Tuesday, January 03, 2012

TOP STORY >> County judge stresses efficiency

Leader staff writer

Doug Erwin, a Republican, became Lonoke County Judge in January 2011 after defeating Charlie Troutman, the Democratic incumbent, in November 2010.

The county judge is by state law the chief executive officer for county government in Arkansas. In that role, the judge authorizes and approves the disbursement of all appropriated county funds, administers ordinances enacted by the quorum court, has custody of county property, accepts grants from federal, state, public and private sources, hires county employees except those employed by other elected officials of the county, and presides over the quorum court without a vote but with the power of veto.

But county judges are perhaps best known for their responsibility for the county roads. They send out the crews that maintain the roads and they alone decide how the money in the road and bridge fund will be spent.

In Lonoke County, that fund contains about $5 million.

Erwin said this week in a prepared statement about his first year in office that it was a time of learning, challenge and change.

“This first year we have focused our attention on being more efficient with our taxpayers’ dollars,” Erwin said.

“We have used management techniques, transparency and accountability to improve efficiencies throughout the areas of the county the judge’s office is responsible for. And through the improved efficiencies we have been able to make the most use of every tax dollar spent.

“For example, by realigning duties and responsibilities and allowing our employees to work to their full potential we have saved over $140,000 this year in payroll cost as compared to the year before I took office.

“By allowing our county employees to utilize their skills, we have greatly reduced the use of outside contractors. That has saved the county over $1 million.”

Specifically, Erwin said in a phone interview that he cut road and bridge workers from about 30 to about 20 and the ones he has left are doing more than they did in the past.

“If the guys are going to work for me, they’re going to work,” Erwin explained.

“In the road department we have reduced monthly fuel bills by over $8,000 a month for almost $100,000 in savings this past year,” his said in his prepared statement.

How did he do that?

Erwin said that one of his first official acts on Jan. 3, 2011 was to stop his workers from driving their work trucks home at night. Then, he got rid of the bulk gas tank that all the workers had access to. Now the county buys gas from a local supplier one tankful at a time with gas cards that show who buys how much and when they buy it.

“Our decision to become a dues paying member of Metroplan has resulted in a net gain of almost $400,000 in additional revenue for the county,” Erwin said in his prepared statement.

Asked to elaborate, he said Lonoke County wasn’t paying its Metroplan dues when he took office and was not getting a share of the federal road money that Metroplan administers. He paid $14,000 for 2010 and $19,000 for 2011 and got $400,000 in exchange.

“I’ll trade that all day long,” he said.

Flooding from numerous storms damaged roads across the county and kept workers from concentrating on routine maintenance, he said in his statement.

But the county has secured more than $700,000 in federal aid to help pay some of the cost of repairing the storm damaged roads. And the hope is that routine maintenance will be the priority in 2012.

“I look forward to serving the citizens of Lonoke County in 2012,” he said in his statement. “This year I plan to continue the transparency and accountability that has given us the cost savings while still giving you the service you deserve. And as a major goal we plan to continue resurfacing of our roads, improving the shoulders and addressing the drainage issues throughout the county.

“Please feel free to offer me your thoughts for the county for the New Year,” he said.

EDITORIAL >> If it bleeds, it sure leads

You’ve probably noticed that Little Rock television stations are airing more crime stories at the exclusion of serious reporting, which disappeared from local screens years ago.

Apart from some stories that the stations pick up from area newspapers and blogs, it’s pretty much the police gazette between the weather and sports.

TV viewership is dropping, so stations are desperate to keep what they have with a slew of crime stories, as many as a dozen in one evening. Some are just for titillation, while others perhaps are meant to keep viewers out of high-crime areas.

The recent spate of stories about crime at Park Plaza in Little Rock and McCain Mall in North Little Rock serve as warnings to suburban shoppers about the dangers of going to the big city, suggesting they might be better off shopping at home.

The Cabot mother and daughter who felt threatened at Park Plaza around Christmas will likely never shop there again, and who can blame them? The incident ended with an off-duty police officer shooting at the alleged troublemakers.

Outside consultants tell TV stations this is the formula the public wants, and they could be right.

Crime is down in most areas of Arkansas and around the nation. But Little Rock has seen a jump in its crime rate, so perhaps tabloid journalism on TV is a reflection of those sad statistics.

The evening news around Christmas was no different from other nights: Crime, mayhem and all-around depravity were the top stories on TV and hardly any coverage of local religious services or people preparing for the holidays.

