Friday, June 08, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> KC selects Bates in round 28

Leader sportswriter

Two years later and 11 rounds earlier, Cabot native Sam Bates has once again been selected in the Major League Baseball draft, this time to the Kansas City Royals organization in the 28th round – 853rd overall.

Bates was also drafted in 2010 by the Florida Marlins, but did not sign as he had just matriculated to the University of Arkansas after two years of college baseball in Neosho, Mo. as a Crowder Junior College Rough Rider. He went in the 39th round then, but his stock has increased significantly with a stellar two years at Arkansas, including a .247 career batting average for the Razorbacks.

Bates, a left-handed batter who throws with his right hand, is listed as 6-5, 230 pounds in the Razorbacks’ media guide. He was a baseball and basketball standout at Cabot High School under coaches Jay Fitch and Jerry Bridges.

Bates did not immediately return a call to his cell phone Friday morning as he and the Diamond Hogs were preparing for their first game of NCAA Super Regionals on the road against Baylor University at 4 p.m. today. But his high-school baseball coach was eager to sing his former pupil’s praises.

“Obviously, we are so proud that he’s been able to do what he’s done,” Fitch said. “He was our first Razorback, and the last couple of years, we’ve took the kids up there to watch him play with the Razorbacks. It’s a positive experience for the kids.”

History making seemed like a full-time job for Bates during his high-school days at Cabot, as he was the first Panther to sign with the U of A and the first to be drafted.

He was also a part of history on the basketball side as part of a team which broke a 33-year drought of no state-tournament appearances during his senior year in 2008.

.conditioning. Bates made a statement early in the season with a strong performance against Villanova to start the year.

In three games, Bates went 5 for 9 at the plate and recorded his first career home run for the U of A in the second game. He also had a home run in the finale and drove in nine total RBI. Bates has six career home runs as a Razorback.

Bates also performed well as a junior, playing in 25 games before illness sidelined him for the final weeks of the 2011 season. He was named to the SEC first-year academic honor roll and finished the season with a .237 average. He had 14 hits in 59 at bats and had seven RBI.

Bates entered college at Crowder with plans on majoring in business/finance, but switched to recreation/sports management upon entering the U of A.

His time at Crowder Jr. College got the attention of Division I schools as Bates posted a .435 batting average with 20 home runs and 119 RBI through two seasons, and helped lead the Riders to the 2010 NJCAA World Series. He was also named to the All-American team that season

Bates also helped lead the Panthers to the semifinals of the 7A state tournament during his junior year in 2007, and had the rare accomplishment of being a four-year starter by the end of his high-school career.

He was named all conference from his sophomore season on, and was also a three-year starter in basketball.

“One of the things that perhaps you don’t see as much these days that Sam has is a tremendous work ethic,” Fitch said. “He is very self motivated. He knew he had some ability, and he worked hard to develop it. You don’t see many 6-5 left-handed power hitters, and I think scouts like that. Even if you go 0-3 the day before, you still wake up as a 6-5, 230-pound lefty.”

He was also a strong contributor on the Cabot Centennial Bank American Legion teams from 2006-2009, and still holds many team records, including best career batting average with a .401.

His performances in 2007 and 2009 are still the top two season averages at .512 and .474 respectively. He is the all-time RBI leader with 88, and he is third on the career home runs list.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot Junior Team 2 splits with Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Cabot’s junior team two American Legion squad split wins with Beebe’s Post 91 team in a doubleheader Thursday. Cabot won the first part of the twin bill 6-1, while Beebe took the second game 6-3 at Cabot Community Park.

In the first game, Cabot (1-7) scored two runs in the first inning to take an early lead. Leadoff hitter Clay Spafford started things off for Cabot with a double to right field. Drake Boroughs was up next for Cabot, and Boroughs laid down a routine bunt in order to advance Spafford to third.

As Boroughs hustled to first, pitcher Jonathan Underwood’s throw was off, and Spafford scored on the errant throw while Boroughs moved to second on the play. Boroughs scored two batters later when Josh Kelping hit a line drive single to right field to put Cabot up 2-0.

Boroughs scored again for Cabot in the third when three-hole hitter Dillon Buchannan hit a double to the wall in right center field. Neither team scored again until the fifth inning when Cabot added three more runs to its total, and took a comfortable 6-0 lead.

Beebe scored its lone run of the game in the top of the sixth when Brandon Gray hit a line drive double to left field, sending Elijah Cannon home to make the score 6-1. The game was called after Beebe’s at bat in the inning due to the two hour time limit.

“In the first game we played excellent,” said Cabot coach Greg Frantal. “We played error-free. I think we only had one mental mistake. But other than that we finally played a complete game as a team, which is something they haven’t done yet this year.”

Chris Lyons earned the win for Cabot after striking out five and not giving up any runs in four innings of work. Buchannan led all hitters at the plate, going 3 for 3 with two singles, a double, two RBI’s and a run scored.

Kelping went 2 for 3 for Cabot, while Spafford, Boroughs and Christian Henson had a hit apiece. Underwood, Gray and J.T. Rainbolt had the only hits for Beebe in the first game.

In the second game, which didn’t count as a Central Zone conference game, Frantal elected to sit several of his starters as Cabot is scheduled to play nine games over the next six days. Beebe took advantage of Cabot’s missing pieces, and scored five of its six runs in the top of the first.

Beebe scored its first run when Dylan Tippy hit a sacrifice fly to center field, allowing leadoff hitter Nate Rogers to tag up and score from third base. Beebe scored three of its next four runs on passed balls at home plate, resulting from Cabot’s experimental pitching.

Cabot wouldn’t go down easy though, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first to cut Beebe’s lead to three.

Andrew Dolan singled to left field, driving in Boroughs for Cabot’s first run. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Brennan Bolson was hit by Beebe’s winning pitcher, Tippy, which allowed Dolan to score from third.

Beebe and Cabot both added their final runs in the third inning to make the score 6-3. Once the inning was over, the game was called due to the one hour, 30-minute time limit set for the second game.

“We’re getting better every game,” said Beebe coach Jon Underwood after the win. “They came together after that first game. That loss bothered them, but I think they’re going to be alright. They’re a good group of guys, and we’re proud of them.”

Beebe managed to get the win in game two despite only having one base hit in the game, an RBI-double from Dusty Grier.

Beebe’s nine walks and three runs scored on passed balls played the biggest role in the win. Dolan, Lyons and Jack Teague each had a base hit for Cabot in game two.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot routs Gwatney and Bruins

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s rough start to the season has smoothed out considerably as Centennial Bank picked up their third straight win with a 14-0 shutout over Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet in American Legion senior zone play Thursday at Dupree Park.

The win followed a 10-7 win at Hot Springs Lakeside on Tuesday and an 18-8 shellacking of Sylvan Hills at home on Wednesday.

