Friday, January 20, 2012

EDITORIAL NOTEBOOK >> Church reaches out

Here’s an inspirational story.

Cabot aldermen, while working through the process of condemning a batch of derelict buildings, found themselves dealing with an irate homeowner who demanded to know why the city code-enforcement officer was snooping around his mobile home. And why they wanted him to repair it or tear it down.

Edwin Burdick told the city council in September that he would like to have a better place to live, but he is still paying for his land and could not afford another $500-a-month payment.

Pictures that circulated among council members showed that the mobile home did need work. Hanging soffit and fascia boards and a dilapidated addition made it very unsightly. Dilapidated and unsightly are among the criteria for being declared a harmful structure, the first step toward condemnation and demolition.

But how do you put a family out of their home because it is unsightly?

The members of the Cabot City Council obviously weren’t prepared to make that call, so they gave Burdick 60 days to make repairs.

Then in December they gave him 30 more days. How could they condemn someone’s home before Christmas, especially since there was a chance someone might volunteer to help with the work?

We wrote about it when an occupied mobile home made it to the city’s list of harmful structures, something that had never happened before. And we wrote about the two chances the city council gave the owner to clean up and fix up or face condemnation. And now the council has decided to give Burdick another reprieve, perhaps for good.

We admit that we hoped someone who cared was reading. Now we want to express our gratitude for the group that volunteered their labor to try to save the Burdicks’ home as well as the Cabot alderman who said many times that he would never vote for condemnation.

So thank you, Men at Work from Cabot United Methodist Church. You read our stories and decided that someone needed to help a family stay in their home. And thank you, Alderman Jon Moore, for being quotable enough that Mike Hedges with Men at Work knew whom to call to get started.

EDITORIAL >> System fails to protect

James Michael Davis was a habitual criminal who got out of jail because an overloaded criminal-justice system couldn’t figure out how to keep him behind bars until he allegedly killed two people in the Cabot area before Christmas.

Davis, 37, slipped through the cracks of law enforcement and the prison system and couldn’t be locked up for any length of time. The victims’ families and law-enforcement officials keep asking themselves: Why wasn’t Davis in jail that evening he stabbed to death David Linnon Smith, 56, and Tracy Mills, 45, in their home?

Although Smith and Mills had befriended Davis, they had no idea what fate awaited them. According to our reporter Joan McCoy, Davis should have been in the Pulaski County Jail for stealing a car in Cabot. But he was released just two days before Smith and Davis were killed because he had already been in jail for 60 days without charges being filed against him, and that is as long as allowed under state rules for criminal procedure.

Davis, from Conway, is held in the Lonoke County Jail without bail. His ordinary name probably threw off law-enforcement officials who didn’t realize Davis was a danger to society.

The State Police are conducting an internal investigation to determine why a trooper’s report of Davis’ alleged car theft wasn’t turned over to Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley in time for him to file charges and keep Little Rock District Judge Alice Lightle from ordering his release.

The case just kept spiraling out of control: After he left the Pulaski County Jail, Davis could have been held in the Cabot lockup but wasn’t. Cabot had a misdemeanor arrest warrant for Davis for failing to pay fines to district court. If it had been possible, a Cabot police officer would have taken Davis to Cabot, but the police department lacked the manpower to go after Davis. In any event, how many misdemeanor cases have the potential of turning into a double homicide? Not many.

Davis also could have been back in prison for violating his parole. Convicted of theft of property, he failed to report to his parole officer, didn’t show up for work or appear in court. He pretty much went his own way because the system couldn’t keep up with him.

A hearing to revoke his parole wasn’t held until Tuesday morning — too late for the two people who were murdered. Everyone agreed at the hearing Davis should have landed in prison long before the murders.

But the system is too complex, with too many competing turfs and jurisdictions and too much room for fatal errors. All the complicated computer systems in the world couldn’t stop him because the people who run them couldn’t predict Davis’ behavior.

Every department and agency involved in this tragedy is promising a thorough review, which could save lives in the future. But it is too late for David Linnon Smith and Tracy Mills.

TOP STORY >> Cabot mobile home gets reprieve

Leader staff writer

A rundown mobile home in Cabot, which has been targeted by the council table for possible condemnation since September, stands a good chance of being taken off the harmful-structure list since a group of men from Cabot United Methodist Church worked with the owner to tear down a dilapidated addition.

Alderman Rick Prentice, who wanted to condemn the mobile home in December because the owners had done little to comply with the city’s mandate to bring it up to code recommended during the Tuesday night council meeting that it be taken off the harmful-structure list.

It was on the list because of the way it looked, Prentice said. Now that it looks better, he doesn’t see a reason to keep it on the list.

Mike Hedges, one of five men from Men at Work, told the city council that debris from the mobile home still needs to be removed. And the mobile home needs front steps and windows replaced, trimmed and caulked. But in his opinion, it is livable now but not secure.

Prentice said the mobile home is not secure, but it is safe to live in.

“If it’s not in danger of falling in, maybe it should be taken off the list,” he said.

But instead of removing the mobile home from the list, the council voted to table the resolution declaring it a harmful structure for 30 days to allow a code-enforcement officer time to inspect it.

The council also passed an ordinance that raised the fees set by an animal-control ordinance passed in 2009.

Attempts to revise the ordinance started about a year ago when Jason Ellerbee, head of animal control, told the city’s aldermen that the fees weren’t high enough to cover his costs.

The added fees include a $7 increase from $3 to $10 for paperwork associated with spaying and neutering. The ordinance also charges pet owners who reclaim their pets $10 if the animals have to be trapped or tranquilized to capture them and $15 for vaccinations they receive while at the animal shelter.

Additionally, anyone relinquishing a litter of kittens to the shelter will be charged $25.

Alderman Patrick Hutton voted against the ordinance saying he fears that the $25 charge for kittens would lead to dumping.

Prentice also voted against it for a different reason. In keeping with the city’s zoning book, the animal-control ordinance said poultry is allowed on lots of one acre but did not set a limit on how many are allowed.

Prentice said even one Guinea can disturb a whole neighborhood, and he thought the ordinance should be reviewed and amended before it was passed.

Ellerbee said that he doesn’t get complaints about poultry.

In other business:

The council approved the rezoning of 5.44 acres on North Second Street from R-1 to C-2.

Changed the name of the portion of Forest Loop Drive from Blake Drive to Eastern Avenue to North Forest Loop. The change is expected to clear up confusion for those providing emergency and delivery services to the street.

Approved a resolution adopting a land-use plan for the Kerr Station corridor.

Approved the $88,484 purchase of a front-end loader from JCB of Arkansas. It will be used in combination with the city’s asphalt zipper, a piece of equipment that repairs streets by grinding the bad spots into bits that are used as the base for repairs.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD says it has funds for projects

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District on Thursday fielded questions from the public about desegregation funding and new construction as it presented $7 million in 75 facility improvement projects.

Of those 75, half the projects concern local schools.

