Friday, June 17, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Sen. Boozman and earmarks

If you have trouble balancing your checkbook, consider the plight of poor John Boozman. The new junior senator from Arkansas, who until 18 months ago was Arkansas’ foremost champion of pork-barrel spending, was over at Lonoke the other day explaining the difficulties of getting federal tax dollars for 1,200 big farms in east Arkansas. But not to fear, he said, it is going to happen.

Boozman, see, is flatly for the Bayou Meto Basin Project and wants the farmers to get that $350 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money that will be needed to build all the pumping stations, reservoirs, canals, pipelines, electrical substations and transmission lines to carry 13,000 gallons of water a second from the Arkansas River over to the farms in Jefferson, Prairie, Arkansas, Lonoke and Pulaski counties to irrigate the rice crops and fish ponds. The massive use of water for the rice plantations is rapidly depleting the aquifer that supplies water for the Grand Prairie and beyond.

Unlike the federal spending on projects in other senators’ and congressmen’s districts, this one is an excellent use of taxpayers’ money, Boozman told fans in the Bayou Meto Water Management District. It will create jobs and be of lasting economic benefit to the region, he said.

But the problem is, he said, that the U.S. government is deeply in debt and running a big deficit. Still, he hopes President Obama will include the next phase, $40 million or so, in his fiscal 2013 budget.

That is not likely to happen. Presidents Bush and Obama have not included projects like that in their budgets. They get added by members of Congress. Rep. Marion Berry, who retired last year (and underwent brain surgery last week), led the way, with help from Rep. Mike Ross of south Arkansas, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whom Boozman defeated, and Sen. Mark Pryor.

Boozman signed the Republican pledge last year not to take part in congressional earmarks like the Bayou Meter water project. So did East Arkansas’ new congressman, Rick Crawford. Boozman, Crawford and the Second District’s new congressman, Tim Griffin, aren’t likely to put their names on an earmark request for Bayou Meto or any other project, although they will certify their support for it to the people in the water district.

If the Grand Prairie farmers and conservationists don’t get their money, you see, it will be President Obama’s fault because he did not include it in his budget. Even at that, his budget will be roundly condemned by Boozman and his party because it is a massive waste of taxpayers’ money and runs up the nation’s debt. The only wise spending is for our stuff. In New Jersey, the Bayou Meto farmers’ irrigation project is the ultimate example of government profligacy.

We actually would like to see the government ante up money for the Bayou Meto project. It will help the principal farmers in the region prosper, and they will not have to shift to crops that are more economical but less remunerative. The benefits eventually will spread to all of us to some degree.

But it also is a matter of priorities. There is, indeed, not enough money for all that Americans want to do in all 50 states, and if Boozman’s party enjoys a national consensus that no one should pay more taxes, especially high-income businesses and individuals like the owners of the 1,200 farms, then all these Arkansas programs—the bypasses, bridges, airports and irrigation projects—should take their place in the pecking order, about a trillion and a half dollars down from the top. We are deeply afraid they won’t be in Obama’s or anyone’s budget. Either way, you know who will get the blame: the president with the Middle Eastern name.

TOP STORY > >Beebe cops seize heroin after tip-off

Leader staff writer

After the 1980s, crack cocaine and then crystal methamphetamine replaced heroin as the hard drug of choice in Arkansas. But recently, the Drug Enforcement Agency has come across heroin in its investigations, and just this week Beebe police made its first heroin arrest in recent history.

Beebe Police Capt. Eddie Cullum reports that Jonathan W. Ryan, 21, of Jacksonville, and Jennifer A. Fields, 18, of Vilonia, were arrested for heroin possession Tuesday in the parking lot of a convenience store on Hwy. 64 after someone reported that Ryan was injecting something into his arm.

A fresh needle mark on Fields’ arm was evidence that she also had injected something. Both admittedthey were using heroin, Cullum said, and drug paraphernalia was in the car.

Agent Juan Storie, a DEA agent, said Friday that he has worked narcotics for eight years and had not seen heroin in Arkansas until recently. Why it fell out of favor in Arkansas is unclear, he said.

“It’s very expensive,” he said. So it might be the cost, or it might be that other drugs are more readily available.

Heroin use is still common in Dallas and Houston and in northern states, he said.

“Marijuana will never go away,” he said, adding that a change in state law at the end of July will make possession of up to four ounces of marijuana a misdemeanor.

Ryan and Fields were taken to the White County Detention Center in Searcy.

Ryan’s bond was set at $15,000. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Fields is charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Her bond was set at $7,500.

Lt. Brian Duke and Investigator Jeremy Weeks made the arrests.

TOP STORY > >Candidates for school board set to file soon

Leader staff writer

David Hipp and Fred Campbell, both longtime members of the Cabot School Board, aren’t running for re-election. On Wednesday, candidates for those positions may begin collecting the 20 signatures they need to be included on the ballot for the Sept. 20 election.

The petitions must be filed with the county clerk no later than noon July 22. Although only 20 signatures of registered voters are required, clerks recommend getting at least 25 in case some aren’t registered.

Although candidates can’t yet circulate their petitions, Brian Evans has announced that he intends to run for one of the open positions. Helen Teffer, who retired last year as the administrative assistant to the superintendent, says she will run for Hipp’s seat. Donna Nash, a retired teacher and wife of deceased board member Brooks Nash, will run for Campbell’s seat.

Before a school-board election may be held, school boards must approve budgets for two years in advance that include proposed building expenses.

The Cabot School Board met that requirement earlier this month with a $95.2-million budget for 2012-2013.

The budget requirement is connected to the requirement that districts’ millage rates are always included on the ballot.

Dr. Tony Thurman said the district isn’t asking property owners for a tax increase, and whether voters are for the existing millage or against it, the 39.5-mill rate stays the same.

Tina Wiley, who is over the district’s finance department, told the board the 2012-2013 numbers are projections based on the real budget for 2010-2011. Since passing the advance budget is a technicality, school districts aren’t held to it.

TOP STORY > >Gray: Let’s save troubled schools

Leader staff writer

Daniel Gray, a third-generation Jacksonville realtor and active member of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization, announced Wednesday that he was running for the Pulaski County Special School District Board.

Gray will take on incumbent Bill Vasquez, who is currently the board president, provided the state doesn’t step in and dissolve the board between now and school elections Sept. 20.

Gray said he is running because of his passion for Jacksonville, that he is tired of the status quo, and that the city needs its own school district.

“If you are satisfied with the school district and the direction of the board, then I’m not your guy,” Gray told the crowd at the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club on the opening day of their summer program.

“This is a decision I have not taken lightly,” Gray told the crowd of children, parents, city officials and movers and shakers. “Why, a lot of people have asked me. Well, just look at the past two years alone, and it’s crystal clear why.”

Gray, who was born in Rebsamen Hospital, now North Metro, and educated in local schools, said the district and the board has clearly lost its way. “I want to help it rediscover its purpose.”

Gray made it clear he is solidly behind Jacksonville’s efforts to break away from PCSSD and get its own district. “Until that time though I will make sure our schools get all the resources they are entitled to.”

