Friday, August 27, 2010

SPORTS>>Rich history backs battle

Leader sports editor

It is only the third “Backyard Brawl,” officially.

But the Cabot Panthers and Jacksonville Red Devils go way back. Way, way back.

The two schools separated by nine miles and one county line meet again Tuesday in the Arkansas High School Kickoff Classic at 7:30 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

“I’ve been associated with this rivalry for 33 years,” said Cabot rivalry for 33 years,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham, who began coaching as an assistant at Jacksonville in 1978 after he graduated Arkansas State.

In those days, Malham said, Jacksonville was the bigger school under coach Bill Reed and in 1978 was on its way to the second of Reed’s third state championships with the Red Devils. Malham said that didn’t seem to impress Cabot in that year’s non-conference matchup, though Jacksonville eventually prevailed.

“That little team at Cabot came over and gave us fits,” Malham said.

Malham, Cabot’s head coach since 1981, noted the rivalry goes back even further than the late 1970s. Before there was a statewide high school playoff system ,many rival schools played each other in the last game of the year on Thanksgiving.

“They came over, boy, the first half it was pretty tough; eventually we won it,” Malham said of the 1978 game. “From what I understood that was the first time Cabot and Jacksonville might have played in several years but in the old days it used to be the Thanksgiving game.”

“Oh yes. You bet,” Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said of the hard-fought games. “It kind of went back and forth the early years.”

The series continued for Malham’s first two years at Cabot when the Panthers and Red Devils were members of the conference that included Conway, Little Rock Central, Little Rock Catholic and Mills. The Red Devils won Reed’s third state championship in 1981.

“Mills was in there and that was back when Mills was pretty dang good with Jacksonville,” Malham said. “But Jacksonville won the state that year at 14-0. The only game Mills lost in the regular season was to Jacksonville, 7-6.”

During the four years the Cabot-Jacksonville series was on hiatus, Cabot won its first state title, in the old AAA classification, in 1983.

The teams reunited in the same conference in 1987 and have played each other ever since, though the game has been a non-conference matchup the past four years.

Cabot is in the 7A/6A-Central as a 7A team this year and Jacksonville is in the 7A/6A-East as a 6A team.

Cabot has established itself as a perennial playoff and state championship contender, playing for the AAAAA championship in 1999 and winning it in 2000. The Panthers fell on hard times with just one victory in 2005, but have steadily regained their status since, winning at least a share of the conference championship the past two years and reaching the state semifinals last season.

Jacksonville’s success has been spotty recently, though the Red Devils aren’t far removed from their seven-victory season and conference championship in 2006. Jacksonville won six games in 2008 before slipping to 2-8 last year.

Russell, though in his first year, is no stranger to the Jacksonville program. He joined the Red Devils as an assistant, coaching defensive ends, linebackers and tight ends, in 1995 and was only away from the program last year, when he was across town as North Pulaski’s head coach.

Cabot won the first two Backyard Brawls by a combined score of 76-21 and Russell said the shift in the balance of power is directly related to shifts in the city’s populations.

There was a time when Jacksonville had two junior high schools, and two teams, to feed into the varsity program. Now Jacksonville has one feeder school but two high schools competing for talent while thanks to its rapid growth Cabot has Junior High North and South to draw from.

“So it’s been kind of one-sided since then,” Russell said. “I think we won two times in those last 10 years. They’ve got it going.

They’ve got the athletes, the feeder schools going the right way.”


There are still tickets available for Backyard Brawl III, the season opener between Jacksonville and Cabot at War Memorial Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at the Jacksonville football fieldhouse until 10 a.m. today. They will be on sale at the
Jacksonville High School office until noon Monday.

For information or to purchase tickets call Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson at (501) 425-7370.

SPORTS>>Rivalry relocates to newly renovated War Memorial

Leader sports editor

They’re taking the neighborhood game out of the neighborhood.

The third Backyard Brawl between Cabot and Jacksonville kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Tuesday.

It will be the last event of the four-game Arkansas High School Kickoff Classic held at the stadium on Monday and Tuesday and will mark the third time Cabot and Jacksonville have opened the season against each other under the Backyard Brawl banner.

Coaches, athletic directors, players and cheerleaders from each team gathered to discuss the game with the media at a press conference at the First Arkansas Bank and Trust building in Jacksonville on Friday morning.

“We’re excited about a neutral site this time,” bank CEO and press conference host Larry Wilson said.

“War Memorial Stadium is a big stage, a big game on a big night,” new Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said.

Cabot coach Mike Malham noted that, while the Backyard Brawl and its traveling rophy are recent developments, the series between the two schools goes back years, with each team holding the upper hand at different times.

“It’s been a big rivalry for a long time,” Malham said. “It’s been a tough game on the field but when it’s over there’s no hard feelings. It’s a friendly rivalry.”

Since the Brawl was established, it has been all Cabot. The Panthers won last year’s game at Cabot 35-6 and took the previous meeting 41-15 at Jacksonville in a game delayed two days because of bad weather caused by Hurricane Gustav.

This year’s weather has taken a turn for the better recently, as temperatures over 110 degrees have dropped into the low 90s and high 80s. But Russell said Cabot still had the potential to unleash a storm on an unprepared team.

“They seem like they’re always in the right place,” Russell said of the Panthers’ 5-2 defense, and then he addressed Cabot’s hard-nosed Dead T running game. “They supposedly have just four or five plays but they run those four or five plays to perfection.”

“I think he’s at six plays now,” Wilson joked.

Jacksonville will have a mostly new playbook as it moves away from the Spread offense it used under Mark Whatley toward a more run-oriented scheme.

It fact, it is expected to be a night of debuts for both teams.

Russell, Jacksonville’s long-time assistant coach who was most recently defensive coordinator, is back as head coach after one year running the show at North Pulaski.

Malham will introduce 13 new starters, including quarterback Zach Craig, and noted Jacksonville has about that many starters coming back.

“So the tables are turned a little bit,” he said.

War Memorial Stadium will break in its newly remodeled pressbox and try out its new playing surface during the Kickoff Classic slate.

While Malham noted that Cabot and Jacksonville used to do battle in the same conference, the Backyard Brawl has been a non-conference affair. Cabot plays in the 7A/6A-Central as a 7A team this year and Jacksonville is one of the 6A members in the 7A/6A-East.

Cabot won the most important share of the championship in the former 7A-Central last year, finishing 9-1 and earning the top seed to the state playoffs. The Panthers reached the 7A semifinals before losing at home to Springdale Har-Ber on a late touchdown pass.

Jacksonville was 2-8 under Whatley while playing in the former 6A-East. Whatley left to join the staff at Springdale High School and the Red Devils brought in Russell.

The new coach made no predictions for Tuesday but said his players should be in good shape after practicing in the intense summer heat and called for 48 minutes of total execution.

“With good habits good things can happen,” Russell said.

Malham worried about Jacksonville’s new formations and wrinkles and said the only thing his team could do was try to play as mistake-free as possible.

“Both teams want to go 1-0;I guess it could end in a tie,” Malham said. “We’re going to try to be the team that’s 1-0 and Jacksonville is going try to be that team that’s 1-0.”

