Friday, June 15, 2012

TOP STORY >> Woman wins FOI case but found guilty

Even though Partne Daugherty of Jacksonville is a convicted felon and had to serve time over a speeding ticket, she did beat the Jacksonville Police Department this week over a Freedom of Information Act violation.

Representing herself, she appealed two key parts of a lower court ruling that rejected her complaint that Jacksonville officials had violated the FOIA in response to her request for records related to her being stopped for speeding.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday in her favor on one issue, but not the other one.

The Supreme Court ruled that governments can’t refuse to comply because a valid request is deemed unreasonable or overbroad. And it gave a public-friendly interpretation for the first time to rules on the cost of reproducing electronic records.

Daugherty had been stopped for speeding in 2010 and asked, in a series of FOI requests, for three weeks of police audio and video recordings. The police department said that request was too burdensome and costly. The department also tried to charge her $2,475 for the copies she wanted.

The court ruled that “nothing in the FOIA allows a public agency to decline to reply to a request on the basis of being overbroad or burdensome.” The Supreme Court said it was not a decision for the police department to make.

The court also turned down the department’s explanation for the outrageous fees.

But the court rejected Daugherty’s claim that the police department had violated the law when it purged the records. The justices said they had concerns about the department’s practice of purging records after 45 days, but it was not a violation of the law.

The records she wanted are long gone, but the next time she makes an FOIA request, the department will not be able to charge her except for the cost of copies or discs, according to recent attorney generals’ opinions and reinforced by Thursday’s decision.

Daugherty served 10 years for solicitation to commit murder and theft by deception.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville isn’t giving up on land after fair says no

Leader staff writer

Despite a disappointing but unsurprising announcement that the state fair won’t relocate to Jacksonville, city officials will continue efforts to purchase 450 acres off South Hwy. 161 and I-440 from Entergy for economic development.

Mayor Gary Fletcher didn’t want to share specifics of the project the land will be used for once it’s owned by the city or exactly when the deal with Entergy would be completed.

Jacksonville’s revised three-year-old offer of the site, plus a 200,000-square-foot events center was turned down at the state fair board’s meeting Thursday. The city’s gift of undeveloped land, a break on utilities and already built highway interchange was valued at $2 million.

Instead, the fair board accepted $3 million over 10 years that Little Rock’s mayor offered, according to Ralph Shoptaw, general manager of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association.

The fair grounds will remain at its home of 70 years on Roosevelt Road, he said. The association sponsors the two-week fair every October. Its budget is about $4 million a year.

He said the board started to seriously consider relocating four years ago because of its size, 96 acres. State fairs across the nation average 360 acres, Shoptaw said. Another reason that has been brought up is crime — or the perception of it — in the neighborhood.

When the board asked for proposals, Shoptaw said, “Jacksonville was the very first out of the gate. It was a really good offer and really hard to turn down. Just having the land is part of it. That was just the start. We would have had to do $50 million to $70 million just for buildings. We don’t make a lot of money and didn’t want to go into debt.

“The Virginia State Fair had to file for bankruptcy (when it relocated recently). We don’t dare to go into that situation. We were doing our due diligence, looking into all the options,” Shoptaw said.

He said the board would use the money from Little Rock to improve Barton Coliseum first because a few events, including the 2013 Arkansas Activities Association basketball championships, have been booked there.

“We’re going to sit down in the next few weeks and put together a long-range plan and look at immediate needs, too,” Shoptaw said.

Fletcher said Entergy and the city are still in negotiations over the price of the land, which may be acquired through eminent domain. The mayor said, “I’m hoping sometime this summer or fall, we’ll be ready to go to the next step. Or sooner. We’re working toward something that is really great, really grand.”

He said, “I don’t want to talk about (the project) right now, before the land is acquired. What I envision, when (the site is) fully developed to its maximum, we’re talking about many jobs. We’re talking about a strong tax base. We’re talking about bleed-over developments, which means, again, a stronger tax base for the community. I’m talking about bringing jobs, but also sales-tax revenue to continue to operate first-class services for our people to improve the quality of life in the community.

“We’ve got to put some sweat in it, some money in it, get some investors, whether it be industrial or commercial. The quicker we get something done, the quicker we can put money back into the community.”

The mayor added, “You just don’t show your cards at this stage. If I mention anything about what we’re planning on doing, it might inspire the powers that be in North Little Rock or Little Rock to throw a wrench in it.”

Last year, city officials met with Jerry Murphy of Murphy Brothers Expositions — a leader in amusement rides and fair management — about putting on a 10-day regional show that would generate $5 to $6 million, including $750,000 for Jacksonville plus taxes (about another $75,000 to $100,000).

Fletcher wouldn’t say whether that is still in the works. But Fletcher said the state fair board’s decision has allowed the city to move on.

He said, “Now we can take our attention off the state fair and focus solely on what we could do with that property to maximize the economic development for our community. You can’t let somebody else’s decision determine your happiness and success in life. I think that is just as true for a community.”

He continued, “In this tough economic environment, (the state fair board) made a decision that is, the safest decision they could make. I see the potential that we have. And the sad thing is the state fair people see it to. It’s just they don’t have the ability to step out, abandon their facilities, basically, for a piece of raw ground. I would have been more shocked had the decision been to move to Jacksonville.

“Sometimes in life you’re just not in a position where you can take advantage of an opportunity, and they weren’t. And we weren’t able to help them in that process. Because of that, there are no hard feelings. There is a prestige about having the state fair. But people shouldn’t be disheartened. We weren’t rejected because of what we had to offer.

“We weren’t even rejected. It’s just they couldn’t take our offer because they couldn’t do anything with it,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher added that he didn’t know if the events center included in the city’s proposal would still be built because that was part of what the state fair board said they needed to move to Jacksonville.

The mayor didn’t know if the city would make another offer if the state fair board decided to move after its 10 years with Little Rock is up. He said, “I’m not worried about 10 years from now. I’m worried about the most immediate economic impact we can bring to our community. We’re working toward something of more immediate benefit.”

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

Shoptaw said that would have been their “best shot, rather than staying here. We decided if we could not come up with the funding, we would stay here and improve what we have.”

TOP STORY >> Are bells tolling for North Belt?

Leader staff writer

A Denver toll road could be an example of what is needed to build the $1.43 billion North Belt Freeway, which the state doesn’t have in its coffers or coming from the federal government, making tolls a possible solution.