He said although he’s worked hard with others for Jacksonville, “Imagine what I can do by having an actual vote on the board.”

Gray said Jacksonville has fallen victim too many times to empty promises. “The students and taxpayers of Jacksonville have sacrificed long enough,” he said.

He promised supporters that he would not be quiet about our needs on the school board.

Gray is married to a county school district teacher, and they have two boys who are attending PCSSD schools.

TOP STORY > >Building plans go forward if budget is cut

Leader staff writer

How to continue to provide an education, build and remodel schools with less money is something the Pulaski County Special School District Board will look at in its Tuesday meeting.

The board will look at a number of different budget scenarios at its 6 p.m. meeting at the district’s central offices in Little Rock off Dixon Road.

“They’ll look at one that’s $10 million less and one that’s $20 million less,” explained Deb Roush, spokesperson for the district.

The district’s superintendent, Dr. Charles Hopson, has made it clear that even though the district is in fiscal distress, facing a state takeover and is in danger of losing about $20 million in desegregation funding, he wants the district’s building plans to go forward.

Board president Bill Vasquez also wants the board to re-educate itself on the district’s desegregation plan, Plan 2000. The inch-thick plan, which was approved by a federal judge, is the blueprint the district needs to follow to be declared unitary and get out from under federal monitoring.

In a May 19 ruling, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller said the district had achieved success or a good-faith effort in only three of 12 areas. He also decided to cut off $70 million in desegregation funding to the three county districts. The PCSSD’s portion is $17 million to $20 million.

Roush said the district is set to present its bond-issue plans to the Arkansas Department of Education in August for the first phase of its remodeling, updating and revamping of schools.

The federal court must also approve the district’s building plans.

But all that could be moot based an announcement planned for early next week by Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education director, when he could either fire the superintendent, dissolve the school board, revamp the district school lines, consolidate the district completely or a combination of the four options. He could also take a wait-and-see approach as the district was just placed in fiscal distress by the state in May and has up to two years to right itself.

But the governor has called on Kimbrell to take some sort of action after the state’s Legislative Audit Committee two weeks ago called for the board to be dissolved and consolidation considered.

If the district gets to move forward, the local aspects of the facilities plan, called Vision 2020, calls for the current site of Jacksonville Elementary School to be closed. A new elementary school would be built on the middle-school property. Jacksonville Elementary students would likely be split between Warren Dupree and Murrell Taylor elementary schools until the new school is completed. The new school would have a capacity for 650 students and serve kindergarten through fifth grade.

Arnold Drive Elementary School, which is on Little Rock Air Force Base, and Tolleson Elementary School, which is just outside Little Rock Air Force Base property, would be combined in a new facility. The Air Force has indicated its willingness to provide a site for the new elementary school on base property lying just outside the fenced perimeter. The property anticipated to be provided is across the street from the current North Pulaski High School.

The combined new elementary school would continue to serve grades K-5 and would be designed to house up to 750 students.

A new Jacksonville Middle School would be constructed to replace the current facility and would serve grades 6-8. The new building would be located upon the current site occupied by Star Academy, which is part of the same campus and acreage upon which Jacksonville Middle School currently stands. This school would be built to accommodate up to 1,000 students.

No concrete plans have been set yet for Jacksonville or North Pulaski high schools.

TOP STORY > >Farm-raised catfish may be thing of past

Rising costs threaten Southern tradition

Story and photos by JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Could Southern fried catfish become as pricey a delicacy as New England lobster and as rare as caviar?

The U.S. farm-raised catfish industry is battling rising feed costs and imported fish, while wholesalers and restaurants are dealing with catfish shortages and higher prices.

Robert Murtha, owner of Murtha’s Fish in Lonoke, said he’s seen the writing on the wall and the passing of an era for farm-raised catfish.

“There won’t be catfish in Arkansas, let alone Lonoke County,” Murtha said.

Murtha dresses and sells fresh catfish in his one-man operation on Hwy. 31 North in Lonoke. His hands ache with carpal-tunnel syndrome as he cleans an estimated 300 pounds of fish a week while only open Thursday through Saturday.

Murtha can’t say how long he will stay in business. If farm-raised catfish prices keep rising, he said he’d probably have to close the doors. He has seen his customer base drop, but still counts on his regular customers from Jacksonville and Little Rock. Last week, Murtha sent catfish to Dallas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Murtha will sell only farm-raised catfishgrown in ponds. He said you have more control with the taste of the farm-raised catfish than a river catfish. River catfish have a different taste, with pond-raised fish you know what the fish have been eating–grain.

Murtha has a wildlife biology degree from South Dakota State University. He has been in the fishing business since 1974. He owned a 160-acre catfish farm in Lonoke for 10 years until getting out of the business in 1992. He’s filleted and sold fish full time beginning in 1988. Murtha said one year he had cleaned 70,000 pounds of catfish with five employees while he had the farm.

“Back in 1985, 15 to 20 million fish were sent to Mississippi and Alabama and that market is gone. I have sent catfish to North Carolina, but that market isn’t there anymore,” Murtha said.

“People are telling me many catfish farmers in lower Arkansas and Mississippi are filling up their pond and planting row crops. July corn was going for $8 a bushel; five years ago, it was $3. Part of it is ethanol. Arkat Feed Mill in Dumas is producing dog food instead of fish feed because it is too expensive to manufacture,” he said.

Murtha said catfish feed prices are $500 a ton. It takes 60 cents of feed to make a pound of catfish. In 1992 it was 20 cents.

University of Arkansas Exten-sion Service fishery specialist Anita Kelly said in 2008 the price of soybeans and corn rose and the cost of feed doubled from $200 a ton to $400. Catfish processors’ prices did not go up. Many farmers were losing money and got out of the business.

She said over the past five years, catfish-pond acreage in the state has dropped by a third. In Mississippi, the decline was at least by half. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, catfish-farming pond acreage in Arkansas has declined 6,000 acres to a total of 13,200.

Arkansas is still the second largest catfish producer in the nation, behind Mississippi. Catfish was the sixth largest commodity in the state, Kelly said.

State aquaculture coordinator Ted McNulty said there are around 75 fish farms producing catfish in the state. He estimated the catfish industry has a $300 million economic impact on the state.

Kelly said there are no strictly farm-raised catfish operations in Lonoke County. She said there are only three fish farms left in the county–Hopper Stephens Hatcheries, Farm Cat and Raper Fish Farm.

“Once you get out of the fish business it is going to take two or three years t0 get back in,” Murtha said.

Kelly said catfish prices are up going for $1.20 a pound wholesale. Now catfish is in short supply. Processors are calling the extension service looking for fish farmers who may have fish ready to harvest. She said the remaining catfish farmers in the state are holding out to see if corn-based ethanol fuel subsidies go way. If they do, the price of feed should go down.

Janet Smith, office manager at Hopper Stephens Hatcheries, said feed costs for the company have risen 30 percent. The hatchery is selling as many catfish as they can so the company doesn’t have to spend money in order to keep feeding the catfish over the summer and fall. Smith said they are asking customers if they can use a shorter or longer length catfish for their fish orders to thin out the number of catfish on hand to feed. If customers are unable to take the sizes available, crews are re-measuring the catfish at the hatchery to get the requested size.

