Tuesday, July 26, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Coal plant still bad idea

American Electric Power Co., the giant Ohio holding company, knocked down another domino this week in its march to build a coal-burning power plant in southwest Arkansas. It reached a settlement with the rich members of a private hunting club who own 18,000 acres near the site of the plant, and the club withdrew from a lawsuit that seeks to stop the plant.

The holding company promised the landowners they would build only one giant plant in the area and that if someone comes up with a failsafe and economical way to take the poisons out of coal emissions, they will install the technology at the plant.

Now, only one domino remains: the public interest. You would think that the public’s interest in a clean, safe environment would be paramount, not the hobby interest of a few big landowners, but it rarely works out that way. It has been the rich sportsmen whose arguments have sometimes gotten the attention of the courts and regulators.

The Arkansas Audubon Society and the Sierra Club remain in the case. They said they were not settling. Their interest is preventing 6 to 10 million tons of carbon dioxide and tons of other greenhouse gases from being pumped into the atmosphere every year and protecting the air, land and streams from more mercury and ash. Aside from one member of the state Public Service Commission and perhaps a few members of Arkansas appellate courts, those dangers have not elicited much concern. Neither state nor federal regulatory agencies have set standards for all greenhouse-gas emissions yet, so the courts have not displayed much concern either. Maybe the 8th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case now rests, or the federal district court at Little Rock, where it may return, will recognize the little matter of public health as a legitimate legal question.

In this summer of record-setting heat and drought, you might expect heightened concern about generating still more atmospheric gases that create and trap heat at the earth’s surface. No, we are not saying global warming is responsible for every heat wave, drought or heavy winter snowfall (the product of atmospheric moisture), but it does increase the odds of extreme weather events every year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its decennial report on U. S. temperatures last month. The average went up half a degree over the 10 years. Arkansas farmers are realizing longer growing seasons every year, which was supposed to be the good part of global warming, but the severe drought interruptions are offsetting the gains.

So why would you want to permit another six to 10 million tons of CO2 in the air annually if it were not necessary? The electricity, after all, is destined mainly for Texas, which like a number of states stopped the construction of new coal plants there. There is ample and cleaner power to be had across the grid when the American Electric subsidiary and the electric cooperatives reach capacity. They could buy it from the big gas-powered merchant plant at El Dorado.

The AEP subsidiary, Southwestern Electric, and Arkansas cooperatives sought permission from Arkansas regulators to build the plant six years ago and then proceeded to start building it before the state Public Service Commission, the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers or the courts said it was permissible. Whenever there was a ruling that the companies had not complied with the law, they simply took another route. The 600-megawatt facility, called the John W. Turk Plant, is now going to be a merchant plant, putting it outside the state’s regulatory reach and the jurisdiction of state courts.

The Audubon Society and the Sierra Club don’t carry the clout of a handful of rich sportsmen, but maybe their ideas will prevail in federal court. There is an outside chance.

TOP STORY > >Team loud and proud as security forces win

Leader staff writer

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Team Little Rock hasn’t displayed the “quiet confidence” Col. Mike Minihan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, encouraged them to during this week’s air rodeo competition.

In fact, the confidence of team members, observers and civic leaders has been loud and proud, yet sportsmanlike, all week.

Tuesday morning saw hootin’ and hollerin’ after LRAFB security forces team earned 371 out of 400 points in its combat-tactics event.

Team members were told to complete a simulated mission where they would secure an area to deliver relief supplies to a USAID worker in a combat zone. The team was fired on during the delivery, the worker was injured and the team had to get him out of the zone to safety.

Communication was key to doing well, team members said, and the umpire told the team afterward that it had been the best of the competitors so far in the event. He said some of the things members did made him want “to jump out of the truck and hug you because that is what we’ve been asking guys to do the whole time.”

Monday’s events included the start of the financial-management competition, the maintenance-skills event, security force’s combat-weapons event and the aerial port team’s pallet build-up and 10K forklift driving course.

The financial management competition is the first event of its kind in rodeo history. Members were placed in a simulated deployment zone and had to run through more than 200 scenarios over their four days of competition.

Bob Oldham, chief of public affairs, was proud enough of the maintenance team to post a photo of the intact egg the team didn’t knock over when it was backing up a tow vehicle.

Despite a light drizzle, the pride of mayors Gary Fletcher of Jacksonville, Bill Cypert of Cabot and former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim wasn’t dampened as they watched the aerial-port team not spill a drop of water placed on a barrier they had to forklift through a curvy course.

The second part of the event also had one Airman drive the forklift course backwards while carrying a pallet.

