Friday, July 06, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Summer heat causes imagination to run wild

Leader sportswriter

Mid-summer is kind of like the calm before the storm when it comes to sports in this area, which is most likely the case in every part of the country. The sweltering heat keeps most of us indoors except for the early morning and evening, unless you’re one of the unfortunate ones to have an outdoor job, or in our world, an early baseball game.

Most of the American Legion games we cover start no earlier than 5:30 p.m., just about the time the most intense heat of the day starts to break. Occasionally, there will be a 2 p.m. starting time, but that’s OK because without American Legion baseball to cover, Ray Benton, Graham Powell and I would be left with the task of making up our own sports to cover.

One of our neighbors is a mobile-home repo guy, and he takes some of the confiscated trailers that are in really bad shape and runs them over with monster trucks in his back yard. But that may be pushing the boundaries of what can be considered an organized sport. Exciting? Heck yeah! Proper to place in a reputable publication? Probably not.

So, in the interest of filling space on a slow week, we thought it might be fun to make predictions on the upcoming prep and college seasons beginning with the upcoming fall football season. Many of our local teams find themselves in new conferences and even new classifications this year, with some in more favorable situations and others perhaps a little worse off than before.

Cabot is moving from the 7A/6A Central to the 7A/6A East Conference, putting them back into a league against many teams they faced weekly three cycles ago.

Sylvan Hills and Jacksonville were once a part of that conference, but enrollment numbers have pushed both of those schools down to Class 5A.

Our prediction for Cabot has nothing to do with classifications, but offensive formations. We believe coach Mike Malham will drop the long-favored Dead-T offense for a pure spread attack, and will rush the ball less than 20 times the entire season. Look for the Panthers to accumulate over 4,500 passing yards next season with four of their top receivers landing Division I college scholarships.

In basketball, Jacksonville boys head coach Victor Joyner will step down to dedicate more time to his other duties of public-address announcing at all Red Devil and Mighty Viking football games. To replace Joyner on the hardwood, the Pulaski County Special School District will keep the hiring process local and convince longtime Jacksonville Legion baseball coach Bob Hickingbotham to take the helm.

Gone will be the rap music played at halftime and in between games at the Devils Den, replaced by “The Best of the Glenn Miller Orchestra” and Red Sovine.

The biggest shake up at Sylvan Hills will not occur until spring, when it is discovered that the Persson family won the $100 million Powerball drawing and plan on buying their own island in the Caribbean where they will all reside. The following day, SHHS athletic director Denny Tipton will release a statement to inform everyone that the Bears and Lady Bears soccer programs will be cancelled indefinitely.

As for North Pulaski, we predict the Falcons will make the 5A state football playoffs this season (we hope this one actually comes true).

And finally, citing a desire to stay closer to home, basketball prodigy Archie Goodwin will back out of his scholarship to the University of Kentucky at the last minute in favor of taking a place on the Charles Ripley-coached Arkansas Baptist College Buffalos, where he will average nearly three minutes a game off the bench his freshman year.

So there you go, and remember, you heard it here first. And on the slim chance that some or none of these scenarios ever come to fruition, well, what did you really expect from a guy who has a 12 percent accuracy rating on prognosticating football games?

SPORTS STORY >> NP coach looking at four QBs

Leader sports editor

Quarterback was a position that required emergency attention just before the start of last season at North Pulaski. Second-year Falcon head coach Teodis Ingram is determined not to repeat that same scenario again this season. He is working to get several players ready to go under center.

Last year the projected starting quarterback, senior Shyheim Barron, transferred to Mills a week before the season started after going through summer workouts and preseason two-a-days with North Pulaski. This summer, Ingram is working several different players at quarterback and refuses at this point to even name a front runner, much less a projected starter.

“I look for that to be decided the week before the first game.” Ingram said. “Right now we’re looking at about four different guys and no one has really, you know, taken the reins and really separated himself.”

The four players getting repetitions at quarterback are Doug Gates, Ashton Nichols, Steven Ferrier and Dallas Romaine.

Gates is a sophomore, Nichols is a junior, Ferrier and Romaine are seniors, but it’s Ferrier’s first year to play and Romaine’s never played quarterback.

“We don’t have any experience with anyone on our team playing quarterback at the varsity level,” Ingram said. “We’re working a lot of different guys to see which ones can step in and fill that role for us.”

North Pulaski has concentrated mostly on weight training this summer, with a focus on getting stronger, but it did take part in a team camp in early June at Joe T. Robinson High School. That’s where Ingram got the best look so far at how his quarterbacks handle the passing game.

“We struggled getting the ball where we needed it, to be honest,” Ingram said. “The good thing is we didn’t go there looking to win games. We went there trying to get a look at some players and trying to get a little better. The more we played, it got a little better. You could see the guys starting to understand where to put the ball, to throw it at a spot and let the receivers finish their routes and go get it. So it was positive overall.”

Receivers is one area Ingram feels very good about. Austin Allen and Alex Broadwell have done an exceptional job so far, according to Ingram.

“They’re going to be OK,” Ingram said. “When we got the ball to them, the receivers caught the ball. Austin Allen made one really great catch and it was the result of the quarterback putting it in a zone. Austin wasn’t there when he threw it, but he got there and he made the catch. I think the more reps we get, the more comfortable they’re going to get in that quarterback position.”

Pass coverage is something else Ingram thinks will be better this year than last. Fred Thomas returns with more strength and speed. Darren McGroan has also stepped up his game in a big way.

“The one that’s really come a long way is Darren McGroan,” Ingram said. “He went head to head with receivers from Bryant and schools like that, and he picked up a lot. He’s very coachable and has really improved.

“Thomas is another one that’s improved. He’s a raw athlete, and this year is learning a lot.”

North Pulaski has another team camp scheduled for July 16 at Robinson.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers pound Cougars at zone

Leader sports editor

Cabot Junior Team 1 had little trouble in the first round of the Zone 3 Junior American Legion on Friday afternoon. The Panthers jumped ahead early with four runs in the top of the first inning and blew it wide open with nine runs in the top of the fifth to win beat the Conway Cougars 14-1.

The Panthers got four runs on just three hits in the first, but began to hit the ball hard for the next four innings. They only managed to find the gaps a couple of times and scored just one run in the second through fourth innings. Cabot coach Chris Gross’s message to the team was to just keep swinging the bats.

“We were just hitting it hard all game long,” Gross said. “We were just hitting it right to them early on. I just told them keep doing what they’re doing and those hits will start to fall.”

Gross’s confidence proved true as his club battered Conway in the fifth inning.

Pitcher Riley Knudsen started things with a leadoff double down the left-field line. Dalton Hurst walked and Gavin Tillery singled to shallow centerfield to load the bases. Austin Null then singled to right field to drive in two runs. Eric Pique then put down a bunt single to shortstop that scored Tillery from third.

With one out and back at the top of the lineup, Adam Hicks singled to left to drive in two more runs. After the second out, four more batters got on base consecutively, starting with Tristan Bulice who reached after getting hit by a pitch.

Knudsen came back to the plate to single to right field for another RBI. Hurst got another RBI with a single to centerfield and Lee Sullivan followed suit by driving an RBI single to left batting for Knudsen.

Knudsen was dominant on the mound, giving up just two hits while striking out and walking three apiece. Conway’s best inning was the first when it got its only run off one hit.

