Friday, May 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> In Lonoke, a lifetime of baseball

Leader senior staff writer

Roy Don Lewis has had a 40-year love affair with ball playin’. It may be in his DNA.

He played and coached into middle age. Now, he runs the program and the ballpark at Lonoke. He married a ballplayer and both of his children play ball.

And he wears his heart on his arm — an incomplete tattoo, including crossed bats, a ball and the names of his wife and children.

There was no high school team when Lewis, 46, attended Lonoke High School. But he played organized ball until he was 18 as a pitcher and catcher.

“My life is baseball and kids,” Lewis said. “Baseball and softball.”

Maybe that’s why the salaried Lonoke parks director works seven days a week, as much as 80 hours a week, scheduling games, grading seven infields, spreading quick-draining crushed red volcanic rock, pumping water off low spots in seven outfields, lining up umpires and ordering provisions for the snack bar.

The phone doesn’t stop ringing with people wanting information on this week’s tournament or next week’s event and wondering if they can still register a team for a particular tournament.

Lewis said he’s been involved as a coach since 1983. He has been director of Lonoke parks, particularly the ball fields, now for about five years.

He oversees eight fields: one for T-ball, one for Little League, two Babe Ruth fields, two softball fields and two multipurpose fields.

If those fields are being used for a baseball tournament, he has to build up the pitchers’ mounds—or grade them out for softball.

“Friday night, we’ll have five games at once, all baseball,” he said.

After recent torrential rains and some flooding, Lewis and his ground crew, plus some volunteers, turned the infields to dry them, pumped water as necessary in the outfields, cut grass and lined the bases. Even as some areas of the county were still underwater, his fields were ready to play ball.

“I got a city council and mayor (who support this program), who approve purchases of equipment and crushed red rock,” he said.

Under Lewis’ direction, the city has built new restrooms at the park, and approved the purchase of two new “grinder pumps.” It has also put in a grant to fill in a huge and potentially dangerous drainage ditch running down the left side of the park.

“We still need lights on the last two fields,” he said.

A new 480-square-foot storage shed was completed last year to keep tractors and equipment safe.

The concession stand can clear $15,000 on a busy weekend, selling hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs, nachos, soft drinks and candy.

Lonoke ball fields are reserved for tournaments nearly every weekend, he said. The city has only one open weekend between Feb. 27 and the July 15 end of season, he said.

Forty-seven teams participated in the Memorial Day tournaments.

Lonoke will host two state tournaments at the end of the season — the 18-year-old senior Babe Ruth tournament and the 11-year-old 60-foot baseline tournament.

Sometimes the fields are rented out to an organization putting on a tournament, but Lewis still has to be on hand to resolve any problems and to supervise the concession stand.

A lot of money changes hands there and even on weekends when the park is leased for a tournament, his department still oversees the concession stand and keeps the profits.

One recent weekend, he had four tournaments going on at the same time, ranging from T-ball to baseball.

The ball field hosts league play during the week for teams from Lonoke, Hazen, Carlisle, England, Brinkley, DeWitt, White Hall and Sylvan Hills.

“I think he’s done a great job managing ball fields and setting up schedules,” says Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee, his boss.

McGee said Lewis and his two hands — Richard Johnson and Greg Lingo — “go above and beyond to keep the fields ready.

Several weekends when (other ballparks cancelled), we were still playing ball.”

McGee said the successful program at the ballpark was an economic boost for the area.

“You have a tournament with 30 to 40 teams, families, coaches and umpires,” McGee said, buying gas, staying at motels, eating at local restaurants, which brings a lot of revenue to local merchants and also additional tax revenues for the city.

He said the tournaments have brought as many as 1,200 people to town for the weekend.

More than once, the Pizza Hut has run out of dough for crusts.

“It would be hard to put a number on it,” McGee said.

McGee said that as a supervisor, Lewis doesn’t receive overtime for his 60 and 80 hour weeks, but he does receive some downtime in the winter.

In addition to the ballpark, Lewis is over the two other city parks, which must be mowed, maintained and upgraded.

The city has a penny hamburger tax with the revenues dedicated to city parks.

TOP STORY >> Runoff held on Tuesday

Leader staff writer

Tuesday’s vote will decide who will lead Jacksonville for the next 18 months — either Alderman Gary Fletcher or Alderman Kenny Elliott.

“We are both good men,” Fletcher said, “but we do have two different personalities and two different styles.”

Fletcher, in his last interview before the runoff, wants residents to focus on the issues. “We’ve got to push for our schools. As the campaign winds down I’ve discovered that the schools are the number one issue and nothing comes close second. The schools are the heartbeat of our community,” he said.

Elliott is asking voters to look at his leadership and experiences. “I have the qualifications to lead this city. I truly care about Jacksonville and can get a lot accomplished.”

Elliott was pleased with the early voting numbers through Friday since 858 residents have already voted.

“That’s a large number and I hope those numbers and the excitement carry through Election Day,” he said.

Elliott said he has run a strong, positive campaign. “We’ve tried to stress the positives and what we can do for the city. I will have an open- door policy and get the whole community involved.”

Fletcher agreed with Elliott on the positive note of the campaign. “It’s one of the most positive campaigns that I’ve ever been a part of. I’m proud of the work of our people,” Fletcher said.

He is concerned about the recent brouhaha over the city’s boys and girls middle schools. “I’m upset with the district and don’t feel they have a clue how to give us a quality education. Every day that these problems persist is another day that it hurts our children.”

Fletcher is displeased with the movement of administrators and putting all the middle school students back under one roof.

“That building is undersized and not up to code,” he said.

Fletcher said as mayor he would offer the district an olive branch. “I want to play nice, but if they continue not to listen to us, we can play hardball with the best of them. I don’t want that to sound like a threat, but there are things we can do,” he said.

Fletcher has tried to call Bill Vasquez, Jacksonville’s representative on the county school board, numerous times to discuss options, but has not received any calls back.

Elliott, who works for the Pulaski County Special School District, at least until he’s elected mayor, said, “I’m very sad with the discourse going on. I’m saddened to see so much disagreement between staff and administrators and parents.

“Schools are the number one priority for us in Jacksonville, and I will be heavily involved in doing what it takes to improve our schools and to get our own district.”

In the May 12 special election to replace the retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim, Fletcher received 952 votes, or 39 percent, and Elliott received 789 votes, or 32 percent.

Elliott, 56, is a native of Jacksonville and has been an alderman since 1996 and is the coordinator of energy management for the PCSSD. He is married and has one daughter, twin sons and two granddaughters.

Fletcher, 54, has been a resident of Jacksonville since 1968 and has been on the council since 1978 and is president of Fletcher Homes, a residential homebuilding company. He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

EDITORIAL >> Has anybody seen Vasquez?

The Pulaski County Special School District, with the complicity of board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville, has permanently closed Jacksonville Middle School for Girls and, starting in August, will send its students to what will be the city’s only middle school. It’s a sad loss for the city’s struggling education system.

Girls’ school principal Kim Forrest, who was scheduled to lead the consolidated middle school, spoke out against the plan. She recognized that the change was too fast, too soon and that the price for failure would ultimately be paid by students. She was quickly reassigned to Northwood Middle School, in what appears to be payback for expressing her honest and professional opinion.

Boys’ school principal Mike Nellums, a much-admired principal who also opposed combining the schools, has been reassigned to Joe T. Robinson Middle School, apparently another petty and vindictive action by the PCSSD board.

