Friday, April 09, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Don’t close youth center

We will all have to wait until a trial this fall to figure out if the Conway Human Development Center is seriously negligent in the way that it houses and treats people who are left in its custody, and that may not be conclusive. But U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes was as right as he could be this week in refusing to immediately halt admissions to the colony based upon the as-yet unproven allegations of the U. S. Justice Department that residents there are in mortal danger.

The Justice Department for more than a decade — under three administrations — has been on a mission to reform the Conway center, which was once known as the Arkansas Children’s Colony when it was the first state institution to care for the developmentally disabled.

We are sure that the Justice Department lawyers are sincere in their belief that the program at Conway, which serves more than 500 severely disabled residents, is backward, needlessly harsh and often cruelly negligent. The Justice Department is sworn to implement the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires that developmentally disabled people be treated in the least restrictive environment — in other words, in a way that leaves them maximum personal freedom.

Gov. Mike Beebe and the state Human Services Department say that the Justice Department wants to close the Human Development Center and put everyone in community settings, and they say that philosophy is misguided and would produce the very cruelty that the federal lawyers say is endemic to the large institutions. The anecdotal evidence has been that families of the Conway center’s residents side rabidly with the governor and the administration of the center, not with the Justice Department and its experts.

Since instituting the action in federal court against the Human Development Center years ago, the Justice Department has filed some disturbing reports on abuse and negligence at the center, much of it involving mechanical restraints on residents and improper medication, and worrisome statistics on how the Conway center and the other Arkansas programs stack up against other states.

The trial in September will come none too early for the judge, the government and all of us to evaluate the truth of the allegations. The feelings of family members who have loved ones at the institution are to us a testament at least as convincing as the Justice Department’s studies.

Judge Holmes had to decide whether the prospects of cruelty were greater by allowing people to continue to admit loved ones to the center for the next five months or by denying them. The center has a long waiting list of families who want to place youngsters in the center’s care. We admire his judiciousness, his judicial restraint.

If the danger to residents from carelessness, outmoded treatment and unduly harsh restraints is so great, the judge wondered, why did the Justice Department waited for years, until five months before the case was scheduled for trial, to suddenly allege that the dangers were so high that the public interest demanded that no one else needing care should be admitted? It simply did not meet the standard of proof to justify the court interfering with a program for which there is a huge demand.

Our hunch is that the trial will produce evidence that the Conway center needs more enlightened and, yes, more humane, treatment of many of its charges. Everyone up to the governor has acknowledged that another nearby state facility for the disabled, at Alexander, is so slipshod that it must be removed from its present governance.

But the greater injustice, as Judge Holmes seems to have concluded, would be to deny many the care that their families so desperately crave until everything is fixed.

TOP STORY >> District to interview finalist it passed up

Leader staff writer

The school board for the Pulaski County Special School District voted Thursday to call back Charles Hopson, an Arkansas native with Jacksonville roots, who was among four finalists previously considered for the superintendent’s post.

The board hopes to fill the position before the contract of the interim chief runs out June 30.

“I am shooting for the 14th (of April),” school board president Tim Clark said about an inter view with Hopson, “but we’ll talk with him whenever he is available.”

“He is an outstanding candidate. I had nothing but kudos for him,” school board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville said about Hopson when he was interviewed by the board several months ago.

Hopson has been a teacher and principal in Portland, Ore., schools and serves as deputy superintendent of the district, which has an enrollment of 46,000 students.

He graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in elementary education and has a doctorate in educational policy and management.

Hopson has been away for 18-20 years. His mother lives in Jacksonville, according to Vasquez. “His first job after he graduated was with Pulaski County Special School District at Northwood in 1982. He knows what a tremendous district this was. He is ready to come home.”

Vasquez says Hopson has the leadership and experience to deal with tough issues. The teachers union is “tough” in Oregon, a pro-labor state, and by comparison, the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers is “really, really mild-mannered,” Vasquez said. In addition, Hopson has weathered the Portland district being under court supervision.

TOP STORY >> Both sides declaring win in court decision

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers once again is the bargaining agent for teachers in the Pulaski County Special School District, Circuit Judge Timothy D. Fox ruled Thursday.

For now.

Both sides are claiming victory in Fox’s ruling in the lawsuit brought by the union against the school board.

Fox ruled that the board did have the authority to terminate the union’s standing as bargaining agent, but did not follow the state law.

The district withdrew recognition of PACT at an emergency meeting Dec. 8, “effective immediately” but failed to first have a policies and personnel policy committee in place as required by state law.

Fox declared the board decision “null and void.”

“I was pleased with Fox’s ruling,” school board president Tim Clark said. “We do have the right to decertify the union, but our timing was not right. At least we know what we can do. We need to recognize (the union) for the remainder of the contract. We will definitely adhere to the conditions of the court.”

Marty Nix, president of PACT, on Thursday interpreted Fox’s ruling as a victory for the union.

“This is excellent,” Nix said, as she began to read through the document for the first time, just minutes before the start of the Thursday board meeting. “I am ready to go back to the table and get this contract finalized so the district can go forward.”

The school board has the authority to terminate its professional negotiating agreement with PACT if it is in compliance with these statutory requirements, Jay Bequette, attorney for the PCSSD, told the board at an emergency meeting Thursday night that had been called to determine the next steps in the search for a new superintendent.

Bequette said that the board had the option of immediately setting a date by which union recognition would be terminated that would give the board time to establish the policies and committee required by state law.

The board has approved the creation of a personnel-policy committee and it’s now up to the teachers to decide on their representation on that committee. The committee would then recommend personnel policies to the board.

Board member Gwen Williams, who had voted against union decertification, said that such action would be bad for the district.

“We are already in disarray…we are already in turmoil,” Williams said. “We look like fools in the papers. We put the cart before the horse.”

Board member Charlie Wood, who initiated the decertification action in December, indicated he was eager to do so again, but at another time.

“If and only if four members want to pursue this avenue, we have the legal recourse,” Wood said. “The judge has pretty much given us his blessings…I don’t think we can do that tonight. That was not the point of this meeting.”

Asked after the meeting when he might want to take up the issue, Wood replied, “Tomorrow.”

Clark, who also voted in December for decertification, said after the meeting he favored decertification, but did not want to set a definite timeline until the board could meet to discuss it.

Although the board voted in December to end the district’s relationship with the union, the teachers’ contract in effect at that time remains valid until a new one is negotiated.

Interim Superintendent Rob McGill said that the district administration was already working on policies so that a personnel committee could be established.

The districts in Arkansas in which teachers have union representation are in the minority. Most districts have personnel policy committees made up of elected teacher representatives as well as administrators.

After Nix heard what Bequette told the board, she said, “I am not going to address Mr. Bequette’s stuff. I want to check with our attorney. I don’t necessarily agree with his interpretation.”

Nix maintained that the board cannot decertify the union as long as the existing contract is in place and a successor agreement has not been negotiated.

