Saturday, October 10, 2009

SPORTS >> Wildcats, turnovers too much for Barton

Special to The Leader

SEARCY — What was expected to be Harding Academy’s first serious challenge of the 3A-2 Conference season turned out to be another snoozer.

The Wildcats took advantage of two early Barton turnovers and went on to pound the Bears, 47-20.

“Those were huge,” Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said of the early Barton miscues. “Any turnover you get is big, but those – happening that early – really gave us some momentum because we were able to take advantage of them and turn them into points.”

The victory pushed the Wildcats to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in league play. Barton, which had won three consecutive games, slipped to 3-3 overall and suffered its first conference setback.

The Bears fumbled the ball away on their first two plays and Harding Academy wasted little time capitalizing. Sandwiched between the pair of Wildcat scores, Barton’s Bryan Gause returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 7-6 and keeping the game from turning into an early rout.

Gause lost the football on Barton’s first play and Harding Academy’s Ben Lecrone ran twice before hauling in a 9-yard scoring pass from quarterback Seth Keese. Josh Spears’ kick made it 7-0 with just more than a minute off the clock.

Following Gause’s return, Keese hit Tyler Gentry on a 66-yard scoring pass to extend the lead to 14-6.

The Bears turned it over again on the first play following the kickoff and the Wildcats marched 43 yards in 8 plays to score again. Keese connected with James Dillard on a 25-yard pass to make it 21-6 with 7:53 left in the opening quarter.

Keese, a junior, finished the game 13 of 14 passing for 225 yards and four touchdowns.

“Those early turnovers can’t happen,” Barton coach Mike Bush said. “You just can’t give a team like Harding Academy breaks like that. We’re a young, young team. We’re just full of juniors and sophomores and they just haven’t learned to win big games yet. We’re beating the teams we’re supposed to beat, we just have to take that next step.”

Late in the second quarter Gentry returned a Barton punt 22 yards to the Bears’ 48 before Keese hit Dillard for 24 yards and Gentry for 12 more.

A pass to Lecrone to the 1 set up Lecrone’s touchdown run. The kick failed, leaving the Wildcats up 27-6 with 4:14 until the half.

“We got a little conservative there after we got the lead early,” Mote said. “It was one of those things where we didn’t want to risk a lot with the lead. We were throwing it well and probably should have gone ahead and pushed it there.”


Great clock management was not enough for Brinkley on Friday as visiting Riverview made the most of its limited offensive opportunities to take a 24-22 victory at Brinkley’s Tiger Field.

It was a rematch of last year’s game that decided the No. 4 seed from of the 2-3A Conference. The Raiders (4-2, 2-1) made history repeat with an offense that scored on pass plays from senior quarterback Grafton Harrell to Erice Willis for the first two touchdowns, and a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Harrell in the final minute of the third quarter.

Harrell also led the Raider offense on three successful two-point conversions. He hit Willis for the first, and called his own number for the next two.

The Tigers (2-4, 1-2) kept pace until their final two-point conversion attempt with 4:54 left in the game, when senior Stetson Evans and the Raider defensive line stuffed Brinkley’s fullback short of the goal line to preserve the victory.

“We never had the ball hardly,” Raiders coach Stuart Hill said. “They had three times as many plays as we did. They really worked the clock. They wanted to shorten the game while we wanted to extend it. The defense just couldn’t get them off the field fast enough.”


The Searcy Lions fell to host West Memphis 40-3 on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-0, 3-0 6A-East) took a 27-3 lead at the half and never looked back. The Lions (2-4, 1-2) moved the ball well at times, and got inside the Blue Devils’ red zone on three different occasions.

But a second-quarter field goal by Steven Seitz made for the only points the Lions got out of the game.

“We had our moments, and we missed those opportunities,” Lions coach Tim Harper said. “The Searcy Lions are still their own worst enemy, but West Memphis is a good team.”

Searcy will host Jacksonville next week. The Red Devils routed Little Rock Hall 46-0 on Friday.

SPORTS >> With the playoffs, baseball season begins long haul

Leader sports editor

The end of the baseball regular season really snuck up on me this year, and the playoffs are already in full throttle. September just seemed to disappear like the Detroit Tigers’ lead in the AL Central.

But not to worry; if baseball is true to its recent, plodding past, and Tuesday’s 12-inning play-in game between Minnesota and Detroit is any indication, we should still have almost a month to enjoy the sport.

The game best played on green pastures and watched under brilliant, lofty skies, will grind mercifully to a halt under wet, winter weather, after the death of daylight savings time, the end of the high school football regular season and the first appearance of Christmas decorations at the Walmart in Cabot, a fine old town whose name, when translated, means “No left turns.”

Thanks to the 162-game season, a wild-card round in the playoffs and a weather-related bad break, it took the Philadelphia Phillies and the surprising Tampa Bay Rays until Oct. 29 of last year to wrap up the Phillies’ World Series title.

If the 2008 Series, whose conclusion was delayed by a 46-hour rain suspension, had gone the full seven, it would have lasted into the middle of the first week of November. This year’s schedule almost guarantees it will.

Game 7, if necessary, is set for Nov. 5.

Look, I love baseball, truly. And one of the things making it special is the long season. You don’t have to watch every game; you can step away for a week or so here and there and come back to find things haven’t changed all that drastically.

And it’s hard to beat a long afternoon at the ballpark, making fast friends with your new neighbors in the nearby seats and watching the game unfold at its own pace, free from the dictates of the clock.

But the best parties always seem to end too soon, and baseball at its best is clean and compact. Two hours and 30 minutes is about as long as a game needs to be, and we certainly don’t need postseason games played after Election Day.

To be fair, baseball got a late start this year because of the World Baseball Classic played in the spring. But there is still no need for World Series games played in November.

So, get Bud Selig on the phone. I have a solution.

Let’s scale back the season close to the length it was before expansion, divisional playoff games and the wild card round. Let’s get the length of the season below 160 games, closer to its original 154.

How do we do it? Subtract that horrible, extra round of inter-league play.

There were 252 scheduled inter-league games played in two segments in 2009. The first round was played from May 22-24 and the second was played June 12-28.

