Friday, December 23, 2011

TOP STORY >> Young girl asks Santa for a very special gift

Leader editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that wasn’t what the girl wanted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP STORY >> ‘Grinch’ doesn’t dispirit charity

Leader staff writer

A Grinch “with a heart two sizes too small” earlier this week broke into Hope’s Closet and Pantry, a charity in Cabot, and stole portable heaters, baby items, shoes, along with men’s and women’s clothing. It is the fourth time in two years someone has burglarized the outreach group’s building.

“It should be a time of giving, not stealing,” Hope’s Closet director Kimberly Buchberger said.

But all hope is not lost. Police are investigating and do have leads.

“It’s not going to mess us up. We’re going to pull our boots up and keep pushing,” she said.

Buchberger believes that she may know more next week about the identity of the grinch or grinches.

Volunteers have been vigorously collecting items to replenish what was taken. The charity still plans to give away blankets in January.

Larry’s Pizza held a fundraiser Friday. A percentage of its buffet sales, along with cash donations it accepted, went to Hope’s Closet.

Also, the Girls Rollin’ in the South women’s flat-track roller derby team will be holding a donation drive for the charity until Friday.

According to reports, on Wednesday morning, volunteer Heather Moore stopped by Hope’s Closet on South Rockwood Road and noticed the side window was pried opened. A shelf blocked the entry through the window, so burglars pried open the front door.

Someone left a joker, popped up from a jack-in-the-box, in the place where eight heaters were. Members of a women’s bowling league recently donated the heaters.

“They took all our children’s scarves, socks, mittens and caps. They took one whole bin of blankets and a bin of children’s shoes. They took our money box, but nothing was in it,” Moore said.

She said the thieves took toys, large-sized women’s clothing, men’s clothes, jeans and toddler clothing.

Teresa Barbery, another volunteer, said the break-in made her sick to her stomach. “It’s horrible. It’s just a mess.”

Barbery said the air base had donated three large bins that had been filled with blankets and towels. “One of those were taken, and that had to take at least three people to lift,” she said.

Moore said, “They ransacked our food pantry, knocking things off the shelves. They took a shelf of feminine hygiene products.”

The thieves knocked a hole in the side of a storage shed and broke in the doors.

“If the people who did this were in need, if they would have let us know, we would have helped them out. That’s what we’re here for,” Moore said.

“We’ve had a lot of response from people wanting to assist”, Moore said after news of the break-in spread.

Moore said people have donated clothes, blankets and shoes. The Arkansas Federal Credit Union gave a large donation.

“What’s great about Cabot is that it’s a giving community,” she said.

“The main need is for children’s items, but we’ll accept whatever people feel led to give,” Moore said.

“It is bad that it happened, but we’ve received a lot of blessings,” she said. “I hate that it happened. We are going to come back stronger, keep pushing and helping families that need help,” Buchberger said.

Hope’s Closet is the second charity group to be hit with problems this Christmas season.

Over the past month, flooding at God’s Holy House Church in Jacksonville has destroyed the building and donations for its thrift store.

To help the church, call 501-291-5925 or 501-551-5574.

Hope’s Closet donations may be given to any roller derby league member. Call 501-605-6153 or 501-831-3203, visit the Girls Rollin’ in the South Roller Derby on Facebook, or send an e-mail to to make arrangements to pick up or drop off items.

TOP STORY >> Airmen back in time for a joyous holiday

Leader staff writer

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” had a special meaning for more than 80 airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base’s 19th Airlift Wing, who returned this weekend on five C-130s in time to celebrate the holidays with loved ones.

Family and friends gathered and watched with anticipation near the flight line as the C-130s landed and parked in front of them on Friday.

As soon as the plane’s propellers stopped and the door dropped, the airmen stepped out of the C-130s to warm greetings in the cold winds. They were met with big smiles, long hugs and many kisses from family and friends. The airmen, mostly aviators and maintenance crew members, came back after a scheduled four-month deployment to support war operations in Southwest Asia.

“Nothing is more special than our airmen returning from battle. To see the joy on the wives’ and kids’ faces, it is the best present Santa could ever bring,” said Col. Mike Minihan, commander of 19th Airlift Wing.

Amy Gaul of Cabot was one of many to come out and welcome their loved ones. She said she was very excited to see her husband, Master Sgt. Eric Gaul, arrive back home. His arrival was a surprise to their sons, Walker, 13, Thomas, 8, and David, 6, who did not know their father was flying back yesterday.

“It will be nice to have him home for Christmas,” Amy Gaul said as she waited for the C-130 to land.

TOP STORY >> Road to Bethlehem

Leader staff writer

The Bethlehem United Methodist Church’s “Road to Bethlehem” embodies the spirit of an angelic woman who put her heart and soul into it.

Larry Nipper, who is in charge of the well-known trail, said it was one of his wife’s projects. That selfless woman, Jeaneane Nipper, passed away three years ago from pancreatic cancer. He was pastor of the church for nine years before he retired in June 2008 at age 73 to take care of his wife.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the 36 displays featuring nearly 200 lighted, life-sized and hand-painted figures from the story of the birth of Jesus located at homes along a four-mile stretch of Bethlehem Road in Lonoke County. It is lighted every night from dusk until 11 p.m. and it runs from Dec. 1 through New Year’s Eve.

The project began with just a few displays at the church and no signs. Signs with Biblical quotes are now included with every display.

“Vanloads” of people from Tennessee, Oklahoma, Mississippi and other states come regularly to see the Biblical figures and Bible verses that tell the story of the nativity, Nipper said. As many as a thousand cars will travel down the road at the same time.

One day in the third or fourth year for the project, his wife walked into the church with tears rolling down her cheeks, Nipper said.

He asked what was wrong and she explained, “Nothing is wrong. We just got paid for all our work here.”

She had just seen a woman with eight grandchildren telling them the story of the Savior’s birth using the displays as examples.

“I was married to an angel for 53 years. She devoted her life to the love of Jesus Christ. This was a tremendous thing she did,” Nipper said.

But he wanted to emphasize that without the support of the whole community since its beginnings, the road would not be what it is today.

The displays were a family affair, too. Jeaneane’s brother, Billy Davis, drew patterns for the figures on paper.

Nipper, 76, used to take his wife to Branson, Mo., every year to relax after the road was done, because the project would wear her down. On one occasion, they went to a church service there and the pastor, who preaches to 600 people hundreds of miles from Lonoke, was greeting people as they left.

He asked the Nippers where they were from and as soon as they said a church off Bethlehem Road in Arkansas, he exclaimed, “The Christmas Road to Bethlehem.” He had been there to see the displays.

“It’s rewarding for a little country church to have something this well known,” Nipper said.

The cost to put up the displays, which require steel posts to hold them up, electricity bills, fixtures, wires and other expenses come to about $2,000.

The church raises that money through donations and its annual spaghetti supper, which is held on the last Saturday of September. Nipper said it usually has enough to cover the cost of the road.

“We get rewarded. It’s a lot of work. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. We do get rewarded when we see how it affects people, especially children,” Nipper said.

“You make the trip and it tells the story. That is one of the beautiful things about it. It’s very rewarding how it puts the Christmas story over to people, especially children, especially teenagers.”

Volunteers do all the labor that is required.

Among the challenges every year are how many volunteers come out to work and weather conditions.

There weren’t very many volunteers this year, compared to times in the past.

But Nipper said the ground was really soft from all the rain this year, and that made it easier to drive in the stakes that support the figures.

The trail is not the only thing the church does for Christmas.

It hosted special programs, from Dec. 11 to Dec. 17.

Those nights included a re-enactment of the Christmas story by members of the Lonoke Council on Aging and performances by southern gospel/Christian country musicians Glen and Leigh Ann Pool, Hickory Hill Bluegrass Band of Beebe, Cabot’s Hallelujah Harmony Quartet and the Gospel Tones of Jacksonville.

Local talent from the church and the community performed one night that week.

Refreshments were served after each program.