“The contract has a recognition clause that allows PACT to negotiate on behalf of teachers as long as membership remains 50 percent plus one (member),” Nix said.

Nix said according to most recent estimates, about 920 PCSSD teachers out of about 1,200 are union members.

Fox also ruled that the teachers who walked out on Dec. 10 in objection to the decertification had indeed engaged in a strike, but that “no reprisal would be taken against any teacher for participating in the strike.”

The ruling stated that there is no state law or state Supreme Court ruling “on whether public employee strikes in Arkansas are legal or illegal, and the issue is accordingly, one of first impression.” Therefore, the teachers’ own contract, which specified that there would be no reprisals for a strike, and the rights enjoyed by nonpublic employees applied, Fox concluded.

Nix said she disagreed with Fox’s ruling that the walkout was a strike, claiming that the teachers actually took “accrued leave” as allowed by their contract and deserved to be paid.

“Those teachers were out on contractual leave; they didn’t walk out on their children,” Nix said. “It is leave guaranteed them.

We were charged leave without pay. The district changed the official leave forms they turned in.”

Nix she did not know if PACT would appeal that decision.

“I don’t know. I am looking at this as a great day.”

The union in December had ratified the tentative contract agreement reached by chief negotiators for the union and district administration.

Teachers went to the emergency board meeting on Dec. 8 with the expectation that the board would ratify the agreement.

When that did not occur, tempers flared. Wood saw his opportunity to get a majority on his motion to decertify, which had failed previously.

“I struck when the iron was hot,” he said recently, recalling that night. Clark, who had for months not been supportive of decertification, this time cast the swing vote.

TOP STORY >> Elliott cites her record in race for 2nd District

Leader senior staff writer

Joyce Elliott, 59, one of five central Arkansas Democrats vying for the Second Congressional District seat held by Vic Snyder, says she knew she wanted a career in politics from the time she was 10.

That’s when she first saw her family members excited about politics and a young senator running for president, John F. Kennedy.

“Older blacks had hope they hadn’t had before,” she said in an interview last week.

Now her family and friends are “absolutely excited” that she’s running for Congress. “I think this is a right next and natural step for me,” Elliott said.

Elliott, a black woman, faces three white lawyers and a law student, all men, in the race for the Democratic nomination. She’s hoping they will split the white male lawyer vote, boosting her into a runoff following the May 18 primary, she said.

She said Arkansans have moved beyond campaigning on race, but that race is still a factor in the way some people vote.

“We’ve never elected an African American or a woman” to the seat she’s running for, she said.

Nonetheless, she said her support is widespread, including white males.

Elliott said she had intended all along to run for Snyder’s seat once he retired, but she, like others, was surprised by the timing of his decision not to run again.

“I was prepared mentally, but I wasn’t prepared economically,” she said. “Whatever my sacrifice, I can do it.”

Elliott, a career educator, was elected state representative in November 2000 and served three successive terms through

December 2006, when she was retired by term limits.

She was elected state senator in 2008, where she is currently majority leader.

She has chaired the House Education Committee and the subcommittee on higher education.


Her endorsements so far include the AFL-CIO and the Little Rock Firefighters Union.

She said she has huge support from women and a great deal of support from veterans and teachers as well.

“The big issues in the House were education and health and several others including housing,” she said.

One of her goals is to move more Arkansans into the middle class and help them maintain that standard of living, Elliott said.

“I haven’t had the privilege of entitlement,” she said.

“I want to take my patience and my ability to work with people and carry them to Washington D.C.,” she said. “I think we can regain the goodness of politics, even in D.C.,” she said.

Elliott said she’s a Democrat because the people she grew up with were Democrats and because she thinks Democrats care for humanity across the spectrum.

“As an African-American wo-man, I’ve had to figure out how to work across lines,” she said. We can collaborate and treat each other with respect,” she added.

“With all the rancor, it doesn’t help, but I can do better than what we’ve seen. I’m not a person who shouts. We’re going to have to talk to each other and work together.”


“Being right is not enough,” she said. She knows she’s right when her “analytical side and her feeling side coincide,” she said.

Then, “we find our way forward.”

“I’ve had some real disappointments with Democrats, but they put in policies designed to help the everyday working people.”

She said she would have supported the healthcare bill signed into law in March, even with all its imperfections.

“The bill that passed was thoughtful, but we should look for ways to make it better,” she said. “A half a loaf is better than none, but it needs to be recalibrated and made better.”

She would ease the burden on small business not only by the incentives included in the health care bill, but she would not pass any more taxes.


“The biggest thing we need to do is reconsider tax codes,” she said. “Are they fair and proportionate?”

“Are we asking individuals and business to pay taxes consistently?” Elliott added. “The tax code needs to be advantageous not just to those making the top 10 percent of incomes.

“We went to war (in Iraq) and didn’t pay for it,” she said. “We had the big Bush tax cut and didn’t pay for it.

“We have to sacrifice,” Elliott continued. “We want to be energy independent, but we want three cars in the driveway.

“To restart the economy, we should rebuild the infrastructure,” she said. “That was a missed opportunity (in the stimulus packages).


“I do believe we need more fiscal responsibility from government. We owe our kids a future without blinding debt,” Elliott said.

The nation also needs to train workers for the transition to a green economy.

“We don’t do enough to help people with startups, particularly in the rural areas,” she insisted.

Elliott would like to see the government initiate talent audits in the small rural areas to match up skills with jobs and programs.

She wants to rebuild rural Arkansas and help create a world-class education for all children, she said.

“I want to put this district on the map as a place of innovation,” she said. “It already has a stellar research hospital at UAMS and cutting-edge research in nanotechnology at UALR.”

She said her 10 years in the legislature, plus decades of teaching and having to overcome adversity — she desegregated her high school as a sophomore — gives her the necessary experience to succeed as a member of Congress.


“My life experiences prepare me,” Elliott said.

Elliott was born in Willisville (Nevada County), where shegraduated from high school. She is a 1973 graduate in English and speech from Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia, and in 1981 she earned a master’s degree in English from Ouachita
Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

She taught high school for 31 years, including 14 years at Robinson High School and four years at McClellan High School, leaving in 2004 to work for the Arkansas College Board, where she focused on expanding access to advanced-placement curriculum for students who were underrepresented.


Among her awards and honors, Elliott was named one of the 10 most influential Arkansas Legislators in 2009 by Talk Business and one of the 10 best legislators of the 2003 and 2005 legislative session by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

She was awarded the Legislative Friend of Children Award in 2006 by the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and received the Gressie Carnes Democratic Woman of the Year Award in 2006.

She was one of four individuals named to Gov. Mike Beebe’s transition team and received the Arkansas Spirit Award from the Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners in 2004.

SPORTS >> Lady Falcons see twinbill get away

Leader sportswriter

Good defense in the first game gave way to shaky defense in the nightcap for North Pulaski in a pair of doubleheader losses to White Hall on Tuesday at Dupree Park.