One round allows for the intriguing match-ups — the subway series and cross-town and regional rivalries like the Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, and Cardinals-Royals.

The other inter-league round this year included such hot-ticket showdowns as the Washington Nationals versus the Tampa Rays or the Cincinnati Reds versus the Toronto Blue Jays. If we subtract just six of those yawners from every schedule we’re down to a tidy 158 games.

And maybe, just maybe, with a shorter season, fans would feel a slightly greater sense of urgency to buy tickets or tune in and catch the quality games, the important league and divisional meetings, that are left on our shorter schedule.

Of course the advertisers will never let this happen. Too much revenue is at stake. You can sell more cars — and Detroit certainly needs to — on a longer schedule, so my little plan will never take flight and Selig will never return my calls.

So let’s replace those six, lousy inter-league games with something that means more to fans and teams alike. Let the Cubs play the Cardinals more often in the NL Central; let the hated Yankees play the hated Red Sox or let the Los Angeles Angels play the Oakland Athletics a few more times.

Of course scheduling is complicated by the fact there are 14 American League teams and 16 National League teams, so it’s hard to create balance, but I’m sure the button pushers in the Major League scheduling office can come up with a workable program or formula. That’s not my problem.

My problem will be having trick-or-treaters interrupt my enjoyment of World Series Game 3.

SPORTS >> Red zone defense sews up Bears victory

Sylvan Hills' Marquis Smith runs over a Crossett defender during the Bears' 3-0 victory Friday.

Leader sports writer

Sylvan Hills won the battle of missed opportunities.

Crossett had its chances to take the lead at the end of each half but could not cash in either time as the Bears claimed their first victory 3-0 in a 5A-Southeast game at Bill Blackwood Field on Friday.

The Bears (1-5, 1-2) also watched potential scores go by the wayside until senior Stephan Kettle kicked a 19-yard field goal with 3:01 left in the third quarter to give Sylvan Hills just enough for a successful homecoming.

The Eagles (2-4, 0-3) pinned the hosts deep in the last three minutes of the game, which resulted in solid field position at the Bears’ 33 after Jordan Spears punted from his goal line. But time management was critical for the Eagles, who had burned their last two timeouts to stop the clock when the Bears had the ball.

Crossett quickly moved inside the 10 with passes from senior quarterback Derek Johnson to Orlando Robinson and Brandon Bryant. Bryant’s 4-yard reception was to the Sylvan Hills 10-yard line, and an unsportsmanlike conduct call against the Bears moved the ball to the 5 with less than a minute left.

Nick Brewer deflected a Johnson pass on first down, and Marquis Smith stopped Robinson for a 1-yard gain on the next play. Another incompletion gave the Eagles fourth-and-goal at the 5, and Smith stopped Johnson in the backfield on a blitz to force a turnover on downs with 9 seconds to play.

“I made a lot of coaching mistakes tonight, and I guess we overcame the coaching,” Bears coach Jim Withrow said. “I’m proud of our kids because they kept playing hard. We probably should have scored a couple of other times, but when it snowballs on you like things have for us, you’re just trying to get a break, and those touchdowns will come.”

Smith, the senior transfer running back from North Little Rock held up well in his workhorse role, carrying 29 times for 141 yards on the ground, and had the three early receptions for 53 more yards.

The Bears marched inside the Eagle 30 to start the second quarter but turned the ball over on downs at the Crossett 27.

Meaningless possessions were once again swapped before the Eagles went on the biggest scoring threat of the half, with a possession that ended oddly.

A short pass to Brandon Bryant pushed the ball to the 5-yard line, which gave the Eagles one more shot before halftime.

Michael Robinson intercepted Johnson’s lob into the end zone, but the Eagles got the ball back with a fresh set of downs on a pass interference call.

It was all for naught, as Robinson intercepted Johnson’s next pass to end the half.

SPORTS >> Panthers roll on against Charging Wildcats

Leader sports editor

A familiar look helped the Cabot Panthers to what has become a familiar outcome so far this season.

The No. 2 Panthers welcomed back senior fullback/linebacker Michael James and got two, second-half scoring drives to hold off the No. 4 North Little Rock Charging Wildcats 17-6 in North Little Rock on Friday.

James, beset by injuries this season, gained 41 yards and scored a touchdown on his first carries of the year and Logan Spry bounced back from two first-half misses with a 21-yard field goal to lock it up with 1:27 to go.
“You don’t have to have the best athletes, you have to have players who work hard and have teamwork and they’re pretty good about that,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said of the Panthers.

The victory kept the Panthers perfect on the season and in the 7A-Central Conference at 6-0, 3-0. North Little Rock falls to 4-2, 2-1.

“I feel good because we’ve already played Catholic and now North Little Rock and they’re some of the best in the conference, but we’ve got what, four more?” Malham said. “Anything can happen.”

The Panthers led 7-0 at halftime on James’ 1-yard touchdown run, but North Little Rock’s Tim Johnson opened the third quarter with a 74-yard kickoff return and the Charging Wildcats scored on Johnson’s 8-yard run. But Logan Bussard kicked his extra point off the left upright to leave it at 7-6 with 8:32 to go.

The Panthers survived a Wildcats march that ended on incompletions at the Cabot 27 with 59 seconds left in the third quarter.

“Two different times our defense held up down there,” Malham said. “That was big.”

Cabot then drove 72 yards to score on Hunter Sales’ 3-yard run with 7:28, picking up a first down on Seth Bloomberg’s 30-yard completion over the middle to Rod Quinn.

“Old Rod, he’s a weapon. He’s done a good job for us the last two games,” Malham said.

Jared Dumais sacked Issac Kelley to end North Little Rock’s next possession in four plays, and after the punt the Panthers marched for Spry’s field goal, and Spry then broke up the Wildcats’ final, desperation pass attempt with 33 seconds left.

James, a senior who rushed for close to 1,300 yards last year and 1,700 the year before, has missed most of the season with shoulder and ankle injuries but picked up 11 yards on his first carry of the season, then gained a hard yard and limped off a play later.