“He was really just working at about 80 percent too,” Gross said. “I just told him to go out there, take it easy and throw strikes. He was big for us because we’re in the winner’s bracket and we haven’t thrown our one or two.”

Knudsen walked leadoff hitter Brian Vernon and Joe Botsky singled to centerfield. Mike Parnell walked to load the bases with no outs. Knudsen got cleanup hitter Mitch Strange to hit a groundball to second base, but bobbled fielding the ball making it a 4-6 fielder’s choice and allowed the run to score.

With runners on the corners with one out, Conway’s Jake Williams hit a hard line drive to second base where Dylan Bowers made the catch and threw to first to double up Strange and get Knudsen out of the jam.

“That was really the only trouble he got into the whole game,” Gross said. “It was a pretty good overall game. We had two errors, but we threw it well and we hit well.”

Team 1 will have Tillery on the mound in its second round game against the Sylvan Hills-Cabot 2 winner.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney crushes Beebe in first round

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet junior American Legion team dominated Beebe’s Post 91 team in the opening round of the Junior Legion Zone tournament with a 16-1 win after four innings Friday at North Little Rock’s Burns Park.

Gwatney got off to a tremendous start, scoring six runs in the first inning alone to set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Leadoff hitter Troy Allen walked to open the game, and two-hole hitter Derek St. Clair followed with a single up the middle.

Centerfielder Austin Allen hit two of his game-high five RBI’s the next at bat with a line drive single to left-center field. Troy Allen and St. Clair scored on the play. Two batters later, Greg Jones singled to right-center field, driving in Austin Allen and Justin Abbott to give Jacksonville a 4-0 lead.

James Tucker drove in Gwatney’s fifth run of the inning with a grounder to shortstop that allowed Jones to score from third. Kaleb Reeves advanced to third on Tucker’s RBI after hitting a stand-up double to start the inning, and scored on a passed ball a few pitches later.

“Our seventh hitter was the first out in that opening inning,” said Jacksonville coach David St. Clair. “Austin Allen was huge today with his five RBI’s. We’ve hit the ball like that all year, which is what we expect out of them. We just have kind of had a lull over the past couple of weeks, but this is what we’re capable of playing like every day.”

Beebe scored its lone run of the game in the bottom of the first when cleanup hitter Dylan Tippy hit a line drive single to the gap in left field. Leadoff hitter J.T. Rainbolt scored on the play after singling to start things off.

Jacksonville picked up where it left off in the second inning, scoring three more runs to push its lead to 9-1. Gwatney scored again in the third after Austin Allen hit a stand-up triple to the wall in right field. St. Clair scored all the way from first on the play.

Deaundre Harris scored Gwatney’s 11th run in the top of the fourth on a failed pickoff attempt at third base. Runs 12 and 13 were scored when left fielder Courtland McDonald hit a grounder to second base with two on. The ball was fielded cleanly but the throw to first was off, and Tucker and Ryan Mallison scored on the play.

Austin Allen hit his last two RBI’s of the day with another stand-up triple, this time hitting it to deep left-center field. Donte Harris and Troy Allen scored on the play, and Austin Allen scored the game’s final run on a passed ball at home.

Blake Perry picked up the win for Jacksonville on the mound, striking out three in equal innings of work. Austin Allen and St. Clair each had three hits in the game. Abbott and McDonald had two apiece.

Jacksonville moves on in the winner’s bracket of the tournament and will play the Clarksville/North Little Rock winner at 7 p.m. today. Beebe faces elimination at 2 p.m. today against the loser of the same game.

TOP STORY >> Fireworks follies end in arrests

Leader staff writer

A ban on fireworks in Lonoke County except for controlled displays inside some cities did not stop three young adults from allegedly shooting fireworks from their four-wheelers in a dry field on West Mountain Springs Road near Cabot on the Fourth of July.

The fire burned the field, a mobile home, a pole barn and an SUV, and another mobile home was damaged.

An elderly woman lived in the destroyed mobile home at 1667 W. Mountain Springs Road, which belonged to Ward Police Chief Steve Benton, sources in Ward said.

Since the fire started in the field, the woman was able to get away from her home before it burned, said Lt. Jim Kulesa of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Sgt. Brad Lamb of the Arkansas State Police was among those who responded to the fire, which was called in at 3:35 p.m. Kulesa said Lamb arrested 24-year-old Matthew Mayfield, 23-year-old Katlynn Mayfield and 21-year-old Samantha Ashley Mayfield.

The three were arrested on felony criminal mischief charges and taken to the county jail where they were released on bonds of $2,500 each.

In addition to the Mountain Springs Volunteer Fire Department, fire departments from Cabot, Ward, Austin and Butlerville responded to the call.

One resident whose home was saved posted this “thank you” on the Cabot Fire Department website: “Because you responded and acted so quickly, the fire was contained and my house was saved. If the fire would have reached the pine trees, we would have lost our house. I just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate what you did for my family. You gave up your holiday and risked your life out in this extreme heat to save our lives and home. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Kulesa said the sheriff’s department was still getting calls on Friday about county residents disregarding the ban. He said he wondered why the sale of fireworks had not also been banned.

Mark Smart, assistant chief for the Cabot Fire Department, said Cabot had no fires inside city limits related to fireworks.

Eddie Cook, director of operations for the city, said that in addition to wetting the area around the city fireworks display, spotters were posted to ensure that no embers went unnoticed.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said the city issued five citations to people who shot off fireworks.

TOP STORY >> Ex-general, community titan passes at age of 82

Family, friends and colleagues are mourning the passing of retired Brig. Gen. Oliver William “Dub” Myers, former commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas Army National Guard.

He died on Thursday at the age of 82 at his home in Jacksonville. His wife of nearly 60 years, Billie Ann, was by his side. He was the father of Olivia Myers Farrell, chief executive officer of Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Myers was a popular figure around the state and was involved in many civic organizations.

“He was an unbelievable man,” Brad West, a friend and co-worker at Harold Gwatney Chevrolet, said Friday.

“He enriched the lives of millions of people,” West said. “It was a good feeling knowing him.”

“He used to say God and family came first and then everything else after that,” West said.

“He said you can do more with friends than you could with money,” West recalled.

Three Jacksonville mayors Myers worked with called him a great man.

“It’s a sad, sad loss for everyone in the community,” said Mayor Gary Fletcher. “You don’t have a Dub Myers come into your life but once in a lifetime. He will leave a big void, and you just can’t go out and fill it.”

Fletcher continued, “He was a strong leader, a strong individual and was quick to give his opinion. And I learned real early to listen.”

Former mayor Tommy Swaim agreed. “The community lost a great supporter, and I lost a dear friend.”

Swaim recalled how he often went to Dub to discuss military issues. “He had the background and the expertise. He was a great sounding board and one that could always come up with ideas,” Swaim said.

Jim Reid, who was the city’s mayor in the 1970s and 1980s, concurred.

“He was a true friend of mine and a true friend to Jacksonville. I could always count on him to help with city projects and even in the business world. I thought a lot of him. When I was in office, I was very comfortable in knowing I could count on him for any help we needed. That was a big plus,” Reid said.

Bill Page, Myers’ nephew, said, “He had a big, bold personality. He loved his children and his family. He was an avid outdoorsman. He introduced me to duck hunting.”

