Saturday, June 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Thousands left without power after wind, rain

Leader senior staff writer

No injuries or deaths were reported from a dark, dangerous-looking storm front that moved across the area Friday afternoon, but trees were uprooted, limbs strewn about and power was out to thousands.

Locally, 7,000-8,000 people were without power in the Ward area after a First Electric transmission structure was damaged, according to Neal Frizzell, a cooperative spokesman.

The structure carried a 69,000-volt transmission line to three substations. Fortunately, the damage was to a cross arm and not to the pole itself, he said.

Frizzell said crews were trying to repair it before dark, but that crews would work through the night.

He estimated the total number of customers without electricity throughout the cooperative’s 17-county service area at 25,000, with about half of those in the local area.

“About 12,500 of those are in north Pulaski County, Lonoke County and south White County,” Frizzell said.

Most affected in this area were the communities of Mountain Springs, Ward, Mount Carmel and Zion Hill.

Most of the problems were from limbs on power lines, he said.

Entergy’s interactive map showed more than 1,200 Jackson-ville customers without power from among the 42,000 customers without power from Harrison to Pine Bluff .

Outages in Russellville, Dardanelle and Danville accounting for about one third of those and another third in the Conway area, according to Barbara Merrick, an Entergy spokesperson.

Closer to home, about 3,970 Little Rock customers were without power and another 675 in Beebe.

Repair crews will work throughout the night to restore power as quickly as possible, Frizzell said.

First Electric members may report power outages by calling 1-888-827-3322.

TOP STORY >> Revenues still going to cities at good clip

Leader staff writer

Even though Cabot has seen its city and county tax collections go up and down, its revenues are still running about $80,000 above last year’s totals.

Sherwood is also up for the year because of the tax collections coming from Walmart, which opened last June.

Jacksonville’s city tax collections are down through May about $87,000 for the year, but the city had planned for the downturn when it developed its 2009 budget late last year, according to the city’s finance director, Paul Mushrush.

The state, however, was down almost $13 million in gross receipts collections, which was a 7.3 percent drop from a year ago and about the same amount below what it had forecast to bring in.

Department of Finance and Administration economist John Shelnutt place a lot of the blame for the drop on slower vehicle sales across the state.

Tammy Yokum with the Cabot financial department said the intake from the city tax from January through April this year was $1.53 million, up from the $1.49 million over the same time period last year. But Yokum did point out that the city saw drops in the March and April collections.

Cabot’s share of the Lonoke County tax from January through April was $751,971, up about $35,000 from last year’s intake of $717,848 for the same time period.

Sherwood saw a $13,000 drop in April in its share of the Pulaski County sales tax from last year. So far this year, the city’s share of the county tax was $1.9 million compared to $1.93 million for 2008.

Sherwood’s city tax intake for the year so far is about $300,000 above the 2008 total. The city didn’t see any tax collections from the Walmart Supercenter until September.

For this year, collection of the city tax stands at $1.9 million, compared to $1.62 million for the same time period last year.

Mushrush, Jacksonville’s finance director, said February is usually the largest month for city tax receipts as it’s actually the tax from December’s sales. “We were down 4.4 percent,” Mushrush said.

He added that the best month for county sales tax is usually April, and the city’s take was down 8.09 percent.

Jacksonville’s city tax intake through May stands at $2.99 million and its share of the county tax is at $2.63 million.

Mushrush said he expects an improvement when the higher federal minimum wage—up to $7.25–goes into effect later this month.

“That will give people some disposable income,” he said.

Mushrush said there are models showing national and state improvement and others showing another dip, but he believes the economy is stabilizing.

The state’s monthly revenue report from the Department of Finance and Administration showed net available revenues in May totaled $293 million, down $3 million, or 1 percent, from a year ago, but $6 million, or 2.1 percent, above the May forecast.

But most of that $6 million will disappear once a delayed monthly transfer of $5.9 million takes place, according to the report.

On the year, net available general revenues total about $3.9 billion, $38.6 million below a year ago but $44.1 million above the general revenue forecast. Shelnutt, the state economist, said he expects the cushion to be gone by the end of the month.

TOP STORY >> Produce stand rejected by city

Leader staff writer

Sam Adams, 79, is in poor health. He suffered a stroke this year and is now in a wheelchair.

His son Doug’s teenaged granddaughter was murdered in Jacksonville last August during what police described as a carjacking gone wrong. His home burned down in January.

Doug owned the Jacksonville Fitness Center before the city decided to close the Graham Road railroad crossing, which put him out of business, he said.

For the Adams family, it’s been one struggle after another. But despite the personal tragedies and the business setbacks, the men say they have not given up on Jacksonville. They recently tried to set up a vegetable stand called Hard Times Produce on John Harden Drive.

But the city shot them down because of a little-known ordinance that forbids produce stands from doing business in Jacksonville outside of a downtown farmers market area that has yet to attract many vendors. It is supposed to be open just Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Sam can’t get around like he used to. A trek to downtown three days a week would be too hard on him, he said.

“We thought getting a $50 permit would be our smallest hurdle,” Doug said.

The men bought a walk-in refrigerator for $2,000 and a truck trailer for $1,500. They assumed that their business was set to take off, thinking a variety of fresh Arkansas fruits and vegetables would be appreciated by area residents.

Sam and Doug wanted to set up shop at a more convenient location, the Absolute Medical parking lot on John Harden Drive near James Street, which is just steps from the Adams’ front door.

Absolute Medical was happy to let them sell their produce for as long as they wanted, they said. “Absolute Medical and Liberty Tires (another area business) thought it would bring them more business, and it would be stronger here for us than Main Street,” Doug said.

The Adams family believes it’s being driven out of town by poor decisions made by the city council. “We’re being forced to go elsewhere,” Doug said.

“We went to check out Gravel Ridge and Sherwood,” which allow vendors to set up where they like, he said.

“But we want to stay here, close to home because of my father’s disability,” Doug said.

The city’s farmers market ordinance was an initiative of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce to bring some new life to the city’s downtown, according to City Manager Jay Whisker.

Sam Adams has been selling produce in town for more than 10 years. After he retired from the railroad, he became a fixture at the old Jacksonville Fitness Center on North First Street and sold produce out front. Business went flat at the gym and the produce stand.

“We were put out of business when the crossing closed. We dropped 70 percent in sales. We had 20 employees and went down to just four,” Doug said of his fitness center after the city blockaded the Graham Road crossing.

Because traffic dropped near the gym, he says customers had trouble getting to it and it was forced to close.

“There’s nothing left there,” Doug said.

Other businesses were forced to shut down after the street closing. The bait shop, the gas station, the Laundromat and a restaurant have all vanished from the area, leaving plenty of boarded up windows behind. They suspect that the farmers market ordinance is similar to the decision to close the crossing: another well-intentioned but poorly conceived plan that hurts small-business owners.

“They shut vendors down first and didn’t provide us a market place,” Doug said.

The city plans to build a permanent farmers market next to the community center, but the men were told that it would take at least another year before it would open.

The temporary market on Main Street, across from the new library, has had little support so far, which is another reason why they want to open Hard Times Produce along John Harden Drive.

“The ordinance was set up so we could have a location for a farmers market,” Whisker said. Reconsidering the ordinance will be “up to the new mayor,” he said.

Recently, the Adamses met with Mayor Tommy Swaim. Doug pushed his father in his wheelchair down to city hall. On the way, Sam fell out of his wheelchair and injured his arm, but they managed to make their appointment.

They say Swaim told them that an exception to the ordinance wouldn’t be fair and that changing the ordinance would take at least a month. The mayor told them to go to the farmers market on Main Street three times a week.

Sam Adams brushed himself off and asked the mayor, “How can a business profit working three days a week?”

He hopes that mayor-elect Gary Fletcher will throw out the farmers market ordinance when he takes office at the end of the month.

For now, they just hope that Hard Times Produce will soon see better days and remain in Jacksonville, despite the hard times.

TOP STORY >> Storms slam area

Leader staff writer

The storm came suddenly, as it usually does in Arkansas.

Many residents along Ballard Road just north of Cabot on Hwy. 5 were surprised by the power of Friday afternoon’s storm. The forceful winds — some at tornado strength — toppled giant pines and oaks onto roads, homes and a car.

Neighbors came out with chainsaws and tractors removing trees and limbs to make the roads passable. Electric lines were snapped, snaking along the ground. Residents were unsure when the power would be back on.

Chris Bryan, 16, of 2445 Ballard Road had just gotten home when the storm hit.

“I heard on the radio there was a storm. I went to unlock the door to let the dog out. There were sheets of rain. The wind picked up and debris went flying by the window. I heard a snap and a tree fell in the front yard. It took about 30 seconds,” he said.

Aaron Willis, 21, of 104 Lila Loop was in the next room of his house making a grocery list with his brother Josh, when a tree fell through his bedroom.

“The sirens never came on. It turned green outside. It was calm and then became really windy. The front door blew into the trailer. I heard a boom and the tree went through the bedroom,” Willis said.

Dana and Scott Holland of 302 Red Bird Lane had a tree smash into their home through the rock chimney.

Before the storm hit, Dana was called by her cousin Joey Sullivan about the approaching storms. Dana Holland and her 7-week-old son, Michael, went to Sullivan’s home to ride out the storm. They have lived in the home for three years. Scott Holland said he recently put new siding on the home.

The house was still creaking with the weight of the tree.

Dana Holland said, “I’m just speechless. I’m thankful my daughter was at Grandmother’s. I’m thankful everyone is safe. I can’t believe this. If I was sitting in the recliner near the fireplace, I don’t want to think where I would’ve been.”

While surveying the damage, Scott Holland said, “I am glad my wife and 7-week old son got out before the storm hit.”

