Friday, June 26, 2009

SPORTS >> New NP coach nears completion of football staff

Leader sportswriter

First-year North Pulaski football coach Rick Russell is preparing his new team for 7-on-7 scrimmages in mid-July before two-a-days start in the first week of August.

Russell, who took over from Tony Bohannon in the spring, is still in the process of familiarizing himself with the new faces, as well as building a coaching staff from the ground up.

“I’m still getting to know the kids,” said Russell. “They are good quality kids, and they are com about the participation of the kids through the summer.”

Close to 40 players from freshmen through seniors have been reporting for summer drills on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Falcons will begin summer 7-on-7 league play in Cabot on July 14. The drills have focused on agility, and strength as the players have spent plenty of time in the weight room.

Russell credits much of his smooth transition from his former Jacksonville High School, where he served as defensive coordinator under Johnny Watson and later Mark Whatley, to his defensive coordinator, J.B. Pendergraft.

Pendergraft is best known to longtime central Arkansas football fans as a star running back for the UCA Bears back in the late 1960s, but has also coached in the college ranks as a defensive coordinator at Southern Arkansas University.

“He kept things going in the spring,” said Russell. “He got me to the right players when I needed to get to them. He just made it so much easier. From checking their grades to handling a lot of the logistics, he’s been a great help.”

Russell is also bringing some more of the Red Devil flavor to the home of the Falcons with new running backs/secondary coach Terrod Hatcher, who was a star running back at JHS from 2003-05.

“Anybody can be a good coach,” said Russell. “There’s books and videos and everything else out there for people to use, but these are men of character. They put kids first. They’re all about promoting kids.”

Russell said the only spot left to fill on the staff is receiver coach. He has a strong prospect but the deal has not yet been finalized.

As a new football coach at a program which has struggled to just five wins in six seasons, Russell is taking more of a business-as-usual approach.

“We’re not looking back,” said Russell. “All we’re doing is looking forward. We want to get better each and every day. A coach once told me that you either get better everyday or worse everyday, but no one stays the same. The way these kids have been working, we should be a competitive football team.”

SPORTS >> Gwatney rides arm of Harmon, Bruins’ errors to 9-1 victory

Leader sportswriter

When your ace pitcher struggles, it can make for a long evening.

Just ask Sylvan Hills.

Optimist Bruins hurler Nathan Eller had been enjoying a good summer on the mound until Thursday at Dupree Park, when Gwatney Chevrolet lit him up for 10 hits in a 9-1 run-ruled win in an American Legion senior zone game.

Only four of those runs were earned. Sylvan Hills committed four critical errors, including two in the bottom of the third inning that resulted in four unearned runs. The only earned run of the inning was a single by Devon McClure that plated winning

Jacksonville pitcher Michael Harmon to give Gwatney a 7-1 lead.

Doubles by Jason Regnas and Harmon clinched the final two scores needed in the bottom of the fifth to end the game early.

Harmon kept the Bruins off the bases for the most part, giving up only two hits and a walk that resulted in one earned run. He also had five strikeouts.

The Chevy Boys did their job behind him with only one error in the top of the third inning when shortstop Terrell Brown couldn’t get to an infield dribbler by Casey Cerrato in time and made a rushed throw to Regnas at first.

They made up for the bobble moments later when Regnas and second baseman A.J. Allen caught Cerrato in a rundown for the third out.

Jacksonville also took advantage of three hit batters and a walk.

Brown sent Eller’s second offering of the game over the left center wall to set the tone for the Chevy Boys in the bottom of the first inning. Eller recovered to retire Jacksonville with two of his four strikeouts for the game, but Gwatney added another run in the second inning. Allen singled and advanced to second on a single to center by Regnas, but an error on the play allowed Allen to coast home to make it 2-0 after two.

Daniel Thurman started the deciding frame off for Jacksonville in the bottom of the third with a single to left. Allen was hit by a pitch, and an error on an infield grounder by Regnas scored both of them.

A walk to Seth Tomboli and a single by Harmon loaded the bases, and another error, this time on an infield grounder by Brown, scored Regnas and Tomboli to put the Chevy Boys up 6-1.

Regnas led off the bottom of the fifth with a double to right center, and Harmon drove him in with a double down the first base line. A single by McClure scored Harmon to make it 9-1 to end the game on the eight-run rule.

The Bruins’ only score of the game came in the top of the second inning when Gino Jameson reached on a walk and came in three batters later on a groundout by Eller.

Regnas was 2 of 2 with a double, two RBI and two runs. Harmon, along with earning the win for Gwatney Chevrolet with a complete-game effort, went 2 of 3 with a double, an RBI and two runs. McClure was 2 of 4 with two RBI.

SPORTS >> Hooten’s picks Panthers, Wildcats in league

Leader sports editor

Hooten’s Football Magazine picked Cabot and Harding Academy to win their conferences, but the annual prep publication had little love left over for the other Leader-area teams.

The Panthers earned Hooten’s nod despite returning only nine of 22 starters off last season’s 9-2 team. Among those returners, running back Michael James, noseguard T.J. Bertrand and linebacker Spencer Neumann were named to Hooten’s 7A Super Team, while defensive back Joe Bryant and quarterback Seth Bloomberg were listed among the unheralded stars.

James, Neumann and Matt Bayles comprise what Hooten’s listed as the best backfield in 7A.

Cabot was ranked third overall in 7A.

Jacksonville, which lost a lot of talent off the offense but which returns nine starters on defense, was picked to finish fifth in the 6A East and was ranked 10th overall in 6A.

The Searcy Lions, under first-year head coach Tim Harper, was picked to finish ahead of only Little Rock Hall in the 6A East and was ranked 13th overall. Running back Hayden Mercer was tabbed as an unheralded star.

First-year head coach Rick Russell’s North Pulaski Falcons were picked to finish last in the 5A-Southeast after losing 15 of 22 starters.

Sylvan Hills, which was listed as having the best linebackers in all of 5A, was picked second in the Southeast Conference behind Monticello. The Bears were tabbed ninth overall in 5A.

Running back Juliean Broner made Hooten’s Super Team, while quarterback Jordan Spears, defensive end Nic Brewer and linebacker Michael Robinson were all listed as unheralded stars.

John Shannon will begin Season 3 at Beebe with as little experience returning as he’s had since he took over in 2007. Only eight starters return, though one, Spencer Forte, was named to the 5A Super Team, while running back/safety Victor Howell was named an unheralded star. The Badgers are picked fourth in the Southeast, 17th overall.

Lonoke, coming off a 10-2 season, but with only seven starters back, was tabbed third in the 2-4A Conference, while fullback/defensive end Morgan Linton was a member of the 4A Super Team. Running back Brandon Smith and receiver/defensive back Todd Hobson were named as unheralded stars.

The Jackrabbits, under first-year head coach Doug Bost, are ranked 12th overall in 4A.

Harding Academy, with unheralded stars in quarterback Seth Keese, running back Tyler Gentry and center Matt Calhoun and Super Team defensive lineman Montgomery Fisher, are picked to win the 2-3A Conference and are ranked sixth overall.

Riverview, entering its second year as a varsity program, was picked fourth in the 2-3A after reaching the playoffs in its inaugural season. Grafton Harrell, Ben Overstreet, Stetson Evans, Chance Hunton and Chayse Parson were listed as unheralded stars.

SPORTS >> Taming the beast as important as talent at U.S. Open

Leader sports editor

Over five days last week, professional golf once again proved itself to be the greatest spectator sport around.

If you don’t like golf or have never played it, I fully respect your right not only to disagree with me, but to consider me a daft old blue-hair with an undetectable pulse who has probably never witnessed the spectacle of a NASCAR race.

Guilty on all charges.

There are people who will miss the births of their children to watch a soccer match on a 12-inch black and white TV and who will just as vehemently tell you their sport is king. I can’t see it, but then, my blindness hardly negates their assertion. If so many people are that passionate about a thing, then I am happy to concede its worth. (The lone exception may be the fervor with which a couple of people at our paper defend heavy metal music)

It’s been said before but it bears repeating: In no other sport (bowling maybe?) is the battle solely with yourself. Tiger goes out and shoots a 64? Nothing you can do about it but try to shoot 63. It used to be that a golfer could stymie an opponent if his ball ended up between his opponent’s ball and the hole but that was abolished in 1952. Now, it’s just you against the course and yourself.