Nipper said he is still managing the annual displays, but is looking for someone else to take over.

EDITORIAL >> Why GOP caved in

If we are lucky, the dramatic cave-in on the payroll tax and jobless benefits by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives will bring lasting holiday cheer on many fronts. The 1.5 million Arkansans (and 160 million nationally) who won’t see their paychecks dip in two weeks and the thousands who won’t lose their jobless benefits dry up are the obvious beneficiaries. They and their families account for 99 percent of Americans who are not retired are disabled. A pretty good Christmas present for the country!

We always thought the significance was magnified, but the still moribund economy can use the confidence builder of continued tax cuts and jobless pay. President Obama thought the continuation of the payroll tax cut from 2009 and extended unemployment aid were important because they would keep money in the pockets of the middle class and the poor and keep them spending and raising the demand for products and services, the real job creator. We never thought they were a powerful stimulus, but every bit does help.

More important, we hope, is that the political dynamics in Washington may have shifted. For a full critical year, a relatively small fringe of the Republican Party has controlled the machinery in Washington, and they have brought the country perilously close to collapse. They lost this round, in dramatic, embarrassing fashion, and it may bode well for the future.

After winning some 50 House seats in the 2010 Republican wave, the extremists (three in Arkansas), many of them under the banner of the “tea party,” demanded that the government—that is, their own House majority, the Democratic Senate and the president—surrender to their idea of government. It included an end to important regulation of industry, deep cuts in Medicare benefits or an end to the system, slashes in Social Security, and lower taxes on corporations and the rich. It did not seem like a widely popular agenda in the United States, but they carried the day, over and over.

Most people have never acknowledged that their taxes were slashed—not increased—by Barack Obama, but the holiday war over payroll taxes may have driven that point home finally, thanks to the blundering of the Republicans. A reduction in payroll taxes that support Social Security and Medicare was part of Obama’s $750 billion stimulus program to stop the deep economic slide when he took office in 2009. Democrats controlled both houses, but Obama still had to accommodate Republicans in the Senate because with 41 votes, they could block anything they did not like.

To continue the lower payroll tax rates at the beginning of this year, Obama had to agree to the Republican demand that he continue the big income-tax reductions for people earning more than $250,000 a year. Those tax cuts, enacted under George W. Bush, had expired at the end of 2010 and the Republicans refused to continue the low payroll tax rate and unemployment assistance unless the president and the Democrats continued the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy through the end of 2012. The threat was raised again in the summer when the country reached its debt ceiling and faced the immediate prospect of repudiating its debt for the first time in history. They demanded a commitment to large reductions in government programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and pollution control, in exchange for not shutting down the government and reneging on U.S. debts.

Obama caved in. Many Democrats, particularly those on the left, thought the president should have stood his ground. When the other side seemed ready to bring the country to ruin if they did not win, the president thought he had no choice. Obama’s approval rating, never robust in Arkansas, plummeted, though not like Congress’.

This time, Obama stood his ground. He said the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits had to be extended until the economy was in full recovery mode. The tax cut was unpopular among Republicans, and the freshman class and a few others were adamant that taxes be allowed to go back to 6 percent because Social Security and Medicare needed the money and that jobless relief not be extended so that the unemployed would be forced to take whatever jobs they could get. The Republicans would give in on payroll taxes and unemployment only if they could get big concessions from the president and the Senate on other fronts.

Early this week, after Senate Republicans worked out an emergency deal with the president and Democrats to extend the tax cuts and jobless benefits through February, the tea-party Republicans—they included our three GOP congressmen, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Rick Crawford—said they wanted the House to stand firm against it, demanding that the president and the Senate extend everything for one year and adopt their policies in other areas, which was an impossibility. They believed it gave them cover for raising middle-class taxes.

Griffin, Crawford and Womack all put out statements calling for the majority leader to refuse to budge. “Irresponsible,” Crawford called the continued tax cuts and jobless pay. The House voted down the Senate emergency bill with only a handful of Republicans supporting it.

After one day, the blunder was transparent. The vote had made it clear to every American that Republicans opposed lower taxes for everyone but millionaires. The party’s creed for the 2012 elections would be higher taxes for the middle class and the poor, lower taxes for the very rich.

Senate Republicans condemned the House, as did party regulars everywhere. The House had undermined the party’s election prospects in 2012. Speaker John Boehner, who had tried to get the fringe and his old-line colleagues to compromise, finally made a conference call to the big House majority. The call did not permit members to respond. Only the speaker’s voice was heard. We will vote again tomorrow, he said, and you will accept the proposal you defeated yesterday by unanimous consent. If one person objected, the bill would die. Otherwise, it would be declared to have passed by unanimous consent. No one would actually vote.

Griffin put out a grudging statement supporting it this time. Crawford edited the “irresponsible” comment from his website and sent a letter to Boehner supporting a positive vote this time. Crawford’s crawfishing letter made the national news. Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and now a party strategist, and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid offered a similar conclusion. Perhaps the radical Republicans had learned a lesson. It’s best to compromise to make government work and wiser politically, too. Let’s hope they were right. — Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Good times at UCA

What hath the University of Central Arkansas wrought? It suddenly has a president who does not want a contract and will step down anytime his board wants him to, is more than happy with the president’s old mansion as it is, who is perfectly content with a salary well below that of the smallest junior-college head and who intends to follow the law and the most niggling accounting rules.

Tom Courtway follows two presidents who for a decade insisted on the most embarrassing self-aggrandizement, including pay, perks and luxury housing and who found the laws and the simple rules of bookkeeping and transparency too confining. Lu Harden and Allen C. Meadors both resigned at the request of the board of trustees for their misdeeds.

Harden, you will remember, was convicted of fraud and money laundering in a scheme to get a $300,000 bonus from the school to pay his gambling debts and escaped this year with five years of probation and 200 hours of community service. Meadors resigned after misleading the board about a $700,000 “gift” he said he got for the university from a contractor but which was no gift at all but a confidential loan to get a long-term no-bid contract for food services on the campus.

Despite their perfidies, both got huge buyouts, $670,000 in Hardin’s case and $525,000 in Meadors’. And the university was financially strapped.

Courtway, an aw-shucks local boy who had made good in Washington as a tax aide to Senators Dale Bumpers and David Pryor and then as a highly effective state representative, had joined the university nearly a decade ago as its legal counsel and then in other capacities. When the board got rid of both Hardin and Meadors, it asked Courtway to step in as acting president and clean things up.

This time, the shell-shocked faculty, alumni and board wanted Courtway to stay on permanently as the president to give the school a hiatus of calm and good judgment.

Courtway didn’t want the job. He was not cut out to be a university president, he said. Last week, he sort of consented to stay on for up to three years though he said he would be very happy if the board found a real president much sooner.

The university is using the presidential line item in its appropriation to continue (over)paying the departed Meadors, but Courtway said that was all right; he was happy with the lowly pay of an administrative assistant who fixes things.

We will see how rectitude, competence, transparency and humility work in a university president. Maybe it will be catching.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

SPORTS >> Panthers make use of time off

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers are off for a long time, but coach Jerry Bridges likes it that way. Cabot’s last game was a win at home against Springdale. Of course it was a win.

They’ve all been wins so far for the 7-0 Panthers. But it was on Dec. 16 and there’s not another game until Jan. 3, again at home against Greene County Tech. That’s nearly three weeks without a game, but it’s a formula that has worked in the past for Bridges and the Panthers.

“We did this last year and had a good run once conference got started,” Bridges said. “We’re going to play hard. We feel like we’re going to guard people and we put a lot of effort into our defense. We ought to be fresh legged and that’s the main thing because after Christmas it’s a grind.”

Evaluating the landscape of the 7A Central, Bryant first comes to Bridges’ mind.

“Bryant is definitely a contender because they have good guard play,” Bridges said. “Their guards are quick and can handle the ball, and their big kid in the middle has gotten a lot better.