The list includes roof work at Northwood Middle School, Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School; intercom and bell systems at JHS and Sylvan Hills High School; drainage at Sherwood Elementary School’s media center, the rear of Taylor Elementary School and at SHHS in front of the gym and behind the band room; ADA restrooms at Sherwood Elementary; adding parking at Taylor; plumbing replacement at Northwood; bathroom renovations and hallway paint rework at Oakbrooke Elementary School; bathroom renovations at Pinewood Elementary School; stadium lighting fixtures at JHS; stage lighting and controls upgrade at JHS and SHHS; a gas line at JHS; SHHS classrooms in the old shop and portable moves; door replacements at the JHS field house, Sylvan Hills Elementary, SHHS and NPHS; replacement of Cato Elementary School’s HVAC system; walk-in freezers at Sylvan Hills Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary School, Jacksonville Middle School and SHHS; bleacher replacement at Northwood; repairs to Cato’s parking lot; locker replacement at Northwood; demolition of select parts of the old Sylvan Hills Middle School; window replacement at Northwood; installing a wood floor at the NPHS and Northwood gyms; entry steps and sidewalk at JHS; renovation of the field house at SHHS; a facelift — carpet, paint, furniture, ceiling, lighting and more — to media centers at SHHS, Northwood and Jacksonville Middle; repairs to Jacksonville Middle’s field house; replacement of the NPHS auditorium, and HVAC upgrades at Taylor, SHHS and JHS.

The theme for the projects is “safe, warm and dry.”

The money is coming from refinancing debt and savings leftover from other projects, Derek Scott, chief operating officer for PCSSD, said after the meeting. The first job on the list: is replacement of the roof at Fuller Middle School. That will cost between $300,000 and $400,000.

Jacksonville resident Rizelle Aaron asked during the question and answer section, “Will those desegregation funds be used primarily in low-income areas to build new schools?”

Superintendent Jerry Guess responded, “I think we can achieve unitary status. We’re going to use that money to make schools safe, warm and dry. I’m asking my friends at the state, ‘Does anyone have answers?’ Can we pass a millage for new facilities? I don’t think voters would do that in this economy.”

Most of the projects on the list were for schools in low-income, predominately black areas and Guess said the district was “filtering the building fund money through a desegregation lens.”

Cindy Holmes, a teacher at Robinson Middle School in Little Rock, said, “Have we shelved any plans to build any new facilities?”

Scott spearheaded the presentation and started by saying, “It’s no secret we’re fiscally distressed.”

That was his response to those questions. Guess stepped in to answer with, “What we are trying to do now is fix the buildings we have now. Our goal is to keep these buildings in the best shape we can for our students.”

Guess added, “You (Holmes) might be a good person to start a millage campaign.”

About 20 people showed up for the meeting. Scott told them the district had at least eight roofs with significant leaks.

“We have a couple of campuses that have drainage problems where kids are walking through two to three inches of water. We need to fix that drainage.”

He added that temporarily dealing with such problems isn’t working. “We’ve got a lot of this bubblegum and Band-Aid we need to fix,” Scott said.

Bathrooms are another concern at several schools.

“Teachers are living it. Even when they’re cleaned, they smell,” he explained.

Other issues include inadequate security lighting, plumbing and heating that needs replaced, tile flooring “popping up,” flooded playgrounds and rotted doors.

He said heating and ventilation was one area that will be less of a priority. “We were fortunate last year to have federal stimulus money, so we’re pretty healthy there,” Scott explained.

“We knew the major issues we were having problems with. If there’s something we’re not seeing we’re open to suggestions.”

“Regina George, another Robinson teacher, said her school has mold in every classroom.

Scott said, “If the school has mold, that’s not a project we need to wait on.”

A teacher at Sylvan Hills High School said the toilets have been fixed there, but the dilapidated doors were left alone.

Another attendee told Scott that some ceiling tiles at North Pulaski High School are missing.

Holmes asked about temperature control in classrooms. “Kids are wearing coats all through class, and I’m wearing long johns. That’s why I got a career, so I don’t have to work outside,” she joked.

A teacher at Baker Elementary in Little Rock said, “We are grateful for the drainage that was taken care of last year,” but suggested the district put an awning on a portable building that doesn’t have one. Third-graders are getting drenched waiting to get into the classroom, she explained.

Scott responded, “First, we’ve got to make sure they’re dry once they’re in the school.”

Someone asked if doing the improvements gets the district closer to Plan 2000. Scott said it does.

“I’m excited about getting some money out of the building fund and doing some stuff. I’m excited and thankful to the boss (Guess) and Mr. (Bill) Goff (PCSSD’s chief financial officer) for finding us some money.”

Guess explained after the meeting that the building fund has to be used for these kinds of projects. He said the district is being financially conservative in several ways.

Those ways include reducing staff by not filling the positions of employees who retire, asking the state Education Department to evaluate cuts to the cafeteria program, establishing a new benefits plan that will save the district several hundred thousand dollars a year and implementing a new bell schedule that will save PCSSD at least $500,000.

The district also had a one-time windfall of $15 million because of the change in the legal requirement to defer pullback money to the following fiscal year.

PCSSD is required by law to submit a facilities master plan to the state. The source of funding for the projects is based on local funds.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville mayor sees bright future

Leader staff writer

Better schools, a big fair, plenty of construction, a cleaner city and a larger one are all the things Jacksonville residents have to look forward to according to the mayor’s State of the City address.

Mayor Gary Fletcher painted his view for 2012 and beyond at the city council meeting Thursday night when aldermen also heard annual reports from the water and wastewater departments.

In a three-page introduction to the annual 39-page report that the mayor read to the council, he said, “2012 holds much promise for our city due to developments and decisions last year.”

He said the city was moving closer to getting its own school district, adding that education was a top concern.

“Frustrated over the past by the lack of response to our needs and facilities, the state of Arkansas took a major step in correcting these neglects by taking over the Pulaski County Special School District and is working hard to resolve the federal court case of desegregation that has run a course of nearly three decades at a cost just short of $1 billion to the three school districts,” he said.

Continuing, the mayor said, “The city has showed what it is capable of doing on its own through the ribbon cutting of the Jacksonville-Little Rock Air Force Base Joint University Center, which houses six universities.”

He said the state takeover, coupled with the new education center and the city’s dedication “will move us closer toward the creation of an independent school district for the City of Jacksonville, Little Rock Air Force Base and north Pulaski County.”

The mayor also predicted that this would be the year that the state fair issue would be settled.

“We have patiently waited for two years, and we will move forward with the establishment of a regional fair that will both provide economic opportunities for our city and help solidify the future of the fairgrounds as we work toward building an event center that will accommodate national shows and events.”

Fletcher made it clear that “Jacksonville will not wait and depend on others, but will chart our own course and work hard to accomplish our dreams.”

He also said 2012 would be a year of great construction. He said the 555 single-home building permits issued in December for affordable homes near the Homer Adkins Pre-K center is a good indicator. The city also plans for the new multi-million public safety building to be completed by the end of year. The facility will house the police department, the 911 communications center, training rooms and a large safe room that could hold up to 600 people in severe weather.

Fletcher said another safe room would be built in the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center and would double as an exercise area and a safe haven.

The community center pool is expected to be reopened within the next few weeks, the mayor said. “Not only will the center have a new roof, but a PoolPak will also be installed to prohibit corrosion from recurring and to create a more pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere at it that will better control humidity.”

The mayor also expects the city to annex the southern edge of the city along Hwy. 161 to I-440 and along Military Road.

Fletcher also said the recent shift of putting code enforcement under the police chief would bring about a positive change in the city’s appearance. “Much time in the past had been spent reacting, however, now with additional officers and realizing that code violations and crime are many times tied together, it is more of a natural fit as we become more proactive. This is necessary to build the kind of city that attracts families and industries.”

Other highlights from the State of City report include:

The city’s garage maintained a fleet of 250 vehicles, spent 1,715 hours working on the vehicles at a labor cost of $51,450 and bought $87,558 worth of parts.

The district court handled about 1,000 fewer cases in 2011 than it did in 2010, going from 14,832 cases down to 13,903. The court brought in $1.4 million in fines and forfeitures in 2011, down about $60,000 from the previous year.