Dan Christopherson, a spokesman for the east-bound I-470 Public Highway Authority in Denver, calls toll roads the wave of the future and the only way to finance major highway construction without state and federal funding.

The history of Denver’s East I-470 is much like central Arkansas’ North Belt. In Denver, the west side of the interstate was built first with public funding, but then money ran out and the only way the east side was ever going to get built was as a toll road.

Here, the southern portion of the I-440 loop is complete, but there is no money to complete the 13-mile northern section from the bean fields between Sherwood and Jacksonville west to Hwy. 107, Camp Robinson and then connecting to I-40 near I-430.

Many commuters use Denver’s East I-470 as a way to get to and from the airport at a charge of about $10 per trip.

Christopherson admits very few drivers go from one end of the toll highway to the other because of the expense, about $20. But they use segments of it. The toll collection became digital in 2009, and now cameras are used to take pictures of license plates and send out bills.

Financially, the toll authority is above water but has had to raise the toll every year since 2009 and will be deeply in debt for at least the next 25 to 30 years.

Christopherson said a number of hurdles had to be cleared for E-470 to come to fruition and the same would be true for North Belt.

First, the state legislature would have to approve a toll authority or commission much like it did for the lottery commission and give it authority to tax, collect and spend funds, to buy and condemn property as necessary.

When Denver’s original E-470 Authority was created, no state statute existed to grant the authority the combination of powers and revenue sources it needed to build the highway. Through E-470’s initiative and lobbying efforts, the needed legislation was enacted by the state legislature about a year later. This measure, the Public Highway Authority Act, set the framework under which an E-470 financing plan could be developed, giving the authority the power to do everything needed to plan, design, finance, construct and operate E-470.

Secondly, all the counties and municipalities that the North Belt would run through would have to come together under this commission and work as a unit. In the Denver area that was three counties and five cities. Here it would, as a minimum be Pulaski County, Jacksonville, Sherwood, Camp Robinson and North Little Rock.

The third issue faced by the E-470 Authority before construction could even start was finding a financial institution or group of banks to fund the $722 million in bonds needs to construction the 47-mile stretch of roadway. The final cost ended up being $1.23 billion.

Christopherson explained that to get access to the bond money the authority had show means or income of paying the money back, and it couldn’t use the toll money as collateral as there was none.

The solution was a 1988 election to consider a $10 per vehicle motor vehicle registration fee. A majority of voters approved the additional registration fee designated for E-470 and collection began in 1989.

In 1980, Gov. Bill Clinton increase vehicle registration fees in Arkansas and was voted out of office because of it.

Glen Bolick of the Arkansas State Highway Department said the average cost for a mile of interstate runs between $7 and $11 million, meaning up to $1.43 billion would be needed to construct the North Belt.

The E-470 Authority has refinanced its bonds at least three times and currently carries a debt of $1.23 billion, which is scheduled to be paid off by 2041.

In its financial report for 2011, the E-470 Public Highway Authority said traffic use rose to 52.1 million vehicles, making 2011 the third-straight year of traffic growth.

The toll collections for the Denver loop hit $107.7 million for 2011, which was enough to cover $65.2 million debt service payments and $14.5 million in repairs, resurfacing and safety improvements.

But the debt cost will rise $6.5 million a year until 2020, when it levels off at $125 million annually until final maturity in 2041, unless traffic and rates continue to increase the authority could have problems covering its debt payments.

According to Bolick, about 50,000 vehicles come through Jacksonville on Hwy. 67/167 and that increases to about 72,000 daily at the McCain Mall exit or around 22 million vehicles a year. Would that be enough to cover debt payments for North Belt’s completion?

SPORTS STORY >> Sharks dominate Conway, Bryant

Leader sportswriter

The Sherwood Sharks opened the 2012 Central Arkansas Swim League season with another dominating performance when they hosted Conway and Saline County last Saturday at the Harmon Pool complex.

The Sharks started defense of their eight-consecutive CASL swim titles with 787 total points, while Saline County finished with 315 points and 113 for the upstart Conway Crocs.

Michael Potts won the 6-under freestyle gold division as well as the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. Joshua Reynolds won the bronze division backstroke.

Dillon Wood, Joshua Robinson and Blane Godbee swept the 7-8 freestyle while Madelynn Morrow won the girls 6-under freestyle bronze division and the gold division backstroke while Lorien McCulloch won the silver division. Wood also won the silver division backstroke and breaststroke and gold butterfly while Brock Godbee won the 7-8 bronze division backstroke and Morrow won the girls 6-under gold breaststroke. Blane Godbee won the bronze-division butterfly in the boys’ 7-8 bracket. Morrow also won the silver-division butterfly.

In the girls’ 7-8 freestyle, it was Alyssa Riley winning the gold division while Amelia Allgood and Pierson Richart took the silver and bronze division wins. Allgood also took the silver-division win in the 7-8 backstroke and Michele Potts took the bronze division and won the silver-division breaststroke. Richart Person won the bronze-division breaststroke in the girls’ 7-8 bracket. Riley won the 7-8 butterfly in the gold division.

Joseph Potts won the gold division freestyle for the 9-10age bracket. Potts also won the gold-division backstroke and butterfly.

Nicholas Heye won the boys 9-10 breaststroke in the silver division while Tristen Bowen won gold in the 11-12 bracket. Carson Traylor won the bronze division in that age bracket, while Alaya Smith won gold in the girls 9-10 breaststroke and Adrienne Robinson won the silver division. Maycee Broadway made it a clean sweep for the Sharks by winning the bronze division.

Brendan Daugherty won the 11-12 boys freestyle, butterfly and backstroke events in the gold division, while Tristen Bowen won the silver division and John Kennedy the bronze. Bowen also won the silver division of the boys’ 11-12 butterfly. Anna Jaworski won the gold level freestyle and butterfly events in the girls’ 9-10 bracket, while Dena Hallum won the silver division and Maycee Broadway took the bronze win.

Brianna Hanley won the girls 11-12 freestyle in the silver division and advanced to gold, and also won the silver breaststroke while Thomas Heye won the gold division freestyle in the boys’ 13-14 bracket. Heye also won the gold-division in the backstroke and breaststroke.

Ian Heye won the backstroke in the silver division for 11-12 and Adrienne Robinson won the silver-division 9-10 backstroke and butterfly. Alaya Smith won the bronze-division butterfly in the girls’ 9-10 bracket. Regan Riley won the girls 9-10 butterfly in the silver division while Savannah Scott won the bronze division.