EDITORIAL >> The killers among us

Four obscure men whose lives and ideologies could hardly be matched in greater contrast have earned the nation’s horrified attention in a space of weeks by murdering people who had done them no harm and then claiming their deeds as acts of righteousness. Each murder was an individual act, and no fact that has come to light links any two of them in common cause or to any other confederates. They were what the national security services call “lone wolves,” people driven by private demons to settle scores on behalf of good people everywhere.

A young man who grew up in the Baptist faith in Tennessee but who as a restless college student settled on Islam as the true faith shot two young soldiers outside a recruiting office at Little Rock last week, killing one of them and leaving for dead a Jacksonville man who had recently volunteered to serve his country. The killer said he shot the men and planned to kill others because the U. S. government was killing and oppressing Muslims in other lands although neither of the soldiers he picked as victims had ever fired a shot in anger or exhibited even the slightest ethnic or religious antipathy toward people of the Middle East.

In Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, a young man who was obsessed with rumors circulated during the campaign last year that President Obama would some day try to take away people’s guns holed up in his house with an arsenal of weapons and shot three policemen to death and wounded two others in the belief that he was defending the right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

In Kansas City, a man who considered abortion to be murder gunned down a doctor who performed late-term abortions as the doctor was ushering Sunday morning at his church. The doctor had often been pilloried as a “baby killer” on network shows. The killer believed he was doing God’s work and his patriotic duty.

Finally, a man who had harbored a hatred of blacks and Jews for a lifetime took up his shotgun at the age of 88 and attacked the security guards at the National Holocaust Museum on the Capitol Mall in Washington, killing one of them.

Each was an independent act of a man who had lost his senses, but could they all be related in some abstruse way, and are we headed for even darker days? A few days before the Pittsburgh killings, an internal analysis for the Department of Homeland Security detected a surge of extremism in the land, the same kind that greeted the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992 and that was followed the next year by the first big terrorist attacks on American soil, the first attack on the World Trade Center, the Oklahoma City bombing and smaller violent acts of defiance.

Let us hope that these senseless murders are indeed isolated and their remarkable timing now only coincidence. Our long history is replete with occasional similar martyrs for lost causes. But we confess to some apprehension. There is abroad in the land a growing sense that the troubled times are a nefarious plot by unseen forces — and maybe seen ones as well — and that we have guns not merely for self protection and hunting but as a way to fight off these forces, even if it is our own government. It is the one idea that connects all the acts of this spring.

Our deeply divisive and increasingly desperate politics propels us in that direction. It has become standard rhetoric to accuse the president and his party of secretly speeding the country toward an alien form of governance, which must be stopped at any cost. The “tea parties” organized across the country to raise awareness of the black president’s secret socialist agenda are only one manifestation.

Monday, the organizers will hold a big rally in Little Rock’s River Market. One of the speakers is a firebrand who gained fame on Fox Network commentary. He suggests that the people running the country are traitors and that the “silent majority” must take back their country right away. Then there is the Southern Baptist preacher from Arkansas who has gained a following in California by praying for President Obama’s death. He says God wants the president dead before he can do any further harm and calls for imprecatory prayers for the deed to be quickly accomplished. We know now that there are far too many demented men willing and wanting to be the heroes for the cause of righteousness, whatever it is, and martyred heroes if it comes to that.

What we need are prayers of a different sort, that sanity and the better angels looking over our country will prevail.

Friday, June 12, 2009

SPORTS >> Benton makes it two straight

Leader sportswriter

Colby Benton just concluded a pretty good week of golf.

The Cabot sophomore followed his Bruce Jenkins Memorial victory on Wednesday with the Burns Park Junior Stroke Play championship on Friday to move up near the top of the player of the year points standings.

Benton shot a three-under 68 on Thursday to surge to a five-stroke lead over fellow Cabot resident Hunter Smith, but found birdies to be few and far between on Friday and shot 74. That was good enough for a two-stroke win over Harrison’s Dylan Lovell. Smith finished in a tie for fourth after shooting 73-76 — 149.

Beebe’s Travis Weeks also finished at 149. Winston Sizemore of Pine Bluff shot a 75-73 to claim third.

“(Thursday) I hit 15 greens and hit the ball really well,” said Benton. “But today, my swing was a little off. I got off to a rough start. I had a bunch of birdies yesterday, but didn’t have many today.”

While the points for the ASGA juniors had not been updated as of press time on Friday, Benton and Smith, who entered the week atop the points totals, were both near the top in the player of the year standings.

Benton found himself four over through nine holes on Friday, but recovered one of those on the back nine. Benton’s bid for birdie on the final hole was thwarted when his chip hit the flag and bounced out, forcing him to settle for par.

“These greens are really challenging,” said Benton. “They’ve got a bunch of mounds on the greens and a bunch of undulation, so they’re really hard, and it’s always a challenge out here. I misread a bunch and missed a lot of opportunities.

“I felt good going into the round, but I thought there were going to be a couple of really good scores coming to catch me. I figured I would have to shoot around even for the day to win, but fortunately it was hard for everyone today.”

Benton is the third member of the family to make a name for himself on the Arkansas golf scene. His father, Jeff, was men’s player of the year in 2007, while Nicklaus, who won junior player of the year in 2007, currently leads the ASGA men’s standings. Nicklaus won back-to-back state match-play tournaments at Foxwood Country Club in 2007 and ’08.

“Most people would think that I wouldn’t like having to live up to my brother’s name,” said Colby. “But I actually like it a lot, because it gives me something to set goals for and someone to look up to. Someone that I can just go to and talk about my golf game, and he will help me right away.

“He knows my game better than anybody, so he can always help me. I love playing with him, because he’s such a great player, and it makes me play better. He’s a great role model for me.”

There is a long way to go in the battle for junior player of the year. Thirteen tournaments are yet to be played between now and August. But it could come down to a hometown battle between Benton and Smith, who won the Greater Little Rock Junior Tournament to start the season, and the Monticello Junior Stroke on the first weekend of June by nine strokes. Smith finished second to Benton on Wednesday at the Bruce Jenkins Memorial.

“Hunter’s a great player,” said Benton. “I’ve known him since seventh grade. We’re on the (Cabot High School) golf team together, and we play together a bunch. It’s always fun playing with him because he’s such a great player and he pushes me to score better. I’m surprised he didn’t shoot under par today.”

For Smith, the missed opportunity on Day 2 left him a little down, but certainly not out for the season. Regrouping and preparing for next week’s match play tourney at Foxwood is priority one for the 16-year-old.

“I think I’m just worn out from all these tournaments,” he said. “I’m not used to walking this much. I don’t know if I’m getting worn out or my timing is getting off when I’m coming through, I haven’t figured it out yet. I have to figure out how to get back up top. I knew I was going to have to shoot under par today, but the first three holes, when I made three bogeys, I knew it was going to be hard to get back on top after that.”

SPORTS >> Eller outduels Nicholson as Bruins survive

Leader sports editor

The way Nathan Eller was pitching on Tuesday night, the very last thing Cabot needed to do was extend Sylvan Hills Optimist Club any charity.

But extend it Cabot Centennial Bank did in the form of five errors — four in one inning — and by popping into a game-ending double play on a safety squeeze attempt with the tying run at third base in the seventh Eller took care of the rest, winning a pitcher’s duel with Cabot’s Cole Nicholson as the senior Bruins escaped with a 4-3 win at Conrade Wade Field. Eller fanned nine and allowed just six hits and two earned runs, while Nicholson was the tough-luck loser despite striking out 13 and also giving up just six hits and two earned runs.

Eller was cruising along after pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the fourth, allowing only a walk and a single over the next two innings. Though he carried a 4-1 lead and a three-hitter into the seventh, he ran into immediate trouble when
Tyler Erickson and Brandon Surdam began the inning with base hits.

Joe Bryant drew a walk to load the bases with nobody out. Erickson scored when Andrew Reynolds grounded out to first base and Drew Burks laced a sharp single into left center to score Surdam. Centennial Bank head coach Jay Darr held Bryant at third as Cabot narrowed the lead to 4-3 and had runners at the corners with one out.

But Sam Bates, attempting a safety squeeze, popped the ball up. Eller caught the ball a few feet down the first base line, then threw to first just in time to double up Burks and end the ball game.

After retiring the first six Cabot batters, Eller issued a walk to Ty Steele leading off third. Erickson was safe on a grounder to third when the throw went off first baseman Gino Jameson’s glove and down the right field line. Steele made it all the way to third base, then scored on a rundown when third baseman Jordan Spears’ throw home bounced off Steele’s helmet.

Nicholson was in firm control and that 1-0 lead had to seem a lot larger to the Sylvan Hills hitters, who managed just three hits while striking out eight times over the first four innings. The Bruins actually had scoring opportunities in the first, second and fourth innings when they stranded five runners — four in scoring position.

Centennial Bank had a chance to punch the game wide open when Burks and Bates singled and Matt Turner was hit with a pitch to load the bases with no outs in the fourth. But Eller got a pair of strikeouts and a popout and the score remained 1-0.

Nicholson struck out the first two batters in the fifth before Tyler Van Schoyck doubled down the left field line and Hunter Miller, who had continued an early-season slump with a strikeout and a pop out in his first two appearances, belted a towering two-run home run down the line in left to stake Optimist Club to a 2-1 lead.

The bottom fell out defensively for Cabot in the sixth. After Spears lined a leadoff single, Korey Arnold’s grounder was misplayed for an error and Nathan Eller reached on an error to load the bases. It appeared Nicholson might escape the jam when he got a strikeout and a pop up. But Casey Ceratto reached on an error, which was compounded by a wild throw to the plate as Spears and Arnold came across to make it 4-1.

Eller pitched around a leadoff walk to Surdam in the fifth and a leadoff single by Bates in the sixth.

Spears had two of Sylvan Hills’ six hits, while Burks and Bates had two hits each for Centennial Bank.


Three unearned runs in the third inning allowed the junior Bruins to rally from a 3-0 deficit for a victory.