The city’s 911 center received 175,993 calls during 2011. About 75,000 of those calls were for police, fire or medical assistance.

In 2011, the city’s animal shelter handled 2,063 animals. Of those, 416 were returned to their owners and 758 were adopted. Animal-control officers picked up and disposed of 514 dead animals from city streets. The agency conducted 156 animal-cruelty allegations and 16 counts of animal cruelty were processed through the courts. Thirty-nine bite cases were reported during the year.

The fire department responded to 3,129 fire alarms and had 3,125 ambulance runs during 2011. Fire loss for the year were placed at $407,600, while fire savings was estimated at $990,000.

The police department responded to 47,217 calls in 2011, down slightly from the previous year. There were 198 violet crimes (homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults) reported during the year, down four percent from 2010. Just over 4,000 arrests were made.

There were 171 building permits issued in 2011 with a value of $13.3 million.

The Splash Zone had a record year, partly because warm sunny weather and the fact that the community center pool was closed most of the year. The aquatics park saw revenues jump 11 percent in 2011 to $228,882.

The city had its worst flood in more than five decades in May 2011 and Hwy. 67/167 and several other area roads were closed for several days.

The public works department spent 390 man hours controlling mosquitoes, mowed 1,850 miles of rights of way and city ditches, put 9,318 miles on the street sweeper and repaired 241 potholes.

The beautification department planted 1,283 flowers, shrubs and trees as well as picked up 3,386 bags of trash and 167 used tires from the city’s rights of way.

The sanitation department collected, processed and sold 1.3 million pounds of recyclables for $102,474 and saved the city $16,626 in landfill fees. More than 7,377 tons of garbage were picked up during the year, costing the city $170,680 in landfill fees. The city also picked up 443 tons of bulky landfill items and 35,768 cubic yards of yard waste.

The Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center delivered almost 40,000 meals to homes in 2011 and provided transportation for seniors to and from the center more than 10,000 times during the year.

In 2011, the city had more than 300 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees. The turnover rate dropped from 36 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2011.

During 2011, the city council approved 26 new ordinances.

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits get season sweep over Greyhounds

Leader sportswriter

Early foul trouble for senior leader Tarrale Watson was easily overcome by Lonoke as the Jackrabbits downed Newport 66-56 at the Lonoke High School gymnasium on Tuesday, improving their record to 12-6 overall and 5-2 in the 4A-2 Conference.

Sophomore Blake Mack picked up the slack offensively to lead the Jackrabbits with 23 points while defensive play improved across the lineup.

“I thought as a team, we played about as well as we have all year,” Jackrabbits coach Dean Campbell said. “We played well together as a group, and a lot of guys stepped up on defense. They understood that when you have starters out, everyone has to contribute.

“Blake did a good job of scoring in transition, and that can only help his confidence.”

Watson sat out most of the first half after picking up three quick fouls, but he returned with a vengeance in the second half for most of his 17 points.

“When he came back in, I talked to him about not trying to make up for lost time,” Campbell said. “He was able to do that and had a good second half.”

For Newport, standout D.J. Rucker led the way with 23 points.

“Late, they tried to pressure us, and we were able to get to the basket,” Campbell said. “We feel like if you have to do that to us at that point, one, we know we can get up on the defense and two, we can get to the rim.”

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits put together one of their best performances of the season in a runaway 54-23 home victory over Newport on Tuesday.

Seniors led the way as Derrika Mays scored a game-high 12 points while guard Kaitlyn Tate finished with 10 points.

Underclassmen also shined in the 4A-2 Conference victory as sophomore Savannah Holman matched Tate’s totals with 10 points while freshman post player Eboni Willis added eight points for the Lady Jackrabbits (11-9, 5-2).

Lonoke outscored the Lady Greyhounds 23-3 in the second quarter for a commanding 33-10 halftime lead after going 4 for 4 from three-point range, including a pair of treys for Tate.

Holman and Mary Davis also scored threes in the first half while freshman guard Kerasha Johnson scored all six of her points for the game in the second quarter.

“We got a lot of those threes with good penetration and kick outs from our guards,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “We played hard. We didn’t handle the ball particularly well, but we played hard offensively and defensively. If we do that, we can survive some of the turnovers.”

SPORTS >> Bears defeat Falcons

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski put up a good fight, but couldn’t overcome big performances from two star players as the Falcons fell 75-53 to host Sylvan Hills Tuesday in a 5A Southeast Conference matchup in Sherwood. The Bears entered the game as heavy favorites over the 2-14 Falcons, but North Pulaski entered the game riding high after a win over Crossett in its previous game.

The wave of momentum came to a sudden halt when the Bears opened up a double-digit lead in the first quarter.

“They came out and jumped on us pretty good,” North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson said. “My guys, they never quit trying though. They fought hard and got back in it.”

The Falcons completely erased a 23-12 deficit at the end of the first quarter. Halfway through the second period, North Pulaski tied the game at 23, and briefly held a one-point lead later in the frame. But Sylvan Hills had the last word in the half.

The Bears picked up a few steals and got some easy buckets in transition. Senior guard Dion Patton struck the first huge blow to North Pulaski’s upset bid with the final shot of the half. Patton hit a long three pointer at the buzzer that turned an eight-point lead into 11 heading into intermission.

“That was a big bucket,” Jackson said. “That hurt us. We fought so hard to get back in it after that bad first quarter. If we go in down eight, that’s one thing. But that shot put us down 11 and it was like we were right back where we were.”

Sylvan Hills came out for the third quarter intent on putting the game away, and did so. The Bears held the Falcons to just nine points in the third quarter, and took a 56-36 lead into the final frame.

“We just didn’t play as smart trying to catch up as we did the first time,” Jackson said. “We started trying to force some things and turned it over a few times.

“Sylvan Hills did a good job on us too. That’s a veteran team. They have two outstanding players and a whole bunch of guys that are really good players. They know their roles and they know how to find the guys they need when they need a big shot.”

Sylvan Hills senior Archie Goodwin finished with 35 points while senior Dion Patton had 17. Senior Marvin Davis led North Pulaski with 12.

“Everybody knows about Archie,” Jackson said. “But Dion Patton is one of the best players we’ve faced too. He’s a clutch player.”

Despite the loss, Jackson was proud of his team’s effort.

My kids went in there and played their hearts out,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t fuss after the game. They played as hard as they could play and that’s all I can ask of them.”

The Lady Bears picked up their second conference win of the season, beating North Pulaski 51-13.

Junior guard Naomi Gregory had one of her best games of the season, leading the Lady Bears (4-11, 2-2) with 17 points.

North Pulaski traveled to Monticello on Friday while the Bears went to Little Rock for a showdown with Mills University Studies.

The Falcons will be back at home to face Helena-West Helena Central on Tuesday while Sylvan Hills stays on the road at Watson Chapel.

SPORTS >> Cabot gets big win over Tigers

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot boys got a very important win at home Tuesday, beating Little Rock Central 62-51 for their first conference win in four tries.

The Panthers started their season hot, winning its first nine games before entering 7A Central play. They have struggled since, losing their next three games, but might have found a spark with Tuesday’s victory.

Cabot was turnover-prone in the first half, and the Panthers found themselves trailing the Tigers by two at halftime. In the second half, Cabot won the turnovers battle and set the tone for the remainder of the game en route to its first conference win of the season.

The first half turnovers were something Panthers coach Jerry Bridges knew the team had to correct in order to earn its first win in 7A Central play.

“That’s what we told them at the half,” Bridges said. “We told them, ‘guys cut down on the turnovers and just keep moving the ball.’ I thought our shot selection was good.

