Saturday, October 03, 2009

SPORTS >> Hurricane storms past Red Devils

Special to The Leader

JONESBORO — Moments into Jonesboro’s 28-14 homecoming victory at Cooksey-Johns Field on Friday, Jacksonville served notice it wouldn’t be a willing sacrifice to the home school.

The visitors threatened to spoil the party, stunning the Hurricane’s seemingly impenetrable defense with 14 points in four minutes — twice as many points as the first-team defense had allowed in its first four games.

It took most of the game for Jonesboro to fight back from the initial blow, but the Hurricane ended an ugly and physical night with its perfect record intact.

With the aid of a hefty running attack and the reappearance of its staunch defense, the Hurricane pulled out a victory against the Red Devils.

It was a tough victory, but a victory Jonesboro coach Randy Coleman said allowed his team to show its mettle.

“The thing you like about it is they don’t let it spin out of control and get away from them,” Coleman said. “We were able to reel ourselves back in. That’s the sign of a lot of talent.”

There was little to like in the early stages of Friday’s contest for the home team.

Jacksonville (1-4, 0-2 6A-East) continued its hot run on offense against Jonesboro (5-0, 2-0). After racking up 28 points and 381 yards in the second half of a loss to Mountain Home, the Red Devils ripped the Jonesboro defense for 138 yards and 14 points in the game’s first 3:27.

Red Devils running back John Johnson uncorked two long touchdown runs on the same option lead play. The first went for 51 yards while the second was an 86-yard score.

In an instant, Jonesboro faced its first double-digit deficit of the season.

“It’s just lead option and what happens in lead option is [the offense] has a bit of a numbers advantage because you’re bringing an extra blocker in,” Coleman said. “They just blocked the man responsible for the pitch man, and that’s what happens because they’re athletic enough to get out and run in space.”

Jonesboro’s defense regrouped in a big way and held firm until the offense could collect itself. With little help from the passing game, the Hurricane offensive line began to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and gave Kowan Wright and C.J. Jones room to roam.

Wright capped an eight-play, 44-yard drive in the second quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run.

The key play was quarterback Moe Malugen’s only completion of the half. On fourth-and-4 from the Jacksonville 12, he found Marshall McDaniel for a 7-yard gain after a bootleg to the right. Wright scored on the next play to cut the deficit in half.

After the Hurricane defense held, Wright picked up a 33-yard run before Jones scored from 14 yards out. With 4:46 to play in the half, Jonesboro had tied the score.

The Hurricane took the lead for good at 8:15 in the third quarter on a 1-yard run from Jones, capping a six-play drive that started on the Jacksonville 21 after a long punt return. Then with the game still in the balance and the Red Devil offense showing signs of life, Malugen hit wideout Zac Brooks on a screen pass.

The sophomore turned the third-and-7 pass into a 52-yard touchdown that essentially iced the game.

“We want to get 7 yards,” Coleman said. “We’re not looking to score, we just want to get seven yards. Zac just has that ability and when he saw that little [crease] you’re thinking first down. Then he hits the sideline and he’s gone.”

Despite the loss, Jacksonville played well. The defense forced Jonesboro’s passing game into a 5-for-20 night and the Red Devils picked off two passes.

Jonesboro did gain 233 yards on the ground to go with its 59 through the air, but it took 42 carries to get there. The Red Devils forced six punts to go with their two turnovers.

The Jonesboro defense was just a little bit better. It had four sacks one week after collecting 10 against Little Rock Parkview.

The defenders also had 10 tackles for loss and recovered three fumbles.

Two promising second-half drives were ended when rushing defenders stripped quarterback Logan Perry.

“We played a good football team tonight,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “That defense over there, they’re good. We hung in there with them, and our defense played well and gave us some opportunities. We had some open receivers and just missed some chances.

“You’ve just got to get a little more consistent and keep working because it’s a long season.

Jonesboro puts phenomenal pressure on you and we actually handled it better than I anticipated. We held up pretty good.”

Jacksonville finished with 120 yards rushing, but had minus-21 after Johnson’s first four carries netted 141 yards. Johnson finished with 132 yards on 16 carries.

Perry did a solid job of eluding pressure all night and finished 14 for 28 with 127 yards passing, but Jacksonville had nine punts and three turnovers in its final 12 possessions.

SPORTS >> Bears can’t convert late break into victory

Leader sports writer

Call it a bad omen, divine intervention or just downright cruel symbolism, but the torrential downpour that ensued just as Sylvan Hills began its final possession came at exactly the wrong time for the Bears in their 28-21 loss to Mills University

Studies on Thursday night at Bill Blackwood Field.

In a season that has given few breaks to the Bears, a late fumble recovery by sophomore Edwin Smith with less than six minutes to play gave Hillside a chance to tie with good field position at midfield, but the heavy rain thwarted the Bears’ passing game, which allowed Mills to regain possession and run out the clock.

The threat of rain persisted throughout the 5A-Southeast Conference matchup with light drizzle that was off and on, but the storm moved closer just as Mills quarterback Christian Hampton coughed up the ball at the 50-yard line with 5:25 left to play.

The Comets (3-2, 1-1) had stopped Sylvan Hills (0-5, 0-2) moments earlier when they sacked quarterback Jordan Spears on fourth and six.

“It’s unbelievable; just the way the whole season has gone for us,” said Bears coach Jim Withrow. “We do something good, then something bad happens. The kids played hard and got after it, and we were able to make some plays. We just didn’t make enough plays.”

Sylvan Hills also had to do without the services of senior standouts Juliean Broner and leading receiver Ahmad Scott.

Broner saw limited time due to the lingering effects of a knee injury sustained earlier in the year, while Scott went down in the second offensive series and did not return.

The Bears got their first lead of the season against any opponent when a swing pass from Spears to senior running back Marquis Smith turned into a 10-yard touchdown play with 1:01 left in the third quarter at 20-20, and senior kicker Phillip Persson added the point after to put Sylvan Hills up 21-20.

Mills answered with the longest drive of the game. The Comets went 56 yards in 12 plays, and ate nearly six minutes off the clock when Steven Clark went nine yards on an end-around play to the right side to score with 7:05 left to play.

Hampton kept for the two-point conversion attempt and was successful.

Spears had a decent night through the air, completing 11 of 21 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns, but a pair of interceptions by Mills killed promising drives for the Bears.

The first pick by Terrell Johnson at the 6:59 mark of the first quarter ended Sylvan Hills’ first drive of the game after the Bears marched from their own 36-yard line down to the Mills’ 33. Johnson tacked on a 54-yard return after the pick to set up the Comets at the SH 32-yard line.

The Comets moved across the short field in seven plays, with a five-yard keep by Hampton at the 4:02 mark to convert the score.

Hampton also called his own number for the first Mills’ score on its opening possession with a 51-yard dash to give the Comets a 7-0 lead with 10:53 left in the first quarter.

The Bears lost the ball on their next drive with a fumble at the Mills’ 5-yard line after going 55 yards in seven plays.

But Sylvan Hills fired back in the second quarter with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that was capped off with a seven-yard touchdown toss from Spears to Sirmichael Finney with 3:40 left in the half. Persson added the point-after to cut Mills’ lead to 14-7.

The Bears struck again before the end of the half when Spears recovered a Mills fumble at its own 35. Spears moved the ball with a pair of completions to Taylor Clark, and senior running back Marquis Smith finished the drive with a two-yard bull up the middle at the 48-second mark to tie the game at the half.

“We’ve made a few plays and moved the ball all season, we just haven’t put any points on the board until (Thursday) night,” said Withrow. “That was the biggest difference. Once we broke through and got that first score, we had a lot more confidence.”

Smith carried 18 times for 93 yards and a touchdown to lead the ground assault for the Bears, and also had three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown.

Clark had six catches for 37 yards.

Sylvan Hills had 224 yards of total offense with 11 first downs, nine of which came in the first half.

Michael Robinson led defensively with 12 tackles, while Spears and Josh Molden had six stops each.

Mills had 300 yards of total offense. Hampton led with 18 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

The Comets were also penalized eight times for 62 yards.

Sylvan Hills will host Crossett next week, while Mills will play at Little Rock McClellan.

SPORTS >> Searcy seeks different look to conference

Leader sports editor

A proposal put forward by Searcy High School could further affect the conference reclassification plan in place for 2010-2012.

The planned reclassification will combine current 7A schools Cabot and North Little Rock with current 6A schools Jonesboro, West Memphis, Jacksonville, Marion, Mountain Home and Searcy in a 7A-6A East Conference.

North Little Rock and Cabot will have the second- and third-largest enrollments in the state, respectively, and because of the disparity between those two and the 6A schools, Searcy is proposing keeping Cabot and North Little Rock in the Central conference and creating an East conference that would include Searcy, Jonesboro, Jacksonville, Marion, Mountain Home, Little Rock Parkview, Fair and West Memphis.

Next year’s classifications will have their own 7A and 6A state championships, but the records earned in the regular season would count toward postseason eligibility. Searcy’s objection is based on the small schools having to play the largest in the regular season.

The institutions involved in the Searcy proposal have until Oct. 21 to vote, and the Arkansas Activities Association executive board will meet and ratify the vote the next day.

“They still wanted to take into consideration the size of the schools,” AAA executive director Lance Taylor said of the Searcy proposal.

Enrollment figures on the AAA web site show North Little Rock’s enrollment at 2,321.67 and Cabot’s at 2,078.67. Searcy has the smallest enrollment, 848, of the schools slated for the new East conference.

“Some things you can’t control,” Searcy assistant superintendent Earl Walton said when contacted about the proposal. “West Memphis is an example of geography being an overriding issue. In the case of Cabot and North Little Rock, that was not an overriding issue in our view. The proposal was about making size disparity matter in the conference alignment.”

Searcy’s proposal would mean only one 7A school — West Memphis, which is being reclassified from 6A next year — would play in the East.

