Saturday, May 01, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Demagoging Social Security

If you are like us and each day’s mail carries a blizzard of fliers from Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, you’re ready to call a truce in the Social Security war. We would be doubly appreciative if they also halted the slick commercials accusing each other of shipping American jobs across the borders, but the Social Security attacks are particularly disingenuous and discredit both candidates.

Let us stipulate — and they should, too — that neither Halter nor Lincoln will do anything to jeopardize the retirement program that has brought financial security to the nation’s elderly and disabled for 75 years. Both of them opposed the privatization scheme pushed by President George W. Bush and a few Republicans.

But if you believe Lincoln’s fliers, Halter plans, if he goes to Congress, to try to privatize Social Security, slash benefits and then tax away people’s pensions. Halter’s ads are a bit more specific and accurate about Lincoln’s record, but they still characterize her as an enemy of Social Security, which she has never been.

This silly war seems to have begun because Halter made much of his career in Washington as deputy administrator of Social Security and briefly acting administrator in the first days of Bush. He later spoke out against Bush’s privatization plan. You would think Halter founded Social Security. The grandson of the real author, James Roosevelt Jr., himself a former associate commissioner of Social Security, is campaigning for Halter.

So Lincoln found some remarks made by Halter explaining his boss Bill Clinton’s suggestions in the 1990s that some small amount of Social Security funds could be invested in commercial securities to amp up the trust fund. Then in a debate a couple of weeks ago while discussing Social Security reforms Halter said, correctly, that past Social Security packages to insure solvency have included a combination of taxes and benefit changes.

So Lincoln’s ads accuse him of favoring privatization and wanting to “raise Social Security taxes and cut benefits of retirees.”

Halter denied all three and then produced fliers of his own accusing Lincoln of having voted to cut benefits and to tax the benefits of retirees. Halter’s ads have the advantage of being accurate but they are still a little disingenuous. That tax proposal that Lincoln supported belonged to Halter’s boss, Bill Clinton. Halter worked in the Office of Management and Budget at the time and has bragged about helping eliminate the federal budget deficits. The Social Security tax was part of the reconciliation package in 1993 that ended the budget deficits.

Let’s straighten out this tangle because we’re going to hear about it all year. Social Security benefits were not taxable until 1984. President Ronald Reagan appointed a special Social Security commission headed by Alan Greenspan, which recommended benefit changes, higher Social Security payroll taxes and subjecting half of people’s Social Security benefits to the income tax.

Reagan embraced the changes —it was among a number of tax increases that the anti-tax Reagan imposed in his eight years — and Congress in 1983 went along overwhelmingly. The changes took effect in 1984.

Then, as part of his budget reforms in 1993, President Clinton proposed increasing the share of pensions that were subject to the income tax from 50 percent to 85 percent but only on retirees with fairly high incomes. That’s what Lincoln, then a member of the House of Representatives from east Arkansas, voted for. If Halter disliked the president’s plan, he never said so, and in fact he still hasn’t said so. He just points out that she voted that way and insinuates that it was a terrible thing to do.

Congresswoman Lincoln also voted for an amendment to the 1994 budget act by the deficit hawk Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, that would have forced automatic across-the-board cuts in entitlements for four years if the reconciliation act did not reach its budget-reduction targets. She was one of only 37 out of 435 who voted for it. It wouldn’t have made any difference because the act did meet the targets. The deficits disappeared in 1998. Remember those brief golden years of budget surpluses?

As for future payroll taxes, benefit taxation and benefit changes, either Halter or Lincoln will vote for the deficit-reduction package if President Obama’s deficit commission manages to produce one. Or at least we hope they leave themselves the flexibility to vote courageously to address the country’s fiscal problems. That package is almost certain to include changes both in tax rates and in how future cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) are calculated.

Nothing is more tiresome or baffling than hearing politicians fight over what they agree on. Let’s hear some straight talk — and not Republican demagoguery — about energy, climate change, the deficits, the estate tax and immigration, for starters.

TOP STORY >> New farmers market open

Former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim (in red tie) with his granddaughter Avery Swaim, 3, are flanked by Jacksonville Parks and Recreation director Kristen Griggs and Mayor Gary Fletcher, along with chamber of commerce president Jason Wilkinson and city officials at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting at the farmers market.


Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Farmers Market is opening today at the newly constructed pavilion located next to the Jacksonville Community Center.

City officials decided to not let the prospect of stormy weather deter their plans to open the market, which they hope will become a popular gathering spot for the community. The 2,000-square-foot, open-air pavilion made of brick and steel cost the city $186,000. The market is under the direction of the city’s parks and recreation department.

“We’ll be there rain or shine,” said Marla Jackson, the market director.

Market hours on regular market days, which are Saturdays and Wednesdays, will be from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. But anyone wishing to sell is not limited to those days.

“If they have a permit, they are welcome to come any day they want,” Jackson said.

The market will be open until the end of October.

Today, Smokin’ Joe, a local mobile-food vendor, will be at the market with barbecue, snacks and drinks. Holland Bottom Farms will be there, weather permitting, with strawberries, and Taylor Produce of Jacksonville, a farming business, has also purchased a permit.

As the season progresses, the hope is that more growers and gardeners, professional as well as hobbyists, will want to come to the market to sell.

Items that may be sold at the market are baked goods, cheeses, vegetables, flowers, fruit, grain, honey, marinades and sauces, molasses, bedding and hanging plants, raw juices, trees and other similar produce. Art, crafts and other handmade items are also allowed.

Prohibited items, according to city ordinance, are “flea market” items, novelty knives and weapons of any nature, items with obscenities, written or implied, and live animals.

City permits to sell at the market are $25 per year for vendors who sell only items that they make or grow or those who already have a Jacksonville business permit. Vendors who resell any items grown or made by someone else pay $100 per year for a permit.

There is no daily fee to sell at the market. Spaces are free and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If the pavilion is full, vendors may set up shop in the adjacent parking lot.

Jackson said that a lot of folks have called who are interested in selling at the market, but it is still early in the growing season. Right now, Jacksonville’s untested market is feeling the competition with the local-only market in North Little Rock, now in its third year, as well as the long-established River Market venue in Little Rock, and the much smaller market in Cabot.

Mayor Gary Fletcher acknowledged that a day with stormy weather “is not a good day to inaugurate the market.” But the pavilion, he believes, is “a nice facility to incubate the project,” which he has faith will catch on with time.

Jackson said anyone with questions about the market can call her at 982-4171. The market rules are on the city’s website, on the parks and recreation department page.

TOP STORY >> Inspectors grade base ‘excellent’

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The 19th Airlift Wing has received an “excellent” grade in its unit-compliance inspection from the Air Mobility Command inspector-general team.

The inspection, which started April 19 and ended Tuesday, yielded six best practices and 32 team and 48 individual awards for the wing, also known as the Black Knights.

More than 80 inspectors looked at programs and processes across the base to ensure day-to-day compliance with executive orders, Department of Defense directives, Air Force and major command instructions.

Col. Thomas Freese, chief of the inspector general team, said the Black Knight attitude was evident throughout all units on base.

“You guys did phenomenal. You did well, extremely well, and I’m impressed,” said Freese at a briefing at the base’s theater.

Col. Greg Otey, 19th AW commander, said the hard work and preparation of every team member had a tremendous impact on the excellent rating.

“I could not be prouder. Thank you…those are the most powerful worlds we have, and I don’t say it enough. Thank you for who you are, for what you do and for your families because they work with us too,” he said.

Otey said the teamwork displayed by every organization during the inspection left a lasting impression on the inspectors and has raised the bar of excellence.

“You flat out blew them away. You did it with great attitude and teamwork… and that makes me prouder than anything,” Otey said. “What you can do when you work together is amazing and that’s what you have done. You’ve worked together as a team.

Thank for what you do.”

A unit compliance inspection is one of the most significant inspections a base can receive. Inspections are conducted to assess areas mandated by law as well as mission areas identified by senior Air Force and major command leaders as critical or important to assess or assure the health and performance of organizations.

TOP STORY >> Preventing prom-night tragedy

Baptist Health MedFlight arrives for the enactment of a drunk-driving accident.

The Jacksonville Fire Department moves an accident victim during the exercise.


Leader staff writer

Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School juniors and seniors Thursday were given a wakeup call on the eve of their proms to the dangers of drinking and driving with the re-creation of a fatal car accident.