SPORTS>>’Rabbits realigning quickly

Leader sportswriter

Doug Bost hopes the minor disappointment following Lonoke’s scrimmage game against Oak Grove last Monday does not escalate into major disappointment this week.

And the shuffle to prevent further disappointment has been ongoing at the practice field and in the film room as Bost prepares his Jackrabbits for the season opener against a fleet Star City team. Lonoke meets Star City in the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic at

Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Golden Lion Stadium at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

Senior quarterback Ty Towers leads Stary City from the Spread formation, although he played primarily as a junior. Towers who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, is a crafty option quarterback and s not the only speed demon in the Bulldogs’ backfield.

Senior running backs Demetri Goins and Hosia Rochell each rushed for over 1,000 yards in their junior season, and are both listed with 4.6 times in the 40.

“Looking at our schedule, this could very well be the best team we play all season,” Bost said. “They went to the second round of the playoffs last year, and have eight starters back on defense, and six on offense. They are a very veteran team.”

Question marks linger following Lonoke’s scrimmage against Oak Grove. Bost said he was pleased with Keli Bryant’s ball carrying and senior quarterback Logan DeWhitt’s passing.

But the offense turned the ball over three times, and the defense gave up over 300 yards to the Hornets during the brief encounter.

“We’ve got to have a good week of practice,” Bost said, admitting the scrimmage was disappointing. “But to be fair to the kids, we only had one day to get ready for those guys. The rest of the time, we lined up against the look we will see from Star City.

“But, I mean, three fumbles — turnovers — you can’t beat anybody if you’re turning the ball over like that.”

Changes are under way on defense. Personnel will be moved around on the line and in the linebackers group. Of the linebackers, junior T.J. Scott is still in place, while the other spots are under further review.

The senior-led secondary is the only part of the defense that will not undergo further experimentation.

The linebacker situation will be key against a Bulldogs’ offense that runs more like a wishbone team while lining up shotgun.

“They run out of the spread, and that’s about 90 percent of what they try to do,” Bost said. “They go for a lot of option and speed sweeps. We can’t let anyone outside, and that’s what they’re going to try and do. We have to concentrate on holding them.”

The Jackrabbits’ offense came away with one score in the scrimmage, but moved the ball through the air and on the ground.

Senior quarterback Logan DeWhitt spread the ball equally among receivers.

SPORTS>>Bears’ season begins Monday

Leader sports editor

All young teams have to grow up in a hurry once football season starts.

Sylvan Hills has to grow up a little more quickly than most.

The Bears open the year against Vilonia at 5 p.m. on Monday at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. The game is part of the four-game slate played over two days that comprises the Arkansas High School Kickoff Classic.

Sylvan Hills and Vilonia get the honor, by a half-hour, of opening the season. Lonoke plays Star City at 5:30 p.m. in Pine Bluff as part of the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic.

“It shows well on what we’ve done here for us to be asked to kick the season off,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “Just for them to ask us, I think it shows we’ve been good over the years; we’ve had here. We’re normally a playoff-caliber team.”

The Bears reached the 5A state playoffs last season despite dropping their first five games. They finished furiously, winning four of their final five and beating Beebe in the season finale to qualify for the postseason.

But the Bears have had to find a new quarterback and rebuild their linebacker corps.

“It’s like any first game, you’re not sure,” Withrow said. “What’s tough on us is we’re dealing with a lot of guys who aren’t very experienced. In a normal year you would have liked a few extra days to practice.”

If it were a playoff game, Withrow said, he might be working his players out over the weekend. As it is, he was planning to have the Bears in pads scrimmaging the last three days of the work week, with generous film study of Vilonia thrown in, and then to give his players the weekend off.

The team will have a walk-through at War Memorial on Monday. A chance to practice at the stadium on Thursday was lost because there was still preparation work under way on the new playing surface, which will debut along with a remodeled, modernized pressbox Monday.

“I’m pointing towards getting ready for the conference,” Withrow said. “It’s a first game but I think that War Memorial walk-through, I don’t know if it will hurt us or help us but I think by then we’ll have a pretty good idea where we’re going.”

Withrow pointed out that, unlike a playoff situation, he has known for several months who it is the Bears would be playing and has plenty of time to get ready.

“We’ve been kind of planning on it for about a month,” he said. “We’ve gone with some film on them from last year that we could dig up and just called around and tried to hear some things from some people and did some scouting.”

Since high schools games are traditionally played on Friday nights, Monday’s games — Pulaski Academy plays Central Arkansas Christian at 7:30 p.m. — fall at an especially odd time in the week. However, the schedule is also a sign of the changing times, with the changes driven partially by the electronic media.

The season-opening classics are tailor-made television and radio showcases, and last year Arkansas high school games were broadcast regularly for the first time on commercial television, normally on Thursday nights.

Nonetheless, Withrow said he is looking forward to getting back to the traditional, Friday game-week schedule and welcomes the extra time after Monday’s game to shift back to that.

The Bears will have this Friday off while most of the state’s high school teams begin the season.

“I’m going to look at the positive of it,” Withrow said. “We’re going to get to play a game and then we’re going to get to turn around and break it down and then build on it and then put together a game plan for the next one, which will be Little Rock Christian.”

As for Vilonia, Withrow is most concerned about the Eagles’ Double-Slot offense with its veer options and sweeps. Vilonia also lines up in the Shotgun and runs the Spread, and is led by an experienced quarterback in Drew Knowles and has an Arkansas recruit in fullback James Sax.

“The defense looks strong as well,” Withrow said and gave the credit to Vilonia coach Jim Stanley. “Coach Stanley has been coaching a long time and his teams are always physically strong and physically tough.”

Sylvan Hills, meanwhile, will debut a new quarterback in Michael Maddox and four new starters at linebacker. Withrow said the players have prepared as hard as they can, and what remains to be seen is how they respond to real competition in a high-profile environment.

“If it doesn’t go our way it won’t be because of preparation or practice,” Withrow said.

SPORTS>>Badgers, Wildcats roll

Leader sportswriter

Trumann defenders desperately chasing down Beebe ball carriers turned into a common sight at First Security Stadium in Searcy on Tuesday night.

It all started with the junior Badgers team scoring on four of its first five plays against the Wildcats’ defense to open the three-team, round-robin scrimmage, and carried over once the varsity boys hit the field two hours later.

Host Harding Academy also had its share of easy triumphs against an outclassed Trumann squad, but the Spread passing attack of the Wildcats versus the Dead-T power run of the Badgers provided an even matchup.

“We wanted to see that spread stuff, because we’re going to see some of it throughout the season,” Beebe coach John Shannon said. “The first time Harding Academy had the ball, I thought our defense did a great job. They picked up a couple of first downs, but we didn’t give up any big plays.”

The Badgers did not rely on one individual ball carrier in their three offensive series. Senior halfback Colby Taylor and senior quarterback Scot Gowen were the only two players to break free on long scores, but juniors Jay Holdway and Brandon Fuller also had their share of significant gains.

