Saturday, December 26, 2009

SPORTS >> Steals help Lady Devils grab trophy

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils now have a first-place trophy from their own holiday tournament to showcase.

But it didn’t come without a major scare from Little Rock McClellan in Jacksonville’s 39-28 victory in the final of the Red Devil Classic at the Devils Den on Tuesday night.

The Lady Lions cut a 10-point lead to four in the final three minutes before Jacksonville senior guard Sherice Randell answered by converting three straight steals into seven points to close out the victory for the Lady Devils (7-4).

It was actually the second scare of the game for Jacksonville. McClellan started the first quarter on a 8-0 run fueled by a pair of three-point baskets, but the Lady Red Devils slowly closed the gap until senior post Jessica Lanier hit an inside jumper to put Jacksonville up 14-13 with 2:53 left in the second quarter.

Jacksonville led the rest of the way.

“We had a shoot-around [Tuesday], and we weren’t as focused as we were yesterday,” Lady Red Devils coach Katrina Mimms said. “And I told them that. I could tell they weren’t as focused, so I knew that was coming. We just had to kind of settle down.”

Lanier took MVP honors for her work during the two-day tournament, but it was Randell’s tough transition play that made the difference late in the final. She converted two baskets and foul shots off steals for six unanswered points, and earned another trip to the free-throw line with a third steal, hitting the first of the two free throws to give Jacksonville an 11-point lead in the final 35 seconds.

Randell led all scorers with 11 points.

“Randell played a side spot on a 1-3-1, and just played it like she should,” Mimms said. “She played it to the side, got some steals, did a good job and finished on the back side of it. So that’s what we’re working on.”

Jacksonville was forced to play for the classic championship without its leading scorer. Freshman point guard Jessica Jackson, 6-2, sustained an ankle injury Monday, which left ball-handling duties to junior Vonsay Evans.

“You go from a 6-2 to a 5-2, so you lose a foot right there,” Mimms said. “Vonsay did a good job. She played hard, and she didn’t turn the ball over very much. We had to step up and adjust off of that.”

Senior forward Apple Sims carried Jacksonville offensively in the third quarter. Sims gouged her way inside for a pair of baskets with feeds from Ebony Ghoshon and Lanier.

McClellan cut it to five before the end of the quarter, but Randell provided a sign of things to come at the start of the fourth period when she sank a three-pointer to make it 28-21.

Ghoshon returned the lead to double digits with an assist from Evans, who passed from mid-court to a wide-open Ghoshon in the lane.

But McClellan’s ensuing 6-0 run made it close again, if only briefly.

Shimila Crawford hit two straight baskets for the Lady Lions to close to 32-28 with 1:49 left, and got a defensive rebound off a missed free throw by Randell for a chance to make it a one-score game. But Evans picked off a pass at mid-court and quickly got it back to Randell, who converted a three-point play to put Jacksonville up 35-28.

SPORTS >> Perfection rarest gift NFL lover could get

Leader sports editor

Christmas has already come and gone and you know what gifts you did and did not get.

As I write this, Christmas is still a couple days away, but I already know what I didn’t get.

I didn’t get my Perfection Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys shook out of their usual December doldrums to beat the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints 24-17 a week ago.

With the Saints now 13-1, that leaves the 14-0 Indianapolis Colts as the NFL’s only perfect team and it shatters my dream of two unbeaten teams meeting in the Super Bowl.

My loss. And yours. And the NFL’s.

What fun it would have been to see two clubs not just competing for a world championship but also competing for all-time supremacy, especially in a league like the NFL, which is genetically engineered for parity.

They would have talked about it for decades to come. Such a Super Bowl, had it happened, would have been an instant classic vaulting to the revered status held for games like the 1958 Colts-New York Giants NFL championship, a sudden-death thriller which consecrated the marriage of pro football and television.

Even if my little Perfection Bowl had turned out to be a dog — the kind of 30-point Super Bowl blowout we used to get every year — it would have been memorable because of the undefeated status of the teams in it.

The Saints might still make it to the Super Bowl, but people are already saying, “That’s the Saints. They never win anything.”

And the luster is sort of off the team a little bit, though I can root for them because coach Sean Peyton is a fellow Eastern Illinois alum.

I know, so is Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, but he was after my time. Peyton was the freshman quarterback when I was a junior at EIU and he was a frat brother to one of my roommates; I think I was even rude to Peyton on the phone once.

But I digress.

I’d still like to see the Colts run the table, just to finally silence those dead-enders from the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 14-0 in the regular season and finished 17-0 in that Super Bowl championship year.

Like a “last man” club of war veterans, some of the former Dolphins still break out the champagne every time a team threatening to match their perfect record finally loses a game, and I’m a little tired of it. It wasn’t like the 1972 Dolphins had anything to do with the Giants tripping up the 2007 New England Patriots (18-1) in the Super Bowl.

Should the Colts march to the Super Bowl undefeated and win it, they will have gone 19-0, since today’s regular season is two games longer than in 1972, and will effectively blow the Dolphins out of the water.

But the Colts have been living lucky lately. There were nine lead changes in their 35-31 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and after that — and after seeing the Saints get the Cowboys’ best shot — one realizes just how tough it is to find perfection.
It simply won’t happen in a 162-game Major League Baseball season or the 82-game NBA and NHL seasons.

If it’s going to happen, it will happen in football, where the once-a-week schedule allows fewer chances for bad things to happen to good teams. Enough high school and college teams have already gone unbeaten that the feat isn’t considered all that rare, though it is still impressive.

The NFL, with its draft order and free agency, does its best to see that dynasties don’t last long, however the union of quality coaches and management has given us some ripping good teams over the years.

But so far, none of those teams have been good enough to survive the injury to the marquee player, the innovative game plan of an opponent, the bad day or the funny bounce of the oblong ball with the points on the end.

Sooner or later, one or all of those factors have been the banana peel on a team’s path to perfection.

The Colts play the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills down the stretch and it has been mumbled, Peyton Manning’s wishes to the contrary, that coach Jim Caldwell may rest some of his stars since Indianapolis has every conceivable playoff advantage sewn up.

Even if Manning and the first string play and survive the best shots they are sure to get from the Jets and Bills, the Colts must then beat two playoff teams just to get to the Super Bowl.

That’s a tall order for any team, but I’m rooting for the Colts to succeed because I still want to see something never before done in the NFL.

My son is going to be a big Colts fan too, though he doesn’t know it yet. You see, if Indy loses, I’m going to become bored with the NFL and will be looking for something to do.

And my son got an Xbox for Christmas.

SPORTS >> Hello Neumann: Cabot senior tackles future

Cabot senior linebacker Spencer Neumann led the Panthers with 108 tackles in 2009. The team fell short in the 7A state semifnals, but Neumann will continue his football career as a member of the University of Central Arkansas Bears.

Neumann in uniform during this year’s game against Conway.

Leader sports editor

It pays off sooner or later.

The long practices twice a day in the heat pay off. The demanding offseason workouts pay off. The relentless demand for perfection pays off.

And for Cabot linebacker Spencer Neumann, payday has come.

Neumann is an all-state selection and The Leader defensive player of the year after leading the Panthers with 108 tackles this season. His three-year career as a starter ended prematurely, with a loss to Springdale Har-Ber in the 7A state semifinals, but Neumann’s career will continue after he earned a scholarship offer to play at Central Arkansas next year.

“I know I’m not that big,” said Neumann, 6-0, 203 pounds. “But everyone who plays at Cabot knows how hard it is and how much you have to work. As long as you do the right things and work, good things happen.”

A Cabot player doesn’t get far without a willingness to work, but coach Mike Malham said Neumann was a natural talent when he took the field as a sophomore.

“He was good-sized, a 190-pounder as a sophomore that ran good and was pretty smart,” Malham said. “He had all the tools.

When you’ve got the tools and you’re a pretty smart kid that picks things up, he was a pleasant surprise from the word go.”

Neumann said it was more than ability that made him into one of Cabot’s rare college products.

“I’ve never played for anyone else but it seems to me like you have to be exact,” Neumann said of Malham. “On offense, working with him at running back, you have to be exact on all your blocks and everything, your footwork. You have to be perfect. I think people can see that in our game.”

While he dabbled at running back this year, gaining 27 yards on eight carries, Neumann thrived as he always has at linebacker, where he added a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as Cabot allowed its opponents an average 13 points a game.

“I do like defense more than offense,” said Neumann, blaming his love of contact. “That has something to do with it. You get to deliver the hits instead of taking them.”

Neumann said he wasn’t always the hard-nosed athlete he is today.

“I know when I was a kid I just played basketball and I wasn’t that aggressive,” Neumann said. “In sixth grade I started football and I wasn’t aggressive then either, but just staying with it and being persistent, trying to work as hard as you can, that’s really helped.”

Somewhere between sixth grade and his sophomore year, Neumann blossomed as a defender. It didn’t hurt that he had a natural instinct for the game and the smarts to call defensive signals when the time came.

“He’s a very aggressive, athletic kid and he’s got a 3.8 grade-point average so he’s pretty smart too,” Malham said. “He knows where to be and he’s got the ability to get there.”