“The past few games I don’t believe our shot selection has been that good. It was much better tonight.”

Along with better shot selection, Cabot did a better job on the boards, out-rebounding Little Rock Central 26-22. The Panthers scored the first four points of the game, but after that both sides went back and forth for the remainder of the quarter.

At the end of the first quarter, Cabot narrowly led 15-14. The second quarter was when the Panthers committed most of their 12 first half turnovers. The turnovers proved costly as Central took a 27-25 lead going into the half.

In the third quarter, Cabot took better care of the ball and had better shot selection to out-score Central 18-11 in the quarter to take a 43-38 lead heading into the fourth.

“I thought in the second half we never panicked, and we did a good job,” Bridges said. “We took care of the ball, and I thought down the stretch we shot our free throws alright, which has been hurting us.”

The Panthers shot 70 percent from the line, bettering the Tigers’ 59 percent as both teams had nearly 30 free throw attempts for the game. Cabot’s free throw shooting has been an issue as of late, and has contributed to the team’s three-game losing streak.

In the fourth quarter, Cabot led 55-49 with 48 seconds left, forcing Central to foul to stop the clock. The Panthers hit their free throws when it mattered most, and out-scored the Tigers 19-13 in the quarter to set the final margin.

“We needed that man,” Bridges said. “We needed that. It’s like I told them, we have to find our mojo. Our confidence has been down. When you lose games like we lost those first two and North Little Rock just beat us.

“This is a good win for us. Hopefully it’s something we can build on, and try to get back in this race to get a playoff spot. I was proud of our boys. I thought it was a good team effort to be honest, all the way around.”

Cabot did a solid job of distributing the ball throughout the game, primarily through its senior point guard Arthur West, who led the Panthers with a game-high 19 points. West scored 15 of his points in the second half, and added seven assists and three steals to his stats.

Junior Ryan Stafford scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Panthers, while senior Sam Howe scored 10.

Evan James and Kylon Nichols scored 12 points for the Tigers. Keith Hayes had 11.

Cabot (10-3, 1-3) continued conference play Friday at Bryant, and will host Van Buren Tuesday.

SPORTS >> Beebe girls’ focus lost, regained in league play

Leader sportswriter

Their focus may have been inconsistent, but depth and talent prevailed as the Beebe Lady Badgers routed struggling Batesville 67-35 at Badger Sports Arena on Thursday to improve their overall record to 12-3 and their 5A-East Conference standing at 2-1.

Beebe dominated the first half and built a 37-18 lead, but the Lady Pioneers (2-12, 0-3) took advantage of lackadaisical play from the Lady Badgers early in the third quarter to chip into the lead.

Head coach Greg Richie got the group refocused, and the lead was up to 23 by the end of the frame and finally 30 midway through the final period.

“I could see it coming,” Richie said. “I saw it coming at halftime when I was talking to them, and you could tell they were beginning not to take this game seriously, and I could see when they came back out there that they were kind of dragging around a little bit.”

Junior guard Jamie Jackson got things revamped for the Lady Badgers with five straight steals to end the third quarter, which led to 10 of her 19 points. Sophomore Kalela Miller then started off the fourth quarter with a free throw followed by an inside basket to give Beebe a 56-30 lead with 6:45 remaining.

That set up Lady Badger junior reserve Sydney Gunter to finish off Batesville with a pair of outside shots, including a three-point basket at the 5:39 mark to set the sportsmanship/timing continuous clock in motion.

The Lady Pioneers focused much of their defensive efforts on Beebe sophomore post player Angelina Williams early on, using as many as three players to guard the 6-3 standout in some instances.

That opened the door for Miller inside with some solid assists from Jackson and senior guard Sarah White.

“We try to get to that short corner,” Richie said. “That’s part of our offense. And if she’ll get out there far enough, and we’ll rotate the ball fast enough, she’ll get open. And it leaves a lane for her to get to the basket. She was taking advantage of it in the first half.

“At half, she got a little indifferent with even wanting to be out there it looked like – just kind of not taking the game seriously. Those things were still there, we just didn’t take advantage of them like we did early.”

Richie attributed much of Miller’s second-half effort to sophomore inexperience.

“That’s part of it, but she’s working on it,” Richie said. “She’s going to get better and better as the year goes.”

Miller led the Lady Badgers with 23 points while Williams finished with eight points.

Added defensive pressure from Batesville was only part of the story for Williams, who was not 100 percent due to illness. Jackson was one Lady Badger hitting on all cylinders throughout. She finished with seven steals, five rebounds and four assists to go along with her 19-point offensive performance.

“We kind of moved her around a little tonight,” Richie said. “We did a little more with our offense, and moving her from the point to the wing. She had some nice assists in to Angelina. She got the ball in, and we’re going to do more of that. We’re going to try and get her in positions where we can make passes in and drive from the wing instead of from the front.

“Defensively, she’s just stepping up and being a really good team leader.”

The Lady Badgers played at Greene County Tech last night after Leader deadlines, and will continue 5A East play at Forrest City on Tuesday.

SPORTS >> Lady Devil nails winner

Leader sports editor

The play started to go all wrong, then went incredibly right for the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils. Jacksonville sophomore Tiffany Smith was hovering around the three-point line during a scramble for a loose ball with seconds remaining and the score tied.

Junior Jessica Jackson scooped up the ball and found Smith standing all alone on the right wing. Smith took the pass as she squared to shoot, and nailed the three-pointer, giving the Lady Devils a 54-51 victory over Jonesboro Tuesday in the Devils’ Den.

Jonesboro guard Lara Marshall had just hit a three pointer that tied the game with about 14 seconds remaining. Jacksonville had timeouts left, but didn’t use them.

“I learned early on in the jamboree, with this bunch, don’t stop them,” Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms said. “It’s better to let them play it out. They know their roles. They’re going to try to get it to Jessica. Tiff is going to be Tiff. Jessica got it out to her and she was wide open. She made a great shot.”

Smith’s shot went down with about six seconds left, but Jonesboro didn’t get the ball inbounds until about two seconds to go, which wasn’t enough time to get a good shot.

It was an error-filled game for Jacksonville. The Lady Devils repeatedly built leads of eight to 10 points, only to allow Jonesboro to get back to within five. Finally in the fourth quarter, the Lady Hurricane came all the way back to tie it with their last shot.

Usually reliable freshman point guard Shakayla Hill lost the ball twice late in the fourth quarter which Jonesboro turned into points during the comeback.

Hill wasn’t the only one turning it over, but Mimms was philosophical about her teams’ mistakes.

“You’re going to have bad games,” Mimms said. “Shakayla, she’s been a big help to this team. But she’s a freshman and she’s going to make mistakes at times. The way I look at it, if you can have one of your bad games and still get a win, I’ll take that.”

Jackson turned in another double-double, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead all players in both categories.

Smith’s game-winning three pointer was her fourth of the game in seven attempts. It was her second-straight four-three-pointer game. She hit four of five in Jacksonville’s win over Searcy last Friday.

“Tiff is shooting the ball with a lot of confidence,” Mimms said.

Smith also had five rebounds. Hill finished with seven points, six rebounds and two assists. Nichole Bennett scored six points and Sacha Richardson had five for the Lady Red Devils.

Jacksonville made 11 of 15 free-throw attempts.

The Lady Devils continued league play on Friday at home against Marion. They will travel to West Memphis on Tuesday.

SPORTS >> Devils rough up Hurricane

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils save their best for the big boys. A week after beating the state’s top-ranked team on the road, Jacksonville mauled No. 2 Jonesboro 68-41 at home Tuesday. The week before, Jacksonville built a 23-point lead before then top-ranked Parkview made a strong comeback that ultimately fell short. On Tuesday, 23 points was but a brief margin as the Red Devils demolished the second-ranked Hurricane.

