Thursday, December 23, 2010

SPORTS>>Jacksonville restores life to tourney


Leader sportswriter

It’s hard to kill a good tradition — especially if Jerry Wilson is in charge of it.

Jacksonville High School’s athletic director helped make the Red Devil Classic a local holiday favorite since its inception in December of 1990. Since then, many of the state’s top teams and talent have converged at the Devils Den for the annual tournament.

The event was a big draw throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium until other tournaments began to spring up around the Jacksonville area. That cut into the pool of available teams to fill out the Red Devil Classic girls and boys brackets.

The Beebe Holiday Classic and Jammin’ For Jackets at Little Rock Hall High School became competitive tournaments in newer facilities north and south of the Devils Den the week after Christmas.

The Red Devil Classic once featured eight-team brackets for both boys and girls, but the competing events forced the girls bracket to downsize to four.

The boys side was hit even worse. The Jacksonville boys played a round-robin schedule with North Pulaski and Little Rock Catholic in 2008, and last year Catholic was the only team in the classic besides the host.

Jacksonville and Catholic played games on consecutive days; the rest were girls games.

The tournament was traditionally held the week following Christmas, but Wilson and the basketball staff moved it up to Christmas week this year. That and adding Southern Floor and Blind and John Johnson attorney-at-law as sponsors gave the 2010 tournament a shot in the arm as six teams played in both the boys and girls brackets.

“Like anything else, the key is having a sponsor,” Wilson said. “We had two sponsors this year. We’re going to try to get out front and get it to where we get the girls in front, get teams locked in. This used to be one of the biggest draws in the state of Arkansas, and we’re going to try and get it back up.

“We’re talking about trying to go bigger and better, even possibly looking at out-of-state teams. It’s just all about the kids, and it’s about the community. They’ve supported it for over 20 years now, and we’re going to hopefully have a full slate next year.”

With the recent success of the Jacksonville and North Pulaski boys, Jacksonville has developed a hearty appetite for basketball. The Red Devils won the 2009 6A state championship the same season the Falcons reached the 5A final, where they lost a close game to Greene County Tech.

The birth of the Red Devil Classic in 1990 was complicated, Wilson said.

“I’d tell you the story about it, but it’s just a long story,” Wilson said. “We were going to tournaments, and we weren’t really getting a break, and we just said, ‘Hey, why don’t we have our own?’ And it’s just been nothing but good since. Really it’s a fundraiser.”

This year’s tournament featured boys and girls teams from Jacksonville, Brinkley and Little Rock McClellan, as well as boys teams from North Pulaski, Little Rock Christian and Little Rock Catholic.

Mills, Little Rock Hall and Joe T. Robinson filled out the girls bracket.

“It helps having the local teams, and you want the best to come out,” Wilson said. “They get Christmas holidays, and they get to spend some time with their families. We’re just fortunate to be on the upside of this. It says a lot about our community.”

SPORTS>>Hoping all find cheer under tree


Leader sports editor

I’ve always felt a sportswriter who falls back on the old holiday gifts column idea is simply a writer who has run out of important things to say.

So let’s get right to it.

Here is what I’m hoping various members of the sporting world are finding under their Christmas trees this morning.

For Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the best head coach no one has ever had, a head-coaching job too sweet to turn down. In other words, not at Vanderbilt.

For Shiloh Christian football, well, what can you give to the program that has everything? The Saints even boast the USA Today high school player of the year in quarterback Kiehl Frazier who, coincidentally, is headed to Auburn to be groomed by Malzahn.

For Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, a goldfish.

This guy says he wants to buy a dog. Really?

Everyone deserves a shot at redemption and Vick, the former dogfighting impresario, should be no exception. But for his own good, unless he wants the paparazzi to follow him every time he walks his pooch and catch him that one time he yanks a little too hard on the leash, Vick ought to stick with something requiring less care.

For Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino, a nice little bookcase in which to store his atlases and road maps. After Arkansas granted Petrino a contract extension paying $3.56 million a year through 2017, it looks like the coach infamous for program jumping isn’t traveling anywhere for a while.

For Arkansas State athletics, some victories they really CAN’T take away from you, including that elusive seventh in football.

For Brett Favre, a relaxing retirement full of touch football games with his Wrangler-jeans-wearing buddies.