The enrollment disparity between the smallest school, Searcy, and the largest, West Memphis, would not be as great as it would be if Cabot and North Little Rock were in the conference.

West Memphis’ enrollment is 1,334.67.

“That’s all we’re trying to do. Squeeze it as much as you can,” Walton said.

The additional benefits of the Searcy plan, Walton said, are that the West Conference would be all 7A teams and the South would be all 6A, and the only hybrid conferences would be the East and Central.

But the Central would have larger 6A schools, like Van Buren, competing against the big 7A teams like North Little Rock and Cabot, while the East would have a smaller 7A, West Memphis, competing against the 6A schools.

“Our proposal maintains the size disparities have the least amount of impact as possible given the geography,” Walton said.

SPORTS >> Cabot tops LR Catholic, stays unbeaten

Leader sports editor

War Memorial? How about War memorable?

The Cabot Panthers avenged last year’s 7A-Central loss to Little Rock Catholic and remained perfect with a 21-16 victory over the Rockets at War Memorial Stadium on Friday.

“It has been a war, a great ballgame, every time we’ve played them,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said.

The run-oriented Panthers got some mileage out of their passing game and survived a late turnover to improve to 5-0, 2-0 at the mid-point of the season.

Cabot set the final margin with Logan Spry’s 32-yard field goal with 10:01 left in the fourth quarter then turned in a defensive stop, but the Rockets’ Jordan Hartnedy intercepted Panthers quarterback Seth Bloomberg with 3:29 to go.

Cabot’s Ethan Covington batted down a Taylor Bartlett pass then intercepted Bartlett at the Panthers 4 on the next play and returned it 49 yards with 2:10 left.

The Panthers overcame a false start penalty and picked up a first down on a 3-yard gain by workhorse fullback Spencer Smith to the Catholic 28, and got another first down on an 11-yard gain by Matt Bayles and were finally able to run out the clock.

“We can sit back and rest for about a half a day and enjoy being 2-0 in the conference,” Malham said as he looked to next week’s game. “And then here’s North Little Rock right on top of them.”

Cabot led 11-8 at halftime then turned in a standard Panthers possession to open the second quarter. The Panthers marched from their 24, ate up 6:57 and scored on Smith’s 1-yard run to make it 18-8.

Cabot, which passed for a season-high 120 yards, got first-down completions of 23 and 29 yards, both to tight end Rod Quinn, on the drive.

“We definitely had to mix it up tonight,” Malham said.

Catholic (3-2, 0-2) came right back with a 48-yard kickoff return by Charley Gardner followed by a 47-yard scoring possession. Bartlett had a first-down completion of 13 yards to Tate Seachris, kept for 18 yards, and the Rockets scored when Bartlett hit Garrett Uekman with a 5-yard pass with 3:16 left.

Chase Miller came in to complete a jump pass to Uekman for the conversion that made it 18-16.

But the Panthers drove for Spry’s second field goal of the night that capped the scoring.

Smith gained 134 yards on 42 carries, none over 10 yards, to help Cabot with the ball control end of things while Bloomberg had his best passing night despite the interception.

“He got pounded,” Malham said of Smith. “Forty-two carries? That’s child abuse right there.”

“We’re going to try to run the ball every time,” Bloomberg said. “We don’t want to pass. That’s not our intention coming into the game. But if we need to pass it, that’s what we had to do. Spencer is a great ball carrier.”

Catholic racked up 173 passing yards in the first half and 10 first downs to Cabot’s 87 total yards and five first downs, but it was the Panthers who took the halftime lead thanks to a field goal by Spry and Bloomberg’s 1-yard touchdown sneak following an interception.

All of Cabot’s first-half points were set up by Catholic miscues. Forced to punt on their second possession, Catholic suffered a fumbled snap by punter Matt Morris, and Ethan Covington dropped him at the Rockets 21.

The Panthers gained just 3 yards and settled for Spry’s 35-yard field goal with 3:46 left.

The Rockets put together a 63-yard scoring drive spanning the first and second quarters and went ahead on a 38-yard, tackle-breaking catch and run by Quinta Thomas with 10:40 left in the half.

Bartlett, who hit Thomas with the touchdown completion, added the conversion pass to Seachris make it 8-3.

Catholic appeared to have the momentum, but Cabot snatched it away when Spry intercepted Bartlett’s pass intended for Brian Anderson at the 31 and returned it to the Catholic 39 with 3:35 to go.

“That little quarterback is good and they’ve got some good receivers out there,” Malham said. “I thought our D-backs, I don’t know how many picks we had. I think we had two, but they were big.”

Quinn had a reception and ran over Catholic’s Eric Redmon for a 19-yard gain. Smith picked up 8 yards on a pitchout to the left and Bloomberg cut up and in for a 2-yard gain to give the Panthers first and goal at the 1.

Bloomberg snuck in for the lead on the next play and made it 11-8 when he hit Matt Bayles with the conversion pass with 1:54 to go.

Powell Bryant ended the Rockets’ next drive with a deflected interception at the Cabot 37, but the Panthers could only reach the Rockets’ 48 and the drive ended on Blaine Tanner’s interception as the half ended.

SPORTS >> Dogs run Rabbits

Leader sports writer

Bald Knob did not let being massively penalized stop it from raining on the Lonoke homecoming with a 33-13 victory on Friday at James B. Abraham Stadium.

Bald Knob was penalized 19 times for 160 yards but countered with 466 yards of total offense and a pair of goal line stands to down the hosts and improve to 5-0 on the season for the first time since 1968.

The win also improved Bald Knob’s record in the 2-4A Conference to 2-0.

The Jackrabbits (2-3, 0-2) suffered only half the penalties — 9 for 85 yards — but Bald Knob picked off senior quarterback Michael Nelson four times and recovered a pair of Lonoke fumbles.

Lonoke also turned the ball over four times on downs.

“I thought the defense played great,” Bald Knob coach Paul Johnston said. “They kept us in it. We got a little nervous in the first half with a lot of turnovers, but I thought our defense did a good job of getting us the ball back. Lonoke’s got a good football team, but I challenged my kids to play hard because I knew they were tough, and we were just the better football team tonight.

It was a big win for us.”

Lonoke coach Doug Bost and Johnston had an extended conversation immediately following the game after Bulldog senior quarterback Nick Glaze completed a 43-yard pass to Steven Merrell with 31 seconds left and Bald Knob ahead by 20 points.

The pass put the ball on the Lonoke 1-yard line.

“I do want to apologize for the long pass,” Johnston said. “I didn’t want to punch it in late. I apologize to the Lonoke community and to that team — I wasn’t trying to score. I don’t want that in their minds that I was trying to score just to rub it in.”

Defensively, Bald Knob keyed in on senior running back Brandon Smith. Smith has put up big numbers early this season, but was held to 49 yards on 16 carries on Friday.

Nelson, despite being intercepted four times, still found some success through the air, mostly to senior receiver Todd Hobson.

Nelson completed 17 of 31 pass attempts for 247 yards and a touchdown. Eleven of those receptions went to Hobson for 218 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown pass with 2:30 left to set the final margin.

Despite the numerous turnovers, the Jackrabbits threatened to make a game of it near the end of the third quarter when Nelson capped a seven-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard keeper up the middle with 1:52 to go. Sophomore kicker T.J. Scott added the extra-point to make it 20-7.

Nathan Leonard answered for the Bulldogs with 9:30 left with an 8-yard touchdown run. The two-point try was unsuccessful to leave the score 26-7.

Lonoke’s sixth turnover of the night led to the Bulldogs’ final touchdown with 5:46 left to go. The score came on a 3-yard touchdown run by Eli McGlothlin.

The Bulldogs went 73 yards in seven plays for their first score. McGlothlin capped off the drive with a 7-yard run with 3:16 left in the first quarter.

A fumble by Lonoke at the Bald Knob 47 gave the Bulldogs possession again before the end of the first quarter, and they took advantage with another scoring drive that went 53 yards in eight plays.

Glaze snuck in from 1 yard out on the first play of the second quarter to put Bald Knob up 14-0 after the successful extra-point attempt.

Glaze’s biggest run of the first half led to the Bulldogs’ third score when he broke left on a quarterback draw and dashed 47 yards for a touchdown with 1:57 left in the first half. The drive began at the Bald Knob 1 after a successful goal-line stand prevented Lonoke from getting on the scoreboard.

Things looked promising for the Jackrabbits when back-to-back offside penalties put the ball at the Bald Knob 3, but the Bulldog defense held Smith on fourth and goal.

It only took them four plays and 36 seconds to extend their advantage to three scores, but the extra-point attempt was blocked by Brandon O’Bannon to keep the score 20-0.

Lonoke had 328 yards of total offense. McGlothlin led the Bulldogs’ ground attack with 13 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Glaze added 85 yards and two scores on the ground with 19 totes, and completed 17 of 25 pass attempts for 239 yards.

Johnston was elated with his team’s performance, but said he could have done without the penalty flags.

“We’re going to do some running on Monday,” Johnston said. “The 15-yard penalties are unacceptable and they know that.

We’re going to get that fixed.”

Lonoke will play at Batesville Southside next week, while Bald Knob hosts Stuttgart.

EDITORIAL >> Promote Nellums

Michael Nellums has been reinstated as principal at Mills High School, and all is right with the universe.

That’s because four Pulaski County Special School District board members had the gumption to stand up to the district’s powerful teachers’ union and the three thin-skinned board members who have unfailingly tended to the union’s needs.

Those four with gumption are Mildred Tatum, Danny Gilliland, Charlie Wood and, casting her first vote, the newest board member, Sandra Sawyer.

The hearing was held Monday behind closed doors, so we aren’t positive what went on during his eight-and-a-half-hour grievance hearing. But we do know the district has spent at least $12,000 investigating whether or not Nellums told a fellow principal that board president Tim Clark paid board treasurer Gwen Williams for her assistance in impeaching the old president and electing him.

And we know another investigation was conducted to see if Nellums accused the board of conducting a vendetta against him.