No longer are just administrators speaking out. At the Jacksonville Boys Middle School graduation ceremony last week, students, parents and teachers spoke highly of Nellums and were unhappy that the school was losing him.

They voiced their concerns about the haphazard and thoughtless manner in which PCSSD has proceeded with its plan. All were concerned with classrooms becoming overcrowded when the two schools are combined, which they expect will lead to behavioral and disciplinary problems. Others mentioned the disarray that the administrative turnovers will create at the schools.

But Bill Vasquez has ignored those concerns. It was his motion at the board meeting that combined the schools, but he has gone missing in the debate about whether it was wise to do that. He has been conveniently unavailable to explain his support for consolidating the schools, failing to answer or return several calls from elected officials and this newspaper.

Jacksonville business leaders working toward a standalone school district have long complained that Vasquez ducks their calls.

He apparently feels that his allegiance is to the PCSSD board and PACT, the teachers union, not to Jacksonville residents. His explanation is long overdue. It’s time for him to come out of hiding.

What will Jacksonville gain by radically transforming its middle schools? Why were Forrest and Nellums moved out of town?

Were their professional views threatening to teachers and administrators who hate new ideas and innovation?

It is difficult to believe that Vasquez, a Jacksonville resident, voted for shutting down a school in a city that has not built a new one in 30 years.

Except for Vasquez, the single-gender schools might well have been left for the eventual Jacksonville-area district board to decide. The city deserves an open, honest debate about its schools. It also deserves a board member who will be available to discuss its most pressing issues.

As a broker for Jacksonville’s educational interests, Vasquez has accomplished little. Jacksonville has not only lost a school but is without a responsible board member. What a shame.

Next year, the students at the restructured middle school will look out the window and see the old girls’ school with its boarded windows and ask themselves why their classrooms are so crowded. They might call their school board representative, but they shouldn’t expect to hear back from him anytime soon.

EDITORIAL >> Jacksonville picks mayor on Tuesday

Jacksonville voters on Tuesday will choose a new mayor for the first time in nearly 23 years. There’s a great deal of anticipation about the outcome of this important contest as two longtime aldermen, Gary Fletcher and Kenny Elliott, head for the finish line.

They were the top vote-getters in the May 12 special election — Fletcher with 952 votes, and Elliott with 789 votes. Early voting this week has been steady, with some 200 people casting early ballots each day at city hall and a handful in Little Rock.

Fletcher and Elliott are both formidable candidates, having come out on top in a crowded field of four other candidates. Fletcher has the endorsement of realtor Beckie Brooks, who finished fourth, while Elliott has won the endorsement of Randy (Doc) Rhodd, who came in last with 16 votes.

The race could go either way. Just 183 votes separated the top two candidates in the first round, so it could be a close race next week. A few dozen votes might decide the outcome.

Voters should decide who will do the best job for the city, who will work the hardest to save the schools and the hospital, reduce crime, keep the special interests at arm’s length, encourage open government, discourage the flight of the middle class, maintain good relations with the air base and protect the environment by obeying anti-pollution laws. The list is long, but worthy goals for the city’s next mayor.

You can still go to the polls even if you didn’t vote in the May election. You can make a difference, especially in a close race. See you at the polls.

SPORTS >> Senior Bruins rally to beat Gwatney

Leader sportswriter

A junior-senior legion sweep was not meant to be for Gwatney Chevrolet on Wednesday at Kevin McReynolds Field. The junior Chevy Boys pulled off a win under bizarre circumstances to start the evening, and their senior counterparts appeared to be well on their way to a win with a 4-1 lead through three innings. But the Optimist Bruins clawed their way back to claim an 11-9 win over Jacksonville.

The dramatic comeback almost turned out to be for naught when a tiring Nathan Eller struggled to put the Chevy Boys away in the top of the seventh. Eller quickly came on in relief of SH starting pitcher Jordan Spears, who walked six of the seven batters he faced in the top of the first inning.

Those walks added up to three Jacksonville runs in the first inning, all off passed balls at the plate. Spears’ retirement at the mound allowed him to assume duties behind the plate to control that problem, and Eller began to mow the Gwatney batters down for the most part until the top of the sixth inning.

In that time, the Bruins slowly pulled themselves back in the game, aided by a two-run single by Gino Jamerson in the bottom of the fifth that tied the game at 4-4.

Jacksonville reclaimed the lead in the top of the sixth with a Patrick Castleberry double off the centerfield wall to score Terrell Brown. But it was short lived.

The Bruins scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth. Jacksonville starting pitcher Clayton Fenton had done solid work through five innings, but fatigue began to set in during the sixth.

He gave up singles to Corey Arnold and Michael Lock to start the frame, and pinch hitter Trey Sims brought both in with a three-run home run over the left field wall to give Sylvan Hills its first lead at 7-5. That put starting centerfielder Tyler Wisdom on the mound for Gwatney.

Casey Cerrato doubled down the third-base line, Ty Van Schoyck walked and Hunter Miller was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.

A walk to cleanup Jamerson made it 8-5, while Spears was hit by a pitch to force in the next score. Eller’s sacrifice fly allowed Miller to tag up and give the Bruins a 10-5 lead. Brown took over at the mound for Gwatney, and finally stopped the bleeding after giving up a walk to Michael Maddox to load the bases again, and hitting Sims with a pitch for the final SH score.

Eller got three of his 14 strikeouts in the top of the seventh, but not before the Chevy Boys got him for two hits and three walks, including a two-run single by Jason Regnas that followed a bases-loaded walk to Brown. Brown scored the final Jacksonville run off a single to right by Castleberry.

Arnold was 3 of 4 for Sylvan Hills with an RBI, while Jamerson was 2 of 3 with a double and three RBI. Van Schoyck was 2 of 2 with a home run in the first inning. For Gwatney, Castleberry was 2 of 4 with a double and an RBI. Jacksonville, despite leading most of the game, did not have a base hit until the top of the sixth inning.

SPORTS >> Rationalizations and shortcuts not answer for Daly

Leader sports editor

I’ve written this column before. In fact, this must be about the 10th incarnation of it.

It is just the latest stop in the ongoing saga known as The John Daly Re-resurrection Tour.

When we last stumbled across the immensely talented, immensely troubled Arkansas native, Daly was passed out outside a Hooter’s restaurant in North Carolina. That seems about right for John: Bad food, lots of booze and plenty of women with whom he might begin another bound-for-destruction relationship.

Daly, of course, maintained that the ‘incident’ was no incident, claiming merely that he had dozed off. And he’s right in a way.

In Daly’s World, passing out publicly at a Hooter’s barely registers a blip. After all, this is the guy whose implosions would make a demolition crew blush, who seemingly has been divorced more times than he’s been married, whose two amazing, improbable major victories are somehow eclipsed by his even more spectacular on-course misdeeds.

Listing all of the unseemly incidents Daly’s been involved in since his stunning emergence onto the golf scene with his PGA win in 1991 would use up all the space available on this page. Besides, everyone knows them. A quick summation, though, includes public drunkenness, domestic assault, alcohol rehabilitation stints, gambling debts, more drinking, divorces, separations, more divorces, hitting balls off beer cans at PGA tournaments, hitting the golf ball while it was still rolling, disqualifications, lightening quick final rounds that he was clearly just mailing in, talk of suicide, weight gains, shaking and crying during a tournament, lost endorsements, PGA Tour bans, missed cut after missed cut, near bankruptcy and more.

There must be an entire country and western album in that list.