Neumann finished with more than 310 career tackles, making him Cabot’s all-time leader. While leaving his mark on the record books, Neumann also caught the notice of the Central Arkansas staff led by coach Clint Conque.

While admittedly undersized, Neumann said the Bears were still looking at him as a linebacker rather than converting him to safety.

“They run basically a 4-3 and one of the linebackers is kind of like a rover and he steps out of the box and is like another secondary guy,” Neumann said. “I can come in to the box too and that’s where they want me to be at.”

Whatever the position, Neumann knows his scholarship offer, which he has accepted, is a rarity for a Cabot player.

“Not too many people from Cabot, it seems like, they go anywhere,” Neumann said. “I don’t know what it is. I know we don’t have that much size around here and all those college coaches are looking at size and speed.”

“You better have an ‘S’ on your cape,” Malham said. “If you’re not a minimum of 6-2, 6-3 nowadays, with size that can move.

We just haven’t had a lot that fit in that mold.”

Instead, Cabot does its own molding with an offseason program Neumann said was one of the toughest in the state, followed by two-a-days during the warmer hours of August, from 6-10 a.m. and from 1-4 p.m.

But that’s life for a member of the Panthers, and Neumann wouldn’t trade his experiences. Especially now.

“It’s tough,” Neumann said. “But it’s definitely worth it.”

SPORTS >> Easy victory gets tough


Justin McCleary tries to keep the ball away from a Little Rock Catholic defender during the Jacksonville Red Devils’ game with the Rockets at the Devils’ Den on Tuesday night.

Senior Deshone McClure looks for a teammate in the lane at the Devils Den.

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville controlled everything except the last four minutes of the third quarter.

But it was what Little Rock Catholic did in those few minutes Tuesday that threatened to make an early bid for a blowout into a competitive game.

However, the host Red Devils eventually prevailed 57-39 once the starting unit got back onto the floor and back to putting up points.

Catholic cut a 21-point lead to nine with 7:50 left to play. The Rockets posted a 10-0 run to end the third quarter and a pair of free throws closed the gap to 37-28 to start the fourth.

Then the Red Devils (4-7) began to get serious in their second non-conference game with the Rockets in as many nights.

“I was going deep in my bench,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “I thought the kids looked at the score, because all of our games have been so close. For the first time, I think they looked up at the clock and they got a little relaxed. I could tell by their body language at halftime — and a couple of things they said.”

The Rockets hung around until the Red Devils’ Tee Brown made a basket and free throw with three minutes left to extend the lead to 51-37 and start an 11-0 run to close out the game.

The first half was a runaway for Jacksonville. The Red Devils got off to a fast start with a balanced attack in which all five starters scored.

Joyner used reserves for much of the second quarter, but Jacksonville still outscored Catholic 10-6 for a 30-16 lead at the break.

“That’s the first time they felt relaxed,” Joyner said. “And I think it showed. Catholic kept fighting. You know they’re going to scrap, and I tried to explain that to them, that they were going to scrap.

“That’s why we play them twice in a row like we do, because they’re patient, they’re going to execute — it’s going to be similar to our conference. And we got a little lax with the ball, lax on the boards and lax defensively.”

Offensively, the inside-outside connection of Brown, the junior post, and senior forward T.J. Green did most of the damage.

Green made four three-pointers and scored 16 points to lead the Red Devils, and Brown scored 15 points with eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

“Tee Brown is one of the few we have inside who will bang,” Joyner said. “We’re a real passive team — way too passive for the 6A. If we don’t get a lot more aggressive like Tee Brown around that bucket, then it’s going to be hard for us.

“Tee is a Godsend on the inside. He’s banging, and he’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do; we just have to get some people to give him some help.”

Green, who played at North Pulaski then transferred this year, found his rhythm from the outside when he made a three-pointer to give Jacksonville a 25-12 lead with 4:35 left in the second quarter. He hit one more three-pointer before halftime and added another in each of the final two quarters.

“We’ve been knocking heads and bumping; it’s like when you first get married you have to work out the kinks,” Joyner said of Green. “He still does some bonehead stuff, taking some bad shots once in a while, but he’s learning the system. He’s getting more comfortable with what he can and what he can’t do.”

EDITORIAL >> Say goodbye to PCSSD

Lord knows we love teachers. We count on them to not only keep peace in the classrooms, but to arm our children with the skills and knowledge they need to graduate, further their education and find their ways in the real world.

And the teachers couldn’t do what they do without the help of the support staff—the bus drivers, janitors, maintenance workers, the secretaries and cafeteria workers.

This is true at Pulaski County Special School District and the other districts we cover on a regular or occasional basis.

But we don’t always think PCSSD employees are well served by their union leaders—and neither do we think the unions and employees are always treated fairly by the school board. For instance, both submitted to binding arbitration over an issue, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the teachers and the board dragged its feet for more than a year before making the ordered restitution.

In recent years, the teachers have taken to cultivating board members and have worked behind the scenes to elect board members who promised to be friendly to their objectives.

They did so until it appeared that with the election of Tim Clark, who ran unopposed for the seat previously held by Pam Roberts, they could control the board or at least count on a majority of the board members to vote favorably on issues important to them.

Over the last year, they could always count on Gwen Williams’ vote, and Clark and Bill Vasquez were steadfast supporters.

Depending on the issue, unions could often pick up one more votes for a majority on the seven-person board.

One of the first things Clark did upon taking office in September 2008 was to put the brakes on an effort led by board member Charlie Wood to strip recognition from the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, and Clark was the deciding vote that recognized the Pulaski Association of Support Staff as the negotiating agent for the support staff at a subsequent meeting.

“You don’t decertify a union to avoid negotiating a contract,” Clark said at the time.

What a difference a year makes.

This month, after some nastiness by the teachers and a perceived threat against Clark’s family by the head of the support staff union, Clark joined Wood, Danny Gilliland and Mildred Tatum to strip recognition of both PACT and PASS as bargaining agents for the employees—and once again it was in the middle of contract negotiations.

Both union and PCSSD negotiators had reached an agreement after seven months at the table, and the union rank and file ratified that contract Dec. 8. Employees and their representatives entered the regular school board meeting expecting the board to ratify the agreement already signed by its negotiating team.

But when Clark, the board president, told union officials that not all board members had had time to review the 25-page document and the issue could not be considered that night, things turned ugly in a hurry.

PACT president Marty Nix said the board had favored stripping things out of the contract from the outset—71 takeaways, she said.

After several minutes of heated talk, Nix concluded: “If your word means nothing, you are nothing.”

Then PASS president Emry Chesterfield addressed the board, expressing his frustration for several minutes. While at the podium, Chesterfield mocked Deborah Coley, an assistant superintendent who was also one of the district’s negotiators. “You don’t do nothing unless you’re told,” he said.

“Sit down,” said Clark. “You’re grandstanding.”

“I’m going to go ahead and sit down, but you have to realize, your kids are at home,” said Chesterfield.

Several people, including Clark and Tatum, interim Superintendent Rob McGill and others interpreted his comments as a threat against Clark and his family.

Later, Chesterfield said he was telling Clark not to treat him like a child—that his children were at home.

But the damage was done, and moments later Wood, who admits he was glad to have a reason to act against the unions, moved to decertify them as negotiating agents.

At a specially-called meeting two hours later, Wood, Clark, Gilliland and Tatum decertified the unions. Vasquez warned that it was a bad idea, especially as a federal judge gets ready to decide the fate of the district in a desegregation hearing, and Williams also voted against it. New school board member Sandra Sawyer reportedly left the meeting, upset about bickering among board members.

We think that Clark is autocratic and interested in conducting much of the public’s business behind closed doors. But he has proven single-mindedly effective in promoting his own agenda and the unions made a bad mistake in alienating him.

The board meanwhile is still slated with the responsibility of working to improve education in PCSSD schools and its members should be spending their time working hard to do this. We don’t usually see eye-to-eye with Wood, but his idea of merit-based raises for teachers, where deserving teachers get raises and lackluster ones don’t, may help the board communicate its expectations to teachers.

We don’t endorse this notion, but we believe it deserves investigation. It is one more reason for Jacksonville to form its own school district soon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Bud Canada, RIP

The obituary said Eugene “Bud” Canada served 28 years in the state Senate. Could it possibly have been that long? He was one of those men you rarely knew was there, and it turns out that he was there for 28 years, representing the resort city where he grew up and became a sports legend.

Hot Springs never produced a greater athletic hero than Bud Canada, unless it was Bobby Mitchell, the halfback at the black high school who had to go out of state to play college football and wound up an All-American and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It was probably the football and track legend at Hot Springs and the University of Arkansas that got Bud Canada elected Garland County sheriff, then to the Arkansas House of Representatives and finally to the state Senate for 28 years. It didn’t hurt that he was humble and just begging to serve. For sure, it was not his oratorical skill or charisma because he had neither.

Yet the people of Garland County never thought about electing anyone else but Bud Canada. They didn’t get to read about great laws that he passed or profound remarks that he made.

But they could count on his name nearly always showing up on the progressive side of roll calls and they knew that he would never abuse the office no matter how much seniority he accumulated.

And they also knew that every session, every single one of them, he would introduce a bill to exempt groceries and prescription drugs from state and local sales taxes. Every time, the bill failed to get that simple majority, 18 votes. They said the state could not stand the loss of revenues.

