Friday, July 08, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Hey, big spenders

The ancient advice that seems to be most often rewarded is the biblical injunction to beware those who announce their arrival by bragging about their piety. They always turn out to be undeserving.

Nowhere is the advice borne out more clearly than in politics. We were reminded of it again last week by a couple of our newest political stars, the Arkansas secretary of state and the new congressman from the First Congressional District.

Mark Martin and Rick Crawford had run for the two offices railing against government spending and the extravagance of politicians and saying they would take an axe to government spending. There were sufficient warnings from their pasts to doubt their piety, Martin because he had been the kingpin of legislative spenders, knocking down $56,290 from the taxpayers in expense claims in 2009 alone in addition to his state salary as a state representative, and Crawford because he had declared bankruptcy to escape his personal debts.

So it was not surprising when Martin proclaimed Tuesday that he had ended the first fiscal year as secretary of state by saving $3.2 million from his $18.2 budget, a whopping 17.8 percent. He issued a news release praising himself and the staff he had hired for their frugality and their ingenuity in getting things done better at lower cost since he took over in mid-January. Martin had been taking a beating for his blunders and misspending ($53,000 for a Republican consultant to train him and his top staff in how to be ethical at a luxurious mountain resort in Benton County). He needed some good press.

So he offered the $3.2 million he had saved to help foster parents and others whose state benefits were being cut by Gov. Beebe. It had to be pointed out to him that this was not possible.

Alas, nosey reporters got in the way. The state fiscal administrator pointed out that all seven constitutional officers spend much less than their budgets and they do it every single year. They get bigger appropriations than they need or expect to spend and then they can boast about how frugal they are when they do not spend it all. Except they do the bragging at election time. Martin couldn’t wait. He needed the publicity now.

When reporters checked on the spending at the other six constitutional offices—governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, auditor and land commissioner—none of them spent close to their budget, but only Martin proclaimed that he had saved money. Governor Beebe, whose budget is only about one tenth of Martin’s, saved an amazing 24 percent of his appropriation. He merely shrugged when a reporter asked him about it. Beebe said all the constitutional officers should start submitting realistic budgets to the legislature rather than the oversized budgets that will make them look frugal when they don’t spend it all.

Here’s another thing. Martin was in the office only 5 ½ months of the year. The other 6 ½ months of the budget year belonged to his predecessor, Charlie Daniels, who was spending under budget when he turned the office over to Martin. Daniels is now the state auditor, and he, too, came in far under budget in his new offices across the hall.

By the way, Martin asked the legislature to increase his budget by $400,000 for the fiscal year that began last week and it obliged. So we should expect another press release at this time next year proclaiming that he was an even bigger Scrooge in his second year.

Congressman Crawford did not issue a news release or hold a press conference touting his own efficiency. It would have been pretty brazen. But he did continue to proclaim that the federal government was spending recklessly under the Democrat, Barack Obama.

But someone was keeping track. LegiStorm, a congressional watchdog, produced an analysis of the office spending of the 94 freshmen members of the U.S. House of Representatives during their first three months in office.

Crawford’s office was the fifth most extravagant office in the freshman class. The average payroll of the 94 new congressmen is $176,342. Crawford paid his staff $216,122. It was not clear whether his staff was larger or he paid them more.

If you were wondering, the staff cost of our new congressman in the Second District, Tim Griffin, was $192,849, well above the average for freshmen.

Here’s a prediction: Another week will not pass without Crawford or Griffin, or both, making public pronouncement about uncontrolled government spending.

TOP STORY > >Road work gets under way

Leader staff writer

For decades, the Jacksonville street plan and other area maps have shown a four-lane roadway connecting Hwy. 89 in Lonoke County to Hwy. 107 in Pulaski County.

The widening of Graham Road from Loop Road to Elm and Oak, a distance of about a mile, is part of that master plan.

City Engineer Jay Whisker said he was first hired by the city in 2000 and plans for widening Graham Road were already on the books.

The project was slated to begin as early as 2008 but was deleted because of funding issues, according to officials at Metroplan, a local body that coordinates projects within the region and across multi-jurisdictional lines. The federal portion of the money is funneled through Metroplan.

The current $7 million project, 80 percent funded by federal money, is in the utility phase, which has caused more closures and delays than expected.

The contract for the actual widening will be awarded in September and construction will start shortly after that.

According to the state High-way Department, the length of the construction contract will be determined July 15.

There is no funding available yet for the other two portions of the four-lane project—Loop Road to Hwy. 89 or West Main to Hwy. 107.

Whisker said the concept has always been for four lanes connecting the two highways.

Main Street, through Jacksonville to Redmond Road is already a four lane, Whisker explained, and the one-way roads of Elm and Oak leading to and from the Main Street overpass are considered together, as four lanes, so this work between Oak and Loop is just an extension of the plan.

He said the work that residents and drivers are seeing now is the utility work. “The actual road construction shouldn’t close the roadway like the utility work has.”

Whisker said most of the road closures that drivers and residents have experienced were made by the city’s wastewater utility. “The sewer line is under the east-bound lane of Graham Road and moving it was been difficult. We’ve had some land issues and have found other utilities in the way.”

He added that the utility work for a project like this is the hardest. “Most of this work is underground and the mapping wasn’t as good back then as it is now and it has caused sections of the road to be closed longer than we wanted,” the city engineer said.

Whisker said the city has received complaints about the closures and about all the trees being cut down.

He said the trees are in easements purchased by Entergy and are being cut so utilities can be moved. In a utility easement, the resident maintains ownership of the land, and the utility company maintains the use and can cut down trees as needed, Whisker explained.

Whisker said once done, it will help with traffic flow. “There’s a lot of developable land off Graham Road,” he said, “plus traffic is like water or electricity, it will take the path of least resistance and the four-lane route will definitely make it easier for drivers.”

But residents will have to make adjustments as the widening realigns many front yards and the traffic starts to increase.

TOP STORY > >‘Cat lady’ volunteers in Sherwood

Leader staff writer

“They’d hear me talking and come to the door meowing,” Phyllis Sharp said with a fond smile. Sharp is Sherwood Animal Shelter’s “cat lady” and was named its volunteer of the year a few months ago.

Sharp, a North Little Rock resident, began volunteering at the shelter last June. Her daughter had volunteered before her, but isn’t now due to illness.

Initially planning for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, she comes in to spend at least an hour most days the shelter is open. She feeds the cats treats and helps them socialize by petting them, speaking to them and even singing to new feline residents on occasion.

“Just getting them friendly (is the best part of volunteering),” Sharp said. “My exposing them to humans makes them more adoptable.”

She talked about how her 12-year-old cat, Miss Kitty, looked like a Russian blue and had to be put down because she developed a tumor.

