Friday, March 12, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Rep. Berry’s Showboating

In politics, unlike other realms, you can have it both ways. Arkansas’ members of Congress are masters of the process, or at least they try to be.

U. S. Rep. Marion Berry of Gillett, who is retiring from the House at year’s end, voted for the comprehensive health-insurance reform bill that passed the House of Representatives in November. Apparently, his vote for a bill advocated by President Barack Obama angered some of his big supporters in the Delta, so he announced last week that he would not vote for the nearly identical but slightly more conservative bill from the Senate that the House will act upon next week. That may mollify his friends who don’t want the president to pass any initiative on any subject.

But so that he can say that he is firmly on the side of all those who believe — as he says he does — that the health-insurance system needs drastic overhaul, Berry this week introduced his own health-insurance bill. Berry had no illusions that the House would seriously take up his bill, but he said he could tell his children and grandchildren that he understood the problems and tried to do something about them. That is having it both ways — you’re with the critics and you’re with the advocates.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln showed him the way last month. She voted for the broad Senate health bill, which her committee, Senate Finance, wrote, but after a storm of criticism from Republicans and others influenced by the insurance industry’s media attacks on the legislation, she began to back off. Now she says she won’t vote for the reconciliation process, which is the only way that the legislation passed by both houses can become law. To cover her predicament, she introduced her own little health bill with Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine last month and said it would solve most of the problems. Her bill actually would do very little and no one in Congress takes it seriously, but it allows her to duck a vote on the historic legislation while maintaining that she is an ardent champion of health-care reform.

In south Arkansas, U. S. Rep. Mike Ross continues to make the late Sen. Edward Kennedy sound like a wimp on health care by advocating powerful reforms in insurance and health-care delivery. But he is not going to vote for any bill that would actually do something. He is for strong medicine, you see, but his colleagues just can’t come up with anything that quite suits him. He has friends who are for reform and friends who are against reform, and he always stands with his friends.

Berry’s bill is actually worthwhile. Most of its provisions are in the Senate or House bills in either stronger or weaker form. His bill would stop insurance companies from refusing to sell policies to people with pre-existing conditions or stopping coverage when they become chronically ill. It would cap insurance company profits by requiring them to spend 92 percent of the premium income from customers on health care rather than on administration and profits. It would cut the giant subsidy that the taxpayers give the insurance companies for Medicare Advantage plans and reform Medicare payments to hospitals and doctors. The bill that the House will vote on, probably late next week, will do all those things. That is where he got the ideas.

Two initiatives in his bill aren’t in the broad bills passed by the House or Senate because Republicans and conservative Democrats have blocked them. It would allow patients and pharmacies to obtain cheaper drugs from other countries and allow the federal government to negotiate Medicare prescription prices. Both would drive down the obscene cost of drugs. But if conservatives blocked the inclusion of both provisions in the Medicare prescription drug act of 2003 and the current insurance reform bills, they will surely not allow Berry’s bill to become law.

What Berry’s bill would not do is create exchanges where people who cannot afford insurance coverage could shop for affordable insurance and it would not mandate coverage. In other words, his bill would do nothing to provide access to medical care to 31 million American citizens, including a couple hundred thousand in his district.

In spite of his claims, his bill, if it were enacted, would drive up premiums for people with coverage now because the insurance companies would raise premiums to offset having to provide expensive coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and chronic lifetime ailments.

But the congressman said the reason he would not vote for the Senate bill was its slightly more flexible language on abortions than the provisions in the House bill that he supported. But that is a ruse. The Senate bill restricts abortions more than does existing federal law. It would prohibit the use of federal funds to pay for abortion procedures even under private insurance policies if the low-income policyholder got a federal subsidy.

Anyone who uses the abortion provision as a pretext for voting against the bill just doesn’t intend to vote for the bill. If he is so interested in preserving life, he might consider the thousands in his district who die because they did not have reliable health care that they could afford.

TOP STORY >> More gas waste worries Beebe area residents

Angry residents who showed up Thursday at Beebe City Hall expressed their feelings against more natural-gas waste processing requested by Arkansas Reclamation Company in the Opal Community in White County. Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson is at left.


Leader staff writer

Emotions ran high Thursday night when a crowd of around 30 came out to voice their displeasure or their support for Arkansas Reclamation Company.

The meeting was part of Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s air and water draft permit hearings held at Beebe City Hall.

Arkansas Reclamation is outside the Beebe city limits on 1155 Hwy. 64 West near the community of Opal and employs 38. The facility recycles drilling waste from the natural gas well-drilling industry.

The company wants to expand its operations and has requested to modifications to its air and water permits from ADEQ.

Arkansas Reclamation is planning to add two heated augers, a cooling water tower and hot oil heaters. The company wants to construct an enclosure around a mixing pit. It wants to pave roads at the plant and identify previously unaccounted for emissions from mixing operations and storage tanks.

Arkansas Reclamation also wants a modification to its water permit to construct a waste-storage basin. The company has a non-discharge permit. The facility is 1,200 feet from White Oak Creek.

Tom Jones, co-owner of Arkansas Reclamation, told The Leader that ARC recycles the drilling mud and fluids used by the drilling industry for natural gas wells. He said the mud is made up of diesel fuel, water and emulsifiers that lubricate the drill bits and help to keep the drilling hole open. All the liquid material is recovered from the drilling mud and is resold to the drilling industry.

With the expansion of the facility, Arkansas Reclamation will recycle more diesel fuel from the solid materials in the drilling mud. The solid material is shale that can be used for roadbeds for the base of drilling rigs.

“We have recycled over a million gallons of drilling fluids,” Jones said.

ADEQ staff members took written and oral comments during the hearings.

Staff members and engineers of ADEQ were on hand to answer questions from the audience.

Several people attending the meeting spoke out about the odor of diesel fuel in the air. An ADEQ representative said that there is not a standard for measuring odor. One resident living near the facility said the diesel odor was strongest during humid mornings when the winds blow out of the east. However, a resident living a mile north of Arkansas Reclamation said he has not smelled the odor from the facility.

Bobby Weatherford, whose property borders Arkansas Reclamation, spoke against the expansion of the facility.

He said the odor is terrible. There is noise from the tractor-trailers. He continued to say it was the worst thing to happen to the community and he had very little faith in ADEQ to oversee the operation.

Another resident complained about the rocks and debris brought out from the facility by the trucks onto Highway 64 headed east or west. He said his vehicles have been damaged by rock chips that are kicked up in traffic that strike his windshield and headlights.

He brought a large pickle jar full of rocks and debris. He said he collected the material from the highway near the facility.

“Who is responsible?” he asked.

He said that he would like to bash the windshields out of the ARC’s vehicles.

A resident who refused to give her name after she gave public comment had concerns for the health of her grandchildren. She said the diesel odors burns their noses and they get headaches. She said that she herself has shortness of breath. She said they can’t open their windows at night or open the doors during the day. Her grandchildren cannot play outside.

“We are prisoners,” she said.

She continued, “Why do I have to live like that? Why were my rights taken away? I have no recourse.”

She said that she is on well water, and if Arkansas Reclamation plans to run water underground, she did not know what she would do.

“I am very upset.”

The meeting also had audience members who supported Arkansas Reclamation’s plans for expansion.

Resident Jerry Wood said he was for the approval of the permits. He drove a farm tractor for many years and was around the odor of diesel fuel a lot. He said diesel fuel was not going to kill anyone.

John Wright is a truck driver who hauls drilling materials to Arkansas Reclamation. He said there was a period where you could smell diesel fuel, but the company has a steam application that removes the odor. He does not believe the diesel fuel odor is presently there. Wright said the company brings in tens of millions of dollars into the community.

Carol Johnson has worked for Arkansas Reclamation for two years. She said she does not have problems with her lungs or her taste buds. Johnson plans to stay and eventually retire from Arkansas Reclamation. She said the company has great benefits and are family people.

Johnson said that Arkansas Reclamation is working to make the air cleaner, but that there is nothing wrong with the air out there.

TOP STORY >> Scholarship will honor late doctor

Joey York (left) of Cabot High School’s Medical Academy Advisory Board, and Nina Butler of the Cabot Scholarship Foundation accept a $500 check for the Rochelle Memorial Scholarship from Dr. Tim Bryant of Bryant Chiropractic.


Leader staff writer

The Cabot Scholarship Foundation, Inc., is “well over our $1,500 goal” for its newest scholarship, according to Joey York, Cabot High School Medical Academy Advisory Board member and chairman of the scholarship committee.

The Dr. Joe Rochelle Memorial Medical Academy Scholarship, in honor of the late Cabot physician who died July 4, 2008, is worth $500, and will be awarded to three Cabot High School Medical Academy seniors at the foundation’s annual Roast and Toast, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22.

Once the $1,500 goal is met, the foundation will continue taking donations for next year’s scholarships.

“Dr. Rochelle was a great doctor, friend and colleague,” Bryant said. “I’m glad to contribute to a great cause.”

Rochelle was a founding member of the Cabot High School Medical Academy Advisory Board. He was York’s personal physician.