Although many events kicked off on Monday, the opening ceremony for the Rodeo was Sunday morning and Team Little Rock competed in Fit-to-Fight, a physical-fitness challenge, that afternoon.

Theme music from the western show “Bonanza” played at the beginning of the opening ceremony for the 21st Rodeo.

Gen. Raymond Johns, Air Mobility commander, passed teams in review. He said during the ceremony, “We are part of a grand ballet, a magnificent machine that brings hope…what we do isn’t about us, we serve others…this week is about you…giddy up, yippee-ki-yay.”

Screams and hoots, accompanied by red faces cheering wildly and chanting Team Little Rock’s name, “Black Knights,” spurred the Fight-to-Fit to keep pushing themselves to do as many pushups, sit-ups and run a 1.5-mile course as fast as they could.

The first competition of the Rodeo was immediate and had to do with arrival at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., at a specific time Saturday morning.

Every second counted; points were deducted for every second before or after a crew’s set landing time.

The 19th’s H-model was only two seconds off, followed by the newer J-model, which was 40 seconds off. The 314th’s E-model, the oldest plane being used at this year’s rodeo, was only a few seconds early.

The 314th’s J-model broke down Saturday morning and was delayed for a day in Colorado Springs, where all four LRAFB planes had landed for a layover Friday evening.

Baby powder floated in the air above the three airmen taking a defiant pose Monday. Two of them fell like pins at a bowling alley as one made a strike with an invisible ball Tuesday.

This is how the finance team for Little Rock Air Force Base began the first two days of the first-ever Air Mobility Rodeo competition where it could demonstrate its skills. Each day started with an opening where every team could show how pumped up it was by performing skits as members came down an aisle between rows of chairs to take a seat.

LRAFB Staff Sgts. Jacob Taylor of Jacksonville, Amber Hunt of Cabot and Technical Sgt. Adam Rohrer were placed in a simulated deployment zone this week to play out more than 200 scenarios.

The financial-management competition is one of the few events that will be held all day almost every day of the weeklong Rodeo and it is not all about signing checks. The team members have worked in the finance building at LRAFB, in nearby offices, for the past few years, and they agree team cohesiveness is their greatest strength.

The “three blind mice” won second place in military skills on Monday and Tuesday. The team’s name was chosen randomly in an effort to be unique in choosing one that didn’t relate to money, like the names of most of the other teams.

Military skills is one category of the competition and those categories don’t indicate who is ahead overall because each category earns a team a different amount of points for its total score. Competitors don’t know how much each category is worth.

Taylor is the only team member who has been deployed before.

He was deployed to United Arab Emirates. Taylor said the competition is more diverse because the team addresses a greater variety of situations in the simulated zone than someone deployed would see.

For Hunt, who works in customer service at the LRAFB finance office, her job is really about helping people, whether they notice or not, and she, “the organized one” of the team, works hard every day to make sure things are in order.

Looking to teammate Taylor for help in making the sentiment into a complete sentence, he said it best.

“You never know who you’re helping. You sometimes get that genuinely appreciative person,” Taylor said.

Hunt said most of the time she sees people who are unhappy because they don’t get people coming in to thank them for getting a paycheck on time.

She says as long as she appears to be trying to help, customers usually calm down, but sometimes they assume finance personnel are uncaring or have easy jobs.

“We’re there even when people don’t think we are. Just because the office is closed, that doesn’t mean we’re not working behind the doors,” Hunt said.

She enlisted as an open-general airman and was placed in the finance department. Taylor is the only one of the group who actively sought out the role by getting a degree in finance before joining the Air Force.

He had planned to teach but chose finance because teaching “fell through” and he never thought of going into the military at all, but there wasn’t a market for finance professionals in his “po-dunk” hometown of 90 people.

Taylor enjoys it though, identifying those in the profession as “unsung heroes” and explaining how important finance is to how a base operates.

Taylor and Rohrer work as budget analysts at LRAFB. Taylor, “the creative one,” according to Hunt, said he likes the job because he gets to see the big picture of what the Air Force is doing and make sure taxpayer dollars are “spent legally and put in the right direction.”

Together, the two budget analysts handle about 80 percent of the base’s total budget.

Rohrer was ordered to cross train into the finance department. When he enlisted he worked with ammo, but he said he’s better suited to finance.

“The brain,” according to Hunt, “is more dangerous with a keyboard than with a wrench.”


Surrounded by his team and using the U.S. flag from the uniform of Col. Mike Minihan, 19th Airlift Wing commander, Staff Sgt. Carl Hook swore for the second time to defend his country and its Constitution.