A potential inning-ending double play ground ball was bobbled and Trey Sims followed with a two-run double to left center to narrow Cabot’s lead to 3-2. One out later, after a walk to Blake Rasdon, Austin Spears delivered the critical blow with a two-run, go-ahead double to left. Sims added an RBI double in the fourth to set the final margin.

Cabot had its chances against Spears, who went the 5-inning distance for the win. The Bruins committed five errors but it lead to no unearned runs. Centennial Bank failed to take advantage of back-to-back two-out errors in the third, a throwing error in the fourth and two errors that allowed the first two batters to reach in the fifth.

The game ended with the tying runs at second and third when Jacob Luckett lined out to shortstop Will Carter.

Cabot parlayed singles by Surdam, Tyler Cole and Tyler Carter and a groundout by Justin Goff into two runs in the first inning. Luckett opened the second with a single but was gunned down trying to steal by catcher Lance Hunter.

Jordan Lyons walked, went to third on Taylor Barnhill’s double and scored on Zach Uhiren’s ground out to give Cabot a 3-0 lead.

Centennial Bank starter and loser Daniel Fox allowed only two hits over 2 2/3 innings, but three of the four runs he allowed were unearned. He fanned three, walked two and hit a batter.

Chad Wisely came on in relief and gave up a run and a hit while striking out one in 1 1/3 innings. Jeff Brown pitched the final inning, striking out two and allowing a hit.

Spears surrendered five hits and three earned runs, while striking out three and walking two. Sims led Sylvan Hills with two hits and three RBI and Spears added a single, a double and two RBI.

Centennial Bank out-hit Optimist Club 5-4.

SPORTS >> Chevy Boys’ miscues too much to overcome

Leader sportswriter

Errors proved costly for Gwatney Chevrolet on Thursday.

Sylvan Hills cashed in on four unearned runs on its way to a 6-3 win over the Chevy Boys at Dupree Park in an American Legion junior-senior twin bill. Hunter Miller got the win for the Bruins (7-3) with a complete game, five-hit performance on the mound.

Mike Harmon also went the distance for Jacksonville (1-6) and gave up six hits, but it was the defense behind each of the hurlers that made the difference, including bobbles from some of Gwatney’s most proven players.

Jacksonville shortstop Terrell Brown had the biggest hit of the game with a solo home run that easily cleared the left-center wall to lead off the top of the fifth inning. That pulled the Chevy Boys to within 4-3, but six fielding errors by the Gwatney defense, three of which drove in runs and two more that led to scores, were more than enough for Sylvan Hills to claim its second win over the Chevy Boys this summer.

Sylvan Hills got the first of its two late insurance scores in the top of the sixth when Ty Van Schoyck singled in Evan Nally to make it 5-3, while another pair of errors by Jacksonville in the top of the seventh allowed Korey Arnold to score.

Van Schoyck scored first for the Bruins in the top of the first when he doubled and was driven in when Gino Jameson’s fly ball to left was misplayed.

Gwatney cashed in on the only Sylvan Hills error of the game in the bottom of the second. Tyler Wisdom reached on a walk, and a throwing error on a bunt by Harmon allowed him to come all the way around to tie it at 1-1. Harmon then scored on a single by Devon McClure to give the C hevy Boys their only lead of the game at 2-1.

Nathan Eller doubled in the top of the fourth to set up the next score for Sylvan Hills. Lance Hunter drove him in on single before scoring on a double steal to reclaim the lead for the Bruins at 3-2.

Lock then reached on an error in the fifth, and a single by Eller brought him in to make it 4-2 Sylvan Hills.

Eller was 3 of 3 for Sylvan Hills with a double and an RBI.


Bruins pitcher Justin Cook was working on a no-hitter through three innings before the Chevy Boys’ bats finally came alive in the bottom of the fourth, but Sylvan Hills was able to hang on thanks to its seven runs through the first two frames.

Jacksonville pitcher Jesse Harbin was the first of three to take the mound for Gwatney, giving way to Zach Traylor in the top of the third, who was relieved by Devone McClure in the fifth and final inning.

Cook earned the win, as Michael Lock came on in relief to close the game in the fifth.

Austin Spears went 2 of 3 with three RBI for the Bruins, including a single up the middle in the top of the first that scored Trey Sims and Blake Rasdon to put Sylvan Hills up 3-0.

Lock was 2 of 3 with two RBI, while Sims was 2 of 3 with three runs. Rasdon finished 2 of 4 with two runs.

Patrick Castleberry led Gwatney, going 2 of 3 with two RBI and two runs. Cook gave up three hits while fanning eight to pick up the win for Sylvan Hills.

SPORTS >> Tolliver taken in fifth round

Leader sports editor

Depending on how negotiations go over the next few days, the next phase of young Ashur Tolliver’s baseball career could begin as early as next week.

Tolliver, the fireballing lefthander out of Sylvan Hills, was drafted in the fifth round on Wednesday by the Baltimore Orioles.

“People were asking me, ‘Who do you want to get drafted by?’” said Tolliver, who just concluded a 10-1 season at Oklahoma City University. “I just told them whoever would get me the best opportunity and whoever appreciated my talent. I liked the
Cardinals growing up as a kid, but it really didn’t matter who took me.”

Assuming the Orioles and Tolliver and his agent, Darek Braunecker, can come to terms, the next step for Tolliver would be a stint at Aberdeen (Md.) in the New York-Penn Short Season League, which begins June 19. But Tolliver said that negotiations could take some time.

The news was not so good for fellow Sylvan Hills alum D.J. Baxendale, who was not drafted last week. That news came as a surprise to Denny Tipton, his high school coach.

“I try to stay out of that kind of stuff, but, yeah, I was shocked,” said Tipton, whose Bears won the 5A state title in 2008 with Baxendale anchoring the staff. “Numerous people had told me they wanted him. But he’s a very mature kid. I’ve talked to him and he’s doing fine.”

Baxendale, who has signed with the University of Arkansas, compiled an ERA of .30 this past season. Because of the rule that says a Division I signee must play through his junior year once he puts on a uniform, Tipton was pretty certain Baxendale would have opted to play pro ball if he’d been drafted high enough.

“He’s ready, no doubt about it,” Tipton said. “In high school, he was the best I ever had. I think he’ll be a main starter at the U of A next year. He’ll be a conference starter.”

Tolliver took a chance a year ago when he decided to transfer from Division I Arkansas-Little Rock to NAIA Oklahoma City University after Trojan head coach Jim Lawler announced his resignation at the end of the 2008 season. Lawler was the reason Tolliver chose UALR after posting an 18-2 record and an ERA of right around 1.00 over his final two seasons at Sylvan Hills.

“Coach Lawler was a pitching guy,” Tolliver said. “For a small pitcher who had some developing to do, he was a great guy for me.”

Tolliver struggled in his two seasons at UALR, posting an 8-10 record. His 4.45 ERA as a freshman ballooned to 7.94 in his junior season.

“He had a pretty good freshman year at UALR, but he got off to a bad start his sophomore year,” Tipton said. “He never felt comfortable, and for a pitcher, that’s especially important. And then UALR never gave him any run support so he was going out there thinking he had to shut people out.

“But he threw well at Cape Cod and got his groove back and got back in rhythm. It was the best decision he ever made (to go to OCU). It gave him a fresh start.”

Tolliver became aware of OCU’s successful baseball program both through Lawler, who was a friend of OCU assistant coach Keith Lytle, and via his teammates on the Harrisonburg Turks, the summer league club Tolliver played for after his freshman season at UALR.

Tolliver developed some good friendships with his fellow Turks, several of whom played college ball at OCU. They stayed in touch and convinced him to make the move. After a rough sophomore season and Lawler’s resignation, Tolliver made his decision.

“I knew I didn’t want to sit out a year which I would have had to do if I’d transferred (to another Division I school),” Tolliver said. “Coach Lawler talked to me about OCU and I knew they put up ridiculous numbers offensively and had really good records.”

Tolliver said going to an NAIA school might have cost him some of the exposure he was looking for, but OCU was not just any NAIA school. Lawler and Lytle convinced him that, scout-wise, there would be plenty of exposure for Tolliver. Five OCU Stars were drafted in 2007; six were taken in 2004.

Tolliver’s 10-1 record and his 89 strikeouts to 17 walks over 75 innings helped lead the Stars to the NAIA national semifinals and earned him a second-team All-America honor.

A starter his entire life, the 6-0, 170-pound Tolliver got his first taste of relief pitching in the Cape Cod League and says he really doesn’t care if he develops into a starter or a reliever in the minor leagues.

“I love coming in with first and second, no outs and the tying run on,” he admitted. “I enjoy the pressure situations. But I love starting games, too. I can’t really say I like one more than the other.”

A lot of where he ends up — as a starter or coming out of the bullpen — depends on the development of his other pitches.

He’s been clocked in the low- to mid-90s and says the fast ball, along with his changeup, have always been his go-to pitches.

“I need to keep working on my slider,” he said. “If I can really develop a strikeout slider, I could be effective as a reliever or I could develop as a four-pitch starter.”

Tipton said that, despite his diminutive size in high school, Tolliver could still bring it at 86 or 87 miles per hour. And he said Tolliver had a “major league changeup” and spot control.

After an expected stint in the Short Season League, Tolliver is likely be sent to Baltimore’s Class A South Atlantic Delmarva Shorebirds in Maryland.

Tolliver was not only the first NAIA player selected in the draft, he was the first Arkansan taken as well, going ahead of Razorbacks Dallas Keuchel, Stephen Richards and Scott Lyons.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

TOP STORY >> Friends praise life of Harmon

Leader staff writer

“I had the privilege of calling him a friend,” Alderman Butch Davis said after learning that longtime mayor and political patriarch of Sherwood, Bill Harmon, 81, died Friday.

“We were friends from the get-go. As a brand-spanking-new alderman, I could walk into his office and get straight answers. He was a great mayor,” Davis said.