“Conway is going to be Conway,” Bridges said. “They always have good athletic guards and this year is no different. North Little Rock got a big lift when they got that transfer from North Pulaski. From the looks of the scores, they’re getting better every game and they’ve without a doubt played the toughest schedule of any of us.”

Bridges also believes Van Buren and Russellville will present difficulties for teams this year.

Bridges still believes he has a team capable of competing with anyone, and the addition of junior Kyle Theilemeyer will only help matters.

“He’s had some foot problems and hasn’t done much since April, but we’re just starting to bring him back gradually and there’s a good possibility we’re going to get him back,” Bridges said. “We’re going to keep playing the 10 guys we’ve been playing, and adding him will be that much more help. He’s very steady and he’s a tall guard. And you can never have too many good guards.”

No one player stands out for Cabot, and that’s something else Bridges doesn’t mind. “They make up a team,” Bridges said. “There might not be a superstar, but they are a team. It’s the most improved group from one year to the next that I’ve ever had.”

“I like this team. They work hard and we’re going to get after it on Tuesday. We want to make it harder than games.”

SPORTS >> Rockets edge Falcons in OT

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski (1-8) still hasn’t found the formula for its second win of the season since beating Joe T. Robinson in the opener, but it did come awfully close in the final round of the Red Devil Classic on Wednesday. The Falcons took Little Rock Catholic to the wire, falling 39-37 in overtime at Jacksonville High School.

“It’s a bad taste because you know you had it,” North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson said. “At the same time, it’s a sign that the hard work we’re putting in is paying off, and we’re getting better. They’re starting to understand what kind of team we’re going to have to be and what can happen when we stick with a game plan.”

The Falcons took the biggest lead of the game by either team when a Marvin Davis free throw made it 30-25 with 2:34 left in regulation.

Catholic’s Zach Reiners’ offensive rebound and putback made it 30-27 just 10 seconds later. The two teams swapped a free throw each before Catholic tied the game with a three-point play off a steal with 1:26 on the clock. They would be the last points of the quarter.

Catholic got the ball with 31 seconds left and played for the last shot, but guard Mitchell Luther threw the ball out of bounds with 19 seconds left when his teammate made an unexpected cut towards the baseline.

Luther almost made up for his error by stepping into the NP passing lanes, but lost the ball out of bounds on the steal attempt. North Pulaski reset with 11 seconds left, but guard Daniel Drone’s three-point attempt was the off the mark with six seconds left. Catholic got the rebound and rushed up court for a final shot, but Jamalin Nash stole the ball. His heave from midcourt was no good, sending the game into overtime tied at 31.

The Rockets scored the first five points of the extra period for their biggest lead of the game with 2:21 left. After a North Pulaski air ball, Catholic failed to extend the lead when Falcon junior guard Malik Saab made a huge play by getting a steal and layup with 1:33 on the clock. Jackson called timeout after the basket and set up full-court pressure. North Pulaski executed it perfectly, getting another steal and layup, this time by Davis, to make it 36-35 with 1:28 left.

The Falcons got another stop on Catholic’s next possession, and Saab was fouled driving to the basket at the other end. He missed both free throws with 59 seconds left and Catholic went up by four with a bucket and a free throw with 31 seconds remaining.

Davis got a jumper in the lane to make it a two-point game with 19 seconds left. The Falcons fouled Catholic point guard Carter Morris with 17 seconds left, and Morris obliged the strategy by missing both free throws. NP’s Mouton took a three point shot with time running out that was off the mark. Catholic’s Reiners was fouled after getting the rebound with 0.7 seconds remaining. He also missed both free throws, but NP could not get a shot off before the buzzer.

For the game, North Pulaski made just six of 14 free-throw attempts while Catholic was even worse, hitting just 13 of 29.

Despite the the loss, the Falcons’s effort was especially pleasing to Jackson after the terrible game his team suffered the day before in the tournament. In that game, Bryant beat North Pulaski by 40 points. Much of the disparity was because of Jackson’s decision to sit most of his starters for most of the second half.

The game was close until the last two minutes of the second quarter, when Bryant went on a 12-0 run to give the Hornets a 16-point lead at the break. The lead quickly grew into the mid 20s by halfway through the third, prompting Jackson’s decision to bench some players.

“I just had to make a point to some people that we’re going to execute our game plan or we’re not going to play,” Jackson said. “It was tough giving up that run right before halftime, but we needed to come in the second half and start executing again, and we didn’t do that. We just tried to catch up as fast as we could and it just got worse.

“I was really pleased, though, with how they came back the next day and executed. If we could’ve just hit some free throws we would’ve put them away. The kids could’ve just got way down after a game like Bryant, but they came back hustling and executing.

“We’re 0-0 now, just like everybody else. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you went 10-0 or 0-10, come January everybody is even and we have something to build from.”

SPORTS >> Jacksonville outlasts Bryant for first place

Leader sports editor

The hosting Red Devils once again kept the plaque for winning the annual Red Devil Classic at home after beating Little Rock Catholic and Bryant this week. Jacksonville and Bryant met on Wednesday after beating Catholic and North Pulaski respectively Tuesday. The two teams battled evenly for three quarters before the Red Devils broke open a 32-32 tie midway through the fourth quarter to pull away for the win.

“I think we took that team a little bit too lightly,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said of Bryant. “Before the game guys were joking around and you could tell they weren’t really focused. When we were behind at halftime we went to the locker room and got their attention. They realized they were going to have to execute to beat this team.”

Poor shooting was a problem for Jacksonville. The Red Devils made just six of 23 attempts in the first half, with over a third of those attempts coming from the three-point line.

Jacksonville did not attempt a three pointer in the second half, and hit seven of 18 shots.

“I thought we got open looks we just didn’t knock anything down,” Joyner said.

Best epitomizing the shooting woes was the two missed dunks Jacksonville suffered during its 16-5 run over the final four minutes of the game.

All five of Bryant’s points in that span came during a 5-0 run that cut Jacksonville’s lead to 40-37. From that point, the Red Devils scored eight in a row to secure the victory. Bryant’s Jordan Griffin hit a three pointer at the buzzer to set the final margin. Tirrell Brown led Jacksonville with 12 points and eight rebounds.

The day before Jacksonville shot the lights out of the Devils’ Den in routing the Rockets 67-40. The Red Devils’ lead hit the mercy-rule mark of 30 points at 52-22 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.

Jacksonville (8-2) hit 16 of 23 shot attempts in the first half, including six of nine three pointers. Xavier Huskey led all scorers with 13 points.

SPORTS >> Lady Devils win first Classic in years

Leader sports editor

A long time coming, the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils won their own Red Devil Classic for the first time in 10 years by beating McClellan 56-42 Wednesday at Jacksonville High School.

The Lady Lions made a battle of it, trailing by just two points at halftime, but Jacksonville took control in the third quarter and extended its lead in the fourth to secure the victory.

The Lady Devils went inside in the final period to seal it. Jacksonville scored 13 of its 15 fourth-quarter points in the lane or on free throws by post players. Six-foot senior Nichole Bennett scored all six of her points in the fourth quarter while fellow post player Coyja Hood added five of her seven total in the final frame.

Junior Jessica Jackson had her best game of the season, scoring a game-high 25 points.

“I think this was really the first game where we shot the ball like I think we’re capable of shooting it,” Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms said. “Especially for Jessica. This was the first game that she’s really shot the ball well.”

Jackson didn’t start the game shooting well but got hot and stayed that way, especially in the second and third quarters.

McClellan jumped out to an 11-6 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Jackson missed five of her first six shot attempts in the first quarter, but the Lady Devils made a run at the end of the frame to claim the lead.

Freshmen point guard Shakyla Hill sparked the run with a steal and a layup. Hill got another bucket and a free throw while Jackson added a bucket and four foul shots. By quarter’s end, Jacksonville led 15-11.

Jackson made six of her next nine shots in the second and third quarters, and was fouled on two of the shots she missed. She finished the game hitting eight of 19 attempts, but was seven of 14 after the slow start. She also hit seven of eight free-throw attempts in the game.