TV news relies on local law-enforcement spokesmen to get the word out on the latest murders, rapes and arrests of child pornographers, so that crime buffs are always in the know. They can channel surf the four TV stations and see crime reports for most of the 30-minute broadcast. But keep the children out of the room.

Lt. Carl Minden of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and Lt. Jim Kulesa of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office are seasoned pros who provide timely information to the media and are almost always available for interviews. They’ve helped us over the years, and they’re ubiquitous on television.

Who needs reporters and anchors? Heard of citizen journalists? Law-enforcement journalists are the new wave. They don’t cost the stations a dime.

Lt. Kulesa and Lt. Minden and their counterparts around Arkansas can help fill a broadcast and deserve a modest stipend for their efforts. Razorback and high school sport highlights, along with the weather, should only briefly distract viewers from crime.

None of this stuff is suitable for children: Two nights before Christmas, one TV anchorman was handed a bulletin about a double murder in Ward, although it was closer to Cabot.

There would be more details, as they say on TV, as they became available the next day. The Lonoke County murders dominated the news, while Christmas stories had to wait till Sunday.

Crime stories dropped off on Christmas because even criminals take a day off, maybe because they’ve stolen enough presents and need a break like everyone else.

After Christmas, it was back to business as usual. Police and sheriff’s department spokesmen were back on the air to fill out the details about the latest shootings and holdups. These interviews could fill a newscast with crime news from around Arkansas.

The future of television news could evolve into something we’re seeing on Little Rock TV. No need for reporters — only one station had a reporter working Christmas weekend — and you might as well eliminate the anchors and even the weather people. Just keep airing the crime videos.

One station in Dallas is leading the trend: It broadcasts reports from the field without a studio staff. No need for reporters or meteorologists: A camera operator can run to crime scenes and accidents and tape meetings and seasonal stories about the homeless, toys for tots and missing pets.

They can fill the other 12 or minutes or so with annoyingly loud commercials.

For more serious reporting, we think newspapers can still provide an important service to their readers.

TOP STORY >> Cypert releases agenda for 2012

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert had a good first year in office based on a long list of accomplishments that he gave to The Leader last weekend. But one year leads into the next, and the mayor says he is ready with more projects that need to be addressed.

Top on that long list is a master street plan to control traffic as the city grows, a plan for financing important projects without additional taxes, better garbage and trash service and a district court that makes money.

Goals for 2012:

 Seventy-six drainage improvement projects.

 Continue to clean major drainage ditches and improve the ability for more cost effective maintenance.

 Adoption of the master street and sidewalk plans by Metroplan and the city council. Primary goals are for corridor protection and planned and reasonable strategic growth.

 Completion of a bond refinancing plan for infrastructure improvements in transportation, waste water, parks and recreation, fire station and engines. An election is planned for April 2013 and will simply refinance the current bond issue with no new sales tax.

 Eight sidewalk improvement projects.

 Forty-six street improvement projects.

 Implement a seasonal banner program for street light poles in major areas winter, spring, summer and fall.

 Review the productivity and cost effectiveness of the district court operation and consider improving security, also consider a night court.

Improve emergency lighting and fire protection in all city buildings.

Continue developing management access plans for all major corridors.

Continue developing corridor plans for all major corridors.

Prepare a cost, benefit for bringing solid waste, yard waste, and recycle pickup in house versus a third party, if not cost justified, rebid the solid waste contract.

Re-bid the software vendor for the city ordinance codification software arranging ordinances in a systematic form.

Re-bid the maintenance for citywide complex air conditioning and heating systems.

Review the employee salary and performance evaluation policies and administration.

Evaluate a more cost effective program for computer hardware, software, and technology maintenance.

Implement ability to pay advertising and promotion tax on-line.

Evaluate finance, payroll, and accounting software for cost effectiveness and state-of-the art status including consideration of a bi-weekly payroll.

Re-bid city cell-phone contract.

Consider cost / benefit migrating from a 14 day jail facility to a 24 hour facility using the Lonoke County jail facility.

Consider implementing a rental inspection program for existing (housing) units.

Re-bid the city property and casualty insurance after completion of an accurate inventory that is in progress of city property in terms of buildings and contents.

Bid the city checking account business.

Consider the annexation of the ford bottoms triangle bordered by Arkansas Highway 5, Arkansas Highway 89 and U.S. Highway 67/167.

Design and procure city pins and challenge coins for public relations and promote goodwill of the city as well as meet requests for such.

Design and implement a physical fitness program for police department.