“I think if I had a cat at home, I wouldn’t spend as much time with these,” Sharp explained.

She also said she enjoys helping the cats out because there are often more volunteers available who prefer dogs.

Volunteers who help take care of shelter hounds include the Hum family of North Little Rock and Rebecca Ellerbee of Cabot.

Ellerbee, who has been helping the shelter out for about a year, said, “I like bonding with the animals here and seeing them adopted gives you the satisfaction of knowing they’re going to a good home.”

Lara Hum, also of Hum’s Hardware in Gravel Ridge, has been volunteering since August and brings her daughters, 17 and 12, and her 7-year-old son to the shelter with her.

Shelter employees even hang Jonah’s (her son’s) coloring- book pictures, like the one last week of what looks a lot like a lizard, on the metal filing cabinets behind the front desk.

“It’s good for the kids to learn to give back,” Lara said. “We love animals…we help the animals in some way, we help them be more comfortable while they’re here.”

The family owns four dogs and began volunteering after seeing “Last Chance Highway”, a television show that follows a group of animal rescuers.

They feed the dogs, bathe them, do laundry and play with them in the yard as well as helping out with shelter fundraising events, like the pet fair in April.

Lara’s 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, also takes pictures of the animals to post on, an online database of adoptable pets in the care of about 10,000 animal-welfare organizations in the U.S., Canada and other countries.

The family comes every day during the school year and they show up nearly every day now.

The shelter, at 6500 North Hills Boulevard, is currently hosting a photography contest. Individuals are invited to email a photo taken of an animal currently available for adoption from the shelter to by July 29.

The purpose of the contest is to promote the available pets at the shelter.

An entry cannot be a professional photo and it should include photographer’s name, the animal’s control number, a phone number and an email address.

The shelter has a small selection of bows and bandannas, but participants are welcome to bring what they want to use.

The winner will be determined by the number of “likes” it receives once it is posted on the Sherwood Shelter Facebook page. Photos will be posted until July 29 and the winner will be announced on Aug. 1.

TOP STORY > >Prosecutor isn’t sure new pot law will help

Leader staff writers

Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley doesn’t know if the easing of marijuana laws will reduce overcrowding in state prisons.

A new prison-reform law that goes into effect this month increases the amount of marijuana an offender has to possess to be charged with a felony. Before, an ounce or more was enough. Now an offender has to have four ounces or more to be arrested on a felony-possession charge.

The prosecutor said he hasn’t prosecuted minor offenders when he has much more serious crime to deal with.

“I hope it works,” Jegley said, but he had doubts about the new law saving money in the state prisons.

Jegley warned that the new law may have unintended consequences.

“People smarter than me in this office have pointed out that possession of drug paraphernalia used to be a misdemeanor, which will now be a felony,” Jegley said.

That could mean more prison sentences for pot smokers, who will take up more beds that should go to violent offenders.

“If rising prison-population projections are accurate, I don’t see how the state will cope with it,” Jegley said.

The new law “won’t affect what I do in Pulaski County—maybe in other counties,” he continued. “We’re not too interested in devoting our resources to marijuana.”

Jegley thinks the state will have to cut spending on education, Medicare, Medicaid and other human services to pay more for prisons.

“Future legislators will have a heck of a time dealing with it,” Jegley said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the years ahead.”

The prison-reform law has also upped the monetary amount that separates misdemeanor from felony in theft of property or services.

Theft of property is now a misdemeanor if the property is valued at $1,000 or less, instead of $500 or less. Theft of services is a misdemeanor if the value of the service is less than $5,000, instead of $500 or less. Theft by receiving is a misdemeanor if the property is valued at under $1,000, instead of $500 or less.

Jacksonville Patrol Captain Kenny Boyd said the value of things has increased due to inflation and the law corresponds to that. He said he didn’t see that the changes would have a big impact.

“Laws change on a regular basis. We adapt and move forward,” he said.

Sherwood Police Depart-ment’s public-information officer, Josh Adams, agreed. He said over time, the value of stolen items is worth changing. He added that many theft charges are grouped with felony charges, such as residential burglary.

“If they want it, they’re going to take it regardless of what it’s worth,” Adams continued.

Cabot District Court Judge Joe O’Bryan said the change will have some impact, but it was about time for the values to be upped because the value of money and things change over time.

He added that most cases his court sees have to do with traffic violations and driving-while-intoxicated charges. O’Bryan said his court is prepared for an increase in its caseload.

Searcy District Court Judge Mark Pate said he couldn’t say if the changes would increase his caseload and did not want to express an opinion on the new law.

He added that the increase in cases would depend on how prosecutors respond to the changes.

(This is the second part of a two-part article.)

SPORTS>>Rob Evans joins TCU hoops staff

By Nate Allen

Long known rumors of TCU’s interest in Rob Evans finally came true.

The former Arkansas Raz-orbacks assistant basketball coach and head coach of Ole Miss and Arizona State, Tuesday was named to Jim Christian’s TCU Horned Frogs staff as an assistant coach.

That means all of former Arkansas coach John Pel-phrey’s staff found jobs elsewhere since Pelphrey was fired a few days after the Razorbacks ended their 2010-2011 season.

Pelphrey was hired by Florida coach Billy Donovan as an assistant after having previously assisted Donovan at Marshall and Florida before becoming head coach for five years at South Alabama and the last four years at Arkansas.

Tom Ostrom, an assistant coach to Pelphrey at South Alabama and all four years at Arkansas, was hired as an assistant by the University of Dayton.

Brett Nelson, was hired as anassistant at Drake University.

Good for all that they bounced back from their Arkansas setback.

Great for college basketball that Evans, underutilized by the Pelphrey regime it seemed, at least during games, continues coaching.

At 64, he was the most likely to retire. But Evans has plenty more to give back to the game he has bettered since becoming the first All-American for Lubbock Christian back in 1966, then transferring to New Mexico State and captaining the Aggies’ NCAA Tournament teams in 1967 and ‘68.

Just too bad Evans doesn’t continue at Arkansas, though it’s understandable. Much as Arkansas coach Mike Anderson respects Evans, whom he has known nearly all his basketball life, he had no room at the inn. Anderson brought to Arkansas his entire staff, including veteran former head coach Melvin Watkins, that has meshed so well under him the last five years at Missouri.

Understandable that Evans would not continue at Arkansas, but incomprehensible that somebody wouldn’t hire such a classy, knowledgeable, respected coach which TCU did.

As a young assistant, Evans coached and learned from the best, Lou Henson at New Mexico State, Gerald Myers at Texas Tech and Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State before his 1993-2006 head coaching run at Ole Miss and Arizona State.
Evans’ Ole Miss tenure ranks among the SEC’s best-ever coaching jobs at a perpetual underdog.

His 1997 and 1998 Rebels won the SEC West and dislodged Richardson’s Razorbacks from their West dominance.