Rochelle recruited Dr. Tim Bryant, of Bryant Chiropractic in Cabot, to be a board member.

To apply for the scholarship, applicants must graduate with medical honors, have an above average ACT score and GPA, participate in HOSA and Skills USA Medical Clubs for three consecutive year and be pursuing a degree in the medical field.

Graduates of the academy have already completed applications for this year.

York, a pharmaceutical sales representative for Hospira, said the board is “honored to be able to do this.”

Donations to the Dr. Joe Rochelle Memorial Medical Academy Scholarship are tax-deductible and will be handled by Cabot Scholarship Foundation.

Donations may be sent to Cabot Scholarship Foundation, Dr. Joe Rochelle Memorial Medical Academy Scholarship, P.O. Box 781, Cabot, Ark. 72023. The foundation asks that the “for/memo” portion of checks be labeled Dr. Joe Rochelle Memorial Medical Academy Scholarship. Deadline for donations is April 1.

The scholarship foundation, incorporated in 1992, is a non-profit organization. Its purpose is to encourage and recognize academic excellence at Cabot High School. Scholarships are awarded to CHS seniors who have achieved academic excellence and demonstrate a desire to continue their education at the college level.

The scholarships are presented at the foundation’s annual Roast and Toast, held each spring. This year’s roastee is Chuck Massey.

TOP STORY >> Cabot is new campaign hot spot

Sen. Bobby Glover (left) accompanied former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge, a First Congressional District candidate, during a visit to Cabot this week.


Leader staff writer

Former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge of Paragould is one of several Democrats who want to represent the First District in Congress.

He made a campaign stop Tuesday in Cabot and told supporters that he is an experienced legislator who would best represent the people of the district.

“I feel compelled to offer someone that is real, that has raised a family, made house payments and car payments, and that represents Arkansas values in Washington,” Wooldridge told The Leader in an interview.

Wooldridge and state Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle), who is term limited, were guests of Cabot Rotarian Bill O’Brien at the club’s noon meeting Tuesday at Colton’s Steak House and Grill.

Several Democrats and Republicans are running in the First District since Rep. Marion Berry of Gillett announced in January that he won’t be running for re-election.

Other Democrats running in the May 18 primary are state Sen. Steve Bryle, state Rep. David R. Crook, Chad Causey, Terry G. Green and Ben Ponder.

Republican candidates are Rick Crawford and Princella Smith, who also campaigned in Cabot this week.

Wooldridge, 49, is the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Public Universities, a position he has held since August 2007. He divides his time between Paragould and Little Rock.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in communications-public relations from Arkansas State University.

“My emphasis will be to provide opportunities for job creation, which in my estimate is the best stimulus to build a strong economy,” Wooldridge said.

He added, “In Washington there is too much acrimony and gridlock.”

Wooldridge said he would work to find real solutions to the challenges of the nation. He plans to create real jobs, to be fiscally responsible and have conservative values.

“We can’t keep compromising our future with massive debt,” Wooldridge said.

If elected to Congress, Wooldridge said he won’t live in Washington but will continue living in the First District, so the voices and concerns of the people will be heard.

“I recognize the importance of the presence of this part of the district and I will maintain a congressional office in Cabot,” he said.

Wooldridge said Cabot will continue to grow, and he will respond to the challenges and meet the needs of the community. He would be in the Cabot office regularly, he said.

Wooldridge said one of his goals if elected to Congress is to strengthen the infrastructure in the district.

He said he will work on building the north interchange in Cabot and extend the widening of Hwy. 5 to four lanes to El Paso.

He said he wants to expand educational and broadband opportunities to improve more communities.

Wooldridge said he has a background in farming and is supportive of agriculture. He was raised in the 1960s and 1970s on his family’s 600-acre farm near Paragould. The family grew cotton, rice, beans and milo.

His son-in-law, Dustin Jackson and his family, are farmers in southeastern Missouri, where they grow approximately 4,500 acres of cotton.

Wooldridge was in the state legislature for 16 years. He was a state representative from 1991 to 1998. He was in the state Senate from 1999 to 2006.

He was chair of the Revenue and Taxation Committee and he was chair of the Legislative Council.

Wooldridge served on the Agriculture, Economic and Industrial Development Committee, the Joint Committee on Energy, Joint Budget Committee and the Efficiency Committee.

Before Wooldridge worked for the Arkansas Association of Public Universities, he was vice president for Institutional Advancement-Legislative Affairs at the Arkansas Methodist Medical Center Foundation in Paragould for seven years.

Wooldridge was the vice president of development at Crowley’s Ridge College for seven years.

Wooldridge is a graduate of Greene County Tech High School. He and his wife, Lisa, have two children, Jeremy and Tiffany.

TOP STORY >> Witnesses say funds misspent on schools

Leader senior staff writer

Interim superintendent Rob McGill will be in the hot seat in U.S. District Court on Monday morning when the Joshua Intervenors continue trying to show that the Pulaski County Special School District has not made a good-faith effort to desegregate.

Also expected to testify Monday is Mildred Tatum, a 28-year veteran of the school board and its first black member. A parent of a black child shoved by a teacher in the hallway at Northwood Middle School will also testify, according to John Walker, lead attorney for the Joshua Intervenors.

The black principal who attempted to discipline the teacher was shortly thereafter reassigned to another school.

For nearly three decades, PCSSD, along with the North Little Rock and Little Rock school districts, have been intertwined in a large and expensive court-ordered desegregation agreement. Little Rock has been declared unitary.

The Legislature in 2007, under the guidance of state Rep. Will Bond of Jacksonville, provided some incentives for PCSSD and the North Little Rock School District to also seek unitary status.

Board president Tim Clark Friday morning resumed testimony. Walker continued questioning whether or not the expensive new school slated for Clark’s district would be convenient for Maumelle students at the expense of the black, economically disadvantaged students who live near Oak Grove High School.

The school board decided to replace Oak Grove with a state-of-the-art school in Maumelle even though the facilities report attached to Plan 2000 called that school “adequate for instruction.”

Clark said that when he joined the school board, then-Superintendent James Sharpe told him Oak Grove High School “needed to be blown up.”

The new school, being built across the street from the Maumelle Middle School, will be large enough to accommodate 1,500 students, although only a fraction of that are currently in the pipeline.

“You could have expanded Oak Grove for less money,” Walker said.

“If you wanted to be unwise about spending the district’s money,” Clark said.

Walker seemed to be showing that Clark and the board have approved two new schools and spent $6 million expanding nearby Pine Forest Elementary School at the expense of needier schools in poorer, blacker areas such as College Station, McAlmont and Jacksonville.

Clark replied repeatedly that Maumelle was the fastest growing area in the state and needed new schools.

“Why haven’t you voted to replace College Station Elementary?” Walker asked.

“That’s Miss Tatum’s area, if she wanted it I could have voted for it,” he said, even as Tatum shook her head “no” in the audience.

He questioned Clark why Mike Nellums, then principal of the predominately black Jacksonville Boys Middle School, had been refused Title I funds for his after-school programs. He also wanted money for math and literacy coaches and intervention specialists, said Walker, so why was he refused while Pine Forest got Title I funds for those positions.

When PCSSD’s attorney Sam Jones questioned Clark, he asked, “Aren’t title 1 funds for elementary schools? And Nellums’s school was a middle school?

As much a statement as a question. There’s been a lot of that by both sides in this hearing. Jones said that Nellums got the money for those programs, but from other funding sources.

Austin Porter Jr., co-counsel for the Joshua Intervenors, questioned board member Charlie Wood along similar lines, asking if nearly all of the $20 million in stimulus money hadn’t gone to predominantly white schools.

He asked Wood why the newer Clinton and Crystal Hills elementary schools, each of which had been slated for a few thousand dollars worth of roof repair, split about $5 million worth of roof repair, while the older, needier elementary schools like College Station and Harris got much smaller amounts.

Wood tried to explain that an engineering firm that had been monitoring the roofs at those two schools found them to be unsafe and to require extensive repair and replacement as quickly as possible.

Under cross examination by Jones and working from district school enrollment tables, Wood testified that some of the schools described as overwhelmingly white by Porter were between 40 percent and 55 percent black.

The Kahn Report, commissioned in 1999, found that College Station was technologically inadequate with roofing, plumbing, HVAC, electrical and the kitchen, lighting and security, sanitation and health and safety.

All inadequate, asked Porter, so why was so little done at the school?

The Joshua Intervenors also tried to show that the two board members were not familiar with Plan 2000, which is the desegregation plan, and had done little to try to decrease the disparity in discipline rates and academic achievement between blacks and whites.

SPORTS >> Spring fling under way just in time

Leader sportswriter

It’s been a long, cold, snowy, icy, miserable winter, folks.

But those perennial indicators that spring is just around the corner are beginning to emerge. For us, that means the onslaught of spring sports.

There’s something for everyone in the spring. Baseball takes center stage, but there is also everything from track and field to soccer to my personal spring/summer favorite, racing.

