Saturday, June 23, 2012

TOP STORY >> More dry, hot weather

Leader staff writer

In one week, Arkansas went from 1 percent of the state being in severe drought to almost 84 percent.

The state’s drought monitor map shows more than 99 percent of the state having some sort of drought classification as burn bans increase, wildfire danger expands and cattle producers worry about hay.

The hot and dry conditions also increase the number of orange Ozone Action Days calling for those with breathing difficulties to stay indoors. Today is one of those Ozone Action Days.

So far in June the local area has received just .77 inches of rain, down about two inches from the average. Couple June’s dryness with the half-inch of rain the area received in May and the onslaught of near 100-degree temperatures, and that becomes the recipe for drought conditions.

All of the state, except for a sliver of Columbia County near the Louisiana border, is either under moderate or sever drought conditions.

John Robinson of the National Weather Service at North Little Rock said groundwater is evaporating at the rate of about a third of an inch a day. “Pop-up showers won’t help us now. We need a tropical storm,” he said.

None of those are on the horizon. But triple-digit temperatures on Sunday and Monday and no rain into July is expected.

The prolonged heat and dry conditions have caused nearly two-thirds of the state’s counties, including Pulaski and Lonoke, to declare burn bans, which means no fireworks.

The Jacksonville Fire Department said that city ordinances require permits before anyone can shoot off fireworks. But because of the county burn ban, no permits will be issued until the ban is lifted.

“Any permits already issued are considered null and void. The burn ban expressly forbids the discharge of any fireworks within the county without special permissions granted to licensed professionals.

“Until the ban is lifted, no fireworks may be discharged within the city of Jacksonville without written permission from the Pulaski County courts,” said Capt. Mike Williams, the city’s fire marshal.

The possibility of wildfires is one of the big reasons for burn bans. Fireworks caused one multi-acre fire in central Arkansas as did a farmer’s tractor blade striking a rock; the conditions are that severe.

To help seniors and others in the area American Legion Post 71 and the Cabot Community Coalition will open a cooling center on days, except Sundays, when the temperature reaches 100 degrees or the heat index is 105 degrees.

The cooling center will be at 208 N. First St. at the Cabot Mini-Mall and is projected to be open Monday and possibly all of next week.

It will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Transportation to the center will also available and can be arranged by calling Joe McLoughlin of the American Legion at 501-203-5715.

The drought is also cutting into the livelihood of area farmers as pastures continue to shrivel.

Monday’s crop report from the national Agricultural Statistics Service said that last “week’s rainfall was enough to prevent a decline in pasture and range conditions but not enough to significantly improve conditions.”

Only 1 percent of pastures were rated excellent; 11 percent were good, 32 percent fair, 35 percent poor and 21 percent very poor.

Friday, June 22, 2012

TOP STORY >> Unions ask governor to intervene in PCSSD fight

Leader staff writer

The teacher and support staff unions have petitioned Gov. Mike Beebe to step in and tell Pulaski County Special School District administrators that they needs to recognize and work with the unions.

A petition signed by nearly 1,600 people, along with hundreds of personal comments, was mailed to the governor Wednesday.

It asks him to “direct Dr. (Tom) Kimbrell (Arkansas education commissioner) to order Dr. (Jerry) Guess (the district superintendent) to restore recognition to PACT and PASS, return to the negotiating table and work with the unions to resolve the current crisis.”

The governor is on his way to France for a seven-day agricultural and economic development visit and won’t be back until next Saturday.

Stacey Hall of the governor’s office said Beebe had not received the petition as of Friday afternoon, but that the governor would definitely review it on his return.

The petition goes on to say that if Kimbrell or Guess won’t work with the unions, then the governor should fire them or “direct both men to seek employment elsewhere.”

The petition states, “A crisis exists in the PCSSD due to severe fiscal irresponsibility on the part of past and present PCSSD administrators and school boards. The man currently at the top of the organization, Superintendent Jerry Guess, is costing taxpayers more than $261,000 — for the current school year alone — and 56 others in the PCSSD also cost taxpayers in excess of $100,000 per year, each.”

The petition said that none of those 57 individuals are classroom teachers or support staff.

The unions claim it was “incredible that district administrators refuse to take cuts to their own exorbitant salaries, yet expect teachers to sacrifice large portions of theirs.”

“It is also shameful,” the petition states, “that the PCSSD’s legal fees for the current school year are already in excess of one-third of a million dollars — and climbing — simply to defend actions which were illegal and/or unethical, from the start.”

The unions tell the governor through the petition that only teachers are being forced to give up contracted work days and that taxpayers and parents no longer have a voice in the district because the school board consists of just one person, the commissioner of education.

“We, the teachers, certainly understand that we have to accept cuts in the number of days on our current (contract). What we are not willing to accept is for the teachers to shoulder the brunt of the cuts,” the petition said.

The petition implores the governor to “take a closer look at this inequitable situation that has been created by Dr. Jerry Guess and Dr. Tom Kimbrell.”

About 90 percent of people signing the petition, either directly or from the Internet, are from Arkansas. Additionally, people from Florida, New York, Utah, Great Britain, Ecuador and India have signed on in support of the unions.

Among the hundreds of comments attached to the petition was this one from Jerry Cookus: “One of the most asinine assumptions popular in many political circles is that teachers cannot manage themselves. Here is a situation where teachers did not have a chance to fiscally manage themselves, yet they are first in line to be fiscally disciplined for a problem they did not cause. This is unjust.”

