Friday, July 27, 2012

TOP STORY >> How to beat the heat at air show

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

This year’s Little Rock Air Force Base open house and air show is set for Sept. 8 and 9.

Though the summer season will be officially over, summer temperatures will not. With hundreds of thousands of people expected to attend from all areas of Arkansas and surrounding states, hydration, shade and traffic are the main safety concerns.

Lt. Col. Mike Kirby, air show director, says four acres of shade will be available during the event.

“Located inside the four acres of shade will be the Air Expo Center,” said Kirby. “In the center, there will be a continuous concert going on with various bands playing such as the Ladies for Liberty.

Reserved assigned seating, which will be directly in front of the Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration team, offers access to a shaded area with tables and chairs where one can eat.

Tickets are $20 until the day of the show when they will be $30. There are 1,200 seats available for sale. To order tickets or for more information on the 2012 Air Show, visit

The gates open at 8:30 a.m. and the show starts at 10 a.m.

Kirby said 500 seats will be available inside, and there will be a breeze flowing because the doors will remain open.

There will be commercial vendors attending and informational booths.

The Wildlife Parks and Refuge will have a 50,000-gallon fish tank set up. There will be military working dog demonstrations going on, and the Army will also have displays set up.

Blue Bell ice cream will be giving away ice cream samples.

“So, you’ll be able to walk around, see the displays, and hear the bands play. This gives the audience a chance to get away from the heat for a little bit but still be involved in the show. The Air Expo Center is adjacent to the main show, and there will be an announcer constantly informing the audience of the schedule of performances and events,” Kirby said.

The center will be open from the opening of the air show to an hour after the show ends. There will be a band scheduled to play after the Blue Angels’ performance, so if there are people who want to stay behind and let some of the traffic congestion lighten up, that is an option.

Kirby said he is very excited about this year’s Air Show. He said he is looking forward to the Blue Angels’ performance.

“I am very excited about the Blue Angels,” he said. “They’re one of the best jet-demo teams in the world. We are very fortunate to have a huge crowd from Arkansas and the surrounding states. We expect somewhere between 225,000 to 250,000 people over the two days. We’re also excited because we’ve been selected for several high-profile demo teams.

“The Canadian F-18 demo team is coming down. The Navy is also bringing their F-18 down. We were selected by the Air National Guard to have their jet truck to perform as well. They don’t appear at every show. They only come to the big ones,” Kirby said.

As big as the names of the performances are, the concern for keeping the audience hydrated is even bigger. At previous air shows, mist tents and water fountains were available at numerous locations.

Kirby said plans are still being developed to ensure there are plenty options to locate water.

“We are still working out the details on the mist tents. There will be some available, however. We have tripled the number of water fountains available along the flight line. Every one of our main fire hydrants will have six water fountains associated with it.”

Along with a safety message for staying hydrated, Kirby also advises those attending the show to take care of their skin and to also leave any suspicious personal items they don’t want confiscated at home.

“We are encouraging every-one to bring a disposable, refillable plastic water bottle,” he said. “Also bring sunscreen, lawn chairs and comfortable walking shoes. Everyone will be screened by magnetrons, and there will be random vehicle searches. Absolutely no weapons will be allowed, even in the vehicles. Not even a pocket knife.”

Having an expectation of 225,000 to 250,000 people, there will definitely be some traffic. Kirby suggests carpooling and arriving early to relieve some of the congestion at the gates.

“If you can carpool, that will be a great idea,” Kirby said. “Even if you have to park outside the gate and then group up, that will be better. It helps on the way in and especially on the way out because everyone arrives over three hours and wants to leave over thirty minutes. Get there and get in line early.

“We are flying away a majority of our airplanes to allow space for parking. Most people will be parked right on the flight line. The others will park in our overflow parking areas on base, and will be shuttled to the flight line. It’s about a five minute bus ride.”

Kirby said to make sure children stay close by their parents. “Develop a plan with them just in case they get lost,” he said.

Tell them to “find someone in uniform if they do. We have a system in place for anyone who gets lost. We will have persons with radios, and there will be a rally point where lost individuals will be told to go.

“There will be public-service announcements made to inform everyone that a lost person is located at that point,” Kirby said.

TOP STORY >> Local agencies cooperated on heroin arrests

Leader staff writer

When the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday it was filing heroin charges against eight men — many of them from the Cabot area — federal prosecutors gave credit for the arrests to the State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration and law-enforcement agencies in several jurisdictions, including Austin, Ward, Cabot and the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Such inclusions are common when state and federal agencies get involved in local cases, but they are often seen as little more than a courtesy to the smaller departments. But in this case, the credit appears to have been well-placed.

Lt. Jim Kulesa, who has worked narcotics in Lonoke County for many years, said in an interview Friday that everyone knows the police are territorial – but he said they have all worked together for many months on the heroin indictments announced Thursday.

Heroin is relatively new to the area and users are overdosing and dying, he said.

“They don’t know anything about it because it’s never been a prevalent drug in the county,” he said. “Police are competitive but not when it comes to some thing that’s killing people.”

Charged with distributing heroin that resulted in two deaths were Wallando “Wiley” Onezine, 40, of Cabot; Keith “Key” Sanders, 25, of Memphis; Devon McClain, 19, of Cabot; Mark Aaron “Zane” Pruitt, 22, of Jacksonville; Landon Cope, 21, of Little Rock; Justin Pennock, 27, of Cabot; Alex Evans, 22, of Cabot; and Hunter Gladden, 25, of Ward.

John Staley, the police chief in Austin, said the Austin and Ward police departments worked together on one arrest and then shared information with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office. The parts began fitting together like pieces of a puzzle and investigators realized they were working on something that was beyond their expertise and they called the DEA.

“Each one of us got a little information and put it all together. We all worked together. It was pretty awesome,” Staley said.

According to the news release from U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Thyer, the eight men are charged with distributing or conspiring to distribute heroin from May 1, 2011, through June 26.

The two people who died from the heroin — one on May 1, 2011, and the other on Oct. 27, 2011 — are not identified in the indictment.

“The state of Arkansas is experiencing the same trends as other states in which people are abusing prescription pain pills containing opiates and develop an opiate addiction,” said William J. Bryant, assistant special agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Division of the DEA. “Some of these people then turn to heroin. As you can see in this case, this trend produces fatal consequences in our community.”

“The arrest and indictment of these eight men is just the beginning of our efforts to remove those who distribute heroin not only in Cabot and Lonoke County, but wherever else this dangerous, addictive drug is being peddled,” Thyer said.

“Since last fall, there have been nine reported incidents involving young men and women overdosing on heroin, two of which resulted in the loss of life. I encourage parents to learn what signs to look for and pay close attention to the activities and behavior of their sons and daughters. Teach your children about the consequences of drug experimentation and notify local authorities of any suspected drug dealing in your community,” he said.

Michael Davis, a group supervisor for the DEA, said most of the heroin in the state is passing through on the interstate highway bound for large Midwestern cities like Chicago and Indianapolis.

Although the highly-addictive heroin is gaining in popularity in central Arkansas, prescription drugs and methamphetamine are still the illegal drugs most commonly used across the state.

Most heroin dealers in Arkansas go over the border into Mexico, buy a small quantity and sell to a few customers who are usually white men and women between the ages of 19 and 30, he said.

Heroin sells for $60 to $100 a gram, Davis said. A gram is enough for one or two uses.

In addition to the DEA, other agencies assisting in the investigation were police departments in Cabot, Ward, Austin and Maumelle, plus the sheriff’s offices in Lonoke, Conway and Pulaski Counties, and the Lonoke County prosecutor.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gordon. Jury trial for those charged has been set for Aug. 27.

Anyone with information about Sander’s whereabouts is asked to contact the DEA at 501-217-6500.

TOP STORY >> Road work needs millions

Leader staff writer

Arkansas will have about $4 billion for highway construction and repairs over the next 10 years—that’s the good news.

