Saturday, September 26, 2009

SPORTS >> Badgers finally put it together to beat Eagles

Special to The Leader

CROSSETT — It has been a long wait, but the Beebe Badgers are winless no more.

The Badgers opened the season 0-3 and had to go to double overtime to escape with a hard-fought 18-12 victory over the Crossett Eagles here Friday night.

Adam Griffis scored on a 3-yard run in the second overtime to give Beebe its long-sought victory.

Rain in 12 of the last 15 days, including junior high contests played in a downpour Thursday, left Crossett’s field soggy and choppy, but the Badgers rode the legs of Griffis to overcome the Crossett defense.

It was the Eagles, however, who opened the scoring, marching 55 yards in six plays.

On fourth and 3 from the Beebe 14, Crossett quarterback Derek Johnson connected with receiver Brandon Bryant down the left sideline.

Bryant hurdled a Badger defender at the 1 and landed in the end zone.

The extra-point attempt was no good, but the Eagles led 6-0 with 10:32 left in the first quarter.

The Badgers answered with a 63-yard, 12-play drive capped by a 24-yard keeper around the left side by junior quarterback Scot Gowen.

A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the score knotted 6-6 with 4:42 left in the opening period.

That score would hold until the opening drive of the third quarter, when the Badgers offense started at its 38.

After gaining a first down at the Eagles 49, Griffis found a hole in the middle of the Eagles defense and ran 48 yards to the Crossett 1.

An offside penalty pushed the Badgers back to the 6, from where Griffis scored off left guard to put Beebe in front by 12-6 after the conversion attempt was no good.

Crossett battled back with a 59-yard drive, with a 33-yard pass from Johnson to receiver Keith Miller giving the Eagles a first down at the Beebe 6.

Miller lost a yard on an end around and then Johnson connected with Miller down the left side for a 7-yard touchdown pass.

Tyler Pennington’s extra-point kick was no good, and the score was again tied at 12-12 with 4:02 left in regulation.

The next Badger drive ended when Crossett’s Terez Thrower intercepted a Gowen pass at the Eagles 37.

The Eagles got a first down on an interference penalty, although Crossett had three penalties and a sack, pushing it back to its 16.

On fourth down at the 29, Pennington punted to Gowen, who returned the kick to the Beebe 43 with 10:51 left in the fourth quarter.

The Badgers drove inside the Crossett 5 before a holding penalty sent them back to the 14.

Thrower intercepted Gowen’s fourth-down pass to the end zone and ran it out to the 5 with 3:59 left.

Beebe forced a punt and took over at its 48 with 1:13 left. The Badgers again reached Eagles territory, but the drive stalled at the 34 following a holding penalty and the Badgers ran out the clock, setting up the dramatic finish.

In overtime, each team gets the ball at the opponent’s 10 with four downs to score.

The Badgers got the ball first in overtime and were facing a fourth down at the 9. Donny Lewis’ field goal attempt was short from 24 yards out.

SPORTS >> Wildcats enjoy short field, win

Special to The Leader

Harding Academy won the turnover and field position battle, and as a result, won the game Friday night, beating Episcopal Collegiate 40-14 at First Security Stadium in Searcy.

Harding Academy led 27-0 at halftime as Episcopal struggled to hold onto the ball.

Harding Academy’s average starting field position in the first half was the Episcopal 42-yard line, while Episcopal averaged its 18. The visitors only started one of six first-half drives beyond their 20, at the 23. That drive featured an illegal procedure penalty before the first snap, moving the ball back to the 18.

“Our defense did a pretty good job of keeping them out of the end zone,” Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said. “We created some turnovers and we were able to score some points off of it.”

There were nine turnovers between the two teams, but Mote wasn’t going to complain about the miscues after a big victory.

“It’s like I told our guys, sometimes you look at it and it appears to be an ugly win, but when you’re able to play and win a football game, you need to enjoy it,” Mote said.

Harding Academy’s first score came on its second possession, which started at the Episcopal 2 after a high punt snap rolled dead for a 30-yard loss. Junior Ben Lecrone ran it in and a failed extra point left it 6-0 with 5:44 to go.

That’s how the first quarter ended, but Harding scored quickly in the second, with quarterback Seth Keese getting the final yard of a 51-yard drive. The two-point conversion made it 14-0 with 10:48 left in the half.

Two Episcopal turnovers and one Harding Academy giveaway later, Harding Academy made it 21-0 with a three-play, 50-yard drive with Keese hitting Tyler Yarbrough from 20 yards out with 3:14 left in the half.

Episcopal turned it over on the first play of the ensuing possession when James Dillard intercepted a pass to set his team up 35 yards away from the end zone. On fourth and 6 from the 19, Keese scrambled and found an opening to put his team up 27-0 just before the half.

Episcopal scrapped the passing game in the second half and enjoyed more success offensively. It also stiffened up the defense and gave up just 44 yards in the third quarter.

Episcopal finally scored with 11:35 left on a 2-yard run by Derek Keaton to cap a 71-yard drive that pulled his team to within 27-6.

The offense sealed the win with a seven-play, 49-yard drive that made it 33-6 with 5:47 left in the game. Keese scored again on a 5-yard run to cap the possession.

Harding’s Tyler Curtis got an interception on the first play of the ensuing drive, but Episcopal got its second and final score three plays later on a 75-yard fumble return by Anderson with 4:16 left in the game.

Harding Academy went into the hurry-up, no-huddle offense and scored a final time to set the margin. This time it was a 2-yard plunge by Tyler Yarbrough.

Harding Academy finished with 400 yards while the visiting Wildcats totaled 208.

Keese ran the ball 11 times for 93 yards and two scores, and completed 15 of 29 pass attempts for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Lecrone ran the ball 20 times for 154 yards, and had two catches for 31 yards.

Spears led receivers with seven receptions for 76 yards.

Keaton finished with 110 all-purpose yards to lead Episcopal, running 10 times for 75 yards, and catching two passes for 35.

Heading into next week’s conference road game at England, Mote has reason to be optimistic with a 4-0 start, despite a sloppy Week 4.

“We work hard, but we know we need to get a lot better,” Mote said. “The season’s young and I think we’ll do that.”


Riverview was in control through three quarters until Mayflower went on a feeding frenzy in the fourth quarter Friday at Patrick Stadium.

The Eagles scored four touchdowns in the final 12 minutes to secure a 37-26, come-from-behind victory in the 2-3A Conference opener for both teams.

The Raiders (2-2, 0-1) were the ones to overcome a deficit in the first half, and added another touchdown late in the third quarter to go up 26-13, but it was the last time they found the end zone all night.

“The way we started was terrible defensively,” Raiders coach Stuart Hill said. “They went out for five or six plays and scored, but then we played great for the next two-and-a-half quarters. We talked all week about winning the fourth quarter, but we didn’t show any of that tonight.”

The Raiders took the lead at with 9:17 left in the second quarter when Harrell found receiver Eric Willis for a 72-yard touchdown pass to make it 18-13 at the half.

Harrell ran in the final score for Riverview with 1:33 left in the third quarter, and hit Willis again for the two-point conversion to give the Raiders a 26-13 lead.

“We just have to play the game better, that’s all there is to it,” Hill said. “We’re a little banged up right now, but you have to fight through that.”

Alexander had 15 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown for Riverview. Harrell was 14 of 29 passing for 196 yards and a touchdown as the Raiders had 479 yards of total offense.

SPORTS >> Comeback not enough for Devils

Special to the Leader

MOUNTAIN HOME - The Jacksonville Red Devils put on a furious second-half rally before coming up just short in a 35-28 loss to the Mountain Home Bombers in the 6A-East Conference opener for both teams at Bomber Stadium.

Jacksonville drops to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in league play and the Red Devils travel to Jonesboro on Friday.

Mountain Home is 3-0-1 and 1-0.

Down 28-0 at the half, the Red Devils unleashed an aerial assault on the Bombers.

Quarterback Logan Perry hit Keith Mosby with a 39-yard pass, Devin Featherston with a 28-yard completion and Tyler Crook with a 12-yard scoring pass and the Red Devils were on the scoreboard just 1:47 into the second half. Price Eubank’s extra-point kick made it 28-7.

Mountain Home countered with Todd Bowman, who took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to help the Bombers go up 35-7.

It was all Jacksonville from that point.

