Friday, April 15, 2011

SPORTS>>Lady Lions win to stay atop East

Leader sportswriter

Chyna Davis’ best defensive effort was not enough for Jacksonville, as visiting Searcy claimed a 7-1, 6A-East Conference victory at Dupree Park on Thursday.

Davis, the Lady Red Devils’ senior shortstop, single-handedly retired Searcy in the top of the fifth inning by fielding a jagged grounder and catching two pop-ups. She prevented the Lady Lions (18-5, 7-0) from adding two more runs in the top of the seventh with twomore stops that included an off-balance assist to second on a fielder’s choice.

Searcy scored four runs in the top of the third inning and three more in the seventh, and committed two errors, one of which led to Jacksonville’s only score.

“We started out slow,” Lady Lions coach Chris Cope said. “Then we kind of got some breaks, got some runners on and made something happen with our bats; put it in play.”

Searcy senior pitcher Amber Rollins struck out 13 and took a no-hitter into the seventh. Victoria Cummings hit a single bloop over shortstop in the bottom of the seventh with two outs to break up Rollins’ bid.

Rollins struck out six Jacksonville batters in order to open the game.

“She threw a no-hitter yesterday,” Cope said. “She’s done well all year keeping hitters off balance and doing a good job.”

Jacksonville junior pitcher Whitney House held her own against the more experienced Rollins through two innings despite giving up a pair of walks in the first. But Searcy hit two singles and took advantage of two Lady Red Devils errors in the third to take a 4-0 lead.

The Lady Devils got one run back in the bottom of the third, but couldn’t get into scoring position the rest of the way.

“We kept it close until the sixth, maybe the seventh,” Jacksonville interim coach Kevin Sullivan said. “She’s a good pitcher. She’s one of the better ones we’ve seen so far, not that we’ve seen some bad ones, but our conference is kind of up and down from what I’ve noticed.

“Defensively, we really got after it. We had one or two plays that we probably should have made, but as a whole, I thought our defense kept us in the ballgame.”

Jacksonville recovered from a tough third inning to retire Searcy in order in the fourth before Davis took over in the fifth with her strong play up the middle.

“She really got after it,” Sullivan said. “She had a rough day yesterday in practice. She really got frustrated. We do a drill called ‘Perfect 21 outs.’ It’s slated for 20 minutes on our practice schedule — it took about 35 minutes to make 21 outs in a row.

“She really struggled, but she came out and set the tone for us today coming off the frustrating effort yesterday. I was really proud of her today.”

Rollins’ only real miscue was hitting Shyrel McKinney to lead off the bottom of the third. It came back to bite the three-year starter, as Candice Howard advanced McKinney with a sacrifice bunt, and McKinney scored when first baseman Emma Howard committed an error on a bunt by Tyler Pickett.

Rollins helped herself in the top of the seventh with a single, and Lacy Adcock reached on an error by Candice Howard at second. Leadoff batter Amanda Richardson drove in both runners with a triple into deep center and Ashton Harmon drove in Richardson with a single for Searcy’s final run.

The Lady Lions are a point behind Jonesboro in the power ratings despite beating Jonesboro this season. Jonesboro has two conference losses, one to Jacksonville.

Searcy will face Mountain Home at the end of the month in a battle of potentially unbeaten teams.

“We’re starting to come along,” Cope said. “Our bats are starting to wake up a little bit. Hopefully, we’ll keep playing every day and keep improving.”

It has been an up and down year for Jacksonville (5-6, 2-4), which has mixed solid performances with untimely injuries. Alexis House has not pitched all season because of a leg injury, and now, three-year starting catcher Alexis Oakley is most likely finished for the year because of a broken hand.

“I think that this team has a lot of potential, I really do,” Sullivan said. “We haven’t had everyone here for one reason or another. Considering that, we’re not bad.”

SPORTS>>RockHounds rough on Travs

Leader sports editor

Midland RockHounds starter Carlos Hernandez set the tone that silenced the Arkansas Travelers 3-0 in their home opener at Dickey-Stephens Park on Thursday night.

Hernandez retired 13 consecutive Travelers before reaching his pitch count leaving in the sixth inning, and Midland held Arkansas to just two hits beforean announced crowd of 5,734.

Arkansas (2-5) fell to 0-4 against Midland after dropping the season opening series there last week.

The left-handed Hernandez (2-0) pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up one hit while striking out seven and walking one. Neil Wagner pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, before Jared Lansford pitched the ninth for his first save.

Midland scored three runs in the top of the sixth off right-handed reliever Daniel Sattler (0-1), who came in after left-handed starter Trevor Reckling pitched five scoreless innings, giving up two hits, two walks, and striking out two.

Reckling threw 86 pitches and was also pulled because of the early-season pitch counts.

Sattler walked leadoff man Jermaine Mitchell to start the sixth and Mitchell advanced to second on a throwing error by Sattler. Shortstop Grant Green followed with a single to right field and left-fielder Shane Peterson reached on a fielder’s choice.

After a wild pitch, Sattler gave up an RBI single to center to score Mitchell, then he walked third baseman Stephen Parker to load the bases.

After a soft liner to shortstop, Sattler walked right-fielder Matt Sulentic to force in a run and Midland catcher Petey Paramore followed with an infield single to short for an RBI.

Traveler reliever Chris Scholl pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out three.

In the first inning, the Rockhounds got a leadoff single from leadoff man Mitchell, only to be erased in a double play that began with a soft grounder to shortstop Darwin Perez.

After a walk to Peterson, first baseman Michael Spina flew out to center fielder Mike Trout in center to end the inning.

Trout is the Los Angeles Angels’ No. 1 prospect and led off with a walk and Perez sacrificed him to second. Trout stole third, but right-fielder Angel Castillo struck out swinging to strand Trout.

Reckling had an efficient second inning, retiring the side in order while throwing eight pitches.

He walked Paramore to start the third, but retired the next three batters on fly balls, with Castillo making an extended, running catch in right.

Reckling got the side in order in the fourth and gave up his second hit of the game to Jeremy Barfield to lead off the Midland fifth, but he retired the next three batters in order to end the inning and his night.

The Travelers also threatened in the second when left-fielder Clay Fuller reached on an infield single with one out.

He advanced to second when catcher Alberto Rosario grounded out to the shortstop. Fuller stole third, only to be stranded there when designated hitter Adam Younger lined out to short.

Arkansas didn’t get past first base the rest of the game which ended on a double play that began when second baseman Tyler Ladendorf made a diving stop of Perez’s grounder and while on the ground, flipped the ball with his glove to shortstop Grant Green.

Midland, which lost the Texas League Championship Series to Northwest Arkansas last year, has become Arkansas’ traditional, season opening opponent and thorn in the side.

The Rockhounds spoiled the Travelers’ home opener with a rout last year and also beat Arkansas when Dickey-Stephens Park opened in 2007.

Midland is affiliated with the Angels’ American League West rival Oakland Athletics.

Oakland, like Los Angeles, trains in Arizona, which means the Travelers and Rockhounds also hooked up several times during spring training.

The Travelers are in their first year under manager Bill Mosiello, who replaced four-year man Bobby Magallanes. Mosiello was at Class A Cedar Rapids, in the Midwest League, last year and knows many of the young prospects, including Trout, on this year’s Travelers roster.

The Travelers and Rockhounds resumed their three-game series Friday night and conclude tonight.

Arkansas welcomes the Frisco RoughRiders for a three-game set Sunday. The Travelers took their recent series at Frisco 2-1.

SPORTS>>Jacksonville sticks to its business in victory

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got out of trouble and made trouble for Marion in a 6-2, 6A-East Conference victory at Gwatney Stadium on Tuesday night.

Catcher Patrick Castleberry hit two home runs and starter Jesse Harbin dodged some early difficulties to pitch a complete game for the Red Devils.

“We just stayed the course and kept battling,” coach Larry Burrows said.