After that, Nellums was transferred from the Jacksonville Boys Middle School to Mills University High School in Little Rock.

We know that Nellums was suspended with pay three days into this school year, the day after he had security escort from the premises Sandra Roy, executive director of the teachers’ union and the support staff union.

We also know this: Clark, Williams and Jacksonville’s board member, Bill Vasquez, have worked consistently to punish Nellums and fire him. Interim Superintendent Rob McGill has caved into those board members. Clark handpicked the elementary school principal to run the district after running off Superintendent James Sharpe. We don’t know if McGill is part of the cabal or is just trying to keep his job.

We know that the district called four witnesses against Nellums and that one, Mills French teacher Tim Minton, has since been arrested on four felony counts of sexual abuse of a student after school and in the classroom.

We know this as well: Nellums has dedicated himself to improving the schools and helping the students wherever he has served. He has stood fearlessly against the board and a union that he has frustrated without end.

We feel certain that the district will either end up paying his attorneys’ fees — John Walker, Will Bond and Ricky Hicks can’t be cheap.

And we know that we wish he were running the school district instead of teachers’ union. It is the investigators who need to be investigated.

—John Hofheimer

EDITORIAL >> Here comes the judge

After years of neglect, hundreds of reports, thousands of motions before at least four district judges and $1 billion in state funds divided by Pulaski County’s three public school districts, the thorny 26-year-old desegregation imbroglio may at last be drawing to a close.

We think that’s good for all involved, but particularly good for the Jacksonville activists who have been working for years to get their own school district.

The case has gone before a new judge who is impatient with the drawn-out case. He wants to end this drawn-out drama early next year, which is not a moment too soon for us.

It is an article of faith among the believers that Jacksonville’s growth has been stunted by substandard PCSSD schools while thousands of people who work in Little Rock or at LRAFB choose to live in Cabot with its newer and better schools. Jacksonville will have a hard time getting its own district until PCSSD is declared unitary, and it appears the arrival of a new judge on the scene will only help Jacksonville reach that goal.

At a hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller said he would consider motions in January to declare the North Little Rock School District and separately the Pulaski County Special School District unitary — that’s court talk for desegregated — and to release them from further court supervision.

The North Little Rock hearing is set for the week of Jan. 11 and the PCSSD hearing is set for the week of Jan. 25.

The Little Rock School District has already been declared unitary and released from court oversight.

John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Interveners, the plaintiffs in the case, says the expensive new schools that PCSSD has and is building in white, wealthy Maumelle is proof that the district is still segregated. He calls those Maumelle schools “Taj Mahals,” while most other schools in the district are old and decrepit.

Walker also says that the proposed Jacksonville school district would also signal a return to the bad old ways. We don’t think so: Look at the rising number of minority students not only in Jacksonville’s public schools but in its new charter school as well.

Miller became the first black district judge on this case when he took over from Judge Bill Wilson this spring. Miller seemed to signal his intent Wednesday to finally wrap this matter up when he refused Walker’s request for more time to hire experts and pore through records of those school districts.

Miller told Walker to go ahead and get his experts, but to be ready for the January hearings.

“This case should have been over a long time ago,” said former state Rep. Will Bond. He seemed heartened by Miller’s actions.

Perhaps no one in the sorry history of this tangled desegregation settlement has done more to bring it to an end than Bond. As a lawmaker, he passed laws encouraging the three districts to extricate themselves from the agreement and provided incentive by having the state agree to pay some legal fees and to gradually phase out the desegregation financial support that the districts have come to rely upon.

Miller asked Little Rock School District attorney, Chris Heller why the district — declared unitary — was still involved in the case.

Heller, in so many words, said Little Rock was there to make sure it continued to get desegregation money from the state, even after the case is finally laid to rest. It’s time to get rid of the lawyers and put children first.

TOP STORY >> Sewers get $18M bond

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Sewer Com-mission got the council’s blessings Thursday to proceed with obtaining more than $18.2 million in bonds for repairs and expansion, with the promise that it would not mean a rate increase.

Alderman Bob Stroud said the sewer commission had been a good steward of the people’s money and called the move a no-brainer since there would be no rate increase.

Gary Smith, representing a bond company that is working with the sewer department, told the council that the rates right now were very favorable. “The rate will be less than five percent on a 30 year note. It’s a very attractive time to borrow funds,” he said.

The commission plans to spend $5.1 million on rehabilitation and repairs, $3.9 million on additions and expansion of the system, $4.4 million to pay off old loans, $1 million for sewer work at the proposed new state fairgrounds site and $700,000 in debt service and administrative costs.

Larry Gaddis with Crist Engineers said the city had about 175 miles of underground sewers that are about 70 years old and difficult to maintain.

He said the sewer department had been very proactive and had gone 15 years without a permit violation, and it was a record they wanted to continue.

In other council business:

The council approved a resolution supporting the city’s participation in the Lonoke-White project and granted the mayor authority to execute an agreement with the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority.

Joining the water group will help Jacksonville secure good sources of water for at least the next 50 years.

Aldermen voted to waive competitive bidding to purchase a scoreboard system for the ball fields at Dupree Park. The cost will be almost $20,000. The council also approved spending $42,000 for new fencing on fields 2 and 3 at Dupree Park. It was also agreed that the city would spend $25,000 to renovate the ladies locker and shower room at the community center.

The council entered into a contract, at a cost of $20,000 for the rest of the year, with Retail Attractions in an effort to bring more retail businesses and big chain restaurants to the city.

TOP STORY >> Military exercise in eastern Europe also has a humanitarian mission

Joint Hometown News Service

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania — Nearly 40 years ago, murals depicting the glory of the Soviet military were freshly painted at the Novo Selo training area in Bulgaria.

Today, nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War, they are flaking, subdued images of a bygone era.

Now, artificial thunder echoes through the hills as a Bulgarian M1117 Guardian armored security vehicle runs a training course, mowing down targets with fire from its mounted heavy machine gun.

Army Spec. Thomas M. Anderson, son of Oswald Anderson of Austin, is faced with these reminders of the Cold War and the difficulties of conducting Army business in a foreign nation, as a member of Joint Task Force-East, a multi-national task force designed to make stronger allies of Romania and Bulgaria.

The operation hones the skills of soldiers from all three nations as well as helping the people living in some of the poorest areas of the two European countries.

Anderson is a generator technician with the 240th Quartermaster Supply Company in Bamberg, Germany, and is deployed to Romania to support the task force, based at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania.

“I’m part of the team that makes sure the people out there training in the field have the power they need,” said Anderson, who graduated from Hot Springs High School in 2000. “Specifically, I take care of the generators they use to power their equipment.”

Soldiers from all three countries trained together in individual and company-level movements as well as with armored vehicles, a variety of weapons and combat lifesaving skills.

They also practiced the coordination needed to go into and clear a hostile urban area.

In addition to the training, the soldiers took time to visit a number of local villages and allowed children to explore the vehicles they were using.

“One of the biggest difficulties I had working with the Romanians was the language barrier,” said Anderson. “Other than that though, members of both countries are very similar.”

Military training wasn’t the only reason U.S. service members were in Romania and Bulgaria. A group of doctors and nurses traveled to several villages around the training bases in both countries.

The team worked with local health-care workers and translators to provide screenings for optical and other general health concerns.

There was also a team of Navy Seabees helping renovate and upgrade local schools and medical facilities.

In spite of the language barrier and cultural differences, the U.S. soldiers and their Bulgarian or Romanian counterparts were usually able to get their messages across.

“When I started working with my Romanian counterparts, none of them could read a schematic or wiring diagram,” said Anderson, who has been in the Army for more than four years and has served in Iraq. “Now they’re reading them just as well as I do.”

Whether building new schools, bringing medical services to villages or practicing the art of war, Romanian, Bulgarian and U.S. service members, like Anderson, are working to keep the positive relationships going long after everyone has gone home.

The relationships built on this training ground will go a long way toward making sure the three nations can work together seamlessly.

TOP STORY >> Cabot businessman is charged with sexual assault of a minor

A Cabot businessman who was also voted the 2008 man of the year for the Lonoke County Republican Committee has been arrested on a rape charge and is scheduled to appear in circuit court Oct. 30 for plea and arraignment.

Roger Lemaster, husband of former Cabot Alderman Becky Lemaster, was arrested Sept. 21 and released from the county jail on Sept. 22 on a $50,000 bond.

Court records show he filed for divorce that same day on the grounds of general indignities.

The couple operates RC Auto Detailing at 123 N. Second St., near city hall.

Lemaster 54, is the father of Kenneth Lemaster, 31, who was found guilty in October 2007 of two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault in the second degree and is serving a 23-year sentence in the Varner Unit of the Department of Correction.

Police say Becky Lemaster filed a complaint against her husband Sept. 3.

The case was investigated for 18 days by Det. Keri Jackson before the prosecutor issued a warrant for his arrest.

Police will not release details about the case because the alleged victim is a minor.

The victims of Kenneth Lemaster also were minors. He was charged in 2006 following an investigation that started when a 5 year old began exhibiting behavior consistent with sexual molestation.

Adult victims who testified during Kenneth Lemaster’s trial said he had abused children of both sexes for 18 years.

TOP STORY >> Housing authority strengthens family

Jacksonville Housing Authority executive director Phil Nix presents a $1,695 grant to Jacinta Robinson for completing the five-year family self-sufficiency program as Gisela Williams, Section 8 coordinator, also congratulates her.

Leader staff writer

Jacinta Robinson of Jacksonville was excited Wednesday morning when she was presented with an escrow check for $1,695 from the Jacksonville Housing Authority after completing the authority’s five-year family self- sufficiency program.

“I’ve been encouraged to have something to look forward to at the end of the program and it worked,” Robinson said.

She completed the program along with three other families. The housing authority has one family still in the program with three years remaining.

The goal of the program is to help families get off public assistance, including welfare and food stamps within five years.