Every time someone introduced a bill for some special interest to exempt some commodity or service from the sales tax — industrial machinery, farm implements, chicken and livestock feed and medicine, and dozens and dozens more — Bud Canada would always stand and ask in that halting, plaintive voice, something like this: “Senator, you’re telling us that it is important to this state that we eliminate taxes on the feed that a farmer buys for a rooster but yet we have to tax a baby’s formula and the dried beans a poor family buys for the supper table?” He wanted to know how he could explain that to the people back home.

Seven years after the old jock left the Senate, Governor Beebe persuaded the legislature to reduce the grocery tax in stages, and he had Bud Canada, the inspiration for it, come stand beside him when he signed the bill into law. It was the only epitaph for his career that Bud Canada wanted.

— Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Stanley Reed calls it quits

The swarming field of Republican candidates for United States senator swelled by one more a couple of weeks ago with the entry of Stanley Reed, whom some considered to be the heavy hitter that the party needed to defeat Senator Blanche Lincoln.

After a marvelous seven-day campaign, Reed quit the race Friday. His blood pressure apparently elevated sharply and his campaign reported that the farmer’s family worried that the campaign wouldn’t be good for his health.

Unless you are peculiarly suited for politics, a campaign for the Senate, particularly in the current nasty climate, cannot be good for the health.

One week was sufficient for Stanley Reed’s political education, which suggests that he is a faster learner than most. Running for the Senate is not the pleasant romp that is a race for president of the sophomore class. There are some vengeful people out there, mostly in his party.

Reed’s entry in the race buoyed some Republicans, who believed he had the personal wealth, prestige and connections to mount a credible campaign against his old friend, Senator Lincoln. His extensive agricultural interests, presidency of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, leadership in the American Farm Bureau, friendship with Mike Huckabee and 10-year term on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees gave him gravitas that the seven other candidates lacked.

We doubted that he could prevail against even that field of lackluster candidates. He had great appeal to the establishment wing of the Republican Party that values business credentials. But that is a badly diminished force in Republican politics. To win against men who have better bona fides with the religious and social conservatives who now dominate the Republican electorate, he would have to show extraordinary talent. His geographic base, the farm delta, turns out few voters in Republican primaries. Benton County alone will produce more votes in the Republican primary than the length of the delta.

His biggest problem, he must have realized almost instantly, was his longtime association with Senator Lincoln, Democrats and Democratic policy. Last winter she had inserted a lavish statement in the Congressional Record extolling his gifts to the state of Arkansas. She mentioned his leadership of the Lee Academy, a private school set up in his hometown in 1969 for white children after the federal government ordered the county schools integrated.

No sooner had Reed formalized his candidacy than conservative bloggers attacked his association with Lincoln and other Democrats.

You can be sure that his opponents would not have let it pass unnoticed that his vast farming interests in St. Francis and Lee counties took in more than $5 million in farm payments from the government from 1996 through 2007. He testified against President George W. Bush’s attempt to limit the amount of government payments to wealthy farmers, one of Bush’s few efforts to cut the mounting federal budget deficits.

Reed said he was running for the Senate because Democrats were running up the deficit. He took the subsidies and defended them because they were available and the key to America’s successful food policy. It does not, however, make him a credible deficit hawk or a simon-pure Republican. The new Republican Party does not let bygones be bygones.

It would have been a very uncomfortable campaign, not conducive to an ordinary man’s health. Stanley Reed will be a much happier man for his decision. He has our best wishes.

TOP STORY >> What a little girl asked from Santa

Leader executive editor

(This is a reprint of a previous Christmas column.)

When my friend Jack Sallee was with the Jaycees in Fayetteville, they’d put an ad in the paper at Christmastime, saying that for $2 you could have Santa come to your place.

There’d be a group of Santas going out every night, and Sallee was among them.

“Each Santa went to about 10 homes a night,” Sallee says. “Each Santa had a driver. Mine was named Larry Nixon. He was a big fellow, and I would tell the kids Larry was driving me around town.”

Usually nothing out of the ordinary happened. Kids got to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and Santa gave them lots of candy, and everybody went to bed happy.

But then something different did happen. Sallee says, “One night we had two houses left to go. We drove around for a while, and when we found one, it was a one-room house. We went inside, and the house had a dirt floor and hardly any furnishings.”

A young girl was there with her mother. They were as poor as they could be: They had nothing — or very little.

The two Jaycees, college educated and professionals who’d seen dozens of nice homes, couldn’t believe what they had walked into.

“There were two cots to sleep on, and a table and a chair,” Sallee says. “The house had a pot-bellied stove. She had one of those small Styrofoam ice chests. So needless to say, I was taken aback because I didn’t think people still lived like that. This was inside the Fayetteville city limits.

“The girl was seven or eight years old,” Sallee continues, “and she had long hair and blue eyes. She wore a nightgown that looked like a man’s T-shirt her mother had cut off. She was flabbergasted that Santa Claus would actually visit her.”

He says, “For a Christmas tree, her mother had brought in a branch and put it on the table.”

Her mother had found her a present — a ball wrapped in tissue paper. Sallee wondered what else this poor girl would ask for.

“In the homes we had seen,” he continues, “the children would tell us what they wanted by reciting the toy sections in stores they’d been to.”

But that wasn’t what the little girl wanted.

“The girl sat on my lap and looked at me seriously,” Sallee recalls. “She said, ‘Santa, the only thing I want is for Daddy to come home.’

“I looked at my driver, this big, burly guy, and he had to walk outside because tears were streaming down his face,” Sallee says.

“The mother turned her back to us, and I just turned my head away from her,” he adds. “I was just stunned and moved and speechless. I wanted to hold the little girl and tell her everything was going to be all right, but there was nothing you could do.

You felt helpless. She never asked for a toy or clothes.

“I said there are some things Santa Claus can’t do,” Sallee adds, “but Santa Claus would try. I gave her all the candy I had.”

“It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” he says. “It will haunt you for the rest of your life.”

Sallee remembers that little girl around this time of the year. He wonders what happened to her father.

Maybe this Christmas he will be home, and, who knows, they’ll have a nice home to live in. You can’t lose hope.

TOP STORY >> How Christmas brings joy to all

Leader staff writer

Elke Hunt, manager of the Family Dollar Store in Beebe, will spend Christmas with her daughter’s family. Being away from her home on Christmas Day is about the only tradition remaining from her childhood in Darmstadt, Germany.

Christmas Eve was the big day when she was a child, Hunt said. The tree was put up and decorated that night. That is also when small gifts were wrapped and exchanged. The two days following Christmas Eve were for visiting in other homes.
As for Santa Claus, or St. Nick as she knew him, he came on Dec. 6. All the children would clean their shoes and set them outside, Hunt said. If they were clean enough, St. Nick left candy in them. If they weren’t, he left a lump of coal.

She brought the traditions to America 40 years ago. But she said since her youngest grandson is almost grown, they have all but been forgotten.

“The German tradition, when you have no more little kids, it goes away,” she said.

The gifts that will be under our Christmas tree early Friday morning are stashed on closet shelves in the boxes and bags they were in when UPS delivered them. I could have wrapped them as they arrived, but I didn’t. I’m saving them until Christmas Eve night.

Staying up late Christmas Eve is a tradition my husband and I started when our three sons were small.

We made a lot of toys back then – painted blocks, wooden wagons, Indian headdresses, sock monkeys… And inevitably, the finishing touches weren’t completed until we were almost out of time.

Later on, we discovered that tricycles and bicycles are easier to conceal in the boxes they come in so we would stay up late putting them together. It was our time. Sitting on the floor with cups of coffee and scissors lost among piles of wrapping paper and ribbon became a sort of celebration signifying that the big rush was over.

Now, even though our grandkids are close to outgrowing toys and most of the presents we will wrap were ordered online, we will still be up late Thursday night.

Some traditions are worth keeping.

Mitch Spencer, the senior vice-commander of the VFW in Beebe, was selling handmade poppies outside Knight’s in Beebe Monday. It’s one of his Christmas traditions and he says an important one because all the proceeds go to needy or disabled veterans and their families.

But Spencer also has an unusual dish on his Christmas menu that he says got its start with his 92-year-old mother in West Virginia. He makes oysters just the way she still does, rolled in flour, sprinkled with salt and pepper and fried.

“They are really good,” he said, adding, “They don’t taste a bit like chicken.”

Allison Osterberg, the paralegal who spends her work days in the city attorney’s office in Cabot, said her family has a tradition that started 17 years ago with her son’s first Christmas.

Many parents buy ornaments for “baby’s first Christmas” but the Osterbergs buy surprise ornaments every year that represent some activity their two children have been involved in during the past year or some accomplishment.

The year Holly, 14, danced with her dad during a ballet recital, her ornament was a ballerina dressed much the way she was dressed. The year Wade, 18, played the beast in a school production of “Beauty and the Beast,” his ornament was the beast.

The year the family went to Sea World, a whale was the family ornament.

“The ornaments on our tree represent our lives,” she said.

TOP STORY >> New trial set in March for freed ex-chief

Jay Campbell (center) is escorted to court in pink handcuffs by Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson (right) and his deputies on Monday in Lonoke.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland (left) reviews a transcript from Jay Campbell’s original trial with Special Prosecutor Jack McQuarry, who will assist Feland in the retrial of Campbell on burglary, fraud, drug and theft charges.

