Friday, August 10, 2012

EDITORIAL >> North Belt’s last chance

Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie was hoping the completion of the North Belt Loop would turn out to be his legacy. It’s a longshot that it will ever get built as costs have risen astronomically. But a toll road being considered in place of the freeway might be the way to complete the much-delayed highway.

The projected cost is now at $650 million and still rising, well above the $120 million estimate of a decade ago. Only five years ago we reported the second phase of the 12-mile freeway would cost $200 million, or about $18 million a mile compared with the latest estimate of $55 million a mile.

Talk about sticker shock. The first phase was about 11 miles long and cost less than $10 million a mile. It looks like a bargain now. But do bureaucrats ever finish a major highway on time? If they can waste several hundred million dollars on a project by delaying it a decade or longer, you know they will choose that option.

The next planned phase through Jacksonville’s bean fields and Sherwood has stalled for a decade because funding wasn’t secured for construction and right of ways to finish the project at Crystal Hill Road at I-40 in North Little Rock.

McKenzie knows that Metroplan should have pushed for completion of the freeway a long time ago. Lack of unity on the Metroplan board, which includes several area mayors, and the state Highway Department’s failure to allocate funds during the prosperous Clinton years have apparently doomed the project — but not quite.

The state Highway Commission will spend $6 million to acquire right of ways, which won’t be easy as the Sherwood City Council recently approved plans for a subdivision in the path of the freeway. The commission has also approved $250,000 to study the feasibility of a toll road along with a bond issue to finish the North Belt. That’s not a good option, but it may be the only way to get it done.

McKenzie and the Metroplan board blew it when they didn’t make the second leg of the North Belt their top priority back in the 1990s, when the gasoline tax was raised and we were promised the road would be finished before the new millennium. Officials break promises all the time, but overcharging motorists at least $500 million for the North Belt is a new low — or a new high. There will be no reason to celebrate even if the highway is completed in the next decade.

TOP STORY >> LOST & FOUND Sherwood family’s pet for 50 years returns after a year's absence.

Leader staff writer

This is not a children’s story, but the saga of a family tortoise that crawled away from his Sherwood home last year. This past week the tortoise reappeared miles away in North Little Rock and was reunited with his owners through the help of animal lovers and pure luck.

“We are so thrilled you can’t imagine. I’m happy to be a tortoise parent again,” owner Susan Reedy said.

Tom, a California desert tortoise, has lived with Sherwood residents Reedy and her brother, Bill Faggard, for more than 50 years. Last August, the siblings had their backyard fence repaired after a car crashed into their Indian Head neighborhood home.

After the fence was fixed, Tom managed to find a gap between the fence and the rock underneath. The spry 90-year-old was able to push himself through and into the wild.

Reedy said only 20-minutes had passed when she noticed Tom was gone. The identification patch glued to the top of his shell was found peeled back under the fence.

She said everyone in her neighborhood knew about the tortoise, but no one had seen him roaming around. Reedy called the Sherwood Animal Shelter and the police department began looking for Tom, but the dinner plate-sized tortoise had vanished.

“We’ve never lost him before, we were resigned that we wouldn’t see him again,” Reedy said.

“Tortoises don’t have the instinct to know they are lost. They tend to go in a pretty straight line unless something catches their eye,” Reedy said.

Faggard was 6 years old living in Costa Mesa, Calif., when he found Tom. The tortoise belonged to a neighbor. Tom had an appetite for flowers and soon the neighbor’s mother had enough of Tom and tossed him out into the street.

Faggard and his friends came across the tortoise in a gutter. He brought the tortoise home, where his mother was more accommodating, even though Tom ate her flowers too.

When the family moved, so did Tom, to Texas, back to California and to Arkansas in 1997. When they lived in Houston during the 1960s they spoke with a zoo specialist about caring for Tom.

The specialist told them tortoises lose the ability to fend for themselves once they are captive.

“He’s lived with every member of the family. He’s been to three generations of show and tells. He’s made the rounds,” Reedy said.

Tom is even in the family’s will. According to information from the San Francisco Zoo, desert tortoises live 50 to 80 years.

Native tortoises hibernate in the winter by burrowing in the desert sand. Faggard said they take Tom inside the house around Halloween. They tuck him in with newspapers and box him up for the winter. They wake him up on St. Patrick’s Day.

Last Friday Julia Ramey of the Park Hill neighborhood in North Little Rock got a surprise. Her neighbor told her something was under her car. When she went to look, Tom moved out from under the vehicle.

Ramey took care of Tom, as her two young children soon renamed him Buddy Boy. Ramey called the Game and Fish Department, who recommended she take Tom to a Lakewood lake.