The Lady Falcons (4-7, 0-6 5A-Southeast) held the hard-hitting Lady Bulldogs to one run in Game 1 but White Hall won 1-0.

The Lady Bulldogs then took advantage of critical defensive mistakes early by the Lady Falcons in the second game to take an 11-0, run-ruled victory and the conference sweep.

“I was excited to see how we played defensively in that first game,” Lady Falcons coach Ann Tharp said. “We played really good defense — of course, we weren’t able to score — but I was thrilled with our defensive play. Some of our games we’ve played against them in past seasons have been really ugly.”

North Pulaski pitcher Brittany Bains performed well against White Hall’s batting order in Game 1, giving up five hits and four walks in seven innings. But one of those hits, a double by cleanup batter Haley Baugh, scored the game’s only run in the top of the first inning.

Kayla Walters reached for the Lady Bulldogs when North Pulaski misplayed her infield pop up, and scored on Baugh’s drive to left field.

The Lady Falcons had few scoring opportunities in Game 1.

Outfielder Lindsey Silvas got as far as second base in the bottom of the fifth inning when she reached on an error and advanced on Haley Hudson’s single fly to center. But North Pulaski already had two outs when Silvas and Hudson reached base, and both were stranded when senior Laura Dortch grounded out to shortstop.

North Pulaski had scattered hits in the first two innings, including a single to center by catcher Heather Fleshman in the bottom of the first and a single to center by sophomore Kelsey Whitmore in the second.

Fleshman led off the bottom of the fourth with a bloop to left field, but White Hall retired the next three batters to leave Fleshman stranded for the second time.

Fleshman went 2 of 3 to lead the Falcons. For White Hall, Baugh was 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI.

The Lady Falcons loaded the bases in the top of the second in Game 2 when Whitmore singled, Shelby Floyd walked and Silvas singled with two outs. But White Hall worked its way out of that jam, and held on again in the third when leadoff batter Hudson walked and advanced to third before the Lady Falcons’ ran out of outs.

North Pulaski came into the doubleheader with a dose of confidence after a 14-1 rout over Little Rock Fair last week. Every player in the lineup had at least one hit, and Bains had eight strikeouts during the rout.

The Lady Falcons are hosting the fourth-annual Jae Lynn Russell Memorial Tournament this weekend at Dupree Park. The finals are set for today at 5 p.m.

SPORTS >> Perssons team to take down Jacksonville

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills took a one-sided, non-conference victory over Jacksonville, 5-1 on Thursday night at Jan Crow Stadium.

The Bears (9-2-1) were working on a shutout until the Red Devils scored on a free kick in the final minute.

The Persson family proved too tough for Jacksonville’s defense, as sophomore Jeremiah Persson got things started with an early goal for Sylvan Hills, followed by a goal by senior Jacob Persson and two goals for leading scorer Joshua Persson.

Junior forward Florian Zell added the only non-Persson goal of the match for the Bears in the second half.

“It was a good performance,” Bears coach Sam Persson said. “We always have trouble playing at Jacksonville for whatever reason, but we played with confidence and had a good night passing the ball.”

The Bears are second in the 5A-Southeast Conference, with their two losses coming at the hands of league-leading Pulaski Academy.

“We have the best players we’ve had playing in their senior season this year,” Sam Persson said. “And we’ve been pretty dominant. We’re hard to stop on offense; we’ve never scored less than two goals a game.

“Defensively, we’re kind of green and have given up more goals than we would have liked.”


The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils picked up their third victory of the season Thursday with a 6-1 rout over cross-county rival Sylvan Hills at Jan Crow Stadium.

The Lady Devils, who did not have enough players to field a complete team last season, have already qualified for the 6A state tournament with a 3-7 record.

Sophomore forward Taylor Ruple snagged her fourth hat trick — three goals in one game — of the season against the Lady Bears with a goal in the first half that gave Jacksonville a 1-0 lead at intermission.

Ruple scored two more in the second half, sandwiched between goals by Shante Holloway and Katie Roessler.

Ruple completed her triple feat with five minutes left and Katie Lawrence added Jacksonville’s final goal in the last three minutes.

The Lady Bears (0-7) avoided the shutout when Sarah McAllister scored late, just after Ruple’s final goal.

For Ruple, who serves as team captain for Jacksonville, the frustrations of a freshman season in which she was sidelined because of lack of participation has given way to a thrilling sophomore campaign.

“This has been a great season for me,” Ruple said. “I didn’t really have any confidence in myself. I had confidence in my team, but I thought I wouldn’t make a single goal. But in the end, I’ve made four hat tricks, I’ve beat the Jacksonville High School record with 16 goals, and it’s just so exciting. I didn’t do it by myself — my team helped me out.”

Ruple said the victory over Sylvan Hills should also help team confidence.

“Now, after this victory tonight, everyone is going to have their head up high,” Ruple said. “Everybody’s going to be ready for state, and everyone’s going to come out to win.”

Although only a sophomore, Ruple was selected as a team captain because of her prior experience as a forward on the classic team ASC Angels in the Burns Park soccer league. She has been a part of two state championship teams on the 15-under Angels squad.

“Some of the players go to North Little Rock, some go to Little Rock Christian, some go to CAC, and I’m just the oddball from Jacksonville, but I’m happy I get to work with these girls, because I love them to death.”

SPORTS >> Red Devils pound Patriots, take two

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville had a key player work through some aches and pains Tuesday.

The offense, on the other hand, was in good health.

The Red Devils swept Marion 5-4 and 11-1 in a 6A-East Conference doubleheader at Marion, getting a gutsy effort from banged-up sophomore pitcher Jesse Harbin in the first game and a group effort at the plate to win the second game by the 10-run rule.

Harbin was still sore after a collision on the bases in last Friday’s game with Little Rock Central. Harbin, who was trying to make a putout at second, was initially suspected to have fractured ribs, but he was checked out and cleared to play at Marion and got the first-game victory.

“He was kind of off,” Red Devils coach Larry Burrows said. “He struggled, but like I’ve said, there ain’t anybody going to compete harder than he does. He struggled a little bit. Come to find out he was a little sore, he told us that after the fact.

“He sort of labored out there. But you know he competed. That’s what you’re going to get every time he goes out there.”

Harbin went five innings to get the victory while sophomore D’Vone McClure provided the key hit with a two-RBI, bases-loaded single that broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth. Junior Mike Lamb pitched the rest of the way for the save.

“I thought it was going to be tough,” Burrows said, taking note of Marion’s 30 hits in a conference doubleheader with Jonesboro.

Burrows was especially pleased to see production from the bottom of the order, specifically No. 8 and No. 9 hitters Alex Tucker and Logan Perry. Tucker, who was not retired all day, was 3 for 3 in the first game and scored two runs and Perry was 2 for 2 with a homer and two runs.

“We had nine hits and five of them came from Tucker and Perry hitting eight and nine, so that was great to see,” Burrows said.