Dan Scott commented, “How can we justify paying astronomical salaries to a superintendent and state commissioner of education, while contemplating taking away labor unions, cutting employee pay and breaking legal contracts that are legally binding through 2015? It is disgraceful when the ‘chiefs’ begin attacking their own ‘warriors.’”

Grace Leavitt implored, “How can you be making these cuts to teachers? Don’t you see the connection between these cuts and the negative impacts they will have on students? There is no logic to this? And it is just plain wrong!”

According to Pam Fitz-given, “Thirty-five years of mismanagement by greedy and ignorant administrations are to blame. Stop blaming the teachers and work legally with them.”

Kerry Bowman added, “It is hard enough to find good teachers and now we want to take money away from the ones that we have. What incentive does that give the next generation to want to be educators? Where are our priorities?”

Cyndia McEwen was succinct: “PCSSD has been fiscally irresponsible for many, many years. Now to cover their butts, they are stripping teachers of their hard-working money while they sit back and continue to collect theirs. This is ridiculous.”

TOP STORY >> Trophy back at air base

The Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council this week was presented with the Abilene Trophy, which recognizes the community that provides the “finest support” to an Air Mobility Command unit.

This is the second time the council has received the award. The council also won the trophy in 2010 for its support of the air base.

At a luncheon Wednesday, a promotion campaign was un-veiled using the slogan, “The Little Rock Difference: Rock & ROLE.”

The logo features two C-130s flying inside a red outline of Arkansas, with the words “ROCK” and “ROLE” prominently featured.

The top and bottom of the logo feature blue bands with the phrases, “Little Rock Air Force Base” and “What’s Your Role?”

The base is known as “the Rock.” “ROLE” stands for Responsive, One Team, Leading and Excellence.

The idea for “the Little Rock difference” came from Col. Mike Minihan, former commander of the 19th Airlift Wing. Rep. Tim Griffin (R.Ark.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, picked up the phrase and has used it in speeches and suggested the marketing campaign.

The community council plans to use this campaign to heighten the awareness of the importance of the base to the entire state, as well as individual communities.

According to council president Larry Biernacki, “This is an exciting new concept to let the public know how important the base is to all of us. It also lets the base know our support for it is immeasurable. We are eager to see this develop into a major brand for the base.”

The council unveiled a video that can be viewed at

A committee headed by Larry Wilson, president and chief executive officer of First Arkansas Bank, came up with the concept over the last six weeks.

Roger Sundermeier, marketing director at First Arkansas Bank and Trust, did the conceptual drawings for the design.

Kevin Clay did the video that was first shown at the luncheon.

In the video, Minihan and current commanders at the base praise the relationship between the base and the community.

Griffin also appears in the video and stresses the importance of the air base to the community.

“Little Rock Air Force Base plays a critically important role in our nation’s defense capabilities and is an integral part of Arkansas’ economy, culture and family,” Griffin said in a news release.

“The partnership between ‘The Rock’ and the community is a unique example of excellence, and, together, they are one team and responsive to the needs of each other. This is how LRAFB and the community council differentiate themselves from other communities with air bases and what led to the creation of ‘The Little Rock Difference.’

LRAFB is known as the “Center of Excellence” for training C-130 crews from all services, including 27 nations that train here annually. It has a $700 million economic impact in Arkansas, and is in the top five employers in the state.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville shut down in nightcap

Leader sportswriter

Hits were few and far between for Jacksonville, particularly in the late going as winning North Little Rock pitcher Tyler Schaller seemed to strengthen with every frame during a 4-0 shutout victory for the Optimist Colts at Dupree Park on Thursday in an American Legion senior zone game.

Schaller gave up a pair of hits in the first inning and a few scattered hits throughout, but ultimately struck out nine batters while the defense behind him negated two of those hits with heads-up plays that caught Jacksonville runners off guard and off the pads.

Jacksonville (5-7) used a collection of pitchers to try and make its way through the seven-inning affair, starting with James McCranie, who gave way to Jarred Wilson in the top of the sixth. Wilson got in a bind in the top of the seventh, which led to Alex Tucker limping the Chevy Boys home on the mound.

The junior team had won big over the Colts in the first game of the twin bill, but with a number of those players called on for double duty in the senior game, it led to a lineup that appeared out of gas for the most part in the final frames.

“We’re probably playing the kids to where they’re about to wear out on me,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “They’re young kids, and we’ve been playing a whole lot. This is nearly 20 games for them. We’ve got some problems with some of the older ones right now that we’ve got to try and get worked out, and some other things that’s creating some problems.”

Derek St. Clair was one of those players appearing in both games. St. Clair led off the bottom of the first inning with a single to shallow right, but the decision to take two did not work out, and he was tagged out at second. Jessie Harbin followed with a two-out double to right but was left stranded when Xavier Brown grounded out to second.

Those were the only hits for Jacksonville until the bottom of the third inning, when St. Clair came up for his second turn and doubled to right. Through the final four innings, Harbin and Troy Allen were the only Jacksonville batters to record a hit against Schaller.

McCranie did his best to keep pace with Schaller through the first four innings, giving up only one hit during that time. But the Colts started to get to him in the top of the fifth inning, and the switch at the mound in the sixth seemed to affect Jacksonville’s defense as a whole.

