Friday, July 31, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Payoffs taint Rep. Ross

What a memorable two weeks it has been for U. S. Rep. Mike Ross, the formerly obscure congressman from the district just south of us. As the point man for a band of so-called “conservative” Democrats who were fighting the health-reform plan pushed by the president and his party, Ross forced the leadership to dilute the legislation to satisfy the congressional Blue Dogs, the insurance industry and segments of the health-care industry. He led the TV newscasts and the front pages across the country.

(Ross voted for the health care bill that passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee late Friday night.)

Ross’ 650,000 constituents must be proud of their suddenly famous delegate — unless they pay close attention to exactly what he’s doing. Marion Berry, the First District congressman, whom we tend to trust a little further on these matters, is a part of the Blue Dog Coalition, but he hasn’t been heard from seriously on health reform, at least not lately.

The Blue Dogs had said their major concern was that the plan to extend health insurance to nearly everyone and stabilize skyrocketing health-care costs would be too costly and drive up the federal budget deficit, although President Obama had said he would not support and would in fact veto a bill that the Congressional Budget Office determined would enlarge the deficit over the long term.

So what kind of magic did Ross and his three Blue Dog colleagues on the Energy Committee work this week? Well, they changed the bill to force the public insurance plan to pay much higher fees to health-care providers than was the original plan, which tied fee payments to Medicare reimbursement rates. Ross thinks Medicare is too stingy and should pay hospitals and doctors about 20 percent more than they are. So much for bringing down the cost of medical care and insurance.

The largest share of people in Ross’ south Arkansas district who do not have insurance now are families with incomes so small they can’t afford to buy insurance on the market and who aren’t eligible for Medicaid, the government health program for the very poor. Ross’ solution is to raise the cost of insurance they would have to pay for the obligatory insurance required in the bill by cutting back on their subsidy. That is a savings to the government, all right, but a big obstacle to low-income workers and their families.

The Blue Dogs also don’t like the modest income taxes that would be imposed on people reporting net incomes of more than $350,000 a year to help pay for universal insurance. These taxpayers, by the way, are paying the lowest federal income tax rate since the First World War, except for the period 1925-1929 and 1988-1992, when the top marginal rate fell below 30 percent, and they still would be lower if the little tax becomes law.

Ross and his mongrel confederates wanted the public insurance plan to negotiate higher fees for hospitals, doctors, medical equipment suppliers and the drug makers than are paid by Medicare because that way the insurance industry would not be at a disadvantage in competing with the government-sponsored plan. Aetna, Wellpoint, Blue Cross, United, Kaiser and the other companies could not compete with the government plan for the millions of new insurance buyers and their current customers unless the government plan was forced to pay much higher fees, approximately those negotiated between the carriers and the medical industry.

So it was not the beleaguered taxpayers or the people struggling with medical costs and rising insurance premiums that the Blue Dogs were concerned about, but the industry. That is an irrational stance for a representative of the people, but Paul Barton, a fine free-lance journalist who formerly covered Washington for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, supplied some clues yesterday about why it is so.

Ross has received nearly $1 million in contributions from the health-care sector, including health insurance executives and their PACS, in his short tenure in Congress. Five days after Ross announced last month the Blue Dogs’ ultimatum on the health bill, he was guest of honor at a health-care industry reception, one of seven fundraisers for Ross by health companies and their lobbyists in the past year. Three of his top five campaign contributors are the political committees of health-care companies.

Ross’ seat on the key committee that writes health-care legislation makes him an attractive beneficiary of industry largess.

There obviously is little risk in the investment. They are rarely disappointed in the congressman’s vote regardless of the actual effect on the people of his district.

A colorful U. S. senator from Arizona, Henry Fountain Ashurst, explained once how it worked. “When I have to choose between voting for the people or the special interests,” he said, “I always stick with the special interests. They remember. The people forget.”

TOP STORY >> Three candidates for school board

Leader staff writer

Two candidates will be on the ballot in September for Position 1 on the Cabot School Board and a third can be found on the screen for write-ins.

Corey Williams and Mark Russell filed by the noon deadline on July 22, but Kip Beaudry arrived at the Lonoke County Clerk’s office with his petition containing the required 20 signatures, plus a few more, an hour and 20 minutes too late.

“I guess it’s a rule that has to be followed,” Beaudry said of the major snafu in his first race for public office.

School board elections are Sept. 15. The deadline to register to vote for the election is Aug. 17.

The winner of the election will replace Dr. Brenda Thielemier, a chiropractor and former board member, who was appointed in mid-June to complete the last three months of Brooks Nash’s first five-year term.

Nash, a retired principal, died May 30 from lung cancer.

Williams, 35, is vice president for Centennial Bank and has three children in the Cabot School District.

“Our district has a great school board and administrative staff and the top teachers in the state and offers our students the best possible education you could ask for as a parent,” Williams said when he announced for the position earlier this month.

“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.

He 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 and has lived in the Cabot School District for almost 10 years.

Williams is the vice president of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and a member of the education committee. He is also a member of the Cabot Rotary Club and volunteers with the Cabot Panther Education Foundation.

He and his family are members of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, where he teaches Sunday school to 10th-grade boys.

Russell, 36, is the purchasing manager for Lomanco, a Jacksonville company that makes attic ventilation systems.

Russell has lived in Ward most of his life and graduated from Cabot High School in 1991. He said he is running because he wants to give back to the school district that gave so much to him.

“I have always been a big proponent of education. I actually enjoyed school,” Russell said. “I think Cabot is incredible and I’m not running because I see any problems there. I’m not in this thing with any sort of agenda.”

Russell has two sons and he coaches summer ball. He said while talking with friends, he realized that “it’s time for guys my age to step up to the plate.” He said serving on the school board seemed like the next step up from coaching to help children.

“This is not a stepping stone for me,” he said. “This is what I want to do.”

Russell and his family are members of the Cabot Church of Christ.

Beaudry, 42, is a real estate appraiser. He has lived in Cabot most of his life and graduated from Cabot High School in 1985.

Beaudry does not have children, but he said he is running for the school board because he believes the emphasis in the district is not where it should be.

“I want to better the public school system,” he said. “I think the focus is not as much on education as making sure everyone knows Cabot.”

Beaudry points to the jumbotron screen at the football field, which he calls one of the largest if not the largest in the state, as an example.

He has nothing against sports, he said. But there needs to be more emphasis on education and not so much on activities. “Too many kids are dropping out,” he said.

TOP STORY >> New mayor settles in after first 30 days

Leader staff writer

It’s been 30 days since former Alderman Gary Fletcher took over the mayor’s seat in Jacksonville, but he says he needs to work on his patience.

“I want everything done now,” he said, “but I know it takes time.”

Fletcher admits the first week was a little strange and so was recently swearing-in former Mayor Tommy Swaim as a member of the city’s hospital board.

What Fletcher has discovered in these 30 days is the quality of people in and out of city hall.

“They are great and have all just jumped in to help me with my ideas. And not only are the people at city hall and all the department heads great, but so are the people of the city,” he said.

Fletcher tells of a woman who told him she was worried that he was going to burn himself out because he’s trying to do so much at once. “I told her you can’t get burned out in a job you love so much,” the mayor said.

So what is the mayor trying to do?

“Everything,” he quipped.

Fletcher keeps a list of his top projects written out under the glass of his desk. “This way I look at that list and ask, ‘What have I done to achieve those today?’” he said.

Topping that list is improving the schools, annexation, the newly founded landlord association, the Graham Road railroad crossing and bringing more top chain restaurants to Jacksonville.

Fletcher said the issue of Jacksonville getting its own district has made strides.

“Our boundaries are set with Bayou Meto being part of our proposed district, and now we wait for a hearing in federal court on Sept. 30. We’ll present our facts and show the judge where we are. He’ll determine where we go from there,” the mayor explained.

He did express dismay at a local television station “that just isn’t getting the story.”

He said, “First they say Bayou Meto Elementary didn’t want to be part of our district, but the vote was about three-to-one in our favor, and then it said we didn’t get our boundaries set, but we have,” Fletcher said. “I just don’t like that kind of misinformation out there about our city.”

On the issue of annexation, the mayor is working to bring into the city the Hwy. 67/167 commercial corridor north of Jacksonville to the Lonoke County line. City engineer Jay Whisker is working on that.

“We hope to bring that area into the city by the end of the year so that they’ll be counted in the census. We have to get everyone counted in our census,” Fletcher said.

The mayor added that he’s already received calls from businesses in the proposed annexation area and it’s been very positive.

Fletcher and city Administrator Jim Durham are excited about the landlord association they are working to put together to help clean up rental properties and lower the crime rate. “We had a standing- room only meeting at the library Thursday and I was almost speechless leaving that meeting with all the enthusiasm and excitement, and can you imagine all the power that was in that room? That group can do nothing but help us,” Fletcher said.

Part of what the mayor wants to do with the landlords is to create an abatement board that would speed up condemnation of buildings considered public nuisances. “We would follow North Little Rock’s lead in this area. Using their abatement ordinances, that city is condemning about 150 buildings a year. It makes a city much safer and cleaner.

“My goal is to get us above and beyond a maintenance mode into a manicure one. I want people to come to Jacksonville and say, ‘Man, you all are different than other cities,’” Fletcher said.

He said the city is also petitioning to reopen Graham Road. Durham said the way the railroad has explained it, the city officially can’t reopen the crossing and that’s a dead issue. But the city can petition for a “new” crossing at the same location. “And we are doing that,” he said.

Reiterating how great the city hall employees are, Fletcher talks about an idea that has just grown and grown from the input of everyone.

“First the police and fire training center off Marshall Road came in about $1 million under what we thought. That allowed us to go ahead and add classrooms back into the plan. From there we also had about $400,000 to remodel and expand the 911 communication center…it was suggested rather than remodel just go new out at the training site,” the mayor said.

“We also are budgeting money to remodel the police department and an idea came up to move the police department out to Marshall Road on the training site, too. It can’t be done right away. But the chief said he’d be happy to within a few years to get a better facility.

“This will then allow us to expand our court facility,” Fletcher said.

