Friday, February 05, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Boozman’s pork, perks

For the first time in many years — well, probably ever — the Republican Party will provide Arkansas voters and observers this spring the one illuminating and exciting primary campaign. The Republican race for the U.S. Senate nomination at least offers the prospect.

Unless something happened overnight, U.S. Rep. John Boozman will enter that race today, joining a field that already could fill out the roster of a baseball team. Boozman is a stolid campaigner who has never frenzied or even charmed a crowd, but he will give the aimless primary campaign what it was missing, a target — someone with a record. Boozman’s nine years of roll calls, travel and sponsorships will be the fulcrum of the campaign. It is going to be, we hope, a worthy dialogue.

Three of the candidates — Gilbert Baker, Kim Hendren and Jim Holt — have served a little time in the Arkansas legislature but that is not the same thing. Until now, none of the candidates had contrived to raise a single issue that separated him from the crowd except fund-raising ability and electability. Polls show that any of them would have a good shot, this month, at unseating Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

All the candidates have claimed the mantle of conservatism and sought the allegiance of this year’s passionate quotient of the movement — the teabaggers (or Tea Party sympathizers or teapartiers if you’re in the cognoscenti who have heard the pornography industry’s quaint use of the word). Those are people who are driven by horror at the taxpayer bailouts of corporations and the ballooning budget deficits.

Boozman is not one of those rare Republican moderates — not in today’s Republican Party anyway — but he will still give that debate over the soul of Republicanism some context. Boozman has hewn to Republican orthodoxy on House roll calls as closely as anybody in either house, but that is not altogether a good thing in this supercharged climate.

Take earmarks, for example. Those are the spending propositions by individual members of Congress that target federal money to projects in their districts or states. Earmarks are not a big part of the federal budget, but they resonate with many voters as the perfect symbol of what is so awry about Washington. There is some truth to the view. The prevailing attitude is:
My spending is good, the rest is bad.

You saw it the other day, when President Obama presented his fiscal 2011 budget, which sought to restrain spending in many discretionary domestic programs. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose biggest constituency in her 18-year career in Washington has been big farming, strongly condemned the president’s proposed reduction in farm subsidies while saying she was working hard to cut federal spending. Rep. Boozman didn’t like the president’s reduction in Army Corps of Engineers spending, of which he has gotten plenty in his district.

Unless we miss our guess, the congressman is going to have to defend his great love of earmarks (as long as they are for his district). For 2008-2009 alone, he sponsored $101 million in earmarks, often in league with (who else?) Blanche Lincoln.

Baker has taken a pledge not to engage in earmarkery at all if he is elected (although as a state senator he has been the first one at the trough for personal capital-improvement earmarks). Curtis Coleman, the other major contender in this race, may be in a better position, having no such record to defend. He blasted Sen. Lincoln last week for opposing the Democratic president’s farm-subsidy cuts. He said he thought farmers would agree with him. We’d like to see a poll of farmers on that question. But it was a gutsy stand that will set him apart.

This is going to be an interesting debate. Voters dislike the idea of pork barrel, but they seem to expect their delegate, whether in Washington or Little Rock, to bring back his share of treasure. For nearly 40 years, Sen. John L. McClellan, Rep. Jim Trimble and Rep. Wilbur D. Mills were legends because they boasted of the millions of federal dollars they brought to Arkansas by their seniority on key spending committees.

We no doubt will get to hear about other symbols of government flagrancy like congressional travel. Boozman and his staff have taken quite a few trips at the expense of taxpayers or, more often, special interests. So have nearly all members of Congress, but they’re not facing critics in their own party.

If deficit-spending is the galvanizing issue, Boozman will have some real trouble in the primary, though not so much in the general election because he and Lincoln have nearly identical records on the great issues that drove the plunge to trillion-dollar deficits. They voted for the big Medicare prescription drug bill, which has added hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt in only four years. You may remember that Rep. Marion Berry of Gillett warned at the time that it would drive drug prices sky high, pad the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies and send deficits soaring. He was proved right.

Boozman and Lincoln voted for the first George Bush tax cuts that drastically reduced government revenues without curtailing spending, and they supported the two wars that, unlike all previous wars, were financed totally by debt, mostly to foreign powers. Of the $1.3 trillion deficit in the past fiscal year, their votes accounted for fully two-thirds of it. The rest was the product of the recession: plummeting tax receipts and recessionary spending triggers.

We have an idea Boozman will comport himself successfully, but the Republican Party needs the debate anyway.

TOP STORY >> City purchases alert system to help save lives

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council agreed Thursday night to spend up to $22,500 for a computerized system that will call residents in cases of emergencies, alerts and even more mundane news like a change in the garbage schedule.

Cabot has been using the rapid emergency-communication system known as CodeRED for about six months, and Mayor Eddie Jo Williams is very pleased with it.

Tornadoes are the main reason Cabot is willing to pay $15,000 a year for the service ($10,000 for general messages and $5,000 for the weather alerts), the mayor said.

Cabot was almost destroyed by a tornado more than 30 years ago and it was hit twice last year.

The Cabot mayor said the city has the system that calls everyone in the city anytime the tornado sirens are sounded.

According to Jill Mason, a company representative who gave a 45-minute presentation to the council, the CodeRED Emergency Notification System is a high-volume, high-speed communication service available for mass emergency notifications. CodeRED employs a one-of-a-kind Internet mapping capability for geographic targeting of calls, coupled with a high-speed telephone-calling system capable of delivering millions of customized prerecorded emergency messages directly to homes and businesses every day.

The company is based in Ormond, Fla.

Jacksonville has purchased two tiers of the warning system—the weather-alert programming and the one for city announcements.

The tier for city announcements is restricted to 50,000 minutes of use per year, but the city can buy more time if needed. Any weather alerts that go out on the system don’t count against the minutes.

Mason said that 50,000 minutes will probably be two to three times more minutes than the city needs. “It works out to 100,000 30-second calls and not all messages will be that long or go to everyone.”

Under the computerized calling system the city will be able to target neighborhoods, businesses and even individual streets.

So if a water pipe breaks near Martin and First streets the city can place an overlay on the computer map and only people in that area will be called and warned.

Mason said the system has proven its effectiveness and usefulness in a number of storms and natural disasters over the years.

The system can also be used to send out missing-child alerts and other police alerts.

The storm-warning tier will be controlled by the National Weather Service, which would call only those city residents who live in the path of a tornado and who have signed up for storm warnings.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher predicted the system would eventually replace the tornado sirens. “As the city grows and the siren system ages, it becomes very expensive to maintain.”

He added that tornado sirens are designed to be heard outside and sometimes inside. But they often can’t be heard over vacuum cleaners, televisions and washing machines.

The Jacksonville council waived procedures to get the purchase of the CodeRED system on the agenda and approved because of the closeness to the state’s severe weather season.

When asked how quickly the system could be up and running, Mason said it could be operational within a few weeks.

The system calls cell phones and land lines. It also has the capability to email, text and tweeter messages.

Residents will have to go online to register for the alerts, but Mason said it was a simple process.

Once the city is ready, CodeRED will begin a major public push to get residents registered to receive the calls.

Because the Jacksonville budget has already been set, the $22,500 ($15,000 for the city or general-announcement tier and $7,500 for the weather alerts) the money will come out of Jacksonville’s $100,000 contingency fund.

Fletcher said as the 2010 budget was being worked, most departments were able to keep at least one item on their wish list.

“This is what was on mine,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Lawmakers heading back to work

Leader senior staff writer

Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle) is no fan of the historic legislative financial session that will get under way Monday, but Glover, who is ineligible to run again because of term limits, will be there to begin his last session.

The General Assembly is expected to consider two pieces of business, both at least loosely fitting into the “fiscal” category.

The first is expected to set at $5,000 a year the amount of lottery-generated scholarship money available to Arkansas students attending Arkansas colleges, the second to use money from the General Improvement Fund to pay the state’s debt to county jails for holding state prisoners.

The General Assembly historically had been a biennial body, meeting on the odd years after an election, and reconvening after that only when the governor called a special session.

Voters in the last general election approved a constitutional amendment calling for the General Assembly to meet annually, with the odd-year session covering all matters, and the even-year session devoted only to fiscal matters unless consideration of other matters is approved by a three-fourths majority.

“We’ve had budget hearings, we’re having some more, and everything pretty well worked,” Glover said. “I still don’t think it’s necessary, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Glover said when the session, which could last 30 days, is over, then he’s going to find out how much it cost the taxpayers.

“I don’t know of anything the governor and the head of the Department of Finance and Administration couldn’t have done. I don’t see a lot coming out of it.”

Glover said the anticipated budget cuts in response to the recent downturn in revenues may not have to be as deep as originally anticipated. “This last month we came out of the red for the first time in months,” Glover said. “I talked to the governor last night. He said, ‘Looking pretty good this month.’”

“I think (the session) will confirm very close to what the people put in an amendment they passed, dealing for the most part with budgetary and fiscal matters,” said Sen. John Paul Capps (D-Searcy).

Capps, like Glover, is in the last year of his eligibility. “From what I hear, (the leadership) wants to keep it confined to the fiscal issues for the one-year budget we are authorized to put into effect.”

He said the governor had talked about using the General Improvement Fund money to pay the state’s jail bill to the counties.

“That would be one way to use the money.”

“We’re plowing new ground,” he said of the fiscal session. “We want to stay as close to the wording of the amendment as possible and conclude in 30 days or less.”

“I think we’ll just stick to nothing but budget bills,” said Rep. Jane English, a Republican who represents much of north Pulaski County, “one for the lottery and the scholarships and the revenue stabilization bill.”

“We have a (balanced budget) law going back to 1945,” she said. “That’s why the governor cut the $200 million.”