This past weekend was a bit of a transition for me. I took a trip north to cover the Lonoke girls basketball team in the semifinals of the 4A state tournament in Highland/Ashflat/Cherokee Village — I guess the name depends on what side of the road you’re standing on. Sunday, I got to enjoy a sunny day at the racetrack for Beebe Speedway’s annual car show and play day.

Though this winter proved to be one of the most frigid and messy in a long time, it still did not manage to dampen enthusiasm for basketball around here. It was nice to visit the different district, regional and state tournaments and see big crowds at all of them, even for the mid-afternoon games.

And my travels across the state over the past month turned up some memorable sights. One of my favorite things to do on these long trips is observe local businesses to see how they vary from one area to another. If I had to choose a winner, I suppose I would pick an establishment called “Hillbilly Mobile” located in, you guessed it — Cave City.

Man, first watermelons, then electricity and running water, now cellular telephone service. It’s a good time to be a Cave City resident after all.

I didn’t have to go very far to see the strangest sight of the new year, however. At Beebe Speedway’s play day on Sunday, I was caught off guard by a van pulling up to the pit gate that looked exactly like the van from the old A-Team television program.

You know, the black with red diagonal stripe across the back.

At first I thought, hey what an interesting way to liven up an old van. But when the driver got out wearing an A-Team T-shirt, complete with the slogan from the old show across the back, I began to fear for my safety. That dude apparently digs the A-Team in a big way. Oh well, I pity the fool who takes things too seriously.

The season ended up a bit anticlimactic for two of our better teams, the North Pulaski boys and Lonoke girls. I wasn’t there to witness the heartbreak for the Falcons in their overtime semifinals loss to Wynne, but I did see what none of us believed would happen, the Lady Jackrabbits failing to reach the finals for a fourth time.

The big question brewing after that game was if Cara Neighbors’ charging foul on what might have been the winning shot was a good call. Questionable, but Prairie Grove was called on back-to-back charging fouls in the third quarter. That seemed to stop momentum for the Lady Tigers and allow Lonoke to get back in the game, so I don’t think there was any intent on the officials’ part to affect the outcome.

I just think most officials around here are not very good. Coaches can’t say that, at least not on the record, but I assure you my opinion does not come from a deserted island.

However, those Searcy Lady Lions came through and gave us a reason to make the trip to Hot Springs today for the 6A state finals. It’s one final game indoors before we hit the parks and racetracks.

There is a lot for us in this area to look forward to this spring. Sylvan Hills always emerges as a top contender in baseball, and the Bears could be playing with a chip on their shoulders this year after falling to Central Arkansas Christian in the semifinals last year.

In softball, Jacksonville always has a top-notch team. Several of our area schools have excellent track and field programs, and soccer, well, what can I say about soccer?

The heptathlon should be another good one. Searcy’s Kristen Celsor, who will also start for the Lady Lions today in Hot Springs, will be back to defend her crown, but it will be interesting to see if young Cabot junior Ariel Voskamp will emerge as a top-three contender this year.

Voskamp caught a lot of people by surprise last year with a top-twenty performance as a sophomore against a contingent of strong senior and junior talent. With another year of experience and growth, Voskamp could turn out to be another big heptathlon success story in the area.

Contestants from schools in our area have won three of the last four heptathlons. That is a little misleading, however, as Celsor and predecessor Whitney Jones, who won in 2007 and 2008, both represented Searcy. Maybe Voskamp can add a little school diversity to that mix with a victory for Cabot.

And if you like auto racing, this year should be a dandy. There are more special shows on tap in this area than I have ever seen. The MSRA late models, my personal favorite, are back at I-30 Speedway and Beebe this year, and Beebe will host the USCS sprint cars.

Get ready for a Tim Crawley spanking of epic proportions in that one, but what local sprint fan doesn’t enjoy watching the old Crawl-daddy whip those old timers and young hopefuls?

By the way, Jacksonville’s own Mary Capps won the car show for hobby stocks at Beebe with a paint scheme featuring kids’ handprints in florescent colors on a white car. Leave it to the Capps family to do something special with limited funding — her husband Steve is a notorious tightwad.

I can say that because we’re friends, or, at least we were before this column came out — sorry, Speedy.

So get out those bleacher chairs, have the antacid ready to negate the effects of those Frito chili pies and get ready for another round of outdoor spring sports. And if you take grandpa to the races, please make sure his dentures don’t fall out of his mouth whenever the trophy girls appear.

SPORTS >> Badgers pummel Bears in Classic victory

Leader sports editor

Griffin Glaude found his bat Thursday night.

And he used it to pummel Sylvan Hills as the Beebe Badgers beat the Bears 16-6 in the run-ruled final of the Jacksonville Red Devil Classic at Dupree Park.

Glaude pitched in relief but made a bigger impact at the plate with two home runs and six RBI. He hit a two-run home run in the fifth and a three-run shot in the sixth to give the Badgers (5-1) the margin they needed to shorten the game by an inning because of the run rule.

“He’s really been searching for that bat here early and he came around with it today,” Beebe coach Mark Crafton said.

It was the first loss of the season for Sylvan Hills (4-1), a perennial contender in the 5A-Southeast and the state tournament, but coach Denny Tipton said the Bears didn’t help themselves with multiple errors and walks that set the table for the Badgers hitters.

“We made six errors, I think, five errors,” Tipton said. “You walk and you make errors against a good hitting team like Beebe and they’re going to beat you.”

Beebe held a 4-1 lead after three innings and put together a five-run fourth that made it 9-1, but Sylvan Hills erupted with a five-run fourth. The inning featured five hits, including Blake Rasdon’s two-run double and catcher Lance Hunter’s three-run home run over the left-field fence that pulled the Bears within 9-6.

The Badgers got a pair of runs in the top of the fifth as Bryant Lawson tripled and Glaude hit his first home run to make it 11-6.

Glaude delivered his second homer of the night in the sixth, when he drove reliever Michael Lock’s pitch over the right-field fence for a three-run shot and his sixth RBI as part of the Badgers’ five-run inning that gave them the 16-6 lead.

“Our guys one through nine have been doing a very good job of hitting,” Crafton said. “Even in a defensive count we’ve been doing a good job.”

Glaude then retired the Bears in order in the ninth to lock up the victory.

“We’ve played a lot of good competition out here,” Crafton said of the Red Devil Classic. “Of course Sylvan Hills is a conference foe and we’re going to see them again twice this year. It gives us momentum going into the conference games because we’re always battling Sylvan Hills for a spot in the state tournament.”

Beebe starting left-hander Bryson Scott hit the first pitch of the game over the left-center field fence to give the Badgers an early lead. Sylvan Hills third baseman and UALR signee Jordan Spears returned the favor when he hit Scott’s two-out, two-strike pitch over the fence near the same spot to tie it in the bottom of the first.

Some Beebe hustle and a pair of Sylvan Hills errors gave the Badgers a 3-1 lead in the second.

Leadoff hitter Dylan Byrd reached second on a fielding error by Michael Maddox in center, Dillon Lindsey drew a one-out walk and Adam Naramore moved the runners up with a sacrifice bunt.

Jared Ashbrenner then beat out a grounder to second for an infield hit that scored Byrd, and Lindsey scored on second baseman Daulton Freeling’s throwing error.

Rasdon, the Bears starter, walked five in the third, including Lindsey, who forced in Ryan Williams when he drew a bases-loaded walk that made it 4-1.

“The biggest deal is we gave them opportunities and they capitalized on the opportunities tonight,” Tipton said.

Shortstop Kory Arnold replaced Rasdon to start the fourth and gave up five runs, four earned, as Beebe cashed in on a walk and another Sylvan Hills throwing error with RBI singles from Glaude — on an infield hit — and Lindsey and a two-run double from Byrd.

Glaude came in from shortstop to relieve Rasdon, who went to right, and got the final two outs of the fourth.

“We kind of got ahead and let Sylvan Hills back in the game,” Crafton said. “And we kept plugging away. The guys settled down and that’s a good thing to see because we’ve got a lot of baseball left.”

SPORTS >> Inning dooms Lady Panthers

Leader sportswriter

Greenbrier turned a close matchup against Cabot into a blowout in a matter of one inning on Thursday at Conrade Sports Complex.

Greenbrier racked up two singles and two triples in the top of the sixth inning, which generated all but two runs in an 8-1 non-conference rout.

Cabot leadoff batter Caitlin Gunn did her part with three triples, but she was stranded after two of her drives into deep left field. Gunn scored the Lady Panthers’ only run in the bottom of the first when she tagged up and came home on a pop-up to right by cleanup hitter Jenny Evans.

Greenbrier broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth when Bailey Reynolds hit a sharp single down the first base line to score Taylor Atkinson. Once the sixth inning began, Greenbrier seemed to find every hole in Cabot’s defense.

“We gave up too many pitches up the middle in that inning,” Cabot coach Becky Steward said. “It was a good game, we’ve just got to do a better job of getting runs across the plate. These girls all have state tournament experience and summer experience, so we’re not a young team.”