“See, it started with one idea and now we’ve got a multi-year plan,” the mayor said.

Fletcher also said plans are in the works to tear down the abandoned apartments in front of Dupree Park and give the park a better look and a better entrance. He said the Parks and Recreation Department is putting together a grant to purchase an additional 16 acres of land adjoining the park to expand it. “We want to move the skate park over to Dupree Park and expand it, too,” Fletcher said.

There’s also talk about expanding Splash Zone. “It has been so successful, we have to start looking at expansion plans now,” the mayor said.

The mayor said one of the best parts of his job was working with the base commander and all the people at Little Rock Air Force Base. “I’m the most blessed mayor in Arkansas to have this base as part of the city,” he said.

The mayor said he has heard from a number of sources that Jacksonville is the most receptive and friendliest city toward the military. “That’s a big plus for us,” he said.

In his 30 days as mayor, Fletcher has discovered it is taking him longer to get ready for work. “I’ve been in construction for 40 years and that’s jeans and a T-shirt. Now I’ve got to put on the suit and the tie and it’s against my nature to stay behind a desk,” he said.

He says he’s been behind the desk more than he’d like to be. “It’s so easy to get in that office and get tied down with paperwork and meetings and look up and it’s 6 o’clock. I want to get out in the community more and will work on that.”

Fletcher called his first 30 days very enjoyable. “I’m getting more comfortable each and every day,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Festivals may fade, but Arkansas blues will never die

Leader editor-in-chief

The news that after 23 years the Helena blues festival will no longer be free this fall didn’t come as a surprise.

The festival, which is scheduled for Oct. 8-10, has struggled for years — it couldn’t come up with a modest fee when it lost the rights to King Biscuit Blues Festival after an entertainment company bought the name of the defunct flour company in Helena — and the festival has fallen deeper into debt.

Most of the festival’s problems were self-inflicted — mismanagement, mediocre bookings — but also demographic: Blues festivals appeal to aging baby boomers, who don’t travel as much as they used to, and anyway, they’d rather spend more time with their new grandbabies than listen to another average blues band.

Festivals are shutting down across the country — the San Francisco blues festival is ending its run after more than 30 years — but the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, as it has been called in recent years, will continue with a little help from sponsors and the state. Many poor people around Helena will probably not pay the $10 to get in, but even if attendance is down 90 percent, which is possible, the festival could still raise $100,000 from ticket sales and from vendors along Cherry Street.

The festival was started in 1986 to promote the area’s blues heritage. Several great Arkansas bluesmen were born in the area — Robert Lockwood, Robert Night-hawk, Roosevelt Sykes, George (Harmonica) Smith, Willie (Big Eyes) Smith, Sam Carr and others — and it’s still home to “King Biscuit Time” on radio station KFFA, where for many years, the King Biscuit Boys performed live. They included Lockwood, Sonny Boy Williamson, Peck Curtis and others. Sonny Boy died in the 1960s in a nearby rooming house. Robert Johnson is said to have played at a juke joint at the end of Cherry Street.

But even as the festival struggles, you can always listen at home or in your car to blues musicians with Arkansas connections.

Our list of favorites of those who have called the Natural State their home:

1. Albert King, although he was born in Indianola, Miss., spent many years around Osceola and changed his name to King to cash in on B.B. King’s popularity. King Albert made many fine records — anything from Stax is worth a listen — but our favorite is “King of the Blues Guitar” (Atlantic), which is a longer version of another record from Stax called “Born Under a Bad Sign.” The Atlantic reissue is a classic from beginning to end. Besides the title tune with the immortal words, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all,” it includes “Laundromat Blues,” “Overall Junction,” “Kansas City” and much more of Albert’s great guitar playing and fine voice.

The CD is on many blues critics’ list of favorites. Also recommended: “Live Wire Blues Power” (Stax), recorded at the Fillmore West, is stunning but much too short at 38 minutes. “Blues from the Road,” recorded live at the Montreaux Blues Festival in Switzerland, is much more generous: It includes 93 minutes on two discs “That’s What the Blues is All About,” “Blues at Sunrise,” “Matchbox Holds My Clothes,” “I’ll Play the Blues for You” and more.

(King is buried near West Memphis at Paradise Gardens Cemetery off I-40 in Edmundson.)

2. Junior Parker, born in West Memphis, is perhaps Arkansas’ most important soul-blues singer whose roots are familiar only to a handful of blues scholars. (Many blues reference guides incorrectly list Clarksdale, Miss., as his birthplace.)

His “Mystery Train” on Sun Records influenced young Elvis, who is pictured with Parker and Bobby (Blue) Bland on the cover of a Rounder CD of the same name, which also features Auburn (Pat) Hare of Cherry Valley (Cross County) on guitar. Hare died in prison for killing his girlfriend. (Amazingly, the CD includes his prophetic “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby.”)

Junior Parker had a fine voice — he was often compared to B.B. King and Ray Charles — and he was a good harmonica player, but he never caught on with white audiences and died young in 1970. But he left behind several important records, such as the two-volume Duke reissues called “Junior Blues” and “Backtracking” (MCA) made mostly in the 1950s. The sound is often low-fi, but the music is excellent: “Next Time You See Me,” “Driving Wheel,” “Strange Things Happening,” “The Things I Used to Do,” “Crying for My Baby,” “I’ll Forget About You” and much more.

Parker made some excellent music in the 1960s, when he was recorded in stereo. “You Don’t Have to Be Black to Love the Blues” (Groove Merchant) is probably his best. “The Mercury Recordings” CD is also excellent. He’s one of the great Arkansas musicians who never enjoyed the recognition he deserved.

3. Junior Wells, another fine harmonica player, was also born in West Memphis. His “Voodoo Man Blues” with Buddy Guy is
Delmark Records’ biggest seller. Wells’ earliest recordings are “Blues Hit Big Town,” also from Delmark, and “Calling All Blues,” his Chief, Profile and USA recordings. They’re essential, as is one of his last, the Grammy Award-winner “Come on in This House” (Telarc).

4. Howlin’ Wolf, the great Chicago bluesman who also played harmonica and the guitar, was born in Mississippi but farmed for many years on the Phillips Plantation 15 miles north of Parkin in Cross County. (Pat Hare was in his band in the late 1940s, along with Junior Parker and harmonica wizard James Cotton when they played in east Arkansas and recorded in West Memphis. That’s three harmonica players in the group.)

Wolf’s earliest recordings sprang from the fertile soil of east Arkansas. He made his earliest recording in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Memphis and West Memphis and later on Chess. His “Memphis Days, Vol. I and II” on Sun Records and “Howling Wolf Sings the Blues” on Modern are stunning, and so are his Chess recordings, especially “The Rocking Chair” album.

5. George (Harmonica) Smith, another terrific mouth harp player — Arkansas has produced a lot of them — was also a fine singer: Better than Little Walter and Big Walter, which is saying a lot. “Harmonica Ace” from Modern and “Now You Can Talk About Me” from Blind Pig are both excellent.

6. Frank Frost from Auvergne (Jackson County) is the last harmonica player on our list, although he also played keyboards and guitar. One of his earlier records is on Phillips International called “Hey Boss Man!” with the incomparable Big Jack Johnson on guitar and Sam Carr on drums. They also made the classic “Rockin’ the Juke Joint Down” on Earwig, which also issued Frost’s magisterial “Midnight Prowler.”

7. Robert Nighthawk, Sam Carr’s father, was a great slide guitar player who made excellent records with several Delta musicians. His “Bluebird Recordings, 1937-38,” made under his real name, Robert Lee McCoy, and his “Masters of Modern Blues” with Houston Stackhouse and others (much of it recorded across the river in Lula, Miss.) are first-rate. He also played on Maxwell Street, an old flea market in Chicago, where he was recorded in the mid-1960s. In addition to “Live on Maxwell Street, 1964” he recorded “Bricks in My Pillow” in Chicago in the 1950s.

Nighthawk spent much of his later years in Helena and Lula. He is buried near Frank Frost in Helena’s Magnolia Cemetery.

8. Robert Lockwood, who was born in Turkey Scratch near Marvell (Phillips County), played at the Helena blues festival every year. The last time was almost three years ago, just before he died at the age of 91. He played a beautiful version of “Love in Vain” by Robert Johnson, who’d taught him how to play the guitar in Helena when Lockwood was a teenager.

You can hear “Love in Vain” on Lockwood’s “Delta Crossroads” CD from Telarc on a superaudio CD.

Although he recorded in the 1940s and 1950s, he did not release an LP as a leader until 1970, when he was in his mid-50s:
“Steady Rollin’ Man” from Delmark is 40 minutes of deep Arkansas blues.

He made several more records in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, including “Live in Japan” with Louis and Dave Myers on Delmark, the “Complete Trix Recordings” and “I Got to Find Me a Woman” on Verve. But for someone who performed for 70 years, his output wasn’t huge.

9. Luther Allison, who was born near Widener (St. Francis County), was a great guitar player. He made his mark in Chicago, where some of his fellow musicians considered him better than B.B. King. Allison’s “Love Me Mama,” “Live in Chicago,” “Blue Streak,” “Luther’s Blues” and “Reckless” are examples of tough Chicago blues.

Recorded in the early 1970s, “Bad News Is Coming” and “Luther’s Blues” from Gordy, a Motown subsidiary, may be Allison’s best. Although Motown wasn’t known for blues — owner Berry Gordy may have tried to cash in on B.B. King’s new popularity with whites — the label knew how to record music as well as anybody. Although the two records didn’t sell well, they still sound great today.

10. Son Seals, who was born in Osceola (Mississippi County), made a series of blistering records for Alligator back in the 1970s and 1980s and helped make blues popular with young rock fans. “The Son Seals Blues Band” and “Midnight Son” are first-rate.

11. Michael Burks is a blues artist in the Allison/Seals tradition. Burks is the only active bluesman on our list. He was born in Camden, grew up in Milwaukee but now lives in North Little Rock. He’s been a regular at the Helena blues festival and Sticky Fingerz in Little Rock.