“He had a knack for making friends,” Page added. “He was a happy go-lucky fella. He was passionate. He was kind of a jokester.”

Page’s father, retired Maj. Gen. William C. Page, is the brother of Myers’ widow, Billie Ann. Both Myers and Page had long distinguished military careers.

“He was always ready to serve,” Bill Page said of his uncle. “He leaves quite a legacy.”

Alton Johnson, another longtime friend and fellow Mason, attended church with Myers and their wives at First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville.

“He was a dandy,” Johnson said. “He was a cutup, but he had a serious side. He tried to help humanity. He was a good community man. He helped a lot of people.”

They were members of the Scottish Rite Temple in Little Rock, where Myers was a 32nd-degree Mason.

“He was,” Johnson said, “a community servant.”

More tributes continued to pour in from around Arkansas.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of Dub Myers’ passing,” Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) said in a statement. “He devoted his life to leading and helping Arkansas’ service members and their families.

“His legacy as commander of the 39th Brigade — the Arkansas Brigade — and support for Little Rock Air Force Base will not be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Billie Ann, and his entire family,” Griffin added.

Myers was born June 15, 1930, in Forrest City to Oliver C. and Gertie Riggs Myers.

Myers was much-decorated officer and a Korean War veteran. He was later posted in Paragould and at Camp Robinson.

He moved to Jacksonville when he retired from the National Guard in 1987 and went to work for Harold Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville.

Myers was active in the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club, Jacksonville Rotary Club, the Little Rock Air Force Community Council and many other organizations.

He headed several of those organizations.

TOP STORY >> Pastures could turn deadly in drought

Leader staff writer

The ongoing drought has the potential of turning pastures not only brown but also deadly.

The Cooperative Extension Service is warning farmers and ranchers against letting their animals graze since two cows have died from eating grass high in prussic acid, a cyanide compound found in several types of grasses when they are stressed by drought or frost.

The cattle deaths were in White and Van Buren counties.

White County extension agent Brian Haller said the best way to prevent prussic acid poisoning is to keep cows out of pastures that have the grasses known to contain the poison when they are over heated — grain sorghum, sorghum-sudan hybrids and pure Sudangrass.

Those grasses may be the only green in some pastures now and the cattle will be tempted to eat them. But the young, tender grass that will attract the cattle is highest in prussic acid and therefore the most deadly.

Haller said the grass is still useable, but only after it has been cut and baled. Baling crushes the stems and allows the prussic acid to evaporate, he said. But don’t turn the cattle back into the pasture after baling because the regrowth is deadly.

White County has about 50,000 beef cattle, Haller said. At least that was the number before the drought.

The first cutting of hay produced about half as much as normal, he said. Now many ranchers are selling their herds because they don’t have enough hay to feed them.

“We’re in a really serious situation,” he said.

“People need to get a plan and figure out what they’re going to do. We don’t know when we’ll get rain again. If you haven’t started looking for hay, you need to do that ASAP or find some sort of commodity feed (by-products of farm crops),” he said before Friday evening’s rain in part of the state.

Haller said some farmers and ranchers are low on hay not only because of low production this year but because they sold their extra hay last year to Texas ranchers who were trying to survive the drought there.

How do you know when cattle have been poisoned by prussic acid?

Symptoms such as anxiety, labored breathing and weakness appear minutes after ingestion and death usually follows within an hour. So there really is no cure, only prevention, he said.

The poison is also found in the wilted leaves of wild cherry trees, such as those found on a limb knocked down by wind or farm equipment.

Horses and pigs are less affected by the poison, but goats and sheep are at risk the same as cattle.

Tom Troxel, associate head of animal science for the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, offered these suggestions in a recent news release for keeping cattle safe when feeding sorghums and johnsongrass during the drought and after frost:

 Do not allow animals to graze fields with succulent, young, short growth. Graze only after plants reach a height of more than 18 to 24 inches.

 Do not graze on drought-damaged plants in any form, regardless of height, within four days following a good rain. It is during this period of rapid growth that the accumulation of hydrocyanic acid in the young tissue and of nitrates in the stems is most likely to occur.

 Do not graze on wilted plants or plants with young regrowth. Do not rely on drought-damaged material as the only source of feed. Keep either dry forage or green chop from other crops available at all times. Uneven growth as a result of drought can best be utilized as silage or hay.

 Do not use frost-damaged sorghum as pasture or green chop during the first seven days after the first killing frost. Delay pasturing for at least seven days or until the frosted material is completely dried out and brown colored. Do not rely on frosted material as the only source of feed. Do not graze at night when frost is likely.

 Do not turn hungry cattle onto a pasture of sorghum, sorghum-sudan hybrid or johnsongrass. Fill them up on hay or other forage first and begin grazing in the late afternoon.

An option for using potentially toxic forage is to harvest it as hay or silage. Prussic acid levels decline in stored forages. Well-cured hay is safe to feed. If forage likely to have high prussic acid is ensiled, it is usually safe to feed three weeks after silo fill.

In addition to prussic acid, the drought has also increased the risk of nitrate poisoning from fertilizers in plants that have stopped growing because of lack of rain. Harmful levels have also been found in corn stalks that some farmers are using as feed because the pastures are dead, the extension service warns.

Another potential problem is the encroachment of poisonous weeds into hay fields. Fertilizer and herbicide usually keep the poisonous weeds out but Troxel said producers have cut back on those applications, allowing poisonous plants such as perilla mint and hemp dogbane to get a foothold.

“Plants such as perilla mint and hemp dogbane remain poisonous even in dry hay and can cause livestock poisoning when the hay is fed later in winter,” he said.

The drought also affects cropland where poisonous plants such as coffee senna, sesbania and sicklepod are found. Troxel warns that animals could be poisoned by eating hay made from drought damaged row crops if those crops are infested with the weeds.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

TOP STORY >> She volunteers to help others

Leader staff writer

For 27 years, Francis Burnett of Jacksonville has “done a lot” for the North Metro Medical Center Auxiliary.

“I had a lot of help along the way,” she said while describing her life with a humility characteristic of older generations.

Burnett said the support she needs has come from God, her family and her friends.

The Lonoke County native was in her early 20s when a car accident in 1947 left her with a broken back.

Since then, Burnett has been wheelchair-bound.

But that hasn’t stopped her from leaving benevolent footprints in the lives of others.

Burnett’s mother passed away in 1985 and she needed a way to cope with the loss.

“I just had to—it just bothered me so bad and everything, and I said, ‘Well, I’ve just got to do something,’” Burnett explained.

That something was volunteering for the auxiliary.

Burnett continued, “So what I did, I just prayed about it and you know it just came to me to go over to the hospital. Now I know it looked kind of funny. Some of them looked at me like they thought, What in the world could she do? At that time, I was driving a cart with hand controls and I just had a mobile chair.”

What she could do — and did do — was spread joy to patients by delivering newspapers and selling things to them in their rooms at the rehabilitation center.

Burnett said, “I am strictly rehab-connected. I was in rehab a lot. I did a lot back there. Back in those days, we had a cart with goodies on it you could take to the rooms and let people buy something if they wanted it. I’d push that cart around. I could do a whole lot with my little chair. And I just enjoyed every minute of it.”