Hook signed up for another four years.

Hook, the security forces team captain for Air Mobility Rodeo 2011, had waited to re-enlist until Tuesday, when his team claimed victory, a score of 371 out of 400, in the combat- tactics event.

Pumped up after the event, he said he felt that something would go wrong with the mission scenario the team was given. They were told to deliver supplies for a relief effort in a combat zone to a USAID worker.

The enemies in the scenario opened fire on the team as soon as they shook hands with the worker they were to deliver the goods to. The worker in the simulation was injured and the team had to get him out and to a safe zone.

Hook said the 29 points were minimal deductions and he was pleased with the results, crediting communication during the mission by team members as the key to their success.

Hook told Minihan the day Team Little Rock arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that he wanted to reenlist at rodeo because “it was out of the ordinary.”

He said the commander has been joking around since then about Hook doing it right away.

He competed in Rodeo 2007 and has been deployed three times since he first enlisted on Aug. 23, 2005. Each deployment lasted seven months.

One of Hook’s best friends, Senior Airman Timothy Collar, is convinced he will be a “lifer” and chief or commander in the future.

Although Hook says that would be nice, he is pleasantly humble about his potential.

In fact, he joined security forces knowing they don’t get as much recognition as other groups in the Air Force, but he believes they have one of the most important jobs in the military. That job is keeping people safe.

Hook said he loves the support he’s seen from the Jacksonville community and he’d like to stay there with his unit of about 240.

He hugged nearly everyone present at the seemingly impromptu enlistment ceremony at one of the ranges on base.

Hook shared that everyone in the unit knows each other because they work together and have been deployed together. He agreed when another of his team said that the Air Force is different in that you don’t forget your coworkers when you go home after work; they’re like your family.

Hook said one of the reasons he loves working in his security forces unit is that it has “the biggest comradery of any in the Air Force.” Hook’s team will face the Rodeo’s first-ever marksmanship event tomorrow. He’s looking forward to showing what teamwork can do.

TOP STORY > >Comparing pardons by governors

Leader executive editor

(This column won first place in the Arkansas Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest. Winners were announced Saturday during the APA’s convention in Hot Springs. The column was published in The Leader on Oct. 19.)

Did you see Gov. Beebe’s latest list of pardons? Last week, he announced his intent to pardon a handful of small-time criminals, emphasis on small-time.

Their crimes included theft of property, shoplifting, forgery, overdrafts, possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, third-degree battery, forgery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

They’re nothing like Mike Huckabee’s list of pardons and clemencies: No murders, no rapes, no armed robberies, no mayhem. There’s no one on Beebe’s list like serial rapist and murderer Wayne DuMond or cop killer

Maurice Clemmons, whose freedom Huckabee championed.

What’s more, Beebe’s pardons have the approval of law-enforcement officials. Huckabee almost never consulted with them.

He didn’t care what local prosecutors and sheriffs thought of freeing his thugs because supposedly he knew them better than did their victims and their families and the prosecutors who convicted them.

We’ve been saying for years Huckabee pardoned thugs like DuMond and Clemmons without looking into their violent pasts. He just assumed they were innocent or had paid their debt to society.

Prosecutors warned him not to do it. He said they were grandstanding. He dismissed our reporting as exaggerations.

After his release, DuMond killed two women in Missouri and Clemmons murdered four police officers near Seattle.

More details about Clem-mons’ violent background are reported in a new book called “The Other Side of Mercy” by Ken Armstrong and Jonathan Martin, two Seattle Times reporters who have delved into Clemmons’ criminal record and sociopathic behavior in Arkansas prisons.

Clemmons was out of control: He started robbing kids in school. He later broke into a state trooper’s home and then a cop’s home.

He beat up a woman during a parking-lot holdup. He attacked his guards during one trial and even tried to grab one of their guns.

Clemmons also threatened to kill the judge.

He was always in trouble in prison. A repeat criminal who routinely sodomized fellow inmates and terrorized those who didn’t cater to his needs in prison, Clemmons nevertheless portrayed himself as a victim of a racist criminal system.

He convinced former Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey and then Huckabee that he’d been punished enough.

Everyone in the criminal-justice system knew Clemmons was incorrigible, but not Mike Huckabee. He thought Clemmons could be saved and wished him well in his new life in Washington state.

We now know how well that turned out. Neither Humphrey nor Huckabee have expressed much remorse for their roles in the tragedy.

Humphrey and Huckabee couldn’t be bothered with doing a thorough background check on Clemmons, who killed himself last November as he was about to be arrested for the police killings.