There is, of course, no bigger enemy than your own self-doubt, an animal which often remains caged and quiet in the early rounds of a major tournament, begins to grumble and rattle the bars along about Round 3 (if you’re still in contention), then lurches to break free of its chains on Sunday.

Everyone knows the beast is lurking, but it is something that mostly goes unacknowledged because NO ONE wants to admit to losing a battle of nerves within himself. I tried for a while to convince others that my incessant yips were not actually yips at all but merely the result of a faulty putting technique. But I too often betrayed myself by everything from offering large sums of money for gimmees to standing over two-foot putts while groups behind played through to actually laying down on the green and sobbing

That is why people who have played the game are so riveted by the late holes of a tight major. How do these guys hold up under the immense pressure, which is heightened, it seems to me, by the pall of silence that awaits each and every one of their shots?

As much as it sometimes seems so, you begin to realize these guys are not robots. When Ricky Barnes eagled the 4th hole in the third round to go five clear of the field, he was playing carefree, in-the-zone golf. He barely missed a 15-footer for birdie on the following hole. Barnes, who also parred the sixth hole, had made only one bogey over the first 40 holes of the tournament and had gone 30 holes without one.

Over the next 24 holes, Barnes bogeyed 12 times. Meaning he went from a 2.5 percent bogey rate to a 50 percent bogey rate.

What happened? The beast got free. You could see it not just in the numbers but in the swings he was making. His already quick, near-lunging swing got quicker and lungier. His putting suddenly began to look familiar. He was using my stroke!

Meanwhile, there was NBC analyst Johnny Miller speaking those words which shall never be spoken: choke, fold, nerves. You knew he would, and it’s what makes him among the best sports analysts around. It’s also what makes him resented by many of the pampered pros.

I remember one time hearing CBS analyst Gary McCord say, in the heat of a Sunday battle, “these guys are throwing up all over their shoes out there.”

The eventual winner himself, Lucas Glover, began to collapse at precisely the same point as his playing partner Barnes began his implosion. Seven under after the 41st hole, Glover went bogey, double-bogey, bogey, though he did play a bogey-free back nine, which included three birdies.

But the final round included three bogeys on the front nine and another on 15 to put him 4-over for the day.

It is that succumbing to nerves that makes us at home recognize these guys for what they are – fallible humans. They may play a game, as Bobby Jones famously said of Jack Nicklaus, “with which I am not familiar,” but one thing we as fans can relate to is that urge to throw up on our shoes.

Glover, 71st-ranked player in the world, was suddenly faced not only with his own imploding game but with the looming spectacle of crowd darling Phil Mickelson roaring back to tie him with an eagle at 13.

Yet Glover managed to wrestle the animal back into its cage and hit the shot of his life on 16 and cashed in a birdie to give him the lead. There it remained over the final two holes, allowing Glover to make a six-foot par save on 17 and a tricky two-footer for the win on 18.

Yes, they may be playing a game with which we are not familiar. It is what is going on above their shoulders that we can relate to and what makes turning away from a final round at a major unthinkable.

SPORTS >> Cabot runs streak to 6

Leader sports editor

The bats of Cabot Centennial Bank went completely silent from the fourth inning on, but fortunately for them, those same bats made a bunch of noise early.

Though Centennial Bank had only one base runner after the third inning, a five-run second proved more than enough for a 6-2 victory over North Little Rock at Burns Park on Thursday night.

Cole Nicholson tossed a five-hitter and struck out 10 as Cabot rolled to its sixth consecutive win. The streak follows a four-game losing skid and improved Centennial Bank to 10-6 on the season.

After going quietly in the first, Cabot sent nine batters to the plate in the second and took advantage of three Colt errors. Matt Turner got things started with a solid single back through the box and Powell Bryant was hit with a pitch. Ben Wainwright delivered Turner with a line single and Tyler Erickson’s base hit loaded the bases.

A wild pitch scored Bryant and advanced Wainwright to third. Chase Thompson dropped a looping single into right to plate Wainwright and make it 3-0. With two outs, Andrew Reynolds singled to right to score Erickson and Thompson.

With Nicholson carrying a 1.33 ERA into the contest, that 5-0 lead appeared more than sufficient, but for good measure Cabot tacked on a run in the third. Turner tripled over the center fielder to lead things off and came across when Brandon Surdam reached on an error. Tyler Erickson walked and it began to look like a mercy rule was imminent. But only one of Cabot’s final 13 batters reached base and Drew Burks was erased on a double play after drawing a leadoff walk in the sixth.

Nicholson was cruising along with a one-hitter before allowing a walk and a single with one out in the fourth. A double steal put both runners in scoring position, but Nicholson got his fifth and sixth strikeouts to end the threat.

But after beginning the fifth inning with his seventh strikeout, Nicholson ran into his only trouble of the night, allowing a single and a walk. With two outs, Andrew Hahn ripped a two-run double down the line in left. But Nicholson retired seven of the final batters he faced for his third win of the season.

Cabot finished with six hits — five in the second inning. Turner had two of those and scored twice while Reynolds drove in a pair of runs with a base hit. Leading hitter Sam Bates did not play on Thursday and Burks, who had just returned from the high school All Star game in Fayetteville, didn’t start.

Cabot played error-free in the field, while North Little Rock committed four errors.

Cabot travels to Maumelle today.


Chad Wisely was mowing them down early on Thursday night, retiring 10 of the first 11 batters he faced. But the Colts tied the game in the fourth, took a one-run lead in the fifth and blew it open with a four-run sixth before the game was called for time.

A walk to Bryson Morris, a base hit by Justin Goff and RBI singles by Nathan Cash and Tyler Carter put Cabot up 2-0 in the first, but Cash and Carter were stranded and Centennial Bank got only two base runners past first base the rest of the way.

Wisely pitched around a two-out walk in the first, then got some defensive help with a nice charge and throw by shortstop Tyler Cole in the second. Cabot wasted a golden opportunity in the second after Taylor Barnhill tripled to right leading things off. With one out Brandon Surdam walked, but Morris hit a bouncer to the shortstop near second base and he turned it into a 6-3 double play.

Cabot also wasted a leadoff single by Goff in the third and leadoff walks in the fourth and sixth innings. Cabot hit into three double plays.

Wisely set down eight in a row before surrendering back-to-back singles with one out in the fourth. Two walks forced home a run and another came in when Cabot failed to execute a rundown on a runner caught off third base. Wisely pitched out of further damage, recording a pop out and a ground out, but the Colts had knotted it at 2.

An infield single, a bunt single and a walk loaded the bases and ended the day for Wisely. Reliever Jordan Lyons did a good job in retiring the three he faced in the inning, but a sacrifice fly gave the Colts the lead.

They scored four times on three hits and two walks in the sixth.

Cabot managed six hits, two by Goff. Wisely allowed four hits, four walks and three earned runs and took the loss.

EDITORIAL >> ‘King of Pop’ 1958-2009, RIP

Michael Jackson was a star for almost half a century, singing smooth soul music that had universal appeal. It was the music of the black urban masses, but watered down so that prepubescent-suburban youngsters and teenagers from Burbank to Beijing could dance to it.

Jackson, who died Thursday at the age of 50, probably from abusing prescription drugs, was vaguely aware that the music that had made him a millionaire was transplanted here on slave ships. It evolved into jazz and blues, created by poor blacks in the
Arkansas-Mississippi Delta who had moved up North, like his parents, transplants in Gary, Ind.

But the pop star may best be remembered as a dancer as innovative and entertaining as Fred Astaire. Jackson was inspired by the moves of the late, great James Brown, but expanded them in a way that became as memorable and unique as Michael Jordan slam-dunking.

Jackson’s fans will always remember his moonwalk, along with his bizarre plastic surgeries and courtroom spectacles.

Jackson was tainted by child sex-abuse charges and had tried to change his complexion to appear white. Despite his millions, he was not known for supporting hospitals or schools in urban ghettoes — but his success made his fans proud, especially those back home. Jackson, like Elvis, could become a more valuable commodity because of his sudden death.

EDITORIAL >> Power plant put on hold

The Arkansas Court of Appeals labors in obscurity, reviewing how the trial courts perform in the daily grime of criminal justice and how well the agencies of government follow the law. From time to time that work makes the court an indispensable tribune for the people. The court met that duty Wednesday when it voided the state government’s permit for utilities to build a huge coal-burning power plant at McNab in the wilderness of southwest Arkansas.