She said those cuts had been identified and would be in the bills considered this time.

Sen. Gilbert Baker (R-Conway) and Rep. Bruce Maloch (D-Magnolia) had determined what would be in those bills.

“The governor’s tried real hard to do these across the board,” she said. “It’s a complicated process and federal money on top of it. In a lot of ways there’s some fluff built in.”

English’s fellow area Republican, state Rep. Davy Carter of Cabot, did not return phone calls.

Rep. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe), said although approving the governor’s budget is the reason for the even-year session, the legislature also will set lottery scholarships at $2,500 for two-year schools and $5,000 for four-year schools.

Although Gov. Mike Beebe prefers smaller amounts of $1,300 and $2,600 for current college students, he has said he will sign into law the larger amounts if approved by the legislature.

And even though the governor has asked legislators to limit their actions to budget matters as called for in the constitutional amendment setting the yearly session for budgets, Dismang said other legislation is almost certain to be introduced.

This is tax season, and Dismang, an accountant with a Little Rock firm, said getting away from his day job for the three to four week legislative session will not be easy.

“I’m putting in extra hours now,” he said, adding that he is not ruling out the possibility of some night work to take care of his clients.

“We’ve been doing joint budget meetings for three weeks,” said Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville). “This will be strictly on the budget, with changes of the lottery commission bill authorizing $5,000 annual scholarship awards.”

“We’re all kind of anxious to start,” Perry said.

“I know the speaker wants it to be a short, sweet, easy deal and anyone that tries to raise an issue will be shot down,” said Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke). “We’ll have to pass the lottery scholarship bill and maybe some minor things that help the process along.”

McCrary said he thought both bodies would consider using at least part of the $15 million left in the General Improvement Fund to reimburse counties for keeping state prisoners in their jails.

“The governor would love us to use that to send to the county jails to pay for the prisoners that the state put in there and can’t pay for,” McCrary said. “We don’t need to saddle the county jails.”

“It’s going to be a short session,” predicted Rep. Jim Nichols (D-Sherwood). “I don’t expect us to go the full 30 days.”

Nichols said that budget hearings last month went “pretty smooth.”

“Because we aren’t going to spend more than what we have, it actually makes it easier on us,” he said.

Nichols said some state agencies and departments would take a hit because of the weak economy.

“So much of our money goes for K-12 education and it has too which means other areas have to cover the shortfalls,” Nickles said.

Leader staff writers Joan McCoy and Rick Kron contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Ex-chief to get 15 years after his guilty plea

Leader senior staff writer

Former Lonoke Police Chief Ronald Jay Campbell entered a negotiated plea of no contest to four felonies before Lonoke Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore on Friday. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with credit for about 36 months already served.

Campbell faced 17 charges, according to Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland. His pleas were to two burglaries, one theft of property and one count of obtaining drugs by fraud.

The other 13 charges were nolle prossed — no longer pursued.

He goes back to prison Friday.

Feland said he believed that Campbell’s first parole eligibility could be sometime this year.

His wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell, is serving 10 years in prison and will be eligible for parole this year also.

Campbell’s sentence was “an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines,” Feland said, because he was in a position of trust, had multiple victims and multiple counts. He was sentenced as a habitual criminal.

He will be unable to own a firearm and can’t get a job in law enforcement, according to Feland.

“That was important to us. The general sense, the universal consensus, the victims wanted closure,” Feland said.

Patrick Benca, Campbell’s attorney, had prepared motions to dismiss the cases, citing double jeopardy and for a change of venue.

The prosecution faced additional burdens of pressing a case where one important witness—Ronald Adams—had died and where evidentiary rules were not yet certain, since Campbell’s original convictions had been overturned by the state Supreme Court, Feland said.

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. The court remanded the case back to Lonoke County Circuit Court.

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

The court also threw out all evidence collected at the Campbell home, saying there was not reasonable cause for issuance of a search warrant.

“It’s the closing of a chapter,” said Benca, who was Campbell’s attorney through the original trial. “It was a long process and it appears to be done.”

“We worked on this all morning,” Benca said of the negotiated plea. “Neither side is particularly happy, but that’s what negotiation is about.”

Campbell did not give a statement other than pleading no contest.

“He told me it was important to his family that he get this behind him and the residents of Lonoke as well,” Benca said.

TOP STORY >> Lockup shovel-ready

Leader staff writer

County officials ceremonially turned the first shovels of dirt for a new $6 million, 134-bed Lonoke County Detention Center on Wednesday.

The morning was chilly but the ground was sufficiently thawed for the warmly received reception for the long-overdue lockup, located at the end of Dee Dee Lane in the Lonoke Industrial Park behind McDonald’s restaurant.

Sheriff Jim Roberson thanked county residents during the ceremony. He said they are the ones whose tax dollars made it possible. He said the center would be a major improvement for the county.

Lonoke County residents, notoriously resistant to tax increases, nonetheless approved a one-year penny sales tax dedicated to jail construction.

“This is a great day for Lonoke County,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman.

Community leaders and elected officials from Cabot, Austin, Lonoke, Ward, England, Carlisle and Lonoke County gathered at the new site.

The jail, which should be completed early next year, will include sheriff’s offices and a courtroom for plea and arraignment.

Troutman said on the west end will be a new county road shop.

The county traded the city half a block in downtown Lonoke, which included the shop, for the land in the industrial park.

After the groundbreaking ceremony, Cabot Police Chief Jackie Davis said, “We’ve needed it a long time. It won’t be long before it is full.”

“We are looking forward to it and continuing to work with the county. We will be able to lock up the offenders who need to be locked up,” Austin Police Chief John Staley said.

Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore said, “I’m glad we are going to have a jail that will accommodate the offenders and those who fail to pay their child support.

“Safety-wise, I’m glad there is a courtroom for first appearances. It makes it safer for all the citizens, because you don’t have the risk of escape,” Elmore said.

She said there will be more security for judges with sheriff’s deputies there. Elmore said they had people in court (who wanted) to flee the courtroom in the last four months.

“I’m proud to be a JP today to be a part of this,” Justice of the Peace Robert Moery said. “When I initially got elected they were talking about closing the jail because of the conditions.”

Justice of the Peace Alexis Malham said, “It is needed in Lonoke County, and I’m glad the taxpayers voted for the one-cent sunset sales tax.”

Among those in attendance who did not break ground with a shovel were Ward Police Chief Charlie Martin, Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain, England Police Chief Herman Hutton, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and former Judge Carol Bevis.

Later in the day, the first construction meeting of the detention center was held at the CSEPP building conference room in Lonoke.

SPORTS >> Falcons keep eye on Bryant

A dream season for North Pulaski has turned into more of a watch-and-wait.

Senior forward Daquan Bryant, a first-team all-conference selection the past two years and the leading rebounder for the Falcons, injured his knee at a recent practice and will be out for at least two weeks.

“He sprained his knee in practice,” North Pulaski coach Ray Cooper said. “He’s a big part of what we do. How we are going to replace his rebounding, I don’t know. But it is what it is and hopefully we can get him back. We hope it won’t be but a couple of weeks or so.”

Bryant went for tests, including an MRI, Wednesday. The results will not be back until Monday, but doctors and trainers determined it to be a sprained ligament on the outside of his kneecap.

They also ruled out torn ligaments, including the anterior cruciate, which would have required surgery and ended Bryant’s high school career.

“The trainer got him to move it some,” Cooper said. “So we know it’s not an ACL or anything like that. He won’t have to have surgery, so best case scenario, we could have him back in time for the state tournament.”

Bryant’s 12 rebounds led the Falcons in a key victory over No. 1 Little Rock McClellan.

Bryant used his 6-3 frame to provide the inside muscle for the Falcons in their triumph over the top-ranked Lions, but the Falcons will likely not have Bryant’s muscle for the 5A-Southeast Conference rematch on Feb. 16.

SPORTS >> Girls seize first victory for Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Building an early lead was the easy part for Beebe, but the Lady Badgers struggled to put irksome North Pulaski away in the final minutes of their 46-35 victory Tuesday.

But a wide-open shot by post player Shelbie Thomas with 1:01 left to play put the Lady Badgers ahead by 10 following a late push by the Lady Falcons, and Beebe went on to win its first game of the season at Badger Sports Arena.

Shaylin Young provided the scoring consistency Beebe needed to end its unflattering losing streak. Young led the Lady Badgers with 15 points, with eight in the first half and seven in the second.

Thomas also took over the rebounding in the late going for Beebe, and North Pulaski never scored again after Denesha Shelton’s bank shot with 1:51 left to play.

“I thought we did what we had to do,” Lady Badgers coach Lora Jackson said. “We talked at halftime about going to the boards and blocking out. We did well for the first five or six minutes of the first quarter, and after that, it started to become a problem for us. I thought we did a much better job in the second half.”

The Lady Badgers (1-18, 1-6 5A-Southeast) went on an early run that gave them a comfortable four-score cushion they were able to maintain most of the way.

But the Lady Falcons (2-12, 1-6) pushed back in the final three minutes with a 5-0 run by Shelton, who went on to lead North Pulaski with 13 points.

Beebe’s victory put two teams in a tie for seventh in the 5A-Southeast and avenged a 50-39 loss at North Pulaski in the first meeting in mid-January.

“We rebounded a lot better,” Jackson said. “We’ve improved greatly. We’ve done a lot of things that are helping us. We’re being a lot more patient offensively, and we’re working a little more defensively.

“We handled the pressure a little bit better tonight, and those were all things we’ve been trying to improve on. It all came together tonight and we did it.”

