Friday, June 01, 2012

EDITORIAL >> North Belt is still alive

Here’s a scoop from our own John Hofheimer: The Arkansas Highway Commission will soon decide the future of the long-delayed North Belt Freeway project now that Metroplan’s board of directors has decided that the final phase of the highway should be completed.

Jim McKenzie, Metroplan’s executive director, will urge the highway commission to make the project a priority. The delays have been a personal embarrassment to McKenzie, who had hoped to see completion of the 12.8-mile project many years ago.

Delays have increased costs almost tenfold, from about $60 million if the road had been built 20 years ago to $700 million if it were built in the next five years. Talk about inflation: The 12.8-mile route connecting Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville to I-40 at Crystal Hill in North Little Rock could cost as much as $55 million a mile. The first leg of North Belt cost about $10 million a mile.

Every year there’s a delay, the highway’s cost goes up some $43 million.

On June 12, McKenzie wants the highway commission to approve $6 million for rights of way in 2013; $36 million in 2014-2019, and $632 million for construction in 2020-2025.

Six million dollars will be pulled from work on a state Hwy. 64 Vilonia bypass if the commission approves the new North Belt Freeway plan and timetable championed by Metroplan, but that money can be replaced if the half-cent a gallon fuel tax increase is approved in November.

Otherwise, the only local changes proposed in Metroplan’s 2030 long-range transportation plan — being put out for public comment —appear positive.

The plan would include $6.8 million for an I-40-Hwy. 89 interchange on the west side of Lonoke, with bids being let sometime after October, according to Metroplan assistant director Richard Magee. That would include a $3.8 million congressional earmark, $1 million in local match, $1.6 million in National Highway System funds, $400,000 in state funds and $228,000 in Surface Transportation Program funds.

Widening Hwy. 67/167 from Jacksonville toward Cabot is funded to the tune of $18 million between 2014 and 2019.

Also in that same time frame, the plan includes $21.7 million to improve the I-30/I-40 north interchange toward Sherwood, Jacksonville and Cabot.

Still in the plan is $27 million to widen Hwy. 67/167 between Redmond Road and Vandenberg Boulevard, with the first $13 million portion let to bids after October, and the balance as early as the next year. The jobs will include widening highway overpasses and approaches at Redmond Road and also at Main Street.

Modifications to the Hwy. 67/167-Hwy. 5 interchange at Cabot, estimated at $14.8 million, is slated to go to bid sometime between 2014 and 2019.

The $10 million bid to widen Graham Road in Jacksonville from East Center Street to JP Wright Loop Road has been let and work is under way.

The $1.9 million cable median barrier from Vandenberg to Hwy. 89 in Cabot is also under way. The $11.5 million widening of Hwy. 107 from Bayou Meto to north of Arnold Drive is also going to bid after October.

There are a lot of road projects in the air, and our transportation writers will keep you posted. Drive safe.

TOP STORY >> Challenger gets recount

The Pulaski County Election Com-mission will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday to recount votes at the request of Jacksonville judge candidate Marshall Nash, who lost by four votes.

“I’m still hopeful,” Nash said after the Pulaski County Election Commission’s meeting Friday. “It’s so close. Human error, computer error, anything could happen.”

No absentee overseas ballots arrived by Friday’s deadline as Nash had hoped.

According to the unofficial primary results, District Judge Robert Batton won the election by five votes, but that dropped to four after a review.

Election commissioner Susan Inman said last week the lead changed after the board reviewed ballots that were challenged because questions were raised about voter eligibility. Nash received one more vote after the review. The final tally was 1,113 votes for Batton and 1,109 for Nash.

After he serves this four-year term, Batton plans to retire after 40 years on the bench.

TOP STORY >> State could run PCSSD until 2014, Guess says

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District could remain under state control beyond two years if the financially distressed district continues to struggle.

Superintendent Jerry Guess made this announcement at Jacksonville High School on Tuesday to kick off a meeting about redrawing school board zones, which has to be done now according to federal law, even though elections won’t be held before the end of next year. The state took over the district in May 2011.

Guess said, “Another question that’s been asked is when are we going to return to an elected school board situation. The legislation that is authorizing the fiscal-distress status of the district and resulted in the dissolution of the board calls for at least a two-year period where (Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell) will … represent the people of the district.

“Now there is a possibility, I understand, of a third year because in some cases where districts have struggled to be able to survive at the end of two years, there was a third-year extension,” Guess said.

He continued, “Right now what I would say is that the district could return to an elected board at the end of the second year. It could be extended to a third year. It depends on the situation, on how successful we are in our efforts to correct the fiscal errors in the district.”


The law also requires after the census that every school board zone have a starting population within 5 percent of the mean average of the zones in that district by Aug. 1.

Legally, the district can have a five-member board with or without two at-large seats, or it can have a seven-member board. The district choose a seven-member board because a five-member board didn’t resolve the issue of population being evenly distributed, Guess said.

Therefore, the average population for the zones is 21,768.

Guess said his next deadline is June 10 because that is when he has to make a recommendation to Kimbrell.

The superintendent showed about a dozen residents at the meeting several maps drawn up by Jeff Runder of Metroplan. Guess said making these maps is “not costing us a thing.”

The district’s preferred option shows Jacksonville schools, North Pulaski schools and Sylvan Hills/Sherwood schools in three different zones, and the district’s population of 152,855 is divided into seven zones.

In Zone 7 are Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville High, Jacksonville Middle, Pinewood Elementary, Taylor Elementary, Adkins Pre-K and Harris Elementary.

Zone 6 has Northwood Middle, North Pulaski High, Cato Elementary, Arnold Drive Elementary, Tolleson Elementary and Bayou Meto Elementary.

In Zone 4 are Sylvan Hills Elementary, Sylvan Hills Middle, Sylvan Hills High, Oakbrooke Elementary, Clinton Elementary and Sherwood Elementary.

There is also Zone 5, which doesn’t include any schools. It represents students in the northern part of the county between Zone 6 and Zone 3.

Zone 3 are Pine Forest Elementary, Crystal Hill Elementary, Oak Grove Elementary, Maumelle High and Maumelle Middle.

The largest difference is the population of 21,082 in Zone 1, southeast Pulaski County, and the population of 22,768 in Zone 7, but that meets legal requirements.

Approximately 9,927 residents in southeast Pulaski County now share one board member, but a single board member represents 34,361 residents in the western part of the county.

Guess said, “If you’re out of whack, you have to fix it, and we’re way out of whack here.”


The main feedback Guess got on the zones at the meeting were questions about how the possibility of Jacksonville splitting from PCSSD and getting an independent school district factored into this decision.

The superintendent said the city would have to decide how to zone itself in that case, but the rezoning being discussed now is a separate issue from whether Jacksonville will break off from the district.

“Should we do this if there might be a Jacksonville school district? I’ve already had that question from some people who live here. Do we need to proceed with this kind of reorganization of the schools? The answer to that is absolutely yes,” Guess said.

“That proposal regarding the future of a Jacksonville school district is really one that will be settled in a federal court. That will be up to address at a later date. We have to have this issue settled before that,” he continued.