The six judges said the state Public Service Commission had flagrantly ignored the law in 2007 when it gave Southwestern Electric Power Co. (Swepco) a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need to build a 600-megawatt generating plant to serve customers in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. It will share the power with electric cooperatives. The name of the permit suggests that the state government found that the plant was badly needed and that it would be perfectly compatible with the habitat and with people’s health. But the judges, all of them, found that the commission had followed procedures that assured none of that.

Actually, the evidence mustered at the commission’s hearings suggested that none of it was true. There were ample sources of electricity for many years to come without building an expensive poison-spewing plant, and the toxic residue from burning coal would harm the immediate environment and the world’s. The plant would spew 5 to 6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, and one little molecule of the stuff hangs around the heavens for 50 to 200 years to heat the planet. Is it hot enough for you already?

But the Public Service Commission — two of the three commissioners, at least — said in 2007 that no agency of government in Little Rock or Washington had ever said how much carbon dioxide was tolerable so it was going to ignore the carbon peril. All the other poisons from the plant would be within acceptable bounds, the commissioners said. At its main hearing the commissioners refused to consider other options to a new generating plant and refused to allow a commercial generator in Union County to intervene to show that it could supply the power. It operates with cleaner natural gas and could supply the 600 megawatts of power the utilities said they would need a few years from now.

In a narrow sense, the Court of Appeals struck down the permit on a technicality. That is how the utility will spin it. The judges observed that Arkansas law requires all the issues — the need for more electricity, the options for meeting it, all the environmental effects, and the location and impact of the transmission lines — to be addressed in a single case.

But the commission broke it up into three separate cases. In the first, which dealt with the question of whether a big new plant was needed to meet future power demands, there was little public notice and no one participated except the utilities and the commission’s staff, which pretty much went along with what Swepco wanted. That has been the attitude of all of the government: the attorney general, the governor, the state Department of Environmental Quality and the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

The judges were sharply critical of the laissez-faire approach of government entities that were charged by law to look out for the consumers and for everyone whose lives would be touched in some way by the plant. Judge Josephine Hart was particularly caustic about the attorney general, who by law is supposed to fight for the interests of the public. She said the office had simply gone along, “thus abdicating its responsibility to protect the interests of the people of this state.”

Unless the Arkansas Supreme Court overturns the Court of Appeals, which we think is unlikely, they will all get a fresh chance to do right when the commission conducts new hearings.

TOP STORY >> Glover concerned over state prisons

Associated Press writer

Inmates carrying sawed-off shotguns once patrolled the grounds of Arkansas prisons, keeping other prisoners in line with fear and intimidation. The few guards kept order with five-foot-long leather straps and a device that sent an electric charge through an offender’s toe and genitals.

Forty years ago, a federal judge declared Arkansas’ prisons an unconstitutional “dark and evil world,” and it took more than a decade for the system to break free of federal supervision. But a spate of recent allegations — including an inmate left naked and covered in his own feces for days who nearly died — have state officials studying a past they had hoped was behind them.

“We’ve got to stay on top of it because we don’t want to get back into federal court on this one,” said state Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle), who heads a panel overseeing the prison system. “We don’t want our prison system being held unconstitutional.”

No state official compares the prison system of today to what it once was. But in the past several months, several misconduct allegations have surfaced behind the gates. Investigators say guards at one facility received lap dances from a nurse while on the job. Two convicted murderers escaped by wearing handmade guard uniforms. Guards shot and killed a man who officials said had fled a contraband checkpoint.

Gov. Mike Beebe said he won’t call for state prisons chief Larry Norris to be fired because he believes problems in Arkansas are similar to those in other states. Norris joined the state prison system in 1971 and became director in 1993. Beebe said through a spokesman that he has “full faith” in his ability to run the 15,000-inmate system.

The tortured past of Arkansas’ prisons dates to the early 20th century. In 1933, the state closed its penitentiary in Little Rock and moved all the prisoners to the Cummins and Tucker prison farms, where privileged inmates guarded the others.

For the next 30 years, inmates died from killings and disease as gambling, alcohol and rape permeated the farms. Some prisoners reported being beaten at random by their inmate guards, while food — no matter how poor — remained in short supply.

One inmate often ate “cornbread and molasses for breakfast and a bowl of peas for lunch, and had had to ‘skim the worms off of the top of the bowl before eating them,” an Arkansas State Police report said.

By 1966, then-Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the State Police to investigate allegations of extortion, misuse of state property and inmate drunkenness. Severe riots broke out at Cummins. Two years later, human skeletons found at Cummins were alleged to have come from inmates beaten to death and secretly buried there.

“We have probably the most barbaric prison system in the United States,” then-Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller said.

Bob Scott, Rockefeller’s prison liaison, said the governor realized how bad the system had become during a visit to Cummins, when his bodyguard had to give up his pistol to a murderer he arrested 10 years earlier.

“You can control anything with fear,” said Scott, now 75. “The attitude in Arkansas at the time was ‘out of sight, out of mind’ — just don’t bother us with the details.’”

U.S. District Judge J. Smith Henley took the first step toward reform in 1965, when he ordered guards to stop using corporal punishment. In 1969, he found portions of the state prison system unconstitutional, setting up his historic 1970 decision to put the entire state prison system under federal control — a first for the nation.

The prisons added school classes, increased the number of guards and improved facilities before coming out from underneath federal supervision in 13 years. Still, problems inside the prisons have persisted.

In 1995, state police revealed that a smuggling ring had brought drugs, weapons and alcohol onto death row. That same year, a federal judge ordered prison officials to place more guards at Cummins after a lawsuit claimed the state had violated inmates’ rights by failing to adequately protect them from fellow prisoners.

An inmate escaped from Cummins in 1999 and killed a farmer and later another man in a traffic crash. A federal grand jury indicted former prison guards in 2001 for allegedly shocking three inmates on the testicles and elsewhere when they were disruptive.

In 2003, a Justice Department report said officials at two state prisons at Newport were “deliberately indifferent” to prison conditions and inmates with serious medical problems. In one case, an inmate who complained of chest pains after open-heart surgery “was given Tylenol and sent back to his housing unit.”

Problems continued into 2007. Prison guards were fired for using excessive force against inmates, and other employees lost their jobs or resigned over a probe into bootleg computers that inmates at Tucker had built to watch pornographic films.

Scott said state prisons today are better than those four decades ago but likely still lag behind others in the nation.

“Anytime you have men cooped up like animals, you’re going to have problems,” Scott said. “What taxpayers need to face up to is that prisons ought to be designed to make a person better having been there, not worse. The way they’re designed now, it’s very unusual for someone to come out better.”

TOP STORY >> End of an era

Jacksonville says goodbye
to Mayor Tommy Swaim

Story by

Photos by

Hundreds of people from around the state gathered Thursday night to see Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim and his wife Judy off into retirement.

The event, sponsored by the chamber of commerce, was at the Jacksonville Community Center, which was one of the first major building projects tackled by the mayor 15 years ago and still considered one of Jacksonville’s jewels.

The evening of food, fun, hellos and goodbyes included speeches from old bosses, local politicians and even the vice mayor from Fort Smith, a hilarious videotape of Swaim looking for work at Walmart, Wendy’s, Little Caesar’s and other areas about town after he retires on Tuesday, and the presentation of a fishing boat, motor and trailer for the mayor to enjoy during his retirement.

Banker Larry Wilson—who was on the city council with Swaim before he became mayor and stayed on the council for about 15 years afterward—told the crowd that when Swaim took over the mayor’s office, the city “was in dire financial straits.”

“Let me you tell you, every payday around here was exciting,” Wilson said.

“And a new evil entered in the name of Vertac. Tommy thought he could have it licked in two years. He missed,” Wilson said, laughing.

It took Swaim and the city 12 years to clean up the Superfund site that put Jacksonville on the national stage in a negative light.

Activist Ralph Nader came to town to stir up everyone into “a lather with misinformation.”

“We even had misguided citizens march on the governor’s mansion carrying a casket and implying we were killing people,” Wilson said. “It was a very difficult time. But Tommy remained steadfast and went toe-to-toe with state and federal agencies to get the cleanup done in a safe and complete manner.”