Humphrey has avoided the limelight since the pardon, but Huckabee is doing very well as a TV host and best-selling author.

He’s also a leading candidate for president in 2012, although we’ll probably hear from the victims’ relatives — there are dozens of them — when the race gets under way.

His political opponents might also raise questions about Huckabee’s judgment, which ended in six murders.

Compared to Clemmons and DuMond, Michael Dukakis’ Willie Horton was an angel.

So what do you call politicians and judges who enable murderers to kill again?

Accessories to murder.

TOP STORY > >Paper wins top honors again from state group

In the largest and most competitive category in the state, The Leader grabbed the General Excellence award for large weeklies, six first-place honors and 27 awards altogether.

It is the fourth year in a row that the newspaper has been named best in its class.

The paper garnered first-place awards for its coverage of local politics, education and business and agriculture. Designer Christy Hendricks won first place for best front page, reporter Stephen Steed won top honors in the freelancer category and publisher Garrick Feldman took first place in news and political column writing with his column comparing pardons by governors.

Members of the South Carolina Press Association judged nearly 2,300 entries from 68 newspapers for this year’s awards.

The Leader was in the large weekly division and competed against 17 other newspapers, including the Cabot Star Herald and the North Little Rock Times.

Judges awarded first place to the newspaper for its political coverage after reading articles by John Hofheimer and Rick Kron. The judges called the coverage “thorough, aggressive, competent reporting with an edge.”

Articles winning the paper the first-place award in education coverage were written by Nancy Dockter, Jeffrey Smith, Kron and Hofheimer. Judges said the articles were a “really strong mix of interesting news, features and enterprise education stories” and that it was “solid reporting that holds schools accountable.”

The first-place honors in business and agricultural coverage were based on articles written by Hofheimer and Joan McCoy. The judges said their reporting was “sparkling and enticing writing and excellent stories.”

Steed’s story about legislative expense accounts, entitled “What lawmakers cost,” earned him first place in freelance writing. He also took second place in the same category with an article on former Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien.

The judges said Steed’s award-winning entry was “good explanatory political journalism; this money issue was explained in dollars and cents that made sense to any reader.”

The judge’s called Feldman’s column on governors’ pardon an “intelligent comparison provoking analysis.”

Other awards for the newspaper include second place for picture page/photo essay with photographer David Scolli’s Little Rock Air Force Base air show pictures. Scolli also took third place in this category with his North Vs. South Civil War re-enactment pictures.

Editor Jonathan Feldman took second place in headline writing with his “Halter falters” headline, and Kron took third place with “Dogs collar runaway thief”.

Hofheimer placed third in the news-story category with his article on the state audit of the Pulaski County Special School District.

Sportswriter Jason King placed second and third in the sports feature category. He placed second with his “Remembering a true Wildcat,” and third with his “True GRITS” story. Honorable mention went to Todd Traub’s “Blood, sweat and tears” feature.

Traub took third place in sports column writing with his column about the boxing match between former major leaguer Jose Canseco and former local television sports anchor Gary Hogan.

Second place in the single-news-photograph category went to Jeffrey Smith with a storm-aftermath picture.

Scolli placed third in the single-feature-photograph competition with his “Too close for comfort” picture of two Thunderbird planes seemingly within inches of each other. Scolli also garnered another third-place award for his Red Devils win 6A East, dive-into-tourney picture in the single-sports-action photograph category. He grabbed a second-place award in the single-sports feature photograph category with “Hitting the lights.”

Hendricks and Traub combined for second-place honors for best sports page.

Hofheimer won second-place honors in in-depth reporting for his personal look at local airmen helping Haiti after last year’s earthquake. Kron placed third in the category with his story on Cabot Benchmark scores.

Smith and Dockter combined for a third-place award in investigative reporting for “How can you learn there?”, their look at the poor conditions of Jacksonville High School.

Kron and McCoy teamed up for a third-place award in the coverage of local tourism.

In the small-dailies division, where 10 papers competed, the Daily Citizen in Searcy took general excellence.

Among the eight papers in the medium-dailies division, the Pine Bluff Commercial came out on top.

In the large-dailies division, where 10 papers competed, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette won top honors, but won fewer overall awards than The Leader.

The Times of Pea Ridge took general excellence in the smaller weeklies division where seven papers competed for the title.

In the medium-weeklies division, where 15 papers competed, the Nashville Leader was the top honoree.