McClure, the leadoff man, added punch with his one-out, bases-load hit in the sixth inning.

The Red Devils posted a seven-run fourth inning in the second game to win by the 10-rule.

“It was kind of ugly,” Burrows said.

Jacksonville, the home team in the second game, scored a run in the first and three in the second before breaking the game open in the fourth. Catcher Patrick Castleberry led the offense with three RBI while no other player had more than one, though every starter scored. Nick Rodriguez had two hits while everybody else had one and the Red Devils took advantage of eight walks.

Tucker followed up his first game performance by going 1 for 1 and drawing two walks.

“I think he’s made one out in the last five games,” Burrows said.

Lamb was the second-game starter and Noah Sanders relieved him to pitch three innings for the victory.

“He was more consistent this time out, that was good to see,” Burrows said of Lamb.

As for the offense, Burrows is pleased different players are contributing at different times.

“That’s the thing about this game. You can go really good for two weeks and you can kind of go bad for two weeks,” Burrows said. “It’s the ultimate team game. You have to have them all.”

The Red Devils returned to Dupree Park on Friday to play host to Little Rock Catholic in an Arkansas Activities Association benefit game. Traditionally such benefits are played before the season starts, but with two games shaved off the baseball schedule this year, Burrows said it was decided to play the game during the regular season.

SPORTS >> Hitting the lights: Travelers racing into season

Leader sports editor

If the Arkansas Travelers weren’t already sick of their rival Midland RockHounds after spring training, they have to be getting a little tired of their Texas League rivals by now.

And it’s just been one game.

Midland, the defending champion, opened the Class AA Texas League season with an 11-1 victory over the Travelers at Citibank Ballpark in Midland, Texas, on Thursday night.

The Travelers scored the first run in the third, then watched Midland rack up 11 unanswered runs over the final five innings to open its championship defense in style.

It’s a rivalry that stretches from Arkansas, affiliated with the American League’s Los Angeles Angels, to the AL West Division. Midland is the Class AA affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, the Angels’ divisional rival.

“We play them, like, four or five times in spring training so we know each other pretty well,” Arkansas manager Bobby Magallanes said of Midland. “It’s a rivalry not only in the big leagues but in the minor leagues.”

The Angles and Athletics also have affiliates who battle in the Class A California League and Midwest Leagues as well as the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

Arkansas, at Midland for a three-game series that resumed Friday night, will play host to the RockHounds in a three-game set that opens the home schedule beginning Thursday at Dickey-Stephens Park.

By then, Arkansas is hoping to smooth out some of the kinks seen on opening night.

Right-handed starter Tim Kiely (0-1) held Midland scoreless until the fourth on Thursday and ended up getting charged with six runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out five over 4 2/3 innings.

Magallanes expects Kiely to right himself, especially in the spacious home confines of Dickey-Stephens Park.

“He had a good fall league so we’re looking for him to be a catalyst on the staff,” Magallanes said. “He’s a strike-thrower.

Again, this ballpark, that’s what we want. You throw strikes, you’re going to have a chance to win.”

Kiely is part of a staff that, other than hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Brasier, is more about technique than power and is supposed to be backed up by a fairly experienced bullpen, Magallanes said.

“They’re not going to light up radar guns but they know how to pitch and they can keep teams off balance,” Magallanes said.

“And if they can do that and we bring in our bullpen, it’s a good combination.”

Left-hander Jayson Miller (6-10 with a 5.09 ERA at Class A Rancho Cucamonga) made his Class AA debut Friday night against minor league veteran Carlos Hernandez, a left-hander who was 15-8 with a 4.06 ERA at Class A Stockton, Midland and Class AAA Sacramento last year.

Travelers pitchers combined for eight walks and three wild pitches in the opener.

The offense stranded 10 runners and hit into two double plays while the Travelers’ only run came on an RBI triple by returning second baseman Ryan Mount, who led the offense with three hits.

While Magallanes expects the pitching to do its part as the season heats up, the light hitting will likely continue. This year’s team has no sluggers like Mark Trumbo or Angels No. 1 prospect Hank Conger, both departed.

With speed at the top and bottom of the order, Arkansas’ offense also appears a good fit for Dickey-Stephens Park.

“We’re not going to hit for power but we do have guys who hit the gaps,” Magallanes said. “They’re gap hitters, and because of the huge gaps in this ballpark, if they can shoot those gaps they can have pretty productive years.”

It remains to be seen if that translates to a first- or second-half season Texas League North Division championship, either of which would qualify Arkansas for the playoffs in September.

In his first three years, Magallanes has had teams with a balance of hitting and pitching prospects, teams rich with minor league veterans — like the one that won the 2008 Texas League championship — and teams with young sluggers like last year’s Travs, who boasted Conger and Trumbo.

And there is no accounting for injuries, streaks, slumps and the needs of the Angels, who can promote or demote players at will as long as it helps the parent club.

There were mutterings that last year’s Travelers, who finished 61-79, may have lacked cohesion or team leadership. Magallanes at least expects that to improve this season.

“When you talk about makeup, this is a good group of guys,” Magallanes said. “What I saw in spring training, they played so well together. They’re close knit; they pull for one another. It was really fun in spring training, so I’m looking forward to the season this year.”

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Keep talking, Sen. Baker

The eight candidates for U.S. senator are having trouble getting traction against one another, which is the first task before any of them starts taking down Sen. Blanche Lincoln or whoever the Democrats nominate in their primary next month.

Gilbert Baker, the very pleasant state senator from Conway who seemed to be the favored Republican before the national party bigwigs persuaded Congressman John Boozman to run, illustrates the problem. To separate himself from the pack, Baker began running ads this week attacking Congress, President Obama, the Democrats, and, of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Lincoln. They are responsible for the nation’s economic problems, he suggests.

And maybe Congressman Boozman, too, although Baker won’t say so directly. He just flashes Boozman’s picture on the screen when he’s condemning Congress. He never utters Boozman’s name or identifies him in any way.

Baker attacks Congress regularly for the big bailout of financial institutions in 2008 and, of course, as one of his aides happily pointed out, Boozman voted for the bailout, along with Lincoln. The bank bailout was the act that triggered the tea-party movement across the land, which has morphed into an all-purpose rage against the national government.

“I oppose massive federal bailouts,” Baker said. That puts him in sync with every Republican in the country, including all those who voted for the bailout in 2008 and pushed it ardently, and probably a majority of American voters.

We must give Baker some credit. He acknowledged when talking to reporters about his new ad campaign that Republicans were complicit in the bailout as well as Obama, Lincoln and Pelosi.

But honesty requires that he go further than that. The bailout was a Republican idea, the George Bush administration’s response to what it feared was the impending collapse of the U.S. and global financial systems. Bush’s treasury secretary and his Federal Reserve chairman came to him with the bailout proposal and the president embraced it. He asked that they try to get the Democratic leadership on board with the bailout because the Republicans could not do it alone. Most of the Democratic leadership did go along, reluctantly because American banking was not exactly a Democratic constituency. A number of liberal Democrats balked as well as a gaggle of conservative Republicans.