Cabot pitcher Kendall Calderon had mixed results for the Lady Panthers. The senior transfer from Lonoke retired Greenbrier in order in the second and third innings before giving up a triple to Taylor Jones in the top of the fourth. But shortstop Chelsea Conrade and first baseman Sarah Martin turned their second double play of the inning to leave Jones stranded.

In all, Calderon gave up nine hits, no walks and struck out one.

“She’s going to have to make some adjustments to a 7A schedule because it’s quite a bit different from what she’s used to,” Steward said of Calderon, who replaced departed four-year Cabot pitcher Cherie Barfield this year. “Once she makes those minor adjustments, she’s going to be fine. She knows everyone because she’s played with them before, so it’s not like she’s a stranger.”

Things began shakily for Cabot in the top of the sixth when Greenbrier’s Kaylee Malden reached on an error. She advanced on a single by pitcher Cicely New and scored on a single from Taylor Jones.

New and Jones scored when Andrea Harding tripled. Hardin sent a flare over Conrade’s head at shortstop and deep into left center to make it 4-1. Atkinson hit Greenbrier’s second triple of the inning to right center to score two more runs, and she scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Stormy Eberg.

Cabot had its share of hits, but was not able to capitalize in the same manner.

Conrade singled in the top of the first following Gunn’s triple, but was left on. Martin grounded to second for a single in the bottom of the third with two outs, while catcher Pete Reed and Kristi Flesher both singled in the bottom of the fourth.

Both were stranded, making five left on by Cabot, which fell to 6-5.

“It’s good to have Caitlin back,” Steward said of Gunn, who did not play for Cabot in 2009. “She must have missed it, because she made the choice to come back, and I’m glad she did. When you lead off with that much pop, word is going to get around that you have to pitch away from her, and that sets up the next three batters.”

Cabot will begin 7A-Central Conference play Thursday at home against Russellville.

SPORTS >> Wampus Cats start quickly, top Cabot

Junior forward William Hildago scored Cabot’s lone goal against Conway.


Leader sportswriter

The Cabot soccer Panthers took their first loss, 3-1, to Conway on Tuesday at Panther Stadium.

The Wampus Cats dominated the first half, scoring all three of their goals before Cabot improved on both sides for the second half.

William Hidalgo scored the Panthers’ only goal near the 15-minute mark of the second half, but Conway’s three-score cushion was too much to overcome.

“We didn’t play like I expected us to in the first half,” Cabot coach Clark Bing said. “We got off to a slow start. And when you play that way against a team like that, they are going to get some easy goals on you. Second half, I felt like we played a lot better. We were more like ourselves.”

The Panthers, 2-1-1, 1-1 in the 7A-Central Conference, began the season with a mercy-ruled victory over Benton, followed by a 1-1 tie with three-time defending 6A state champion Searcy.

Cabot won its conference opener against Russellville 3-2 by holding on through a series of penalty kicks at the end.

“Our first two conference games were kind of like a tale of two teams,” Bing said. “We started out hot against Russellville and struggled at the end. Conway was just the opposite. We came out cold, then decided to play in the second half.”

Bing said he expects defense to be Cabot’s strength this year with experienced backfielders Hugo Lozano and Nick Lozano, who are not related, and Mark Rider.

Rider has been absent from the first two conference matches while nursing a sprained knee. The injury is not serious, but Bing wants Rider to wait until after spring break to return to the field just as a precaution.

“Our defense has been solid early on,” Bing said. “We’ve still got a lot of season left, but we bring three guys who are pretty good defenders. We have three seniors, but most of our players are juniors and sophomores who saw a lot of playing time last year.

“So, we’re kind of young in a sense, but most of them have been through it and know what to expect.”

The Lady Panthers fell to Conway 5-0 on Tuesday to make them 2-2 on the season and 0-2 in the 7A-Central. Head coach Danny Spencer said he has seen improvement each week and is waiting for everything to come together.

SPORTS >> Searcy girls aim for heights at Summit

Searcy seniors Kristen Celsor, left, and Lauren Harrison scrimmage in the Searcy gym on Thursday in preparation for the 6A state championship game against Watson Chapel today at 2:30 p.m. Right, Harrison practices free-throw shooting.


Leader sportswriter

Searcy’s past and the present collided in the run-up to today’s 6A girls state championship between the Lady Lions and Watson Chapel at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena.

On Thursday, Danny Crow, who coached the Lady Lions during their state championship run in 1984-85, sat in the office of current coach Michelle Birdsong and offered encouragement. He departed with a hug and one last good word before Birdsong and assistant Larry Stamps prepared for the team’s last practice in their home gymnasium.

But the era of four classifications — in which Crow led his Lady Lions, then a AAA team, to a 31-2 record and Searcy’s only state basketball title — is long gone. And while the challenge may be different for Birdsong in this era of physical and frantic styles of play, the tradition and pride remain.

“It’s definitely been different here this week than any other week,” Birdsong said. “Because there is so much stuff going on. It’s been quite hectic. We have been having a little trouble getting our focus, but they haven’t been too lax or too goofy, although when we’re goofy, we’re pretty good.”

Searcy takes pride in its senior corps of post player Lauren Harrison, forward Kristen Celsor and point guard Caleigh Woodruff.

Harrison, 6-2, and Celsor, 5-11, made waves in their sophomore seasons and have made the recent media rounds as the Lady Lions’ twin towers and leading scorers.

But it’s the unsung dirty work of Woodruff, 5-5, that Birdsong credits for much of Searcy’s success.

“I think one aspect that doesn’t get talked about as much is our third senior,” Birdsong said. “And that’s Caleigh Woodruff. Caleigh’s been our floor runner all year, so she’s handled all this pressure.

“We changed up our defense occasionally and had to go to a box and one, and Caleigh’s been the one we called upon to defend their best player. That’s one thing that kind of gets overlooked, because those stats don’t go in the paper.”

Woodruff tried to keep excitement from turning into nervousness during the week, but the smallest of the senior trio said she is ready to prove doubters wrong one last time.

“We’re extremely excited, but I’m starting to feel the nerves though,” Woodruff said. “We just really want to win. I don’t think people expected us to get this far, and we knew we could if we played our game.”

Searcy’s season started with a tough loss to Vilonia, but after that, the Lady Lions won their next 13. That included their first three 6A-East Conference games, but a 59-49 loss to Little Rock Parkview on Jan. 19 began a four-game skid that jeopardized their season.

The Lady Lions rebounded to close out league play as the No. 3 seed to the state tournament, and they have now won nine straight.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Celsor said. “Coming out of conference, I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it, but we’re playing like we did in preseason again and it feels really good. We just didn’t want to go out like we ended our conference. We wanted to make a name for ourselves and let everyone know we weren’t done yet.”

Today will be Celsor’s final high school basketball game, but she plans on defending her state heptathlon title in May.

“I’m missing a lot of weeks of training that I had last year,” Celsor said. “So I guess I’ll have to work a lot harder a lot faster this year.”

Searcy’s game is not all about Harrison and Celsor being big bodies, Birdsong said. Their experience and leadership is seen over the entire court.

“They’ve played a lot, and they have a lot of experience,” Birdsong said. “We definitely look to them. Even when we have trouble bringing the ball down the floor, we’ve asked Lauren to bring the ball down the floor, and she’s our biggest player. A lot of the things we do go through them.”

The Lady Lions began their run to Hot Springs with a 57-41 victory over Benton in the first round of the state tournament. A 65-56 victory over Texarkana in the quarterfinals left Searcy as the last team from the East after Pine Bluff knocked off Parkview earlier the same day.

That set up a showdown with Pine Bluff in the semifinals, where Searcy punched its ticket to the final with a 53-39 victory.

Harrison said the Texarkana game was the Lady Lions’ best performance, with the semifinal victory over Pine Bluff a close second. But for all the ups and downs, one theme remains constant with Harrison — teamwork.

“We have some great chemistry,” Harrison said. “Our whole team, specifically the seniors. We kind of caved to some of the pressure early, and after we lost our first one, we kind of got in a rut. We got down on ourselves, but after the third one, coach grabbed us up and gave us a talk, and got us back to where we needed to be.”

It may be the Lady Lions’ first trip to the state finals in 25 years, but it’s Birdsong’s first trip period. Now in her fifth year at Searcy, Birdsong spent 10 years as head coach at Jonesboro.

Many believed Searcy could contend three years ago with a strong roster that included post player Taylor Clark, guard Kayla Medley and current Harding University sophomore Kallie Bartee.

But the Lady Lions fell out in the early rounds, which led to rebuilding by Birdsong and the emergence of her current senior leaders.

While Birdsong says her team is not all about her big post players, she admits size is the factor that separates this team from the one that fell short three years ago.

“I’ll tell you one thing that happened to us when we had that group is we ran into Lake Hamilton,” Birdsong said. “And they had two big girls that we could not play against. Well, we’ve got the big girls now, so maybe that’s going to be the difference.”