The Lady Falcons kept Beebe senior post player Danna Jackson out of the mix until the fourth quarter, when she began to find open shots. Jackson scored all of her five points in the quarter, including a basket and free throw with 6:40 left to give Beebe a 37-26 lead, and another shot, assisted by Thomas, with 4:12 left to make it 41-30.

“They came out and started putting some more pressure on us at the perimeter, and that left the middle open a little more,” Lora Jackson said. “The first half, they were clogging up the middle. Whenever we played them the first time, the high post was open quite a bit.

“We were able to get it inside, and our posts did a good job of finding one another. They played the post-buddy game, and it paid off for us.”

Thomas added eight points for Beebe, and pulled down the majority of the rebounds on both ends. Her defensive play also forced the Lady Falcons to attempt their comeback with outside shooting.

“She’s really come along the last few ballgames,” Jackson said. “The last couple of weeks, she’s been playing a lot stronger.

Finishing around the basket, rebounding for us, and that’s what we need.

“We need that spark, and I think she’s really done a good job there.”

Guard Alexis Miguel scored seven points for the Lady Badgers and post player Kelsie Walker added six. Laura Dortch scored seven points for North Pulaski while Bianca Harper and post player Brianna Cash each added six.

SPORTS >> Angels, Travelers can boast continuity from top to bottom

Leader sports editor

Talk about continuity.

Not only are the Los Angeles Angels returning Bobby Magallanes to the Arkansas Travelers as manager for a fourth straight season, they have retained the field staffs of every team in their minor league system.

Call it happiness with the Angels’ performance last year — Los Angeles reached the American League Championship Series before losing to the New York Yankees — or call it part of a master plan, but the club sees such continuity as a plus.

“It basically gets back to what we believe in, our mantra, to develop contributors on a championship-caliber club,” said Angels player-development director Abe Flores, who was in town with Magallanes on Tuesday for the Travelers’ annual Hot Stove reception.

The Angels’ 40-man roster boasts 25 former Travelers, nine of them probable starters or front-line pitchers.

“We had the most home-grown guys of any team in the Major League playoffs, which tells us we’re continuing to do what we’re supposed to be doing around here,” Flores said.

Magallanes, whose first year was 2007 when Dickey-Stephens Park opened in North Little Rock, becomes only the fourth Travelers manager to serve four straight years. Jim Riggleman led Arkansas in 1985-88, Doc Prothro was manager from 1935-38, Kid Eberfeld managed from 1918-1924 and Mike Finn was manager from 1901-04.

Chris Maloney served four non-consecutive years, in 1994 and from 1998-2000, when Arkansas was affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Every year you learn,” Magallanes said. “You’re getting better every year.”

Magallanes will also welcome back his pitching coach from last season, Ken Patterson, and last year’s hitting coach Francisco Matos. Patterson will also serve his fourth year with the Travs after coaching the pitchers at Ray Winder Field in 2006 and in2008-09 at Dickey-Stephens Park.

Patterson was not present Tuesday but his name came up when Travelers general manager Pete Laven announced a significant alteration to Dickey-Stephens Park. Long known as a haven for pitchers, the park should be a little more hitter-friendly with a new, 3 ½-foot basket atop the left-field wall similar to what Chicago Cubs have in Wrigley Field.

“It won’t hurt,” Laven said. “I think the only person who won’t like it will be Patterson.”

Magallanes, 167-231 with a 2008 Texas League championship at Arkansas, said he has never stopped learning in his career as a manager and added that one of the biggest adjustments is getting his teams to play to their home environment.

“This team here in this ballpark has got to be a special team,” Magallanes said.

He pointed out how recent sluggers like Mark Trumbo and Sean Rodriguez saw their home run numbers drop from 32 and 28, respectively, to 15 at Dickey-Stephens Park. Likewise, pitchers have seen their ERAs shrink at Dickey-Stephens only to expand after they are promoted to Class AAA Salt Lake.

In tailoring the team to the ballpark, Magallanes has tried to follow the Angels’ small-ball blueprint, using the hit and run, steals and sacrifices to manufacture runs.

“You’ve got to manage according to what kind of team you have but also according to the Angels’ philosophy,” Magallanes said.
The Travelers are entering their 10th season as the Angels’ Class AA Texas League affiliate. Los Angeles signed with Arkansas after the 2000 season to replace St. Louis, which had a 35-year relationship with Arkansas.

In the past nine seasons the Travelers have won two Texas League championships, in 2001 under Mike Brumley and under Magallanes in 2008, and played for a third under Tom Gamboa in 2005.

There were grumblings among fans and team insiders after last season, in which the Travelers finished 61-59 and last overall in the North Division, but the Angels expect a crop of prospects to make the jump to Arkansas from Class A Rancho Cucamonga, in the California League, and provide a little more excitement.

“We’re going to come here and we know we’re going to own this ballpark because we know how to play in this ballpark,” Magallanes said.

Arkansas opens the season at Midland, Texas, on April 8 and has its home opener with Midland on April 15. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training Feb. 18 and Major League opening day is April 4.

SPORTS >> Owls take shot, hit more

Leader sports editor

Abundant Life used its entire roster, including junior varsity players, and 11 of the 15 scored in the Owls’ 77-51 home victory over Little Rock Lutheran on Tuesday.

But Lutheran was not without its highlights.

Abundant Life was on its way to a 41-18 halftime lead when Little Rock Lutheran guard Lake Hollowell fired a one-handed, baseball throw from in front of the Lutheran bench— on the far side of the center line — to make a buzzer-beating three-pointer that cut it to 41-21.

“A hail Mary, I don’t know,” Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard said of the parochial school prayer shot. “We’re not Catholic. I don’t guess.”

Apparently, Lutheran has a way of making such miracles almost routine.

“He did that yesterday in practice,” Lutheran coach Aaron DuVall said of Hollowell. “He just picked up a basketball, one hand all the way down the floor and it went in. I don’t know; it’s crazy. We’ve hit a halfcourt shot like that before here so, I don’t know, it’s just funny.”

Ballard remembered a similar shot at Lutheran from a few years ago.

“Over the years, Lutheran has made about four or five of those on us,” Ballard said. “It doesn’t matter, they always make them.

One time at their place they made a fullcourt shot but there was a problem with the clock — it would have won the game — so then they ran it again and hit the backboard and the rim and came out.”

But while Lutheran had the eye-popping single shot, Abundant Life emptied its bench in the second half and got its baskets in bushels to make the difference Tuesday. Ballard wanted his players to exploit the perimeter this season and gave orders that no one could get on the floor unless he was able to make a three-pointer.

Mission accomplished, as six different Owls made three-pointers, including some of the last players off the bench, and Abundant Life had a total of 10.

“If somebody starts playing a junk defense, like they were doing tonight with a triangle and two, they leave the perimeter open,” Ballard said. “So I told my guys it’s going to be a matter of playing horse the rest of the game on shooting open threes.”

The junior varsity game scheduled for Tuesday didn’t take place because Lutheran didn’t have enough players. Ballard was happy for the opportunity to get his younger players in the game as the Owls continued to hold, or build, their big lead in the second half.

The only danger was the chance Abundant Life would build its lead to 30 and trigger the nonstop clock under the high school sportsmanship/timing rule.

“I felt terrible because it was supposed to be their last JV game,” Ballard said. “I was really trying to keep the score under 30 so the clock wouldn’t run so we could give those guys more time. So that’s why we were subbing a little earlier than usual.”

Abundant Life played Thurs-day at Conway Christian and has its regular season finale at Mountain View on Friday. With the district tournament around the corner, Ballard welcomed the chance to use a lot of players, resting starters and getting backups more experience.

“This time of the year, that third string is not getting a lot of my time in practice,” Ballard said. “So to be able to reward them a little bit, hopefully, will bring them back a little bit more motivated tomorrow for practice.”

Mike Stramiello scored 11 of his team-high 16 points in the first quarter as Abundant Life (26-4, 10-0 5-2A North) rolled to a 23-9 lead. Cameron Slayton made four three-pointers and finished with 14 points and George Herring chipped in 12 points.

Hollowell led Lutheran (10-10, 4-7) with 13 points and Markham Roberson scored 11.

“They shot the ball unbelievably well,” DuVall said. “I don’t know how many threes they hit but it seemed like, with guys in their face, they had outstanding shooting. And that’s kind of what we expected coming here and we just did the best we can to defend it.”

SPORTS >> North Pulaski presses, pulls away

Leader sportswriter

The 73-45 final score was a result of North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper calling off the dogs very early in the second half.

Because up to that point, Cooper’s Falcons had dominated Beebe in every aspect of the game on their way to a 34-7 lead after one quarter and a 53-16 lead at halftime.

The Falcons (15-4, 7-0 5A-Southeast) were 6 of 6 from three-point range and forced seven Badger turnovers in the first quarter with a relentless full-court press.

In fact, North Pulaski increased the lead to the 30 points required to trigger the sportsmanship/timing rule with 6:48 left in the second quarter as it kept its conference record unblemished.

“We shot lights out,” Cooper said. “When you’re shooting like that, you’re going to score pretty good. We came out, got hot and our guys played pretty good defense in the first half too.”

Despite the Falcons’ good fortunes on the court, adversity was represented on the bench, where senior three-year starting forward DaQuan Bryant was wearing a knee brace on his right leg. Bryant did not play.

It was the sixth consecutive, 5A-Southeast loss for the Badgers (3-16, 1-7), but they were able to clean up the deficit somewhat in the second half after the disastrous first in which the Falcons held them to only four points until Caleb Davidson made a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 29-6 with 1:27 left in the first quarter.

The Falcons’ press led to three steals in the first period. They also capitalized on a 10-second call and forced a double dribble that led to the second of North Pulaski senior guard Aaron Cooper’s four, three-pointers in the first quarter.