Cabot (3-7) took an early 2-0 lead against Gwatney after one inning and kept the bats hot, scoring four runs in the top of the fourth and five in the sixth while starting pitcher Ryan Logan went the distance on the mound for Centennial Bank with a dominating performance.

“At the beginning, they were slow to start,” Cabot coach Craig Nyborg said of the seven-game losing streak to begin the season. “Now, they’re just coming around. Basically, our bats are coming around because our whole team has come together as one. They’re starting to realize that what you do in the dugout in being up and cheering for the guy at the plate is paying off. The guys have some confidence, and they’re just swinging it and hitting it well.”

Designated hitter T.C. Carter gave Centennial Bank a 4-0 lead in the top of the third inning with a two-run home run over the left-field wall. Casey Vaughn managed to top that a frame later with a grand slam that gave Cabot an 8-0 lead and deflated what morale Jacksonville had left at that point.

“I mentioned to the guys that we need to start bonding as a team,” Nyborg said. “I told them it was up to them to figure it out, and the result is three straight wins. I just hope we can continue this.”

Logan gave up five total hits to Gwatney, including three singles in the bottom of the third inning to load the bases before Cabot’s defense held them without a score. That ended up as the closest call for Logan, who struck out two batters and allowed no walks through six innings.

“He’s a soft-tossing lefty,” Nyborg said. “And he thinks he throws gas sometimes. But I told him to take about four miles-per-hour off for tonight’s game and just see what happens. That was the result; he pitched awesome. His curveball was working, the fastball on the outside corner was awesome. I was very pleased with what he did today.”

Bryson Morris scored the first run for Cabot in the top of the first when he was hit by a pitch from Jacksonville starter Xavier Brown and later crossed home on a passed ball. Vaughn singled to right and scored on a groundout by cleanup hitter Carter to give Centennial Bank a 2-0 lead after one.

Vaughn reached on an error to start the sixth, while a walk for Brandon Surdam and a single by Carter loaded the bases with one out. Justin Goff scored the first two runs with a single to right and Cole Thomas drove in Carter with a single grounder up the middle to give Cabot a 12-0 lead. Dustin Morris doubled to score Goff and Tyler Wilkie grounded out to third to bring in Thomas for the final run.

With the bats much improved and pitching taking shape, Nyborg said the main goal at this point is to enjoy the season.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time right now,” Nyborg said. “We’re just out here to have fun right now, and take it game by game.”

Vaughn was 3 for 3 with a grand slam, three RBI and three runs for Cabot. Dustin Morris was 3 for 4 with a RBI and Justin Goff was 2 for 3 with two RBI. Carter was 2 for 4 with a home run and two RBI.

On Wednesday, the Centennial Bank squad scored eight runs in the first inning off starting pitcher Conner Eller, Eller gave up base hits to the first six batters of the game, including a three-run home run to Carter. The Bruin defense didn’t help matters much, committing three errors in the inning to help keep the Cabot rally alive. The Bruins finished the game with eight errors.

Sylvan Hills began to chip away at the lead. The Bruins cut the margin to 9-4 in the fourth inning when J.D. Miller hit a two-run home run over the fence in right field. They scored four more in the top of the fifth to make it 9-8, but Cabot answered back. The home team scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth and three more in the sixth to end the game on the sportsmanship rule.

Cabot finished the game with 16 base hits. Goff led the way with four and reached base on every plate appearance.

The senior team’s next game will be a rematch with Jacksonville on Tuesday at Cabot City Park.

SPORTS STORY >> Seven straight for Gwatney Jrs.

Leader sportswriter

For the second time in as many games, the Jacksonville junior American Legion team rallied from a big early deficit to get a win in zone competition. On Tuesday Gwatney fell behind 4-0 at Sylvan Hills before rallying for a 5-4 win. On Thursday at home, it had to overcome a 5-0 deficit to defeat Cabot 10-6.

It was the seventh-consecutive win for Jacksonville since going 1-2 at the North Little Rock Memorial Day tournament.

Centennial Bank (6-6) dominated the first inning of Thursday’s game at Dupree Park, building a 5-0 lead before Gwatney (8-2) scored four runs in the bottom of the second inning and added six more in the third to completely shift momentum. James Tucker took the win on the mound for Jacksonville, replacing starter Derek St. Clair in the top of the second inning. Tucker gave up a hit that allowed Cabot’s final run to score in the second, and gave up a late single in the top of the fourth.

Otherwise Tucker kept the Centennial Bank bats in check after their strong showing at the plate in the first that included a three-run home run by Brandon Jones.

Justin Abbott started the pivotal bottom of the third inning with a single for Jacksonville and advanced on a walk for Greg Jones. Kaleb Reeves then scored Abbott with a single to centerfield, and Jones came home on a passed ball to tie the game at 6-6. Tucker loaded the bases with an infield single and Allen sent in the go-ahead run with a shot placed perfectly between third and shortstop that was good for a single, allowing Reeves to come home to make it 7-6.

Derek St. Clair kept it going with a single that was nearly a mirror image of Allen’s single moments earlier, scoring Tucker to give the Chevy Boys a 8-6 lead. Austin Allen then put an exclamation point on the frame with a triple to deep right field that scored Allen and St. Clair to set the final margin.

Jones got the rally going for Gwatney in the bottom of the second inning when he reached first after striking out on a passed ball, and he advanced on a walk for Tucker. Eight-hole Ryan Mallison then singled to shallow center to score Jones, and Courtland McDonald hit into a fielder’s choice that retired Tucker at third.

Troy Allen loaded the bases with a single and St. Clair scored Mallison and McDonald to pull Jacksonville to within 6-3. Austin Allen then scored Troy Allen when he reached on an error, but St. Clair was tagged out at the plate by Centennial catcher Jones to retire the side with Cabot leading 6-4.

Cabot could not answer late as Tucker struck out two and forced a groundout to end it all in the top of the fourth despite a single for Adam Hicks and a walk for Tristan Bulice.

Centennial Bank fared better early with Hicks leading the way on a single from the two-hole slot. Bulice advanced him when he was hit by a pitch and Glover Helpenstill loaded the bases with a walk.

Coleman McAtee scored Hicks on a fielder’s choice that retired Helpenstill, and Bulice scored on a passed ball to give Cabot a 2-0 lead. Jonathan Latture loaded the bases again when he was hit by a pitch before Brandon Jones came away with the biggest hit in the game, a three-run home run shot over the left field wall with what appeared at the time to be a commanding 5-0 lead for Centennial Bank.

Troy Allen was 2 for 2 with a RBI for Jacksonville and St. Clair was 2 for 3 with a RBI. For Cabot, Hicks was 3 for 3.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood Farmers Market a hit

Leader staff writer

Sherwood’s first farmers market opened Thursday evening bustling with business and making customers happy.

“It has exceeded our expectations, and I have a strong feeling it will get better,” Keep Sherwood Beautiful chairman Don Hughes said.

“The vendors said they were amazed at what’s been done. Everyone has been very supportive,” Hughes said.