She smiled as she remembered the auxiliary’s bake sales and playing bingo with patients.

“The patients there really used to enjoy (bingo). I think some of the people got tired of me coming around because I had a cart going around asking for prizes. We had a good time,” Burnett said with a soft laugh.

She is still volunteering and plans to continue, “as long as I can.”

But now Burnett volunteers from her apartment at the Jacksonville Towers by making phone calls for auxiliary.

Burnett said, “I do a whole bunch of their calling. About 25 or 30, I guess, at a time when they’re going to have a special meeting or something. Like if a death comes up and they are to go and maybe wear their red jackets.

“You know I’ll call them and be sure to remind them to wear their jacket at the funeral,” Burnett pointed out.

She remembers when the hospital opened as Rebsamen in 1962. The name was changed to Rebsamen Medical Center and then the hospital was renamed North Metro a few years ago.

Louisiana-based Allegiance Health Management Group, which has managed North Metro for the past three years, officially purchased the hospital from the city in April.

Jodi Love was hired last month to take over for Jay Quebedeaux, who had been the hospital’s CEO since February of 2011.

Love has lived in Arkansas for more than two decades and has ties to Little Rock Air Force Base.

Quebedeaux transferred to a CEO position with another Allegiance-owned facility in Louisiana, where he was born.

Burnett praised the facility.

“When it started out, it just wasn’t big like it is now. There have been a lot of improvement made over the years. I think they’re improving all the time,” she said.

“North Metro Home Health can hold their place with anybody. They are good. I just love ’em. That’s a good bunch of people,” Burnett said.

She moved from Lonoke County to Jacksonville in 1944 and her father worked at the ordnance plant.

“When we moved here there wasn’t very much going on. But then the ordnance plant came in and then (Little Rock Air Force) base came in. That started making things perk up, getting more things,” Burnett said.

She worked at Franklin Electric in Jacksonville for 20 years.

Burnett has one daughter, who lives in Cabot and is in her late 60s.

She has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Burnett said her family has been very supportive. Her daughter was two years old when Burnett broke her back in the car accident.

She said all them know how to handle a wheelchair and they help her a lot.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke wins 16-year-old state crown

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Banking Center 16-under Babe Ruth team’s road to the 16-year-old state championship game wasn’t without drama.

Lonoke came out of the loser’s bracket to edge Pine Bluff 9-8 in eight innings on Monday to force another game in the finals of the double-elimination tournament. The team then came from behind in the final inning of the winner-take-all game to win 6-4 and claim the state championship.

Lonoke, who hosted the tournament, won a close 4-3 game against Camden in the first round of the double elimination tournament, and then lost a hard fought 10-inning battle to the Pine Bluff Angels 11-8 in the second round.

Facing elimination after the tough loss, Lonoke dominated the same Camden team 11-1 to advance to the championship game, but had to beat the Angels twice in order to claim the state championship.

Both games were just as close as the first between the two evenly-matched teams.

“They never think they’re out of it,” said Lonoke coach Roy Don Lewis of his team after he was given the unexpected, yet traditional Gatorade shower. “They always come up with the timely hit, and they think they’re going to win every time they hit the field. It’s a good group of kids we have here.”

Lonoke struggled early at the plate as Angels pitcher Cameron Banks appeared to be unhittable. Banks retired the first 10 batters he faced, and the Angels scored a run in the third inning to take the game’s first lead.

However, the wear and tear of the grueling tournament caught up with Banks in the fourth inning as the next four Lonoke batters reached base without making contact. Three were walked and three-hole hitter Deron Ricks was hit in the back with a fastball.

With one out in the inning, Austin Reed scored Lonoke’s first run from third base on a passed ball at home with the bases loaded. Ricks scored the second run for Lonoke on another passed ball at the plate just a couple of pitches later.

Pine Bluff added its second run of the game its next at bat in the fourth inning to tie the score at two apiece. In the top of the fifth, Lonoke centerfielder Jaylin Hollaway scored on a passed ball at home after walking earlier in the inning to give Lonoke a 3-2 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth, Pine Bluff retook the lead after scoring two more runs, this time on consecutive passed balls at home plate by Lonoke.

Both teams went scoreless in the sixth inning and Lonoke, down 4-3, suddenly found itself three outs away from losing another close one.

Lonoke’s Jacob Gordon came to the plate with one out in the top of the seventh, with the bases empty, and hit a clutch stand-up double in the left-field gap to give Lonoke some hope. With Triston Sullivan at the plate, Gordon advanced to third on a passed ball, and with two strikes, Sullivan hit an RBI-single down the third baseline to drive in Gordon for the tying run. Leadoff hitter Gage Johnson drove in the go-ahead run for Lonoke with a double to deep left-center field. Sullivan scored all the way from first on the play to give Lonoke a 5-4 lead. Johnson scored two batters later when Ricks hit a high fly ball just outside the infield in right-center.

Johnson was running with two outs in the inning, and the second baseman lost sight of the fly ball and it dropped behind him. Ricks was safe on the play and Johnson crossed home plate to set the final margin.

Lonoke got the win despite totaling just four hits in the game. Josh Mathis was stellar on the mound in the winning effort, striking out eight batters while giving up just one walk in the complete game performance. According to Lewis, Mathis’ gumption and competitive spirit was just as impressive as his performance, something he feels the team as a whole possesses.

“Today at one o’clock I got a text from Josh (Mathis),” Lewis said. “He said, ‘coach I’ve been icing my arm, I took some ibuprofen, my arm feels great. I’m good as new.’ He asked me who I was going to start tonight. I told him ‘I didn’t know yet.’ He said, ‘I’m ready. I’m the man. I want it.’ That’s the kind of team this is. They want the ball.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers top Rams, Little Rock

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Senior American Legion team won two games over the weekend. On Friday, the Panthers beat Little Rock Express 8-4 at home then went on the road to hammer Hot Springs Lakeside 11-3 on Sunday.

Cabot piled up 13 base hits in Sunday’s road win. Lakeside hung around for five innings, but Cabot blew it open in the sixth.

The Panthers scored two runs in the second inning and one in the third, and Lakeside scored two in the bottom of the fifth to make it 3-2 after five. But the Centennial Bank squad scored six runs in the sixth inning to assume command of the game.

Ryan Logan held the Rams in check for four innings before giving up three hits and two runs in the fifth. Cabot coach Craig Nyborg sent Kyle Kaufman to the mound with one out in the fifth, and he recorded the last two outs with no more damage done.

Working with a big lead for the last two innings, Kaufman got the save with little trouble.

Bryson Morris, Tyler Wilkie, Justin Goff and Dustin Morris each had two base hits. Bryson Morris, Casey Vaughan, Tristan Bulice and Dustin Morris all drove in two runs in the win. Cabot drew seven walks and five times batters reached by getting hit by a pitch. Logan was hit three times batting in the eight hole.

Bo Ritter was the only Ram with two base hits or more as Logan and Kaufman held the host team to just six total base hits.

Dustin Morris got the win on the mound in five innings of work against Little Rock Express. He gave up just five hits and two earned runs while walking three and striking out nine Express batters.

Vaughan inherited an 8-2 when he took the mound in the sixth. He shut Express down in the sixth inning but ran into a little trouble in the seventh, giving up two runs but still pitched well enough to earn the save.