You will remember that the Republican candidate for president, John McCain, flew back to Washington to urge all of his party to stand united behind the bailout. He knew it would be unpopular but thought it was the right thing to do for the country.

Sen. Barack Obama, his Democratic opponent, added his imprimatur, although many in the liberal wing of his party repudiated his lead.

Boozman of Arkansas’ Third District was right there with his party and with his Republican president, as he was on every single issue big and small for nine years. Baker has a good point if he’s willing to make it forthrightly.

If Baker and all his fellow candidates are going to run against the nation’s economic plight, which they all agree is the vast federal debt and the expansion of government, then they need to be unambiguous about how it happened. It began with the huge tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 and the simultaneous expansion of government spending on war and medical care. Yes, Boozman voted for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and all the tax cuts that turned four consecutive years of budget surpluses into deficits of historic magnitude. And he voted for the Bush/Republican Medicare prescription drug program and the giant taxpayer subsidy for insurance companies, which sent federal health spending reeling out of control.

But Baker and the others also must acknowledge that all of those were the initiatives of a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress, although a few Democrats like Lincoln went along in nearly every instance.

If he did, Baker could call his campaign the Straight Talk Express. Wait, John McCain tried that and it did not work out so well.

But it would separate him from the pack. No one else among the eight will yield to the truth-telling impulse, so he ought to give it a try.

TOP STORY >> Water plan will rely on state funds

Leader staff writer

The reports during the regular monthly board meeting Tuesday of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority were mostly about more delays in getting started on the project to bring water to the area from Greers Ferry Lake.

The bad news is that even though members are getting approval from their city councils or other governing bodies to sign water-purchase contracts with LWPWA, the application for funding still doesn’t meet the “immediate need” requirement for federal money.

But the good news is that the Environmental Protection Agency, which last year said the project wasn’t eligible because there is no immediate need for water, now says that since stimulus money won’t pay for it, the project will be turned over to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

ANRC, which has wanted to fund the water project for almost a decade, is the conduit for much of the federal loan money that pays for water and sewer projects in Arkansas.

The fact that the same rules apply for funding with EPA money, whether it is stimulus money or the regular allocation of funds, apparently will no longer be an impediment with the EPA out of the picture. At least that is what the members said they hope is the case.

Woody Bryant, project manager, said during the board meeting that he believed the EPA was tired of the heat put on them by the congressmen and senators who represent the members of the project.

Although some of the 11 members of the LWPWA need water now, most have found alternative supplies since the Lonoke-White Water Project started about 15 years ago. Most keep their systems in good repair. Both of those conditions are working against their efforts for funding through ANRC.

If the members’ systems were worn out and they needed water now, funding wouldn’t be a problem, Bryant said.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke, chairman of the board of LWPWA, said it seemed to him that part of the project’s problem with EPA is that it is so unique. No one has seen anything like it before, 11 distinct entities all working together on one project.

The members are Jacksonville, Vilonia, Cabot, Beebe, Lonoke, Ward, Austin, Grand Prairie, Bayou Two Water Association, North Pulaski Water Association, Furlow and McRae.

Last summer, funding for the project seemed a sure thing. A $15 million stimulus grant and a $30 million loan at 3.5 percent interest were supposed to pay for it. It was “shovel ready” which was essential for stimulus funding.

The Lonoke-White Project had been bid about five years earlier, but it was halted when those who would use the water refused to sign contracts because the cost of the water was higher than they had been told it would be.

Since that time, a lawsuit has taken control of the project away from Community Water Systems in the Heber Springs area and given it to the cities and water associations in central Arkansas that will actually use the water.

The project hit a snag in August 2009 when the EPA informed ANRC that it was ineligible because it would provide water to meet future needs, not immediate water needs.

The federal money was to come through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, but the ANRC officials who were working on the funding were apparently unaware of the restriction. They said officials with EPA were under scrutiny to ensure the stimulus money was not misspent.

When the EPA did not concede that the Lonoke Project was eligible for the stimulus money; ANRC found another $50 million at 1 percent interest to pay for the project.

But the federal guidelines still applied and the project leaders, including Bryant and the engineers, have carefully worded all correspondence relating to funding to make the project appear eligible.

In the meantime, participants in the projects are moving forward as if funding is guaranteed. Bryant reported that all but Cabot, Lonoke and McRae have agreed to sign the water-purchase contracts when they are ready.

Clint McGue, attorney for the project, said that he thought all the funding problems would have been settled by now. Now, he hopes those problems will be resolved and the contracts ready for signatures by June.

TOP STORY >> Greenwood sings Smith’s praises

Greenwood belts out one of his hits Saturday at Veterans Park Community Center in Cabot.


Leader staff writer

Country music icon Lee Greenwood, who wrote and sings “God Bless the USA,” was humbled during a sound check before his Cabot performance Saturday.

Greenwood spoke and performed at the Veterans Park Community Center in support of Princella Smith, a young, gifted black Republican candidate for the First District congressional seat held by retiring Democrat Marion Berry.

Greenwood, who has more than 20 albums to his credit and has been in the entertainment business for more than 30 years, told the small but enthusiastic crowd that two young ladies were in the community center watching and listening as he was doing his sound check. As he was leaving, he said hello to them and one of the girls screamed that she loved his music.

“I especially love that one song you do, ‘Ahab the Arab,’” the young girl told him.

He just smiled and thanked her.

“Wrong guy and busted my bubble,” Greenwood told the audience.

Greenwood told the group—which included Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, running for the Dist. 28 state Senate seat, and mayoral candidates Eddie Cook and Bill Cypert—that although he’s performed in Arkansas many times, Saturday was his first visit to Cabot.

“But what’s funny, just before I got the call to come out here, my wife was watching a show on the Food Channel about the great food and the shut-up sauce at the Mean Pig in Cabot, Arkansas. So when I got here, I asked our driver to take my son and me to the Mean Pig Barbecue,” Greenwood said.

“When we got there, the line was long and out the door, and they were out of ribs. But I still wanted to try some of their shut-up hot sauce that was featured on the show,” the singer said.

Greenwood said his son Parker had a small taste first. “For the next 15 minutes, he ran around like an ant on an ant pile that had been stepped on,” Greenwood continued. “I didn’t think it could possibly be that hot, so I had some and ran for the water fountain screaming for someone to call the fire department.”

Smith, 26, is a native of Wynne. She is a former congressional aide who has 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 TV appearances, where she debated energy experts and Democratic strategists.

In 2009, Smith went to work as communications director for freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana, but she resigned earlier this year when Berry announced he would not seek re-election.

Like many country entertainers, Greenwood is a strong conservative. Like many people, he started out on the liberal side when he was younger, he said.