For Sylvan Hills basketball standout Archie Goodwin, a Ouija Board or Magic Eight Ball or something to help him choose from the bounty of major college scholarship offers he is getting.

For Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, an NFL position coach who can teach him to effectively throw the ball out of bounds in big games.

For the Arkansas Activities Association, a high school football postseason free from lawsuits and a conference/classification alignment that makes regional and numeric sense. I hope the AAA gets both because they should come in a set.

For Beebe High School, room for the press in the football press box.

For Cleveland Indians pitcher, I mean Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, I mean Seattle Mariners pitcher, I mean Texas Rangers pitcher — no wait, I mean Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, Benton’s finest, a hat rack big enough for all those caps.

On second thought, even though he turned down some good Yankee money to sign again with Philly, let Lee buy is own dang hat rack. With his new, $120 million deal, Lee can afford it.

For the fans who attend the high school state basketball finals in Hot Springs, a song, any song, other than “We Are the Champions” to listen to when yet another champion is crowned. At this point I’d settle for “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Or “The Streak.”

For Lonoke’s Asiah Scribner, some freshman playing time at UALR, and for former Cabot and UALR standout Kim Sitzmann, a WNBA contract.

For the Arkansas Travelers, fewer runners gunned down at third under new manager Bill Mosiello.

For the Texas League, now that combative former Travelers general manager Bill Valentine has been named league vice president, some patience.

For Arkansas duck hunters, some wet weather. Just not too much, okay?

For the Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Cardinals and Green Bay Packers, coal, switches and sub .500 records.

For Ohio State football players, some “adequate rules education.”

For Major League Baseball, a shorter season with fewer of those bad interleague matchups and a World Series guaranteed to end in October like it is supposed to.

For officials and referees in just about every sport, more correct calls and fewer apologies made.

For my co-worker Jason King, a fresh box of crayons so he can keep up his fine work and my sincere thanks for his tireless effort this past year.

And for me, I already have beautiful kids, terrific friends and a warm house. If you keep reading I’ll have everything I could possibly want.

Happy holidays.

SPORTS>>Classic trophy not going far


Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Red Devils took the first-place trophy at their own tournament and kept their perfect record intact with a defensively driven 41-34 victory over cross-town rival North Pulaski in the Red Devil Classic championship at the Devils Den on Wednesday.

Jacksonville (11-0) struggled with the Falcons’ zone defense in the second and third quarters after building a big lead. That allowed North Pulaski (4-7) to climb back and take the lead to start the second half.

But a 6-0 run by the Devils to start the fourth period was all it took to seize control of the momentum, as North Pulaski made just one field goal and didn’t score at all in the final 4:31.

“We’ve been busting zones up all year,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “Executing well against zones, and for some reason, they got real stagnant and stationary tonight against the zone. I don’t know if they were just tired after these three games, but it wasn’t that it slowed anything down, they just got in a 2-3 zone.”

Jacksonville senior guard Raheem Apppleby was named most valuable player of the tournament. Appleby finished Wednesday with 11 points, six of which came in the last six minutes.

It was a strong finish after a strong start, with a dreadful pair of scoreless quarters in between.

“His timing was a little bit off on his shot,” Joyner said. “I saw him shooting during warm-ups, and his timing was off a little bit. And Raheem is one of those real self-conscious kids. He had missed a few, and he said, ‘Coach, I ain’t shooting no more.’ I said, ‘No son, I don’t care if you go 1 for 30, if you’re open, you have to shoot it.’

“I thought he shot a couple of them too deep, but he normally makes those. So like I told him, if you can’t get something outside, take some and get it in the paint. And he did, he got it in the paint and got a couple of leaners, and got his timing back.”

Falcons senior forward Bryan Colson cut the score to 35-34 with a basket and free throw with 4:31 left to play. The game had gone without a hitch to that point, and then play was stopped twice because of a scoring issue and a possession question following a jump ball.

Once that was sorted out, the Red Devils went to work shutting down Colson, who came alive in the second quarter for North Pulaski and led the Falcons on a comeback run, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the second and third quarters.

“We went small on them and put Jamison Williams on him,” Joyner said. “And Jamison did a great job on him, because he’s just as quick as Colson and just as athletic. He wasn’t as big as Colson was, but kept him in front of him.”