“We’re a little bit short handed pitching wise,” Hickingbotham said. “When Jesse’s not on the mound, we just kind of have to hope, try to get someone out there that can maybe go four or five innings. We’re not hitting the baseball very good right now; we’ve got to get better than that. Our older kids right now are struggling with play, really.”

The Colts took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Jacob Stripling double to left field and later scored on an error at first base. That’s how the score remained until the top of the fifth, when John Chapman singled to center and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dillon Richardson. The middle of the season is providing for some frustrating situations for Hickingbotham, now in his 39th season as head coach over the Jacksonville American Legion program.

“We’ve got three guys who work all the time and not coming to practice,” Hickingbotham said. “And it’s making it difficult on some other people. Some of them need to work, and I understand that, but if you don’t practice, you can’t play very good.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot comes back for win

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills’ senior American Legion team led Cabot in the early innings, but Cabot rallied to tie the Bruins late, and scored four runs in the ninth inning to win 11-7 Thursday at Mike Bromley Field in Sherwood.

Cabot struggled early at the plate as its first eight batters were retired by Sylvan Hills’ starting pitcher Lance Hunter. The Bruins on the other hand had little trouble connecting at the plate. Sylvan Hills scored a run in the first inning and added two more in the third to take an early 3-0 lead.

In the fourth inning, Cabot looked like a completely different team offensively. Cabot (7-9) scored three runs in the inning to tie the score at three apiece. Sylvan Hills (8-6) retook the lead in the bottom part of the inning when Dylan Boone hit a RBI-single to right field.

Bruins Leadoff hitter Greg Atchison scored on the play after hitting a double to right-center field the previous at bat.

Sylvan Hills added two more runs in the fifth inning to take a 6-3 lead, and led by the same score going into the seventh inning.

In the top of the seventh, Cabot’s bats came to life and the senior team went on another three-run rally to tie the score at six apiece, and grab the momentum in the process.

Cabot took the lead for the first time in the eighth inning. Ryan Logan scored Cabot’s go-ahead run after T.C. Carter hit into a fielder’s choice at third base. Sylvan Hills, however, knotted up the score at seven apiece when Boone hit a stand up double to left-center field, allowing Atchison to score from first base. It was Boone’s second RBI of the game.

Bryson Morris gave Cabot the lead in the top of the ninth after hitting a hard grounder to shortstop with two outs in the inning.

Cole Thomas and Logan scored on the E6. The error was the fourth of the game for Sylvan Hills. Cabot committed no errors in the game. Tristan Bulice drove in two more insurance runs for Cabot two batters later on a line drive single to right-center field. Morris and Casey Vaughn scored on the play to set the final margin.

Dustin Morris picked up the win for Cabot after relieving Thomas in the fourth. Bulice led Cabot with a 3 for 4 performance at the plate, adding three RBI’s and two runs scored to his stats. Carter, Justin Goff and Dustin Morris each had two hits, while Bryson Morris also had a hit.

Boone and centerfielder J.D. Miller each went 3 for 4 for the Bruins. Atchison was 2 for 3.

SPORTS STORY >> Teams split battle of the banks

Leader sportswriter

Cabot’s junior team one American Legion squad beat Lonoke Banking Center 10-3 in the first part of a doubleheader Wednesday, but fell hard in the second game as Lonoke avenged the loss with a 14-2 win at Lonoke.

In the first game of the twin bill, Lonoke led 1-0 after an inning of play. Cabot tied it up in the top of the second inning when Lee Sullivan laid down a routine bunt that rolled to the pitcher’s mound. As Sullivan hustled to first, the throw was out of first baseman Zack Risner’s reach, and Gavin Tillery scored from second base after singling to start the inning.

Lonoke (6-3) was held scoreless at its next at bat, and Cabot (12-12) took control of the game in the third inning, scoring six runs to make the score 7-1. Lonoke tried to rally in the fourth inning with two runs that cut Cabot’s lead to four.

But in the fifth and final inning, Cabot added three more runs to set the final margin.

“That first game they played awesome,” said Cabot coach Chris Gross about the win. “We were swinging the bat well, and we played good defense. We threw strikes and with any legion team the biggest thing is throwing strikes, especially with this age group.”

Landon James earned the win on the mound for Cabot, striking out three in the complete game performance. James also got it done at the plate, going 2 for 3 with a RBI and run scored. Tillery and Riley Knudsen also had two hits to go with two RBI’s apiece. Adam Hicks and Jonathan Latture had a base hit as well.

For Lonoke, Darrius McCall was 2 for 2 for the game with a RBI. Josh Mathis, Jalin Holloway, Essick Shephard, Dustyn Perkins and Risner each had a base hit.

Cabot and Lonoke have been busy as of late as both teams played at least one game nearly every day this week. Cabot used its depth in the second part of the doubleheader as several players that sat the bench in the previous game came in to give some of its starters time to rest.

Lonoke wasted no time taking advantage of the switch. In the first inning, Lonoke was relentless at the plate, scoring 10 of its 14 runs on six hits and five walks. Once the first inning was finally over, Lonoke’s pitching was just as solid as its hitting.

Mathis started for Lonoke on the hill, and retired the first three batters he faced. Lonoke scored its next two runs in the second inning.

Jacob Gordon hit a stand-up double to left field to start the inning. Triston Sullivan, who was 3 for 3 with three RBI’s in the game, drove Gordon in with a line drive single to right-center field.