It was another good night at the plate for the Panthers, who racked up 13 base hits on Friday as well.

Six players got two base hits each, including Bryson Morris, Vaughan, Bulice, Tyler Carter, Goff and Wilkie. Logan got the other base hit for Cabot.

Bryson Morris, Carter and Goff each drove in two runs as the team broke above .500 for the first time this season. After starting the season 0-6, Cabot now stands at 11-10 and has won four-straight games.

The Panthers faced Bryant last night and will take the rest of the week off. Their next game will be a home doubleheader against Pine Bluff Simmons at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

SPORTS STORY >> Bruins overcome Gwatney

Leader sportswriter

Gwatney Chevrolet jumped out to a comfortable lead early against Sylvan Hills in the final game of the Jacksonville American Legion Classic tournament, but the Bruins rallied late and took over the game in the sixth inning on their way to an 8-5 win Sunday at Jacksonville’s Dupree Park.

Errors plagued the Bruins in the first inning, as three infield miscues and a timely hit led to a quick 4-0 lead for Jacksonville. Clean-up hitter Austin Allen drove in the first run for Gwatney with an RBI-double down the left baseline that allowed Alex Tucker to score with ease after he reached base earlier in the inning on a fielder’s choice at second base.

Catcher Greg Jones followed with a hard-hit grounder to shortstop, but the routine throw to first was off the mark and Jesse Harbin scored the second run for Gwatney as a result.

James McCranie then came to the plate and hit another grounder to the same spot, and once again the throw was off, this time in the dirt.

First baseman Robert Brock was unable to make the difficult pick-play, and Allen was able to score on the passed ball at first. Jones scored Jacksonville’s fourth run of the inning on a sacrifice fly to right field from Blake Perry.

The next two innings were scoreless, but Jacksonville added another run in the top of the fourth when Arvie Crudup scored from third base on a passed ball at home. Trailing 5-0 midway through the fourth inning, Sylvan Hills finally found some offense and scored four runs to cut Gwatney’s lead to one.

Hunter Heslep started things off for the Bruins with an RBI-single to right-center field that sent Connor Eller across home plate for Sylvan Hills’ first run of the game. Heslep scored the second run for the Bruins on a balk with the bases loaded and two outs.

Right fielder J.D. Miller then reached base on an E5.

The ground ball was fielded cleanly, but the throw to first was off and runs three and four scored as a result.

After a rough first inning where Sylvan Hills found itself in a hole, Bruins coach Matthew Presson was happy to see the way the team rallied its way back into the game.

“We wanted to keep them positive after that first inning,” said Presson of the Bruins. “We wanted them to forget about that and start over, and just keep working hard and doing what they had to do.”

The fifth inning was scoreless, but in the sixth, Sylvan Hills took its first lead of the game with another four-run inning. With one out and two runners on base, Miller singled up the middle and drove in both runners to give the Bruins a one-run lead.

Pitcher Lance Hunter then walked, and two batters later, Connor Eller walked with the bases loaded. Miller scored on Eller’s walk and Hunter scored the final run of the game from third base on a ground ball by Blake Holmes.

Hunter picked up the win for Sylvan Hills after a one-two-three inning in the top of the seventh. Hunter struck out three and walked just one batter in the complete game performance.

“Pitching-wise Lance (Hunter) pitched a great game,” Presson said. “In that first inning he threw around five or six outs. After that the defense picked him up and made plays. Then we came back with the bats and did what we needed to do.”

Conway won the pool-style tournament as the only team to go unbeaten (3-0). Sylvan Hills finished second (2-1), Sheridan third (2-1), Jacksonville fourth (1-2), Benton fifth (1-2) and Pine Bluff sixth (0-3). Miller was the only player on either team with multiple hits, with two singles and two RBI’s.

SPORTS STORY >> Juniors win one, lose one Monday

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Junior Team 1 American Legion team finished the regular season with a doubleheader split Monday at home against Lake Hamilton. Cabot beat Lake Hamilton’s junior team 5-4 then fell 6-5 to Lake Hamilton’s AA team Monday night at Cabot City Park.

The games’ results leaves the Cabot junior team with an overall season record of 19-13 heading into the junior zone tournament that begins Thursday at Vince De Salvo Stadium at Burns Park in North Little Rock.

In game one, the Centennial Bank team went up 3-0 in the bottom of the first inning only to see the entire lead vanish in the top of the third. Tristan Bulice put Cabot back in front in the bottom of the third with a solo home run, and Lake Hamilton tied it again in the top of the fourth before Cabot got the win with a run in the bottom of the same inning.

Dylan Bowers faced all but one Lake Hamilton batter, giving up six hits and two earned runs in his time in the mound.

Austin Nell got the final out for the save.

Cabot fell behind 6-1 in game two before rallying late and nearly tying the game in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Centennial Bank team scored three runs in the sixth inning to make it 6-4, then another with one out in the seventh before falling just short.

In the sixth inning, Bulice doubled to left field with one out, it was the sixth base hit in seven at bats for the Cabot catcher. He then scored on an error at shortstop off the bat of Jonathan Latture.

Kyle Kaufman then put down a bunt single that also scored Latture. He then scored on a double steal.

In the seventh inning, Adam Hicks walked and Knudsen singled to right field. Both base runners advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch with Bulice at the plate. Bulice then singled to right field to score Hicks. Knudsen also attempted to advance, but was thrown out at home plate.

Latture then popped up to the pitcher for the third out to end the ball game.

“It’s starting to come around,” Cabot coach Chris Gross said. “Tristan Bulice is just killing it. We’re starting to get some good pitching. Hopefully we’ll keep putting things together in the zone tournament.”

Knudsen started on the mound and pitched two-and-a-third innings. The senior Wolves got seven hits and five earned runs in that time before Knudsen yielded to Gavin Tillery. Lake Hamilton got one run off Tillery, but not much else. In his four-and-two-thirds innings pitched, he gave up six hits while striking out eight and walking none.

On Saturday, Cabot crushed North Little Rock 16-0.

Hicks got the shutout facing just two more batters than the minimum for five innings. He gave up one hit, struck out five and walked none.

Bulice got another home run in that win. He, Dalten Hurst and Nell each drove in two runs while Bulice and Hurst got two hits apiece. Hurst went 2 for 4, walked twice and scored four runs.

SPORTS STORY >> A coach’s prime example

Leader sports editor

High school coaches in every sport see all kinds of athletes come and go. Every now and then a certain type of player comes along who coaches hate to see go. Players, average and even exceptional ones, can be and are replaced. But an attitude, an approach, a work ethic that certain players bring can’t be replaced. That’s what Jacksonville baseball coaches are going to miss about Jesse Harbin.

Harbin has been a full-time starter for the Jacksonville Red Devils since his sophomore year, and he was a part-time starter a year before that. He’s also been the pitching ace for the Red Devils and the Gwatney Chevrolet American Legion team for the past two years. His work ethic isn’t his only quality though. He does have talent, enough to garner a Division I scholarship to play for UALR. But it’s his work ethic and competitiveness that coaches glow about.

Gwatney head coach Bob Hickingbotham loves his work ethic. Red Devils coach Larry Burrows loves his competitiveness.