The self-sufficiency program is part of Section 8 federal housing assistance. With Section 8, the amount of rent people pay to their landlord is limited to 30 percent of their income.

The rest is paid by the housing authority.

Robinson, 25, said the self-sufficiency program has motivated her to improve her life.

Robinson is a single mother raising her 6-year-old son, Cameron.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development began the self-sufficiency program in the late 1990s.

HUD mandated that the Jacksonville Housing Authority have five families participate.

Robinson joined the Section 8 housing assistance program and moved to Jacksonville in 2004. She was living with relatives in Little Rock, where she was born and raised.

She’s gone to college since joining the self-sufficiency program. In the spring of 2006, she enrolled as a full-time student at Pulaski Technical College.

While attending classes, she worked part-time at T.J. Maxx as a sales clerk.

She graduated in May from Pulaski Technical College with an associate arts degree.

She is now a data analyst with Entergy in Little Rock.

Robinson will attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the spring, she said. She plans on earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“(The family self-sufficiency program) has allowed me to graduate from college, to get a good job I am happy about, and to better my life for me and my son,” Robinson said.

“I’m hoping at the end of all this that I can be a psychologist, make money and continue being self-sufficient,” she said.

Robinson plans to stay in Jacksonville.

“I like it here. The crime rate is low and it is a great community,” Robinson said.

The Jacksonville Housing Authority also helps with a share of the tenant’s rent.

As part of the family self-sufficiency program, the participant signs a contract with the housing authority.

The tenant then sets a goal with the housing authority on how they will use the escrow money once it’s received.

As the tenant’s income increases by attaining more education and finding higher-paying jobs through the program, the housing authority deposits part of its assistance funds into an interest-bearing escrow account.

Should participants’ income drop lower than the initial level at the start of the program, no deposits from the housing authority are made to their account.

During the five-year period, the tenant is required to meet with the housing authority staff each month for a review of the participant’s progress.

If tenants don’t finish the self-sufficiency program or do not complete the requirements, they do not receive the funds.

The money in the escrow account is returned to the housing authority.

When participants get a higher-paying job, the housing authority will stop giving financial assistance if their income goes beyond the original rental payment plan.

The participating family is then taken off the self-sufficiency program.

They are given the accumulated amount of money in the escrow account to spend it as they like.

Before funds are awarded to the family, the housing authority verifies the tenant is off all public cash assistance with the Department of Human Services.

Although Robinson has completed the program, she will still have rental assistance through the Section 8 until her income increases to the point that the Jacksonville Housing Authority cannot assist her anymore.

TOP STORY >> Ordinance hearing draws big, vocal crowd

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher wants to clean up Jacksonville by passing a comprehensive nuisance-abatement ordinance.

Resident Jean Williams voiced an idea at Thursday’s council meeting that involves just two pages — a one-page flier to be placed on violators’ doors simply saying, “Please do not let this happen again or you will be written up and/or fined.”

The second page would be a list of do’s and don’ts placed in water bills. “Everyone in the city gets a water bill,” she said.

The actual wording of the ordinance, which won’t be known for weeks, will be somewhere between what city officials are working on and what some of the speakers recommended during two hours of discussion, heated at times, off-topic occasionally and scattered with applause, amens and hallelujahs.

The council opted to have another meeting at 7 p.m. next Thursday in city hall to hone the lengthy nuisance-abatement ordinance.

City planner Chip McCulley told the council that his department had pulled 13 pages from the 33-page draft the aldermen were looking at, mostly building-code issues, because it had been previously approved and was repetitive.

Alderman Kenny Elliott had a number of changes he wanted. Alderman Bob Stroud had a list of at least a dozen amendments and most other aldermen also had questions, concerns or sought clarification.

Fletcher, saying cleaning up the city was one of his major campaign promises, wanted the council to approve the ordinance on the first reading at Thursday night’s council meeting and then make amendments and changes to it at the next meeting.

A proposed ordinance must be read and approved three times before it becomes law.

But Aldermen Reedie Ray, Elliot and others wanted to see something closer to what would pass and asked for another meeting with a cleaner version of the ordinance.

Seemingly a bit miffed, the mayor said the city was good at pointing fingers at the conditions of the Pulaski County Special School District schools in the city, but didn’t want to point fingers at itself.

Fletcher said after listening to about a dozen residents from the packed chambers that there seemed to be only four concerns out of the 33 pages. He felt if the council approved the first reading at Thursday’s meeting, then aldermen and the public would have two weeks until the next council meeting to make and suggest changes and then another two weeks before voting on the final version.

At the start of the two-hour public hearing, Fletcher said the city’s ordinances were scattered all over the books and this code brought them all together.

He said Jacksonville’s proposed code was modeled after a North Little Rock ordinance, and that Stuttgart and Pine Bluff were working on similar ordinances.

“North Little Rock has seen a lot of positive out of the ordinance. Property owners, afraid of the harsh fines, have become more responsible, which lightened the load for code-enforcement officers, saved city resources and allowed it to focus on other areas,” the mayor said.

Fletcher added, “There is a great need for this in our community. The idea is to get our people to stand up and take responsibility.”

In an effort to clear up some misconceptions, City Attorney Robert Bamburg admitted that the ordinance was “lengthy and involved,” but most of it already exists in other city ordinances.

The right-of-entry clause in the ordinance, which many residents voiced concern about, has been on the city’s books for many years, according to Bamburg

In fact, the mayor pulled an ordinance from 1974, when John Harden was mayor, and said it was identical language.

In explaining the right-of-entry clause, Bamburg said, “Police need probable cause to enter a home. It’s the same situation for code-enforcement officers. I don’t see our guys going rogue or wasting their time on non-violations.”

The attorney continued, “Please understand, we don’t want our code enforcement officers, pardon the analogy, to become Barney Fifes.”

The city planner said the new ordinance brings various codes into one. “It’s a working document. The backbone came from North Little Rock. We’ve been working on it and revamping it for the past couple of months.”

He said the 13 pages that are being removed mostly deal with building codes and would be repetitive.

“We’ll develop a simple handout for those needing that information,” McCulley said.

The first to voice concerns about the ordinance was Partne Daugherty. She buys, remodels and sells affordable housing in the city.

She said she had a number of objections, starting with the crime of having tall grass or any other code violation being a misdemeanor.

The ordinance states, “It shall be unlawful for a person, firm or corporation to be in conflict with or in violation of any of the provisions of this code. Any person who is convicted of a violation of the code shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and the violation shall be deemed a strict liability offense.”

Daugherty said that violates state law. “State statutes don’t permit nuisance violators to be charged with misdemeanors,” she insisted.

She was also concerned about the right-of-entry clause, which states: “The city engineer, planning director, code-enforcement officers and the fire marshal are authorized to enter structures for search and seizures. If entry is refused or not obtained, officers may pursue such search authorization as are provided by law.”

“You say code enforcement won’t abuse this, won’t do wrong, but you can’t say for sure,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty was also upset with the requirement in the ordinance that “all motor vehicles shall be parked on a dust-free surface.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Whose driveway doesn’t have dust on it? Asking for a dust-free surface is kind of retarded,” she said.

Elliott had concerns about another clause that said a vehicle would be considered inoperable and in violation of the ordinance if “it has not been moved for more than three days.”

“There are many times my vehicle doesn’t move for three or more days and it’s fully operable,” he said.

Daugherty was also upset with all the “shalls, wills and musts” in the ordinance. “There’s no discretion given, no common sense. It needs a lot of work,” she said.

Marilyn Thornton, who was for the ordinance, said she’s been very disappointed with the neighborhood conditions in Jacksonville over the past two years.

“This town needs to be cleaned up. I’m tired of being ashamed of living here,” Thornton said.

She also questioned those who had problems with the entry clause. “Yes, it’s your house, but it’s my neighborhood,” Thornton said.

Williams, who told the council she was officially calling herself the trash lady with all the cleaning up she’s doing in her neighborhood, was raised in the inner city in Philadelphia.

“I do not want my new neighborhood looking like my old one in Philadelphia,” she said. “I do not want to see Jacksonville turned into a ghetto.”

She said the city needs to be smart in its approach to the issue. She explained that when you see a pile of garbage in a yard you don’t have to enter the home.

“We all know the person in the house put out the garbage,” she said.

Williams recommended the city put a flier in the violator’s door and be done with it. That’s what she does, and she even prints it on recycled paper.

Resident Rizell Aron said he didn’t understand the need to enter homes unannounced.

“If you really want to see change, let the people know you are coming and give them time to fix the problem. Most will fix it; it’s human nature,” he said, adding that it would be ridiculous to have officers kick down his door just to see if he was using 110 or 220 wiring.

Beckie Brooks, a local realtor and former mayoral candidate, suggested that the city hold another meeting, perhaps in the daytime at the senior center, to help make residents more aware of the ordinance.

“I still think a lot of people don’t know about this yet,” Brooks said.

She also said she was disappointed that neighbors weren’t helping neighbors more. “We need to pull together and help each other. If a neighbor’s grass is too high, we need to ask if they need money for gas for the lawn mower or loan them a mower.”
Brooks added, “Human beings need to be addressing this, not code-enforcement officers.”

Developer Mike Wilson supported the ordinance, yet admitted it was a bitter pill to swallow. “But if we don’t set standards for ourselves, we’ll have no standards,” he said.

Pastor Larry Burton told the council that 60 percent of the congregation at his Jacksonville church lives in Cabot because of the condition of Jacksonville’s schools and neighborhoods.

“We need to make the best of this moment and remember that this city is precious to us,” Burton said.

Resident Jim Hill told the council it was clear that the proposed ordinance had “a lot of fish hooks in it. You need to be careful with it.”

TOP STORY >> PCSSD is closer to leaving court

Leader senior staff writer

After years of waiting, Pulaski County Special School District finally will get a hearing on a petition for unitary status from U.S. Dist. Judge Brian S. Miller, who has the authority to release the district from the desegregation agreement and from court oversight.