The bad news, according to Scott Bennett, the state Highway Department director, is that the state will have $24 billion worth of construction and repair needs during that same time period, including $180 million needed to widen Hwy. 67/167.

“It’s a big, big job ahead of us,” the director told about 100 area officials and area residents Tuesday night at the Arkansas Highway Commission appreciation banquet at the Cabot National Guard Armory.

Bennett and Highway Commission Chairman R. Madison Murphy, who spoke later in the evening, both touted the proposed half-cent sales tax as a good stopgap measure.

The tax is on the November ballot.

Bennett said part of the problem is that Arkansas has the 12th largest highway system in the United States with about 16,000 miles of roadway under its jurisdiction, but is 43rd in revenue per mile.

He said plans are set to widen Hwy. 67/167 to six lanes from Jacksonville through Cabot, but funding makes it a slow go. He said the work includes first replacing the bridges in Jacksonville, then widening the highway from Jacksonville to the south end of Cabot, then through Cabot to the north end.

He said the work from Jacksonville to the southern edge of Cabot would cost about $100 million. To go through the northern end of Cabot will be another $80 million.

“At our normal rate of funding, the project will take 40 years,” Bennett said.

Bennett stressed the importance of Cabot, and what is good for Cabot is good for the region, and making the highway six lanes is good for everyone.”

Bennett explained that the half-cent sales tax would be in effect for only 10 years, but would raise $1.8 billion. “That’s a good shot in the arm” he said, adding it would give the Highway Department flexibility on projects. “Again, it’s not the answer. It’s only temporary, but it is a good shot in the arm.”

Murphy told the crowd that he was familiar with the old adage that you can’t please everyone all the time. “But when I became chairman, I found out you can have all the people mad at you all the time. Our funding is so limited that we have to turn down or delay four out of five projects. That upsets lots of people,” he explained.

Murphy said the Highway Department is funded by a per-gallon tax system that worked fine in the ’50s, ’60s and even the ’70s, but is now antiquated and static. “Our costs are up, by our income is declining,” he told the audience, which included the mayors of Cabot and Jacksonville plus county and state officials, including Sen. Eddie Jo Williams.

Murphy explained that the Highway Department would be able to stretch the money from the tax if it is passed. “This department has the second best administration cost per mile in the country. When it gets its hands on a dollar, it does a good job with it,” the commission chairman said.

Murphy said there were a number of reasons to vote for the tax proposal on the November ballot. First, it exempts motor fuel, groceries and medicines. Secondly, it clearly identifies how the money is going to be used and where the money goes. And lastly, it creates or supports 40,000 jobs, Murphy said. Plus Lonoke County’s share of the tax works out to about $13.5 million over the next 10 years, he added.

“It’s a real chance to invest in ourselves. If we don’t, who will?” he asked the crowd.

He then reminded everyone that when businesses and industries come looking, they always want to know about the quality of education, infrastructure and tax rates.

“It’s schools, roads, low tax rates and things to do. No one ever asks how the prisons are,” he said.

SPORTS STORY >> NCAA punishes today’s Penn State players

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE — One understandable reaction to the NCAA’s pitching penalties at Penn State is its unfair to Penn State’s current players.

After all, it wasn’t the current or past Penn State players that committed the atrocities giving the current Nittany Lions the unenviable choice of either transferring with preseason college football practice beginning most everywhere next week or staying put in a program doomed by penalties to struggle for many years to come.

Penn State can’t play in a bowl game until 2017, after the current players’ eligibility has expired, or compete for a Big Ten championship while its scholarships over the next four years are reduced from the maximum 25 annually additional to just 15 annual additional from 2013 to 2016.

The school reels from a $60 million fine paid over five years to programs preventing childhood sexual abuse or assisting the victims of childhood sexual abuse plus experiencing its annual $13 million Big Ten bowl revenue sharing diverted to “established, charitable organizations in Big Ten communities dedicated to the protection of children.

Is that unfair to Penn State’s current players to be told decide your athletic and academic priorities right here, right now?

Of course it is.

Of course the rejoinder is, how unfair was it for all those kids all those years that the criminal justice system has confirmed former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing?

You know the answer to that one.

No NCAA penalty, including the so-called “Death Penalty” that shut down SMU’s football operations for two entire years during the 1980s, can rectify the damage that Sandusky did to young boys, at least one right on Penn State’s property, while Penn State officials, including, apparently, revered Coach Joe Paterno, since deceased, turned a blind eye to and shut their mouths about the suspicions that needed to be forwarded to the police and agencies concerning the welfare of children.

Actually, some say given the duration of these penalties and the likelihood many current Nittany Lions will take the option of transferring with immediate eligibility, these punishments are actually worse than the death penalty of shutting a football program down for a year or two and then starting from scratch with a full complement of scholarships.

All of that is debatable.

What’s not debatable but buoyed by the Freeh report reconfirming the worst, the NCAA eschewed its usual snail’s pace investigation lasting for years and hit Penn State fast as well as hard.

The report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, was commissioned by Penn State and accepted by Penn State so the NCAA wasted no time slamming Penn State with what Penn State’s administration could not rebut but had acknowledged.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said.

A good start but there needs to be a finish. Emmert and his NCAA need to address the entire mode of secrecy that college football operates with these days, and mandate to let the sun shine in.

Secrecy undid Penn State.

To an infinitely lesser degree, secrecy undid Arkansas when the Razorbacks had to fire ultra-successful head football coach Bobby Petrino. Petrino was fired April 11 when events surrounding his April 1 motorcycle accident gradually revealed he had gifted $20,000 to the woman accompanying him on the motorcycle with whom he had had “an inappropriate relationship” and had hired over more experienced applicants for a position on his support staff.

It becomes a whole lot easier for successful coaches to keep secrets if the administration supposed to be governing them operates to keep most everything secret, too.

SPORTS STORY >> Fusion AAU team wins at Conway

Leader sportswriter

On the one hand, the Elite Sports National Championship tournament in Conway was serving as a warmup for the Arkansas Lady Fusion senior division team based in Beebe, but a first-place effort against some of the top teams in the region did more than just get them ready – it gave them a boost of confidence.

Not that confidence was an issue with the team, which has placed first or second in almost every tournament it has participated in over the past two seasons. With the Mid America Youth Basketball Nationals in Oklahoma City, the most prestigious AAU tournament in the country, approaching next weekend, that confidence should be at an all-time high, according to head coach Dane Grant.

The ESNC is considered to be the third biggest tournament in the country, and wins over Arkansas Elite, Havoc, Morrilton and local rival Cabot gave the Lady Fusion their third tournament championship of 2012.

The group comes from all over northeast and central Arkansas, mixed with a few players from the local area.

“I think it’s pretty impressive that these kids will drive two to three hours,” Grant said.

Grant, a teacher at Beebe High School, has a policy of bringing new talent regularly, encouraging the girls to seek out other coaches once they have been under his wing for a brief period. His philosophy is that playing under more coaches gives them a better understanding of the game.

Local players include Beebe’s Whitney Emison, who has served as a team leader for the Lady Fusion this summer. Emison, also a star of the Lady Badgers varsity high-school team, is still on the mend following a knee injury suffered at the Battle at the Brier tournament in Greenbrier last December.

Cabot underclassmen Allie Stalnaker and Ashlyn Johnson are also key components for the Lady Fusion this summer. Johnson, a guard, and Stalnaker, a 5-10 forward, were particularly excited to take on their Lady Panther varsity teammates when they faced Cabot during the Conway tournament.

“Just beating Cabot had such a meaningful effect,” Grant said. “After that, the girls felt like they could win the entire tournament.”

The finals came down to a second showdown against the Arkansas Elite Squad. The championship game went into overtime, and with the Fusion leading 40-38 in the closing seconds, Elite went to the free-throw line with a chance to send the game into a second overtime. The first shot went in to make it a one-point game, but the second shot was off, securing the title for the Lady Fusion.