Fewer U.S. farm-raised catfish producers are causing trouble for local restaurants. Heeya Adams, co-owner of Uncle Dean’s Catfish and Such restaurant in Cabot worries about catfish shortages and high prices. Uncle Dean’s has been in business 13 years and boasts that it serves U.S. catfish on its storefront window.

“This is traditional southern Arkansas food. It is like if Idaho ran out of potatoes and we had buy potatoes from China,” she said.

Adams is concerned wholesalers will limit selling catfish to larger restaurants and bypass smaller business. She said wholesalers are not accepting new accounts and stopped selling to gas stations and delis. Catfish has been removed from all-you-can-eat buffets while some have chosen to use imported catfish.

Last year Adams noticed a tightening of the U.S. farm-raised catfish supply. She said they were getting 18 to 20 cases of catfish a week. But now the restaurant has to rely on what the wholesaler brings in. Adams said the shortage has been going on for at least eight months. In April the restaurant was not able to select the size of the fish.

“In January, wholesale catfish prices went up $10 in one week. You can’t make a profit. Catfish is more expensive than a T-bone steak,” Adams said.

Premium quality catfish prices have lowered to $6 to $7 a pound, but are still more expensive than last year when catfish was $4 a pound, according to Adams.

She said they want to keep their customers and cannot increase menu prices $1 to $2 overnight, because loyal customer would notice and go elsewhere.

Adams said the restaurant may have to look for an option such as selling American cod or pollock if the catfish situation worsens.

Imported fish is another hit to the farm-raised catfish industry.

Kelly said there is influx of foreign fish entering the market like pangasius from Vietnam and tilapia, also known as cherry snapper, is being imported from Africa, South America and Mexico, where labor is cheaper.

“The importers don’t have the FDA standards as grain-fed catfish,” Murtha said.

He said pangasius is a fish in the catfish family but has a completely different shape.

“Somehow tilapia is not going to satisfy my craving for catfish. It is a fishy fish,” Murtha said.

Kelly said country-of-origin labels are required for catfish sold in stores, but not in restaurants.

Uncle Dean’s restaurant won’t use imported catfish because their customers know the taste of U.S. farm-raised catfish.

“Fish imported to America from China is saltier and there is a lot of water in the fish,” Adams said.

She said Chinese-grown catfish started coming into the country in 2005. The fish salesmen were pushing the cheaper fish, as it was half the price of U.S. catfish.

A third element to affect the catfish industry is the heat. Last summer the temperatures were in the upper 90s for several weeks.

“No one wanted to go outside and cook fish,” Murtha said.

SPORTS>>Construction started on Beebe’s new field

Leader sports editor

Construction on Beebe High School’s new $680,000 football field is under way. All the old turf has been stripped and sold to a sod company, and plans are to have the new artificial field turf in place by August 1, although who is putting the new field down is still in the bidding process.

Beebe head football coach John Shannon says the deadline can be reached, despite the fact that typical installation of field turf takes six weeks, citing that new curbs and drainage systems are already in place, leaving nothing but installing the field itself for the contractors to complete.

Supporters for the new field, which included Shannon, says the field is necessary for several reasons. The field is nearly 25 years old and is in need of a new crown, which will cost an estimated $125,000 or more. It costs about $25,000 per year to maintain, add that to the cost of a new crown, and replacing it with artificial turf will pay for itself in about 10 years, according to supporters.

It’s also more practical from a coach’s standpoint.

“What it means for me is that we’ll be able to take the field andpractice no matter what,” Shannon said. “As it is now, if the field is wet, we can’t practice on it because it holds water and tears up so easily. It’ll also mean the band and P.E. classes can use it whenever they want. Right now we have to try to keep people off of it as much as possible.”

There is also a deal in place with the city PeeWee football league, allowing them to use the field on Saturdays. Right now the PeeWee league teams play in the outfields of the city baseball and softball fields.

SPORTS>>Babe Ruth teams tied near end

Special to The Leader

The Cooper Family Dentistry Rangers held off the Watts Home Improvement Diamondbacks 10-9 Thursday night at Dupree Park, keeping the Rangers’ hopes alive for a championship.

The Jacksonville Youth Baseball program’s 15-under division is running longer than the rest of the leagues after so many rainouts early in the season and because first place won’t be decided until the final game.

The league’s two top teams, the Rangers and the First Arkansas Bank Cardinals, are locked up in a tie that currently goe through several layers of tiebreakers.

The Rangers and Diamond-backs meet again Saturday morning, but Thursday’s win by the Rangers guaranteed the final makeup game with the Cardinals will be needed.

The Cardinals and Rangers are 2-2 against each other, with each winning by six runs. A Rangers win Saturday would cancel a third tiebreaker, as both would be 4-1 against the Diamondbacks. A loss to the Diamondbacks Saturday would still require the final makeup game to be played. A win by the Rangers would leave them tied with the Cardinals in overall league record, but holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. A win by the Cardinals would give them the outright championship.

SPORTS>>Cabot junior squad, Rose Bud split pair

Special to The Leader

Cabot’s junior American Legion team earned a doubleheader split with Rose Bud Thursday night, but even a 9-3 win in the second game didn’t do much to raise the spirits of coach Chris Gross.

Rose Bud took the first game 5-1 despite being held to just three hits. Seven walks in an inning and a third by starter Glover Helpenstill, along with an error behind him, helped give Rose Bud a 5-0 lead in the first two innings.

“We haven’t played that poorly in a long time,” said Gross at the end of the night. “Helpenstill didn’t pitch bad, he really was putting a lot of pitches right there. The umpire had a low strike zone, but our pitchers have to learn to find where the strikes are being called and throw the ball there.”

Lee Sullivan came in to pitch relief and shut down Rose Bud the rest of the way, but the damage had already been done. Standing just 5’4 and weighing 125, the little lefty mowed down Rose Bud, striking out six while giving up just one hit in three-and-two-thirds innings.

“Sullivan came in and really did a good job for us,” said Gross. “We just couldn’t get anything going with the bats.”

Cabot had base runners in the opener, but couldn’t get the timely hits they needed. Cabot had just four hits, but also had five batters hit by pitches to go with a pair of walks. Colby Siegler reached on an error and came around to score on Nick Thomas’ single in the fifth inning. Josh Dollarhide, John Vanhoveln and Jonathan Latture each had singles in the game. Twice, Tristan Bulice reached first the hard way, beinghit by pitches both times. Cabot’s offense took control of the second game of the doubleheader early on with three runs in the first inning and two more in the second.

Latture got the offense started with a walk, followed by a single from Thomas. Bulice drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, while Devin Burke reached on a fielder’s choice.

Helpenstill drove in another run with a triple — the first of three in the game for Cabot — and came around to score on Landon James’ single. That tied the game after Rose Bud scored three in the top of the first inning.

Dylan Bowers followed Adam Hicks’ single with an RBI triple in the second inning. Latture reached on an error and scored after a pair of stolen bases.