In a status hearing Wednesday, Miller tentatively set a week-long hearing for the district beginning Jan. 25. That’s two weeks after the Jan. 11 hearing to decide the unitary status of the North Little Rock School District.

This is important not only because PCSSD would be released from court oversight, but because the most likely scenario for Jacksonville to get its own school district requires that PCSSD be first declared unitary.

PCSSD’s attorney, Sam Jones, will argue that the district is in substantial compliance with the Plan 2000 desegregation agreement and should be declared unitary and released from court oversight.

He said after the Wednesday hearing that he would pay close attention to the North Little Rock hearing, then tailor his arguments based on what worked there.

John Walker, lead attorney for the Joshua Intervenors, has once again said unitary status and a Jacksonville school district would undo many of the gains in racial balance achieved slowly and at great cost over the past 26 years.

The desegregation agreement conjoined PCSSD, North Little Rock and Little Rock School Districts, but the courts have since found Little Rock unitary and released it from court oversight.

Walker said that in PCSSD, “actions are being taken to return us to where we were. We need toexplore policies and changes such as the proposed spin off of Jacksonville.”

Walker told Miller that the PCSSD school board has chosen to build a “Taj Mahal” school in affluent Maumelle, where most students are white, and is preparing to build another “Taj Mahal,” also in Maumelle, while most schools throughout the district — especially in the low-income and black areas — are ancient and in serious disrepair.

Walker told the judge that PCSSD had hired four superintendents in the past few years.

“The (desegregation) plan was implemented in different ways at different times by different superintendents,” he said, calling that trend “deleterious.”

“We may be able to persuade the court that further oversight is still necessary,” Walker said.

Walker also agreed with Miller that a black student shouldn’t have to go to school with a white student to get a good education. He later said that separate-but-equal — the standard overturned in 1954 by Brown v. the Board of Education — was acceptable after all, if it was really equal.

Walker asked Miller for more time so he could hire experts to parse records and data about schools, achievement, enrollment, facilities and other matters.

Miller said the case had been going on for decades and that Walker’s experts need to work within the time constraints of the January hearings.

The importance of the issue reinforced by the attendance of many people affiliated with PCSSD and Jacksonville at the Wednesday hearing.

Amog the many attending were state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, PCSSD acting Superintendent Rob McGill, administrators including Brenda Bowles and Robert Clowers, board members Bill Vasquez and Gwen Williams, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, state Rep. Mark Perry, Jacksonville school activist Daniel Gray, Patrick Wilson, who represents the Jacksonville Educating Our Children group, and former state Rep. Will Bond.

Also PACT president Marty Nix, PASS President Emry Chesterfield and lawyer for the Knight Interveners, Mark Burnett, attended.

Miller asked LRSD attorney Chris Heller if his district should be dismissed from the case, since it already had been declared unitary and it was no longer under court oversight.

Heller said that Little Rock was not legally interested in whether or not the other two districts were declared unitary. But it was interested in maintaining for as long as possible continued state desegregation funding for the three districts and protecting Little Rock’s stake in those funds.

Since the beginning of the desegregation agreement, the state has funded magnet schools, majority-to-minority school transfers and the teacher retirement system at a cost of about $1 billion.

The state spends more than $60 million a year on those and related expenditures. The Little Rock District gets the lion’s share of that. The state attorney general’s office has been negotiating with the districts to phase out the supplemental funding over about seven years.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Why Ross should recuse

After a couple of online publications wrote about the highly profitable sale of his family’s drugstore to a big pharmaceutical chain, U. S. Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) fought back with a vengeance over the weekend, and he picked up a strange ally, the Republican editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Whether his contretemps with ProPublica and Politico, neither of which his constituents in south Arkansas had ever heard of, will serve him well or ill remains to be seen. The issue and the transaction may be too arcane for most voters in south Arkansas to grasp or even to care about. On the other hand, Ross used it to build up his already ample campaign chest. His Facebook page said extremists were out to get him because of his center-stage role in the health-care debate in Congress and he needed lots more money to fight “these untrue attacks.” He invited people to come to his campaign opening with Bill Clinton at Hot Springs on Oct. 17 and give to the cause. Ross was a driver for Clinton in one of his early campaigns.

The point of the ProPublica and Politico reporting on the 2007 sale of the drugstore to USA Drug was to suggest that the very profitable transaction shaped Ross’ work on the health-care reform bill in the House because his efforts benefited the pharmaceutical industry and retail druggists. Since Ross and the Democrat Gazette in back-to-back editorials laid out all the “true” facts about his sale and condemned the reporting as both conspiratorial and erroneous, we may be pardoned for setting the record even straighter.

The Democrat Gazette said it was a liberal plot against the poor congressman and it cited funders of ProPublica who have supported liberal causes. For good measure, it threw in Acorn, the poor people’s organization that got a black eye this month from Fox News accounts of three or four of its employees advising a faux prostitute and her pimp how to break tax laws. But the paper ignored the fact that ProPublica’s partner in the reporting was Politico, a Republican blog funded by the Allbritton family, a supporter of right-wing causes and politicians usually favored by the Democrat Gazette.

But about those “facts”: The journalists compared the sale price of the drugstore to its assessed value of the property recorded at the Nevada County Courthouse. Ross said any real estate person would tell you that the assessed value of commercial property bears no relationship to its fair market value. Maybe not in Nevada County, but by law it is supposed to. Property must be assessed at 100 percent of its fair market value. Ross was either paid far more than the property was worth or he had been paying far too little in taxes. We are willing to accept that the latter is true.

Ross and the editorial writer praised both Ross’ willingness to produce every last detail about the transaction and the newspaper’s own diligent reporting on the deal. But neither Ross nor the Democrat Gazette’s reporters have revealed particulars about the arrangement that would shed light on the total value of the sale to Ross and his wife. When they do, perhaps Ross can rightfully claim that the big company was the one that got a bargain and that it sought and got nothing from the transaction but a new market in the town of Prescott.

The congressman said USA Drug, the retail industry, the big pharmaceuticals and the health-insurance industry got no favors from him in his work on the health-reform legislation in the House Energy Committee. As the leader of the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats, Ross forced some major concessions on the bill sought by the insurance companies and the drug industry.

But don’t take our word for it. The National Community Pharmacist Association sent out a news release in August thanking Ross for amending the health-reform bill to help pharmacies on insurance reimbursements. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores issued a release in June thanking him for legislation authorizing payments to pharmacists to train patients in how to manage their medicines.

The Democrat Gazette is the source of further evidence. Soon after the Prescott sale, the owner of USA Drug, Stephen L. LaFrance, said it was important for his industry to defeat comprehensive national health-insurance legislation because government competition would harm the insurance industry. The pharmaceutical industry can charge the high prices that it does for drugs only because the private insurance industry guarantees them. If government doesn’t interfere, he said, there are “nothing but good days ahead” for the drug and insurance industries.

Ross promised last month, after waffling for months, that he would fight to prevent a government role in insuring everyone.

But we will concede this: Ross probably would have done it anyway, without the lucrative sale of his business to an unusually interested party. But it couldn’t have hurt.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> Nellums keeps job after long hearing

Leader senior staff writer

After a five-week paid suspension, principal Mike Nellums is back at work at Mills High School this morning, despite the efforts of the teachers’ union and the three Pulaski County Special School District board members who almost unfailingly promote the union’s agenda.

Following an eight-and-a-half-hour personnel hearing, the board rejected by a 4-to-3 vote Superintendent Rob McGill’s recommendation to fire Nellums.

Voting to fire the controversial principal were board president Tim Clark, vice president Bill Vasquez and treasurer Gwen Williams.

Williams made the motion to fire and Vasquez seconded it.

At least Clark and Williams received union money and support—$600 for Williams—during their election bids.

The swing vote Monday night was new board member Sandra Sawyer. In her first official board action since her election Sept. 8, Sawyer, an unknown quantity, voted against the firing. Board member Charlie Wood often votes with Clark, Vasquez and Williams, but is not in the union camp.

Joining Sawyer and Wood in voting to keep Nellums on were Mildred Tatum and Danny Gilliland.

“Nellums will resume his duties at Mills beginning (Wednesday),” McGill said. “We’re looking forward to moving Mills forward.

We’re looking to the future and the next chapter of the school’s success.”

Nellums, who has been the object of at least three separate investigations—he calls them inquisitions—since January, was suspended with pay Aug. 21, the day after he had district security escort Sandra Roy from his office. Roy is executive director of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff.

As many as 45 Nellums supporters—mostly teachers and administrators—gathered for the hearing.

The district was represented by its attorneys Jay Bequette and Keith Billingsley.

Nellums’ lead counsel, Ricky Hicks, was joined by former state Rep. Will Bond of the McMath Law Firm and by civil rights attorney John Walker.

Because it was a personnel hearing held behind closed doors, little hard information was available. It appears that the board heard testimony from witnesses alleging that Nellums had slandered Clark and Williams and also that he later acted unprofessionally by telling a Leader reporter that the union and some board members were conducting a vendetta against him.

Contacted Tuesday morning, Nellums said he was happy to be getting back to work. He would not discuss the specifics of the closed hearing.

Nellums said there continued to be “concerns with the way things are handled and administrators need to address some issues with the board concerning policy.”

He would not elaborate.

Clark ordered an investigation of Nellums in January that cost the district more than $12,000 in attorney fees paid to Bequette and Billingsley. But Clark declined to recuse himself from the Monday night hearing into Nellums contract.

According to Clark, Nellums told a second principal that Clark had paid board member Williams for her vote to impeach then-president Mildred Tatum and elect Clark to the position.

Tatum was impeached and Clark was elected.

Nellums said at the time that the alleged slander never occurred, that the board president doesn’t have the authority to precipitate an investigation and that even if he had made the comment, it would have been protected speech under the Constitution.

Nellums, who was the principal at the Jacksonville Boys Middle School, and Kimala Forrest, principal of the Girls Middle School, angered some on the board by fighting to keep the gender-based schools open and by speaking out at board meetings and in the press.