The Lady Fusion have played over 50 games so far this summer, losing less than 10. Two of those losses came at the recent Meltdown Showcase in Branson, Mo., two weeks ago. It wasn’t the best outing of the season for the Lady Fusion, but individual performances were impressive enough that eight college coaches contacted Grant the following week.

“Everything has just clicked since March,” Grant said. “We’ve taken our lumps, but we’ve beaten the number-one ranked team in the country twice, and we’ve been competitive against the top talent there is to offer.”

SPORTS STORY >> Bruin hits for cycle, leads to victory

Leader sportswriter

Dylan Boone’s effective pitching and J.D. Miller’s dominant performance at the plate helped catapult Sylvan Hills to a 5-2 win over Paragould in the first game of the 2012 Arkansas Senior American Legion State Tournament Friday at North Little Rock’s Burns Park.

Miller went 4 for 4 at the plate and managed to hit for the cycle. His three-run home run in the first inning towered well over the 375 foot mark in straight-center field, giving the Bruins an early 3-0 lead.

After Miller’s home run, both teams were held scoreless until the fifth inning when Sylvan Hills added two more runs to its lead. Three-hole hitter Lance Hunter walked to start the inning, and after advancing to second base on a passed ball, Miller singled to the left field gap to move Hunter to third.

With right fielder Hunter Heslep in the batter’s box, Hunter scored on another passed ball at the plate to put the Bruins up 4-0. A couple of pitches later, Heslep hit a line drive single to left-center field. Miller scored on the play to give Sylvan Hills a five-run lead.

Paragould scored its first run in their next at bat when third baseman Zachary Hobbs singled to drive in Thomas McMillion after McMillion hit a stand-up double to start the inning. Paragould scored again in the seventh when McMillion hit a sacrifice fly to the wall in left field.

Leadoff hitter Eric Wilcoxson scored on the play to make the score 5-2 after walking earlier in the inning. It was the lone walk Boone would give up in the game. Boone pitched all nine innings, striking out eight in the winning effort.

“I knew we were going to have to play better defense and pitch well to win because a couple of our hitters were gone,” said Sylvan Hills coach Brandon Eller. “Boone came out and gave me nine innings just like he did last week. He was dominant. He pitched out of a bases loaded jam early that could’ve changed the game.

“To walk one guy, that’s impressive. Defensively, we made one error. That’s a first. We played good defense. Hitting-wise, we haven’t been hitting as well as we’ve been hitting. But we got a couple of big hits when we needed them. J.D. hit that bomb in the first and hit for the cycle. That’s pretty impressive. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one of our kids hit for the cycle before.”

Heslep was the only other Bruin with multiple hits in the game, going 2 for 4 with an RBI. Both Connor Eller and Austin Spears also had a hit. With a single, double, and home run already under his belt, Miller achieved the cycle with a stand-up triple to deep right field in the bottom of the seventh.

“I never hit a cycle, so it’s a pretty cool deal for me,” Miller said. “I usually do hit better in Legion, but I don’t know why. I think I’ve just been feeling it. Coach Eller has done a real good job. He’s helped me a lot this year with hitting. A lot of the credit goes to him.”

With the win, Sylvan Hills is in the winner’s bracket of the tournament and the Bruins will play the winner of the Bentonville/Texarkana game today at 4 p.m. at Burns Park.

SPORTS STORY >> Family ties key to Eller’s success

Leader sportswriter

Conner Eller was not about to be the brother who dropped the ball.

As the youngest of four brothers, Eller had the pressure of living up to the standards of his older siblings, all of whom reached the college baseball ranks. The outlook was not encouraging for Connor, however, as an underclassman with limited playing time for the Sylvan Hills High School team and the summertime Bruins American Legion team.

But his senior year brought a new determination for Eller, who participated in a stringent pitching program under longtime Legion coach Mike Bromley in the fall, and had a breakout season for the Denny Tipton-coached Bears team the following spring as a result.

That new-found panache has carried over into the summer, and Connor has become the go-to guy on the mound and in the infield for the Bruins Legion team this summer.

In carrying on the tradition of success in his baseball-savvy family, he will begin his college baseball career this fall at Crowder Junior College in Neosho, Mo.

“My sophomore and junior years I worked hard, but I knew there was more to it,” Eller said. “So my senior year in the fall, coach Bromley had this throwing program, and I did that for like 10 or 12 weeks. I really worked on core and legs, and focused on being more of a pitcher. I believed in myself and had confidence, and just went out there and did what I could.”

Eller’s hard work paid off and he became the ace pitcher for Tipton as a senior. He earned all conference and all state honors, and was named the 5A Southeast Conference pitcher of the year for 2012. He also made the 5A state-tournament team and appeared in the All-Metro All Star game at the end of the season.

The family connection reached a peak for Connor this summer as oldest brother Brandon took over the helm of the Bruins senior Legion team as head coach.

“Conner has been one of our best pitchers just like in high school,” Brandon Eller said. “He’s hit well for us – laid bunts down and got base hits. He’s been a team leader for us.

“One of the biggest things he’s done, he played first base in high school, but we had three infielders not play Legion this summer, so Connor has played second and shortstop most of the summer. That’s been a good surprise for us. We didn’t know who would fill in the middle, and he’s played both of them very well.”

Older brothers Garrett and Nathan chose Henderson State University to play college baseball, and Connor had the opportunity to join them with an offer from the Reddies’ program following his senior year, but a two-year school fit the bill better for him with hopes of someday attending Arkansas State University just as Brandon had.

“I went on a visit up there,” Eller said of Crowder. “They asked me to come throw for them. I threw a 15-pitch bullpen, and they took me on a tour. After a while, I decided I wanted to go to ASU, but it wasn’t going to work out for me to go right out of high school. I got an opportunity with Crowder, and they liked what they saw. It’s the best opportunity for me.”

Connor’s classroom efforts also served as a springboard for college opportunities with a perfect 4.0 GPA. He earned salutatorian of his graduating class behind Jeremiah Persson, another college-level athlete in soccer.

On the mound, Eller quickly rose to the top of the Bears’ pitching staff his senior year, compiling an 8-2 record including one save. He pitched a total of 61 innings and had 76 strikeouts against 20 base on balls, giving up 15 earned runs for an earned-run average of 1.72.

“Connor had an excellent senior year,” Tipton said. “As a sophomore, he didn’t play all that much, and really as a junior – toward the end of that season he saw a little more playing time. He is definitely an example of someone who was willing to work hard and put in the time and effort in order to improve. He wanted to prove he had what it took to himself, and to others.”

Eller also improved at the plate with a .298 batting average. He had 21 RBI and eight doubles with a total of 23 hits, and had a strong .437 on-base average.

“He’s just a great kid,” Tipton said. “Connor is definitely that young man who does the right thing on the field and off the field. He excels in the classroom and even in his church; he always does a lot to help out there.”

His high-school career ended on somewhat of a down note as the Bears were upset by Nettleton in the first round of the 5A state tournament in early May, but Connor and his Bruin teammates have made up for the disappointment with a strong run this summer during the Legion regular season and recent zone tournament, earning a trip to the state tournament. There is talk of a rule change in American Legion that would prevent college players from participating, and though Connor will still be within the age requirements to play Legion, the potential new rule would deem him ineligible. That situation has served as further motivation this summer.

“I want to win – I want to keep playing (with the Legion), because this could be my last year at Sylvan Hills,” Eller said. “It depends on next year, how Legion goes, or if I play somewhere else.”

Connor has come a long way since the days of sitting in the stands and watching his brothers play. It was those times as a kid that inspired him to want to become a part of what his older brothers help build.

“It was a cool feeling, because instead of watching Sylvan Hills, I was playing for Sylvan Hills,” Eller said. “I actually got to be a part of the tradition and the program. It’s a great feeling; I’m definitely going to miss all of that.”

Connor’s transformation has also been special to older brother Brandon, who is pleased to have had a hand in his development.

“It’s awesome watching him grow up,” Brandon Eller said. “Watching him get a chance to play college ball is great – I’m proud of him. He came from not playing a whole lot his junior year to this year where he was our ace. He’s also been one of our top guys this summer. I’m proud watching him play.