TOP STORY > >Jegley: Killer will never get out

Leader staff writers

Abdulhakim Muhammad, who had just pleaded guilty to killing a Conway soldier and wounding another from Jacksonville, was led out of the Pulaski County Courthouse on Monday afternoon to a maximum-security prison, but the victims’ families and the surviving soldier stayed behind and suddenly embraced Muhammad’s family.

Most reporters had rushed out of the courtroom to file their stories about Muhammad’s decision to plead guilty to all 12 charges and being sentenced to life without parole and an additional 195 years.

The killer’s family was relieved that Muhammad was spared the death sentence.

The parents of Pvt. William “Andy” Long of Conway, who was fatally shot at a Little Rock recruiting station, embraced Melvin Bledsoe, the killer’s father, and his family. The Longs forgave them for what Muhammad had done to their family. Also joining the embrace was Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville, who survived the shooting, as he played dead in front of the recruiting station. His mother, Sonja, also hugged the Longs and the Bledsoes.

Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley and Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson stayed behind and watched the emotional scene.

“He’ll live out the rest of his life behind bars,” Jegley told The Leader afterward. “He’ll sit by himself in a four-by-eight cell and have an hour to exercise.”

The defense attorneys had gone to Jegley on Monday with an offer: They would halt the trial, which was entering its second week, and enter a guilty plea if Muhammad was spared the death sentence.

Jegley, who almost never makes plea deals in capital murder cases, quickly approached the dead soldier’s family and Ezeagwula and his mother with the offer from the defense.

“We didn’t advocate either direction,” Jegley said in an interview. He said it was up to the victims’ families whether to accept the guilty plea, which would mean Muhammad would be spared the death penalty.

They agreed to accept the guilty plea, Jegley said.

“They had shown a lot more mercy toward Bledsoe than he had shown them,” Jegley said. “It was an honor to serve them.”

Muhammad, who was known as Carlos Bledsoe before taking his Muslim name, went on a shooting rampage on June 1, 2009 at a west Little Rock recruiting station. The two soldiers were standing out in front of the station taking a smoke break when Muhammad drove up and opened fire.

Muhammad, after stopping the jury trial by declaring his guilt, was sentenced to life without parole, as well as 180 months for the capital murder of Long; life plus 180 months for attempted capital murder of Ezeagwula; and on 10 counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, he received life plus 180 months for each charge.

The 180 months, or 15 years, added to each charge was an enhancement sentence for the severity of the crime.

Before Muhammad admitted his guilt in the courtroom during the trial that was projected to last two weeks, it took two full days to pick the 12 members of the jury and two alternates, two days for the prosecution to go through its list of police officers and other law-enforcement officials who responded to the scene or were part of the investigation team, then Long’s mother, Ezeagwula and taped confessions by Muhammad. It took less than two days of defense witnesses trying to paint Muhammad as being blindsided, and therefore mentally unable to stop himself, by his conversion to Islam and a journey to Yemen.

According to the prosecuting attorney’s summary report filed with the court, Muhammad told in-vestigators after his arrest that he fired several rounds at the soldiers with the intent of killing them. “I would have killed more soldiers if there were more in the parking lot,” Muhammad confessed.

After the shooting, Muham-mad fled, but was pulled over by police near on I-630 the I-30 interchange. Searching his vehicle, authorities found an assault rifle and several rounds of ammunition. At Muhammad’s Little Rock apartment, detectives found items used to make Molotov cocktails.

Jegley, in his summary, said at the time of the shooting there were 15 other people inside the recruiting station, some military, and some civilians. He said several of the rounds fired by Muhammad went through the window or the wall and went into the recruiting station. No one inside was hurt, but that’s why Muhammad was initially charged with 15 counts of a terroristic act.

Jegley, in his opening remarks to the jury last Wednesday, said Muhammad watched a Dutch film about the rape and murder of Muslims the night before the shooting and claimed his actions were in retaliation to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Jegley pointed a finger at the defendant and, looking at the jurors, said, “They (the shots) were fired by this man. We’re here today because this man did it.”

Jegley said Long “was a son, a brother and a friend who died fighting for the United States Army.”

One of Muhammad’s defense attorneys, Patrick Benca, countered for the defense.

He gave the jurors a little background on the killer who used to be a “jokester” and “fun-loving” until his 18th birthday, when family, lifelong friends, coworkers and others began to notice him withdraw.

Muhammad studied several religions before converting to Islam and changing his name. He went to Yemen for 18 months, looking for “enlightenment.”

The defense attorney said Muhammad was arrested in Yemen and held in custody for three months.

Benca emphasized that his client’s isolation anxieties only increased and he couldn’t hold a job in Yemen or in the United States.