Procure and implement a mobile adoption unit program (for animal control).

Continue to consider purchasing property adjacent to and for expansion of the city hall complex and community center.

Consider a state-of-the-art Christmas display for the community pond park that can be advertised statewide for visitor attraction.

TOP STORY >> Birds pull town together

Leader staff writers

The number of dead blackbirds that fell in Beebe on New Year’s Eve was down dramatically from last year, about 450 instead of 5,000, but this time, officials say they have evidence that the birds were killed after fireworks were deliberately set, causing them to fly into each other.

Last year, someone reportedly shot a large rocket near the bird roost by accident. The birds flew up in such numbers that the flush was caught on weather radar and when they tried to return to the roost in the dark, they crashed into each other, buildings and trees and died from blunt-force trauma.

Milton McCullar, who works as the city’s code-enforcement officer, said he was helping Police Chief Wayne Ballew patrol the Windwood neighborhood near the roost in an attempt to stop the fireworks when someone set a large, multi-charge unit on a two-by-four in such a way that it angled into the trees where the birds roost.

The two-by-four and spent fireworks were found on Macy Lane in a section of Windwood that is under development, McCullar said.

McCullar said he had been at that location shortly before the fireworks were set off, but he left to try to locate fireworks from another part of the subdivision and ask those shooting them to stop.

Beebe Animal Control officer Horace Taylor spent Sunday morning picking up dead birds in the city like he did last year. He said the city began receiving calls about dead birds a little after 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Beebe has one of the largest blackbird roosts in the world.

Mayor Mike Robertson declared a temporary ban on fireworks soon after.

Taylor worked until 3 a.m. at the request of the mayor, who wanted the streets kept clean. Taylor said he picked up around 320 birds during the weekend. A game warden picked some of the birds up on Saturday for testing to determine the cause of death.

Last year, the city hired a hazmat team to pick up the dead birds at a cost of about $12,000.

Lula Ensign of 204 Pine Drive had five dead redwing blackbirds in her yard on Sunday. Last New Year’s Day she had 35 birds.

“I didn’t see them last night, but I found two this morning. I don’t understand. It is unusual. (The blackbirds) are just everywhere. The trees are full.”

During the fall and winter, an estimated 1.5 million blackbirds flock to Beebe to roost in the trees in the Windwood subdivision and in the field along West Center Street, soon to be developed into retail center.

TOP STORY >> New year seen as turning point for area officials

Leader staff writer

Most community leaders don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but their hopes for 2012 are bright.

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) said he wants to see growth with jobs and a healthy family. He has 10 grandchildren, four daughters and four sons-in-law.

“For people who want to work, I want to work as hard as I can to give them an opportunity to succeed,” he said, adding that that it all starts with a good education.

He hopes to see improvement in the state’s education system over the next few years.

State Rep. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) echoed his sentiments. She said she wants Arkansas to have an excellent education system and she wants to find ways to bring jobs here.

English said she doesn’t make resolutions because “I just try to make the best of every day.”

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said, “I hope to get something strong going on the fair. I hope to get more of a commitment from the state to break up PCSSD so we can get our own district. On a personal level, I feel like I’m doing what I need to be doing.”

The state Education Department took control of the fiscally-distressed Pulaski County Special School District in June, dismissing the superintendent and dissolving the board. Many prominent Jacksonville residents considered the takeover to be an ideal opportunity for the city to get neighborhood schools.

Daniel Gray, a third-generation Jacksonville realtor and active member of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization, said he’s still trying to get through 2011 and hasn’t thought of 2012 yet.

On Dec. 15, Jacksonville gave the state fair board 45 days to accept its revised two-year-old offer of 450 acres at South Hwy. 161 and I-440, plus a 200,000-square-foot events center.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said, “My hope for Cabot is a prosperous and financially healthy 2012.”

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said she is looking forward to a fresh start.

Art Brooke, Ward’s mayor, said, “My resolution is to provide more quality services for our residents here in Ward.”

Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes wrote in an e-mail, “As the police chief, I hope for the continued decline in our crime and improved safety for our citizens. In code enforcement, I am looking forward to cleaning the city up with the removal of all of the inoperable vehicles, trash, and other debris. We are also about to start a big push to have a lot of dilapidated houses/trailers torn down by the owners or condemned by the council.

“This is to improve the appearance and increase property values of our property.”

Code enforcement transitioned from the engineering department to Jacksonville police in November. The new proactive approach is aimed at cleaning up the city and to rid Jacksonville of eyesores.