After three running plays, Perry connected with a wide-open John Johnson for a 69-yard touchdown play and Eubanks’ kick cut the it to 35-14 with 8:05 left in the third.

Mountain Home marched down the field and ate up most of the third-quarter clock, but Jacksonville forced a turnover on downs at its 26.

The Red Devils continued to drive with Perry hitting passes of 33 and 37 yards to help set up Mosby’s 1-yard touchdown plunge on a third-and-goal play. Eubanks’ kick cut the deficit to 14.

After a missed field goal by the Bombers, the Red Devils caught a big break on a fourth-and-12 play when Johnson hauled in a deflected pass and raced 66 yards for a touchdown to close the gap to 35-27.

On the extra-point attempt, Mountain Home’s Bryant Hancock burst through to block the kick and keep the score at 35-27.

Mountain Home came up with an onside kick recovery, but fumbled the ball just four plays later at the Jacksonville 33.

The Red Devils were poised to the complete the comeback and rode Perry’s passing to a first down at the Bomber 11. An illegal motion penalty set the Red Devils back 5 yards, but Perry hit D’Vone McClure with a 5-yard pass to get the yardage back. Mountain Home forced incompletions on second and third down, leaving Jacksonville facing fourth and 10.

Perry dropped back to pass once more, but the protection broke down and Mountain Home’s Tyler Starich sacked Perry to preserve the victory.

Jacksonville finished with 486 yards of total offense, 371 of which came in the second half. Perry completed 16 of 32 passing for 381 yards and three scores. Johnson caught two passes for 136 yards and two scores.

SPORTS >> Falcons make lead stand up

Leader sportswriter

Homecoming 2009 turned into a first-half score fest for the North Pulaski Falcons.

The Falcons bullied Little Rock McClellan for 148 first-half yards and four scores, and held the Lions to 34 yards and only 10 offensive plays on their way to a 35-13 victory to start 5A-Southeast Conference play at Falcon Stadium on Friday.

The Falcons (1-3, 1-0) were heavily penalized in the first half, but still won the penalty war. North Pulaski had seven flags for 45 yards in the first half, while the Lions’ poor discipline cost them dearly with nine penalties for 66 yards, many of which came at critical times to aid the Falcons.

“It was a good night,” said Falcons coach Rick Russell, who picked up his first victory as a head coach on Friday. “We had a great day today. The kids were focused on it. The student body, the athletes, the teachers — it was just a great day. We came out here believing we could win.”

The third quarter featured both teams trading possessions on downs. McClellan decided to punt on fourth and 25 from its 6 to end the third, but a high snap turned into a safety for North Pulaski.

McClellan drove the ball to the Falcon 29 on its next possession before Marshall Shipley ended the drive with the second North Pulaski interception of the night. Arlando Hicks got the first interception for the Falcons with 3:19 left in the second quarter.

Hicks covered up Lions receiver Calvin Moore on an end route down the right side and pulled down Terrence Ingram’s pass at the Falcon 41 line and returned it to McClellan’s 41.

Hicks and Shipley also came up big in the first quarter when Hicks blocked a punt by Michael Vincente at the Lions’ 18 and Shipley scooped it up and ran it in for the score to give North Pulaski a 13-0 lead with 6:10 to go in the first period after Mat Ingersoll’s partially-blocked point-after kick still managed to make it through the uprights.

Sophomore quarterback Syheim Barron ran in the first score for the Falcons. Barron capped off a nine-play, 63-yard drive to start the game with a two-yard sneak at the 8:32 mark. Ingersoll’s point-after attempt was wide right.

“The first drive of the last three games, we push it down the field and throw an interception,” Russell said. “We were going to make sure that did not happen tonight. They had some defensive sets that we could take advantage of, and we just ran power football. Running the football was what we were going to do tonight.”

Barron attempted only two passes, both completions to sophomore Derrick Hart in the fourth quarter.

The second completion gave the Falcons their final touchdown of the night from 6 yards out with 6:11 left to play.

Barron scored the second of his three touchdowns with 1:59 left in the first quarter. Darius Cage set up Barron with a 12-yard run that took the ball to the McClellan 4, and Barron snuck in from there to put the Falcons up 19-0 with 1:59 left in the first quarter.

Barron also called his number for the Falcons’ fourth touchdown in the first half. He took North Pulaski to the Lions’ 1-yard line with an option keep down the right side for first-and-goal, and punched it in behind center Lysander Tramble two plays later for the score.

McClellan’s only shining moment in the first half came on a blocked field-goal attempt from the Lions’ 30. Terrance Ingram came in for the block, scooped it up and outran Falcon defender Bradley Bohannon for the touchdown.

Michael Vincente added the extra despite being moved back to the 18 after Ingram was penalized for taunting Bohannon on his way into the end zone. That made the score 26-7 at the half.

The Lions added another late touchdown when Ingram snuck it in from a yard out with 1:25 left to play, but Ingram drew another flag when he spiked the ball in the end zone to give North Pulaski good field position on the ensuing kickoff.

“Right now, it just feels like a win,” Russell said. “After I step back and look at it, I probably wouldn’t know what to say. It’s a football win, and I’m excited for the kids. That’s how I’m looking at it right now.”

North Pulaski finished with 220 total yards and 16 first downs. Billy Barron led with nine carries for 92 yards, while Syheim Barron kept 19 times for 72 yards and three touchdowns, along with two completions for 16 yards and another score.

McClellan finished with 132 total yards, 98 of which came in the second half. Running back Cleo Gray had 10 carries for 49 yards to lead the Lions.

The Falcons will play at Beebe next Friday, while McClellan will travel to Monticello.

SPORTS >> Cabot rolls on

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers beat the Conway Wampus Cats 38-21 on Friday night, though outlasted might be a better word.

The Panthers rolled to a 24-point lead in the 7A-Central Conference opener, but with Conway in hurry-up mode for most of the second half the lead dwindled and Cabot was left a little gassed by the end.

“They’re getting better every week,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I’m glad we got them now and not Week 10.”

Seth Bloomberg completed a 28-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Conner Hamilton to make it 31-7 with 8:24 left in the game, but behind quarterback Xavier Acklin, the Wampus Cats were far from finished.

Acklin had a tackle-breaking, 30-yard run, kept for 11 yards and had three completions on a drive capped by Seth Bell’s 22-yard run that made it 31-14 with 6:16 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers went up 38-14 when leading rusher Spencer Smith went up the middle on a 43-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but Conway came back with Acklin’s 12-yard scoring run then recovered the onside kick with 6:24 left in the game.

But Logan Spry intercepted Acklin at the 1, allowing Cabot to run some clock before it was forced to punt with 1:48 left, and Conway’s final drive dissolved in three straight incompletions.

Spry, who kicked a 38-yard field goal in the first half, had Cabot’s second touchdown-saving interception. Joe Bryant picked off Acklin in the end zone during the second quarter.

“I’ll tell you what, they ran a hurry-up mode and got our defense a little tired there,” Malham said. “They did a good job offensively. They really did.”

Malham expected Conway, who has played Bentonville and Fort Smith Southside and scrimmaged Fort Smith Northside, to give the Panthers (4-0, 1-0) their first true test of the season and the Wampus Cats, behind Acklin, didn’t let him down.

Acklin rushed for 173 yards, many of them scrambles out of the pocket, and one touchdown and he passed for 140 yards and another score.

“They didn’t quit. They made a game out of it and it was a pretty good ballgame I thought,” Malham said.

But Cabot had the ground game to keep the ball out of Conway’s hands and keep the Panthers one step ahead.

Smith finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns while Bloomberg gained 73 yards, scored twice and passed for another touchdown. Matt Bayles finished with 78 yards and Jeremy Berry had 52.

“They stuffed it in the middle and we had to go outside more than I like on the option,” Malham said.

Cabot, which thrives on its Dead T offense, also uncorked the rare passing effort as Bloomberg went 5 for 5 for 73 yards.

“That’s something that we work on and we save it,” Malham said. “We’ve got to throw a little bit and we work on it probably as much as we do running, but I like it when we move it on the ground. We complete a lot more handoffs than we do passes.”

Conway netted 0 yards on its game-opening possession and after the punt Cabot drove from its 43 and scored on Smith’s 1-yard run with 4:51 left in the first quarter. Hunter Sales slipped a tackle for a 12-yard gain on the drive and Conway gave up two first downs on offsides penalties, the second to bring up first and goal at the 5.