James later banged in from the 1 for a touchdown with 13 seconds left.

“He’s been there,” Malham said. “And he wants to play so bad.”

SPORTS >> Devils hammer Hall

Jacarius Jordan intercepts a pass in Jacksonville's 46-0 victory over LR Hall.

Special to The Leader

Jacksonville got one in the victory column in conference play Friday night.

The Red Devils were expected to beat the winless Hall Warriors, but maybe not in such dominating fashion. Jacksonville showed out for homecoming, hammering Hall 46-0.

“We had to have this one,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “We were 0-2 with backs against the wall. We needed to come out and play well and get some momentum.”

The Red Devil defense provided all the momentum the offense would need early in the game. Jacksonville scored touchdowns on its first four drives and led 25-0 at the end of the first quarter.

That was largely because of the field position the defense provided. Hall’s first four possessions ended in two turnovers and two punts, with one of the punts blocked. The Red Devils’ first-quarter scoring drives were 27, 9, 22 and 42 yards, respectively.

“Our defense really stepped up and put us in some good situations,” Whatley said. “They gave us the ball four times on the plus side. You can’t ask for much better than that, and we were able to execute on offense and take advantage of it.”

The Red Devils came out throwing after sophomore linebacker Michael Thornabar got the first of his three fumble recoveries.

Two completions by quarterback Logan Perry went for 26 yards to the Hall 1 and Antwon Mosby ran the final yard for the first of his four touchdowns.

After that, Jacksonville didn’t need to throw very much. Mosby and John Johnson combined for 118 rushing yards in the first half and 202 total yards.

Johnson led the way rushing with 11 carries for 99 yards and a score. Mosby had 10 carries for 45 yards and his four scores and four receptions for 58 yards.

D’vone McClure had a 21-yard touchdown run and Doug Sprouse carried one in from 14 yards out to round out the scoring for the Red Devils.

Jacksonville also had several standouts on defense. Junior Christon Anderson got a sack and three tackles for losses and was in the offensive backfield on almost every play. Sophomore Jacarius Jordan got two picks and the team racked up five total sacks.
Hall finished with just 86 total yards, with 81 of it coming on three big plays. One was a reverse flea-flicker, another was a 28-yard scramble after quarterback Roosevelt Harris was flushed out of the pocket.

About the only positive thing to come out of Hall’s base offense was a 29-yard run down the right sideline by tailback Stephon Watson.

Watson led Hall with 13 carries for 59 yards.

Jacksonville, 2-4 and 1-2 in conference play, finished with 311 total yards as the victory kept alive hopes for a 6A-East Conference playoff berth.

The Red Devils are on the road next week at Searcy before returning home to face Parkview.

Friday, October 09, 2009

EDITORIAL >> When teachers set bad example

Charges have been dropped against Tim Minton, the suspended Mills High School French teacher accused of sex with one or more of his students.

Turns out the statute of limitations has run out on the sex acts he allegedly committed in the classroom with a consenting male student, who was 18 at the time.

While we don’t think the state should involve itself in policing acts between consenting adults, we are concerned if a teacher was abusing the trust and authority inherent in the teacher-student relationship. We’re also concerned that the alleged acts occurred in a classroom at the school.

This is not the only accusation of sexual impropriety against Minton involving a student, but so far as we know, no other students have brought their complaints to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.

Minton remains suspended from his duties at Mills, as he should be.

Both the Pulaski County Special School District and the sheriff’s office are continuing investigations into Minton, and Prosecutor Larry Jegley hinted that we’ve not heard the last of these matters.

If you are a student or a parent of a student with information regarding inappropriate behavior involving a teacher and a student, it’s your job to contact the sheriff’s office or the police department in the appropriate jurisdiction.

In Pulaski County, that’s 340-4600.

EDITORIAL >> Obama wins Nobel Prize

If the storm woke you up early Friday morning, you may have seen an email alert that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. In that case, you heard the big news about an hour before the president.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs woke him up at 6 a.m. to tell him the news, which the president later said was completely unexpected. Fox News for a while didn’t know how to play the story: It tried to ignore it as much as it could, making it the fifth story at the top of the hour, well after a story about the moon, the economy, unemployment in Kentucky and the tax troubles of Rep. Charles Rangel, the embattled chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, once chaired by Rep. Wilbur Mills of Kensett. How the mighty have fallen.

Obama is only the third sitting U.S. president to get the Nobel Peace Prize — Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson are the two others. Jimmy Carter won the prize long after he left office.

Obama’s surprise Nobel Prize, valued at $1.4 million (which will go to charity), could help him in the polls, at least for a while, although it doesn’t guarantee progress in the fight against terrorism. The Taliban has already dismissed the president’s policies as nothing new. It’s doubtful the prize will move the Palestinians and the Israelis closer to the negotiating table.

But the Nobel Prize does raise the president’s prestige among Europeans and others who hope he succeeds in reaching some of his goals, such as reducing carbon emissions, controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, or bringing people together who can’t seem to stop fighting each other.

There’s no guarantee Obama will succeed on any of those fronts, but who can blame him for trying? At least as daunting are his choices in Afghanistan — whether he should listen to his military advisers to increase the number of U.S. troops on the ground and crush the Taliban once and for all. That would require a longterm commitment to stay in Afghanistan, even if the Nobel Prize committee may be pushing him in the opposite direction.

More than anything, the Nobel Prize might impress fellow Democrats who are wavering on health-care reform. It will be harder for Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Rep. Mike Ross to say no as he rounds up votes for the bill whose fate could be decided in Congress this month. Imagine our senators and congressmen rubbing shoulders with a Nobel laureate who desperately needs their votes for the legislation to succeed. How do you say no?

This could be Obama’s moment. His health-care bill could include a modest public option allowing states to opt in or out of the program. Who could argue with that?

TOP STORY >> Centennial raises $107M, may buy troubled banks

Leader senior staff writer

With $107 million in its war chest from a recent common stock offering, Centennial Bank is shopping the bargain bins for troubled or failed banks in Arkansas, Florida, Memphis, east Texas and southern Missouri, CEO John Allison said this week.