“We got better rotations, which is something we’ve been working out of,” Cooper said. “We’ve had breakdowns after three or four passes. And tonight, they stayed disciplined and didn’t get over aggressive. They just kind of let it come to them and took advantage of it.”

Senior guard Joe Agee was the first to strike for the Falcons with a three-pointer off the tip, followed by Cooper’s first three-pointer with 7:16 left to make it 6-0. Bryan Colson scored inside with 5:56 left for the first of his 10 points and an 8-0 Falcon lead.

Davidson was the only Badger able to shake off North Pulaski’s stifling defense early on. He scored Beebe’s first points with 5:03 left in the first quarter, and managed to beat the press for a wide-open lay-up with 4:12 left in the first half.

But that was sandwiched between two threes for Cooper, who went on to lead the Falcons with 26 points, 18 of which came in the first quarter.

Sophomore reserve Shyheim Barron provided North Pulaski’s next first-quarter spark when he came off the bench and made a fade shot with 2:31 left in the period to make it 22-4.

Barron opened the scoring with 2:15 left in the first and converted a basket and free throw with 1:50 left in the quarter to give the Falcons a 29-4 lead. He capped off the first quarter with a three-pointer in the final 30 seconds as part of his 14 total points.

Beebe battled back against the North Pulaski reserves in the second half.

Devonte Young found open shots around the perimeter, while Davidson and Zach May scored tough inside points. Young led
Beebe with 11 points. Davidson scored 10 and May scored nine.

Colson added 10 points for North Pulaski.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

TOP STORY >> Cattle sniper stalks rancher

A Lonoke County rancher’s livelihood is on the line after two of his cows were shot in the head recently.

None of the cows have died, but rancher Carl Hart says the veterinarian bills are stacking up.

The cost of treating the animals’ wounds “could run in to a few thousand dollars,” he said.

This is not the first time that his cows have been shot either.

“It started last year around deer season,” he said.

Five cows were shot on his land last year. Two weeks ago, one was shot again and then last week, another one was found shot.

The recent bout of cow sniping began about seven weeks ago when Hart found another cow shot in the neck.

Hart’s ranch is near Hwy. 236 and Clayhill Road.  The cows are valued at about $1,500.

Deputies say the shooter is using a small caliber firearm, probably a .22 or .22 magnum, which is not powerful enough to kill the cows.

The stress causes the cows to stop producing milk and their calves could die, he said.

Sheriff Jim Roberson wants to put at end to this and charge the shooter with cruelty to animals.

Anyone with information pertaining to these acts is asked to contact the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office at (501) 676-3000.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Can Huckster explain this?

It was so far down in the crime news that you may not have noticed. We like to mark the sparrow’s fall when it comes to former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s history with the criminal element, so we bring it to your attention.

Carlos Lamont Brown, a native of Forrest City, was sentenced to nine years in prison last week for running a credit-card scam that defrauded people of almost $130,000. His confederates would copy credit- and debit-card numbers when people used the cards to pay restaurant bills, and then Brown and his friends would use them to buy goods. The waiters would use hand-held scanning devices supplied by Brown’s team to copy the card numbers and identifications.

Gov. Huckabee never had any connection with Brown as far as we know, but one of the thief’s confederates was James Edward “Jimmy” Hinton, a former basketball star at Little Rock’s Hall High School. Hinton will be tried later this month for his role in the racket. After his playing days, Hinton spent time in the state penitentiary for distributing cocaine.

Huckabee, as we know, had a soft spot for sports and rock stars, businessmen who contributed to the Republican Party, repenting sinners, anyone who had victimized a relative of Bill Clinton and anyone who found a Baptist preacher to vouch for him. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Huckabee gave Hinton a pardon. We don’t know what the former star told Huckabee that merited a pardon, or whether a preacher interceded for him, a model path to earn clemency in the Huckabee years.

The death toll from Huckabee’s liberal clemency policies still stands at six. Hinton at least did not add to that, but he lengthens the long line of criminals who preyed upon innocents after winning Huckabee’s favor. We have a hunch there will be more before the presidential race in 2012, when Sarah Palin — or someone — will demand that he explain a judgment that ran awry so often and that brought such unspeakable pain.

EDITORIAL >> Washington owes us one

Some time this year, Arkansas will spend the last of some $2.5 billion that Washington sent our way to save and create jobs and continue the state’s meager services through this deep and lingering recession. People can judge for themselves whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act succeeded or was worth the accumulated national debt, which will amount to some $780 billion.

Just about every Republican officeholder and disciples of the Teabagger movement say that it has been a monumental waste.

A Republican state representative from Rogers last year tried to get the legislature to go on record repudiating Arkansas’ share of the stimulus, although she acknowledged that if everyone else was taking the money, maybe it would not be wise of us to send it back since the state did have a few needs it couldn’t meet.

Most Arkansans now have seen some immediate benefit — if nothing else, the huge project to remove the big bottleneck on Interstate 430 and the bridges and road improvements across the state. The people who were hired to do that work will think it worthwhile. But the best aspects are not so tangible, or at least not so visible: the school staffs and education programs that were not cut back, the policemen and firemen who were not furloughed, the public-health services that were not curtailed.

Without the stimulus, the pain for everyone would be less endurable. We are sure of that.

But what bothers us most about the naysaying is the complaint that the federal government should not be investing the borrowed money of the republic helping state and local governments, which are empowered to meet their own needs, and especially states like Arkansas that have not suffered the massive unemployment and budget cuts of the industrial and Sun Belt states.

Here is why they are wrong. The federal government owes us one. You may remember that the giant tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy in 2001 and 2003 had some punishing details for states like Arkansas. The tax act of 2001 phased out the federal tax on rich estates, which added hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt, but a little-observed section of the act confiscated for the federal treasury the estate taxes levied by most states, including Arkansas. Grabbing the states’ taxes would make the federal budget deficit under President Bush look smaller. To hell with the states. Every Republican in both houses of Congress voted for it.

Arkansas had collected a tax on rich estates since 1909 and by 2003, when Washington began to confiscate the revenues, the estate tax was producing $62 million for Arkansas schools, colleges and health programs. Some years it produced more. In 1996, it generated $117 million.

All of that money has vanished, thanks to Bush and his party, and that is one reason that Gov. Beebe now is having to slash budgets and services. Now that we think about it, all the state’s fiscal travails are traceable to congressional action in that era.

Yes, they owe us one.

TOP STORY >> Trial could get Muhammad his death wish

Leader executive editor

Last June, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad killed a soldier from Conway and injured another soldier from Jacksonville in front of a recruiting station in Little Rock.

Pvt. William Long, 23, died from a single bullet wound. Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, 19, who lives in the Sunnyside section of Jacksonville, survived by playing dead. Ezeagwula was shot in his neck, back and buttocks.

Muhammad, 24, can’t wait for martyrdom.

Muhammad, aka Carlos Leon Bledsoe, is originally from Memphis. He thinks he’s a soldier for Islam.

He says he joined al-Qaeda when he traveled to Yemen three years ago, but prosecutors and the FBI think he’s just a loner and a loser. His father thinks he’s a fruitcake.

Muhammad wants a quick trial and conviction so he can get to paradise and into the waiting arms of those virgins they told him about when he converted to Islam in 2007.

He says prosecutors who “wish to frighten me with seeking the death penalty” don’t scare him at all.

“Bring it on,” he wrote to a Little Rock TV station recently. “We love death more than you love life. And you can’t kill those who are ready to die.”

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley, who thinks Muhammad is “a cowardly, cold, calculating killer,” says he’ll seek the death penalty.

Muhammad wants to plead guilty, but Jegley’s not interested in a negotiated plea, which would mean life without parole.

“I won’t pay any respect to his political posturings,” Jegley told us. “I don’t care what his reasons are. We’re on for the trial in June.

“I’ll take care of the homicide charges,” Jegley added.

That would almost certainly mean a death sentence if Muhammad is convicted. The only possible reprieve, short of an acquittal, would be if Pvt. Long’s family took pity on him and asked Jegley for a negotiated plea.

But Jegley said that would be unlikely.

He considers Muhammad a murderer who couldn’t even find his way to al-Qaeda in Yemen, where they operate pretty much out in the open, like street peddlers and money changers.

The U.S. Justice Department thinks he may have made contact with some radical outfits there, but nothing came of it, Jegley told us.

Muhammad said the attack didn’t go as planned. He had hoped to kill more soldiers at the recruiting station. He managed to kill just one white soldier and injured a black soldier. That’s why he thinks he’s a failure.

But he’s not as crazy as he sounds: His lawyers have asked the Arkansas Public Defender Commission to help pay for their client’s defense.

That could cost as much as $100,00-$200,000.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright Jr., who will preside over the trial, has ruled that Muhammad should get paid by the public defender’s commission.

The commission will file an appeal today to the state Supreme Court. A spokesman told us the commission can’t afford to spend all of its money on Muhammad, leaving nothing for indigent defendants.

Muhammad is one of several black Americans who have converted to Islam in hopes of finding salvation through violence.

John Allen Muhammad and a young sidekick went on a rampage in the Washington, D.C., area in 2002 and killed 10 people.

Muhammad was executed last November.

Our Muhammad may have had the Washington sniper in mind during the attack in Little Rock. Fortunately, we were spared a bloodbath here, but the prosecution hopes the punishment will be the same.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood gas station falling down

This old gas station in Sherwood may be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The building is suffering from years of neglect.


 Leader staff writer

Sherwood Alderman Becki Vassar hopes others share her sentiment about preserving a little bit of local history – the long-vacant filling station that sits in the midst of the intersection of Trammel and Roundtop roads on the eastern edge of town.

