Thanks to technology, “he recognizes me,” Clinton said.