“I hope you get it. That’s what we’re trying to do. At least we’ve got it in front of judge,” Guess added.

Attorney Ben Rice said at the end of the meeting that the rezoning plan sounded fine, but he told Guess, “Your first priority should be a Jacksonville School District.”

Dannakay Duggar, who was wearing a T-shirt she made voicing support for an independent Jacksonville school district, brought another point to the superintendent’s attention.

She said Guess should identify the separation of Jacksonville schools and North Pulaski as a concern because she is Jacksonville resident who attended North Pulaski High School and feels they should be grouped together.

The superintendent explained that the two couldn’t be in the same zone because of the large population in the area. Without those being split up, the district wouldn’t be able to achieve its goal of “one man, one vote,” which means each board member has about the same number of constituents.

Another woman mentioned her frustration at living in one zone but having children attending a school in a different zone and not being able to vote for the board member who represents their school.

Guess said, “We had people who came to the meeting at Maumelle High who lived in Zone 3. She was in the tail end of the third zone, but her kids attended the Robinson schools (in a different zone).

“That’s going to happen sometimes. You do the best you can to draw the lines with some reasonableness, but you’re never going to solve all these problems. If you put North Pulaski High and Jacksonville High in the same zone there would be so much population it wouldn’t satisfy the (legal requirements).”

Other priorities concerning the redrawing of zones are to preserve minority representation on the school board and put high schools in the same zone with their feeder schools.

For example, Northwood and Cato are feeder schools for North Pulaski High School because most of their students end up attending North Pulaski when they reach high-school age.

Guess said the preferred option satisfies all three objectives.

One concern voiced about the preferred option is that the board member chosen to represent Zone 5 would align with a particular school because that zone doesn’t include any schools.

The superintendent didn’t disagree with that being a possible problem, but he said the Zone 5 board member has just as much of an opportunity to favor one school over another as any other board member.

TOP STORY >> Officials to weigh plan for freeway

Leader senior staff writer

The fate of the North Belt Freeway could be decided at the state Highway Commission meeting June 12.

That’s when Metroplan Director Jim McKenzie hopes to ask the commission to amend its existing highway plan and commit to an expedited plan that would include $6 million for the purchase of critical right of way next year. McKenzie is not yet on the agenda.

“I’m writing a letter to (Highway Commission Chairman) Madison Murphy right now, requesting the commission pass a minute order committing to provide funding in these time periods: $6 million in 2013, $36 million in 2014-2019 and $632 million for construction in the 2020-2025 time frame,” McKenzie said Thursday.

By moving the actual construction up from 2025-2030, the project would save about $43 million in inflationary costs, he said.

If it were built today — not an option — it would cost an estimated $350 million.

What will state Highway Department Director Scott E. Bennett recommend?

“I actually don’t know what my recommendation will be, or if the commission will ask me for one,” Bennett said Friday. “I’ll most likely just try to lay out the facts for them — impacts, good and bad, of either committing to build within Metroplan’s requested timeframe or not making a commitment.”


The Metroplan board, which had been widely expected to pull the plug on the proposed $700 million completion of the North Belt when it met Wednesday, instead threw the long-suffering project a lifeline — at least until that Highway Commission Meeting.

The Metroplan board this week voted overwhelmingly to proceed with the project, with Bennett abstaining.

If the right of way is not purchased before developers build hundreds of half-million-dollar homes, the freeway would not likely be affordable or practical, according to McKenzie.

“If we don’t do something now, facts on the ground will prohibit it from ever being built,” he said.

“We think it ought to be built. We’re asking them to commit or tell us we don’t have the money,” McKenzie said.

“If that’s the case, Sher-wood is off the hook, so are the landowners. and we can make (other) plans to carry the 60,000 vehicles a day (the North Belt was projected to have carried by 2030),” he said.

At the March board retreat, the 12.8-mile project, which would connect state Hwy. 440 at Hwy. 67/167 in south Jacksonville with I-40 and I-430 at Crystal Hill, seemed on life support with directors ready to carve up road funds for their areas.

The project will be kept alive after new Metroplan staff studies were reviewed and discussed.


There were no discernible “nays” in the voice-vote, but Bennett made it clear he was abstaining, and some others, like Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, said that even with approval, the North Belt would never be built.

“It’s just not going to happen, people,” he said.

Bennett says construction of the last half of the North Belt Freeway would use 40 percent to 50 percent of available highway construction money for the entire state during its 2020-2025 buildout.

The project was first placed on the books nearly 60 years ago and some board members say if the project dies, people will look back in 50 years and wonder how they let the opportunity slip away.

McKenzie presented the board Wednesday with four options — two of which actually included the phrase “pretend to build” the North Belt Freeway.

From those, the board approved option three, which would approve about $148 million worth of projects proposed by the state Highway Department for construction be-tween now and 2030.

The department would spend $6 million securing critical North Belt Freeway right of way in 2013 and spend another $36.4 million between 2014 and 2019, with construction expenditures of $632 million between 2020 and 2025.


If built, the North Belt would provide two functions, according to Metroplan transportation planner Casey Covington.

First, it would provide easier access to jobs in West Little Rock and Maumelle to people who live in Cabot, Jacksonville, Sherwood and some unincorporated parts of north Pulaski County, and second, it would fill the gap in an interstate loop around Little Rock and North Little Rock, like the loops around major metropolitan areas.

The loop, which would be approximately 60 miles, would include parts of I-430, I-30 and Hwy. 440, including the already completed portion of the North Belt. That portion is already designated “North Belt Freeway” on Google Maps.

In the process it would lessen congestion on Hwy. 67/167, I-40 and I-30, including the Arkansas River bridge.


Nowhere does the future of the North Belt have a more immediate impact than in Sherwood, where Mayor Virginia Hillman and the city have been sued with some success by developers who are tired of waiting to begin their projects while officials wrestle with the project’s future.

Most of the construction would be in Sherwood or across — without access — Camp Robinson.

Hillman says the big question now is whether or not the Highway Commission will approve amending its highway plan as requested by the board.

“That should give a picture of whether it will be funded or not. We need to do more than chase numbers on paper,” she said.

“I would like to see it built,” she said, but if not, she wants to stop holding up development.


“I was a little shocked,” said Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher after the board voted to approve the project. “I was surprised by the final tally. I thought I might be the lone ranger (in favor).”

He said he believed that new information from Metro-plan staff helped pass the measure, as did the framing of the issue as a regional issue by Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays.

He credited Conway Mayor Tab Townsell with posing the question as an economic one, saying that companies seeking to open or relocate want to know they have a workforce of a certain size within a reasonable commute.

“If we can’t get it, the next generation is going to be wondering ‘What were they thinking,’” Fletcher said.

SPORTS STORY >> Junior Centennial Bank teams battle

Leader sportswriter

There was no doubt Cabot would be victorious in both games.

Judging from the difference in experience between the two Centennial Bank junior American Legion teams, there was also little doubt which Cabot team it was going to be as Cabot 1 put its superior pitching and batting on display in a pair of routs over Cabot 2, 11-2 and 9-1 at Cabot Community Park in an American Legion Central Zone doubleheader on Wednesday.