Conway got a 16-yard completion from Acklin to Chase Calcagni on its next possession, but still wound up punting to set up Cabot’s next score. The Panthers were forced to settle for Spry’s 38-yard field goal with 9:39 left in the half, but the possession featured a diving, 33-yard sideline reception by Joe Bryant, who kept his feet in bounds for a first down at the

Conway 41 and brought the near-capacity crowd to its feet.

A sack and illegal forward pass that came when Acklin crossed the line of scrimmage doomed Conway’s next drive, and after the punt the Panthers started at the Wampus Cats 49 and marched for Bloomberg’s 1-yard sneak that made it 17-0 with 4:25 remaining in the half.

EDITORIAL >> Lottery fever sweeps state

Have you heard that they are going to start selling lottery tickets Monday? If you have been on the space shuttle this summer you may not know that at the stroke of midnight the first ticket will be sold ceremonially at a Murphy Corp. service station in the Chenal neighborhood of west Little Rock, and some 1,550 stores around the state will begin peddling them during the day.

It is the loudest rollout of a government program in the state’s history.

Yes, all you teabaggers out there, the lottery is a government program — a unique government program but government nonetheless. It is unique because government ordinarily is supposed to be the servant and protector of the people, although it sometimes goes astray. With the lottery, government is the predator. It operates a numbers racket that relieves people of their hard-earned dollars and redistributes them among, well, lots of people: Scientific Games and Intralot, the big gambling companies that run the lottery, some 2,000 retailers (eventually), the big and well-paid lottery bureaucracy, a raft of other contractors and suppliers and, late next year, a number of students.

Most people like the idea of a lottery or else they would not have voted overwhelmingly to authorize the state to start one. Lots of people anticipate the thrill of buying a lottery ticket and maybe striking it rich. There is a higher mathematical chance of getting hit by lightning, but there is a chance. Many may find buying scratch-off and Powerball tickets and the eventual draw games to be good family entertainment, which is the way the lottery director and chief promoter, Ernie Passailaigue, describes them. He says he doesn’t want anybody who could become addicted to it and can’t afford the addiction to buy a ticket. It is a common problem in all the 42 states that have lotteries and he doesn’t want it to happen here. His warning should take care of that problem, so we need not worry about it.

But we need to correct the record on a few matters. Passailaigue said there were only two reasons to play the lottery, to have some sheer fun and to help needy kids go to college. But if you feel compelled to buy lottery tickets to help kids go to college, we have a better suggestion. Write a check to the state Department of Higher Education and earmark it for the general scholarship fund. That way, every dime will go to scholarships. When you buy a lottery ticket, only part of the price winds up in college accounts.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, the father of the Arkansas lottery, says people should play the lottery for the sake of the kids. He says it is vital for the state’s economic development. When people spend more money on the lottery, more kids will have a chance to go to college. As the college-going rate rises, more educated youngsters will be able to contribute to the state’s economic growth. That is his theory. Passailaigue, who came here from the South Carolina lottery, ratified it.

But if that is so, why has the lottery not produced that result in South Carolina? The South Carolina lottery is supposed to be wildly successful, but in the eight years since it began, the college-going rate of South Carolina high school graduates has gone down steadily. And the South Carolina economy is a wreck. The unemployment rate there is nearly twice Arkansas’. College costs have skyrocketed in proportion to the growth in lottery revenues and scholarship assistance.

Rather than enable more poor kids to go to college, the lottery will basically subsidize the college education of more affluent youngsters. When school began this month, the state had $100 million available to help kids pay for their schooling at any public or private institution in Arkansas. It is far more than the demand, and there will be reserves again next fall, along with the guaranteed yearly appropriation.

The Constitution says the state must continue forever to provide the same amount of tax support for college scholarships after the lottery begins as before. To use all the scholarship funds that will be available next September from taxpayer and lottery proceeds, the legislature lowered the requirement for qualifying down to a C average and a mere 19 on the ACT. If you fail those, you still might qualify. And it removed entirely the income ceiling to qualify. The children of the well to do, even billionaires, will get their tuition paid starting in 2010.

So that is what your lottery purchase will get.

Our lesson for today: Have fun at the convenience store, but have no illusions about the miracle you are accomplishing.

TOP STORY >> Prisoner dies in lockup

One of three women in the Sherwood jail was found dead Thursday morning after she may have swallowed some controlled substances the night before.

Jamie Flowers, 28, was considered homeless, was found unresponsive in the cell about 6:46 a.m. when jailers tried to wake her. The jailers made frequent checks on the cell during the night and saw nothing out of the ordinary. The other two women in the cell saw and heard nothing.

Flowers was brought in Wednesday by the Arkansas State Police on drug charges.

She would have remained in jail until posting bond or seeing the judge, which was scheduled for Thursday morning. Lt. Cheryl Williams, public information officer for the Sherwood police, said jailers became aware through conversations with the other women in the cell that Flowers had swallowed controlled substances before being jailed.

At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Flowers was taken by ambulance to St. Vincent Medical Center in Sherwood. She was checked, treated and returned to the jail at 11:30 p.m. Jailers checked on her and the other women through the night, according to Williams, and saw nothing amiss.

The jailers, around 6:45 a.m., were bring breakfast to the inmates in the cell. The other two women were already awake and were given their breakfast.

Officer Beth Fletcher said it appeared that Flowers was still asleep under her blanket. The jailer shouted, “Ma’am” and shook Flowers, but she got no response.

She noticed Flowers was not breathing and her skin color was off. Fletcher called the paramedics immediately.

With a MEMS dispatcher on the line, Fletcher and Officer Ross Dale began emergency rescue measures, but Flowers’ arms were already stiff, and Fletcher told the paramedics that rigor mortis might have already started to set in. Flowers was pronounced dead at the jail by paramedics.

Foul play is not suspected. The coroner has not released an official cause of death. “We are all waiting on the toxicology report,” Williams said.

The death was the third one in nine years at the jail. About four years ago, a man hanged himself, and nine years ago another man had a heart attack and died.

TOP STORY >> Cabot girl has night at the Emmys

A Cabot girl was given a rare treat for an elementary school student when her grandparents offered her a special invitation to the nationally televised Emmy awards.

Lexi Moore, 9, the daughter of Jon and Kerri Kimberling, flew to Los Angeles with her grandparents, Gary and Theresa Kimberling of Little Rock, to attend the television awards show Sunday.

Lexi was a guest at both the awards and the Governor’s Ball that followed, where she met several celebrities.

Lexi is in the fourth grade at Northside Elementary.

“Gary and I have attended the Emmys in the past and decided to return again this year,” Theresa Kimberling said.

“However, this year was so special as we took Lexi with us.”

The 61st annual Emmys awards ceremony was held at the Nokia Theater in downtown LA.

Kimberling said the Governor’s Ball is the official Emmy party, held directly after the awards show.

“It too is by invitation only,” she said.

“The Governor’s Ball is the first stop for many of the award winners,” she added. Lexi met such television stars as Neil Patrick Harris, Jon Cryer, Jeff Probst, Sheetal Sheth, Chris O’Donnell and Mariska Hargitay.

“(When) our driver dropped us back at our hotel around midnight, Lexi lifted her head up, looked around and said, ‘I think it must be over.’ Indeed we had turned back into pumpkins,” Kimberling said about the whimsical night.

TOP STORY >> Blue Note: World’s best jazz label marks 70 years

Leader executive editor

Blue Note Records sent its all-stars to Memphis early this year to kick off the jazz label’s 70th anniversary. But it was snowing, and many jazz fans, including this reviewer, stayed home that evening, afraid of treacherous road conditions — although there was probably no more than an inch of snow that day.

But for those who missed the concert, the label has issued “Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records” with the Blue Note 7.

These all-stars would have made the older generation of Blue Note artists proud: Carrying on the tradition of solid jazz are Ravi Coltrane (John Coltrane’s son) on saxophone, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Steve Wilson on alto sax and flute, Bill Charlap on piano, Peter Bernstein on guitar, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.

They play the compositions of such Blue Note stalwarts as Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson, Duke Pearson and Cedar Walton.

Even if you’re not a jazz fan and have never heard of Blue Note, you’ve probably heard the hard-bop trumpet player Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” on a Chrysler commercial. Morgan was one of Blue Note’s top-sellers until an ex-girlfriend shot him in a New York saloon, where he was performing in 1972.