They did so with a lot of Arkansas born players like Keith Carter of Perryville, Anthony Boone of West Helena among others playing rough, tough defense.

Not many out-toughed Rich-ardson’s teams, but Evans’ last Rebels outfits did.

They even beat one vintage Richardson team, the 1995 national runner-up Razorbacks on Jan. 4 in Oxford. Beaten, 78-71, Hogs were out of gas in Oxford, regrouping from the long trip back from Hawaii, where they beat Oklahoma, Cincinnati and Iowa in the Rainbow Classic.

But hey, you play the schedule as it falls, and the Rebels did and played better and earned it.

Writing courtside after the game, it was the most euphoric and longest non-Fayetteville SEC postgame these eyes witnessed.

Evans and the team littered with Arkansas natives, were repeatedly curtain-call demanded for victory laps after beating the defending national champs.

They did so smiling as wide as the court itself.

Perhaps Evans won’t experience that as a head coach again, but it’s great he’ll continue assisting somebody else at the chance to share the opportunities he has enjoyed.

SPORTS>>Bats silent, 14-under beaten by Pine Bluff

Special to The Leader

Jacksonville’s 14-year-olds came up short against Pine Bluff North on Friday morning in the opening game of the Babe Ruth state tournament in Benton.

Jacksonville lost 6-2 thanks to the bats falling silent for much of the game.

Both teams had base runners in the opening inning, but neither scored as Jacksonville left Ryan Mallison stranded on third, while Pine Bluff also left a runner 90 feet away from home.

The second inning started off strong with Justice Austin walking and stealing second to lead off the inning. A hard grounder to second moved him to third, but a strikeout and grounder ended the inning.

After Pine Bluff scored in the bottom of the inning, Jacksonville played small ball to tie the game 1-1. Courtland McDonald reached second on an error then moved to third on a one-out sacrifice bunt by Mallison, putting the wild pitch or passed ball into play.

Instead, Justin Abbot camethrough with a single to right for Jacksonville’s first run.

Pine Bluff took advantage of its speed and patient hitting to manufacture a pair of runs in the third and fourth innings and take a 5-1 lead.

Keilen Richardson walked for Jacksonville in the fifth inning and scored on a wild pitch as Jacksonville’s batter kept going after first pitch strikes on the outside corner and hitting grounders to second base.

“We have to hit the ball better and that starts with our approach,” said Jacksonville coach Jason Carpenter. “We have to be smarter than that.”

Jacksonville had two first-pitch groundouts to start off the sixth inning before Austin singled to left. A flyout ended the sixth, then the side was retired in order in the seventh to end the game and put Jacksonville into the losers bracket with a game time of at 5:30 today.

“We’ve got the talent here to make some noise,” Carpenter said. “We got good pitching today, the hitting just wasn’t there. We’ll get back out tomorrow and see what happens.”

Donte Harris started on the mound and scattered five hits and five walks over five innings. Harris pitched out of more than one jam in the game, stranding runners in scoring position in three of his five innings. Austin Huhn came in to pitch the sixth inning and stranded two more in scoring position.

SPORTS>>Little Bears battle back, win state

Special to The Leader

There were 19 teams from all over the southern half of the state in the Cal Ripken T-Ball Arkansas South State Tournament in Sherwood last weekend, but in the end it was two teams that didn’t have to travel far at all that battled for the championship.

The Sylvan Hills Bears needed to beat the Cabot Mayhem twice to win the title and did just that, 16-4 and 24-20 Tuesday night in Sherwood.

“Cabot hit’s the ball so well, but we made a couple changes and really played good defense that last inning,” said Sylvan Hills coach Ben Leisenring. “I’m proud of how well the kids came out and played today.”

Sylvan Hills shortstop Chase Collins played deep in the hole in the last inning and caught two Cabot line drives that might have fallen otherwise as the Bears held off the comeback attempt for the 24-20 win.

The Bears were the visitors and jumped out to a 6-0 lead, scoring the run limit without any outs in the first inning. Mason Umfleet hit a drive off the fence in the air for a two-run triple to highlight the inning.
Cabot answered strong in its first at bat, tying the game 6-6, also with no outs. Abe Owens and Zachary Wofford hit back-to-back doubles in the inning.

The offense from the Mayhem was a bit surprising considering how the first game ended, but the youngsters came out ready to hit.

“We seemed dazed in the first game for some reason,” said Cabot coach Nick Tucker. “But we got back into it and had fun in the second game.”

The offense kept rolling for both teams with Sylvan Hills scoring five, followed by Cabot answering with six to take a 12-11 lead.

The Bears reached their limit again with six runs to take a 17-12 lead into the bottom of the third, when the game’s momentum changed.

Sylvan Hills third baseman Marquez Gooden played a part in every out, throwing one to second after a single, then catching a fly ball and a line drive as Cabot was held scoreless in the inning.
One bad offensive inning can be disastrous in T-ball, but Cabot was able to just stay alive.

Sylvan Hills scored four in the fourth inning to take a 21-12 lead, but the Mayhem put up a six-spot in their half of the inning to pull within three at 21-18.
Playing just five innings and with therun limit at six, Cabot couldn’t allow more than three runs or it wouldn’t get its chance in the bottom of the fifth.

Three turned out to be all the Bears could get across thanks to a fielder’s choice and two line drives, including a great snag by Cabot shortstop Carson Stephens.

Down 24-18, Cabot still had a chance to tie the game and force extra innings.

Wofford and Carter Prather both singled and scored on Kaden Smith’s double around a fly out to Collins and a grounder to Kody Bridges.

Collins made the final out on a hard line drive by Jaggar O’Dell. The first game was a bit of an anomaly with Cabot’s bats falling silent while Sylvan Hills found every gap in the last two innings. It was a defensive affair the first two innings with the score tied 4-4.

Sylvan Hills’ bats came alive in the third and fourth innings, scoring the maximum six runs each inning while shutting down Cabot on defense, winning by the mercy rule after four innings.

SPORTS>>Cabot advances to junior state

Leader sports editor

The junior Centennial Bank American Legion team came up short in its bid for a district title, but rallied from an opening loss to advance to the final, and more importantly qualify for the state tournament that began yesterday in Sheridan.

The Cabot squad lost its opener to North Little Rock, and played on the brink of elimination through its next three games, but found a way to win them all for another chance at tournament host North Little Rock.

The tournament host Colts won the game 12-7 in extra innings, but not before a big late rally by Cabot erased a 7-0 deficit and sent the game into eight.

North Little Rock started well, getting two runs on board with its first two batters. Cabot helped with an error that allowed leadoff hitter Dillon Huckabee on board. That brought Nick Henry to the plate, who pulled one over the fence down the third baseline to give the Colts a quick 2-0 lead.