Cabot 1, led by coach Chris Gross, took modest leads early in both games, and held their in-club foes scoreless for the most part before putting each game out of contention in the latter frames.

Cabot 2, led by coach Greg Frantal, had much of the shakes and inconsistency to be expected from a team still heavy on player development. Starting pitcher Jessie George struggled at times in the first game with inconsistent placement, but also showed flashes of strength by fanning some of the other Cabot’s best sluggers.

Pitching for Cabot 1 Gross went much smoother as Glover Helpenstill took the victory in the first game while Landon James earned a complete-game win in the nightcap.

“They played pretty well,” Gross said. “We have a lot older guys than the other team – they’ve got some pretty young guys. We did pretty good with our pitching and the guys who started.”

James got things going for team Gross when he walked to lead off the bottom of the second inning and quickly stole his way to third before reaching home plate on a passed ball for the first score. Daulton Hurst then singled to right and Jonathan Latture walked before Austin Null drove in both runners with a single up the middle to give Cabot 1 a 3-0 lead.

Null added to the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. He singled to lead off the inning, stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball, finally reaching home on a RBI single dribbler by leadoff hitter Eric Pigue.

Opportunities were fewer for team Frantal as Helpenstill helped himself to dominance on the mound early with eight strikeouts through the first four innings. He did give up three walks during that time, but the defense behind him answered the call and either forced the runners out or left them stranded.

Cabot 2 finally got on the board in the top of the fifth when Ethan Holland walked to lead off the inning and later scored on a passed ball to make it 4-1.

That was as close as they came, however, as team Gross reeled off three hits and received three walks in the bottom of the fifth inning against a succession of struggling pitchers to build an 8-1 lead.

Null and Trent Frizzle scored two of those runs, and both added another score in the bottom of the sixth off singles. Frizzle drove in Null and came home three batters later when Riley Knudson doubled to center to make it 10-2. Jess Reed had singled to left center just before that, and set the final margin when James reached on an infield error.

Null was 4 for 4 for Cabot 1 with four singles, three runs and two RBI.

The Gross team moved to 4-1 with the pair of wins but fell to Pine Bluff 9-1 on Thursday night. Team Frantal now stands at 0-5.

Many of the players on team Gross are back from a solid run last year in which Cabot qualified for the state tournament. The coach said he believes that with more muscle both on the mound and at the plate, the group can make even more noise this year.

“Our first loss was in our first game against Benton, and we lost that one 3-2,” Gross said. “We had to work out the kinks some; we went into that game with only one day of practice prior to it. They are coming together as a team, and I’m excited about this season.”

Team 2 played at White Hall last night while Team 1 will play at Sylvan Hills today at 2 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Two hitter gets win in Gwatney’s first game

Leader sports editor

There was very little offensive action in Gwatney’s Senior American Legion opener at Dupree Park Wednesday night against Little Rock Blue. There was so little, it eventually became an exciting pitcher’s duel between Jacksonville’s Xavier Brown and Blue’s Brandon Schmidt. Neither pitcher gave up a run, but a pitching change eventually doomed the visiting team as Gwatney got away with a 1-0 victory.

Brown was masterful for seven innings. He gave up just two hits and struck out 13 LR Blue batters. He hit one batter and walked no one.

“That was great right there,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “We’re going to need him to be one of our aces because Jesse (Harbin) can’t do it all. He’s a good ball player and has good stuff. He loves to play ball and loves to have fun, but sometimes too much. He’s always smiling and laughing and joking around with teammates. If we could get him to focus a little more, there’s no telling how good he could be.”

Harbin has been the ace on the Jacksonville High School and American Legion pitching staffs the last two years. Brown was a good pitcher for both teams as a senior last year, but never turned in a performance like he did on Wednesday while still in high school.

In his first start for Gwatney after a year playing for Arkansas Baptist College, even he was a little surprised at how dominant he was in his American Legion opener.

“I don’t really know where it came from,” Brown said. “I was just pitching.”

The game-winning run came in the bottom of the sixth inning after Blue took Schmidt off the mound. The reliever had trouble finding the strike zone early in the inning. He hit Brown to start the inning and walked James McCranie. Jared Wilson then singled to right field, but his hit was too hard to score Brown from second base. Courtland McDonald struck out for the first out.

Derek St. Clair then hit a bloop single to right field, but Brown tagged at first and was thrown out on the force play at the plate. Catcher Troy Allen then worked the count full with several foul balls before walking to drive home the winning run.

Jacksonville got just three hits off Schmidt and five total. McCranie got two of them and was the only player in the game with multiple base hits. He reached base safely every time at bat, drawing walks in his other two plate appearances.

Gwatney senior team’s next game will be a zone matchup at Conway on Monday. It’s a junior/senior doubleheader with the junior game scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney junior team beats Beebe and LR Blue

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s junior Amer-ican Legion team picked up a couple of wins heading into the Gwatney Chevrolet Junior Invitational this weekend at Dupree Park. After going 1-2 at the North Little Rock tournament last week, the junior squad went 2-0 at home this week with wins over Beebe and Little Rock Blue.

The Beebe Post 91 team’s 6-1 loss at Dupree Park on Tuesday was much more competitive than the 16-0 loss it suffered against Gwatney last week in the NLR tournament.

Blake Perry was on the mound for Jacksonville and turned in his second consecutive good performance. Perry gave up just four hits. He struggled briefly with control late in the game, walking two, hitting another and giving up a base hit to allow Beebe’s only run in the sixth inning.

The game was scoreless through two innings before Jacksonville picked up a run in the third. Perry reached on an error at shortstop, Alex Tucker walked and Aaron Tubbs singled to drive in the run.

The big inning was the next one, when Gwatney put four runs across the plate. Justin Abbott reached on an error at shortstop and Perry walked. Alex Tucker singled and James Tucker, hitting for Tubbs, got a base hit. Leadoff hitter Troy Allen was hit by a pitch and Derek St. Clair reached on an RBI bunt single that drove in the third run of the inning. Austin Allen flew out to centerfield, but the hit was deep enough for an RBI to make it 5-0.

The final run came in the fifth inning without a base hit. Dejon Scott, Abbott and Perry each walked to load the bases with no outs. Alex Tucker hit a hard ground ball to third base that turned into a 5-2-3 doubleplay, but Abbott scored on a passed ball to set the final margin.

Jacksonville got only five base hits, but drew six walks, two hit batters and reached on two errors to keep runners on the base paths.

James Tucker took the mound on Wednesday and pitched six innings of shutout ball in a 7-0 win over Little Rock Blue. Austin Allen provided offensive fireworks for Gwatney.

Tucker gave up five hits and walked one while striking out nine. He got into a little trouble in the second inning when Blue got a single and a double with one out that put runners at second and third. But Tucker fanned the next batter and got the third out on a grounder to second base.

Allen gave Jacksonville a lead in the bottom of the first inning with a three-run home run. Derek St. Clair walked and Greg Jones was hit by a pitch to set up Allen’s bomb, but the runs didn’t stop there. McDonald drew a walk and scored on a double by Eric Moore.