“But you reach a point, somewhere between your 20s and 40s, where you see what is important and get conservative,” said the California native.

Greenwood said, “I worked with Reagan in California when I was a nobody.”

He told the Cabot crowd that he was raised on a farm and was proud to be a redneck. “It’s not about shotguns and pickup trucks,” Greenwood said. “Rednecks are just hard, blue-collar workers. The term came from people working hard in the sun and getting red necks, and I got plenty working on the farm.”

He said he wished he could instill those tough working times on his sons. “I wished they lived on a farm instead of that modest $2 million home in Nashville,” he quipped.

Turning his comments to the political climate, Greenwood said the chance for change was “right under our feet. But you have to take it personally and get involved, but it’s not that hard. Just vote for the right people.”

Because Greenwood is passionate about politics, he has been asked many times to consider running for office. “Not me,” he said. “I’ve got more skeletons in my closet than an archaeologist.”

Greenwood came to Cabot to support Smith and spread the conservative message through a mutual friend.

“My friend in Tennessee called and asked what she could do to help me. I kiddingly said a country star would be nice. She asked, how about Lee Greenwood?”

“I said, the icon himself, wow, yes!” Smith explained.

Smith said, “Greenwood is a really nice guy who truly believes in the words of his songs like ‘God Bless the USA.’”

Greenwood said that when he wrote that song in 1983, he felt the country was moving apart and wanted everyone to know that no matter where they lived or what they did or who they were that “we were all one country.”

Even though Greenwood is not a fan of the Obama administration or the direction it is taking the country, he told the Cabot gathering that “yes, we will rise again.”

The singer said the problem wasn’t necessarily liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican or those seeking change versus those who want things to remain the same.

“There is plenty of middle ground, but we need common-sense people in office are passionate about America, about keeping this country great,” he said, reiterating that Smith was one of those people who had that passion.

Before the Cabot show, Smith and Greenwood were at the Little Rock home of the late Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller for a fundraiser.

Smith said her passion for public service came from Rockefeller. She went to work for him by mere chance when she was 17.

“He was always asking, what can I do to make something better?” she said. “That philosophy stuck with me. He made me want to go out and become and a better person and help others.”

Smith, who graduated from Ouachita Baptist, some people question her youth and whether she’s old enough. “The Constitution says 25, and I’m 26, so yes, I’m old enough.”

She said she is about Arkansas and America first. “It’s not about my party, it’s about the people. What I can do to make it better for Americans, for Arkansans?”

Smith said that during the campaign she would focus on education, the economy and illegal immigration. “And let me tell you I am pro-life, I support the Second Amendment, believe marriage is between a man and a woman and believe English should be the official language of the government. It’s a national-security issue.”

Smith said to win, she’ll need the support of both parties. “That means I’ll already have bipartisan backing when I get to Washington.”

Running against Smith on the Republican side is Rick Crawford. The Democratic candidates include state Sen. Steve Bryles, state Rep. David Cook, former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge, Chad Causey (Berry’s chief of staff), Terry Green and Ben Ponder.

SPORTS >> Travelers showcase new talent, begin year

Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Travelers will do just that as they open the season this week.

Arkansas starts Class AATexas League play on the road at defending champion Midland on Thursday. The Travelers boarded the bus after a workout Tuesday night at Dickey-Stepehens Park in North Little Rock, and they took a new-look roster that is expected to be strong on relief pitching and speed and short on power.

The parent Los Angeles Angels have assigned only eight returnees from last year’s Travelers team that went 61-79. Of the 24-man roster, 22 are products of the Angels’ minor league system.

Manager Bobby Magallanes, who led Arkansas to the 2008 Texas League championship, returns for his fourth year and will oversee a team in which the bullpen, with three potential closers, is expected to be a highlight.

Right-hander Jordan Walden, limited to 13 starts at Arkansas last year because of injuries, will share closing duties with Ryan Aldridge (0-1 with a 4.50 ERA with the Travs last season) and newcomer Mike Kohn.

Kohn, a right-hander, split time between Class A Cedar Rapids and Class A Rancho Cucamonga and went 6-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 103 strikeouts.

Right-hander Tim Kiely will be the Travs’ opening night starter at Midland after going 9-8 with a 4.67 ERA between Rancho Cucamonga and Arkansas in 2009.

The rest of the starting rotation includes left-hander Jayson Miller (7-11, 4.93 ERA at ClassA Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga), right-hander Jeremy Thorne (4-8, 4.83 at Rancho), left-hander Mike Anton (3-8, 5.07 ERA at Arkansas) and converted reliever Ryan Brasier (5-4, 5.23 ERA in a stint at Rancho).

With Angels’ top prospect and last year’s starting catcher Hank Conger departed for Class AAA Salt Lake, Alberto Rosario takes over behind the plate for Arkansas.

Rosario threw out 44 percent of would-be base stealers to lead the California League at Rancho Cucamonga last season and he will be backed up by Travelers returnee Brian Walker, who hit .291 with 21 RBI at Rancho and batted .267 as he finished up with the Travelers.

Power has sometimes been scarce in spacious Dickey-Stephens Park, but the Travelers do have a power-hitting threat in right fielder Julio Perez, who batted .265 with 10 home runs and 51 RBI at Class A. Outfielder Clay Fuller is one of the team’s three switch-hitters while Jeremy Moore, expected to share center field with Fuller, hit .279 with 20 doubles, 12 triples and 11 home runs.

The Angels picked up some experience for the Travelers with free agent signee Paul McAnulty, who has 124 games of major league experience and last year was at Pawtucket, in the Boston Red Sox organization, and Colorado Springs, in the Colorado Rockies system.

Second baseman Ryan Mount is the only returning everyday player from the 2009 Travelers, while first baseman Efren Navarro moves up to Class AA after batting .287 with 61 RBI at Rancho Cucamonga.

On the left side of the infield is shortstop Andrew Romine, who batted .278 and stole 26 bases at Rancho Cucamonga, and third baseman Jay Brossman, who hit 10 home runs and had 45 RBI at Rancho.

SPORTS >> Red Devils take lumps in victory

Leader sports editor

Friday’s victory was the easy part for the Jacksonville Red Devils.

The hard part was getting through the weekend.

Jacksonville trounced Little Rock Central 19-7 in a non-conference game at Dupree Park, and then had to keep its fingers crossed for the health of sophomore pitcher/infielder Jesse Harbin, who was injured in a base running collision.

Harbin was taken to the emergency room to be examined and athletic trainer Jason Cates said there was concern Harbin might have sustained fractured ribs or damage to his spleen. That left Red Devils coach Larry Burrows nervously looking to the rest of the season as he anticipated life without Harbin.

“That’s our ace and he can play everywhere,” Burrows said.

On Monday, Burrows was relieved to learn Harbin had no serious injuries, though he was expected to be a little sore.

“His ribs aren’t broken,” Burrows said. “I guess that’s a good thing.”