Cabot went down quickly early on. It took just 10 combined pitches to get rid of the first six Centennial batters. They finally got a couple on base when seven and eight hitters Colby Seigler and Adam Hicks led off with back-to-back singles. But the rally ended with a strikeout and a 6-4-3 double play on the next two at bats.

Meanwhile, North Little Rock was extending its lead with another run in the second and three more in the third. A run in the fourth made it 7-0.

Cabot rallied in the sixth with six runs on five singles and two walks.

Devin Burke then reached to lead off the seventh and cleanup hitter Tristan Bulice bunted to move him to second. A single by Aaron McKenzie got him to third, and a sacrifice grounder by Glover Helpenstill tied the game.

But the pitching faltered in the first extra frame. Four Colts walked, combined with two base hits and an error, and it was too much for Cabot to overcome.

The loss, though, may have been a blessing for Cabot’s chances at state. A win in that game would have meant another game that same night to determine the zone champion.

“I think not playing that extra game is going to help us,” Cabot coach Chris Gross said. “It leaves us some pitching that we would have had to use up in that game.”

Cabot had already played four games in two days, beating Rose Bud, Pine Bluff and Sylvan Hills in order to get to the title game.

The game against the Bruins didn’t start until almost 10 p.m. Wednesday, and lasted until after 1 a.m. Cabot pulled it out 12-4 after a seven-run sixth inning turned a close game into a win going away.

Nick Thomas and Devin Burke had three hits each in the game that saw 12 Centennial base knocks.

Against Pine Bluff, the No. 1 seed coming into the tournament, Cabot got just three hits total, but also got an outstanding performance by Helpenstill on the mound. Helpenstill held the Kell’s team to just one hit through seven innings.

“He threw a great game,” Gross said. “He did it in a game when we really needed it. He did a great job.”

The 3-2 record in the tournament sends the team to the state tournament at 16-9.

Cabot opened play in the state tournament in Sheridan last night against Texarkana. A win in that game means a 5 p.m. start today against the winner between Bryant and Jonesboro. A loss means a noon start time against the loser of the same game.

SPORTS>>Gwatney gets easy win over Sylvan Hills

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got a good performance on the mound from Nick Rodriguez and an easy win Thursday night at Sylvan Hills. The Gwatney Chevrolet squad beat the hosting Bruins 12-1 in five innings behind a one-hitter by Rodriguez.

The team got the big win despite three starters suffering injuries or sickness. Second baseman Kenny Cummings and centerfielder Colt Harmon left the game in the first two innings complaining of back pain.

Later, outfielder Alex Tucker got sick, but there were no more substitutes left to replace him.

“I told him he’s just going to have to go out there and stand if nothing else,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. I didn’t want to forfeit with a 10-run lead.”

Tucker actually made the last two outs of the game in right field, making a long, running catch for the final out.

Rodriguez was the story of the game. He threw a one-hitter, and threw the last four innings without giving up a hit, and gave up no earned runs.

Adam Sarna got an RBI single to centerfield in the first inning after Korey Arnold reached on an error at third base. That was the last and only hit for the Bruins in the game.

Jacksonville never trailed, scoring two in the top of the first. Jacob Abrahamson, Cummings and Patrick Castleberry started off with three consecutive singles, Castleberry’s hit scoring Abrahamson. Two batters later, Harmon’s 6-4 fielder’s choice scored Cummings.

Gwatney got three runs on just one hit in the second. Tucker and Chris McClendon led off with consecutive walks. Abrahamson’s ground out to short scored Tucker. Cummings then walked and Castleberry got another RBI base hit.

Sylvan Hills pitcher Blake Rasden held Jacksonville scoreless in the third. In the fourth he struck out the side, but three errors behind him afforded Jacksonville two more runs and made it 7-1.

The end was rather eventless, with Sylvan Hills’ pitching falling apart. Three singles by Rodriguez, MClendon and Troy Allen got one run across the plate, five walks and a sacrifice fly by Arvie Crudup accounted for the rest as Jacksonville ended the game early on the 10-runs-after-five-innings rule.

The win lifted Jacksonville’s record to 15-3 on the season. It went on the road to Conway last night after Leader deadlines. No games are on the schedule for next week, leaving the team with an entire week without games heading into postseason play, but Hickingbotham is trying to change that.

“I’m trying to get games for us on Monday and Tuesday, and after that we’ll be done until the tournament,” Hickingbotham said.

As of now, he’s unsure about the extent of his two starters’ injuries.

“Well I guess we’ll find out today,” Hickingbotham said. “One of them was hurting enough he went on home during the game. Hopefully everything will be alright.”

The Zone 3 tournament begins Thursday at Burns Park.

FELDMAN >> Sylvan Hills grad helps revive Memphis sound

The Bo-Keys horn section includes (from left) Ben Cauley, Kirk Smothers, Floyd Newman and Marc Franklin, who is formerly of Sherwood.

Last month in Overton Park in Memphis, the young trumpet player on stage left was blasting away with the Bo-Keys, an eight-man band that has revived the soulful sounds of Memphis from the 1960s and 1970s.

The trumpet player’s name is Marc Franklin, a Sylvan Hills High School graduate who is one of the younger members of the Mid-South’s greatest soul band, which includes several veterans from the Stax and Hi Records era.

Franklin, who’ll turn 36 on Sunday, is a former Sherwood resident who graduated from Sylvan Hills in 1993 and attended Memphis State, where he soaked up the city’s unique musical sounds.
He has toured with veteran soul-blues singer Bobby (Blue) Bland — they appeared together at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena a few years ago — but now spends his time teaching and recording in Memphis and touring with the Bo-Keys.

Ben Cauley, the other trumpet player in the Bo-Keys, is the only surviving member of the Mar Keys, who perished with Otis Redding in a plane crash in 1967.

The musicians are young and old, black and white, who put on a funky show at the park with veteran soul singers Otis Clay, William Bell and Percy Wiggins.

The free program drew a large crowd to the Levitt Shell, where Elvis Presley performed on July 30, 1954, which many people consider the first rock-and-roll show.

The Bo-Keys evoke the sounds of such instrumental groups as the Bar Kays, Mar Keys and Pac Keys, who backed Redding, Isaac Hayes, Al Green and other soul greats who made the Memphis sound.

Band members also include such Memphis soul veterans as guitarist Skip Pitts (who recorded “Shaft” with Isaac Hayes), keyboardist Archie (Hubie) Turner and drummer Howard Grimes, as well as bassist and band leader Scott Bomar and saxophonists Jim Spake, Derrick Williams and Kirk Smothers.

“I received an excellent music education at Sylvan Hills High School,” Franklin told us later. “Our band director for my sophomore and junior years was Mr. David Stuart. He instilled in us the importance of a strong work ethic and also a love of many different styles of music. This is evident in the amount of former students who still are involved with teaching, playing or engineering music.  