“We were trying different things,” Shannon said, “trying to get different people the ball. The biggest disappointment was we had a couple of turnovers that we can’t afford to have.

“Hopefully we got that out of our system before we start for real next week.”

Taylor broke free on the third play of Beebe’s first 15-play offensive segment against Trumann and ran 55 yards for a score, and Gowen broke free five plays later for a 60-yard touchdown scramble.

Taylor also broke a long run against Harding Academy, the only big play given up by the Wildcats’ defense the entire night.

“Offensively, we were pretty much up and down the field,” Shannon said. “We hurt ourselves the first time we had the ball with two turnovers. We’ve got to get that fixed, but I was pleased with our effort and I thought we executed pretty well considering it was the first we had gone against someone live other than ourselves.”

Beebe’s defense held Harding Academy to 25 yards in the Wildcats’ first 15-play segment. The Wildcats converted two first downs, but suffered a number of motion and holding penalties.

But the second series, an eight-play goal-line drive for each team, exposed a soft spot in Beebe’s red-zone pass coverage.

Harding Academy scored on five of those eight plays, which was enough to get Shannon’s attention.

“They were doing some stuff that we really hadn’t worked on,” Shannon said. “That’s some stuff we’ve got to get fixed before we play against Greenbrier, because Greenbrier is going to do the same kind of stuff to us. We had guys in position who just didn’t make plays.”

Shannon deemed the scrimmage a success and was pleased with the offense, with the exception of a pair of early turnovers, but he also said there is still some work to be done on defense.

“Until I see the film, it’s going to be hard to say,” Shannon said. “I could tell we missed a few blocks and blocking assignments, but I thought we came off the ball real well from an offensive line standpoint. I thought we ran the ball real well; we just need to learn how to hang on to the ball.”

It was the Wildcats fans’ first chance to see senior all-state quarterback Seth Keese in action, but it was not much of a chance. Keese played sparingly, taking only a few snaps on offense while he played safety for half of Harding Academy’s defensive segments.

Sophomore Will Francis took the majority of the snaps and junior all-purpose player Jay Bona also got some work behind center.

The Wildcats had some difficulty sustaining long drives mostly because of penalties, but were stout defensively against
Trumann’s and Beebe’s running games.

EDITORIAL >>Boozman’s national tax

Rep. John Boozman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate rests on three giant advantages. He is not Blanche Lincoln. He is a Republican in a year when people everywhere have shifted blame for the nation’s ills from George W. Bush and 10 years of Republican domination of Congress to the Democrats. Third, hardly anyone outside his home district, and not too many there, has a clue about what he stands for.

The third is Boozman’s most redeeming grace, but the only one of the advantages that he conceivably could lose by election day. Sen. Lincoln cannot change her party or do much about her own record except to emphasize the better things she has done for the working people of Arkansas and talk less about her deeds for the rich and privileged interests.

This week, Lincoln made a good stab at illuminating Boozman’s philosophy, if it can be called that, and at giving people a peek at what he might do if he is their senator. She observed that he was a sponsor of the so-called Fair Tax, the plan to shift a huge part of the tax burden in the United States from corporations and the rich to the middle class. It would eliminate corporate and individual income taxes, taxes on rich inheritances, payroll taxes and self-employment taxes and replace them with a 30 percent national sales tax on every commodity or service that anyone buys. The 30 percent tax rate is a conservative estimate because it assumes that the tax would not create a massive black market or cause tax evasion on a giant scale. If those things happened, the tax rate would have to be adjusted upward until it produced the same amount of federal revenues that all the abolished taxes now produce.

The sponsors like to promote one small part of the plan. People would get a small regular check from Uncle Sam representing the amount of sales taxes that a person living at the poverty level would need to pay on their basic living expenses.

The sweetly named Fair Tax has been around for two decades, but those who have yearned to slip corporate taxes and progressive tax rates on the wealthy have only been able to land a few backers in Congress, even among conservative Republicans. John Boozman, however, signed on.

But when Lincoln raised the issue this week and said it showed whom Boozman would represent if he goes to the Senate, the congressman said he was merely a sponsor of the bill. He said he would not necessarily actually vote to do those things.

The implication is that he sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives merely to please the interests pushing the sweeping overhaul of taxes — sort of like Lincoln when she once signed on as a sponsor of the bill to improve employees’ chances of having a union bargain for them. But Boozman also implied that he might vote for his bill if it should ever reach a vote in the Senate. We are just left to guess.

His own voting record offers a clue to what he would do. He has voted for every proposal in the House of Representatives since 2001 to lower taxes on corporations and high personal incomes and inheritances and against every proposal to close tax loopholes for corporations that seek to escape their share of taxes through offshore tax havens or other devices. That went over big in his native Washington and Benton counties, home of some of the nation’s richest companies and owners. Lincoln voted the same way for a couple of years, although by 2004, she had come to her senses after seeing the burgeoning deficits and debt caused by the tax favors and large spending commitments of President Bush and the Republican Congress. She can claim only a modest amount of virtue, which is hard to sell in a political campaign.

But the Fair Tax is about as telling an issue as you can find. Lincoln’s problem is that she seems only superficially knowledgeable about what the thing would do to the people of Arkansas and thus she is incapable of exploiting it like she should.

For example, she repeated the sponsors’ description of it as a “23 percent sales tax.” Twenty-three percent sounds pretty horrible, but the creators of the scheme fashioned a way to make the tax rate look as low as they could. If you looked at the national sales tax in the same way everyone in the country knows the sales tax, it would be a minimum of 30 percent.

It is tricky and the authors — maybe Boozman, too, but we can’t say for sure — count on its being too baffling for voters to understand.

The sales tax that the states would be expected to collect and remit to Washington would be 23 percent of the final price of a good or service: your groceries, your new car and your dentist and doctor bills. That is where the 23 percent comes in. But a sales tax is calculated in a different way. If an item costs $100 in Arkansas, the buyer pays $6 extra on that $100 item for a final price of $106. Using the Fair Tax prescription, the current Arkansas sales tax would be a tax of only 5.6 percent since the $6 of taxes is 5.6 percent of $106.

To produce the equivalent revenue of the other federal taxes, the national sales tax rate would have to be 30 percent, although the tax would be only 23 percent of the after-tax price of the product.

A hidden tax of that magnitude would produce such enormous distortions that we would have an unstoppable underground economy of black-market sales and services. So the tax rate would have to be adjusted upward to meet current and future levels of expenditures for everything from war to Social Security and Medicare. It would be up to the state government to enforce and collect the tax. No state government wants that burden. The state Revenue Department would need an army of auditors and agents and they still couldn’t enforce it.

But all of that is a small price to pay for BP, Gold-man Sachs, Citibank, Walmart and all the rest to keep and distribute their profits tax-free from now on. They say that is the future. We’ll be helping insure it in November.

TOP STORY > >Lucky the Pig returns to owners

Leader staff writer

Lucky the Pig is back home this week at the Bar-B-Que Shack in Jacksonville after the cherished statue was released by “pignappers.”