The Sherwood Farmers Market is at the old bowling alley parking lot at North Hills Boulevard and County Club Road. The area is designated as city’s new market district.

The farmers market will be open from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 30, unless it is raining. The market is managed by Keep Sherwood Beautiful. Vendor space is $10 a slot each night. To reserve a space at the market, call Keep Sherwood Beautiful at 501-835-4699.

“It turned out better than we could imagine,” said Kelly Coughlin of the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Department.

On Thursday, the market had 14 vendors selling fruit, vegetables, natural skin-care products and handmade crafts. Sherwood Animal Services brought its mobile adoption center with homeless cats and dogs. The fire department had a ladder truck on display. Musicians formed two groups and had jam sessions.

“We had a huge turnout today. This is for community growth — to talk and meet people. That is what we wanted, and that’s what happened,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin said many people are working or doing other things when farmers markets are held in the morning.

“It worked out very well, absolutely awesome,” Coughlin said.

“It is a great thing for the city. I’m very optimistic about it,” Alderman Ken Keplinger said.

Alderman Toni Butler said the turnout was great and the vendors were very good.

“I loved the men and women getting together and playing guitars. Made it feel hometown, like Mayberry,” Butler said.

Butler, who was helping at the Sherwood Animal Service mobile adoption center, had some concerns about the farmers market. She is worried about pedestrians crossing the street during the congested evening rush hour traffic on County Club Road and North Hills Boulevard. She does not know where shoppers will park when more vendors attend the farmers market.

Another concern for Butler is the heat in July and August. She said the market is held during the hottest part of the day on the black pavement. There are no electrical outlets to run the animal shelter’s mobile unit’s air conditioner or water fountains. Butler said the market customers were asking about restrooms. The nearest facility is at BJ’s Plants and Produce across the street.

Theresa Kyzer, BJ’s Plants and Produce marketing director, said “We love the idea. We are partnering with the city as an anchor for the new market district. We have extended hours until 8 p.m. on Thursday. We have special market day discounts and offer lots of free samples.”

Kyzer said the farmers market is a great way to draw traffic and had new customers. BJ’s Plants and Produce opened on May 1 after moving from North Little Rock. Next Thursday, chef Kristie Ison is scheduled to give cooking demonstrations from 5 to 8 p.m. in the store.

Martha Fitch of Furlow with the Friends of the Earth Farm said the first night of Sherwood farmers market was a big success. She was more than happy. Fitch sold out of her zucchini bread, okra and eggs.

Bee keeper Larry Kichler sold honey at the North Little Rock Argenta Farmers Market for four year. He credited the Sherwood City Council and the support of the city for the market.

“I’m excited to see it in Sherwood where I reside. It made it really nice to bring all the vendors together.”

Bee keeper Geneti Nemera of Sherwood was selling his honey, sharing a tent with Kichler.

“I’m so excited. I’ll be here every week. It is a good beginning for a start,” Nemera said.

Shanna Francis was selling crocheted hats and hair accessories. She sold her goods at the Little Rock Farmers Market for seven years. Francis was pleased with the turnout at the Sherwood market. She said it is different selling in the evening, but it looks really good as people are stopping by on their way home from work.

Laurie Howard, owner of Wicked Salon and Boutique in Sherwood, was selling natural hair-care and beauty products, along with handbags made from recycled materials. She said the farmers market was a way to meet people in the community and draw business to the salon.

Biff Grimes, owner of Biff’s Coffee, offered coffee samples at the farmers market.

“I think it will grow. It is something Sherwood will be proud of. It’s been needed for a long time,” Grimes said.

TOP STORY >> Cereal drive starts Tuesday

Leader staff writer

If you’re grocery shopping in Beebe, chances are you’re at Knight’s, the only grocery store in town if you don’t count the dollar stores that carry a few grocery items.

So why would the store owners need to run a sale on cereal that is expected to lose them thousands of dollars?

It’s not just to get you into the store. You’re going there anyway.

Kent Knight, one of the store owners, said the dollar-a-box special on Kellogg cereal he’s running Tuesday morning is partly about promoting the business.

But mostly, it’s his donation to the summer cereal drive overseen for 12 years by THV, a Little Rock television station.

Knight said he hopes the sale says to his customers that he wants to help the community. But he knows that his donation will make their donations go farther.

Take the $200 that Beebe firefighters collected this week during a training meeting after they got a call from Cory Simmons, one of the store managers. That $200 will pay for 200 boxes of cereal that will end up in food pantries, which will distribute it to needy families.

Without the dollar-a-box sale, that same $200 would pay for only about 70 boxes of cereal.

The sale kicks off from 5 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Tuesday while Tom Brannon, one of the hosts of THV’s morning program, is in the store parking lot with his collection bin.

The next Tuesday, June 19, Brannon will be at the Knight’s store in Cabot where the same sale will be running on Kellogg cereal.

Knight said he expects to sell at least 25,000 boxes of cereal during those seven hours combined.

Much of it will be bought by groups like the Beebe firefighters.

Pat Robertson with Knight’s said 22,577 boxes of cereal were donated last year. Of those, 16,104 were collected at the Cabot store and 6,473 were collected at the Beebe store.

She said Knight’s hopes to surpass that record this year.

But if this year is like last year, some of the cereal will go to bargain hunters. Knight said he understands that people like to fill their pantries at the lowest possible price.

But he hopes this year they put most of what they buy into Brannon’s bin.

“It’s supposed to go to the program,” he said.

As of Thursday evening, those 25,000 boxes of cereal hadn’t arrived. But Knight said he is confident Kellogg will get them to the store on time.

So since you probably need to pick up a few things anyway, the Knight family suggests you shop early on Tuesday to take advantage of the sale to help with the summer cereal drive. And while you’re there, drop by the tent that will be set up on the parking lot for donuts, cookies, milk and coffee.

“We make a big event out of it,” Knight said.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD starts upgrading of area schools

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District will leave no school behind this summer as it ugrades buildings, but some will get more attention than others.

“We are basically touching every school,” said Derek Scott, the district’s chief operating officer.

“Even the smallest project in Jacksonville is important to the school we’re doing it to,” he added.

For years — decades --— Jacksonville-area residents have felt slighted and ignored while new schools were built in other parts of the district, especially the more affluent parts.

“The surprise is that people see movement,” Scott said. “I’m actually excited for the students and the improved learning environment they will be walking into.”

Wittenburg, Delony and Davidson is the architect for most of the work. Baldwin and Shell is the contractor for the Jacksonville-area jobs, Harco for those in the Sherwood area.

About one-third of the $7.3 million in repairs and renovations will be at Jacksonville-area schools, and none more dramatic than demolition of the unsafe, unsightly but iconic split-concrete staircases framing the front entry of Jacksonville High School.