“He had an incredible collection of LPs in his office,” Franklin continued.

“This was the first time I heard some of the great soul and funk music of the 60s and 70s. Little did I know that just a few years later I would be working with some of the artists in his record collection.  

“Mr. Stuart left my senior year and was replaced by Mr. Tom Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds was a pretty good jazz piano player and worked in and around Little Rock. At the time, I really wanted to be a jazz musician, and it was great to get his insights,” said Franklin, who plays through the side of his mouth, like his mentor Scott Thompson.

The Bo-Keys have just released their soulful “Got to Get Back!” (Electrophonic), which is available on CD and vinyl. The record jumps and shouts with amazing vocal support from several soul and  blues veterans: “Got to Get Back to My Baby” with Otis Clay, “Catch This Teardrop” with Spencer Wiggins, “Weak Spot” with William Bell and “I’m Going Home” with Charlie Musselwhite.

Musselwhite was the only vocalist on the record who couldn’t make it to Memphis.

The music sounds better than ever, perhaps because recording technology has greatly improved since Stax and Hi started making records some 50 years ago.

The Bo-Keys continue to tour around the country. They’ll perform again in Memphis on July 23 at the Blues on the Bluff.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Supporting better roads

The trucking industry gave up its claim to a sales tax exemption for big tractors and trailers in the face of wide criticism last week and everyone agreed not to hold an election on a nickel-a-gallon tax on diesel fuel. We are tempted to say, like all the players in the imbroglio, that all’s well that ends well. But only tempted. The taxpaying and motoring public is still a big loser.

We still find the episode mystifying. The trucking industry approached the Highway Commission, Gov. Beebe and the legislature with a proposition. It wanted repairs to the degraded sections of interstate highways and was willing to support an increase in the diesel tax. The tax and a bond issue would be submitted to the voters at a special election. There was only one catch. In exchange, the industry wanted their big rigs exempted from the sales tax. Everyone agreed to the proposition, and the legislature passed the whole package.

The good-roads lobby was preparing last month for the campaign for the bonds and tax when the industry suddenly seemed to have a change of heart. It announced that it had conducted a poll of Arkansas voters, who overwhelmingly did not want the big trucks to pay more taxes to repair the roads they tore up. So the industry was not going to support the tax.

Gov. Beebe said fine, he would not call the election, but he would ask the legislature to repeal the truckers’ sales-tax break. The deal had been that if the diesel tax failed, everyone would agree to repeal the tax exemption. But the truckers said they wanted to keep the exemption and they would work to stop the repeal.

Cooler heads prevailed, and the Arkansas Trucking Association announced last week that it would agree to the repeal. The association’s executive director said newspaper columnists were making it sound like the truckers were having their cake and eating it too, so it seemed wise to abandon the tax exemption.

Beebe said he would go ahead with the original plan, which was to call a special election to vote on a new $575 million bond issue to do repairs on the interstate system. The bonds would be repaid from an existing 4-cents-a-gallon levy on diesel. That tax and federal highway aid are now paying off a highway bond issue approved in 1999. The old bonds will be repaid in another three years.

It is too bad that the governor and the good-roads people didn’t go ahead with the election on a new tax and bond issue because we think voters are pretty rational. They know that the heavy rigs destroy the roadways and would be happy for them to pay a small part of their rightful share of maintaining them. It would have freed other taxes and federal aid to repair thousands of miles of primary and secondary roads that serve the vast majority of motorists.

Beebe should exercise some caution about calling another election to renew the interstate bonds. A bond issue is wise only if there is a need for all the highway work to be done quickly rather than piecemeal as tax receipts came in. Even then, bonds are the route to go only if the extra costs of bond financing—attorney and underwriting fees and investor earnings—are reasonably related to the work. The argument for a bond issue has been that materials and labor costs are rising so fast and borrowing costs are so minimal that it saves money in the long run to borrow and build right now.

But no one knows if those conditions will prevail when the bonds are finally issued and the construction performed. The Highway Department in the past has overestimated inflation in materials and labor. More roads could have been built in the 13-year bond-payout span by paying as you build.

Let’s leave that decision until it is time to actually build the roads.

TOP STORY >> Old theater burns in Beebe

Leader staff writer

An old movie theater on East Center Street in Beebe that was slated to become a shelter for the homeless burned late Sunday night.

Assistant Fire Chief Rick Jackson said Tuesday that the cause of the blaze was not known.

Actually, three days after firefighters extinguished the fire, the building was still too hot to start the investigation into the cause.

Bob Hall, pastor of First Baptist Church and chairman of the board of the Beebe Christian Outreach Center, said the fire will not stop the shelter from being built.

A casual observer would likely not realize that Beebe has homeless people, but Hall said homelessness is a problem for the area.

“We are requested to put people up in the motel frequently and there have been at times people living in the woods by the interstate,” he said.

Renovation of the building was under way last week. The old sloped flooring was being ripped out and the seats had been removed.

Now, the roof and back wall are gone, but the sides and front are intact. Perhaps a steel structure can be built within the old walls, Hall said.

The old theater was donated by the Hayes family, which owns many of the old downtown buildings.

The burned building is connected to another donated building that has been renovated as the food and clothing building for the outreach center.

That building was damaged by smoke and water but only minimally, Hall said.

The fire started at about 11:30 p.m. Assistant Fire Chief Rick Jackson said 30 firefighters from Beebe, Antioch and McRae worked until about 5:30 a.m. to put it out.

No damage estimate was available at press time.

Although work had started on the renovation, Hall said he was unsure when the pastors who make up the outreach board will get together to discuss what to do next.

“The summer is a difficult time to get the pastors together,” he said, adding that the start of school is only a little over a month away and that the work could start at that time.

The theater fire was the second in a vacant building in an eight-day period. On June 25, the fire department responded to 305 N. Fir St., where a house that had been condemned by the city was ablaze.

Jackson said the cause of that fire was undetermined.

The fire was extinguished before the house burned completely.

At one time, fire departments set abandoned houses on fire and then put them out as part of their training. But Jackson said the practice is now banned unless strict guidelines are followed. Getting a house ready to burn costs from $5,000 to $10,000 and includes removing shingles, all plastic pipe, vinyl floor covering and wiring as well as ensuring that no lead-based paint is present.

The fire department doesn’t have an investigator. Jackson said the police department is investigating both fires.

TOP STORY >> School to move sidewalk

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke School Board voted at a special meeting last week to move the recently poured sidewalk on the east/northeast side of the new high school two feet closer to the building because city council members and the mayor feel it may limit two-way traffic.