Castleberry homered in the first and hit a two-run shot for the big blow in Jacksonville’s four-run fifth.

Harbin allowed the first two batters to reach in the first and in Marion’s two-run third, but he got himself out of trouble with strikeouts and minimized the damage.

Harbin struck out seven and worked around six hits while walking none, though he hit two batters. He also helped himself with two hits and an RBI.

“Other than about five or six pitches he got up there and did his job like normal,” Burrows said.

Castleberry opened the scoring in the first when he drove a two-out fastball over the left-field fence for a home run.

The run came after Harbin gave up hits to leadoff man Michael Snipes and No. 2 hitter Tyler Johnson then struck out two and induced a force play to end the threat.

Harbin hit Snipes to open the third and Johnson followed with a double to put men in scoring position with no outs. Harbin struck out Bailey Buford, but B.J. Vaughn singled in a run and Johnston scored from third on a wild pitch for the 2-1 Patriots lead.

“Jesse didn’t do a very good job there,” Burrows said. “But once again some days you’re not going to. You battle through that and we did a good job of not letting too many big innings happen by not getting the leadoff man.”

Jacksonville went down in order in the second, squandered a hit in the third before scraping together a run in the fourth.

Kenny Cummings reached on a fielder’s choice in the inning and with two out, Harbin singled and Marion starter Korey Harley hit Nick Rodriguez to load the bases.

No. 8 hitter Alex Tucker then hit a dribbler down the third-base line and all runners were safe as Cummings scored to tie it while third baseman Nick Mitchell tried to tag Harbin coming in from second.

“We hit a lot of hard outs in the second, third and fourth innings when we weren’t getting anything,” Burrows said. “I think that shows the age of our team. We didn’t get frustrated.

“Out of those three innings I think two of our three outs were line drives right at them.”

The Red Devils broke the 2-2 tie with their four-run third.

D’Vone McClure led off witha double down the left-field line, Jacob Abrahamson hit an infield single and McClure scored on a throwing error by second baseman Drake Rowton, who was trying to catch McClure off third after Abrahamson stole second.

Castleberry then came up to hammer his second home run over the fence in left to make it 5-2.

Noah Sanders beat out an infield hit to short; pinch runner Landon Nolen stole second and took third on catcher Cody Gross’ throwing error, and with one out Harbin singled to center to drive in Nolen.

The Red Devils loaded the bases but couldn’t score in the sixth, but Harbin worked around a two-out double by Rowton to strike out Snipes and end it.

“Jesse is the kind of guy that sometimes the bigger the giant the better he plays,” Burrows said. “And then we got a lead and he sort of relaxed and let them back in it. But I never have to worry, if they’re good, what we’re going to get out of No. 14.

“What I have to worry about is making sure he stays with us for seven.”

SPORTS>>Bryant becomes beast in shutout

Leader sportswriter

Cabot stayed with the defending state champions through five innings and then Bryant got to freshman pitcher Morgan Newton on the way to an 8-0 victory in a 7A-Central Conference game at Lady Panther Field on Tuesday.

Newton held the Lady Hornets (16-3, 6-0) to six hits and one run through the first five innings, and her defense held up to get her out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third. Newton injured her hand while batting in the fifth, which affected her pitching delivery in the top of the sixth.

“She did a good job,” Cabot coach Becky Steward said. “It was her first start in a varsity game. She kept them off balance; she doesn’t have the best of speed, but she’s going to find her spots.”

Freshman Raven Gilbert came on in relief after Bryant scored five runs in the sixth, and the Lady Hornets scored two more in the seventh inning.

“My girls are a different breed,” Bryant coach Debbie Clark said. “A term of endearment I use for them is ‘beasts.’ They know I would like to score a run every inning. We didn’t do that; they make it a little hard on me from time to time.

“Their pitcher did a great job of keeping them off balance.”

Bryant junior pitcher Peyton Jenkins allowed just two hits. She gave up a walk to Newton after a long battle to lead off the bottom of the third and gave up her first hit to Kristi Flesher in the fourth.

Taylor Anderson reached in the fifth when Bryant third baseman McKenzie Rice bobbled the throw to first, and Tracie French caught a break in the sixth when her grounder to third hopped over Rice’s glove for the other Cabot single.

“Coach Steward does a great job and had her girls reallyprepared,” Clark said. “We knew, I mean, I know every game’s going to be a battle because everybody’s going to play their best against us.”

Cassidy Wilson got Bryant going in the top of the sixth when she led off with a triple into deep center. Ashley Chaloner then singled to score Wilson before being retired at second on a fielder’s choice to Cabot shortstop Kristen Sumler from Cally Yazza.

Katy Stillman hit a grounder up the middle for a single, and put Bryant up 4-0 when she got low to beat the throw home from Cabot third baseman Brooke Taylor to Anderson.

Jessie Taylor doubled to drive in Jenna Bruick before Gilbert came in to cool things down. Gilbert induced two pop-ups, the first one by Jenkins into center field that allowed Rice to tag up at third and score to give the Lady Hornets a 6-0 lead.

Newton and Gilbert are part of a trio of underclassmen that includes sophomore Kelli Offerdahl on the Cabot pitching staff. The Lady Panthers (6-10, 2-3) have veteran players such as Flesher, Anderson, Taylor and Jenny Evans scattered through the roster but overall the team is young.

“They’re about where I thought they would be,” Steward said.

“But, you know how it goes, if we had a few less errors and a few more hits, it would be better. I’m going back to youth and inexperience, so it just goes with it.”

SPORTS>>Gwatney stadium dedicated

Leader sports editor

Gov. Mike Beebe was among the dignitaries present for the christening of Gwatney Stadium in Jacksonville’s Dupree Park on Wednesday afternoon.

The ballpark, now known as Hickingbotham Field at Gwatney Stadium, has been renamed in honor of the late state senator and Jacksonville businessman Bill Gwatney, who was killed by a gunman in 2008.

“He was so young and so talented,” Beebe said of Gwatney, his friend. “And when anybody that young is taken from us in a senseless manner like a shooting, we do anything we can do to help remember Bill and what his contributions were to the people of Arkansas.”

Gwatney was a long-time sponsor of local American Legion baseball teams, which played at the field in Dupree Park. The stadium is also home to the Jacksonville Red Devils high school team, and Wednesday’s ceremony was followed by a junior varsity game.

“He always sponsored a team and he always wanted a place so the kids would have constructive activities,” Beebe said.

The ballpark’s new name was revealed on the scoreboard, which was unveiled before the game.

Bill Gwatney’s father Harold threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

“I feel good that they did this for him but I’d give this if he could be here rather than me,” Harold Gwatney said.

Also present were Bill Gwatney’s wife Rebecca and their children, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and First Arkansas Bank and Trust CEO Larry Wilson.

For Rebecca Gwatney, the ballpark dedication triggered a flood of memories.

“You would think, as time went on, you would think it would become easier,” she said. “But every time you walk into something like this you get the same feelings over again.”

Rebecca Gwatney said the renaming was a fitting tribute.

“Bill was very involved in the community in Jacksonville,” she said “He grew up here. I grew up here.”

It took three years for First Arkansas Bank and Trust to raise the $10,000 needed tocommemorate Gwatney on the field’s new scoreboard and the dedication then had to be postponed because of bad weather.

But Wednesday was perfect weather both for the ceremony and to play a ballgame.

“When they came up with this idea, I thought it was a great idea,” Harold Gwatney said. “It’s one of the things that will keep him with us for a long time.

“Years and years from now people will look at it and say who was Bill Gwatney? What did he do? But the people here today remember Bill.”

EDITORIAL >>Fuzzy math in Congress

Whatever their personal ideology, every American ought to clip and save the roll call on the budget blueprint for 2012 that the U. S. House of Representatives passed Friday on a near party-line vote. All but five Republicans voted for it; all Democrats, including Arkansas’ Republican-leaning Democrat, Mike Ross, and the five stray Republicans voted against it.