Centennial, a wholly owned subsidiary of Home BancShares Inc. of Conway, has 46 branches and 58 automatic teller machines within 50 miles of Jacksonville.

“We have the ability to grow the company by $2.6 billion and still maintain an 8 percent tangible asset ratio,” Allison said.

Tangible assets presume what shareholders would receive in case of liquidation. Centennial currently has the highest tangible common-equity ratio — 13.3 — of any publicly traded bank in the country that has at least $500 million in assets. The FDIC wants the largest banks to have TCE ratios of 4 or higher, Allison said.

Home BancShares raised $107 million in new capital in only two days, selling about 5.7 million new shares through Stephens Inc. RBC Capital Markets Corporation served as joint book runners, and Stifel, Nicolaus and Company Inc. and Howe Barnes
Hoefer and Arnett Inc. served as co-managers.

“We could double the size of the company,” Allison said.

He said that any banks his company buys would be rebranded as Centennial Bank.

Allison said that the federal government notifies banks like his of failed banks. When Centennial buys another bank, federal bank examiners and Centennial personnel would move in over the weekend, everything would be changed out and the bank would reopen on Monday as a Centennial Bank.

If they offered the winning bid on a bank, “We’d have to be prepared to take over on the weekend,” Allison said.
Could they do that?

“We’re going to school right now,” he said. “We have teams for (human resources), and teams for data that have to be organized.”

There are 71 banks with a so-called “Texas ratio” of one-to-one or worse, many of which could be closed soon. More than 90 banks have failed so far this year.

He said that local Arkansas banks are good, healthy banks.

TOP STORY >> City tweaks new codes

Leader staff writer

After more than two hours of discussion and debate that even included whether Sunnyside was part of Jacksonville or not, the city council decided it would not be the bedroom police as it worked to clarify the proposed nuisance-abatement ordinance.

The council also threw dirt on the idea of requiring dust-free driveways.

The ordinance, with all the changes recommended Thursday night, passed on the first reading. It must be read and approved two more times before it becomes city code.

The second reading will be at the regular city council meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday when aldermen will look at a clean copy with all the latest changes. The council could also waive standard procedures and approve a third reading, making it law.

Even with the many changes, the ordinance, to the chagrin of many in the audience, still contains the right-of-entry clause, which allows code-enforcement officers and other officials to enter a home or to get a search warrant to enter a home.

A section requiring businesses to pay to get back their “found” shopping carts is also in the ordinance. It’ll be the first time the city has ever had a reclamation fee ($25) for shopping carts.

At the end of the marathon session, Alderman Bob Stroud said the council had worked really hard. “We are making this as fair as possible, as perfect as possible, but if we don’t enforce it, we’ve just wasted a lot of paper and time,” he said.

The issue of Sunny-side came up as the council debated the section about dust-free driveways. All the aldermen wanted that section removed, and Alderman Terry Sansing offered an alternative passage that allows residents to park on driveways of concrete, stone or dirt or in an area of their yard that they have always used as a driveway, as long as the vehicles are parked perpendicular to the street.

City Planner Chip McCulley reminded the council that it has been a law for a long time that no vehicles can park in city streets or rights of way.

During the debate, Stroud said, “You just can’t write a citywide rule as long as we have Sunnyside. We seem to let them slide and write up the other subdivisions.”

Sansing said his amendment was fair to everyone, including Sunnyside residents.

About that time, Alderman Reedie Ray, visibly upset, said, “You all are always saying, ‘Sunnyside this’ and ‘Sunnyside that.’

You talk like it’s separate from Jacksonville. It’s part of our city. I hate that you keep bringing them up. Can’t you just let the people there be?”

Nothing was settled about Sunnyside, but other aldermen were quiet for a short time after Ray voiced his concerns.

In the end, the council agreed to Sansing’s amendment and the dust-free clause bit the dust.

Aldermen Kenny Elliot asked that two of the 10 descriptions of an inoperable or abandoned vehicle be stricken and the council agreed. Gone is the sentence that says a vehicle will be considered inoperable if it hasn’t been moved for more than three days. Also, unregistered or unlicensed vehicles will not automatically be considered abandoned or inoperable.

An issue that Elliott was adamant about was the number of people, particularly children, in a bedroom. “The way this ordinance stands right now, we are criminalizing poor people for having children,” he said.

At issue was a clause that said a bedroom had to have 50 square feet for every occupant of that room. The average bedroom, according to McCulley, runs 80 to 100 square feet. “That means if a family has three kids in a room, they are violating the law,” Elliott said.

Alderman Marshall Smith said the restriction came about when officials discovered 26 people living in a home with just one bathroom a number of years ago. “That’s still going on,” Alderman Avis Twitty said.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said, “We are not going to become the bedroom police.”

Elliott’s concern was that if the city received a complaint from a neighbor, it would have to investigate then. He wanted the clause to be changed to require just 35 square feet per room occupant. “We’ll still get the real abusers,” he said. After much debate, the council approved Elliott’s suggestion.

TOP STORY >> State may take over four area schools

Leader staff writer

Four local schools are among 58 failing schools statewide that could come under state control.

Those four — Sylvan Hills Middle School, Jacksonville High School, North Pulaski High School and Northwood Middle School — are part of the Pulaski County Special School District.
When schools have failed to make adequate progress on their benchmark or end-of-course test scores for five years or more, they are considered to be in the “state-directed” phase of improvement.

The state has the authority to appoint a school-improvement director to steer the school toward improved student performance under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Outside of those four schools, most others in the area are achieving appropriate student progress or are much lower on the school improvement list.

Of the 19 PCSSD schools in the area, five are achieving or meeting standards, but the rest need to improve.

On the other hand, nine of Cabot’s 13 schools are meeting standards.

The state Education Department said Friday that 498 schools are classified as achieving, 176 schools are on alert, 140 are classified as targeted improvement schools, 113 schools are classified as whole-school improvement schools, 32 are listed as targeted intensive improvement schools, 64 are whole-school intensive improvement schools and 58 are classified as state-directed schools.