The Jacksonville Police Department presented “Every 15 Minutes,” an alcohol awareness program at Jacksonville High School.

According to a JPD press release, every 15 minutes someone in the U.S. is killed or injured in an alcohol-related crash.

During the re-enactment at Jacksonville High, every 15 minutes the grim reaper went into a classroom and escorted a student out. Then the student’s obituary was read to the class.

Makeup artist Katie Rowland of Sherwood transformed 20 students into zombies and they returned to the class.

By mid-afternoon, 11th and 12th graders from North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School went to Jan Crow Stadium to witness the aftermath of a simulated crash scene.

At the scene, a group of prom-goers drove up to a two-car wreck. The teens realize the people involved in the crash are their friends. Emergency responders rushed to the site. In one vehicle a student died at the scene while another teen was transported by Med-Flight to Baptist Hospital. The driver of the second vehicle was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

After the program ended, Jacksonville Police Captain Kenny Boyd said, “I think it went really good. The high school students who were the role players did an outstanding job.”

“I feel like the program was successful getting the message on not drinking and driving and the consequences if you do,” he said.

Boyd continued, “It sent chills up my spine. Watching it as a parent you never want to experience this scenario.”

Helping the police department provide realism at the accident scene were the Jacksonville Fire Department, the Pulaski County coroner, the Arkansas Highway Police, Wood Bean Funeral Home, North Metro Medical Center and Ivy Hall Wrecker Service.

On Friday, students attended an assembly to speak about what they learned and gained from the experience.

They also watched a video of Thursday’s program.

SPORTS >> Race rivals see reverse of old roles

Leader sportswriter

The battle for supremacy at Hendrick Motorsports is starting to get ugly.

For the past two weekends, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson, who also holds four cup titles, have butted heads on the track. It’s like the rivalry between “Days of Thunder” characters Cole Trickle and Russ Wheeler all over again, only this time, it’s not fictional.

It began two weeks ago with a dustup in Texas that gave Johnson a flat left rear tire and took him out of contention. Of course, both parties came before the media spotlight at Talladega last weekend and professed their undying love and admiration for each other, only to get out on the track and have another incident.

Not everyone understood the dynamics at the time when Gordon got a run on the inside with five laps to go in regulation only to get cut off by a Johnson block, but Gordon’s post-race comments put it all out there.

The incident led to cars checking up and eventually the 31 car of Jeff Burton spinning and making contact with Gordon’s No. 24 Chevy, resulting in a 22nd place finish for the Pittsboro, Ind., native.

Gordon stated after the race that Johnson was “testing his patience” and that he was — upset, although upset is not the actual word he used.

This leads me to exclaim something I thought I would never say in my wildest dreams … go Jeff Gordon!

It’s not that I dislike Johnson — okay, maybe I do, but it has less to do with that and more to do with how Johnson is showing his ungratefulness for everything Gordon has done for him.

Let’s remember, it was Gordon who decided to partner with car owner Rick Hendrick to field a fourth team back in 2002, and it was also Gordon who helped make the decision to put Johnson in the 48 car with genius crew chief Chad Knaus.

The Knaus-Johnson tandem has emerged as the most effective partnership in the Cup garage, while Gordon has struggled ever since former crew chief Ray Evernham’s departure in 1999.

Gordon had a couple of good years with Robbie Loomis calling the shots atop the pit box, including the capture of his most recent series points championship back in 2001. But the Steve Letarte era has been anything but productive for Gordon, who has won only one race in the last three seasons.

While the problems Gordon and Letarte have faced from a performance standpoint appear to have eased up, their bad luck still persists, and Johnson has done little to help with that situation.

Gordon has been in position to capture victory a couple of times this year, but mechanical woes and Johnson’s decisions to give no quarter has left him winless and 10th in points after nine races.

It’s a far cry from Gordon’s late 90s heyday with Evernham in which he won three championships in a four-year span. His rise to the top was meteoric, and his image seemed a little too squeaky clean for most fans.

That made him the least likeable figure in NASCAR, that is, until Johnson’s emergence in 2002.

Fans’ initial dislike for Johnson was a bit of guilt by association, but he and crew chief Knaus have given us plenty of reasons to dislike the 48 team on its own merit since.

And it’s also refreshing to see Gordon behaving like a real racer, and displaying real emotions.

Will this brewing feud with Johnson turn Gordon, once the most despised driver on the circuit, into a fan favorite? That remains to be seen, but if you know your NASCAR history, you will remember how hated Darrell Waltrip was in his prime until a whippersnapper named Rusty Wallace came along and stole his thunder.

Now, old DW has a folk-hero type status among fans, was inducted into the new NASCAR Hall of Fame and is still heavily involved with the sport as a commentator for FOX.

History often repeats itself, and while I don’t ever see Gordon’s nasally voice lending itself to race broadcasts, 2010 could be the year he goes from villain to fan favorite.

And if that happens, I wonder what will happen to all of those cheeky Web sites dedicated to bashing Gordon, not that it has any effect on me.

By the way, does anyone want to buy a domain called “”

SPORTS >> Panthers track hits finish line

Leader sportswriter

Cabot teams earned top-five finishes at the 7A state track meet at Byron Bryant Field in Conway on Thursday.

The Cabot Lady Panthers took third-place overall, with individual championships for Brittany Briswalter and Ariel Voskamp. The boys finished fifth.

Briswalter won the discus with a throw measuring 129 feet, 11 inches. Briswalter’s throw was just over 14 feet longer than second-place Tiffany Wiseley of Springdale.

The all-purpose Voskamp won the pole vault by clearing 12-5, nearly 2 1/2 feet better than second-place Brittany McClain of Rogers Heritage. Voskamp also won the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 15.23 seconds. Voskamp once again had to fend off McClain, who clocked in at 15.64 for second.

Sabrina Antimo’s status for the meet was unclear during the week because of a hamstring injury, but the Lady Panthers’ fleet standout was able to compete.

She placed sixth in the long jump, fourth in the triple jump and took third in the 100-meter run with a time of 12.15.

Antimo was just over two-tenths of a second away from an individual title in the 200-meter run when she finished at 25.04 seconds.

Other top performances by Cabot athletes included a fourth-place finish for Julia Gairhan in the pole vault and a seventh-place finish for Emkay Myers in the 600-meter run. The Lady Panthers also took third in the 1,600-meter relay.

Fayetteville won the overall title with 147 points, followed by Bentonville with 93 points and Cabot with 73. Springdale Har-Ber and North Little Rock rounded out the state meet’s top five team finishers.

Strong relay finishes propelled the Panthers boys team to fifth. Fort Smith Southside took the state championship with 124 points, followed by Fayetteville with 90 and Conway with 76. Bentonville was fourth with 75 points and Cabot rounded out the top five with 54.

The Panthers finished second in the 3,200-meter relay and took fourth in the 400-meter relay. They earned another second in the 1,600-meter relay with a time of 3:29.12.

Top individual performers for the Panthers included Joe Bryant, who finished second in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 40.79, and his brother Powell who took third in the 200-meter run with a time of 22.25.

Senior T.J. Bertrand took second in the shot put with a measurement of 49-1.25, and Brendon Tucker was third in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 9:53.4.

SPORTS >> Red Devils still control fate after twinbill split

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows would not mind having some conference hardware, but the first-round state tournament bye is what he and his Red Devils are really after.

And while Jacksonville’s twin-bill split with Mountain Home on Thursday at Dupree Park did not give the Red Devils an outright 6A-East championship just yet, it did give them the edge down the stretch with a three-run tiebreaker advantage.

Jacksonville won the first game 5-1 and lost the second 5-4.

“Winning conference would be nice,” Burrows said. “But to me, the whole season gets you ready for the state tournament. I’m glad we took care of business in that first game to get the bye.”

Both teams entered the doubleheader with 10-0 league records. Jacksonville (18-6) improved its conference record to 11-0 in the first game but walked seven Mountain Home batters and misplayed two bunts to lose the nightcap.

Mountain Home (18-7) will finish conference play with two games against Jonesboro next week while Jacksonville will play host to Searcy for a doubleheader at Dupree in its regular-season finale.

Not only will those two series decide who takes home the conference championship, they will also iron out the seeding for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots with Searcy and Jonesboro, both 8-4 in conference play.