McClellan got right back in the game midway through the second quarter, a quarter that featured six lead changes and four ties. Jacksonville led 23-19 when McClellan guard Kiemah Cummings posted seven straight points to put the Lady Lions up 26-23. Jacksonville closed the frame with the final five points to take a 28-26 lead into halftime.

For all the good shooting, it was Jacksonville’s defense in the third quarter that made the difference in the game.

The Lady Devils held McClellan without a basket until the 2:12 mark of the third. Taylor Collins’ shot made it 39-30, but the Lady Lions never got within seven the rest of the game.

The key moment of the fourth quarter came at the midway point. A Cummings three pointer pulled McClellan to within 45-38, and Jacksonville turned it over on its next possession. The Lady Lions worked the ball around and found a wide open shot from about 10 feet, but missed it and failed to get back on defense.

Hood got the bucket on the run out at the other end to again make it a nine-point game.

“There were times when we had lapses in our execution, but we settled down and got back to it instead of pressing to try to make up for it,” Mimms said. “We made plays when we had to.”

Cummings led McClellan with 13 points. Jack-son was the only Lady Devil in double figures, but Hill posted a complete performance, finishing with nine points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists.

Jacksonville (7-1) also hit 15 of 17 free-throw attempts.

The Lady Red Devils are off until Jan. 5 when they begin 6A East conference play on the road against Little Rock Hall.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

TOP STORY >> Disaster strikes church again

Leader staff writer

When Pastor Bobby Michael Sr. moved his Jacksonville church and nonprofit thrift store from 5,800-square-foot to a 9,500-square-foot building with the same rent and an option to buy, he was thrilled.

Four weeks later, water was spilling out of cracks in the floor of the nondenominational God’s Holy House Church at 315 Dupree Drive.

The seeping water destroyed most of the inventory and the repairs the church has made to the building.

Stephen Niswanger, a Little Rock lawyer who owns the building, said he told the pastor it had several leaks before he rented it.

“I don’t think he expected it to be as bad as it is. It’s a money pit. No one knows how to fix it,” Niswanger said.

He said flooding has been a problem since 2007. He hired a waterproofing company to fix the problem in 2008, but the company couldn’t do it because they didn’t know what was causing the leaks, he said.

Niswanger believe there may be a broken pipe that runs behind the building — the kind of pipe that drains water from streets when it rains — making water back up into the building.

He has talked with city officials about the problem but nothing has been done.

With only $230 in the bank and a loss of about $3,000 from the store being closed, Michael is reluctantly seeking help from the community.

“We’re here to give, not to ask for stuff. It’s hard to ask. I’ve given it in prayer. I’ve already gave it up to Jesus. I hope people in the community can help. Pretty much, we’re stuck,” he said.

The rent is $1,500 per month, and the thrift store is barely able to cover the cost of utilities.

The pastor claims that the problem with the seemingly ideal location is a foundation leak that is expensive and difficult to fix, the pastor explained. The building has flooded six times since the church relocated there four months ago.

And he said he recently found out this wasn’t a new problem. The building was rented to the owner of Game Zone Alpha, who lost $100,000 of merchandise because of flooding and another renter, an auto parts shop, left because of the leaks.

Profits from the church’s thrift shop are used to help families in need. The church has helped about 600 people since the store opened in September.

A dumpster full of donations to that shop and the church have been ruined by the water that accumulates inside the building every time it rains. The pastor said Niswanger provided the dumpster to throw everything away.

On top of that, Michael said, “We’ve done a lot of work to this building,” including repairing walls covered with mildew, building classrooms, constructing a stage the pastor says is worth $5,000, fixing 18 of the 27 leaks in the roof and upgrading the fire alarm system.

All the carpet that was in the building has been removed now, and it has its own place in the dumpster.

The pastor is waiting to see if it will be condemned by the city as unsafe and/or unusable, but the church has nowhere to go if it is.

This isn’t the congregation’s first holiday to run into trouble. Last year around the same time, a thief broke into their former location in the shopping center on Main Street across the road from First Arkansas Bank and Trust between Bailey Boulevard and Warren Street next to the library.

Most of the store’s inventory was stolen, ruining Christmas for many needy families.

EDITORIAL >> Commission ignores deal

Of George Fisher’s cartoons celebrating the arrogance of the Arkansas Highway Commission, our favorite pictured the commission’s mountaintop castle and redoubt with this caption in verse:

Here’s to the Highway Commission

That dabbles in cement and sod,

Where the Governor speaks only to the Commission,

And the Commission speaks only to God.

The five commissioners designated by the Constitution change in name but never in spirit. Last week, the commissioners reneged on a solemn agreement from last spring. Let’s repeat that. They made a promise and then broke it.

State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson had introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would end the big agency’s constitutional status and subject it and its governing commission to the same rules as the rest of government. Among the many beefs with the commission, whose members serve 10-year terms, is that they tend to divide the state’s highway revenues pretty evenly among themselves for highway work in their regions, regardless of where the cars, people and traffic are. Camden, El Dorado and Pine Bluff get bypasses while Jacksonville, Sherwood and Cabot, to take three examples, are choking on cars.

The commission and its director negotiated an agreement. If Hutchinson would not put his amendment to a vote they would redraw the highway districts so that they were roughly equal in population, like congressional, legislative, city ward and school districts. The highway law—the Mack-Blackwell Amendment—was ratified by voters in 1952 and designated one commissioner from each of the state’s five congressional districts. Then the 1960 census reduced the state’s congressional districts to four.

But the Highway Department back then drew up 10 highway districts, with each of the five commissioners responsible for two of them. The department has come to call them “advocacy districts.” In fact, a good portion of highway revenues are distributed fairly equally among them, which obviously favors the rural parts of the state, south and east, that have been losing population for 60 years.

Legislators were satisfied, Hutchinson withdrew his amendment and the legislature adjourned. Last week, the commissioners agreed 5 to 0 that they were not going to do it. It was just too hard to draw such a map they could agree on, they said. A fifth grader with a map and a census chart could have done it an hour.

Madison Murphy, the El Dorado industrialist who chairs the commission, was not so sure that the money should simply follow the cars, as Gov. Beebe has suggested. Severely distressed parts of the state need help, too.

Murphy is right and there probably should not be a rigid formula for spending federal and state highway money, but the back scratching among five white men of immense power is not the best way to plot the state’s advancement.

And a deal is a deal. There will be repercussions from the commission’s faithlessness. Do not be surprised if the legislature in 2013 sets in motion a law to repeal the Mack-Blackwell Amendment, which was supposed to “take highways out of politics” but only made them subject to a more perverse kind.

TOP STORY >> A Christmas story

Leader staff writer

Friday was a big day for little Maddox Shiell of Austin. It was his second birthday and his first time to meet Santa.

Although Maddox was born Dec. 16, 2009, a bacteria infection kept him in the hospital until after what should have been his first Christmas at home. On his second Christmas, he was in the hospital again with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a highly contagious virus that is prevalent during the winter and very dangerous for small children.

But on his second birthday, he climbed the steps of Santa’s little green and red shack parked in front of Walmart in Cabot, sat on his lap and accepted the candy cane Santa offered.

As it happened, there was a lull in activity and Santa had a little more time to chat before sending the toddler on his way. Enough time apparently to make a connection because Maddox started down the steps to rejoin his mom Cammy Yates and sister Madison Yates but turned back to give Santa a hug and kiss.

Being only 2, he couldn’t talk much, but his mom was sure Santa would bring him an assortment of balls for Christmas: a football, a basketball and a baseball.

Now, a skeptic might say that Santa bore a strong resemblance to Matt Webber, a Cabot mail carrier who is involved in just about every service organization in northern Lonoke County. The voices were similar. But in addition to his jolly disposition and love of giving, Santa is known for his wide girth. And Webber is a slim man who would need at least three pillows to fill out Santa’s red suit.