Rose Bud helped out Cabot in the third inning by hitting Helpenstill with a pitch, then bringing him home with three consecutive walks. Cabot, however, couldn’t quite get the hit they needed to break open the game.

The fourth inning was a different story as Cabot took control of the game. Latture reached again on a walk, Thomas singled then moved around on an error in right field on a hit by Burke.

Helpenstill singled, followed by Cabot’s third triple of the night — this one by James — and when the dust settled, the home team held a 9-3 lead.

Aaron McKenzie started on the hill and went the whole way for Cabot, giving up six hits while fanning seven in five innings of work.

The doubleheader split gives the A legion squad a 9-5 record this season.

SPORTS>>Fourth straight win for Cabot

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Centennial Bank senior team started hot and won its first two games in the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic this week, putting itself in good position for a pool win and the opportunity to play in Sunday’s final tournament round.

Cabot is looking for its third Wood Bat Classic championship in four years, after winning the crown in 2008 and 2009.

The two wins in pool mark four straight for Centennial Bank, which coach Jay Darr attributes primarily to a change in approaching the plate.

“It’s really that simple,” Darr said. “We had the pitching to win games before this streak. Our defense has also gotten a little better, but we still have a long way to go. The main thing is that our hitting approach has really, really improved.”

Cabot started the event Wednesday beating Hot Springs Village 5-4, then handled Sylvan Hills 8-4 Thursday night.

After the Bruins took an early 1-0 lead in Thursday’s game, Cabot tied it in the second, and the bats came alive in the third.

Cabot tied it when Dustin Morris singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dylan Wilson.

Things didn’t start well for Cabot in the third, with the first two batters going down in order. An error, a balk and three straight base hits pushed three runs across the plate.

Justin Goff reached on an error in left field, moved to second on a balk and scored an RBI single by Matt Evans. Morris got another base hit, and both base runners scored on a two-RBI hit by Wilson to give Cabot a 4-1 lead.

Centennial added to the lead in the fourth with consecutive base hits byCasey Vaughan and Kyle Kauf-man.

Sylvan Hills scored in the fourth when an infield hit to shortstop was beat to first base. A stolen base and a sacrifce grounder moved the runner to third. Another sacrifice grounder scored the runner and pulled the Bruins to within three..

They would get no closer.

Cabot added three more runs in the fifth and sixth innings.

Evans got on base in the fifth and scored on a sac fly to centerfield by Morris. Morris then picked up two more RBIs in the sixth when his single to center scored Goff and Bryson Morris.

Sylvan Hills tried to rally in the top of the seventh. Ryan Brisco started the inning with a base hit. An error at short allowed Brisco to score. A walk loaded the bases and another walked scored a run.

Dustin Morris finished the game with three, three RBIs and two runs scored on four at bats. Evans went 2 for 3 with two runs scored while Wilson picked up three RBIs.

Kaufman got the win on the mound for Cabot. He went six and two-thirds inning, giving up six hits and three earned runs.

Tyler Erickson came in to strike out the last batter for the save.

The win was the fourth in a row for Cabot, which improved to 7-4 on the season.

Centennial played its final pool game last night against Pine Bluff National Bank, with a chance to move into Sunday’s tournament round.

SPORTS>>Wood bats hot for Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got two wins in pool play of the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic to stay in contention for Sunday’s tournament championship round.

Wednesday the Gwantey Chevrolet team blanked Cabot’s AA squad 3-0, then hammered tournament host Sheridan 11-2 in a run-rule-shortened game.

Jesse Harbin threw five innings of shutout ball in Wednesday’s win. Jacob Abrahamson came in for the last two innings and kept the goose egg on the board.

After two straight games of struggling at the plate, the first being Monday’s 9-0 loss to Cabot’s senior team, the Jacksonville bats came to life again Thursday night.

Jacksonville also got a good effort on the mound from Xavier Brown, who went the distance for the win.

The only shortcoming for Gwatney in the game was a glaring one. Four runners were picked off on the base paths, shortening what were already good rallies, and extending what could’ve been a much shorter game.

“We’ve got to have a base-running practice,” Gwatney coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “We haven’t had a chanceto practice much, but I thought they’d remember from what we did last year.”

Despite the base-running mistakes, the offense at the plate was solid. It started with the first batter. Abrahamson took a 2-2 pitch deep over the fence in left field. Patrick Castleberry doubled and Harbin walked. Colt Harmon then singled to center to drive in a run, and another run scored on an error at shortstop.

Sheridan got a run in the first and last inning, and mounted very little offense against Brown in between.

The host squad actually mounted little offense at all. Brown struggled with control in the first inning, but grinded his way through to give up just one run. He hit three batters and walked another. Sheridan’s Landon Morris made the first out, but his fly to centerfield scored leadoff hitter Nick Ware, who was hit by the first pitch of the frame.

Brown then hit Zach Perkins, and got a groundout from Luke Hanneman. He then hit Grady Finland to load the bases, but struck out Billy Wicker to get out of the inning with minimal damage done.

From that point Brown was outstanding. He gave up just two hits and no earned runs the rest of the game, walking just one and striking out four.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s offense kept at it. Gwatney added four runs in the second, with help from sloppy Sheridan defense. Chris McClendon started things off with a hit to left, but what should’ve been a routine single ending up rolling to the fence and left McClendon standing on third. Brown then got a hit to score his catcher. A double by Abrahamson scored Brown. Castleberry walked and a hit by Harbin brought both base runners home when another outfield error allowed Castleberry to score all the way from first.

Each of Jacksonville’s last two outs in the inning were picked off runners. Gwatney’s only fruitless inning was the third, but it added three more in the fourth to make it 10-1. Kenny Cummings reached on an error at third base. Castleberry and Harbin followed with base hits, Harbin’s hit driving in another run. Castleberry scored from third on a wild pitch, and Harmon, after walking, scored when Brown drew a bases-loaded walk.

Harbin picked up his third RBI in the game with his third base hit to cap Jacksonville’s scoring in the top of the fifth.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

TOP STORY >> Woman awarded $2.5M in verdict

Special to The Leader

A federal court jury on Tuesday awarded $2.5 million in damages to a California woman who sought treatment for breast cancer from the “medical director” of a former Jacksonville firm who promised to “kill” the disease through the use of lasers.

The jury deliberated for two hours before finding that Marie Antonella Carpenter and Lase Med, Inc., both formerly of Jacksonville, committed fraud, violated Arkansas’ deceptive trade-practices act and were negligent in their dealings with Therese Westphal, 53, of Tarzana, Calif.

Carpenter did not attend the trial, nor did she have a lawyer in the courtroom to represent her or Lase Med Inc. In a videotaped deposition viewed Monday by jurors shortly after the trial began, Carpenter claimed that lasers will kill cancers but cited competition in declining to be more specific about the treatments provided.

“Never in 16 years of practice have I been in a situation where the defendants didn’t show up,” Westphal’s attorney, Will Bond of Jacksonville, told the jury in his closing statement. “They’re essentially thumbing their noses at Arkansas, at the judge and at us. They can’t defend themselves. They have nothing to say. That’s why they’re not here.” The trial was held in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Moody.