The spot was once a vital way station for travelers between Little Rock and St. Louis. Now, the quaint building, which in 2008 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, is badly in need of repair.

“It needs everything – it is about to fall down,” Vassar said. “Some repairs have been done on the roof, but it is in total disrepair.”

The tiny white stucco building with red trim and eye-catching turret roof is enough to spark any child’s imagination, as it did when Vassar’s children rode past more than 30 years ago, she recalled when talking about her “fond memories and big wishes” for renovating the structure.

The building is one of the few remaining examples in the state of the whimsical architectural style often chosen in the early 1900s by smaller oil company stations to attract customers.

“There are some people who think it should be torn down, but there are only two, maybe four, left in the state, and we need to do what we can to preserve it,” Vassar said.

According to accounts by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and the city of Sherwood, the filling station was constructed in 1936 by North Little Rock developer Justin Matthews for the Pierce Oil Company.

Pierce was one of several “baby Standards” formed after the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust in 1911 and operated in southern Missouri, Arkansas, western Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Sinclair Oil purchased Pierce Oil in 1940. Photographs indicate that Roundtop later was a DX Oil Company station.

W.D. “Happy” Williford operated the station from the time it opened until it closed in 1972. During that time, Roundtop Road – the old U.S. Hwy. 67 – was a major road prior to construction of the interstate system.

“All the St. Louis-Little Rock traffic passed by it,” states the account in the city history, “The Signs Still Stay Sherwood.” “For many years, it had the only modern bathrooms between Searcy and Little Rock.”

Even so, the amount of gas sold there was very modest by today’s reckoning.

“Pumping a hundred gallons of gas in the glass-bowl pump was a big day,” Williford is quoted as saying.

Williford bought the station in 1957, then sold it in 1999 to George Brown. Brown’s heirs later made the property a gift to the city, which annexed the area in 1975.

Vassar plans to seek a grant to pay for repairs, but senses that the project may require more capital than what a grant could provide.

Her hope is that businesses with the needed expertise, labor or materials will come together to work on the renovation.

She thinks that the building could be put to use, possibly as a station for Sherwood police officers.

“I would like to put together a group of people in the community who are truly interested to raise funds or make repairs or in-kind contributions,” Vassar said.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD interviews hopefuls

Leader senior staff writer

“I am an agent of change,” Charles L. Hopson of Portland, Ore., told reporters Tuesday afternoon, part of his daylong interview process as a finalist for the Pulaski County Special School District’s superintendent’s job.

Rob McGill, who has been acting superintendent since the board pressured former Superintendent James Sharpe to resign last May, is among four finalists selected from five recommended by the recruitment development team of McPherson and Jacobson.

“I envision a district where race and poverty are not indicative of success,” said Hopson, 52, who has taught at Northwood Middle School.

He said in his experience, most students with disabilities or non-native English speakers can and should be mainstreamed and respond well to more rigorous schooling if they receive proper support.

On Monday, Roy “Cole” Pugh went through the interview process. McGill is slated for an interview today. Thursday, the lone woman, Vashti K. Washington, will be in the hot seat.

Pugh, who has served as superintendent of larger Texas high schools since 1990, pointed to several instances where schools he led dramatically increased benchmark scores.

Pugh is superintendent of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw School District, which has an enrollment of 16,100, slightly smaller than PCSSD.

He cited his experience working at districts with high minority enrollments with low- income and low-academic achievement.

In the 2008-2009 school year, the number of students taking advanced-placement classes doubled from the number when he arrived in 2006, he said.

Pugh said he served on 12 teams of educators who visited other Texas school districts to help improve performance.

Most people want the best for the children of a district, he said. “Why doesn’t that happen? Because of fragmented efforts.”

Pugh, 60, said he had experience in facilities planning in several districts.

He said when he became superintendent of his first district, the bank account was overdrawn and it was “circling the drain, not an experience I’d like to repeat.”

“Three years later, it was identified as the 10th-best district financially in the state,” he said.

Pugh said test scores could be increased by curriculum alignment. “They need to know the knowledge (they will be tested on),” he said.

District patrons hated to see him move on when he left, he said.

Pugh said he was seeking a position outside of Texas so that he could begin drawing his Texas retirement benefits, but that he expected to continue working at least until his seventh grade son graduated.

Pugh has a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Stephen F. Austin State University and a master’s degree from the same school in physical education. He received his Ph.D. in education from the University of Houston.

Hopson has local roots. Raised in Prescott, he was a special education teacher in the Helena/West Helena School District and for three years at Northwood Middle School in Gravel Ridge, where he began to develop his inclusive approach to education, he said.

He is deputy superintendent of district-wide programs in Portland, which has 34,546 students.

He has been an administrator in Portland Public Schools for nearly 20 years, where he said he developed a reputation for turning around test scores, improved discipline, turned around low faculty morale and eliminated systemic barriers to education of more challenged students.

“When students are affirmed and successfully engaged, discipline (problems) drop,” he said.

“We took down barriers and expanded advanced-placement opportunities for more students,” he said.

“I will argue that academic disparity is not the result of cognitive deficiency. It’s more about building a culture and framework for high expectation.”

He said at the beginning, students were begging to get out of AP classes because of the rigor. At the end of the year, he got a card signed by many of those students, some English as a second language students, saying, “Thank you for believing in us.

You took us out of classes where we felt dumb.”

He said his methods encountered “tremendous pushback from the teachers,” and that it took time for them to buy into the program. He said some left.

Hopson said he was recruited into a group of superintendents being prepared to lead some of the largest urban school districts.

“I’m supposedly one of the top six candidates (in the nation) for large urban school districts,” he said.

Asked if he would consider it a mandate by the board to implement his vision if hired, Hopson said, “The board is the policy-making entity. I’m looking for opportunities to have courageous conversations that are critical for this district. I’m looking for a cohesive voice, transparency and open dialogue.”

Hopson earned his bachelor’s in elementary/special education at the University of Central Arkansas, His master’s in elementary school administration and supervision also from UCA and In August 1993, he earned his Ph.D. in educational Policy and management at the University of Oregon at Eugene.

TOP STORY >> Storm not as bad as feared

A man crosses the overpass at Kiehl Ave. in Sherwood during the storm on Friday. 

Leader staff writer

John Lewis, a Sherwood resident who is with the National Weather Service in Little Rock, said that central Arkansas got neither a snow event nor an ice event last weekend.

He said the atmospheric conditions across the northern part of the state panned out for a major snow event and some areas got as much as one foot of snow.

“They had very little sleet, ice or freezing rain up north, just snow,” Lewis explained.

Across central Arkansas, Lewis said, there were warmer atmospheric conditions that caused the snow to melt and then refreeze. “Because it was refreezing at a relatively high level, we got mostly sleet.”

But it was a different story in south-central Arkansas, particularly along a band from Hot Springs to Pine Bluff to Stuttgart; there, the refreezing occurred close to the ground.

“That caused them to get freezing rain, which caused more problems,” Lewis said. “At one time about 30,000 people were without power in the area because of the freezing rain icing up and cracking lines and trees.”

The storm, which turned out to be much milder than expected, still had city and county road crews working long hours dumping sand and chemicals on bridges, intersections and hills to try to minimize traffic accidents.

Hal Toney, the street department superintendent for Jacksonville, said his department put in 219 man-hours and dumped about 80 tons of sand and seven tons of salt on the city, starting late Thursday and going through Saturday.

In Sherwood, crews also put in about 200 man-hours. Chester Bymer, the street department supervisor, said the city spread 30 yards of sand onto the streets and bridges during the storm.

The storm left the Jacksonville Police Department still short five officers.

Police Chief Gary Sipes had gone to the Civil Service Commission in December to get permission to offer out-of-cycle testing to fill four vacancies. Shortly after the request was approved, a Jacksonville officer was fired and arrested on drug charges, leaving the department five short.

The testing was set for Saturday, but the wintry mix of weather caused the testing to be canceled.

TOP STORY >> Railroad, FEMA view aftermath of Beebe floods

Leader staff writer

Union Pacific railroad officials, along with Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel, were in Beebe recently to survey damage from two floods that devastated part of the Windwood subdivision.

Mayor Mike Robertson said the railroad appears open to the idea of rebuilding trestles taken out decades ago to allow water to flow out of the subdivision faster if that would help. And FEMA might be able to provide money to relocate some of the residents whose homes were severely damaged if a federal disaster area is declared. But for now, he has no real update on the solution to the flooding or relief for its victims. Too many questions are still unanswered.

Robertson said officials with Union Pacific didn’t say no when asked about rebuilding railroad trestles (bridges that water could flow through) that were taken out 20 years ago and replaced with dirt beds that act as dams holding runoff in the subdivision.

“At least they were receptive,” he said.

The mayor said he sent the railroad representatives to Don Beavers with BF Engineering because Beavers understands the problems in the area. But the railroad will want its own engineering study, he said.

The flooding, the day before Halloween and Christmas Eve, had two causes, he said. Runoff has gotten worse in recent years as the entire area, not just Beebe, has developed. The water could not get through the remaining railroad trestle to a lower-lying area as fast as it came into the subdivision. At the same time, Cypress Bayou was already full and backed up into the subdivision.

“There was no place for it to go,” he said.

Robertson said his information about progress with FEMA comes from the county’s Office of Emergency Management in Searcy.

Someone from his office calls at least every two days, he said. But until a federal disaster declaration is made, there will be no federal money to help with the problem.

Some residents want the city to use federal money to buy their homes which will likely be difficult to sell because they were flooded even if the flooding problem is solved.

Robertson said he knows money for that might be available, but he doesn’t know if it will be. And if it is, it would have to be a full grant to the city because the city couldn’t afford to pay any of the cost of buying flooded homes.