Mountain Home pitcher Trey Killian was dominant on the mound early in Thursday’s first game as he struck out the first five batters he faced.

Jacksonville did not put the ball into play until Alex Tucker grounded out to shortstop to end the second inning.

The Bombers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third.

Matt Fracek started off the inning with an infield single and advanced on a single to left by Klayton Solberg. Killian moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt, and Fracek scored on a sacrifice fly to right by leadoff hitter Kord Stuffelbeam.

Killian’s hard work in the first two innings caused him to fade quickly on the mound, and the Red Devils took advantage in the bottom of the third with three singles and a walk that led to a pair of runs.

The Bombers retired Noah Sanders and starting Red Devils pitcher Jesse Harbin to start the inning, but No. 9 batter Logan Perry scratched out an infield hit off Killian and advanced on a walk to Jacob Abrahamson.

D’Vone McClure scored Perry with a single to right and Patrick Castleberry followed with a single to left that drove in Abrahamson to put Jacksonville up 2-1.

“We had a pitch count on him, and after the third, we knew he was up there in pitches,” Burrows said of Killian. “We sent seven guys to the plate, and they worked him pretty hard. ”

Harbin’s early work on the mound for Jacksonville was not as flashy as Killian’s, but was equally effective. Harbin induced a pair of popups and a groundout in the first inning and retired the Bombers in order in the second. Burrows pulled Harbin at the first sign of fatigue in the top of the sixth and brought in Michael Lamb.

Killian also made his exit from the mound in the bottom of the sixth for reliever Cody Spencer, but it came after the Red Devils picked up another two runs.

SPORTS >> Former Bear arrested at UA

Leader sports editor

Former Sylvan Hills quarterback and baseball player Hunter Miller was one of two Arkansas Razorbacks football players arrested on misdemeanor drug possession charges on the University of Arkansas campus Monday.

Miller, 6-2, 185 pounds, is a 2008 Sylvan Hills graduate.

Miller, 20, and David Gordon, 19, were arrested Monday night when a campus police officer noticed them sitting in a parked car.

The arrest report said Miller, sitting on the driver’s side, kept raising his head to see if the officer would walk away while the two were lying back in their seats and, apparently, trying to hide.

Smoke drifted from the car after Miller was asked to open his door and, police said, a “green leafy substance” was sitting in plain view in the car. The officer also reported “a very strong smell of burnt marijuana.”

A Washington County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the players were booked on possession of a controlled substance and released on individual $660 bonds.

The two players are listed as sophomore defensive backs. Both are scheduled for a court appearance May 24.

Gordon gave his name as David D. Lopez in the police report. He is also listed by that name in the Arkansas student directory.

It is not clear why Gordon used that name.

In a statement released by the university, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said he was aware of the arrests and was “handling it.”

Miller was a quarterback and safety/rover at Sylvan Hills and is a walk-on defensive back at Arkansas who was recruited by former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt to Ole Miss.

But Nutt, as some schools do in the current era, had over recruited and Miller later had his scholarship removed and was told he could “grayshirt” or transfer.

Grayshirting is a new practice in which a recruited player can count against a future scholarship cap. If a coach recruits 50 players and has only 25 scholarships, the other 25 would be distributed over future seasons.

Miller instead asked to be released from his NCAA letter of intent so he could walk on at Arkansas.

SPORTS >> Local soccer teams northbound

Searcy forward McKenzie Clark
leads the team in goals.


Leader sportswriter

Local soccer teams have all headed north, at least the ones who qualified for postseason play.

The Cabot Panthers boys are in Rogers for the 7A state tournament while both Jacksonville teams and both Searcy teams made it to Mountain Home for the 6A tourney. Both teams for North Pulaski and Sylvan Hills qualified for the 5A state tournament at Harrison.

The Searcy teams received top seeds to the 6A state tournament.

The Lions, three-time defending Class 6A champions, await the winner of Friday’s match between Benton and Little Rock Parkview in a 4 p.m. match today, while the Lady Lions will play Friday’s Sheridan-West Memphis winner at 2 p.m. today.

The Lady Lions have also been to the state finals the past three seasons. They won the state championship in 2007 and 2008, but fell to Mountain Home 2-1 in last year’s championship.

Forward McKenzie Clark and mid-fielder Avery Albright have led the Lady Lions offensively this season, and head coach Larry Stamps also praised his team’s defense anchored by goalkeeper Aly Eaves.

“We knew at the end of last year that we wanted to get to the state finals,” Stamps said. “We had to settle for second last year, and we knew we didn’t want to do that anymore.”

Searcy goes into today’s match with a 15-4-2 overall record after going 7-0 in the 6A East for its third consecutive conference title.

Stamps wanted to give his team the edge in conference and postseason play, scheduling early matches against a number of bigger, 7A schools.

“We’ve got a really young team,” Stamps said. “We have seven freshmen, and a lot of them play. That has given us a strong bench, which is nice to have. I appreciate having that.”

The Jacksonville Red Devils, the No. 6 seed from the 6A East Conference, took on 6A South No. 3 seed Sheridan on Friday. The winner from that match will play tournament host and East No. 2 seed Mountain Home today at noon in the second-round quarterfinals.

The Lady Red Devils, also a No. 6 seed, will play Benton, the No. 3 seed from the South. The winner from that match will play East No. 2 seed Mountain Home at 10 a.m. in today’s quarterfinal round.

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears kicked off 5A tournament play with a noon match against Harrison. The Lady Bears earned the No. 4 seed out of the 5A Southeast Conference and found themselves in a tough early draw against the Lady Goblins, the top-seeded team out of the 5A West.

North Pulaski, the No. 3 seed out of the 5A Southeast, took on West No. 2 seed Greenbrier Friday night.

On the boys side, North Pulaski, the No. 4 seed out of the 5A Southeast Conference, took on 5A West Conference No. 1 seed Harrison on Friday. Sylvan Hills took the No. 2 seed in the Southeast and faced West No. 3 seed Greenwood Friday night.

Cabot earned the No. 5 seed from the 7A Central Conference and played 7A West No. 4 seed Fort Smith Southside on Friday night. The winner of that game will face 7A Central champion Russellville today at 2 p.m.

SPORTS >> 7A-Central race stays jumbled, Cabot in hunt

Leader sports editor

There was a notable absence when the UALR women’s basketball team made an appearance at North Little Rock’s Dickey-Stephens Park on Tuesday.

The Trojans were on hand to be honored before the Arkansas Travelers game for their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament this year. But they were without guard Kim Sitzmann — and for a good reason.

Sitzmann, of Cabot, was in Oklahoma going through training camp with the new WNBA franchise, the Tulsa Shock, coached by Arkansas Razorbacks legend Nolan Richardson.

“We only practice 1 ½ hours in the morning and 1 ½ hours at night, but you’re always running,” Sitzmann said by phone Tuesday night.

Sitzmann, 5-10, a four-year starter from Cabot, wrapped up her run at UALR with a second-round tournament loss to Oklahoma this season but has a solid chance to continue her career in the professional ranks. After going through the two-day tryout camp with Tulsa, she made the training camp roster of 15.

“I am really excited,” Sitzmann said. “I am glad that all the hard work has paid off.”

Richardson has to whittle the roster to 11, and Sitzmann, who has a training camp contract, hopes to remain with the Shock when the season begins May 15.

“I’m proud as a peacock,” said Sitzmann’s father Todd, who with his wife Luan joined the Trojans in the stands after the team was recognized during the pregame at Dickey-Stephens on Tuesday.

“She showed up like crazy,” Todd Sitzmann said of Kim’s tryout performance. “Nolan came out and said he wanted a girl that had great court awareness and could shoot threes and moved all the time. And they did the motion offense all the time at UALR so that was nothing new for her.”

There were 54 women from around the country who attended the initial tryouts at the Mabee Center on the Oral Roberts University Campus on April 21.

Sitzmann made the group of 12 invited back for the second round of free-agent tryouts then made it to the group of five invited to join the returnees, veterans and contract players in training camp. Richardson is allowed to have 15 players in camp to contend for one of the 11 spots.

“See the roster is the thing that hurts you,” said Richardson, who led the Arkansas men to the 1994 NCAA championship and a runner-up finish in 1995. “With the roster only being 11 you can only invite four more players.”

While Sitzmann’s former coach Joe Foley was throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday and her former teammates were joining broadcaster Phil Elson to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, Sitzmann was getting an insider’s look at the world of women’s professional basketball.