Wilson said the key to the mayor’s success is his leadership skills. “His greatest attribute is the example he sets for other employees. He is usually the first one in the office, hardly takes a lunch and then its usually just a candy bar at his desk, took very few days off and hardly went on vacation. He wanted to be a good steward for the city,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the city is completely opposite from what it was when Swaim first took office.

“Many cities in the state are now suffering financially, and we are in great shape. Thanks to the mayor,” he said, adding, “Enjoy your retirement, but when you get tired, we’ll find you a job back here.”

Realtor Doug Wilkinson, the mayor’s boss before he got into politics, said he remembered back in the late 1970s that he and Swaim would be sitting around griping about the city’s problems and wondering what could be done. That’s when Swaim decided to run for the city council and then for mayor.

“I was losing my best salesman, and I had mixed emotions when he decided to run for mayor, but the city needed him more than I did. So I was the first to jump on his bandwagon,” Wilkinson said.

Alderman Bob Stroud said Swaim was not a politician, but a technician. “A technician,” Stroud said, “is a person skilled in the technique of an art or work—and Tommy was skilled in using the office of the mayor to make this city better for you and me.”

Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League, gave the crowd an example of how much Swaim loved Jacksonville.

“He could have been president of the National League of Cities. We wanted him to be, but he opted not to run. He said, ‘I don’t want to be away from Jacksonville that much,’” Zimmerman recalled. “That’s how much he loves this city and this state.”

Mike Gaskill, mayor of Paragould and a good friend of Swaim, read letters of support and congratulations from Rep. Vic Snyder, Sen. Mark Pryor and Gov. Mike Beebe.

George Sturgill of Lockheed-Martin came all the way from Washington to present the mayor with a model of a C-130J.

The air base has more than 20 of the new cargo planes and more are coming.

Other speakers included Alder-man Kenny Elliott, Fort Smith Vice Mayor Gary Campbell, former North Little Rock Aldermen Martin Gibson and Phillip Carlisle.

What caught the mayor speechless was when his son Shane got up and told his dad that a group of businesses had a surprise for him behind the stage. When the stage curtain opened, there stood a 14-foot fishing boat loaded with the mayor’s granddaughter, a great-granddaughter, a motor and trailer.

“Being a mayor has been a blessing to me and my family,” Swaim told the appreciative audience. “Your friendship means so much to me.”

He said if he had a chance to do it again, he wouldn’t change anything. “If I did, I might have missed each and every one of you, and I wouldn’t want that.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

TOP STORY >> Area farmers fear drought after deluge

Leader senior staff writer

Just a month ago, fields and ponds were flooded and Lonoke County farmers wondered if they’d ever get the rest of their crop in.

Now, after a dry week in the upper 90s, some wells already are sucking water out of the aquifer and they’re teetering on the brink of drought, according to Jeff Welch, Lonoke County‘s chief extension agent.

“We’re at 98 degrees (for several days) and no rain and we really dry out in about five days. The topsoil dries the out, but if the seed had absorbed moisture, it will swell, germinate and die in the heat and drought,” Welch said.

“At this point we’re 100 percent planted on soybeans, although we got very late start,” he said. “We expect yield reduction in rice, soybeans and cotton. Most of the corn was planted on time and we’re irrigating corn as fast as we can to make sure that we maintain yield protection.

“Crops with shallow roots easily succumb to drought and heat. Other crops may be in full irrigation soon,” he added.

On the positive side of the ledger, fuel prices dropped from last year. “Our costs are somewhat minimized by the cost of fuel,” he said, “and fertilizer prices have declined. That presents a potential to capture profits.”

Lonoke County farmers have about 3,200 acres in cotton, just more than one-third the acres planted in cotton last year.

Corn acreage this year is about 20,000 acres, up from 17,000 acres in 2008.

Farmers have planted about 88,000 acres of rice this year, but much of it was planted late, which will result in a decreased yield per acre, Welch said.

Farmers have about 124,000 acres of soybeans in the ground, about what they had last year, but because flooding kept them from planting at the best time, the yield should decline some.

“Prices have held up. For soybeans, corn and rice, we have acceptable prices,” he said. Cotton is dismal, so the Pettus gin is closed, leaving only the “New” gin at Coy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Blanche puts people first?

Arkansas’ senior senator, Blanche Lincoln, is an important and perhaps even critical player in the drive to repair the nation’s clumsy and extravagant health-care system and to guarantee care for everyone. We tend to think that it is a good thing for us and the country that she has such a role, but sometimes we have had misgivings.

At times in the past few months, her remarks about health reform have conveyed a trifle too much deference to the health industry, including the insurance companies.

Like all the other senators on the Finance Committee, she receives huge contributions from the medical and insurance industries, more than $500,000 in the current election cycle (she is up for re-election next year if you hadn’t heard).

You worried that she might put their interests ahead of the consuming public that is served so poorly by the current system.

She had abiding concerns about setting up a public insurance option that would compete with Aetna, Blue Cross, United and the few other insurers. The government plan, she feared, might drive costs down so much that the companies couldn’t compete and make a profit.

But then the good senator Lincoln resurfaces. Yesterday, the senator’s Web site carried a statement of the principles that guide her in the Finance Committee’s work on a comprehensive health-care plan. She said she would accept nothing less than a plan that gives every Arkansan, every person in the United States, access to affordable and high-quality health care.

She said she was evaluating the options that will achieve that, including a public insurance plan and nonprofit cooperatives, the government-sponsored nonprofits that she and a few others, principally Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, were touting last week as a way to avoid more direct government involvement in health care.

No one knows what these cooperatives would look like, how much capital they would need from Washington and how they would differ from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which already has three-fourths of the private market in Arkansas, or from the self-insurance plans that Arkansas and a number of other states operate. (Blue Cross no longer calls its state companies cooperatives but not-for-profit mutual insurance corporations.)

We take Senator Lincoln at her word. She will demand that everyone be covered at a price they can afford, that medical costs will be reined in, that people with pre-existing conditions will not be denied coverage as all the private plans do now for those seeking individual coverage and that people will be assured coverage when they are between jobs.

We do not grasp how that can be achieved without a public plan that carries the might to demand discounts and lower prices from providers and force the oligopoly of private carriers to compete. We are satisfied that if Lincoln does not find the competition compelling she will support the public plan, too.

People are her first priority in this historic effort, she said Monday. We take that to mean that despite its bundles of campaign money the insurance industry isn’t. That is good enough for us.

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD puts students last

Pulaski County Special School District’s board members narrowly voted last week to appropriate $1 million in federal stimulus funds for a new Jacksonville middle school.

Although the money is just a fraction of the cost of a new school, it is an important step toward building the first school in Jacksonville in 35 years. But it’s not clear if there will be money available to build the new middle school. What stands there now is dilapidated and polluted with asbestos. (See picture above.)

It’s a shocking site: No children should have been exposed to such hazardous materials. The school district should have torn down the school decades ago, but then the board has never shown much concern for the needs of Jacksonville-area children.

But apart from the largely symbolic gesture of allocating $1 million, or less than one-tenth needed for the project, the board missed an opportunity at its emergency meeting Friday to declare its support for quality education in Jacksonville. Instead, the board chose to reprimand city residents and The Leader for their efforts to give students better educational opportunities and better facilities.

The board’s lack of purpose was never more evident than at Friday’s meeting. Not once did the board mention the students of Jacksonville. Board members instead complained about being “pushed around” by residents and this newspaper. Board member Charlie Wood was for building a new middle school until he was against it because he didn’t want to be pushed around, he said.

This is the same board that chased off deputy superintendent Beverly Ruthven, an excellent educator and administrator, in favor of mediocrity and grandstanding.

PCSSD has treated Jacksonville like a third-rate city by ignoring the community’s school problems for too long. In a letter of reprimand sent in April to PCSSD board members, the director of the Arkansas School Boards Association questioned the board’s lack of professionalism and competence.

The letter warned the board to straighten up its act and pointed out that it was because of its reckless behavior that a bill was introduced in the last session of the legislature to allow the recall of incompetent school board members who sit on the PCSSD board. This is the same board that let financial shenanigans and outright thievery run unchecked for too long.

Many school district administrators, most notably middle school principals Mike Nellums and Kim Forrest, have criticized the board’s decision to combine the former Jacksonville boys and girls middle schools. Both principals have conveniently been moved out of Jacksonville. Like Iran’s ayatollahs, the district does not tolerate dissent.