Burrows planned to look Harbin over in practice Monday with an eye toward having him available for Tuesday’s 6A-East Conference game at Marion. If Harbin was unable to go on Tuesday, Burrows at least expected him for the remainder of the year.

“He ought to be back for sure by next week,” Burrows said.

Harbin was injured trying to make a tag at second after fielding a grounder and was run over on the base path.

Central may have gotten the better of the collision, but Jacksonville had the Tigers outnumbered on the bases.

Jacksonville batted 12 in the seven-run first inning and nine in the five-run second.

A pair of errors by shortstop Jacob Abrahamson opened the door to a three-run Central fourth as the Tigers pulled within 15-7 to postpone losing by the 10-run rule.

But those would be the last runs Central would score as Jacksonville (11-3) got help from a wild pitch and a pair of bases-loaded walks on its way to a four-run fifth and the 10-run lead that shortened the game.

“We had a good day overall with the stick,” Burrows said. “We competed. We had a lot of big two-strike hits a lot of big two-out hits. We’re not going to swing it much better than we swung it today.”

Abrahamson reached base every time as he singled, doubled, walked and was hit by a pitch while driving in four runs.

Tyler Crook was 2 for 2 with two walks and four runs. He had a two-strike, two-out RBI in the second that led to the Red Devils’ five-run inning.

Alex Tucker was 1 for 1 with three walks and two RBI and Logan Perry had a single and two RBI.

While the Red Devils got their hits in bunches early, the game bogged down late with walks issued by the Tigers.

“Their pitchers didn’t throw as many strikes coming in there, some of the last two,” Burrows said. “That’s sort of what the game turns into when they’re not throwing it over the plate.”

SPORTS >> Catholic catches up to Sylvan Hills

Sylvan Hills starter Blake Rasdon delivers a pitch during Monday’s game.


Leader sportswriter

Blake Rasdon successfully worked his way out of just as many pinches as he got himself into, except for the last one.

Little Rock Catholic scored the winning run in the sixth inning of a 2-1 victory over Sylvan Hills at Kevin McReynolds Field, handing Rasdon, the Bears’ junior starter, a hard-luck loss.

Rasdon, a 6-2, 195-pound right-hander, worked out of trouble for five innings as the Rockets stranded eight, but he walked Jordan Harvey to start the sixth, and then took over in right field as coach Denny Tipton relieved Rasdon with Justin Cook.

Cook retired two but gave up an RBI double to No. 1 hitter Nick Rougeau and Catholic held on for the victory.

“It was a game of opportunities, and that’s all you can ever ask is to have some opportunities,” Tipton said. “We had some opportunities, and Catholic did a good job of getting us out.”

The Bears stranded 10 base-runners of their own, leaving two at second and third in the bottom of the sixth.

Lance Hunter doubled down the third base line to start things off, but was not able to advance as Rasdon popped up a bunt to Catholic pitcher Patrick Gurley. Bears senior shortstop Korey Arnold walked, and Cook advanced both runners on a groundout to second.

But Gurley survived the threat by striking out Nick Baioni.

The Bears took the lead in the bottom of the second when Michael Lock doubled to the left-field wall to drive in Rasdon, who walked.

The Rockets answered in the top of the fifth when Drew McMahan singled to left to score leadoff man Rougeau, who started the inning with a single and advanced two bases on a passed ball.

Rasdon gave up another single to Aaron Chwalinski, but induced two groundouts and an infield popup to get out of the inning.

“I thought our pitchers threw real well,” Tipton said. “Last time, they beat us 10-3. We made a few mistakes in that game, but they did well today. We just don’t deserve to win if we don’t get two runs.”

Rasdon was able to keep Catholic scoreless in the top of the third despite facing a bases loaded jam. Blaine Tanner doubled to center, and Chwalinski and Matt Morris followed by drawing walks. But with two out, Rasdon struck out Hunter Rankin and left all three runners stranded.

SPORTS >> MSRA returns to Beebe for opener

MSRA 2010 champion Billy Moyer, Jr. of Batesville will begin defense of his crown at Beebe Speedway on Friday night.


Leader sportswriter

The Mid South Racing Association charges into its fourth season of super late-model racing this Friday at Beebe Speedway for a 30-lap event at the quarter-mile, sandy clay oval just off Highway 67/167.

The MSRA series was initially set to begin the year at I-30 Speedway in late March before inclement weather postponed the event, making the Beebe race the inaugural event of the season for the first time in the series’ history.

It is the first of 18 events listed on the series schedule, with up to four more races to possibly be added at various tracks.

The race will also be part of a doubleheader weekend for MSRA along with a race at Riverside Speedway in West Memphis slated for Saturday.

“We’re excited; it was new for us to race at Beebe last year, and we had three big shows,” MSRA series director Chris Ellis said.

“It’s close to home for me, so it’s nice to be able to race two miles from the house. The series seems to have a pretty good following here.”

Ellis has announced several changes to the series, including a new title sponsor Comp Cams.
Auto parts retailer O’Reilly sponsored the series in 2008-09, but when that contract ran out, the Memphis-based engine component manufacturer increased its level of support from its former associate sponsorship.

“The biggest thing that’s happened to us is a new title sponsor,” Ellis said. “You really have to give Comp Cams credit for stepping up to the plate. They’ve been with us from the beginning, and when that came open, they filled the void.”

The addition of the Comp Cams title sponsorship along with a number of new associate and contingency sponsorships has allowed Ellis to increase the purse for 3-6 finishing positions in each event.

The series will also use Raceceivers for the first time. Raceceivers are special radios fitted in drivers’ helmets that allow race officials to give instructions for restart orders and other issues that occur under competition.

The MSRA will also uphold a new tire-testing policy this year in light of recent controversy across the country concerning chemically altered tires.

There have been a number of fines and suspensions over the use of agents to retard the wear process of racing tires. Under the new MSRA policy, each driver’s tires will have small samples taken before each race and kept on record.

“We’re looking for big differences in numbers,” Ellis said. “If a driver’s tire punches numbers that are a lot different from anything they’ve had before, we’ll send it to the lab. If it comes back positive, the driver can either pay their fine or have a second test done at the driver’s expense.”

The 2009 season was the first for MSRA at Beebe Speedway although the series is based there. Three events were run, two of which went caution free and another that featured only one caution.

Batesville veteran Wendell Wallace claimed the victory in the inaugural race in April, while Russellville’s Jon Kirby took the checkered flag in the July race.

But the biggest story of the year happened on Aug. 21 in the third and final event when former national late model champion Billy Moyer, of Batesville, and son Billy Moyer, Jr. battled for the lead throughout most of the race. Moyer, who raced only a handful of local shows with the tour, took the victory over eventual second-place finisher Wallace, but the younger Moyer’s third-place effort helped him solidify his first MSRA season points title.

Billy Moyer, Jr. is expected to return and defend his crown this year, along with former series champ Joey Mack of Benton, Mo., who won the championship during the series’ first two seasons in 2007 and 2008.