Going on eight decades, Blue Note has recorded more first-rate jazz artists than other label. Just about every major musician has recorded for Blue Note — from Cannonball Adderley to Tony Williams, from Art Blakey to Larry Young, from John Coltrane to Bud Powell, from Miles Davis to Sam Rivers, from Eric Dolphy to Wayne Shorter, from Andrew Hill to Gonzalo Rubalcaba, from Freddy Hubbard to Jimmy Smith, from Clifford Brown to Dexter Gordon, from Donald Byrd to Blue Mitchell, from Kenny Burrell to Grant Green, from Lou Donaldson to Sonny Rollins, from Kenny Dorham to J.J. Johnson, from Elmo Hope to Jackie McLean, from Hank Mobley to Stanley Turrentine, from Tina Brooks to Jason Moran, from Ron Carter to Chucho Valdes, from Johnny Griffin to Charles Tolliver, and many more.

Blue Note Records, founded by two refugees from Nazi Germany, celebrates its 70th anniversary this year with several important new releases and more reissues from its priceless back catalogue.

Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf, who were jazz fans while they were growing up in Berlin, moved to New York before the Second World War and heard the music they loved all over town.

Lion attended the famous “Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in December 1938 and rented a studio a few weeks later to record two of the musicians who played at the concert — the boogie woogie pianists Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis from Chicago.

Lion recorded several numbers to give to his friends, but it seemed everyone wanted a copy, so he started Blue Note and took on Wolf as a partner.

Those first recordings, made on Jan. 6, 1939 and issued originally as 78s, are available on a CD called “The First Day.” It’s a great record —it gets a top rating in “The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD” — with Ammons and Lewis taking turns doing their own solos and performing together on two numbers.

Lion soon recorded Sidney Bechet, the soprano saxophone pioneer from New Orleans. His fledgling company was getting noticed. Lion went into the military during the Second World War, but in those years he must have heard music that went beyond boogie woogie and New Orleans jazz: Bebop was developing in New York and waiting to be recorded after the war.

Lion and Wolf recorded Monk and Powell and issued the records with distinctive covers that were inspired by the sleek, Bauhaus school of design in their native Germany.

The music became more sophisticated, which meant more rehearsal time before going into the studio. Blue Note paid their musicians for the extra effort that went into those records. No wonder the musicians revered them.

There was hard bop and free jazz and organ trios, and then the label ran out of steam: Lion was not well and sold the company to Liberty Records for a lot less than it was worth. Wolf tried to keep Blue Note going for a while, but fusion and rock were killing the music.

Although Blue Note was dormant for a while in the 1970s and 1980s, it found its second wind with a new team of executives, including Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cuscuna.

The label roared back with Joe Henderson’s “The State of the Tenor,” a double CD recorded at New York City’s Village Vanguard in 1985. McCoy Tyner returned with a stunning solo album called “Revelations.” Rudy Van Gelder, the engineer on the classic Blue Notes, remastered dozens of old records.

Previously unissued music was released for the first time on CD: The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane “Live at Carnegie Hall,” Horace Silver “Live at Newport 1958,” Jackie McLean’s “Demon’s Dance,” Freddie Hubbard’s “Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969” and much more.

Joe Lovano, the multi-reed instrumentalist, has released at least one CD every year for 20 years. His latest, “Folk Art,” stretches the limits of jazz. It’s as good as anything Blue Note recorded in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s and perhaps better sounding because of superior recording technology.

New stars like Greg Osby, Stefon Harris and Gonzalo Rubalcaba have signed with the label, which keeps moving in new directions: Along with his piano playing, Robert Glasper’s “Double Booked” mixes modern jazz with hip hop.

To survive, the label does much more than jazz: It has signed Arkansas’ own Al Green, who has released a couple of fine Blue Notes: “I Can’t Stop” and “Lay It Down.

The label has just released Willie Nelson’s CD of standards called “American Classic.” A Norah Jones CD is scheduled for release in November.

But jazz is still the label’s claim to fame. No one has done more for jazz.

If you’re interested in buying Blue Note records, here are some recommendations from label chief Bruce Lundvall:

Thelonious Monk’s “Complete Blue Note Recordings.” “A Night at Bird Land” with Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson and Curly Russell. Dexter Gordon’s “Go!” Coltrane’s “Blue Trane.” Powell’s “The Genius of Bud Powell.” Herbie Nichols’ “Complete Blue Note Recordings.”

I’d start with those recommendations, and then you have about 500 more to go. Enjoy the music.

TOP STORY >> Cabot girl gets a special treat

Grace Gwin was all smiles this week when the overnight Walmart crew in Cabot gave her a battery-powered Ford Mustang. She looks toward her mother, Autumn, and overnight store supervisor Bill Rady.

From left, Grace Gwin, 4, is held by her father, Rob, beside her mother, Autumn, who is holding her sister, Emily, 2. The family lives in Cabot.

Leader staff writer

Grace Gwin of Cabot became one of the youngest truck drivers for Walmart this week at the age of 4.

Gwin was selected as an honorary big-rig driver as part of the Walmart Heart program.

The program is made up of Walmart truck drivers who participate voluntarily.

It helps to raise the spirits of children and adults who are sick, recovering from an illness or have special needs. The truck drivers bring cheer to seniors, veterans and military families who are experiencing difficulties.

Gwin was diagnosed in June 2008 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells. After a year of treatment, Gwin’s illness is in remission.

A Walmart truck driver in Oklahoma heard through a conversation with a store employee that there was a child with leukemia.

The driver, who is part of the Walmart Heart program, wanted to help.

While searching for the child’s family, Mark Turvey, a Walmart market manager in Oklahoma, was contacted.

It was discovered that Turvey had a granddaughter, Grace Gwin, who had leukemia and Walmart Heart wanted to help.

Turvey made the trip to the Cabot Walmart for Gwin.

Walmart photo-lab specialist Sondra Bayles said, “I think it is an amazing thing they do just to see the sparkle in her eyes, because what she has gone through in her short life. To bring her some joy, even if for a day.”

The special day for Gwin began as a passenger in the cab of a Walmart truck. She was dressed for the occasion in a Walmart driver’s uniform shirt. With a Cabot police and fire department escort, the Walmart truck arrived to the front of the store.

Gwin was greeted with music and cheers from Walmart employees along with the Cabot High School band and cheerleaders.

Gwin entered the store with her mother, Autumn; her father, Rob and two-year-old sister, Emily.

The surprises continued for Gwin. Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams proclaimed Sept. 17 as Grace Gwin Day in the city.

Participating drivers who are in the program came from as far as Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana. Store representatives from Bentonville traveled to be a part of Gwin’s day.

Gwin was given an Honorary Driver for the Day certificate, a Walmart hat, a truck driver’s log book and a shirt with a message about checking blind spots while driving.

Only minutes into being a truck driver, Gwin was given several driving safety awards. She received a clock, a flashlight, a blanket, a wooden truck, an umbrella, a poncho and a cookie jar.

It seemed as if Christmas had arrived early for Gwin.

Members of the Walmart Heart program and store employees along with local businesses and the community helped to put Gwin’s young mind off her battle with cancer.

She was presented with a heart-shaped toy guitar, Barbie doll clothing along with clothing for herself. There was a table covered with gift bags with more toys and clothes for Gwin.

A local Cub Scout troop gave Gwin some merit badges.

The overnight store associates raised $700. They gave Gwin a battery-powered, toy Ford Mustang car and a shopping spree.

Another surprise for Gwin and her family were four tickets to see country and pop musician Taylor Swift in concert tonight at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock. The tickets for the sold-out show were from Arvest Bank.

Autumn Gwin, Grace’s mother, was grateful and humbled by the generosity of the Walmart drivers and associates who made Grace’s day memorable. She said it was incredibly uplifting.

She said, “We want to personally thank the community, Walmart, the police and fire departments, the mayor, First Arkansas (Bank and Trust ) Arvest Bank, McDonalds and everyone who contributed.”

TOP STORY >> A POW’s heroic story

Retired Col. Leo Thorsness, who flew an F-105 fighter jet when he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, spoke at the dedication of another F-105 at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History on Friday. He was a POW for six years, two of them with John McCain. A crew from the air base repainted the plane. Sherwin Williams donated more than $5,000 worth of paint.