Sullivan stole second and scored two batters later when Holloway singled in the left field gap to give Lonoke a 12-run lead.

Cabot was held scoreless again in the bottom part of the inning, and Lonoke added its final two runs in the top of the third.

Sullivan picked up his second and third RBI’s with a single up the middle of the diamond which allowed Perkins and Tyler Young to score with ease, giving Lonoke a 14-0 lead. Cabot totaled just two hits in the game, but scored its only runs in the bottom of the third as a result of those hits.

Pinch-runner John Van Hoveln scored Cabot’s first run on a RBI single from Austin Null. Van Hoveln came in again to run the bases later in the inning, and successfully stole both second and third base.

Van Hoveln scored the final run of the day on a suicide squeeze bunt from two-hole hitter Trent Frizzell. Frizzell’s bunt was executed well enough that it resulted in a base hit.

Mathis was the winning pitcher in game two. Sullivan’s three singles led Lonoke’s offense. Deron Ricks had multiple hits as well, finishing 2 for 3 with two singles. Gage Johnson, Mathis, Shephard, Gordon, McCall, Holloway and Perkins also had base hits for Lonoke.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney pulls away late

Leader sportswriter

A big fourth inning lifted Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet to an 11-2 blowout victory over North Little Rock at Dupree Park on Thursday. The Chevy Boys (20-3) scored seven runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and added two more for good measure in the fifth inning just as time was expiring in the American Legion junior zone matchup.

Blake Perry took the win on the mound for Gwatney, going the distance in five innings while giving up two hits and striking out two batters.

“We played pretty good,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “We didn’t hit the ball very well, but they began to make some mistakes on the field. They walked quite a few, and that kind of gave us a little bit of a chance to get some runs. After he changed pitchers, then they began to settle down a little. Those kids are playing pretty good.”

The Colts quickly retired the first two Jacksonville batters to start the bottom of the fourth, but a return to the top of the order for Gwatney marked disaster for pitcher Landon Hearnos. Hearnos walked Troy Allen and struck out Derek St. Clair, but a passed ball on the final strike allowed Clair to reach first and advance Allen. Justin Abbott then walked to load the bases.

Cleanup hitter Austin Allen drove in the first run with a single chopper over third base to keep the bases loaded, and a walk for Greg Jones scored St. Clair to give Jacksonville a 4-2 lead. Abbott scored on another passed ball to increase the margin to 5-2.

Hearnos gave up his fourth walk of the inning to Ryan Mallison to load the bases all over again, and James Tucker drove in two of those runners with a two-RBI single to right field. D.J. Scott popped up to center on his first trip to the plate to start the turn, but he was more successful on his second trip with a two-RBI single to right field.

Troy Allen put the first run up on the board for Jacksonville in the bottom of the first inning when he walked and eventually scored when his brother Austin Allen hit a line drive to second base. NLR attempted to catch Justin Abbott off the bag at first, but the throw was mishandled, allowing Abbott to second and Troy Allen home to tie the game at 1-1.

Abbott put the Chevy Boys up 2-1 in the bottom of the third inning when he singled to right field and scored on an infield error when Jones hit the ball to second base. The Colts tied the game again in the top of the fourth inning when Darrick Flowers hit a solo home run over the right field wall.

Troy Allen reached first after getting hit by a pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning, and Abbott reached when he hit into a fielder’s choice that retired Perry at third. Austin Allen then put an exclamation point on the game with a two-RBI triple to right. Tucker was 2 for 3 with two RBI while Austin Allen was 2 for 4 with a triple and four RBI.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

EDITORIAL >> State fair misses mark

The state fair board’s decision to stay in Little Rock was really a no-confidence vote in the fair’s ability to do what it needed to do — reinvent itself.

It was a unanimous vote to wither on the vine and die.

The state fair is staying put because of $3 million offered by Little Rock, along with some extra acreage and promises that may or may not come true.

First off, the $3 million is actually $300,000 annually for 10 years. Right there, it will take the fair board longer to make improvements than it wants or needs to. The added land — up to 100 acres — will help, but it will also come in segments and at a cost.

Then there were longtime promises like a new exit off I-30 to the state fairgrounds.

Look at the trouble North Belt is in, and does anyone think the fairgrounds will really get a $20 million interchange to bring visitors to its front door? Maybe eventually, but not in time to save it.

Jacksonville was offering an interchange, already built, along with 450-plus acres. That’s double what Little Rock could possibly offer the fairgrounds — so why didn’t it move to Jacksonville?

Simply, the state fair is afraid to reinvent itself — and if it doesn’t, Little Rock will have thrown away millions in taxpayers’ money.

More land is always nice, but not required.

Oklahoma City’s state fair has almost double the space of Tulsa, but the Tulsa state fair has the better reputation. And that’s Little Rock’s biggest problem — its reputation.

Ask the eye glass cleaner salesman, ask the handwriting analysis guy, ask the jewelry vendor or the food vendor, and they will tell you that the state fair in Little Rock has a reputation for being one of the roughest, most dangerous and expensive fairs on the circuit.

Whether warranted or not, it is the perception and everyone knows perception is reality.

People think the Arkansas State Fair is dangerous because of fights, gangs, thugs and other undesirables. Vendors will tell you that theft is common.