Jacksonville’s lead was 35 going into the fourth quarter, and grew to as much as 38 before Jonesboro got hot from outside during a ragged fourth-quarter of play that set the final margin.

The Red Devils went to a four-guard lineup to combat Jonesboro’s extreme quickness and guard-oriented offense. The game plan worked to perfection. The one post player who started, senior Tirrell Brown, finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds despite only playing about one half of basketball.

“We knew number 30 was their only big rebounding guy so I just tried to make sure I got a body on him and boxed him out,” Brown said.

Brown’s 13 boards led the way for Jacksonville’s utter domination in that category.

The Red Devils won the rebounding battle 46-12, and held a 31-5 advantage at halftime.

“That’s good to know,” Jonesboro coach Wes Swift said. “They (Swift’s players) think this (the game) was bad, wait until practice tomorrow. 46-12, that’s just effort.”

The game started out at a high tempo, but both teams struggled from the floor. Jonesboro was able to get into the lane, but was finding junior Keith Charleston in the way once there. Charleston blocked four shots in the first quarter, one early in the second and no more the rest of the game.

“They stopped taking it inside,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “Keith was part of that because he was so disruptive once they got in there. We also started switching off their screens and they weren’t able to come around the screens and go anywhere. That’s an adjustment we made at halftime and the kids went out and executed it perfectly.”

The Red Devils’ lead was only 12-6 at the end of the first quarter, and that was cut to four before the second quarter began. Jonesboro hit two free throws before the start of the second quarter because of an error in Jacksonville’s submitted lineup. It turned out to be the Hurricane’s highlight of the quarter.

Jacksonville began making shots after hitting just five of 18 attempts in the first quarter. Defensively the Red Devils didn’t let up at all.

Through the second and third quarters, Jonesboro managed just two field goals, one in each quarter.

Jacksonville began lighting it up. And when the Red Devils missed, they usually got offensive rebounds and putback buckets.

Senior guard Dewayne Waller hit four of four shot attempts in the quarter. Senior Dustin House nailed Jacksonville’s only three pointer of the game and also hit a reverse, over-the-head backwards shot from underneath the backboard, an improbable make and an indicator of how the game would play out from that point forward.

Everything went Jacksonville’s way, but it wasn’t because of good fortune.

“We started working on a four-guard game plan a couple of weeks ago because of Jonesboro,” Joyner said. “The kids went out executed it to perfection. This was all just execution on their part. These kids did a fantastic job.”

The Red Devils turned their 12-8 lead at the start of the quarter into a 38-15 advantage at halftime. Things just continued to get worse for Jonesboro in the second half.

Junior Justin McCleary began to heat up from outside, hitting all three of his shot attempts and adding a free throw for good measure after being fouled. Post player Brandon Brockman missed, but was fouled, on both of his shot attempts, and sank all four free throws.

Jacksonville did turn it over seven times in the third quarter after giving it away just once the entire first half, but Jonesboro wasn’t able to capitalize.

By the end of the third quarter, Jacksonville’s lead had grown to 56-21 and the continuous clock ran throughout the fourth quarter.

Jonesboro’s overall shooting statistics were terrible, even though the Hurricane made eight of 11 shot attempts in the fourth quarter, and was four of six from the three-point line.

For the game, Jonesboro (15-2, 3-1) made 13 of 55 shot attempts and went four of 19 from beyond the arc. The visitors did enjoy a modicum of success at the free-throw line, where they hit 11 of 15 attempts.

Jacksonville (12-3, 3-1) was 26 of 61 from the field and one of six from three-point range. The Red Devils made 15 of 22 free-throw attempts.

Waller led all scorers with 14 points while McCleary added 11 for the Red Devils.

Charleston finished with eight points, five rebounds, five blocks, two steals and two assists.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TOP STORY >> He talked his way free until murders

Leader staff writer

Is it fair to suggest that parolee James Michael Davis, 37, who is accused of killing two people from the Cabot area on Dec. 23, slipped through the cracks of law enforcement and the prison system and could have been in jail that evening instead of at the home of people he is accused of killing?

Or does that suggestion detract from an alleged killer’s culpability and place unfair blame on the agencies that deal with lawbreakers?

Davis, accused in the stabbing deaths of David Linnon Smith, 56, and Tracy Mills, 45, could have been in the Pulaski County Jail for stealing a car in Cabot.

But he was released just two days before Smith and Davis were killed because he had already been in jail for 60 days without charges being filed against him and that is as long as allowed under state rules for criminal procedure.

After he left the Pulaski County Jail, Davis could have been held in the Cabot lockup, but he wasn’t.

“When they decided to release him, they called us,” said Lt. Brent Lucas, spokesman for the Cabot Police Department.

Cabot had a misdemeanor arrest warrant for Davis’ for failing to pay fines to district court. If it had been possible, a Cabot police officer would have transported Davis to Cabot, but it wasn’t possible, Lucas said.

“That particular day, we were very busy, and we were short staffed. When we have needs for service, we answer those first, especially if the warrant is for a misdemeanor,” he said.

Instead, Pulaski County jailers released Davis and told him that his court date in Cabot had been set for Feb. 8.

Davis also could have been back in prison for violating his parole. But a hearing to revoke parole wasn’t held until Tuesday morning.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham, who attended that hearing, said the murder case was discussed, but he also heard talk about Davis not reporting to his parole officer, not reporting that he had a job, theft of property and not appearing in court, which could have landed Davis back in prison.

The State Police are conducting an internal investigation to determine why the trooper’s report of Davis’ alleged theft of a car in Cabot wasn’t turned over to Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley in time to file charges and keep Little Rock District Judge Alice Lightle from ordering his release.

Bill Sadler, spokesman for the State Police, said he doesn’t know how long the investigation will take.

“You never put a clock to something like this,” Sadler said. “If it takes an extra day or the week to get it in, let’s get it in and get it right.”

Davis, who is from Conway, is held without bail in the Lonoke County Detention Facility, but Graham said since his parole was revoked on Tuesday, it’s possible he will be sent back to prison until his trial.

He is scheduled to appear in circuit court for plea and arraignment at 9 a.m. Feb. 13. Graham has not officially filed charges against Davis, but he said it will be done before Davis goes to court and inside the 60-day window. The sheriff’s office has recommended charging Davis with two counts of capital murder.

The incident report about the stabbings said Mills identified Davis as the man who stabbed her and Smith.

Lonoke County Sheriff’s deputies were called at 7:48 p.m. Dec. 23 to the triplex on Charles Drive off North Stagecoach Road on Hwy. 38 between Cabot and Ward, where Davis appeared to be living with Mills and Smith.

The caller told the 911 operator that a woman on her front porch was screaming for help. She had been stabbed, and she was bleeding.

While deputies were responding to the scene, the caller said a man was stabbing the woman and another man on the caller’s front porch.

She then said the two stabbing victims were lying motionless on her porch, and she believed they were dead. The man ran away.

Mills was taken by ambulance to Ward and airlifted to North Metro Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

Emergency medical technicians told deputies that Smith was dead at the scene.

State Police, along with Ward and Austin police officers, arrived to assist.

A dog tracking team from the Department of Corrections’ Tucker Unit assisted in a search of a nearby wooded area, where Davis was found less than two hours after Mills and Smith were stabbed.

Sheriff Jim Roberson said soon after Davis was arrested that he wasn’t cooperating with the investigation.