Jacksonville added three more in the second and Tucker did the rest on the mound. Troy Allen drew a walk and St. Clair reached on an E6. With one out, Allen hit a triple to drive in both base runners. He then scored on a sacrifice bunt by McDonald to set the final margin.

Gwatney (3-2) takes the field at 11 a.m. today against Benton #2 and at 7:30 p.m. tonight against Sheridan at Dupree Park.

SPORTS STORY >> Coach Hick–63 years of service

Leader sports editor

Bob Hickingbotham might say it was by chance that he ended up in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville community would say it was great fortune.

Hickingbotham spent the last seven years of his 15-year teaching and coaching career at Jacksonville High School. He’s spent every year since as a stalwart volunteer for the community, coaching the Gwatney Chevrolet American Legion baseball teams and running the Jacksonville Youth Baseball Association.

The Gwatney American Legion club won two state championships under Hickingbotham in 1984 and 1988. There were two years as state runners-up and a 12-year span from 1984 to 1995 that saw eight district championships. Three were in succession from 1990 to 1992. In 1988, Gwatney won 22 consecutive games en route to the state title.

Over the years, well over 100 of Hickingbotham’s players went on to play college baseball and five signed professional contracts with major league organizations.

“I love doing it,” Hickingbotham said. “I love baseball and I love coaching kids. I’ve been coaching since before I was out of high school and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can.”

Hickingbotham’s service at Jacksonville has not gone unnoticed. Field 1 at Dupree Park was renamed Hickingbotham Field, and in 2007, he was part of the inaugural class of the Jacksonville High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Hickingbotham’s journey to Jacksonville and his days of volunteering started long ago. As a sophomore in high school in 1949, Hickingbotham began coaching Buddy League and Little League baseball in McGehee.

“I’d drive around and pick those kids up and put them in the back of a borrowed pick up truck,” Hickingbotham said. “I’d have about 16 of them in the back. I’d make them sit down in the floor and that’s how we got to games.”

He was an early success as a coach too.

“We won the district tournament in Crossett that first year, Hickingbotham said.”

After graduating from McGehee High School and earning a basketball scholarship to Arkansas A&M (now UA-Monticello), he coached American Legion baseball for the first time at Dermott after his sophomore year in college.

No longer living at home and no longer having access to the one family vehicle, Hickingbotham had to hitchhike 30 miles home during breaks. That’s partially how he became associated with Dermott youth baseball.

“The only roads from McGehee straight to Monti-cello were dirt and gravel,” Hickingbotham said. “The paved road went to Dermott and then turned north. So we’d head out on the paved roads and hitchhike through Dermott. It was tough at first but after a while the people realized we were students and would pick us up.”

After his time volunteering at Dermott, Hickingbotham got his first paid coaching job at Arkansas City High School in 1957, before he graduated.

Between volunteering at Dermott and teaching at Arkansas City, he got an opportunity at a professional baseball career.

In 1956-57, Hickingbotham interrupted his college classes to when he signed to play minor league baseball in Seminole, Okla., and Grand Island, Neb. They were D and C level teams in the Kansas City Athletics major league organization.

After two years, he decided to hang up his pro cleats and begin his teaching career, but he continued to play semi-professional baseball for 10 years, winning state player of the year twice.

In his first job, he coached four basketball teams, taught five classes, drove the school bus and acted as junior high principal at Arkansas City, all for $1,800 in 1957.

He completed his degree and took a job at Perryville High School in 1958. He left there after five years and went to England for one year.

That year he coached girls basketball and that team won 30 games and a state championship in the 63-64 season. England’s football coach Kenneth Miller was then hired at Jacksonville. His old coach at McGehee was also there and Hickingbotham was asked to join them. And that began what’s now a 47-year relationship, over 40 of which has been spent as a volunteer, with the community of Jacksonville.

Hickingbotham left off teaching and coaching in the Jacksonville school district in 1971. He earned his masters degree in 1968 and went to work at the Department of Education in 1971 as the director of driver’s education. He held that post for 19 years before retiring and going to work for his brother Frank, founder of the TCBY empire. All the while he spent summers working with the Jacksonville American Legion program and heading up the JYBA. In 2000, he retired altogether.

“Well I say that’s when I became a full-time baseball coach.” Hickingbotham said.

He’s now in his 42nd year coaching the Gwatney Chevrolet American Legion program, 40 as the head coach, and 38th year running the JYBA. And he’s never taken any money for it.

“They came to me and wanted to give me a little money one time,” Hickingbotham said. “I wouldn’t take it because if they started paying me, then they’d want the right to fire me too.”

“Coach Hick” as his players call him, even many who are middle aged now, does think he may give up the JYBA someday, but can’t see himself giving up coaching the legion program.

“I just can’t get my hand out of baseball and I like being around the kids too much,” Hickingbotham said. “I love helping a kid who wants to learn and I don’t have any other hobbies. I don’t fish or hunt. I love baseball and I love being around kids.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Water woes get worse

Residents and at least one business along Graham Road in Jacksonville found a scary notice Saturday stuck on their doors: Their water would be turned off from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday so the contractor could relocate more water lines as part of the Graham Road widening project.

The notice appeared to be from the Jacksonville Water Department, but there was no one to call over the weekend about the shutoff. Annoyed residents and business owners read the notice in the sweltering heat, wiping away sweat from their foreheads in the 95-degree heat and wondering how they’d get through the day without water.

The water-line relocation project, which is several months behind schedule, has inconvenienced residents and has interrupted operations at this newspaper. Workers digging on Graham Road have often mistakenly cut off natural gas and telephone lines.

The project was supposed to wind up in early January, and here we are at the start of summer, and there’s still no end in sight.

Co-Bar Contracting of North Little Rock, which is doing the water-line relocation, claims the water department has provided incorrect information about the location of the water lines and made numerous changes to the work order.
Jake Short, the water department’s general manager, said Co-Bar was given two extensions to complete the four changes his department requested. The first one was for 43 days, and the second extension was for 48 days.

Co-Bar Contracting was the low bidder at $436,000, according to Short. He says the most recent estimate is the project will cost $63,000 more than the original bid, or about $500,000, which the city will get back from the state Highway Department because the state is paying for the cost of the relocation. In any case, you’re footing the bill if you’re still counting.

Charles Tankersley, the spokesman for Co-Bar Contracting, says the project has cost nearly $76,000 more than his original bid and that figure will continue to go up because the water department is still making changes. It’s bound to get worse.

The contractor may take legal action against Jacksonville. He should expect a countersuit, according to city officials.

The water-line relocation will make way for the $7 million widening of Graham Road to four lanes from Loop Road to Elm and Oak streets, a distance of about a mile. The widening project is 80 percent federally funded. Expect more cost overruns before the project is completed.

As for the notice posted on doors over the weekend: Jacksonville Water Department officials said Tuesday they had nothing to do with those notices. Apparently the contractor had mistakenly posted them in areas that weren’t supposed to have their water cut off Tuesday.