Daly has re-emerged again of late. I saw him last week in an interview following the second round of the BMW Championship in England. Daly is currently suspended from the PGA Tour for the second time in his career. What I heard was encouraging.

He seemed earnest about his game, seemed focused, seemed to actually care.

His final two rounds were 77-75 and he finished 25 strokes off the pace. Poor finishes (Daly shot 73-71 the first two rounds) raise red flags. Daly is notorious for starting strong and, after enduring a hardship or two on the weekend, barely finishing the tournament.

Yet, that didn’t appear to be the case last weekend. You want to hope that Daly can finally get it together. You want to pull for him. He seems to be, after all, a decent fellow with a big heart.

But it’s time for him to grow up and face a few hard facts.

His comments in an Associated Press story earlier this week do not seem encouraging. Though the PGA doesn’t ever officially announce that a player has been suspended, it appears that the suspension has been lifted. Not everyone gets three chances and it would behoove Daly to seize this latest one.

But Daly responded to the lifting of the ban by suggesting he didn’t deserve it in the first place. This is the same mindset that allows him to rationalize his alcoholism and his other excesses.

In the story, Daly’s agent expressed cautious optimism that Big John had maybe turned the corner.

But it’s pretty clear he still doesn’t get it. The same story went on to say that Daly, who is undeniably an alcoholic, continues to drink. Pathetically and revealingly, Daly says he is not drinking as much and merely sipping rather than gulping his cocktails.

Controlled drinking is most assuredly not the solution for Daly if only for the obvious reason that alcoholics can’t control drink. Inevitably, those sips will become swallows and those swallows will once again become gulps and Daly will be found wallowing in another pool of his own self-destruction.

Short cuts are not the answer to Daly’s problems; maturity is. Just as his sipping booze demonstrates he isn’t there yet, his choice of lap band surgery to lose weight reveals him unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to get his game and his life together.

His agent said Daly “is not taking as many short cuts” as he has in the past, but what is lap band surgery if not a short cut, an unwillingness to curb one’s appetites and, once and for all, become an adult?

Here’s keeping our fingers crossed that somehow, some way, Daly will discover the path to success and happiness, or at least just a little peace.

On the course as in his life, he might find it wise to lay up once in a while. It may not be the most thrilling choice, but it might just put him in position to land safely on the green.

SPORTS >> Celsor upholds Searcy tradition at heptathlon

Leader sportswriter

The changing of the guard officially took place at the finish line of the 800 meters race on Thursday afternoon.

That’s where Searcy’s Kristen Celsor wrapped up the heptathlon, avenging last year’s second-place finish to defending champion Jasmine Ellis. In the process, the Lady Lion junior emerged from the shadow of former teammate Whitney Jones, winner of the event in 2006 and 2007.

“It’s amazing. I mean, it’s a relief that it’s finally over, and I’m just in shock that I actually won,” said Celsor. “It was an awesome deal.”

Celsor was already ahead by 340 points heading into the 800 meters, giving her a 25-second cushion. She completed her run well in front of Ellis after the Scrapperette senior quickly lost pace on the first of two circuits around Panther Stadium.

Family, coaches and local media all awaited Celsor’s jubilant finish, while Ellis, who was runner-up, doubled over and began to sob just beyond the finish line.

Celsor put herself in great position on Day 1 on Wednesday with personal bests in all four events, and closed the deal the following day with an overall win in the high jump at five feet, four inches, just an inch off her personal best. She then held on with a 29-5 toss in the shot put to send her into the 800 with 4,643 points.

She ended with 5,468 points, becoming the first winner in four years to break the 5,000-point mark. Her total made her the seventh-highest scorer in the 13-year history of the heptathlon.

There was one tense moment to start the second day when Celsor’s backside nudged the bar during her first high jump attempt at 4 feet, 10 inches. Thebar wavered but did not fall, and she went on to best Ellis by three inches and extend an already-comfortable cushion.

Celsor is not known for long-distance running, but ended the meet the same way she started – posting another personal best in the 800-meters with a time of 2:33.74. It was her sixth personal best in the competition. She failed only to better her high jump mark of 5-5.

“Before I came, I set a goal for myself to best everything I did last year,” said Celsor. “So it really didn’t matter (where Ellis was in the 800) at that point, I just wanted to beat myself. I’m always going to worry about the competition, but it’s more about pushing myself than it is anything else.”

Her weakest event, the shot put, still resulted in a top 10 finish just a foot and one inch behind Ellis, who gained only 52 points on Celsor.

“It really didn’t go as far as I wanted it to, but it’s a heavy little ball,” Celsor said. “It was okay. It was better than last year, but not much.”

Celsor catapulted herself into prime position to win the event when she surprised everyone, including herself, with a discus toss of 102 feet on Wednesday, almost 20 feet better than her previous best. Although she ran another personal best in the 200-meter dash with a 26.64, Ellis’ event-winning time of 26.04 gave her the nod, and 120 valuable points more than Celsor.

Ellis also claimed the overall win in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 15.28 to gain 73 points on Celsor, who ran a 16.01.

Celsor made those points up and then some with a 17-2 performance in the long jump, which gave her 840 points to Ellis’ 720. Celsor closed out the first day with 3,291 points, with Ellis chasing her at 3,004 points and high-profile Fayetteville senior Caroline McCombs in third with 2,917 points.

With Ceslor’s win, Searcy became the first school to boast more than one champion in the event.

“Last year, she was down by about 270 after Day 1,” said Searcy track coach Charlie Carroll. “This year, she went up 270. So she felt real good about that. She was real nervous in the high jump, because that’s her main event, and she wants to perform well in it. But once she got that out of the way, she felt really good about it, because she knew she could run with the girls in the 800.”

With Celsor returning next year as a favorite to repeat, Carroll said the growing tradition in his program is all right with him.

“Every coach hopes for something like that,” said Carroll. “Whitney won it two years, Kristen was runner-up last year, and knock on wood, maybe she can come back and win it again next year. I would love it. It would be a nice thing for Searcy girls track.”

Among other local entries, Lonoke juniors Ashleigh Himstedt and Asiah Scribner finished 20th and 26th place, respectively.

Scribner earned an overall win in the shot put with a 34-3 mark. Himstedt finished with 3,480 points, while Scribner tallied 3,267 points.

The biggest local surprise of the event may have been Cabot sophomore Ariel Voskamp, who finished a strong 12th in her first attempt at the heptathlon. Voskamp also finished with over 500 points in every event except discus and shot put, with especially strong showings in the 100-meter high hurdles to start Day 1 and a time of 2:43.34 in the 800 meters to earn a final tally of 3,860 points. Voskamp sat in 11th place after the first day before giving way to Mansfield junior Cheyenne Derr.

“It was a great opportunity,” said Voskamp. “And a pretty big accomplishment for me to be able to be a part of this as a sophomore, and to actually do well. It was really fun and exciting. The first day, I was just really excited. The second day, I was still excited, just a little nervous about the 800.”

Voskamp, who had not participated in the 800 meters since the seventh grade, put her nerves to rest with a competitive 2:43.34 in the event. She also had a strong 4-9 in the high jump, another event she had rarely competed in.

“I feel like I did well in the high jump,” said Voskamp. “I’ve never really done it much before, but I feel like I did the best in the high jump. And the 800 was also a big accomplishment for me. I haven’t been able to be conditioned for that at all.”