Williams gave the capacity crowd an early adrenaline shot when he leaped through the lane and dunked over North Pulaski junior center Jeremiah Hollis for the first points of the game. That sparked a 14-2 run by the Red Devils in the first quarter, but a free throw by Williams and a basket by Justin McCleary were the only Jacksonville points in an unproductive second quarter.

In that time, the Falcons rallied behind the tandem of Colson and sophomore guard Dayshawn Watkins. Watkins started off the second period with a basket and free throw, and converted another pair of free throws with 5:10 left in the half to cut the Red Devils’ lead to 15-7.

The Falcons piled on more points with an 11-0 run that included a basket and free throw by Colson, two free throws by Braylon Spicer and an inside shot by Hollis with 1:27 left to give the Falcons their first lead at 16-15.

However, McCleary gave Jacksonville the final word in the half with a floater in the lane to make it 17-16.

James Aikens had a breakout game for Jacksonville with nine points, including a three-pointer with 4:31 left that gave the Red Devils a 35-31 lead.

Forward Tirrell Brown added six points and a game-high eight rebounds for Jacksonville, while McCleary and Dewayne Walker each scored five points.

Watkins had seven points for North Pulaski and Spicer had five.

SPORTS>>On the offensive


Leader sportswriter

Championship ring or not, Harding Academy’s Seth Keese left a definite impression on the hearts of the Wildcat faithful.

For his efforts this season, Keese is the Leader offensive player of the year.

The senior quarterback/safety capped off a stellar career on a bad note when he threw a game-ending interception against Rivercrest in the final minute of the 3A state championship game. It was just Keese’s fifth interception of the season.

But as time passes, Keese will be remembered most for the amazing things he did on the field as a three-year starter for the Wildcats.

Keese had 3,550 yards of offense this season. He completed 182 of 282 attempts for 2,297 yards and 20 touchdowns, and rushed 172 times for 1,253 yards and 21 more scores.

He led the Wildcats to their second straight 2-3A Conference championship and a perfect run through the league and he continued to shine through the playoffs.

Keese’s junior season ended on a sour note when the Wildcats traveled to Fountain Lake for the 3A semifinal round in December 2009.

Keese tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee when he was hit out of bounds on the third play. He showed his toughness as he finished the game, but was not quite himself as Fountain Lake won and took the state championship the next week.

But the injury only made Keese’s accomplishments this season more impressive.

Fully rehabilitated, he got revenge in the season opener when he went wild on Fountain Lake with 147 passing yards, 151 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the way to a 28-20 victory in the rematch.

Fountain Lake returned to Harding Academy in the state semifinals, but Keese dominated again, completing 15 of 23 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns and another 71 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

The Wildcats won 33-15 to complete their season sweep of the Cobras, and punched their ticket to the championship game for the first time since 2002, when Keese’s older brother Caleb led Harding Academy to a Class AA championship under former coach Tommy Shoemaker.

At 6-0, 200 pounds, Keese’s size may be the only blemish on his resume as a major college prospect. But NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools have shown some interest, particularly Ole Miss, which invited Keese to Oxford, Miss., for a couple of visits.

However if Keese were to land a major college scholarship, it would most likely be as a defensive back. NCAA Division II Harding University, which shares its field with Harding Academy, has offered a full scholarship to Keese to play quarterback.

Keese’s selection as offensive player of the year helps round out a talented group of local players named to this year’s all-Leader team.

The group includes Cabot tight end Rod Quinn, who was used primarily for blocking in longtime coach Mike Malham’s run based Dead-T offense.

But when not flattening would-be tacklers, Quinn got the occasional chance to show off his route-running and good hands.

Panthers tackle Jared Dumais also made the team after a strong senior season that began with a stellar performance against Jacksonville.

Beebe senior center Jordan Goss makes the list after helping the Badgers to a 5A-East Conference runner-up finish this year. Goss also had a high percentage as Beebe’s kicker, and was the most consistent player at that spot in well over a decade.

Other linemen included were Brandon McKinney of Lonoke and Sylvan Hills’ Alex Smith, the only player to be named to both the offensive and defensive teams.

Cabot running back Spencer Smith and Beebe’s Colby Taylor line up with Keese in the all-Leader backfield.