Burks has made several fine CDs for Alligator, including “I Smell Smoke,” “Make It Rain” and “Iron Man.” He’s a slash-and-burn guitar player who sounds best live. Catch him in Helena in October.

12. Larry Davis grew up in Lonoke County and made several outstanding records before his untimely passing in 1994. Stevie Ray Vaughan covered Davis’ “Texas Flood,” whose royalties should take care of Davis’ family for a long time. His “Funny Stuff” from Rooster Blues is terrific stuff with deep Delta roots that made their way to central Arkansas at least a century ago.

13. Roosevelt Sykes was born near Helena and moved to St. Louis and then Chicago and lived his final years in New Orleans.

He played a mean barrelhouse piano up and down the Delta and wrote some classic blues, including “Nightimes Is the Right Times,” “Driving Wheel,” “West Helena Blues,” “44 Blues” and others.

He can be heard on “Chicago Boogie” and on other Delmark CDs, as well as “The Honeydripper” from Smithsonian Folkways. His earliest recordings from 1929 and later are available from Document Records.

14. Cedell Davis, who now lives in a Pine Bluff nursing home, has had polio for much of his life and has been confined to a wheelchair. He plays powerful slide guitar with a butter knife and sings like someone who’s seen hard times all of his life.

Davis’ music is like a low-level tornado that’s coming at you. Listen to it on three exceptional CDs, “Feel Like Doing Something Wrong,” “The Horror of It All” and “When Lightnin’ Struck the Pine.”

The list goes on: We haven’t mentioned crossover artists like Brinkley native Louis Jordan, who is in a category of his own (get his two-volume “Let the Good Times Roll: The Anthology 1938-1953” from MCA), or Camden native Little Willie John (get “All

15 of His Hit Charts 1953-1962” from King), or Helena native Jimmy McCracklin’s “The Walk,” or Gurdon native Jimmy Witherspoon, whose “Spoon Concerts,” backed by jazz greats Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster and others, is one of the finest live records made by a jazz-blues artist. About as good as it gets.

Is that enough music?

TOP STORY >> District plans get boost, but there’s a hitch

Leader senior staff writer

Proponents of a standalone Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district are putting the best face they can on Pulaski County Special School District action Wednesday that gave with the right hand and took away with the left.

Near the conclusion of a five-and-a-half-hour special board meeting, the board approved by a 6-1 vote boundaries for that proposed district that included the large but sparsely populated Bayou Meto attendance zone, the city of Jacksonville and a smaller unincorporated area that runs east along Military Road and on into Lonoke County.

Then just moments later, before the Jacksonville district contingent could celebrate, the victory train jumped the tracks, crashing into the brick wall Sherwood board member Charlie Wood constructed. By a 4-3 vote, the board approved Wood’s motion to cease all negotiation on the topic of Jacksonville’s detachment from PCSSD until the federal district court declares the district unitary — that is, desegregated.

“We just got hosed,” said Daniel Gray, a member of the Jacksonville Education Foundation, reflecting the frustration he and his Jacksonville district allies have often felt during a detachment process that started almost three decades ago.

“We’re not going to go away,” Phillip Carlisle called out from the audience.

Jody Urqhart followed with, “We’re voters and taxpayers.”

“They just shut us down,” Gray said. “They don’t want to talk to us ever — not until the district achieves unitary status,” he said.

“Once we’re unitary, there’s no need to even talk to them,” Gray said. “That’s why working diligently and in good faith is important.”

“We’re closer than we were,” said an unsmiling Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

Fletcher, who took office July 1 when longtime Mayor Tommy Swaim stepped down, said he didn’t necessarily see it as a double-cross by board president Tim Clark, who joined Wood, Gwen Williams and Mildred Tatum in voting to shut down further negotiations.

Fletcher met or spoke with Clark several times previously, and the mayor said he was surprised when Clark suddenly voted to shut down the process.

“The boundary was a major victory,” Fletcher said, “but it’s lost in the unnecessary act of cutting off negotiations. I don’t feel defeat, I feel we went forward. We can only go so far until we get the feel of the new federal judge and whether or not we get his blessing.”

U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson has passed the desegregation case off to new Judge Brian Miller. Miller has scheduled his first hearing, for lawyers to bring him up to speed, for 10 a.m. Sept. 30.

The meeting was stopped for about an hour while PCSSD attorney Sam Jones, Jacksonville Education Foundation attorney Patrick Wilson, Clark and McGill worked to rewrite the boundary resolution, which eventually was approved with only Williams in dissent.

Board member Gwen Williams said, “The World Class group doesn’t speak for (poor, black) people in my district.” She and Wood said the businessmen and chamber of commerce folks in Jacksonville didn’t speak for everyone.

“You’re going to push our backs against the wall,” said Williams. “Every month you come back with something else. I’m not going to be pressured. Every voice in Jacksonville has to be heard.”

Fletcher stood, raised his hand and stepped forward to say, “I’m not going to stay quiet while you take potshots at my community. It’s not fair. Stay with the agenda.”

To get the independent district out of court you must go into court, said retired Jacksonville attorney Ben Rice. Rice said Wilson had ruled that Jacksonville had no standing in federal court, but “that wouldn’t prevent a suit in state court, which could be removed to federal court. At least you’d have a seat at the table,” he said.

Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez spoke and voted against the shutdown of negotiations, as did board members Danny Gilliland, who represents parts of Jacksonville, Gravel Ridge and the Bayou Meto Elementary attendance zone, and Shana Chaplin.

“There is some question as to whether the full board understood (the implications of the action),” Gray said Thursday.

“Hopefully it will be revisited. We are pleased that the boundaries are established. That allows us to move forward with a few things. But sometimes you can’t trust the PCSSD board. They told us a year ago they would negotiate with us.

“We’ll regroup and evaluate what our next move will be. We worked 11 months to establish (boundaries and trust),” said Gray.

“It took five minutes to break down trust.”

John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Intervenors in the desegregation case, came to the Wednesday meeting to speak against cutting the job of Brenda Bowles, deputy director for child and equity services, but he quickly expressed new-found opposition for a separate Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district.

One longtime ob-server said this was only the second time he had seen Walker actually attend a PCSSD board meeting in 20 years. Walker said he came at the invitation of Clark and Williams.

Walker said, “There is no educationally sound reason for (a Jacksonville-area district), no fiscally responsible reason for it. It would clearly re-segregate parts of the district.

“We spent 20-odd years in court and to approve something that would take us back to where we were before…children will go to charter schools and private schools and you’ll have another majority African-American (public) school which would be deleterious to attracting industry and people who want to have their children in public school.”

Walker promised more litigation if Jacksonville forms its own district, “and it’s going to be costly,” he said.

Of the new judge over the desegregation settlement, “No-body knows what his attitude is,” Walker said. “He hasn’t shown thus far any indication to move with alacrity in order to expedite.”

TOP STORY >> $13.5M school for Cabot......trailers for Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

Cabot Junior High North is set to reopen in its state of the art facility after a devastating fire in Aug. 2006.

On Wednesday, teachers were allowed inside the school to begin setting up their rooms for the start of the new school year on Aug. 19.

The new $13.5 million, two-story 127,282-square-foot building will be a welcome change for students and teachers. For three years, classes have been held in portable classrooms and in buildings at the high school.

Several teachers were preparing their classrooms and spoke with a positive outlook about being together under one roof.

“We are very excited. It is nice to have storage space. It is nice to not walk around in the mud wearing rubber boots,” said eighth-grade social studies teacher Kimberly Hill said.

Hill will be starting her 20th year of teaching; 18 of those years have been with the Cabot School District. She said the new junior high will be a place students will be proud of.

“We will get to know the faculty better. We were scattered everywhere in different trailers and sections of the high school campus,” she said.

Teachers lost everything when the school burned down, Hill said. When the teachers came back they learned about new technologies, PowerPoint and how to store lessons on computers. They are no longer dependent on papers and books.

“The new technology is great for the kids. The fire forced me to move on to modern teaching,” Hill said.

She explained that if there were to be another disaster, the social studies department has teaching materials saved on PowerPoint (presentations). The teachers would not have to start over from scratch.

Hill said after the fire occurred, the social studies teachers from Cabot Junior High South, “Were fabulous and wonderful. They brought and shared everything they had. We built relationships with them.”

Across the hallway, Kasey Hill, eighth-and ninth-grade Pre AP social studies teacher, was preparing her classroom. (No relation to social studies teacher Kimberly Hill.)

For Kasey Hill, this marks her third year to teach at Cabot Junior High North. It will be the first year for Hill to teach in a regular classroom setting instead of a portable classroom.

Hill said she was looking forward to having unity with the faculty and the students.

“Being in the trailers, it seemed we were separated. Half of the teachers you never saw. We would see teachers in the hallways and at various places around campus,” Kasey Hill said.

She said it is a better environment for students to learn. She said some of the students would be prepared for the weather and some would not.

“You don’t have to worry about the weather. You can focus more on the students,” Hill said.

Ninth-grade English teacher Ginger Mills said the building was beautiful. She was anxious and worried about setting up her classroom before the students arrived for classes.

“We are thrilled to get started. I had 64 boxes to unload,” Mills said.

Mills continued, “It is nice to be together as a faculty. I never saw some of my colleagues. We were so spread out.”

The new Cabot Junior High North is 127,282 square feet. It has 47 classrooms, five computer labs, nine science labs, three team rooms for teachers to meet, a counseling area, a health and nurse area, three art studios, a band suite and a choir suite.

The junior high will have seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

The school will have 105 employees, and approximately 65 will be licensed teachers. Approximately 1,172 students are expected to attend Junior High North this school year.

School Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said the Junior High North has a metal roof, metal trusses and a fire suppression system.

The building is wired with motion sensors to operate the lights in the rooms. There is increased parking. With the new junior high, vehicles can drive on pavement all the way around the building.

The cafeteria will be the largest in the district until the new high school cafeteria is completed. The Junior High North cafeteria will be able to serve 600 students at one time.

SPORTS >> Green lands immediate eligibility at UA

Nate Allen Media Services

FAYETTEVILLE – He’s not the Arkansas Razorbacks’ best back, just their biggest.