Chief Deputy Dean White, who runs the jail, elaborated, saying Davis was claiming that he didn’t know his own identity.

But that appears to have changed. The prosecutor, who saw Davis on Tuesday during his parole hearing said, “He knew who he was today.”

TOP STORY >> Benefit will help build arts center

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s many talented performers and artists will show off their stuff Friday to celebrate the Chinese New Year, “The Year of the Dragon,” and raise money for a new Jacksonville arts center, which could be housed at the closed Jacksonville Elementary School.

The city is trying to work out a lease agreement with the Pulaski County Special School District for the property at 108 S. Oak St. off Main Street.

The plan is to have educational classrooms, a museum and an exhibition hall for the performing arts. The center would bring visual, musical, literary art and drama to youth and adult residents.

The main attraction at the Jacksonville Community Center is the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, an internationally known Chinese group. It will provide the event’s finale at 7:30 p.m.

Consul generals Wang Dong, Cai Lian and Xu Erwen of the People’s Republic of China’s consulate in Houston will be special guests.

The troupe was formed in December 1957. Its shows have South China characteristics and have won several awards.

The troupe has performed in about 120 cities in more than 30 countries since it was established. Its audiences have included 15 presidents, five prime ministers and 17 representatives of host countries.

Tickets for the performance are $20 for general admission, $5 for children ages 10 and under, $50 for a gold VIP ticket and $100 for a VIP ticket, which offer better seats for the show.

Tickets are being sold at Costume Corner, 80 Municipal Drive; Double “R” Florist, 918 W. Main St.; Unique Furniture, 638 W. Main St., and Jacksonville Guitar, 1101 Burman Drive.

All tickets, sponsorships and auction donations are tax-deductible. Proceeds will be donated to the arts center.

The Arkansas Asian Association and Unique Furniture are sponsoring the event.

Admission is free from 5:30 to 7 p.m., which is when entries in the cake-decorating contest and other items will be featured in a silent auction. The concession stand, operated by the Asian Pacific Resource and Cultural Center, will open at 5:30 p.m.

The silent auction items will include a costume, a guitar, a crystal vase, the works of local artists and more.

Entry forms for the contest can be found at Oliver’s Antiques, 1101 Burman Drive. There is a $10 registration fee and the prizes are $100 for first place, $50 for second place and $25 for third place.

Angie Mitchell of Costume Corner, the driving force behind the Patriotic Spectacular and one of the Chinese New Year event organizers, said there was so much interest from children that organizers decided to split the contest into two categories, adults and children ages 12 and under.

The opening ceremony for the event will feature the Little Rock Air Force Base Honor Guard.

Dr. Alan Storeygard, a local physician and concert pianist, will play with Dave Rogers and Brian Wolverton. Storeygard performed at Carnegie Hall in 2003, and his trio played there in April.

Also set to perform are professional ballroom dancers, Lisa Kirkpatrick and Darral Pogue; Pathfinder Academy director Tim Thomas and his students; choirs from Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School, and REAL (Rebecca, Emily, Abigail and Lydia) — four Jacksonville girls who play the accordion, penny pipe, harmonica and violin at the Rivermarket in Little Rock.

The Jacksonville Police Department will give away child ID kits and gunlocks. There will be several door prizes for those who attend the show. There will also be Kung Fu demonstrations.

The art of Jacksonville High School students, local artists and art collectors will be on display, too.

Others involved in the event include Sherry Oliver, Steve Evans, Roberta McGrath, Jacksonville High School coach Marvin Lindley, Joann Calhoun, Margaret River, Carl and Susan Rice, Sue Khoo of Unique Furniture, Sonya Clark, Larry Sansom, Araya Charles, Kay Danielson, Glenda Fletcher, Yolly Seedtibood, Mary Pelphrey, Kenya Wynne, Lucian Stockey, Henry Rainey, Tracee Rainey, Laura Harper and Wilma Houston.

Several of them attended the first meeting of the Jacksonville Arts Council last month. The council, Mitchell said, has applied to be a corporation and is working toward achieving nonprofit status.

“We’ve got to start somewhere. We’re hoping whatever is raised will help us get this (center),” she added.

TOP STORY >> Teacher with gun arrested

Leader staff writer

A Jacksonville High School English teacher was arrested Tuesday morning when she inadvertently brought a pistol to school in her purse and a student stole it.

The student who took the gun was quickly apprehended and no one was injured.

This is the second gun incident at the school in less than two years.

The teacher, Jennifer Paul, 55, of Jacksonville, was charged with possession of a handgun on school property. The student, who is a juvenile so his name will not be released, was arrested without incident.

His charges include theft and being a minor in possession of a handgun on school property. He was turned over to the Juvenile Justice Center.

According to the police report, Paul, who has a concealed-carry permit, forgot to take the gun out of her purse before going to school. In her classroom, students saw another student steal the handgun from Paul’s purse and conceal it in his waistband. The theft was reported immediately.

Deb Roush, spokesman for the Pulaski County Special School District, said the teacher has been suspended with pay and the district is investigating. She said the district’s final decision will be made independently of what the prosecutor’s office may decide to do. She also said the incident report has been sent to the teacher’s ethics board for disposition.

“We are very appreciative of the Jacksonville Police Department and their handling of the incident. We had a safe outcome and very little disruption to the normal school day,” Roush said.

Paul appeared before Jacksonville District Court later Tuesday and was released. Her next court date is Feb. 2.

She faces a Class D felony, and according to the law, “no person in this state shall possess a firearm upon the developed property of a public or private school K-12.” The law also states that those convicted of this charge “will not have their sentence suspended, probated or considered as a first offense.”

A Class D felony is punishable by up to six years in the state penitentiary and a fine of up to $10,000.

In a similar incident last year, two shop teachers and a counselor were suspended with pay after a gun was found in a faculty member’s car.

Pamela Perez, 53, a counselor from Beebe, who also had a concealed-handgun license, had a .380 handgun in her car at school Feb. 26. The gun was in the driver’s-side door pocket and visible.

She took her vehicle to the auto shop to have the oil changed, and two 15-year-old students found the gun and reported it to the shop teacher, Wayne Griffin, 39, of Cabot.

According to the police report, Griffin told another shop teacher, James Poindexter, 38, of Conway.

Poindexter took the gun, removed the seven-round clip and placed the gun in a locked storeroom. Poindexter then contacted Perez and explained what had happened, and she made plans to pick up the gun after school.

Then-principal Kenneth Clark got word of the incident and called police, who came and took possession of the gun, clip and ammunition.

Perez, Poindexter and Griffin were immediately suspended with pay. The three were suspended until the police and the school district finished their investigation. No charges were filed and all three eventually returned back to work.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Governors a lot alike

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are such good friends, you have to wonder if they ever got together before they pardoned dozens of killers, rapists and murderers and other violent criminals.

Huckabee and Barbour are the heavyweight champions when it comes to pardons and commutations. No other governors come close. Huckabee issued clemencies to hundreds of felons — more than all of his predecessors combined going back to the Faubus years, according to our reckoning. Barbour was not far behind in Mississippi.

Arkansas and Mississippi are usually ranked together near the bottom when it comes to education, health and income, but this dubious achievement when it comes to pardons is something both states would do well without.

There are now more limits on the governor’s powers to issues pardons in Arkansas after Huckabee’s abuses became a political issue. Mississippi, amazingly, still gives the governor a free hand. But that will change when the Mississippi legislature convenes and checks the governor’s powers on pardons.

Fortunately, both governors were both term-limited and are finished politically.