In the county district, Bayou Meto, Clinton, Warren Dupree, Pinewood, Arnold Drive and Sherwood elementary schools are all achieving or meeting standards for 2009 based on the benchmark exams.

Sylvan Hills High School is in targeted intensive school improvement year five. Murrell Taylor and Jacksonville Elementary schools are in whole school intensive improvement year four. Sylvan Hills Elementary is in whole school improvement year two, while Oakbrooke Elementary is in target improvement year two.

Harris Elementary School is in year one of school improvement but is making gains. Cato Elementary is on alert, meaning without improvement, it will be on the state oversight list next year.

Both North Pulaski High School and Northwood Middle School are in state-directed year six. Jacksonville High School is also in state-directed year six, while Sylvan Hills Middle School is in state-directed year seven of school improvement.


Eastside, Central, Westside, Southside, Northside, Ward Central, Magness Creek and Stagecoach elementary schools are listed in the 2009 report as achieving and meeting the standards.

Cabot Junior High North, Cabot Middle School South and Cabot High School are on alert, meaning if they fail to make adequate progress on the benchmark and end-of-course exams next year, they could be placed on the school improvement list.

Cabot Junior High South is in targeted school improvement Year Two and Cabot Middle School North is on targeted improvement year three.


Beebe High School is on alert for the 2009 year, meaning if it doesn’t make adequate progress on its benchmark and end-of-course exams next year, the school could end up on the improvement list.

Both Beebe Middle School and Beebe Junior High are on targeted improvement year two. Beebe Elementary and Beebe Intermediate are on target improvement year one.


Lonoke Middle School is listed as achieving, meaning it’s meeting standards.

Lonoke Elementary and Lonoke Primary schools are in target improvement year three. Lonoke High School is in whole school improvement year three.


Sidney Deener, McRae and Westside elementary schools, along with Southwest Middle School and Searcy High School, are all achieving or making adequate progress on the state’s benchmark or end-of-course exams.

Ahlf Junior High School is in targeted improvement year three.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Lottery on path to gross $500M

The Arkansas lottery is proving more popular than the Razorbacks. The lottery is off to a fast start: Arkansans bought some $10 million worth of tickets the first week the games started. It’s on track to gross $500 million a year. Even the Razorbacks don’t produce that kind of revenue, but those figures are up there with wagering at Oaklawn and Southland tracks, where all kinds of gambling is allowed.

We suspected all along Arkansans liked to gamble: You couldn’t miss the Arkansas license plates in neighboring states where casinos are allowed. At least now much of that money that was gambled away across the border will stay at home and presumably help students get college scholarships — maybe as much as $100 million a year.

Many people hate the idea of the lottery, but thousands of their neighbors, who voted to approve the lottery amendment last year, are betting they will hit the jackpot and buy their dream home and get out of debt. Or go broke trying and forget about clothes or shoes for the kids.

Wait till the Powerball games start on Oct. 31. Revenues are expected to surge, although lottery officials are lowballing anticipated income so they can point to skyrocketing revenues as proof of their brilliance.

One day, lottery fever will come back to earth. That’s when you can expect a push for casinos — they already exist at Oaklawn and Southland — along the Arkansas River. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

EDITORIAL >> Construction is picking up

Local mayors were pleased when The Leader contacted them last weekend about encouraging signs that an economic upswing is finally on the horizon as evidenced by increased home construction here, a sure sign of better times to come.

Despite the economic downturn, home construction in the area is on the rebound, which is good news indeed. Austin and Ward are leading the way with strong numbers. Combined, they have built $9.6 million worth of new homes during the first six months of 2009. Austin alone reported $5 million in new construction, well ahead of Cabot’s $4.4 million, which also trails Ward’s $4.6 million.

After a steady slide in home construction for the last couple of years in Cabot — despite its image as a boomtown — builders are back on the job. They’ve put up 45 new homes in the last three months, an increase over the first six months, which saw only 41 new housing starts.

“That’s the best three months in about 24 months,” Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams told The Leader. “That’s a huge indicator.

What excites me is the number of starts.”

It’s been pretty rough not only in Cabot but also in Jacksonville, but it, too, is showing signs of a recovery.

For the same first six months of this year, Jacksonville was trailing with $4 million, but that’s an improvement over the $3.2 million that it showed for the second six months in 2008. For the first six months of last year, Jacksonville built $5.8 million worth of new homes, so the drop has been remarkable, but not as steep as in Cabot, which has been growing at a furious pace until the current downturn.

Cabot has seen home construction drop from $6.9 million in the first six months in 2008 to $5.2 million in the last six months of 2008. The figures become grimmer as builders put up only $4.4 million in new homes during the first half of 2009. But there could be an uptick this fall, justifying Williams’ optimism.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher knows things could be worse. “We’re better off than the national scene,” he said.

The mayors who have the most to smile about are Bernie Chamberlain of Austin and Art Brooke of Ward, where construction has hardly slowed. People like the small-town atmosphere and neighbors looking out for each other.

“We’re getting a lot of residential permits out,” Chamberlain said. Most new residents are from Little Rock Air Force Base, she explained.

Construction could increase further this fall in Austin, matching $10 million in construction in 2008. Ward could reach that level as well before the year is over.

The recession seems to be ending early in Austin and Ward. The rest of the area is ready to join them.

TOP STORY >> Satellite squadrons spreading

The 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base welcomed its second active associate squadron Saturday with the activation ceremony of the Air Force Reserve’s 52nd Airlift Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

The 52nd Airlift Squadron joined the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing as part of the Air Force’s “Total Force Integration” initiative that brings together active-duty and reserve airmen under the same organization, flying the same aircraft.

While the 52nd Airlift Squadron will be assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing, its members will be stationed at Peterson.

“Total Force Integration is about efficiencies,” said Col. Jay Pittman, 302nd Airlift Wing commander. “The active-duty airmen coming to Colorado will fly and maintain our C-130s right alongside our reserve airmen. The Air Force has a need to make more efficient use of aircraft available, and (the 302nd AW) is part of that equation.”

Saturday’s squadron activation included an assumption-of-command ceremony as Lt. Col. Carlos Ortiz, a C-130 senior navigator and Pojoaque, N.M., native, became the 52nd Airlift Squadron’s commander.