And in football, there are times when it’s better to be bigger than to be the best.

So it was big news when the University of Arkansas announced Thursday that 6-2, 248-pound sophomore running back Broderick Green’s transfer has gone through without a hitch. The former University of Southern California Trojan will have 2009 football eligibility without having to endure the redshirt year usually mandated when a player transfers from one NCAA Division I school to another.

Based on the illness of his grandmother, which forced Green to return close to home, the Little Rock native and Pulaski Academy alum appealed to the NCAA for 2009 football eligibility upon transferring to the UA last January.

He was at USC for two years, redshirting in 2007 and netting 168 yards and three touchdowns in six games as a reserve in 2008.

“Late yesterday afternoon, I got a call from Jon Fagg, our director of compliance that Broderick Green has been granted immediate eligibility which I am excited about and know he’s fired up about,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino told media on Thursday. “The timing couldn’t be better as far as knowing before we get started.”

The Razorbacks begin preseason practice next Thursday, now with a big goal-line presence they sorely lacked last year.

Starting tailback Michael Smith is a great back — good enough to net 1,072 yards in 10 games in 2008 and be voted 2009 preseason first-team All-SEC by both coaches and media.

But it was hard for the 5-7, 173-pound Smith to score on fourth-and-goal or power through the pile on third-and-one.

If he shows the burst to propel it, Green has size that’s hard to stop.

“He does gives us that big running back that we need,” Arkansas running back Tim Horton said Thursday. “He is 248 pounds, and last year we struggled in goal-line and short-yardage situations. A lot of it didn’t have to do with scheme, a lot of it didn’t have to do with how hard the back was running. A lot of it had to do with (the fact that) once they were able to get their hands on a 165-pound running back, he went down pretty easy.

“Well, with a 250-pounder hopefully that will be a little more difficult.”

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino says a bigger back is simply better equipped to withstand short-yardage poundings.

“When you see the short-yardage, goal-line situations,” Paul Petrino said, “you can’t account for everybody. There’s going to be one guy that shows up late and bangs you, but when you are a big back running downhill, you can run right through that, fall forward and get the first down.

“I think that’s definitely something where he’ll help and I think he’s one of our better pass protectors and can also catch the ball really well out of the backfield.”

Those are big plusses, while his USC background brings some intrigue to capture Hog fans’ imaginations. Frankly, though, from observing Green’s 2009 Arkansas spring practices, several came away with more questions than answers. They weren’t alone. Green did, too.

“He wasn’t very happy with his spring ball and really wanted to talk to me about that,” Bobby Petrino said. “I basically said, ‘Hey, you just need to relax a little bit. I didn’t give you as many reps in spring ball as I would have if I knew you were eligible and ready to go. I think we saw what you can do.’

“He did really show a lot of power on short-yardage and goal-line running, and I think he can play full time, too. He’s a very good pass protector.”

Green’s blue period may be over, now that he has the chance to play right away.

“I am excited about the opportunity to play for Arkansas this season,” Green was quoted in a UA press release. “I appreciate the support of Coach Petrino, the rest of the coaching staff and the athletic department administration in helping make this outcome a reality.

“I’m looking forward to competing for the first time as an Arkansas Razorback.”

SPORTS >> Local athletes head to Junior Olympics

Leader sports editor

Thirteen track hopefuls from the local area are representing Team Elite at the AAU Junior Olympic national championships, which began Saturday and runs through Aug. 8 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

The athletes qualified for nationals at the regional qualifying meet at Joplin last month.

Team Elite is coached by Searcy’s Wilford Jones, whose daughter, Khaila Jones will be trying for her second consecutive national AAU title in the triple jump. Jones, sister of former Searcy track sensation and current Arkansas Razorback Whitney Jones, won the triple jump at the Junior Olympics last August in the midget division.

She will compete in the sub-youth division this year and comes in with the third-best qualifying mark at 33 feet, three inches.

Darrielle McQueen of Talahassee, Fla., qualified with a leap of 35-00.25.

Jones will also vie in the long jump.

Jacksonville’s Daijah Harris is set to compete in the sub-bantam division of the 200 meters on Tuesday and in the long jump on Thursday.

Nikeya Mosby of Jacksonville and Taylor Person took part in the 1,500 midget walk on Sunday. Person, of North Little Rock, finished ninth with a time of 10 minutes, 29.67 seconds. Mosby was right behind at 10th with a time of 10:35.58.

Jacksonville’s Nikia Williams will race in the sub midget 100 meters. Williams will join Amber Lockhart and Mosby in Friday’s midget 4 x 100 semifinal relay.

Cetra Dale will race in the 100 preliminaries and will compete in the sub-bantam long jump on Thursday. Dale brings an 11th-best qualifying mark of 11-10.50.

Kiara Vaughn qualified for the 100 Mondat and 200 on Tuesday in the bantam division.

Deja Hale will battle in the sub-youth 200 on Tuesday, while Ebony Cox will take part in the 4 x 100 intermediate relay semifinals on Friday.

SPORTS >> Favre to Rhinos a win-win option

Leader sports editor

If you are a Minnesota Vikings fan and find yourself wearing a purple Brett Favre jersey today, or even have one in your closet, shame on you. Unless you bought it for the sheer novelty of it, that is.

The dashing, risk-taking Favre has always been an unretiring sort. But none of us had this in mind when we described him that way.

I suppose there was always a chance the 39-year-old NFL record holder for touchdown passes, completions, yards passing — and interceptions — was going to suit up and play for the Vikings this year. I’m sure he probably had that in his mind when he began teasing Viking fans back in June.

But it’s hard not to think that on some level — either consciously or unconsciously — he simply wanted to jump start the media frenzy that ended with his “retirement” from the Jets in February. This guy is the Sarah Palin of the NFL: He needs a camera and a microphone in front of him like Pete Rose needs a bookie or John Daly needs another pallet of M&Ms.

If you don’t have a Brett Favre Google alert set up, or if you are one of the many people whose Brett Favre alert has gone off so many times it’s fried your computer, you may have missed the latest decision by the once-hallowed, now-ridiculed (former?)
NFL great. He has … let me check the wire for any updates … retired.

This column may never see the light of day, of course, given that I am writing it on Wednesday for Saturday publication. A guy can pack a lot of press conferences into 72 hours. Rest assured, we’ll take one last look at the AP wire before we go to press on Friday evening.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I read in this morning’s paper that Favre called his retirement the “hardest decision I ever made.” Yeah, and skiing was the hardest thing I ever did — until I’d done it seven or eight times.

Favre announced his original retirement in March of 2008, reversing that decision only three weeks later. It took him until June to actually ask to be reinstated by the Packers. By that time, of course, Green Bay had gone forward with its plans for new young quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

After a prolonged public spat, the Packers understandably refused to give Favre an unconditional release, which would have allowed him to play for division rival Minnesota, and the Vikings wanted him badly. In August, the Packers traded Favre to the New York Jets, who, after an 8-3 start, lost four of their final five games. Favre tossed eight interceptions over the final four games of the season, ensuring the Jets would miss the playoffs.

Displaced Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, by the way, led his new team, the Miami Dolphins, to the playoffs with an 11-5 record. Pennington finished second in the league with a 97.4 quarterback rating. Favre was 23rd with a mediocre 81.0 mark.

Favre proceeded to retire again this February, a decision he held fast to after shoulder surgery in May. But in June, apparently distraught over not receiving any Google alerts with his name in them, Favre dropped a hint that he was considering coming back.

True to his history, Favre spent the next month-and-a-half teasing the Vikings, and his indecision may even have been legitimate in this instance, given that he was feeling out the viability of his shoulder. But it’s hard to give this guy the benefit of the doubt anymore.

Meanwhile, though, the futures of quarterback Tavaris Jackson, who had a respectable 95.4 quarterback rating last season for the Vikings, and Sage Rosenfels were put on the back burner to deal with another round of Favre ego-massaging and press manipulation.

I don’t mean to knock the guy. I used to be a fan. And, no, I don’t resent him because my girlfriend likes the way he looks in a pair of Wranglers. It’s just: Enough already. Get gone. Stay gone. And let us remember you for all the thrills you gave us and not for your shameful end-of-career machinations.

But Brett, if you find you just can’t take the silence, that you require brighter light than the mere sun can provide, may I recommend the Arkansas Rhinos as your next gig?

Owner Oscar Malone is trying to infuse some enthusiasm for his team into Jacksonville-area football fans. It’s a win-win if I ever saw one. Favre gets an injection of life-sustaining publicity (I promise we’ll cover the heck out of it!) and the Rhinos get a full blitz media campaign and packed stands the rest of the season.

Here’s hoping this column sets off a Google alert on Brett’s computer and he gives coach Malone a call.

SPORTS >> BMX motocross track opening in Cabot

Leader sportswriter

The fast-growing sport of BMX motocross racing is coming to Cabot.

The Cabot BMX Complex will open next weekend at Lonoke County Regional Park on Aug. 8, when it hosts state qualifier motos.

BMX motocross bicycle racing is similar to its motorcycle counterpart. Courses are set up with steep turns and jumps. Riders compete in three different races, or motos, with a winner for each moto along with an overall winner. The overall winner is the rider with the best finishing average of the three events.

The complex, which is located on Willie Ray Drive in Cabot, originally had an astronomical price tag of over $250,000, but thanks to the resourcefulness of local resident Shawn Basinger, the track will open its gates at a cost of under $10,000.

“It’s a lot like when we started building the (youth) football fields; it was done on a shoestring budget,” said Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams. “When we had Carter-Burgess estimate what it would cost, that’s what they came up with, but Shawn got it going for a low cost, and we’re very happy with that. Shawn has such a passion for it, and he’s really taken ownership with it.”

Once Basinger got the green light on the project from Williams in late 2008, he came up with a challenging and innovative design. Complete with a steep, 20-feet high starting hill and a dual-lane section Basinger calls “the decision maker,” the 1,100-foot-long track is set up unlike any other track in the country.