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

EDITORIAL >> They’re all jumping ship

Rob McGill, the embattled interim superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, is the latest finalist for the top job to jump ship and seek his fortune elsewhere.

Although he’ll take a big pay cut — the Maumelle position pays $95,000 a year, about half of what he could have made at PCSSD if the board had dropped interim from his title — McGill has opted for a principal’s salary over the three-ring circus atmosphere at the school district he’s leaving behind.

He’ll lead the Academics Plus Charter School in Maumelle starting in July, when the Pulaski County Special School District will probably still be searching for a superintendent and still hope to convince a judge that it is integrated and unbiased.

Although he had hoped to lead one of the biggest districts in the state, McGill must have realized the board was much too divided and probably unqualified to deal with the district’s problems, especially the lawsuit by the Joshua Intervenors, who told a judge this week that PCSSD discriminates against the poor and minority students.

Civil rights attorney John Walker has told the court that new school construction in Maumelle and Chenal in Little Rock deprives less-wealthy areas of new facilities. You look around Jacksonville, and you have to agree with him.

The district is bogged down in at least two court cases: The long-running desegregation suit that may not be decided for months, if not years, along with the court battle involving the district’s teachers and the school board, which inexplicably decertified the unions in the middle of contract negotiations.

The judge has urged both sides to work things out, but that’s been an elusive goal for generations. Why worry about educating youngsters when you can spend a lot of money going to court? Just do the math and see how the taxpayers’ money has been misspent.

It’s no wonder McGill was fed up. You can’t blame him for accepting a less stressful job that will let him spend more time with his family than in court or attending arbitration meetings.

Sure, McGill had hoped he might get a shot at the position, but the board is so divided and dysfunctional, it’s unlikely a finalist will emerge anytime soon. Here we are, several months after the search began, and the position remains vacant. The best candidates are long out of the running, and it’s unlikely a strong contender will ever seek the position.

Doesn’t anybody want this job?

The board should have made a decision at least a couple of months ago, but why hurry? Board members had other priorities — attending meetings and conferences and taking care of their own businesses.

That’s the problem: How many board members are qualified to serve on the board, and how many of them are way in over their heads?

Just look around and count noses. But the consultants will keep drawing their checks as the board dithers and the district keeps making court appearances and dodging bullets, while students who can get out leave the district or go to charter schools.

The school board thinks there must be a good candidate out there, but after a fruitless search that saw the most promising finalists drop out for consideration, you have to wonder: If McGill was the last person standing, what kind of search did the board conduct?

Perhaps the consultants — McPhearson and Jacobson Executive Recruitment and Development of Omaha, Neb. — made some sensible recommendations to the board, which decided to ignore them.

The search has not gone well, and it wouldn’t surprise us if McPhearson and Jacobson give up and go to a district where their work is better appreciated.

TOP STORY >> Who wants PCSSD job?

Leader staff writer

After being spurned by the Pulaski County Special School District school board as the person to head the district, acting Superintendent Rob McGill has taken another job.

On Monday, McGill accepted an offer to become the executive director of Academics Plus Charter School, beginning July 1. The school is located in Maumelle.

The Academics Plus board of trustees has decided to pay its current executive director, Jake Honea, $86,700 to not return for the third year of his three-year contract so that McGill could take the job.

“He really wasn’t given the option,” said Jess Sweere, Academics Plus board president. “He was told he was being replaced. He reports to the board.”

Sweere said that Honea had “indicated” to the board he was not planning on renewing his contract when it expired in 2011.

“It is a substantial amount of money, but we felt that it was in the best interest of the school,” Sweere said.

The school’s annual budget is $3.2 million.

McGill’s contract will be for three years. His annual salary will be $95,000.

Sweere said that the board had no complaints against Honea, who was a former school teacher and charter school superintendent in Texas before coming to Maumelle to head Academics Plus.

“Largely, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Honea, the school is in good shape financially,” Sweere said. “It is money well spent, the right thing to do.”

When asked how McGill’s qualifications, in comparison to Honea’s, justify the expenditure, Sweere said, “I would rather not compare the two.”

McGill had served for a year as acting superintendent for PCSSD and was one of two finalists for the top post. When the other finalist, Vashti Washington, a South Carolina assistant school district superintendent, withdrew her application, the PCSSD board last week voted to reopen the national candidate search rather than hire McGill.

At the time, McGill expressed uncertainty that he would reapply.

McGill was the center of a controversy about whether he made racially insensitive remarks following the Arkansas Board of Education’s denial of two charter school applications by the county school district. A special investigator cleared him of the allegation.

“I reached out to him when I saw what was in the paper a couple of weeks ago,” Sweere said. “I thought he would be an excellent fit for us if it didn’t work out for him with Pulaski County.”

At a special meeting Sunday night, the Academics Plus board voted unanimously to offer McGill the position. His contract was ratified Monday.

“The board is excited about this addition to our leadership team and believes this move further underscores our unified commitment to improve the learning and growth opportunities offered to students of Academics Plus Charter School,” said Luke Ribich, APCS trustee and board secretary, in a press release issued Monday. “Mr. McGill’s record of high achievement and forward-looking instructional and organizational leadership is wholly representative of the commitment, leadership and energy necessary to progress toward our vision to be the college preparatory school of choice in central Arkansas.”

McGill worked for PCSSD for 17 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. His experience includes four years teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade, two years as assistant principal at Landmark Elementary School and four years as principal at Pine Forest Elementary School. McGill has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in elementary school administration. He lives in Mayflower.

In March 2009, McGill took a leave of absence from his post at Pine Forest to serve as acting superintendent following the resignation of James Sharpe.

TOP STORY >> Candidates court support in Cabot

Trent Eilts, left, who is running for Lonoke County justice of the peace, meets with First Congressional District candidate Princella Smith of Wynne during a Republican meeting in Cabot on Monday.


Leader staff writer

Two Republican hopefuls battling for the First Congressional District seat in the May primary election made a stop on Monday night at Grandpa’s Barbecue in Cabot.

Congressional candidates Princella Smith of Wynne and Rick Crawford of Jonesboro both spoke at the Lonoke County Republican Committee’s monthly meeting. They are running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Marion Berry of Gillett, a Democrat who is retiring.

Smith, 26, said, “I’m running for this seat because I feel the First District of Arkansas can do better than it has been doing over the past century.”

The district hasn’t sent a Republican to Congress since the 1880s.

Crawford, 43, graduated from ASU-Jonesboro. He is a cattle rancher and has a syndicated radio program about agriculture.

He is an Army veteran who served in Pakistan in 1988 as an ordnance specialist.

In an interview with The Leader, he said he helped clean up a weapons depot that was blown up by Islamic militants near Islamabad.

He said he’s served on Secret Service details protecting Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Walker Bush.

He said he wants to bring business sense to government and end deficit spending. He said he has real-world experience and wants to be a citizen-legislator.

Crawford told the Republican group why he is running for Congress:

“I’m running for your kids, my kids and everyone’s kids in the (First) District. This county does not look like it did when I grew up. I want to give them something better than I got. I’m doing this for my parents and your parents because they deserve something better than we have,” he said.

Crawford said his goals if elected to Congress are “fiscal discipline, debt reduction and common-sense application of constitutional principles.”

He said for the nation to get out of the recession, “We have to grow ourselves out with the growth of small businesses. If we are going to save our country we have to make cuts on spending.”

Crawford spoke about illegal immigration. He said the biggest problem is the Southern border. He proposed building a defensible wall, not a virtual or a corrugated metal wall. The wall would have eight to 10 points of entry, he said.

After six to nine months of completion, undocumented workers would be required to register at these entry points. They would receive an identification card that requires annual renewable registration.

Crawford said immigration laws must be enforced to reduce the number of illegal immigrants.

As for taxes, Crawford said he thought a flat tax is a good idea “if we got rid of the income tax.”

Smith told the GOP committee, “I’m excited about the race because 2010 has presented us with an incredible opportunity to change local politics and the national scene.”

She said Washington is “broke.” “There is a swell of outrage,” she added.

Smith discussed her goals if elected to the House of Representatives.

If she wins, she’ll be the only black Republican woman in Congress.

“The first piece of legislation that I want to pass will address the financial crisis in our country and in Arkansas,” Smith said.

“I want to pass legislation that will allow banks more opportunities to give loans to small businesses, decrease regulation, provide tax incentives to businesses that are responsible to the environment and to have punishments for businesses that hire illegal immigrants,” Smith said.

She continued, “The second piece of legislation will address education. We need teacher-incentive pay. We need more technology in our schools. We need the ability for students to pass to the next grade based on ability and not age. We need a law that encourages peer-to-peer mentoring for administrators.”

A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in political science, Smith has spent most of her time in Washington since graduating.

She worked for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s think tank, American Solutions for Winning the Future, becoming the voice that repeated his slogan promoting drilling for oil in Alaska, “Drill here, drill now, pay less.”

That job gave her national media attention with regular appearances on major networks, including Fox News and CNN, where she debated energy experts and Democratic strategists years her senior.