“It’s a lot of fun coaching him as a brother. Sometimes there’s a little conflict there, because we go home, and he wants to add some input on what goes on, but it’s great.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TOP STORY >> District rolling in money, say PCSSD unions

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County School District appears to have more money than it expected, and the disbarred unions are saying the district acted in haste slicing money from the teachers and kicking the unions to the side.

A news release from the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers says at a recent non-renewal hearing for support staff, PCSSD chief financial officer Bill Goff testified that the district’s 2011-2012 ending fund balance was $16.1 million, which is $4 million more than previously projected.

Both PACT and PASS (Pulaski Association for Support Staff) say the extra money shows that the financial distress issue was “an obvious union-busting ploy.”

PACT president Marty Nix said, “Many of the financial cuts were totally unnecessary, but the most senseless was to cut two days from teachers’ contracts. It makes absolutely no sense to increase the amount of work teachers must do while at the same time decreasing the amount of time they have to do it.”

PASS president Emry Chesterfield said, “It is obvious to us that the intent of district administration and the PCSSD board (Arkansas Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell) was to bust the union.”

But Goff, in an email, said the unions are not presenting the complete financial story.
“I said at this point in time, with much more year-end processing to do, our fiscal year 2012 Ending Legal Fund Balance is about $16 million. That includes the non-recurring revenue of $15.1 million due to Act 871 of 2011. 

The 2012-13 budget is not due to the state until September 30, 2012.  I expect the operating fund budgeted expenditures to be in the range of $180 million and little change to the ending legal fund balance.  

If we meet our goal of the balance being 10 percent of annual expenditures we’ll need to end with $18 million.  That’s about a one-month reserve,” he wrote.

Pact insists that this financial news means the district will end up with an $18.3 million surplus instead of a $13.2 million deficit that it told the state back in February, which forced most of the budget cutting actions against the teachers.

“District teachers and support staff continue to shoulder the entire burden of a financial crisis that, quite frankly, does seem to exist,” union officials said in their release.

Throughout the entire negotiations process, union officials said they continued to state that there was no need to make so many premature permanent cuts to teacher and support staff contracts because there was no trend of declining fund balances.

The two unions have filed lawsuits against the district over the cuts and refusal to recognize and negotiate with the unions.

TOP STORY >> Attorney general visits LR

Leader senior staff writer

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in the sights of a hostile Republican Congress earlier this year, members and officials of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), unsolicited, came to his aid with phone calls and letters, Holder said at a Tuesday awards luncheon at the Statehouse Convention Center. He came to Little Rock in part return the favor.

NOBLE is a national professional organization of black law-enforcement executives and command-level officers.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone in this room for your service to the American people, your engagement with one another, and – especially – your steadfast partnership with our nation’s Department of Justice, as we move to confront the challenges – and seize the possibilities – that lie ahead,” Holder told the roughly 800 people NOBLE members filling the Wally Allen Banquet Room at the state House Convention Center.

“On a personal note, I want to say thanks – this organization and its members have had my back, in recent weeks and always.”

Holder twice alluded to the courage and determination of the Little Rock Nine in desegregating Central High School.

“Block by block, city by city, and department by department – we’ve shown that, together, we can make a powerful difference,” Holder said, adding—to great applause—that he hoped to work together with them in the months and years to come, a not-so-veiled reference to President Barack Obama’s November reelection challenge.

“As part of this administration’s commitment to get Americans back to work –and the President’s determination to stand with military service members and returning veterans – I am pleased to report that, since 2009, the Community Oriented Policing Services – or COPS – Hiring Program has awarded a total of $1.5 billion to create or protect 7,000 jobs in local law enforcement, including nearly 200 people this year alone who will be saved from layoffs, and more than 600 military veterans who will be hired as new law enforcement officers.

Last year alone, we awarded more than $24 million to help nearly 5,000 departments buy more than 188,000 protective vests. Throughout 2011 – and in the first six months of this year – the lives of at least 47 law-enforcement and correctional officers were saved by bullet- and stab-resistant vests. 

Twenty-four of those individuals were wearing protective vests purchased – in part – by federal funds administered through this program,” Holder said.

Holder said it was time to recommit to equal justice under law.

“This was the singular ideal that – more than half a century ago, just a short distance from where we gather today – led a group of nine courageous African-American students to brave bigotry and threats of violence in order to realize the spirit of the Supreme Court’s landmark (1954) Brown v. Board decision, and integrate Little Rock Central High School,” he said.

They and others “risked and too often gave their lives to ensure civil rights, and equal protection, for every American – regardless of race, creed, or color.”

“That’s why – in addition to celebrating all that you have achieved in the last year – this afternoon, I’m here to reaffirm the Justice Department’s commitment – and my own – to encouraging diversity across your ranks, protecting your safety and supporting and strengthening your work in every way possible.

Holder said he was speaking for his colleagues and counterparts at the Justice Department and for the president in saying, “I am profoundly grateful for the contributions that you have made and the innovations you’ve championed.”

In closing, he said, “There is no goal that is beyond our reach and no goal that is beyond our grasp.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot Parks takes over youth league

Leader sportswriter

Cabot Parks and Recreation is now overseeing Cabot youth baseball following a shaky transition within the Cabot Youth Baseball Association.

Problems stemmed from scheduling problems and questionable game times to uniform mishaps and disputes between coaches and board members. Some games in the spring were scheduled in the middle of standardized testing at Cabot Public Schools.

That led to a series of complaints from parents, who grew impatient with the string of incidents over the last few years.

The Parks and Recreation department recommended to the Parks Commission thatit take charge of the program following an investigation by Parks program director Joe Ferguson.

“Over the past couple of years, the mayor’s office, Cabot parks and rec and certain city council members would hear different complaints,” Ferguson said. “It got to be where I was asked to dive into it this year to see if there was any meat and potatoes to it and to compile a report.”

The vote went unanimously in favor of Ferguson, director Larry Tarrant and the commission to take over the program at last Tuesday’s meeting. The parks commission has been in charge of the youth basketball program since its inception, and plans on running the baseball program in similar fashion from registration and scheduling done in house.

“I think over the years, what’s happened is you have people that served time on the board who knew how to run a baseball program but just got tired of doing it,” Ferguson said. “The problem was, there was no one there who had experience underneath them to pick up the pieces. They had a bunch of inexperienced people trying as hard as they could, and their volunteer hours were awesome, but they did not necessarily know how to run the program.”

Ferguson said the change will not affect the fall baseball program, where complete teams sign up and provide their own uniforms. The parks department is responsible only for fields, umpires and game times for the fall, making spring and summer baseball the primary focus for improvement.

“Once we get through the fall season, then we’re going to mainstream what changes need to be made with the spring and summer seasons,” Ferguson said. “The biggest issue was, we’ve played Cal Ripken for the past several years, so you had a set of Cal Ripken rules and a set of Cabot rules, and some coaches were confused on what to go by. We’re going to make everything simpler and a lot easier to follow.

“If they have a question, they can come to the community center, and someone will be there five days a week to give them an answer.”

Ferguson said the plan for now is to oversee the program for at least the next two to three years, with the ability to increase the staff as it grows. Mayor Bill Cypert has pledged city support for any necessary expansion, including funds for added personnel.

“It’s going to add a huge chunk of pie to my already full plate,” Ferguson said. “But, we have a great staff there with Parks and Rec. We help each other daily to do different tasks and issues we have that come up.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke falls to Hot Springs Village

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke’s Remington Bullets saw their season come to an abrupt end Friday after a hard-fought 7-5 loss to Hot Springs Village in the quarterfinals of the American Legion AA state tournament at Bryant High School.

Hot Springs Village (7-17) scored six of its seven runs in the first inning despite having just two hits in the inning. Lonoke (15-15) threw three different pitchers during that time, walking five batters and hitting another, which gave Hot Springs Village too many opportunities to put runs on the board.