Leader senior staff writer

Friends, family, faith and fun were grist for stories that sustained prisoners of war at the Hanoi Hilton for long years during the Vietnam War, according to retired Col. Leo Thorsness. He addressed a packed house Friday at the Jacksonville Community Center.

In a 36-minute, rapid-fire, off-the-cuff talk, the motivational speaker and Medal of Honor recipient with war-hero credentials, spun homilies, recounted tales of torture, bravery, humility and humor during the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council luncheon.

During his six years as a “guest” of the North Vietnamese, he said he was tortured for the first three years and dealt with boredom for the last three. He spent two years in a cell with John McCain.

Thorsness received his Medal of Honor for valor for shooting down and holding off MiG aircraft attacking his wingman and rescue helicopters over North Vietnam in April 1967, even though the F-105 he was piloting was critically low on fuel.

Imprisoned in a windowless cell, Thorsness, who was then 35, told of finding a rusty nail in a nasty shower and using it to pick away at the mortar in his bricked-over window until he could look out through a pinhole.

He would look for hours on end — what else was there to do? — at his tiny window toward the outside world. Thorsness noticed a guard.

“I saw myself flipping a coin. I slapped it down on my wrist. I had heads, the guard had tails.”

“Neither the guard nor I had any control over who our parents were,” the colonel said. “In 35 years of freedom, I’d done more than that kid would ever get to do. We are so blessed just by birthright. About two-thirds of the world lives under some sort of dictatorial government — at least in 1967. I’m ahead of the game.”

Thorsness said since being released from that prison camp, “I’ve never had a bad day.”

Of his first 18 days and nights of never-ceasing torture, he said he was determined to never tell more than name, rank, unit and serial number as required by the Geneva Convention.

He said he finally broke down and told them more, much to his shame.

Returned to his cell, he told a cellmate of his failure.

“You broke or you died,” the man told him. Thorsness said he’d never been so proud to be average.

Thorsness recounted being shot down 11 days after the actions for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

“The F-105 is a big, strong place, but what it won’t take is a missile up the tailpipe,” he remembered.

He and Harry Johnson, his navigator in his backseat, ejected, and as they parachuted toward earth, he saw people shooting at him.

“My thought was ‘I failed my family,’” he said.

All the way down, he said he heard the Lord whispering in his ear, “Leo, you’re going to make it. Leo, you’re going to make it.”

“I’d never had a prayer preemptively answered before,” he said. The entire experience was one of intimidation, degradation and humiliation. Prisoners were not allowed to talk, and often communicated in code by tapping on the concrete walls between cells.

“Air Force captives could tap and decode 15 words a minute,” he recalled. “Navy airmen 12 words a minute and the Marines…we didn’t teach them,” he said to laughter.

Thorsness told of a Navy lieutenant named Mike Christian found a grimy scrap of cloth about the size of a handkerchief.

He cleaned and cleaned it. Then he improvised red ink from ground-up roof tile and blue from some medicine and cobbled together a makeshift American flag.

When the guards found it, they beat and tortured him, breaking bones. Within about two weeks, Christian had recovered sufficiently to start looking for a new cloth, to make a new flag, Thorsness said.

“Getting through tough times — people asked how did you do it?”

“You have to have the will to succeed and the will to survive,” he explained. “You have to take it a day at a time. And you have to have love for you fellow humans. If you truly care it makes a big difference.”

He said that of the 36 people he was imprisoned with, “we were blessed with more than our share of good people. Don’t be too proud to accept help and prayer.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TOP STORY >> Military Museum plane dedication Friday

A Medal of Honor recipient who survived six years as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War will dedicate a fighter jet on display at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.

Col. Leo Thorsness, USAF (Ret.), will lead the ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday in front of the museum, 100 Veterans Circle.

The F-105 Thunder Chief was brought here from the Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. The F-105 was moved here last November from Camp Robinson.

The F-105, called the “Thud,” flew 75 percent of the air strikes against North Vietnam during the first four years of the Vietnam War.

The fighter bomber is 67 feet long, has a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches and a height of 20 feet and two inches. At full speed, the “Thud” could achieve 1,373 miles per hour or mach 2.1.

Thorsness will speak at the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council luncheon at the Jacksonville Community Center at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History is sponsoring his appearance. Thorsness will sign his book, “Surviving Hell,” which will be available for $20.

He won his Medal of Honor for valor for shooting down and holding off MIG aircraft attacking his wingman and rescue helicopters over North Vietnam in April 1967, even though the F-105 he was piloting was critically low on fuel.

Thorsness was shot down about two weeks later.

He was tortured for the first three of the six years he spent in captivity. He has characterized the second three years as “boring.”

After he retired, he sought prosecution for those he felt collaborated with the enemy while in captivity.

He is actively seeking release of in-formation about 30,000 U.S. soldiers listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action in conflicts going back to the Second World War.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Don’t build that tunnel

If any politician was ever handed a win-win option, Governor Mike Beebe got it when the dons of the legislature asked him to turn loose $2.8 million so they could build an air-conditioned tunnel from the Capitol to new private offices that the lawmakers are going to prepare for themselves 100 feet to the west.

Saving that $2.8 million would be the right thing to do and also, if we gauge popular sentiment correctly, immensely popular.

That is exactly what Beebe chose to do. He told legislative leaders Monday to forget about the tunnel for the immediate future.

The legislature had appropriated money for the work but only the governor can sign off on releasing money for capital projects.

It should not diminish anyone’s appreciation for his decision that it happened to be a crowd pleaser, too. A politician’s finest moment may be when he does something that takes political courage and risks his own future — there are precious few examples of that anymore — but they also serve who do simple good works that the great public cheers.

The legislators’ plans to ensconce themselves in a little luxury on the rare days when they are in Little Rock seemed particularly ill-timed. Their argument was that in a budget of $6 billion or so, what is a trifling $2.8 million? In flush times, not so much.

The state budget for human services, highways, schools and public health is shrinking and people everywhere are in straits, but the legislature needs a chunk of the taxpayers’ tribute to keep their hair in place and their suits dry when they scurry from their new offices in the Big MAC building across the narrow driveway over to the north wing of the Capitol.

When House Speaker Robbie Wills announced plans for the tunnel this summer, the governor had a better idea. Carry an umbrella. A good one will fetch less than $5 at the local dry goods. All over the sprawling Capitol grounds, government workers go to and fro every day through sun and shadow, wind and rain but no tunnel or skywalk.

Lest we give Governor Beebe too much credit, we need to remind you that he will release some $6 million from that surplus that accumulated during the flush years to renovate a big part of the Big MAC office building. They are moving the state Library and the state History Commission with their large archives and research rooms out of Big MAC to make room for offices for the 100 members of the House. As soon as renovations in the old Dillard’s building in downtown Little Rock are finished, those agencies will be moved into the private space, where the rent we presume will be a trifle steeper.

The cost to the taxpayers of all of it? Who knows?

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> We know who Ross speaks for

Mike Ross is not our congressman, for which we thank the lawmakers who draw the congressional district boundaries. Voters around here expect straight talk from their representatives and they usually get it. Congressman Ross talks straight when it suits him, which is not too often in the health-care debate, but apparently it is often enough for the voters of south Arkansas.

Ross attended a forum on health care Monday provided by the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and paid for by a health insurance company, Delta Dental. Ross used the venue to defend himself against the accusations that his principal interest in the health-care labors in the House of Representatives as the point man for the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition was to take care of the insurance companies and major providers. He used his leverage to force major changes in the House health-care bill that would mean higher premiums on the working poor of his district and increased payments to hospitals and other providers.

One of his objectives was to see to it that health legislation would not place tough cost controls on hospitals and many doctors. He said that if the legislation insured millions more people, it would dump more people into Arkansas hospitals, where low reimbursement rates based on Medicare would force the closure of “our rural hospitals.” It is our guess that nearly all Arkansas hospitals would dearly love to get more patients, even at Medicare and Medicaid rates. Medicare will pay a rural Arkansas hospital from $27,000 to $30,000 to install a heart defibrillator and from $12,228 to $13,783 for a knee replacement. Ross says they are going broke being paid so little.

Ross said he was not influenced by the insurance companies and other providers. He has gotten very little campaign money from insurance companies, not a great deal from the medical industry and none from the big pharmaceutical makers, he said.

The Center for Responsible Politics in Arkansas has a different story. He has taken $38,000 from the insurance industry (but only $4,500 from the leading insurer in Arkansas, he points out) and a grand total of $992,000 from the health industry. How much has he received from the 100,000 or so uninsured workers in his district? There are no figures, but not much we would guess. They have no voice in this debate and it shows.