That included some hazing rituals in which Sitzmann was forced to buy lunch and deliver it to the veterans, then had her car keys stolen and had to pay a one-day per diem of $70 to get them back.

And, of course, Sitzmann had to get used to playing for the demanding Richardson.

The hazing may actually have been tougher. Sitzmann is already used to the motion offense after playing for Foley, known for being somewhat demanding himself.

“I think that would be awesome,” Foley said of the possibility of Sitzmann making the Shock and playing for Richardson. “As good a coach as he is and the things he’s done. Getting to play for a coach like that would be awesome.”

Sitzmann was a four-year starter at UALR and finished her career as the team’s all-time leader in assists (430), steals (128) and three-pointers (115).

“I know this, I know that Kim is going to give it her all; she’s going to work hard,” Foley said. “She’s kind of like Nolan’s players. She’s in great shape; I think that’s one of the things they’ve seen during the tryouts is how great a shape she’s in so I think that gives her an opportunity to make it.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Why deficits do matter

Yesterday marked the beginning of either the most important or the most pointless work to be undertaken by an agency of government since well back into the past century. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, began its work under the darkest circumstances, a Congress more bitterly divided than it has been in a century.

That is why so many pundits label its work as pointless. Although it is bipartisan in makeup and President Obama decreed that its recommendations must be nearly unanimous, the expectation is that, no matter what it is, its product will be dead on arrival. Republicans had called for a bipartisan commission on the deficit, but when Obama said he would create one, the party switched and opposed it. It will be a cover for raising taxes, congressional Republicans said.

Taxes almost certainly will be a part of the package along with cuts in popular programs like Social Security and Medicare, and if one party is united against all or any part of it the other will never make the hard political decisions on its own, even if it has a majority in both houses. That is our grave national dilemma: trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see and no political will to confront them.

We in Arkansas could hardly have more at stake in the commission’s deliberations. If the commission somehow reaches a consensus and the Congress musters the courage to embrace it, many of us no doubt will pay a few more taxes or have our pensions and/or medical benefits trimmed a little over time, in exchange for which we will have a safer, prosperous and more confident country.

If either the commission or the politicians who will inherit its work falter and the deficits grow as forecast, all of us, including the rich, face an uncertain future in which living standards will fall, we’ll pay enormous interest on everything we buy, investment in businesses and laboratories will vanish and global confidence in the creditworthiness of the U. S. government will collapse. Can you spell Greece?

President Obama struck the right note when he addressed the commissioners. Everything must be on the table, he said. No sacred cows, like taxes on the rich for Republicans and spending cuts on entitlements for Democrats. We presume that also means taxes on people with incomes below $250,000, which he vowed during his campaign not to increase.

So far, he has kept his word by lowering taxes on 98 percent of Americans and holding them harmless in the sweeping health-insurance reform law. But the deficit cannot be erased by taxing the wealthy alone, or by squeezing cream from entitlements or even by shutting down the Middle East wars, although those steps will help. We will all have to pay some dues if we are to have a healthy economy again.

Let’s review how we got here. Ten years ago, we were in the eighth year of a record growth binge and the third straight year of budget surpluses — $230 billion of black ink that year —and we were about to elect George W. Bush and a Republican Congress. There followed a period when the government lied to the American people about nearly everything — the need for and the cost of war, the consequences of huge tax cuts for the rich, the wholesomeness of raising Medicare benefits without paying for them. Vice President Dick Cheney’s famous scoff to the White House fiscal team — “deficits don’t matter” — set the course for the era.

The biggest part of the puzzle for the commission may not wait for its deliberations. Congress this year — very late, no doubt — will need to address the Bush and Obama tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31. Doing nothing would be the best course because it would restore the tax structure to its productive rates of that halcyon year 2000. That would close the deficit rapidly. But both Democrats and Republicans pledge not to let that happen.

President Obama proposes to maintain the low tax rates for people earning under $250,000 a year, continue the middle-class tax cuts that he passed last year as part of the economic-stimulus program and let the reductions of 2001-2004 on a range of taxes on the wealthy and corporations lapse.

We don’t like the congressional Republican plan, and we don’t think many Arkansawyers will either. They would keep the Bush tax cuts, including the elimination of inheritance taxes on huge estates, and restore taxes on the other 95 percent of Americans to their pre-2009 levels. There would be a very modest reduction in the deficit, borne entirely by working Americans.

Here’s how the Obama and Republican plans would affect people in Arkansas: The bottom 60 percent of Arkansans in income would pay $154 more on average in taxes next year under the Republican plan than under the Obama plan. The richest 1 percent of Arkansawyers — those averaging $830,000 in income — would pay $27,520 less in taxes on average under the Republican plan than under the Obama plan. The former would continue the roaring deficits, the latter close them.

Those votes will measure the national consensus. Deficits either matter or they still don’t.

TOP STORY >> JHS grad goes from track to bomb finder

Leader senior staff writer

Eight years ago, Alexander Mack would have been tearing up the Jacksonville High School track most afternoons in the 800-meter run or a leg of the 3,200-meter relay.

Today, Staff Sgt. Mack can be found behind a .50-caliber machine gun atop a Humvee, walking alongside or out front looking for improvised explosive devices, helping to clear roads in Afghanistan.

“I work more or less with the bomb squad,” Mack said in a recent telephone interview. “I specialize in the demolition and clearing of IEDs and disposing of unexploded ordnance.”

Mack does not work for the actual bomb squad and is never involved in disarming bombs—just finding them and blowing them up.

“We are providing infantry and special forces the freedom to maneuver (en route) to high-profile targets,” Mack said. “We’re clearing the way for the force.”

“I’m a combat engineer,” he said. “We specialize in recon, bridge building, mobility, counter mobility and survivability. We build or breach defenses.

“Our job is to create something to get over, through or around an obstacle,” he said. “We cross-train on bomb disposal.”

If his team sees something suspicious or is warned by locals about an IED, they “robot down” to inspect, he said.

In other words, his team uses the Talon, a robot on tank tracks with a big arm and four high- definition cameras. The cameras help identify the object in question. Its claw arm can carry and place an explosive charge to blow up a suspected bomb.

Before detonating an IED, his team has to get clearance from high command.

“Sometimes we run it through the Afghan Army to make sure. If it’s close to buildings, mosques or schools, it’s especially hesitative.

“If we can move it somewhere safe and dispose of it, we will.”

Clearance can come in 15 minutes or it could take as long as a day, Mack said.

He said his work is not as dramatic as the ordnance disposal team depicted in “The Hurt Locker,” winner of the Academy Awards best picture this year.

“We’re not technically an ordinance disposal team,” Mack said, but “sometimes we roll with them.”

“I think the movie portrays the civilian population and the threat level, but it’s far from the reality that we experience.”

Mack said he thought Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam war film “Full Metal Jacket” was more realistic in terms of basic training, interaction between soldiers, life in the unit and deploying.

While this is Mack’s first deployment to Afghanistan, he did two tours in Iraq, where he was more on the building side of the combat engineers.

Everything is pretty much the same in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said. “It’s different terrain. Last time I was in Iraq, I did vertical construction—engineering. We built buildings and supplied electrical and plumbing,” he said.

Between missions, Mack’s involved in mission prep, fueling the vehicles, taking care of weapons and testing the equipment. He makes sure the soldiers in his unit are squared away.

“It gets pretty hot,” but the living quarters are climate controlled.

Mack and the others live in dorm-like buildings with two and three men to a room. “We have air conditioning and heat and a really good dining facility,” he said.

“It’s like a high school cafeteria, with chicken steak and lobster, chicken wings, rice and gravy—it’s not home cooking, but it’s good.”

There’s an MWR room—morale, welfare and recreation—where the soldiers watch DVD’s from home. There’s a game room where “Madden Football” is popular. They also have access to an Internet cafe with phones and 40 computers and about 15 or 20 phones.

“It’s pretty cheap for a regular phone call,” he said.

“We have a gym and just got some new stuff in, like treadmills, elliptical machines, deadweights and other exercise machines.

It’s really nice.”

Security on the base is good, he said. “We have roving guards, air support, gate guards and we walk around with personal weapons.”

On patrol, they sometimes stop and interact with the civilians, he said, to “See how they feel about us—how we can help them and how we can get the enemy out.”

What does he miss about home?