The roll call on the budget plan, which was crafted long ago by Rep. Paul Ryan, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, defines a congressman’s basic instincts and identifies his real constituency better than any roll call that we are likely to see and better than any campaign commercial or congressional newsletter ever will.

You need neither exult in the resolution’s passage nor mourn it because it will not become law. It will never pass the Senate and the president would veto it anyway. But it serves as a splendid marker for voters. If you agree with the fiscal and moral strategies that the resolution represents and you live in the First, Second or Third congressional districts, you now have the congressman of your choice, and if you live in the Fourth District, you need to find a replacement for Mike Ross. But if you don’t agree with the priorities or the likely results, you do not now have a congressman who looks after your interests in the First, Second and Third districts. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin and Steve Womack praised the plan to the heavens. They said it achieves their dreams as congressmen.

And here is what it does and what it doesn’t.

It is supposed to be the answer to the historic budget deficits of the past nine years, but it would not achieve a balanced budget anytime in the next 20 years, unless the country adopts a balanced-budget constitutional amendment and forces it at gunpoint. Whether it would dramatically reduce the deficit if it became law is anybody’s guess.

It would dramatically cut income taxes for corporations and the richest Americans, from a top marginal rate of about 35 percent to 25 percent. Taxes on corporations and the highest-income Americans already are at near historic lows, and this would drop them even farther. Many of the country’s biggest and most profitable companies pay no income taxes now. General Electric reported $14.2 billion in profits last year but paid no federal income taxes. The Heritage Foundation, which helped draft Ryan’s plan, believes that if GE and other corporations like it get even more tax breaks, they will hire more people. What do you think? The major oil companies, which are reporting record profits every year (Exxon-Mobil $9.5 billion in the fourth quarter), would get lucrative tax incentives in perpetuity under the Republican plan.

The Heritage Foundation says that if corporations and investors get more tax breaks, they will put millions of people to work and that federal revenues will go up, not down. The foundation offered the same study in 2001. President George W. Bush and Congress bought it and slashed taxes on the highest incomes and corporations. Federal revenues ultimately sank by $600 billion a year, triggering the largest budget deficits in history, and the American economy experienced the weakest job creation since World War II. But if a theory consistently produces disaster instead of bonanza, you just keep trying it.

The big reductions in federal spending would come mainly at the expense of the elderly and children. They would almost precisely make up for the tax cuts for the rich and the GE class.

Medicare would be privatized, completing the experiment begun in 2003 when the Republican Congress passed the prescription-drug program, turned it over to the insurance companies and pharmaceutical industry and gave the elderly and disabled an incentive to switch from Medicare to a private insurance plan. The government would pay extra if a person bought a private plan—enough (about 14 percent more) to provide a handsome profit to the insurance companies and provide an extra benefit or two. It sped Medicare toward bankruptcy.

When people reach 65 under the Republican blueprint, Medicare would no longer be available. Instead, they would have to buy a health insurance policy from Aetna, United Healthcare, Cigna, Blue Cross or another company. The government would give them a voucher to pay part of the premiums. Then the government would put a ceiling on expenditures and the insurance companies would determine how much health care you would get for it. Estimates are that the elderly would pay about 68 percent of their hospitalization and doctor costs.

Rep. Griffin, our congressman, said that was a good deal. It will save Medicare, he said. Our hunch is that most seniors will not view that as salvation.

The great irony is that for two years, during which Congress debated, passed and then debated again the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), Republicans and other enemies of universal coverage persuaded the elderly and disabled and those approaching retirement age that the law would rob them of their Medicare protection or else dramatically reduce their benefits. Actually, the law expands coverage. So now the Republicans are doing exactly what they said Obama was doing and counting on people not noticing or caring.

The House budget plan would decimate Medicaid, capping federal responsibility through block grants and shifting the burden of nursing-home care for the aged and disabled, medical and institutional care for severely sick and handicapped children to the states. Yes, federal spending would be slashed, but the states would have to raise taxes (dramatically in Arkansas) to carry on the programs or else face the terrible choices of suspending or reducing long-term care for the aged and disabled and stopping treatment of sick children.

The bold House budget plan would make other spending cuts, but they would affect the deficit only at the margins. It would end the new insurance protections for those who in the past had lost their insurance for chronic illnesses and pre-existing conditions, and cut federal aid to the public schools, Pell grants for college students, research on alternative clean energy, medical research, home heating assistance, food stamps and other programs for the very poor and disabled.

Paris Hilton, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, George Soros, the Koch brothers, GE, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and some of our very best citizens in Arkansas ought to love it. They will all remember Tim Griffin and his colleagues and what they did for them. You should, too.             —Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY > >Chief consoles officer after wife’s death

Leader staff writer

The wife of an Austin police officer was killed Thursday morning in a two-vehicle accident on T.P. White Drive outside Cabot in Pulaski County.

Police chiefs from across Lonoke County, who met at noon Thursday in Ward for their quarterly meeting, said Danielle Gardner, 26, of Beebe was talking on a cell phone to her husband, Josh, when one wheel dropped off the pavement. She over-corrected, lost control and hit an electric-utility bucket truck.

Austin Police Chief John Staley did not attend the meeting because he was with his officer, the other chiefs said.

Lt. Carl Minden, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, said Friday that he had heard the couple was talking at the time of the accident, but he could not confirm it. Neither could he confirm that Gardner lost control of the SUV she was driving because a wheel dropped off the pavement.

An accident-reconstruction team was trying to determine the cause, Minden said.

Gardner worked as a scrub tech at a local hospital. She had two children.

“It’s always hard when we lose somebody so close,” Staley said in a press release on Friday. “There are truly no words that can express the pain the family is experiencing right now. I ask that everyone please keep this family in their prayers.”

Staley has set up an account at First Arkansas Bank and Trust for the young family under the name Chief John Staley for Josh and Danielle Gardner Family. Donations may also be made at the Austin Police Department.

The two men in the utility truck, driver David Harbor and passenger Anthony Duvall, were taken by ambulance to St. Vincent’s North.

TOP STORY > >Vassar gets achievement award

Leader staff writer

The annual Sherwood Chamber of Commerce banquet Tues-day honored several residents who have made a difference in the city.

The Denver Gentry Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to former Alderman Becki Vassar.

She recently retired from the city council after 32 years. She led Sherwood in acquiring The Greens at North Hills golf course. Earlier this month the clubhouse was named to honor Vassar.

Second War World veteran Bernard Olds was selected as the man of the year.

Olds, 90, is a member of the Sherwood Senior Citizens program. He checks on seniors daily, runs errands and takes them to doctor appointments. Olds makes hospital and nursing home visits and along with birthday calls. He brings seniors their newspaper to their door. He takes out their trash and brings in their trash cans. Olds helps deliver Meals on Wheels every other Thursday. Olds was born in 1920. During the war, he was wounded twice and received the Purple Heart. He moved to Glenora Avenue in 1947 and still lives there 64 years later. Olds helped with a petition for Sherwood to become a city. He also helped start the Sherwood Volunteer Fire Department.

Alderman Mary Jo Heye was honored as the woman of the year. Heye oversees the Sherwood Sharks swim team. The swim team is one of the state’s largest with over 300 youngsters participating during the summer. Heye took over the swim team from the request of her late son, Trey, who passed away in 2000 from a hospital error regarding medication.

She and her husband, Lt. Col. Paul Heye Jr., vice commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard 189th Airlift Wing based at Little Rock Air Force Base, manage rental properties in Sherwood and North Little Rock.

Mary Jo Heye serves on the Sherwood Parks and Recreation Committee, and the Sherwood Street Committee. Heye is also a member of the Sherwood Rotary Club.

Randy Hambrick was honored as the emergency-medical technician of the year. Hambrick began working for MEMS in 1994 and was promoted to captain in 2010. He works at the North Pulaski area MEMS station.