Cory Tessman won the girls 11-12 silver-division backstroke while Kel Gist won the silver division backstroke in the boys’ 13-14 bracket. Austin Clay made a big jump from bronze to gold when he won the 15-18 backstroke with a time of 32.63.

Delaney Haralson won the gold-division backstroke in the girls 13-14 age bracket, and also took the gold breaststroke and butterfly events. Jillian Barber won the silver-division breaststroke for the 13-14 girls bracket and Megan Richardson took the bronze. Barber also won butterfly for the silver division. Haley Steele won the girls 15-18 breaststroke in the silver division while Taylor Carr won the bronze division.

In the boys’ 15-18 freestyle, it was Quanderrius Doss winning in the gold division while Liam Randleas won the silver division and Austin Clay won the bronze division. Doss also won the gold-division butterfly while Clay took the bronze-division. Maddie Ragan won the girls 13-14 freestyle silver division and Kimmie Croson won the 15-18 gold freestyle event. Taylor Carr won the silver division freestyle and backstroke events. Gabriel Kerr won the boys 13-14 silver-division breaststroke and D Lo Chism won the gold-division breaststroke in the 15-18 bracket.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot 1-1 after two in Sheridan

Leader sports editor

SHERIDAN – Kyle Kaufman’s effort on the mound highlighted the Cabot senior team’s first two games in the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic. Kaufman gave up a walk and a base hit in the first inning, but retired the last 12 batters in order to lead the Centennial Bank squad to a 10-0 win over Benton Team 2 on Wednesday to open the tournament.

Kaufman struck out the side in the second inning and finished with seven strikeouts, no walks and one hit allowed for the win.

Cabot got two runs in the first, four in the third and four more in the fifth to end the game on the run rule.

The Centennial squad got just seven hits and took advantage of several walks and errors by Benton. Casey Vaughan got a triple, Tyler Carter a double and Tristan Bulice picked up two base hits to lead the Cabot offensive attack and improve the team’s record to 4-8 after starting the season 0-7.

That record fell to 4-9 after suffering a 12-9 loss to the Texarkana Tigers of Texarkana, Texas.

The Tigers didn’t get many hits and didn’t have to in building an 8-2 lead after four innings. Cabot third baseman Justin Goff had an uncharacteristically bad fielding game, committing four errors while ace left-handed pitcher Ryan Logan struggled with control.

Cabot got some momentum in the fifth inning and actually took the lead with another rally in the sixth. They scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning to make it 8-4, and shut down the Tigers with a strike-them-out-throw-them-out double play in the bottom half.

Bulice walked to start the rally in the fifth. He made it to third when Texarkana failed to handle a Carter line drive in right field. Goff then made amends for his defensive struggles with a deep fly ball into the gap in right centerfield for a two-RBI double.

In the bottom of the fifth, with Vaughan on the mound and Bulice behind the plate, Texarkana had one on base and one out with Eudsley back up at the plate. Vaughan fanned Eudsley and Bulice came up firing to first, where he made a perfect throw to Carter to pick off Hutson and end the inning.

The sixth-inning comeback started with an error at third base off the bat of Tyler Wilkie. Bryson Morris singled to centerfield and Vaughan moved the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt.

Bulice drew a walk to load the bases and Carter singled to drive in one run. Goff then picked up RBIs number three, four and five with a bases-clearing triple down the third baseline that gave Cabot a 9-8 lead.

Vaughan got two quick outs in the bottom of the sixth, but began losing command of his pitches after that, leading to a four-run, game-winning rally by the Tigers. With two outs, Vaughan walked three straight to load the bases.

He gave way to Morris, who hit the first batter he faced to drive in one run.

Hutson and Eudsley then got back-to-back singles to score the other three base runners and put Texarkana up by the final margin.

Early mistakes were the real back breaker for Cabot. Two errors at third led to two runs for Texarkana in the first inning. Two hits accounted for another as the Tigers raced out to a 3-0 lead. The Centennial squad got one run back in the top of the third. Tristan Bulice was hit by a pitch with one out. Carter then doubled to left field for the RBI. But Texarkana added three more in the bottom of the third.

The Panthers next pool game is at 5:30 p.m. today against Hot Springs Lakeside, a 1-0 loser to Sylvan Hills on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Bullets crush Rivercrest in fourth inning

Leader sportswriter

NEWPORT – Advancing through the first round of the George Kell Memorial tournament proved easy for the Lonoke Remington Bullets, who lit up the scoreboard in the top of the fourth inning and scattered runs the rest of the way to rout Rivercrest 13-2 on Thursday afternoon.

The Bullets dismantled Colts starter Garrick Lane through four innings in the first game of the American Legion junior tourney, with the Rivercrest coaching staff waiting until Lonoke had bases loaded with a 10-2 lead in the top of the fifth inning before replacing him on the mound with Jon Griffin. Lonoke brought in all three runs to set up a run-rule, while starting pitcher Chris Hart’s pitching got stronger as the game progressed. Hart struck out three of the four batters he faced in the bottom of the fifth to end it early.

“We swung a little better today than we have been,” Bullets coach Steve Moore said. “They needed to start getting the bats going, and we finally did. Early in the game we had a few defensive errors, and our pitching good today. They are actually a good-looking team; they hit the ball well. We made some pretty good plays on defense, which obviously helped our pitcher out, and we hit the ball, so that’s what it takes.”

Hart was solid on the mound. The top of the order for the Colts gave him troubles their second time through the lineup. Hart gave up a double to leadoff batter Ethan Brown, who scored when Dillon McLamore reached on an infield error. McLamore then scored on a single to left by Michael Sellers before the Bullets were able to regroup. Sellers’ single was the last hit surrendered by Hart, who turned up the accuracy and velocity in the final two frames.

“He’s that kind of pitcher,” Moore said. “He usually does better as the game gets on. He gets a little stronger. He’s usually really good in the later innings.”

Every player in Lonoke’s lineup scored a run, starting with leadoff hitter Shane Pepper in the top of the first inning. Pepper singled to right and scored when Hart reached on an error at shortstop. Lane Moore sent Hart home with a single to left to give the Bullets a 2-0 lead at the end of one.

Christian James added another run in the top of the third. James popped up over the plate, but the ball drifted into the infield upon decent, causing Colts catcher Colby Brister to misplay it and give James first base on an error. Pepper took advantage with a RBI double to left field to give Lonoke a 3-0 lead.