“I miss my daughter and my mother’s home cooking. I miss sitting back, watching football and drinking beer.

“My daughter is in New York with her mother. She turned one on January 9 and I’m excited to get home for her second birthday.”

Mack said he’s due home by the middle of August or beginning of September.

Once home, the Army will have to give him 355 days stateside before redeployment.

Mack said he’s a University of Texas fan and also roots for the Dallas Cowboys.

“My dad was in the Air Force. He ended up retiring (as a master sergeant) in Jacksonville,” Mack said. “I went to junior high and high school there. A lot of people know me there.

“At the time I was graduating, I was looking into the military. Now I’ll probably do 20 to 30 years,” he said.

His mom, Angela Mack, now lives in Laurens, S.C., and when he’s stateside, Mack is stationed at Fort Bragg.

“I’d like to come back to Jacksonville in the future,” Mack said. “To retire, maybe coach.”

TOP STORY >> Report cites graduation differences

Leader staff writer

This is the third in a series of three articles focusing on the 2009 Arkansas School Performance Report Card.

Lonoke High School’s remediation rate is almost as high as the school’s graduation rate. The remediation rate is 64.8 percent, while the graduation rate is 73.7 percent.

Beebe High School, on the other hand, has one of the highest graduation rates in the area at 85.5 percent.

These are just some of the highlights on the district’s 2009 Arkansas School Performance Report Card being mailed out to district families this week.

The annual report is prepared for every school and district in the state. “We send this information to each student’s home in order to empower parents and community leaders to become more involved in helping local schools provide quality education for students,” said Dr. Charity Smith, assistant commissioner of public-school academic accountability for the state education department.


The Beebe School District has one of the highest graduation rates in the area and also the lowest dropout rate, all while spending about $800 less per student than the state average.

The performance report for the Beebe School District shows that out of the district’s five schools, three have been cited with accreditation problems.

Under the improvement school ratings (gains model), one Beebe school garnered top ratings as a school of excellence for improvement, two were listed as meeting standards and two were approaching improvement standards and were on alert status.

Looking at the No Child left Behind’s adequate yearly progress, the district had none achieving standards.

It had one in “the first year not to make standards” which means alert status, two in “year one of targeted school improvement” and two in “year two of targeted school improvement.”

The 3,123-student district had a graduation rate of 85.5 percent (17 points higher than the state average), a dropout rate of just 2 percent and an attendance rate of 92 percent for the 2008-2009 school year.

The district has a minuscule grade inflation rate of 2.4 percent (anything more than 20 percent is considered a problem) and a remedial rate of 39.6 percent, about 30 points under the district average.

It spent $7,563 per student in 2008-2009 compared to the state average of $8,308.

Teacher salaries averaged $45,208, about $600 below the state average.

The district’s 2009 report card shows that 21 first-graders (8.6 percent) were retained, four second-graders (1.6 percent), two third-graders (0.9 percent) and two fourth graders (0.8 percent) were retained.

The district reported no expulsions or major disciplinary problems.

Almost 43 percent of the district’s students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Beebe Elementary is a school whose accreditation has been cited, meaning there are problems with teacher licenses, improper class sizes or a failure to turn in required reports.

Based on NCLB guidelines, the school is also in “year one of targeted school improvement.”

The school, with 764 students, has an attendance rate of 92.8 percent.

The school retained only one second-grader (0.4 percent) at the end of the 2008-2009 school year.

The school reported no expulsions or major discipline problems.

About 49 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Beebe’s Intermediate School is listed in the top category, a “school of excellence for improvement” under the gains model, but is in year one of targeted school improvement under NCLB.

Also, the school’s accreditation has been cited for problems.

The school, with 490 students, has an attendance rate of 92.5 percent.

It retained two third-graders (0.9 percent) and two fourth-graders (0.8 percent) last year.

The school reported no expulsions or major discipline problems.

About 44 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Beebe Middle School is an accredited school for fifth and sixth graders. Under the gains model, the school is meeting improvement standards. But, under the NCLB parameters, the school is in year two of targeted school improvement.

The school, with 485 students, has an attendance rate of 92.2 percent. It retained no students at the end of the 2008-2009 school year, and reported no expulsions or major discipline problems.

Almost 46 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, close to ten points lower than the state average of 55.9 percent.

Beebe Junior High is an accredited school that is approaching standards (alert status) based on the gains model and is in year two of targeted school improvement under the NCLB parameters.

The school, with 470 students, has an attendance rate of 93.6 percent. It retained no students during the 2008-2009 school year.

It reported no expulsions, but weapons incidents did make up 0.2 percent of the major discipline problems.

Forty percent of the school’s students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

The high school’s accreditation has been cited and the school is listed as “first year not meeting standards,” meaning it is on alert status under NCLB.

The improvement ratings under the gains model do not apply to high schools.

The school, with 889 students, had an attendance rating of 89.3 percent.

Its graduation rate was 85.5 percent, with a dropout rate of 3 percent. The school had a grade-inflation rate of 2.4 percent.

(Anything over 20 percent is reason for concern.) The school’s remediation rate was at 39.6 percent, about 5 percent lower than the previous year.

There were no reported expulsions or major discipline concerns.

About 31 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.


The Lonoke School District, like Beebe, has problems with school accreditation—three of its four schools have been cited for concerns.

But the district does have one school exceeding improvement standards, the top level under the state’s improvement ratings guidelines, or gains model.

The district also has one school achieving standards under the No Child Left Behind parameters.

The 1,866-student district has a graduation rate of 73.7 percent (the state average is 68 percent), a dropout rate of 3 percent, a grade-inflation rate of 8.2 percent (anything over 20 percent is considered a problem) and an attendance rate of 95.3 percent.

The district had a remediation rate of 64.8 percent, about 15 points above the state average. The remedial rate is a projection, meaning that out of every 100 Lonoke students going to college, about 65 of them will have to take remedial classes.

The district spent $7,709 per student in the 2008-2009 school year compared to the state average of $8,308. The average teacher salary in the district is $41,883, almost $4,000 below the state average.

The performance report card showed that the district retained 11 first-graders (7.5 percent), three second-graders (2.3 percent), three third-graders (2.1 percent) and one fifth-grader (0.7 percent).

Expulsions for the year were at 0.4 percent, weapons incidents at 0.3 percent and student assaults at 0.2 percent.

About 53 percent of the district’s students were on free or reduced lunch.

Lonoke Primary is a K-2 accredited school that is in need of targeted corrective action under the NCLB guidelines. The ratings under the gains model don’t apply since the school does not go up to at least third grade.

The school, with 423 students, has an attendance rate of 93.9 percent.

In the 2008-2009 school year, 11 first-graders (7.5 percent) and three second-graders (2.3 percent) were retained.

The school reported no expulsion or major disciplinary problems.

More than 63 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, higher than the state average of 55.9 percent.

Lonoke Elementary is meeting improvement standards under the gains model, but its accreditation has been cited and the school is four rungs down from the top according to NCLB parameters. It is in need of targeted corrective action.

The school, with 435 students, had a 94.6 percent attendance rate.

It retained three third-graders (2.1 percent) and one fifth-grader (0.7 percent).

The school reported no expulsions or major discipline problems.

Almost 59 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch.

Lonoke Middle School’s accreditation was cited last year, yet the school is listed as exceeding improvement standards under the gains model and as achieving standards under NCLB.

The school, with 461 students, has an attendance rate of 96 percent and a dropout rate of 1 percent.

The school had no retentions. The expulsion rate was at 0.9 percent and weapons incidents accounted for 0.4 percent of the major discipline problems.

About 48 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, lower than the state average of 55.9 percent or the national rate of 49.2 percent.

Lonoke High School is much closer to the bottom than the top of the rankings under NCLB. The school is at the 10th level–whole school corrective action–out of 13 levels.

The school’s accreditation was also cited last year, meaning it had problems with teacher licenses, improper class sizes or not turning in required reports in a timely fashion.

The school did have more teachers with master’s degrees than bachelor’s degrees.

The report showed 63 percent with master’s and 37 percent with bachelor’s degrees.

The school, with 547 students, had a 98 percent attendance rate, a 73.7 percent graduation rate, a 4 percent dropout rate, a remediation rate of 64.6 percent and a grade-inflation rate of 8.2 percent (over 20 percent causes concerns).