The sidewalk visually narrows College Street, Superintendent John Tackett said. Mayor Wayne McGee agreed to have the city remove and dispose of the concrete sidewalk at no cost to the district. Changes to the almost 100 feet of concrete will be completed by this Friday so that it would not cause delays on the completion of the new high school.

If those conditions are not met, the city has agreed to also pay for the replacement of the sidewalk. If those conditions are met, the district will pay for the preparation of the new sidewalk, the concrete, the concrete finishing and architectural fees associated with the change.

The location of the sidewalks was included in an entire set of plans submitted to the city prior to job start-up. The sidewalk can only be moved two feet because of the position of a fire hydrant.

Delk Construction will layout, pour and finish the new sidewalk as redrawn by Lewis Architects.

The board also voted to replace one louver in a gable at the new high school with a precast, concrete seal and replace four other louvers with aluminum windows.

The changes will improve aesthetics and help prevent birds from nesting behind what would be non-functioning grates.

In other business, the board voted to accept a $79,470 bid from Stadium Pros for the replacement of visitor bleachers.

Specifications for the replacement, drawn up by Lewis Architects, will increase the capacity of the current bleachers by 40 for a total of 740 seats.

School board members poked fun at the expense, but acknowledged that efforts to repair the steps, block and fencing have not been successful. The frame under the bleacher is also deteriorated and creates a safety hazard.

Thursday’s special meeting of the board was also held to approve the sending of three board proposals to Classified and Certified Personnel Policies Committees for review and comments. Those committees will have 10 days to look over the proposal.

Voting to send the proposals on Thursday will allow board members to vote on the proposals at the regular July meeting.

The first proposal is to establish a salary schedule for HIPPY employees hired through Title I funds though Wilbur D. Mills Educational Service Cooperative but contracted by the district to take care of early childhood, 3 to 4-year-old students.

The salaries will be equivalent to current pay levels for specific jobs and will set a common standard for raises.

The second proposal is to re-establish the maintenance director index at 1.38 to make the salary correspond with required job responsibilities.

The third proposal is to establish a $1,000 stipend for a swim coach. The district has had a swim team for one year and the coach is a certified teacher.

The board also voted to amend its current student transfer policy to allow members to consider circumstances in the event a “reasonable” standard can be applied to a request. Members agreed to pass the change with an addition.

The addition allows parents to transfer children for the coming school year only if the request is made by Sept. 1 of that school year. Board members felt this would prevent students from transferring in the middle of the year and put some limitation on the extenuating circumstances clause.

The board also approved a legal transfer for Peyton Beedle to attend Cabot schools and hired two employees while accepting one resignation.

Sarah Woodward, seventh- grade literacy teacher, resigned. Shannon Simkins was hired to teach sixth-grade math and Mark Hobson was hired as district maintenance director.

TOP STORY >> First day is productive

Leader staff writer

Dr. Jerry Guess called his first day at the helm of the Pulaski County Special School District productive and said it went well.

As Guess, 60, was getting his feet wet, the state education commissioner, Dr. Tom Kimbrell of Cabot, was looking for people to complete an advisory board to assist Guess.

Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester of Jacksonville, along with former PCSSD financial officer Don Stewart are slated to be part of that panel.

Stewart now has his own consulting firm and has shown that Jacksonville could financially support its own school district.

“Our focus is on the first day of school,” Guess said, hoping to have everything going right.

The former Camden Fairview superintendent moved up to central Arkansas over the weekend. “I got a small apartment in the school-district zone. Spent my first night there Monday night.”

“My day started at 6:30 Tuesday morning, and when I went to my office, Bobby Lester was already waiting on me,” Guess said.

The state education commissioner appointed the new superintendent from the Camden Fairview School District to the PCSSD post last week. The state took over the fiscally distressed district in late June.

Guess said he spent about 90 minutes in talks with Lester. “He gave me the history of the district, his insights and what our challenges are,” Guess said.

The new superintendent then met with central office staff. “It was a good meeting and sharing of ideas. I let the staff know what I wanted the tone to be—positive—and the importance of focusing on the education of our kids.”

By 10 a.m. Guess was in with the administrative and support staff of the district’s two new schools—Maumelle High School and Sylvan Hills Middle School—set to open in August.

“It was a three-hour long meeting and we touched on every possible issue from the coming year like transportation, textbooks, desks, supplies and teacher assignments,” Guess said, adding that the meeting was chaired by Derek Scott, the district’s director of operations.

Guess knows that Kimbrell is working to put together an advisory group that more than likely will include Lester, Stewart and others, but there is no timeline for the group to start.

“Dr. Kimbrell is still talking to people who he would like on the advisory board,” said Seth Blomeley, spokesman for the Education Department.

Guess is looking forward to working with the board, but also said he had plenty of help on his first day.

“We had state department people in and out all day and they were extremely helpful in telling the new chief what should be done.

Guess will be paid $215,000, $100,000 more than he was making as the chief of the Camden Fairview District, to head the fiscally distressed PCSSD for the state, which took over the district last month and removed the superintendent and dissolved the school board.

State-ousted Dr. Charles Hopson was making $205,000.

When Kimbrell appointed Guess last week, Guess said, “I may be new to PCSSD, but I’m not new to Arkansas and not new to being a superintendent.” He called the PCSSD job a challenge but vowed not to come in and shake things up right away. “I’ve seen too many people come in to districts and do too much too quickly. You have to understand the history, the background and the people. There are a lot of good things going on in the district and a lot of great things are happening for the students.”

He said he wants to be part of the solution that brings the good news in the district back into the community and the news.

SPORTS >> 14-under All Stars go 1-1

Special to The Leader

The Jacksonville 14-year-old All-Star team came up short in its first tournament at the Stars and Stripes Invitational in Lakewood.

Jacksonville beat England 5-2 Friday night, then fell 12-8 to Hot Springs Saturday in pool play. The All-Stars were matched up with Hot Springs again in bracket play Sunday morning, losing 6-5 in the final inning.

“The kids are coming together,” said coach Jason Carpenter. “We got behind on Saturday, but never gave up. Today (Sunday) we had them beat, but just couldn’t finish them off.”

Sunday got off to a rough start for Jacksonville before the game ever began. As the four seed, Jacksonville was originally scheduled to play third-seeded England at 10 a.m. The bracket was incorrect however as England allowed fewer runs than Hot Springs, and so was the two seed with Hot Springs moving to the three.

That meant that the Jacksonville players, who arrived at 9 a.m., had to find something to do and somewhere to go as the game time was moved back to 11:15 as soon as Hot Springs could get there.

After both teams went three up and three down in the first inning, Jacksonville struck first for three runs in the top of the second. Justice Austin reached on an error, Zac Watkins walked and Courtland McDonald singled and each came around to score. Starting pitcher Austin Huhn had a sacrifice fly in the inning.