In Tulsa, the fair brings in double the people that Little Rock does, has five times the vendors, double the rides and triple the entertainment, doesn’t charge for parking and its gate admission is about the same as Little Rock.

The fees vendors must pay for space in Little Rock and Tulsa is about the same, but in Tulsa, vendors see twice the people, have less shoplifting and an opportunity to make much more money.

By voting to stay in Little Rock, the state fair said it was willing to put on a little extra makeup, but had no desire to go through an extreme makeover to save its life.

Moving to Jacksonville would have given the fair a chance to shed its griminess and its ugly reputation. The fair said no to a chance to start over.

Look at what happened in Conway, where the Faulkner County Fair was in an area of town with a bad reputation.

Fair officials decided to move to a larger piece of property, but more importantly, by making the move, its county fair was able to reinvent itself.

The first two years in its new location have proven to be a wonderful experience for everyone — something state fair-goers in Little Rock can only wish for as efforts continue to save a dying tradition.

TOP STORY >> Grant helps end stink over sewer

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville will use a $105,000 grant to finish off a 20-year effort to bring sewer service to the Valentine-Wooten Road area southeast of Jacksonville. The Jacksonville City Council approved the grant in a special meeting Thursday.

Thea Hughes, manager of the city’s wastewater department, called the situation dire and told the council that many area residents were living with failing septic tanks or worse.

Hughes said about $3.5 million in state and federal grants had been spent to build sewer lines and five pump stations so the 200-plus residents can tie into the city’s sewer system.

The latest contractor has been making repairs that had gone unattended for about five years when the last contractor walked off the job in a dispute.

“As he has been making repairs, more problems were discovered that funding wasn’t available for,” she said. Overall, the project was about $100,000 short of completion, but the Delta Regional Authority has stepped in with the money.

The authority was notified by Gov. Mike Beebe’s office that emergency funding was needed, and the project was approved by the DRA last week. The authority will contribute $105,000for the completion of the sewer project.

But the city had to agree to waive competitive bidding. “It makes no sense,” Hughes said, “to stop the work and go back out for bids when this contractor is doing a good job and was the low bidder when the repair project first went out for bids and knows where the problems are.”

She added that there would be increased costs and delays if the council went through the bidding process all over again.

The council agreed. They also agreed to let the city enter into a contract with the contractor and serve as a conduit for this latest grant.

The Delta grant will be used to repair and complete a large bulge in pipe that if left unattended will result in further cracking and seepage of raw sewage into residential properties, complete nine “change in grade” areas where the slope of the gravity sewer pipe allows sewage to travel through the system in compliance with Arkansas Department of Health regulations, and repair and replace defective pipes running under county roads.

Chris Masingill, chairman of the Delta authority, said during an announcement at city hall on Tuesday, “This is very important to the community, very important to our economy. What happens here in Jacksonville is important to the success of the entire region. This is the type of project that is why we do what we do. We want to help create jobs, build community and improve lives. This project helps complete that mission.”

The sewer project should be completed in about a month, “We’ll run a final inspection and then we’ll accept the line and that means maintenance, upkeep and repairs become our responsibility,” Hughes said.

But it doesn’t mean any resident will be ready to use the sewer.

“Each resident is responsible for having a line run from their homes to our line,” Hughes said, adding that state law requires anyone within 300 feet of a main sewer line to tie on.

Hughes said many of the residents have received approval, because of low income, for free hookups through various agencies.

Why isn’t the city paying for the sewer work to begin with?

Hughes said the city normally does not pay for sewer lines. “That cost is covered by the developer of a subdivision or area. But because the Valentine-Wooten was already established, it had to form a public service commission and apply for grants to build the lines,” she said.

Once it did that, Hughes explained, a contractor was hired but had problems and lawsuits and in a dispute with the commission walked off the job five years ago.

After the council voted to bypass competitive bidding and sign the contract with the contractor, Aldermen Reedie Ray, who has pushed for years to get sewer services out to the area, thanked the council.

TOP STORY >> Cabot heroes honored

Leader staff writer

David and Sonya Stratton were saluted with the first Cabot Heroes award at Monday night’s city council meeting. Their actions are credited with saving the life of 7-year-old Brandon Waters after he was struck by a pickup on Easter while leaving church with his parents.

The Strattons are respiratory therapists who work at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. David works on Angel One, the emergency-transport helicopter, and along with her other duties, Sonya teaches CPR.

They posed for pictures with Mayor Bill Cypert and the plaque he had made for them. Sonya Stratton told the mayor it was a nice thing to do.

The word “miracle” wasn’t the first thing they said when reporters asked for comments, but what they described has been called a miracle by many, including Braydon.

“He tells everybody he has something in common with Jesus,” said Braydon’s mother, Amy Waters. “He came back on Easter, too.”

The Strattons had just left the Church of Christ down the street from First Baptist Church when their 14-year-old son saw a pickup hit Braydon.

Jake Waters, Braydon’s father, said he and his family were crossing Hwy. 367 at Locust with several other families. They were in the center lane when Braydon took one more step and the truck hit him.

The impact knocked him 25 feet, broke his jaw and collar bone, knocked out five teeth and caused bleeding in his brain and lungs.

Sonya Stratton said she jumped out of the SUV and ran to help Braydon while her husband found a place to park.

He wasn’t breathing when she got to him and she started CPR. When her husband arrived, they took turns.