The school’s expulsion rate for the 2008-2009 school year was 0.5 percent. Weapons incidents accounted for 0.7 percent of the major discipline problems and students assaults came in at 0.5 percent.

About 45 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TOP STORY >> Cotton gin closing as crop is no longer king

Dick Bransford, president of Pettus Gin in Lonoke County, says the facility will not reopen this year because cotton crop is down.


Leader senior staff writer

In a small, detached office, eight farmers and hands gathered at a kitchen table Tuesday morning—they were drinking coffee, talking about the weather, the high cost of farming and low commodity prices.

About 40 yards away, rising like a sudden mesa from the flat farm fields, the Pettus Gin stands forever silent, awaiting the scrap dealers and occasional equipment buyer.

The gin’s last bale of cotton was pressed and spit out in late fall 2008.

The gin itself has operated at Pettus since at least the mid-1940s, according to Dick Bransford, 80, president of the Pettus Gin Cooperative, but the Bransford family has been ginning cotton since at least 1903, originally at Lonoke.

In the mid-60s, Pettus bought out the Bransfords and folded them into the operation.

An enduring testimony to American ingenuity and mechanical know-how, the Pettus Gin can still clean and squeeze a bale of cotton as good as any. And no one grows cotton better or more efficiently than the Lonoke County farmers who collectively own this gin, said Bransford, who lives across Hwy. 31 and has served as president of the gin since it became a cooperative in 1978.

Cotton farmers have no control over worldwide economic conditions, and are at the mercy of the weather, Bransford said.

Worse yet, he said, when consumers stopped buying clothes and manufacturers stopped buying cotton to make those clothes, the bottom fell out of the cotton market.

Lonoke County farmers fled to corn, where prices had been driven high by the demand for ethanol, on top of the need for animal feed and corn sweetener.

So when the amount of cotton planted in Lonoke County fell from 35,000 acres in 2008 to about 3,200 acres in 2009 the gin went dark and its members took their cotton to the so-called New Gin in Coy.

Simply put, because of prices, there’s simply not enough cotton to fire up the gin, and anytime a gin closes for a year or more, it’s about impossible to start back up, he said.

Another problem for the Arkansas cotton farmer is that the giant seed companies require them to buy new seed each year rather than save seed from the year before. They have to pay about $500 for a 50-pound sack of seed that will plant about seven acres.

In India and other competing countries, the producers refuse to buy new seed, so they can produce cotton more cheaply.

Patent and other laws in the U.S. make that impossible for producers here, he said.

Until last year, the gin employed four people year round, including ginner Jackie Miller, who’s been the ramrod at Pettus for about 30 years. About three more hands worked full time in the warehouse.

During ginning season, they ran one or two eight-man crews from Texas, Bransford said.

Now the gin is occupied by a skunk, various rodents and birds in the top of the industrial cathedral.

Miller and his assistant, Matt Wooldridge, work part time now at the Lonoke County Museum. Miller also hauls fish for local fish farmers. He and Wooldridge also get part-time work for Bransford.

“We’ve already started cannibalizing the gin,” he said. “We’ve shipped some fans, and started stripping copper” out of the wiring and switchboxes.

He hopes still to sell the large motors, but the gin stands, carefully maintained though they are, are too small and too old to generate much interest.

Cotton once was king. Now it’s a struggle.

It’s picking up in other countries like India and China, where modern farming and production technology have been imported from the U.S., irrigation has improved tremendously and they don’t have to pay $500 a bag for cotton seed.

Other small gins in the area are out of business or going out of business, and overseas processors are looking for larger, more modern gins, Bransford said.

In 2008 there were still four gins operating in Lonoke County but by last year, there was only one gin left—the “New Gin” at Coy.

In the glory days, there were three gins at Coy, eight or nine in England, about three in Lonoke, a couple in Scott and one in Humnoke and Galloway, he remembered.

Pettus was capable of ginning 16,500 bales a season, “that was our high,” Bransford said. We ginned 3,000 acres in 2008 and none in 2009.”

“There are people here (for decades) who never ginned a bale anywhere except with us,” he said.

“Cotton’s always been good to us,” he said.

That’s despite the fact that when Bransford first farmed in 1952, cotton sold for 45 cents a pound. Today it brings about the same.

While members of the cooperative may not get much for the old gin, they are hoping to get about $790,000 for the warehouses, sitting empty in Lonoke right now, he said.

Bransford’s son Richard is a partner in the farm and a member of the gin board, but his grandson is an airline pilot and his granddaughter is in med school.

Lonoke County Extension Service Chief Agent Jeff Welch put it like this:

“Over a period of time, cotton became less competitive with other crops.

“The beauty of (that) gin is that these producers became vertically integrated.”

Welch said they produced the cotton, owned the gin and the storage, which is located in Lonoke.

“The problem is the input costs and the risk,” Welch said. “Cotton production is so highly capital intensive that the producers couldn’t handle the risk economically.

“That’s when they started bringing in corn to Lonoke County.”

Producers had to choose which crop to plant on those acres.

He said several of the larger producers including Bob and Robby Bevis have invested heavily in grain storage bins and eliminated or cut way back on cotton.

When The Leader did a story on the Pettus Gin several years ago, Blake Benafield’s farm, which adjoins the gin, was bursting out all over with cotton bolls. This year, literally in the shadow of the gin, Benafield’s planted green beans.

In other parts of cotton country, further east in Arkansas, corn is less feasible, Bransford said.

The cotton production by members of the Pettus coop have dropped so dramatically that it’s not feasible to fire up the gin to process such a small amount of cotton, Bransford said.

Bransford himself has cut down from about 1,600 cotton acres a year to 200 in 2009 and 300 acres this year, he said.

He already owns his equipment and he’s grown cotton as long as he’s farmed.

“I just want to keep a hand in,” he said. “Maybe we can make a good crop and the price will be good.”

TOP STORY >> He’ll help Jacksonville, new district chief says

Leader staff writer

The condition of Jacksonville schools is already on the radar screen of incoming superintendent for Pulaski County Special School District, Charles Hopson, who says he intends to make them a priority of his administration.

In an interview Monday, Hopson said he was aware of the presentation last week to the PCSSD school board by senior students at Jacksonville High School about the rundown conditions there.

“The Jacksonville area is a high priority for me,” Hopson said. “I know how they see themselves as a separate district, but for now they are a part of the Pulaski County Special School District.”

Conditions “that threaten the safety and health of students” not only are a barrier to learning, but are tantamount to a “civil rights violation,” Hopson said. “It is our moral responsibility to address structural inequalities that make learning difficult for students already challenged by social and economic inequalities.”

In a letter released Monday from Hopson to all school district employees, he said that the district has the potential to become “the most cutting-edge, progressive and innovative district in this state and country,” but that it will take time and the willingness to weather uncertainty through the growth process.

“I think the one thing I would want all of you to know about me personally is that as a non-traditional instructional leader, I thrive on pushing the limits of old paradigms or status quo and stepping outside the box of business as usual to explore the possibilities,” Hopson wrote.

“In reaching the promise of our potential as a district, it is going to feel uncomfortable, risky, volatile and threatening for some of you in this organization. No organization, or individual for that matter, reaches a level of desired gain or change without experiencing pain.”

The school board on April 15 voted to hire Hopson, an Arkansas native, who for the past 20 years has worked for the Portland, Ore., public schools, where he is currently a deputy superintendent.

He will take the reins of PCSSD July 1, pending his contract negotiations.

In the letter to employees, Hopson said that his long-range vision is for PCSSD to become a district “where poverty, race, disability, language and sexual orientation are not predictors of where students are disproportionately represented in academic performance or discipline data.”

Hopson says his experience in the Portland schools, where he implemented practices that helped overcome the barriers associated with disadvantaged students, gives him the confidence that the same can happen here.

Children from impoverished backgrounds must be helped to transcend their internalized negative beliefs about their ability to excel, and the district needs to provide quality instruction, with the same rigor and resources at all the schools, whether they are in Maumelle or Jacksonville.

“Race and poverty are challenges but not excuses for why students can’t perform,” Hopson said. “It is less about cognitive ability and more about structural inequalities that do not allow students to have equitable access. It is about internalized barriers, about changing ‘can’t’ to ‘can’ and then providing a nurturing environment.”

All teachers want to become better, Hopson said, and it will be up to district administrators, including principals, to provide the leadership and tools to help them improve.