Harmon died at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock after a long illness.

Harmon, who was a city council member for 10 years and then served a 14-year stint as mayor from 1993 to 2007, opted to try retirement at the end of his last term. But new Mayor Dan Stedman resigned in April 2008, four months into the new term, and the council called Harmon back as the interim mayor. He also threw his trademark Stetson hat into the ring to become mayor again, saying, “I’ve tried retirement; I don’t like it.”

Harmon eventually lost in a July 2008 race against City Clerk-Treasurer Virginia Hillman.

The funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at First Baptist Church of Sherwood, 701 Country Club Road, with burial to follow at Rest Hills Memorial Park in Sherwood.  

Davis said Harmon was a man full of knowledge. “We had our share of arguments. He won most of them,” Davis laughingly recalled.

“He gave me some advice early in my career that has stuck with me. He told me that as long as I voted my conscience, I was doing the right thing,” Davis said. 


When Harmon announced his retirement in 2006, he said, “I’ve had a very good ride.”

The Wall Street Journal once called Sherwood one of the best hometowns in the country, and Harmon always believed it.

Harmon left the mayor’s office believing the city was “on the bubble of tremendous growth the next 10 years. With commercial development revenues, there’s going to be a boom, and we’ve done it with the lowest tax rate in this part of (the state),” he said.

Longtime Alderman Becki Vassar said, “I thoroughly enjoyed working with him for 24 years. He did a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful job as alderman and mayor.

“He was certainly a champion for this city and loved Sherwood dearly,” Vassar said, adding that Harmon wore two hats, that of mayor and economic developer. “He worked hard to bring businesses like Walmart, Fort Thompson and Gander Mountain into Sherwood,” she said.

When Harmon became mayor, he finished out the last two years of Mayor Jack Evans’ term, receiving 69 percent of the vote in a five-person race. Evans had died in office.

After that special election, Harmon was elected to four consecutive four-year terms, putting his insurance business on a back burner.

Former Alderman Tom Brooks said Harmon was “a visionary if there ever was one.”
Brooks added, “He was a dear friend and I will miss him for the rest of my life.”


“I wanted two things when I got elected,” Harmon said, “activities for the young and to provide for the elderly.”

With his support, the town’s baseball, softball and soccer parks have blossomed to prominence.

“Our ball fields are unreal,” he said. “We’ve built two T-ball fields with shade for the grandparents.”

The softball fields have hosted large tournaments, one of which attracted teams from 28 states. Even the Lady Razorbacks play at least one league game a season at the Sherwood sports complex.

The town has an active senior citizens center named for Jack Evans and the new Bill Harmon Recreation Center with a swimming pool, ball courts, exercise machines and meeting rooms used not only by children and seniors, but the entire spectrum of city residents.

Under Harmon’s tutelage, the city bought Sherwood Forest, which hosts meetings, workshops and events like the holiday trail of lights, Sherwood Fest and the Fourth of July activities.

“It’s hard to believe that one man could accomplish as much as Bill did,” said Brooks.

Of the many accomplishments Harmon helped foster in Sherwood, he was most proud of founding COPS (Children on Patrol in Sherwood), a program he hoped would help the city, instill values in young people and guide some of them into Sherwood’s police force.

Harmon said 200-300 youngsters had been involved, and each summer the city sends 50 to 75 of them to camp.

He was also proud of the Mayor’s Youth Council, whose members attended city council meetings, engaged in fund-raising activities and attended the Municipal League Convention in Washington.

Alderman Steve Fender said Harmon “found his niche” when he became mayor.

“One of his greatest assets was his communication skills. He kept us informed and he was easy to work with,” Fender said.

Fender said Harmon valued the opinions of others. “I appreciated that,” the alderman said.

At his time of retirement, Harmon said other than a bad knee, he was in good health and looked forward to golfing, hunting, spending more time with his family and getting more involved in his insurance business.

Harmon joined the Navy at age 17 after convincing his parents to sign a waiver for him, and served on a tanker in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

After being honorably discharged from the Navy following the war, Harmon returned to Arkansas to attend Arkansas State College in Jonesboro where he was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha, and afterward farmed in eastern Arkansas for several years before entering the insurance business.

He then spent 41 years in the life and health insurance industry working at various levels and eventually opening his own insurance agency, Bill Harmon and Associates Inc. in 1979.

Harmon had been a member of First Baptist Church of Sherwood since 1966, and served as a Sunday school teacher there for many years. He was a 32nd Degree Mason with dual membership in Sylvan Hills Lodge in Sherwood and Red Gum Lodge in Hughes, and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.


He was a lifetime member of the Arkansas Municipal League and received the Denver Gentry Distinguished Citizen Award in 2008 for his outstanding work and dedication to his community.

His parents, Henry and Ailene Harmon; his brother, Charles Harmon and his sister, Edith McConnell, preceded him in death.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Marvelle S. Harmon; three sons and one daughter, Billy J. Harmon Jr. and his wife Sue of Sherwood, Hank Harmon and his wife Diane of Carrollton, Texas, and Lampe, Mo., Alderman Charlie Harmon and his wife Monica of Sherwood, and Mary L. Harmon of New York. He also had 11 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and a host of nieces and nephews.

Memorials may be made to First Baptist Church of Sherwood, or Union Rescue Mission.

(Leader senior staff writer John Hofheimer contributed to this article.)

TOP STORY >> Pressure on PCSSD to reopen old school

Leader senior staff writer

Unable to get on the agenda, Jacksonville residents interested in reopening the single-gender Jacksonville middle schools and setting boundaries for a standalone school district waited nearly four hours just to hear their mayor-elect pledge to work with the Pulaski County Special School District Board.

During the public-comment section, Gary Fletcher, who will be sworn in as Jacksonville mayor at the end of the month, asked how in 18 months the board had gone from proposing a new Jacksonville middle school beginning in 2009 to expanding the old one with five portable buildings.

“If I brought up to start the design of a new Jacksonville Middle School, would you support that?” board member Charlie Wood asked.

“Yes, but we want an independent school district,” said Fletcher, who waited with his wife for nearly four hours on his 31st wedding anniversary to speak to the board. “By this time next month, we should have these boundaries solidified.”

There is no money identified with which to build the new Jacksonville school to which Wood referred, but there is $81 million in second-lien bonds to build a new high school at Maumelle and a new Sylvan Hills middle school in Wood’s district.

The current plan reverts to a single coeducational Jacksonville Middle School.

Before the meeting, Fletcher said that Jacksonville was not a trailer park and that between the health department, the fire marshal and city codes, he didn’t think the district could put those portables at the school.

Some had hoped that Wood would reverse his vote on the issue of the coeducational middle school, allowing one more year of the single-gender middle schools, but when board member Danny Gililland missed the meeting, it was clear there wouldn’t be enough votes for such a reversal.

“I look forward to an orderly plan so we may proceed on,” Fletcher said.

Wood said that the change to a coeducational Jacksonville middle school from two single-gender middle schools was “not quite set in stone.”

In an interview, he said that it would take his initiative to reconsider the issue, since of the four board members who passed it, he was the most likely to reconsider the measure. Wood also suggested that instead of placing five portable classrooms at the current boys middle school to deal with a classroom shortage, perhaps both single-gender buildings could be used for coeducational classes next year.

July 1 is the deadline to reconfigure the schools.

Jacksonville Fire Marshal Mike Williams may not approve the portables, or the overall condition of the building, which still has plumbing, electrical, drainage and other problems, perhaps including asbestos. The district had about $430,000 to get the building ready to accommodate all middle school boys and girls and teachers next year, according to Gary Beck, acting executive director for support services. But bids came back about $100,000 over that, so the project has been cut back.

Those numbers included leasing and setting up the five portable classrooms.

Instead of replacing the bathrooms, they will be repaired, he said. Also cut from the list are additional canopy replacements or repairs. Some canopies will be repaired, some additional classrooms readied and drainage work done near the band room, Beck said.

Jacksonville residents, saying that their children deserve better schooling and the area deserved better schools in the competition for population growth with neighboring Cabot, Ward and Austin, have worked for about 20 years to carve out a Jacksonville-area standalone school district.

Fletcher echoed those sentiments at the Tuesday night meeting.

Now, with PCSSD saying it won’t oppose such a district and with improved chances that PCSSD and North Little Rock will soon be declared unitary (desegregated), the people of Jacksonville believe they are on the brink of getting their own school district. Little Rock already has been declared unitary and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that finding by U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson. It was Wilson who ruled that Jacksonville couldn’t have its own district until PCSSD was ruled unitary.

Some are upset that their board member Bill Vasque has worked for more than a year to dismantle the single-gender middle schools despite evidence that they were effective academically and in reducing discipline problems.

TOP STORY >> Couple gives home to abused horses

Leader staff writer

Along a dirt road on the border of Lonoke and Prairie counties, Saving Grace Horse Rescue is nurturing back to health some of the most severe cases of animal neglect in central Arkansas.

The nonprofit group is operated by Stewart and Melody Anderson with the help of their family and friends. They all work full-time jobs, with the exception of Stewart, to pay for the rehabilitation of the malnourished horses, most of which are hundreds of pounds underweight, overcome the consequences of years of neglect.

Saving Grace Horse Rescue near Butlerville cares for 11 horses, and that number grows by the week. The rescue horses are a sad sight, their ribs and backbones protruding from their skin. Their faces are emaciated, but their expressions are appreciative and emotional.

The rescue operation is as expensive to run for its owners as it is rewarding. “You swell up with pride when you get a horse fit and healthy,” Stewart Anderson said.
But satisfaction won’t cover the costs for the feed and numerous medical treatments that each horse needs to get healthy. The Andersons rely on donations raised at fundraisers, discounts from farm supply stores and the generosity of veterinarians to sustain the rescue.

“The last fund-raiser we did was great. We made $425, but I spent $50 on feed today,” Stewart said.