 Former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell embraces a family member Monday after his release on bond.

Leader senior staff writer

Former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell, freed Monday on $50,000 bond pending retrial next March on at least a dozen burglary-related crimes, traded his gray prison jumpsuit and pink handcuffs for casual civilian clothes and a windbreaker.

He left the Lonoke County Jail, apparently headed to Hot Springs to spend Christmas with his two children.

“I’m going to see my girls as fast as I can,” Campbell said.

He said his children were living with his mother-in-law in Hot Springs.

His wife and co-defendant, Kelly Harrison Campbell, is still locked up at the Hawkins Women’s Center at Wrightsville. Her appeal will be heard by the state Court of Appeals on Jan. 10. Her first parole eligibility may be midyear.

“I’m going to work to get her back and get my family back,” her husband said. “I don’t know what the future holds.”

On Nov. 5, the state Supreme Court overturned Campbell’s 2007 convictions on 23 charges, including running a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and a bevy of burglary and drug-related charges, and remanded the case back to Lonoke County Circuit Court.

Campbell’s defense attorney, Patrick Benca, said the state was “overreaching” in its efforts to convict Campbell as the kingpin of an ongoing criminal enterprise.

The court also threw out all evidence collected at the Campbell home “as fruit of the poisonous tree,” Benca said. The search warrant did not establish reasonable cause and the court found that it should have been suppressed.

Campbell’s next hearing is Jan. 22 and pretrial motions are set for March 1, with his first trial currently set to begin March 2-4.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland told Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore on Monday that he would retry Campbell on at least 12 charges, including six counts of burglary, five charges of fraud and a charge of theft of property.

Other possible charges include conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.

Feland said the evidence in the cases he’s prosecuting against Campbell is “totally different” and the trial will be much shorter.

For one thing, the continuing criminal-enterprise charge can’t be tried again, and the lengthy testimony by and about Kelly Campbell’s sexual liaisons with inmates won’t be introduced.

Feland told the judge he would break the charges up into at least two separate trials.

His predecessor, Lona McCastlain, prosecuted a sprawling case with more than 40 charges against the Campbells and still others against four other co-defendants.

“I’d like a full report,” Elmore told Feland, including any additional charges he would prosecute Campbell on.

“It’s an exhaustive record,” said Feland.

The case transcript and evidence is spread across an attic floor in the courthouse.

Feland had asked that Campbell’s bond be set at $150,000, saying he had no ties in the area and was unemployed and perhaps unemployable.

Benca said Campbell appeared at every court date, even after he was convicted, while secured on a $50,000 bond during the original trial.

Elmore, who replaced Judge Lance Hanshaw on the bench, said she and Circuit Judge Philip Whiteaker had drawn up a bond schedule, and according to that schedule, Campbell’s bond would be $50,000.

Benca was Campbell’s attorney during the nearly two-month trial that concluded in April 2007.

Also back for the retrial will be Benca’s aide, Kara Binz.

Feland will be assisted by his chief deputy, Bart Dickinson, and by special prosecutor Jack McQuarry. McQuarry served as a special prosecutor in the first trial, aiding then-prosecutor McCastlain.

Three of those co-defendants were in court Monday morning. They were former Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett and bail bondsmen Bobby Junior Cox and Larry Norwood.

Cox posted Campbell’s bond Monday, according to Sheriff Jim Roberson.

Friends and some family members were at the hearing.

Campbell, who was generous with his hugs, hand shakes and appreciation of the state Supreme Court, was less than charitable when discussing McCastlain and her prosecution.

He said her prosecution of him was commingled with her aspirations for higher office.

“When you mix politics and justice, you get nothing but trouble,” he said.

He said the deck was stacked against him and that not even (deceased, former O.J. Simpson lawyer) Johnny Cochran could have won the case.

Cabot Democrat Tim Blair challenged McCastlain for the prosecutor’s office, and she held on to her seat by 79 votes.


Miscreants, misdeeds, misgivings, mistakes, monsoons, mayors and merriment were all part of 2009.

From a new mayor for Jacksonville for the first time in more than 20 years to a Cabot school rising from ashes to a jihad attack on a military recruiter, it’s been a busy year in the local area.

So much so that after rereading more than 2,100 pages in 104 issues of The Leader the staff couldn’t narrow down the top stories to just 10, but did manage to stop at an even dozen.

Here are the top stories of 2009:


Jacksonville Mayor Tom-my Swaim, who had held office for 22 years, surprised most of Jacksonville when he announced his resignation in mid-January.

After he gave the state of the city address at an early January council meeting, Swaim announced that he would be stepping down July 1, even though he was just midway through his sixth four-year term.

Swaim said his family played a major role in his decision. He told the council he missed a lot of his children’s activities while mayor and didn’t want to do the same with his grandchildren.

His resignation opened the flood gates to candidates as about a dozen talked about running and six filed to run: Alderman Gary Fletcher, Alderman Kenny Elliott, developer Tommy Dupree, realtor Beckie Brooks, businessman Joey Urquhart and motorcycle minister Randy “Doc” Rhodd.

The special election was held May 12. After a number of forums and the candidates knocking on thousands of city doors, the voters put Fletcher and Elliott into a run-off.

Fletcher led the six-candidate field, garnering 952 votes, or 39 percent, followed by Elliott with 789 votes, or 32 percent.

In the run-off, held three weeks later, Fletcher bested Elliott in a race that depicted Fletcher as the outsider and Elliott as a continuation of Swaim.

Fletcher called his election a grassroots effort. Fletcher said, “I just want to be the people’s servant.”


Jacksonville-born and raised Kris Allen became a nationwide sensation as he competed in and then won “America Idol.”

He received the key to the city, got his own day and a place on the city sign.

Allen was born at Rebsamen Hospital, now North Metro, to Neil and Kim Allen on June 21, 1985, and lived in Jacksonville for 17 years. He spent a few years in Cabot before heading to Conway for college.

Back in January, word got out that Allen had made it to the Hollywood portion of “American Idol” tryouts.

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce presented Allen with a key to the city on May 7, when he returned to the state for his hometown celebration during the finals of the show’s competition.

During an appearance at Riverfest Amphitheater the next day, Allen seemed overwhelmed by the a number of fans who turned out. “I feel like I have the best fans in the world,” he told the crowd. “I’ve been to this place a lot and never seen this many people here. You guys are why I’m here.”

Just shy of two weeks later, Allen appeared even more at awe when, at the end of a star-studded two-hour show, Ryan Seacrest said, “The American Idol 2009 is…Kris Allen!”

Shortly after Allen’s win, the city council unanimously declared a “Kris Allen Day.”


Lottery fever had players scratching mad when state scholarship lottery tickets went on sale late after midnight Sept. 28.

That fever has remained strong. The lottery has brought in more than $119 million, or about $19 million for scholarships.

It has even spurned a drive-through lottery business in Ward.

The scholarships will start next year even though the exact amount of the scholarships haven’t been worked out yet, Halter said earlier in the year. If the lottery brings in the expected $100 million this year, then scholarships for students attending four-year institutions will be around $5,000 a year and for those attending two-year schools, the scholarships will be worth about $2,500 per year.

Halter says that comes very close to covering the full instate tuition costs. “That’s a big deal, a very big deal,” he said.


Jacksonville is the apparent leader out of 19 submissions to land the new site for the state fair when, and if, it moves from its current Little Rock location off Roosevelt Road.

Jacksonville officials hope history will repeat itself. They are willing to give the Arkansas Livestock Show Association about 400 acres of land worth more than $1 million if the group moves the state fair to southeast Jacksonville.

Just as Jacksonville leaders did more than 55 years ago, when they raised $1 million to donate land to build Little Rock Air Force Base, city officials says they’ll buy the land off Wooten Road and donate it to state fair board.

They hope to form a partnership with private individuals to raise the money for the fair, but mostly from city coffers.

The fair’s executive committee is still months away from making a decision. But comments at a Dec. 18 fair board meeting about the Jacksonville proposal indicated that it is a strong contender.

Committee chairman Ned Purtle and Mike Berg, a consultant for the state fair, had high praise for Jacksonville leaders, in particular for the city’s $5 million gift to the Air Force to construct the $14.8 million Joint Education Center, as well as offering to donate the 430-acre fairground site and hire a grant writer to help raise money to fund construction.

“That is the kind of partner you want,” Berg said.
Engineer Basil Shoptaw, who has evaluated all the proposed sites, said afterward that the Jacksonville site has a lot going for it – immediate interstate access, high visibility, plenty of room, no part of it in a floodplain, and the offer to provide the utilities and land for free.

“Zero cost is hard to beat,” Shoptaw said. “And, there is lots of public support – aggressive public support.”


Jacksonville opened its first charter school in August and Cabot opened a new junior high on the grounds of one that burned several years ago.

The charter school, Jacksonville Lighthouse Academy, opened in a local church in August because weather delayed the finishing of its 28,000-square-foot facility off North First Street. The kindergarten through sixth-grade school has 344 students. It plans to add a grade level each year. The charter school offers a longer day and art-infused lessons.