Rivercrest threatened to make it a game in the bottom of the third with its two runs, but the Bullets came back in the top of the fourth with seven runs off three hits. Wade Stout was the first to score after hitting into a fielder’s choice. Pepper was hit by a pitch and Deric Herring walked before Hart scored Pepper with a groundout to first for the second out.

Lonoke did not let the two outs stop its progress by hitting three straight singles. Moore and Guy Halbert both singled with shots into the outfield, and Madison James sent both of them in with a two RBI single to right field. Chris Fisher then reached on an infield error before Christian James sent in the final two runs with a big two RBI triple to right center.

Moore was 4 for 4 with two RBI and two runs, all from singles. Madison James was 3 for 4 with a triple and four RBI while Pepper was 2 for 3 with a double, RBI and two runs. The Bullets will resume tournament play at 7 p.m. tonight.

SPOTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills gets victory despite bad day at plate

Leader sports editor

SHERIDAN – Sylvan Hills got a great effort on the mound from Dylan Boone, and they needed every bit of it. The Bruins slipped away with a 1-0 win over Hot Springs Lakeside in the first round of the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic on Thursday.

Boone threw seven innings, giving up three hits while striking out eight and walking none. Five of the last eight outs were strikeouts by Boone.

“He threw a great game,” Sylvan Hills coach Brandon Eller said. “He threw strikes and got people out. He got hit by a pitch pretty hard in the third or fourth inning and kept going. He was a warrior today.”

The Bruins weren’t as impressive on offense. They also managed just three hits, but unlike Boone, Lakeside pitcher Jacob Bradshaw plunked three batters and walk two others to give the Bruins opportunities to score.

“If we’re going to win games consistently, we’re going to have to execute better than this,” Eller said. “We didn’t execute well at all today. We have to be able to get the bunt down, especially in a wood bat game. We’ve got to do a better job of manufacturing runs than we did today.”

Sylvan Hills got its leadoff hitter on base in the second, third, fourth and sixth innings, but only managed to score in the second.

Austin Spears was hit by a pitch to start that inning. Brandon Farrow put down the only successful sacrifice bunt of the game to move Spears to second base. After a strikeout, Jimmy Sandefur and Greg Atchison got back-to-back base hits with Atchison’s shot into left field scoring Spears.

Bradshaw hit Boone to start the third and hit Farrow to start the fourth, but the Bruins went down in order after each opportunity. Catcher Lance Hunter walked to start the sixth, but his courtesy runner Corey Jones was caught stealing.

The win lifted Sylvan Hills to 6-3 on the season. The Bruins played Texarkana on Friday after The Leader’s deadlines. They face Benton at 10 a.m. today to close out pool play.

Two more wins will put the Bruins in tournament play on Sunday.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney gets by Ricemen

Leader sports editor

SHERIDAN – Win today, look good tomorrow. That’s what the Gwatney Senior American Legion team took away from its opening round win in the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic.

A good day at the plate combined with a dismal defensive performance was still good enough for Gwatney to beat Stuttgart 12-4 on Thursday.

Not often does a team commit seven errors and win by eight runs, but that’s what happened for Jacksonville against the Ricemen.

Gwatney pitcher Xavier Brown threw to all but one batter and gave up just one base hit in four and two-third innings of work, but he walked five, including two in the last inning, while the defense committed five errors in that same frame.

“It’s mind boggling,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “I put some young guys in there because some of the older ones aren’t hitting the ball. But the youngers are committing too many errors.”

Take out the last inning and it was a pretty good day for the Chevy Boys.

Stuttgart grabbed a quick and short-lived lead in the top of the first when an error by Tucker in left field left Stuttgart leadoff hitter Jon Curtis safe at second base. He stole third base and the throw from catcher Greg Jones made its way into left field as well, allowing Curtis to score.

Jacksonville got things rolling right away when leadoff hitter Derek St. Clair hit the first pitch over the shortstop’s head for a base hit. Alex Tucker grounded out, but St. Clair stole third and scored when the throw sailed into left field.

Jesse Harbin and Brown got back-to-back singles and Chris McClendon walked to load the bases. Jacob Abrahamson singled for an RBI and Arvie Crudup drove in one run with a grounder to shortstop for a 3-1 Jacksonville lead.

Gwatney added to its lead in the third with four more runs. Tucker got it started by drawing a one-out walk. Harbin grounded out to third, but a two-out rally followed. Brown walked and McClendon got an infield single to shortstop to score Tucker. Abrahamson was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Crudup then worked the count full, and with runners going, drove a 3-2 pitch into the gap in left-centerfield for three RBIs and a 7-1 Gwatney lead.

The Chevy Boys did one better in the third, scoring five more runs. Greg Jones walked to start the rally. St. Clair reached on an error at shortstop and Tucker reached on an error in centerfield. Harbin singled to center to drive in Jones and St. Clair. Brown was hit to load the bases again.

McClendon hit into a 3-2 fielder’s choice that got Tucker thrown out at home. Abrahamson then walked to drive in Harbin.

Brown scored on a wild pitch. Crudup walked to load them up again and Kenny Cummings hit a deep fly ball to centerfield that scored McClendon and made the score 12-1.

The wheels came off for Jacksonville in the top of the fifth, but not enough to keep the game going into further innings. Brown got the first two batters to fly out, but an out became elusive after that.

Errors by Harbin, Blake Perry, Troy Allen and Austin Allen surrounded walks and a run-scoring balk by Brown that added up to three runs for Stuttgart.

With the bases loaded and the run rule in danger of being overcome, Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham put Harbin on the mound. Harbin struck out Hunter Harris on three pitches to seal the win.

Gwatney, 3-3, played Hot Springs Village in the second round of pool play last night after The Leader’s deadlines. They will finish pool play at 12:30 p.m. today against Little Rock Continental. The four winners of the four-team pools begin the semifinals of tournament play at noon on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Microsoft scams you must avoid

I’d like to think I would have caught onto the scam anyway, but the truth is I finally hung up on a man with an Indian accent who said he was from Microsoft and needed to repair my computer because he was pushy, and I wanted to get back to doing what I was doing, sitting on the back porch enjoying the evening breeze.

It was only after I started thinking about the call that I Googled Microsoft scams.

And there it was, a report, actually a lot of reports, about exactly what happened: A call from Microsoft saying my computer was sending out an unusually high number of error reports.