Cabot senior Marissa De La Paz ended up 40th overall, but finished her high-school career on a strong note by winning her flight in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:33.84, good for fourth overall.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TOP STORY >> Early runoff voting starts

Leader staff writer

Early voting has started in Jacksonville’s runoff election for mayor, with 196 ballots cast Tuesday.

The candidates are Alderman Gary Fletcher and Alderman Kenny Elliott, survivors of the six-way primary on May 12.

Election Day is Tuesday, starting at 7:30 a.m., but residents may cast their votes early at either Jacksonville City Hall or the Pulaski County Regional Building.

Of the four candidates who lost in the primary, one is backing Elliott, one is backing Fletcher and two are remaining neutral.

Realtor Beckie Brooks, who was fifth in the primary is backing Fletcher, the top vote-getter. “I think he’s the best hope for some of the changes that I would like to see,” she said.

She said both candidates have been running strong campaigns and that, at this point in the game, there were no campaign suggestions she could offer either one.

Randy “Doc” Rhodd, president of a local motorcycle ministry and who came in last, said he is backing Elliott, who was second.

“He has what it takes to lead the city in the right direction,” Rhodd insisted.

He also suggested that both candidates, regardless of the outcome, work hand-in-hand to do what’s best for the city.

Developer Tommy Dupree, who came in fourth in the primary, said he has told both candidates that he will remain neutral. “In my business I can’t take sides,” he said.
Dupree then quipped, “I’ve got enough problems dealing with the planning commission. I don’t need either one of them mad at me.”

He will vote for one, but it will stay a private matter.

Farm Bureau manager Jody Urquhart, who came in third, is also staying neutral. “It’s just something I feel I need to do,” he said, adding, “I’m looking forward to getting a good mayor out of this race.”

Urquhart wants both candidates to continue to run their race, but says that whoever is elected needs to “come out swinging on education.”

“The new mayor needs to be the mayor of education,” he said. “Improving our schools is the missing key to us changing our path. We have a lot going for us, but the major detriment is the schools.”

Early voting at the Pulaski County Regional Building, 501 W. Markham, Little Rock, goes through Monday (excluding the weekend) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Early voting may also continues at Jacksonville City Hall through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Election Day voting will be from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at these locations:

– Precinct 27 at McArthur Assembly of God Church, 3501 John Hardin Dr.

– Precinct 29 at Jacksonville Community Center, 5 Municipal Dr.

– Precinct 30 at Jacksonville Community Center.

– Precinct 32 at Jacksonville Community Center.

– Precinct 33 at Jacksonville Community Center.

– Precinct 34 at St. Jude’s Catholic Church, 2403 McArthur Dr.

– Precinct 35 at Chapel Hill Baptist Church, 1409 Madden Rd.

– Precinct 36 at First Baptist Church, 401 N. First St.

– Precinct 37 at First Presbyterian Church, 1208 Main St.

– Precinct 38 at Jacksonville Boys & Girls Club, 1 Boys Club Dr.

– Precinct 44 at Jacksonville Community Center.

– Precinct 45 at Jacksonville Boys & Girls Club.

– Precinct 46 at Berea Baptist Church, 104 East Valentine.

– Precinct 47 at Berea Baptist Church.

– Precinct 48 at Berea Baptist Church.

For Absentee Ballot information or voter registration questions, call the Pulaski County Clerk’s Office at 340-8683.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood to reopen golf links

Leader staff writer

“I think we now have a golf course,” said Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman after the city council voted Tuesday 6-1 to spend $300,000 from the general fund to start reconstructing the 105-acre North Hills Golf Course.

The council also approved spending another $104,000 to hire a golf course superintendent, a full-time general laborer and two part-time golf course laborers.

Alderman Butch Davis was the only one on the council to vote against the golf course. But once that ordinance passed, he quickly recommended passage of the ordinance to hire the needed people. “Since we are going to have this golf course, let’s get a good superintendent,” he said.

In explaining his opposition, Davis made it clear that the property should become a golf course, but he felt the city needed to take care of other issues and save some money first. “There are a lot of things we need. Let’s take care of the work before the play,” Davis said.

Alderman Becki Vassar, who has been accused of wanting the golf course because it’s in her backyard, said the issue went further than that. “It’s mine, yours and all of Sherwood’s.”

She said the golf course has been researched and discussed for the last two years. Vassar said, “It’s been debated more than anything else in my 30 years on the council. It has gone through three mayors, two councils, numerous workshops, two lawsuits, two public hearings, feasibility studies” and it all comes out that this is what’s best.

“We need to recognize that this green space has been the nucleus of our city since 1926, and this is an opportunity to make it the finest municipal golf course in the state,” Vassar said.

She added that reconstruction would take time.

“With limited funds and no tax increase we must be frugal, but we might be back to ask for more money,” Vassar added.

TOP STORY >> O’Brien is entering state race

Leader senior staff writer

Having cleaned up Pulaski County’s storied election mess and made his office one of the most computer-accessible in the state, Pulaski County Circuit/County Clerk Pat O’Brien will announce today that he will run for Arkansas secretary of state in the Democratic primary in May 2010.

Charlie Daniels, the current secretary of state, is term limited.

Raised in Jacksonville, O’Brien began accepting campaign contributions in April, collecting more than $100,000 and a lot of goodwill in Pulaski County.

“I have fulfilled my promise to clean up the Pulaski County clerk’s office,” said O’Brien. “Now I want to take those skills and make the secretary of state’s office a leader in election reform and streamlined business services on a regional level.”

Not only did he straighten up the election registration problems as county clerk, as circuit clerk he put civil and criminal documents online where they could be searched by anyone with Internet access.

O’Brien was elected to his current position in 2004 and inherited an office under the cloud of grand jury investigations and federal consent decrees.

Within two years, the problems that crippled the office had been resolved. He was re-elected without opposition in 2006 and 2008.

He said the key to restoring stability and confidence in the clerk’s office was simply “using common sense, hard work and the latest technology.”

O’Brien has lived in Jacksonville since the age of three.

O’Brien, an attorney, served one term as the Jacksonville representative on the Pulaski County Special School District Board. He did not run for re-election in 2003.

He was also chief of staff for the 22nd Judicial District’s prosecuting attorney’s office in 2003.

TOP STORY >> Cabot schools in top 200

Leader editor

Eight Cabot schools were recently recognized for implementing changes to their technology programs when compared to other schools nationally. The Washington-based research project, Speak Up, surveys students, parents, teachers and administrators to find out how schools can improve especially in the area of technology.

Out of 200 schools chosen, Eastside, Magness Creek, Northside, Southside, Stagecoach, Ward Central and Westside Elementary Schools and Cabot Middle School South were recognized. They are the only schools in Arkansas to be named Speak Up Top 200 schools.

“We must prepare students for the 21st century by allowing them to have a voice in educational issues affecting them,” Holly Blythe, technology specialist for the district, said.

This year, more than 1.5 million people across the country participated in the surveys. Every year, the top 200 schools that participate in Speak Up are selected based on total student participation, length of time involved with Speak Up and use of data in local decision-making.

Blythe coordinated the program and completed the nomination process for each of the schools selected.

This was the second straight year for Cabot Middle School South, Ward Central Elementary and Westside Elementary School to win recognition.

“We must learn how to incorporate technology into the classroom in everyday teaching so that we can prepare students for 21st century learning,” Blythe said. Teachers were also asked for input about adding technology to their classrooms.

“The professional development for teachers in the fall will reflect what needs the teachers feel are most important so they can more effectively incorporate technology into their everyday teaching,” Blythe said.