Lt. Kenneth Sartin was presented with the firefighter-of-the-year award. Sartin is an engineer with the Gravel Ridge Fire Department. He began his firefighting career at the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Department while in high school. Sartin joined the Air Force and became a security forces member. He was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base in May 2000. A month later, he joined the Gravel Ridge Fire Department and was soon deployed supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

In December 2003, Sartin left active duty and joined the reserves. He was deployed to Iraq in 2005.

Officer Keith Waymire was honored as the law enforcement officer of the year.

Waymire joined the Sher-wood Police Department in 2009. Waymire graduated from Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in sociology and a minor in religion. He served in the Army Reserves reaching the rank of captain before leaving.

Waymire has received many thank-you letters from residents who he has assisted.

The business of the year was Moose Lodge 942. The lodge received its charter in 1952. It has been at 4000 E. Kiehl Ave. since 1985. The lodge has more than 800 members. During the past four years, the lodge has given more than $300,000 to local charities, youth groups, civic organizations and community-service projects.

Past president Bob Douglas accepted the award on behalf of Moose lodge.

Phyllis Eubanks was honored as the educator of the year. Eubanks teaches religious classes to kindergarten, second-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh- grade students at Immaculate Conception School on Hwy. 107.

She was hired in 1991 and has taught classes from kindergarten to eighth grade. Eubanks is also the director of religious education.

TOP STORY > >Parents, teachers upset by closure

Leader senior staff writer

Even as the Pulaski County Special School District Board presses on with its ambitious program to build two new elementary schools and a new middle school in Jacksonville, several Jacksonville Elementary School parents and teachers asked the board Tuesday to leave their school open until the replacement opens.

“We see other schools being built without kids being displaced,” said Tammy Mason, speaking for the group. “Our children don’t deserve to be moved twice while the school is built.”

She said she was hoping “that tonight, confirmation (to leave the school open) is made.”

Mason spoke during the public-comment period. The question was not on the agenda; the board customarily doesn’t act on remarks from public comment, and it has agreed, at least in principle, to close Jacksonville Elementary School at the end of this school year, reassigning the students and teachers to other nearby elementary schools.

The estimated $780,000 a year saved from closing the school would help the district service the debt on a proposed $104 million construction-bond issue.

“As long as the district proceeds with construction and issuing the bonds, we’re still in favor of building the new schools and understand there is going to be some pain to get to the final outcome,” according to Daniel Gray, who speaks for both the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Educ-ation Committee and the Jacksonville World Class Educ-ation Association. Gray said the long-range outcome is beneficial to Jacksonville students.

“If that’s the only way to achieve our goal, it’s a necessary evil,” Gray said. “But if the district remains in fiscal distress, and there is no bond issue, the first thing we would want to do is keep that school open.”

Closing the school would account for roughly 10 percent of the planned cuts to leverage a $104 million construction-bond sale.

A new Jacksonville elementary school, Jacksonville Middle School and replacement for the combined students of Tolleson and Arnold Drive Elementary schools are slated to open in August 2013, provided the district gets approval from the state Board of Education to sell the construction bonds. At the same time, complete makeovers of Harris, Scott and College Station Elementary schools and Robinson Middle School should be undertaken and completed.

The board voted unanimously to approve the sale of the bonds, provided that the state Department of Education approves the sale.

The board had been slated to vote on those cuts and approve its 2011-2012 budget at the April board meeting, but the state Department of Education notified the district March 15 that barring successful appeal, the district will be back in fiscal distress, and prohibited PCSSD from entering into contracts or spending money in the interim.

The fiscal-distress designation is based upon last fall’s state legislative audit report, that found nearly a million dollars worth of theft, misappropriation, improper expenditures and improperly documented expenses, and found fault with the district’s oversight of its monies.

Since that time, the board has rectified nearly all questionable expenses and actions, and a former employee is in prison for theft.

Superintendent Charles Hopson says he’s optimistic that the district’s appeal of fiscal-distress designation at the May 9 state board meeting will be successful.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Education is reviewing the district’s proposed budget and employee contracts, and is expected to approve—or approve with changes—the budget, freeing the PCSSD Board to approve employee contracts by the May 1 deadline.

Derek Scott, PCSSD chief of operations, says if the district escapes May 9 from the fiscal-distress designation, it will return for the June state board meeting seeking approval to sell the $104 million in bonds. If they get approval, they will sell the bonds later in June and begin demolition and construction on schedule by early July.

The board already has engaged architects and builders to do preliminary work toward designing and estimating costs of the projects. Scott said that so far, the professionals have said ballpark estimates were quite close to theirs.

Comments at the end of the board meeting demonstrated how far the board and administration have come in the scant months since Hopson’s hiring, election of two new school board members, and installation of Jacksonville school board member Bill Vasquez.

It resembled a love fest.
“Kudos to Mr. Vasquez for running good board meetings,” said board member Sandra Sawyer, and to Mr. Hopson and his staff. “I’m so glad I’m on this team. You came to play and win.”

“It’s a pleasure to work with you all,” Hopson said.

“(The board members) have a better working relationship than we’ve had in a long time,” said Mildred Tatum, who has 27 years on the board. “Thanks to Mr. Hopson for making things smoother.”

“Excitement is in the air all over this district,” concluded Vasquez. “We’ve made mistakes in the past but we’re moving forward. There’s a train a comin’ and you don’t need no ticket, you just get on board,” he said, alluding to the Curtis Mayfield song “People Get Ready.”

TOP STORY > >Storms sweep into area with 80 mph winds

Leader staff reports

No one was injured when trees crashed into two houses near Lonoke City Hall at about 3 a.m. Friday, as straight-line winds blew over power poles and trees throughout the county and left 900 people—maybe more—without power, according to local officials.

A Cabot fire station was damaged in the storm that left nine dead in the state.

“We’ve had lots of power outages, with trees down in high-line wires,” said Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson. “The main feed line is down in the south part of the county.”

Lonoke County schools were closed for lack of power, and power was off in the county assessor’s office, but not in her office or others in the building, said Kathy Zasimovich, director of the Lonoke County Office of Emergency Management.

Earlier reports that people had to be extricated from one house were incorrect, according to Lonoke Police Chief Mike Wilson.

A tree “tore the front off the house,” in the 400 block of West Third Street, Wilson said. “We had all kinds of damage. We had several trees down across power lines, and (on state Hwy. 89) at the cemetery and (Mallard Point) golf course, three (electrical) poles fell across the street.”

Wilson said his officers responded early to problems, but that city street crews were out dealing with the problems and clearing streets.”

In Lonoke’s north end —north of Third Street — there were several homes and businesses without electricity. Trees and limbs also fell on cars and damaged a few.

Mayor Wayne McGee was out with city crews through theearly morning hours, according Deputy City Clerk Regina Ibbotson.

“We’ve got power lines and trees down from Lonoke south, across to Carlisle,” said Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin. “Seems like they got more trouble than anyone else. Cabot was okay.”

He said he and his road foreman were up all night long watching for problems, and county road crews “started first thing this morning, clearing roads.”

Erwin said they erected barricades on Red Wine Road between Lonoke and Keo, because of downed power lines and trees.

“I hope it’s all clear by tomorrow,” he said. “Electric crews have been working steady, spread pretty thin,” Erwin said.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said a large tree limb broke and totaled a park and recreation department truck parked behind the department’s maintenance building on South First Street near the baseball fields.

Lightning struck Fire Station 3 on 3540 W. Main St. The bolt damaged computers, radios and electrical equipment.

A tree fell at East Main Street near Bethel Baptist Church damaging cable television lines.

High winds in Beebe destroy-ed a carport at 1208 S. First St. Homeowner Larry Bell said the carport was anchored down in the backyard. Winds lifted up the carport, damaging two storage sheds, and pitched it over the house, damaging the roof. The carport took out Bell’s mailbox and power lines in his front yard. The crumpled carport came to a rest in an empty lot across the street in the Southfork subdivision.

“I’m lucky it didn’t land on my truck,” Bell said.