The website for Lase Med Inc. the past several days has been critical of the Arkansas case, saying the lawsuit was “bogus” and calling Bond, a former state representative from Jacksonville, a “political toadie” for physicians and hospitals.

The jury awarded Westphal $500,000 in compensatory damages and decided Carpenter and Lase Med Inc., formerly of 524 N. First St., should pay another $1 million each in punitive damages.

“We’re not sure about the chances of actually collecting, but the verdict sends the message that she and Lase Med were wrong and that they shouldn’t be taking advantage of people like that,” Bond said later. “We appreciate the jury.”

Westphal was 50 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and came across a brochure for Carpenter and Lase Med of Jacksonville that promised “Star Wars technology” that kills only cancerous cells through the use of lasers and leaves healthy cells alone with minimal side effects. “I felt fortunate. I wanted to believe (in Lase Med). I chose to believe. Maybe I was na├»ve,” she said.

Westphal spent $6,250 for about seven days of laser treatment at the Lase Med office in Jacksonville in November 2008. At the end of treatment, she said Carpenter pronounced her cured.She testified she asked Carpenter if she should continue consultations with physicians after returning home to California. “She told me, ‘As long as you stay away from the doctors, you’ll be fine,’” Westphal said.

Asked by Bond about her condition a few months later, she said, “It (her left breast) was a completely hard mass. The tumor had completely taken over. It was purple.” Alarmed, she contacted Carpenter, who again assured her she was cancer-free, Westphal said.

She has had her left breast removed since then, and she said her chances of recovery from what is now Stage 4 cancer are slim.

Dr. Billy Lynn Tranum, a Little Rock oncologist, testified that the laser treatments as touted by Lase Med Inc. for a large mass of cancerous tissue are “unproven and unreliable” but they can be beneficial against small cancers around the nose, ears and throat because they shrink the tumor, allowing the patient to breathe.

“But they’re of no value for deep-lesion cancers,” such as Westphal’s breast cancer, Tranum said.

Tranum said he believed Westphal had a 75 percent to 90 percent chance of recovery had she received “proper, proven” treatment when she was first diagnosed. She has only a 10 percent chance now because of the growth that has taken place since her Lase Med treatments, he said.

Tranum said he understood why Westphal and others with cancer would seek the Lase Med treatments, because they were advertised as virtually free of side effects and with 100 percent cure rates. “People want to believe,” he said. “She (Carpenter) is very convincing, similar to someone selling oil leases to places that don’t exist or beachfront property at a place that doesn’t exist. They’re snake-oil salesmen.”

Bob Babecka of Powder Springs, Ga., testified that his wife Cindy came to Lase Med in Jacksonville in July 2008 for treatment of breast cancer. After a few days of treatment, “Cindy was told that her cancer was gone, that she was cured,” Babecka said.

The cancer returned less than a year later, even breaking through the skin, Babecka said.

“She (Carpenter) encouraged – told us, actually – not to see an oncologist or other specialist,” he said. “Cindy was in a lot of pain, but Antonella Carpenter said it was just dead tissue.” The Babeckas sought another opinion. “It was a live tumor and had spread all over her torso and later spread to the brain,” he said.

Cindy Babecka died in May 2010.

Diane French of Black Mountain, N.C., testified that she saw Lase Med’s website proclaiming “The Race For The Cure Is Over” after being diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer.

After two weeks of treatment at the Jacksonville clinic, she said Carpenter showed her an ultrasound and told her, “You can see there’s no blood flow. The tissue is dead. Congratulations, you’re cancer-free.”

French said she’s now in Stage 4. “It’s incurable,” she said.

Shortly before Westphal’s lawsuit was filed, Lase Med Inc., of Jacksonville moved out of Arkansas. It reportedly is operating in Oklahoma.

TOP STORY >> Lottery winner in $2M drug bust

Leader staff writer

Simultaneous raids in Lonoke County’s Austin and White County’s Kensett early Friday morning netted 17 arrests, $100,000 in cash, seven pounds of Mexican ice (a smokable crystal meth), several weapons, as well as a small fleet of vehicles.

The raids were dubbed Operation Big Winner because Daniel “Dano” Henry, 39, of Austin, the alleged main distributor of a business that put five to 10 pounds of the illegal drug on central Arkansas streets every week, won $100,000 in the Arkansas Lottery.

Authorities say they hope to recover $2 million, which represents the amount of proceeds garnered from or traceable to the illegal drug trafficking.

Bill Bryant, the assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Little Rock, said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that Henry became known to law-enforcement officers working drugs in 2005.

When other busts were made, Henry’s name would come up, Bryant said. Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson was aware of him, and apparently Henry’s neighbors also were. When he was taken away after the 6 a.m. raid on Friday that involved the DEA, State Police, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department and helicopters from the Arkansas National Guard, his neighbors applauded, Bryant said.

But Bryant also conceded that although the bust was significant, historically when one drug ring is put out of business, another moves in to take its place.

At a street value of about $20,000 a pound, the seized drugs would have sold for about $140,000.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer also addressed the enormity of the task of eradicating illegal drugs during questioning after the press conference. Arkansas all but shut down large methamphetamine manufacturing operations by passing laws that put allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind drug-store counters, he said. But that opened the door for Mexico to supply the demand for meth.

Bryant said one pound of the ice was found at Henry’s home and six pounds were found in Kensett in a flower bed next door to the home of Christian, 26, and Gladis Maldonado, 29, who allegedly brought the ice in from Mexico.

The drug was inside a length of plastic plumbing pipe with a glued cap on the bottom and a threaded cap on top so it could be removed. The Maldonado’s neighbor was not aware that the drug was in the flower bed, Bryant said.

In addition to Henry and the Kensett couple, these alleged distributors were indicted in federal court: Rebecca Henry, 36, of Austin; Michael Myers, 42, of Austin; Patrick Linn, 38, of Little Rock; Jason Holmes, 36, of Cabot; Brent Amaden, 39, of Carlisle;

Also Michael Himstedt, 48, of Little Rock; Michael Leszczyna “Mike D”, 31, of Lonoke;
John Henry Youngblood, Jr., 40, of Jacksonville; Oather Lee Fulmer aka Lebo, 44, of Cabot; Rex Ingle, 43, of Carlisle; Paul Criswell, 46, of Little Rock; Paul Simpkins, 36, of Cabot; Matthew Griffey, 30, of North Little Rock; Aleshia Johnston, 23, of Roland; Jennifer Mize, 41, of Austin; Margaret Diann Henry, 62, of Austin, and Dustin Dyer, 33, of Benton.

Most were indicted for distributing illegal drugs. However, Margaret Diann Henry and Mize were indicted for allegedly knowing about illegal activity and not reporting it. And Dyer, a Benton immigration and naturalization law attorney, was indicted for using a telephone with the intent to commit the felony offense of conspiracy to distribute meth.

At the time of the press conference, Henry and the Kensett couple were in federal custody and the other 14 who were arrested were released until a court appearance is set. Three were not yet in custody: Holmes, Johnston and Fulmer.