The initial caller handed me off to his supervisor, who wanted me to go into the start menu and open the run application, type in “eventvwr” and open the application error log under applications. I asked for proof that Microsoft was actually calling and was told that if I would only look at all the errors that I would know they were legitimate.

“May I ask you a question?” the supervisor said. “Is your computer really on? We can’t help you if your computer isn’t turned on.”

“It’s always on,” I told him.

“Do you use your computer on the Internet?” he demanded.

“I’m a reporter. I write on my computer and e-mail my stories and use the Internet for research like for lawsuits,” I told him.

His tone was threatening, and I wanted him to know that just because I didn’t know computer lingo that didn’t mean I trusted him because he did.

Again I asked, “How do I know you’re from Microsoft?” and I was handed off to another supervisor with instructions to scroll slowly and look for error messages.

But there were no error messages, so I asked if they intended to charge me for the repair to my computer that they said was necessary. The answer was that if my computer was out of warranty, they would charge me.

My computer is six years old, five years out of warranty and working just fine. So I hung up and went back outside. Being southern, I hated to do it, but something about the whole call was a little off, and I had no intention of paying for repairs for a problem that seemed nonexistent.

The Google search turned up several websites with warnings about the scam that apparently started about three years ago.

The one I liked best was posted in May and quoted an article in the Los Angeles Times that said Microsoft never calls about error reports. Those reports might be used to improve Microsoft products, but if you need tech help, you call them. They don’t call you.

It also included this good advice from the director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing division, “Treat callers as you would treat strangers on the street. Do not disclose personal or sensitive information to anyone you don’t know.” —Joan McCoy

TOP STORY >> Greers Ferry water to flow

Leader staff writer

The contracts have been awarded and construction is expected to start Aug. 1 on the Lonoke-White Water Project that will bring water from Greers Ferry Lake in about two years to cities and water associations in central Arkansas.

“It’s a joyous day coming up pretty soon after 20 years of my life talking about this thing,” said Ricky Carter, acting program director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office in Arkansas, which will provide a little less than half of the funding.

An unanticipated increase in the price of ductile iron pipe made the bid for that part of the project $7 million more than estimated. But the bids on some of the other parts of the project came in lower for a total cost of about $5 million more than the expected $52 million.

The additional $5 million will be added to the $25 million that the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission had already agreed to pay.

Lonoke-White project manager Woody Bryant assured members during the Tuesday meeting at Ward City Hall that the funds were available and that their water rates would not be increased to pay for the additional funding.

The board -—-- made up representatives from member cities Austin, Beebe, Furlow, Grand Prairie/Bayou II, Jacksonville, North Pulaski, Vilonia and Ward — voted unanimously to award contracts to the low bidders. Project engineer Tommy Bond of Jacksonville noted that many were local contractors who had proven they were capable of doing the work.

PC Construction, a Vermont company that is working locally, will build the intake facility and treatment plant for $18 million.

The contract for the large water lines went to S&J Construction of Jacksonville for $21.5 million. Paladino Construction of Conway won the $2.7 million contract for the small lines to connect to the members’ systems.

Phoenix Fabrication of Indiana was awarded the $1.4 million contract for the water tank.

Frank Gardner Construction of Mt. Vernon will build the access roads into the treatment plant, intake site and water lines for $318,046.

NLS Construction of Rose Bud won the $2.1 million contract for the meter stations.

In addition to awarding contracts, the board voted to pay Bond Engineering $1.7 million for planning and design and Calvin Aldridge of Cabot $75,000 for auditing the project as required by the federal government since federal money will be used to fund much of it.

Legal fees of $175,000 will be divided between project attorney Clint McGue and bond attorney David Menz.

Inspections, divided be-tween Bond Engineering and Crist Engineering, will cost $1.5 million.

A ground-breaking ceremony could be held two or more weeks after construction begins because the senators who have been instrumental in the funding will likely be unavailable until then.

Permits from the Arkansas Department of Health and the U.S. Corps of Engineers have not been issued, but are expected soon, Bond told the board he recommended that they approve the low bids so his firm could get started on the paperwork.

The Lonoke-White Project has had many false starts since its inception, but Bond said that despite the increase in price, this time it’s going through.

“I don’t see any big trip logs out there,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Command changes at 314th AW

Leader senior staff writer

With the handing over of the wing’s colors Tuesday, Col. Mark Czelusta formally turned over command of the 314th Airlift Wing to Col. Scott Brewer at Little Rock Air Force Base, marking the end of Czelusta’s 22-month command.

Maj. Gen. Mark S. Solo, commander of the 19th Air Force, presided over the ceremony.

Czelusta leaves the 314th Airlift Wing to be the commander of Squadron Officer College and commandant of the Squadron Officer School at the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

The college is responsible for providing professional military education for 16,000 company-grade officers annually, preparing them to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.

Solo praised Czelusta’s command, noting he’d been “operating at full throttle since day one.” He noted that under Czelusta’s command, the 314th earned an excellent rating during inspections and proved itself as the best air mobility wing and air drop wing during the 2011 Air Mobility Command rodeo.

To Brewer, he said, “You inherit a wing that is in great shape and I know you’ll take it to the next level. You are exactly the right leader at the right time. Community support for the 314th is second to none.”

Before relinquishing command, Czelusta said, “As cliche as it is to say, this is a bittersweet day for Susan, Madison and me. It is so Hard to say goodbye. This is a group of people who gets it like few others. What 314th has achieved—has nothing to do with what happened at my desk. You all earned it.”

He praised the wing, which trains C-130 crews from around the world, for “production on time, quality on time.”

Citing as an example the winning of the Air Mobility Command rodeo, Czelusta said the wing has “a deliberate culture of excellence.”

“Without partnerships, your mission is pointless and impossible,” an attitude that “goes beyond the fence” as exemplified by the community twice winning the Abilene Trophy for best community support for an air mobility wing, Czelusta said.

He praised the wing for its innovation, citing the use of flight simulators to save the taxpayers $16 million last year alone and also saving wear and tear on the planes.

He said the airmen always focus on what matters. “Focus is the signature of professionalism.”

Upon assuming command, Brewer told the airmen and guests that he had learned from his mentors. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

He said that showed the power of collaboration and teamwork and that he was reminded of that the previous day when Czelusta reminded him time and time again how valuable were the wing’s partners in Air Mobility Command -— Combat Command, Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard Command — were integral to the success of the 314th mission.