“I think when we showed up we just weren’t ready to play,” said Lonoke coach Steve Moore about the rough start. “We couldn’t get out of that first inning, and it really ended up being the difference in the ball game.”

The Bullets settled down both in the field and at the plate with Shane Pepper on the mound. Pepper took to the mound with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning, and didn’t give up a run in his four and one-third innings of work.

Lonoke started to chip away at the six-run deficit in the third and fourth innings, scoring two runs in each to make the score 6-4. Right fielder Reid McKenzie singled to start the third, and scored three batters later when Guy Halbert reached base on an E6.

Pepper scored Lonoke’s second run on a ground ball from clean-up hitter Lane Moore. Catcher Deric Herring drove in the third run for the Bullets on another E6 in the fourth. The throw was out of first baseman Dillon Brown’s reach, and Christian James scored after singling up the middle to start the inning.

McKenzie walked after James’ single, and after advancing to third on the previous E6, McKenzie scored on a passed ball at the plate to cut the deficit to two. The Bullets were held scoreless in the fifth, but added another run in the sixth to make it a one-run game.

Pepper hit a one-out single to right field in the inning, and Herring followed with a stand-up double to left. Halbert drove in Pepper the next at bat with a chopper to third base. Lonoke looked as if it was destined for yet another comeback after five and a half innings.

However, Hot Springs Village added an insurance run its next at bat, and Lonoke went three up, three down in the top of the seventh to set the final margin. Even though it was a disappointing end to the Bullets’ season, Moore will only remember it as a success.

“It was a great season,” Moore said. “I’m really proud of all of them. They all worked hard, and we won a lot of baseball games. They all had a great attitude, and I got a great effort out of all of them. I expect to see a lot of these guys play college ball.”

Pepper and Herring led Lonoke at the plate as each went 2 for 4, while Moore, McKenzie, Christian and Madison James also had a hit.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney ousted by Colts in zone

Leader sports staff

After a comeback win over Russellville, the Jacksonville Senior American Legion team fell 11-3 to tournament host North Little Rock on Sunday in the Zone 3 tournament at Burns Park.

“We blew a lot of chances to score with bad base running,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “We let some balls drop that we should’ve caught with a little more effort out in the outfield. And we missed signs at the plate because we don’t want to bunt.”

The tone was different against Russellville.

Xavier Brown was the hero on the mound on Saturday, while Chris McClendon knocked in four runs as Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet rallied twice to defeat Russellville 8-7 during the first elimination game of the tournament.

McClendon’s turns at the plate were critical for the Chevy Boys, who fell behind 5-1 early against Post 20 before tying things up in the top of the fifth inning and eventually taking the lead two frames later.

His single to left field in the top of the ninth scored Jesse Harbin to give the lead back to Jacksonville for the final time, as Brown finished the game as strong as when he took over for starter James McCrainey in the bottom of the third inning.

Russellville took the early advantage with a flurry of runs, including a two-run home run by first baseman Cory Seheide in the bottom of the third. But Brown, who started the game at first base, held Post 20 scoreless from the fourth inning until the bottom of the eighth, when they scored two runs to tie the game at 7-7 and threatened to take the game past its scheduled nine innings.

Harbin led off the top of the ninth by reaching on an outfield error, made his way to second base and advanced to third on a groundout to the pitcher by Brown, setting the stage for McClendon’s winning hit.

Russellville pitcher Jordan Haas held Gwatney scoreless until the top of the third when right fielder Jarod Wilson reached on an error and scored two batters later on a pop up by Jacob Abrahamson.

The Chevy Boys still had a long way to go, however, trailing 5-1 after three innings, but McClendon made up another run in the top of the fourth when he walked and scored when McCrainey sent a single into the corner of right field.

The top of the fifth was the turning point for Jacksonville. Troy Allen led off with a triple to right field and scored when Abrahamson popped up to right to make it 5-3. Kenny Cummings then grounded out to shortstop to give Gwatney its second out, but singles by Alex Tucker and Harbin kept it alive.

Brown loaded the bases when he hit a grounder to shortstop and narrowly beat the throw to first, and McClendon cashed in on the frustration of Russellville shortstop Trenton Lax when his throw to first went errant to score Tucker and Harbin to tie the game.

Jacksonville finally took the lead in the top of the seventh when Tucker doubled to right and scored on an RBI single by McClendon to make it 6-5, and Wilson led off the top of the eighth with a single to left before scoring on an infield error when Cummings grounded to third base.

Brown gave up only one hit in his six innings on the mound. That came in the bottom of the eighth inning when Hayden Kimmerman grounded to left field.

Brown then hit No. 9 hitter Luke Duvall with a pitch to put the tying run at first base, and an error by Harbin at shortstop on a grounder by leadoff batter Haas scored Kimmerman.

Michael Thompson tied the game for Post 20 when he popped up to centerfield and allowed Duvall to tag up at third.

Brown struck out a total of nine batters, but none bigger than when he got Matt Sims looking in the bottom of the ninth for the final out.

McClendon was 2 for 5 for Gwatney with four RBI. Tucker was 2 for 5 with a double and Wilson was 2 for 5 with two runs. For Russellville, Lax was 2 for 5 with an RBI.

Base running mistakes ruined several scoring opportunities for Gwatney against the Colts on Sunday. Three times Gwatney base runners overran bases or ran into lead runners to get picked off.

Jacksonville looked good offensively in the first and ninth innings on Sunday, but produced very little in between. The Chevy Boys scored a run on two base hits, a walk and an error, but left the bases loaded in the first inning. Abrahamson and Cummings got back-to-back triples to start the ninth inning.

Tucker scored Cummings from third with a sacrifice grounder, but two more groundouts ended the game and Gwatney’s season.

SPORTS STORY >> Panther rally not enough for win

Leader sports editor

Cabot got off to a good start in the Zone 3 American Legion baseball tournament with a 10-8 win over Jacksonville, but lost its next two games at North Little Rock’s Burns Park to bring the season to a close.

The Centennial Bank squad fell 10-9 to Sylvan Hills on Friday, then lost 10-5 to North Little Rock on Sunday.

In Friday’s game, Sylvan Hills grabbed an early lead, but Cabot came back with four runs in the fifth inning to briefly claim a 6-5 advantage. Sylvan Hills answered with three in the top of the sixth and never trailed again.

Sunday’s loss was a pitcher’s duel for five innings with the Colts taking a 1-0 lead in the second on a triple by Mike Hodge and sacrifice fly by Colt outfielder Wes Freeland.

Things began to come loose for Cabot in the sixth inning. Starting pitcher Cole Thomas, who had given up four hits and no walks through five innings, walked the first two batters of the sixth.

Hodge then singled with a bloop infield hit, but an error at first base allowed both base runners to score and Hodge to move to third base.

Gunner Allen then single to score Hodge for a 4-0 North Little Rock lead.

At the top of the order in the seventh, the Colts began to hit the ball off reliever Kyle Kaufman. Ryan Johnson led off with a triple and Nick Cleveland hit an RBI single to right field. Kaufman fanned Tyson Tackett, but then gave up another triple cleanup hitter Dillon Richardson.

Cabot coach Craig Nyborg put Ryan Logan on the mound, who gave up another triple to Hodge.

After getting Wes Free-land to ground out to second base, Allen singled to drive in another run and Jacob Stripling doubled to score Allen for a 9-0 Colt lead. Jack Hopkins walked and Johnson singled to right field on his second at bat of the inning.

Needing one more run to end the game on the sportsmanship rule, Stripling tried to score on Johnson’s hit despite a bad break on the ball, and was thrown out at home.

Cabot took advantage of the opportunity granted by the base running mistake, but the hole was too deep to climb out of.

Justin Goff hit a two-run home run in the top of the eighth to make it 9-2. The Colts added a run in the bottom of the eighth and Cabot mounted another rally in the ninth.

With one out, Cabot got the next six batters on base, but could only manage three runs. Grant Bell walked before Bryson Morris, Tristan Bulice and Casey Vaughan hit consecutive singles. Vaughan’s hit scored Bell to make it 10-3. Goff drew an RBI walk and Tyler Carter was hit by a pitch to drive in another run.