In addition to the cash and drugs, law-enforcement officers seized the double wide and all other structures at 1171 Webber Lane, Austin, a yellow H2 Hummer, a black Corvette, a black Chevrolet Tahoe, six motorcycles, two boats, a tractor, two certificates of deposit from Centennial Bank and a checking account from Centennial Bank.

Although the raids were coordinated by the DEA, Bryant said 80 to 90 law-enforcement agencies worked the arrests.

TOP STORY >> Breaking up PCSSD seen as a solution

Leader staff writer

There’s not a better time for Jacksonville to get its own district than now—those were the thoughts Monday of State Rep. Allen Kerr.

Kerr, who as a youth attended Jacksonville schools, is a member of the Legislative Audit Committee, which recommended last week that the Pulaski County Special School District Board be dissolved and the state Education Department consider consolidating the district.

Gov. Mike Beebe and Education Department commissioner Tom Kimbrell of Cabot are said to be discussing a state takeover of the troubled district as soon as this week. (See editorial, p. 16A.)

Kerr, a Republican lawmaker representing Little Rock, said he would like to see a south-of-the-river district and north-of-the-river district, “and then let Jacksonville do its own thing.”

Kerr’s comments came on the heels of a Sunday evening state school-board workshop where the topic of dissolving PCSSD also came up. The board also discussed U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s recent ruling for the state to immediately stop $70 million in desegregation payments to the three Pulaski County school districts.

Dr. Charles Hopson, the PCSSD superintendent, attended the Sunday state-board workshop as an observer, and came back to the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday morning and thanked the board for placing his district in fiscal distress. He said he appreciated the work by ADE assistant commissioner for finance, Bill Goff, and the supervisor of the fiscal-distress unit, Hazel Burnett. He said his local board was working toward becoming a functional unit and asked that the state not dissolve the board.

But then Monday night, Hopson’s own board went into executive session to discuss whether or not to fire the superintendent, who has only been on the job for about a year.

Board member Tom Struthard, of Sherwood, made the motion to dismiss Hopson. Gloria Lawrence, also of Sherwood, also voted for the dismissal.


Because Sunday’s state board meeting was a workshop and not a regular meeting, members discussed a state takeover, but they could not take any formal action.

Kimbrell said the department and state board will not be able to help the districts financially but can offer support and assistance in putting together a budget. “It’ll be quite a difficult transition. Difficult, but not impossible. Significant decisions will have to be made.”

He said in the case of PCSSD and NLRSD, because of their distress tag, the department would have final budget approval.

He said the stoppage of the funds, about $20 million for PCSSD, works out to around 10 percent of the districts’ budgets.

Board member Dr. Ben Mays said that structurally PCSSD was fundamentally inefficient. “To be a donut wrapped around two other districts. There is something terribly wrong with that. It’s very inefficient, and it’s our job to look at the efficiency of districts.”

Vicki Saviers, a board member from Pulaski County, said it was a geographical problem and “not an economical or effective way to educate kids.”

She said it may have made sense years ago, “but does it still make sense?” Saviers said the transportation costs for the district are upwards of $20 million a year.

Board member and former state Sen. Brenda Gullett said the question for too long has been: “Who is wrong, instead of what is wrong? We are not on a witch hunt here.”

Another board member, Jim Cooper, suggested the board recommend changes in the boundary lines of the three Pulaski County districts to help make PCSSD a more efficient district.

But the board was reminded by attorney Jeremy Lasiter that it got its hands slapped a number of years ago when it gave Jacksonville its blessings to pursue its own district because PCSSD was under federal desegregation monitoring.

“We need to tread carefully,” said board member Sam Ledbetter, a former state representative. “We need to go to the court with an idea that will give everyone a bigger bang for their bucks.”

The board was concerned because both PCSSD and the North Little Rock School District are still under federal monitoring and are both in fiscal distress. Little Rock School District is in neither, but what happens in the other two districts affects Little Rock.

“We are dealing with the education of 52,000 students,” said Saviers, “that’s important.”

Kimbrell said that was about 10 percent of the state’s total student population.


Lasiter, the state board’s attorney, also gave board members a briefing on Judge Miller’s ruling to stop giving the districts the deseg money.

“The position of the state over the past few years has been that the money was serving as an impediment to the districts reaching federal court-ordered desegregation goals. If the district achieved the goals, it would lose millions. If it didn’t then the money kept coming,” the attorney said.

He said the state tried to work with the three county districts a few years ago to prepare them for a wind down of the funding.

“We offered them a seven-year window to get ready for funding to stop and offered to give them $700 million over those seven years. The districts declined,” Lasiter said.

It was made clear to the board that if the districts’ appeals didn’t get a release of the money, that it would not go to the Education Department.

“Seventy million dollars were taken off the top of the general funds each year,” Kimbrell explained. “It’s a pretty good chance that we won’t see any of it if the appeals hold up.”

Gullett related the deseg funding to winning the lottery. “Those winnings do dry up and then you are up a creek, and that’s where these districts are now.”

“As a parent,” Saviers said, “the question I need to ask is what does all this mean to me and my children for next year?”

Struthard said Tuesday that Rizelle Aaron of the Jacksonville chapter of the NAACP claims to have audio tapes that might embarrass the board.

“Please listen to the audio which I have received and hopefully you will take the time to refocus your attention,” Aaron e-mailed board members. “I received this audio a couple of weeks ago and Lt. (Tim) Hibbs with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office has been informed.”

EDITORIAL >> Future dim for PCSSD

At any moment — today would not be too soon — the state Education Department could pull the plug on the Pulaski County Special School District, which is just surviving on life support.

The failed school district has few friends, especially in the state legislature, where the Legislative Audit Committee has recommended disbanding the district and letting the state Education Department run it.

Committee members from Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-North Little Rock) to Rep. Bill Pritchard (R-Elkins) all agreed Friday: Disband PCSSD and start all over.

The school district has no political support anywhere: Local legislators, from Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) to Jane English (R-North Little Rock) to Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) have given up all hope and wouldn’t mind it if the Education Department took over management.

The district has several failing schools on the Education Department’s watch list, including Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools, Sylvan Hills Middle School and Northwood Middle School.

The Education Department could step in, but it has balked at taking over the troubled district for obvious reasons, apart from the long-running desegregation lawsuit: The district is too big and rundown and faces financial ruin once the federal courts cut off desegregation funds.

It would take an organizational genius to turn the district around: Maybe Tom Kimbrell, the department’s commissioner, is such a genius, but he might prefer letting the courts run the district instead.

The damaging legislative audit, the circus around the video scam to damage a school-board member and all the rest are merely wearisome, not revelations. Each is merely another tiresome chapter in a chronicle that goes back many decades in the Pulaski County Special School District. Some of us can remember the epic scraps of Superintendent E. Fay Dunn and Winston G. Chandler Jr.

Assure us that it is not the water. Maybe it is time to consider whether there is something organic, cultural or geographic about the big doughnut district that makes people—school board members, administrators, auxiliary organizations and, yes, maybe even the patrons—behave in a fractious, devious, petulant and selfish way.