It took a trackhoe and a trackhammer about 90 minutes Friday morning to reduce those steps into 50 tons of rubble, according to project supervisor Tom Smith. A trackhammer is like a giant jackhammer mounted on the arm of a trackhoe.

First the massive structure had to be cut free of the building.

The biggest project of the summer is the $3 million reconstruction of the North Pulaski High School auditorium. That is being paid for by insurance money after a tornado shredded parts of the school last year.

New wood gymnasium floors at North Pulaski and Northwood Middle School are among other high-impact, moral-boosting projects. But nothing is more important than extensive roof repairs, plumbing work and bathroom renovations being done in many district schools.

At Jacksonville Middle School, “we gutted the cafeteria and the media center,” Scott said.

Scott said some people may wonder how there is $7.3 million for repairs, but so little money that teachers salaries, benefits and duty pay are being curtailed.

“I’m extremely excited,” said PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess. “That is building fund money restricted to use for capital improvements. We are prioritizing and spending the money to benefit students, especially using the deseg profiles.”

“Dr. Guess understands that money doesn’t do us any good sitting in an account,” Scott said. “He wants to put it to use.

Brenda Bowles, the director of equity and pupil services, helped make sure that the money was applied to facilities in a fashion that “met the intent of the court (desegregation) order,” Scott said. “She’s making sure we are putting the money in the right places.”

Scott has also pulled the lead custodians from each building into a crew and has them stripping floors and then putting down four coats of wax.

“This is the first time in memory that this has happened,” he said.

More common is the painting and the refinishing or replacement of floor tiles in many schools.

Morale is high among many of the district’s employees, according to communications director Deborah Roush.

“Derek’s whistling in the halls,” she said, and Bowles was visibly and audibly excited when she came back to the central office from Harris Elementary.

“Grandma is anxious to have our own (Jacksonville) school system,” said Carolyn Soles, who had business at the high school Thursday. But she’s happy to see progress in the meanwhile.

“I got two thumbs up from one parent,” said Jacksonville High School principal Henry Anderson.

“When you’ve got a safe and orderly environment, that equals achievement,” he said.

“This will give the students a sense of ownership.”

“One mother was awestruck that we were doing anything,” he said.

Kids are taking care of the library and want to know what they can do, he said.

Jacksonville High School

More than a half million dollars worth of improvements will be made at Jacksonville High School. The upper-level facade will be a glass wall and there will be a new concrete front plaza, according to Scott, with larger lettering identifying the school.

“We’re expanding the cafeteria into two adjoining classrooms,” Scott said.

The $582,600 in improvements include new stage lighting and controls, roof repair and maintenance, stadium lighting fixtures, intercom system, repair flooring and painting of selected areas, plus alarm and security improvements.

Jacksonville Middle School

The middle school also will receive a new entryway, among $347,900 worth of improvements.

The media center will get a makeover, including paint, carpet, furniture, ceiling and lighting.

Workers will make field-house repairs, retile the cafeteria and paint halls, the office and cafeteria.

Tolleson Elementary

The district allotted $79,700 for repairs, most of which were completed in March and April. Retiling the cafeteria appears to be the only major improvement yet to be done.

Northwood Middle School

A new wood gym floor and new plastic seated bleachers will highlight the $672,400 worth of improvements and repairs at the Northwood. The school logo will be embossed emblazoned on the floor.

Less exciting but more important is roof work for the gym, locker rooms and kitchen, and plumbing replacement.

The media center will get a facelift, and a significant number of lockers will be replaced.

North Pulaski High

Among the $550,500 worth of projects being undertaken at North Pulaski High are a new wood gym floor, bleachers repair and painting. Also roof repair as necessary.

Harris Elementary

About $230,000 in repairs are begin undertaken. The roof of the school’s “B” building will be repaired, parts of the school’s interior repainted and the gym stage repaired. Defective doors will be replaced and security lighting and cameras will be upgraded.

Murrell Taylor Elementary

Drainage work will be done and parking expanded, metal awnings are rusted and need to be replaced and some sidewalk work done. The budget is $169,100.

Warren G. Dupree Elementary

Bathrooms will be painted and the floors refinished and four kindergarten classrooms have already been recarpeted.

Pinewood Elementary

Bathroom renovations will cost $35,000.

Sylvan Hills High

Fieldhouse bathroom re-pairs, painting and drainage work are among the work planned. Work on the bell and intercom system, painting, door replacement and stage lighting and control upgrades also are planned. A facelift is planned for the media center.

Sylvan Hills Elementary

Repairs to Sylvan Hills Elementary will total $243,000, including media center roof replacement or repair door replacement, exterior painting, refurbishing or replacing outside awnings.

Oakbrooke Elementary

Hallway paint and flooring updating was completed during the spring, carpet and flashing are complete or under way. Bathroom renovations are expected to cost $20,000.

Sherwood Elementary

Drainage work will be done near the media center and bathrooms in the media center will be made handicapped-accessible.

EDITORIAL >> No more A students

Remember report card day?

If the grades were good, it was a dash home to collect the rewards for that A, that B and in some cases even a C got a pat on the back. But if the grades were bad, the question became how to hide the report card and not talk about it in hopes parents wouldn’t remember — at least until a best friend came to the house and bragged about his grades in front of your parents.

Oh, yes the good old days.

Yes, the good old days because in the near future those A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and F’s might no longer be on report cards.

The Pulaski County Special School District wants to do away with traditional letter grades on report cards, and North Little Rock officials brought up the idea at a recent staff development meeting.

For years, anxiety and ambition have hung on the letters, but educators now say that system is imprecise and does little to reflect a student’s progress, especially in the early years of schooling.

PCSSD officials say the letter grade doesn’t really tell the parent anything and in some area high schools leads to grade inflation rates triple or quadruple acceptable levels.

“This will be a huge change of culture. Letter grades have predominated for a long time, but they’ve rarely been well-defined. It’s time for this new approach,” explained PCSSD’s Dr. Linda Remele, deputy superintendent for learning services.

Educators say the shift toward the new report card is substantive. But it also sends a message to parents that in key developmental years, a report card should mark more than the threshold between success and failure in basic subject areas. They say it should also highlight the wide range of skills a student — whether identified as remedial or gifted — will need to succeed beyond elementary school.

The latest proposal marks a significant departure from traditional report cards, which often measure a student’s achievement relative to the rest of the class and do little to break down strengths and weaknesses within a given subject area.

Plans in PCSSD call for the single-sheet report card to go to a multi-page report, breaking core subjects like reading, language, writing and math into a dozen or more skill sets or objectives and giving students a numerical score for each of those objectives.

A four would mean the student is above grade level, a three means the child is on grade level and a two is politely referred to as “approaching grade level.” A one bluntly means the student just isn’t getting it yet.

By breaking the core subjects down a parent can really see where a student is doing well and where help is needed.

Students may get a four in fluency, but a two in comprehension, meaning they can pronounce words like those little kids on the phonics commercials, but don’t understand much of what they’re pronouncing. That’s more pertinent than that A if a lot of grades were taken in oral reading or a C if the grades were based on responding to the reading.