Approximately $2,500 in ransom donations was raised. All the money is going to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation for research and awareness.

Late last week, the captors dropped Lucky off at the front door of city hall after being taken away for two months.

Saturday, a parade of 25 motorcycles thundered through Jacksonville. They led Lucky, who was atop a fire truck, to Arkansas Outdoor Power Equipment, on South Hwy. 161, where the business was having its 10-year anniversary celebration.

Lucky was then reunited with Gary and Pat Green, owners of the Bar-B-Que Shack. Patrick Thomas, owner of Arkansas Outdoor Power Equipment, was an “investigator” during the heist. When Lucky was returned last week he asked police to cease the search for the “pignappers.” The captors remain unknown, but Lucky was unharmed.

“I just delivered it to the rightful owners,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said.

Escorting Lucky during the parade were Jacksonville Fire Captain Dewey Coy, Pat Green, her sister, Georgia Lewis of north Pulaski County, and Diane Counts of Little Rock. Lewis and Counts are both battling an aggressive breast cancer known as triple negative.

The statue was a gift Lewis gave Green back in 1997.

Lewis has finished seven rounds of chemotherapy, the last was on Aug. 11. She starts radiation at the end of the month. She said the search for Lucky has been therapeutic.

“We are thrilled to have Lucky back. He has gone beyond the call of duty to help us in endeavors for triple-negative research.

We can’t get money for research without awareness,” Lewis said.

Counts, who rode with Lucky in the parade, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. She finished a year of treatment for breast cancer. Then 10 weeks later, cancer came back. It is in her chest wall, liver and in the lymph nodes of her chest.

“We need to find out what is fueling this cancer. Our prognosis is poor. Our treatment is chemotherapy and radiation,” Counts said.

While Lucky was held captive, Thomas created a website for Lucky fans to follow where the “pigknappers” had taken the statue.

Lucky was photographed at several Jacksonville and Cabot businesses. Lucky traveled to Little Rock, Hot Springs and up to Fayetteville.

Thomas said Lucky will be involved with future fundraising efforts for breast-cancer research.

“We’re not done, Lucky is going to retire for a short time,” he said.

Thomas said, “This is going be something annual, every year with a parade,” he said.

He believed this was one of Jacksonville’s first parades supporting cancer research.

TOP STORY > >Start times still in flux after ruling

Leader staff writer

The only things certain in the Pulaski County Special School District are that starting Sept. 13, all elementary schools will have shorter days and through the first nine weeks, all schools will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., no matter the bell times.

Deb Roush, spokeswoman for the PCSSD, said at this point the district couldn’t say for certain that it would be returning to last year’s bell schedule. “We are taking into consideration parent concerns, traffic-safety issues and our transportation capabilities in our efforts to reset bell schedules.”

About two weeks before the start of school, the district decided to change the bell schedule, having elementary schools start at 7:30 a.m. and secondary start at 8:30 a.m.

At the same time, the district extended the elementary school day by 40 minutes to give teachers planning time within the instructional day.

Just before the district and the union were due in court Wednesday on that issue, the parties worked out an agreement that the elementary-student day would be six hours and 45 minutes long and that teachers would have 45 minutes of planning time before or after the student day.

The changes would go into effect no later than Sept. 13.

The agreement did not address the bell schedule at all.

Many parents voiced concern over the bell changes and teachers balked at the extended hours, and the union filed a lawsuit stating the extended time violated the teachers’ contract.

The district, responding to parent outrage, readjusted the bell schedule just days before the start of school, moving secondary to a 7:30 a.m. start time and the elementary schools to 8:30. Most elementary schools started at 8 a.m. last year.

In the meantime, the board called for a teacher vote to decide whether it should recognize the union, which it wasn’t doing, or continue to develop a personnel policy committee to act in behalf of the teachers and staff.

The extended hours were part of the policies and ideas coming with the policy committee’s plan.

But the teachers voted overwhelmingly to keep the union, meaning the teachers were working under their old contracts and made the extended day illegal.

“We are looking at a number of possibilities on the schedule,” Roush said. “The only thing I can say for certain at this time is that we know many parents have made arrangements under the current bell schedule, and we know it might be a hardship to make more changes, so we will keep the school buildings open from 7:30 to 4:30, (the hours that they are currently open) for the rest of this quarter.”

The quarter ends about the middle of October.

In a letter to parents on more than a week ago, five days before the agreement on the length of the school day, the superintendent, Dr. Charles Hopson, said, “While I know I can never please everyone with decisions I make as an instructional leader and superintendent, I want to be responsive as possible to the schools where traffic and other extenuating factors are creating extreme hardships.”

He said he had visited a number of schools and talked to parents who were “extremely elated about the new schedule and others who shared hardships” with him.

Hopson said he would also look at options with the district’s transportation department.

“Our limitation with our current transportation system is that the same bus and driver transport both the secondary and elementary students, and the window for our bell schedule is determined by the roughly 700 square miles the drivers must cover to get all students to school on time.”

Hopson added, “Our current model for the academic school year in this country is, for the most part, an agricultural model with the shortest school day and year of any industrialized country in the world.”

The superintendent said the White House is holding districts more accountable.

He closed his letter by saying, “We are about to embark on a journey as a learning community to reach our promise as a district in which failure is not an option. Our students cannot wait.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Board does Impossible

The Pulaski County Special School District has done the impossible—it has managed to generate sympathy and widespread support for the strident, take-no-prisoners teachers’ union.

Time and again the board, or at least a four-member majority, has tried to terminate recognition of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers as the negotiating agent for the teachers. They have illegally booted the union and tried to replace it with an improperly constituted personnel-policy committee. Judge Tim Fox has called the district for this—more than once—because the board insists on proceeding as if Fox hadn’t said anything.

The board has attempted to replace the union with a hastily assembled “professional negotiations agreement”—teachers’ contract for short—with a set of personnel policies.

The negotiators for the district and the teachers reached a tentative agreement, ratified by the teachers Dec. 6, but on Dec. 8 the board surprised the teachers, voting the proposed contract down and declining further discussions.

Soon thereafter, the board voted, illegally it turns out, to cease recognition of the union as negotiator for the teachers.

Many of the reasons the board wants to get rid of PACT are personal—board member Charlie Wood doesn’t like unions and says he will never vote for a teacher contract longer than five pages. Tim Clark, who was elected with the support of the union, finally switched sides when he interpreted ill-chosen words by Emry Chesterfield, president not of PACT, but of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff—mostly bus drivers—as a threat against his family.

But the rationale for the board’s anti-union antics has been its assertion that PACT doesn’t represent most of the teachers.

Well, last Wednesday, the board got a real wakeup call on that one.

That was the day teachers rejected board-approved proposed changes to a personnel policy by a vote of 1,140 to 221.
Despite a $1,100 bonus “inducement,” 84 percent of those teachers who voted turned thumbs down on the policy, and by implication, the personnel-policy committee itself.

Even Wood now admits the obvious. Like it or not, PACT does represent the majority—vast majority—of district teachers.

It’s good the board and the union resumed full negotiations for a new contract on Tuesday. Currently the 2006-2009 contract remains in effect through the end of this new school year.