In 2009, Smith went to work as communications director for freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (pronounced Gow) of Louisiana, but she resigned in January to explore the possibility of running for office after Berry announced that he will not seek re-election.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke County races competitive

Leader staff writer

The controversy over collecting state retirement while continuing to hold county office apparently continues to plague Lonoke County Treasurer Karol DePriest and Lonoke County Assessor Jerry Adams, who face opponents for re-election.

Both officials say they did nothing wrong, but the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System notified several officeholders this week that they have improperly collected retirement benefits without actually leaving office.

DePriest, a Democrat, is opposed by Dale Walker, a Republican. Walker was the director of finance in Cabot under former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, although Walk-er is no stranger to controversy.

The state audit from his last year on the job could not be completed. Although there was no allegation of wrongdoing, auditors said the city books were too confusing for them to complete their work.

Adams, a Democrat, has two opponents, Jim Bailey, a Democrat from Lonoke, and Jack McNally, a Republican from Cabot.

McNally was Stumbaugh’s campaign manager when he ran for mayor four years ago and later went to work for the city in code enforcement. He was laid off almost immediately when Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams took office in 2007.

All three candidates for Lonoke County sheriff have been on the ballot before.

Sheriff Jim Roberson is the lone Republican, so he doesn’t have to worry about the May primary. But in November, he will face either Steve Rich or former Sheriff Charlie Martin, who have both filed as Democrats.

Rich, a former Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy, ran against Roberson two years ago. This will be Martin’s third attempt to win back his office from Roberson, who ran against Martin three times before he finally won almost eight years ago.

Martin was sheriff for six years. Much of his time since he lost to Roberson has been spent as chief of police in Ward.

“I believe I’ve got a shot,” said Martin, who filed Monday. “I’ve worked up here at Ward and we’ve been able to decrease crime.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me to run.”

Martin said he was considering a third race against Roberson two years ago when he had a stroke.

“The doctors tell me I’m in better shape now than I was 15 years ago,” he said. “It’s been a hard road back. But the therapists kept telling me they had to keep an eye on me because I was an over achiever. I didn’t know when to quit. That and by the grace of God. He’s helped this old country boy a lot.”
In other county races:

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman, a Democrat, has a Republican opponent, Doug Erwin, an auctioneer from Austin.

Circuit Clerk Deborah Oglesby, a Democrat, is opposed by Republican Denise Brown. Brown works for Prosecutor Will Feland.

County Clerk Dawn Porterfield, a Democrat, is opposed by former JP Rita F. Schmitz, another Democrat, in the primary.

Schmitz last served on the quorum court in 1997.

Six of 13 members of the Lonoke County Quorum Court are unopposed: Tim Lemons, District 4; Barry Weathers, District 5; Adam Sims, District 7; Sonny Moery, District 9; Bill Ryker, District 10; Mike Dolan, District 11, and H.L. Lang, District 12.

Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) on Monday filed for re-election in District 48.

Brothers Larry and Kenny Ridgeway, both Republicans and former justices of the peace, are running again. Larry Ridgeway faces Joe Farrer, another Republican, in May. The winner faces JP Jodie Grisham Troutman, a Democrat, in November.

Kenny Ridgeway has filed for the District 13 position held by Mark Edwards, also a Republican. The winner will be decided in the May primary.

In District 2, Jannette Minton is opposed by Gage B. Gilliam, the 18-year-old grandson of Cabot Alderman Ann Gilliam. Both candidates are Republican, so the race is over in May.

In District 3, longtime JP Larry Odom is opposed by Warren D. Leill. As in District 2, the race will be decided by the vote in the May primary. Both candidates are Republican.

The District 6 race also will be decided in May. Longtime JP Alexis Malham is opposed by Trent Eilts. Both are Republicans. 

In District 8, JP Roger Dale Lynch is opposed by former JP Richard Kyzer. Both candidates are Democrats.

TOP STORY >> District biased, critics charge

Leader staff writer

“Facilities are very, very important” to the Joshua Intervenors’ case, John Walker said Tuesday when the desegregation hearing in Little Rock broke for lunch.

But the Pulaski County Special School District has not made a good-faith effort to desegregate and build good schools in poor areas. That’s why the district should not be released from the desegregation agreement and court oversight, Walker said.

“The district has reconstituted, with the state’s help, separate-but-equal facilities prohibited by law,” said Walker, lead attorney for the Joshua Intervenors for about 30 years.

PCSSD has petitioned for unitary status and U.S. District Judge Brian Miller is hearing the case.


The district has chosen to spend $58 million building and equipping “a Taj Mahal in Maumelle,” Walker said. “Are rich people entitled to better schools?”

He was referring to the new high school being constructed to replace Oak Grove High School.

“They are putting the burden on an already over burdened population,” he said.

Walker and co-counsel Robert Pressman have challenged PCSSD’s witnesses on all 11 components of Plan 2000, the agreed-upon blueprint for desegregating the school district.

In most cases, they’ve tried to show that the district has fallen short in efforts to close the academic performance gap between whites and blacks, plus the lack of success in getting black students in advanced placement courses and in eliminating the disparity in discipline between black and white students.

But they seem to feel they’ve found a smoking gun in the facilities issue.

Late last week, Walker said the district has chosen to spend $200 million building two new schools in Maumelle, another in Chenal, plus a $3 million addition to Pine Forest, also in Maumelle.


PCSSD attorney Sam Jones said he expected to rest his case Wednesday afternoon. Walker said his first witness would be School Board President Tim Clark.

Clark is a Maumelle resident, and led the effort to get a new high school built in Maumelle. He hosted a gala at the Maumelle Country Club when the board voted to build the new high school, the most expensive in district history, and put a huge picture of himself on a billboard captioned “Thanks Maumelle for your help with the new high school. Together we can build a better Maumelle.”

When the Kahn Report studied facilities as part of Plan 2000, it found nine of the district’s 34 schools should be replaced. Oak Grove was not one of them.

Oak Grove last year had fewer than 400 students, yet the new school in Maumelle is being built for 1,500 students.

The district has said that Maumelle is the fastest growing area of the district and that it will fill all those seats in a few years.

Among the schools that were recommended for replacement were Jacksonville Middle School, Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville Elementary School, although no plans have been made to replace any of those schools.


When Pressman asked Brenda Bowles, assistant superintendent for pupil equity, whether the new school in Maumelle was a Cadillac, she answered, “I don’t know, but it was built for Cadillac people.

Then she said she didn’t like Cadillacs, but called it a Mercedes-Benz school.

“Do you consider that fair and equitable considering the needs at College Station and Harris (elementary schools) and those in Jacksonville?” Pressman asked.

No, said Bowles.

College Station got $159,000 for restroom renovations and Harris got security lights for about $60,000.

Then Bowles revised her answer.

“If those are the new standards (for school construction) then its equitable. If not, then ‘no’,” she said.

In his redirect questioning of Bowles, Jones had Bowles read from letters regarding the new schools, testimony intended to show that Walker and the Joshua Intervenors were notified and had every opportunity to challenge the decision to build the new schools at Maumelle and Chenal and that in every case, they apparently declined.

Plan 2000 gave them 14 days after notification of the decision to build a new school to file a formal motion in opposition.

Jerry Holder, PCSSD’s director of plant planning, said that Oak Grove had deteriorated since the Kahn Report found it adequate for instruction, but that for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act and for safety, it should be rehabilitated at an estimated cost of $6.5 million.

SPORTS >> Lady Lions get chance for assault on Summit

Special to The Leader

WEST MEMPHIS — Kristen Celsor was just too much for Pine Bluff on Saturday in the semifinals of the Class 6A girls state tournament.

Celsor scored a game-high 28 points and made herself a candidate for tournament most valuable player as the Searcy Lady Lions overpowered the Fillies 53-39.

Searcy (25-5) will play Watson Chapel (24-5) for the championship at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Celsor, who benefits from the presence of teammate Lauren Harrison, has been hard for the opposition to stop during the tournament. She has averaged 23.3 points per game as Searcy swept through the first three rounds of the tournament.

“Kristen has played outstanding ball so far in this tournament,” Searcy coach Michelle Birdsong said. “I think a lot of it is the other teams we’ve played have focused on stopping Lauren and it’s allowed her to move around freely.”

Celsor, Harrison and junior Elliott Scarbrough, all front-line players, had to use their ball-handling skills in most of the tournament games, especially as Pine Bluff and Texarkana used full-court, pressure defenses.

“Our big girls are our best ball-handlers sometimes,” Birdsong said. “They had to bring it up against the press a lot for us.”

Celsor and Harrison, who scored 10 points against Pine Bluff, came alive for Searcy when Pine Bluff cut a big lead to 33-28 with 4:27 to play in the third quarter. The two six-footers each hit two baskets to lead an 8-0 run to end the period, giving the Lady Lions a 41-28 lead heading into the final quarter.

“Those were big baskets for us,” Birdsong said. “All of our big girls came through for us late.”