“I sat out there a lot of days just visualizing how we could do it,” said Basinger. “There was nothing out there. The city street department has really been a big help. Cabot Parks and Rec. and the mayor have also been a big help. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did in the amount of time that we did it with the funds that we had.”

The track will be sanctioned by the American Bicycle Association, which hosts events across the country.

Motocross BMX has been around since the early 1970’s, but has only begun to grow in this area significantly in recent years. It was featured as an event at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, and the Cabot park is the second such facility to open in Arkansas in as many years.

There are now five BMX tracks in the state. Maumelle, Banzai BMX at Burns Park and the track in Fayetteville have all been around for a number of years, with the addition of the Ward Nail Park BMX Track in Lowell opening last year.

For Florida native Basinger, the process has been a labor of love. He began competing as a teenager, and now his children are involved in the sport. Thirteen-year-old son Jaggar is a regular rider, and 10-year-old daughter Kaleigh also rides on occasion.
Basinger knows the ins and outs of promoting such a facility after running the Banzai BMX track at Burns Park a few years back. The largest cost was hauling dirt to the site. Cabot Advertising and Promotion donated $7,600 to help get the dirt to the location, and the ABA chipped in by sending expert track builder Eric Bress from Colorado to the area at no cost.

Bress took Basinger’s design, and within four days, the Cabot BMX complex was born.

“It just started coming together,” said Basinger. “We started piling up dirt and got it ready.”

Shawn and his wife Angie Basinger have just now begun to attract sponsorship interest from various businesses in the area.

“If you look at Cabot, it seemed as if it were impossible to even get that track here to begin with,” said Angie Basinger. “From what I’ve been told, all of the plans were for thousands and thousands of dollars to get here. And when we started, we had zero dollars.

“Now, we still have zero dollars, but God has caused everything to kind of fall into place.”

There are two different divisions of BMX motocross. There’s the cruiser class — which consists of slower, 24-inch bikes — and the normal 20-inch class. The 20-inch class has three levels: novice, intermediate and expert.

“No one sits on the bench. If you don’t like your results, you can go train to get better,” said Basinger. “It’s up to you to fix it. It doesn’t have to be a high-end bike starting out. Anybody can come out and race with what they’ve got.”

There is virtually no age limit to the sport. Riders can start out as young as three-years-old, but can still be competing in their sixties.

“If you can keep a kid involved with BMX or something of that nature, it will keep kids from drinking or smoking,” said Angie Basinger. “Our 13-year-old is the same way. Jaggar has no desire to get into the things that a lot of kids do when they have no hobby or no sport. That’s what we want to accomplish. We want to reach the kids that don’t fit into team sports.”

Basinger originally planned on holding an event this weekend in preparation for next week’s state-qualifier motos, but rain throughout the week forced a cancellation. The state qualifier will pull riders from around Arkansas, as well as surrounding states.

There are also plans to hold a celebrity race on opening night, with Williams as one of the participants.

“I have a mountain bike, so I’m ready, but I’m also afraid of heights,” said Williams. “If I do it, I will have to have plenty of padding. As fun, I may even add a little extra something, anything to drum up attention for the track.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Top Story>>Rural area appears set to support new district

IN SHORT: Survey says Bayou Meto patrons prefer Jacksonville 2-to-1 as PCSSD plans to decide boundary lines.

By John Hofheimer
Leader senior staff writer

By a margin of 2-to-1, Bayou Meto Elementary School attendance-zone respondents prefer affiliation with the proposed Jacksonville-area school district over remaining with the Pulaski County Special School District.

This could clear the way for the PCSSD board to include the Bayou Meto attendance zone in the Jacksonville-area district when the board meets in a special session at 6 this evening at the Dixon Road central office in Little Rock.

According to a breakdown of questionnaires returned at Thursday’s town meeting at Bayou Meto Elementary, 53 area residents prefer to affiliate with Jacksonville, 24 wanted to stay with PCSSD and two preferred splitting that part of the district with Hwy. 107 being the dividing line.

That’s according to PCSSD’s tabulation of the results by Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent for pupil and equity services.

As many as 200 people attended the hearing at Bayou Meto to discuss the boundary issue.

Supporters of a Jacksonville district seek boundaries that would include all of Jacksonville, Pulaski County north and west of Jacksonville and part of Pulaski County and a small part of Lonoke County in the South Bend area. It would include the entire massive Bayou Meto attendance zone, which has about 800 students.

The options regarding Bayou Meto seem to be: 1. All students go with the Jacksonville district. 2. All of the students stay with PCSSD. 3. Those living west of Hwy. 107 would attend school in PCSSD and those living east of Hwy. 107 would attend the Jacksonville district.

According to the agenda, made available Tuesday afternoon, there will be a report tonight regarding the proposed separation of the Jacksonville school district from PCSSD, with input from Superintendent Rob McGill, members of his cabinet and the district’s desegregation attorney, Sam Jones among others, as well as a spokesman for the Jacksonville Education Foundation and the Office of Desegregation Monitors, the Joshua Intervenors and the Knight Intervenors.

Under new business, there is “approval of a resolution regarding boundaries for the proposed Jacksonville school district and also approval of a resolution to discontinue negotiations for the separation of the proposed Jacksonville school district.

The schools in a Jacksonville district would include Arnold Drive Elementary, Homer Adkins, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood, Tolleson, Warren Dupree, Jacksonville Middle School, North Pulaski High School, Jacksonville High School and perhaps Bayou Meto Elementary.

Also at the special meeting, the board will hear a report regarding the comprehensive assessment of central office administrative staff by Key Concepts, Inc.

There will be a consent-agenda item on personnel and also a certified-personnel hearing.

EDITORIAL >>Congress must pass health reform

If you’re like most Americans, your mind is made up on what to do about health care: make it affordable and more available.

It took a while to get a response but finally, after being dragged kicking and screaming to the drawing board, six senators from the finance committee, not including Sen. Blanche Lincoln, are talking about how the government will pay for health-care reform.

They could start by having the insurance industry help. While many industries have declined, insurance companies continue to make money. Between 2000 and 2007, the largest insurance providers made almost $11 billion. They are now reporting increased profits even as the number of customers falls while unemployment rises. Those are profits made on the backs of the sickest Americans: children with cancer and leukemia, frail elderly and the disabled.

No other middle man in America is unregulated the way the health insurance industry has been since its creation in the 1930s.

Even used car salesmen have to respond to consumer protection boards and attorney generals if a customer complains. Other players in the health industry risk lawsuits when they fail to provide adequate care to patients or put them at increased risk of illness, including pharmaceutical businesses, hospitals and doctors. But insurance companies don’t.

During a press conference last week, President Obama at long last recognized the elephant in the room, most notably by calling the work he’s pushing Congress to do “health insurance reform.” Even while recognizing the problem, he was careful to not be overly critical. Instead, he blamed doctors, saying many now make decisions based on how much money they will make for a given procedure.

“I make a lot more money if I take this kid’s tonsils out,” Obama said in imitation of a doctor. He should have pointed out that insurance companies make those payment structures and therefore dictate how the medical industry operates.

To defend itself, the insurance industry has spent millions of dollars to launch an argument that a public plan would lead to rationed health care. They’ve given birth to a specter of government bureaucrats who would put a price tag on life if they were given the power.

But it’s insurance companies that already do just that based on how much they are willing to pay for care. Companies deny patients life-saving procedures and drugs if they are viewed as risks to the company and their profit margins. They now dictate who, where and how you will get your care.

A lot of obstetricians and other specialists have stopped taking insurance because of failure to reimburse them adequately.

Many families are forced to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket fees to avoid haggling with insurance companies during a time that should be worry-free.

The onus is on Congress to help reduce health-care expenses that have pushed more Americans into bankruptcy than any other cause. Sen. Lincoln has said every Arkansan should have access to insurance, but as the finance committee continues to debate health care in meetings she’s not attending, North Metro Medical Center’s emergency room will stay full of the uninsured, and middle-class taxpayers will keep subsidizing them.

—Aliya Feldman

EDITORIAL >>Air base wins big

Little Rock Air Force Base sent four C-130s and some 140 airmen for the weeklong air rodeo competition at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.

They returned triumphantly to Little Rock Air Force Base on Saturday with nine trophies — including two best overall and seven C-130 awards — outpacing the teams the base sent two years ago, the last time the competition was held.

Our teams showed tremendous skill in all categories, competing against the toughest airmen from around the country and the world. It was a grueling week, but well worth it:

The 19th Airlift Wing won best overall C-130 team and best overall aerial port team.

The wing’s aerial-port crew also won for the best C-130 engine-running off-load team and the best C-130 in-transit visibility team.

The 314 Airlift Wing had the best C-130H post-flight team.

The Team Little Rock maintenance squad picked up three awards. The best C-130 maintenance team award went to the 19th Airlift Wing, J-model. They also brought home the best C-130 pre-flight team.

Another award the 19th Airlift Wing won was best C-130 short field landing crew. The 314 Airlift Wing was awarded the best back-landing combat off-load crew.

LRAFB showed the world that the best airlifters are made right here at the Rock. The men and women who serve our nation with distinction have made us proud. Thanks also to Col. Gregory Otey, 19th Airlift Wing commander, and Col. Charles Hyde, 314th commander, for an outstanding job. We salute you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

EDITORIAL >>Taxpayers robbed again

Since the mid-reign of Gov. Mike Huckabee nine years ago, an Arkansas public official who has been on the job for a number of years and is in the know could draw his or her state pension and stay on the job at full salary. Word of the little loophole created by a 1999 law spread so that now more than 300 state government employees, mostly in the executive ranks, are drawing dual pay, which is familiarly called “double dipping.”

Quite a number of elected county officials, perhaps as many as 200, have been taking advantage of the perk. They “resign” (quietly, of course), stop their salaries for three months while they continue at the office and then put themselves back on the payroll at full salary plus their monthly retirement checks. Three Garland County officials are drawing their $61,385 annual salaries while collecting $30,000 to $36,000 a year in state-funded pensions.