No wonder residents can’t wait for the contractor to get out of town.

TOP STORY >> JHS making progress in achievement

Leader staff writer

Progress has been made at Jacksonville High School and that will continue with support from everyone, Principal Henry Anderson said Thursday at the school’s second community meeting of the year.

He said only 15 of 166 seniors didn’t earn a diploma this year from JHS, which has been criticized for having a graduation rate of a little more than 50 percent. One of the 15 students, Anderson said, was only half a credit away.

The principal said the school was working with that student. Anderson predicted that the student would earn his diploma by the end of this week.

Anderson said the school saw a 9 percent rise in Benchmark test scores. The official scores will be released any day.

As a school-improvement grant school, Jacksonville had the highest composite score in literacy of all the schools in Arkansas that received that grant, the principal said.

Jacksonville was awarded a $2 million federal school-improvement grant that will be used to promote academic achievement through more technology and professional development for teachers because it ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, along with Dollarway, Helena-West Helena and Marvell, which also received similar grants.

The grant could be renewed for two additional years if the school uses the money appropriately and has positive results. The school would receive the same amount for the second year and $1.7 million for the third year.

Anderson said, “We are wireless all over the building now. I can tell you that kids yesterday, and some today, with the growth and goals activity we gave for enrichment have e-mailed me my next marching orders about cafeteria food, bathrooms and things that they want to happen, like an open campus. We have student voices taking place.”

As for discipline, Anderson said preliminary data shows the amount of referrals issued decreased by 200 compared to last year.

The principal touted the professional development that is ongoing with the school’s teaching staff.

Anderson said seven 10th-graders, according to their PLAN test results, could receive multiple scholarships by the time they are seniors. PLAN is a test that predicts how well a student could do when they take the ACT exam. ACT scores are often taken into consideration when awarding merit-based financial aid to attend college.

He said the school nurse has been recording data about pregnant students and discussions about establishing a clinic or daycare are taking place now with the Pulaski County Special School District administrators and the state Education Department.

The school will offer concurrent college credit courses next year, Anderson said. The school has also received preliminary approval to spend $75,000 of the school improvement grant on reimbursing teachers’ for their tuition if they want to go back to school for another certification or degree, he said.

“There are so many things taking place. So sometimes you just go ‘wow,’” the principal said. “There’s still more to do. Today, we are going to celebrate, analyze, look at, talk about some things and get ready for marching orders for 2012-13 and you’re going to be part of that process.”

Later, Anderson struggled to hold back tears as he shared why he is so dedicated to helping students.

“We cannot let them fail. This is not just a job for me. This is a passion because at one point in time I was a child that should have not made it. To be able to lead a school where you have kids that looked like you when you were struggling and to help them, to have the resources to help them make a difference. That’s why you stay up day and night looking at stuff and that’s why you get into it with teachers.”

He continued, “That’s why you have all these things going on because you used to be them. You used to be the one that got dogged out. You were a gifted kid in third grade and never got into talented and gifted classes until 10th grade and then graduated with honors from college. “When you had that privilege of somebody saying ‘I’m going to help you make it, and they pull you along the way, you don’t forget that. And you help others to do that. “That is why I’m so hard on my teachers and why I’m always challenging you because our kids deserve it. They have to have it because life is not an easy thing to handle, especially if you’re not prepared.”

Anderson said he bought a house in Jacksonville and plans to stay. He is the fifth principal in two years.

He also said the school’s theme for next year is “Striving for Excellence.”

This year’s theme was “It is what it is.”

The first community meeting in August drew a much larger crowd, but the smaller audience had no trouble identifying the school’s strengths, weaknesses, what is threatening its progress and how the problems could be addressed.

Strengths were:

• Anderson;

• The new media center, which was revamped with money from the district’s building fund;

• Increased technology/wireless (Internet);

• Increased accountability;

• Good literacy End-of-Course exam scores;

•  Counseling staff;

• Teamwork between teachers and students;

• More parent involvement;

• New parent liaison Jada Ellis;

• Improved discipline;

• Improved communication;

• And improved graduation rate/credit recovery (a program that allows student to earn, on the weekends, any credits they are lacking).

Weaknesses were:

• Dilapidated facilities;

• Some teaching staff;

• Academics;

• Lack of food choices in the cafeteria;

• Communication between the staff and administrators;

• Communication between staff, parents and students;

• Bullying;

• Student and teacher attitudes;

• Lack of tutoring;

• Commitment of teachers and students;

• Honesty/relationships between students and teachers;

• Too many rules;

• Amount of time between classes;

• Poor parent involvement;

• Lack of electives;

• Lack of technology know-how;

• and funding.

Those in attendance offered some suggestions for the next steps Jacksonville should take to accomplish some of the goals. Some of those were:

• Use Read 180, a comprehensive system of curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development aimed at helping students whose reading achievement is below the proficient level;

• Add vocabulary back into the enrichment period;

• Give the student council more authority to make things happen on campus;

• Add more sports or intramural sports;

• Hire bilingual counselors;

• Request an audit;

• Conduct a learning styles inventory;

• Hire bilingual teachers;

• Get tutoring program for English as a Second Language students;

• And establish a student court that has a say in punishment for students who receive disciplinary referrals.

Those at the meeting said negative attitudes, declining enrollment, central office, lack of participation, lack of time, lack of funds, conflicting goals, the ability to carry out plans and ignorance threaten the progress of JHS.

But the school improvement grant, concurrent credit program, credit recovery program, mentors, community support, the ninth-grade academy, as well as several grants that could help the school continue to move forward.

The ninth grade academy involves making the transition to high school easier by having those students take five out of their seven classes in the same hallway, Anderson said. That way, ninth-graders build a sense of community and their teachers have the same planning period. Parents can then speak with most of their students’ teachers at one time.

Another feature of the academy program is a spring symposium that would help the ninth-graders to develop critical thinking by listening to speakers and having discussions on a particular topic.

SWAG helps fund tutoring, field trips to colleges and other programs that encourage academic growth, Anderson said.

School officials announced Tuesday that it received SWAG funding from the Arkansas Arts Council to host a summer arts clinic for students interested in theatre arts and drama or increasing their reading comprehension skills.

The clinic will be held in the school’s auditorium from 8 a.m.-noon July 9 through Aug. 2. It will end with a community performance on Aug. 2. Applications can be picked up at the office and the deadline is June 15.

ACSIP is a federal plan for school improvement that earns the school funding based on the number of students who sign up for free or reduced lunch, the principal said.

The AIMS grant provides funding to train advanced placement and pre-AP teachers. Students who take those classes can earn college credit with their scores on AP exams.

Individuals who attended the meeting Thursday also received a copy of the school’s core beliefs, vision statement and mission statement. They were told to look for words that were confusing or vocabulary that some people may not understand.

Some of those words were stakeholders, character, rigorous and high-yield.

The principal’s cabinet, a group of students that works with Anderson on policies, will revise the document based on the feedback gathered at the meeting.