Beebe Street Department Supervisor Milton McCullar said there was a tree down on Oakleaf Drive. A tree was damaged on Campbell Drive.

There were no reports of storm damage or trees down in Austin or Ward.

Jacksonville and Sherwood both suffered relatively minor storm damage.

Felled trees partially blocked Brockington Road and two other Sherwood streets, but those spots were quickly cleared.

“We had one tree reported down on James Street,” said Jacksonville’s Public Works Director Jim Oakley.

Mayor Gary Fletcher applauded the city’s CodeRED system for keeping everyone informed.

“We have about 1,500 residents on the system, but that leaves plenty not on the call list. The service is free, and the last two storms have hit in the middle of the night,” the mayor said.

Jacksonville and Cabot both have the warning system, and residents can access information through the cities’ websites.

(Leader staff writers Joan McCoy, Rick Kron and Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TOP STORY >> Revelation Riders spread religion at bikers rallies

Leader staff writer

The Hells Angels motorcycle club may be the one most notoriously recognized names in biker lore, but the Cabot Revelation Riders are the opposite with praying hands instead of a skull as the center of the jacket patch.

Cabot Revelation Riders are part of the nationwide Christian Motorcyclist Association. The motorcycle group ministers to the motorcycle community during bike rallies. The Christian Motorcyclist Association has 24 chapters in Arkansas.

The Cabot motorcycle group gathers at 6 p.m. for fellowship and holds a meeting at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of the month at Kingpin Restaurant inside the Allfam Bowling Center on Hwy. 321.

Begun three years ago, the Cabot motorcycle club is non-denominational. It is open to all bands of motorcycles, dirt bikes and sport bikes, trikes and all-terrain vehicles. He said they have a youth movement to get dirt-bike riders involved.

“We have one fellowship ride per month where we meet and greet and have a good time,” Cabot Revelation Riders president Darrel Newton said.

“Every weekend there is some kind of event we can participate in between motorcycle groups and Christian groups,” Newton said.

“We minister to the non-believer bikers. The biking community has so many different motorcycle groups that need support. We want to be there when the need arises with support and ministry if they are hurt, needing prayer time or needing someone to talk to,” he said.

Cabot Revelation Riders support the Jesus Film Project that produces a film about Jesus in 256 different languages, Mission Ventures, a missionary group and Open Doors, an organization that hands out Bibles.

“There is no charge to join. We asked if they are believers in Jesus Christ. You can be a youth or adult. It doesn’t matter what you ride,” Newton said.

Membership is free. Applications are available online at

EDITORIAL >> Martin must end abuses

Where are Republican State Chairman Doyle Webb and those Republican lawyers when we need them? Last summer and fall, they were suing state officials over the alleged misuse of state cars and threatening litigation over the spending habits of state officials, then all Democrats.

Nothing came of the litigation or the threats, except Republicans did win three of the state constitutional offices.

Now, they have some real prospects for stopping out-of-control spending and recovering some money for the taxpayers in the office of the new secretary of state, Mark Martin. Wait, Martin is a Republican. Could that have anything to do with the silence?

We had some suspicion that it would come to this. Before his election as secretary of state, Martin had led all 135 members of the General Assembly in raking in state money through undocumented expense accounts, per-diem pay for meetings of committees on which he did not serve, and on and on.

He had been in office only a month when the state Board of Apportionment learned that he had spent much of its appropriation, and he had no authority to spend it. He hired several of his supporters, including the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, as consultants to the board to devise an apportionment plan for the legislature (Hutchinson would create districts for his mother and brother). Martin had to give the money back to the board from the secretary of state’s account, but he said he would continue to pay his friends from the secretary of state’s funds and just have them advise him on some other matter.

It turned out that Martin bought a new 2010 Ford Escape for $27,629 from a Fayetteville dealer down the road from his home, although the secretary of state’s office already had a fleet of 23 cars. The new car was supposed to be used by him or others working on apportionment. When Gov. Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the other members of the Board of Apportionment, said the board had absolutely no need for a car, Martin said he would use it to “educate voters” around Arkansas.

Then last week came the disclosure that back in February, Martin had signed a contract with friends at John Brown University at Siloam Springs to throw a retreat for him and several of his top staffers at the swanky Greystone Estate in Rogers, near Martin’s home. Greystone is owned by Donald Soderquist and his family, big Republican contributors.

The consultants who will conduct the retreat and advise Martin and his staff about what the secretary of state’s office does and how to do it ethically—we’re not kidding about that—are called the Soderquist Center for Leadership and Ethics.

Arkansas taxpayers will have to pay the Soderquist experts only $54,000 for their valuable training of Martin and his top people on how to do the office’s work ethically. You can’t teach ethical behavior in a scruffy government office; it requires a mountaintop estate. Anyway, the training can’t come too soon. Martin and his staff are stonewalling efforts by the media through the Freedom of Information Act to see official documents about their activities.

Imagine what Chairman Webb and the Republican lawyers would be saying and doing if Pat O’Brien had won the office and had begun so recklessly. But O’Brien’s office had been a model of efficiency and rectitude when he was the Pulaski County clerk, and he had promised steps to reduce the vehicle fleet and introduce hard economies to the office. What a boring place it would be today.

Six more months of Mark Martin and the taxpayers may have a new appreciation for tedium.

TOP STORY >> Cabot sets rules on committees

Leader staff writer

Cabot City Council’s budget and personnel committee voted Monday night to recommend to the full council that commissioners be appointed to the council’s public-works committee and that they be allowed to vote. But the decision was not unanimous and the reaction was mixed.

For four years, all eight members of Cabot City Council’s public works committee were allowed to vote on issues that were to be placed before the city council, including the three commissioners who represented Cabot WaterWorks, the planning commission and parks. Commissioners are appointed by the city council, not elected by voters.

Bill Cypert became mayor in January and intended to continue the practice. He had already appointed commissioners from Cabot WaterWorks, planning and parks to the committee when City Attorney Jim Taylor informed him that the 2007 ordinance that set up the committees said nothing about appointing commissioners or allowing them to vote.

The ordinance said five council members would serve on each of three standing committees: fire and police, budget and personnel, and public works.

So Cypert asked the council to rescind the appointments until an ordinance clarifying that the non-council members on the public-works committee would be allowed to vote.

Alderman Kevin Davis, who like Cypert took office in January, was the only committee member who voted no, but others voiced concerns.

“What I haven’t wrapped my mind around is them having a vote to move something to the council,” Davis said.

Alderman Rick Prentice said his concern was that three non-council members could conceivably overrule council members and send proposed ordinances to the full council that the council members on the committee didn’t support.

Alderman Patrick Hutton, who is not a committee member, said what was needed from the three non-council members was their input.

“They won’t be restricted by not getting to vote,” he said.

Alderman Jon Moore said the question of voting should be left up to the chairman.

The practice of allowing non-council members to vote was started by Alderman Ed Long who chaired the public-works committee for four years.

Cypert, who represented Cabot WaterWorks on the public-works committee, said he wanted representatives from the three commissions on the public-works committee because he “liked the idea of building consensus.”

He said in a later interview, “I think it’s critically important to have the input from those three. But whether they vote or not is not an issue.”

In other business, the committee recommended the appointment of Aaron Benzing to the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission to replace Cypert who resigned at the end of December.

The committee also heard from Eddie Cook, director of operations, about new employee badges. The badges are color-coded red for fire, blue for police and black for the council. The badges will include pictures of the employees and bar codes with additional information.

The new badges were made in-house on a machine that cost the city about $2,000. The old badges were hand-made cards with glued on pictures.

The new badges will look more professional, Cook said.

During the comment portion of the meeting, Cypert told the committee that a piece of equipment in the street department called an Asphalt Zipper is dangerous because of the way it is mounted.

The Zipper essentially chews up old asphalt and turns it into a base for street repairs.

Currently, it is mounted in the bucket on the front of a backhoe.