The Andersons are looking for grants that would finance the rescue of dozens of more horses. If a stable source of income does not come through, the family doubts that Saving Grace will continue.

“We’re not taking any more volunteer surrenders,” because it would just be too expensive, Stewart said. But that doesn’t mean that horses won’t be arriving at the 75-acre Saving Grace farm. Unfortunately, the group’s services are in high demand.

The White County sheriff recently seized four horses from their owner in McRae. The Andersons said the horses were eating only tree bark and had no grass to graze on. They were starving.

“Everyone there was so hurt by what they saw,” Melody said. The sheriff’s deputies and Humane Society representatives who confiscated the horses were appalled by the animals’ suffering.

What was worse, she said, was that the owners did not understand what they had done was wrong and they were furious about losing their horses.

Occasionally, Saving Grace will get a call from an area Humane Society representative asking them to check on a horse that may be neglected.

“What we do is scout the roadside,” Stewart said. If they believe that a horse is not being fed properly or is penned improperly, they will contact the horse’s owner and explain their concerns.

The Andersons said most of the horse owners they deal with are respectful and do want to take care of their animals, but they often need education. Many times, the Andersons don’t even take a horse to the Saving Grace farm, but teach owners how to take better care of their animals.

Most horses at Saving Grace were voluntarily surrendered by owners who couldn’t meet their animals’ needs. Few were taken by law enforcement.

The group tries to adopt out the horses once they have been rehabilitated. But their adoption process is rigorous and lengthy.

The Andersons check up on a horse for a year to make sure that a prospective adopter is capable of caring for the horse.

Adoption fees are meager and on a sliding scale. Saving Grace will never recoup its expenses.

Adopting horses is one of Saving Grace’s most difficult challenges, according to the Andersons.

More horses come to Saving Grace than leave. The Andersons expect another four horses to arrive this week.

“We have two more definitely coming from Vilonia, and another two from Jacksonville and Ward,” Stewart said.

So, why do they do it? Each horse needs a monthly visit to the veterinarian, several shots a year, almost constant hoof care, several pounds of feed a week, regular exercise and the list goes on.

It’s expensive, but it means a lot to the Andersons. Stewart and Melody have been around horses almost their entire lives.

Stewart grew up on a farm in Illinois where there were always horses. Melody discovered her love for horses on her aunt’s farm in the Florida Panhandle, where she is originally from.

They moved to Arkansas about six years ago, first living on a smaller farm outside of Beebe and they moved to the farm near Butlerville in early April. They plan to live there permanently and continue to run the horse rescue there.

“There’s not a bad horse, only bad people,” Melody said.

“We’re gonna save the ones that we can,” Stewart said.

Only generous donations and grants can help sustain the Andersons’ mission.

For more information or to make a donation, call Melody and Stewart Anderson at 501-779-1728, or visit their Web site at

TOP STORY >> Private still hurting after terror attack

Leader editor-in-chief

Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula wasn’t feeling well enough to attend the funeral of Pvt. William Long on Monday.

Quinton’s recovering from last week’s terrorist attack at a military recruiting station in west Little Rock, where Long was killed by a single bullet.

Ezeagwula had hoped to go to his Army buddy’s funeral, but he has shrapnel all over his body, and often the pain medication doesn’t lessen the hurt.

Quinton, a former Red Devil football player, survived despite being shot three times. He told us he played dead during the ordeal until the alleged shooter, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, 24, aka Carlos Leon Bledsoe, drove off.

Ezeagwula, 18, and Long, 23, were standing outside the Army-Navy recruiting station on Rodney Parham Road on June 1, when Muhammad drove up in a black pickup truck carrying a cheap Chinese semiautomatic rifle and started firing.

After he came home from the hospital Thursday, he showed us the bullet holes in his body and told us he has shrapnel in his lungs, his neck and down his back.
Quinton’s mother, Sonja, went to the funeral without her son, who’s recuperating at their Jacksonville home.

The Patriot Guard showed up at their door early Monday morning to escort Sonja and Long’s parents to the funeral service at Sonny Gap Baptist Church of Conway, followed by burial at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery at 1501 W. Maryland Ave. on the edge of Sherwood.

She rode in the limousine with the Longs and sat with them at the funeral service and burial. “They treated me like family,” Quinton’s mother told us after the funeral.

Most of the time, Quinton stays in their Sunnyside home with friends.

“He’s staying in bed more,” she said. “He’s been feeling bad all day.”

Mayor-elect Gary Fletcher dropped by to thank the young man for his service to his country.

On Tuesday afternoon, Quinton was holding on to a long pillow as he slowly walked with his mother into a room at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station on Main Street in Jacksonville.

The young soldier was at times tongue-tied in front of the TV cameras, and his handler, Capt. Mathew Feehan, cautioned him not to discuss the shooting.

Feehan said that, following the shootings, the military is “looking at our security posture at recruiting stations.”

When a TV reporter asked Quinton about our report that he played dead during the shooting, he could only say, “No comment.”

Quinton, a heavy-machine operator, is thankful that the military has given him a career. He wants to continue to serve.

“I like defending this country,” Quinton said.

He hopes to become a drill sergeant one day, he said.

His mother said her family thanks God every day that Quinton is alive.

“I believe when something bad happens, God will turn it around,”
she said.

“I have no ill feeling toward the young man,” she continued, referring to the alleged shooter. “I pray justice will be served.”

Muhammad yesterday called the Associated Press to defend the attack at the recruiting station, saying he’s not a murderer because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.

Although he confessed, he said shooting Long wasn’t murder because he thinks it’s murder only when it’s “without a justified reason.”

In a collect call from jail, Muhammad told the AP that “he didn’t specifically plan the shootings, but they had been on his mind for a while.”

He denied his lawyer’s claim that he had been “radicalized” in a prison in Yemen, where he’d been arrested on a passport-forgery charge.

Quinton’s mother says her son has always been a hero.

“You never know what God has in store for you,” she said.

Quinton walked slowly as he and his mom left the press conference together. He may always be in pain, but outside, the sun was shining on this brilliant afternoon, and they were grateful on this hot summer day that his young life was not cut short.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Polluters welcome

If you were gambling on the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission refusing a permit for the utilities to build a carbon-belching power plant in southwest Arkansas, Monday was the day to fold. On the first day of a two-week hearing, the administrative judge for the commission threw out the heart of the case against it.

No one seriously expected the commission to deny an air-pollution permit to Southwestern Electric Power Co. because the commission had signaled its decision last winter, when it said the utility should go ahead and build the plant without waiting for its formal decision. The state Public Service Commission and the Depart-ment of Environmental Quality, which are part of the three-tier process of state regulation, had already stamped their approval on the plant.

Michael O’Malley, the hearing officer for the commission, began the hearings by ruling that the plant’s carbon-dioxide emissions were not an issue in the case, so there was no point in presenting evidence or arguments about it. The plant’s expected emission of globe-polluting carbon gases — some 5 million tons of them a year — was the heart of the case put on by environmental groups and neighbors that have tried to stop the 600-megawatt plant.

Other states have canceled plans to build new coal-fired power plants because of global concerns that the greenhouse gases are heating the planet and endangering future life. They have turned to conservation and less polluting sources of fuel to generate electricity, but the government agencies in Arkansas see no problem if the utilities don’t see one.

O’Malley said that despite a U. S. Supreme Court decision that the federal Clean Air Act requires government to regulate carbon dioxide, the federal government still has not said exactly what is an acceptable amount of the pollution, so it is pointless for the little old state government to try to do it. Who are we down here to even guess how much poison the Earth and its species can stand? The utility says fast-growing Texas needs the extra power that the plant will generate in a few years. We need to suck it up and give it to them.

That is the state government we’ve learned to love.

EDITORIAL >> Mayors: Past, present, future

Area mayors, past, present and future, are in the news:
Gary Fletcher, fresh off his convincing victory last week, becomes mayor of Jacksonville on June 30, succeeding Mayor Tommy Swaim, who is stepping down at the end of the month after more than 22 years on the job.

Fletcher ran an energetic campaign for mayor, defeating fellow Alderman Kenny Elliott in a runoff after the two finished at the top in a crowded field in the first round of the election four weeks ago.

Fletcher’s agenda includes pushing for better schools, encouraging growth through annexation, working with doctors to stay in Jacksonville, improving the hospital, revitalizing rundown parts of town, planning town hall meetings in every part of the city and much more. He hopes to put most of his agenda in place before the next election, which is 16 months away. Even if he implements only a part of his agenda, he has a good chance of winning a full term next year.

The longtime alderman says he’ll run an open administration and has named Jim Durham his top administrative aide. Durham, who managed Fletcher’s successful campaign, also promises to open city records so residents know exactly what’s going on in their town.

Cabot’s freshman mayor, Eddie Joe Williams, announced last week he will not seek re-election next year and will instead run for the state Senate seat in Dist. 28, where Sen. Bobby Glover is term limited.

Williams, who inherited a city that was financially mismanaged and that received flunking grades from state auditors, thinks he’s put Cabot on the road to solvency and it’s time to move on. Although he probably won’t face an opponent in the Republican primary, he could see a formidable Democrat running against him in November 2010. Former House Speaker Benny Petrus of Stuttgart has told us he might run, and so might former Rep. Lenville Evans if Petrus declines. Both are Democrats, who hold an advantage in the district. It includes much of the Arkansas prairie, which usually votes Democratic except in presidential races.

Something tells us Gov. Beebe, who will seek re-election next year, will urge Petrus to run and strengthen the Democrats’ control in the legislature.

The passing of former Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon over the weekend at the age of 81 saddened all those who knew him as a gentleman from the old school: Always courteous and ready with a quip, Harmon wanted the best for Sherwood, and the voters let him keep his job for 14 years. Even after he retired, he filled in temporarily when Mayor Danny Stedman resigned two years ago.