The charter school is a public school but is not bound as strictly as regular public schools by the state or local district.

The school moved into its permanent home in late October.

The new state-of-the-art $13.5 million two-story Cabot Junior High North, which opened in August, replaced the original junior high that burned down in 2006.

Many teachers said they were pleased with the new technology and ample space of the building.

The new Cabot Junior High North is 127,282 square feet and has 47 classrooms, five computer labs and nine science labs.


The arrest of a Cabot man on federal charges in November has toppled a North Little Rock alderman and resulted in the arrest of a number of Mafia members.

George Wiley Thompson, 64, was originally arrested on charges stemming from gambling and public corruption was indicted Dec. 17 for his alleged involvement in organized crime.

In addition to drug trafficking, Thompson allegedly supplied guns to the Mafia Colombo Family, according to the federal indictment.

U.S. Attorney Jane Duke said this is Arkansas’ first case with ties to one of the big crime families.

The latest indictment alleges that Thompson was a member of the Deleo Crew, named for alleged Colombo Family street boss Ralph Francis Deleo, 64, of Somerville, Mass.

Deleo was added earlier this month to the federal indictment in Arkansas against Thompson for possessing with intent to distribute more than 500 grams (more than one pound) of cocaine, conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and using a telephone to facilitate a felony drug transaction.

Thompson fled to Thailand after federal law enforcement officers searched his Cabot home May 12, and found 147 firearms, five silencers and more than 80,000 rounds of ammunition.

Thompson was ultimately apprehended in Bangkok, Thailand, and was brought back to the U.S. to face a cornucopia of charges.

The indictment alleges that Deleo made it possible for Thompson to remain out of the country by arranging the shipment of his prescription medicines.

Two North Little Rock aldermen, Cary Gaines, 63, and Samuel Gaylon Baggett, 58, have also pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes involving Thompson. Their trial is set for Jan. 26.

Gaines allegedly attempted to fix bids on city projects to pay gambling debts owed to Thompson. Baggett, a gun dealer, is charged with illegally selling weapons to Thompson, who is a convicted felon.

Gaines has resigned from the North Little Rock council.


Two Army privates were shot, one fatally, as they stood outside recruiting offices in Little Rock in early June. The gunman, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, 24, aka Carlos Leon Bledsoe, targeted the military men in the name of his religion.

Private Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville has recovered from his wounds, but his buddy, Pvt. William Long, didn’t.

Ezeagwula, a former Red Devil football player, survived despite being shot three times. He told The Leader he played dead during the ordeal until the shooter drove off. Long was killed by a single bullet.

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

After he came home from the hospital three days after the shooting, he showed the bullet holes in his body and said he had shrapnel in his lung, his neck and down his back.

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

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

His mother said her family thanks God every day that Ezeagwula is alive.

Muhammad called the Associated Press to defend the attack at the recruiting station, saying he’s not a murderer because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.

In a collect call from jail, Muhammad told the AP that he didn’t specifically plan the shootings, but they had been on his mind for a while.


The 106-acre defunct North Hills Country Club that Sherwood condemned and took over has been officially renamed The Greens at North Hills,. The city is looking to spend a lot of green on the old golf course—more than $6 million—before it will open to public play in the spring.

After a park study and numerous public hearings during the year, the council voted to reopen the course.

Costs include $5.5 million for the land itself, $300,000 for landscaping and maintenance needs and $105,688 for salaries for a golf course superintendent and a number of general labor positions.

Additional maintenance and salary money are being budgeted for 2010.

About midyear, Mandel Brockington was hired as the superintendent. Part of his perks as superintendent includes a rent-free home on the course.

The parks and recreation committee also set daily fees and memberships and was expecting to sell about 500 memberships (around $1,000) before the course opens in the spring.


Jay Campbell, the beleaguered former Lonoke police chief who has been serving a 40-year sentence on a variety of charges, is now, at least temporarily, a free man.

The state Supreme Court reversed his convictions for running a continuing criminal enterprise and remanded the case back to Lonoke County Circuit Court.

Bond was set Monday at $50,000, which Campbell posted, and he was freed until he’s retried in March on burglary, theft and fraud charges.

Campbell can’t be tried on the ongoing criminal-conspiracy enterprise, which was dismissed.

Both Campbell and his wife, Kelly Campbell, had come into court for sentencing expecting to be free on bond pending appeal that April day in 2007, but Special Judge John Cole revoked their bond and sent them directly to jail, then to prison where they have been ever since.

The state Court of Appeals is slated to hear an appeal next month of the convictions of Kelly Campbell, who was one of five co-defendants.

The former chief was sentenced to 40 years as the kingpin of a continuing criminal enterprise, 30 years for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, 20 years for each of six counts of residential burglary, 10 years for each of seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and various other drug or theft-related charges.

That jury recommended the maximum sentence for all but one of his 23 convictions and all but two of Kelly Campbell’s 26 convictions.

In all, his sentences would have added up to 315 years and hers to 304 years, but while the jury recommended the maximum sentence on every county they also recommended that those sentences run concurrently at the same time.


In mid-February, the new 13,500-square-foot Ester D. Nixon Library, one of 12 libraries in the Central Arkansas Library System, opened on Jacksonville’s Main Street. It replaced what had been the system’s oldest library.

“It is a great day for the city of Jacksonville. It is a wonderful improvement for our community,” then-Mayor Tommy Swaim said. “The library was not located here by accident. It was located here because this is the center of the downtown of Jacksonville, as we once knew it. This makes a statement for all to see we are not moving backward in Jacksonville. We are moving forward.”

The $4.8 million land and building project was paid for with a combination of revenue from a temporary 1-mill increase in property tax, city sales tax revenue, private donations, a contribution from CALS, and a bond issue.

“It is fabulous, it is beautiful. I’m just glad we could get it on Main Street,” said Alderman Marshall Smith.

Esther Dewitt Nixon was the librarian of the first Jacksonville library, which opened in 1959 at the old city hall. She continued as the city librarian at the library constructed in 1969 at 308 W. Main St. as part of CALS. She died in 2004.


In July, the 19th Airlift Wing and the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base brought home a total of nine trophies from the air mobility rodeo competition at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

Team Little Rock won two overall awards at the air rodeo and much more: The 19th Airlift Wing won for best overall C-130 team and best overall aerial port team. The wing’s aerial port team won for the best C-130 engine-running off-load team and the best C-130 in-transit visibility team.

Team Little Rock’s maintenance teams picked up three awards. The 19th Airlift Wing, J-model won best C-130 maintenance team. The wing also brought home the best C-130 pre-flight team. The best C-130 post-flight team was the 314th Airlift Wing, H-model.

Team Little Rock won two more awards as the 19th Airlift Wing won best C-130 short field landing crew and the 314th Airlift Wing picked up the best back-landing combat off-load crew.

There is a chance that the base may get to host the 2011 rodeo, which would be an economic boon to the area.

In late January, Col. Gregory S. Otey took command of the 19th Airlift Wing from Brig. Gen. Rowayne A. Schatz Jr.

“It is an honor, and I am very humbled to stand before you today as the commander of the 19th Airlift Wing. This is truly like coming home for the Otey family,” said the colonel, who was a weapons officer at the C-130 Weapons School at the air base from 1995 through 1997.

The base did run into some difficulty during the year when C-130 aircraft were taken out of action to replace a defective wing-nut part.

Congress approved funding for a $10.4 million security forces facility and a $5.8 million C-130J simulator.

The base received about $12.7 million in stimulus funding for facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization projects.

About $8.8 million of that was earmarked for repairing and maintaining the airfield apron.

Other items include $856,000 to repair hangar 224, $1,578,000 to repair or install two antiterrorism vehicle barriers, $604,000 to repair Sixth Street/Arnold Drive, $431,000 to repair a fire-detection system in Razorback Building 1020 and install or repair a sprinkler system for that building and $409,000 to repair a fire detection system and install or repair the sprinkler in Building 1024.


Precipitation records were broken during a number of months in 2009, making the year became one of the top three wettest on record.

Besides the rain, the area had its share of ice and high winds.

On Jan. 5, a winter ice storm put about 500 residents in the city of Lonoke and south Lonoke County and another 450 customers in Jacksonville, Sherwood and Cabot in the dark.

Three weeks later, another icy storm caused more than 200 highway accidents, 83 of them in the local area, during a 16-hour period. Even those responding to accidents to help ended up in accidents.

The Jacksonville Fire Department had a fire truck and an ambulance slid into the rail while responding to help motorists stranded on I-440 and Hwy. 67/167.

After January, the weather turned wet, wetter and wettest as the year ended up with rain totals 25 inches above the norm.

Heavy rain in late April caused severe flooding problems in parts of White and Lonoke counties. Several homes in Cabot were flooded, damaging garages and carpeting.

“About half the county is flooded,” Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said.

About 13 inches of rain hit central Arkansas in May, making it has the third wettest May in Little Rock since record keeping started in the state back in 1879.

June turned out to be the only dry month of the year, but many of the days had triple-digit heat indices.

Thunderstorms, with high winds, hit the area early Aug. 5. Warning sirens and emergency telephone calls woke up thousands of area residents who were often too dazed to seek a secure place for protection.

Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

A path of destruction could be seen on Hwy. 31 in Lonoke County between Hwy. 38 and Hwy. 321 Spur.

On Oct. 30, four area fire departments using boats and other rescue equipment evacuated about a dozen people from a trailer Park off Tom Box Road in north Pulaski County as more than five inches of rain hit the area in less than 24 hours.

The Ward Fire Department ran rescue missions all night as the rain fell, pulling one family from a car that had stalled in four feet of water on Hwy. 319 and Lewisburg Road and saving dogs in the city’s animal control kennels off Hwy. 367.

Ward Police Chief Charlie Martin said firefighters waded in water up to their armpits to get the dogs to safety.

Wet rainy weather continued and 73 inches of rain had fallen for the year.

SPORTS >> All-Leader offensive team

Tyler Breashears, OT, Lonoke — Burlsworth Award winner consistently graded 93 or better.

Walt James, OT, Cabot — Blocking helped Cabot to 7A state semifinals.

Caleb Mitchell, OG, Jacksonville — Senior leader on young Red Devils offensive line.

C.J. Bernard, OG, North Pulaski — Blocking helped Falcon rushing attack.

Lysander Tramble, C, North Pulaski — Consistent snapper for North Pulaski offense.

Rod Quinn, TE, Cabot — Versatile blocker/receiver for Panthers.

Seth Keese, QB, Harding Academy —167-263-7 for 2,480 yards and 22 touchdowns. Rushed 123 times for 909 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Adam Griffis, FB, Beebe — Rushed for 1,360 yards and 16 touchdowns. First-team all-5A-Southeast Conference and all-Arkansas selection.

Brandon Smith, TB, Lonoke — 246 carries for 1,953 yards and 24 touchdowns with 19 receptions for 231 yards and three touchdowns.

Ahmad Scott, WR, Sylvan Hills — three-year starter had 44 receptions and nine touchdowns this season.

Todd Hobson, WR, Lonoke — 54 receptions for 890 yards and nine touchdowns on state runner-up.

Brandon Bailey, OG, Beebe

Austin Cousins, OG, North Pulaski

Jacob Denson, OT, Sylvan Hills

Aaron Shore, OT, Jacksonville

Tyler Tarrant, C, Cabot

Marshall Shipley, TE, North Pulaski

Michael Nelson, QB, Lonoke

(Tie) Spencer Smith, FB, Cabot/ Morgan Linton, FB, Lonoke

John Johnson, TB, Jacksonville

Tyler Gentry, WR, Harding Academy

Devin Featherston, WR, Jacksonville.

SPORTS >> Lady Devils beat rivals in blowout

Leader sports editor

For close to two nail-biting minutes, Jacksonville looked in danger of giving the lead to North Pulaski on Friday night.

But a three-pointer by Jessica Jackson broke a 2-2 tie with 6:14 left in the first quarter, and Jacksonville was off and running to a 70-47 victory over its cross-town rival at the Devils’ Den.

The Lady Red Devils outscored the Lady Falcons 27-3 in the second quarter to take command.

“We started finally executing some offensive sets,” Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms said. “We knew coming into the game we wanted to play some man-to-man defense and we wanted to run more than one or two passes and execute and get some easy shots.”

Jackson, the Lady Red Devils’ freshman sensation, finished with 15 points, Chyna Davis scored 13 and Vonsay Evans had 12.

Daniesha Shelton led North Pulaski with 17 points and Laura Dortch scored 14.

North Pulaski battled to within 15-11 at the end of the first quarter, but Jackson, who has already gotten offers from Texas A&M and Arkansas, hit a three-pointer from the left wing and made a layup after a steal by senior Jessica Lanier.

Sherice Randell made a three-pointer with 6:12 left, following a steal by Kita Walker; Lanier made two free throws for the 24-11 lead and Jackson made two more free throws with 4:18 left in the half to make it 27-11.

North Pulaski ended the run with a free throw with 4:11 to go, but the Lady Falcons managed just two more points in the half, which ended on Davis’ three-pointer that made it 42-14.

With wholesale substitution going on, the third quarter turned sloppy and included a four-minute scoreless streak.

“We wanted to work on some things we weren’t doing very well at and that was kind of the game plan when we got a big lead,” Mimms said of the bench play.

Evans hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer for Jacksonville to make it 55-27 at the end of the period.

SPORTS >> Cabot gets busy early, rips Beebe

Cabot junior post Charles Mantione tries to drive against a Beebe defender.  

Leader sportswriter

Cabot’s Alex Baker most likely could have scored as much as he wanted, but his 11 points in the first quarter were enough to establish a lead that only grew as the Panthers routed host Beebe 57-29 at Badger Arena on Friday.

Baker, Cabot’s sharp-shooting, 5-10 senior guard, scored a final basket in the last two minutes of the second quarter to bring his total to 13 and enjoyed the second half of the blowout from the bench.

The substitutes continued to punish the Badgers, triggering the mercy rule in the fourth quarter.

“One thing we wanted to do was come out of the gates quick,” Panthers coach Jerry Bridges said. “On the road, anything can happen. We got up early and kept them out of it. It also gave us a chance to play a lot of people and take a look at some people.”

Junior Darin Jones kept the Panthers rolling in the third quarter with a pair of baskets that framed a Seth Bloomberg three-pointer to give Cabot a 36-14 lead with 4:53 left in the period.

That was part of the Panthers’ 16-3, third-quarter run that ended when Zach May sank a three-pointer to make it 48-19 with 1:13 left. A basket by Patrick Martin and technical foul free throws by Kai Davis gave Cabot the points needed to start the clock running continuously in the fourth quarter.

“We’re learning our identity as a team,” Bridges said. “Everyone is learning who the main scorers are, and everyone is accepting their role. We have to play well and execute at a high level to compensate for our lack of height.”

Scot Gowen gave the Badgers an early physical presence inside with three hard-fought baskets in the first quarter. Caleb Davidson also helped Beebe keep pace when he scored to cut Cabot’s early lead to 7-6 with the 3:53 left in the first quarter, but the game was never within one score again.

The Panthers picked up their defensive intensity and fullcourt press midway through the quarter to hold the Badgers scoreless for over three minutes until Devonte Young made a shot with 20 seconds left cut Cabot’s lead to 13-8.

But Logan Spry had the last word for the Panthers with a buzzer-beater that put the margin back to eight.

In all, six Panthers scored in the first half and four more found the goal in the second, and Cabot’s defense held Beebe to only 16 points over the final two quarters.

“We feel like we have a lot of depth,” Bridges said. “There’s not much difference in some of them. Of course, we know the two that we have to have out there all the time, but everyone is getting more experienced and getting better.”

Charles Mantione came off the bench and scored 11 points for Cabot while Bloomberg and senior John Ellerbee scored six each, all off three-pointers.

Gowen led Beebe with nine points, with five each for Young and May.

The Panthers (5-3) will pay their annual visit to Fort Smith after Christmas to take part in the Coke Classic Tournament on Dec. 28-30. They will play Subiaco Academy in the Monday game.

With early non-conference opponents like Jacksonville and North Pulaski, and tournament play at Central Arkansas Christian and Fort Smith, Bridges hopes his young team will be seasoned for 7A-Central Conference play.

“We’ve played a good schedule,” Bridges said. “If we’re not ready by the time we open on Jan. 8, we’ll never be ready. It doesn’t get any easier when you jump off into 7A-Central Conference play, so you better be ready.”

SPORTS >> Smith has eyes on college prize

Lonoke senior Brandon Smith had 2,184 all-purpose yards for the ’Rabbits.

Leader sports editor

Brandon Smith doesn’t know where he’s going just yet, but it’s clear what is going to get him there.

Smith is the hard-nosed runner who helped Lonoke to the 4A state championship game and is now gunning for a major-college scholarship. He has proved himself a prospect with a style that is heavy on contact, and his efforts have made him The Leader offensive player of the year.

“I thought I did pretty good this year, I think,” said Smith in a masterpiece of understatement.
Smith, 5-11, 215 pounds, led the Jackrabbits with 1,953 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, plus 231 receiving yards and three scores.

“He’s been our main ball carrier this year when we’ve relied on the running game,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “He gets tough yardage for us. Like we’ve said, he’d rather run through you than run around you.”

Smith’s lust for contact also helped the Jackrabbits on defense, where he had 56 tackles, three for losses, and two sacks at linebacker.

“A lot of people ask us whether or not his next stop is running back or linebacker,” Bost said. “I think he’s more of a running back. I think that’s what he wants to do.”

Smith said he just wants to play in college, on either side of the ball.

“It’s wherever I can be a part of a team,” Smith said. “If I could play linebacker, I would; if I could play running back, I would.

Any position, it doesn’t matter. I love both offense and defense. College recruiting is funny. It’s just where I’d fit in.”

Smith was certainly a good fit when he arrived at Lonoke as an eighth-grader in a transfer from Rose City.

“He jumped right in with this group of seniors,” said Bost, the long-time junior high coach until he took over the varsity program this year. “That’s definitely why we made it as far as we did. This is a tight group. They certainly get along.”

However the Jackrabbits were on the verge of falling apart in a turnover-marred, 2-3 start this season. A 33-13 loss to Bald Knob left the team struggling for answers, but a back-to-basics approach and an emphasis on fun in practice improved the attitude, and quarterback Michael Nelson added a dimension with his improved running.