Huhn, who started and got the win against England, had some uncharacteristic control issues in the bottom of the inning that helped Hot Springs tie the game 3-3. Two singles sprinkled between four walks allowed three runs to score. Huhn struck out Hot Springs’ top hitter with the bases loaded to hold off the huge inning.

Jacksonville took the lead in the fourth inning when Donte Harris walked and scored on McDonald’s triple. The visitors added an insurance run in the fifth thanks to Laderrious Perry leading off the inning with a walk and scoring on Huhn’s fielder’s choice. A pop up to first stranded two runners on base.

Leading 5-3 in the final inning, Huhn took the mound to try and finish the game. But after a hard single and a walk, the big freshman was taken out after pitching four innings in the severe heat.

Zac Watkins was brought in to try and get his second save of the tourney and quickly got an out when a sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position.

A walk loaded the bases, giving Jacksonville a chance at a force out at any base and a double play to end the game. The next batter hit a bloop single just over the infield for the first run, while an error on the batter brought home the tying run with the bases still loaded.

The next batter worked the count to full and fought off two Watkins’ fastballs foul before the final pitch missed just high, forcing home the winning run for Hot Springs.

Hot Springs lost to Bryant in the semifinals. Bryant defeated England in the championship game Sunday night.

Jacksonville won its first game Friday night, 5-2, against England behind the duo of Huhn and Watkins on the mound. Huhn started and went four innings, allowing just three hits and two runs — both unearned — while striking out four. Watkins came in and slammed the door for the save with two groundouts on three pitches and a strikeout to end the game.

The 14-year-old All-Stars, the oldest all-star team in Jacksonville, will play their first state tournament game Friday at 11 a.m. in Benton against Pine Bluff.

SPORTS >> Centennial stays alive at Zone 3

Leader sports editor

The second round of the Junior American Legion Zone 3 tournament was a bad one for the top seeded teams that had byes in the first round, and one of those teams was Cabot. The Centennial Bank squad fell 4-2 to tournament host North Little Rock on Monday at Burns Park, joining top seeded Pine Bluff Kell’s in the losers’ bracket after Kell’s lost to Sylvan Hills earlier in the day.

Cabot rebounded later in the day to beat Rose Bud 12-2 to stay alive in the tournament.

The Centennial squad just couldn’t get the bats going against Colt pitcher Nick Cleveland, who finished with a two hitter and carried a no hitter into the sixth inning.

Trailing 4-0, Cabot rallied in the sixth. Josh Dollarhide reached on an error at shortstop and Nick Thomas singled. Dollarhide then scored when North Little Rock flubbed a rundown, and Thomas scored on an RBI, sacrifice fly by Landon James.

But that would be all Cabot could muster in taking the loss.

Later that night, Cabot came back to play a spirited, but ultimately overmatched Rose Bud squad. The Razorbacks had been beaten 15-0 by Sylvan Hills in the first round, but came out firing on all cylinders early against Cabot.

The game remained tied at 2-2 through the fourth inning, but a huge fifth lifted the Centennial squad to victory.

It started with a single by Aaron McKenzie and didn’t stop until 15 batters later. Colby Seigler was hit by a pitch and Austin Null struck out for the first out, but the second one didn’t come until eight batters later, and Cabot had scored nine runs in that span. A single by Trent Frizzell loaded the bases, and James cleared them with a three-run double. Lee Sullivan was hit by a pitch and Jonathan Latture singled to score James.

Another run scored on an error off the bat of Devin Burke, and Trent Bulice singled to centerfield. Another single, this time to left by Seigler, scored two runs. A single to left by Null scored another run. Null scored the final run of the game on what should have been the final out of the inning. James struck out with Null on third, but the ball got by the Rose Bud catcher, allowing James to get to first and Null to score.

The day’s events left Cabot with a 14-10 overall record. The team faced Pine Bluff Kell’s in an elimination game last night after Leader deadlines.

Look for details of that game and the rest of the tournament in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS >> Exemplifying the spirit of American Legion

Leader sports editor

Adversity in sports is usually a game-time occurrence. In baseball, it’s a pitcher struggling through a jam, or a team facing deficits and trying to overcome.

Sometimes, though, adversity is a lifelong endeavor, and more is needed than talent, timely hitting, a big out or even some good fortune.

That kind of adversity calls for a positive attitude, a great work ethic, plenty of support and of course, some good fortune. For Pangburn High School’s Chase Hopkins, the right formula is in place for success in the face of lifelong adversity.

Hopkins suffered a major elbow injury in a trampoline accident at three-and-a-half years old. A surgical error resulted in a pin being inserted through an artery and a nerve. Gangrene set in.

Now, 12 years and 19 reconstructive surgeries later, Hopkins plays baseball for Pangburn High and the Rose Bud Razorbacks American Legion team as a pitcher and starting first baseman, all with very limited use of his underdeveloped left arm and hand.

“The injury and all that came from it caused his arm to stop growing,” Hopkins’ mother Holly Hopkins said. “He lost feeling in it and was told he couldn’t play unless he had feeling in it.”

One of the surgeries was a nerve taken from his leg, and inserted into his arm in order to restore the feeling in the arm. It worked, and Hopkins has played as much as he could since then.

His parents, father Flynn and Holly, as well as a host of other relatives and friends have created an atmosphere conducive for success for Chase.

Hopkins’ positive attitude shines through in conversation with the sophomore-to-be. The understated, blonde-haired youth is usually smiling. The work ethic is obvious, and even Hopkins, who found it difficult to describe in detail how things might be more difficult for him than other kids, did confess that perhaps he has to work a little harder to stay on par with teammates and competitors. The family and friends who surround Hopkins have made a wonderful support group, and therein lies his good fortune.

“No one ever said I couldn’t go and do anything I wanted,” Hopkins said.

“He never acted like there’s anything he couldn’t do,” said his mother.

Hopkins was likely going to be a lefty before the accident. His father is a southpaw, and early signs show Chase using his left hand for many things as he grew. But he never remembers being a lefty.

“It was just a natural progression towards the right hand after that,” Chase said. “Circumstances just made it that way.”

Hopkins is also a great shot on the basketball court, and a certain incident there helps define his attitude. While practicing for a shooting contest, someone told Hopkins he could compete in the Special Olympics and win gold. Hopkins thought it unfair. “I’m not handicapped,” he said.

Still, he has to take measures on the baseball diamond that other players do not. He exemplified how brilliantly in the Razorbacks’ first-round loss to Sylvan Hills.

While on the mound, a shot came back to him. Unable to field the ball himself, he slapped it towards the second baseman, who made the stop and threw the runner out.

He also has to field and throw with the same hand, and has become surprisingly adept at it. In one motion, Hopkins catches the ball, tosses it up with the glove, slips the glove off, catches the ball and makes the throw. It all takes about a second.