Jacksonville transferred two code enforcement officers to police headquarters and will hire three more with funds set aside in its proposed 2012 budget.

A code enforcement officer will remain in the city engineer’s department to perform routine and permit inspections.

Instead of only responding to complaints, code enforcement officers will patrol a district, a section of the city, in the same way that policemen are assigned to a certain area.

Sherwood Police Chief Jim Bedwell said he will, “just try to keep everything peaceful,” and he hopes for a reduced crime rate.

Jacksonville Fire Chief John Vanderhoof wants a “fire-safe year.”

Sherwood Fire Chief David Teague said the coming would be a busy one for his department. There will be several new officers promoted and it will transition from part time to full time.

Larry Wilson, First Arkansas Bank and Trust president, said, “I typically try to look at how we might grow and prosper in the coming year. The last few years have been a challenge, but we’ve done it.”

Arkansas Federal Credit Union CEO Larry Bernacki said he doesn’t think about resolutions.

“This was a very good year. The organization grew and I want that to continue. By all measurements, this was a very successful year,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Invaders swoop in at sunset

Leader editor

­­­­On Saturday afternoon, children and their parents were walking down the street in Beebe’s Windwood subdivision near where blackbirds roost at night on West Center Street.

A mother was walking her child in a stroller on the edge of the subdivision where some birds also roost, although not nearly as many as on Center Street.

It wouldn’t be long, she said, before thousands of birds showed up, as they do every night. A few birds landed on some trees inside the subdivision.

A man walking his dog said he might shoot off some firecrackers to scare away the birds.

The sun was setting behind them as more birds flew over the subdivision.

“They’ll be here as it gets dark,” the man said. “There will be more of them on Center Street.”

It was New Year’s Eve. The town’s residents were apprehensive about a repeat of last year, when some 5,000 blackbirds fell dead after powerful fireworks went off not far from their roost.

A crowd started to gather in the Beebe Church of Christ parking lot on Center Street before 5. The sun was setting on the right as the birds started swooping down toward an open field across from the church.

They landed up in the trees surrounding the field. There were a just a few hundred at first and then thousands of them. It’s called a murmuration: Huge flocks of birds flying together.

They blackened the sky as motorists on Center Street started honking. Somebody estimated a million birds were heading for the field.

They’d land and then take off. It was like a synchronized tornado sweeping up debris. Huge groups of them circled the field and then returned to the trees.

It was getting dark, and there were fireworks going off in the distance, which scared the birds.

An hour later, more fireworks went off near the roost. Beebe officials ordered them stopped, which prevented another massacre.

About 450 birds were killed Saturday, a tiny fraction of the disaster from a year ago, which a worldwide sensation.

As soon as the fireworks went off Saturday, Mayor Mike Robertson said Monday, “we asked them not to shoot.”

“This year, we didn’t have much trouble. A couple of pranksters shot off some fireworks,” he said. “We told them to stop it.”

Most people obeyed the order and no one has been charged.

“The event that killed the birds happened around 7:30,” Robertson said.

“We thought it was fireworks that killed the birds last year,” the mayor said. “This year proved it.”

“Last year, commercial-grade fireworks were set off,” he continued. “It was a like a sonic boom. Maybe it was accidental.”

He said the city council will consider banning fireworks on New Year’s Eve. The birds come through Beebe in the fall and winter and aren’t around on the Fourth of July.

Robertson thinks a shopping center that’s planned for Center Street will probably drive away the birds from there and move them out of town.

“I watch them in the morning when they fly away,” the mayor said. “There are so many of them trying to avoid each other.”

They’re tough birds.

TOP STORY >> Several schools do well on test

Leader staff writer

Arkansas students are smarter than more than half the country, according to information the University of Arkansas recently reported.

The school’s Office of Educational Policy said Arkansas students from kindergarten through the ninth-grade who took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills were in the 55th national percentile ranking, meaning they scored better than 54 percent of the students across the nation who took the test.

A percentile score of 50 is considered average, having half the nation score worse than that and half scoring better.

While the state average was in the 57th percentile, most Pulaski County Special School District students scored substantially lower, while those in Cabot and Searcy did much better.

The Iowa test is a standardized achievement test used to monitor year-to-year progress and can help supplement teachers in their observations about student capabilities, such as what a student’s most and least developed skills are. The test has been in use since 1935. It can also be used to compare students nationally.