A frequent Walmart shopper who is also a keen observer would almost certainly notice that Santa’s appearance changes ever so slightly from day to day. Sometimes he is a little shorter, sometimes a little taller and sometimes a lot bigger around.

A cynic might say a dozen or so Santas occupy the brightly painted house on wheels that is parked in front of the Cabot Walmart every December.

But the children, the true believers, don’t seem to notice or care if the real Santa takes a break from time to time and allows his doubles to occupy his velvet, wing back chair.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say it was Webber who graciously accepted a hug and kiss from a 2-year-old who had never before met Santa.

Why would he pretend to be the very personification of Christmas spirit?

Maybe he does it to raise money for a few worthwhile projects sponsored by Cabot City Beautiful, projects like the cleanups that get trash out of the city every year.

But at $3 for a picture with Santa, he isn’t exactly raking in the cash. Truth is, children get to visit with Santa even if their parents don’t want pictures taken of them with their own cameras.

So why would he do it, especially considering that no one has ever seen an elf in the middle of June painting or doing any other maintenance on the shack that serves as Santa’s Cabot apartment. That’s Webber’s job.

Though reluctant to admit too much, Webber offers this explanation: In the little Michigan town where he grew up, someone parked a shed on skids between the hardware store and the jewelry store in December and his parents would take him there every year to talk to Santa.

As an adult, he was called upon to dress as Santa for a Christmas party for a relative and he said he thinks he may have caught the Santa bug then.

However, it wasn’t until he moved to Cabot and got involved with Cabot City Beautiful that he remembered the shed in Sparta, Mich, and decided it might make a good fundraiser for the fledgling organization that had few other ways to raise money for projects.

Walmart had just opened, he said, and the new manager came to talk to Cabot City Beautiful. When Webber mentioned possibly opening a Santa Shack, she said it should sit in front of the store where it has been now for 15 years.

Raising money was only part of the reason for the shack, he said.

It also bothered him that taking a picture with a mall Santa can cost $40 or so, which is too much for some families to pay.

But the truth is that $3 is sometimes too much.

“If we think it would be better spent on food for the table or clothes on their back, we tell the helpers (usually students from the high school working toward credits for the National Honor Society) not to charge for the pictures,” Webber said.

Playing Santa for a family party may have got him hooked, but Webber said it was a child that motivated him to do more than ask the standard questions, “Have you been good? What do you want for Christmas?”

He was asking, he said, but the little boy on his lap wasn’t answering, so his mother explained that he was deaf and answered for him.

“That’s pretty crummy that Santa can’t ask a child what he wants just because he can’t hear,” Webber said.

So he and two others in the “Cabot Santa Brotherhood” enrolled in beginning sign language classes at the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Most of the students had deaf children, Webber said, and laughed at the reason he and his group were there.

But the instructor not only worked with them, she made them a video with the most common Santa questions for them to review each year before the shack opens to its young visitors.

“It took two years before I got to use it. But one day a little girl came and I asked her what she wanted and her mother started answering for her. I stood her in front of me and started signing,” he said.

“I don’t know who was more excited, me, the mom or the child. She started signing and she had the biggest grin on her face. That’s when it hit me why I’m doing this. It’s not about me. It’s not about Cabot City Beautiful. It’s about the kids,” he said.

Stephen Redd recalls how he came to know through a friend of a friend of Webber’s that there might be an open position at the Santa Shack, a position that he got through an interview and a thorough check of references.

Redd said it was hard to believe there wasn’t a long list of men wanting to don a red suit and listen to the wishes of small children – on Santa’s behalf. But the job was his, at least for a couple of two-hour shifts.

That was three years ago, and Redd now has his own suit and he buys a new beard every year because a season’s worth of tugging by small hands is hard on beards.

Working in the shack early in the season gets him in the Christmas spirit, he said.

“I don’t know if I could go a Christmas without it,” he said. “It’s just the look in the kiddos’ faces. It takes you back to how it used to be. You see the glimmer in their eyes and you know, you’re it.

“The heart breakers are the ones who come in and say, ‘Santa, I miss my mom. Santa, I miss my dad. I want a Christmas tree. I want my puppy to get well,’” he said.

There’s no way to prepare for those kinds of wishes, so Redd says he does the best he can and lets them know Santa cares.

“You don’t know what to say. You just have to be yourself,” he said.

This year, Redd said he got to talk to a boy who was on his team when he coached football.

He knew the boy had been in the hospital and he got to tell him he was looking good, Redd said. And since he knew the boy’s interests, they had something to talk about.

But when the boy told him he missed his old coach, Redd, a Santa stand-in, had to respond as Santa and assured the boy that his old coach missed him, too.

With his own children almost grown, Redd said he doesn’t coach anymore, so his shifts in his red suit provide his best opportunity to interact with children, and he doesn’t intend to give that up anytime soon. He’s even brought his wife Misty in as one of the helpers who take those $3 pictures.

“You know the difference between sports and Santa?” he asked. “All the parents are nice with Santa.”

Don’t believe it?

There are still a few more shifts scheduled at the Santa Shack. Go stand a while and watch. You might see little ones who aren’t quite ready to climb onto Santa’s lap. But there won’t be many parents who don’t appear disappointed when they don’t.

Could it be that the Santa Shack has enough Christmas magic to make them believe just a little? Enough magic to make them remember when they were like 2-year-old Maddox Shiell who instinctively knew that Santa deserved a hug and kiss for his kindness?

TOP STORY >> Shovel-ready work: Look when you dig

Leader editor

Residents of the Sunnyside neighborhood in Jacksonville are breathing easier now that the relocation of utility lines is nearly completed before the start of the Graham Road widening project.

Workers digging underground have disrupted phone, water, sewer and power lines. But they’re almost done now and the road work will start soon, promising a whole new set of problems.

Who knew that a shovel-ready project meant workers digging into the ground and tearing up utility lines? At least they didn’t blow up any natural-gas lines, which could have leveled the entire neighborhood, along with the meth labs that are known to dot the neighborhood.

A meth lab was busted there about the time the utility work began. Workers probably smelled chemicals and contacted police.

The widening will add two lanes to Graham Road between Loop Road and the railroad tracks. The low bid for the 1.14-mile-long project was submitted by Township Builders for $3,350,500.

Work will start early next year and should be completed in the fall.

Federal stimulus money is paying for 80 percent of the project, while the city is footing the rest of the bill.

The outages have delayed the project, according to state highway officials, who are overseeing the work with Jacksonville officials.

People have had their utilities out for several hours, although the phone company has been quick to respond.

CenturyLink sent repairmen out to The Leader two days in a row when the lines here were cut twice within 24 hours.

The contractor never apologized for its mistake, although that might be a language problem.

That’s not to knock the mostly Hispanic workers. They were looking at maps of the neighborhood and advised caution.

Some blamed their American bosses, who didn’t seem to know or care where lines are buried.

Whatever happened to “call before you dig”?

The road work will bring crews close to people’s homes. Many residents will have their front yards ripped up and won’t even have room to park their cars.

Most lack driveways and the city has banned parking on streets.

Homeowners have received compensation for giving up their property, but what’s a fair price for losing your front yard?

Where will they park their cars? In the back or down the street in the old 7-Eleven?

But let’s not knock stimulus money, especially if the work is completed on time and no one gets hurt: At $3 million a mile, it’s not exactly a bargain, but maybe it’s worth losing one’s utilities for a few hours.

In the meantime, watch out for leaning utility poles. There’s one at the end of Graham Road. Stimulus money may not pay for your hospitalization.

SPORTS >> Cabot girls blow away Springdale

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers put together another dominant performance Friday at Panther Arena, hammering 7A West visitor Springdale 74-43 to improve to 7-2 on the season.

The Lady Panthers’ relentless pressure forced 26 Springdale turnovers. Many of the turnovers turned into easy transition baskets. When not running the floor, Cabot’s halfcourt offense created several other easy shots.

The Lady Panthers hit 53 percent of its field goals, making 31 shots in 58 attempts. Their defense forced Springdale into a 16 for 43 shooting performance.