Specifically, Ross said the drug industry had no hold on him. By stunning coincidence, the online magazine Politico and ProPublica, a nonprofit news group, published an article Tuesday reporting on the mammoth profit Ross made from the sale of his little family drugstore in the town of Prescott to the retail giant USA Drugs in 2007. USA paid Ross $420,000 for the little store (several times its appraised value) and between $500,000 and $1 million for its assets and paid his wife between $100,000 and $250,000 not to open a competing store in the hamlet. Total compensation: between $1 million and $1.67 million. For good measure, two weeks after the sale, USA’s owner tossed $2,300 into Ross’ campaign kitty.

Although he voted a bill out of his committee that contained an optional public insurance plan for people who cannot buy private policies or have been denied for pre-existing conditions or canceled for chronic sickness, Ross has said he would see to it that the bill that passed the House did not have the government plan in it. He said the people in his district made it clear to him that they do not want the government insuring anyone’s medical care.

They don’t? Then right away he must introduce legislation repealing Medicare, Medicaid and veterans health care, all government insurance programs, or at least allowing his congressional district to opt out of the government programs.

Altogether, those government insurance programs already cover more than a third of all his constituents who have insured health care. Medicaid alone, which covers children, some adults and institutionalized care for the indigent elderly, pays about $3.5 billion a year for the care of Arkansans. In his own little county of Nevada, Medicaid last year spent nearly $19 million on the care of Ross’ neighbors. Medicare spends roughly another $3.5 billion for Arkansans’ care.

Get rid of them all. Now that would be straight talk. He couldn’t set foot in the Fourth District or the state of Arkansas again, but he would be true to his principles.

TOP STORY >> Cabot decides against holding partisan voting

Leader staff writer

Former Cabot Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh made a plea Monday night for council support for a resolution to hold partisan elections in 2010, but the resolution failed 6-2.

Stumbaugh, who has said he is considering a second run for mayor, spoke as chairman of the Lonoke County Republican Committee saying he is a Republican because he is for smaller government, individual rights and the rights of the unborn.

Voters need to know what candidates stand for whether they are Democrats, Republicans or independents. Stumbaugh asked that the council consider postponing the vote for one month so representatives from the Democratic Party could attend.

“I know there are people who are totally against this. I’d just ask you to be open-minded,” he said.

Former Alderman Becky Lemaster also spoke in favor of the resolution, saying voters need to know where candidates stand. She pointed out that Mayor Eddie Joe Williams ran as a Republican during a year partisan elections were allowed and that he is running for state Senate as a Republican. And she asked how he would like it if he was told that he is no longer allowed.

But from the council table, the only comments came from Alderman Rick Prentice, the sponsor of the resolution, and Alderman Patrick Hutton, who has sponsored similar resolutions in the past. Both are Republicans.

One argument in the past against partisan elections was that city councils don’t vote on issues like gun control and abortion.

“They do vote on taxes and more government,” Prentice said.

Hutton said it is not right for the council to prohibit party affiliation.

The vote should not have been surprising to anyone who watches the Cabot City Council. The last time partisan elections were considered, the mayor and former Alderman Ken Williams, a Republican, were summoned to a meeting of the Lonoke County Republican Committee to explain why they didn’t support the resolution despite the fact that committee members as well as Democrats had asked them to. At risk was their membership in the Lonoke County Republican Committee, but no action was taken against either.

If there was a surprise Monday night it came from Prentice, who had just been shown voting information collected by former Alderman Odis Waymack. Cabot has 12,791 registered voters, but of that number, 82.8 percent are not registered as Democrats or Republicans and vote for both on the same ballot.

Prentice maintained that the parties stand for core values that voters understand and they make their selections based on what they understand those values to be. And even though he was obviously surprised about the lack of party affiliation in the county, he said he brought the resolution to the council and stood by it.
In other business:

Alderman Ed Long withdrew the animal-control ordinance that has been in the works for many months. Council members refused to pass the latest version of the ordinance last month when they realized it contained no provisions for the animal rescuers who take care of unwanted animals until they find new homes.

Long said he didn’t want the ordinance tabled because it would keep coming back every month. Instead, he wanted it withdrawn until it has been reworked and reviewed by the public works committee, which he chairs.

The council also replaced Alderman Lisa Brickell on the personnel and budget committee and the advertising and promotion commission with Ann Gilliam. Brickell, the youngest member of the council, is in college and is unable to attend those meetings.

Ryan Flynn was unanimously appointed to the Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission.

Cabot WaterWorks was recognized by the state and the Centers for Disease Control for 12 months of optimum-level fluoridation in the city’s water. The certificate was awarded by Matt Moudy, a Cabot dentist, who said, “Oral health is vital to health in general.”

TOP STORY >> Area seeing no bump in construction

Leader senior staff writer

Housing and commercial construction starts in Jacksonville and Cabot languished during the first six months of the year, even as construction in the more urban parts of central Arkansas increased for the first time since 2007, according to Jonathan Lupton, a research planner for Metroplan.

Lupton said that central Arkansas —which Metroplan defines as Pulaski, Lonoke, Faulkner and Saline counties — seems to be experiencing an economic turnaround ahead of much of the rest of the United States, but that the more highly urbanized areas such as Little Rock and North Little Rock are experiencing much of that growth.

“The high-amenity areas in the center city seem to be where people want to be,” said Lupton.

In the first half of 2009, Cabot issued building permits totaling only $6.5 million, down from $10.8 million for the first half of 2008 and $7.4 million for the second half of the year.

In Jacksonville, building permits for the first half of 2009 totaled $8.3 million, with $2.9 million of that for residential single-family and $4.4 million for commercial.

That total is down from $15.7 million in permits in the first half of 2008, and up from $5.9 million in the second half of that year.

The uptick in Jacksonville’s permits from the last half of last year is attributable to an increase in commercial construction and, although the number of new single-family housing starts fell from 19 to 14, the average cost per house increased $121,000 to $204,000, according to Metroplan’s data.

“Both Jacksonville and Cabot are bedroom communities, with a lot of people commuting to jobs in the core area – Little Rock and North Little Rock,” Lupton said.

In Jacksonville, the share of working poor grew 28.6 percent in 2000-2006, second-fastest among the 10 largest cities in the metro area. In Cabot, the increase was 19.4 percent, the sixth-fastest growing rate.

Lupton said the American dream is no longer the Brady Bunch with a house in the suburbs and a mini van.

“Cities are interesting places to be,” he said, “where people can walk to a coffee shop or a restaurant.”

“Recent trends, nationally and now locally, are favoring central urban areas. Poverty rates are rising in the suburbs at a faster clip than in central cities,” Lupton said.

He said that higher energy prices have made the long commutes to work from a home in the suburbs less attractive and that increasingly poor and the working poor migrate out there.

Overall in central Arkansas, following a sharp decline in the second half of 2008, construction permit values totaled $543 million in the first six months of this year, according to Lupton.

That’s an increase of nearly $21 million over the first six months of 2008 and an increase of more than $186 million over the last six months of the year.

“The positive direction of (central Arkansas) numbers is especially striking when compared to the rest of the country during the same time period,” Lupton said.

“When you compare the second half of 2008 with the first half of 2009, our local residential and nonresidential construction values have increased while national values have fallen – creating a dramatic difference as we look for trends,” Lupton explained.

“There are no guarantees that residential construction will turn around soon but it is significant that after an 18-month decline, residential construction-permit values have increased slightly this year from the last half of 2008,” says Lupton. “This is not conclusive evidence that the residential construction downturn is behind us but it certainly is a good sign.”

In central Arkansas, nonresidential construction increased 76.1 percent from the second half of 2008 to the first half of 2009 while national construction values dipped 12.2 percent. During the same time period, residential construction in central Arkansas increased 10.3 percent while national values fell a whopping 30.5 percent.

“Our region benefits from its well-educated, comparatively high-income population and diverse economy,” Lupton says. “We have a track record for stability and solid income growth during recessions.”

Nonresidential construction has increased most significantly in central Arkansas – totaling $351.3 million, up more than 30 percent from the first half of 2008 and up more than 73 percent from the second half of 2008.

“The uptick in commercial construction sends a strong, positive message about the economy of our region,” Lupton says. “The figures are not driven by any single project, but rather by a multitude of construction investments.”