Smith, a two-year starting senior, led the Panthers with 154 rushes for 726 yards and nine touchdowns with a 4.7 per-carry average. Taylor, also a senior, led the Badgers with 129 carries for 1,497 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Sylvan Hills junior Anthony Featherstone is one of two all-Leader selections at wide receiver, along with another junior, D’Vone McClure of Jacksonville. McClure led the Red Devils in receiving with 58 catches for 944 yards and nine touchdowns.

SPORTS>>On the defensive


Leader sports editor

What makes linebacker Riley Hawkins such a good football player is what makes it hard to find a good photo of him in action.

Hawkins helped the Cabot Panthers to a share of the 7A/6A-Central Conference championship this year and to the second round of the state playoffs, and his contribution makes him the Leader defensive player of the year.

But in trying to give Hawkins his due, it became clear in the recent photo hunt he was not the kind of player to stop and strike a pose. Most available pictures feature the back of Hawkins’ No. 44 jersey as he plunges pell mell into yet another of his 110 tackles.

But, while he won’t appear on many posters, Hawkins appeared everywhere else it mattered this past season.

He was one of four Panthers named all state in the 7A and was one of six Cabot players named first-team all conference. And to boot, Hawkins posted a 3.62 grade-point average to be named to the 7A/6A-Central all-academic team.

Hawkins was second on the Panthers with two interceptions for 11 yards in returns and he was among the tackles leaders in every game, including the opening victory against Jacksonville when he led the Panthers with 10 and picked off a pass.

Hawkins seemed to pick up steam as the year went on. In the final three regular season games he had 12 tackles against Bryant, a team-high 10 tackles and a fumble recovery against Van Buren and a team-high 12 tackles plus an interception against Russellville.

Hawkins led the Panthers with seven tackles in the playoff victory against Rogers Heritage and he had a team-high eight in the loss at Fort Smith Southside.

Hawkins even had a pass or two thrown his way when he filled in at tight end as the Panthers suffered a spate of injuries late in the season.

He is the second consecutive Cabot linebacker to earn the all-Leader defensive honor. Spencer Neumann, now at Central Arkansas, was defensive player of the year last season.

Not surprisingly, most of Hawkins’ all-Leader defensive teammates come from playoff teams or playoff contenders.

Linemen Drew Rambo of Searcy and Chase Parson of crosstown Riverview, helped their teams to the postseason, with Riverview claiming a first-round victory.

Nose guard William Conley and end Reece Totty earned all-Leader honors for helping Beebe back to the playoffs after the Badgers missed a trip last year.

Lonoke is represented by defensive lineman Antwane Wilkerson and defensive backs Wes Plummer and Justin Smith. Lonoke, which reached the 4A state championship game and lost to Shiloh Christian last year, failed to make the playoffs but was in the hunt late in the season.

Sylvan Hills missed the playoffs for the first time in four years under coach Jim Withrow, but hard-nosed lineman Alex Smith earned all-Leader defensive honors and was the only two-way selection as he was named to the offensive squad as a lineman.

It stands to reason Jacksonville, under former defensive coordinator and first-year head coach Rick Russell, would have more than one defensive player selected.

Defensive back Kenny Cummings and linebacker Rhakeem James had stellar seasons as the Red Devils battled for a 7A/6A-East championship, earned a playoff berth and took a first-round victory over Sheridan.

James and Cummings, both seniors, were also among Jacksonville’s first-team all-conference selections and James was named all state.

James led the Red Devils with 59 tackles, 32 unassisted, with five sacks, a blocked punt, a forced fumble and 11 tackles for 40 yards in losses. Cummings had 43 total tackles, one forced fumble, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two tipped passes and a defensive score.

TOP STORY > >From this poor little girl, special request for Santa

By Garrick Feldman
Leader executive editor

(This is a reprint of a previous Christmas column.)

When my friend Jack Sallee was with the Jaycees in Fayetteville, they’d put an ad in the paper at Christmastime, saying that for $2 you could have Santa come to your place.

There’d be a group of Santas going out every night, and Sallee was among them.

“Each Santa went to about 10 homes a night,” Sallee says. “Each Santa had a driver. Mine was named Larry Nixon. He was a big fellow, and I would tell the kids Larry was driving me around town.”

Usually nothing out of the ordinary happened. Kids got to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and Santa gave them lots of candy, and everybody went to bed happy.