With the bases still loaded and one out, Dustin Morris popped up back to the pitcher and Thomas hit into a 4-6 fielder’s choice to end the game.

SPORTS STORY >> Bruins in state as two seed

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bruins took second place in the Area 3 Senior American Legion tournament at Burns Park and advances to the state tournament that begins Thursday at the same place. The Bruins beat Cabot and North Little Rock to advance to the finals to await its challenger from the loser’s bracket. That was again North Little Rock. The Colts needed to beat the Bruins twice on Monday to win the tournament, and did just that, winning game one 9-7 and game two 9-8.

Game one was a back-and-forth affair with four lead changes. Game two saw the Colts blow up for seven runs in the third inning and Sylvan Hills fight its way back to make it a close game.

Missed opportunities was the story in game two. The Bruins left an astonishing 18 runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded in the third, fifth and eighth innings, and leaving two runners stranded in the second, sixth and ninth innings. They left one on base in each of the remaining innings.

“I knew we left a lot on base and we have to do a better job of scoring runs when we have the chance,” Sylvan Hills coach Brandon Eller said. “We did a good job of creating opportunities, but that’s how this game is. Sometimes those opportunities come through and sometimes they don’t. But they did battle back. We were down seven runs and fought back. That’s what this team will do. We’re not dominant in pitching or hitting, but this group will battle.”

Sylvan Hills starting pitcher Jimmy Sandefur was solid for two innings, but ran into some trouble in the third. He faced four batters without recording an out, giving up two singles, a ground rule double and a walk. He left with two runners in scoring position and Conner Eller took the mound. Eller gave up three singles while two errors aided the Colts’ rally and left the Bruins down by seven runs.

They scored four in the bottom of the third on just three hits. North Little Rock pitcher Tyson Tackett began struggling with control, walking Greg Atchison and hitting Eller before giving up a single to Lance Hunter. With the bases loaded, Tackett walked J.D. Miller and was replaced by Wes Freeland. Sylvan Hills’ Dylan Boone then doubled off Freeland to score Miller and make it 7-4.

Hunter Heslep then reached on an error and Blake Maddux singled to load the bases with one out. Cory Jones then hit a line drive to deep centerfield. Heslep, thinking the ball would drop for a hit, was too far off second base and was doubled up to end the inning.

The Bruins tied the game in the fourth. Atchison led off with a single before Eller lined out to center and Hunter struck out. With two outs, Austin Spears, Miller and Boone hit three consecutive doubles to make the score 7-7.

That’s how it stayed until the seventh inning. Eller walked the first two NLR batters, then gave up a two-RBI double to Jack Partlow that gave the Colts a 9-7 lead.

The Bruins answered with one in the bottom of the seventh. Atchison doubled and scored when Eller’s grounder to shortstop resulted in a bad throw to first base. That made the score 9-8 and that’s how the game ended, despite threats by the Bruins in the last two innings.

Heslep, Jones and Atchison got on base with two outs in the eighth, but Eller struck out to end the inning. Miller and Boone reached with two outs in the ninth, but Heslep grounded back to the pitcher to end the game.

The Bruins will face Paragould in the first-round of the state tournament.

EDITORIAL >> We’ll always remember

Several airmen assigned to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., attended last Thursday night’s showing of the latest Batman movie at the local multiplex where 12 people died and 58 people were wounded.

One of the dead is Sgt. Jesse Childress of California. He shielded another service member who had gone to see “The Dark Knight Rises” with Childress and saved her life. At least one other service member died protecting his girlfriend from James Holmes’ bullets.

Many others acted just as heroically when the orange-haired madman started firing into the audience half an hour into the movie.

Most of the victims were young, many of them, as we said, serving in the military, while others were starting their careers, filled with optimism and looking for a little escapism at a midnight movie.

The youngest victim was 6. A baby miraculously survived the mayhem.

There’s so much decency in this world that we can’t let a mass murderer like Holmes crowd out their names or their memories.

The killer, wearing a gas mask and body armor, stood up and started firing indiscriminately. Only when one of his semi-automatic rifles jammed did the massacre finally end and the gunman surrendered.

Holmes, who looked dazed at his first court appearance Monday, had bought his assault rifle, two handguns, a shotgun and about 6,000 rounds of ammunition, along with a gas mask and body armor, which he wore as he carried out his attack. He had amassed much of his arsenal on the Internet, where any madman is welcome as long as he has a valid credit card.

The killer had money thanks to a $24,000 federal grant, which was supposed to help him pay his way through medical school. Although he had dropped out, he kept receiving a monthly stipend, which he spent on gathering his arsenal.

The massacre kept some moviegoers away from the Batman movie this weekend, but not many, to the relief of Warner Brothers, which made the film.

The movie grossed $162 million over the weekend at 4,400 theaters in North America, down from a projected $190 million. At $10 a ticket, that means about 16 million people went to see the film and fewer than 3 million stayed home. Maybe they skipped the movie out of respect for those who died, or maybe they feared a copycat shooting at one of the multiplexes showing the blockbuster movie. It’s safer to rent a Netflix movie.

You can be sure there will be more copycats in the near future, perhaps at another blockbuster movie or at another high school or college campus. The killers will be fully armed because even if gun sales are restricted in stores and on the Internet, hundreds of millions of weapons will remain in circulation.

There is some good news: Violent crime has decreased in the U.S. over the last 50 years except in Chicago, but none of us feels any safer. We know the next James Holmes is feeling like a superhero and arming himself in his lonely apartment just about now.

TOP STORY >> Homeless dog gets wheels

 Grimmy, a homeless dog that can’t walk, gets around in new wheels.

Leader staff writer

Grimmy, a homeless dog at the Cabot Animal Shelter got a new set of wheels last week.

Grimmy arrived at the shelter in sad shape. The 2-year-old Shih Tzu mix was brought in by a resident several weeks ago, according to shelter manager Jason Ellerbee.

The dog couldn’t walk and had terribly long matted hair. It’s believed Grimmy was hit by a car, he said.

Grimmy was taken to Pallone Veterinary Hospital in Rose Bud for X-rays. He was found to have a fractured rear hip.

Grimmy returned to the animal shelter to recuperate. After six weeks, Grimmy’s condition has not improved.

He doesn’t wag his tail either. His back leg muscles have wasted away.

Many dogs brought to the shelter with serious medical problems would be put down, but not Grimmy. He has the spirit and vigor to keep on going, Ellerbee noted.

Animal control officers have been giving Grimmy water rehabilitation therapy in a sink at the shelter to try and strengthen the dog’s rear leg muscles.

“He is a happy outgoing dog. He just wants to go, even with his two feet. Since he showed desire, we ordered a wheelchair since he can’t use his back legs,” Ellerbee said.

Ellerbee contacted K9 Carts in Washington state. After hearing about Grimmy, the company donated and shipped a wheeled harness for him.

When he’s strapped into the cart Grimmy zips around the animal shelter.

He placed in the cart for about an hour until he tires and slows down.

When Grimmy is taken outside, animal control officers have to use a leash. He’ll outrun them.

The Cabot shelter is going to monitor Grimmy for a few weeks to see how well he adapts to the wheeled cart.

“We hope to find Grimmy a good home, conducive for him to live in,” Ellerbee said.

Cabot Future Farmers of America will hold a dog dip from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Farmers Association.

Each dog will be dipped for a $5 donation.

The Cabot animal shelter will hold a $5 neutering clinic for male cats only on Tuesday, Aug. 28.

To sign up, stop by the animal shelter, said Ellerbee.

There are 25 slots left.

Up to four male cats per household will be allowed.

TOP STORY >> Firefighters battle more grass fires in drought

Leader staff writer

Cabot firefighters put out a grass fire Tuesday, while Jacksonville firefighters have responded to more brush fires this summer than in any summer of his 25-year career, according to Battalion Chief Eddie Hill.