Permit values have also increased in the remodel/repair/addition category – up to $48.4 million, an increase of 52.5 percent over the first six months of 2008 and up by nearly 98 percent over the last six months of 2008.

While single-family and multifamily permits declined from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009, both categories increased from the last six months of 2008 to the first six months of 2009.

Single-family permits are down nearly 34 percent from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009, but are up 11 percent from the second half of 2008 to the first half of this year.

Multi-family permits are down 39 percent from the first six months of 2008 to the first six months of 2008, but have increased 8 percent from the second half of 2008 to the first half of 2009.

TOP STORY >> Open house held at base

Mary Holliday-Sopko, community director for the Landings at Little Rock, shows a kitchen of a newly remodeled home on Little Rock Air Force Base.

Leader senior staff writer

The Landings at Little Rock, the reconstituted privatized housing development at Little Rock Air Force Base, is hosting an open house to show airmen and their families what most of the rehabilitated homes will look like when the entire project is finished by the end of 2011.

That’s according to Mary Holliday-Sopko, community director for the landings and herself a former Jacksonville resident and Jacksonville High School graduate. Her father was a colonel.

She left in 1982, but jumped at the opportunity to return with this project.

“It fit perfectly in my life,” she said.

Holliday-Sopko says that excluding the house opened for inspection this week, 65 units — mostly duplexes — have been completely rehabilitated, which puts the project on schedule, and are leased.

Most of the duplexes, including the one open for inspection from 8 a.m. through 6 p.m. through Friday at 150 Illinois St., are about 1,180 square feet with three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room and a carport with a storage unit, according to Holliday-Sopko.

The kitchens boast all new cabinets and appliances. The kitchens, dining areas and laundry closets have vinyl floors, the living rooms, bedrooms and halls have new wall-to-wall carpet and the bathrooms kept the ceramic tiled floors and walls, but have new vanities, she said.

There is new paint throughout, new ductwork for the central heat and air, and all doors, interior or exterior, are new.

All those doors have matching hardware.

“A lot of the lake views are gone, but plenty more have country views,” she said.

The units are “pet friendly,” she said, and the rent includes utilities. An airman’s housing allowance covers the rent.

All residents have access to the Landings swimming pool, fitness center, clubhouse and business center.

Hunt-Pinnacle is rehabilitating 865 units and “we’re right on schedule,” she said. Work on 135 new homes will begin in the first quarter of next year, she said. Completed new homes include 25 that American Eagle completed before defaulting on its contract, and another 10 American Eagle had started and Hunt-Pinnacle completed, she said.

The Pentagon has undertaken a program of privatizing housing on military bases and in 2003, American Eagle Communities won an Air Force privatization contract to demolish about 500 homes, build 468 new housing units and remodel 732 at Little Rock Air Force Base.

But by May 2007, with subcontractors and suppliers unpaid and the job way behind schedule, bankers pulled the plug on the project. Only 25 homes had been completed, another 25 started and perhaps 50 concrete slabs poured.

Under pressure from the lenders and the Air Force, American Eagle on Nov. 4, 2008, signed an agreement to sell the project and three others as a bundle to Hunt-Pinnacle LLC. The others were at Patrick, Hanscom and Moody Air Force bases.

Hunt-Pinnacle has built 67,000 military housing units, and has been in the property-management business for 30 years. It manages more than 175,000 units nationwide, including 15,000 military units on 20 different installations.

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

TOP STORY >> Officers to get honor for standoff

Leader staff writer

Two Jacksonville police officers will be recognized as the best policemen in Arkansas on Wednesday for their actions during the standoff last summer between a gunman and police in the Foxwood neighborhood.

The gunman was fatally shot in his home after he fired several rounds toward the police.

Sgt. Brett Hibbs and officer John Alberson will both be honored at 7 p.m. as 2009 Officers of the Year during the 42nd annual Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police convention banquet at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs.

“It is an honor of a lifetime,” Hibbs said. “It is something very few officers receive in their career.”

“It is a rare opportunity,” he continued. “I do not know anyone who has received the award.”

Alberson said he was surprised to find out he would be named officer of the year.

“I think it is a great honor, we didn’t know we were nominated,” Alberson said. “I don’t think it will sink in until we are actually there.”

Hibbs said that officers have to train, practice and try to prepare for any possible situation like the Foxwood shootout that comes along with being a police officer.

To be recognized for their work by the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police is rewarding, he said.

Hibbs is a 14-year veteran of the Jacksonville Police Department. He is assigned to the Support Services Division.

Law enforcement runs in his family. Hibbs’ father, Larry Hibbs, was the Jacksonville police chief from 1994 to 2001 and a longtime police officer.

Alberson is an 11-year veteran of the Jacksonville Police Department. He is assigned to the Patrol Division.

The officers were selected for the award from a group of candidates from other law enforcement agencies from throughout the state.

Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes nominated Hibbs and Alberson for the award.

He said he nominated the officers based on their actions during the five-hour stand-off in August.

Sipes said the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police banquet and the officer of the year award is a special event and a great honor.

He also said that the AACP award is the most prestigious in Arkansas for an officer to receive.

During the Foxwood shooting, the gunman shot Alberson in the shoulder. Hibbs was the team leader of the department’s special-response team.

The shooter fired an SKS rifle and a shotgun at police. The standoff ended when police shot the gunman in the head.

“I chose them for their bravery. They put their own lives on the line for the other officers and citizens who were there that day,” Sipes said.

He said, “I am proud of them. They did a heck of a job that day under duress.”

Today, Alberson is able to look at the positive side of that terrible day.

“I felt honored to serve that day with all my fellow officers,” Alberson pointed out.

Usually the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police selects one officer, but this year the association chose to recognize two officers.

That’s an even bigger honor for the entire Jacksonville Police Department since this is the first time officers from the department have been selected for the award.

The department already recognized the officers earlier this year for their actions last summer. During the police department’s annual awards banquet, Hibbs was given the life saving award.

Alberson was presented with the purple heart in addition to the life-saving award during the police department’s annual awards banquet.

SPORTS >> Camera’s lens reveals Falcons on the upswing

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski’s Saturday film sessions are a lot more fun to watch than people might think.

Though the Falcons are 0-3 entering Friday’s 5A-Southeast Conference opener with Little Rock McClellan, film study has revealed the kind of growth first-year coach Rick Russell thinks he can build on.

“It didn’t seem anything like what it felt like on Friday night,” Russell said after seeing film of North Pulaski’s 35-6 loss to Little Rock Christian last week. “You get about 10 big plays in the ballgame that turned the game around and seven of them were on their side. You don’t see the little victories you have in those 100 other plays.”

Chief among Friday’s little victories was the 116 yards gained by Little Rock Christian’s Michael Dyer. While the standout, major college prospect scored on a 50-yard sweep and continued to close in on the state career rushing record, the Falcons held him to his lowest yardage total all season.

“The defense did a good job of containing him,” Russell said. “I think our defense played, I thought, really well. They had some good plays but we were in the spots we needed to be to make those plays.”

Defense, overall, has been one of the bright spots, Russell said. Other than some missed tackles on Dyer, Russell said his defenders have been in the right position most of the time and that he likes the way his players run to the ball on a stop.

“I think the defense is close to where we need to be,” he said.

Russell had praise for the offensive line, which helped North Pulaski gain 258 totals yards, 10 more than Little Rock Christian.

“I’m proud of what they’re doing and how they’re practicing,” Russell said of the line.

The blockers also helped the Falcons march 67 yards to the Warriors’ 6 to start the game, but the possession ended in a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by Little Rock Christian’s Keaton Curtis.

“We’ve got to eliminate those,” Russell said of the turnovers.

The Falcons will be trying to control the corners and clog the middle against Little Rock McClellan’s wing T offense. When North Pulaski has the ball, it will be trying to establish its own running game with the veer.

“I think we match up good with them,” Russell said. “I think we’ve got some things we can do to exploit their defense.”

While many high school teams favor the pass-heavy spread offense these days, Russell, with the veer, believes in a more traditional approach.

“You run the ball first and throw when you need to. You’ve got to establish the line,” Russell said.

North Pulaski’s non-conference run may have ended without a victory, but Russell thinks the first three games were good for the Falcons, and the film will back him up.

“We’ve seen everybody everywhere that we need to see them and it’s time to put the pieces exactly where they fit,” Russell said.