Even then, Smith played a role.

“Michael has run for 680 yards this year and there’s a lot of times that, yes, we’ve asked him to block for Michael and then pass pickup and he does that,” Bost said.

Bost noted that Smith was frequently asked to take on defensive ends in the Lonoke protection scheme.

“A lot of times those are your bigger guys, usually, and he’s held his own against them that’s for sure,” Bost said.

Lonoke went on a nine-game winning streak following the Bald Knob loss to reach the Dec. 12 state championship against mighty Shiloh Christian in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

Shiloh Christian beat Lonoke 56-20 for its sixth title, but the Saints couldn’t quite silence Smith, who, with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, showed his quickness to the outside as he rushed for 140 yards and one touchdown.

“I noticed I could get to the outside on a couple plays because the blocking was pretty good,” Smith said. “I think I showcased my speed to the outside but it was mostly a balanced game for me.”

“He understands the running game,” Bost said. “He understands where to find the holes and how to hit them and get downhill.

He’s a 4.6 guy and he does have the speed to get there. The speed and the power and he’s got the size.”

Smith already has an offer from Henderson State, of the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference, and is scheduled for a post-holiday visit to Louisiana Tech, of the Western Athletic Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Arkansas State has collected film on Smith, and he is holding out hope he may hear from an SEC school or two. Smith said he would even walk on at a Mississippi State or a Vanderbilt if it came to that.

But it shouldn’t.

“He’ll play in college somewhere,” Bost said more than once during the season. “He’s too good not to.”

SPORTS >> Falcons hit Red Devils in heart

North Pulaski forward Kyron Ware looks for an opening against Jacksonville.

Leader sports editor

It was a thing of beauty for North Pulaski, a monster for Jacksonville.

North Pulaski survived a late push from Jacksonville, the defending 6A state champion, to take a 60-48, non-conference victory at the Devils Den on Friday night.

Jacksonville cut a 10-point, third-quarter deficit to 46-41 when Troy Green hit a three-pointer with 3:31 left in the game. But North Pulaski, of the 5A, took charge of the rebounding from that point and outscored Jacksonville 14-7 down the stretch.

“Early in the game we were going to the hole and not finishing,” North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper said. “I talked to them a lot in the second half about going to the hole and being strong with the ball and being powerful. Defensively we had a few lapses and so we had to get that corrected.”

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner saw almost the opposite in his team. After watching his team give up six offensive rebounds in the clutch, with some balls taken right out of his players’ hands, Joyner was steaming over what he felt was as a lack of heart.

“I’m not an open-heart surgeon,” Joyner said. “I’m not coach Frankenstein. I can’t breathe life into them. They’ve got to come with it.”

Aaron Cooper got a steal and a layup during North Pulaski’s game-closing surge, and Kyron Ware drove the baseline for a resounding dunk that brought fans on both sides to their feet.

Cooper answered a Green layup with a basket to make it 54-43, then the Falcons’ I.J. Ready got a rebound leading to Bryan Colson’s bank shot that made it 56-43.

Green hit a three-pointer for the Red Devils, but Cooper got a free throw with 1:01 left and a reverse layup with 32 seconds to go.

Jacksonville’s Deshone McClure scored the final points when he followed up a miss by Raheem Appleby.

“That was one thing we concentrated on,” Cooper said of the rebounding. “When we played Conway the other night we lost in a double-overtime game and we got killed on the glass. They did a good job of really boxing out and being tough around the basket so it took a while to chip away at them.”

Aaron Cooper led all scorers with 18 points and Colson had 14.

“Bryan Colson played the game of his career,” Raymond Cooper said. “We’ve been seeing that kind of potential coming but it just has never materialized. And him stepping up tonight really was big. Kyron Ware came up big in the second quarter. I was telling him ‘You’ve got to go in there and finish strong and stop looking for contact.’

“You saw the dunk that he had and he’s capable of doing that a lot more so I’m hoping that will open his eyes.”

Green led Jacksonville with 15 points and Appleby contributed 14.

“Scoring is the easy part,” said Joyner, bemoaning the lack of rebounding. “If everybody is boxing their man out, the ball can fall on the floor.”

Jacksonville had one lead, 11-10, when Green made an inside shot for the first points of the second quarter. But Shyheim Barron made a driving layup to start a 14-5 run that closed out the half.

Marvin Davis made a backdoor layup during the rally, Ware hit a free throw, Barron made a scoop layup, Alonte Mitchell added two free throws, Cooper scored in transition and closed out the run with a three-pointer.

Jacksonville got its points when Green made a three-pointer with 5:09 left in the half and Appleby hit a layup with 1:44 to go.

The victory gave North Pulaski a sweep of the regular-season series after the Falcons beat the Red Devils 65-55 on Nov. 23.

To make things even more cozy between the two programs, Joyner previously coached at North Pulaski before moving to Jacksonville.

Raymond Cooper said Jacksonville’s late push and his team’s answer illustrated the hard-fought nature of the cross-town series.

“I’ve got four brothers,” Cooper said. “When they all come home — we’re old now — but when they were younger we’d come home and we’d play and those were some of the most physical and tough battles that I was in. And I kind of equate that to this.

“We know each other, we know all their moves. They know everything that we do.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cabot man’s ties to Mafia is surprising to neighbor

FBI agents search the home of George Thompson  in May while investigating him for involvement in illegal arms sales, gambling and bribery. 

Leader staff writer

A Cabot man was indicted Thursday in Massachusetts for his alleged involvement in organized crime.

In addition to drug trafficking, George Wiley Thompson, 64, allegedly supplied guns to the Mafia’s Colombo Family, according to the Thursday indictment. He was arrested a month ago on other federal charges that came out of a gambling and public-corruption investigation in North Little Rock.

U.S. Attorney Jane Duke said Friday that this is Arkansas’ first case with ties to one of the big crime families.

One Cabot resident who asked not to be identified said he was very surprised to learn that a man with alleged Mafia connections had been living in the Oak Meadows neighborhood.

Some of the houses in his middle-income neighborhood look a little iffy, so it would be easy to imagine that drug dealers might live in a few of them, he said.

But the house where Thompson lived was unremarkable – not the biggest or smallest in the neighborhood – with a relatively well-tended yard. Although he never saw Thompson during evening walks with his wife, the man said he saw Thompson’s cats.

“This totally exceeds anything I might have expected about my neighbors,” he said.

“I guess I’m just shocked,” Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said about the alleged Mafia connection.

“I don’t know how long he’d lived here. But apparently all his business was out of town. I guess he came here so he could fly under the radar.”

Williams said that for the most part all he knew about Thompson was that his house looked a little strange. It was a new house in an older subdivision that was built so close to the street that he had no room for a front porch. Also, at one time he had large dish-shaped antennas on the roof like ones once used to receive satellite signals for television. After the news broke about his alleged bookmaking operation, some wondered if the antennas might have been related to gambling in some way, the mayor said.

But as for Thompson, the mayor reiterated, “I guess he came here to fly under the radar because that’s sure what he did.”

The latest indictment alleges that Thompson was a member of the Deleo Crew, named for alleged Colombo Family street boss Ralph Francis Deleo, 64, of Somerville, Mass.
Deleo was added earlier this month to the federal indictment in Arkansas against Thompson for possessing with intent to distribute more than 500 grams (more than one pound) of cocaine, conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and using a telephone to facilitate a felony drug transaction.

The Deleo Crew allegedly engaged in the importation, trafficking and distribution of narcotics and controlled substances including cocaine and marijuana, extortion, loan sharking, and interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering, mainly in Massachusetts, Arkansas, Rhode Island, New York and Florida.

Thompson fled to Thailand after federal law enforcement officers searched his home in Cabot on May 12. Officers found 147 firearms, five silencers and more than 80,000 rounds of ammunition. The Thursday indictment alleges that Deleo made it possible for Thompson to remain out of the country by arranging the shipment of his prescription medicines.

Also named in the indictment were Edmond Kulesza, 56, of Somerville, Mass., and Franklin M. Goldman, 66, of Randolf, Mass.

The indictment alleges that Goldman’s job in the organization included setting up illegal narcotics deals as well as engaging in extortion and extortionate collection of debt while Kulesza served as an enforcer or “muscle” for the illegal enterprise.
Thompson and Deleo have both pleaded not-guilty to the charges in Arkansas and their trial is set to start Jan. 4.

Two former North Little Rock aldermen, Cary Gaines, 63, and Samuel Gaylon Baggett, 58, have also pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes involving Thompson. Their trial is set for Jan. 26.

Gaines allegedly attempted to fix bids on city projects to pay gambling debts owed to Thompson. Baggett, a gun dealer, is charged with illegally selling weapons to Thompson, who is already a convicted felon.

Cherith Beck, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arkansas’ Eastern District, said Friday that investigators began to suspect that Thompson had Mafia connections early in the investigation and contacted investigators in Massachusetts.
Gaines and Baggett were not included in the investigation into organized crime and they are not incarcerated while they wait for trial, she said.