“It is not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice that makes perfect,” Brewer said. “It is the seemingly small disciplines and commitments to high standards that make us who we are and binds us together as an Air Force. You got to war with the training you have, not the training you think you have.”

Brewer comes to LRAFB from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, where he served as the director of Staff, Headquarters Air Mobility Command.

Brewer was responsible for managing all of the headquarters activities in order to accomplish the command’s mission of providing rapid, flexible, and responsive global reach for America.

At Little Rock, Brewer will lead a team of approximately 1,200 military and civilian professionals who form the C-130 “Center of Excellence” for tactical airlift. The wing completes all phases of C-130 training while partnering with the 19th Airlift Wing, 189th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard and the Detachment 1 of the Air Force Reserve Command 22nd Air Force. The wings trains aircrew members from across the Department of Defense, Coast Guard and 42 partner nations.

Brewer is a former commander of the 386th Expeditionary Operations Group in Southwest Asia in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.

His notable achievements include selection for the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and National Security Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

He is a command pilot with more than 5,350 hours in various C-130 configurations and L-382G aircraft.

He is a recipient of the Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Medal with oak leaf cluster and Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters.

Czelusta’s prior commands include the 463rd Operations Support Squadron at Little Rock and the 386th Expeditionary Operations Group in Southwest Asia.

With the 463rd, he served two tours as an expeditionary airlift squadron commander supporting Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Major achievements include selection as the firth Air Force Mobility Tactician of the Year, Outstanding Academic Award Winner at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.

He was a MacArthur Fellow at the University of Maryland and a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy.

He is a command pilot with more than 3,300 hours in various C-130s and C-141B aircraft.

He received the Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, Defense Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster and Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Among dignitaries present were Rep. Tim Griffin, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert, Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hilllman and representatives of Sen. Mark Pryor and Sen. John Boozman.

TOP STORY >> Tolls proposed for North Belt

Leader senior staff writer

The state Highway Commission on Tuesday rejected an expedited North Belt construction plan and instead proposed building the freeway as a partial toll road with financial help from the local community.

The rejected amendment — proposed by the Metroplan board last month — would have included $6 million in the 2013 fiscal year for purchase of critical right of way in the areas under the most intense development pressure. That’s in Sherwood.

It also called for the completion of right-of-way acquisition by 2019 for an estimated $36.3 million and for construction to be completed by 2025 at an estimated cost of $632.3 million.

With the help of state Highway Department director Scott Bennett, the Metroplan proposal was shoehorned on to the commission agenda. Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie drove overnight to Fayetteville to present and defend the proposal.

“The answer to the simple commitment to (our) funding time frame was ‘no,’” McKenzie said Tuesday afternoon. “They came back with a counter proposal that included tolling and funding partnerships with local jurisdictions.”

McKenzie said Bennett will send him a more specific proposal and he would get a letter out to the Metroplan members, perhaps in time to discuss it at the June 27 meeting.

McKenzie said a toll road feasibility study would need to be conducted before continuing down that road, and board members and cities affected might simply reject the notion out of hand.

The previous study, made several years ago, found construction of a toll road unfeasible, but this time around, tolling would just be a partial funding mechanism, with local partnerships and part of the $701 million committed to the project by 2030.

Bennett has noted that completion of the North Belt would probably require as much as half of the Highway Department’s road construction budget for all of Arkansas over a five-year period.

The conventional wisdom before the commission meeting was that approval would likely lead to construction of the 12.8-mile completion of the North Belt — the missing link in a bypass around Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood, but that failure to approve the expedited plan was tantamount to driving a nail in the lid on the coffin of the project first committed to 60 years ago.

Some are suggesting that the toll idea was indeed that nail.“The commission made a good faith-effort to keep he project alive within the financial bind they find themselves in,” McKenzie said.

He said Metroplan’s last-minute addition to an already crowded agenda was given an ample hearing.

The section in question starts in the bean field at Hwy. 67/167, cuts through the northeast portion of Sherwood, on the edge of development, and across Camp Robinson, linking state Hwy. 440 at Hwy. 67/167 with I-40 and I-430 at Crystal Hill.

The loop, which would be approximately 60 miles, would include parts of I-430, I-30 and Hwy. 440, including the already completed first portion of the North Belt.

In the process it would lessen congestion on Hwy. 67/167, on I-40 and on I-30, including the Arkansas River bridge, and provide faster, safer transportation to jobs in Maumelle and west Little Rock for those commuting from the bedroom communities such as Cabot, Jacksonville and Sherwood.

SPORTS STORY >> Sabers win first game as champs

Leader sportswriter

Last year the Arkansas Sabers semi-pro football team dominated nearly every opponent it faced. They weren’t as dominant in their season opener Saturday at Jan Crow Stadium in Jacksonville, but they did get away with a 15-6 victory over Team Arkansas.

The Sabers finished the 2011 season with an unbeaten record, and won the Alliance Football League’s first annual World Bowl Championship at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Team Arkansas looked solid early offensively, finding the endzone on the game’s first drive. But the Sabers’ stubborn defense made sure Team Arkansas wouldn’t find it again.

Saturday’s exhibition wasn’t a blowout by any means, but Team Arkansas’ offense was clearly outmatched once the Sabers’ defense settled into the flow of the game.

The Sabers’ offense struggled at times throughout the game, but Sabers coach Charles Reynolds believes the team’s lack of practice time had a lot to do with that.

“They played well, but we need to make adjustments,” said Reynolds about his team’s play. “We need to go back to the practice field, iron out a few wrinkles, and I think our team is destined to repeat. One thing that stood out was our positioning on defense, and it’s just a lack of practice, a lack of chemistry.

“This was really a game we needed, because the team we were originally scheduled to play forfeited. So, this was kind of like a preseason scrimmage for us. It gave me a good look and it gave my coaching staff a good look to where we can go and make our adjustments for the season.”

Team Arkansas scored on an unlikely fourth down call at the 9:52 mark in the first quarter. On fourth and goal at the 11-yard line, Tamelle Jenkins took a half-back draw up the middle and dashed his way into the endzone as the defense dropped back into coverage.

Quarterback Josh Dixon tried to catch the defense off guard again on the two-point conversion attempt with a rollout play to the left side of the field. The defense wasn’t fooled, and Dixon was taken down in the backfield to make the score 6-0 Team Arkansas.

The Sabers’ opening drive looked promising as the offense started on its own 28-yard line, and after seven plays, set up first and goal at the Team Arkansas 5-yard line.