“We’re continuing to improve,” Cabot coach Carla Crowder said. “We played really hard tonight and as we continue to improve, we’ll getback better after they’ve broke the press and not give up some of the easy baskets we gave up tonight. I thought we played well but I always see things we could do better.”

The duo of Laci Boyett and Elliot Taylor dominated the first quarter of play. Boyett and Taylor scored eight points each for 16 of the team’s 25 points in the opening frame. Micah Odom came off the bench to add a spark as well. She got two steals and two layups after entering the game as the Lady Panthers built a 25-15 lead.

When in its half court man defense, Cabot put 6-foot, 1-inch senior Melissa Wolff on Springdale’s freshman point guard Shya Taylor, making things no easier even on the occasions that the Lady Bulldogs broke Cabot’s full-court pressure.

Springdale committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter and seven more in the second.

Holding a 46-22 lead, Crowder sent just two starters onto the floor to start the second half. The Cabot reserves weren’t quite as dominant, but still extended the lead to 65-38 by the end of the period. At the very beginning of the fourth quarter, Sara Fowler was fouled while hitting a basket. She made the free throw to make it 68-38, invoking the mercy rule for the final 7:44 of the game.

Taylor led all scorers with 16 points while her fellow post players Sydney Wacker and Wolff each scored 12. Wacker and Wolff also grabbed seven rebounds. Wolff also had four steals while Wacker dished out four assists. The Lady Panthers had 20 total assists in the game. Wolff, Jaylin Bridges and #2 each dished out three.

Springdale post player Bailey Swaringen came off the bench to lead Springdale with 10 points.

The win was the sixth-straight for Cabot after going 1-2 in the season-opening tournament at Hall in late November. The Lady Panthers will take part in the Mansfield Rotary Invitational Tournament in Mansfield, Texas beginning Dec. 27. Cabot will take on Lamar, Texas at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Their next home game will be Jan. 3 against Greene County Tech.

SPORTS >> Racing league gets go ahead

Leader staff writer

The green light is on for a new drag racing league geared for high school students as a way to encourage higher grades, a safer place to race and a chance to win money for college.

The Arkansas High School Drag Racing League is a nonprofit eight-race series open to any high school student with a state driver’s permit or license.

Races will be held, once a month on Saturday starting in March, alternating between Centerville Dragway in Yell County near Dardanelle and Prescott Raceway in Clark County.

Students will race each other accumulating points for wins. At the end of the season in November, the student with the most points will be crowned series champion and an award will be given to the school with the most points.

Any student who has raced and gained points in five of the eight races will be invited to the state championship in November.The winner of the race will receive a college scholarship. The amount of the scholarship is based on the amount of money raised during the racing season.

The cost to participate is $20 each race date; $5 goes towards the scholarship fund; $5 goes to prizes for the drag racing league’s awards banquet at the end of the year, and $10 goes to track operating fees. Membership in the league is $10 and is required.

Students can race any street-legal state-registered vehicles except motorcycles. No purpose-built racecars are allowed.

A vehicle has to meet the league’s technical inspection. Vehicles are required to have seat belts with shoulder straps. Racers must wear a helmet.

The drag races are an eighth-mile in length. The fastest a vehicle can go is 7.9 seconds. If they go quicker, they are disqualified. The average speeds are estimated to be around 75 mph.

“If they want to race their momma’s mini-van, they can, as long as their parents or guardian sign a waiver and a release,” Jacksonville High School auto technology teacher Wayne Grif-fin said.

Many students don’t have a license because their grades are too low. State law requires a student have at least a 2.0 grade-point average to get their driver’s permit.

Griffin thinks the drag racing league will encourage students to improve their grades to get their license and into the automotive technology classes.

GPA’s will be checked before running in the state championship race.

Students are required to have their parent or guardian accompany them to the track the first time they race. Liability falls on the tracks and not on the school districts.

During the races vehicles cannot use nitrous oxide. Turbochargers and supercharges are allowed if they are factory stock. A vehicle’s identification number and build history will be checked.

Cars and trucks must have mufflers and run on street tires, no slicks. Additional rules on the series will soon be posted on a Facebook page, Centerville Dragway’s and Prescott Race-way’s websites.

The races have no limit to the number of participants, but the high school races will end before dark.

“If 500 cars show up, we’ll run them until the races are over. If a student loses the race, they are finished for the day. They will have to learn how to make their vehicle better,” Griffin said.

Jacksonville High School auto shop installed a chassis dynamometer last year from a $65,000 Perkins grant for vocational and technical programs.

The dynamometer is machine that measures power from the wheels of the vehicle. Students can see how changes make to their car or truck can improve or even slow down their vehicle. He said the Cabot High School auto tech program is taking a field trip to Jacksonville to see how the dynamometer works.

Griffin said if Jacksonville gets a fair, then a drag strip could be made along the midway. Races could be held when no events are scheduled. They could host a regional or state championship high school race event.

“I think it is one of the best things in the area,” Kevin Whitmore, a parent and drag racer from Jacksonville said about the high school drag racing league.

“Everyone gripes about the kids hanging out. Kids complain they are bored with nothing to do. It is opportunity for them to learn and grow and earn scholarships,” Whitmore said.

“I put (information about the drag racing series) on the bulletin board, and I had 100 kids asking about it,” Cabot High School auto tech teacher Bill McReynolds said.

McReynolds said by allowing only street-driven vehicles to race everybody has a fair opportunity to win.

“We’ve been talking about doing this for several years. The more high schools that get involved, the more successful it will be. We always had a competitive atmosphere between Cabot and Jacksonville,” McReynolds said between the auto tech programs.

“I see a lot of positives coming out of it. We have a lot of competitive sports you can be a spectator in, but in this you can participate,” McReynolds said.

“It is not gender specific. It might encourage more girls to race. Girls tend to make good automotive students, he said.

McReynolds said girls are more detailed orientated than boys. He said the racing series may cause more girls to be in the automotive technology programs.

Cabot auto tech paraprofessional Dewey Landers said the drag racing series can help parents reconnect and be involved with their teens. He said most are latchkey kids.

“It sounds like it will be fun. If I had a vehicle I’d be in it,” Luke Brown, a Cabot High School senior said.

Cabot High School sophomore Kramer Helmbeck liked the idea of the racing series.

“You don’t have to have some souped-up truck or car. You just have to have a vehicle,” he said.

“If I had my license, I’d do it,” Dakota Cleveland, a Cabot High School senior said.

For additional information about the Arkansas High School Drag Racing League, email

SPORTS >> Devils cruise past Clarksville

Leader sports editor

It took Jacksonville a few minutes to establish control, but once it did, the Red Devils never really let Clarksville back into the game. The end result was a 59-45 Jacksonville victory over University of Arkansas commitment Dederick Lee and the Panthers in the Ron Crawford Arkansas Hoops Challenge at Maumelle High School on Saturday. Jacksonville and Clarksville made the fourth of eight high profile matchups in the event.

Each game was divided into 16-minute halves instead of the tradition eight-minute quarters.

Jacksonville hindered Lee into several rushed shots, and held him to 14 points on five of 24 shooting.

“That was the plan,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “We knew if he gets his feet set, he can nail it. We wanted him on the go. We didn’t want him to be able to take any set shots. We wanted him off balance and that’s what we did.”

The Red Devils were slightly sluggish at the start. Clarksville’s Zac Stumbaugh stole the ball and went the distance for a layup to start the game. On Jacksonville’s next possession, Preston South stole the ball, dished to teammate Trey Norris who missed a three pointer. South got the rebound and putback to give Clarksville a quick 4-0 lead.

It was just about Clarksville’s last highlight of the game.

Jacksonville went on a 15-2 run that ended with Keith Charleston following a fast break layup miss by slamming home the offensive board.

Clarksville finally ended an eight-minute drought when South hit a layup with 7:39 left in the first half.