That was in May.

Forrest said at the time that she thought combining the two schools into a single coeducational school was “part of a vendetta against Nellums.”

Nellums was subsequently transferred to Mills and Forrest to Northwood Middle School.

Nellums received a certified letter June 22 saying his comments “may be considered offensive or personal in nature. If it is proven that the comments made by you were conduct unbecoming as an administrator, it could lead to disciplinary action up to termination,” the letter warned.

“I’m not going to let them have a free reign to continue to attack administrators simply because they have a different opinion or they feel that something written in the paper is threatening to them or detrimental,” Nellums said at the time.

Nellums has long been at odds with the district’s powerful teachers’ union, opposing a union-dominated, site-based decision-making council at Jacksonville Boys Middle School.

TOP STORY >> Son admits he killed mother

Leader staff writer

The Beebe man charged in April with brutally murdering his mother pleaded guilty Tuesday and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jeffrey T. Likes, 40, did not speak in court except in response to Circuit Judge Robert Edwards’ questions. Yes, he answered, his guilty plea was offered willingly and he knew he was waiving his right to a jury trial and to confront the witnesses against him.

No, he did not want to make a statement, so why he killed Nancy Wiggs, 59, remains unanswered despite a plea from her sisters who came from Ohio for the sentencing.

“We would like to know how and why you could do such a horrific thing to the one person who believed in you the most,” Tammy Bragg and Linda Zimmerman asked in a prepared statement read by Prosecuting Attorney Chris Raff. “You not only took her life, you took a big part of ours.”

Assistant Beebe Police Chief Ron Lewis and Capt. Eddie Cullum, who investigated the murder, said that although Likes never said why he did it, they believe there were arguments over money and Likes using his mother’s car. Drugs likely played a part as well.

Likes was charged April 2 after he was arrested April 1 in Kansas City, Mo., by the fugitive division of the Kansas City Police Department.

Dressed like a businessman on a trip, he was eating a sandwich and drinking a bottle of water when he was arrested, Lewis said.

Wiggs’ body was found March 31 after her sisters called neighbors for help when they couldn’t reach Wiggs by phone. Wanda Wallis-Olson, Wiggs’ neighbor in the Fetcher addition, said Likes would not let them talk to Wiggs. She was resting, he told them.

The investigation revealed that Wiggs’ was likely killed two days before her body was found. Much of that time, Likes was coming and going from the house.

Lewis said after he obtained Likes’ cell phone number, tracking him was not difficult. Phone companies work with law enforcement agencies, he said, providing they fill out the required paperwork.

To find Likes, he worked with AT&T and Verizon. When Verizon told him Likes’ phone calls were bouncing off a tower near the Kansas City International Airport, it was obvious where to look for him, Lewis said.

Likes had spent time in prison, said Cullum. He described Likes as “a mama’s boy,” who got into trouble a lot and counted on her to help get him out.

Wallis-Olson said Likes and a parade of wives and girlfriends lived with Wiggs at 401 Lee Lane.

Wiggs’ husband died less than two months before she was murdered and she was expecting a large insurance settlement, but Lewis and Cullum said they didn’t think that money was a point of contention between the two.

Wiggs was a petite woman weighing only about 100 pound, the police officers said. Her injuries, described by the prosecutor as multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma, were extremely vicious in nature, they said.

Lewis said Beebe police were aided in their investigation by crime scene investigators with the White County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, the Kansas City Police Department and the Pulaski County probation office, which supplied the warrant for Likes’ arrest in Kansas City for breaking probation.

Lewis called it the most important case he’s worked in 30 years of law enforcement. He said he had gotten to know Wiggs’ sisters and friends and they counted on them to get justice for her.

Bragg, the youngest of the three, said the plea and sentencing had helped. “It gives us a little closure,” she said.

They are a small family, only three sisters and four children between them. Now there are only five. Because Likes murdered their sister, they have also lost their nephew, they said.

During court, the prosecutor gave Likes letters his aunts had written to him. They said afterward that they may contact him later to try to get answers to their questions, but for now they are relieved that the plea and sentencing are over.

“God bless the system,” Zimmerman said as the family was leaving the courtroom.

TOP STORY >> Hero who returned from hell

Retired Col. Leo Thorsness (middle), a Medal of Honor recipient and former Vietnam POW, meets with retired Col. Bill Kehler (left), president of the LRAFB Community Council, and Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay at the luncheon.

Leader executive editor

Leo Thorsness spoke at the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council luncheon and dedicated a Vietnam-era F-105 bomber in front of the Jacksonville Museum of Military History on Friday.

The plane was just like the one he’d flown over Vietnam more than 90 times on missions that were so dangerous that half of those planes were lost during the war.

Thorsness, who spent six years at the Hanoi Hilton, wore his Medal of Honor during his appearance here, but he’s so unassuming — “I’m so average,” he insists — you get the feeling he would have been more comfortable without it.

He didn’t get into the details about how he’d earned his Medal of Honor: How he helped save the lives of a crew in another plane that was accompanying him on a mission over North Vietnam while he kept attacking the Soviet MiGs coming at him and then landed at a base as he ran out of fuel.

He didn’t even mention Sen. John McCain, the most famous POW in Hanoi Hilton, until I brought up his name after Thorsness dedicated the F-105.

“Were you and John McCain in the same prison together?” I asked.

“We were in the same cell for two years,” Thorsness answered.

We were standing near a tree in front of the military museum on a warm fall afternoon, and his medal shone as brightly as the torch from Lady Liberty on a bright day.

He’s so down-to-earth, you could call it upper-Midwest Scandinavian modesty. He grew up on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minn., in the 1930s and 1940s. Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the “Little House” series, lived in the area for a while with her family. (“On the Banks of Plum Creek” is about Walnut Grove.)

It’s all in his book, “Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey,” which sold out before he left the luncheon.

Born in 1932, Thorsness enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 19, hoping to join his brother in Korea. Leo wasn’t sent to Korea, but he became an officer and in 1966 joined an elite squadron that flew specially modified F-105 Wild Weasel aircraft.

They specialized in knocking out surface-to-air-missile batteries that the Soviets had placed in North Vietnam, as well as other important military targets. It took special skills to fly those two-seat planes because, as Thorsness said in his talk to the community council, “Vietnam was the first war with SAMs.”

There was a little black box that helped pilots guide them toward the SAMs, but it was a primitive system, and you were petty much on your own. You had to make up your own rules. You had to rely on your instincts. You outsmarted the enemy and you made sure no one was lost in combat.

Thorsness was a major back then. He was 35 years old, a bit older than the other pilots, and there was suddenly trouble on his 92nd mission. It was April 19, 1967, when another F-105 flying alongside him — called the wingman — was hit just after they had knocked out a bunch of SAMs and were trying to destroy another one.

The men in the other plane ejected and were fired on by a MiG-17. According to his Medal of Honor citation, “Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crew members in sight and relay their position to the search-and-rescue center.

“Thorsness, despite his low- fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted four MiG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MiGs, damaging one and driving the others away from the rescue scene.”

He faced one crisis after another: He was running low on fuel, but he realized another plane also needed to refuel. He directed the other plane to “a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely,” the citation reads.

“Just as Thorsness landed, his fuel ran out and the engine shut down.”

Two weeks later, on his 93rd mission, he was shot down over North Vietnam. “There were two MiGs we didn’t see,” he said, referring to his navigator, Capt. Harry Johnson.

The plane was hit in the back with a missile. A deeply religious man, Thorsness didn’t mind telling his audience what his navigator said behind him when they were hit.

“S***!” Johnson yelled, and they both bailed out.

As he was floating down in his parachute, he saw missiles coming at him “the size of a telephone pole.”

He prayed he would make it. The answer came almost immediately: Leo, you’re going to make it. Thorsness and Johnson were captured and held for six years. Thorsness was tortured for 18 days and nights.

“I knew prisoners were abused,” he said. “It was very brutal. We were in a small cell block. I was heartbroken. I thought, I hope I die. What a failure I was. I’ve let my family down.”

They broke him at the end and he told the torturers what they wanted to hear.

“You either broke or you died,” he said.

The prisoners helped each other make it through their long ordeal. They communicated through walls with knocks. They prayed and shared jokes and reminisced and hoped one day they’d get home.

“We were blessed with more than our share of good people,” he recalled.

His hero was a young Navy lieutenant whom everyone looked up to, even though he was not the senior officer. His name was Mike Christian, and he made a small U.S. flag out of a discarded handkerchief and colored it with pieces of roof tile and blue medicine.

The prisoners saluted the flag, until the North Vietnamese found it and beat Christian, who made another flag when he recovered.

Thorsness is good friends with John McCain — he, of course, endorsed him for president — but they disagree on whether water-boarding is torture. McCain says it is, while Thorsness calls it “enhanced interrogation.”

He says there’s a point where a prisoner will share truthful information with his interrogators, but beyond a certain point, he’ll say whatever you want him to say. He hopes the CIA knows what that point is when interrogating Al Qaeda.

Thorsness didn’t know he’d been awarded the Medal of Honor two years after he was shot down near Hanoi because the U.S. government didn’t want the North Vietnamese to punish him for getting the medal. (President Nixon gave him the medal in 1973, after the POWs had come home.)

He was released in March 1973, along with McCain and hundreds of other POWs. Thorsness was presented his Medal of Honor on Oct. 15, 1973. Because of his injuries, he retired from the Air Force 10 days later as a colonel.

“Since I’ve been home, I’ve never had a bad day,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Wing Ding festival Saturday

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville plays host this weekend to country stars, chicken wing cookers and eaters, boat paddlers, fishers, runners and about 100 different vendors, all part of the city’s Wing Ding Festival at Dupree Park.

Admission and parking for the festival is free.

Things get started at 7:30 a.m. with the fishing derby and the 5K run.

The fishing derby is open to all ages and the state Game and Fish Department has freshly stocked the lake. Prizes will be given hourly for the biggest and smallest fish. The 5K run, sponsored by the Jacksonville Police Department, will benefit Arkansas Special Olympics.