But an incomplete pass, two minimal runs, and another incomplete pass from quarterback Dylan Gonzales on fourth down resulted in a turnover on downs.

Sabers defensive back Ryan Wolff gave the offense excellent field positioning on its next drive as Wolff intercepted Dixon’s pass at the Team Arkansas 40-yard line.

The Sabers’ offense answered with an eight-play drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown run from fullback Anton Williams to tie the score at six apiece.

Holder, Daniel Brown, caught the Team Arkansas defense off guard on the extra point attempt, taking the snap and dashing toward the left pylon for the two-point conversion to give the Sabers an 8-6 lead.

Both defenses were relentless for the remainder of the game as neither team scored again until the 3:27 mark in the fourth quarter. With the game winding down, Team Arkansas was forced to go for it at its own 38-yard line, but an incomplete pass led to another turnover on downs.

The Sabers, however, nearly gave the ball right back as quarterback Grant Lewis, who played almost the entire second half, threw a gift interception to the Team Arkansas secondary. Team Arkansas appeared to be right back in the game, but a roughing the passer penalty allowed the Sabers to hang onto the ball with 5:01 left to play.

Three plays later, Lewis threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Brown in the back of the endzone to give the Sabers an eight-point lead. Garrett Morgan kicked the extra point to set the final margin.

Gonzales completed 50 percent of his passes for 96 yards and an interception on the night.

Lewis completed 40 percent of his passes for 53 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Matt Stewart led the Sabers in yards from scrimmage with 50 yards on four touches.

The Sabers (1-0 after league opponent’s forfeit) travel to Lincoln High School to begin league play Saturday against the Northwest Arkansas Battle. The Sabers’ next game in Jacksonville will be July 7 at Jan Crow Stadium. Check out for more information on the Arkansas Sabers.

SPORTS STORY >> Remington dominates Clarksville

Leader sports editor

The Remington Bullets jumped on the River Valley Tropics early then piled on late en route to a dominant 14-0 victory Monday in Clarksville.

The Lonoke AA team scored two runs in the first inning and another in the second to take an early lead, then began to dominate with four in the third, three in the fourth and four more in the fifth to end the game early on the sportsmanship rule.

“Our pitching was really good and we hit it well,” Lonoke coach Steve Moore said. “We had no errors, may have walked one. We just had a really good day in all aspects of the game. Usually when you do that you’re in pretty good shape.”

Lane Moore started on the mound and gave up just two hits in three innings of work. He yielded to Chris Fisher with a 7-0 lead, but Fisher didn’t let the big cushion ease his intensity. He gave up just one hit in the final two innings.

Lonoke got its first-inning runs thanks to a couple of errors by River Valley, but not until after Shane Pepper tripled to start the game.

Another error got things rolling for Lonoke in the second inning when Reid McKenzie reached on an E6. Christian James then singled to right field to put runners on first and second. A passed ball moved the runners into scoring position and Pepper scored McKenzie with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.

Moore singled to start the third inning and James doubled to right field to drive in Moore. Guy Halbert drew a walk and Garrett Spears singled to score James and move Halbert to third base. Halbert then scored on a wild pitch. Spears scored on an RBI single by McKenzie to make it 7-0.

Moore got the ball rolling in the three-run rally in the top of the fourth with an infield single. He advanced to second on a throwing error. James then singled again and moved Moore to third base. Halbert reached on a 5-4 fielder’s choice that got James thrown out at second but scored Moore from third. Spears then walked and McKenzie singled to right field to drive in both base runners and give Lonoke a 10-0 lead.

Remington’s four runs in the fifth all came with two outs. Wade Stout singled to centerfield to start the rally. Fisher walked with one out and James flew out to right field for the second out, leaving runners on the corners. Halbert singled to score Stout and Chris Smith walked to load the bases.

Trevor Ransom then singled to Fisher and Halbert. McKenzie reached on an error that reloaded the bases and Madison James walked to drive in the final run of the game.

McKenzie went 2 for 4 with three RBIs. Ransom and Madison James batted in two runs apiece for Lonoke, which now stands at 9-7 overall.

After going 0-3 with a short roster in the season-opening Memorial Day tournament at North Little Rock, the Bullets have gone 9-4, with three of those losses coming to Senior American Legion teams. They are 9-1 against AA teams and 6-0 against teams in their zone, staking a claim as one of the premier AA teams in the state.

“We went into this deal initially with the state championship as our goal,” Moore said. “It’s still the same goal. We think we have a chance.”

Lonoke’s next game will be in the Newport Invitational tournament at 5 p.m. Thursday against an opponent to be determined.

SPORTS STORY >> Chevy Boys upset NLR Colts

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s senior American Legion team got its first win since its season opener on Saturday, beating North Little Rock 5-2 at Burns Park. They did it despite committing four errors because the bats finally came to life.

Jacob Abrahamson, who led the team in several hitting categories last season but has struggled in three games so far this season, may have seen a breakthrough. He went 3 for 5 for nearly half of Jacksonville’s eight base hits.

He started things off for the Chevy Boys with a leadoff triple in the top of the first inning. Winning pitcher Jesse Harbin walked with one out. Xavier Brown and Alex Tucker then hit back-to-back RBI singles to give Jacksonville a quick lead.

It didn’t last. The Colts tied it with two in the bottom of the first, but that’s all Harbin would yield the rest of the game.

North Little Rock’s first run was due to two errors on the same play as leadoff hitter Tanner Chapman benefited from the two miscues. A base hit and a walk followed and Tommy Freeland drove in the second run with a fly ball to centerfield.

Gwatney added one run in the second inning with the help of a little good fortune and some good old baseball run manufacturing. Jared Wilson struck out but reached base on a strike-three passed ball. Kenny Cummings bunted him over to second base. Troy Allen bunted him to third and Chris McClendon singled to drive in the run.

Another run in the top of the third came from good hitting. St. Clair singled to start things off. Harbin then singled to put runners on the corners. Brown sacrificed one run home and Tucker hit a sac fly to centerfield to score Harbin.

Neither team scored over the next three innings. Jacksonville added the final run in the top of the seventh. Allen drew a leadoff walk. The next two batters went down in order before McClendon drew a walk to put Allen in scoring position.

Abrahamson then drove Allen home with his third hit of the game.