Scarbrough, who scored 22 points in Searcy’s 65-56 quarterfinal victory over Texarkana, also played a huge role in the end for Searcy, making two fourth-quarter free throws. She finished with eight points.

Lashondra Bailey led Pine Bluff (19-11) with 16 points while Gabrielle Grady contributed 10.

Watson Chapel qualified for the state final by outlasting 6A-South foe El Dorado 64-53 on Saturday. Watson Chapel won the 2008 state title before getting beat in last year’s semifinals by West Memphis.

SPORTS >> Not too late for debate on coaches in the state

Leader sports editor

They had a neat promotional gimmick at the Sun Belt Conference basketball tournament in Hot Springs.

Fans could take cell phone photos of themselves in the stands, submit them, and soon see their photos posted on the big screens in Summit Arena.

Of course we jokesters on press row immediately saw the possibilities. A fellow sportswriter toyed with the idea of submitting a picture of Arkansas Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey, and I dared him, just because I wanted to hear the boos from the Arkansas State and UALR fans or, for that matter, any Hardwood Hogs fans present.

But it wasn’t the place to talk about Pelphrey — whose Razorbacks limped into this week’s SEC Tournament on a five-game losing streak — especially when the two best college coaches in Arkansas were busy plying their trade live and in person.

In fact, it became something of a debate last week over who was better, Arkansas State men’s coach John Brady or UALR women’s coach Joe Foley.

In his second season, Brady is the Sun Belt men’s coach of the year based on the Red Wolves’ turnaround from 13-17 in 2008-09 to 17-14. Arkansas State’s run included an overtime victory over UALR inthe Sun Belt tournament and a 65-64 loss to Western Kentucky in a quarterfinal thriller.

Foley, in his seventh season at UALR, is the Sun Belt women’s coach of the year after the Trojans charged into the tournament on a 19-game winning streak, which they improved to 20 with a first-round victory over Arkansas State and to 21 with a resounding semifinal victory over New Orleans on Monday.

UALR (26-5) faced Middle Tennessee for the second consecutive time in its second consecutive championship game appearance.

Foley, 129-82 at UALR, is a product of Central Arkansas who built a national caliber program at NCAA Division II Arkansas Tech. His teams are talented but willing to win ugly, grinding opponents down on offense and wearing them out on defense.

Foley’s supporters like to talk about the horrid state of the program before he arrived. Under Tracy Stewart-Lange, UALR played in a high school-style gym and lost an average 21.5 games a year.

Based on this, one Foley fan said he was the best college coach in Arkansas, bar none.

That brought out the Brady people.

Brady, of McComb, Miss., was 89-77 at Samford and 192-139 at LSU, where his team reached the 2006 Final Four. His principles involve defending without fouling, proper rebounding technique, limiting turnovers and quality possessions.

Those are things any coach would like to see, but the successful ones have a way of making it happen.

Brady’s supporters point out the Red Wolves were 10-20 under Dickey Nutt and ended Brady’s first year on a 10-game losing streak. To Brady’s fans, that makes this year’s record, accomplished despite injuries and with a brand new starting five, that much more special.

Each coach has recruited all-conference talent. UALR’s Chastity Reed, averaging 25.1 points a game, is a first-team all-Sun Belt selection and Arkansas State’s Brandon Reed, averaging 15.1 points a game, is freshman of the year.

Also, Foley and Brady were smart enough to recruit players from my town of Cabot, a cozy little place I fondly like to think of as “Pull Out in Front of You-ville.”

Former Panthers scoring wiz Adam Sterrenberg is a Red Wolves freshman while Cabot’s Kim Sitzmann, in her final season, is a third-team all-Sun Belt pick.

Outside the locker room, at least, Foley is low-key while Brady has a way of saying what he thinks, and often getting away with it.

Noting the 64 fouls and Arkansas State’s record number of free throws and attempts in the UALR victory (43 of 58), Brady said, “I don’t know what we pay refs in the Sun Belt but those guys feel underpaid tonight, as hard as they worked.”

Not that Foley lacks humor. Jokingly asked which coach he thought was better, Foley grinned and said, “Everyone knows women’s coaches are better than men’s coaches.”

Foley got closer to the NCAA Tournament than Brady did this year. The Trojans lost to Middle Tennessee, 70-68, in overtime in Tuesday’s Sun Belt Tournament final.

Brady’s Bunch may be a year away, assuming he is back next season. The hot rumor at the Sun Belt Tournament was that Auburn is interested, and it’s the kind of rumor Arkansas State fans will have to get used to, until either a long extension is signed or Brady departs.

One thing is certain. Each coach has left his program better than when he found it, and that’s all anyone can ask.

SPORTS >> Raiders, Wildcats both get bumped

Taylor Smith and Riverview reached the state semifinal round.


Leader sportswriter

A historic fifth meeting this season between the Harding Academy Wildcats and Riverview Raiders was not to be thanks to the efforts of Manila.

The Lions, who came into the 3A state tournament in Jessieville a No. 2 seed out of the 3-3A Conference, knocked off the Wildcats 57-46 in the quarterfinal round Friday night, and sent the Raiders home from the semifinals the following day by winning 53-47.

Riverview advanced to the semifinals with a thrilling 54-53 victory over Rivercrest in the quarterfinals Friday.

Tyler Colvin led the Raiders with 11 points while Jordan Perry and Taylor Smith each scored nine. But Riverview’s biggest contribution was from unlikely fourth-quarter hero Roshard Bailey, who scored eight of his 10 points in the final period.

Perry also helped out with a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter, as the Raiders advanced to play Manila is Saturday’s semifinal.

The Raiders did a solid job defending Manila sharp shooter J.J. Helton, who made six successful three-pointers against Harding Academy the day before. Riverview held him to only three points, but they were vital points coming on a fourth-quarter three-pointer.

While Harding Academy kept Manila’s biggest scoring threat in check, it was the 23 points from Blake Wheeler and 17 from Kim Ashabranner the Raiders could not answer.

The Raiders got one of their best team performances offensively, but simply needed more points. Colvin led with 14 points while point guard Keinan Lee scored 10.

Smith and junior post player D.J. Teague each scored nine points.

Manila used its outside shooting to pull away from Harding Academy in the second half on Friday. J.J. Helton hit a trio of three-pointers in the third quarter, and added another in the final period to go along with a pair of threes from Blake Wheeler.

Kim Ashabranner helped secure the victory for the Lions down the stretch, going 6 of 6 at the free-throw line in the fourth.

It was the Wildcats who started off strong from the outside. Raymond Dailey hit two three-pointers in the first quarter and added another in the second. Dailey scored 12 of his total 13 points on three-point baskets.

Freshman Will Francis led the Wildcats with 14 points while Daniel Stevens and Jordan Smith both finished with nine.

Helton led the Lions with 18 points, all of which came on three-point shots. Wheeler added 13 and Ashabranner scored 10.

SPORTS >> Travs’ exec makes pitch

Leader sports editor

For Arkansas Travelers general manager Pete Laven, the fans come first.

Laven, entering his fourth season calling the shots for the Travelers, paid a visit to the Jacksonville Rotary Club luncheon Monday to discuss the new season and his plans for showing ticket-buyers a good time.

“We don’t consider Jacksonville an outlying area anymore,” said Laven, whose club moved a little closer when it opened Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock in 2007.

Unlike his Major League counterparts, Laven gets no say over the comings and goings of players, managers and coaches.

That’s up to the Los Angeles Angels, who have been sending players to Arkansas since signing the first player-development contract with the Travelers, of the Class AA Texas League, in the fall of 2000.

While Angels general manager Tony Reagins spends most of his time focusing on the roster, Laven spends most of his time trying to see to it the paying customers get their money’s worth.

That means continuing the grand tradition of promotions like Clunker Car Night and midget wrestling and the free giveaways like magnetic schedules and replica caps for which the Travelers became known under long-time, legendary general manager and executive vice president Bill Valentine, who retired at the outset of last season.

“That’s what you have to do these days,” Laven said. “I know Jacksonville is a great baseball town but you can’t depend on the diehard fans anymore.”

Laven noted the popularity of the Dickey-Stephens Park beer garden, which has become a nightclub unto itself where fans, Laven noted, may not even pay attention to the score.

Other distractions this season will include a celebrity boxing match, the usual school day games with their 11 a.m. starts, fireworks, and two nights of midget wrestling.

“I really would have thought the novelty would have worn off by now,” Laven said. “Instead we have two.”

The Travelers will also hold their first “bark at the park” game on April 29, which also happens to be the first Jacksonville-Cabot community night. Fans can bring their dogs and stick around for a postgame concert by the Baja Men, who sang “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and turned out to be available for $5,000.

“I’m sure they’ll play all their hits,” Laven said.

Dickey-Stephens Park has a fixed seating of 5,200 and its capacity increases to 7,000 with the outfield berms, but Laven said the ballpark can hold even more than that, and noted the 13,000 at last year’s concert by the Dave Matthews Band.

“The Texas League is very unique,” Laven said. “So many new ballparks. The oldest ballpark in our league is in San Antonio and that was built in 1994.”