Gov. Beebe, meanwhile, has issued a fraction of Huckabee’s pardons, and almost never for violent criminals. The pardons are usually for selling marijuana, writing hot checks, an occasional burglary and shoplifting. Pretty mild stuff, and never for a serial rapist and murderer like Wayne Dumond. That’s the thug Huckabee thought was framed by the Clinton machine and had him freed. Dumond, a convicted rapist, later killed two women in Missouri, where he died behind bars.

The similarities between Huckabee and Barbour are striking: Like Huckabee, Barbour favored killers who worked at the governor’s mansion. Before he left office on Jan. 9, Barbour pardoned 193 criminals, including five killers, which is a record for Mississippi but is up there with Huckabee’s pardons.

Barbour freed a killer who served less than 10 years for murdering his estranged wife. He also pardoned a teacher who pleaded guilty in 2004 to having sex with a student.

Several murders involve wives, ex-wives and girlfriends, but one pardoned murderer had robbed and then shot and elderly man. All were pardoned as if they had done nothing wrong.

A year earlier, Barbour released two sisters from prison on condition that one of them donate a kidney to the other sister. The sisters, who were convicted of armed robbery, are now upset because they didn’t get an unconditional pardon like the more serious criminals who were released for serving a lot less time.

A Mississippi judge has issued a temporary halt to 21 of Barbour’s pardons because they were not published as legal notices in local papers. The idea was to give victims’ families time to object. That’s what Beebe does when he announces his intent to issue pardons.

But Barbour, like Huckabee, didn’t think the families deserved notice from the governor.

The judge noted that Barbour has pardoned criminals who were convicted of “murder, manslaughter, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, domestic violence, etc.”

Some of those criminals are on the loose and may not be caught. Let’s hope they’re not headed for Washington state. That was where Maurice Clemmons moved to after Huckabee pardoned him in 2000. In 2009, Clemmons killed four police officers in a coffee shop outside Seattle and then shot himself before he could be arrested.

Huckabee tried to pardon Glen M. Green, but was stopped after negative publicity. Green was convicted of kidnapping 18-year-old Helen Lynette Spencer of Gravel Ridge from Little Rock Air Force Base and brutally murdering her on Graham Road just over the Lonoke County line.

Scores of other violent criminals went free. Huckabee got away with it for so long because the Little Rock media ignored most of the clemencies and pardons. He was a popular governor, like Barbour, both law-and-order types. Unlike Huckabee, who issued clemencies throughout his 12 years in office, Barbour started issuing his pardons in his second term, almost all of them on the last day in office.

The Arkansas Legislature finally tied Huckabee’s hand and wouldn’t let him issue any more pardons without adequate advance notice to victims’ families. Huckabee stopped issuing pardons and ran for president and did pretty well despite his record. Barbour also considered running for president, but thought better of it.

They still talk a good game, though. Huckabee is doing well on Fox News. His audience doesn’t care that he’s responsible for the deaths of six innocent people.

Barbour is back in the lobbying game and making speeches. He’d better pray that those murderers on the run don’t have a chance to kill four cops on a coffee break or kill a couple of women after raping them.

SPORTS >> Comeback falls short for Cabot’s girls at NLR

Leader sportswriter

The battle for early supremacy in the 7A Central Conference was a physical one as North Little Rock outlasted Cabot’s best shot in the final minute to win 44-39 at Charging Wildcat Arena on Friday.

The Lady Charging Wildcats (14-2, 3-0) built a 36-27 lead by the 5:35 mark of the fourth quarter only to see the Lady Panthers (13-5, 2-1) close to within 41-39 with 38 seconds remaining before a key steal by Xena King took away the ball and a chance to tie or pull ahead for Cabot.

The battle between league unbeaten was further hyped by each team having an elite DivisionaI signee as Cabot senior and future Lady Razorback Melissa Wolff led her team with 11 points and nine rebounds while Southern Methodist University pledge Lexus Williams dominated the post with 14 points, 12 rebounds and a pair of blocks.

“It was outrageous,” North Little Rock coach Daryl Fimple said. “I think both teams didn’t really have a chance to play. It was very physical both ways, and you had to play through it. We missed a ton of free throws – had chances to expand that lead, but Cabot’s kids played so hard.

“It was a battle. It will be a battle again when we go over there. It’s one of those things where you have two good teams with a lot on the line. I just wish (the officials) would have backed off a little bit and let us play.”

Cabot post player Laci Boyett scored on a putback with 59 seconds left to play to cut North Little Rock’s lead to 39-36 and Wolff swished a three pointer with 38 seconds to go to make it 41-39, but the rest of the points from the 5:27 mark on were scored at the foul line for both teams. In all, Cabot went four for five from the free-throw line in the final five minutes while North Little Rock struggled to put it away, going eight of 17 from the stripe.

Cabot junior Elliot Taylor caught the brunt of the physical action when she took an elbow to the nose with 1:54 left to play in the third quarter while involved with a tie-up situation. She went to the locker room to recover and returned to action at the 6:16 mark of the fourth quarter sporting a bandage-packed right nostril.

Despite missing several minutes, Taylor still led the Lady Panthers in rebounds with 11 and added eight points.

Williams was also sidelined briefly after taking a hard foul under the rim from Boyett with 2:11 remaining. Williams went to the bench favoring her right knee but soon returned for the frantic finale.

“We did a good job of getting her the basketball in some instances,” Fimple said. “But we went way too long in the third quarter without letting her touch it. For us to be successful, we’ve got to play off of her.”

The turning point for Cabot came with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter when Ally Van Enk scored on a reverse lay up to make it 23-18. The Lady Panthers then upped the defensive pressure with a full-court press led by Boyett, who forced Sandy Jackson back on a sideline inbound play and stole the ball under the goal for a quick jumper that cut it to 23-20. Boyett then took an assist from Wolff and scored again inside to make it a one-point game with 3:39 left to play in the third quarter.

Cabot sophomore guard Maddie Smith gave the Lady Panthers an early boost when she hit a three-point basket with 4:07 left until the half to cut the Lady Wildcats’ lead to 15-14, but she could not repeat in the final 14 seconds with a chance to tie the game. Kaprecia Slocum pulled down the defensive board for North Little Rock and added a pair of free throws to set the final margin.

Boyett finished with seven points for Cabot while Slocum led the Lady Charging Wildcats with 15 points and six rebounds. Jackson added 11 points for North Little Rock.

Fimple was somewhat annoyed by the picky calls and overall rough play, but was ultimately pleased to take the victory against a Cabot team he was not hesitant to praise afterward.

“They’re a talented bunch – they’ve got a lot of kids that can shoot it,” Fimple said. “So they can stretch you that way, and of course Melissa, we kept our best two defenders on her. Elliot Taylor’s always played well against us. She’s a good kid – scrappy kid. It’s good playing teams that are extremely talented, and I think we both have a chance to make some noise in the state of Arkansas.”

SPORTS >> Falcons break through with league victory

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons finally broke their losing streak on Friday, picking up a conference victory at home against Crossett, 69-56. The Falcons won their season opener by a huge margin over Pulaski Robinson, but had lost 13 in a row, including three overtime games and several other close calls.

Finally getting over the hump was a big deal for coach Roy Jackson’s squad.

“That was a good win for us,” Jackson said. “The kids have stayed positive and kept working hard. We’ve been aiming for conference the whole time, but it gets hard when you can’t get a win. We’ve been improving. I’ve seen the progress, but it helps a lot to get a win so the kids can see the progress. They’ve done everything we’ve asked, and that’s all I can ask for. They came out with intensity and they executed the game plan.”