The Chevy Boys improved their season record to 2-2. They’ve played sparsely compared to other teams in the state. Most teams have played about 10 games, but Gwatney’s game schedule picks up the pace tomorrow in the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic that starts today.

Jacksonville’s first game in pool play is at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against Stuttgart. Game two is at 5 p.m. Friday against Benton. Another pool game will follow on Saturday, and the four pool winners begin tournament play Sunday afternoon.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney, Cabot 2 win one, lose one

Leader sports editor

The Gwatney junior American Legion team saw its win streak halted at seven games on Saturday, dropping a 9-3 decision to the Colts at North Little Rock’s Burns Park.

The Jacksonville team bounced back on Sunday, winning a home game 6-4 over Cabot Junior Team 2. On Saturday at Burns Park, North Little Rock pitcher Allen Gunner threw a gem of a game, going the distance and giving up just two base hits.

Gwatney got on the board first with a run in the opening inning. Leadoff hitter Troy Allen doubled to start the game. He moved to third on a fly ball by Austin Allen and scored on a passed ball.

The lead was short-lived as the Colts put two on the board in the bottom of the first. Gwatney regained the lead in the top of the third. Troy Allen reached on an error at shortstop and Derek St. Clair walked, setting up a two-RBI triple by Austin Allen that gave Gwatney a 3-2 lead.

Again, the advantage lasted less than an inning, as North Little took command of the game with a six-run rally in the bottom of the third.

Despite scoring nine runs, North Little Rock left a lot of runners on base. The Colts accumulated 13 base hits, walked four times, reached twice on hit batters and Jacksonville committed four errors.

On Sunday at Dupree Park, Jacksonville prevailed but had a tougher time than expected with Cabot’s Team 2. The Centennial Bank squad, 2-9, wouldn’t go away and held a 4-3 lead going into Jacksonville’s last at bat. But the Chevy Boys rallied in that last half inning for the win.

It started with a gift as St. Clair reached on an error at third base. Courtland McDonald and Ryan Mallison then got back-to-back singles and Austin Allen drew an RBI walk to tie the game. Greg Jones later singled to drive in two runs and seal the win for Jacksonville.

Cabot scored first in the top of the first inning. Clay Spafford started the game with a single but was caught stealing by Gwatney catcher Greg Jones. Dillon Buchanan walked with one-out and Chris Lyons reached on an error at third base. Jessie George then reached on an error in left field that scored Buchanan and George and gave Cabot a 2-0 lead.

Gwatney came right back with three runs in the bottom of the same inning.

Josh Cook started the rally with a walk. Austin Justice reached on an error in right field. Justin Abbott then single to drive in one run and Dante Harris singled to drive in two more.

Cabot added one more run in the third second when Nathan Davis tripled and Spafford singled to drive him home.

Another run by Cabot in the top of the fourth gave them the lead until Jacksonville’s last-inning rally. Drake Buroughs led off that inning with a single and Buchanan reached on an error at shortstop. Lyons moved the runners over with a sacrifice bunt down the third baseline and Buroughs scored on a sacrifice grounder by George.

James Tucker got the win on the mound for Jacksonville after pitching the final inning to close out the game.

The weekend of games brought Jacksonville to 9-3 on the season.

Cabot Team 2 also picked up a win on Saturday, beating Quitman 13-11. The Centennial Bank squad picked up 15 base hits in the victory, most coming in a huge third inning that erased an early 8-0 deficit.

Cabot scored 10 runs in the third and three more in the fourth for the win.

Buroughs went 3 for 3 at the plate. Davis went 2 for 3 and drove in three runs. George also had three RBIs on a bases-clearing double in the third inning. George also got the win on the mound in three innings of relief pitching.

SPORTS STORY >> Good guy finally gets his due

Leader sportswriter

Bryson Morris reacted to the news that his planned feature article had been bumped back one edition due to the Major-League drafting of Sam Bates with a simple shrug and a smile.

Of course, the recent Cabot graduate has plenty to smile about these days with a coveted college offer from Arkansas Tech. Although he has not yet secured a full athletic scholarship with the Wonder Boys program, his versatility in baseball, not to mention outstanding high-school grades, got his foot in the door following a two-day tryout.

His baseball days at Cabot are winding down as a starting outfielder/pitcher for Craig Nyborg’s Centennial Bank senior American Legion team after what can only be described as a dismal spring for the Panthers baseball team.

The Cabot Legion team also started out slow with seven straight losses, but Morris and his teammates have picked up the pace as of late with three-straight victories.

“We’re finally having fun,” Morris said. “At first, we weren’t really into it, but actually, the past three games, we’ve been having fun and relaxing–playing better. We weren’t really playing as a team at first.”

Morris said the residual effects of an unsuccessful spring carried over into the beginning of summer. The Panthers failed to qualify for the 7A state tournament, but Morris and his fellow grads, including T.C. Carter and Justin Goff, plan on finishing on a strong note.

“We’re going to make it,” Morris said. “We’ve got a good shot. But mainly, it’s to get ready for the high-school season, and for us, college.”

Bryson is the oldest of three children for Brian and Barbara Morris and the only boy. He was also a standout on the Panthers football team under long-time coach Mike Malham, starting at safety with some time under center as a backup quarterback. Away from sports, Morris enjoys playing guitar with an emphasis on classic rock and blues.

He became a starter for the Panthers baseball team during his junior year. He was named all conference that season, and though he was not able to earn that honor again as a senior, Morris did lead the team in singles.

“Bryson, one thing he had going for him was good grades,” Cabot Panthers coach Jay Fitch said. “His score on the ACT helped him. Arkansas Tech had a two-day tryout and offered him a spot. We were really proud to get him on there. It makes him the No. 40 kid to sign on with a college.”

His early-season stats with the Centennial Bank team are solid so far this summer with four hits, eight runs and two RBIs through 16 at bats. He also leads the team in walks with seven through the first six games.

“He’s a good athlete,” Fitch said. “He can run pretty well, and I think he’s having a pretty good summer on the Legion side. Bryson is another one of those where you don’t have to worry about him messing up.”

The Centennial Bank legion team still has over half the summer to go, and while many of their games this summer will feature local opponents Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet and Sylvan Hills, there is still the season-ending zone tournament and the potential to play in the state Legion tournament in late July.

Regardless of the outcome of these final weeks in his last year of Cabot baseball, the experience as a whole has been a positive one for Morris.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Morris said. “I like all of my teammates. They work hard, they try their best, and are very supportive. I’ve had fun playing with them.”