But then something different did happen. Sallee says, “One night we had two houses left to go. We drove around for a while, and when we found one, it was a one-room house. We went inside, and the house had a dirt floor and hardly any furnishings.”

A young girl was there with her mother. They were as poor as they could be: They had nothing — or very little.

The two Jaycees, college educated and professionals who’d seen dozens of nice homes, couldn’t believe what they had walked into.

“There were two cots to sleep on, and a table and a chair,” Sallee says. “The house had a pot-bellied stove. She had one of those small Styrofoam ice chests. So needless to say, I was taken aback because I didn’t think people still lived like that. This was inside the Fayetteville city limits.

“The girl was seven or eight years old,” Sallee continues, “and she had long hair and blue eyes. She wore a nightgown that looked like a man’s T-shirt her mother had cut off. She was flabbergasted that Santa Claus would actually visit her.”

He says, “For a Christmas tree, her mother had brought in a branch and put it on the table.”

Her mother had found her a present — a ball wrapped in tissue paper. Sallee wondered what else this poor girl would ask for.

“In the homes we had seen,” he continues, “the children would tell us what they wanted by reciting the toy sections in stores they’d been to.”

But that wasn’t what the girl wanted.

“The girl sat on my lap and looked at me seriously,” Sallee recalls. “She said, ‘Santa, the only thing I want is for Daddy to come home.’

“I looked at my driver, this big, burly guy, and he had to walk outside because tears were streaming down his face,” Sallee says.

“The mother turned her back to us, and I just turned my head away from her,” he adds. “I was just stunned and moved and speechless. I wanted to hold the little girl and tell her everything was going to be all right, but there was nothing you could do. You felt helpless. She never asked for a toy or clothes.

“I said there are some things Santa Claus can’t do,” Sallee adds, “but Santa Claus would try. I gave her all the candy I had.

“It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” he says. “It will haunt you for the rest of your life.”

Sallee remembers that little girl around this time of the year. He wonders what happened to her father.

Maybe this Christmas he will be home, and, who knows, they’ll have a nice place to live in. You can’t lose hope.

TOP STORY > >Sherwood asks budget input


Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council will discuss and possibly approve six different budgets at its 7 p.m. meeting Monday in its chambers in the police and courts building.

But before the council makes any decisions it will hear from residents in an hour-long public hearing on the budgets from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday at the same location.

Each budget must be read and approved by the council three times before it goes into effect. By state law, the city has until Feb. 1, 2011, to have its budget in place.

The council could approve the budgets completely Monday night or read and discuss them once and schedule another meeting, depending on public input.

The council will look at approving the general fund budget, which is set at about $19 million, the street fund department budget, the wastewater fund department budget, the wastewater sales tax fund budget, the drug fund department budget and the advertising and promotion commission budget.

Mayor Virginia Hillman said the proposed budget includes a number of high priority items re-establishment of the street overlay program and two major drainage projects.

“Each of those drainage projects are going to cost us about $100,000,” the mayor said.

But for the second year in a row, there are no raises slated for city employees.

Other business on the agenda includes:

The council will consider two resolutions giving the mayor the authority to submit a grant application for the construction of a daycare and after- school care center at Sylvan Hills Elementary and to designate Central Arkansas Planning and Development District as the project administrator for the construction project.

Aldermen will look at an ordinance locking in the amount the city will contribute toward the retired, elected officials’ health-care premiums, and a resolution adopting the recommendations of the Sherwood Retirement Board regarding city contributions to the retirement fund for 2011.

The council will vote on a resolution stating that it is the policy of the city to adhere to and comply with all laws prohibiting discriminatory policies in relation to both the private and public use of housing and property ownership.

Aldermen will look to approve a pair of resolutions allowing the mayor to submit a grant application for improving infrastructure for ABC Financial based on job creation. The mayor will also have permission to designate Central Arkansas Planning and Development district to act as project administrator for the construction.

Aldermen will debate whether or not to condemn the property at 517 E. Kiehl as a public nuisance.

Two issues from the planning commission are on the agenda. One is for the approval of rezoning property on Highway 107 and Oakdale from R-1 (single-family homes) to C-3 (commercial) and an effort to get the council to reverse the commission’s denial of a PRD rezoning of Lot 4, Bowling World II addition.