Clarksville got back to within five one two Lee free throws that made it 18-13 with 4:40 left in the half, but it was all Jacksonville the rest of the way before the break. An Aaron Smith three pointer started an 8-0 run. Crushawn Hayes hit a three pointer with 14 seconds left that gave the Red Devils their biggest lead of the game at 36-18. Lee ended the half with a layup that made it 36-20.

The Red Devils took their foot off the gas slightly in the second half and the tempo slowed. Jacksonville made a concerted effort to run a half court game and get the ball inside.

Center Tirrell Brown, who played just five minutes of the first half with foul trouble, scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the second half.

Jacksonville made 24 of 47 shot attempts, but were only eight of 17 from the free-throw line. The Panthers hit 17 of 20 from the free-throw line, but made just 13 of 42 attempts from the field.

Lee led all scorers with 14 points. Jarren Thompson added 12 for Clarksville while South scored 11.

Brown was the only Red Devil in double figures but four players scored eight, including, Smith, Charleston, Justin McCleary and Xavier Huskey.

The win lifted Jacksonville’s record to 7-2heading into the Christmas break. Jacksonville plays at home at 5:30 p.m. today in the final game of the Red Devil Classic against Bryant.

SPORTS >> Rally late in second does job for Bears

Leader sportswriter

White Hall’s advantage on the boards was not enough to make up for other aspects of the game otherwise controlled by Sylvan Hills in a 61-49 victory in the SHHS gymnasium on Friday to open 5A-Southeast Conference play.

The Bears (5-1, 1-0) did not enjoy one of their better shooting nights from the floor but were still able to rely on the depth of their all-star lineup to make plays on both ends, breaking out to an early 10-2 lead as the beginning of a steady take off that never allowed the Bulldogs to get any closer than five points.

“Our depth paid off for us right there,” Bears coach Kevin Davis said. “We were able to sub quite a bit early, and when the starters came back in there at the end of the second, had a lot of energy. And those last few minutes there in the first half, it turned in a hurry.”

White Hall pulled to within 22-17 with 2:31 remaining in the first half when senior point guard Dion Patton picked up a steal and took it the distance. A Larry Ziegler jumper right after that made it 26-17. Trey Smith then sank a three pointer, and Archie Goodwin gave the capacity crowd what it came to see with a one-handed dunk in the lane that put the Bears up 31-19 with 31 seconds remaining in the first half.

The Bulldogs (4-4, 0-1) kept Sylvan Hills honest for most of the first half, mainly on the solid rebounding game of D.J. Freeman, who cleaned up on the glass with 15 rebounds while his teammate Jeremy Sprinkle pulled down 13, 10 of which were in the second half.

“We talked about that at half that we were standing around,” Davis said. “We seemed a little dead legged, maybe from the break, but I said it was unacceptable. We were aware that that was going on, and we talked about it. Not sure it helped, but we sure talked about it.”

Versatility was key for the Bears in the second half as Goodwin, who suffered a difficult night shooting from the floor, converted his role to rebounder as Patton took over on drives to the basket. Patton scored on a floating jumper in the lane with 4:15 left to play in the third quarter to give Sylvan Hills a 40-25 lead, eventually going on to lead the Bears with 15 points while Goodwin finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.

Senior post player Devon Pearson had his hands full inside trying to contend with the twin-tower attack of Sprinkle and Freeman for rebounds, but still managed to pull down seven while adding 10 points for Sylvan Hills. Pearson was part of the early push that gave the Bears initial momentum when he scored on an inside jumper and drew a foul from Sprinkle, converting the three-point play to put the Bears up 6-2.

“I didn’t think we shot the ball particularly well as a team,” Davis said. “The well was dry for us on several trips. I just thought we were a little lethargic tonight, but the bench helped us.”

Jalon Wilkins tried to get the Bulldogs back in it late in the fourth quarter with a push on the offensive side. He drove the baseline for two with 2:48 left to play to cut the lead to 54-43, and hit two free throws on the next trip to take the lead down to a single digit for the first time in the second half.

But facing a team loaded with expert ball handlers, White Hall’s only option was to start fouling. The Bears went 6 of 8 from the free-throw line down the stretch.

Ziegler finished with eight points for the Bears. For White Hall, Sprinkle led with 16 points while Wilkins had 15 points.

“Those boys are so well coached, and they hustle,” Davis said of White Hall. “We knew coming in that White Hall was going to battle us. We’re tickled to death to be at home and get this first conference win under our belt.”

SPORTS >> Panther defense stifles Bulldogs

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers struggled for a half, but kept its perfect season intact with a dominant second half, beating the visiting Springdale Bulldogs 56-40 Friday at Panther Arena. Cabot didn’t make a single shot from the floor in the first quarter, but good defense kept it close as the Bulldogs took a 10-5 lead into the second period. Sam Howe’s five free throws accounted for all of Cabot’s points in the opening frame.

“Oh, I realized it and they knew I realized it, too,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said of his team’s first-quarter shooting woes. “We weren’t getting into anything. We were out of sync, but we played good defense right from the get go and I was glad to see that. I don’t think we did that against England but we did tonight and that kept us in it.”

The Panthers were without starting point guard Arthur West, and the new lineup struggled early.

“It messed up our rotation,” Bridges said. “We’ve got, really, two starting point guards, but it makes it easier when we can rotate those two guys. I thought Bryan Shrum played a great game after the first quarter.”

The Bulldogs held a 17-10 lead when Cabot made its first run. Shrum hit a three pointer to make it a four-point margin. Howe then got a steal and dished to Adam Rock for a layup, forcing a Springdale timeout with 4:32 left in the half.

The Panthers got another stop defensively and tied the game when Ryan Stafford scored with 3:20 left in the half.

Springdale wasn’t quite ready to give up the advantage and went on a 9-4 run to close the half with a 26-21 lead.

Cabot came back from the break a different team, smothering the Bulldogs defensively and working the ball inside on offense for easy baskets.

Howe, who was 0 for 7 from the floor in the first half, scored 10 points in the third quarter with four straight buckets and two free throws. Cabot also rebounded better in the second half. Springdale held a 13-10 advantage on the boards in the first half, but Cabot ended the game with a 27-23 advantage.

Helping the Panthers’ cause was Springdale starting post player D.J. Evans getting his third and fourth fouls in the first 20 seconds of the third quarter. The Panthers took their first lead of the game at 32-31 on a Rock three pointer with 3:40 left in the third. It was the first three of 12 straight points for Cabot to close the quarter. At the end of the third, Cabot led 40-31 and the margin only grew in the fourth, despite committing seven turnovers in that frame. The Panthers had committed five total in the first three quarters.

Cabot hit 33 percent from the field, hitting just 15 shots in 45 attempts. Springdale was worse, hitting 16 of 52 for 31 percent. The big difference was at the free-throw line. Springale made just six of 11 attempts, while Cabot went 23 of 37 from the line.

Springdale senior Mytaah Crawford scored 17 points to lead the Bulldogs. Howe led all scorers with 20. The win brought Cabot’s record to 7-0 while Springdale fell to 6-3.

Monday, December 19, 2011

TOP STORY >> City gives state fair deadline

IN SHORT: Board isn’t sure it can make the financial commitment, so
Jacksonville might do its own fair.

By Sarah Campbell
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville has given the state fair board 45 days to accept the city’s revised two-year-old offer of 450 acres off Hwy. 161 and I-440, plus a 200,000-square-foot events center.

The board, which is considering moving the fair from Little Rock, met Thursday morning to hear a presentation from Mayor Gary Fletcher.

Fletcher told The Leader on Friday, “I didn’t get a definite answer, but I didn’t expect one. What it did for Jacksonville was get the ball rolling again. All the momentum stopped after the (North Little Rock) sales tax. They’re going to have to step out on faith. I don’t know of anything I can offer them after that (45 days) to give them any more comfort.”

North Little Rock voters last month rejected raising their sales tax by a penny. The fair board was waiting to see if the city would purchase 2,000 acres with the sales tax revenue and invite the state fair to be the main tenant there.