The new approach is an attempt to incorporate instructional standards crafted in recent years by local and state agencies into the grading process, focusing on a student’s development in dozens of detailed skill areas.

“The approach doesn’t make the student smarter, but it makes the teacher better,” said Sam Meisels, who is one of the pioneers of the narrative report card which is being modeled throughout the country. “A letter grade is a short-lived triumph. It doesn’t tell us what we need to know about a student’s progress.”

The idea of dropping letter grades is not new and numerous school districts across the country are experimenting with the idea. Some are going with no grades or competitive details at all to make sure children are not put down or put on a pedestal.

Most of these experiments have failed as both children and parents need some information—the more the better—and no matter the format, some students and parents will get competitive about it. That’s human nature.

The problem will not be convincing the kids that this is the way to go, but the parents who had to face the music with their parents on report card day. Plus parents will have to go from bumper stickers saying they have an A student to a complete vehicle wrap around citing all the areas the child does well in.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

TOP STORY >> Church signs come down, which upsets some clergy

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher hopes to sooth angry feelings arising from a state Highway Department decision declaring church signs along Hwy. 67/167 illegal by putting up a common sign in Dupree Park.

Fletcher was accused in a letter to the editor last week of “of attacking the Ministerial Alliance” in his attempt to get sign along the highway removed.

At least one Jacksonville church is upset over the issue. Others expressed disappointment, but not with the city.

Jerry Reichenbach, a parishioner at St. Jude Catholic Church at 2403McArthur Drive, wrote to The Leader last week, “Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher’s move to ban church information signs on Hwy. 67/167 may be the undoing of his mayorship…What were you thinking? Attacking the ministerial alliance may not have been in your best interest.”

He didn’t return a call from The Leader by press time.

But a letter asking St. Jude, 11 other churches and real estate company to take down their signs isn’t from the city. Jeff Ingram, the head of beautification at the state Highway Department’s environmental division, signed that notice.

As of Tuesday morning, 1o of those signs had not been removed.

One of the churches, Hope Lutheran Church and School, has a billboard not far from where its smaller sign is.

The Highway Department says church signs that are eight square feet or smaller are allowed because they are exempt from the federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965. But the signs along Hwy. 67/167 are larger than that.

The department told the churches that if the larger signs are not taken down or altered, then the state could lose up to 10 percent of its annual share of federal highway construction money, which amounts to millions of dollars.

The department’s letter to the churches, which was sent on May 7, sets a deadline of 60 days for the removal or a reduction in the size of the signs.

How is the mayor involved?

The city formed a signs and billboard committee at the beginning of the year in response to people asking about putting up billboards and complaints about some signs being unattractive or distracting to traffic.

That panel’s members have discussed in their meetings the signs in the highway right of way, as well as signs throughout Jacksonville located in the city’s right of way, people standing with handheld signs in the city’s right of way, subdivision signs, lots for sale signs, billboards, directional signs and several other kinds of advertisements.

One of his focuses, Fletcher explained, has been to clean up the city and dealing with signs, especially those that are in disrepair or contribute to unappealing clutter, is one step toward achieving that goal. The mayor said he’s heard a lot of positive feedback about those efforts.

Fletcher signed a letter city engineer Jay Whisker sent on March 12 to Joe Sartini, an engineer with the state Highway Department. The letter asked whether the signs discussed at the committee’s first meeting on Feb. 28 were legal and pictures of them were attached.

According to the minutes for the February meeting, the Highway Department had recently requested that the city remove its sign in the area.

The mayor suggested having the church signs along Hwy. 67/167 combined into one common sign to be located at Dupree Park, where it would be visible from the freeway thanks to a clear cutting effort by the Parks and Recreation Department.

Reichenbach with St. Jude wrote to The Leader, “The signs for the most part have been in that location for over 30 years by the churches of Jacksonville. Maybe the signs did not meet the (highway department) guidelines, but if they ignored the rules for this long, what is the real reason for the action? There were better ways to handle this. Why not invite the pas-tors and discuss the city’s reasons for its objection to the signs?”

Fletcher said, “I’ve had one person say, ‘Well, they’ve been here for all these years. Why are we just now addressing them?’ If you’re going 60 miles per hour in a 40-mile zone and do it for five years and you don’t get caught, then one day you get caught, were you not speeding then?”

The mayor said he didn’t read Reichenbach’s letter to the editor, but he is trying to get an audience with church leaders to discuss legal options for their signage and the city’s goals concerning all signs in Jacksonville.

Fletcher said, “The shock and frustration of some of the churches I understand very seriously. I think there are some places where we could come together to accomplish both of our goals. I need those churches to come to me.

“I’m not declaring war on anybody. I’m just wanting to clean the town up. We’ve got to sell this city. Perception is what we’ve got to change.”

The mayor said he can’t make everyone happy, but “I believe that this is a solvable situation.

“I’m a born-again believer. I want to be more of a spiritual leader than a political leader because I believe that’s where most of our problems are. So, the last thing I aim is to do is anything to hurt the churches that I think might hold more answers to our problems more than the government institutions.”

Fletcher said, “I have no personal agenda. My agenda is Jacksonville. I believe every decision I make is the same decision that most citizens in this city, if they were sitting at this desk with the same information, would make. We’re all in this together.”

At least two church leaders expressed understanding.

Pastor Royce Lowe of First Assembly of God said he hasn’t moved the church’s $2,000 sign yet.

“My plans are to comply. I don’t want to muddy the water. This is not the city doing it. It’s the Highway Department. We’ll try to put it somewhere else,” he said.

That alternate location could be off Military Road. The mayor said that was fine if the property it’s on isn’t in the city limits.

Lowe said many members of the church at 221 N. Elm St. live on Military Road and a lot of his membership comes from the traffic on that road.

He has been asked to move two signs near the freeway. They have been there four years.

But, Lowe said, “We did have a sign (facing) both directions that was there 30 years.”

The pastor agreed with the mayor that some of the signs aren’t in the best of shape, including his.

“Flooding got to it,” Lowe said. But he plans to clean up the sign, which features a picture of the church.

The pastor also said the mayor didn’t know the highway department had sent a letter to the churches until he gave Fletcher a copy of that letter to First Assembly.

Another preacher, Kevin Leffingwell of the Christian Church of Jacksonville, said, “We’re just going to take it down. As silly as it may seem, those are rules. We don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s just one of those things.”

He also said his sign is “weathered.”

TOP STORY >> Recount still shows judge as the winner

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville district judge candidate Marshall Nash still lost the race by four votes after Pulaski County Election Commission officials spent two hours Tuesday afternoon recounting ballots as he requested.

The final tally remained 1,113 votes for incumbent Robert Batton and 1,109 for Nash.

Batton, who watched the recount with his family, said he didn’t want to comment and he had to leave the recount quickly to make it to another engagement.