Speak Up is facilitated by Project Tomorrow. The group collects and reports unfiltered feedback from students, parents and teachers on key educational issues through a confidential survey that is accessible to anyone through their Web site.

Surveys are separated into grade levels to meet students’ comprehension levels.

Across the country, project participants included 281,150 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, 29,644 teachers, 21,309 parents and 3,115 administrators.

Each survey contains 15 to 25 questions, with one or two open-ended responses.

The surveys are open to every public and private school and district in the country and on military bases around the world.

TOP STORY >> Chrysler, GM have obligation to preserve jobs

Leader editor-in-chief

If General Motors and Chrysler go through with plans to close 40 percent of their dealerships, 187,000 jobs will disappear — which is more than the number of people Chrysler and GM employ at their plants.

Members of Congress who voted for billions of dollars in bailouts for the automakers think they owe the taxpayers something in return: Saving as many jobs as possible. The U.S. government will own 70 percent of GM, so more plants and dealerships could remain in business.

These politicians have heard from their constituents — the people who own the dealerships, but also the salesmen and mechanics who work there — and they want to put pressure on the carmakers to reconsider closing hundreds of dealerships.

If General Motors and Chrysler can accept billions of dollars in federal bailout money, shouldn’t they preserve jobs for American workers?

Chrysler, which has accepted $5.8 billion in bailout money, will close 800 dealers in June. GM, which has taken $20 billion in federal aid, will let 1,100 dealers stay open until October 2010 before their franchises are terminated.

A bankruptcy court hearing next week could determine if Chrysler can shut all the dealerships it wants gone.

Larry Crain Jr., who owns a chain of car dealerships in central Arkansas, filed an injunction Friday to keep the Crain Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep store on University Avenue open.

Chrysler notified Crain and Cook Jeep in Little Rock on May 8 that they would lose their franchises. (General Motors says it will close Gwatney Pontiac Buick-GMC in west Little Rock, but Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville and Gwatney Pontiac Buick-GMC in Sherwood will stay open.)

Crain says it makes no sense for Chrysler to shut down his store when his dealership has met the company’s sales goals and it even offered to build a new dealership in southwest Little Rock.

“If we’re given due process,” Crain said, “we’d be confident we’d prevail. They have no right to terminate our agreement.”

He cites state antitrust laws that protect Arkansas dealers from losing their franchises on short notice.

Crain says his dealership has exceeded sales goals and done everything Chrysler has asked. “We were doing well,” he insists.

Despite slower sales everywhere, he says his other dealerships are also doing well, including Crain Ford in Jacksonville and west Little Rock, Crain Hyundai in Sherwood, Crain Hyundai-Mazda in Little Rock, Crain Mitsubishi and Kia in Sherwood, Crain Chevrolet in Little Rock and Crain Pontiac-Buick-GMC in Conway.

Chrysler won’t give back the $5.8 billion it “borrowed” from taxpayers, so shouldn’t the company at least keep its profitable dealerships open and thousands of people working, selling and servicing cars and circulating their income around the community?

Nearly 2,000 dealers are scheduled to close — 789 Chrysler franchises as soon as June 9 — as part of a restructuring plan by the struggling automakers to stay afloat.

Congress will soon hold hearings to find a way to help some of the endangered car dealers stay open.

But even before Chrysler went into bankruptcy (General Motors will file Monday), a third of Arkansas dealers closed their doors this decade, costing 2,500 people their jobs. The state is now down to 262 dealers, and that number could drop significantly if domestic carmakers continue to falter.

The Committee of Chrysler Affected Dealers says the group has bought more cars in recent years to help Chrysler and made improvements the company had demanded.

According to the committee, “Chrysler’s proposed asset sale and request for immediate termination of the dealer franchises will destroy several hundred independent businesses, ruin the livelihoods of their owners, cause the loss of thousands of jobs and precipitate inevitable personal and business bankruptcies.”

The politicians have taken note of the alarming number of car dealers who are going out of business and the thousands of jobs that will go with them. They could pressure the automakers to keep many of their unwanted dealerships.

The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), wants to find out if some of those dealers deserve a chance to stay in business.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, has also voiced support for the dealers, who could be stuck with millions of dollars in inventory if they go out of business in a couple of weeks.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is also supportive of the dealers, so maybe there’s a boomlet favoring the endangered dealers.

Some of them could win a reprieve. Crain hopes his Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealership will be among them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Delusions of grandeur

An institution, like an individual, can lose the way by nursing too much ambition. In the case of the University of Central Arkansas and its downfallen president, Lu Hardin, they are one and the same. Hardin’s overweening pursuit of grandeur has cost the good institution dearly.

That was evident one more time in the revelations in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette over the weekend that the school had doctored the books for three years to hide the heavy subsidies it was making to enhance the glory of its athletic teams. The university’s real mission, education, suffered in the balance.

But the university’s explanation is that spending lots more on the athletic program than the state allowed was supposed to enhance education by raising the school’s prestige and attracting more students who love athletics even if they don’t play. Enlarging the student body was Lu Hardin’s singular goal as president.

Debra Hale Shelton, who has marked the sparrow’s fall at UCA for nine months, reported in the Democrat Gazette that the school transferred money each year from other programs at the university to supplement the salaries of the coaches. The state some years ago established a ceiling on the general funds that the state universities could transfer to the athletic program to try to restrain the impulse of university administrators to aggrandize the sports teams at the expense of education.

Hardin wanted his school to play in NCAA Division IAA, right below the stratosphere in which the Arkansas Razorbacks play.

That means, for one thing, that you hire more coaches and pay them more. To give an assistant coach more money, the university might slip him a few thousand dollars more a year from the admissions office budget. The justification was that when the coach was recruiting a linebacker from Tyler, Texas, the youngster’s girlfriend and perhaps a few pals might follow him to UCA, so the coach was doing invaluable work for the academic side of the school. Other transfers to sports were from institutional advancement, physical plant, academic outreach and Web development. The bookkeeping legerdemain allowed the school to skirt the state’s limit on transfers from education to academic, which is about $1.1 million a year.

Jim Purcell, the director of the state Department of Higher Education, identified the problem. “Funding an athletic program with the aid of a convoluted series of questionable accounting procedures does not illustrate that a university can afford its athletic program,” he said.

But Hardin, like the administrators of other schools that have stretched their assets to get into the most prestigious sports circle, always insisted that the recognition of Division I status was good for the whole academic mission. The greater revenue from playing bigger teams before bigger crowds with bigger payouts would more than offset the higher costs of salaries, stadiums, travel and scholarships.

It does not work that way, a study by the NCAA showed. It examined the history of eight schools that moved from Division II to Division IAA between 1993 and 2003, and 11 that moved to Division I. The athletic programs all lost money before the move.

They lost far more afterward. The schools’ athletic revenues grew after the promotion, but expenses grew far more. UCA’s experience will fit the template.

Now the university’s prestige and its fiscal condition are in the dumps. The delusions of athletic grandeur bear only part of the blame, but they are a part.

SPORTS >> Celsor’s spring has raised expectations

Leader sportswriter

The last thing Kristen Celsor wants to hear is how well she should do in this week’s heptathlon.

The Searcy junior is fresh off a win in the high jump at the Meet of Champs at Lake Hamilton last Tuesday, and is in preparation for the heptathlon at Cabot today and Thursday. As a sophomore last year, she finished second to Nashville’s Jasmine Ellis, but still wishes she could slip in under the radar once again in 2009.