“We look forward to working and flying with the men and women of the Air Force Reserve Command and will strive to be the model for C-130 active associations,” Ortiz said.

“We’re looking to optimize mission performance by bringing active duty and Air Force Reserve resources together,” the colonel said.

He also added, “The point of this association is how we share the aircraft. I think the high experience level of Air Force Reserve members will be an invaluable asset in training our younger active-duty airmen.”

The squadron will fly the same C-130s on the Peterson flightline, allowing for maximum use of the 302nd AW’s equipment and resources.

The squadron is the 19th Airlift Wing’s second active associate unit. The other associate unit, the 30th Airlift Squadron located at Cheyenne Municipal Airport, Wyo., is a partnership with the Wyoming Air National Guard.

TOP STORY >> Cabot is home to firefighters memorial

Local firefighters turned out this weekend to see the statue's temporary placement on Pine Street in Cabot.

Leader staff writer

The Arkansas Fallen Firefighters memorial statue arrived in Cabot Saturday on a flat-bed trailer escorted along West Main Street with the blaring sirens and the flashing lights of fire trucks from nine area fire departments.

For this week, the 6,000 pound, 11.6-foot tall statue at the First Security Bank parking lot on 205 West Pine Street. On Saturday, the statue will be moved onto the street for CabotFest. Afterward, the statue will be transported to Batesville before it’s taken to its permanent home at the state Capitol. The statue has been displayed at different locations around the state to raise awareness about firefighter safety and to raise money for the memorial.

“We are building the memorial for the families of the survivors to assure them the people of Arkansas care about the legacy of the fallen firefighters who died in the line of duty serving the citizens of Arkansas,” Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial chairman Johnny Reep said.

Reep said funding for the firefighters memorial must be secured before construction can begin on the Capitol grounds. If the fundraising efforts are successful, Reep hopes to break ground in January or February 2010 and have the memorial dedication by year’s end.

Several members of the Cabot Fire Department were on hand to view the statue along with municipal and volunteer firefighters from Cato, Austin, North Pulaski, Tri Community, Mountain Springs, Campground, Sylvania and Mount Zion (CSZ), Ward and South Bend fire departments.

Cabot firefighter Greg Hale said, “It honors the people here in Arkansas that have given their lives in the line of duty. I like the project because everyone can contribute. It is going to be at the Capitol where everyone can see.”

Training officer Charles Hawkins of the Cato Volunteer Fire Department has a personal connection to the memorial. “I had a best friend, Brian Ritcher, out of Pottsville (Volunteer Fire Department), who is going to be on the memorial,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said it is an honor to be a full-time or volunteer firefighter and the memorial is way to honor the fallen.

“It means a lot,” Hawkins said.

South Bend firefighter Brenda Kuykendall said, “I became involved with the memorial because it is an appreciation for those of us still living to honor our brothers.

“It is an opportunity for future generations to see what the profession means to us,” Kuykendall said.

The bronze statue, made of 95-percent copper, cost $307,170 to build. Around $275,000 is needed to complete and maintain the $680,320 memorial plaza at the Capitol.

When completed, the statue will be placed in the center of the memorial plaza. The plaza will be 70 feet by 50 feet and have an amphitheater.

The four firefighters represented on the statue represent the phases of firefighting from its origins to today.

“The tall man is called ol’ leather lungs. He represents the initial phase of firefighting in Arkansas just after the Civil War. He has no gloves or breathing apparatus,” Reep said.

Water will flow out a nozzle held by ol’ leather lungs and to create a fountain effect. “Fountain of Faith” is planned to be named for Win Rockefeller, who donated $100,000 to the memorial.

To the right of ol’ leather lungs is a representation of a modern firefighter.

He has a breathing apparatus on his back and is wearing the newest protective clothing.

On the left is a female firefighter cradling a child. She is also a paramedic.

According to Reep, she represents the drastic increase of the number of alarms after the Vietnam War era for emergency medical calls and rescues.

The fourth figure is a state and federal wildland firefighter. He has a chainsaw and a Pulaski tool. He is wearing chainsaw chaps to protect himself and a smoke jumpers’ screen mesh on his helmet to protect his face from tree limbs.
As of 2007, there were 97 fallen firefighters planned to be honored at the memorial.

There are three from area fire departments who died in the line of duty.

They are Dania Stivers of the North Pulaski Fire Department, who died on May 12, 1995; Robert Pemberton of the Antioch Fire Department, who died on April 26, 1996, and Louis Caraccoilo of the South Bend Volunteer Fire Department who died on Nov. 11, 1989.

After it’s moved from Cabot, the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial statue will be on display in Beebe for a week starting on Saturday, Oct. 24.

TOP STORY >> CabotFest is this Saturday

Leader editor

CabotFest is on Saturday. Festivalgoers should be happy to welcome back some of the entertainment they haven’t seen for the past couple of years at the downtown celebration.

Two such festival comebacks will include a motorcycle and bicycle show featuring bikes from all over the state in the Centennial Bank parking lot and the Arkansas Game and Fish aquarium, which is planned for set up in Kids Zone in the Regions Bank parking lot.

The bike show is in conjunction with the Nancy Cochran Memorial Dice Run, sponsored in part by First Community Bank and ABATE, a nonprofit organization that promotes and teaches motorcycle safety.

Registration for the motorcycle show starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. at a cost of $10. Trophies will be given to bikes in the categories of best paint, best chrome, best antique, best of show and best junior (under 18).

Other CabotFest 2009 entertainment includes singers Adam Hambrick at noon, Hallelujah Harmony Quartet at 1 p.m., Next Generation Band at 2 p.m., Howie and Amy Ross at 3 p.m., the Jed and Harry Clark Band at 4 p.m., Cliff Hudson at 5 p.m.,

Ment2B at 6 p.m., Red Shepherd Band at 7 p.m. and Venus Mission at 8 p.m.

All day, starting at 9:30 a.m., performers from Cabot and surrounding towns will grace the First Arkansas Bank and Trust

Performance Stage, located near the police department.