Paramedics arrived a short time later and Stratton said someone gave her an automated external defibrillator. She had the pads in place and was about to shock his heart, when, to her surprise, he started waving his arms, she said.

Was it just a coincidence that two people who knew how to save lives came so quickly to the aide of a little boy who needed their help?

Stratton hesitated with her response as if a little fearful that her answer might be ridiculed.

Then she said, “I’m a believer and I believe God put us there on that day at that time.”

Braydon was also at the council meeting, but the mayor couldn’t convince him to join the Strattons up front.

“I asked him if he would come up and tell us what grade he’s in and he said no,” the mayor said. “I asked him if he liked girls and he said no.”

Jake Waters said his son stayed at Children’s Hospital for six days. He doesn’t remember the accident or the first days afterward. But he healed without surgery.

“It all went back the way it’s supposed to be, the way God intended,” he said.

TOP STORY >> New chief at Lonoke schools is appointed

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke School Board on Monday hired Suzanne Bailey, a Beebe native with roots in Lonoke County, to take over as superintendent on July 1.

John Tackett, a 17-year veteran of the district, resigned his position to work for the Pulaski County Special School District as its director of secondary education. His last day is June 30.

Additionally, Assistant Superintendent Melissa Tash is leaving the district. She was hired as the director of curriculum and instruction and federal programs for the Bald Knob School District.

This was her second year at Lonoke.

Bailey is coming from the Waldron School District in Scott County. The small town is about 38 miles south of Fort Smith. Bailey said Waldron andLonoke both have 4A schools, meaning their enrollment is about the same, so she is comfortable with making that transition.

Bailey said, “I’m excited to come to Lonoke and meet everyone. I’ve heard wonderful things over the years about Lonoke schools. I’m hoping I can bring some new ideas and continue the success the Lonoke School District has.

“Getting to know the staff, that is extremely important, to just go in and talk to people, to find out why they love Lonoke. You can learn a lot from being a good listener.”

She continued, “It is very important for students to have voice. Building relationships is my strong suit and accountability. I place a lot of accountability on myself, No. 1, and that flows down the line. If a leader holds himself or herself accountable, then others follow suit. I also don’t think you can get in trouble for over communicating.”

Bailey said she wants to find out what the district’s “strengths and growth areas” are from the school board, staff, parents and students.

She would like to speak with Tackett before he leaves the district. Bailey also plans to work with the board to meet specific goals.

“I’ll find out more details from them. We’ll get a little bit deeper into the needs of the schools,” she said.

Bailey has been superintendent in Waldron for two years. She said two achievements made while she was at the helm there were a “tremendous” increase in test scores and the formation of a student leadership team.

Bailey said, “I really believe it was because of the teamwork. It’s trust. People have to trust you as a district leader to follow you. Student achievement is top priority. If it’s not what’s best for kids, I won’t be for it.”

She said she also aims to be transparent.

Board president Darrell Park said, “We interviewed some very good candidates. We came to the conclusion that Ms. Bailey would be our best option at this time, the best person for the job at this time.”

Board member Chris James said he felt she could help move the district forward.

The board held four special meetings to discuss personnel in executive session after accepting Tackett’s resignation on May 21. The sessions, combined, were 11 hours long.

During those special meetings, members interviewed a handful of applicants for the position.

Before Bailey arrived at Waldron, she served for two years as the superintendent of the Maynard School District in Randolph County, spent four years as the principal of Newport Junior High School in Jackson County and was the Carlisle Elementary School principal for four years.

Bailey graduated from Beebe High School in 1987.

In 1991, she earned a bachelor’s from University of Central Arkansas in Conway. She later earned a master’s degree from Harding University is Searcy, where she is working on her dissertation for a doctorate. She hopes to have her Ph.D. by next summer.

Bailey’s first job was teaching second-grade, third-grade and gifted and talented classes at Beebe Elementary School.

Her husband, Chris, is from Carlisle and his father, Jim Bailey, lives in Lonoke.

Bailey has two children and one grandson, 3-month-old Landen.

Her son, Benjamin, is going into fourth-grade.

Her daughter, Lauren Gunter, is married to Scott Gunter and works as a teacher in Beebe.

Education runs in the family, Bailey said. Her mother was also a teacher. The new superintendent said her entire family lives within a 20- or 30-minute drive of Lonoke

SPORTS STORY >> Pair of runs place Colts back on top

Leader sportswriter

Cabot’s senior American Legion team put itself in position to get a win against North Little Rock with solid pitching and tough defensive play, but a two-run rally in the sixth inning allowed the Colts to regain the lead and pick up a 3-2 win Monday at North Little Rock’s Burns Park.

In addition to its solid play in the field, Cabot had no trouble putting the bat on the ball throughout the game as not a single Cabot player struck out. The problem was Cabot often hit the ball right at someone wearing a North Little Rock jersey, which resulted in just four hits total for the team.

“They’re swinging the bat, and they know what to do,” said Cabot coach Craig Nyborg. “It’s just up to them to get things done. Like tonight, nearly all of our hits were hit pretty hard. They just weren’t falling in the gaps or in the holes. But as long as they keep swinging it, we’re going to be fine. We have a good team, and we’re going to be competitive wherever we go.”