Also expected to compete regularly for MSRA are Kyle Beard of Trumann, Harrisburg’s Charlie Cole, Walnut Ridge veteran Jeff Floyd and former I-30 Speedway late model track champion Eddie Provence of Little Rock.

There will also be a strong contingent competing for rookie of the year, including modified standouts Shane Stephens and Brandon Smith.

SPORTS >> Paying back the love

Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson gets a hug from Tracy Cates.


Leader sports editor

It was all Jason Cates could do to muscle his car off the road and find a place to park before the crippling emotions caught up with him.

Through his windshield he saw the dirty asphalt of the fast food parking lot where he’d ended up; he saw the broken glass and the overflowing dumpster. Then the blinding tears obscured everything.

But at least, for a change, Cates was crying tears of happiness.

After all, he had just been reminded once again who his friends were.

On Friday night, Jacksonville High School held a benefit basketball game on behalf of Cates and his wife Tracy, a breast cancer survivor. A group of former Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski players banded together at the Devils Den to play the Power 92 Jammers, an all-star team sponsored by a local radio station.

The proceeds went to Cates and his wife to help defray the massive medical expenses accumulated in fighting Tracy’s illness.

“I had no idea they were all coming together to work on this,” Cates said. “It is really, really very humbling and I am beyond — words can’t even describe — beyond grateful.”

Last year, within a week of Tracy’s 34th birthday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A cheer coach at Cabot South Junior High, Tracy Cates underwent the grueling treatments that included a bi-lateral mastectomy and intensive chemotherapy.

“She has gone through far more than I would ever wish on my worst enemy,” Jason Cates said. “But she is a trooper and she is unbelievable and she has made it through all of her procedures.”

Tracy missed only a few days of school and no games, Jason Cates said, showing the same dedication to her students and cheerleaders her husband has showed to the athletes he has treated the past 10 years.

“On her sickest, the sickest days, she would just get up and go,” Jason Cates said. “She feels about her kids the same way I feel about my kids. Even though we didn’t bring them into this world, they are ours.”

Cates said his wife’s passion for her job was a form of therapy; something Tracy could return to again and again to pick up her spirits and give her a reason to push through the pain and weakness that came with her treatments.

Other therapies, however, were more expensive. At a time when health care dominates the national discussion, it turns out even a health-care provider like Cates is not immune to the staggering costs of medication and treatment.

With 6-year-old twin girls and a 3-year-old son to provide for, Cates was seeking a way, any way, to alleviate some of the financial burden.

He was looking for a part-time job, but his regular work at OrthoArkansas plus his donated time to Jacksonville High School only left Cates one day free, and what employer will hire someone who can only work one day?

So Cates approached Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson and some of the coaches and asked about the possibility of doing odd jobs, cutting grass at Dupree Park or Excell Park maybe.

Wilson was sure he could do better than that. And the idea for the basketball benefit was born.

“It brings awareness, too, of breast cancer,” Wilson said. “You never know what an individual is going through and they’re two special people. He’s very special and she’s a part of him. He’s given so much to this school and to this area. He supports Cabot, as well, with her working in that district.”

Wilson informed Cates of the benefit while Cates was in his car on his way to last month’s Red Devil Classic baseball tournament, and Cates had to pull over to let the emotions go.

“We’re still just very blown away,” Cates said. “When we found out about it we were just taken back that people would even go out of their way to do that.”

Cates, the 2008 Arkansas athletic trainer of the year, has not only done his part to patch up and rehabilitate injured athletes, he is also a well-known advocate of prevention and other athletic health issues and has taken his causes to the state legislature.

Efforts like that do not go unappreciated, Wilson said.

The proof came Friday, as players from traditional rivals Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski came together to face the Jammers, who usually play on Saturdays but adjusted their schedule on Cates’ behalf.

Former Jacksonville players like Demetrius Harris, now at Missouri, and Antwon Lockhart — both from last year’s 6A state championship team — returned to do their part for Cates. The Jammers roster featured former players from a number of state colleges and from local high schools, including Caleb Turner of Sylvan Hills.

The game raised well over $1,000, and Wilson is hoping future benefits at nearby schools will follow.

“He just goes the extra mile,” Wilson said.

Cates said every penny raised will go toward the family’s medical debt. But the wealth of friendship?

That stays with Cates.

“We were and still are just very humbled,” Cates said.

Monday, April 05, 2010

TOP STORY >> C-130 demonstration team reunites

Members of the Four Horsemen C-130 aerial demonstration team (from left) co-pilot John Dale, pilot James Akin, pilot William Hatfield and co-pilot Billie Mills. The group visited Jacksonville Museum of Military Museum.


Leader staff writer

Thousands have seen the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds perform during the Little Rock Air Force Base air shows, but 50 years ago the Four Horsemen team was demonstrating tight aerial formation maneuvers with C-130s.

Members of the Four Horsemen aerial team last week visited the Jacksonville Museum of Military History and the Air Force Base. They were here during a reunion of the “Flying Jennies” 815th Airlift Squadron reunion, which was stationed at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, during the Vietnam War.

The Four Horsemen flew together from 1957 to 1960.

At the Jacksonville museum were Lt. Col. William Hatfield of Booneville, Miss., and Lt. Col. James Akin of Aurora, Colo., both retired pilots, and Col. John Dale of Big Lake, Alaska, and Col. Billie Mills of Olive Branch, Miss., both retired co-pilots. Pilots Hubert Chaney and David Moore have passed away.

The Four Horsemen flew C-130A models with three-bladed props. They would perform their air shows at bases while other planes were taken off the line.

“We were the only four-engine C-130 prop-jet demonstration team,” Hatfield said.

John Dale said, “It was good for morale. The maintenance crew would fight each other to be on the planes.”

Hatfield said they started flying together at Ardmore Air Force Base, Okla., and ended at Sewart Air Force Base, Tenn. They performed in many shows, including Europe and Asia.

Lockheed Martin, the planes’ manufacturer, made a movie about the Four Horsemen in the 1950s.

“We had a regular 20-minute routine. Every time we got together we did a show. We organized the team on our own and developed routines and maneuvers,” Hatfield said.

Akin said the team used the C-130 A-models because the planes were more responsive. The B-model had bigger propellers. He said the B-model was a good airplane, just not for formation work.

Dale said the A-models had a higher acceleration rate. He said on one cold day with a light plane in Oklahoma, he reached 100 knots in eight seconds.

When flying in formations, Akin said, “You never took your eyes off the lead.”

Dale said the closer the demonstration team got the nose into the slot of the tail, the easier it was to fly. They could feel the bubble —the interruption of smooth air over an aircraft’s wings.

The nose would be 10 feet behind the tail of the other plane.

“You could count the rivets,” Dale recalled.

He continued saying there were limits on how fast you could move the plane, because the C-130s were so heavy.

“We’d be sweating like Trojans in there,” Dale said.