Benca acknowledged that his client killed Long and injured Ezeagwula in the attack. “It was horrible. It made me pray for the families, no question about that. But what it didn’t tell, it didn’t tell the whole story.”

SPORTS>>Jackrabbits stay busy for summer

Special to The Leader

The Lonoke Jackrabbits haven’t been on much of a summer break thanks to team camps, lifting and 7-on-7 football.

Minus a couple folks here and there still in baseball or basketball, Lonoke has 38 ’Rabbits showing up and working hard getting ready for next week when two-a-day practices begin.

The ’Rabbits have met in team camps every Monday morning throughout July.

Lonoke has met at Ouachita Baptist University and the University of Central Arkansas at Conway along with Sylvan Hills, Pulaski Robinson and Maumelle for some real-game situations.

“Team camp has been great for us because you have all 11 guys out there,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost.

We film it and break it down later just like a game. We really get a lot out of it.”

The players are in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets.

There is still some hitting, but players are required to wrap up high and not take anyone to the ground. No tackling or blocking below the waist.

The 7-on-7 practices and tournaments help the Lonoke passing game as the quarterback and receivers get used to one another and the particular timing of each individual.

The team camps add the dimension of being able to work with the linemen, something missing in the pass-oriented seven on seven.

“The linemen really get a big benefit out of it,” said Bost.

The coaches get to see them and they get to have at least some pads on and get used to the heat.”

Lonoke has also reserved one day of practice just for traditional weigh lifting and conditioning.

“We’ve got everyone healthy right now and are ready to get into it,” Bost said.

SPORTS>>Bears’ numbers rising

Special to The Leader

Summer football practices are a good time for coaches to gauge a little of what to expect when regular practices start while helping the players get ready and get in shape.

One thing coach Jim Withrow has noticed about Sylvan Hills is that he’s got a few more Bears to work with this year.

“Our numbers are really looking better all around,” Withrow said. “We’ve had a few down years in terms of numbers, but it looks like we’re cycling back up.”

The Bears are looking at 55-60 players on the varsity team, but the biggest change may be in the younger players with the freshman and eighth-grade teams. Those foundations of the high schools’ future are in the neighborhood of 40 players each after having close to half that number in recent years.

To get these Bears ready for two-a-day practices and the season, Sylvan Hills spends one day concentrating on lifting and running and every Monday in July they have attended team camps at a nearby college with Lonoke, Pulaski Robinson and Maumelle.

The team camps put all 11 players on the field in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. One team’s defense will stay on the field for 12 plays, while two offenses rotate in and out against that defense while one team rests.

Sylvan Hills has cut out seven on seven football to instead concentrate on the team camp.

“With team camp we get to work with the linemen and that’s a bug plus,” said Withrow. “I’ve talked with them and they love it. Some of these guys wouldn’t have the chance to really do anything but work out and lift during the summer, and this lets them get out, play football and help get acclimated to the heat.”

The Bears moved away from the passing heavy 7-on-7, since so many of the formations and routes would never be used in an actual high school game.

“It comes down to doing what you think will help your program the most,” said Withrow. “If you do it and it works for you and you get a trip to Washington, D.C. for a big tournament or whatever, then that’s great. But for us, lifting and team camp is the most beneficial.”

The final team camp was Monday morning and the final day of lifting is Thursday. Two-a-days begin Monday, with full pads coming on Thursday.

“I’ve had guys wondering if we’re going full pads the first practice on Monday,” said Withrow. “But really they’ve been hitting pretty hard all summer. There’s no going low on someone, and you’re not supposed to take anyone to the ground, but this is football so you’re going to have some hitting out there.”

Sylvan Hills will be at practice from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day leading up to the first day of school.

The exception is the week of teacher meetings, where there will be one practice in the evenings.

SPORTS>>Defensive line makes difference

Special to The Leader

Variously, pundits prefaced “offensive genius” before Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino, South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier, Auburn Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn and Florida Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis.

Weis is new to the SEC, but perhaps humbled by his head coaching failure at Notre Dame after being the genius coordinating Tom Brady and Co. to Super Bowl victories with the New England Patriots, may have seen enough film to concur with what Petrino, and likely fellow SEC veterans Malzahn and Spurrier, too, espouse.

However confident you are in your offensive scheme and the players operating it, do not underestimate the defensive speed they are up against in the SEC. Particularly, don’t underestimate it up front, Petrino told Wednesday’s edition of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

The difference, Petrino said in his coaching Louisville annually to big success to the 5-7, 8-5, 10-3 progression at Arkansas, was the different leagues.