Most of us, the taxpayers, wouldn’t have known about the emolument, which has become quite costly to the Public Employees Retirement System, except for Rep. Allen Kerr of Little Rock, who blew the whistle last week after receiving complaints from unknown individuals in the Garland County government who thought it a little unfair that the politicians were claiming the benefits without the knowledge of the taxpayers and voters.

And maybe illegally. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says the issue is complicated but that people who really did not retire in the legal sense – they did not actually leave the job and no search for a replacement was conducted – may have acted illegally. He is studying the question and will recommend a remedy.

Here is a remedy: Change the law to make it illegal. The legislature this spring made it a trifle harder to take advantage of the double-dipping option by requiring people to go off the payroll for six months rather than just three months before qualifying for dual pay. But taxpayers would feel better knowing that the government just did not allow it.

The perk arose from a concern that public employees with long and valuable experience who retired might later decide to come back to work and give valuable service to the government in some capacity but would be deterred by the loss of their pensions. So provision was made for them to come back to work and keep their pension checks coming if they had been retired for at least three months first. But it became an entitlement, at least for those in the upper ranks who knew about it, including high-salaried department heads like the head of the prisons.

There is a far-fetched precedent for that in the general employment ranks. People can draw their full Social Security and keep working after the age of 65. They have contributed for a lifetime of work.

Back in the 1990s, when the teaching force was declining as experienced teachers retired, the state created an incentive for experienced teachers to stay on the job while they were still productive. It was called T-drop. After 30 years (now 28) of teaching, they could stop their payroll contributions to the Teacher Retirement System, and while they would not start drawing their pensions, a portion of the pensions they would have earned was put into a special interest-bearing fund that would give them an extra nest egg when they did retire. They can T-drop for up to 10 years. It did not cost the taxpayers more than it would if the teachers had simply retired.

But the public employees’ pension perk is far different from the teachers’ incentive or Social Security. An administrator or an elected county politician can draw both his full retirement and his salary at any age after 28 years of government work or after only five years of government employment at the age of 65. In several instances, a county official would secretly “retire” shortly before his re-election, forego his county salary for the last three months of the year and then be sworn in for another term at a vastly improved pay.

Unlike the teacher incentive, there is no discernible public benefit to the program unless it is happier politicians and ensconced government administrators. That has to be balanced by the happiness of taxpayers who must pay for the emoluments.

TOP STORY > >Alamo could use a prison consultant

Leader editor-in-chief

Tony Alamo, the self-anointed preacher and serial child molester, looked nervous outside the federal courthouse in Texarkana on Friday.

The former hotshot leader of the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation, who was once just a smalltime hoodlum and a washed-up crooner before he became rich robbing people of their dignity and freedom, was looking at serious prison time.

He realized he would die behind bars.

Alamo had exploited vulnerable people and broken the law for 40 years, and he’d bought off local officials wherever he set up his so-called ministry and flouted the law.

He smoked big cigars and drank cognac whenever he went out of town, while his followers slaved at his many businesses.

They worked without pay. He took their children and raped them.

He thought he could get away with kidnapping, brainwashing, child abuse, tax evasion and even threatening a federal judge.

After all, authorities in western Arkansas, where Tony and Susan Alamo set up their Christian ministry back in the 1970s, welcomed the couple as solid members of the community who contributed to the local economy when they opened scores of businesses in and around Fort Smith.

These officials were showered with gifts and took generous payoffs. Alamo probably supplied them with booze, drugs and underage girls.

I saw how he and his wife abused their followers and first wrote about them almost 30 years ago, while the Fort Smith newspaper praised the Alamos for taking hippies off the streets and putting them to work.

Sure, the feds put him behind bars for four years in 1991 for tax evasion, but Alamo, by then a widower, was right back in business.

He’d rip off his followers and “marry” their children, and not one Arkansas law-enforcement agency was curious about what was going on in those compounds in Dyer in Crawford County.

He distributed millions of subliterate fliers around the country. He attacked the Catholic Church, the new world order and the federal government for persecuting him.

But then Tony Alamo pushed his luck too far.

Last week, a federal jury convicted him on 10 counts of transporting underage girls across state lines for sex. Suddenly, Tony wasn’t his old arrogant self but look scared.

The 74-year-old Alamo knew he was facing up to 175 years in prison. Tony is kind of dumb — why take girls, even if they’re his “wives,” from Arkansas to Arizona when the feds are watching you? — but even he understood that the jury’s decision was a death sentence.

U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes will sentence Alamo in about two months. Even if the judge takes pity on him and sentences him to half the maximum allowed, Tony’s looking at 80 years — or about a year for every girl he molested.

But remember, there’s no parole in federal prisons. He’ll get credit for good behavior, so he might get out when he’s 150 or so.
If Tony were a white-collar criminal, he could hire a jail consultant to help him pick out the right penitentiary. He might try

But he won’t get to choose his own prison, which will be his tomb.

It’s a steep decline from the 1970s and 1980s, when Tony and Susan moved to Alma so she could be closer to Dyer, where she grew up the daughter of pig farmers during the Depression.

The Alamos bought a lot of land and opened a huge restaurant on Hwy. 71 in Alma. Country stars performed there. The Alamos sold fancy rhinestone-studded denim jackets made by captive labor.

They never paid their workers. No wonder their businesses made millions.

But then Susan Alamo died in 1982 from lung cancer — meeting her the year before, I could tell she was a heavy smoker — even though she told her followers she didn’t smoke and promised her followers she would be cured.

Tony wouldn’t bury her. Perhaps cruelly, people said Tony just kept playing the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up, Little Susie,” but it didn’t help.

Nothing seemed to go right after that. The phony preacher smoked and drank and fornicated, but he was losing control of himself and his businesses.

His bizarre obsession with young girls led to his eventual ruin. The feds would first get Alamo on taxes, like Al Capone.
Less than a decade after his wife died, Tony found himself in federal prison.

When he came out, he set up shop in Fouke, near Texarkana. It was said he’d bought off the city council, but his empire was just about gone.

The word was out that he was a degenerate. When he was exposed in court as a child molester, the self-styled minister said out loud in court, “Bull----.’’

The jury must have thought: What a dork.

Alamo didn’t testify in his own behalf, even though he’d bragged that he would.

The jury believed his victims. The judge should throw away the key.

The Tony Alamo jail ministry should keep him occupied for quite a while.

TOP STORY > > Cabot could serve beer at state fair

Leader staff writer

If the Arkansas State Fair needs a new home away from Little Rock, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams sees no reason why Cabot shouldn’t provide it, even though the city is in a dry county.

The deadline for submitting sealed proposals for locations for a new fair grounds is Sept. 15. Williams said he will discuss the idea with the council in August to find out if the aldermen agree with him.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t because of the economic impact alone,” Williams said Monday, the day after an ad soliciting proposals appeared in a Little Rock newspaper.

But the mayor said he had been approached “some time ago” by a real estate agent hired by the fair board to look for possible locations.

But since Lonoke County is dry, alcohol sales were not allowed except in private clubs like those attached to golf courses. But a change in state law aimed at promoting tourism now makes it possible for restaurants to sell alcohol using private club liquor licenses.

Williams fought the liquor applications of Fat Daddy’s and Kopan in Cabot. He said he didn’t know city leaders would feel about beer sales on the fairgrounds if Cabot is chosen as a new site.

“I don’t know how it would be received,” the mayor said. “But I think it would be possible just the way the restaurants do it.”

Ralph Shoptaw, general manager of the fairgrounds, said Tuesday that beer sales are an important part of the income. He said that he would check with the director of Alcoholic Beverage Control to see if Cabot would be eligible under the new law to host the state fair.

“They’ve always worked well with us,” Shoptaw said.

Shoptaw, who has managed the fairgrounds for five years, said as he understood the history, there was talk of moving before the 18,000-seat Alltel Arena (now Verizon Arena) was built in North Little Rock a decade ago.

The talk then was of a new arena on a larger plot of land replacing the 10,000-seat Barton Colliseum located at the fairgrounds. But then Alltel was built in North Little Rock and the talk died down until about one and a half years ago when North Little Rock wanted to host the fair. The board decided it was time to look around for more room, at least “350 contiguous acres,” according to the request for proposals, with adjoining land that could be purchased later.

Attendance at the state fair has doubled in recent years from about 200,000 to about 400,000, he said. The fairgrounds is 70 years old and it is too small, critics say. There isn’t enough room for parking and the 33,000-square foot Hall of Industry needs to be at least 100,000-square-feet to accommodate some of the businesses that have been turned away because of lack of space.

And then there is difficulty in getting to the fairgrounds, located in an older, deteriorating part of the capital city.

“There’s only two ways in,” Shoptaw said, “Roosevelt to the east and Roosevelt to the west.”

Little Rock wants to keep the fairgrounds and asked for time to conduct a study and submit a proposal for improvements, he said. That plan, completed in the spring, included taking in about 25-30 more acres on the east side of the existing grounds, better access to the grounds and improvements totaling about $57 million.

But Shoptaw said the average size for state fairgrounds is 366 acres. The Arkansas State Fair Ground is about 100 acres and it is unlikely it could ever be large enough even if surrounding property is taken in.

“Because we got a proposal for Little Rock to stay here, we think we’re doing due diligence to look elsewhere too,” he said.

It is almost certain that North Little Rock will submit a proposal, he said. But the request for proposals specifies that any suitable parcel within 35 miles of the existing fairgrounds will be considered. So that means the cities of Conway, Carlisle, Pine Bluff and Benton might also be interested. The board will also consider proposals submitted by private land owners.

The board is working with Thomas Engineering Company of North Little Rock and Mike Berg Company, Buyer’s Real Estate Agent of Little Rock. Their ideal site would be flat but not in a wetland, accessible and visible from an interstate or four-lane highway with utilities available.

Shoptaw said if a suitable site is found, new fairgrounds will likely cost $100 to $150 million and it could be completed in three to five years. Funding would come from bonds and long-term loans and fundraising by the dormant livestock association foundation.

“We really haven’t had a cause in quite a while,” he said. “This would be a major cause.”