The top schools in the region were Mountain Springs Elementary School in Cabot and PCSSD’s Arnold Drive Elementary, where students scored in the 74th percentile, meaning they did better than about three-fourths of the nation’s students.

Lonoke Primary School was in the 72nd percentile and Cabot’s Eastside Elementary was in the71st percentile and Magness Creek Elementary had a rating of 70th.

One the other end of the spectrum was Harris Elementary in PCSSD in the 30th percentile, meaning 69 percent of the nation’s students outscored them.

Also at that bottom rung were Jacksonville High School in the 31st percentile, Jacksonville Middle School in the 33rd percentile and North Pulaski High School in the 39th percentile, all far below the state average.

The overall percentile is based on what the students scored in reading, math, language and science portions of the test. Only certain grades took the science portion.

Here is a look at area districts.


While the primary school had an overall percentile of 72 and 77 in language (tops in the region), the other Lonoke schools fell below the state average.

Lonoke Middle School was in the 50th percentile, Lonoke Elementary in the 48th percentile and Lonoke High School in the 47th.


Besides Arnold Drive, three other PCSSD schools beat the state average, and two tied the average.

Clinton Elementary was in the 60th percentile, while Tolleson and Oakbrooke elementary schools were in the 58th percentile, and Sherwood and Cato elementary schools matched the state at the 55th percentile.

Among the district’s other elementary schools, Jacksonville Elementary, in its last year of existence, scored in the 42nd percentile, Murrell Taylor was in the 46th percentile , Pinewood had a rating of 48, Warren Dupree was in the 49th percentile and Sylvan Hills and Bayou Meto elementary schools were at 54.

Jacksonville’s Lighthouse Academy was also in the 54th percentile.

At the secondary level, Northwood Middle School was in the 44th percentile as was Sylvan Hills Middle School. Sylvan Hills High School had a rating of 43.


All Beebe school scored higher than the state average except for Beebe Middle School, which missed the mark by one percent.

Beebe’s early childhood center scored in the 62nd percentile. Badger Elementary was in the 58th percentile, Beebe Elementary and Beebe Junior High were at the 57th percentile, Beebe High School was at 56 and Beebe Middle School came in with a rating of 54.


Among its elementary schools, Stagecoach scored in the 68th percentile, Central Elementary was in the 66th percentile, Northside and Westside were in the 64th percentile and Ward Central was at 60.

At the secondary level, Cabot Middle School South scored in the 63rd percentile, Cabot Junior High North had a rating of 61, followed by Cabot Junior High South and Cabot Middle School North, both at the 59th percentile. The Academic Center for Excellence scored in the 51st percentile.


In Searcy, Southwest Middle School was in the 66th percentile, Alhf Junior High scored in the 64th percentile, Sidney Deener Elementary had a rating of 62, McRae Elementary was in the 60th percentile and Searcy High School scored in the 58th percentile.

SPORTS >> Lady Badgers defeat Sacred Heart for third

Leader sportswriter

It was all about Angelina Williams for Beebe in the Lady Badgers’ 50-30 victory over Sacred Heart in the third-place game of the Beebe Holiday Classic basketball tournament at Badger Sports Arena on Friday.

Williams, Beebe’s sophomore sensation post player who is listed between 6-3 and 6-4, upped her college profile once again with a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds while enjoying a tremendous size advantage over the Lady Rebels (17-4).

Teammates were happy to take a back seat offensively to Williams, who grabbed lob after lob for high-percentage shots on the low block against a Sacred Heart defense unable to stop her.

“We did a good job today,” Beebe coach Greg Richey said. “We came out, both teams were not playing with much intensity. But I thought it picked up, and our big girl just had an outstanding game. Of course, she had them outsized, but I liked it that our guards took advantage of it. Instead of shooting the ball, they wanted to make sure they got it in there to her.

“That was a big game for Angelina, and for the rest of the team.”

Williams established her dominance early with a putback off a miss by classmate Kalela Miller to make it 4-0 Beebe before taking an assist from junior guard Jamie Jackson for another easy basket to give the Lady Badgers a 6-0 lead at the 4:58 mark of the first quarter.

Jackson was not at full speed after a tough game against England in the semifinals the night before and finished with six points and four assists. Miller added 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

But it was defense that carried the day for the Lady Badgers, as they denied Sacred Heart from scoring a field goal in the first quarter and led 11-4 heading into the second. Jackson led an 8-0 run for Beebe to start the second quarter before Crystal Wilson finally scored from the floor for the Lady Rebels with 1:10 remaining in the first half.