Supporters asked Harmon to run again in 2008 for another full term, and he did, half-heartedly, but a grassroots movement put former City Clerk-Treasurer Virginia Hillman in the mayor’s seat.

But Harmon never lost the common touch: He was a native of Hughes, in eastern Arkansas, where the pace is less hectic and the past sticks to its soil. He signed up for military service during the Second World War. The greatest generation never bragged about its achievements, never forgot its roots and never sought the limelight. That generation saved western civilization but hoped you wouldn’t keep reminding them.

Thank you, sir, and all those who served. RIP, Bill J. Harmon Sr., 1927-2009.

SPORTS >> Lions’ showing at tourney no cause for worry

Leader sportswriter

A 1-5 record at the Sonic Air Raid 7-on-7 football tournament at Harding University on Saturday didn’t leave new head coach Tim Harper too upset.

Searcy also took part in a team camp at Ouachita Baptist University two days earlier, and the full-contact scrimmages at OBU showed Harper what he wanted to see — his kids playing physically.

“It makes me feel really good and confident,” said Harper. “We played some elite teams in the state of Arkansas, and did pretty well. They came out with intensity and played really physical.”

The Lions’ only win in the Air Raid tourney was a 35-0 rout of Rose Bud, which went winless in five games, but three other games finished closely.

Morning pool play resulted in three losses for Searcy. The Lions started with a 20-6 loss to CAC before falling to Lonoke 19-14. Searcy finished out the preliminary round with a 28-12 loss to Pulaski Academy when the Bruins picked up two late scores after trailing early.

“That’s their forte,” said Harper. “That’s what they do more than anything else. Anyone that knows my style of football knows that we’re going to run the football first. We want to be able to pass and have balance, but we will be more of a running team, something they haven’t seen around here in a while.”

Harper used the tournament to continue his evaluation of his new squad. That included the use of four different quarterbacks. Senior Matt Ingle and junior Josh Rowden took the majority of the snaps, but Dezmund Stegall and Jared Eaves got in some throws.

“They all had their moments,” said Harper. “All of them looked pretty good at times, but nothing is locked in at this point. We’ll continue to evaluate everyone through the summer. We’re going to keep stats on everyone in our 7-on-7 league and evaluate everything once fall is here.”

The Lions ended up in the consolation bracket in the afternoon, where they began with a 17-14 loss to crosstown school and tourney co-hosts Harding Academy, but rebounded with a 35-0 win against Rose Bud. Searcy closed out tournament play with a narrow 19-12 loss to Conway.

“We didn’t play real good, but we honestly haven’t worked on our passing much up this point, or our secondary either for that matter,” Harper said. “Three of our games that we lost were by less than one score, so we were pretty happy for no more than we’ve worked in those areas.”

It was Harper’s first year to be a part of hosting the annual tournament, which serves as the first leg of the Arkansas 7-on-7 triple crown, along with the VYPE Select and Shootout of the South tournaments later this summer.

“I thought it went off pretty well,” said Harper. “It was well-organized, and the Lion-backers and the folks over at Harding Academy did a good job of putting it all together. The organization and the turnout were both really good.”

The Lions began 7-on 7 league play on Monday.

SPORTS >> Hogs get help from no-names to reach CWS

Nate Allen Media Services

FAYETTEVILLE — Here is what could have been said earlier in the season about Andrew Darr, T.J. Forrest, Drew Smyly, Mike Bolsinger, Jarod McKinney and Brett Eibner: “Yeah, they helped the Hogs get off to a hot start but they were second-rate in mid-May when Arkansas lost eight straight.”

And here is what could have been said earlier about Bo Bigham, the freshman second baseman from Texarkana: “Promising little infielder but should have been redshirted instead of being buried behind senior second baseman Ben Tschepikow.”

Well, here is what you can say about them now: “They not only are part of the College World Series-bound Arkansas
Razorbacks, they’re a big part of what got them there.”

In wins over Washington State and Oklahoma at the Norman Regional and again in the pair of wins over Florida State last weekend in the Super Regional, the names Darr, Forrest, Smyly, Bolsinger and Eibner figured prominently.

Other than his big series against Arizona State, not much had been heard from Darr, the senior utility outfielder, since he opened the season in February with a game-winning home run against Washington State.

The college baseball world sure saw and heard about him last Saturday. His two-run double in the ninth helped the Hogs overcome Florida State, 9-8, and propelled them to Omaha.

On more than just a hunch, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn started Darr in the outfield in Saturday’s clincher. Darr responded by going 4 for 5 with three RBI, including, of course, the game-winner.

“Andrew has been swinging the bat really well in batting practice,” Van Horn told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Rick Fires.

“Sometimes these kids think I don’t notice things when they are playing, but I’m watching everything.”

Sophomore pitcher-center fielder Eibner made a great, fence-crashing catch that helped beat Florida State last Friday, and freshman McKinney in Norman made a great catch that staved off Washington State before the Hogs erupted for a nine-run eighth inning.

Middleman/closer Bolsinger was a bell cow for much of the season but struggled — as did about everybody — when the Hogs lost eight straight SEC games in mid May.

Bolsinger bounced back to win in Norman and then, in Friday’s weather-delayed triumph over FSU, pitched the final five shutout innings. He went the remaining distance after lengthy rain delays stiffened Arkansas starter Dallas Keuchel.

Forrest and Smyly began the season following Keuchel in the SEC weekend rotation. By the end of the SEC season both were struggling, grab-bag, third-game options behind Keuchel and Eibner.

Yet on May 31 in Norman, Smyly pitched 8 1/3 innings of no-hit ball before finally giving up a hit in the 11-0 rout of Oklahoma.

Last Saturday in Tallahassee, with the Hogs down 5-1, Forrest came out of the pen to throw a crucial 2 2/3 scoreless innings while Arkansas came back to lead 7-5.

As for Bigham, since now-designated hitter Scott Lyons was too injured to play shortstop and Tschepikow was moved to short, he’s been the second baseman who made both the All-Tournament teams in the SEC Tournament and Norman Regionals and went 3 for 4 last Saturday against FSU.

In a sport with all the ups and downs of baseball’s long season, no team excels without fallen no-names carving out big names in big games.

The no-names certainly impressed one big name, FSU 30-year College Hall of Fame coach Mike Martin.

“Arkansas has an exceptional club,” Martin said. “And I mean that. They can win the College World Series just as easily as anyone else.”

SPORTS >> Centennial rallies from 4-run hole to post win

Leader sportswriter

A runaway bottom of the fifth inning was the difference for Cabot on Monday. The Centennial Bank senior American Legion team fought back from a 6-2 deficit with three runs each in the third and fourth frames, and took control in the fifth with a six-run spree.

Maumelle tagged on three more scores late, but Centennial Bank held on for a 14-9 win at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Baseball Field.

Cabot quickly loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth when C.J. Jacoby was hit by a pitch, Brandon Surdam singled and Joe Bryant reached on an error.

A bloop single to right center by Andrew Reynolds scored Jacoby to give Cabot a 9-6 lead, and a bases-loaded walk to Powell Bryant brought Surdam in to make it 10-6. Matt Turner followed two batters later with a double to deep right field that scored three runs, and an infield hit by Ty Steele that was mishandled at shortstop allowed Turner to score.

The Bulldogs ended up using four different pitchers through six innings, but it did little to stop Cabot’s 12-hit performance.

Cabot started with Jacoby at the mound, but Powell Bryant came on in relief in the top of the third to earn the win.

Centennial Bank took the lead in the bottom of the first with two runs. Powell Bryant was hit by a pitch, followed by the first of two triples by Sam Bates. Turner followed with a double to score Bates, giving Cabot a 2-0 lead. The Bulldogs made up one of those runs up in the top of the second, and five runs in the third lifted them to a 6-2 lead.

Cabot made up three of those runs in the third. Powell Bryant singled, and came in on another triple by Bates. Turner then singled to score Bates, and a hit to center by Steele that was misplayed scored Turner to make it 6-5.

Leadoff Joe Bryant tripled in the bottom of the fourth and scored on a single by Reynolds, who scored moments later on a double by Bates. Turner then doubled to score Bates, giving Centennial Bank an 8-6 lead.

Turner led Cabot, going 4 of 4 with three doubles, six RBI and two runs. Bates was 3 of 4 with two triples, three RBI and three runs scored. Reynolds was 2 of 5 with two RBI for Centennial Bank.


The game didn’t need any more excitement, but that did not deter Centennial Bank junior Legion coach Andy Runyan in the bottom of the fifth inning of Cabot’s 7-7 tie with Maumelle on Monday night at Conrade Field.

Daniel Fox came in on a double by Bryson Morris to tie the game at 7-7 in the bottom of the fifth.

With one out, Tyler Cole hit a fly ball to left and Morris tagged up and tried to come in with the winning run. But the throw from left to the Bulldogs’ catcher was on the mark, and Morris was called out, much to Runyan’s disapproval.

Runyan questioned the call and pushed dirt on the plate. The two teams went through another scoreless inning of play before the game had to be called for time.

The Bulldogs controlled things early on in building a 4-0 lead after two innings.

Centennial Bank picked up three runs in the bottom of the second inning to pull within a score.

Singles by Brandon Surdam and Josh Graham put two on, and Fox loaded the bases when he was hit with a pitch. Surdam and Graham scored when Zach Uhiren and Morris each drew walks. Tyler Cole was hit by a pitch to score Fox.

The Bulldogs picked up three more runs in the top of the fourth, but Cabot was able to answer. Uhiren led off the inning with a walk, advanced on an error, and tagged up on a sacrifice fly to left by Morris. Cole singled and advanced on Tyler Carter’s ground out. Justin Goff doubled to score Cole, and Carter came in moments later to pull Centennial Bank to within 7-6.

Goff went 2 of 3 with a double to lead Cabot.