Sherwood and Cabot report a small increase in brush fires. Temperatures for Wednesday, Thursday and early next week are expected to be 100 degrees or hotter.

They’ll drop to the mid-90s on Friday, but will go up to the high-90s during the weekend.
Although there is a 10 percent chance of rain Thursday, a 40 percent chance Friday, a 20 percent chance Saturday and a 10 percent chance Sunday, the precipitation probably won’t be enough to pull central Arkansas out of a nationwide drought.

The area needs between 12 and 15 inches of rain to do that, according weather forecasters.

The Arkansas State Health Department announced the first heat-related death in Arkansas for 2012. There were 17 last year. The age, gender and place of death for the victim are not being released because of the medical privacy law.

Hill said Jacksonville firefighters haven’t made more medical runs than normal because people are being smart about dealing with the weather. The department usually does less than a dozen medical runs each summer.

He said the heat is “harder on everybody. Most people are doing a pretty good job of staying out of the heat, keeping hydrated.”

But, Hill said the dryness is causing more brush fires.

He said Jacksonville has had to battle two at a time this summer.

Most of the blazes have broken out in the area between Jacksonville and South Bend. The brush fires are also larger than they’ve been in the past.

The largest brush fire the department has seen so far occurred behind Southern Oaks Country Club on Foxwood Drive. It burned five to 10 acres, Hill said.

He said a cigarette thrown out of a car window, a hot piece falling from a truck or even a piece of glass lying in the sun could start a blaze right now.

Sherwood Fire Chief David Teague said his department has seen a slight increase in grass fires outside city limits, but Code Enforcement is doing a good job making sure city residents are obeying the burn ban.

“We haven’t seen a very large increase at all. Our people have been behaving, so it hasn’t gone up nearly as much as I thought it would,” Teague said.

He said the fires they have responded to have been harder to fight in the boiling temperatures.

And there have been more 100-degree days than last summer, Teague said.

He said the department has cut back on training and does it inside when it’s too hot.

Teague said, “We don’t wear them out training them. We try to save our energy where we can.”

The firefighters may have to go fight a blaze at any time and he doesn’t want them worn out when that time comes, Teague said.

Teague said he didn’t know if medical runs had increased. Little Rock-based MEMS handles the ambulance service in Sherwood.

Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson said his department is training “cautiously.” He said that the Arkansas Fire Training Academy’s policy is to move training indoors if the temperature outside is 100 degrees or more.

Robinson said there has been a slight increase in the number of minor grass fires his department has had to put out.

But he said residents have been conscientious about obeying the burn ban and about dropping their cigarette butts on the ground.

As far as he knows, medical runs haven’t gone up, but Little Rock-based MEMS also handles the ambulance service for Cabot.

Robinson said people who have to work outside should remember to hydrate with water and electrolytes. They should avoid caffeinated beverages like sodas and energy drinks, he said.

Jacksonville code enforcement officer Charles Jenkins said many of the things his department does contribute to fire safety.

Code enforcement looks at electrical systems in houses, how items are stored, abandoned homes and other issues, Jenkins said.

He use a deck made of splintered, dry wood as an example. That deck wouldn’t be up to code and it is a fire hazard.

Jenkins said “transients” using unoccupied buildings could cause a blaze inside them. But that is usually more of a problem in the winter, he said.

Jenkins said he hasn’t issued a citation to any resident for violating the burn ban.

Code enforcement officers also work outside quite a bit, but those who work in his department are carrying water with them, Jenkins said.

“The other day was absolutely miserable,” he said. Jenkins said the sign at a bank said 107 but the heat index felt much higher than that.

TOP STORY >> Benchmark shows JHS 55 percent below level

Leader staff writer

This is the last in a series of articles taking an in-depth look at the state Benchmark exams.

More than half of the juniors at Jacksonville High School cannot read or write at the appropriate grade level, according to recently released 2012 literacy exam scores. Across the state about one-third of the juniors are not working up to grade level.

The exams, once called the Rising Star exams, are given to juniors across the state in April to check their ability to read and write at the high school junior level. A score of proficient or advanced means the students is at or above grade level. Scores of basic or below basic show that a student is struggling at grade level.

Just 45 percent of the Jacksonville juniors scored proficient or better on the 2012 exam, which was an eight-point improvement from 2011. The state proficiency average is 68 percent.

Secondary students also take an end-of-course exam after they complete Algebra I, geometry and biology.

The Algebra I exam is considered a “high stakes” exam because students not scoring high enough on it must retake Algebra I. None of the other end-of-course exams have that “high stakes” tag.

Beebe, Cabot Middle School South and Carlisle eighth-graders all scored 100 percent on the 2012 version of the Algebra I end-of-course exam.

Jacksonville High School also had one of the lowest scores in central Arkansas on the biology end-of-course exam. Close to 90 percent of the students completing biology, didn’t score proficient or better on the end-of-course exam. The state average is just 43 percent proficient.

The test score information is provided by the Arkansas Research Center, which has been tracking benchmark proficiency since 2008.


The state proficiency average on the 11th-grade literacy test was 68 percent on the 2012 exam. Beebe, Carlisle, Cabot and Lonoke beat that average, while Sylvan Hills, North Pulaski and Jacksonville didn’t.

Beebe students scored 61 percent proficient in 2008 and moved up to 81 percent proficient on the 2012 exam. Beebe has beaten the state average the last five years.

Cabot juniors were at 66 percent proficient in 2008, topped off at 80 percent in 2011, and dipped to 78 percent in 2012, beating the state mark by 10 points. They have also beaten the state mark five years in a row.

Carlisle juniors were at 37 percent proficient in 2008 and climbed to 83 percent in 2012, 15 points better than the state mark. Lonoke moved from 47 percent in 2008 to 73 percent in 2012, beating the state average by five points.

At North Pulaski High, juniors were just 36 percent proficient in 2008, but moved up to 68 percent on the 2012 exam, even with the state average. Sylvan Hills juniors have moved from 45 percent proficient in 2008 to 66 percent in 2012, just two points shy of the state average.

Jacksonville High’s juniors literacy rate scores have gone up eight points from 2011 to 2012, but are still 21 points below the state average. Jacksonville students were 30 percent proficient in 2008, 37 percent in 2011 and 45 percent on the 2012 exam.


Most students take this high-stake test when they finish Algebra I in the eighth grade. If students don’t score high enough, they are required to take the course and the state test again in the ninth grade.

Cabot Middle School South eighth graders scored 100 percent proficient or better on the 2012 test and have been at 100 percent since 2008. Cabot Middle School North students were 98 percent proficient, down from 99 percent in 2011. The students scored 100 percent in 2009 and 2010. The state average is 95 percent proficient.

Lonoke eighth graders were 90 percent in 2008, but have been 100 percent ever since, including the 2012 exam. Beebe eighth graders were also 100 percent proficient on the 2012, moving up from 81 percent in 2008.

Carlisle students were 96 percent proficient in 2008, up to 100 percent in 2009, but then fell down to 71 percent on the 2012 exam, three points above the state average.

Eighth graders at Jackson-ville Middle School were 76 percent proficient in 2008 and moved up to 96 percent proficient in 2012, one point over the state average.

Sylvan Hills Middle School students started at 82 percent proficient in 2008, topped out at 97 percent in 2010 and fell back slightly to 94 percent in 2012, a point below the state mark. At Northwood Middle School, eighth graders were at 81 percent proficient in 2008, topped off at 93 percent the next year and were at 83 percent proficient on the 2012 exam, 12 points below the state average.


Ninth-graders taking the Algebra I exam usually weren’t ready to take the course in eighth grade or are retaking it because they didn’t score well enough in eighth grade. Across the state, 66 percent of ninth graders taking the course are proficient or advanced.

Beebe and Lonoke ninth- graders were the only ones in the area to be above the state average. Beebe students were 75 percent proficient in 2012, up from 39 percent in 2008, and beating the state mark by nine points.

Lonoke students were at 74 percent proficient in 2008 and topped off at 78 percent in 2012 before falling to 70 percent on the 2012 exams, but still four points better than the state mark.