“Sacred Heart’s a good team – they’ve played a good tournament,” Richie said. “They just didn’t shoot very well today. It’s surprising that we were able to have the kind of night that we did, but the big girl affected a lot of the shots.”

Miller scored the first four points for Beebe in the second half with a pair of fast-break scores before Williams made it 33-14 on a bank shot off the glass at the 5:07 mark of the third quarter. Jackson then scored off a steal and Williams made a put back to give the Lady Badgers a 37-16 lead with 2:20 remaining in the third.

Beebe further put the odds in its favor inside with Williams and reserve post Miranda Spriggs on the floor at the same time in the second half. Richie normally uses Spriggs, a senior, in place of Williams in defensive situations, but the two shared the court to further hamper the Lady Rebels, who shot just 7 of 47 for the game while Beebe went 21 of 47.

Junior reserve Annlee Glass also saw significant minutes and scored her first varsity points with a 15-foot jumper at the third-quarter buzzer to give the Lady Badgers a 43-19 lead.

The Lady Badgers went 5-1 through the holidays, winning the Greenbrier tournament and finishing third in their own tournament to up their season record to 9-3.

“If somebody would have told me that, I would have turned cartwheels,” Richie said of his team’s performance during the Christmas break. “We’ve had a good two weeks.”

The Lady Badgers begin 5A-East Conference play at home against Blytheville on Friday.

SPORTS >> Bears lose first game, close well in tourney

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills boys’ team went 2-1 at the Poplar Bluff Showdown, which featured eight teams from four states, last week.

The Bears had a rough start on Wednesday, losing 65-60 to Tupelo, Miss., after leading by one point with a minute remaining in the game.

Tupelo was forced to begin fouling, and the Bears missed free throws. Sylvan Hills missed four free throws in the final minute to allow the Golden Wave to come back for the win. In all, the Bears missed 16free throws, hitting just 15 of 31 attempts in the game.

“You’re not going to win against any good teams shooting free throws like that,” Bears coach Kevin Davis said.

Sylvan Hills bounced back in the first round of the consolation bracket, crushing Memphis-Hillcrest 67-45 and earning a slot in the fifth-place game against fellow Arkansas 5A power Forrest City.

The Bears pulled that one out 69-57 in a game that could likely have been a preview of a postseason matchup.

The Mustangs are one of the favorites, along with Beebe, who played a close game with the Bears last month, to win the 5A East

Archie Goodwin led the Bears in scoring in both games. He had 24 against Tupelo and 18 against Hillcrest.

Forrest City lost to Memphis-Washington then beat host Poplar Bluff to advance to the consolation final.

Tupelo beat Memphis-Kirby in the third place game after losing to Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Mo., in the semifinals.

Memphis-Washington beat Maplewood-RH in the tournament final.

The Bears (8-3) return to action on Thursday, hosting Monticello in a 5A Southeast conference game. It will be the conference opener for the Billies while Sylvan Hills has one league game under its belt, a blowout win at home over White Hall.

The next day, the Bears leave for Lexington, Ky., to face Lexington Catholic in front of Goodwin’s future college hometown crowd. Goodwin signed with the Kentucky Wildcats in the early signing period.

The Bears then play one more league game before heading out of state again for the Bass Pro Shop tournament in Springfield. Mo.

SPORTS >> Warriors host JHS’ first East road test

Leader sports editor

The real basketball season starts this week as conference play gets into full swing across the state. That means a bigger task for no other team in Arkansas than Jacksonville, which plays in the brutally competitive 6A East, along with perennial powerhouses Parkview, Hall, Jonesboro and West Memphis. Marion, Mountain Home and Searcy all have strong tradition as well and all three are coming off at least a quarterfinal appearance in last year’s state tournament.

It starts out tough for the Red Devils and Lady Devils as they begin league play on the road at Hall at 6 p.m. Thursday. The game was moved from Friday to accommodate Arkansas football fans who want to watch the Cotton Bowl.

Hall’s boys don’t have the big-time guards they usually do, but this year they have a big-time post player in junior Bobby Portis, who has already received scholarship offers from several Division I schools. Portis, 6 feet, 10 inches, can be a dominant inside force, but teams can’t just focus on him.

“The team is kind of built around him,” Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner said. “They have some veteran guards too though. They maybe haven’t been playing as well as they’d like, but they are veterans and they know how to turn it up when they need to turn it up.”