TOP STORY >> Whiteaker set for runoff

Leader staff writer

Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteaker of Cabot is preparing to step up his campaign for the District 1, Position 2 seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Since he received 17,272 votes, or only 38.13 percent of the total in the three-way race, he will be in a runoff election Nov. 6 against Jeannette Robertson, a lawyer from Jonesboro who came in second with 14,683 votes, or 32.41 percent of the total.

Whiteaker, who has been a circuit judge in Lonoke County for 15 years, won in 54 of Lonoke County’s 55 precincts and tied with Robertson in Lafayette Township with each candidate receiving one vote there.

Jonesboro lawyer Richard Lusby received 13,348 votes, or 29.46 percent.

Whiteaker says he’s encouraged by all the support he received from voters last week and is looking forward to the runoff. As the only judge in the race, getting the word out about his experience will be the key to winning, he said.

Since Whiteaker’s seat on the circuit court is not up for re-election, he will still be a circuit judge if he is not elected to the appeals court.

“It’s a good place to be,” Whiteaker said Tuesday.

In his years on the bench, he has tried to apply the law in a way that would help people, he said. And he thinks he could do the same thing on the appeals court. But if he is not successful, he will continue his work in Lonoke County.

The seat on the court of appeals became open because Judge Raymond Abramson was appointed in 2010 and is not allowed to run in the election.

Abramson was defeated for a position on the Arkansas Supreme Court by Judge Jo Hart who also serves on the court of appeals, 195,001 to 103,282.

Court of Appeals District 1 covers 12 counties. In addition to Lonoke, Whiteaker won in Woodruff, White, Prairie and Monroe counties.

Robertson won in Clay, Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett counties and Lusby won in Cross, Crittenden and Craighead counties.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals was created by an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution in 1978 to relieve the growing case load of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The decisions the court hands down are binding on lower courts and cannot necessarily be appealed to the higher court. The court also hears cases from the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission.

“This is often the court of last resort for many issues,” Whiteaker said when he announced he was running. “If elected I promise to continue to use down-to-earth common sense in applying the law in a fair and impartial manner.”

During his time as a circuit judge, Whiteaker has presided over 22,000 cases including criminal, civil, domestic, probate and juvenile matters.

He voluntarily served as the judge of the Drug Treatment Court and Veterans Treatment Court to help people recover from addictions.

In his private practice before being elected circuit judge, Whiteaker specialized in disability law. He also worked as an attorney for the Arkansas Workers Compensation Com-mission and the Social Security Administration.

He graduated from the University of Arkansas Law School in Little Rock in 1986 and went into practice with the firm Cook, Whiteaker and Associates.

Whiteaker and his wife, Terrie, have two adult children, Chris and Jesse, and one grandchild. He is a member of the First Free Will Baptist Church, where he serves as the worship pastor.

Robertson, Whiteaker’s opponent in the runoff, also received her law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She has practiced law for 27 years in state and federal courts in Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.

Her cases have included workers compensation and Social Security as well as agriculture, business formation and litigation, child custody and divorce, financial and debt counseling, guardianship and estate planning, personal injury and wrongful death actions, product liability, probate and tax law.

In addition to her law practice, Robertson is a part-time district court judge in Craighead County.

TOP STORY >> $50M plan will pump water here

Leader staff writer

Bids on the now $50 million Lonoke-White water project will be opened June 7 with construction expected to start in August.

The project’s estimated price has doubled in the planning stage. The estimated completion date is now July 2014.

The members of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority which will build the water system and bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to their customers have raised their rates to pay for the project. It will be funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission through state water bonds.

Not all the members need the water now. But they know they will need it in the future for growth or if the state forces them to shut down their wells or their wells go dry.

Membership in the project has changed over two decades. The members are now Austin, Beebe, Furlow, Grand Prairie/Bayou Two, Jacksonville, North Pulaski, Vilonia and Ward.

Beebe, the member that put the White in Lonoke-White, pulled out and came back.

Cabot, at one time the member with the largest population and the one that hurt the project’s chance at a grant from USDA, pulled out in favor of buying water from Central Arkansas Water when it formed from the municipal water departments of Little Rock and North Little Rock and didn’t come back.

But city leaders at that time did size a planned water line connecting to CAW large enough to sell to most of the original members if the Lonoke-White project failed. Lonoke city, one of the most recent members, also pulled out.

Woody Bryant, the project director who was hired about three years ago when it appeared the project had a real chance for funding, said there are a few details that must be worked out such as some easements that still aren’t signed.

But the funding was approved last fall pending permits and engineering for the lines to Beebe, Furlow and Jacksonville and those are all completed.

“The money has been solid since last fall,” Bryant said.

The bid opening will be at Ward City Hall and Bryant said it will be “an all-day affair.”

The bids went out in six packets for the water treatment plant with the intake structure at Cove Creek, large transmission lines from 36 to 24 inches of steel or ductile iron, 12-inch PVC transmission lines, a tank on Hwy. 127 near Hwy. 107 north of Rose Bud, access roads and meter stations.

The project was once controlled by Community Water Systems, which is headquartered at Greers Ferry. CWS completed a rural water system for Faulkner and Cleburne counties about 17 years ago that was partly funded with federal grants.

But not long after, the grant money became unavailable and the Lonoke-White project began a long struggle for funding.

A lawsuit that concluded about six years ago put ownership of the project in the hands of its members. But CWS retains ownership of half of the 205 or so acres at Cove Creek as well as shared use of the 2.85 acres on the lake where the intake structure will be built.

CWS has until 2018 to claim and pay with interest half of the cost of the intake if it wants to use it, Bryant said.

SPORTS STORY >> Baxendale to start regional for Arkansas


FAYETTEVILLE – Unlike last year, D.J. Baxendale won’t be rescuing Arkansas in the loser’s bracket of the NCAA Baseball Regionals.

Arkansas’ ace, 7-4, 3.02 ERA, will pitch Friday’s opener for the second-seeded Razorbacks, 39-19, against the third-seeded Sam Houston State Bearkats, 38-20, in the 4-team double-elimination regional in Houston hosted by the top-seeded Conference USA champion Rice Owls, 40-17.

Rice opens Friday night against fourth-seeded Southwest Athletic Conference champion Prairie View A&M, 28-23.

The tournament continues with losers’ and winners’ bracket games Saturday and concludes either Sunday night or Monday depending if the survivor from Sunday afternoon’s loser’s bracket team can win Sunday night’s game.

In last year’s Tempe Regional hosted by Arizona State, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn “pitched off” in the opener against No. 3 seeded Charlotte.

He presumed to save Baxendale for the next evening’s winner’s bracket game versus Arizona State.

Unfortunately, Baxendale, a 2009 graduate of Sylvan Hills High School, never faced Arizona State. Charlotte whipped Arkansas, compelling Van Horn to use Baxendale to beat No. 4 seed New Mexico in the loser’s bracket, spending him before Arizona State eliminated Arkansas the next night in the championship game.

“We’ll throw D.J. game one,” Van Horn said Monday after the pairings were announced. “We’ve got to win game one. He’s throwing the best for us right now and we can’t look past anybody. Sam Houston State is going to take an hour bus-ride from their place to the park. They played Rice probably a couple of times this year. They’re familiar with the area. We’ve got to go down there and play our best game in game one.”