Kyle Kaufman got the start on the mound for Cabot (5-8) and was tough to hit early as the high-powered lineup of North Little Rock (12-3) was held scoreless through the first two innings. The Colts did manage to score the game’s first run in the third inning after Mike Hodge hit a RBI-double to the wall in right field, driving in three-hole hitter Tyson Tackett to give the Colts a 1-0 lead.

Cabot wouldn’t trail for long. In the top of the fourth inning, Cabot scored two runs to take the lead and the momentum. After reaching base on a walk, Tristan Bulice scored Cabot’s first run when Dustin Morris hit a RBI-single that rocketed past shortstop to tie the score at one apiece.

Morris followed his timely hit by stealing both second and third base. Two batters later, Morris scored after Scott Burnett hit a sacrifice fly to center field, giving Cabot a 2-1 lead.

Kaufman struck out the first batter in the bottom of the sixth, but Jacob Stripling followed with a double into the gap in left field. As Stripling ran to second base, the throw from left field missed the cut-off man, and Stripling was able to run to third.

Nick Cleveland followed by hitting a stand-up, RBI-triple that rolled to the wall in left center field, allowing Stripling to score with ease to tie the game at two apiece. Catcher Gunner Allen then reached base on a walk, and with Jack Hopkins at the plate, Cleveland scored on a passed ball at home to make it 3-2.

SPORTS STORY >> Early runs, late defense keys to win for Beebe

Leader sportswriter

The bats were strong for Beebe early, but it was solid defense down the stretch that made the biggest difference for the Post 91 team as they defeated the Cabot 2 junior American Legion team 7-2 at Cabot City Park on Monday.

Beebe scored four runs in the top of the first inning and added three more during their next turn in the top of the second. Those two frames were the total of Beebe’s scoring, but solid defense and a strong effort on the mound from winner Dillon Tippy carried Post 91 late when Centennial Bank threatened to come back.

“Our bats are starting to come around,” Beebe coach John Underwood said. “We’ve had some practice, and had some time out in some games. Everything is starting to come together for us a little bit. Defense is looking a whole lot better – we didn’t have too many errors. It made a big difference for us.”

Tippy was close to going the distance before running out of gas late in the bottom of the fifth inning. He struck out two batters to start the frame as the game was nearing its timelimit, but he gave up a single to Centennial Bank No. 3 hitter Dillon Buchanan and hit cleanup batter Lino Garcia with a pitch. That was followed by walks for Wesley Brown and Nathan Davis, with Davis’ walk scoring Buchanan to cut Beebe’s lead to 7-2.

Post 91 switched Tippy out on the mound with Brandon Gray, who needed just one pitch to force Christian Henson into an infield groundout to end the game.

Beebe built a big lead fast in the top of the first when Luke Dixon led off with a double to left field and scored when Jonathan Underwood singled to left.

Cleanup hitter Gray sent Underwood home on another single to left to give Post 91 a 2-0 lead before J.T. Rainbolt started the next round of base runners with a walk from starting Centennial pitcher Andrew Dolan.

Nate Rogers then hit into a fielder’s choice at third that retired Gray, but Aaron Nunez came up big for Beebe with two outs when he hit a two RBI single into deep left field that gave Beebe a 4-0 lead after one.

Dolan struggled to start the second inning with walks for Cole Sanders and Dixon, which led to a switch for Ethan Holland on the mound. Holland hit Underwood with a pitch to load the bases, and Tippy drove in Sanders with a single to left center to make it 5-0. Gray scored Dixon with a sacrifice fly to centerfield, and Rainbolt did the same to score Underwood.

That made the score 7-0, but the Cabot side contended that Underwood left the bag at third early and did not tag up properly. Centennial Bank coach Greg Frantel appealed the call, and the home plate umpire ruled Underwood out, though the run was allowed to stand since it was scored before the appeal.

Gray was 2 for 3 with two RBI for Beebe. For Cabot, Davis was 2 for 2 with a double and three RBI.

SPORTS STORY >> Dirt series back home this Friday

Leader sportswriter

A competitive points battle and a field featuring several new faces highlight the Comp Cams Super Dirt Series as it rolls into Beebe Speedway this Friday night.

The series was scheduled to race at Beebe on April 20, but rainy weather forced the postponment of the event. That was the first of two postponments for series director Chris Ellis when Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis was forced to cancel the following night, but compared to the numerous rainouts the series suffered in 2010 and 2011, two seems paltry to Ellis.

“The weather has been dry everywhere, so it’s worked out for us,” Ellis said. “This will be the 98th race in our series history, and our 100th race will also be at Beebe in July.”

Ellis’ operation is based out of Beebe, making the quarter-mile, mixed clay oval somewhat of a home track to the series.

Through 10 events, Texarkana, Tex. driver Jon “The Catman” Mitchell holds a slim two-point lead in the points standings over Bryant driver Robert Baker, who is a rookie in the super late-model ranks. Baker has been impressive throughout the spring, posting his first feature victory in only his fourth start when he took the checkered flag at Diamond Park Speedway in Nashville in early April.

Though Mitchell has yet to post a victory in 2012, his string of consistent finishes allowed him to overtake Baker in the points standings when he finished seventh in the most recent race at Northeast Arkansas Speedway in Harrisburg while Baker finished ninth.

Local favorite Curtis “Hollywood” Cook of Vilonia has also been strong as of late with three consecutive top 5 finishes starting with a runner-up performance at Riverside at the beginning of the month.