According to the first unofficial primary results, Batton won the election by five votes, but his lead dropped to four after a review.

Election commissioner Susan Inman said the board reviewed ballots that were challenged because questions were raised about voter eligibility. Nash received one more vote after the review.

But no absentee overseas ballots, which Nash had hoped would help get him into office, arrived by Friday’s deadline.

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

Nash was not present at the recount. He told the commission last week when it set the time for the recount that he had a previous commitment. His wife DeAundra represented him at the recount.

Nash said after the announcement, “I’m happy. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have run. One thing that I believe that is certainly positive that will come out of this is that perhaps the sitting judge will realize that there are a number of people who are frustrated with his courtroom antics and lack of professionalism in the courtroom and that maybe he will spend the next four years correcting that behavior.

“They are frustrated and disappointed with the things that have been arising out of the courtroom.”

He continued, “The people who voted for me voted for me because of the issues. They had their faith and belief and confidence that I have what it takes to make the Jacksonville courtroom one of the most respected in the state.”

Another point Nash wanted to make was what should happen if Batton doesn’t finish the term.

“Mr. Batton should not be allowed to simply name his successor, one of his friends or buddies that happen to work with him, so they can complete his term. If he fails to or decides not to complete his term, I should be allowed to complete that term,” he said.

Nash said he has not decided whether to run again in 2016 because he doesn’t know what the future may hold for him.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD: Letter grades archaic

Leader staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District elementary report cards could look a lot different this fall.

District officials are tweaking a proposed policy that would do away with traditional letter grades — A, B, C, D and F — for a much more detailed report that includes 4s, 3s, 2s and 1s.

“We want parents to know exactly where their child is at,” said Dr. Linda Remele, deputy superintendent for learning services.

The change comes in conjunction with a new way of teaching. The district, like many in the state, will begin using the Common Core method of teaching at the elementary level, which is more student centered and focused on going deeper into reading, language and math.

Arkansas is one of about 25 states, which includes about 25 million students, making the change.

All are part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of states working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math.

The goal is to prepare students for college and careers.

Teachers and students in kindergarten through second- grade switched to common core last school year and third- through fifth-graders are making the change this coming school year and most teachers are receiving training during the summer.

The new report cards, rather than just listing subjects and letter grades, will list topics and under that will be 12 to 15 objectives or skills, and each of those will have a numerical score from four to one.

A four means the student is above grade level on that skill; a three means the student is at grade level; a two is “approaching” grade level, and a one means the student doesn’t grasp the skill.

“This new report card will have a lot more information in it for the parent, and report cards will be grade specific. The skills listed under reading for first-grade will be different than those listed under third- or fifth-grade,” Remele said.

Reading, language and math will have a number of different skills listed, while science, social studies, PE, music and art will have just two skills listed: one for comprehension and one for participation.

Remele said the district invited parents from all 23 of the district’s elementary schools to a meeting last month to discuss the proposed report card changes.

“We had a good turnout, good input and made a number of major changes based on what the parents told us,” Remele explained.

On June 12, the proposal will be given to Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education commissioner who is also the district’s acting school board. “We should know something for sure by the end of the month,” Remele said.

She said the district would hold meetings at each elementary school the fall.

“The meetings won’t be in conjunction with the open houses, but be dedicated meetings just to explain the report cards and will meet with teachers and parents at each grade level as each will be different.”

Remele said the report card itself will go from a one-page single-sided report to a one-page double-sided report, plus number pages explaining each skill and what the numerical scoring or grading means.

TOP STORY >> Candidates for sheriff square off in a runoff

The Republican runoff for Lonoke County sheriff between Austin Police Chief John Staley and Jason Wilkinson is Tuesday with early voting already under way until Friday at the city annex at 208 N. First St. in Cabot and the Election Commission office at 220 Depot St. in Lonoke.

The winner of the runoff will take on Chief Deputy Dean White, a Democrat, in November.

The Leader asked Staley and Wilkinson to describe how their careers have helped prepare them to be the county’s top lawman.

Staley, 32, has worked in law enforcement for more than a decade, serving as a police officer in Jacksonville and Austin.

Wilkinson, 38, is an accountant and a part-time Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy.

How will your career in law enforcement make you a good sheriff?

Staley: My career in law enforcement has been diverse and is continuing.

I have had the opportunity to work with kids as a school resource DARE officer. I have worked as a patrolman, sergeant, crisis negotiator, criminal investigator and chief of police.

Running the sheriff’s office is more than just running a business; the sheriff is responsible for much more.

The sheriff is responsible to the citizens of Lonoke County — primarily by maintaining the public peace, protecting the lives and property of each citizen, and running the county jail.

I am currently a chief administrator of a law-enforcement agency and an elected city councilman. As chief of police, I am fiscally responsible and work within the budgetary confines, which the city council sets.

As a councilman in Ward, I have experience with building and providing a working budget for every department in the city, including the police department. The sheriff must be fiscally responsible, and to achieve this goal one must start from the bottom and work their way through the ranks.

I believe one must experience the stresses of what each officer or deputy experiences prior to becoming an effective leader.

The steps I have taken I believe have provided me with the knowledge and skills to be an effective leader as sheriff.

Although you have been a part-time deputy in Lonoke County for five years most of your work experience is in accounting. Describe how each will help you as sheriff, and will you keep your business open if elected?

Wilkinson: To answer your second question first, the position of sheriff is full-time plus, and I will be solely dedicated to that position.

My experience in accounting and administration is the greatest asset I can bring to the position of sheriff. The sheriff’s main role is to administer a multi-million dollar budget and 60-plus employees. I have been that executive for several years.

In addition, yes, I have been not only a part-time deputy for more than five years, but the part-time coordinator for the sheriff’s office and a firearms instructor, so I have great working relationships with all of the deputies.

Much of my “accounting” experience has actually been fraud examinations and financial crimes, an area that needs bolstering in the sheriff’s office.

What staffing changes do you plan? Dean White, the current chief deputy, will be your opponent after the runoff. Will he be demoted if you win in November and if so, who do you have in mind as your chief deputy?

Staley: In November, if elected sheriff, I will then sit down with Dean White and each employee to discuss our goals and responsibilities.

Each person will have the opportunity to become a productive employee and continue their employment.

Wilkinson: I am not currently discussing staffing changes. I will interview any candidate interested in serving as chief deputy and will offer the position to the best candidate.

Chief White is welcome to discuss the position as well, if I win in November.

The current sheriff takes in federal prisoners to help cover the costs of running the new jail because the county budget can’t support it. Will you continue the practice or do you have other plans to help support the jail?

Staley: Yes, we will continue this practice as long as it is fiscally responsible. I will tirelessly search for innovative ways to provide new funding for our jail.

Wilkinson: In the current economic times, it is essential to continue to “rent beds” for federal prisoners.