The strategy of pitching Baxendale Friday and Ryne Stanek, 6-4, 3.09, Saturday looks better for the short run, Van Horn said, and maybe even the long run, too.

“He has been more consistent down the stretch than anybody,” Van Horn said of Baxendale, his junior right-hander from Jacksonville.” He’s also the most resilient. If we pitch him Friday and there was a Monday game, D.J. would probably want to pitch a little bit. And he could do it.”

Baxendale likes being on opening day notice.

“It’s good knowing I’m going to go the first game,” Baxendale said. “Sam Houston State’s a great team. So we’re going to try and go in there and get after them right away, and then we’ll go from there.”

Van Horn isn’t as concerned about his starting pitchers Friday and Saturday as he is about the left-hander often summoned first to relieve them.

Junior southpaw Cade Lynch of Jonesboro, 3-1, 2.11 with 46 strikeouts in 47 innings, missed both the Razorbacks SEC Tournament losses to Mississippi State and Ole Miss last week in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, Ala., because of migraine headaches.

“Cade Lynch was in the hospital the whole time we were in Birmingham because of the headaches,” Van Horn said Monday. “It was bad.”

Lynch hasn’t pitched since winning the May 18 game against Tennessee in relief, falling victim to one of his reoccurring migraines the following day.

What will Van Horn do if there’s a need for a lefty. His other four main pitchers are all right-handed.

“I don’t know,” Van Horn said. “That hurts us. That’s a big issue. To bring him in off of those right-handers is such a different look. We need him. Since Birmingham he hasn’t done anything but play a little catch and just try and feel better, but he is definitely going to go with us if they let him travel.”

While disappointed with the two and through at Hoover, Van Horn said there could be some benefits missing the last four days of the SEC Tournament that Mississippi State won Sunday.

It gave ailing infielders Matt Reynolds (elbow) and Tim Carver (hand) and outfielder Derrick Bleeker (hand) and Lynch extra time to heal and also, Van Horn said, enabled him to practice the Hogs “hard but not long,” an ideal combination both to sharpen and rest them, he said.

SPORTS STORY >> Last inning woes cost Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet junior American Legion team went 1-2 over the weekend at the North Little Rock Memorial Day tournament at Burns Park. After hammering Beebe 16-0 on Friday, Gwatney lost back-to-back games in the bottom of the last inning, falling 4-3 to Benton on Saturday and 7-5 to Cabot Centennial Bank Team Gross in the late game on Saturday.

Those are tough to lose like that,” Jacksonville coach David St. Clair said. “You just have to put those behind and move forward. They’ll bounce back.”

It was the loss to Benton Sports Stop that was particularly tough to take. Jacksonville found itself on the bitter end of a few dubious calls. One allowed a Benton run to score from second base on a pitch in the dirt that rolled underneath the fence.

Rules state that when a ball rolls out of play, base runners get one additional base. The umpires ruled the runner was already on third when the ball went out of play and allowed him to score. The run was the third for Benton in the top of the fifth inning, and gave the Sports Shop team a 3-1lead. Jacksonville pitcher Derek St. Clair struck out the first two batters of the inning, but then gave up two singles and double to allow two runs. Tyler Lewis, who hit the double, is the player that scored from second on a dead ball.

Jacksonville took an early lead when Troy Allen led off the bottom of the first inning by drawing a walk. He stole second base and scored on a two-out double by Just Abbott. The game stayed 1-0 until Benton’s rally in the top of the fifth, but Jacksonville answered and tied it in the bottom of the same inning.

St. Clair got a leadoff single to left field. Abbot then singled to score St. Clair and scored himself on a single by James Tucker.

Benton got the final run of the game in the top of the sixth with a little help from a Jacksonville error. Cody Fortner reached with one out on an error in right field. He scored on the next at bat when Tyler Hamilton singled to center to drive Fortner home.

Jacksonville had a rally going early in the bottom of the sixth, but another strange call helped thwart the rally. Eight-hole hitter Ryan Mallison got a leadoff single to centerfield. Nine-hole hitter Dejon Scott followed with a single to right field. But the field umpire ruled the ball off Scott’s bat hit Mallison as he was running to second. So instead of two runners on and no outs, there was one runner on with one out. Scott was then caught stealing and leadoff hitter Troy Allen struck out to end the game. After getting base hits on its first two at bats, the Gwatney club went down in order in the final inning.

St. Clair went the distance for Jacksonville. He gave up seven hits and two earned runs, struck out four and walked two.

Jacksonville faced four Benton pitchers in the six-inning encounter. The Gwatney team got six base hits, but drew six walks. They left seven runners stranded and were thrown out on the base paths twice.

Gwatney’s next game is a junior-senior doubleheader against Little Rock Blue tonight at Dupree Park. The junior game is set to begin at 6 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Black Sox put Cabot down early

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s senior American Legion team is off to a slow start. The Centennial Bank squad dropped both ends of a doubleheader last Friday at Batesville, and lost its home opener Monday evening 11-5 to the Bryant Black Sox.

The Black Sox jumped out to an early lead with four runs in the top of the first and extended that lead to 8-1 by the end of three innings. Bryant nearly ended the game early on the sportsmanship rule, holding a 9-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth, but Bryant pitcher Nate Rutherford committed an error that allowed Cabot to score and keep the game going the nine-inning distance. It was a rough inning altogether for Rutherford, who had pitched masterfully up to that point.

Bryson Morris got things going for Cabot when he was hit by a pitch with one out. He stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch.

Casey Vaughan hit a chopper back to the mound. Rutherford turned and tried to get Morris off the bag at third but failed, leaving everyone safe. Rutherford then faked a pick-off throw to third and caught Vaughan between first and second base, but his throw to second ended up in centerfield, allowing Morris to score and make it 9-2.

T.C. Carter made it 9-3 with a two-out, solo home run in the eighth inning. Bryant added two in the top of the ninth on RBI base hits by Marcus Wilson and Hunter Mayall.

Cabot set the final margin with their best inning of the game, a two-out rally highlighted by doubles by Vaughan and Carter.

Cabot got just four hits and on walks in six innings off Rutherford, but found its groove off relief pitcher Josh Maclin. The Centennial Bank squad got six hits in the final three innings off Maclin.

Cabot got base runners, it just couldn’t produce runs. There were also three walks and two hit batters for Cabot, but the team left 11 on base.

Bryant finished with 14 base hits and each team committed one error.

Rutherford got the win and Brandon Surdam took the loss on the mound. He pitched three innings, giving up nine hits while walking six, striking out four and allowing eight earned runs.

Vaughan, Surdam, Carter and Justin Goff had two hits each for Cabot. Bryson Morris and Dustin Morris added one hit apiece.

Jordan Taylor provided Bryant’s offensive highlight, smashing a three-run homer deep over wall in right field in the third inning.

In the doubleheader losses to Batesville, game two was a wild one, ending 16-15 in five innings. Cabot out-hit Batesville 12-9 but committed four errors.