SPORTS >> Gwatney pounds Cougars

Leader sports editor

Gwatney Chevrolet junior Legion’s dominance on Monday night can be summed up by a couple of stats: The first four batters in the lineup reached safely in all 12 of their plate appearances. Nine times, they crossed home plate.

The result was a quick and merciful 11-2, 5-inning rout of the Conway Cougars at Dupree Park.

The Chevy Boys needed only seven hits to produce those 11 runs and six of those came from their leadoff and three-hole hitter. Patrick Castleberry belted a triple and two doubles and drove in five runs in his three plate appearances, while Jacob
Abrahamson added a single, a double and a triple, drove in one and scored three times in his.

That was more than enough for Michael Lamb, who allowed four hits over five innings. His only mistake came in the fourth inning when he gave up a towering 2-run homer. Lamb struck out three and benefited from three double plays. He walked just one.

Gwatney bounced back from a poor showing last Thursday in a loss to Maumelle to beat Morrilton on Friday behind an Abrahamson grand slam at Conway on Monday. The Chevy Boys improved to 8-3 on the season.

This one was in little doubt after the first inning when Gwatney sent nine to the plate and scored four. The first six batters reached safely, starting with a triple high off the wall in left center by Abrahamson leading off. He scored on a wild pitch, and after Devon McClure drew a walk, Castleberry belted an RBI triple to the fence in straightaway center.

He scored when Nick Rodriguez was safe on an error. Rodriguez eventually came around on Orlando Roberts’ sacrifice fly.

Lamb pitched around a one-out error in the first when second baseman Jesse Harbin started a 4-6-3 double play. Lamb pitched a 1-2-3 second before his offense put three more on the board in the bottom of the inning. Abrahamson once again got things started, this time with a double to right center. McClure drew another walk and Castleberry drove them both home with a double to the fence in left center. Castleberry moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when Rodriguez reached on an error.

Conway started the third with a pair of leadoff singles, but Lamb got out of the jamb with a 1-6-3 double play. Gwatney then put it away with four in the third on just two hits. Roberts was hit with a pitch and Lamb walked. Abrahamson beat out an infield single to score Roberts and Lamb came around on a throwing error on the play. McClure walked for the third time and Castleberry picked up his fourth and fifth RBI with his second double of the game to make it 11-0.

The game ended in the fifth with the eight-run rule when Abrahamson began Gwatney’s third double play of the night.

Abrahamson and Castleberry finished with three hits each, while Zach Traylor picked up Gwatney’s only other base hit. McClure scored three times.

Gwatney junior Legion played Sheridan in a doubleheader last night after Leader deadlines.

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits get mixed reviews

Leader sports editor

Other than the uniforms and a couple of returning regulars, the Lonoke Jackrabbits were nearly unrecognizable at the Sonic Air Raid 7-on-7 Tournament on Saturday afternoon.

Almost all of the key principles are gone, from head coach Jeff Jones to quarterback Rollins Elam, his fleet receiving duo of Clarence Harris and Michael Howard and another reliable receiver in Joel Harris. In their place is new head coach Doug Bost, quarterback Michael Nelson and a slew of new faces in the receiving corps.

Despite all those losses, the Jackrabbits received a mixed review from Bost after their 7th-place finish at the Air Raid at Harding University in Searcy.

“I told them I thought we had real good intensity in the morning and played real well,” said Bost, whose team went 2-3 on the day. “But we came out after lunch and we just didn’t have much intensity. We only had 13 kids and the heat wears on you.

“I wish we had a few more skill guys but this is what we’ve got.”

Nelson, who has assumed the starting quarterback role with the departure from the team of Logan DeWhitt, was spotty on Saturday. Like the rest of the team, the senior was sharp early but flat in the afternoon. The Jackrabbits went 2-1 in pool play, beating Searcy and CAC and losing to Pulaski Academy.

Lonoke looked its best in a 32-12 win over CAC in the third pool game, jumping to a 16-0 lead on a pair of touchdowns and an interception in the end zone by linebacker Tommy Scott. (Interceptions are worth two points.)

Keely Bryant’s pick made it 18-2 before CAC closed to 18-10. But Lonoke answered with a 40-yard strike from Nelson to
Darius Scott, who broke open down the right sideline. Tommy Scott added another pick and Darius Scott finished the scoring by catching a pass on the right sideline and running untouched for a 40-yard touchdown and propelling the Jackrabbits into the championship bracket.

But after the hour-and-a-half lunch break, Lonoke never looked the same. Greenbrier jumped all over the ’Rabbits in the first round of bracket play, racing to a 31-0 lead. Nelson threw a pair of picks and Lonoke went out on downs on its other two possessions.

“Michael threw some good balls in the morning,” Bost said. “In the afternoon, he didn’t throw so well, and he knows that. But he’s going to work on it. He’s a competitor. That’s why we come to these 7 on 7s — to get better. And so the quarterback can learn to read defenses.”

The Jackrabbits finally broke through when Nelson hit Blake Dill on a fade route for an eight- yard touchdown. But Greenbrier went on to post a 38-7 win.

The start was better but the ending the same when Lonoke took on Des Arc in an elimination game. Nelson hit Blake Dill to the 15 and Darius Scott to the 8 before Scott eventually caught a one-yard touchdown pass to put Lonoke up 6-0.

But Lonoke, which got burned a couple of times on deep passes against Greenbrier, gave up a 40-yard touchdown pass and the game was knotted at 6.

“They hit us on the 7 route and the post route down the middle a couple of times,” Bost said. “When you’re a safety, you can’t stand and watch or it’s going to go right over your head.”

Des Arc scored twice to take an 18-6 lead. Darius Scott pulled down a sensational one-handed touchdown grab in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 18-12, but Lonoke could never get the ball back and its play in the Air Raid came to an end.

Darius Scott appeared to be the go-to guy on Saturday, though Dill and Todd Hobson are a pair of tall outside receivers that Bost was high on.

Lonoke was shorthanded, with several players playing summer baseball and tight end/fullback Morgan Linton away at an Arkansas State team camp.

“We had some fatigue set in,” Bost said. “We don’t have that many skill guys and we’ve got guys going both ways, but you’ve got to play yourself into shape because it’s going to be that way in the real season.”

Lonoke takes on Cabot today in 7-on-7 action and will return to Harding University on the weekend for another 7-on-7 tournament.

Monday, June 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Nash’s successor picked for board

Leader staff writer

Five members of the Cabot School Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to appoint a former board member to fill the remaining term of Brooks Nash who died last week from lung cancer.

Dr. Brenda Thielemier, a chiropractor who served one five-year term that ended in 2007, will complete Nash’s term that ends in September.

Dr. Tony Thurman, school superintendent, recommended Thielemier for the job and told board members that the appointee could not run for election. Theilemier didn’t run for a second term in 2007 and said she would not be interesting in running again.

She will be sworn in June 16.

Nash, a former teacher and principal with Cabot schools, ran for the school board after he retired. His first five-year term would have ended in September.

Candidates for the position may begin circulating their petitions on June 17. Twenty signatures of qualified voters are required, but county officials prefer at least 25 just in case some are not qualified.

Filing begins July 10 and ends at noon July 17. The school board election is Sept. 15.
Already one candidate has announced.

Corey Williams, vice president for Centennial Bank, announced Thursday that he is seeking the open position on the board.

Williams graduated from Cross County High School in 1992 and from Arkansas State University in 1997 with a degree in marketing management. He has been in banking since graduating from college and has been a resident of the Cabot School District for almost 10 years.

His wife, Amy, is an escrow officer with Grand Prairie Title Company in Cabot, and they have three children, Alex, Lauren and Logan.

Williams serves as vice president of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of the chamber’s education committee and a member of the Cabot Rotary Club. He volunteers with the Cabot Panther Education Foundation.

Williams and his family are members of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, where he teaches 10th grade guys Sunday school.

“The Cabot School District is one of the best school districts in Arkansas and it has been great to my family,” Williams said when he announced.

“Our district has a great school board and administrative staff, the top teachers in the state and offers our students the best possible education you could ask for as a parent,” Williams continued.

“I want to continue the great things that our school board has done for our students and staff. I look forward to the challenge and am proud to become a candidate,” he said.

SPORTS >> Gwatney seniors win, junior team falls

Leader sportswriter

What Seth Tomboli didn’t do with the bat, he did with his arm. He did plenty with both in Gwatney Chevrolet’s 8-1 cruise past Maumelle in senior American Legion action on Thursday at Maumelle as the Chevy Boys picked up their first win of the season to improve to 1-4.

Tomboli struck out 10 batters and tossed a 4-hitter, while going 3 of 3 with a pair of doubles and two RBI at the plate.

The big inning was the fourth for the Chevy Boys, who erupted for five runs on five hits. The big blow was A.J. Allen’s no-doubt home run to left that brought home Devon McClure. McClure had a big game of his own, going 2 of 4 with a triple and a pair of runs scored. That was on top of his 2-of-3, 2-RBI performance in the junior Legion game earlier.

Allen’s blast was just the beginning for Gwatney. Mike Harmon followed with a single, Terrell Brown walked and Jason Regnas was safe on a force play on Brown. After Harmon came home on a wild pitch, Patrick Castleberry ripped an RBI single and Tomboli doubled in Castleberry to make it 6-0.

Tomboli ran into his only trouble in the bottom of the inning. Tyler Wisdom made an outstanding diving catch in right center field to open the frame but two bloop singles and a solid base hit produced a run, and a walk to the next batter loaded the bases with one out.

But Tomboli recorded his fourth and fifth strikeouts to retire the side, and Maumelle didn’t collect a hit the rest of the way.

Head coach Bob Hicking-botham is still trying to get his entire team together, never an easy proposition in the early going of Legion season. The Chevy Boys were without Jared Toney and Tommy Sanders on Thursday, but they packed plenty of firepower without them, piling up 10 hits on the night.