Making sure that no zone in the district gets the short shrift when it comes to allocation of resources is something he will keep watch over, Hopson said, calling his style “systemic equity leadership.”

Jacksonville is a “case in point,” he noted. “As superintendent, I look at the needs of the entire district, not specific to any particular zone, at the exclusion of others. The needs of every student are considered. Funding is to be prioritized to touch every part of the district.”

In the first 100 days on the job, Hopson plans on meeting with “stakeholders” at every school – custodians, clerical staff, paraprofessionals, teachers and administrators – to find out what they need to be most productive. His hope is that will set the tone for his administration, so if nothing else, it will be remembered for its transparent communication, inclusion and collaboration, he said.

“If you don’t have those three things, you create a climate of distrust,” Hopson said. “People start to lose hope. There needs to be collaboration where every person feels valued, affirmed and listened to, for there to be an opportunity for students to flourish.”

SPORTS >> Panthers’ presence plentiful for state

Leader sportswriter

Cabot track teams qualified a total of 29 athletes for the 7A state meet at Fayetteville High School on Thursday.

There were 18 boys and 11 girls who qualified through the 7A-Central Conference meet at Scott Field in Little Rock over the weekend, with event victories for Brendon Tucker and T.J. Bertrand on the boys side and two for junior Ariel Voskamp on the girls side.

The boys team also won the 3,200-meter relay.

“The meet went pretty good,” Panthers coach Leon White said. “We had several who did really well and qualified for the state meet. At the state meet, there are a lot more teams involved and it doesn’t take as many points to win.

“So we have an outside chance if something strange happened and the other teams started taking points away from each other.”

Tucker won the 3,200-meter run with a time of 9:49.28, which was just over six seconds better than second place. He also took second in the 1,600-meter with a time of 4:33.65.

Bertrand won the shot put with a throw of 49-11, and was eighth in the discus.

Senior Powell Bryant had top-three performances in two events, and finished in a tie for fourth in the 100-meter run. Bryant took second in the 400-meter run with a time of 51.54 and was third in the 200-meter with 23.32.

The Panthers also gained points with strong relay performances.

Cabot took first in the 3,200-meter relay with a time of 8:17.76 and finished second to Little Rock Catholic in the 1,600-meter relay with a 3:32.00. The 400-meter relay team took third behind Bryant and North Little Rock.

Conway took the overall meet with 155 total points, while Cabot was a solid second with 137.5 points. Bryant finished third overall with 114 points, followed by Russellville and North Little Rock.

“Conway was well-balanced and had people who did well in every event, and that was the difference,” White said. “We did well except for a couple of field events.”

Voskamp led the Lady Panthers by winning the 100-meter hurdles and pole vault. Voskamp, an early favorite in the upcoming heptathlon, posted a time of 15.87 in the 100-meter hurdles and pole-vaulted 11 feet, 6 inches to win the respective events.

Teammate Julia Gairhan finished behind Voskamp in the pole vault at 10-3. Cabot’s Brittany Briswalter won the discus with a measurement of 116-3, almost 20 feet better than second place.

Emkay Myers fared well in the long distance events with third-place finishes in the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs. Myers ran a 12.05.85 in the 3,200-meter and a 5:34.56 in the 1,600.

The Lady Wampus Cats took first overall with 137.5 points for a Conway sweep. Little Rock Central was second with 130 points and Bryant took third with 98.

The Lady Panthers came in fourth with 85 points, followed by North Little Rock, Russellville, Van Buren and Mount St. Mary.

Confidence was high for the Lady Panthers heading into the meet, but a pulled hamstring for leading sprinter and jumping standout Sabrina Antimo prior to the start of the event changed their outlook.

“With the girls, we thought we could win it,” White said. “She didn’t run, and we lost 40 or 50 points. The other girls competed as hard as they could and we still did pretty well.”

White does not know at this point if Antimo will be a go for Thursday and listed her status as day to day.

“If she is able to run, we might have an outside shot at winning it,” White said of the state meet. “If not, we won’t be able to go very hard.”

SPORTS >> Badgers baseball keeps on building

Beebe’s Bryson Scott, left, and Adam Naramore score in a recent victory.


Leader sports editor

Beebe may not be known as a high school baseball hotbed in Arkansas, but if the Badgers keep going as they have, that may change.

Beebe entered the week 20-2 and 8-0 in the 5A-Southeast as it prepared for critical conference games with White Hall and Monticello.

“We’re trying,” coach Mark Crafton said.

With four productive seniors and a possible NCAA Division I prospect in junior pitcher Griffin Glaude, the Badgers are trying to maintain the momentum they built last year.

“This is the best year we’ve had so far,” Crafton said. “Hopefully we’ll get a lot more kids out and continue the foundation that my senior class from last year started.”

The 2009 seniors, representing the first freshman class Crafton had when he took over five years ago, became only the second class from Beebe to reach the state tournament and the first to win a state tournament game.

Crafton only has four seniors this year, but they have provided a productive nucleus and Crafton is hoping the Badgers can go a step or two further this year.

“It’s not a big number but all four of them have really stepped up this year, offensively and defensively,” Crafton said.

Pitcher/third baseman Logan Ballew, center fielder Lawson Bryant, first baseman Adam Narramore and catcher Ryan Williams make up Crafton’s senior quartet.

Ballew has been a pleasant surprise on the mound, posting a 6-1 record, while Williams is the team’s leading hitter with an average around .480, five home runs and close to 30 RBI.

Crafton didn’t want to be remiss in leaving out his juniors, not that there is a way that could happen with Glaude in the group.

The right-hander is 7-0 and, more impressively, has thrown three no-hitters and was a batter away from a perfect game against Mills.

“I projected him to be our workhorse on the mound for us,” Crafton said. “He’s basically dominated so far, every game that he’s pitched in. “He’s had good success and of course we have had some stellar defense behind him at times.”

Against Mills, Glaude struck out 18 of the 22 he faced and, Crafton said, has never really pitched with the outcome in jeopardy.

“He has a chance to play DI ball somewhere,” Crafton said. “Beebe has not been known in the past for sending baseball prospects out of Beebe and this is my fifth year. In my five years here we’ve had about six kids sign with smaller schools and have an opportunity to go continue their college careers.”

Additionally, Glaude is batting .477 with 31 RBI.

“Hitting is a contagious thing and it’s filtered down to our other kids,” Crafton said.

Glaude, Ballew and the other pitchers have also benefited from solid defense, Crafton said. As an example, he mentioned middle infielder Jared Ashbrenner, who plays shortstop when Glaude pitches and moves to second when Glaude plays shortstop.

“He has been gloving it for us,” Crafton said. “Outstanding in the field.”

As good as its record is, Beebe isn’t out of the woods. White Hall is in fourth place, but earned a doubleheader split with second-place Monticello, who will play host to Beebe next week in a game that could decide the 5A-Southeast championship and the top seed to the 5A state tournament.

“We’ve never been known for showing out baseball prospects and we’re kind of not on the map yet,” Crafton said. “Hopefully if we make some noise in the state tournament they will start recognizing us.”

SPORTS >> NFL draft not lean for ASU

Leader sports editor

First, here’s to Alex “Big Al” Carrington, Arkansas State’s fine defensive end who went to the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the NFL draft last week.

In what local experts are calling a “lean year” for Arkansas-connected players in the draft, Carrington was the first selected from a state school when he went 72nd overall.

The Arkansas Razorbacks didn’t have a man drafted until guard Mitch Petrus went to the New York Giants in the fifth round, 147th overall.

Maybe that’s why they’re calling it a lean year. If Razorbacks aren’t drafted en masse, it doesn’t matter how many NFL players other schools produce; they will always be overshadowed by the Hogs, even when the Hogs aren’t doing anything particularly noteworthy.

Lean year? For Arkansas State, which toils in college football’s largest classification — the Football Bowl Subdivision — but plays in the unheralded Sun Belt Conference, when a player goes in the early rounds, it’s a banner year.

Carrington will join a number of Arkansas State players who through the years have been NFL draft picks. The list includes hall of famer Bill Bergey and, most recently, safety Tyrell Johnson, last seen roaming the field with the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.

And let’s not forget Central Arkansas. The Bears, of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision formerly known as Division I-AA, sent defensive end Larry Hart to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fifth round, 143rd overall.