Fletcher said the meeting was the first time the board had heard about the city wanting to construct a 200,000-square-foot events center on the property, a venture the city has investors lined up for.

City officials have spoken to Jerry Murphy, operator of Murphy Brothers Expositions, a leader in amusement rides and fair management. He said he could put on a 10 day regional show that would generate $5 to $6 million, including $750,000 for Jacksonville plus taxes (about another $75,000 to $100,000).

The mayor went to fair chairman Ned Ray Purtle on Wednesday and got the impression that he was intrigued.

“Jacksonville’s partnership with the state fair could work like how vendors rent space at the mall,” Fletcher said. “That way it’s a win-win.”

His other point was the city will have a fair, regardless of whether it is the state fair or a Mid-America Regional Fair, and it has investors to back up the alternative plan.

Fletcher told the board, “All fear can do is paralyze you. I need to move on. I’m fairly nervous. I’m trying to be nice about it, but I’ve got to be blunt, too. I’m a cautious man, but I have not one iota of caution about putting a fair there. We need to get somewhere serious in this debate.”

The board questioned the city’s ownership of the land. The mayor explained that it is in the process of acquiring the property through eminent domain from Entergy.

Fletcher said later that Entergy had wanted to trade land with the city but had backed off because of “political pressures.”

“I don’t want to drag it out. Investment has to have certainty. They (the board) don’t have near the motivation to have a decision that we do. It does not benefit Jacksonville to wait. In the long run, it does not benefit them to wait. They’ve got some hope. I’m excited about our potential. We can’t drop an opportunity because they deny an opportunity,” Fletcher said.

Purtle was supportive of Jacksonville’s plan, stressing that the high price tag the board fears could be greatly reduced.

A recent study said the cost to relocate would be $60 million, but Fletcher disputes that because it includes things Jacksonville is willing to include in the donation of the land. Members voted to allow Ralph Shoptaw, general manager at the Arkansas Livestock Association, to work with Fletcher on figuring out the money issues.

The board’s annual budget is about $4 million.

“The state fair is not a cash cow. We need to figure out how we’re going to pay for this. We can come up with a footprint of what we need,” Purtle said.

He also cautioned, “Can we afford to relocate, or do we stay here? We’re trying to be cautious about not going out on a limb.”

Fletcher said he understood the financial concerns, but that it could be done over a period of time.
“Our generation wants it instantaneous and with no pain. Sometimes the journey is more exciting than the destination,” he added.

Shoptaw has consistently noted that the board must carefully consider its options. He mentioned that it doesn’t want to be in the same situation as the Virginia State Fair, which financed $95 million to pay for relocation. That fair filed for bankruptcy this month after it couldn’t make a $97,000 monthly payment.

Purtle said that not all of the livestock barns have to be fully enclosed, and some buildings can be metal instead of brick. The state fair has about 330,000 square feet combined in all its buildings.
The events center would be about two-thirds of what is already in place at the location in Little Rock on Roosevelt Road. It could accommodate between 80 and 85 percent of all events that are held in the United States and a Ferris wheel for an indoor winter fair if one part of the ceiling was built high enough for it.

Jacksonville Director of Administration Jim Durham said the events center would cost about $10 million, but the utility of the building would repay investors without accruing a massive amount of debt.

He added that the city’s community center is booked all year, and it turns away as many events as it books. Those events could be directed to the events center after it is built.

The fair’s current home consists of 148 acres. State fairs across the nation average 366 acres.
Also, crime – or the perception of it – keeps potential visitors away from the fairgrounds, according to the study. It cited police reports, various crime statistics and even complaints by state fair management.
The fairgrounds have been on Roosevelt Road in Little Rock since opening in the 1940s.

The impact of the state fair would be enormous for Jacksonville, officials hope. It could bring about 85 percent of 5,000 jobs and as many as 400 non-fair events to the city.

TOP STORY >> Group stresses importance of base

Special to the Leader

The Metroplan board of directors Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council and the 19th Airlift Wing’s candidacy for the Air Mobility Command Abilene Trophy.

The resolution, introduced by Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, cites the board’s enthusiastic support for the base to again receive the trophy.

The Abilene Trophy is presented to the Air Force Air Mobility Command base with the most community support.

The 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock is the current holder of that trophy for reasons including the community’s $5 million partnership with the base in the construction of the Joint Education Center opened a year ago outside the perimeter fence.

The resolution noted that “when a tornado damaged more than 100 on-base housing units and many buildings in April 2011, the LRAFB Community Council and surrounding communities donated significant time and money to help the base recover.”

When Metroplan was formed in 1955, it was partly to assist in the planning for the Little Rock Air Force Base.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert was on a slate of candidates elected as the board’s 2012 officers.
Cypert will be vice president. Others elected include Maumelle Mayor Mike Watson, president; Haskell Mayor Jeff Arey, secretary, and Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland, treasurer.

The board approved a $2.7 million 2012 budget, which include staff and planning, much of it from federal grants, according to Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie.

“We have assumed a (worst)-case scenario regarding federal funding levels,” including a 30 percent reduction in planning funds, according to the staff summary.

“This occurs at the same time that our planning costs spike with the bulk of the work for the METRO 20-40 plan occurring in the next two years,” according to the summary.

Overhead expenses were budgeted 1.8 percent less than the 2011 budget, and a 3 percent average pay increase.

Metroplan will administer a $1.4 million sustainable communities grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help small communities understand and plan for sustainable, equitable, affordable housing, smart transportation choices, enhancing economic competitiveness and related needs.
Opportunities will be identified in the first year for focus studies. Then developers will be “brought into the 21st Century and business models will be improved.
All of this will add value to Metroplan’s long range transportation plan.
Area residents voted on several proposed bridge designs, resulting in a tie between a modernistic cable bridge designed by Bob Dahms and a more traditional design by Randy Murphy, based on the Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary.
Three of the submitted designs, some quite elaborate, were from students in the Bryant High School architecture and design class.
The board also approved expenditure of a $1 million federal grant and $252,000 in local funds for a retrofit of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority maintenance building for compressed natural-gas storage and maintenance.

TOP STORY >> New commander heads to Jacksonville air base

Air Mobility Command officials announced Friday that Col. Brian Robinson will assume command of the 19th Airlift Wing from Col. Mike Minihan at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Robinson is executive officer to Gen. Raymond Johns Jr., commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott AFB, Ill.

Minihan will assume command of the 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews, Md., which has responsibility for Air Force One and other planes assigned to government officials.

The wing is responsible for worldwide special airlift missions, logistics and communications support for the president, vice president, cabinet members, combat commanders and other senior military and elected leaders.

A date for the change of command ceremony has not been determined.

At LRAFB, Minihan leads the world’s largest fleet of C-130 aircraft and is responsible for providing worldwide deployable C-130 aircraft, aircrews, support personnel and equipment for Air Mobility Command and Air Expeditionary Force missions.

He ensures support for combat, contingency and humanitarian requirements with 12,000 personnel and families at LRAFB.

The C-130 crews can drop supplies with pinpoint accuracy — “literally the size of a basketball court,” he told The Leader in an interview earlier this year.

“This wing has not had a break since 9/11,” said Minihan, who has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq several times. “I’ve done four tours as a squadron commander.

“We haven’t lost one plane,” he said. “The crews are highly skilled and professional.

“People worry about the new generation of Americans,” he continued. “I do not. They’re professional warriors….They really do inspire with their actions.

“It’s a great reminder how precious their service is to the nation,” he said.

Minihan entered the Air Force in June 1989 after receiving his commission through the ROTC program at Auburn University.

He completed undergraduate pilot training in 1991 and served as an aircraft commander, instructor pilot and evaluator pilot in the C-130 Hercules.

Minihan commanded an airlift squadron and four deployed expeditionary airlift squadrons.

Most recently, Minihan served as vice commander, 60th Air Mobility Wing, Travis AFB, Calif.

Minihan is a command pilot with more than 3,200 flying hours in the C-130 and KC-10.