Carlisle was 43 percent proficient in 2008; it fell sharply to 17 percent in 2011, then improved to 53 percent in 2012, below the state average by 13 points.

Cabot ninth-graders struggled on the algebra test, going from 59 percent proficient in 2008, falling to 50 percent in 2011, and dropping to 34 percent on the 2012 test, 22 points under the state mark.

Jacksonville ninth graders were a point better than Cabot at 35 percent proficient on the 2012 exam. Jacksonville students were 26 percent proficient in 2008 and topped out at 49 percent in 2010.

Sylvan Hills High School ninth-graders were at 48 percent proficient in 2008, topped off at 71 percent in 2010, then fell to 59 percent in 2012, seven points off the state average.

North Pulaski High School students went from 43 percent proficient in 2008 to 71 percent in 2010 and then fell to 50 percent proficient on the latest set of exams, 16 points below the state average.


The state proficiency average on the geometry end-of-course exam is 76 percent. Cabot and Beebe beat the average. Other area schools did not.

At Cabot, geometry students went from 75 percent proficient in 2008 to 80 percent on the 2012 exams, four points better than the state average. Beebe students were 72 percent proficient in 2008 and moved up to 78 percent in 2012, two points above the state mark.

Lonoke went from 47 percent proficient in 2008 to 73 percent in 2012, three points off the state average. Sylvan Hills went from 41 percent proficient in 2008 to 72 percent on the 2012 exam, four points under the state average. Carlisle was 55 percent proficient in 2008, up to 71 percent the next year and fell to 65 percent in 2012, 11 points off the state mark.

North Pulaski geometry students were at 38 percent in 2008, topped off at 67 percent in 2011 and then fell to 52 percent in 2012, 24 points below the state mark.

At Jacksonville High School, students have moved steadily from 26 percent proficient in 2008 to 46 percent in 2012, 30 points below the state average.


Across the state, just 43 percent of high school students scored proficient or better on the biology end-of-course exam. Carlisle, Beebe and Cabot surpassed the state average, but still had about 40 percent of the students not make the grade.

Carlisle was at 20 percent proficient in 2008, hit 65 percent in 2011 and 64 percent in 2012, 21 points better than the state average. Beebe High School students have gone from 39 percent proficient in 2008 to 59 percent on the 2012 exam, 16 points better than the state mark. Cabot went from 53 percent proficient in 2008 to 63 percent in 2009 before tapering off to 58 percent in 2012, beating the state mark by 15 points.

Lonoke biology students were 24 percent proficient in 2008, hit 42 percent in 2009, fell to 22 percent in 2011, and then up to 41 percent on the 2012 exams, just two points short of the state average. At North Pulaski, students were 23 percent proficient in 2008, topped off at 33 percent in 2011, and were 32 percent proficient in 2012, 11 points under the state mark. Sylvan Hills was 21 percent proficient in 2008, up to 26 percent the next year and 24 percent proficient on the 2012 exam, 19 points below the state average.

Jacksonville started at 13 percent proficient in 2008 and 11 percent in 2012, more than 30 points below the state mark.

TOP STORY >> Record heat hurts dairies, fisheries and beef farmers

Leader senior staff writer

Lonoke County farmers this summer have seen fish die off in at least a dozen ponds, caused by abnormally hot weather this year, according to Extension Fisheries Specialist Anita Kelly, who works in Lonoke.

Warmer water can’t hold as much oxygen as cooler water, she said, and entire ponds of fish — usually bait fish in Lonoke County — can die overnight.

This appears to be one of the more dramatic effects of the extreme heat and drought farmers throughout Lonoke, Pulaski and White counties are facing.

Embroiled in the most severe drought since before the Great Depression, cattle ponds are dry and pastures are barren—so much so that Arkansas cattle producers sold 17,000 cows in a week, according to state Agriculture Department spokesman Zach Taylor.

Farmers can’t afford to haul water and feed grain and hay this early in the season.

In the short term, this may drive down beef prices, but the scarcity of beef will boost prices later. By one measure, 33 percent of the contiguous U.S. is in severe to extreme drought conditions, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

And it’s not just the U.S. suffering in the heat. Globally, this was the fourth warmest June since 1880, and it marked the 328th consecutive month that the global temperature exceeded the 20th century average, according to NOAA.

The National Drought Mitigation Center has designated several central Arkansas counties “exceptional” drought condition counties, while the rest are merely “extreme.”

Martha Melkovitz, co-owner of the Keo Fish Farm, says she’s lost a couple of ponds this year and workers can’t seine (gather fish with large nets) in the day. “The water is too hot,” she said

Oxygen levels are hard to keep up in hot water Kelly said. Fish concentrate in deeper areas of the pond, which has less oxygen.

“We’ve seen several fish kills this spring and summer. In this weather, ponds can lose a quarter of an inch a day or about seven inches in a month, she said.

Some fish farmers use a paddle wheel or other kinds of aerators to oxygenate the ponds. Bait-fish farmers don’t necessarily have the aerators that catfish farmers do. Personally, I have seen (fish kills) in about 12 ponds, all around the area,” Kelly added.

Usually, the ponds are aerated by phytoplankton converting sunlight into oxygen, but on cloudy days, less oxygen is generated and both the plants and the fish compete for that oxygen at night, she said.


The extreme heat is having a greater effect on Lonoke County farmers than the actual drought, according to Lonoke Extension Service Agent Jeff Welch.

That’s mostly because 97 percent or 98 percent of the county’s row crops are irrigated. So it’s the heat and not the drought that’s reducing yields. What the drought does do, however, is to require farmers to irrigate fields much more often, resulting in higher fuel and power costs to run the pumps.

Scattered showers and storms throughout the state have had little effect.

“We got a little bit of rain. where I was,” said Welch, but not enough to settle the dust.

“The heat, (especially) high nighttime temperatures in corn, soybeans, cotton and rice, hurt us when we have extreme temperatures between 101 and 105 degrees.

In an average year, corn usually has to irrigated every seven days, soybeans every 10 days, cotton every eight or nine days, but with real high temperatures, those rotations have to be shortened up a day or two,” Welch said.


“We’re going to have some reduced yield in corn and everything but rice,” he said.

Welch said the cost of irrigation fuel is “tremendously high,” and even with really good prices that will help eat up potential profits.

Farmers are pretty much done irrigating corn now, letting it dry down from about 45 percent moisture to 15 percent, Welch said. The harvesting will begin when the moisture gets to about 22 percent to 24 percent.

Unlike farmers in the Arkansas River Vally, there’s not much of a problem so far with blister beetles or grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers typically come from a ditch at the edge of a field, so farmers scouting their fields can catch the problem early and treat the edges of the fields with pesticides.

Lonoke is among the Arkansas counties declared agricultural disaster areas because of the anticipated reduced yields from heat and drought and many producers will be eligible for low-interest loans through the USDA.


The heat and drought have hurt dairy farmers, which are few in the area.

When Woody Bryant sold his dairy cows last month, it was because the demands of dairy farming made it tough for him to exercise his duties as an officer in the fledgling Lonoke-White Water System, but “it was excellent timing,” he said Friday.

Bryant, who is serving his last month on the Arkansas Dairy Stabilization Board, said the heat stresses the cows.

They eat less and produce less milk—as much as 30 percent less—and the pastures are dried up, leaving farmers to feed hay from this year’s meager harvest now instead of in November.

Dairy farmers will also have to feed more corn and because of the drought and heat, corn prices are climbing.

“Feed prices will go up before the price of milk catches up,” he said. The price will probably lag two or three months behind.

On Friday, the state sent out the last check for the dairy stabilization program and there’s little money left in the program.


The Small Business Administration has declared 70 Arkansas counties eligible for low interest loans to businesses hit hard in agricultural communities. Lonoke, White and Pulaski counties are among them.

Businesses can qualify for 4 percent loans and nonprofits can borrow money for 3 percent, according to a SBA press release this week.