SPORTS >> Red Devils hoping to erase mistakes against Bombers

Leader sports editor

It is probably a week for mental reps at Jacksonville.

The Red Devils travel to Mountain Home for their 6A-East Conference opener Friday night and are coming off a 24-14 loss to Mills that included four lost fumbles and two interceptions.

It may have been wet and muddy at Jan Crow Stadium last week, but Red Devils coach Mark Whatley said the problems were more above the shoulders than beneath the cleats.

“I still think a lot of things happen in a football game that are directly related to how you prepare or how you don’t prepare for the game,” Whatley said.

“I don’t think we did a good job of mentally preparing prior to playing. As a result, fumbles and things like that take place.

We’ve got to go back and correct that and be ready to play our best game every Friday,” Whatley added.

“It’s tough enough to overcome a good football team. We don’t need to overcome them and us.”

Hanging on to the ball has no doubt been stressed in practice this week, but Whatley saw another trend he wants to reverse against the Bombers.

“We’ve got to go back and address our tackling situations,” Whatley said of the misses that allowed Mills’ running back Stephen Clark to score on runs of 54 and 59 yards. “We didn’t tackle well. It looked like a 7-on-7 tournament at times. The game is still physical. We were there to make plays and we didn’t make plays.”

Not everything looked bad to Whatley last week. He said the Red Devils did a good job of defending Mills’ veer overall, especially in stopping the fullback, and were victimized primarily by the Comets’ handful of big plays and, of course, the turnovers on offense.

“Offensively we had right at 300 yards,” Whatley said. “From the 20 to the 20, at times, we looked like a football team.”

The Red Devils will need their improved tackling against Mountain Home’s option. While the state’s high school teams appear to have fallen in love with the high flying spread, Jacksonville’s first three opponents — Cabot, Vilonia and Mills — all have run-oriented offenses, and Mountain Home makes it four.

“Another option team. Trying to establish the fullback,” Whatley said of the Bombers. “They’ll formation you quite a bit, try to get mismatches in numbers. It’s funny how the option teams and spread teams, they’re really a lot alike. They try to get matchups and numbers.”

Jacksonville may have to play without sophomore linebacker Michael Thorabar, who injured his shoulder in the Mills game.

Whatley said Thorabar’s status was doubtful, but was crossing his fingers trainer Jason Cates could get him ready.

“Not looking too good right now but I’ve seen Cates work miracles before,” Whatley said. “We’ll see how he works this one out.”

Another challenge for the Red Devils this week is the miles. Jacksonville is taking one of its longest trips of the year in the widespread 6A-East.

“We’re going to find out do we travel well,” Whatley said. “We have in the past. But we’ve got a whole new bunch here; that’s going to be an issue. It’s a long trip. They haven’t lost a ballgame yet. They’ve won one and tied two and they handled Harrison pretty well.”

And, Whatley said, there is no more room for the kind of errors he saw Friday, not in conference play.

“There’s not any more time to go ‘Well we can fix that,’ ” he said. “We better be fixed right now, between now and Friday.”

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits try to regain strength

Leader sports writer

Injuries can be the difference in a season.

Lonoke coach Doug Bost found out Friday how having some of his best players out can make for a struggle when the Jackrabbits fell 21-7 to rival Central Arkansas Christian.

With the 2-4A Conference opener at Heber Springs on Friday, Bost is optimistic about the return of three of his most experienced seniors, and he is holding his breath over the status of his senior quarterback.

Receivers Darius Scott and Todd Hobson are expected back this week. Scott is recovering from an injured knee and Hobson suffered from flu-like symptoms all last week.

Senior lineman Andrew Gibbs has been nursing an ankle sprain he suffered in the ’Rabbits 40-30 victory over Beebe in Week 2.

Quarterback Michael Nelson was scheduled to visit the doctor on Monday afternoon after taking a blow to the head at Central Arkansas Christian.

Nelson has experienced dizziness since the hit, which may have contributed to his season-low numbers in the game. Nelson was 9 of 25 for 82 yards and had three interceptions after taking our Leader offensive player of the week honors with almost 300 passing yards the week before.

“We had some opportunities, and we felt like we could have had a chance to win that one if we didn’t have those guys out,” Bost said of the loss to Central Arkansas Christian. “But, we had to play with what we had.”

Nelson’s picks made for three of five total turnovers for the Jackrabbits last week.

“You’re not going to win when you have five turnovers,” Bost said. “We shot ourselves in the foot too many times. We had the ball inside their 5 two different times and didn’t convert.”

Senior offensive guard Hunter Hearn is also a question mark for Lonoke this week after he suffered a broken hand against Central Arkansas Christian.

Bost said that if Hearn is given a soft cast he could be ready to go against the Panthers on Friday, but a hard cast will have Hearn out for several weeks.

Bost hopes to have his team as healthy as possible against a stout Panthers team led by fifth-year coach Steve Janski. Heber Springs outscored its three non-conference opponents 118-20, including a 63-13 butchering of local foe Rose Bud in Week 2.

The Panthers have a potent offense that begins with senior quarterback Wes McMullen, who threw for almost 2,100 yards last year as junior, setting a school record.

But McMullen was not the only Panther to break a record in 2008. Running back Braylon Mitchell rushed for a school mark of 1,784 yards, and got the attention of the University of Arkansas.

Mitchell has been timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash and has football size at 6-3, 225 pounds. Bost said there is good reason to worry about McMullen and Mitchell, plus senior flanker David Darne.

“They’ve got their quarterback that started for them last year back,” Bost said. “He’s a weapon. He can throw it on you, and when they fake it to Mitchell, he’ll keep it and turn up the field. Number 23 is their main receiver. He’s got 4.5 speed, and they use him for sweep plays. So those are the three main guys we’ll be keyed on.”

SPORTS >> Hurting Cabot meets Conway

Leader sports editor

A week ago, Cabot had depth it could brag about.

This week, depth is a concern.

Starting senior linebackers Michael James and Spencer Neumann are nursing injuries that could cause them to miss the 7A-Central Conference opener against Conway at Panther Stadium on Friday.

“Last year we came in 3-0 and they came in 0-3 and we struggled to a 21-7 win,” Malham said. “They didn’t have that good of a year and we struggled. This is going to be our first real test of the year. And what spooks me about it is we’re without Neumann and James.”

James, who missed the beginning of the season with a shoulder injury, hurt his ankle in his first start at Little Rock Hall last week and is certain to sit out against the Wampus Cats. Neumann’s status was in doubt after he sustained what could either be a neck or shoulder injury in Cabot’s 48-0 victory in Little Rock.

“We thought it was a stinger but boy, Saturday he couldn’t hardly turn his neck,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said of Neumann. “Right now, if we were playing today, he wouldn’t be able to play.”

James did not play at all in the season opener against Jacksonville and saw limited action in the second game against Sylvan Hills, and then he hurt his ankle against Hall.

“We thought it was broke. X-rays showed it wasn’t,” Malham said.

Malham said James, who with Neumann is also part of the Panthers’ running back rotation, was walking on the ankle Monday but was not going to be ready Friday.

With Spencer Smith leading the way, Cabot’s backfield is still sound with a mix of Hunter Sales, Chase Campbell, Andre Ausejo and Jeremy Berry.

“We still have all our starters and Berry, but without James and Neumann, our depth isn’t very good,” Malham said.

The main concern, Malham said, is linebacker.

“We sure feel uncomfortable there without Neumann there calling the signals,” Malham said.

Junior Riley Hawkins, who started the season opener, will play one linebacker spot and sophomore Chase Boyle will play the other, Malham said.

“He’s played quite a bit in all three games,” Malham said. “When Neumann had the ankle early in the year, and then James went down, he worked his way up. That will help a little bit.”

Cabot outscored Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Hall by a combined 118-13 in the Panthers’ first three victories. Conway has gone 1-2 against a schedule that featured 7A-West members Bentonville and Fort Smith Southside and 6A-South member Benton, which the Wampus Cats beat 45-0 for their first victory Friday.

“They’ve played real good people,” Malham said. “They’ve played people we haven’t played.”

It may help the Panthers that this week’s game is at home, but Malham doesn’t expect home-field advantage to mean much.

“All football fields run 100 yards long and 160 feet wide,” he said. “I don’ think that has a lot to do with it unless you’ve got to get on a bus and travel three hours.”