“Well, I’ve always believed,” Petrino said, “since I was in the conference as an assistant (Auburn offensive coordinator in 2002), then coached in another conference (Conference USA) as a head coach, that the thing that separated the SEC from everybody else in America was the defensive front. The speed, athleticism on the edges, athleticism inside. I found that out when I came back as a head coach in the league that that was true.”

It besets offensive linemen with problems not covered in the playbook.

“That is one of the big differences in the SEC,” Petrino said. “Those defensive front guys, how talented they are, and how hard it is to be an offensive lineman. To be an offensive lineman you have to back up and have some of the best athletes in the world coming at you going forward full speed. There’s no question it separates our conference from a lot of others.”

And makes it more Arkansas disconcerting offensively that troubled tackle Anthony Oden has been dismissed from the program on the heels of 2010 senior starting offensive tackles DeMarcus Love and Ray Dominguez completing their eligibility.

Petrino nonetheless ex-pressed confidence in the three offensive tackles left from spring drills’ top quartet, January-enrolled true-freshman Brey Cook of Springdale Har-Ber, January-enrolled junior-college transfer Jason Peacock and fifth-year senior Grant Freeman of Paris.

“I’m real happy with Brey Cook,” Petrino said. “He’s big, physical, was very, very well-coached in high school, utilized the same techniques and fundamentals that we teach which really helped him make that transition.”

He continued to talk about Peacock and Freeman.

“Jason Peacock was a junior college transfer that came in this spring,” Petrino said. “Everything was new to him. He didn’t really understand the offense, but he showed tremendous ability to kick, slide, run block, utilize his hands. Grant Freeman has been with us for all four years that I’ve been there. He came in as a tight end, continued to get bigger and stronger. Hopefully he will be one of those guys who has a great fifth-year senior year.”

They and new JC transfer Chris Stringer must tackle a mighty task offensively.

Arkansas’ defense seems up to speed to inflict SEC pressure on SEC foes.

“I’m excited for our defense this year,” Petrino said, “because I really feel like it’s the first time when we’re physically where we need to be on the defensive front. Our inside guys will be big and physical and athletic. We’ve got speed on the edges which matches what we see every week in the conference.”

The core of freshmen taking their defensive lumps during that 5-7 2008 has stayed the course. So has defensive coordinator Willy Robinson with annually improving results since that rough 2008.

Defensive-tackles coach Bobby Allen, previously an Arkansas assistant from 1998-2007 under Houston Nutt, and linebackers coach Reggie Johnson also were on the 2008 staff. Special-teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach John L. Smith arrived in 2009 followed by defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell in 2010.

“I think the second thing that really contributed,” Petrino said, “was the strong beliefs and the courage and confidence our defensive staff showed in, ‘Hey, we know what we’re doing. we’re real young, let’s just keep improving, keep getting better, keep putting in the work, the effort in teaching these young men, and the results will show off.’ Our staff did a real nice job of doing that.”

SPORTS>>Badgers improve each day

Leader sports editor

The Beebe Badger football team just wrapped up its summer camp meetings at Conway High School last week. The squad met three times at Conway with four other schools before the dead period, and three times since, finishing up last Tuesday.

There was one small change in the lineup in the second go around. Clinton High replaced Benton in the second set of meetings, joining Beebe, Conway, Little Rock Christian and Morrilton.

Badger coach John Shannon was a bit worried after the very first meeting, felt better after the second, and is now very pleased overall with how the team performed.

“I felt like we got better every time we went over there,” Shannon said.

One of the greatest points of improvement was on the defensive side of the ball. The Badger offense moved the ball fairly easily on the defense in spring football, but Shannon saw the defense improve dramatically over the summer camps.

“In spring I felt like the offense was way ahead of the defense,” Shannon said. But in team camps the defense improved the most. Defensively we got better every single week.”

An added bonus for the defense was that three of the teams in the camp run the spread offense, and Beebe’s first two opponents also run the spread.

“Conway, Morrilton and Little Rock Christian are spread teams so that really helps us considering who we play early in the season,” Shannon said. “Greenbrier and Lonoke both run that offense and they’re both pretty good. So that gives us some more preparation for those teams.”

Each team in the camp runs a different defensive set, which Shannon believes really helped the offense.

“Every team you line up against is showing you something different on defense,” Shannon said. “I thought our offense really got a lot more consistent. It was a little difficult at first playing a few snaps against this type of defense, and then a few against another, then seeing another one. But overall I think it was the consistency that really improved offensively.”

The level of competition was also a good feature at the camp.