The sheriff and the quorum court must brainstorm as many funding sources as possible, to prepare for the future growth of Lonoke County.

I have discussed several ideas with quorum court members but am not prepared to yet release them publicly.

The relationship bet-ween the sheriff’s office and many city police chiefs has been strained in recent years. Do you intend to improve those relationships and if so how?

Staley: As sheriff, I will build better working relationships with all law-enforcement agencies.

I will personally be accessible to the chief of each department. The chiefs have meetings with the prosecutor, and I will attend each meeting.

As sheriff, I will provide assistance to each department as needed. To effectively and efficiently solve the crimes of our county; we must work together and become united. It is imperative that we work together.

The citizens of each city are citizens of Lonoke County. Do not get me wrong, the unincorporated areas need the sheriff’s department more than the cities, and we will not let these areas suffer.

Wilkinson: As sheriff, I will make it a point of emphasis to have better relationships among the different law enforcement agencies.

During this campaign, I have already sat down and discussed future relationships with every police chief in Lonoke County, and they have all agreed to work with me as sheriff.

What is the most pressing need at the sheriff’s department, and how will you address that need?

Staley: The most pressing need is more effective communication with the citizens.

We get our authority from the citizens, and we must be respectful and responsive to the citizens’ needs.

As chief in Austin, I have proven that an involved community has the strength and ability to work together and grow.

We must get out and know our citizens and their needs. Better relationships with the people means more crimes solved. The people must trust the sheriff’s department.

Wilkinson: When the new sheriff takes office, the most pressing need will actually be employee morale issues.

The deputies are working in a very unstable environment during an election cycle like this one. I have the management experience and expertise necessary to provide stable leadership during the transition and to lead the future of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Republicans have an advantage over Democrats in Lonoke County elections. In the Republican primary, 4,180 votes were cast for sheriff compared to 1,939 in the Democratic primary.
But both of you are younger with less experience than White, the Democratic candidate for sheriff. If the sheriff’s office were nonpartisan, what would you tell voters to get their support?

Staley: I agree that I am younger than Chief White. However, I will put my experience, training and education to bat anytime.

I have received a plethora of training and hands-on experience while working at the Jacksonville Police Department and while being the chief of police in Austin.

In the last 12 years, I have received over 1,500 certified law-enforcement training hours. I have 45 college credits from Arkansas State University-Beebe and will be continuing this at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro to obtain a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

I have worked with children, the elderly and every age in between. I truly believe in community oriented policing, and I know it works.

Wilkinson: To say that I have less experience than Chief White is debatable.

While he has been in law enforcement for 20-plus years, I have more administrative experience and education.

That is the primary role of the sheriff. The chief deputy is usually the more experienced in actual law enforcement and is relied on heavily by the sheriff.

I would run the exact same campaign regardless of whether it was partisan or not.

SPORTS STORY >> Indians draft McClure in fourth round

Leader sports editor

The Cleveland Indians drafted recently graduated Jacksonville baseball prodigy D’Vone McClure on Tuesday afternoon, the second day of the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft. The Indians took McClure with the 143rd overall pick in the middle of the fourth round. McClure’s draft position was slightly lower than where he was projected in the late third round, but he was still excited about the draft and the opportunities that await him.

McClure signed a college scholarship offer with the Arkansas Razorbacks last November, and is still weighing his options.

“I’m pretty excited but I’m still narrowing things down and trying to decide if I want to go to college,” McClure told The Leader Tuesday afternoon.

McClure felt right at home in Fayetteville and has already begun to develop relationships with current University of Arkansas players. Razorback coach Dave Van Horn spoke with McClure shortly after he was selected by Cleveland. He made it clear he wants McClure to be a Hog, but urged him to do what’s best for him.

“He wants what’s best for me,” McClure said of Van Horn. “He really didn’t put a lot of pressure on me. I’m still just trying to figure everything out.”

McClure started his senior season as a prospect expected to be drafted somewhere in the mid-teen rounds. He changed that with his play his senior year of high school.

His stock rose dramatically in late March when he went 2 for 3 with two line-drive doubles off the wall at Dupree Park off fellow prospect Trey Killian, ace pitcher at Mountain Home. Killian is another Razorback signee and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arkansas.

Smashing Killian’s best stuff and raising his stock probably means a substantial signing bonus offer from Cleveland, though a new collective bargaining agreement has changed the rules concerning how Major League teams acquire amateur talent. New rules penalize teams which offer large bonuses well beyond what’s called the ‘draft pool recommendation, which is a guideline number for what a certain draft pick warrants as a signing bonus.

McClure’s spot, 143, usually falls in the $300,000 to $400,000 range, but with the new rules, experts say projections could be useless for what a draft pick will sign for this season.

Cleveland drafted Searcy pitcher Dillon Howard in the second round last season. Howard’s signing bonus was $1.85 million.

McClure says money will factor into his decision, but may not be the determining factor. There are other pros and cons to going to college or turning pro.

“In college you get an education and that’s important,” McClure said. “I really enjoyed my time in Fayetteville. The players were fun to be around and I loved the family atmosphere up there.

“In the pros you get more swings. It’s not all about winning and more about development. The opportunity to develop a little faster is there. I feel good about it either way though. It’s a win-win for me.”

SPORTS STORY >> Piranhas gear up for first CASL meet

Leader sportswriter

Several new young swimmers combined with the more familiar names of the older teenage swimmers make up this year’s Cabot Piranhas team as they prepare for another summer of competition in the Central Arkansas Swim League.

The Piranhas will open the 2012 summer season with a league meet against the Maumelle Marlins on Saturday at the Cabot Veterans Park swimming center.

The total number still sits at around 100 kids for the Piranhas just as it has for the past several years. The Cabot area has seen a year-round USA team and a Panthers swim team at Cabot High School added in the past five years. While the Piranhas team hasn’t closed the gap on teams such as Maumelle, which has close to 170 swimmers, or Sherwood, which has more than twice the number of competitors, the increased opportunities to compete have helped the existing swimmers.

“We start out working a lot of endurance drills,” Skidmore said. “Then, we break down technique and do drills to help them work on their strokes. We also do water polo and other things to get them to enjoy it, relays, different things so it doesn’t get boring.”

Returning female swimmers include butterfly stroke specialist Emily Grigsby, who will also start her college swimming career at Ouachita Baptist University in the fall. She will be joined by Allison Sinning and Alice Lovellette in the 15-18 year-old division, as well as another butterfly expert in Haylee Beckley in the 13-14 year-old division.

Jessie Baldwin and Kyle Johnson also return for their second year in the girls 13-14 age group after achieving gold-level status in nearly every stroke last summer.

On the boys side, Seth Fox and John Santiago will head up a small, yet strong group of swimmers that also includes Brent Brockel and Kyle Beckley.

One surprise this summer is the absence of girls swimmer Megan Owens, who has regularly competed at the gold level in every event, with this summer being her last chance for eligibility in the CASL.