That has put Cook third in the points standings, 26 points behind leader Mitchell. Defending series champion Brandon Smith is currently fourth in the points standings while Johnny “Underdog” Virden is fifth.

Friday’s race at Beebe will also be the second in the Rice-Tec Summer Series. The Summer Series is essentially a season within the season with six races throughout the summer. The highest averaging finisher in the six races will pocket an extra $1,000.

Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville won the first of the Rice-Tec Summer Series races at NEA two weeks ago, but with Moyer taking part in another national tour over the summer, the door is still wide open for drivers to claim the coveted prize.

The series will go from Beebe to 67 Speedway in Texarkana the following night, but will return to Beebe on July 13. That will be the first of another doubleheader weekend with the second NEA race on July 14.

SPORTS STORY >> Express outlasts Gwatney

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville blew an opportunity to make it to bracket play on the final day of the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic by losing 10-3 to Little Rock-Continental Express on Saturday.

After beating Stuttgart 12-4 and Hot Springs Village 15-0, the Gwatney Chevrolet senior team had only to beat a Continental squad that had already lost badly to Sheridan and barely escaped with an 8-6 win over Stuttgart.

But Express wasn’t the same team on Saturday, and neither was Jacksonville. Little Rock played solid defense while Jacksonville ended the game with six errors.

Gwatney starting pitcher James McCranie left the game with one out in the fourth trailing 2-0 after giving up five hits. But the relief pitching had trouble finding the strike zone while the defense fell apart.

Jacob Abrahamson took the mound and got two-straight outs to finish the fourth inning, but left the first four batters on base in the fifth. He hit Seth Campbell to start the inning then walked Ian Mayfield. Abrahamson struck out cleanup hitter Jacob Green, but Green reached base on a third-strike passed ball. With the bases loaded, Campbell scored on a wild pitch and Abrahamson balked in Mayfield.

Joseph Harris walked to put runners on the corners. Abrahamson then got a double-play ground ball to the left side of shortstop, but second baseman Derek St. Clair couldn’t handle the throw from Jesse Harbin and both base runners scored on the error.

That put Express up 7-0, and Jacksonville never seriously threatened.

Singles by Alex Tucker and Harbin drove in a run apiece in the bottom of the fifth. Tucker’s shot scored Kenny Cummings, who had walked, and Harbin drove in James Tucker, who was hit by a pitch.

Jared Wilson took the mound for the last two innings, and though Express scored three more runs, none were earned. Wilson gave up just two hits, but he walked three and hit another while the defense committed five errors while he was on the mound.

SPORTS STORY >> Bruins end strong at tourney

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bruins didn’t advance to bracket play in the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic over the weekend, but did close the event with a 7-4 win over Benton. The Bruins went 2-1 in the tournament, upping their season record to 7-4.

After beating Hot Springs Lakeside 1-0 to open the tournament on Thursday, the Bruins blew a late lead in a 12-9 loss to Texarkana, Texas. They bounced back on Saturday to earn a decisive, if sluggish, victory over Benton.

Sylvan Hills dominated most of the game, led by starting pitcher J.D. Miller, who turned in a dominant overall performance. But Miller, just like the rest of the team, suffered a lapse of focus in the fourth inning that allowed Benton to not just climb back into the game, but briefly take the lead.

With Sylvan Hills leading 2-0, Benton catcher Zach Carlinger got his second base hit into left field to start the fourth inning. It wasn’t just Carlnger’s second hit, it was only the second hit given up by Miller to that point.

He moved to second base when Miller walked Tyler Turbyville and scored on two passed balls by Lance Hunter.

Turbyville then scored on a single to right field by Kody Fortner. He moved to second on a bunt back to Miller by Dillon Pierce. Pierce also reached safely when no one covered first base on the play. Another Bruin error allowed Pierce to cross the plate and give Benton a 3-2 lead.

It didn’t last long, as the Bruins scored five in the bottom half of the same inning to set the final margin, allowing Miller to do the rest of the work from the mound.

Sylvan Hills left the bases loaded in the first inning, and again in the second, but not until two runs scored.

Blake Maddux started the rally with a double to centerfield. He moved to third base on an error at second base off the bat of Blake Holmes. Connor Eller was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Greg Atchison walked to drive in Maddox. Dylan Boone singled to score Holmes but all three base runners were left stranded after a 5-2 fielder’s choice and a fly out to right field.

After falling behind, the Bruins came back to score five runs on just two base hits in the bottom of the fourth. Eller walked and Atchison was hit to start the rally. Boone laid down a bunt single to load the bases. Miller walked to drive in one run, but was thrown out at second on Robert Brock’s 6-4 fielder’s choice that also scored Atchison. Austin Spears doubled to left field to score Boone. Brock scored on an error at first base and Spears crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly to centerfield by Maddox.

Miller went right back to work in the top of the fifth, striking out the first two batters before getting a pop up to Hunter to end the fifth inning quickly. He sat them down in order again in the sixth with two strikeouts and a weak comeback to the mound.

He struggled briefly in the top of the seventh inning, walking the first two batters. Benton’s Fortner tried to steal third and ended up scoring when Hunter’s throw sailed into left field.

Miller regrouped and got a pop up back to the mound and fanned the last two batters of the game. The aberrant fourth inning was the only inning in which Miller did not record a strikeout. He finished the game giving up three hits and one earned run, while striking out 12 and walking four