The unnamed contractor who allegedly would have received the city contracts has not been arrested. Beck said the investigation is ongoing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Hoey, who is prosecuting the cases against Thompson, Deleo, Gaines and Baggett in Arkansas, was in Boston Thursday for the news conference, called to announce the charges against the alleged mobsters. She praised all those involved in the investigations that led to the arrests.

TOP STORY >> Next year’s budget set over $19M by council

Leader staff writer

Without much fanfare, but with a stern warning, the Jacksonville city council unanimously approved, on Thursday, a $19.07 million budget for 2010.

Before the final passage, Alderman Terry Sansing warned, “I still want everyone with their hands out to know that this budget is $251,000 less than last year. It’s a good, balanced budget and I’m not willing to cut out anything for anyone with their hands out.”

Even though Jacksonville’s 2010 proposed budget is a quarter-of-a-million dollars less than this year’s budget, the mayor called it a good one. “We are doing as much or more with it than last year’s. I’m very optimistic.”

Within the 2010 budget of $19.07 million, the city’s fire department takes the biggest hit. The department budget drops from $4.7 million to $4.1 million while the police department will see a slight increase from $6.58 million to $6.71 million.

Overall, the budget for public safety drops about $440,000 from $12.48 million to $12.04 million. But the budgets for city hall, the judicial sector and public works will all see slight increases.

The cost of salaries and benefits increases about $350,000, most of that to cover 3-percent pay increase for employees and $36,000 in higher insurance costs.

City Finance Director Paul Mushrush is banking on a flat year and has projected tax collections to remain about the same. The county sales tax is projected to bring in the same in 2010 as it will this year, $6.39 million. The city tax collections are projected to move up just a bit, going from $5.7 million to $5.9 million. Even though Jacksonville’s general budget is down, the city’s street, sanitation and emergency medical services funds will see increases.

The street budget will go from $2.7 million to $2.95 million. The sanitation fund will go from $1.66 million to $1.71 million and the emergency medical services budget will go from $958,000 to $1.05 million.

The mayor told the council that he appreciated the efforts of all the department heads. “We had to keep going back and cutting and cutting. But it’s a good budget and it’s a balanced budget,” Fletcher said.

In other council business:

• Aldermen approved adding an additional $25 to the cost of traffic and criminal warrants and orders. The $25 covers administrative fees and costs. A new state law allows cities to tack on the additional fee to help defray costs. The new fee will start Jan. 1, 2010.
The council agreed to the rezoning of 216 N. James St. from C-2 (light commercial) to R-0 (single-family residential). Aldermen also approved rezoning 905 S. Oak St. from C-4 (heavy commercial) and R-2 (multi-family residential) to C-2 (light commercial). The council also approved the final plat of the Brewer Commercial Park, Tract A.

• Fire Chief John Vanderhoof, in his monthly report, told the council that the fire department responded to 117 rescue calls, 50 still alarms, 20 general alarms and had 256 ambulance runs during November. Estimated fire loss for the month was placed at $3,000, and fire savings was estimated at $451,000.

• In his monthly report, Police Chief Gary Sipes said his department responded to 3,167 complaint calls in November. During the month the police made 269 adult arrests and 35 juvenile arrests.

The chief told the council that the motto for the department in the coming year was “lock up and stuff them for 2010.” He said in an effort to clean up the city, the department wants everyone to look out for each other. He added that the department was working hard at holding down burglaries.
• Jim Oakley, the public works director, in his monthly report, said the animal shelter took in 109 dogs and 81 cats during November. Shelter officials were able to return 36 dogs and two cats to owners and adopted out 51 dogs and 22 cats. But 24 dogs and 56 cats still had to be euthanized.

The mayor made an appeal at the council meeting for anyone thinking of a pet for Christmas to please visit the shelter first.

During November, six bite cases were reported. The animals involved included a Lab, a boxer, a Chihuahua, a kitten, a Lab mix and an Australian shepherd. The boxer was declared vicious and dangerous.

• In his monthly report, City Engineer Jay Whisker said the city issued 18 building permits and nine business licenses during November. The engineering department performed 155 inspections during the month and 68 residents or business owners were cited for having trashy yards or structure problems. Also 22 vehicles were tagged for noncompliance with city ordinances and three were towed.

• The council approved a number of changes to the city’s health and safety manual including a policy that states employees may not text message while driving and banned smoking in any city vehicle.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville could be state fair’s new home

Leader staff writer

The Arkansas State Fair moved a step closer to selecting a new site for the fairgrounds with a decision Friday to conduct a financial feasibility study.

The fair’s executive committee is still months away from making a decision. But comments at the Friday meeting about the Jacksonville proposal indicated that it is a strong contender – if not the strongest – among 19 submissions.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and attorney Mike Wilson attended the meeting. They were the only ones present from any of the central Arkansas communities contending for the fair’s location. In brief comments at the end of the meeting, Fletcher lauded the committee for not being afraid to seize a promising opportunity in the midst of “trying times.” He noted the economic potential that would come with the Jacksonville site because of its proximity to Little Rock Air Force Base.

The impact to the metropolitan area amounts to $580 million annually, Fletcher said. According to one analyst, “there is a $200 million leakage” in revenue potential flowing from the base that would not leave the area if there were venues to attract it.

Committee Chairman Ned Purtle and Mike Berg, a real estate consultant for the state fair, had high praise for Jacksonville leaders, in particular for the city’s $5 million gift to the U.S. Air Force to construct the Joint Education Center, as well as offering to donate the 430-acre fairground site and hire a grant writer to help raise money to fund construction.

“That is the kind of partner you want,” Berg said.

Engineer Basil Shoptaw, who has evaluated all the proposed sites, said afterward that the Jacksonville site has a lot going for it – immediate interstate access, high visibility, plenty of room, no part of it in a floodplain, and the offer to provide the utilities and land for free.

“Zero cost is hard to beat,” Shoptaw said. “And, there is lots of public support – aggressive public support.”

And nothing about the Jacksonville site, which is in an unincorporated area off Wooten Road, is a deal breaker. There are some low-lying spots in the wrong place perhaps from a design standpoint, but they could be made into lakes.

“You could work around those things,” Shoptaw said. “I see no impediments to making the site work. It is an exciting site.”

Other proposed sites do have some issues – too small, too steep, wetlands, the cost or being divided by a major highway, Shoptaw said. But it is still too early to say any one of them is entirely out of the running.

For consideration, a site had to be within a 35-mile radius of Little Rock. Benton, Conway, Cabot, Carlisle, Conway and North Little Rock have also submitted proposals to woo the fair away from Little Rock. No other city has made an overture like Jacksonville’s free land.

The city of Little Rock would like to see the state fair stay at its present location on Roosevelt Road, where it has been for 70 years. It has made a $57 million proposal to refurbish the facilities, which are outmoded or needing expansion. However, the 100-acre grounds offer little room for growth.

The state fair administration will select a consultant to do the feasibility study “in the next couple of weeks,” said Ralph Shoptaw, general manager for the fairgrounds and first cousin to Basil Shoptaw, the engineer for the project.

It’s likely the consultant for the job will be either Minnesota-based Markin Consulting, which has advised the Tennessee State Fair as well as Yankee Stadium, or the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which has done some end-of-year analyses for the state fair. Markin wants $47,000 and could get it done in 90 days. If UALR took it on, it might not cost as much but likely would take longer, Ralph Shoptaw said after the meeting.

The feasibility study will look at potential fair and off-season events, what it would take to create the needed infrastructure and what the potential payouts would be.

“It would look at the highest and best use of the property and facilities,” Purtle told the committee. “You’ve got to have a plan before you can go to the bank.”

Around the country, state fairs are at a crossroads and the same is true for Arkansas, Berg said. “These things are going one of two ways – south or getting bigger.”

Berg urged the committee to think broadly about financing possibilities: federal and state grants, revenue bonds, private donations, and a foundation could all be part of the mix. He encouraged them to aim for paying off construction costs in five years.

“Ask the state for a one-time donation, then you can have a viable state fair that will go for another 100 years,” Berg said.

The key to sustainability is off-season rentals, and the feasibility study will give the committee some insights into the moneymaking potential of various facilities, among them an equestrian center, 150,000-square-foot exhibition hall, concert venues large and small, a rodeo barn and RV park.

Fair manager Shoptaw said that state fairs in Oregon and Georgia are capitalizing on the popularity of RVs to bring in off-season revenue. Those two outfits are sharing information with Arkansas because they see they would benefit if there were a similar park in the mid United States.

“A 1,000-RV rally for three-and-a-half days could make more than $100,000 in RV rentals alone,” Shoptaw said. “There is a huge potential out there for off-season revenue, but we’ll not be able to get it without a place to do it.”

Without a vibrant off-season, the biggest money maker becomes the 10-day fair. If it coincides with a rainy spell, that can really hurt. With this October being the rainiest on record, gate collections were down 18 percent, compared to 2008. The end-of-the-year balance will be about $100,000 less than it was at the end of 2008, reported the fairground’s accountant.

“Net income is going to show a loss,” Cynthia Bearden told the commission.

Shoptaw said the stakes are high when it comes to choosing who does the feasibility study and what all it entails.

“We haven’t done this in 70 years so we don’t want to get in a big hurry and make the wrong decisions,” he said. “But if we do this right, it could double or even triple” current fair revenues.