TOP STORY > >Ward police to get stimulus money

The Ward Police Department will receive $128,809 to hire one additional police officer for three years, according to members of the Arkansas congressional delegation.

The money, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Stimulus), appropriated about $8.7 million to hire 60 new officers at 16 Arkansas towns.

The stimulus money is intended to pay 75 percent of the officer’s salary and benefits for three years, with the town providing the other 25 percent.

“This funding will help our state keep and create jobs for our local law-enforcement officers,” said Rep. Marion Berry. “At a time when our police officers are forced to do more with fewer resources, this funding will help support their efforts to keep our communities safe.”

Other cities receiving money for officers include Cotton Plant, Hot Springs (two officers), Jonesboro (seven positions), Little Rock (20 officers), Madison, Marianna, Montrose, Morrilton, Nashville, North Little Rock (nine officers), Osceola, Pine Bluff (seven officers), Texarkana (four officers) and West Helena (two officers.)

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville’s ‘Idol’ comes home

Story and photos by Christy Hendricks

The “American Idols Live 2009” tour was making a stop at the Verizon Arena in North Little Rock on Saturday night.
Kris Allen, the newest American Idol, was headlining the tour. The former Jacksonville resident, who played Little League baseball there and was a substitute teacher in Cabot, would soon be getting ready for the show Saturday.

It was four hours before show time.

Stopping by a media room, Allen sat down with a Leader reporter to talk about the tour and his newfound celebrity.

“How does it feel to be back home?” he was asked.

“It’s good,” Allen told The Leader. “It’s so nice to be back in Arkansas. It’s good to be where family and friends are – for one day at least.”

The newest American Idol has lived in the Jacksonville and Cabot area for most of his life, although he now calls Conway home. He was born in Jacksonville and lived in the city until he was 17. He also lived in Cabot before his family moved to Maumelle.

The Idol winner says life is now “the complete opposite of what it was” a year ago.

“I wasn’t doing anything before,” Allen says. “I had just gotten married and was going to school.”

“I believe things happen for a reason,” he says. “I feel it was meant to be.”

The 52-stop tour has been exhausting for the idols. “I’m tired,” Allen says. “I’m not going to lie to you, but when you’re on stage, the adrenaline kicks in.”

Charlie Wood, Allen’s grandfather, was at a ceremony Friday morning to unveil the proposed “Welcome to Jacksonville” sign on Hwy. 67/167, which will proclaim “Boyhood Home of Kris Allen.”

Allen says he is honored by the sign. “I heard my grandpa was there,” he said.

“He’s pretty great,” Allen said of his grandfather. “He’s going to make it out tonight (to the show).”

Allen says of the sign, and of his home-state fans, that “the support that places like Jacksonville have given me … it’s reassuring.”

Allen says his wife, Katy, who has already attended a couple of the shows along the tour, can go to any show she wanted, but she “has been busy working.”

SPORTS>>Decline of Legion baseball undeniable, difficult to witness

Leader sports editor

Baseball season, for us at The Leader anyway, officially came to an end with Cabot’s loss to Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon at Burns Park.

No more stifling early evenings chronicling the junior American Legion teams. No more endless, error-plagued, mosquito-infested senior nightcaps. No more walk-filled, action-free 12-1 routs in which the winning team scores all its runs on three hits. No more giving up reruns of ‘House’ or missing ‘The Office’ or ‘30 Rock’ to cover the fourth game of the week.

Yes, of course I’ll miss it. After all, not all the games were bad. And as much as I hate summer, there’s something about a soft summer night at the ballpark. Plus, I love the game itself. Played well, played fluently, there’s nothing better to watch. Played poorly, unfortunately, there are few things worse.

My concern, having covered American Legion baseball over the past eight years, is its trend toward mediocrity. The most obvious reasons for this are the influx of traveling teams, 7 on 7 football, and the increasing disinclination of kids to endure the rigors of a long summer at the ballpark.

On that latter point, it’s not hard to understand. It is, after all, summer, and you can see why kids might not want to trade in all that limitless freedom for a 30-game schedule played over two sizzling months.

Of our three area teams — Sylvan Hills Optimist Club, Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet and Cabot Centennial Bank — only the Bruins lost players to a traveling squad. They struggled as a result. It was hard to watch Sylvan Hills fail to live up to its proud baseball tradition this season as the seniors quietly bowed out in two games at the zone tournament.

Of all six of our area teams — juniors and seniors combined — only two made it to state. Given that only two teams from each zone qualify, maybe that doesn’t sound so bad. But both teams went out in two games at the state tournament. The Sylvan Hills junior team — the only junior team to reach state — was routed by a combined score of 25-1 by Sheridan and Bryant.

Cabot, which at times looked dominant throughout a 16-12 season, wasn’t humiliated but failed to put up much of a battle against Jonesboro and Fayetteville in losing 9-3 and 7-1. Cabot was out-hit by a combined 31-14 in those games.

Cabot reached its first-ever senior state tournament, one season after its juniors achieved that same honor. The fact is, Cabot baseball is on the upswing. And there are reports that Matt Evans, a dynamic sophomore pitcher and shortstop in 2008, may be returning to Cabot. That won’t hurt matters at all.

The other problem with American Legion is its inherent inequality. Cabot drew all its players from Cabot. Jonesboro drew from three separate high schools, including from 4A state champion Valley View as well as from Jonesboro and Nettleton, each of which reached state last year.

Fayetteville’s senior Legion club had players from Fayetteville High, Springdale, Gravette, Elkins, Prairie Grove and even Oklahoma on its roster. It’s hard to compete against that large of a drawing area.

One last observation regarding the decline of American Legion baseball: At times, it seemed as though players weren’t taking it all that seriously. I heard reports of players not showing up for practices. I witnessed on two separate occasions opposing pitchers (neither from our area, thankfully) laughing while getting shelled. On another occasion a pitcher seemed to find it amusing that he couldn’t find the strike zone.

Now, I recognize it’s a long season and I recognize that it’s just a game. But if you’re going to commit to something, commit to it. That’s why I admired the endless enthusiasm of Gwatney junior coach John Walker, who despite the score and despite the heat index, was always shouting encouragement from his third-base box.

Likewise, Cabot junior coach Andy Runyan was clearly committed to his team. Yes, he sometimes lost his cool and maybe that’s for another discussion. But his commitment was obvious and admirable. Senior coach Jay Darr is to be commended for providing a Web site with up-to-date stats and other critical information that helped make our job easier and our stories more thorough.

And old-timers Bob Hicking-botham at Jacksonville and Mike Bromley at Sylvan Hills have worked tireless hours and have done all they can to keep the league going.

The bottom line is, I fear for the future of American Legion baseball. With ever-decreasing media coverage as well as player participation, it could be on its way out. Let’s hope not. Because, over these past eight years, it’s been worth all the heat, all the walks and errors, all the hit batters and wild pitches and all the midnight drives home.

SPORTS>>Heye, Haralson go on record rampage at MOC

Leader sportswriter

Sharks don’t have to be big to be fierce. Just look at 10-year-old, pint-sized Sherwood Shark swimmers Delaney Haralson and Thomas Heye, who each took several big bites out of the record books on July 18 at the Meet of Champs.

Haralson broke records in five of the six gold events she competed in, while Heye set new marks in all six of his events.

Haralson’s and Heye’s performances were part of another dominant CASL season and MOC win for the Sharks, in which the Sherwood team captured its sixth consecutive season title and summer-ending crown jewel meet.

Haralson broke her own record in the 9-10-year-old, 50-yard butterfly event with a 32.70 at this year’s event, and put four new records under her belt. She swam a 29.67 in the gold freestyle to win the event and claim the fastest time ever in MOC competition in her age group, and did the same in the 50-yard breaststroke with a 39.73. She also claimed a record in the individual medley with a 1:12.06. Haralson then teamed up Victoria Haley, Camryn Jenkins and Madeline Darcey for a record-setting time of 1:04.63. It was the first time the four had competed together in a relay event.

“I always have to push myself,” said Haralson. “It’s always fun to cut time and break records. Practices are alwaysfun and you get encouragement from all the older kids. We always push each other and have fun.”

Heye, who is one of four brothers in his family who swim competitively, went a perfect 6-for-6 at the Meet of Champs this year, breaking records in each one.

“It was a really good feeling,” said Heye. “It’s the best feeling in the world. You feel like nothing can stop you, like you’re Superman.

A year ago, it was Christopher Heye who made a big splash with six record-breaking MOC performances in the 11-12-year-old age division. Christopher, who moved up to the 13-14-year-old age division this year, made quite an impression on younger brother Thomas.

“I still look up to him, because he practices so hard every day and he goes to every practice,” said Thomas.

Keith McAfee has been head coach of the Sharks since their unbeaten streak began in 2004, and also coaches Haralson, Heye, and many other members of the Sharks team on the year-round Arkansas Dolphin-Lasers USA league swim team.

“I’m really proud of all our young swimmers,” said McAfee. “The success of one swimmer helps all of our swimmers. It helps everyone become better. When you have the talent that we have, it makes our jobs as coaches a lot easier.”

Neither winning nor setting records is new to Heye and Haralson. Heye broke his own records in the 9-10 gold freestyle, backstroke and individual medley, which he set a year ago. He added the butterfly, breaststroke and relay records at this year’s MOC.

Both began their MOC tenures as five-year-olds in 2004. Their results were more modest then, with each taking wins in the kickboard event, which is a 6-under substitute for the more complex IM event.

They began their dominance the following year by sweeping the 6-under categories. Haralson took gold-level wins in the freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke while setting new records in the butterfly and kickboard events. Heye won all the same events on the boys side, setting records in the freestyle, backstroke, kickboard and breaststroke.

In her first season in the 7-8 division, Haralson won gold-level events in the freestyle and butterfly, and set a record in the individual medley. Although Heye reached gold status in every event that year, He had to settle for a pair of runner-up finishes.

In the summer of ’07, both won all six of their events, including the relay.

“Thomas and Delaney are both very talented and hard working young swimmers,” said McAfee. “They both love to race.

Thomas continues to improve all the time, and I believe he will continue to improve. Delaney loves to race and works hard in practice every time she gets in the pool.”