Twenty-seven years ago, U.S. District Judge Henry Woods ordered the school district, commonly referred to then as the “rural” district, to be combined with the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts to form one metropolitan school system. It was supposed to end the old practices of segregation, but it was also expected to end the geographic rivalries and discrimination among the richer and poorer parts of the urban community. The appellate court at St. Louis altered the order to simply expand the boundaries of the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts.

One remedy that Woods considered and rejected, to his subsequent regret, was a river division of the schools—one district north of the Arkansas River and another south of it. Each would enjoy some community of interest and likely some community of purpose that would infect the school board members, administrators and teachers. That is only a theory, but it is a remedy or at least a turn of events that we ought to contemplate.

Jacksonville has for some years, with good cause, sought its own independent school district. That, alas, will not happen anytime soon.

Legislators have even adopted the one word we most often use to describe the district: Dysfunctional.

Except for school-district officials and a handful of school board members, no one will defend the district and its record of failure and mismanagement. One school board member, Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville, told the Legislative Audit Committee to fire the board and abolish his job.

Critics on the Legislative Audit Committee represent both political parties and come from all sections of the state. They’re conservative and liberal, black and white, and fed up with failing test scores and millions of dollars misspent.

The legislative call to do something about a school system that the lawmakers view as out of control clearly will now lead to something—a temporary takeover of the schools by the state Department of Education, a legislative or administrative reorganization of the school districts in the county or some hybrid. The Pulaski County Special School District will not be unchanged.

Leaders of the community should acknowledge that the status quo cannot be defended and begin to suggest an organization that might produce, if not complete collegiality, a way to harmonize everyone’s interest in establishing great schools for the big suburban area.

SPORTS >> Centennial ends hot start for Gwatney

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s Centennial Bank senior American Legion team put an abrupt and decisive end to Jacksonville’s undefeated start to the season. Cabot hammered the Gwatney team for nine runs, and pitcher Cole Nicholson made his season debut on the mound, turning in a dominating performance and picking up the shutout Monday night at Brian Conrade Sports Complex in Cabot.

The 9-0 victory pulls Cabot to within a game of Jacksonville in the zone standings, and stopped Gwatney’s season-beginning winning streak at five.

“This was an important win because with five teams in our zone, somebody’s getting a bye in the first round of the zone tournament,” Cabot coach Jay Darr said. “If you’ve got good pitching and have one less game, you have a chance to dominate that tournament.”

Good pitching is something Cabot got a full game’s worth of Monday.

It was Nicholson’s first start for Centennial Bank after deciding late to come out for the Legion team. The graduated Cabot senior earned All State honors this high-school season after picking up nine of Cabot’s 16 wins of the season on the mound.

He showed no signs of a long layoff Monday, going the distance, giving up just two hits while striking out seven and walking just two. He struck out the side in the second inning.

He pitched with little pressure the whole game. Jacksonville’s pitching struggled early. Cabot scored six runs in the first, batting around without getting a hit. Of the first nine batters, four walked and three were hit by pitches while two flew out to right field.

With four runs already on the board and the bases loaded, leadoff hitter Bryson Morris stepped to the plate for the second time in the inning and hit a two-run single to centerfield to cap the huge first inning.

Jacksonville fell behind by 11 runs early last week against Sylvan Hills and came back to win, but with Nicholson’s stuff working on the mound, another comeback was not in the cards.

Cabot got three more runs in the second off reliever Nick Rodriguez. Dustin Morris singled with one out and scored on an RBI double by Andrew Reynolds. Reynolds scored two batters later on a single by Brandon Surdam.

Rodriguez settled in and held Cabot scoreless for the final four innings.

Byrson Morris led Cabot offensively, going 1 for 2, walking twice, driving in three runs, stealing a base and scoring a run.

Reynolds and Surdam also had two RBIs and scored two runs apiece.

Colt Harmon took the loss on the mound for Jacksonville, pitching two thirds of the first inning and giving up six earned runs.

Rodriguez pitched four and a third, giving up five hits and three earned runs while fanning five and walking three.

Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham wasn’t pleased.

“The result says all you need to know,” Hickingbotham said. “We weren’t ready. We didn’t come in here ready to play. When you only have 10, sometimes that’s going to happen because they think they don’t have to worry about anything.”

Cabot and Jacksonville take a break from zone games to begin play in the Sheridan Wooden Bat Classic tonight. That tournament runs through Sunday.

The victory lifts Cabot to 5-4 overall and 4-2 in zone. Jacksonville falls to 5-1 and 4-1.

In the junior game earlier in the evening, Cabot picked up a 15-7 victory in a walk and error-filled game.

Jacksonville jumped on top first with three early runs, but the bottom of the second was the turning point. Glover Helpenstill started the seven-run rally with an infield single. A slow roller by Aaron McKenzie rolled foul, but revealed a flaw in Jacksonville’s defensive scheme. Cabot coach Chris Gross called a bunt on the next pitch and everyone was safe. That led to a two-RBI double by Colby Seigler and the rally was on.

Devin Burke and Landon James added RBI base hits. Soon after, McKenzie and Seigler added their second hits of the inning and were driven in by Drake Boroughs’ single to left field.

Cabot added another run in the third, but Jacksonville made it interesting by cutting the margin to 8-7. But another good inning of Cabot hitting, combined with another bad inning of Jacksonville fielding, led to the wide final margin.

Jacksonville’s junior team has the rest of the week off while Cabot hosts Rosebud Thursday night.

SPORTS >> Colts run by Bruins in big first

Special to The Leader

The Sylvan Hills Bruins put themselves behind the 8-ball in the first inning Monday night in a 14-5 loss to the North Little Rock Colts.

The Bruins scored in the top of the first, but gave up eight runs in the bottom half thanks to an error, three walks, two hit batters and three hits as their record fell to 1-5.

“We seem to have one bad inning every game,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Fink said. “We had been doing it late in games, but we did it right off the bat today.”

The Bruins looked to be in good shape with their early run. Conner Eller walked, moved around on a single by Korey Arnold, then scored on a ground-out by Blake Manning.

Things didn’t improve for the Bruins in the second inning after being set down in order in the top half. The Colts added four runs to take a 12-1 lead. Three consecutive singles, followed by an error and another single put North Little Rock firmly in control.

“Our defense isn’t consistent right now, but give them credit, they hit the ball hard,” said Fink. “We just have to keep working. This is just our second game having everyone together and we’re still working out the kinks.”

Sylvan Hills did show some offense after having eight in a row retired. Arnold doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the fourth inning. Cory Jones and Mike Lock started off the fifth with walks. Dalton Freeling was hit by a pitch and all three scored after a wild pitch and Eller’s two-run single.

SPORTS >> Brown’s road finally leads home

Leader sports editor

A homecoming of sorts, Jeremy Brown took a long and winding road through college baseball, professional baseball and college basketball, and has ended up back at home as the new head baseball coach at North Pulaski High School.