Those performers include Lasa Robertson’s voice students, Emerald Dragon, the Stormz, Kidz Choir of New Life Church, dancers from Lana’s Dance Studio, gymnasts from River City Gymnastics, dancers from Priscilla’s School of Dance, Page and Company, Cabot Gymnastics Academy, dramatist Toby Gilmore, Carla’s Dance Company, Cabot Dance Academy, the Price Crew and the David Weatherly Band.

Visitors will also get to peruse what arts and crafts vendors will have for sale. They have rented every available space. “We are completely full,” Angie Basinger, office manager at the Cabot Chamber of Commerce, said.

Vendors will open shop at 8 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Food available will include Cajun fare, Chinese, funnel cakes, frappucinos and more.

“The newest food we’ll have is Annabelle’s Concession,” Basinger said. “They’ll have non-alcoholic daiquiris and strawberry shortcake.” This year, kettle corn will also be available.

Armbands that will allow unlimited rides at the carnival Friday night are available at the chamber for $12. They can be bought at the carnival for $15. They are only good on Friday. On Saturday, cost of admission will be per ride.

In addition to inflatables at Kids Zone, which is free for children to enjoy, there will be the always-favorite, cricket-spitting contest and a rock-climbing wall for the whole family to get some exercise together.

In addition to Centennial Bank and First Arkansas Bank, sponsors include Knight’s Super Foods, Arkansas Federal Credit Union, Cabot’s Advertising and Promotion Commission, ASU-Beebe, Cabot Parks and Recreation, ReMax Realty, Fellowship Bible Church, First Community Bank, The Leader, Gwatney Chevrolet, First Electric, Priscilla’s School of Dance, Kroger and many more businesses that are part of the Cabot community.

Opening ceremonies are at 10 a.m. For more information on CabotFest, call the chamber of commerce at 501-843-2136.

SPORTS >> Blocking a key as Red Devils host Warriors

Leader sports editor

Given how rough the road has been for Jacksonville, the Red Devils would probably look forward to getting back to Jan Crow Stadium even if it wasn’t homecoming weekend.

But it is, and the Red Devils are hoping to end a two-game losing streak before the home crowd and alumni when they play Little Rock Hall on Friday.

The Red Devils had their moments in their road losses at Mountain Home and at Jonesboro last week. Jacksonville (1-4 0-2 6A-East) scored 28 points in the second half of the 35-28 loss to Mountain Home, putting up 486 total yards, and jumped out to a 14-0 lead at Jonesboro before falling 28-14.

“They were back to back. They were pretty tough trips,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “We’re glad to be back home.”

In both road games, the Red Devils lost opportunities because of pressure on quarterback Logan Perry. A fourth-down sack deep inside Mountain Home territory ended the Jacksonville comeback, and Jonesboro had four sacks and stripped Perry twice last Friday.

Jacksonville also suffered a blocked field goal that would have given the Red Devils a 17-14 lead before halftime.

Suffice to say, blocking has been a focus in practice this week, especially protecting Perry.

“He will be protected,” Whatley said.

Jacksonville is far from out of a conference race that sends six to the postseason. But the Red Devils need to start getting some league victories, and that could begin Friday against Hall (0-5).

“We’re doing things well, everybody’s playing hard,” Whatley said. “We’re playing well at times but we’ve got to get a win. They don’t have trophies for moral victories last time I looked.”

SPORTS >> Lonoke trying to jump back on track

Lonoke’s Darius Scott tries to break away from tacklers during Friday’s home loss to Bald Knob.

Leader sports writer

Sometimes struggling opponents can be a welcome sight.

That is the case with Lonoke this week after a stunning 33-13 loss to Bald Knob last Friday at Jackrabbit homecoming.

This week, the Jackrabbits (2-3, 0-2 2-4A) will play on the road, but it will be against a school with very little football tradition. Southside Batesville’s program has been in existence for only four years, with an 8-27 record to date. The
Southerners are 0-5 through the first half of this season, with a close, 20-13 loss to Mountain View in Week 1 before suffering four straight blowouts.

In all, the Southerners have been outscored 197-45 through the first five weeks of 2009, including a 49-0 loss at the hands of Stuttgart in Week 4 and a 48-6 loss to Clinton last week.

The Bald Knob Bulldogs limited the ’Rabbits’ rushing game and gained 450-plus yards of their own last week. Lonoke senior running back Brandon Smith, who has posted a couple of performances of 150 yards or more, was held to only 49 rushing yards last week.

“They’re going to come up and stack the box with eight or nine guys. It wasn’t a surprise — they knew who number 5 was,” Bost said.

Senior quarterback Michael Nelson, despite being picked off four times, was still productive against the Bulldogs. He completed 17 of 31 passes last week and got 10 of those to senior receiver Todd Hobson.

“We had to move him from an inside receiver to an outside receiver because our quarterback is only 5-6, so now he can see him a little better,” Bost said.

There were a few passes to Hobson and other receivers that ended up in the hands of Bald Knob defenders. That, and a pair of fumbles Lonoke lost, gave the Bulldogs both constant momentum and great field position.

“The turnovers are killing us,” Bost said. “That makes 10 interceptions and four fumbles in the last three games. We’ve been addressing it. It’s also these momentum killers hurting us. We get in the red zone and just can’t punch it in.”

SPORTS >> Cabot’s path gets no easier

Leader sports editor

Mike Malham at first sounded a little under the weather.

It turns out the Cabot Panthers coach was just feeling a little under the gun.

“Oh I’m fine,” Malham said by phone on Monday. “I just got North Little Rock now that I got to worry about.”

Fresh off their toughest game to date, a 21-16 victory over Little Rock Catholic, the No. 2 Panthers must now travel to No. 4 North Little Rock in another battle to remain undefeated and stay on pace for a 7A-Central Conference title at Charging Wildcat Stadium.

“There’s a three-way tie at the top; I know that,” Malham said of the snarl that also includes Bryant. “We’re playing one of them. Either us or North Little Rock is going to be in second place after Friday. It’s a big game.”