With Wood and fellow board member Danny Gililland up for re-election Sept. 21, the entire complexion of the board, which currently has an immutable 4-3 majority in opposition to union rule, will likely change if either loses.

Wood is challenged by former teacher and PACT member Gloria Lawrence, Gililland by Tom Stuthard, who is married to a Sylvan Hills math teacher.

PACT has endorsed Lawrence and Stuthard, contributing $2,000 to the campaign of each and union members will volunteer on the phones and knock on doors.

The crisis de jour facing the district is the new school-day schedule—that’s “bell-schedule” that new Superintendent Charles Hopson has implemented by fiat.

Apparently everyone has a dog in this hunt.

Hopson says it’s an education matter, and with his purview, he says it will allow more classroom time, planning time for teachers during the school day, and make PCSSD students more competitive academically.

Many agitated parents—stirred up by the union—say it is inconvenient and makes the school day too long. And PACT, predictably, says the bell schedule is part of the union contract and can’t be changed without negotiation.

At first, the bell-schedule change was for elementary schools. It would have started the day earlier for those students (and teachers) and parents complained it would leave their youngsters standing in the dark awaiting the bus.

Hopson reversed course on that, leaving elementary schools on the old schedule, but starting secondary schools earlier, leaving everyone unhappy, leaving most of us to wonder: Are the children learning?

A group of parents, led by activist Dawn Jackson, has petitioned the board for a special meeting on the bell schedule.

Jackson’s group says the bell schedule is a policy matter, something for the board to decide.

And of course the teachers, who don’t want their school day lengthened nor any challenge to the union contract, say the bell schedule can’t be changed without their approval.

Hopson has written an open letter to district patrons saying that the decision was and is his, as an educational matter.

While his outreach is impressive and unprecedented in this district, it’s not going to satisfy either the teachers or the parents represented by Jackson.

TOP STORY > >Sherwood workers will get $500 bonus

Leader staff writer

All Sherwood employees can expect a bonus check within the next few weeks of up to $500.

The Sherwood City Council, at its Monday meeting, agreed to spend $112,042 from the general fund to provide all employees with a one-time bonus.

The bonus is in lieu of raises the city could not afford in January. “At that time, we said we would look at the budget later in the year,” Mayor Virginia Hillman said, adding that raises are a priority for next year.

Full-time employees who have been with the city for more than 12 months will receive $500, while full-time employees with less than one-year service will receive a pro-rated amount based on their time with the city.

Part-time employees who have worked for the city for at least 1,000 hours will get a $250 bonus.

The one-time bonus doesn’t apply to elected officials.

In other council business:

An ordinance making changes to the city’s property maintenance and nuisance ordinance was read and approved once. An ordinance must be read and approved three times before it becomes law..

The planned changes to the current ordinance focus on stagnant water and vegetation growth.

The ordinance change bans stagnant water. Any foul standing pools of water that is not running or flowing and can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects will be considered stagnant water. It will be the responsibility of the property owner to get rid of stagnant water.

Another change will limit unkempt vegetation growth to less than eight inches and property owners or responsible parties will have five days to clear their lot of overrunning vegetation. Plus, all dead trees must be removed.

Another change allows a code-enforcement officer to enter a property, after the owner has been given written notice of a violation and not corrected the problem in the appropriate time. The officer will be allowed to fix or remove the problem and the expense will be placed in a lien against the property owner.

A new ordinance regulating unkempt yards and properties, focusing on grass and vegetation which was read once in July, was tabled indefinitely.

Alderman Becki Vassar still wants either a new ordinance or the current one reworked to add more teeth to the enforcement.

“Sherwood is too good of a city to have some people not to cut their grass or maintain their yards,” she said.

Vassar would like the city to have increasing fines for repeat offenders. “They need to know that we want them to keep their yards up,” the alderman said.

The council declared the structure at 5939 Round Top a public nuisance meaning that the property owners, Michael and Delores Goshen, have 30 days to tear down the building or bring it up to code. It the property owner does neither, then the city will tear down or remove it.

Police Chief Kel Nicholson briefed the council on the city’s recent drug take-back efforts where the police collected old and unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Police collected more than 63,000 pills and more than 10 gallons of liquid medicine.

“Our hopes were to get these medicines away from kids.” He said the Sherwood police would be assisting the DEA in a similar drug collection next month.

About a half-dozen residents were at the council meeting with flooding concerns. Mayor Virginia Hillman said the city was working on the problem and felt it was best if the residents would talk one-on-one with the city engineer, Ellen Norvell, and she would make an on-site visit and then the city would try to fix the problem.

The mayor reminded the council and those attending the meeting that Sherwood Fest was set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 18. A chili cook-off will kickoff Sherwood Fest and it will start at 7 p.m. Sept. 17.

Alderman Butch Davis said Sherwood, for the first time, would have a Veterans Day parade. The parade will be at 2 p.m., Nov. 14 down a portion of Kiehl Avenue.

TOP STORY > >Water-line work resumes from LR

Leader staff writer

Work will resume on two 30-inch water pipes underneath the I-430 bridge in Little Rock that was stopped after three men were killed in April 2008 when the scaffold they were standing on collapsed.

The 40-foot-by-6-foot scaffold that failed will be replaced by one that will run the entire 4,200 feet of the bridge. The Arkansas Highway Department has renewed the permit for the work that is expected to resume in about a month.

The scaffold that fell hung from a cable that ran between the inch-wide crack that separates the two lanes of the bridge. The new scaffolding will be attached to the underneath of the bridge, allowing the workers access to the full length of the bridge at one time.

The large pipes underneath the bridge are part of a $44 million project that will allow Jacksonville, North Pulaski Water Association and Cabot to buy water from Central Arkansas Water at Lake Maumelle and end their dependence on well water.

Blake Weindorf, an engineer with CAW, said Tuesday that he picked up the permit for the pipes underneath the bridge on Aug. 19.

“We contacted the contractor. He’ll be on the ground this Friday and several crews will be starting in mid September,” Weindorf said.

That work (including laying the line, pressure testing it and repairing any damage to the finish on the bridge caused by the construction) should be completed by the end of March 2011, he said and the entire project should be completed on schedule by October 2011.

Oscar Renda Contracting Inc. of Roanoke, Texas, contracted with CAW in 2006 to lay the pipe underneath the bridge for $6.2 million. Weindorf said he doesn’t know how much the new scaffolding will cost, but CAW is paying nothing extra for it.

“I’m sure their profit on this job has been gone,” he said.

The three men who were killed worked for Oscar Renda. The body of one was found caught in the cables of the scaffold when it was raised from the Arkansas River about eight hours after it fell. Heavy rain had caused swift water in the river and the search for the other bodies was called off. A second body was found several months after the accident, but the third was not found.

TOP STORY > >Two sides in PCSSD negotiate again

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers resumed negotiations Tuesday to resolve their differences.

Marty Nix, president of PACT, and board member Danny Gililland, representing the school board, along with the superintendent, Dr. Charles Hopson, along with others negotiated for two hours.