The debate over the board’s middle school consolidation plan has been heated. It is a plan that calls for the use of trailers to alleviate overcrowding classrooms, something the board did not tell the community about until just a couple of weeks ago.
Jacksonville’s board member, Bill Vasquez, who supported combining both schools, does not respond to questions about the PCSSD’s plans for Jacksonville. He apparently feels he does not have to answer to Jacksonville residents and has all but disappeared.

The students suffer when school board members no longer want to communicate with their communities. Board members should be scrutinized because their decisions are executed with taxpayer money. More importantly, education policy affects communities on many levels.

Cabot has far surpassed Jacksonville in terms of educational quality. Airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base are flocking to Cabot because the schools are better there.

PCSSD could learn some valuable lessons from Cabot schools. School board meetings there operate professionally. Board members are well-spoken and topics often include funding new schools every couple of years. Instead of crowded classrooms, Cabot schools are focused on building state-of-the-art facilities for their students.

Petty issues that constantly plague PCSSD are never a problem at the Cabot board meetings. By comparison, the PCSSD board seems amateurish.

Jacksonville should appreciate that Cabot has helped to meet the educational needs of Air Force families living in Cabot, although children enrolled at Arnold Drive Elementary on the base attend a substandard school, despite promises by the PCSSD board that improvements will be made.

Teachers should take their civics classes to PCSSD board meetings to see for themselves what happens when democracy fails us. Civics students might do a better job running the district than those board members, who didn’t learn much when they were in school.

TOP STORY >> Wounded soldier has surgery

Leader executive editor

Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville, who was shot three times earlier this month as he stood outside a military recruiting station in Little Rock, underwent surgery Tuesday morning to remove shrapnel from his back.

He had the operation at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in Little Rock, said his mother, Sonja Ezeagwula.

Ezeagwula went home from the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

There are still as many as 50 pieces of shrapnel in her son’s back, she said.

Ezeagwula, who graduated from Jacksonville High School last year, has shrapnel all over his body, and often the pain medication doesn’t lessen the hurt.

He has shrapnel in his lung, his neck and down his back.

“He’s in a whole of pain,” his mother said after the surgery. “He’s in more pain than he was at first. He has to lie on his stomach and face.”

She said a nurse changes his dressing once a day and his mother changes it at night.

Ezeagwula, 18, and Pvt. William Long, 23, were standing outside the Army-Navy recruiting station on Rodney Parham Road on June 1, when Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, 24, drove up in a black pickup truck carrying a Chinese semiautomatic rifle and started firing.

Long died from a single bullet.

He and Long had worked there only for a week as temporary recruiters before they were supposed to head out for their next assignment.

Ezeagwula told The Leader that he played dead during the ordeal until the alleged shooter, aka Carlos Leon Bledsoe, drove away.

After Muhammad drove off, the Jackson-ville teenager started crawling back toward the recruiting office.

As he lay wounded, he called his mother on his cell phone to tell her he was all right, but she didn’t answer.

As they put Ezeagwula in an ambulance, a sergeant called the private’s mother to tell her he’d been shot.

He doesn’t remember some of the details of the shooting. But his mother says that when Muhammad reached for his rifle, her son thought it was a prank.

He put a large pillow behind his back during a press conference on June 9 at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station on Main Street in Jacksonville.

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

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

Long was buried June 8 at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery at 1501 W. Maryland Ave. at the edge of Sherwood.

Ezeagwula did not feel well enough to attend Long’s funeral.

TOP STORY >> Mom honors late son’s memory

Leader staff writer

State Trooper Tim Ghoshon’s vow to ticket his mother, Addie Gibson, for not wearing her seat belt inspired one of the ads Arkansas State Police are running to remind motorists to buckle up.

State Police officials last week unveiled a series of television spots they’re running in advance of the state’s new primary seat belt law, which takes effect at the end of the month.

Under current law, not wearing a seat belt is a secondary violation, meaning motorists could not be pulled over for that offense but could be ticketed if they were stopped for some other reason.

In one of the spots, Gibson portrays a driver pulled over by her son, a state trooper.

“If I would give my own mother a ticket, I wouldn’t think twice about giving you one,” the trooper in the ad says.

Gibson, a 49-year resident of Jacksonville, said the TV commercial was inspired partly by a story she used to tell about her son, who died from leukemia in 2005 at the age of 40 after serving in law enforcement for 13 years.

Gibson said Ghoshon had twice warned her about not wearing her seat belt when driving to his house.

The third time, he told her, “Mom, you have been told to wear your seat belt. If I catch you out somewhere without your seat belt on, I’m going to write you a ticket,” Gibson recalled.

“And he was serious, he was not smiling,” she explained, “because, if he was in law enforcement, he was expecting for his family to do the law first and then spread it out. He was really expecting for the family to do what they were supposed to do.”

“One of the troopers from the Arkansas State Police headquarters called me because he was at Tim’s funeral and heard me tell the story. Because they’re getting ready to enforce the seat-belt law, he said, ‘Well hey, why don’t I just get her and we can do a commercial?’,” Gibson said.

She agreed to do the commercial as a way to memorialize her son and also let people know that the seat-belt law will change.

Gibson, who is chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens of Jacksonville, is always trying to make people’s lives better.

The Concerned Citizens of Jacksonville is a multi-purpose organization doing whatever they can to assist the Jacksonville community, she said.

The group regularly maintains Johnson Cemetery on Military Road. “We always try to make sure it’s cleaned up,” Gibson said.

On her own, Gibson speaks to the elderly about the local health services available to them. “I have a lady that I take to the doctor free of charge,” Gibson said.

Gibson is also an active member of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful and the Jacksonville Housing Authority.

Considering her humanitarian record, it’s no wonder she was willing to lend her image to the seat-belt campaign.

The spot in which she stars is among several others the State Police are airing around the state, dubbing the new restrictions as a “law you can live with.”

Col. Winford Phillips, director of Arkansas State Police, said he hopes to educate motorists about the new law with the ads. But State Police officials also said that there would not be any “grace period” where drivers would be given warnings instead of tickets.

“If you’re stopped for some other violation or you’re seen not wearing your seat belt, there will be some sort of enforcement action taken,” said Maj. Ed Wolfe, highway patrol commander for the state’s eastern region.

Phillips said he didn’t expect the department would see a spike in tickets issued for seat-belt violations and said police weren’t looking at it as a new way to make money.

“The reason for this law is not to generate revenue or to write tickets,” Phillips said. “It’s to have the law enforced and followed by the citizens of the state.”

Civil rights groups remain wary of the new law, warning that it could open the door to harassment of minority drivers by police.

Dale Charles, head of the Arkansas NAACP, said he expected to see an increase in the number of black and Hispanic drivers pulled over around the state because of the new law.

“We still feel this is the worst law that’s been passed with no data collection, no system set up to monitor the overzealous use of the process when it relates to African Americans,” Charles said.

Sen. Hank Wilkins IV, who sponsored the seat-belt law, defended the measure and said that not everyone from the NAACP opposed it.

Wilkins also noted that he backed a companion bill requiring the state to set up a hotline for callers to report complaints of racial profiling.

Gibson says that, regardless of color issues, “the law is a great idea” and that those breaking the law should be punished. Now, “whoever gets into [her] car, the car does not move until everybody has their seat belt on.”

And she thinks that her son would be pleased about the changes. If he were alive, “he’d be enforcing the law even more because it’s becoming law.

“Even before the seat-belt law came or even thought about being a law, he was telling us, ‘Once you get in your car and sit down, the first thing you do is grab your seat belt and put it on.’ That was his thing.”

TOP STORY >> Flood to swelter

Leader staff writer

In a matter of a few weeks, central Arkansas went from a whole lot of rain to nary a drop and from spring temperatures to triple-digit heat indices.

In May, the area received 13.06 inches of rain, 259 percent more than normal. But through Tuesday, June’s rain total was just 0.96 of an inch, less than a third of the nearly three inches the area normally gets in June.

As this hot spell began on June 16, ground water and green vegetation helped hold down readings a few degrees. However, with the ground slowly drying out, temperatures eventually edged upward.

But the heat indices have been over 100 degrees since last Wednesday.

On Monday, much of the state was in the upper 90s to around 100 degrees. Heat index values reached 107 degrees at Little Rock, 106 degrees at Hot Springs and 105 degrees at Russellville (Pope County). Elsewhere, values were generally between 100 and 105 degrees.