A volleyball tournament starts at 9 a.m. and runs all day.

The festival’s food court complete with funnel cakes, roasted corn, nachos, snow cones, barbecue and more also opens at 9 a.m. and runs until the festival closes at 6 p.m.
Craft vendors, kids rides, face painting, pony rides and the firefighter’s exhibit will also be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Henderson Flying Group will put on a radio control air show at 11 a.m., and again at 1 and 3 p.m.

The ever-popular glider wars start at 9:30 a.m. with teams building their aircraft and then putting them to the test, start at 10:30 a.m. Teams will put together aircraft from a carefully arranged pile of “junk.” When ready, the aircraft will be sent gliding high in the sky from the back of a utility truck. Prizes will be given for longest flight, coolest glider and best crash.

The World Championship Chicken Wing Cook Off, sponsored by Leader Publishing, will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Competitors will be vying for up to $1,000 in prize money. Festival- goers will be able to sample and vote for the best wings.

The paddleboat rides in Dupree Lake will start at noon.Disney Radio entertainers will perform throughout the day.

Two highlights this year will be the chicken eating contest and the country entertainers.

New country artist Jarett McAlister will perform at 4 p.m. and established country singer Bryan White will close the festival with his 6 p.m. performance.

White, from Lawton, Okla., was one of the top new country acts of the ’90s, with four of his first eight singles topping the country charts.

White, 35, became a country star at the age of 20, scoring chart-topping hits with “Somebody Else’ Star” and “Rebecca Lynn.”

McAlister, 18, from Kilgore, Texas, took first place in 2008 in the songwriting event at the Texas Woodstock Festival in Winnsboro and was chosen for Best Original Performance at the County Music Association’s Music City Rising Star Event.

Considered a guitar master, he plays lead guitar and has bass vocals. His song list includes more than 250 top country hits and about 45 original songs.

The festival will sponsor a competitive chicken wing-eating contest starting about 11 a.m. with a first place prize of $600.

There will be two competitions — an amateur contest and a celebrity match up.

“We hope the eating competition will put on the state, regional and national map,” Denise Goforth, a spokesman for the city’s annual festival, said.

The Major League Eating, a sports franchise that overseas all professional competitive eating events and competitive eating television specials on ESPN and other networks, will run the eating contest next year.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD seeking release

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District is in substantial compliance with the Plan 2000 desegregation agreement and should be declared unitary and released from court oversight, district attorney Sam Jones will tell U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller Wednesday morning at a status hearing.

The hearing, Miller’s first since being assigned the 26-year-old desegregation case, was originally set for April 13, but Miller was involved in a car wreck on his way to court.

Jones and the other principals in the case have filed briefs with the court and they will be watching for clues as to the judge’s inclinations regarding the case.

PCSSD, the North Little Rock School District and the Little Rock School District have been conjoined by the agreement, but Little Rock has been found unitary and released from court oversight.

John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Interveners, challenged U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson’s finding that the Little Rock School District was unitary, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that “substantial compliance” was the standard for achieving unitary status and that Little Rock School District met that standard.

When the court made that ruling last spring, Wilson recused himself from further involvement with the case.

Miller has asked each of the principals to answer four questions:

Whether the Pulaski County Special School District and the North Little Rock School District have reached unitary status.

If the districts have not reached unitary status, what are the impediments to the districts reaching unitary status.

If the districts have not reached unitary status, how are these districts distinguished from the Little Rock School District.

If the districts have not reached unitary status, how many more years of federal monitoring will be necessary for the districts to reach unitary status.

All have filed briefs supporting their positions, with the Joshua Interveners and the Knight Interveners both contending that PCSSD has not met the conditions to be unitary.

In his brief, Jones held that the county was in substantial compliance, the standard to which both Wilson and the 8th Circuit held the Little Rock School District, he said Monday.

“Joshua opposes the county position across the board,” he said, and reiterated their opposition to Jacksonville’s detatchment.

He said the teachers’ union submitted a brief chiding the county for discussing a Jacksonville detachment without guaranteeing measures to recognize the union, he said.

Among Jones’ contentions:

The district is substantially unitary for assignment of students to schools.

The district has 20 percent to 25 percent African-American presence in most schools, with the exception of College Station, Harris, Jacksonville, Pinewood and Taylor elementary schools, Mills and Jacksonville high schools and Sylvan Hills, Fuller and Jacksonville middle schools.

PCSSD believes the state would produce an expert witness to testify that these enrollment outcomes demonstrate good- faith compliance.

SPORTS >> Losing skids end to make picks pan out

Leader sports writer

All of us on The Leader prognostication panel enjoyed our best week of predictions to begin 2009 conference play last week.

We went 7 of 9, with a pick against Beebe and a pick for Riverview as our only setbacks.

North Pulaski and Beebe got the monkeys off their backs to set up a battle of 1-0 teams in the 5A Southeast on Friday in Beebe. The Cabot juggernaut showed no sign of slowing down last week against Conway, and the Panthers make a visit to storied War Memorial Stadium to face Catholic this week. At Jonesboro, Jacksonville will look to rebound from the 6A-East opening loss to Mountain Home, while the Bears of Sylvan Hills are looking for anything positive at this point.


The Falcons looked good against Little Rock McClellan last week in their 39-13 victory, but they were still a bit undisciplined. Senseless penalties were present, which will do the Falcons no good at all this week if they want to have a chance against John Shannon’s Badgers.

Beebe may not have the distinct personnel advantage over North Pulaski that it has enjoyed in the recent past, but we are betting on stronger tradition and discipline to win out in this one.


The 7A-Central Conference is set up so that many games with title implications take place in the first half of the season, and this one is a prime example. The Rockets lost a close one to Bryant last week, and are now almost in a must-win situation against the Panthers.

But Cabot simply has too much momentum and confidence, not to mention the best depth of any team in this conference. We say the train keeps rolling this week to lift the Panthers to 5-0.


It’s hard to miss the playoffs in the 6A-East Conference, but the Red Devils are certainly putting themselves in position to do just that. The loss to Mountain Home last week could end up biting Jacksonville badly once the conference points are tallied at the end of the regular season, especially with the Searcy program on the rise and awaiting the Red Devils in Week 7. Things do not look to get any easier on the road Friday against an unbeaten Golden Hurricane team that has outscored opponents 150-20 through four games.


The Comets have the worst behind them after last week’s 41-12, 5A-Southeast-opening loss to dominant Monticello. It’s still unknown how bad or good things can be for the Bears with almost half their starting defense on the sidelines nursing injuries.

This will be the Fearless live-televised game this week on KARZ-TV Channel 42, so here’s hoping coach Withrow and the gang can shake the bad luck and give everyone in television land a good show.


The Jackrabbits are another team in serious need of a victory this week. Homecoming is reserved for playing creampuffs at many schools, but the Bulldogs of Bald Knob appear to be anything but with a 4-0 record, including a 44-8 rout of DeWitt last week to begin 2-4A Conference play. The winner of this game will be in good position for a playoff spot in the conference.

The odds might be considered to be against the Jackrabbits with some of their best players out, but the 2010 class has a lot of pride, and will not give up a game on homecoming.


Look for the Wildcats to stay unbeaten this week.


Friday will mark the second straight week of playing against Patriots for Searcy after last week’s 37-7 loss at Marion that began 6A-East Conference play. The Parkview Patriots in Week 5 will be a little easier to contend with, but Parkview has a little bit of an edge in personnel and tradition, so we will give it to coach William Hardiman’s team by the slightest of margins.


Things may be bad right now at Riverview with the first- and second-string quarterbacks dealing with injuries, but the bright spot for the Raiders is that you might possibly get away with direct snapping to a running back the entire game and still pull off a victory against Rose Bud. No offense to the Rambler faithful, but this is definitely not basketball.

SPORTS >> So far, breaks have all been bad for Bears

Leader sports writer

During August camp, Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said he had a lot of confidence in his team, as long as the Bears could stay injury free.

That confidence is waning.

Sylvan Hills (0-4, 0-1 5A-Southeast) will host its first conference game of the season Thursday when Mills University Studies comes to visit. The game will be featured as the KARZ-TV Channel 42 Fearless game of the week.

The Bears have been without leading defender Michael Robinson for two weeks now. Robinson, Sylvan Hills’ 6-2, 198-pound senior defensive end, went out with an ankle injury in Week 2, which put a dent in the defensive armor.

It was senior running back/rover Juliean Broner who came out early in the Bears’ Week 3 game against North Little Rock with what turned out to be a torn meniscus in his knee. Broner will be out for four weeks.

The Bears got dinged up a little more Friday in a disappointing 28-0 loss on the road at White Hall. Senior linebacker Devonte Britt, along with junior lineman Alex Smith and linebacker Cordell Edwards, all came out of the game with injuries.

Britt has a high ankle sprain and is doubtful for Thursday. Smith suffered a slight concussion, and Edwards has a hip flexor sprain and will most likely be out for one to two weeks.

“We’re just trying to stay above water right now,” Withrow said. “We’ve just got a three-game stretch to win a game until we get to Monticello. We need a win to feel good about ourselves and get some confidence. It’s a tough situation, but there are still enough seniors to hold the fort until some of these guys get back.”

Moving the ball has not been the problem for the Bears so far. They got inside the White Hall 10-yard line three different times during last week’s 28-0 loss to the Bulldogs, but came up empty each time. A missed field goal, an interception and a turnover on downs all cost Sylvan Hills in the red zone.

It’s a dilemma Withrow has grown accustomed to at this point.

“We’ve had the ball in the red zone seven times in the last two weeks and came up completely empty,” Withrow said. “It’s frustrating to look at the guys we have out, and think that we could have, should have, would have won the last two games.

Instead, we’re looking at a difficult situation. We have to figure out a way to get it in.”