All the teams but one in both camps were at least in the same classification as Beebe, and two were from higher divisions. Conway is one of the top-five largest schools in Arkansas. Moving the ball against the Wampus Cats, Shannon believes, is a confidence boost.

“I think the kids know that if you can compete against somebody like Conway, you can compete with anybody,” Shannon said.

The Badgers join the rest of the state with their first official practice on August 1. The team hits the weight room at 6 a.m., and will take the field at 7 a.m.

New Arkansas Activities Association rules no longer allow two-a-day practices every day, so Beebe will go twice on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The afternoon sessions will begin at 1 p.m.

SPORTS>>Falcons ready to work

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski had its first day of summer workouts under new coach Teodis Ingram on Monday, and the new coach seems to have set a spark into the squad.

There were 22 athletes at the opening workout. While that’s a small number in comparison with other programs similar in size to North Pulaski, it’s a good number in comparison to summer workouts at NP in the past.

The best thing about day one for Ingram, though, was the effort.

“I’ve been 28 years in this business, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the kind of effort on the first day that I got today,” Ingram said.

On the agenda for day one was speed tests and conditioning work. Ingram recognized that his bunch is not in shape, but believes it will be in shape, based on the effort he saw.

“I think at some point you’ve got to push ‘em and see what they’re made of,” Ingram said. “We pushed ‘em just a little bit today and I really liked what I saw from them. For a lot of these guys, it’s the first time they’ve ever had a pre-practice session, but they came out here and worked through it.”

Ingram has held lots of meetings over the summer to try and help players, parents and the community understand what he’s about, his objectives, his expectations and his plan of action.

He has also been active at Northwood, NPHS’s feeder school.

“You have to sell a whole program if you want to be successful,” Ingram said in an interview earlier this summer.

The feedback he’s received in and from these meetings and other efforts has been positive.

He said in June that a unified North Pulaski/Northwood program and community support will pay off on the playing field. It may be that a small sign of that came out on Monday.

“Based on the effort I saw today, I think we’ve got a bunch of kids out here who want to do things the right way. With some of the things they’ve been through you know, I just think maybe they don’t really know what that looks like. But they’re out here, they’re working, they’re not griping and they’re learning about giving to their teammates. I’m really pleased with today.”

SPORTS>>Devils make noise at ASU

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils went to a 27-team Mid-South Shootout and Big Man Camp at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro over the weekend, and performed well beyond coach Rick Russell’s expectations.

Teams of all sizes from Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri were on hand for the event, which included a 7-on-7 tournament and a linemen’s camp. The Red Devils lost just one game in its 7-on-7 pool and advanced to the final four of tournament play.

“If you took my expectations, exceeded that by 100 percent, then multiplied that by 10, that’s how well I thought we played up there,” Russell said. “I truly could not believe it.”

The offense dominated in two games particularly. The Red Devils dominated the Tennessee Class 4A Munford Lions, and had its best outing overall against Dyersburg High, from Tennessee’s largest classification.

“They couldn’t stop us,” Russell said. “We went up and down the field against them. They had some athletes too, but we were just executing so well.”

Running the show for Jacksonville was junior Kevin Richardson, who is No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback. He started at safety last year, but his performance in Jonesboro has Russell very pleased.

“We haven’t broken it down yet, but I bet you he was at about 75 percent completion percentage,” Russell said. “He was reading defenses, distributing the football to the right person. He was just very impressive.”

Richardson brings another dimension to the position.

“He’s an athlete and what you’ve got with him is a guy who is a real run threat,” Russell said. “He’s got some wheels and can accelerate if he has to. Since spring, his development has increased dramatically.”

Someone besides the quarterback accounts for a good completion percentage, and Russell said the receivers were exceptional.

“The receivers caught the ball extremely well,” Russell said. “D’Von McClure, Cari Jordan, Cortez Brown, Taiwan Moore, Demerio Williams, Randy Armstrong, they all did a tremendous job.”

The linemen’s camp didn’t have as much competitive activity, but they Jacksonville crew did get a lot of individual instruction and made gains in learning techniques. Russell got some positive feedback about two players in particular.

“Samuel Pope on offense and Aaron Davis on defense, coaches saw potential and they really got some good one-on-one instruction.”

Not only was it a good weekend for the squad, the players knew it and Russell sees a lot of enthusiasm as official practices are set to begin next week.

“It was a fantastic weekend and it was very encouraging for us as coach and for the players too,” Russell said. “The kids have been giving great effort all summer. They want to be here, they want to work out and they have high expectations for themselves. They really think they can go far this year.”