Cypert said he learned from Gary Walker, an engineer and chairman of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, that the Zipper is too heavy for the backhoe.

“It affects the center of gravity,” Cypert said. “It makes it front heavy.”

Carrying the Zipper is hard on the backhoe mechanically and also makes it dangerous because on ground that isn’t level, the back wheels sometimes don’t touch the ground.

Cypert said Walker’s advice is to remove the front bucket from the backhoe and weld quick connections on the backhoe, bucket and Zipper so the Zipper can be mounted directly to the backhoe.

Cypert said Walker, who knows about heavy equipment from his job with New Holland, also told him that the small backhoe to clean ditches that is included in the 2011 budget would be too small for the work it would need to do. Walker recommends a larger machine.

Cypert said in a later interview that the smaller backhoe would cost about $35,000 and the larger one would cost more than $100,000. There is money in the public works capital-improvement fund to pay for the larger machine, he said.

TOP STORY >> Trillions in budget cuts seen

Leader executive editor

Second District Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) says spending cuts agreed to over the weekend to avert a government shutdown must be the first step in cutting trillions of dollars from the federal budget.

“We’re going to talk about cutting trillions, not billions,” the freshman congressman told a Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council luncheon Monday at the Jacksonville Community Center.

Budget negotiators late Fri-day agreed to cut $38.5 billion from the 2011 budget, setting the stage for new negotiations for cuts in the 2012 budget in coming weeks.

Griffin supports a budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, calling for $6.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade.

Ryan said his plan would balance the budget in 2040.

Griffin called the weekend budget agreement “the largest spending cut in American history in terms of dollars.”

After the budget deal, Griffin said in a press release, “Last year, Washington was talking about how much to spend. Now, Washington is talking about how much to cut. That cultural shift alone is a major victory.”

He said the deal “fully funds the military through the end of the year, and averts the economic disruption, uncertainty and expense that would have resulted from a shutdown.”

“Soon, we will begin work on next year’s budget and that will give us the opportunity to make even greater, more significant reforms as we deal with trillions in spending cuts, not billions,” Griffin said.

The congressman called for significant reductions in 2012 from this year’s $3.5 trillion budget.

Griffin said people who are 55 and older would not be affected by proposed Medicare cuts. But Democrats say if Ryan’s plan is adopted, future retirees on Medicare would pay $12,510 per year, making them responsible for more than two thirds of the cost of their health coverage.

Griffin insists that the GOP spending plan makes sense in the face of rising debt, which is now $14.1 trillion, or $45,484 for every man, woman and child.

The U.S. this year added about $4.1 billion to the debt every day with $4 billion a week in interest. “This is truly the big battle of our time,” Griffin told community council members

TOP STORY >> Funding parks is a puzzle for city

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council is looking at funding a possible study for impact fees — an added levy placed on new construction ranging from about $1,000 to $5,000.

The council voted to pursue the possibilities of adding impact fees to the city’s arsenal of revenue collecting mechanisms based in part on last year’s park study and the desires of the parks and recreation commission.

However, impact fees won’t help the city gain the 200-plus acres of park land that it is currently lacking, according to the study.

Impact fees, by state law, may only be used for street work or park land purchase and upkeep that are connected to new developments.

The main reason the city is short of park space is because of its annexation of the 3,000-plus acres Gravel Ridge community. There were no parks in any of that annexed area. But impact fees, by law, cannot be used for any Gravel Ridge parks unless there is new development in that area.

The park study states that Gravel Ridge is “underserved and currently has no access to any parks facility within the annexed area. It would be necessary to develop a new park in the vicinity of the area within a short time.”

But it will have to be done without impact fees unless plans for a new development in the area spring up shortly after the levy is approved.

Alderman Mary Jo Heye is a proponent of impact fees, citing how well they’ve helped Conway. In presenting the levy to the council she said it had the unanimous recommendation “from all in attendance from both the parks and street committees.”

“We obviously have some problems concerning our infrastructure without a means in which to fix them,” she said.

“We have problems with streets adjacent to new developments. They are torn up and need to be enlarged to meet the new demands now placed on them. Roads do not just get torn up by the increase in traffic but also from heavy construction vehicles,” she said.

Heye added that with new growth also comes a stronger demand for new and enlarged parks. “These things place a burden on the general revenue funds,” she said. Impact fees offset this burden according to Heye.

“I think this is a win-win for our community. Builders will have a better opportunity to sell homes if there are good streets leading to and surrounding the developments and parks to service the new families. In addition, this will free up money in the general fund to maintain current parks and roads in the established parts of Sherwood,” Heye said.

The park study does suggest impact fees as one way to increase the number of parks and pay for their maintenance; it is the last item listed out of seven ways to pay for city parks.

The park study, by ETC Engineers of Little Rock, first suggests user fees, but says these types of fees are “generally not adequate to fund large capital projects. However, it is a good way to provide operation and maintenance budgets for a project.”

The study then suggested sales-tax based revenue bonds. “This is the most commonly used method for financing large capital projects. The capital portion of the bond will have a sunset date while the maintenance portion of the bond will continue perpetually. For financing large parks and recreation projects in Arkansas, this is the preferred method,” the study stated.

The study then lists using advertising and tourism tax-based revenue bonds, a pay-as-you-go system and park foundation funds.

It then suggests the use of federal and state grants, most of which require a 50 percent match by the city.

Then it lists impact fees on new development without any comment.

The park study’s five-year plan says Sherwood will be in need of 200 to 360 acres of new parks, based on national standards of about 10 acres of land per 1,000 residents. The city is averaging about 8.4 acres of park land per 1,000 residents at this time. The cost for the new land, plus renovations to current parks will run up to $22 million, with $14 million of that going to turning Sherwood Forest into a citywide park.

The city is seeking qualified companies and bids for the study which is projected to run $30,000 or more. Most likely, the issue will be back before the council in May.

TOP STORY >> Upgrades sought for base

Leader executive editor

Rep. Tim Griffin says he is a deficit hawk, but when it comes to national security, he wants to spend more, not less.

The freshman Republican told the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council luncheon Monday at the Jacksonville Community Center that he wants to ramp up the avionics-modernization program to improve older C-130s and add another flight-training simulator at the base.

The AMP program retrofits older C-130s with digital navigation and communication equipment similar to what is found on newer C-130Js, including better night vision.

In addition, the base has eight flight simulators that train more than 1,800 students annually, many of them from overseas. There’s so much demand for the simulators to train both domestic and foreign crews, Griffin said another simulator would speed up training, create more jobs and pump money into the local economy.

A simulator costs about $31 million, half the cost of a new plane, and saves millions of dollars in fuel a year.

Griffin called the modernization program “a national-security priority.” He said Lockheed’s foreign customers often ask to train their crews at LRAFB’s Center of Excellence.

“We want the best training for our people, but there’s not enough capacity on the simulators,” Griffin said.

“C-130s and AMP funding are absolutely critical to the modernization program,” the congressman said.

He said Tennessee has tried to get a training mission with a simulator, but he believes a centralized location here was more efficient. He said after his speech that the state could consider partially funding such an expansion at the base.

Griffin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said budget uncertainties affect military readiness, making it more difficult for Pentagon officials to plan ahead and secure funding for avionics modernization, which is now piece-meal.

The Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing at the base has three modified C-130 AMP aircraft on the base ramp and two at the depot having the AMP package installed. Eventually, the 189th will have all of its C-130H aircraft converted to the AMP, according to John R. Oldham, chief of public affairs at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Some 220 C-130s nationwide will be upgraded in the coming years, Oldham said.

In the meantime, Boeing has been awarded an additional $31 million contract from the Air Force to continue modernizing C-130 cockpits.

Boeing announced last month that it will upgrade two more C-130s with avionics-modernization program kits. Pilots will train with the new equipment at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The aircraft upgrade includes a glass cockpit with a heads-up display that overlays flight information on the cockpit window so pilots can keep their eyes on the flight path. The upgrade also comes with six flat-panel, full-color displays and night-vision capability.