By mid-day Tuesday the heat index value in the local area was between 108 to 110 degrees.

As June comes to a close, the National Weather Service says there are signs of at least some relief. A high will wobble into the southern Plains and a clockwise flow around the high will drive weak cold fronts into Arkansas from the north.


A front coming in midweek should trigger isolated thunderstorms during the afternoon/evening hours, and will be followed by slightly cooler air Thursday and Friday. It appears another front will head into the region Sunday.

Some severe weather may accompany these fronts. The probability of strong to damaging winds tends to increase as temperatures go up, according to the weather service. There is more potential for rapid cooling as precipitation forms, giving storm downdrafts more strength.

While the heat is not expected to end, and rain is not expected to be widespread, the fronts will help break the monotony of an otherwise stagnant pattern, weather officials say.

While it is hot, people need to be careful, said Ed Barham of the state Health Department. Day after day of heat could take its toll, especially on those who work outdoors or are away from an air-conditioned environment, Barham said.

On average, there are 400 heat-related deaths a year in the country The 1995 heat wave in the Midwest contributed to 716 heat-related deaths.

The heat wave of 1980 was an especially hard one for Arkansas, when 153 heat-related deaths occurred. Since then, heat has caused the deaths of 235 Arkansans. Last year, seven Arkansans died from the extreme hot weather, Barham said.


Dr. Richard Nugent, medical leader, southeastern health region, said, “While the elderly, people with health problems, and very young children are the most vulnerable, heat can affect anyone—even strong, healthy athletes.

“Our bodies are cooled primarily by losing heat through skin and perspiration. Problems occur when we are unable to shed excess heat. When our heat gain exceeds the amount we can get rid of, our temperature begins to rise, and heat-related illness may develop,” Nugent said.

The human body has an internal thermostat that is designed to help maintain proper body temperatures. However, sometimes extreme heat can cause the body thermostat to malfunction, which can result in one or more of the following conditions:

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children. Although heat rash occurs because of exposure to extreme heat, treating heat rash is simple and usually does not require medical assistance. Other heat-related problems can be much more severe.

Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat heavily during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt, magnesium and water. The low salt and magnesium levels in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop in exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Most heat-related deaths occur when high temperatures overcome the body’s natural ability to cope with heat. The elderly, very young children and persons with chronic medical conditions (especially cardiovascular disease) are at the highest risk.
Elderly people should avoid staying shut-up indoors during heat waves without using air conditioning. More than half of the 700 heat-related deaths in the 1995 Chicago heat wave could have been prevented with an air conditioner in the home, according to a published study.

Experts say fans are apparently not effective against heat illness during intense heat waves. If you cannot afford an air conditioner for your home, spend more time in other air-conditioned environments. Access to air conditioning for even a few hours a day is protective.

Those who work, exercise or participate in strenuous activity, such as sports or gardening for an hour or more during intense heat may lose or sweat up to two quarts of water.


If you must pursue intense activity during hot weather, follow these safety tips:

Drink plenty of water; fluid replacement is crucial to avoid heat risks. Drink more water than usual before exercising or working in the heat. (If you are elderly or taking medication, ask your doctor about fluid intake recommendations.)

Schedule your strenuous activity during the coolest time of the day.

Monitor how you feel. If you have difficulty maintaining your regular pace, slow it down.

If you know someone who may be at risk for heat-related problems, check on them frequently.

Also do not forget about pets.

Never leave your pet in the car. Though it may seem cool outside, the sun can increase the temperature inside your car to 120 degrees in a matter of minutes even with the windows rolled down. If you need to run some errands, leave the furry ones at home.

Water, water everywhere. Whether you’re indoors or out, both you and your pet need access to lots of fresh water during the summer, so check the pet’s water bowl several times a day to be sure it’s full.

If you and your furry friend venture forth for the afternoon, bring plenty of water for both of you.

Hot weather may tempt your pet to drink from puddles in the street, which can contain antifreeze and other chemicals.

Antifreeze has a sweet taste that animals like, but it’s extremely toxic. When you’re walking your pet, make sure it doesn’t sneak a drink from the street.

Be cautious on humid days. Humidity interferes with animals’ ability to rid themselves of excess body heat. When we overheat we sweat, and when the sweat dries, it takes excess heat with it. Our four-legged friends only perspire around their paws, which is not enough to cool the body.

To rid themselves of excess heat, animals pant. Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.

Bring them inside. Animals shouldn’t be left outside unsupervised on long, hot days, even in the shade. Shade can move throughout the afternoon, and pets can become ill quickly if they overheat, so keep them inside as much as possible. If you must leave your pet in the backyard, keep a close eye on it and bring it in when you can.

SPORTS >> Junior Optimist cashes in to post Legion victory

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills gave itself plenty of opportunities with eight hits, and Cabot’s pitching helped the Bruins along with nine walks, all of which came in the final three innings.

The junior Optimist Bruins made the most of those gifts on their way to a run-ruled 9-1 win in five innings over Centennial Bank on Monday afternoon at Kevin McReynolds Field.

Blake Hannon took the win for Sylvan Hills with a complete-game effort at the mound. Hannon gave up a walk and allowed two hits. He also fanned four along the way.

Cabot starting pitcher Taylor Barnhill kept the Bruins at bay in the first two innings, but the bottom of the third was a sign of things to come. Sylvan Hills took a 2-1 lead after three, and added three more scores in each of the final two frames.

Chad Wisely relieved Barnhill in the bottom of the fourth, while Weston Conard closed for Centennial Bank in the fifth.

It was bases on balls that closed the deal for the Bruins in the bottom of the fifth, although Austin Spears led off the inning with a solo home run over the left centerfield wall to give Sylvan Hills a 7-1 lead.

Justin Cook followed with a single but was picked off second by Conard. The next five Bruins batters walked, though, to secure the final two runs needed to push the game past the eight-after-five run rule.

Centennial Bank’s only score came in the top of the third inning. Tyler Cole led off the inning with a walk, and Zach Uhiren plated him two batters later with a double to left field.

Sylvan Hills leadoff Cain Cormier singled, and an outfield error allowed him to reach third. A passed ball scored Cormier to tie the game. Trey Sims walked, and scored on a double down the third base line by Lance Hunter to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead after three.

The Bruins’ lead quickly grew in the fourth when Hunter smashed a triple that bounced off the left centerfield wall to drive in three runs after Michael Lock had singled and Cormier and Sims had walked to load the bases.

It was 8-1 after Hunter scored on a passed ball.

Hunter was 2 of 3 for Sylvan Hills with a triple, double, and four RBI. Spears was 2 of 3 with a home run, and Cormier was 1 of 2 with two walks, good for a RBI and two scores. Sims was 1 of 1, but reached three other times on walks, all of which ended up as scores.

SPORTS >> 2009 Hogs provide a lot of fond memories

Nate Allen Media Services

FAYETTEVILLE — Though all eight qualifying SEC teams advanced into the 2009 NCAA Regional postseason anyway, the supposedly irrelevant league tournament seldom has seemed more relevant.

At least, to the two SEC teams which reached the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Eschewing the conventional wisdom that the SEC regular season champ would be better off losing early in the league tournament to refresh for NCAA Regionals, the LSU Tigers won it all in Hoover. They have been winning ever since.

They swept their Regional and Super Regional in Baton Rouge and swept their four-team College World Series bracket in Omaha to reach the national championship series against Texas.

Texas is the unbeaten winner of the other CWS four-team bracket.

The Arkansas Razorbacks, the SEC’s other College World Series team, likely owe their Omaha trip to the SEC Tournament.

Without their 2-2 SEC Tournament showing it’s hard to imagine the Hogs catching fire like they did in the postseason.

Starting with a nine-run eighth-inning to overcome first-round foe Washington State, 10-3, the Razorbacks won the Norman Regional, including two wins over favored host Oklahoma.

They then swept favored Florida State in the Super Regional in Tallahassee before stunning favored Cal State-Fullerton, 10-6, at the CWS. They followed all that by winning a thrilling 4-3, 12-inning epic against Virginia.

Who knows? Perhaps if not bracketed with LSU, which was simply better than these Hogs, Arkansas might be the team this week playing LSU for the national championship.

Texas is awfully good, but those were awfully good Cal State-Fullerton and Virginia teams the Hogs beat in Omaha.