They said progress had been made and the sides appeared closer.

Short of an agreement, there will be a court hearing today in Little Rock to determine PACT’s lawsuit over longer school hours.

The union says the changes to the school day violate its contract. The judge’s ruling in the case may supersede any plans Hopson may come up with.

Deb Roush, a spokeswoman for the PCSSD, said the superintendent would look at traffic flows and hazards, parent concerns and other issues, and may make some changes soon, but more than likely at the end of the semester, unless a court ruling dictates otherwise.

Gililland called the negotiation very productive. “We had a good discussion and spent time getting to know each other and the process and setting ground rules.”

He said one idea that came out of the meeting that Hopson will put into practice is monthly meetings between the PACT team and Hopson and his cabinet. “During the meeting today, we found out that the meetings were held back when Bobby Lester was superintendent, and PACT members said it was very help. Dr. Hopson liked the idea and plans to start the meetings back again.”

“I’m just glad we are moving forward,” said Gililland.

The district, about a week before school, changed the bell schedule from what it had been the last few years to an earlier start time for elementary students (7:30 a.m.) and a later start time for secondary schools (8:30 a.m.). After parents complained loudly, the district reversed itself, making secondary schools start earlier and elementary schools start later.

The district has put together an online survey to help get parents input on the bell schedules. Parents can take the survey at

An attempt Friday night and early this week to possibly change the bell schedule again failed when the PCSSD board could not get enough of its members to attend a hastily called meeting.

Board president Tim Clark of Maumelle said he could get only two more people to agree to meet — Charlie Wood and Gilliland, both of Sherwood.

Clark said he and other school officials have been inundated with complaints from parents after school started Thursday with an earlier starting time than the district used in the 2009-10 school year that ended in the spring.

In a letter to parents on Friday, Hopson, said, “While I know I can never please everyone with decisions I make as an instructional leader and superintendent, I want to be responsive as possible to the schools where traffic and other extenuating factors are creating extreme hardships. I hope all of you realize it is never my intention to make your lives difficult as I seek to position this district to provide a world-class experience for every student.”

He said he had visited a number of schools and talked to parents who were “extremely elated about the new schedule and others who shared hardships” with him.

Hopson said he will also look at options with the district’s transportation department. “Or limitation with our current transportation system is that the same bus and driver transport both the secondary and elementary students, and the window for our bell schedule is determined by the roughly 700 square miles the drivers must cover to get all students to school on time.”

“The question,” he said in the letter, “related to the additional 40 minutes for elementary schools is simply one of aligning our district for federal and state mandates that are looming for either increased instructional minutes during the day or a longer school year.”

TOP STORY > >Lighthouse plans to build middle and high schools

Leader executive editor

The headline in Saturday’s Leader: “Cabot schools about to hit 10,000.”

The headline in last Wednesday’s Leader: “Charter school growing,” referring to the Lighthouse Academy in Jacksonville, which has added a seventh grade and has nearly 400 students enrolled in its second year.

While turmoil continues in the Pulaski County Special School District, which can’t even decide when classes should start, the Lighthouse Academy keeps expanding: It has received state approval for a middle school at Little Rock Air Force Base next year, and there are also plans for a high school near the elementary charter school on North First Street.

If this trend continues, Lighthouse — where students are called scholars — might build a new school here every couple of years, much like Cabot, which has benefited from the flight of families from Pulaski County.

Charter school officials told a group of parents and interested residents meeting at the Jacksonville Community Center on Monday that the middle school would have open enrollment, like all charter schools, which would allow nonmilitary kids from all over the area to attend the new school with proper identification.

The base school would be an alternative to Northwood Middle School, which is on the state watch list for not meeting minimum standards. It faces possible closure if it doesn’t improve.

“The Air Force is providing us with a free building, and we’d be crazy not to take it,” said former state Rep. Mike Wilson of Jacksonville, who is leading the drive for the new middle school.

The former officers club, which was set for demolition, would house the new middle school. Costs for the renovation have not yet been determined, but philanthropists like Wilson and others — including the Waltons of Walmart fame, the Fishers of the Gap clothing chain and the Pritzker family of the Hyatt Hotels — have given millions to charter schools.

They are built with private funds but receive state aid, which is $5,876 per student, 30 percent less than the $8,960 for regular public school students.

But since the facilities come from private sources and there’s no busing for students, more money is spent on classroom instruction. Classes are eight hours a day — an hour longer than other schools in Pulaski County, and school stays open a couple of weeks longer.

Phillis Nichols Anderson, Lighthouse Academies vice president for the southern region, said the middle school will probably have about 150 students in grades six through eight, with two classes for each grades.

A lottery would determine who gets into the school if more than 150 students apply, which is likely, since there is a waiting list of some 600 students who want to attend the elementary charter school in Jacksonville.

Anderson, a Lonoke County native, said there’s room for a high school behind or next to the elementary school.

Col. Andy Coggins, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing Mission Support Group, who will oversee the middle school project, said engineers are at the base this week studying ways to make the old officers club into a school.

“The facility is in great shape,” Coggins said. “It will not be just for military families. We’ll bend over backward to make access as easy as possible” for nonmilitary students.

He said, “We’re trying to find more educational opportunities other than Northwood.”

One parent complained, “I feel I have no other choice but to send my child to Northwood. That’s no choice at all.”

She said she hoped her child could attend the new school.

The Lighthouse Academy was the first new public school built in Jacksonville in 30 years. Parents like the new facilities, smaller classrooms and individual attention their children receive.

The school has a simple philosophy. “We believe all children can achieve at high levels,” said principal Ryan Dean. “We prepare all students for college. High expectations get results. We strive for nothing less than excellence.”

There are some two dozen charter schools in Arkansas with nearly 4,000 students, about 1 percent of the public school students in the state. Nationwide, more than 1.5 million children attend charter schools.

The Pulaski County Special School District is slow to release enrollment numbers, but they continue their steep decline.

Changing around the opening bell only days before the new school year has not helped enrollment.

If the trend continues locally, Jacksonville charter schools alone could have more than 1,000 kids in a few years.

The reason for their success?

“We’ve got something special going on,” said vice president Anderson with a smile.

SPORTS>>Free gifts lift quick Hornets

Special to The Leader

Turnovers and big plays were the downfall of the Lonoke Jackrabbits in a 22-8 loss to the Pulaski Oak Grove Hornets in a scrimmage at Lonoke on Monday night.

Lonoke’s first-team offensive possessions ended in four turnovers, two punts and a touchdown through three quarters. Junior-varsity squads for both teams played the fourth quarter.

“You’re not going to beatanyone with that many turnovers,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “We moved the ball a little bit, but gave it up too much. We can’t do that next week.”

Lonoke opens the season against Star City at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday.

Oak Grove quarterback Trooper Tolbert gave the ’Rabbits fits with his arm and his legs. Tolbert rushed for over 115 yards and a touchdown and he also completed a 16-yard touchdown pass during the first half.

Tolbert didn’t play in the second half.