Hickingbotham said, “Jesse is the hardest working player I’ve had in a long time. He doesn’t ever say a word or complain about what you’re doing. If you need him on the mound he says ‘I’m ready to go coach.’ If I say I need you to do this or that, he says ‘I’m ready to go coach.’

Burrows says there were times in practice when he’d have to put the spurs to him, but he always responded.

“It was kind of a running joke,” Burrows said. “To go up to him and say OK Jesse, let’s turn it on now. When it was time to turn it on, he could turn it on. Most guys can’t do that, turn it on and off like that. He could. When the lights came on he was going to compete, and he was going to compete hard.”

Harbin hit cleanup for the Red Devils’ 2011 state championship team. He was one of two juniors, along with recently drafted D’Vone McClure, to start along with seven seniors. The team’s best hitter that season was Patrick Castleberry, who Burrows moved to the three hole because teams were pitching around him. Burrows explains putting the junior Harbin, who had a lower batting average than some teammates, behind the best hitter.

“All three of us coaches talked about who to put behind Castleberry,” Burrows said. “Maybe we shouldn’t have put him there because his average wasn’t as high as some of the others, but it was unanimous we felt like Jesse was going to compete harder than anybody.”

It paid huge dividends in the state championship game, when Harbin’s two-RBI double sent the game against heavily favored Searcy into extra innings.

Harbin says his work ethic comes naturally from different sources. He loves to play baseball, and his family has instilled a habit of setting goals and working to reach them.

“That’s the way we’ve always been,” Harbin said of his family.

Jesse Lind Harbin is the son of Robert Harbin Sr. and Mary Jo Harbin. He has two older siblings, Robert Jr. and Amber, who are more than a decade older than him..

“I was a surprise,” Jesse said, explaining the large age difference between himself and his siblings.

His approach to the game that his coaches love is something that came easy for him.

“I’ve always done that.” Harbin said. “I just want to get better than I am right now.”

After winning the high-school state title, that same group tore through the American Legion regular season before going out with a whimper in the first round of the zone tournament. Harbin watched as his teammates wore out towards the end of the summer, but says he’s never experienced that personally.

“I love it too much,” Harbin said. “If you don’t love it, it gets hard and it’s really easy for a player to get burned out. But I’ve never had that problem. There’s not a time when I get tired of it, not ever.”

Harbin initially signed with Arkansas Baptist Junior College when none of the larger schools that had been recruiting him came through with a scholarship offer. Shortly after signing with Baptist, UALR coach Scott Norwood decided to get Harbin aboard. There was no ceremony. The school sent the NCAA Letter of Intent to Harbin in the mail, and he signed it at home three weeks ago.

Despite the lack of fanfare in becoming Jacksonville’s second DI baseball signee this season, Harbin is glad to get the opportunity to play for the Trojans.

“It’s DI so I’m very excited,” Harbin said.

The Trojans were a good hitting team last season but struggled on the mound. That’s where Harbin hopes to fit in.

“I’m a good pitcher and a good fielder,” Harbin said. “I think I can contribute in those two areas. I’m not a real strong hitter but I’m pretty good and that’s going to come around. I’m definitely going to work hard at it.”

Harbin, along with McClure, saw a drastic role change on the Red Devils from their junior to senior seasons. After the seven starting seniors left, those two were the only returning starters. Things were tough on Harbin early. He lost several games on the mound despite giving very few earned runs.

“The difference between runs and earned runs were pretty bad early on,” Burrows said. “Jesse handled that really well. Him and Plucky (McClure) both did. Whenever he felt like he needed to say something to one of the younger ones, whether it was positive or negative, he went and said it. He helped keep us together when we went through a few losing streaks. Both of those guys did that really well. It could’ve gone south from there and could’ve got really bad. But those two really helped keep us together and we ended up being a little bit better I think than we were probably expecting.”

Burrows saw Harbin grow into that leader in four years of coaching him.

“Coach (Jeremiah) Clennon works hard with them on that,” Burrows said. “That’s self discipline, and he’s going to need that just in life. He wasn’t always real great at it, but most of them aren’t when they come in. Some of them learn it and some of them don’t, but Jesse learned and became a great leader for a real inexperienced team.”

Hickingbotham notices it, too.

“He works so hard, and there are times when we’re not hustling and it hurts him,” Hickingbotham said. “He don’t say anything except Come guys lets get it together, let’s get it going.”

Part of that patience comes from another rare ability that Burrows explains well.

“He can move to the next pitch,” Burrows said. “He can give up a big hit in a big game, then come back and strike out the next two. Those things don’t bother him because he’s a competitor, and he believes he can get the next guy out.”

Harbin doesn’t know yet what field of study he wants to pursue in college, but he does want to play professional baseball.

“Of course I do,” Harbin said. “Everybody kid wants to play pro ball. You just got to work hard at it.”

Just how much Harbin has meant to Burrow’s and Hickingbotham’s programs came through when they were asked to summarize No. 14.

“I don’t know anything about him except that he’s outstanding in my book,” said Hickingbotham.

“He gets it,” Burrows said. “He understands. I don’t know how to explain it but you need that type of guy just as much in practice as in a game. He makes things fun and can explain to younger guys. He did a lot for our program. I’m definitely going to miss 14.”

EDITORIAL >> Where were the crowds?

The Jacksonville Patriotic Spectacular on Sunday — an evening under the stars with free entertainment, face painting, miniature American flags and glow sticks — it’s all free, but the crowd was dismal.

Jacksonville’s population is around 30,000, and about 29,600 residents didn’t make the event.

All those people missed a good show, maybe not the best, but a good show well worth the price, which cost nothing.

Granted, the fireworks were canceled because of the dry weather conditions, but there was still the outstanding Gloryland Youth Choir from North Little Rock, up-and-coming country singer Candy Coburn and the iconic Marshall Tucker Band.

Everyone was there for an evening of fun, family, fellowship and celebrating freedom—everyone, except Jacksonville.

While Coburn was rockin’ and rollin’ with tunes from Johnny Cash, Eddie Rabbitt and songs from her newest album, the small crowd was embarrassing. Thank goodness it improved to dismal by the time the Marshall Tucker Band took the stage.

Sure it was hot, but at 95 degrees and dropping, it was cooler than the past few days and cooler than last year. A slight breeze floated through the football field frequently enough to make it comfortable. It was a cool 89 degrees by the time the Marshall Tucker Band started. The mosquitoes were almost nonexistent and the concession prices reasonable.

So Jacksonville, why weren’t you there?

One of the main reasons there is no Wing Ding Festival this year in Jacksonville is that the hard work of volunteers was not worth it because so few people attended. The same seems to be true for the Patriotic Spectacular — a lot of hard work for a small reward.

It would not be surprising if the spectacular goes the way of the dodo bird because people didn’t come out.

Sure you may not be a Marshall Tucker fan or maybe they aren’t as good as they were back in the 1970s, but it was a free, fun night to connect with family and friends and salute those who serve, which is a very large portion of the city’s population.

In 1987, when The Leader began publishing, there was not just one annual festival in the city, but two, and Jeannie C. Riley performed at a fundraiser for the Fraternal Order of Police. All had good turnouts.

But not anymore, it seems.

If residents don’t participate in these local events, Jacksonville will become the only town in the area without any local gatherings: No festivals, no concerts and no spectaculars.