“Expectations make me really nervous, so I hope I meet them,” said Celsor, who is also a two-year starter for the Lady Lions basketball team, and plans on being one of the first starters for a new Searcy volleyball team that will take to the court for the first time in the fall. “It’s not that I don’t like high expectations. It just adds more pressure. But it pushes me, because I want to meet everyone’s expectations.”

Celsor has come a long way in the limited time she has had this spring. A playoff run for the Lady Lions basketball team made for a late start in track, and an unusually high number of rainouts made the Meet of Champs only the fifth meet she has participated in this year.

She qualified for the Meet of Champs with wins in the 300-meter hurdles and high jump at the 6A state track meet two weeks ago. Her performance helped lead the Lady Lions to a seventh-place overall finish in the meet.

She jumped 5 feet, 4 inches to win the 6A meet, and improved to a 5-5 to earn first place at the Meet of Champs. Her winning time in the 300-meter hurdles at state was 46.13, which she improved to a 45.74 at the Meet of Champs, just half-a-second behind winner Kiara Vinson of North Little Rock.

“I was really hoping it would turn out like it did,” said Celsor. “But I was nervous because a lot of the girls jumped really high and ran really fast, so there was competition.”

Celsor, 17, is the youngest of Steve and Pam Celsor’s three children. Steve, a native of the St. Louis, Mo., area, was a track star at Harding University in the 80s, when he and Pam met. The two have lived in the area ever since. Though Kristen remains true to her first sport of basketball, she certainly doesn’t mind carrying on the family tradition on the asphalt.

“I love all sports, but basketball is probably my favorite sport,” said Celsor. “Track is a great way to stay in shape. My dad was a high jumper, so I guess I’m just following in his footsteps.”

New Searcy assistant track coach Tony McCoy has been around tracks at high schools in Arkansas for well over a decade. With his new job this year as a track and football coach in the Lions athletic program, McCoy said he was quickly sold on Celsor’s abilities.

“She’s been super to work with,” said McCoy. “She’s one of the most talented female athletes around — White County, even the whole state. You can tell. She’s a top basketball player, and what she did at (the Meet of Champs) showed that she’s one of the best.

“I’ve been working with her the last couple of months. I’m still getting to know her, and she’s a wonderful kid. I’ve been talking to other coaches and some of the teachers that have had her, and they love her to death.”

Standout female track athletes are nothing new at Searcy. Current University of Arkansas freshman long jumper Whitney Jones dazzled the state three years ago when she won the heptathlon as a sophomore, and went on to dominate girls track in the state the following year before a persistent hamstring injury sidelined her at the event her senior year.

The void Jones left at last year’s heptathlon was quickly filled by Celsor, which seems fitting given the influence Jones had on Celsor’s running.

“Whitney had the most positive attitude, and she is an amazing runner,” said Celsor. “So to even be at the same school running with her, she was a great motivation for me to do my best.”

Celsor also got to see the hype that surrounds a high-profile athlete early on. Jones stayed almost as busy at most meets giving interviews to state and local media as she did preparing for her events, something that did not go unnoticed by an up-and-coming Celsor.

“Watching her and how she dealt with it, I was just hoping I could do an interview as well as she could if I ever got to that point,” said Celsor with a giggle. “I haven’t gotten much better at it, either.”

Confidence and expectation may not be two of Celsor’s favorite terms when it comes to discussing the upcoming heptathlon. She prefers the word ‘hope.’

“I’m definitely going to push myself to do the best I can,” she said. “And I wouldn’t say ‘confident’, but I’m just hoping that I do as well as I did last year.”

SPORTS >> Gwatney wins one, loses one to open Legion campaign

Leader sports editor

Gwatney Chevrolet’s junior American Legion team got mixed results during the rain-shortened Vince DeSalvo Memorial Day Classic at Burns Park last weekend.

Gwatney opened with a 12-3 breeze past Bee Branch on Friday before falling 10-7 to Texarkana on Saturday afternoon.

The tournament, which begins with pool play among four four-team brackets before finishing with bracket play, was washed out after Sunday’s rains.

Twice against Texarkana, Gwatney enjoyed two-run leads. But Texarkana erupted for seven runs in the third to surge to a 9-4 advantage. Gwatney’s final-inning rally, when it scored three runs, ended on a strikeout with the tying run at the plate.
Jacob Abrahamson and Devon McClure reached on errors to open the bottom of the first inning after Gwatney starter Michael Lamb had set down the side in order in the top half.

Chris McClendon’s ground out scored Abrahamson and Jesse Harbin delivered McClure with a sharp two-out single.

Three Texarkana hits tied it in the second, but Gwatney came back with two runs on no hits in the bottom of the inning. Orlando Roberts was hit with a pitch and Zach Taylor was safe on a fielder’s choice. Lamb sent a liner into left field that was dropped and Roberts and Taylor came around to score when the ball rolled to the fence as Gwatney took a 4-2 lead.

But two walks, three singles, a double and two Gwatney errors produced seven Texarkana runs in the third. McClure came on in relief in the inning and pitched three solid innings, allowing three hits and one earned run.

Gwatney wasted a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity in the third, but started the fifth and final inning strong. Patrick Castleberry singled, McClendon doubled and Harbin grounded an RBI single to right. McClendon scored on a passed ball and Harbin came home on a wild pitch to make it 10-7.

Taylor doubled with two outs and Alex Tucker was hit with a pitch. But a strikeout ended the contest.

Lamb took the loss, allowing six hits and seven earned runs in two-plus innings. Despite the two errors in the third, Gwatney played fairly solid defense. Abrahamson at short flawlessly handled all six of his chances. Taylor in center field made a perfect throw to third base to nail a runner trying to advance on a fly ball.

Gwatney finished with five hits — four in the fifth inning. Harbin had two RBI singles.


Kenny Cummings mercifully brought Gwatney’s tourney-opening game to an end with a two-run single in the fifth inning. Gwatney scored its 13 runs on just five hits, taking advantage of five hit batters, six walks and three Bee Branch errors.

Gwatney scored two in the first and five in the second. Orlando Roberts had an RBI double and Castleberry an RBI infield single in a three-run third.

Castleberry and Taylor combined for a five-inning no-hitter. Castleberry walked three and hit one, but struck out eight over 3 1/3 innings. Taylor went the final 1 2/3 and fanned three.

SPORTS >> Red Devils enjoying large spring turnout

Leader sports editor

Last season’s inexperience may be this year’s advantage at Jacksonville High.

Spring practice got under way last week, and though the Red Devils lost loads of skill players on both sides of the ball, greater numbers may help to offset that.

Sixty-eight players came out this spring, up significantly from previous years in head coach Mark Whatley’s four-year reign at Jacksonville.

“If they continue to stay eligible,” Whatley warns. “We preach (grades) and preach it and preach it. They are student athletes, not athlete students. Hopefully, if you stress that enough, they’ll be okay.

“But when you have your numbers up you definitely have an opportunity to become a better football team on the practice field and on Friday night, as long as people are committed to their roles.”

Whereas last year, the Red Devils packed lots of offensive punch and struggled on defense with as many as six sophomore starters, this year may be the opposite. Whatley figures his Red Devils paid their dues last fall by starting so many inexperienced players on defense.

“We should be better simply from an experience standpoint,” Whatley said. “But you’re losing Demetrius and Terrell out of the backfield.”