Hall, like most teams in the league, likes to press. While the Warrior guards haven’t yet been as impressive as usual in their play, they are impressive to look at. Hall features tall guards with long arms that disrupt passing lanes.

“They’re just so athletic,” Joyner said. “They’re tall, muscled up, just athletic. When you have athletes on the court anything is possible.”

Jacksonville will have some depth at guard and should be able to handle intense pressure better than it did early in the season with the addition of senior Joe Aikens. He returns this week after regaining his academic eligibility.

“He’s going to help tremendously,” Joyner said. “James just has a high basketball IQ. He takes pressure off Justin McCleary because he won’t have to handle the ball as much as he did before conference. It will get him off the ball and get him a rest mentally. Running point all the time, especially in this league, can wear on you.”

Jacksonville has no shortage of depth at any position, and Joyner doesn’t plan on setting a limit to the substitution rotation.

“The game will dicate the rotation,” Joyner said. “We kind of have a pecking order for the first nine, but if the game dicates we play 12 or 13 that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve been trying all year to get as many people ready as we can, so we just have to see how the games go.”

The girls league isn’t quite as deep with perennial powerhouses, but is very strong at the top, and does include the state’s top ranked team in Parkview, as well as several college-bound players.

The Jacksonville ladies have had an impressive pre-conference season, going 9-1. They weren’t quite as impressive this early last year, but they did have a winning record before things fell apart in a winless conference record.

This year’s team is better than last year’s, with more experience and depth, a true point guard in freshmen Shakyla Hill and the continued improvement of Division I prospect Jessica Jackson.

Hall also has a big-time guard in Tyler Scathe. The Lady Warriors offense will run through her.

“She’s running the show for them,” Lady Devil coach Katrina Mimms said. “They pretty much do what they did last year, where 95 percent of everything they do goes through her. It looks like their post game has improved this year too, so they should be better this year in that regard.”

Mimms’ roster doesn’t go quite as deep as Joyners, but she feels she has enough players to keep people fresh.

Hill, Jackson and defensive specialist Sascha Richardson are mainstays in the starting lineup, with six or seven more who can contribute quality minutes, including returning starter Tiffany Smith.

SPORTS >> Wildcats stall for win over ’Rabbits

Leader sportswriter

The old fable of the tortoise and the hare came to life on the floor of Badger Sports Arena during Harding Academy’s 45-35 victory over Lonoke in the third-place game of the Beebe Christmas Classic basketball tournament on Friday.

The Wildcats (8-6) held a slim advantage throughout and built a nine-point lead in the third quarter only to see the Jackrabbits (9-4) pull to within four early in the fourth quarter. Lonoke had a significant speed advantage, but a number of fast-break transition opportunities went by the wayside with rushed passes and mid-court turnovers that benefited the more patient Wildcats.

“We felt like we could do that,” Harding Academy coach Brad Francis said. “At the same time, we didn’t want to give up some easy baskets, which we did, but I thought we got more with them sped up and giving up turnovers.”

Lane Dailey put momentum on the Wildcats’ side for good with a three-point basket at the 5:32 mark of the fourth quarter to increase the Harding Academy lead to 35-28. Dailey then went to the foul line less than a minute later and hit both ends to make it 37-28.

Darius McCall scored on a lay-in to cut it back to seven for Lonoke, and a miss by Dailey on the other side ended up in ’Rabbit Dustyn Perkins hands for an opportunity to set up a close finish. But the Jackrabbits did not capitalize, and Jordan Spears took it to the rim for the Wildcats to give them a 39-30 lead with 1:59 remaining.

“We talked at the beginning about not using this as an excuse, but we have some younger guys who haven’t played at that speed,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “Blake Mack, a sophomore for us, who has done some really good things – didn’t play last year. Yeah, at times, we’re trying to play faster, and hopefully, the more practice we get, that we will eventually be able to play at that speed.”

Dailey came up big for the Wildcats again with 1:31 left to play when he converted an HA steal at midcourt with a lay-up to put the advantage at 41-30.

“We made a couple of good runs,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “We’re still not mature enough to understand time and score and the flow of the game, and understand that if we made a run to really lock down and get a stop.

“These three games here, I thought we did a horrible job of rebounding. You can’t really sugarcoat it.”

Junior Will Francis led the Wildcats with 17 points and seven rebounds while Dailey added 11 points. For Lonoke, Mack led the way with 14 points while senior and team captain Tarrale Watson led all rebounding with eight boards.

The 5:30 starting time came just before the two championship games, and the near-empty arena made for a slow start from both teams, ultimately leading to a low final score between two solid shooting teams.