The Arkansas team that embarrassed itself in being swept at home in its final regular-season series against Ole Miss — the last two losses were 9-3 and 16-3 surrenders — was not the same inspired team that stormed out of Hoover.

Arkansas did lose its last SEC Tournament game 11-1 to Vanderbilt. However, in that game, as in the 14-5 elimination game with LSU last Friday in the bracket final, Arkansas ran out of pitching, not moxie.

Those 8-5 and 10-7 victories over SEC East champion Florida in Hoover and an exquisitely played 10-inning 2-1 loss to Georgia, restored confidence in Hog futures.

Coach Dave Van Horn made the move in Hoover that saved the season. For it was opening the SEC Tournament that Van Horn decided the best way to replace shortstop Scott Lyons, injured during the Ole Miss series, was to move senior second baseman Ben Tschepikow to shortstop and install freshman reserve Bo Bigham at second.

Both parts of the revised tandem made the All-SEC Tournament team and starred when Tschepikow fractured his ring finger after being struck by a Virginia pitch.

These 41-24 Hogs will be remembered for sweeping the Regional in Norman, sweeping the Super Regional in Tallahassee and becoming Van Horn’s first of four teams (two at Nebraska and his 2004 Hogs) to win games at the College World Series.

None of those memories, however, would have been possible without that supposedly irrelevant conference tournament in Hoover.

SPORTS >> Cabot Legion seniors finally starting to put it all together

Leader sports editor

I hadn’t intended to put any pressure on Jay Darr or jinx his team when I offered the opinion a few weeks back that Cabot Centennial Bank appeared to be a fully-loaded club capable of doing some pretty good things this summer.

He laughed, shook his head and reluctantly agreed that, yes, this senior Legion club had plenty of firepower and was stocked with starting pitching. But he also said at the time that his bunch had developed an early feast-or-famine tendency when it came to scoring runs.

And that was true. Cabot, which at the time was coming off a semifinal appearance in the prestigious Fat City Tournament in Nettleton, was 4-2 and had scored three runs twice, four runs once and 12 and 14 on two other occasions.

The evening I spoke to Darr, Cabot would score only three runs against a tough Nathan Eller of Sylvan Hills in a 4-3 loss. That was the first of four consecutive losses for Centennial Bank, a streak during which the offense functioned just fine while the defense collapsed.

It reached a head last Friday in a loss to Sheridan’s junior team in the first game at the Wood Bat Classic in Sheridan. It appears that may have been the wake-up call. Cabot hasn’t lost since, outscoring its next four opponents 36-7 to winits second straight Wood Bat crown.

Centennial Bank ran its winning streak to five on Monday night with a 16-10 win over Sylvan Hills.

It’s good to see Darr’s club playing up to its potential. The Cabot high school team, comprised of mostly these same players, underachieved at times in the spring before putting it together for a run to the state semifinals.

Darr said one through seven in his lineup was solid and there’s no question about that. Joe and Powell Bryant, two speedsters who struggled offensively at times in the spring, are both over .300. Matt Turner has been an RBI machine, leading the team with 18. Once Ben Wainwright gets going, which he’s sure to do, Centennial Bank will have a six-hole hitter second to none.

Wainwright is scuffling along at just .214, but this is a guy who belted six home runs for the Panthers and is a consistent masher.

Andrew Reynolds has developed into a solid two-hole hitter and Ty Steele leads the team in on-base percentage and is second with 18 runs.

All of that provides a potent nucleus, even if you exclude the lineup’s lynch pins — Sam Bates, back from Crowder College and bigger than ever, and All Star outfielder Drew Burks. These guys rarely get cheated and almost always hit it solid. Bates is hitting .467 with 15 RBI and 20 runs, meaning he has had a hand in 35 of Cabot’s 118 runs this season.

The pitching is deep. The question becomes, Is it deep enough to survive the state tournament grind come early August. The trio of Cole Nicholson, Tyler Erickson and Andrew Reynolds gives Darr a reliable, often dominant starting staff.

In particular, the young Nicholson — only a junior-to-be — has been fierce on opposing batters. He struck out 13 batters in his only loss of the season and opponents are hitting just .165 against him. His ERA has dipped to 1.33. Most impressive is his 34-6 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Reynolds is 2-0 with a 2.88 ERA. Only Erickson has struggled at times among the three regular starters.

It gets a little thin beyond those three, though Josh Brown and C.J. Jacoby are capable of good things. Brown has won three games and gone the distance twice.

The defense can be spectacular and shoddy. It cost them games against Sylvan Hills and Little Rock Blue.

And here’s a stat that can’t make Darr too happy: Of the 74 runs Cabot pitching has surrendered thus far, 22 of them are unearned.

The team has gone from 4-6 to 9-6 over a four-day span and has played without Burks in three of those games. Burks is in Fayetteville for the All-Star baseball game.

Shore up the defense, get Wainwright going at the plate and Erickson on the mound, find a fourth starter and this team might well live up to its potential come early August.

SPORTS >> Area athletes move on to Joplin meet

Leader sports editor

Alycia Shaw may be only 6 years old, but her long jump of 9 feet, 4 inches is currently the best jump in the state this year among 7- and 8-year-olds.

Shaw is one of 17 area athletes who qualified last weekend for the AAU national qualifying meet in Joplin next month.

The meet in Joplin will be followed by the AAU nationals later this summer in Iowa.

Shaw jumped 7-11.50 at the Arkansas District Qualifier at Scott Field in Little Rock last Friday and Saturday. That mark led the Primary division.

Khaila Jones of Searcy qualified for four events at Joplin — all with the best marks at the district meet. Jones, a Sub Youth athlete, posted the best times in the 100 and 200 meters and the best jumps in the long jump and the triple jump.

Jacksonville’s Daijah Harris posted best times in the Sub Bantam 100 and 200 and the second best mark in the long jump to qualify for Joplin.

Deja Hale and Tatiana Washington also qualified for three events. Hale will compete in the Sub Youth division in the 100, 200 and long jump, while Washington qualified in the Youth division in the 100, 200 and long jump.

Alayah Stirgus and Lakaia Massey each reached the regional in the Bantam division and will compete in the 100, 200 and long jump.

Nikia Williams, Mya Graham and Amber Lockhart qualified in the 100 and 200 Sub Midget division, while Taylor Palmer advanced in the Sub Youth 100 and 200. Graham will also compete in the long jump. Also in the Sub Midget division, Kiarra

Harris qualified in the long jump and the shot put.

Taylor Person posted the best time among qualifiers in the Midget division of the 1,500-meter walk race and was second in the shot put. Nykeya Mosby, also in the Midget division, qualified in the long jump and the 1,500-meter walk race. Jasmine Owens also reached Joplin the 1500-meter walk race in the Midget division. In that same division, Kiarra Harris, Lockhart, Williams and Makala Clayton qualified for the 4x100 relay.

Ebony Cox qualified earlier this month in the Intermediate 200 meters.

At Joplin, all 17 athletes will be attempting to qualify for the AAU Junior Olympic Games at Drake University in Des Moines in August.

Khaila Jones, sister of current University of Arkansas long jumper Whitney Jones, is the current long jump national champion in the Midget division.

The athletes will be at Burger King in Jacksonville this Friday and Saturday raising money for the trip to Des Moines.

SPORTS >> Centennial Bank repeats at Classic

Leader sportswriter

Cabot Centennial Bank has found something to break up the monotony of the long summer baseball season — adversity.

It began with a 7-6 loss to Sheridan junior in the first round of the annual Sheridan Wood Bat Classic when Cabot was faced with a depleted pitching staff, and continued on Sunday when head coach Jay Darr had to sit out the tourney championship due to the Arkansas Activities Association’s athletic dead period.

Through all of that, Cabot (8-6) found a way to win its final four games, including a 4-1 victory over Gurdon in the championship game, on the way to capturing its second consecutive crown at the Wood Bat Classic. Centennial Bank benefited from complete game performances by Cole Nicholson, Josh Brown, Andrew Reynolds and Tyler Erickson from Friday through Sunday, and a heads-up job of substitute coaching on Sunday by Cabot junior assistant coach Chris Gross, who didn’t even know he’d be taking over head coaching duties until late Friday.

“Chris did an excellent job of leading them,” said Darr, “He’s been an assistant with the junior team, which means he hasn’t worked with the senior bunch hardly at all. It was a team effort all the way. Our pitching and offense were clicking.”