In the meantime, the owners of about half the dozen homes that were damaged by flood water are making repairs.

Some of the flooded homes were not protected by flood insurance. The mayor said some residents have filed lawsuits against the financial institutions that financed them.

Some residents have said the city should have told them they needed the insurance. Robertson said the city could have told them their homes were in a flood zone if they had asked, but they didn’t ask and the city has no way of knowing when a home is sold.

The city ordinance on building in flood zones says homes that sustain flood damage of half their value cannot be rebuilt. So far, only one home fits that description.

SPORTS >> Lifeblood of football is life itself

Leader sports editor

Well, it’s national signing day and you know what that means.

Yes, it’s time to break out the William Shatner impression.

You remember the SNL sketch in which Shatner, old Capt. Kirk himself, addresses the rabid, costumed fans at the Star Trek convention with the immortal words: “Get a life, will you people?”

For a lot of football fans with not enough to do, today is the sports equivalent of the Star Trek convention. And I echo Shatner, minus the chewed scenery.

Across the nation, athletes in several sports will sign NCAA letters of intent to compete for institutions of higher learning next year. The focus, around here and everywhere else, of course, is on football.

Since the game is our most popular spectator sport, the attention is understandable and fans’ interest is justified, though locally we have athletes signing in baseball, softball and track and field as well.

I don’t have a problem with a kid getting a full athletic scholarship. None.

You know that on the field, at least, the scholarship has been earned in a measurable way, quantifiable by film and statistics, and such a ride gives an opportunity to a kid who might not have otherwise had one. That’s regardless of whether or not he stays in school or declares for a draft.

I personally hope he stays in school and finds a cure for cancer someday.

No, what has made the whole recruiting scene a “colossal waste of time” as Shatner also told the Trekkers, are the Internet sites like, message boards, radio talk shows and media coverage that have turned recruiting into a spectator sport unto itself.

That and the obsessive fans who gobble up this stuff.

Many of the so-called media experts are glorified fans of the programs they cover; they have been known to brag about landing recruits for a particular team or, just as unethically, they become too close to recruits and wind up trying to find them a coach with a scholarship to give — in other words, they meddle in the stories they are supposed to be writing.
I have seen this firsthand.

Many coaches don’t put stock in the Internet rankings and choose to do their own player evaluations. Arkansas State’s Steve Roberts told me that by the time a 17 year old cracks the Rivals top 100, he may have already reached his athletic peak, and college coaches have to sign players as much for their potential as for the players they are.

Yes, recruiting is the lifeblood of the sport, but it doesn’t have to be life for the sports fan. If you like athletics, there are real live sports being played right now.

High school basketball is coming up on its regular season home stretch, the college basketball races are starting to take shape and for pity’s sake football fans, the Super Bowl is Sunday.

Do the recruitniks miss football so much when the season is over they actually have to know if a kid in Possum Guts, Tenn., is considering playing for Arkansas?

Sure it means your program is doing well if you’re landing the so-called blue chippers, it means you’ve won some games, you have a high profile, people want to play for you. It’s understandable a fan might like to know who is in this year’s signing class.

But even recruiting guys like Little Rock Christian’s Michael Dyer, the all-time Arkansas high school rushing leader heading to Auburn, can be a crapshoot. Hasn’t Dyer struggled with ankle injuries in the past?

Say that lineman from Possum Guts commits to Arkansas and one of the two recruiting “gurus” in the statewide daily breathlessly reports the news?

What does the fan do with that news once he has it? Sit on pins and needles for the two years or more it will take for that lineman to become a contributing player?


The kid has to make it to campus and not get hurt during summer conditioning or some high school all-star game or some sort of youthful hijinx.

He must log time on the scout team and learn the system.

He must make grades.

He must stay out of trouble (never as easy as it sounds).

He will probably redshirt.

And he must live up to the expectations that got him signed in the first place.

Then, maybe in two years minimum, the kid becomes a contributor, if he stays injury free.

You could read a lot of good books waiting for that moment. You could take a lot of long walks with your wife or spend a lot time with your kids. Two years is plenty of time to lose 10 pounds or quit smoking.

You could get a life.

SPORTS >> North Pulaski gets no bounce in poll

Freshman I.J. Ready has been a contributor for North Pulaski this season.

Leader sports editor

At least North Pulaski didn’t drop in the statewide rankings.

But Falcons coach Raymond Cooper was scratching his head a little over North Pulaski’s stationary status after it beat No. 1 Little Rock McClellan last week.

“We started at four, beat them, stayed at four,” Cooper said.

The Falcons (14-4, 6-0 5A-Southeast) beat McClellan 76-73 on Jan. 26 then had last Friday’s game with White Hall postponed until the end of the season because of the winter weather that blew into Arkansas late last week.

It is hard to say if the cancellation and the missed chance to win another game may have kept the Falcons from moving up the overall rankings, in which Conway, of the 7A, is No. 1 followed by 6A members West Memphis and Little Rock Hall. McClellan dropped to No. 5.

North Pulaski is No. 1 in 5A, but Cooper clearly expected the Falcons to move a little, if not all the way to No. 1, in the overall rankings.

“We’ve never done well in the polls,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if people underestimate us because of our size or whatever the case may be, but it’s a little stuff to put on the bulletin board.”

Cooper and the Falcons, who reached the 5A state final and lost to Greene Co. Tech last year, didn’t get a chance to discuss the snub over the icy weekend, but Cooper figured it would be a hot topic going into Monday’s practice.

“Of course I haven’t seen them since then. I’ll find a good time to use it,” Cooper said.

The good news at least, is that North Pulaski went into its unexpected time off after a victory.

“I’d rather be coming off a win than coming off a loss,” Cooper said. “You get a whole lot of time to mull it over and then not being able to practice either, so I’d much rather be coming off a win.”

Kyron Ware led North Pulaski with 18 points in the McClellan victory and freshman I.J. Ready made two free throws with three seconds left for the final margin.

Cooper said the Falcons’ effort was good to see after some lackluster performances early in the season.

“We picked it up in the last couple weeks and the biggest thing is practice picked up, and preparing,” Cooper said. “Preparing for the games and sustaining. We still had a letdown against McClellan, we got up 18 in the third quarter and we went into that little mode again.”

Cooper said his players still sometimes stand around when it’s time to grab a rebound, and he hasn’t always been happy with the speed of the Falcons’ transition game and a lack of communication in transition.

“These are things that are mental because we drill it all the time and sometimes we lost focus,” Cooper said.

But the Falcons wouldn’t be perfect in the conference and in the state’s top five without having some highlights too. For Cooper, such a highlight has been balanced scoring.

“In the McClellan game and the Beebe game both we had equal distribution of scoring,” Cooper said. “At Beebe we had five guys with double digits and one guy with eight points. Against McClellan we had four and I think one guy had eight so we had almost five guys in double digits against McClellan.

“That’s when we’re at our best, everybody contributing and you can’t really key in on anybody.”

Ware is averaging close to 18 points to lead the Falcons, Aaron Cooper is averaging close to 17 and Bryan Coulson’s average is around 10.

While North Pulaski would have liked to continue its groove after beating McClellan, the snow day last Friday actually came at a pretty good time.

“It was kind of good for us because we have some guys that have some nagging injuries,” Ray Cooper said. “It allows them to heal up a little bit.”

Bryant has been playing though a back injury, Colson has a nagging groin pull and Ready has been dealing with a sore ankle.

“They’ve been playing but we just haven’t had a lot of time to get them well,” Ray Cooper said. “So this was a chance to get off it and take a few days and get some of those injuries better.”

SPORTS >> Climate changes schedule

Leader sports editor

Winter weather put a crimp in the basketball schedules last week, but as quickly as the precipitation began to melt, most area athletic directors were already putting contingencies in place.

Jacksonville, of the 6A-East Conference, and Cabot, of the 7A-Central, had their respective games with Mountain Home and at Russellville postponed Friday as snow and ice blew into Arkansas.

But both schools had Tuesday open this week, and it was a fairly easy decision to move the games to that date.

“We’re doing everything from Friday on Tuesday,” Jackson-ville athletic director Jerry Wilson said as school was back in session Monday.

All of the 7A classification had an open Tuesday to allow for a simple rescheduling of Friday’s postponements, meaning Cabot was at Russellville on Tuesday night.

Most schools in the 6A-East also had Tuesday free as a first option for rescheduling. Only Marion and Little Rock Parkview had a regularly scheduled game against each other Tuesday and would have to find another night to make up their Friday games.

Parkview had been scheduled to play at West Memphis on Friday and Searcy was supposed to travel to Marion.

Smaller schools like Lonoke were trying to squeeze in the postponed games where they could. Lonoke’s Friday home game with Southside Batesville was moved to Wednesday.

North Pulaski moved its game at White Hall to Friday, Feb. 26, meaning the Falcons, already scheduled to host White Hall in the regular-season finale Feb. 23, will face the same team twice in one week.

Wilson moved more quickly than many to reschedule the Red Devils’ and Lady Red Devils’ Friday games. With Mountain Home looking at a 3 ½-hour bus trip, Wilson called the game and notified local media on Thursday, before the bad weather had really rolled in.

“I’d already made the decision,” Wilson said. “We had a meeting on Wednesday and they were expecting 8 to 12 inches, so we already rescheduled.”

Wilson also had to take into account that Jacksonville had its basketball homecoming scheduled for the Friday games with Mountain Home. The sooner he could reschedule, the easier it would be for parents, members of the homecoming court and others to change their plans.

Tipoff for the Jacksonville-Mountain Home girls game was 5 p.m. to allow for the on-court ceremonies.

“We just bumped up the time and we’ll go right on down the road,” Wilson said.

Most important, Wilson said, was the issue of Mountain Home’s safety.