The game plan was to make Crossett’s leading scorer, Shaquille Culbreath, work for everything he got. The Falcons played a lot of man defense, but also employed a box-and-one to deny Culbreath the ball.

“He’s by far their best ball handler and best player,” Jackson said. “We wanted to force their other guys to take the ball and make decisions with it. He still got 24 but he had to work for it, and I think towards the end he was a little tired.”

The Falcons stormed out to an 18-5 lead in the first quarter with good defensive pressure that forced several Eagle turnovers. The Falcons weren’t quite as dominant in the second quarter, but managed to add to their lead and take a 37-21 lead into the locker room at halftime.

“We came out really aggressive and ready to play,” Jackson said. “I thought we came out flat against Watson Chapel (a home loss on Tuesday), and we wanted to change that. We came in this game and became the aggressors. We sort of took it to them, and you could see the evidence of that at the free-throw line.”

Jacksonville shot 25 free throws and made 18 of them against the Eagles after getting to the line just eight times against Watson Chapel.

North Pulaski had to fight off a Crossett rally in the third quarter. After North Pulaski stretched its lead 20 points, the Eagles climbed back to within 11 when a Shaquille Culbreath basket made it 50-39, but the Falcons ended the rally shortly afterwards.

North Pulaski’s Eric Mouton answered Culbreath’s basket with a three pointer. Brandon Simpkins then got a steal and a layup to make it 55-39 to match the halftime margin and put an end to Crossett’s last real threat of the game.

“They answered every challenge,” Jackson said. “Really it started in the second half of the Chapel game. They came and fought hard to get back in that one. We just had to start fouling, and they made their free throws. That final score was not indicative of how close that game was. We felt like we gave that one away with how we started it, but we ended it well and it carried over to this one.”

Brandon Simpkins led the Falcons with a season-high 20 points. Fred Thomas added 13 and post player Jeremiah Thomas scored 11. Culbreath led Crossett (5-5, 1-2) with 24 points.

The Falcons went to Sylvan Hills on Tuesday and will be at Monticello on Friday. Jackson is optimistic that his squad can rally from the poor start to the season and make the playoffs.

“You’ve got Mills and Sylvan Hills at the top, and after that it’s out there for anybody,” Jackson said. “Crossett beat Watson Chapel then went to Monticello and lost by one point. We beat Crossett. That’s why it’s so bad that we lost to Watson Chapel at home. We have to get those home wins. Now we have to go to someone else’s house and steal one to get back even. But I really feel like we can do it. We can get to the playoffs.”

SPORTS >> JHS girls run past Lions for East win

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils got in the win column in conference play on Tuesday with a decisive 72-36 victory over the Searcy Lady Lions. The Lady Red Devils enjoyed one of their best shooting performances of the season, and were able to force several Searcy turnovers in the mercy-rule victory.

“Defensively, I thought we made some mistakes early, but we executed the game plan,” Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms said. “We wanted to make it a fast-paced game because we knew Searcy didn’t have much depth. We were able to do that and play the tempo we wanted.”

Jacksonville (11-3, 1-2) didn’t have to wait until Searcy wore down to begin pulling away. The defensive pressure paid dividends early and often, and the Lady Red Devils were in command from beginning to end.

Guards Sacha Richardson and Shakayla Hill ruthlessly hindered Searcy’s ball handlers, and most of the turnovers turned into buckets or trips to the free-throw line.

Richardson also contributed from outside offensively, nailing two three pointers.

Three-point specialist Tiffany Smith also got in on the action, hitting three three-pointers, as did junior guard Jessica Jackson. Those are things Mimms has been waiting to see.

“We shot the ball extremely well,” Mimms said. “Sascha stepped up and hit two threes, Jackson hit three. Tiffany has been a little hesitant and when she hesitates she doesn’t shoot as well. She didn’t hesitant this time and she knocked most of hers down. Those are all things we needed.”

Jacksonville also hit all 13 of its free-throw attempts. But more than good outside or free-throw shooting, the Lady Devils got something else it needed badly.

“We needed all those things to happen for us, but we needed a good win like that more than anything,” Mimms said. “Our dampers were down a little bit after starting with those two losses. To go out and execute like we did, to shoot like we did, and for it to pay off with a big win was something we really needed to happen.”

Jacksonville was also solid on the inside. Post player Nicole Bennett tied Jackson for leading-scorer honors. They had 13 points each. Mercedes Whitley led Searcy (5-9, 1-2) with 14 points while McKenna Smith added 11 for the Lady Falcons.

The Lady Devils hosted Jonesboro on Tuesday and will host Marion on Friday.

SPORTS >> Red Devils pummel Searcy

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner has battled his team’s lack of intensity most of the season. It appeared his message finally got across after a conference opening loss to Hall when his team pounded undefeated and nationally ranked Parkview.

What he saw in the next game wasn’t a lack of intensity, but more like downright lethargy, at least for a half. In the end, Jacksonville picked up the energy level and routed the Searcy Lions 62-31 at home, and that was good enough for Joyner.

“A win is a win in this league,” Joyner said. “This is not a rah, rah type team, but they know how to get out there and take care of business. I just don’t think they felt threatened by Searcy early on. We didn’t really change anything from one half to the other. They just finally realized they weren’t going to be able to go out there and give a half-hearted effort and blow them away. They picked it up in the second half and played like they’re capable of.”

The Lions’ clear intention was to slow the pace and try to keep the ball away from the Red Devils. On occasion, Searcy’s offense resembled a modified version of the age-old, five-man weave with Jacksonville defenders chasing the ball as it passed from one Lion to another without ever moving beyond the perimeter.

The main problem with Searcy’s offense early is that the Lions couldn’t make shots. Jacksonville wasn’t much better, but dominated the boards and got second-chance points. Jacksonville held a slim 11-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Red Devils’ defensive intensity improved dramatically in the second quarter, but this time it was the home team that couldn’t get anything to fall offensively.

Junior small forward Keith Charleston was the lone offensive threat for Jacksonville in the second period. He scored all six of his points in that frame, slashing inside and showing a nice touch from short and mid-range.

“We’ve been trying to get Keith to come on,” Joyner said. “He’s got potential he hasn’t unlocked yet.”

Charleston’s six was two-thirds of Jacksonville’s total in the period, but the defense held Searcy to just three, making it 20-12 at halftime.

The tempo is the second half was more to Jacksonville’s liking. The Red Devils more than doubled their offensive output from the first half, thanks mostly to better defense and shooting.

But Searcy kept pace for most of the third quarter. With two minutes left in the frame, Jacksonville had added just one point to its lead at 34-25, but that’s when the rout began.

Junior guard Justin McCleary led the charge. In the game’s final 10 minutes, Jacksonville got 12 of its 21 total steals, with McCleary picking up three of them.

Aaron Smith, Dewayne Waller, David Johnson and Tirrell Brown also got multiple steals in the game.

The steals created layups, which increased Jacksonville’s shooting percentage. Searcy, trailing and needing to play catchup, had to abandon the slow-down offense and try to score quickly. The Lions simply couldn’t keep up with Jacksonville in that type of game.

From late in the third to the final minute of play, Jacksonville put together a 28-4 run to blow the game wide open. The Red Devils’ lead peaked at 62-29 before Searcy added the last basket to set the final margin.

Jacksonville’s scoring was very balanced. Ten Red Devils scored in the game with McCleary leading the way with 12. He had an impressive game down the line. He also led the team in rebounds with six, and steals with five. Brown finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals. Xavier Huskey added nine points for Jacksonville.

The Red Devils (11-3, 2-1) hosted league-leading Jonesboro on Tuesday, and will play Marion at home on Friday.