The dead period prohibits contact between any coach connected to a high school in the state and their athletes for two weeks.

Because Darr volunteer coaches for the Cabot High School Panthers baseball team under Jay Fitch, the AAA said he was subject to the rule. The dead period also affects junior legion coach Andy Runyan, who also teaches and coaches two sports at CHS.

If all that weren’t enough, Cabot on Sunday didn’t have Drew Burks and his .389 average for either of its games. Burks played Thursday through Saturday, but reported to Fayetteville on Sunday to take part in High School All-Star week, where he will play for the East All Stars in the East-West baseball game at Baum Field on Wednesday.

An 11-4 win over Sylvan Hills early Sunday put Centennial Bank in the championship game, where they took on a stout Gurdon team. Gurdon had knocked off zone dominators North Little Rock in the semis.

Erickson got the nod to throw the title game, and came through with a complete-game, five-hit performance. Ty Steele led the way offensively, going 3 of 3 at the plate. Sam Bates, Matt Turner and Joe Bryant all recorded RBIs for Centennial Bank.

Cabot outscored its opponents 42-13 through five games at the Wood Bat Classic.

“The guys were going through the summer league motions. We just weren’t playing as a team,” said Darr. “I challenged them after we lost on Friday. I told them that we could be a sound team, but we weren’t living up to our potential. They responded.

Our pitchers shut down their opponents, and everyone stepped up to the plate and hit well.”

The rebound began with Cabot’s second game of the tourney in a 4-1 win over Pine Bluff/White Hall. Cole Nicholson went seven innings and allowed only four hits, and Burks provided the offensive punch with a 3-of-4 performance, which included a home run. Joe Bryant went 2 of 4 with a double, an RBI and a run. Bates was also 2 of 4 with a run.

Cabot hammered Hot Springs 17-1 on Saturday behind Sam Bates’ two doubles and three RBI. Joe Bryant was 2 of 3 with a double and an RBI, while Turner was 2 of 2 with two RBI and two runs.

Brown went the distance in the run-ruled contest, allowing only three hits through five innings.

A nine-run fourth inning propelled Centennial Bank over Sylvan Hills in the semifinal matchup on Sunday. Reynolds got the win after giving up five hits and three earned runs, while striking out seven.

Matt Turner led the offense with a 3-of-5 showing, driving in four. Joe Bryant was 3 of 5 with a double and two runs, while twin brother Powell Bryant was 2 of 4 with an RBI.

Darr said he hopes the prestigious crown will give his up-and-down club some momentum for the rest of the summer.

“I think now that they see what we can do and what we are capable of accomplishing, anything else will seem like a failure,” said Darr. “This team has a lot of pride, and I think that will continue for the rest of the year.”


A solid start to the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic ended in disappointment for Sylvan Hills over the weekend.

The Optimist Bruins seniors handily beat Stuttgart 8-0 in the first round on Thursday and held on to beat a stubborn Benton team 4-3 on Friday, but fell 10-2 to Maumelle and 11-4 to Cabot in their final two matchups at the annual tourney. Sylvan Hills is 10-6 on the season.

“Anytime you get to use wood bats, it’s a good experience,” said longtime Bruins coach Mike Bromley. “You find out what kind of swing you have with a wood bat. You can get away with a lot of stuff with a metal bat that you can’t with wood. Plus, I think the kids enjoy using the wood bats.”

Jordan Spears led the way against Stuttgart with a two-run home run. Korey Arnold earned the win at the mound, and also contributed offensively with two hits. Casey Cerrato had a hit and also reached two other times on walks, and Gino Jameson finished with a double.

Nathan Eller threw a strong game against Benton on Friday, allowing only three hits. Those hits all came late, and Benton rallied in the seventh inning after the Bruins claimed a 4-0 lead early.

Sylvan Hills got all four of its runs in the top of the second, and held Benton scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning. The Bruins gave up one run in the fifth, and two more in the seventh before closing the deal.

After falling to Maumelle on Saturday, the Bruins gave up nine runs on just three hits in the fourth inning in a loss to Cabot in the semis on Sunday.

“We’ve got to start making the routine plays,” said Bromley. “If you’re making the routine plays, you give yourself a chance to win. If you can’t, you’re in trouble. We’ve been kind of up and down so far. Some games we play pretty good, other games we don’t do very well.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

TOP STORY >> Base Housing back on track

Leader senior staff writer

Privatization of Little Rock Air Force Base housing — the slow-motion train wreck presided over by the Carabetta organization until American Eagle Communities derailed in May 2007 — is back on track and picking up steam.

This time the military housing team of Hunt-Pinnacle LLC is at the throttle of a new, streamlined project known as The Landings at Little Rock AFB, with new tenants set to move into new homes.

The overseers at the base say the construction and remodeling of 1,000 base housing units is well organized and well managed. No one ever said that about the Carabetta effort.

Seven months after the Hunt-Pinnacle team signed to take over Carabetta’s failed American Eagle Communities’ contract, the first residents are moving into 10 recently completed houses, according to Joanne Carlon, the capital-asset manager hired by the Air Force to ensure that the project proceeds according to schedule.

Those were homes Carabetta started but couldn’t finish.

In 2003, American Eagle Communities won an Air Force privatization contract to demolish about 500 homes, build 468 new housing units and remodel 732.

But by May 2007, when the bankers pulled the plug on the project, only 25 homes had been completed, another 25 started and perhaps 50 concrete slabs poured.

Three years into the project, American Eagle was two years behind.

Hunt-Pinnacle engineers decided that only 10 of the partially built homes could be completed.The rest and the 50 barren concrete slabs that had been poured all have been or are being bulldozed.

The reduced scope of the project that Hunt-Pinnacle signed on for was 166 new homes and 834 remodeled units, most of them duplexes.

While it took Carabetta four years to build 25 homes, Hunt-Pinnacle has an “end date” of March 2012 for everything.

Carlon makes sure Hunt-Pinnacle complies with five cartons of closing documents stacked just outside her office door.

“I don’t have near the concerns I had for (Carabetta’s) American Eagle disaster,” according to Bill Panhorst, residential construction manager for the Air Force Center for Engineering Excellence at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.

Panhorst said he tried to notify American Eagle of its own problems during its ill-fated venture into military housing privatization and later tried to bring the problems to the attention of the Air Force engineers.

Panhorst, who has 30 years experience in construction, says he helps resolve problems between the Air Force and the contractor.

“I make sure they are doing what they’re paid for,” Panhorst said.

He said Hunt-Pinnacle’s good reputation preceded them.

“They know how to manage construction sites, move construction along. They’ve already paid one-half of their performance bonds. American Eagle just piece-mealed it together.”

The new construction is single-family homes intended for senior officers.

The remodeled units won’t include any changes to the footprint—no additions or changes—but will be completely refreshed inside and out.

On Iowa Circle Wednesday, cartons of exterior siding were stacked outside homes up and down the street. They will be re-roofed and get new soffits and gutters.

Inside, washer-drier hookups—airmen must furnish their own units—will be moved out of the kitchen.

The kitchens will receive all new cabinets, flooring, stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers and sinks.

Also on the design check list for minor renovation is replacement of faucets, sinks and garbage disposals, new countertops, new interior doors, new light fixtures, new vanity cabinet, countertops and lavatories, new medicine cabinets and mirrors, painting all walls, replacing flooring dropout, new duct work and R-30 insulation in the ceiling, according to Panhorst.

The remodeling projects are split into 12 phases at Lakeview Estates, Ridgecrest Estates and Lower Meadow Wood Estates. Each phase is its own geographic area or neighborhood. Residents have to be moved from each area to another when Hunt-Pinnacle gets down to business, Carlon said.

“We’re right in the middle of inspecting the 10 homes into which noncommissioned officers will move in June,” said Mary Holliday-Sopko, who serves as the property manager for the Landings.

Everything’s going smoothly and according to plan, she said.

A ribbon cutting for those homes is slated for June 30.

Holliday-Sopko lived in one of the units—recently demolished—as a child. She said her father retired from the Air Force at LRAFB.

“We’re in the middle of phase one — 60 homes — (and will be moving) families in during July and we’ll stay on schedule after that,” she said.

“The residents have been very patient awaiting new or remodeled units,” she said. “We’re slowly gaining the trust of the residents.”

“Hunt-Pinnacle has worked together and with the government arm,” she said. “We’re a great team.”