Gwatney used a two-out rally to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Castleberry drew a walk and Tomboli doubled him home. Tomboli allowed a one-out single in the first before retiring the next nine Maumelle batters.

Gwatney added to its 6-1 lead in the fifth when McClure singled, went to second on a wild pitch, moved over to third on Allen’s ground out and scored on another wild pitch.

The Chevy Boys’ final tally of the night came in the sixth. Regnas walked, reached third on a pair of passed balls and scored on Tomboli’s single.

Tomboli walked two and hit a batter and the Chevy Boys committed one error. In addition to his three hits, Wisdom and McClure had two each. The senior Legion team travels to Russellville on Sunday before returning home to host Sylvan Hills next Thursday.

Maumelle 5,
Gwatney Junior 3

The Chevy Boys’ junior Legion team couldn’t overcome a slew of mistakes in falling to 6-2 on the season.

Gwatney committed four errors, had two base runners picked off and failed to cover a base on another occasion. The result was a loss, despite out-hitting Maumelle 7-6.
Starter and loser Jacob Abrahamson ran into early trouble, giving up three hits, a walk and a wild pitch in the first inning as Maumelle raced to a 3-0 lead.

Gwatney got one of those back in the second when Nick Rodriguez and Zach Traylor singled. Rodriguez scored on a wild pitch. But Gwatney failed to get Traylor home from third with one out when the Maumelle pitcher recorded a pair of strikeouts.

The Chevy Boys tied it in the third on a walk to Brandon Whitmore, Abrahamson’s single and McClure’s two-out, two-run double to the fence in left. McClure reached third on the throw home, but again Gwatney failed to punch him in from third with one out. The missed opportunities in the second and the third proved costly. Maumelle took the lead for good in the bottom of the third with a bloop double, a base hit and a throwing error. Gwatney left the tying run stranded at third in the fourth after Kenny Cummings singled and advanced two bases on an errant pickoff attempt.

Maumelle made it 5-3 on a walk and two Gwatney errors in the fourth. The Chevy Boys had a couple of chances the rest of the way. They put the first two on in the seventh when Cummings singled and Alex Tucker was hit with a pitch.

The game almost ended with a triple play when Orlando Roberts hit a liner behind the bag at second. The second baseman caught the ball, stepped on second, but threw wild to first. A strikeout ended the game.

Abrahamson allowed five hits and three earned runs over four innings while striking out six. Jesse Harbin pitched the final two innings, allowing a hit and a walk.
McClure and Cummings had two hits apiece.

The junior Legion team traveled to Morrilton last night and hosts the Conway Cougars on Monday.

SPORTS >> Bost gets early look at new team

Leader sportswriter

The feeling-out process continues for new Lonoke head football coach Doug Bost.

Today, the Jackrabbits will take part in the annual Sonic Air-Raid 7-on-7 football tournament at Harding University.

The Sonic Air-Raid, along with the VYPE Select and Shootout of the South later this summer make up the Arkansas 7-on-7 triple crown. The Air Raid features four, four-team pools with championship and consolation bracket play beginning in the afternoon.

The Jackrabbits will have their work cut out for them in the pool games, starting with Pulaski Academy at 10 a.m. They will move to the main field at 10:45 to face a rebuilding Searcy team, under new head coach Tim Harper. Their final pool game will be against CAC at 11:30.

Lonoke prepared for the Air Raid by participating in a four-team tourney at Cabot on Wednesday. Hazen and Bald Knob were the other two teams.

Michael Nelson has become the likely starting quarterback with the departure from the team of junior Logan DeWhitt. Bost has moved senior receivers Darius Scott and Todd Hobson into the backup quarterback slots to make up for DeWhitt’s loss.

“It’s a big loss for us,” said Bost. “But he came to me with his reasons, and we just have to move on.”

Nelson, Scott and Hobson are all expected to participate in today’s tourney, but missing will be high-profile all-state seniors Brandon Smith and Morgan Linton, both of whom will be attending college team camps.

Both are proven assets to the Jackrabbits. Running back Smith rushed for almost 900 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last season as a junior, while Linton made the majority of his noise on the defensive side with 63 tackles as starting defensive end. But Linton also played fullback and was a reliable receiver out of the backfield.

“I already knew they had team camps that they would have to go to,” said Bost. “They’re trying to land good scholarship offers, and that’s just part of the process. We’ve had to deal with a lot of camps and academic club meetings since spring anyway. I’ll just be happy to see them all at the same time (today).”

The Jackrabbits finished up spring practice at the end of May, although bad weather kept them off the practice field for two of the 10 days. Some underclassmen used the two weeks to their advantage, including junior Blake Dill, who impressed Bost with his effort at receiver.

“He’s been making a really good effort,” Bost said. “He’s a tough kid, and he’s willing to sell his body out and dive to make the tough catches.”

Another young player on the rise in the ’Rabbit camp is sophomore Tommy Scott, who will likely see playing time on both sides of the football. Scott (6-0, 235) plays offensive guard, and has also made a serious bid for one of the vacant middle linebacker positions.

“He’s got pretty good size,” said Bost. “And his speed has gotten a lot better. You can tell he really wants to play.”

Conway, Greenbrier, host Harding Academy and Heber Springs make up division A, while Bald Knob, Little Rock Christian, Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel will be the division C teams. Conway Christian, Des Arc, Green County Tech and Rose Bud are the four teams in division D.

Each team will play three pool games. The top two teams from each division will start out in the winner’s bracket. The losers of each first-round pool game will be sent to the loser’s bracket with a chance to play their way back to the championship game at 5:15 p.m.

The Lions start pool play against CAC at 10 a.m. and end with PA at 11:30 a.m.
Harding Academy will start with Greenbrier at 10 a.m. and move on to Conway at 10:45 a.m. before wrapping up pool play against Heber Springs at 11:30 a.m.

SPORTS >> Backyard Brawl launches televised slate

Leader sports editor

Jim Withrow said he always knew this day was coming. Mark Whatley wasn’t surprised either.

Live televised high school football has arrived in Arkansas. KARK Channel 4 announced on Wednesday morning the launching of Fearless LIVE, a package of 11 live statewide broadcasts of high school football games on sister station KARZ Channel 42.

The inaugural broadcast will be the Backyard Brawl — the annual rivalry game between Jacksonville and Cabot.

“(Cabot) has the traveling trophy now,” said Whatley, Jacksonville’s head coach. “And this just adds to (all the hype). Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play and take advantage of it and get after it. It ought to be an exciting week.”

Though the Jacksonville-Cabot game is slated for a Tuesday night (Sept. 1), the other 10 games will be played on Thursday nights. Kickoff for all 11 broadcasts is 7:30.

Two other Leader area teams will be featured in the package. Sylvan Hills will host Mills on Oct. 1 and Harding Academy will travel to Mayflower on Oct. 15.

“I remember when I was in high school in Fayetteville, they’d put a game on TV every once in a while,” said Withrow, the former Mills coach who will be starting his third year at Sylvan Hills this fall. “I think it came down to economics. Give credit to the guys who are putting up the money. It’s tough to sell and they’re sticking their necks out.”

Former Arkansas Razorback announcer and KARK sports anchor Dave Woodman will do the play-by-play for each of the games and will be joined in the booth by KARK Razorback Nation anchor Aaron Nolan.

“A great deal of work went into this,” Whatley said. “Obviously, they recognize there is a great deal of passion in high school football in Arkansas. And Fearless Friday has come in and given us a chance to showcase the kids and showcase the communities.”

Cabot athletic director Johnny White was mostly positive about the package, but also expressed reservations about the potential economic impact it might have on the schools.

“We initially turned it down,” he said. “We were afraid it might cost us money at the gate, that people might stay at home and watch. We negotiated a little bit and they assured us that wouldn’t be the case.

“But we have to make our money at the gate and if you lose $3,000, that’s $3,000 you have to make up.”

But White also saw the upside, noting that the broadcast gave Cabot an opportunity to showcase its state-of-the-art football facility, with its jumbo screen, artificial turf, brand new field house and top-of-the-line lighting.

“I think it means a lot for the state,” White said. “It’s going to be good for high school athletics. But there are lots of unanswered questions still.”

Whatley said he isn’t too concerned about the effect the television cameras might have on his players. And the Red Devils and Panthers played on a Tuesday last year so that shouldn’t be a factor either, especially given it’s the first week of the season.

“You might have to address a couple of things that are out of the ordinary,” Whatley said of preparations for the game with Cabot. “But you find that once the game kicks off, football players are still football players and fans are still fans. But this should definitely be a good motivator for the kids.”

For Withrow and Sylvan Hills, the story may be a little different. Withrow said if the game was in Week 7 or 8, playing on a Thursday wouldn’t be a factor at all.

“By that point in the season, you’d probably rather play on Thursday anyway,” he said. “But with it being Week 5, it might be a little different. I think we play White Hall the week before and North Little Rock before that.

“We’re going to have a tough little three-game stretch before (the Mills game). And it will be a short week.”

As far as the presence of live television cameras on the sidelines, Withrow doesn’t think that will play much of a role at all.

“Once the game starts, they won’t even think about it,” he said. “To be honest, when you walk out there on a Friday night, there are cameras all over the place anyway.”

Withrow said that originally Sylvan Hills was slated for a Week 3 televised matchup with North Little Rock, but scheduling forced a change to the Mills game. Withrow coached at Mills before coming to Sylvan Hills in 2007.

“I was kind of surprised it wasn’t us and North Pulaski, with the communities being so close together,” he said. “But I think it came down to scheduling. There was some concern about losing the gate for a Thursday night junior high game that (might have to be moved).”

Televised football will also give college football coaches around the state — including Gulf South Conference coaches — an opportunity to scout area talent, giving kids another chance to be seen by prospective recruiters.

“It’s very exciting, getting to play on statewide TV,” Withrow said. “It’s a big deal and I’m excited to be a part of it.”