Cabot has two festivals and a Fourth of July event. Beebe has a festival and a Fourth of July celebration and so does Ward.

Sherwood has an annual festival and a Fourth of July festival, and its Fourth of July program will go on this year without fireworks and without name entertainment but will probably have a bigger crowd than what showed up for Jacksonville’s free Patriotic Spectacular.

So, why weren’t residents at the Patriotic Spectacular?

Again, the excuse will be that the entertainment wasn’t good enough — by the way, those who were there will tell you the entertainment was very good — but it will never improve if attendance doesn’t increase. Much of the entertainment money comes from a grant from the city’s advertising and promotion commission, whose job is to promote events that bring people into the city. If crowds don’t come out for the spectacular and other events, the money will go elsewhere.

It was disappointing that the fireworks were cancelled, but as enjoyable as fireworks are that didn’t cause throngs of people to stay home. What gives?

For Jacksonville to grow, its residents must participate. Without crowds at free events, how can the city get investors to pour millions into a regional fairground or an events center on 440 acres of land as the city is planning?

Jacksonville, you must do better.

TOP STORY >> Newspaper wins top state honors

For the fifth year in a row, The Leader has been named the best large weekly in the state by the Arkansas Press Association.

The paper received more than 20 honors, including 11 first-place awards for its coverage, reporting, writing, photography and design.

The awards were announced at a luncheon Saturday in Little Rock concluding the press association’s annual convention.

The 11 first-place wins, including best news story, were the most any newspaper in any category received from the APA.

Staff photographer David Scolli led the charge with three first-place wins.

He took first in the single news photograph category with his “Memorial Day: Remember the Fallen” photo. He also took honorable mention with his “Snow Day” photo.

He took first in the single feature photograph category with his Fourth of July photo of kids burying a playmate in sand. Judges said they loved the angle and composition. They called it a “nice photo.”

Scolli’s third blue-ribbon win came in the picture page/photo essay category with his photo-page essay of “Scenes from 5A Championship.” He also took third with his state decathlon page.

Publisher Garrick Feldman grabbed a first- and third-place award in the contest.

Feldman took first in news and political column writing with “State won’t rescue cities.”

The judges, from the Kentucky Press Association, said it was an “excellent column explaining an important topic, and it was well written.” Feldman also took third in editorial writing with his “Bribe plotters should resign.”

Staff writer Joan McCoy took top honors in the news story category with her article “Lottery winner in $2M drug bust.” She also won second place for investigative reporting.

Staff writer Rick Kron took first place in headline writing for “Gunfire ordinance loaded with blanks.” He also received an honorable mention in the investigative reporting category for his series on the North Belt hitting a dead end.

Sports writer Jason King took first in sports news writing with his article “Bears set for prime time.” The judges said King “took a chance on a creative lead and it worked.”

King also took third place in sports column writing with “Like Mike, we savor big dance” about The Leader’s graphic artist Mike Kwangkeow’s love of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Sports editor Ray Benton and creative editor Christy Hendricks took top honors for best sports page. Judges rated it as the “best balanced layout” they had seen. The page had a variety of stories, good leads and the judges liked the “in- short synopsis of each story.”

Benton won honorable mention for sports feature writing with his article “Exemplifying the spirit” about a talented American Legion pitcher who has a deformed arm.

Staff writer and photographer Jeffrey Smith took top honors for his coverage of business and agriculture with his story “Farm-raised catfish may be thing of the past” about rising costs threatening the industry.

Smith, along with McCoy, Hendricks and Sarah Campbell garnered a top award for their coverage of tourism that focused on events at the Reed’s Bridge Civil War battlefield site in Jacksonville.

Reporter Stephen Steed took first and second in the freelance-writing category with his articles “Woman awarded $2.5M in verdict” and “State fair move seems doomed.”

Judges, writing about Steed’s first-place article, said the “story captured the underlying outrage of a company taking advantage of a cancer patient’s hope for a cure.”

Feldman, Kron, Smith and John Hofheimer took second for their education coverage of the struggles of the Pulaski County Special School District and Little Rock Air Force Base’s dissatisfaction with the district.

The Leader also took second in the best special issue category with its flood coverage and placed third for best front page. Judges called the flood coverage “effective, comprehensive and helpful to the community.”

TOP STORY >> Musical salute to America

Leader staff writer

“Jamming with the MTB (Marshall Tucker Band)! What a night! I love my job!!” country singer Candy Coburn tweeted to her Facebook page shortly after her performance at the Patriotic Spectacular on Sunday night.

She said she loved returning to Jacksonville for the second year in a row. Even though the crowd was small, it was enthusiastic and enjoyed singing along with Coburn and the Marshall Tucker Band on a number of songs, including “Can’t You See.”

Held at Jan Crow Stadium at Jacksonville High School on Sunday evening, the annual event featured the Gloryland Youth Choir, Coburn, three veteran motorcycle groups, a salute to past and present military members and the Marshall Tucker Band.

The only thing missing was fireworks.

Mayor Gary Fletcher apologized to the crowd of about 400 — event organizers counted 1,200 all through the night, including band members, press and security — but said it was the right decision to make because of the hot weather and dangerous fire conditions.

Pastor Cedric Hayes and about two dozen members of his famous Gloryland Youth Choir from North Little Rock opened the spectacular with a number of faith-based songs and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Between performances by Coburn and the Marshall Tucker Band, members of the Rolling Thunder, Patriot Guard and combat veterans motorcycle groups helped honor area veterans.

In a switch this year, event officials asked members of each branch of service to come forward to take their branch flag from the motorcycle guard and walk on stage when their service song was played.

Volunteers jumped up for every branch except the Coast Guard. Officials picked a young boy to stand in for that group, and he did it proudly.

The motorcycle groups motored in the flags after the choir finished up. As they were circling around the track with the flags, five-year-old Charles Vanderhorst asked his dad if the motorcycles were racing.

After the posting of the colors and a special salute to POWs by the motorcycle clubs, Fletcher took the stage to welcome the crowd and to apologize for canceling fireworks. No one booed, and some even applauded his decision.

Soon after, Coburn took the stage for about 40 minute with her brand of rockin’ Texas flavored songs.

She took a break after her second song to sip some water and said,

“I’m so glad it’s not as hot as last year and this year I’ve even got air on the bus,” she said even though her generator went out earlier in the day.

Coburn grew up in Dexter, Mo., with event coordinator Angie Mitchell’s family.

“I went to high school with Angie’s brother and we all went to the same church,” Coburn explained.

It was that friendship that got the singer to Jacksonville last year and she enjoyed it so much that she came back this year.

Between songs Coburn coaxed the audience to leave the stands and come up close to the stage, then she went down the stage steps to interact with the crowd.

Coburn, who is best known for “Pink Warrior,” the anthem for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, saluted Janis Joplin with a rousing version of “Me and Bobby McGee.” She also sang a new gospel-themed song “Rolling stones, which she told the audience was “hot off the skillet.”

She told everyone that this fall she was beginning a nationwide tour saluting military men and women and that she considered her stop in Jacksonville to be the kickoff for that tour.

She also sang “Coming Home,” a poignant song about the sacrifices made by veterans and others.

Alyssa Christian, 15 of Jacksonville had a great seat for Coburn’s performance. She was on the grass just feet from the stage leaning back on her backpack. She said Coburn was really great.