“This is a hard day for teams who aren’t in the championship game,” Francis said. “You’ve played hard for two games, and now, you’re just kind of pushing through, so we talked about coming out and getting the lead early. We felt like that was a big advantage.”

The Jackrabbits opened 4A-2 Conference play last night at home against Stuttgart, and will host Cave City on Friday.

SPORTS >> Beebe falls to young Bruins

Leader sportswriter

Pulaski Academy took the championship but also took its lumps during a 50-41 victory over host Beebe in the final round of the Beebe Holiday Classic basketball tournament at Badger Sports Arena on Friday.

Senior and Texas Tech signee Dusty Hannahs got the Bruins (7-0) off to a fast start in the first half before falling victim to the physical defensive play of Beebe senior guard Brandon Fuller, who went up to prevent a dunk by Hannahs at the 6:04 mark of the second quarter.

Hannahs came down under the goal hard and was sent to Little Rock for X-rays that determined injuries to his wrist and pelvis, which will keep him off the court for at least a month. The Bruins also suffered another setback when starting post player Hunter Henry was ejected from the game with 3:18 left to play in the third quarter for responding to a foul by Badger Zack Baker with what appeared to be a haymaker-type swing in the direction of Henry.

Bruins coach Roger Franks protested the ruling and was in danger of getting a technical of his own with the Bruins up 32-24. Hannahs made a brief appearance back on the court to shoot free throws in place of Henry. He hit both ends, but was in obvious pain as he was again assisted back to the PA bench.

“Beebe is really a good basketball team, and we knew we would have to play well to have a chance,” Franks said. “I’m really proud of the way our kids competed. To lose Dusty, and then to lose Hunter, I thought our young guys really stepped up.”

With Hannahs and Henry absent, the Badgers (8-3) tried to move inside offensively, but Bruin underclassmen Jeremy Brady and Tyler Colquett held their ground against the experienced Badgers, holding senior forward Dayton Scott and guard Zach May to eight and nine points respectively.

Junior forward Austin Burroughs had some nice shots in the lane, as well as a pair of three pointers for a game-high 13 points, but the high-percentage looks the Badgers wanted inside were simply not there.

“I thought they did a good job of doing that,” Franks said. “Our posts were undersized when Hunter left, and we didn’t do a very good job of getting around and we wanted to front that. But you have to give them credit for sealing and not letting us get around.”

Though diplomatic following the game, Franks did not exactly agree with Henry’s disqualification.

“I really can’t say anything about the situation with Hunter, because what I saw and what they saw were two different things,” Franks said. “But the film should show, and, I mean, the game was well officiated. I know they did what they believed was right, and I just didn’t see it. I can’t really say anything else until I look at it.”

Both teams struggled from the floor overall, as PA went 15 of 41 for 37 percent. The Bruins were just under 50 percent for the first half at 11 of 26 before losing Hannahs for the entire second half and Henry for most of it, going just 4 of 15 for the second half.

Beebe was 8 of 17 for the first half and 6 of 23 in the second half to finish 14 of 40 for 35 percent.

The biggest difference seemed to be outside shooting in the first half, in which the Bruins went 4 for 7 behind the three-point line while Beebe was 2 of 3 in the first quarter with no attempts in the second quarter.

“Offensively, we just didn’t make shots in the first half, and they did,” Beebe coach Ryan Marshall said. “That’s the difference in the game, really, we just couldn’t get going. They’re a good ball club – you get down 10 or 11, you’re going to get beat.”

The Bruins made their run that ultimately established the margin for the remainder in the middle of the second quarter with a three-point basket by Brandon Brady to give PA a 20-16 with 4:35 remaining in the half. Marcus Wallace added an inside basket before Hannahs hit a pull-up in the lane to make it 24-16 with 2:15 left to play in the second quarter.

Hannahs led the Bruins with 13 points before his early exit while Henry added nine points and eight rebounds.

Marshall acknowledged the spirited play throughout in a game played to a packed house heavily in the Badgers’ favor, but also commended his players for keeping their cool during some of the more tense moments.

“It was physical,” Marshall said. “The move Fuller made on Hannahs, that was a good foul – he tried to dunk, and he went for the ball, and instead took a tough spill. And then (Henry), you know, he throws a punch because he gets a hard foul, so our kids did a good job of being mature and not showing emotion. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean you’re going to be on top.”

Beebe begins 5A-East Conference play with a home game against Blytheville on Friday.