Mills, suffered a loss to Monticello last week, which made the Comets 2-2 and 0-1 in the Southeast. The Mills offense features speedy backs and a slippery multiple option set, and a defense that had not given up more than 20 points in a game until it faced mighty Monticello last week.

“Their option game is definitely a concern,” Withrow said. “They run the ball really well. Their quarterback is extremely fast and makes good decisions. Losing both our outside linebackers killed us last week, and it’s going to be hard this week, especially against an option where it’s all assignment football. It’s going to be hard to get them ready for the option this week.”

SPORTS >> Tested Panthers face Rockets

Leader sports editor

Last year is last year and this year is this year, but count on the Cabot Panthers to have a long memory this week.

Cabot has a chance to avenge its one conference loss from 2008 when it travels to play Little Rock Catholic in a 7A-Central
game at War Memorial Stadium on Friday.

“They were our lone setback in the regular season,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said.

After cruising through the pre-conference schedule, outscoring Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Little Rock Hall by a combined 118-13, the Panthers were run ragged at times by Conway quarterback Xavier Acklin in last week’s 38-21 victory.

“Thirty-eight points ought to be enough to win a lot of ballgames but it wasn’t easy,” Malham said. “The kids got a little tired. It was the first time they’ve played a whole game since our scrimmage with Lake Hamilton.”

Starting with Catholic, Malham expects the Panthers’ schedule to get even more demanding.

“We’ve still got trouble with Bryant, Catholic and North Little Rock left,” Malham said. “Even Russellville. Russellville gave North Little Rock all they wanted. Week in, week out. It’s a pretty tough league.”

Cabot draws Catholic at a tricky time, as the Rockets are coming off a 21-13 loss to Bryant in their 7A-Central opener last week.

“I figured it would be a pretty good ballgame but playing at Bryant, they do a good job,” Malham said. “They’re well coached, they’re at home playing and they’ve got a good running back and a couple good receivers. Bryant’s pretty capable.”

But that’s Bryant. Right now the Panthers must contend with the Rockets.

“The kids like going to Little Rock. Hopefully we can play good,” Malham said.

Like Conway’s Acklin, Catholic has a mobile quarterback in three-year starter Taylor Bartlett, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for two in last year’s victory at Panther Stadium.

Cabot was up 31-7 last week after Hunter Sales caught Seth Bloomberg’s 28-yard touchdown pass, but Acklin and the Wampus Cats went into hurry-up mode, and the Panthers spent the rest of the night pursuing Acklin and trying to drag him down.

Malham hopes the experience pays against Bartlett.

“That quarterback made us look bad at times and Catholic’s quarterback did the same thing to us last year and he’s back again,” Malham said. “Trying to contain somebody who can run and throw, boy that’s tough on a defense.”

Malham said the Panthers will have to do a better job of forcing the passer to stay in the pocket this week, and he’ll take his chances with Catholic’s passing game, even though it features tight end Garret Uekman, who has committed to Arkansas.

“If they can beat us throwing then they can beat us throwing, but I just hate to see people run on us,” Malham said.

Cabot got a lift last week when linebacker and reserve running back Spencer Neumann was able to play after bouncing back from a neck injury that looked like it would keep him out of the game.

Instead, Neumann contributed a team-high 10 tackles.

“He just had a sore neck. He just had a little stinger on his neck back there,” Malham said. “He didn’t practice all week but he played.

“He didn’t do bad for not having practiced. I sort of feel better with him out there, that’s for sure.”

The Panthers again are hoping for additional help with the return of linebacker/fullback Michael James, who has battled injuries all season and missed last week’s game with a bad ankle.

James was expected to be a big component of both the offense and defense this season, but a shoulder injury and his ankle have relegated him to cameo appearances so far.

“We’ve been winning without him all year. We have never really had Michael,” Malham said. “He hadn’t got much playing time.

Between his shoulder and his ankle he just hasn’t had very good luck this year. Hopefully, when he can get back he’ll be able to go the rest of the year.”

SPORTS >> Badgers, Falcons face off

Leader sports writer

The momentum has been perhaps slower to build than in recent years, but Beebe’s dramatic 18-12 double-overtime victory at Crossett last week gave the Badgers their first victory of the season, and started their 5A-Southeast campaign on the right track.

They will try to keep momentum on their side this week when they host North Pulaski for homecoming at A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium on Friday.

The Falcons are also coming off a big conference-opening victory, their first of the season, against Little Rock McClellan at Falcon homecoming last week.

Beebe won the 2007 and 2008 meetings between the teams.

“The whole community always comes out for homecoming; it’s been a big deal for a long time,” said Beebe coach John Shannon, who played as a Badger in the mid-1980s. “The whole town shuts down for the parade. It’s such a big deal for everyone.

“This is a big game for both of us. We’re both 1-0 in conference. Whoever wins this one takes a big step towards making the playoffs, so it should be a good ballgame.”

Beebe had its chances in all three non-conference games to start the season, but came up short. Turnovers were the main culprit, along with defensive letdowns at inopportune times. Shannon said improved defense was one of the biggest keys to last week’s victory over Crossett.

“The big thing was that our defense played better,” Shannon said. “It kept us in the game. Our defense held them out in the red zone on one drive, and I think we held them to eight yards total rushing.”

Another tangible Shannon has emphasized to his team is penalties. The Badgers gave additional opportunities to Greenbrier with badly-timed penalties, but have cut down on flags each week.

North Pulaski was still struggling with minimizing penalties as of last week. In the Falcons’ victory over McClellan, they were penalized seven times for 45 yards in the first half alone.

“We talk about that every week and pride ourselves on being a disciplined team,” Shannon said. “When you’re young like us, you try to make the least amount of mistakes and try not to get stupid penalties. It’s cost us three ballgames.

They’ve stopped us on touchdowns, kept drives alive for the other team – it’s been very damaging.”

It’s been a season of highs and lows so far for both teams, but injuries have not been a significant factor for Beebe or North Pulaski. The Badgers benefited from the return of senior defensive back/running Victor Howell last week against Crossett, while Falcon junior Darius Cage is the team’s only banged-up player and has sustained injures the past two weeks.

Howell’s injury was a stretched ligament in the back of his knee.

“We got him back against Crossett,” Shannon said. “He wasn’t back up to full speed, but he was still a threat. It doesn’t require surgery, it just needs a brace. He will get faster each passing week. He’s just a little bit limited right now.”

It will be the first time the teams have met this early in the season, and the first time for both teams to be considered players in the 5A-Southeast Conference at the same time.

“Anytime you get in conference, every week is important,” Shannon said. “Hopefully we can go out there and take care of business. When you play someone else that is 1-0 in conference, the winner will have the upper hand later in the season if it happens to come down to a tiebreaker or points to see who makes the playoffs.”

SPORTS >> Red Devils catch fire

Leader sports editor

It could be argued Jacksonville is on a roll as it makes its second consecutive road trip in the 6A-East this week.

The problem is, Jacksonville’s roll is only two quarters long.

The Red Devils, who travel to Jonesboro on Friday, roared back from a 28-0 halftime deficit at Mountain Home last week only to fall short in a 35-28 loss. Jacksonville (1-3, 0-1) finished with 486 total yards, getting 381 in the second half, but on fourth and 10 with the game on the line, Mountain Home sacked quarterback Logan Perry to preserve the victory.

“Well, you put up 381 yards in one half of football, that’s pretty ridiculous,” Red Devils coach Mark Whatley said. “We didn’t get out of the box, we didn’t line up right in the first half. We didn’t play technique on the defensive line very well and it hurt us.”

Whatley had to admit the comeback was impressive, but it could have ended in a Jacksonville victory if there had been more attention to detail, he said.

“You spot somebody 28 points, and the killing thing about it is we get to the 11-yard line in the last part of the game and had a chance to win it right there,” Whatley said. “Had a real good chance if we’d done the little old things we’re supposed to do and we didn’t.”

Letting the defender come free on the final sack was just one of the miscues that plagued the Red Devils, Whatley said. There was a breakdown in the kicking game after the third score that would have forced Jacksonville to go for two if it had gotten its late-game touchdown, there were some missed passes and there was an 82-yard kickoff return by Mountain Home’s Todd Bowman that put the Bombers up 35-7 early in the second half.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Well, we’re going to find out how much character we do have,’ ” Whatley said.

The Red Devils responded with drives of 80, 79, 74 and 80 yards, and they drove 68 yards before coming up short at the end. Receiver Devon Featherston and running back Keith Mosby had critical fourth-down conversions while getting out of bounds to stop the clock.

“We were definitely behind the 8-ball,” Whatley said. “And we had some kids make some crucial plays. We had two fourth-down conversions right at the stick.”

It’s a good thing the offense has shown some explosiveness, Whatley said, because Jonesboro can boast a pretty explosive defense.

Against Little Rock Parkview, Jonesboro had back-to-back interception returns for touchdowns and recovered a fumble. At one point, the defense had as many points, 14, as both offenses combined and finished with 16 points.

Jonesboro (4-0, 1-0) had 10 sacks in its 37-7 victory, with linebackers Brad Shearin and Terrance Greer getting four each. The defense also stopped Parkview on fourth and goal at the 1.

“Both those linebackers are exceptional football players,” Whatley said.

Jonesboro’s offense, on the other hand, struggled at times last week as it fumbled deep in its territory on three of its first five plays.

“They’re running the spread,” Whatley said. “They’re similar to what we’re trying to do but what’s got them going right now is their defense. Their defense is giving their offense time to grow up right now.”

To contend with the Hurricane pressure, especially off the edge, Whatley said he would have to keep Perry on the move.

“I think you’ve got to move the pocket every now and then and the biggest thing is we’ve got to be sound on our assignments and pick up the blitzes,” Whatley said.

It’s another long conference road trip against another tough opponent, but the Red Devils at least showed some explosiveness and heart in their last two quarters, Whatley said.

“It’s terrible to have to start out 0-1 in conference but the good thing about it is they came back and fought and pulled together as a team a little bit,” Whatley said.