Bryson Morris and Cole Thomas each had three base hits while Vaughan and Carter added two each in that game. Hayden Vinson and Tyler Wilkie rounded out the 12-hit game for the Centennial Bank squad with one hit apiece.

Morris reached every time to the plate, adding two walks to his three hits, and Thomas finished with four runs batted in.

Game one against Batesville was a 13-1 blowout loss.

Cabot (0-3) will be back in action on Thursday in a road doubleheader against the Conway Cougars.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe’s third try sees big progress

Leader sportswriter

Time was not on Beebe’s side as the Post 91 team lost 8-7 to Benton on the third day of the North Little Rock Junior American Legion baseball tournament at Burns Park on Sunday.

Beebe led 7-6 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning before Benton scored two unearned runs just as the game reached the one-hour, 50-minute time limit in the bottom of the fifth to claim its second victory of the tourney.

Although it marked the third consecutive loss for Beebe in the tournament, it was also a vast improvement for the young squad which was thrown together days before the start of the season. Beebe lost 16-0 to Jacksonville on the first day and fell 11-0 to Cabot on Saturday.

“We’re doing a lot better,” Beebe coach John Underwood said. “We came in here with absolutely no practice and got run ruled our first two games. We’re showing progress; I’m very proud of my guys.”

Five-hole hitter Tyler Parker drove in the first run for Post 91 in the top of the first inning when an error at shortstop allowed leadoff batter Luke Dixon home. Dixon started the game off with a single to left field and advanced on a single to left center by Elijah Cannon. Benton turned a double play when Jonathan Underwood hit a grounder to shortstop as Dixon advanced to third.

Benton scored three runs in the bottom of the first with a walk and three straight singles. Beebe tied the game in the top of the second. Dusty Greer led off the inning with a walk and scored when Dixon reached on an error at second base. Cannon then hit a single and advanced to second on another Benton error, which scored Dixon.

Benton went up 6-3 in the bottom of the third against relief pitcher Parker, who replaced starter Brandon Gray after two frames. Pitching became an issue for both teams during the slugfest, with each placing three different hurlers on the mound before game’s end. Cannon closed out the game for Post 91. Although he did not give up a hit, he hit Reynolds with a pitch to start the turn and walked Portman, and both scored on an infield error less than a minute before the game was called.

“That’s going to be a problem with us,” Underwood said. “I guarantee you we don’t have enough pitchers. We’re going to have to work some pitchers, but the next couple of weeks, we’ll hopefully have that figured out.”

Beebe forced two pitching changes by Benton in the top of the fourth inning. Greer led off with a single and advanced when Gray was hit by a pitch. Benton’s next pitcher then hit Matt Stillman with a pitch to load the bases and send Beebe back to the top of the order with Dixon, who reached on an error to score Greer.

Gray made the score 6-5 when he was gifted home on a balk, and Stillman tied the game when he charged home on a passed ball. Cannon gave Beebe its first lead since the top of the first on a sacrifice fly to centerfield to make it 7-6. Cannon was 2 for 4 with an RBI.

Underwood assembled the group from the ashes of Searcy’s dismantled junior program, and added kids from the Lonoke and Des Arc area to go along with local players from Beebe.

“This is Beebe’s first year to ever have American Legion,” Underwood said. “We actually started it late, that’s why we had no practice. Searcy cancelled and we brought in a bunch of boys. They’re going to come together and play ball. We’re starting to see which boys can do what.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot junior Team Gross closes strong

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s Centennial Bank junior Team Gross had a disappointing start, but a strong finish to the North Little Rock Memorial Day tournament. Team Gross started the event with a 3-2 loss to Benton on Friday, but followed that with an 11-0 rout of Beebe on Saturday, and a 7-5, come-from-behind victory over Jacksonville-Gwatney on Saturday to finish the tournament 2-1.

Those four teams made up Pool B in the four-pool, 16-team tournament. Benton won the pool by going 3-0 and winning all three games by one run. They followed the win over Cabot with a 4-3 win over Jacksonville and an 8-7 win over Beebe.

Jacksonville beat Beebe 16-0 to finish third in the pool while Beebe went winless.

In the final game against rival Jacksonville, the Gwatney squad scored three runs in the top of the last inning to take a 5-4 lead, its first lead since going up 1-0 in the top of the first inning.

Jacksonville’s Troy Allen led off and was hit by a pitch. Derek St. Clair then reached on an error at shortstop and Austin Allen singled to left field to drive in both base runners. He stole second base, took third on a passed ball and scored on another passed ball. It was the second time in the game Austin Allen scored from second on two passed balls, each time by a different catcher.

“We just have really young guys back there,” Cabot coach Chris Gross said. “They’re learning the position and they’re making some mistakes, but they’re going to get better.”

Cabot came to bat in the bottom of the fifth with the one-hour, 50-minute time limit nearly up. It didn’t take long to win the game. The Panthers did it without recording an out.

Gavin Tillery started the rally by drawing a walk. Glover Helpenstill then doubled to left field to put runners on second and third. Adam Hicks singled centerfield to score one run and leave runners at first and second with the score 5-4.

Dylan Bowers singled back to the pitcher, but no one scored on the play, leaving the bases loaded. But Dalten Hurst’s second double of the game cleared the bases, driving in three runs and clinching the victory.

“We didn’t swing the bats worth a flip against Benton,” Gross said. “We started swinging them in the fourth inning against Beebe, and we brought that with us in this game. Our approach at the plate was better and we hit the ball really well.”

Jacksonville got on the board first when Austin Allen singled with two outs, stole second and scored on two passed balls. Cabot answered in the bottom of the second. Riley Knudsen singled to centerfield to start the inning and Jonathan Latture reached on an error by Jacksonville pitcher Blake Perry. After a fly out, Jones and James got RBI singles to give Cabot a 2-1 lead.

Gwatney tied it in the second. Justin Abbot walked, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Deaundray Harris, to third on a single by Dejon Scott, and scored on another passed ball.

Cabot quickly reclaimed the lead. Knudsen reached on an error at third base, Latture walked and Coleman McAtee singled to drive in the run.

The next two innings were scoreless before Jacksonville’s three runs in the top of the fifth.

Lee Sullivan threw four innings for Cabot, giving up five hits while striking out three and walking one. He gave up two runs, but neither were earned.

Perry also went four innings for Jacksonville. He gave up seven hits while walking two and fanning two. He gave up three runs, but only one was earned.

Knudsen pitched the fifth for Cabot while James Tucker pitched the fifth for Jacksonville.

It was the middle of Cabot’s lineup that sparked things against Beebe on Saturday.

Four and five hitters Braden Jones and Landon James broke open the 0-0 tie in the fourth against Beebe. Jones bounced a double off the wall in centerfield, and James bounced one over the wall for a ground-rule double that kicked off a six-run rally.

Team Gross’ next game will be at home against Cabot’s Team Frantal. The all-Cabot doubleheader is set to begin at 5:30 at the city park.

Team Frantal went winless in its three games in Pool A at the NLR tournament.