In one of her songs, Coburn came right up to Mya Taylor, 10, of Jacksonville, who was on the grass closest to the stage.

Taylor enjoyed it so much that she went to talk to Coburn afterward and have her picture taken.

She asked to go on the bus, but Coburn said without the generator there were no lights to see anything and told her maybe next time.

Taylor was excited about the Marshall Tucker Band, which was setting up as she talked to Coburn, but admitted she had no idea who they were.

But two young girls —Devyn Greb, 9, and Mackenzie Featherson, 8, both from Jacksonville — will always remember the Marshall Tucker Band because they were invited up on stage at different times to play tambourine with founder and lead singer Doug Gray. Gray let both girls keep the tambourines he had given them.

Greb got to sing parts of “Can’t You See” with Gray even though he had to whisper the words in her ear.

Two days later, as Featherston’s family was driving in the car, she still had her tambourine, playing it, singing what words she could remember and saying she wanted to tell all her friends she was on stage with legends.

The Marshall Tucker Band took the stage at 9 p.m. and Gray immediately said, “I know you all were told to stay a certain distance away from the stage but we want you right on up here on the steps nice and close. Now relax, let’s have a good time and we’ll keep you up as long as you want.”

The band played for about 90 minutes touching on all their major hits and threw in some blues and country along the way.

In many of its songs, the band featured flutist and saxophone player Marcus Henderson and guitarist Chris Hicks.

Grey got Coburn back up on stage to jam with them on “Can’t You See” and had the crowd enthusiastically joining in too.

The band ended the night with probably their best-known hit, “Heard It In a Love Song,” and even though the crowd was small they clearly showed that they loved the band’s performance and the band responded with an encore.

TOP STORY >> Fireworks are fizzling in sizzling heat wave

Leader staff writer

Three fireworks shows have been canceled because of dry, arid conditions and fireworks vendors are having one of their worst years in recent history.

But Cabot, Beebe, Lonoke, Ward and McRae are still planning on having their firework shows, but are taking extra precautions.

Sherwood officials made the decision a week ago to cancel their fireworks display, but their other Fourth of July activities will continue. “We are about safety first,” event coordinator Amy Jackson said.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher made a decision Saturday morning to pull fireworks from Sunday’s Patriotic Spectacular and the Pennpointe subdivision’s Fourth of July celebration.

Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin issued a fireworks ban Tuesday morning for all the unincorporated areas of Lonoke County.

Erwin said the ban was necessary to avoid endangering lives and property during the drought. The ban does not apply to cities and towns in Lonoke County, but Cabot and Lonoke do not allow fireworks use in their cities.

The Patriotic Spectacular still went forward with the rest its activities and entertainment.

Fletcher said he felt like Brett Favre throwing a deep pass at the end of the game. “If I let the fireworks shows go on and nothing happened, I’d be a hero. But if something caught fire it would be the opposite,” he said, adding, “It’s hard to say go ahead when we are telling everyone else not to shoot fireworks. We are trying to teach responsible and canceling the fireworks was the right thing to do.”

Angie Mitchell, the event coordinator for the Patriotic Spectacular, agreed. “I had absolutely no problem with the mayor’s decision.”

She said the football field grass had been watered pretty heavily, but if anything fell outside of the field it could have caused problems. “You can just see how brown and dry everything is,” Mitchell explained.

The Jacksonville Fire Department has already responded to two fires related to the heat, and fireworks may have caused both.

Hundreds of acres of brushy land around the site Jacksonville proposed for the state fairgrounds burned Sunday. The exact cause is still being determined, but fire officials say the dry brush was sparked by something like fireworks or a tossed cigarette.

Across the state, the Arkansas Forestry Com-mission worked 63 fires over the weekend and had its worse June since 1952, responding to 324 fires, which burned more than 4,800 acres.

Last week, firefighters responded to a house on Spring Street where the front door caught fire from being struck with fireworks. The fire was quickly put out and damage was minimal. The blaze happened while firefighters battled a house fire in the Jamestown subdivision caused by a grill fire getting out-of-hand and caused moderate damage to the home according to the fire marshal.

Jacksonville police have had 19 fireworks calls since June 24, but have made no arrests or written any citations. Police Capt. Kenny Boyd said, “We respond, but don’t see anyone when we get there. But we are taking a zero tolerance approach because of the fire hazard. I think most people understand how dangerous the fire situation is.”

Sherwood police and fire officials said they haven’t had a problem with fireworks yet.

Four fireworks stands between Cabot and Jackson-ville sat mostly empty of customers late Tuesday.

Larry and Amanda Cross of Cabot were operators of one stand.

“It’s our second year and you can definitely say it’s our worst year,” said Amanda Cross, who works as a school counselor. “Luckily, we are just the operators, which means we do not lose any money. We share in the profits, if any this year.”

Her husband, who is in sales, optimistically said, “It could always be worse.” Even though sales are down tremendously, both said they do enjoy meeting the people that do stop in. “We are also praying for all the farmers and firefighters right now,” Amanda Cross said.

Things are tighter for the fireworks operator across the street. He’s a general contractor from St. Louis who came down here to make some money because construction is slow this time of the year. Now he’s not sure which is slower, construction or fireworks sales.

Temperatures are forecasted to run between 98 and 102 degrees on July Fourth and remain near or above triple digits the rest of the week. There is a slight chance of showers over the weekend.

Here is a roundup of area Fourth of July activities:


Sherwood’s 13th annual Fourth of July Family Celebration will be at 
Sherwood Forest, 1111 W. Maryland Ave. at 
6 p.m. Admission is free.

Jackson said there would be free hot dogs and water (while supplies last)
. There will also be food vendors with additional items for sale.

Outside entertainment includes Janet, Denise and Bruce and Touch O’Grey. Inside entertainment includes Top of the Rock Chorus and Cornerstone PraiSinger.

There will be free shuttle service from Sylvan Hills High School.

Beside no fireworks, no pets, skateboards, bikes or coolers will be allowed, Jackson added. 

Again, there will be no fireworks show because of the weather conditions.


Eddie Long, Cabot’s director of operations, said city officials had meetings with county officials and the state fire marshal and will go ahead with their fireworks show, which is part of a Fourth of July program sponsored by Mt. Carmel Church.

Cook said the activities are going to start later this year and that should help with the heat. Activities start at 7:30 p.m. and the fireworks show will be around 9.

“The fire department will have a very large presence at the show this year to be on the safe side,” Cook said.


Lonoke’s fireworks show is part of Freedomfest sponsored by the Lonoke ballpark. This is the first year for Freedomfest and there will be barbecue, music and games as well as a professional fireworks show. Activities will run from 3 to 9:30 p.m.


Beebe’s annual fireworks show starts at 6:30 p.m. at the city hall complex. Besides fireworks, there will be family activities, an Elvis impersonator and a performance by Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers.


Ward’s annual Fourth of July picnic and fireworks show will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the city’s sports complex.

The event will also include a car and motorcycle show. There will be numerous vendors, a tractor pull and music by Midnight Express starting at 6:30 p.m.

The fireworks will commence at dark.


The First Baptist Church, located at 703 E. Second St., will host the community’s fireworks show tonight.

At 6:30 p.m. a free catfish dinner with all the trimmings will be served indoors. Other activities and the fireworks show will follow.