That would be Demetrius Harris, last fall’s Leader Defensive Player of the Year, and Terrell Brown, a superb athlete and skilled defensive back. Also gone is linebacker Jeffrey Tillman.

But with the six sophomores having a year of experience under their belts and with the possibility that a lot of players will have to play on only one side of the ball this year, the defense could be this team’s strength. Through the first week of practice, Whatley said he likes what he’s seen. Players are running to the football well and showing plenty of enthusiasm.

The Red Devils lost a good one in long-time defensive coordinator Rick Russell, who left to take the head coaching job at North Pulaski.

The offense, on the other hand, has plenty of question marks, with only junior quarterback Logan Perry returning with any significant contributions among skill players. The loss of Harris and Brown was a blow to the offense as well as the defense. Harris, a 6-6 wide receiver, was often unstoppable and began to draw double teams after early standout performances. That opened things up for Brown, who had an outstanding second half of the season on offense.

Then, there was dangerous running back Patrick Geans and mammoth offensive lineman Micaiah Davis, also lost to graduation.

“No doubt about it, we’ve got to find some skill players who can step in and make some plays for us,” Whatley said. “Geans went over 1,000 yards last year, Demetrius was a big-time receiver, Micaiah was a big-time tackle. That’s a lot of points we lost.”
Despite the loss of Davis, Whatley thinks the line could be better this season. Caleb Mitchell and center Jacob Hicks return up front. Whatley said Aaron Shore and Rhakeem James are showing promise on the line, as well. One thing he wants to focus on is the running game.

“The more the line picks up the Spread, we might go to more offset-I stuff under center,” Whatley said. “We’ve got to do a better job of running the football, but I think the people up front are going to allow us to do that.”

Whatley also said Perry, who was a heady-beyond-his-years sophomore, has improved his arm strength tremendously. That, he said, will allow the Red Devils to play the quick-passing game more effectively, as well as to stretch the field more. Whatley said he’s also planning on taking better advantage of Perry’s running ability.

The only experienced returning receiver is Devin Featherstone, but Whatley is counting on other skilled, if unproven, players stepping up, including Tony Privitera, Tyler Crook and basketball standout Deshone McClure, who has decided to join sophomore brother Devon McClure on the squad.

Devon is a talented player who could see some time at free safety or running back. Other possible replacements for Geans in the backfield are John Johnson, Antoine Mosby and Doug Sprouse.

The thing Whatley is most pleased with, though, is the big turnout, which he attributes to a senior class last fall loaded with character. Jacksonville has been beset over the past few years with eligibility issues. It’s one of the reasons, Whatley said, for the low number of seniors on this year’s squad.

“Some of those kids just let the books slip by and made some poor decisions and they’re just not here,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of kids now doing things right. And that’s what we expect. That’s what the community expects.

“Guys like Terrell Brown are people you can count on. They expect the other players to be accountable and it made my job a lot easier. That was the first year I didn’t have to worry about kids being in in-school suspension, didn’t have to worry about kids fighting in the park, or about court dates. Our senior class (last year) proved you can be successful and do things the right way.

“Hopefully, our young people realize the importance of being accountable and being where you’re supposed to be.”

TOP STORY >> Remember those who serve, protect

Leader staff writer

It’s been just over ten years now

Since I left my post,

and took on new responsibilities.

When I left, I swore to never forget

And yet I don’t think of them all the time

Who are they?

So goes the start of Serving Now, a memorial piece written by a Cabot native who graduated from Cabot High School in 1986 and then went on to serve 10 years in the Navy.

Daron Scott Frederick, who now lives in Benton, laughs that he chose the Navy so his family would be full circle. “My dad was in the Air Force, my grandfather in the Army and my uncle was a Marine, so that left me with the Navy.”

Frederick, who is a systems manager in the information technology field, does a lot of writing of poems, memorials and story—he’s just finished a children’s book and is looking for a publisher.

He says the impetus for this poem came from stories on Facebook; kiddingly claiming how rough life is these days. “We do leave a pretty big blanket of freedom, and those you haven’t served don’t always understand the importance of that,” Frederick explained.

Those serving. Not out of greed or desire,

Not for great pay and benefits. Not out

of the wishes to simply sacrifice their life for

your entertainment on a documentary.

Yet they will…without question…without remorse.

Frederick, a veteran of Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Desert Fox, said the more operations he went on the closer to the action he got. In Desert Shield he worked as a military police protecting a base in Australia. In Desert Storm he was on a fast combatant vessel replenishing the battle group and then in Desert Fox he was on a minesweeper right in the middle of the gulf.

“I have a deep heart and honor for those who have served or are serving,” said Frederick whose mother, Marti, still lives in Cabot. His dad died in 1987.

They’ll be honored, tributed and saluted.

And yet they’ll be gone.

But how do we honor them now?

What does our country send out daily, give their

families, or provide more than a low-class income

and antiquated education by progressive standards?

Frederick, who wrote this poem about two months ago, said he posted on his Facebook page and was surprised that in just a short time he had 400 emails about it and most of those from people he didn’t know.

“When the military drops out of the news, “Frederick, who is now married with four kids, says, “Some people quickly forget about the troops. I don’t want to forget. I know it would have affected me when I was in if I thought I was forgotten.”

Hope? Hope that they’ll make a difference?

Hope that the family sees their name proudly carved

in marble at the town square? Pride that for a few years

people will remember their service? Yet not knowing

what they actually did, or at what lengths they went to,

to protect us all.

Frederick said he’s written another poem to honor Memorial Day. “But it takes a different approach. In it I ask everyone to think of the good things, like their first dance and try not to focus on all the negatives that are out there,” he said.

My prayers stay with your safe return, your dutiful watch,

and your family for their service.

A military veteran is not now, nor will it ever be,

a one man show.

I was honored to serve as one of you,

and even more honored by your service to my family,

and our country now.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville man has new personal best

Leader staff writer

Two total knee joint replacements have not stopped Bob Koorstad from conquering marathons, they just made him faster.

“I’m not going to finish first, but I’m not going to finish last. I’m out here to enjoy the competition,” Koorstad said.

Koorstad said “A marathon is a celebration for the time spent training.”

A Jacksonville resident and retired Jacksonville High School advanced-placement biology teacher, Koorstad taught for 22 years and was at JHS from 1983 to 2007. He was also a Red Devils baseball coach for 13 years until 1988.

Koorstad has pushed his body for 26.2 miles in races since 1989. He said the races are good exercise and you are with a group of people you like to be with. He went from running to walking the marathons in 1994.

He said that he likes to compete in marathons but during his training sessions the pain was such that he could no longer continue.

Before Koorstad had surgery, he said he had three years of intense pain that would not abate. His knees were swollen and they had a grinding feel with each step that he took. He was diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

A visit to an orthopedic surgeon gave Koorstad hope that he could continue his training.

Koorstad, 64, had knee-joint replacement surgery in 2007 at North Metro Medical Center with Dr. Martin Siems of Ortho Arkansas as his surgeon. He had his left knee operated on in July and his right knee in November.

Koorstad was in the hospital for two days and spent three days recovering at home.

He underwent eight weeks of rehabilitation and physical therapy with therapist Chip Glenn at Jacksonville Medical Center.

For knee-replacement surgery, North Metro Medical Center has the advanced DePuy Ci system, which is minimally invasive. It is a computer-guided precision surgery system that assists orthopedic surgeons through sophisticated computer software which helps guide surgical instruments.