SPORTS>>Rhinos roll over Jaguars, 35-0

Leader sports editor

After a woeful offensive performance in their loss to the St. Louis Bulldogs a week earlier, the Arkansas Rhinos took their frustrations out on the hopelessly outmanned Arkansas Jaguars on Saturday night, improving to 3-1 with a lopsided 35-0 victory.

The Rhinos showed off their revamped up tempo offense for the first time at Jacksonville’s Bob Hill Memorial Stadium, though the game got out of hand in such a hurry, team owner and offensive coordinator Oscar Malone called off the dogs pretty quickly.

“What I liked was the way (quarterback Damien Dunning) checked off on several plays,” Malone said. “That’s the type of defense we’re going to play against (a 4-3) and his checks resulted in two touchdowns.”

Dunning was a surprise starter at quarterback and made the most of his limited opportunity, running for a touchdown and tossing a touchdown pass. Malone used Dunning, regular starter Jeremiah Crouch and newcomer Tye Forte equally in the contest.

Forte delivered the most impressive play of the night when he hit a streaking Tim Mason down the right sideline for a 54-yard touchdown pass midway through the final period to set the final margin.

“We’re fortunate enough to be able to get all these quarterbacks,” Malone said. “The problem is Forte came in so late with the offense. Crouch and Dunning have been here since day one.”

The North American Football League’s top-ranked defense pitched its second consecutive shutout at home and has now allowed only 30 points in four games. The Rhino ‘D’ was especially tough on the Jaguars, forcing four turnovers and limiting them to 122 total yards. The Rhinos totaled 236 yards, though they lost three fumbles in the contest.

The defense set the tone for the evening on the game’s first series, forcing three straight incompletions as the Jaguars opened up in a shotgun spread before switching to a wing T. Rhino safety Daniel Brown returned the punt 18 yards to the Jaguar 28, setting the theme for the night: the Rhinos began eight of their nine possessions in Jaguar territory and ran only three plays all night on their side of the field.

After Brown’s return, Brendan Medcalf ran for eight and nine yards. One play later, Dunning hit Stewart Franks at the goal line near the right sideline for a 16-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Jaguars tried to run one more set out of the shotgun, but Tarence Keatonpicked off a Justin Elliot pass and returned it 30 yards to the Jaguar 21. From there, it took only two plays. Jerald Marshall rushed 20 yards to the 1, and Dunning took over from there.

Less than two minutes later, the Rhinos added to their lead when Tyler Knight picked off a pass at the Rhino 43 and raced 57 yards before doing a flip into the end zone for a 21-0 lead with 5:39 left in the first period.

The Jaguars shifted to a wing T formation on their next series, but the hard-hitting Rhinos forced a fumble that was recovered by Antonio Anderson at the Jaguar 45. Matthew Stewart busted a tackle at the 30, cut outside and raced down the left sideline for a 45-yard touchdown and a 28-0 lead.

“Stewart looks like Donovan McNabb,” Malone said. “That’s what we call him. He’s a good one, but he’s unfortunate running behind two good running backs.”

The second half featured almost nothing but turnovers. The Rhinos fumbled three times, while Chris Johnson recovered a Jaguar fumble.

The only action of the second half came on Forte’s perfect strike to Mason, who caught the ball in stride at the right pylon for a 54-yard touchdown.

Because of their short field all night, the Rhinos ran only 25 offensive plays, going 3 of 5 for 93 yards through the air and rushing 20 times for 143 yards. Medcalf led the way with 65 yards on seven carries, while Stewart rushed six times for 49 yards.

Things figure to get significantly more difficult this Saturday when the Rhinos head to Nashville to face a team that has had their number of late. The Storm has beaten Arkansas the past four seasons after the Rhinos had won the previous seven.

“This is a big-time rivalry game,” Malone said. “We look forward to it every year. From here on out (the schedule is stacked).”

The Rhinos visit the Arkansas Wildcats the following week before returning home to face the Nashville Storm again on Aug. 15.

SPORTS>> Centennial Bank bows out

Leader sports editor

Coming into the American Legion senior state tournament, the last thing Cabot Centennial Bank head coach Jay Darr was concerned about was his offense.

Cabot, after all, had just finished pounding out 60 runs at the zone tournament the previous weekend and came into the state tourney as hot as any of the eight teams.

But the Cabot bats went largely silent in two games and the season came to an end in a 7-1 loss to Fayetteville in an elimination game on Saturday morning at Burns Park. Centennial Bank, which on Friday lost 9-3 to Jonesboro, managed just four runs and 14 hits in their two-game stint. They finish the season 16-12.

In both of its losses, Cabot gave up key two-out hits after nearly escaping jams. Friday, it was Jonesboro scoring five unearned runs after two were out to break open a 4-3 game in the eighth.

On Saturday, it was Christian Allen delivering the big two-out blow when he belted a double over Brandon Surdam’s head in centerfield to clear the bases and give Fayetteville a 3-0 lead. The inning began with Tyler Shaddy’s liner off the arm of Cabot starting pitcher Andrew Reynolds, which forced him to leave the game.

Tyler Erickson came on in reliefand got a strikeout and a pop up sandwiched around a walk. But Erickson hit Adam Baker to keep the inning alive and Allen made him pay when he lined the first pitch to straightaway center.

Fayetteville’s Mike Sisco was anything but overpowering. He struck out the first batter of the game, but fanned only two more after that. But he kept Cabot hitters off balance. They got only two hits in one inning — the ninth — and picked up single hits in the second, third, fourth, seventh and eighth innings. Sisco held Sam Bates hitless after he tore up pitching at the zone tournament when he went 14 of 21.

Erickson kept the game within reach through the eighth. He allowed a run in the seventh on a single and a double as Fayetteville took a 4-0 lead. Centennial Bank got on the scoreboard in the eighth when Chase Thompson beat out an infield single, stole second, moved to third on Powell Bryant’s sacrifice fly and scored on Surdam’s ground out.

But Fayetteville all but put it away with a three-spot in the eighth on two singles, a double and an error.

Though Erickson allowed 11 hits over 6 2/3 innings, he gave up only four earned runs while fanning six. He allowed three walks and hit two batters.

Against Sisco, Centennial Bank didn’t get a runner past first until the sixth, when Powell Bryant reached on an error and moved to second on a ground out. Bates’ bid to narrow the gap to 3-1 was frustrated when his hard liner into right center was hauled in on a diving catch by Blake Sanford. Cabot then wasted a two-out double by Ben Wainwright in the seventh.

In the ninth, Burks and Matt Turner singled with one out, but Wainwright’s line drive went right to the third baseman, and Erickson’s bouncer back to the mound ended the game and Cabot’s season.

Monday, July 27, 2009

TOP STORY >> LRAFB flies home with big awards

IN SHORT: Little Rock was named best overall in two areas and won many C-130 contests.

The four C-130s returning to the Little Rock Air Force Base on Saturday are a bit heavier from all the trophies Team Little Rock won during the week-long air rodeo competition at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.

Team Little Rock came home with two best overall awards and seven C-130 awards.

The 19th Airlift Wing won best overall C-130 team and best overall aerial Port team in the rodeo competition.

The wing’s aerial port crew won for the best C-130 engine running off-load team and the best C-130 in-transit visibility team.

Master Sgt. James Langston said, “We came out here to earn respect and let the rest of the aerial port world know that we can hold our own. To finish with two wins and high in all the events we accomplished that.”

He said Little Rock Air Force Base moves 30 tons of cargo compared to Travis Air Force Base, which moves 200 tons a day.
“We move 100 passengers a month. They move 500 to 1,000 passengers a day. It is a David versus Goliath story,” Langston said.

Team Little Rock maintenance team picked up three awards. The best C-130 maintenance team award went to the 19th Airlift Wing, J-model. They also brought home the best C-130 pre-flight team.

The best C-130 post-flight team was the 314th Airlift Wing, H-model.

Another award the 19th Airlift Wing won was best C-130 short field landing crew. The 314th Airlift Wing was awarded the best back-landing combat off-load crew.

—Jeffrey Smith

TOp STORY >> Judging the world’s best

IN SHORT: Officer from Beebe is assigned to help choose the best airlifters.

Leader staff writer

One of the hardest jobs at the air rodeo at McChord Air Force Base may be that of the umpire, who must judge the best airlifters in the world.

Maj. Jon Ratz of the 19th Airlift Wing has that job, as an aerial umpire for the flying competition of all C-130 models.
“I judge the air crew portion of the air drop which includes low level navigation, short field landings and airdrops,” Ratz said.

“The other primary function of the umpire is that of a safety observer. I know what the plan is and can stop things from happening to prevent anyone getting hurt or things broken,” Ratz said.

Ratz, a Beebe resident, is one of 44 C-130 umpires. In fairness, he does not judge anyone from Little Rock Air Force Base and a judge does not fly with the same crew twice during the competition.

Ratz said it is a busy week, but the missions are short. He judges one mission a day. He said pressure is on the crews to perform well.

“The participants are striving for excellence and prepare for all the different events. We have to prepare, but not at the same level. We need to know exactly what the crews need to do based on the rules and judge them accordingly,” he said.
Ratz continued, “At this level of competition the differences are small. We are looking at the fine points, the slight differences between the abilities of the different crews.

“Everyone you meet here is a wonderful competitor. You want them to do well. You feel bad when they make small mistakes. You are trying to find who is the best. It is tough because they are all good,” he said.

Ratz said the air rodeo is a venue where airlifters can learn from each other. Everyone does the same thing with small, individual differences.

Each C-130 crew has two day missions and one night mission. Ratz said crews air drop a heavy equipment platform and a paratrooper jumps out of the plane.

The umpire is in the plane judging a crew’s navigational skills as they fly over several points on the ground. Then the crew is judged on reaching a drop zone at a specific time, measured in seconds.

Another portion of Ratz’s job is to make sure the C-130 landing is safe. He watches to see if the crew lands the plane in the middle of a touchdown zone that is 500-feet long and 60-feet wide. To gain all points, the plane must land at the 250-foot mark.