“With kids in the summertime, it’s difficult to get them all out,” Piranhas coach Debbie Skidmore said. “I’m not disappointed, I guess they have other things they want to be doing, and swimming in the summertime is demanding. It’s every weekend.”

The Piranhas have been practicing since early May, with meets going into mid July.

The teams in the CASL remain the same with longtime frontrunners Sherwood, Maumelle, Otter Creek, Lonoke, Lakewood, Conway and Bryant joining the Piranhas in the eight-team league. There will be two other events on opening weekend as Sherwood will host Bryant and Conway while Lakewood will host the Lonoke Sharkrockets and Otter Creek Otters.

SPORTS STORY >> Team Nitro takes trap shooting title

Leader sports editor

Team Nitro, a trap shooting team made up of high school students from around Lonoke County, won the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program’s state championship Saturday at Remington Gun Club in Lonoke.

The squad beat Greenwood in the final round to earn the state title after beating five other teams earlier in the day.

The team is made up of team captain Scott Foltz of Cabot, Kyler Fancher, Pierce Jackson, James Chambless and Thomas McCallie.

Team Nitro qualified for the state meet by finishing 7th in the east regional a month ago. The top 16 teams from the four regionals qualify for state.

As a No. 7 seed, Lonoke started by facing the Saline County Trappers, the No. 10 seed from the south regional, but also the No. 3 ranked team in the state. Team Nitro hit 119 of a possible 125 targets to beat Saline County and advance to the round of 32.

In the next three rounds, Team Nitro beat Batesville, Huntsville and the Rose Bud Sharpshooters with three consecutive scores of 116.

Those three wins advanced the team to the final four, where they took on the Harrisburg Trap Club Triple AAA squad. Team Nitro hit 118 targets in that match to advance to the finals.

The five Lonoke County shooters hit a day low of 113 targets in the final, but it was good enough for the championship.

Winning earned the team a $7,500 scholarship to be split among team members.

“The mental game is 95 percent of it and when our boys focus, the scores take care of themselves,” team coach Renae Chambless said. “They were confident in themselves but mostly they were very confident in their teammates.”

Each team member shoots at 25 targets in the course of a match and Team Nitro turned in six perfect rounds on Saturday. Foltz and Chambless each scored 25 twice, while Fancher and Jackson also had a perfect round apiece.

Team Nitro will compete in another state shooting meet in June 12 when it takes part in the AIM youth tournament in Lonoke.

AIM, which stands for Academics, Integrity and Marksmanship, is the official youth program under the auspices of the Amateur Trap Association. Renae Chambless is the ATA-AIM zone coordinator over eight states. Her husband Petey Chambless is the ATA-AIM state director.

“We’ve been able to build a large membership of AIM shooters because of the AYSSP program,” Renae Chambless said. “The AYSSP is a fantastic program. This year it had 5,600 kids and 800 volunteer coaches. It’s a phenomenal program for kids in Arkansas.”

A win in the AIM state meet next week could mean a trip to the World Shooting and Recreation Complex in Sparta, Ill., for the national tournament.

Team Nitro’s junior high team also qualified for its state meet on Friday.

Though it qualified by finishing 16th in the regional, the Nitro junior squad made it to the round of 16 before being eliminated.

“Qualifying 16th meant we had to face a regional winner right off the bat,” Renae Chambless said. “They were able to win that match and one more so we are also very proud of our junior high team.”

The junior high squad team members are all from Cabot. They include Team captain Gage Wilie, Denver Mullins, John Smith, Tyler Jones and Casey Warren.

There are five other Team Nitro members who couldn’t qualify for state because one member was unable to attend. They are Duke Fancher, Brady Smith and Wade Warren of Cabot, Cody Hazeslip of Jacksonville and Todd Poole of Lonoke. “We really think we all would have done well had we been able to compete,” Chambless said.

SPORTS STORY >> Senior Bruins start fast, beat Cabot

Leader sportswriter

Starting fast and finishing strong is more of a football cliché, but that strategy worked out well for the Sylvan Hills Bruins American Legion baseball team as they downed Cabot 7-4 at Mike Bromley Field on Saturday to boost their season and Central Zone record to 3-1.

Starting Cabot pitcher Casey Vaughn struggled to find the zone and allowed three walks, and also gave up two hits before being replaced in the bottom of the first inning by Dustin Morris. The Bruins made the most of those opportunities with five runs in the first frame, and added a pair of late insurance scores in the bottom of the fifth as Centennial Bank (0-6) tried to climb back into contention with four runs scattered over six innings.

Sylvan Hills pitcher J.D. Miller went the distance on the mound to earn the win for the Bruins, giving up just three hits while walking six and striking out five.

“I was very pleased with the way we played the whole game,” Bruins coach Brandon Eller said. “Any time you score five in the first, that’s huge. You have a good chance to win if you put up five in any inning. They brought in a really good pitcher, we struggled with him a little bit, but then we scratched back and got two more. That probably ended up being the difference maker – if we don’t get those two, then they could bunt a guy over and tie the game up.”

Leadoff batter Greg Atchinson walked to start the bottom of the first inning and advanced when three-hole hitter Dylan Boone reached on an infield error. They both scored when cleanup batter Lance Hunter doubled to left field, and Hunter later made it 3-1 when he reached home on a passed ball.

Miller set up the next rally with a walk and Austin Spears was hit by a pitch. Jimmy Sandefur hit into a fielder’s choice that forced Spears out.

Ryan Briscoe loaded the bases with a walk, and Corey Jones proved the Bruins’ bats to be strong throughout the order with a single that scored Miller and Sardetin. That gave Sylvan Hills a 5-1 lead, and led to a switch at the mound for Cabot as Morris came in and struck out Atchinson to finally retire the side.

“I’m sure he’s a great pitcher, but we jumped on him early,” Eller said of Vaughn. “It was good for us. We’re a team that when we get ahead early, we have a lot of success.”

Morris kept the Bruins in check until the bottom of the fifth when he walked Miller, who scored two batters later on an RBI double to right by Sandefur. Jones drove in the next run on a double, but he was later tagged out at the plate by Cabot catcher T.C. Carter for the final out.

Cabot took an early 1-0 lead when Bryson Morris led off with a single to left and advanced to third on a walk for Grant Bell and a single by Vaughn to load the bases with no outs. Justin Goff hit into a double play that also retired Vaughn and scored Morris, while Miller recorded his first strikeout to retire the side against Carter.

Centennial Bank inched closer in the top of the third when Miller walked Bell and gave up an RBI single to Vaughn. Bell struck out in the top of the fifth but was able to reach first on a passed ball and scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly by Goff. Dustin Morris scored Cabot’s final run in the sixth when he reached on an infield error and later scored on a passed ball.

Jones was 2 for 3 with a double and three RBI for Sylvan Hills while Boone was 2 for 4 with a run. For Cabot, Vaughn was 2 for 4 with an RBI.