“It’s just something I had to learn to do,” Hopkins said. “It didn’t really seem that hard.”

At the plate, he is able to make solid contact. His season batting average is unknown, but he has his share of base hits.

He can’t break the left wrist over like other right-handed batters, so he simply lets go with the left hand at the point of the swing that the wrist breaks. Again, to him it feels natural.

“That’s just the way I’ve always done it.”

The Arkansas commissioner for American Legion baseball, Jeral Howard, was most impressed with Hopkins when he saw him in the Sylvan Hills game.

“Lots of kids have some talent and get some breaks,” Howard said. “Chase here made his own breaks. We’re very proud of him and very proud that he’s part of American Legion baseball. He exemplifies what we’re all about.”

SPORTS >> Bruins upset top seed, need one

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills junior American Legion team got two wins in the first two rounds of the Zone 3 tournament at Burns Park on Sunday and Monday, and put itself in position of needing just one more win to assure a spot in the state tournament.

The fourth-seeded Bruins got an easy first-round win over Rose Bud Sunday to open the tournament, then got the upset of the event so far, beating top-seeded and previously undefeated Pine Bluff Kell’s 2-1 in nine innings Monday afternoon.

“This team is growing up before our eyes,” Sylvan Hills coach Chris Foor said. “They’re playing to have fun, but they’re really working hard. We started this game today here at noon, but they were all up and practicing over at our place at eight this morning. They’re willing to work and they’re getting better and better every single day.”

Bruin J.D. Miller threw seven innings of no-hit ball before handing things over to Hunter Heslep. Though Miller was on the mound throughout regulation, because the game went extra innings, it’s not an official no hitter, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive the performance was.

“J.D. was a little bit inconsistent in high school,” Foor said. “He has really come a long way. He’s beginning to learn to just relax and have fun out there. He didn’t know he was pitching today until just before we started. I threw a ball down towards the bullpen and told him to go get it, and said, “and by the way, go ahead and start warming up while you’re down there.”

Pine Bluff got its run in the first inning without a base hit, and scarcely threatened over the next six innings. Three Kell players walked in that span, but never more than one in any inning.

Pine Bluff’s pitcher Dillon James was almost as good. He carried a two hitter into the seventh, one of those was an infield single that acted more like a bunt down the third baseline. The other was a single to centerfield, but James picked off the runner on the base paths.

The third hit James gave up proved costly. Miller drew a walk and was replaced on the paths by pinch runner Marcus Long. With two outs, Jimmy Sanderfur doubled to right field to score Long and send the game into extra innings.

The eighth saw controversy. Pine Bluff’s seven, eight and nine hitters were due up, but the team skipped the eight-hole hitter.

Sylvan Hills, though, didn’t notice until leadoff hitter Kirk Baugh batted in the nine-hole spot. According to the rule book, once a pitch is thrown to an improper batter, he becomes the proper batter, making Sylvan Hills’ protest of the batting order void.

Relief pitcher Hunter Heslep had already struck out the first two batters he faced. Baugh got a hit, but Heslep then finished off the side by striking out Austin Lewis.

In the bottom of the ninth, Heslep led off and reached base on the first error of the game by either team, and it proved costly.

Sanderfur struck out, but Chase Imhoff reached on an infield single to third, bringing Reid Fawcett to the plate.

Fawcett, already with one of the few base hits in the game, singled to centerfield. There could have been a play at the plate as Foor sent Heslep around third just as the ball reached the Kell centerfielder, but the ball rolled past him all the way to the wall, giving Fawcett the game-winning RBI.

“Reid has been our leader all season long,” Foor said. “He’s a coach on the field, and in the last two weeks, I think he’s only made maybe five outs. He’s been huge for us.”

Sylvan Hills played tournament host North Little Rock in the winners’ bracket final last night after Leader deadline. Look for details of that game and the rest of the tournament in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS >> Gwatney gets yet another late win

Leader sports editor

There were more seventh-inning heroics for the Gwatney Chevrolet senior American Legion team Sunday in the championship game of the annual Fourth of July Classic the team hosts at Dupree Park. This time, though, seventh-inning heroics weren’t enough. It also took 10th-inning heroics, and finally 11th-inning heroics, but the Jacksonville squad finally got an 8-7 win over Sheridan to earn the tournament title.

Tied at seven runs apiece in the bottom of the 11th, with Jacksonville never having led in the game, Xavier Brown hit into a 6-4 fielder’s choice that left him standing on first base with two outs.

Nick Rodriguez was hit by the next pitch to move Brown into scoring position. Alex Tucker then singled to left to score Brown with the game-winning RBI.

It was just Jacksonville’s fifth base hit of the lengthy contest, and two of those were in the scoreless eighth inning, but Gwatney found other ways to push runs across the plate and get the win.

“It’s always somebody different,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said of Tucker’s game-winning hit. “We’ve had to do this a lot this year and I think every time it’s been someone different come through for us. This team just does a good job of hanging in there and somehow making things happen.”

Jacksonville couldn’t touch Sheridan starting pitcher Tyler Latham. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but only a 3-2 lead after Jacksonville got two runs in the sixth without a hit.

Tucker and Austin Allen drew back-to-back, one-out walks. Tucker advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball. Leadoff hitter Jacob Abrahamson then drew a third-consecutive walk, putting runners on the corners. Abrahamson was caught in a run down, and during the melee between first and second, Allen scored to make it 3-2.

The three straight walks were the first sign that Latham was vulnerable. In the first five innings, he faced the minimum 15 batters, giving up no hits and striking out 10.

Needing another run to extend the game in the seventh, Jacksonville got it quickly. The powerful bat of Patrick Castleberry met the hard fastball of Latham solidly, sending it high over the scoreboard in left-centerfield and deep into the picnic park across the street behind Hickingbotham Field.

Three innings later, Sheridan, which only had four hits through eight innings off Gwatney’s Jesse Harbin, began to touch the Jacksonville ace regularly. Four of the five batters Harbin faced in the inning reached base on three hits and an error, with one being thrown out at home. The Yellowjackets’ Landon Moore then hit his second home run of the game, a three-run shot that made it 7-3.

Needing four runs to stay alive, Jacksonville got it all with two outs, and with just one base hit.

Against various Sheridan relief pitching, Jacksonville drew two walks and two hit batters to score one run. A wild pitch scored a second, and a two-run single by Abrahamson tied the game to set up Tucker’s game winner in the 11th.

Nick Rodriguez threw two innings of relief to get the win on the mound for Jacksonville.

He also accounted for one of the base hits, with Kenny Cummings getting the other. Rodriguez and Tucker, the seven and eight hitters in the lineup, led the team in on-base appearances, reaching three times each in five trips to the plate.

The win was the second tournament title for Jacksonville this season, and lifted its overall record to 14-3.