Lean year? Hey, Hart is the highest draft pick in UCA history. Don’t tell the Bears it’s a lean year.

Anyway, the draft hype is mercifully over — quick, can you remember where you were and what you were doing when Florida’s golden boy Tim Tebow was drafted by Denver? — and soon it will be time for players like Carrington to prove they are worth their draft status.

There weren’t a lot of quality defensive ends available this year, which may explain why Carrington and Hart were drafted as high as they were. But player evaluations are such a science in the NFL now, I’m sure the two were fully vetted and their athletic skills were pronounced worthy.

A player’s mental game is harder to evaluate. Or, as quarterback-turned-analyst Steve Young said, “Is your wrist connected to that brain?”

How does a guy prove he has the guile and smarts to go with the body? Certainly NFL teams put a lot more emphasis on psychological screenings nowadays, yet flakes like Chad Ocho Cinco, once called “Ocho Psycho” by his coach, still get through.

Maybe they should direct the psychological screenings to the jersey-wearing fans who show up to the live draft in New York City to cheer and boo as if it were a real game.

I mean, don’t these people have to pay money to get in? And to do what? Holler like it’s a fourth-quarter goal line stand when a man in a suit announces a name so a young man in a suit — and sunglasses and lots of jewelry — can come forward and put on a cap?

Anyway, I imagine Carrington, who posted 21.5 career sacks in college, will do fine. A stout run stopper, Carrington probably needs to develop a better repertoire of pass rush moves, because the NFL isn’t the Sun Belt and a straight bull rush won’t always get it done.

But I think mentally Carrington is up to the task.

Why? Because he’s already proven he has his head on straight in one very important way.

Carrington is a single father with a kindergarten-aged son named Khalil. While maintaining a better than 3.0 GPA in psychology and graduating last December, Carrington also cared for Khalil, even during the grind of summer camp and two-a-days.

Let’s be clear, Carrington hasn’t done it all himself. Khalil stays with his mother or Carrington’s parents in Carrington’s hometown of Tupelo, Miss., but the father by choice has stayed firmly in the picture.

Carrington even chose to stay in school rather than take his chances in last year’s draft after posting 10.5 sacks and being named Sun Belt defensive player of the year. He figured a degree and another college season to burnish his NFL credentials would assure a better future for Khalil.

“I thank God for my son because he’s what got me here,” Carrington said.

Lean year?

Too bad we don’t see “lean years” like this every season.

SPORTS >> Red Devils take loss, move forward

Jacksonville’s Jesse Harbin may get the nod to start on the mound Thursday against Mountain Home.


Leader sports editor

The runs came in bunches when Sheridan played host to Jacksonville on Monday, but Sheridan had a bigger bunch.

The Yellowjackets beat the Red Devils 8-6 in a non-conference game, overcoming a 6-0 deficit with a seven-run fourth inning.

“It just sort of snowballed on us,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said.

Jacksonville, of the 6A-East, fell to 17-5 but remained perfect in the conference at 10-0 entering Thursday’s matchup with Mountain Home, also at 10-0. Burrows admitted having that game on his mind Monday as he limited starter Nick Rodriguez to 40 pitches while Mike Lamb threw just nine in a relief appearance.

“With the game Thursday we didn’t want to be in a situation using too much of one pitcher,” Burrows said.

Rodriguez held Sheridan scoreless for three innings, then the Yellowjackets jumped on reliever Noah Sanders (3-1) in their big fourth, and Lamb came on to get the Red Devils out of the inning.

“There’s some things we should have been able to take advantage of that we didn’t,” Burrows said. “The main part is we can’t sit. You get up 6-0 you’ve got to put the hammer down.”

Shortstop Jacob Abrahamson had two hits, including a bases-loaded triple in Jacksonville’s six-run second. But other than that, the Red Devils’ bats were relatively quiet.

“We didn’t have really very many on,” Burrows said. “We went three-up, three-down four times. That’s 12 consecutive outs without somebody on. We had one baserunner, I guess, three other innings.”

There were a few quality at-bats here and there, Burrows said, but not enough.

“Two out of the four three-up, three-down innings that we had, we hit three balls right at them,” Burrows said. “Those are good at-bats, but we also had some where we just sort of gave away some at-bats.”

For example, Abrahamson — who fouled off four pitches before hitting his triple on a 3-2count in the second — fouled off two then singled on a 3-2 count to lead off the seventh only to be stranded as Jacksonville’s next three hitters were retired to end the game.

“Good teams that want to be playing at the end, they can’t be doing that,” Burrows said.

The Red Devils stranded one other leadoff runner, which pretty much accounted for the rest of the offense on the day.

While trying to beat Sheridan, Burrows also wanted to be sure his pitching staff was at full strength for Mountain Home and he was pleased with what Rodriguez accomplished with his 40 pitches.

“I think he gave up one hit and we ended up erasing that on a double-play ball,” Burrows said. “After that we knew we were just going to try to piece together whatever we could do after he got his 40 in, but we led 6-0.”

Most important, Jesse Harbin (6-1, 1.08 ERA) didn’t pitch at all and Lamb (5-1, 1.02 ERA) only threw his nine pitches, meaning both are well rested for Thursday. Burrows is planning to start one or the other against Mountain Home.

“That’s what we’ve been running out there the whole time, with Rodriguez behind them,” Burrows said.

Burrows expects to see some quality pitching out of Mountain Home too.

The Bombers boast senior Cody Woodhouse, an Arkansas State signee who was named junior varsity pitcher of the year at Cordova, Tenn., in 2007 and has been all-conference the past two years since moving to Mountain Home.

Woodhouse was all state as a junior.

“They got two really good arms. A senior that’s going to Jonesboro and then they got a sophomore that moved in,” Burrows said. “They throw three pitches for strikes. They do a good job.

“The little bit I’ve seen of them, they play hard, they play fast. They’re 10-0 for a reason. They play pretty good. We’re going to have to play well.”

SPORTS >> Lady Falcons win local matchup

Lady Falcons sophomore Mercedes Wilson catches an opponent off guard.


Leader sportswriter

A three-goal “hat trick” was not enough for North Pulaski senior forward Claire Crews, who added a fourth for good measure in the Lady Falcons’ 6-2, non-conference victory over Jacksonville at Jan Crow Stadium on Monday.

Stephanie Alvis set the early pace for the Lady Falcons (4-8) with two goals in the first 15 minutes and spent much of the remainder of the match finding ways to set up Crews.

The tandem provided a balanced attack for North Pulaski, while the Lady Red Devils appeared to depend primarily on the ball handling and scoring of sophomore forward Taylor Ruple.

Ruple’s efforts netted a goal in each half, but North Pulaski kept her opportunities to a minimum while controlling possession most of the way.

“Mercedes Wilson, she’s our sophomore speedy defender,” Lady Falcons coach Tony Buzzitta said. “She’s the one who kept pressure on Taylor Ruple the whole game as far as limiting her looks.

“We had good defensive rotation. She has the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and she’s a tough person to defend, so we wanted to limit her from getting clean looks at the goal.”

Crews kicked her third goal in the 32nd minute of the second half, and broke away for her fourth goal less than two minutes later.

“They are both really good players,” Buzzitta said of Alvis and Crews. “And they have excellent teamwork on the field. They are our primary ball handlers. They are experienced players, and they provide leadership to some of the less experienced players.”

Ruple had a pair of close calls in the first minute, including a shot on goal five minutes in that was wide right and a long-distance shot from the left side that was just over the top of the goal in the 11th minute.

A red card against Jacksonville’s Shante Holloway set up North Pulaski’s first score at the 31:38 mark of the first half. Alvis blasted the free kick into the left corner of the goal to put the Lady Falcons up 1-0.

Ruple answered with a breakaway up the middle in the 13th minute before Alvis got the lead with a kick that went just inside the top of the net to make it 2-1.

Crews had a pair of misfires before she finally scored with six minutes left in the first half. Her two kicks from the middle of the field went wide, but she found the goal from the left side on her third attempt to increase North Pulaski’s advantage to 3-1.

The second half was scoreless until Crews struck again at the 24-minute mark, this time from close range. Ruple then scored on a free kick with 10:36 left to close the gap to 4-2, but Crews took an assist from senior Tara Taykowski for her third goal and a comfortable Lady Falcons’ lead with just over eight minutes remaining.

Crews broke away for her fourth goal with 6:44 left to play.