“When you let speed get outside, it’s going to kill you on defense,” Bost said. “We have a lot of sophomores on the outside and they lost containment. Sometimes it was the end, sometimes the linebacker and sometimes the cornerbacks. It happened too often.”

Lonoke found itself down 22-0 early in the second quarter before breaking through on offense. It was an interception by D.J. Burton that gave the Jackrabbits the ball for their scoring possession.

The ’Rabbits were in their own territory and facing third and 12 when quarterback Logan DeWhitt found an open Darius Scott over the middle. Scott spun off several tacklers before streaking 63 yards to the end zone.

DeWhitt started out in a groove, completing seven of his first eight passes. He completed just two of his next 10, but one of those was the long touchdown to Scott.

“That’s a good football team over there and Tolbert is a dangerous player,” Bost said. “We’ve got a week to get better and get ready for our first game. We’ll be ok if we can stop giving up those big plays and hold on to the ball.”

SPORTS>>Everyone is still a winner

Leader sportswriter

Hope springs eternal, or to Week 6, whichever comes first.

High-school football season is less than a week away, and right now, everyone is destined for a conference championship, top playoff seed and trip to War Memorial Stadium to play in a state championship game.

At least until they take the field for their season opener.

After that, those common phrases such as “rebuilding year” and “young team” will begin to pop up.

There are many stories of interest entering the season and Jacksonville and North Pulaski, with new coaches, have the most noteworthy local angles. Well, one is sort of new, and the other, very new, sort of.

Rick Russell is back at Jacksonville where he was defensive coordinator for a number of years before taking over at North Pulaski last season. His departure from North Pulaski to Jacksonville a month ago left the door open for Terrod Hatcher, a former Red Devils player himself, to move up from offensive coordinator to head coach of thestruggling Falcons program.

Hatcher, at 23, is the youngest head coach in the state.

The word on Hatcher is that he is a football prodigy, the kind of guy who looks over depth charts in the morning while eating his Honey Bunches of Oats.

He’s going to need his vitamins and minerals if he’s going to lead the Falcons out of their 31-year slump. At a school where it is never known if the top talent will return from one year to the next because of the comings and goings of Air Force families on the nearby base and cross-town transfers, a winning tradition has escaped the fabulous fighting Falcons.

At a North Pulaski basketball game in January, I sat next to a gentleman who was on the Falcons’ only winning team in 1985.

Nice fellow, but his story is so typical of the problems the school has faced in football.

The playoff system was different, and the former player said that despite going 8-2, the Falcons missed the postseason by a few points to Mills.

I asked him if the finish was disappointing and he replied, “Yeah, it was. But I said ‘To heck with it,’ and I played my senior year at Jacksonville.”

It’s a tough gig for someone just starting his coaching career. But if Hatcher manages to turn the program around and take the Falcons to the playoffs in the next few years, he will undoubtedly be the toast of the town.

Maybe Hatcher is just what that program needs, a young and energetic coach with something to prove.

If the Falcons are not successful, I don’t think it will be considered a blemish on Hatcher’s resume.

Consider that some of the school’s better athletes opt to stay in Ray Cooper’s basketball program and not go out for other sports. That also hurts, but it’s hard to argue with that program’s success in recent years.

I also think Hatcher is a good fit demographically. Here is a guy to whom the kids can really relate— a product of their hometown who went on to play a little football at the next level, and more importantly graduated early with honors, and is now a coach.

We’ve seen bad programs turn around before.

Searcy’s Tim Harper took the Lions to the playoffs last year in his first season, erasing five years of frustration. Harper returns with a team loaded with talent and depth and believes it can beat anyone.

It shows in the rankings. Hooten’s Arkansas Football has the Lions finishing fourth in the 7A/6A-East this year, their best preseason ranking since 2002.

As for Russell, he just seems like a natural fit at Jacksonville. Maybe it is the familiarity with the program where he spent 14 years, but he acts more enthusiastic than a year ago.

Not to say Russell didn’t give it his all at North Pulaski, he just seemed a bit overwhelmed at times. The Red Devils under Mark Whatley last year did not seem the same without Russell calling the defensive shots, so maybe there is a kinship with the Red
Devils that will serve as a springboard for success.

Some local teams are looking to rebound after uncharacteristically down seasons.

Beebe is the best example. John Shannon was quick in establishing his own tradition when he took over the Badgers in 2007 and installed the time-tested Dead-T running game he learned under Mr. Dead-T himself, Cabot coach Mike Malham.

The Badgers failed to make the playoffs last year for the first time in Shannon’s three seasons, but are back with more size at the line. Batesville is favored in the 5A-East but Beebe appears likely to get back to the postseason despite a low preseason ranking.

Some teams are looking to repeat their success from last year.

Cabot had a dream season going until those pesky Wildcats from Springdale Har-Ber came down and bumped the Panthers from the playoffs for a second-straight year. Well, at least they had the decency to do it in the semifinals this time instead of the first round.

Cabot has to replace many starters from last year, including a top running back and a NCAA Division I-AA linebacker.

Lonoke also lost a lot, most notably all-state running back Brandon Smith. But Lonoke is one of those towns that rarely goes through a bad talent cycle.

Plus, Jackrabbits coach Doug Bost already has a multi-faceted weapon in junior Tommy “T.J.” Scott, who will play running back, linebacker, kicker and — rumor has it —run the concession stand at halftime.

We will have a feel for who will be contenders and who won’t by the end of next week, and will know for sure in most cases by midseason. So hold on to those state-title dreams for now.

But at least wait until the playoffs begin before you reserve your hotel rooms near War Memorial.

SPORTS>>Cabot red-zone ready

Leader sports editor

There were big plays on both sides but Cabot coach Mike Malham didn’t inject much drama into his analysis of Monday’s scrimmage at Lake Hamilton.

“I didn’t see anything too bad but I didn’t see anything too great,” Malham said.

It was Cabot’s only scrimmage before it opens the season Tuesday against Jacksonville at War Memorial Stadium. The Panthers have their Red/White game Friday night but Malham has already said he will hold his starters out.

Against Lake Hamilton, a perennial 6A state playoff contender, Malham was especially pleased with how his 7A Panthers performed in the three red-zone series that ended the scrimmage. Cabot scored all three times from inside the 20.

“Offensively, I thought we got better as we went on,” he said.

It was the first look against competition Malham had at new quarterback Zach Craig, who worked with the first unit. Malham was pleased with Craig’s performance, though he was disappointed in a fumble that came when Craig was stripped on an option play that may have cost Cabot a touchdown.

“We did have a couple of turnovers, and that’s always not good,” Malham said.

The turnover forced Cabot to start over at the 20 in the scrimmage format, which allows each team a set number of offensive plays, and the Panthers drove to the 2 before facing a third down on their last play.

The receiver was stopped at the goal line on a short pass.

“I don’t know, overall, it wasn’t bad,” Malham said. “We’ve still got some strides to make, a lot of mistakes, which is to be expected.”

Malham was satisfied with a key component of the Dead-T offense, his starting running-back rotation of Jeremy Berry, Spencer Smith, Mason James and Mason Haley.