Siems said North Metro was the first hospital in the state to purchase and use the system. The system can determine sizing where other systems are not as advanced.

Surgical nurse Kerry Ward was with Koorstad for both knee operations. Ward said, “Everybody’s knees are different. The computer makes a model of the femur and tibia ends.”

The computer tracks the alignment of the instruments and improves the accuracy of cuts. “The success of the total joint replacement relies on the balance and the alignment coming together,” Ward said. The titanium replacement joint is estimated to last more than 15 years, depending on use.

Jason Cates, Siems’ physician assistant, compared the computeraided precision knee joint replacement surgery to the relationship of a car’s front-end alignment and its tires. The joints are aligned and then balanced to provide even wear over time.

In his first year after surgery, Koorstad did not participate in marathons. His knees were healing. He said he merely walked from his car to the grocery store.

Now every Saturday at 6 a.m. Koorstad meets with coaches Tom and Hobbit Singleton and the Little Rock Marathon training team to workout from 2- to 20-mile distances.

In March in his first race after his knee operations, Koorstad set a personal goal by finishing the Little Rock marathon in six hours and 31 minutes. He came in 27th out of 60 walkers.

Koorstad was able to cut an hour off his best marathon finishing time. He also knocked two hours off his finishing time from his first Little Rock marathon in 2002.

“My goal is to compete in 50 marathons in 50 states.” Koorstad said. He encourages others to participate in marathons. “If I can finish a marathon with two knee replacements, anybody can,” Koorstad said.

TOP STORY >> Golf course idea wins out

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council is set to approve spending $405,000 to start turning the 106-acre North Hills property into a viable golf course.

The proposed ordinances that the council will vote on at its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday also include waiving competitive bidding because “restoration and rehabilitation is seasonal in nature” and has created an urgency.

The ordinances will also be passed with an emergency clause, meaning that it will be come law right away, instead of having a standard 30-day waiting period.

The emergency clause is being attached because “time is of the essence,” according to the ordinances.

One ordinance calls for the property to continue as a golf course and appropriates $300,000 from the city’s general fund to “allow commencement of this project.”

The ordinance also calls for the director of parks and recreation to “immediately begin restoration of the North Hills property. The director is further directed, according to the ordinance, to take all necessary steps to insure re-opening of the facility by the spring of 2010 or sooner, if practical.

A related ordinance creates four new city positions, a golf course superintendent, two regular part-time golf course laborers and a park maintenance generalist.

The ordinance calls for transferring another $105,688 from the general fund to cover salary, taxes and benefits of those positions for the rest of this year. That amount will have to be doubled for next year.

These ordinances are set for approval before ETC Engineers submits their final version of their yearlong park study.

Their initial study findings, before receiving any public input in late April and earlier this month, suggests that the best use for the land, which Sherwood bought last year for $5.5 million, is as an 18-hole public golf course.

The ordinance giving the city the go-ahead to repair the acreage as a golf course doesn’t designate whether it will be a nine-hole, an 18-hole or a 27-hole facility.

Plans for all three designs have been floating around the city.

Also on the council agenda:

– An ordinance approving the access-management plan developed by Metroplan for Brockington Road.

The primary purpose for the agreement between the city and Metroplan, according to the plan, “is to protect the capacity of the roadway to carry significant local and intra-regional traffic. The secondary purpose is to increase the safety for drivers and pedestrians.

– Aldermen will vote on an ordinance requiring developers to show locations of all sidewalks on construction plans and that no certificate of occupancy will be issued until all required sidewalks in a development are built.

– The council will vote on an ordinance rezoning property at 8320 Hwy. 107 from R-1 (single family homes) to C-3 (commercial).

– The council will also look at condemning 5921 Jacksonville Cutoff and 103 Winona as public nuisances, meaning the owners will have 30 days to bring the structures up to code or tear them down. If the owner does neither, the city will tear down the structures.

– The council will vote on re-appointing Ron Roy to the Civil Service Commission.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville native is an American Idol

Leader staff writer

On a cool morning this past January, Mary Twitty walked into The Leader’s office with a news tip – a young man, born and raised in Jacksonville and now attending college in Conway, had made it to the Hollywood portion of “American Idol” tryouts.

On Wednesday, nearly five months later, that young man, Kris Allen, became the new American Idol.

“The show was amazing!” Twitty said of the finale that aired this week. “They (Kris’ parents) are so overwhelmed by the love everyone has for their son.”

Twitty said she received a text from Kris’ mother, Kim, saying, “I’m the mom of the American Idol.”

“All I could say when I read it was ‘I told you,’” Twitty said. “Everybody is just so happy and proud for him and his family. They’re such good people.”

Allen was born at the former Rebsamen Hospital to Neil and Kim Allen on June 21, 1985. Allen played T-ball on the Jacksonville youth baseball league with Twitty’s son. The families have known each other for years.

Allen attended kindergarten at Murrell Taylor Elementary School, where he met Chris Rodriguez. The pair have been friends since day one. They and their wives have gone on mission trips together.

His grandparents still reside in Jacksonville.

“I think it’s wonderful … what he’s done for the state of Arkansas,” said Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim.

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce presented Allen with a key to the city on May 7, when he returned to the state for his hometown celebration.

During an appearance at Riverfest Amphitheater the next day, Allen seemed overwhelmed by the number of fans who turned out. “I feel like I have the best fans in the world,” he told the crowd. “I’ve been to this place a lot and never seen this many people here. You guys are why I’m here.

“This is crazy,” he continued. “A few months ago you didn’t even know my name. You guys are great.”

Just shy of two weeks later, Allen appeared even more at awe when, at the end of a star-studded two-hour show, Ryan Seacrest said, “The American Idol 2009 is…Kris Allen!” It may be safe to say that there were few Arkansans who didn’t have their TVs tuned in for that moment.

It may also be safe to say that had Allen not won, he would have still gone home happy. He, as well as the other top contestants on this season’s show, got the chance to perform with some of music’s greatest. Allen performed with Kenny Chesney, and shortly before the revelation of the winner’s name, he and Adam Lambert – who also made the final two – took the stage.

The pair began singing the well-known anthem, “We are the Champions.”

They had sung the first few lines when the stage curtains were pulled back and rock legends Queen – minus the late Freddie Mercury – joined Allen and Lambert.

During Thursday’s meeting, the Jacksonville City Council unanimously declared a “Kris Allen Day.”

When that day will be is up in the air as it has to be coordinated between all of Allen’s other commitments, but July 25 is most likely the date as Allen and nine other Idol finalists will be in central Arkansas for an “American Idol” concert.

Alderman Reedie Ray made the suggestion, which was quickly and unanimously agreed on. Afterwards, most aldermen shared their Kris Allen stories or connections.

Allen lived in Jacksonville until about 18 months ago when he moved to Conway for college.

Alderman Linda Rinker was Allen’s assistant principal. Allen attended the same church as Alderman Marshall Smith, First Freewill Baptist (now known as Crossroads), where Smith was his choir director. Smith attended Allen’s wedding.

Allen lived behind Alderman Terry Sansing’s house and graduated with Sansing’s son.

Ray wants the city to post a sign or billboard at the southern entrance to the city on Hwy. 67/167 congratulating Allen and letting everyone know the star is from Jacksonville.

Amy Mattison, director of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, said Allen’s grandparents, who still live in Jacksonville, are behind the idea of a local Kris Allen Day and so is Allen’s mother.

Allen and his wife, Katy, reside in Conway, where they attend the University of Central Arkansas.