Air Force personnel at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia will begin installing the kits next year with onsite support from Boeing.

In addition, the Pentagon recently signed an eight-year contract with Lockheed for $270 million to operate the simulators at the base.

According to the Air Force, one hour of flight in a C-130 costs about $4,750 for fuel and maintenance. But an hour of flight in a C-130 full-motion simulator costs about $700, resulting in an annual savings of 3,600 flight hours and $17.1 million at the C-130 Center of Excellence here.

The push for more modernization comes at a time when the base is spending some $80 million on new construction with an additional $90 million in the pipeline.

Col. Mike Minihan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, told council members the tempo at the base keeps increasing.

“We will do two weeks of flying in four days,” the commander said as hundreds of airmen prepare to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 41st Airlift Squadron and its all-new C-130Js are setting records for airdrops in Afghanistan.

The squadron, which has been at Kandahar airfield since March 2009, previously set a record of 51 airdrop missions in January. The unit beat that record last month by completing 72 airdrops of almost 1,100 bundles weighing more than 1.5 million pounds. It is expected to set another record this month.

Col. James R. Summers, commander of the 189th, said he would be retiring and will relinquish his command to Col. Harold S. Eggensperger on May 15. Eggensperger is commander of the 189th Operations Group.

SPORTS >> Memories flood past as ballpark facing fate

Leader sports editor

I got some news I didn’t want to hear the other day.

An old friend who has been sick a long time is now dying.

It’s only a matter of time, I’m told, before he is gone. The life he has left is already being measured in weeks, even days.

But then, these last years haven’t really been much of a life for my friend.

None of his acquaintances come to visit him anymore — not the young men who made his life so entertaining with their athletic feats, not the families.

Not the kids.

They have all moved away, decamped for new adventures in a sparkling, modern house in a new neighborhood.

Age and neglect have made his appearance haggard, and when I see my friend, gaunt and gray and undone by his enforced retirement, I wonder if he would even have the strength to throw open his arms in that jolly way he had of making every first-time visitor feel like he had come home.

My friend was born in 1932, and the stories he could tell, if anyone were still willing to listen.

He could tell of Lou Gehrig’s New York Yankees and Bob Feller’s Cleveland Indians making consecutive visits in 1937. He knew hall of famer Ferguson Jenkins as a young man and hobnobbed with legends like Dizzy Dean and Fernando Valenzuela.

My friend didn’t just caucus with baseball players. He has entertained saints and singers and presidents, but he was always down to earth and it’s true that my friend preferred baseball to all other forms of distraction.

He made sure those who dropped by left with the game a little closer to their hearts, and it was never so much about winning with my friend as it was about having fun — the one, pure objective.

So my friend, who had a bounding sense of humor and valued entertainment, also welcomed characters named Captain Dynamite, Little Kato and Monkey Boy.

My friend was a prankster, especially in his later years. He seemed to enjoy turning on sprinklers or shutting off lights at the most inopportune times just to see people’s reactions.

My friend had a good heart. He never turned away a stray cat and his human guests, especially the children, almost always left with a little gift.

My friend’s generosity rubbed off on others, and his adult visitors became known for handing baseballs to kids, or being urged by others to do so.

My friend retired in 2006 with a few good years still left in him. He looked around for ways to keep busy, and some of his most loyal acquaintances tried to help him find things to do.

My friend was born for baseball and there were teams he could have helped.

But like so many who lose their livelihood, he seemed to go downhill so quickly after his retirement, and his deteriorating condition made it hard to convince others he still had something to offer.

My friend sleeps most of the time now, shut up and walled off from the world he once made brighter every time he threw open his doors to us in April.

I wonder what goes through my friend’s mind as he slumbers these dwindling final days. What echoes of the past are there for him to hear?

“Hookslide! Hookslide”

“Give it to a kid!”

“Here we go Travelers! Here we go!”

As testament to how my friend was loved, more than 8,000 came to see him his final day on the job.

But memories of the turnout on that brilliant September Sunday only leave my friend looking emptier and more lost than ever now, his only company the weeds and rodents and occasional vandal.

My friend deserves so much better than this, but he cannot go on like this.

When the wrecking ball comes, then, it will be merciful. But oh how you will be missed old boy.

How you will be missed.

Ray Winder Field, 1932-2011.

SPORTS >> Lions win, Lady Lions follow suit

Leader sportswriter

Victory was already in Searcy’s sight when Steven Seitz closed it out late in the second half of the Lions’ 3-1 non-conference match with Russellville on Monday.

Seitz, a junior forward, took a breakaway assist from sophomore Cam Woodruff and delivered the final goal for Searcy in the last 10 minutes to finish off a hard-fought battle.

Searcy (10-1) took the first lead at the 35:01 mark of the first half when sophomore infielder Evan Scarbrough scored with a sweeping move from the left side.

Russellville, which plays in the 7A-Central Conference during the regular season but will play in the 6A state tournament next month, tied it with a straight-ahead goal in the 17th minute before Woodruff handed the lead back to Searcy with a goal just before halftime.

“I thought it was a pretty even contest for the most part,” Searcy coach Bronco King said. “As for my guys, I thought they played with a little more consistency than they have been. We did well with our ball handling, and we kept it up for the whole game.”

The Lions (4-0 6A-East), the four-time defending 6A state champions, are off to another banner year. Recent victories over Jacksonville and Jonesboro have put them in reach of yet another top seed to the state tournament.

The Searcy Lady Lions, coached by Larry Stamps, easily handled the Lady Cyclones 5-1.

There were plenty of offensive highlights, but goalkeeper Rosario Bocanegra’s six saves in a span of 12 minutes were the difference for Searcy.

Bocanegra’s tough second-half performance backed up a solid, first-half showing by starting goalkeeper Aly Eaves, who had two saves in the first 40 minutes.

“We changed our lineup around just a little bit tonight, and I thought the kids played well,” Stamps said. “We passed the ball well, and we crossed it well, and we finished. I didn’t have too much to say at halftime. I was tickled with them.”

Bocanegra had a couple of easy saves while others were too close for comfort. Her final save on a Russellville shot from the right side came dangerously close to going in, but Bocanegra tipped the ball just high enough that it went over the bar.

Scoring was strictly by committee for the Lady Lions.

Michaelah Weaver gave Searcy a 1-0 lead at the 25:45 mark with the opening score, and Candace Adams added to the lead moments later.

Sam Stewart set the halftime margin at 3-0 in the 32nd minute when she hit a 30-foot shot that cleared the bottom of the bar and was out of reach of Russellville’s goalkeeper.

Freshman standout Micah Tipton broke a scoreless second half on a wide-open shot from 15 feet out for a goal with 13:34 remaining. Sophomore McKenna Smith then assisted Averie Albright on the right side for Searcy’s final goal just inside the 27th minute.

Russellville avoided a shutout with a goal against Bocanegra with 3:50 left to play.

SPORTS >> Rough and ready, Ruple kicks in

Leader sportswriter

There is no room for princesses on the soccer field — just ask Taylor Ruple.

Ruple, a junior and two-sport standout at Jacksonville High School, can tell all the tales of hard knocks and rough play in the trenches.

Then she can show the bumps and bruises to back it all up.

Most of Ruple’s 28 career varsity goals have come the hard way, with defenses zeroing in on Jacksonville’s only consistent scoring threat.

The Lady Devils’ most recent outing, a road game at Mountain Home, was especially tough on Ruple. She went up for a header with a Mountain Home player and instead of heading the ball, they headed each other, resulting in a black eye that covers a good portion of the right side of Ruple’s face.

“My nose was bleeding; I thought I had lost my tooth,” Ruple said. “It really didn’t swell up, then I woke up Saturday morning, it was all blue. Over the past few days, it’s gotten a lot worse.”

It may have been poor timing, as Ruple was sought for a newspaper feature and photos just days later. But she scoffed at the idea of using a photo-processing program to lighten some of the bruised area.