On defense, Malham was happy with the run support and the secondary’s performance, outside of a few big completions.

“We played the run pretty good,” Malham said. “The secondary had, I think, three interceptions, but they hit a couple over the top, just things that shouldn’t happen. They’re going to complete some passes but over the top, that’s inexcusable.”

The biggest defensive miscue came when Lake Hamilton was down to its last play and Cabot gave up a long catch and run for a touchdown.

“Their first offense had 15 plays and they scored in three plays,” Malham said. “And I think they ended up with one play left, two yards to go, we had a D-back bite on an out and up and that’s not really smart when you know they’ve only got one play, and they ended up scoring on their last play.”

Malham has been worried about his team’s depth in a number of areas, but didn’t have much criticism for his second-team offense led by backup quarterback Bryson Morris.

“Our seconds probably beat their seconds,” Malham said. “Firsts, I thought, was pretty even.”

The season opener with 6A Jacksonville is a non-conference game, followed by a non-conference road game at Pulaski Academy and then the home opener against Springdale Har-Ber, which knocked the Panthers out of the 7A state semifinals last season.

SPORTS>>Defense carries Red Devils

Leader sportswriter

Mills University Studies matched Jacksonville in the strategy and execution departments, but ultimately proved less conditioned than the Red Devils in Monday night’s scrimmage at Jan Crow Stadium.

The Devils’ defense made a statement in the 30-minute finale by holding dynamic Mills senior quarterback Chris Hampton and the Comets to less than 50 yards, and denied them the red zone on three, first-string possessions.

Jacksonville had offensive struggles of its own early with senior quarterback Logan Perry on the sideline because of back spasms, but as the minutes ticked down, the Comets began to lose their legs. The Red Devils went from running plays that netted short gains and big losses to rolling over the Comets on a seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive, all of it on the ground.

“Second part of the scrimmage, I thought the kids did well,” first-year Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said. “I’m extremely proud of their effort. I think we showed that we worked on our conditioning. We finished up at the end, so I’m proud of that too.”

Jacksonville’s dominant defensive performance began in the backfield as the Devils subtracted the Comets’ passing game.

Safety Kenny Cummings pulled down two interceptions while also batting away several other Hampton attempts.

“We’ve got three returning starters back there; they should play that way,” Russell said andpraised assistant Larry Burrows.

“Coach Burrows, our secondary coach, does a tremendous job with them. On our defense, we have to check based on the formations and sometimes change coverages, and they did an outstanding job doing that.”

With no passing game, Hampton tried to make things work on the ground, but the Jacksonville linemen dropped the all-state senior for losses several times.

Jacksonville’s defensive line penetration frequently forced Hampton to scramble and make something happen on the run.

“We teach them to base their performance on their alignment,” Russell said. “They’ve got a technique they play once they get lined up there. They’re going to dominate their area, and then they need to run to the ball.”

With Perry sidelined, junior Tirrell Brown took all of the first-string snaps while sophomore Aaron Smith handled the junior varsity. The Red Devils struggled on a few of their shotgun snaps, but the exchanges from Brown to running backs Antwone
Mosby and Terry Gause were mostly clean.

Cummings and fellow receiver D’Vone McClure got in on some of the running plays, the most successful of which was an end-around by McClure that pushed the ball into the red zone for the only time during the 30-minute practice game.

Russell said Perry would be ready to go for Tuesday’s opener against Cabot at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

“He’s nursing a back spasm,” Russell said. “But he’s okay, and we probably could have played him tonight, but we’re not taking any chances.”

Russell deemed the scrimmage an overall success, but also found some areas for improvement.

“We still need to learn how to play the game,” Russell said. “We had too many highs and too many lows — we need to fit right in the middle. We need to forget the last play, whether it was a first down or a touchdown, and go to the next play.”

SPORTS>>Football 101: An education for fairer fans

Leader sports editor

When is the last time a football coach has broken down a play while basking in the aroma of a scented candle?

The Jacksonville High School football staff conducted the program’s first “Football 101” clinic for women Saturday morning in the film room at the Red Devils’ fieldhouse.

There were 13 women of various ages with varying connections to the team in attendance, but all shared an interest in learning a little more about the game that grabs America’s attention on weekends throughout the fall.

The women, some of them coaches’ wives and some the mothers of players, were treated to donuts and juice, and since athletes have been known to sweat — and the team lockerroom was just down the hall — the atmosphere was made more bearable by the aforementioned candle.

“The scented candle will be going back to my house this evening,” said Jacksonville trainer Jason Cates, who organized the clinic after seeing the success of similar sessions at other high schools and Cates’ alma mater Arkansas State University.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Cates said. “But we get questions all the time from moms and aunts and things like that that just want to know ‘Why do you do what you do?’ And ‘Why do the guys do that?’”

New head coach Rick Russell is hoping the event becomes a tradition.

“We’re hopefully going to instill Red Devils moms and this is what we want to do to get it going,” Russell said. “We’re going to try to have this as an annual event because we do appreciate all they do.”

While it was simply too hot to take the women onto the field or into the indoor practice facility to walk through plays as planned, the session was educational nonetheless.

“It was very instructive,” said Monique Ford, mother of Jacksonville running back Antwone Mosby. “I learned a whole lot because I’m just usually kind of watching so I did learn a whole lot. I learned the plays and learned the techniques.”

The session featured Red Devils quarterback Logan Perry dressed out in full gear, to give the mothers in the crowd an idea what kind of protection the helmet, shoulder, knee and thigh pads provide to their sons on the field.

Referee Mark Madding broke down the rules, explaining offsides, encroachment and the workings of the chain gang, which keeps track of downs and distance on the sidelines.

One of the women noted that televised games provide the luxury of a superimposed yellow line to let the viewer know immediately where the first down is.

“Yeah we don’t have that,” Madding said and went on to explain how a knee on the ground means a player is down and how the spotting of the ball is a judgment call by the officials and requires an element of trust from the fans.

Madding left to applause, perhaps the only time a ref will be cheered all season.

The coaches took over to explain their positions, diagram plays and break down film.

Russell and Cates passed out the wristbands with the color-coded play selections the players wear on Fridays, and Russell urged the women not to be offended by the scent while Cates offered plenty of hand sanitizer.

Offensive coordinator Barry Hickingbotham, receivers coach Max Hatfield and secondary coach Larry Burrows all took turns explaining their specialties and the accompanying gridiron terminology.

The coaches revealed that they sometimes give players written quizzes covering the playbook, and Russell took time for review with his Saturday morning audience.

“We have a $500 gift certificate to Bed, Bath and Beyond for the person who raises their hand first with the answer to this question,” Russell said jokingly.

Russell said it was a good thing to try to educate the mothers whose prior involvement with the game may have been washing uniforms and driving their sons to practice.

“We want to get the parents more involved and sometimes the moms watching the football game might not understand what’s going on,” Russell said. “So we felt like it would be good to get to know the moms No. 1 as a coaching staff and then give some information of what’s going on actually on the football field.

“I think it’s just an informative session for them and it’s a time we can get to know some of our kids’ parents.”