Brown, a Sylvan Hills graduate, where he was a highly touted basketball prospect, as well as a late-blooming baseball star who was drafted by the New York Mets at the end of his senior season, now has the opportunity to put to good use the things he learned in his unusual career.

“I learned a great deal from playing professional ball,” Brown said. “I also learned a lot from coach Tipton and the coaches at Pratt. But from hitting to fielding, everything is on another level in pro ball, not just from high school but even from college. It’s very intense.”

Oddly, Brown did not even apply for the position. After graduating from Missouri-St. Louis in December, Brown began searching for openings near home. He heard about an opening at Mills, but was too late. He found out that former NP coach Raymond Cooper had been hired for the job, so he applied for the opening left by Cooper.

With no official coaching experience, he didn’t get the job, but was asked to come in as the head ninth-grade boys basketball coach.

“I said I’ll take that any day of the week,” Brown said. “I had no complaints, that was really a true blessing.”

There was also an opening as assistant baseball coach to Jay Darr, which Brown also readily accepted. A little more than a week later, Darr resigned to fill an opening at Hot Springs Lakeside, and Brown was offered the job as head baseball coach.

“I thought that’s even better,” Brown said.

Now, as a head high school coach at one of the higher classifications, Brown is confident, and he partly has his players to thank for that.

“When I met with the players, I had them fill out a questionnaire,” Brown said. “Some of the responses I got were very exciting for me. Some of the things they said tells me that the kids are ready to go to work.”

Brown talked about one answer in particular. That of returning shortstop and pitcher Alex Broadwell. Brown pulled out the questionnaire and quoted Broadwell.

“I want to come in next year not feeling the losing atmosphere. The past two years have been pretty bad. I want to come in ready to play.”

Brown explained what that comment meant to him.

“When I see stuff like that it’s exciting,” Brown said. “He said he wants to ‘come in’ ready to play. I had other comments like that. That tells me a lot of these are going to be willing to work. They’re ready to change things at North Pulaski.”

Brown has already been at the ball park this year watching Gwatney Chevrolet’s junior American Legion team, where several of his players are playing. He wants to send the message that he cares about it as much as their answers on the forms showed him they care.

“That’s as important as anything,” Brown said. “Showing those guys you care. As long as those guys are out there playing, I’ll be there. I don’t care if they’re 2-50, or 50-1, if you show me you want to play and want to improve, I’ll show you that you can depend on me to help you.”

SPORTS >> Ingram, North Pulaski perfect match

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski High School has added a lot of new coaches this year, but not all are new to coaching. That’s certainly the case with new head football coach Teodis Ingram, who was recommended for the job last week by an NPHS search committee, and officially hired Tuesday night.

Ingram brings 24 years of head-coaching experience to the table at NP, including stops at Hermitage, Stamps and most recently Crossett. He stepped away from coaching at Crossett in 2008, and became the athletic director, but never intended on staying out of coaching.

“Coaching is my first love and I never lost that urge to coach,” Ingram said. “I wanted to get out, get my masters and get back into coaching.”

Taking over a program like North Pulaski, which has never had a winning season or made the playoffs, doesn’t seem like a fit for a long-time coach with a history of success, but Ingram says it feels like a perfect fit.

“Since I first got into coaching, I’ve usually gone to programs that were not successful, at least at the time, at football,” Ingram said. “I believe I’ve done my best work at those programs where we’ve built from the ground up.”

Ingram brings ideas with him to NP that he believes can help change the direction of the program, starting with his relationships at feeder school Northwood.

“Right now, as I understand the situation, those kids can go anywhere in the district they want to go,” Ingram said. “We’re going to work to curtail that and make those kids want to stay a part of our program, their program.”

According to Ingram, having so many new coaches among the ranks to start next season at NP, can, be a very positive attribute to his vision for turning things around.

“In the past I’ve gone into programs where there wasn’t a lot of unity and cooperation among the different sports,” Ingram said. “We have a unique opportunity to build together at North Pulaski. I believe in promoting the whole program. To be successful at one thing, you have to promote the whole thing. I want to help create a family atmosphere among coaches, something that the kids will see and feel and want to be a part of. “Because I just got the feeling from being there, that North Pulaski was a place that was ready for something good to happen.”

Ingram’s career has afforded him the opportunity to get to know a lot of people, and he’ll be calling on some of those friends and acquaintances to help create a winning mindset.

Alongside the mindset, players have to be in place and ready to play, and Ingram has a plan in that regard as well.

He runs his offense out of the Wing T formation, and will begin to implement that offense once the dead period ends in early July.

But it starts even more fundamentally than that for Ingram.

“We’re going to start getting our offense in and getting ready, and you start getting ready in the weight room,” Ingram said. “We’ve got a good base, got some skill players, but we need work in the weight room.”

He also plans on seeing some living rooms.

“I can’t meet the players until the dead period is over, but I can meet with parents and that’s something I want to do. I want them to understand what’s going to be required, get across my ideas about the program, the academics and my code of conduct. And when I get there with the players, we’re going to hit the ground running. I hope we can put a product on the field that will be productive and make the community proud.”

SPORTS >> Death leaves coach’s box, hearts empty

Special to The Leader

The Sherwood baseball family lost a longtime and beloved member recently when John Ray passed away from complications following heart surgery.

Ray coached baseball in some form or another for over 30 years. He helped coach Bob Hickingbotham when his children played for the Gwatney American Legion team, then was the assistant to Mike Bromley on the Sylvan Hills Bruins, helping the Bruins to multiple state championships.

“I thought the world of John Ray,” said Hickingbotham. “He was just an outstanding guy. There haven’t been many better than him. Back when his kids played for me we didn’t have an edger for the infield, so he would go around the entire infield using a shovel to edge the grass and make the field look good.”

Most recently Ray was back working with little ones. He began coaching his grandson Jackson’s T-ball team, along with his son John (J.J.).

“John told me not too long ago that there is nothing like a 4-year-old to humble you,” said Sylvan Hills Bruins coach Bruce Mason. Mason coached with Ray for over 10 years.

“John always loved working with kids, whether the older boys we coached or more recent with the youngsters,” said Bromley. “One of the biggest things I remember about John is that the kids respected him. He got along with them and was their friend, but they also absolutely recognized him as an authority figure. This can be a cruel world and he always tried to use baseball to teach them life lessons. We enjoyed working with them and I think it helped keep us both young.”

One of the first things used to describe Ray by his friends was his strength of character. A strength of character born out of being a Marine, serving in Vietnam and helping veterans as a rating specialist and supervisor for the Veteran’s Administration.

“He was a man of great character and just a fine individual,” said Mason. “You never had to guess where he was coming from with his distinct idea of right and wrong. He was always encouraging the boys to play the game the right way and to do things the right way away from the field.”

Ray loved baseball and gave so much of his time to teaching the game the right way to hundreds of players over the years.

From helping Hickingbotham in Jacksonville, to serving as the Sylvan Hills A head coach and AAA assistant coach, to putting balls on a tee for kids more interested in playing in the dirt, Ray was almost as common around the fields as ball caps and baseball bats.

“John was a baseball man; he was a good man,” Mason said.