Laven is a 1991 graduate of Eastern Illinois University who first worked for the Travelers as an intern at old Ray Winder Field in the 1990s. He worked for ball clubs in Kane Co., Ill., Albany, Ga., and Kannapolis, N.C., before returning to Arkansas as an assistant general manager in 2000.

Laven was named Texas League executive of the year in 2006, which began with a minor league umpires strike and featured the Texas League All-Star Game at Ray Winder Field as well as closing ceremonies for the ballpark, which opened in 1932.

Among his many all-star game duties, Laven had to pace out the steps the color guard would take on the field, then sing the National Anthem to himself in order to time out the Air National Guard fighter jet flyby, which went off without a hitch.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been four years,” said Laven, who was promoted when Valentine stepped down as general manager before the start of 2007.

While Laven has no say on player personnel, he is pleased to point out the number of Major Leaguers the Travelers have produced. The Texas League is just one stop away from the big leagues, and on the Angels’ 40-man roster alone there are 25 former Arkansas players.

Under the Angels’ affiliation the Travelers have rarely boasted stellar records but won the 2001 Texas League championship, lost the TLCS to Midland in 2005 and won another championship in 2008. Laven said the success, talent and relationships with the Angels’ front office make it likely Arkansas will extend its contract with Los Angeles sometime this season.

“All in all it’s been a very good partnership,” Laven said. “If you asked me who I want to be with next year I would say the Angels.”

SPORTS >> Yellowjackets flummox Falcons

Daquan Bryant and North Pulaski suffered heartbreak in the state semifinals.


Special to The Leader

ALMA — As difficult as it was for the North Pulaski Falcons last year after losing in the Class 5A championship game, it was even worse Saturday night.

Wynne’s Calene Scott hit a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to lift Wynne to a 55-54 win over the Falcons in the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament at Alma.

“I’m really sad for my seniors,” North Pulaski head coach Raymond Cooper said. “I’ve got a group of seniors that fought hard last year to get to the state championship game, and then to have this happen the way that it did. For them to even have a lead and have a chance to win the game at the end is absolutely miraculous under the circumstances that they had to fight through.”

Wynne hit 24 of 32 free throws with North Pulaski’s Daquan Bryant and Bryan Colson fouling out. North Pulaski was 14 of 21 from the free-throw line.

North Pulaski led 52-48 in the opening minute of overtime on a leaner by I.J. Ready and two free throws by Kyron Ware, but Jordan Weaver hit two free throws for Wynne with 2:28 left. North Pulaski missed with 1:40 left and Weaver added two more free throws after being fouled on the rebound to tie the game 52-52.

North Pulaski ran the clock down until Ware was fouled with 13 seconds left. Ware hit both free throws to put the Falcons up 54-52 before Scott hit the game-winner for Wynne, taking a pass and launching the shot as the buzzer sounded.

“We wanted to get the ball to Jordan,” Wynne head coach Bobby Gross said. “We wanted to get to the lane, get fouled and make it a three-point play. We tried to get a ball screen and they switched on us. They did a great job. Calene made a great shot.

Players make plays.”

Scott’s game-winner was Wynne’s first field goal since 4:20 was left in the fourth quarter. Wynne hit 10 of 12 free throws in that span.

“Anybody that was at this ballgame saw what happened,” Cooper said. “I had an official that wouldn’t even let me talk to him.

There’s another coach that’s running up and down the floor on the court, and I’m being warned about being in the box talking to my trainer. It was one-sided, and it was one-sided the whole game.

“My guys really fought through a lot of adversity. I normally wouldn’t make excuses about this, but I’ve got a group of guys in that locker room that did everything they could and deserve a lot better than this.”

North Pulaski (25-5) sent the game into overtime on I.J. Ready’s leaner in the lane with 1.7 seconds left that tied it 48-48.

“North Pulaski is a great team,” Gross said. “We were very fortunate. We played almost the perfect game.”

The game was tight throughout. Wynne led 11-8 after a quarter and 22-17 at halftime.

“Our whole goal was to be within five points during the first four minutes, and to be within six points after the first quarter,” Gross said. “North Pulaski has the talent to run you out of the gym. Instead of going zone, we just manned them up. Our guys did a great job. That’s the principal of our program is man-to-man, halfcourt defense.”

North Pulaski took its first lead with a 10-0 run in the middle of the third quarter, but a three-pointer by Eric Davis tied it 33-33 with 26 seconds left in the period. Bryant put North Pulaski back up, 35-33, with the final basket of the period.

Wynne opened the last quarter with a 9-4 run to take a 42-39 lead with 4:20 left.

A basket and two free throws by Bryant put North Pulaski ahead 43-42 with 3:14 left in regulation. Weaver hit two free throws for Wynne, Colson hit two free throws for North Pulaski and Scott hit two more free throws for Wynne for a 46-45 lead with 1:48 left.

North Pulaski missed and Weaver hit two more free throws for a 48-45 lead with 39 seconds left. Bryant hit a lone free throw with 19 seconds left to pull North Pulaski within 48-46.

North Pulaski fouled immediately, but Wynne missed both free throws and left the door open for the tying basket.

Bryant led North Pulaski with 22 points, including 16 in the second half.

North Pulaski advanced to the semifinals with a runaway victory against Blytheville.

The Falcons never trailed, scoring the first five points of the game on a driving basket and three-pointer by Aaron Cooper.

North Pulaski raced to a 25-9 lead after the first quarter, and increased it to 30-9 in the second quarter on a three-pointer and a fast-break layup by Ware.

North Pulaski led 36-20 at halftime and coasted in the second half.

Ware scored 20 points to lead North Pulaski. Cooper added 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

SPORTS >> Lonoke denied fourth trip to final

Ashleigh Himstedt drives into the lane against Prairie Grove’s Kedra Coyle.


Leader sportswriter

CHEROKEE VILLAGE — A stellar Prairie Grove defense abruptly halted Lonoke’s four-year run in a 35-32 Prairie Grove victory in the 4A state semifinals at A.L. Hutson Memorial Center on Saturday.

The Lady Tigers (31-1) will face Star City at 7 p.m. on Thursday in the 4A championship game at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena. It is the first time since 2006 the Lady Jackrabbits (28-6) will miss the trip to Hot Springs and the final.

“I don’t think people fully understand the kind of hours we put in together,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “Two of those kids have started since the ninth grade, one other senior has started since her sophomore year.

“I’ve said this many times: they are better kids than they are basketball players. And they are going to be successful people; it’s just bad that we’ve come to the end of the road now.”

Lonoke junior guard Cara Neighbors hit what would have been the go-ahead basket with 24 seconds remaining and Prairie Grove holding a 33-32 lead, but she was called for an offensive foul. The Lady Tigers’ Elysia Clement then made two free throws to set the final margin.

“These girls mean so much to me, I can’t say it,” an emotional Prairie Grove coach Kevin Froud said. “The way they fought — we had people getting hurt left and right. But seniors stepped up and made plays.”

Asiah Scribner started the final period with an inside basket assisted by Neighbors that broke a 27-27 tie at the end of the third quarter. And things looked promising for the Lady Jackrabbits with 7:11 left to play when Michaela Brown made a pair of free throws for the 31-27 lead.

But that was the end of Lonoke’s scoring with the exception of a lone free throw by Scribner with 37 seconds left to pull the Lady Jackrabbits within 33-32.

“First of all, my hat’s off to Prairie Grove,” Morris said. “They’ve done an outstanding job, and they’ve got an outstanding basketball team. They had a couple of chances where they were tired; they were grabbing shorts, and they know it. They were down. But that’s why I give them the credit for making the run.”

Freshman post player Justyne Huber got the Lady Tigers off to a fast start with a pair of baskets in the middle of the first quarter for an 8-2 lead. Neighbors closed the gap for Lonoke with a basket followed by a pair of free throws with 1:57 left in the first to make it 8-6.

The Lady Jackrabbits went on a 7-0 run to start the second quarter, including a transition shot by Ashleigh Himstedt set up with a defensive rebound and quick assist from Brown to make it 12-12 with 6:05 left in the half. Neighbors made a jumper and a free throw to give the Lady ’Rabbits their first lead, 15-12, with 4:42 remaining.

Neighbors led Lonoke with 15 points and Scribner scored nine. Senior Julie Rutherford led Prairie Grove with 10 points while Kendra Coyle and Huber each scored eight.

It was the final high-school game for Scribner and Brown, who started as freshmen and have been a part of Lonoke’s three state final appearances, four regional championships, two conference and district tournament championships and numerous invitational tournament victories since their freshman season.

It was also the last game for Himstedt, a starter since she was a sophomore and another key to Lonoke’s success the past three years.

“You’ve got to put it into perspective,” Morris said. “We don’t have to have a state championship ring to be champions. That’s not what’s going to define those kids in that locker room. What will define them is what kind of people they are going to be, what kind of mommas they’re going to be, what did they take from basketball.

“All that hardware collects dust. But the time spent, that’s what the true measure is going to be.”