“It’s so ironic, it always seems to be Mountain Home, too,” Wilson said of the postponement of the games with the Bombers and Lady Bombers. “We’re looking out for the safety of the kids. That’s what it’s all about. When you’re on a bus with kids traveling 3 ½ hours, you’ve got to be sure of the safety of the kids.”

SPORTS >> Lady ’Rabbits on track to claim conference

Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris goes over strategy in the finals of the Beebe Christmas Classic tournament.

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits kept their 2-4A Conference mark clean with a crucial victory on the road at Stuttgart last Tuesday.

Lonoke (17-5, 9-0) overcame a close, foul-plagued first half and outscored the Lady Ricebirds 20-11 in the third quarter on the way to a 63-47 victory.

Winning on the road is not always easy in conference play, but the Lady ’Rabbits have now beaten Stuttgart, Clinton and Heber Springs at their home gyms. Clinton and Heber Springs have two conference losses each while Stuttgart has three.

“We’ve got a two-game lead with those teams coming to our place,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “We don’t talk about an opponent until they’re here. We’ve tried to take the approach of one game at a time. If we let people talk about the postseason, it’s taking away from what’s going on right now.”

Senior guard Ashleigh Himstedt led the Lady Jackrabbits against Stuttgart with 21 points — eight of which came in the decisive third quarter — and six rebounds. Post player and UALR signee Asiah Scribner fought her way to 15 points and 11 rebounds despite facing a double team most of the night.

Junior Cara Neighbors added 14 points and five assists, while senior point guard Michaela Brown had six points, four steals, three rebounds and three assists.

Neighbors’ numbers for the season are tops for Lonoke. Though she sat out much of December recovering from wrist surgery, Neighbors has a 15.8 average through only 11 games and has shot 41 percent from three-point range.

Himsted is averaging 12.5 points a game, but she has been the team leader since the start of league play, averaging 15.8 points in nine conference games.

Scribner is averaging 13.3 points a game with a 10.7 rebounding average.

“Asiah is probably the only player in our conference who gets double teamed night in and night out,” Morris said. “If it were me having to defend us, I guess I would try to stop her under the basket and hope that no one else is hitting.”

Lonoke had 10 fouls against Stuttgart in the first half but committed only four in the second. Himstedt contributed more than points by grabbing six offensive rebounds.

“It seemed like everybody had a stat that was outside the normal columns that stood out,” Morris said. “I’m proud of the way we kept our composure through the first half, and we had people that came in once some of our starters got into foul trouble and filled in nicely.”

Neighbors helped the Lady Jackrabbits establish momentum in the third quarter with a pair of three-point baskets. Lonoke led 48-39 at the end of the third quarter and held the Lady Ricebirds to only eight points in the final period.

Judging by the double teams, Scribner has one of the more dangerous reputations in the 2-4A Conference, but she has gotten strong support from post players Anna Himstedt, Emily Howell and Artice Morris.

“Those three together are averaging nine rebounds a game,” Morris said. “That’s keeping the ball alive for us.”

SPORTS >> Success Abundant

Leader sportswriter

Abundant Life’s victory at Conway St. Joseph in mid January all but wrapped up the 5-2A North Conference title for the Owls and gave Abundant Life two consecutive season sweeps of its primary league adversary.

But Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard is hoping history doesn’t repeat itself from this point forward.

The Owls actually beat the Bulldogs three times last year, including one last showdown in the district finals. But St. Joe ended up on the more favorable side of the state tournament bracket, away from 2A state tournament host Melbourne.

That was where the Owls found themselves in the quarterfinals, as the Bearkatz, with home-court advantage, sent them home two rounds shy of a fourth meeting with Conway St. Joseph.

St. Joe went on to beat Melbourne in the finals to claim the 2A championship.

“I’m trying to prepare for the worst,” Ballard said. “You may have to beat a top-tier team just to get to state. You could have a game that could be a state final four if someone slips in their district tournament, and that is a concern to me.”

The Owls, who played Little Rock Lutheran on Tuesday, beat Bigelow in their previous game to improve to 25-4, 9-0. Point guard Mike Stramiello led Abundant Life with 13 points while George Herring, Garrett Southerland and Tanner Cypret scored 12 each.

While Cypret is just now emerging as a threat for Abundant Life, Stramiello, Herring and Southerland have alternated as Ballard’s go-to guys for the entire season.

“They have been there every game,” Ballard said. “I figured that would be the case. It hasn’t surprised me at all.”

Southerland, a lanky 6-6 post player, is also an advanced-placement student at Abundant Life. He possesses an outside shooting ability absent in many big guys, but college interest in Southerland has surprisingly been lukewarm to this point.

“I’ve had a couple of smaller colleges calling and asking about him, but he hasn’t gotten any offers,” Ballard said. “He’s an outstanding high school player, but he doesn’t have that natural ability that wows colleges.”

While Southerland’s outside touch and height are nice attributes, he may not be physical enough or lacks the deception that interests college recruiters, Ballard said.

“If you didn’t know him, you would say he’s a 6-6 post that can play outside,” Ballard said. “But he’s not overly strong, overly athletic, overly fast. If you knew him, you would know you could do well by picking him. He’s the best kid I’ve coached as far as being a great person. He’s a real humble person.”

Southerland leads the Owls with an average 21 points and nine rebounds a game. Herring is not far behind with 19 points a game and Stramiello weighs in with 16 points a game.

Stramiello played most of his junior high and high school career as a shooting guard, but made the move to the point at the start of this season.

“I had other point guards, but not anyone with his size and toughness,” Ballard said. “He’s a good scoring point guard, and he gets a better feel for the position every week. He’s what I call a savvy player, but he’s also one of those street-tough kids.”

There is a strong possibility of another Abundant Life-Conway St. Joseph showdown in the 5-2A North district finals. The two will most likely enter as the respective No. 1 and No. 2 seeds with Conway Christian a probable third.

But given the unpredictable outcome of last year, and with many observers and prognosticators picking Abundant Life to breeze to a state title, Ballard said he is not counting on anything.

“Any tournament — even college — how often do you end up with four No. 1 seeds? It doesn’t happen often,” Ballard said. “I’m not sure that if St. Joe would have played Melbourne at home if they would have won. That’s a tough thing to do.

“I don’t look at it as this should be our year. I hope it turns out to be, and I feel like it could be, but I also know that the game of basketball is a crazy thing.”

Monday, February 01, 2010

SPORTS >> Miracle shot drawing fire as theorists weighing in

Leader sports editor

Did you see the miracle shot the girls basketball coach made recently at Olathe, Kan.?

As part of a school-wide prank, Olathe Northwest girls’ coach and science teacher Joel Branstrom was brought out to attempt a halfcourt shot blindfolded. Branstrom, the story goes, was told he would be given NCAA Tournament tickets if he made the shot.

When Branstrom, who sensed something was up and expected a pie in the face, shot his expected airball the students planned to cheer wildly to make him think he’d made it. And of course there were no NCAA tickets to give.

Except Branstrom stunned everyone when he swished the shot, first dumfounding the students then provoking an even wilder reaction than the one that had been planned.

The video has made the YouTube rounds, and when I mentioned it to my 14-year-old son, a YouTube aficionado if ever there was one, he surprised me with his reaction.

“Fake,” he said.

Yes my son had been all over the video, and he and his buddies had already broken it down with the same zeal with which the Warren Commission pored over the Zapruder film.

Branstrom could see through that weird, zebra-striped blindfold, my son and his friends are saying. Someone else pointed out Branstrom, a former walk-on at Kansas University, didn’t put enough oomph into his halfcourt shot — there wasn’t enough apparent effort to get the ball to the goal and Branstrom’s form should have made for a flatter trajectory.

Then my son pointed out the ball flies up out of the picture before reappearing as it drops through the net. That’s an old, fake video trick he said, switching one ball with another off camera.

There is also an obvious glitch in the film just as Branstrom shoots.

The whole thing made me recall those realistic looking sports drink videos from a few years ago, the ones in which an average guy appears to throw a football a mile.

My son pointed out the local newscaster who followed up Branstrom’s story made the same shot from the same spot on the floor, only instead of wearing a blindfold he faced away from the basket.

“No way he could do it too,” my son said.

Well I watched the videos again and they did make me wonder.

The actual shot itself, with the students going nuts, looks legitimate to me, though it’s true the ball is temporarily off the screen and there is that obvious glitch. That means there could have somehow been an off-camera switch with a replacement ball being dropped through the net.

Then I saw the local TV guy, Rob Lowe do exactly what my son said, make his over-the-head shot while facing away. Then he made a halfcourt shot facing the basket, or appeared to, and gave Branstrom a chance to repeat his shot without the blindfold, and Branstrom made it, or appeared to.

That’s a lot of miracle shots in a short span.

I believe the newsman’s over-the-head shot was faked, the ball just got to the basket way too quickly, and it was probably staged for laughs. But did he make his halfcourt shot while facing the hoop?

When the ball drops through, a group of players visible to the right of the basket hardly seems impressed. Yet when Branstrom repeats his shot without the blindfold, stragglers in the gym can clearly be heard whooping and cheering.

So was the shot the sports equivalent of those alleged chupacabra carcasses that have popped up in the Southwest? Is it a hoax, a shot as mythical as that fabled, and seriously ugly, beast?

If the shot were a prank, well, it would be a darn good one. It would be a nesting doll of a practical joke, a prank within a prank in which the ultimate target is the general public.

But I’d like to believe the blindfolded shot, at least, was real. And I’m glad someone apparently has scared up and donated NCAA tickets to make it all good for Branstrom, who walked out on the court in good faith, or at least in good humor, and should be rewarded.