“It’s a battle scar,” Ruple said. “I want people to know that I’m tough, and I don’t play around with soccer and that I’m aggressive. I don’t mind getting down and dirty.”

But chasing glory on the soccer field is only a part of what motivates Ruple. She also has a grade-point average above 4.1 and is projected to be valedictorian when she walks with her graduating class in May of 2012.

Ruple grew up playing classic soccer with the state champion Arkansas Soccer Club Angels, and when word spread there might not be enough players to field a high-school team at Jacksonville last spring, Ruple, then a sophomore, put together a campaign to recruit players from around the school.

Classmate and Jacksonville Soccer Association mainstay Katie Lawrence was the first on board with Ruple, and the two eventually brought 13 girls into the program, just enough to field a team.

With help from athletic director Jerry Wilson, Ruple and the Lady Red Devils ended up playing a partial schedule, even securing a 6A-East Conference victory that gave them a spot in the state tournament.

“We had soccer meetings in the gym with coach Wilson,” Ruple said. “We talked to freshmen and people in my grade, and just asked them to come out and see if they like it.

“We recruited basketball players and volleyball players, and Katie Lawrence, she helped me with the recruiting.”

With state champion Searcy in the same league, Jacksonville suffered some tough losses the first year. But the Lady Red Devils (2-3, 2-1) are off to a much better start this year and the roster has expanded to 22 players.

Ruple said the team’s goal was to win enough games to earn a No. 3 or a No. 4 seed in the state tournament, and one more conference victory will most likely accomplish that.

Athletics are a yearlong activity for Ruple, who is also the starting libero for the Lady Red Devils volleyball team under coach Melissa Reeves.

Ruple is also in the Olympic development program for soccer, and attends college camps throughout the summer.

Her academic interest is science, and Ruple plans on pursuing a veterinary degree in college.

Her preference is the University of Arkansas, where she would like to play soccer for the Lady Razorbacks.

But she is not ruling out the University of Central Arkansas or Central Baptist College in Conway, both of which have expressed interest in her.

“Ruple brings leadership to the field, and she’s an outstanding student,” Lady Red Devils coach Addie Sereal said. “Her passion for soccer shows on the field. It is a joy to have her on the team.

“She’s a great leader in guiding those who have less experience than her. I believe that having her on the team has inspired the others to be better.”

Ruple has made improvements along with her team. She slimmed down from her sophomore size, which has increased her speed.

Though already enjoying some success, Ruple is not content. While her goals for this year are playing out, she has already established a new set for next year.

“We have so much more potential — so many more players that know what they’re doing,” Ruple said.

“Our ability to play is much better from last year. Next year, we could have the potential to win state.”

SPORTS >> Travelers enter win column

Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Travelers offense finally came to life and the result was the team’s first victory, 6-4, over the Frisco RoughRiders before 3,966 at Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco.

Catcher Alberto Rosario led the way, going 3 for 4 with a double, an RBI, a run and a stolen base as Arkansas broke its season-opening, four-game losing streak.

Eight of nine Travelers starters had at least one hit. The biggest was first baseman Jay Brossman’s two-run double in the fourth that gave Arkansas the lead.

Brossman finished 2 for 4 with a run and two RBI.

Travelers starter Kyle Hurst (1-0) pitched five innings to win his Class AA and Texas League debut. Hurst allowed a home run to Joey Butler, but otherwise scattered six hits, walked none and struck out three.

Reliever Dan Sattler worked two innings and gave up two runs but stranded the tying runs in scoring position in the seventh.

Chris Scholl and Ryan Brasier pitched one scoreless inning each, with Brasier working the ninth for his first save.

Arkansas suffered a three-game sweep at Midland in the opening series and lost the series opener to Frisco on Sunday. The Travelers open the home portion of their schedule against Midland on Thursday night at Dickey-Stephens Park.

First pitch is 7:10 p.m.

Butler’s two-run homer gave Frisco the 2-0 lead in the third. The Travs left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, but erupted for three runs off starter Carlos Pimentel (0-1) in the fourth.

Clay Fuller and Marvin Lowrance singled and Rosario doubled to score Fuller. With one out Brossman blooped an 0-2 pitch into short right field near the line for a double that scored two and made it 3-2.

The Travs loaded the bases and got a run when reliever Ben Snyder issued a walk in the fifth and they made it 6-2 when Snyder was ruled to have hit Ryan Mount with the bases loaded and Fuller added a sacrifice fly.

Sattler was solid in the sixth and then gave up a pair of RBI singles in the seventh. But he got Butler to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

SPORTS >> Red Devils bat around, around and around

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got hit a few times Friday night.

But the Red Devils hit a whole lot more.

Jacksonville batted around in three different innings on the way to a 23-9, non-conference victory over Cabot at the Panthers’ Conrade Field.

The Devils batted 10 in their six-run third, 11 in their seven-run fifth and 11 in the five-run sixth that wound up shortening the game an inning by the 10-run rule.

“There are going to be days when we don’t execute a little bit,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “If you got to score 20, you got to score 20 and I like that about what we did.”

Jacksonville pounded out 20 hits, including Patrick Castleberry’s two-run home run in the fifth and took advantage of 13 walks issued by Cabot pitchers, who also hit three Red Devils batters.

In the third, Cabot starter Dustin Morris hit Nick Rodriguez, who was wearing a protective mask because of a bone-shattering hit to his face that sidelined him early in the season. In the sixth, sophomore reliever Kyle Kaufman hit pinch hitter Landon Nolen, 5-1, in the helmet and reliever Jeffery Brown hit Jacob Abrahamson later in the inning.

Nolen stayed down near the plate while coaches and trainer Jason Cates looked him over, but he got to his feet before he was replaced by a pinch runner while Kaufman came in from the mound to check on Nolen and give him a pat.

“I don’t think you can walk on eggshells,” Burrows said of the game’s painful moments.

Each of Jacksonville’s first eight batters hit safely and scored at least one run, as did late entries Logan Perry, who came on to play right field, and Xavier Brown, who entered to pitch and play third.

The top of the Red Devils order — D’Vone McClure, Abrahamson, Castle-berry and Noah Sanders, combined for 11 hits, nine runs and 10 RBI. No. 8 hitter Jesse Harbin contributed four hits, including an RBI double and a pair of two-RBI singles, and scored twice.

“We’ve been playing the bottom teams in our conference and they hadn’t put any pressure onus,” said Burrows, who leads Jacksonville in the 6A-East. “This was good. We got some pressure put on us and we responded.”

Cabot, of the 7A-Central, spotted Jacksonville three runs in the first two innings, then erupted with a five-run second that featured Brandon Surdam’s high, 335-foot home run shot over the left-field wall. Bryson Morris hit a two-run double and designated hitter Cole Nicholson, the ace of Cabot’s pitching staff when available, added an RBI single.

But Nicholson had used up his innings in Cabot’s doubleheader against Little Rock Central on Thursday, and as it turned out the Panthers could have used him as coach Jay Fitch was forced to throw two sophomores and a freshman among the five pitchers he used.

“It’s funny how the personality of a game can shape up,” Fitch said. “My disappointment was with all the walks.”

Jacksonville (13-3) posted its big third as Cabot pitchers walked four, hit one and threw a wild pitch and the defense committed two errors, to go ahead 9-5 and take the lead for good.

“When we got behind 5-3 I said, ‘Guys we haven’t been behind in about 2 ½ weeks,’” Burrows said. “I said ‘This is good for you. I want to see how we respond.’ And we scored six.”

Tyler Carter drew a bases- loaded walk for Cabot to cut it to 9-6 in the bottom of the inning while Harbin hit his RBI double to make it 10-6 in the top of the fourth. Tyler Cole hit a two-run double for Cabot in the bottom of the fourth and Daniel Fox doubled him in to cut it to 10-8.

But Jacksonville went on to score 13 runs over the fifth and sixth.