At War Memorial Stadium last week, Catholic forced Cabot (5-0, 2-0) into three punts, turned in a fourth-down stop, picked off two passes and held the Panthers to Logan Spry field goals twice after Cabot gained good field position.

“I think we punted more times the first half than we had all season,” Malham said. “We had a couple good breaks and we only got three points. The defense set us up on the 20-yard line, three plays and a field goal.”

Malham expects the same kind of trouble with the Charging Wildcats (4-1, 2-0) on Friday.

“They’ve got some of the best athletes in the state,” he said, and singled out returning all-conference receiver Devonta Rich.

“They like to go deep on the long ball and they’ve got a good receiver out there.”

Malham said the keys are to stop the run, avoid giving up the long pass and make the Wildcats earn their way down the field.

“If you make them go that 10- or 15-play drive, sometimes they’re going to make a mistake in there sooner or later,” Malham said.

On offense, Cabot wants to mount some sustained drives of its own to keep North Little Rock’s explosive offense off the field.

“Basically that’s our game plan, game in and game out,” Malham said.

Run-oriented Cabot is coming off its most prolific passing night, with Seth Bloomberg throwing for 129 yards and hitting tight end Rod Quinn with first-down completions of 23 and 29 yards on the scoring drive that made it 18-8 in the second half.

SPORTS >> Red Devils senior plays, juggles sports

Jessica Lanier is a three-year starter in volleyball, basketball and softball at Jacksonville High.

Leader sports writer

Anyone who follows Jacksonville athletics has seen her a few times.

The truth is, it’s hard not to notice Lady Red Devils senior Jessica Lanier.

Lanier, at an even 6 feet, towers over all of her teammates and most competitors, but it is her pivotal roles in three of the major sports at Jacksonville that gives her the most visibility.

Lanier began the fall as a third-year starter and the leading hitter/blocker for the Lady Red Devils volleyball team under coach Justine Rial. When volleyball season ends, Lanier will stay on the Devils Den court as the third-year starting low post for the basketball team under Katrina Mimms.

Once spring arrives, Lanier will head out to Field 6 at Dupree Park as a third-year starting pitcher for the Jacksonville softball team under longtime coach Tanya Ganey.

Lanier has earned all-conference status in all three sports, but the 17-year-old daughter of Rick and Audra Lanier considers herself a basketball player first and foremost.

Her career on the court began in first grade. She added softball to her lineup two years later at the persuasion of her mother.

Volleyball came a bit later.

Lanier attended grade school and junior high at Cabot, and transferred to Jacksonville at the start of her sophomore year. A chance encounter with then-Jacksonville volleyball coach Missy Reeves ended with a third sport added to Lanier’s resume.

“I was walking from basketball practice when coach Reeves called me over and asked me if I wanted to try out,” Lanier said. “I had not planned on playing, but I was the tallest girl out there, and it just kind of came natural. I’ve worked on it since then and it’s gotten a lot better.”

Things haven’t gone too badly in basketball, Lanier’s first love, either.

She is a two-time, all-6A-East Conference selection and finished the 2008-09 season averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks a game.

“One thing you have to like about her is that she comes out and practices the same way every day,” Mimms said. “She comes out and practices hard. She’s reliable, she’s dependable — she’s going to come out and give it her best effort. As far as work ethic, you can’t match it. She brings it every day.”

Lanier has had a few glances from various colleges, but got her first solid offer in the final week of September from junior college LSU-Eunice, of the Louisiana State system. LSU-Eunice offered Lanier a full, two-year basketball scholarship and, with her 3.2 grade-point average, Lanier has the option to pocket any additional academic assistance.

Mimms said Lanier is taking a wait-and-see attitude on the college front. With the Lady Red Devils expected to have one of their best seasons in decades, the coach believes more opportunities will be forthcoming, depending on the kind of senior season Lanier has.

“I don’t want to go to a D-I school and sit on the bench; I just want to play,” Lanier said. “That’s why I’m looking at the junior-college route. I would play both years, with the possibility of going from there to a four-year college.”

Lanier is interested in local schools Hendrix, UCA and Henderson State.

While athletics takes up a fair amount of her time, Lanier also enjoys the social Web site Facebook, and likes to hang out with her friends on weekends. She plans to pursue a teaching degree and possibly coach — at a certain level.

“I want to coach, but I don’t think I want to coach high school,” she said. “I want to coach junior high. I want to help kids develop their skills early.”

Rial, who was also a Jacksonville volleyball and softball player, not only coaches Lanier in the fall on the volleyball court, she has her in the spring as a softball assistant to Ganey.

“She comes out here and gives 100 percent every day,” Rial said. “I wouldn’t ask anything more of her. She’s a leader on and off the floor. People look up to her, and she knows it. She leaves everything out there on the court and on the field.”

The move from Cabot to Jacksonville has also helped Lanier flourish socially in a more diverse environment.

“It’s a completely different world,” Lanier said. “Coming from Cabot wherethere’s a total of four black kids, to Jacksonville, where they are over half the population here. At Cabot, they are very strict, and they are a big school. I feel better at Jacksonville. I wasn’t me until I came here. I wasn’t comfortable.”

The Lady Devils volleyball team is currently in a struggle to claim a playoff spot in the 6A state tournament at the end of October. But as volleyball hits its peak, Lanier is already preparing for the winter and basketball.

“The transition is actually during volleyball season,” Lanier said. “We practice basketball during and after school. I don’t feel like it’s a transition, it’s really just dropping one and focusing more on the other once volleyball is over.”

With a talented crop of underclassmen and three returning starters, the Lady Red Devils basketball team is in position to make its first state tournament appearance since well before Lanier donned her red-and-white, No. 44 jersey.

“I feel like this year is going to be the year,” Lanier said. “If there is any time when we can make it to state, it would be right now.”

May will mark the end of Lanier’s unique run as a three-sport star. Lanier said that, all things considered, she would not change anything, although she might slow the pace a bit.

“It’s already gone by so fast,” she said. “I can’t believe volleyball season is almost over. It feels like it just started. I thought it would go by a little bit slower where I could savor it a little bit, but every day keeps coming.”