I’d like to enjoy something nifty during these trying times in which either nothing is at it seems or people tell you not to believe what you see.

These are the days when humanitarian aid to a poor, disaster-stricken nation is criticized as a cynical, political ploy.

These are the days when a coach promises fans Fort Knox on a stick then bolts for the first open job.

These are the days when almost 20 years of hard work with one sick day are rewarded not with a raise or retirement but with a layoff.

These are the days when we can all use a little magic.

You could see that with a blindfold on.

SPORTS >> Standouts get the call as all-stars

Leader sports editor

Five Leader area football players have been named to the East roster for the Arkansas High School Coaches Association all-star football game.

Cabot got its full allotment of two players — all-state linebacker Spencer Neumann and all-state defensive lineman T.J. Bertrand — while Lonoke standout running back Brandon Smith, Searcy defensive lineman Larry Kirkpatrick and Harding Academy defensive tackle Montgomery Fisher were also selected.

The game, pitting a squad of East all-stars against a team from the West, will be played June 25 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. The all-star game is in its 55th year.

Neumann, signing with Central Arkansas on Wednesday, is The Leader defensive player of the year who had 108 tackles for Cabot. Smith, who has narrowed his college choices to Arkansas Tech or Missouri Southern, is The Leader offensive player of the year after gaining 1,953 yards and scoring 24 touchdowns.

“He had a great football season this year,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost, who led the Jackrabbits to the 4A state final. “A young man that’s going to go off to college and keep playing football. That’s a great way to end his high school career. He’s been a three-year starter for us. That’s a great honor right there to be one of the top 50 in the state.”

Neumann finished his career as Cabot’s all-time leading tackler and was expected to be an automatic all-star pick after three years of all-state honors.

But Cabot coach Mike Malham said Bertrand was also a clear choice.

“I knew T.J. would be in there because he was the outstanding lineman of the 7A-Central Conference and that’s an automatic,” Malham said.

Bertrand, also an all 7A-Central pick, had 61 tackles, six sacks and one forced fumble and has drawn the interest of Memphis.

“As far as our defense, we had two or three others that if they’d go in instead of those two, I wouldn’t have complained,” Malham said. “We had five that made the all-state team, any of those five.”

Each high school team is allowed only two all-star representatives, unless a kicker is also selected.

Lonoke tackle Tyler Breashears, who won the Brandon Burlsworth award for outstanding lineman in the state final loss to Shiloh Christian, was also nominated for all-star selection and Bost was holding out hope Breashears would eventually wind up on the team.

“Over the next few months people back out and he could get invited,” Bost said. Regardless, one last high school game against former opponents is always and honor and a pleasant experience, Bost said.

“They’re going to play with kids they competed against the last three years,” Bost said. “You get to go for a whole week and room with them and hang out. I think that’s a great opportunity.”

Malham said he was glad the all-star game is played in June, instead of late summer as it had been in the past. The schedule is easier on college-bound players like Neumann, Malham said.

As for the chance of an injury sidelining a player just before the next phase of his career, Malham said that’s just part of the game, even if it’s an all-star game.

There will be playing time for everyone, and East coach Paul Johnston, of Bald Knob, and West coach Tommy Gilleran, of Fountain Lake, aren’t expected to make the proceedings too strenuous.

“Practice is like a picnic compared to what we do,” Malham said.

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers cruise past Pointerettes

Cabot’s Amber Rock, right, battles for the ball Tuesday against Van Buren.


Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers haven’t been known for strong second-half performances or runaway victories this season, but Cabot improved its performance in both areas against Van Buren on Tuesday night.

The Lady Panthers had four players in double figures and used a big third quarter to rout the Pointerettes 71-54 in a 7A-Central Conference game at Cabot.

It was a satisfying, solid performance for a team that is rebuilding a year after reaching the 7A state tournament.

“We’re really young and we’re really just playing a lot of young people,” Cabot coach Carla Crowder said. “And we’re just trying to get better every game and work. And our kids have worked really hard and they’re good kids.”

The one-sided score and the way it was accomplished was something of a surprise to Crowder. Post Sara Moore is one of Cabot’s few seniors, and Crowder expected her youthful team to play in a much closer game.

“We thought it probably would be,” Crowder said. “We shot really well so we’re real excited about that.”

Cabot (9-10, 2-4) took its first double-digit lead, 15-5, when Brooke Taylor made a three-pointer from the right wing with 2:42 left in the first quarter. But Van Buren (9-11, 2-4) pulled within 18-13 at the end of the period and got within 18-15 when Keri Arnold hit a running jumper for the first points of the second quarter.

Arnold made a five-footer to pull Van Buren within 20-17 with 6:25 left, but the Lady Panthers outscored the Pointerettes 20-10 the rest of the quarter to take a 40-27 halftime lead.

Moore scored all of heir eight, second-quarter points during the stretch while Amber Rock made two three-pointers.

While Crowder was pleased with Cabot’s solid shooting and expected a closer game, the shots and shot selection weren’t entirely a surprise.

“We work on it every day,” she said.

The third quarter was decisive as Cabot outscored Van Buren 19-7. With the Lady Panthers leading 46-32, Kaki Thomas made a three-pointer from the top of the key with 2:40 left to start a 13-2 run that closed out the quarter and gave Cabot a 59-34 lead.

“We’ve not been playing well in the third quarter,” Crowder said. “So we were really trying to come out and hopefully have a good third quarter and maybe concentrate more.”

Rock made four three-pointers and led Cabot with 18 points, Moore scored 15, Thomas had 11 and Melissa Wolff scored 10.

SPORTS >> Closing seconds unkind as Cabot drops close one

Cabot’s Darin Jones, right, tries a jumper against Van Buren’s Drew White on Tuesday.


Leader sports editor

Cabot cut Van Buren down to size Tuesday, but Pointers sophomore guard Deven Goodwin slashed the Panthers’ hopes for a victory.

Goodwin drove into the lane and hit a short floater with 19 seconds left as Van Buren beat Cabot 52-50 in a 7A-Central Conference game at Cabot.

The Panthers tied it at 50 when Alex Baker made two free throws with 53 seconds left. Van Buren then broke past Cabot’s man-to-man pressure to get the ball to Goodwin, who drove from the left, made a jump stop and scored from the right.

Baker’s last-second, 15-footer against a double team was off to the left as Van Buren held on.
“We can second guess ourselves all we want, but you know, heck, what can I ask?” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “I can’t ask any more out of our kids.”

Goodwin’s game-winner accounted for the last of his six points.

“He had a lane, guy slid over and he’s good enough to come to a little jump stop and a little floater off the glass,” Van Buren coach Randy Loyd said. “And luckily it went in for us.”

Loyd labeled Goodwin a “winner,” but admitted the sophomore point guard had been frustrated earlier by Cabot’s pressure.

The Panthers also did a solid defensive job on the Pointers’ 7-foot junior center Hooper Vint, holding him to just 10 points. But Vint was able to distribute the ball to Van Buren’s outside men Logan Patterson and Tyler Spoon, who had four and three 3-pointers, respectively.

Vint also made two free throws that gave Van Buren a 48-45 lead with 1:42 left and got a rebound leading to free throws by Goodwin that made it 49-45 with 1:07 left. Vint also got the final defensive rebound to make sure Cabot got no follow-up shot after Baker’s late miss.

“Hoop’s a great passer and he looks and he’s not selfish,” Loyd said. “Sometimes he’s unselfish, sometimes, but he makes the plays and we’ve got some guys that can shoot it from the perimeter and that helps for sure.”

Bridges praised Christian Armstrong who led the defensive effort in containing Vint, but said it was tough to defend everything Van Buren had.

“It’s sort of a double-edge sword,” Bridges said. “Do we front him and let him lob over and shoot over more runts? That’s all we have on the backside. So our goal was to play behind him and see if we could get him pushed out a little further.

“At times he got us down low and we’re at his mercy then, to be honest.”

Baker, Cabot’s leading scorer with 20 points, made a three-pointer from the left corner to cut it to 50-48 with 57 seconds left and he drew a foul from Goodwin to make his tying free throws.

Bridges said Baker’s shot on Cabot’s final possession didn’t quite play out as it was drawn up.
“If I could do it over now with what happened we might have called a timeout, okay?” Bridges said. “But we did have something drawn up and we failed to get in our spots to execute it. Alex tried to make a great play at the end and about hit a great shot for us.”
Bridges said he had drawn up the final play during the previous sequence and was reluctant to call timeout for fear Van Buren would switch defenses, then Cabot had players out of position when the possession started.

“If he wouldn’t have got the look we feel like we could have gotten it to someone else,” Bridges said. “Hindsight is 20-20.”

But Bridges was proud of Cabot’s effort against a taller team that featured Vint and Drew White, 6-5. Cabot’s tallest players are Kai Davis, a thin 6-4, Bridges said, and Armstrong.

“Armstrong may be 6-2 if we put three pairs of socks on him,” Bridges said.

Cabot lost point guard Seth Bloomberg to fouls with just under four minutes left, yet rallied from a 44-38 deficit, getting within 46-45 when Davis scored on an inbounds play with close to two minutes left and tying it on Baker’s free throws.

Darin Jones added 10 points for Cabot (7-10, 5-1) and Bloomberg scored eight. Patterson scored 14 points to lead Van Buren (16-4, 4-2) while Spoon and White added 10 each.

“We know we’re not the biggest group in the world,” Bridges said. “We know right now we’re not where we want to be by any means. But I promise if you come to practice tomorrow and watch us practice, we don’t practice like we’re 1-5 in conference right now.

“We’re going to keep battling and we’re going to fight to try to get a playoff spot. That’s our goal when we started. We could have laid down against a very good team and we didn’t.”