Ramey said she felt there was something special with the tortoise. It didn’t look like a native turtle. It might be someone’s pet.

Ramey mentioned finding a tortoise at her house to a co-worker, who then contacted Brandy Buie, a volunteer rescue coordinator with the Cabot Animal Shelter. Buie picked up Tom from Ramey but couldn’t keep the tortoise at her Cabot home while they searched for the owner.

Tortoises like to dig big holes and Tom would have torn up the family’s yard. Buie took Tom to Brenda Ransom’s home in Cabot. Ransom fosters homeless dogs for Buie until Buie finds new homes for them or makes arrangements for transportation with rescue organizations across the United States.

On Monday Buie started contacting animal shelters in the area. She sent a text message to her friend Angela Spears, a Sherwood animal control officer, about the tortoise.

Spears and senior animal control officer Charlie Gullette remembered hearing about a Sherwood family missing a tortoise a year ago but they did not have any contact information or the owners’ names.

Just by happenstance former alderman Butch Davis was at the shelter and overheard the telephone conversation between the animal control officers and North Hills Animal Hospital, which takes care of exotic pets.

Davis told them he knew the tortoise’s owners — his neighbors.

Soon Reedy contacted the shelter and sent photos of Tom. After comparing the description of the tortoise’s shell swirls and colorations with Buie, it seemed the found tortoise might be Tom.

On Tuesday night Faggard, Reedy, Buie, Ransom, Ramey’s family and several others met outside the Cabot Animal Shelter for the homecoming.

After talking briefly about Tom’s past, Faggard reached into Ransom’s car and pulled the tortoise from a laundry basket in the back seat. A smile broke across his face as he picked up the 20-pound tortoise.

How did Faggard confirm this was Tom? He tickled one of the tortoise’s rear legs and Tom reacted with a wiggle.

Reedy said now that Tom is back home he will soon be implanted with a microchip.

“We’re so excited to have him back. I’m glad we have people like Brandy who cared and called the animal shelters, Angela and Charlie at the Sherwood shelter who remembered my story and Julia who didn’t toss him out and let him wander off,” Reedy said.

“I am just happy. To lose him and get him back, it’s amazing,” Faggard said.

He said people took a little time and the result was getting a pet back to the family.

“A lot of people think animal control officers just pick up dogs, but we help unite people with their lost pets. We spend a lot of time working with people,” Spears said.

She said she shed a few tears after she found out the tortoise was Tom. “That’s why we do what we do,” Spears said.

Did Tom walk all the way from Sherwood to North Little Rock and survive a year in the wild, or was he picked up by someone, only to make another escape? If only tortoises could talk.

TOP STORY >> The Wizard of Oz

Leader staff writer

“That’s not very nice,” a little girl in the audience blurted out at the Cabot Community Theatre’s “The Wizard of Oz” when the wizard tells Dorothy and her friends to go away and come back with the wicked witch’s broom.

The crowded room at Thursday night’s performance burst into chuckles while the set was changed for the next scene.

This show isn’t one to be missed and it doesn’t have to be.

The nonprofit theater at CenterStage Playhouse, 204 N. First St., is accepting reservations for performances that will be held tonight, Thursday, Friday and next Saturday.

The play starts at 7:30 p.m. Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.

Prices are $25 for an adult dinner and show, but $15 for an adult show only. It’s $15 for a child’s dinner and show and $10 for a child’s show only.

Tickets can be purchased at

Victoria Eckert is starring as Dorothy Gale, her “dream role.”

And her sparkling eyes and lovely voice fit the protagonist to a T.

“Ever since I was 2, I’ve been in love with ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and been singing July Garland,” Eckert said before the show.

Charles Jenkins was the character that little girl was upset with.

He is the Wizard of Oz and the magician Dorothy meets as she is running away from home.

Before the show, Jenkins said “It’s the ultimate feel-good play. Who doesn’t hear ‘Over the Rainbow’ and not feel a little better? I like how the wizard helps them find what they already had inside themselves.”

Another of the many actors and actresses who really make this play worth seeing is Amber Wallis as the the Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy’s ruthless neighbor who is after the girl’s best friend, her dog Toto.

“I like when I first come out. I get to scare people. It’s quite fun,” Wallis said backstage.

Exaggerated foreshadowing is characterized in the first few scenes of the play and much of it was in jokes that had the audience laughing and clapping during the dialogue and after it ended.

After that, Eckert sings “Over the Rainbow” with Toto by her side.

Even the dog seems to have eyes shining with hope.

Although the play closely follows the beloved 1939 movie version, there are at least a few lines thrown in to make the theater’s take on it unique.

One of those occurs when Dorothy exclaims, “She’s after you even up here,” to Toto upon seeing her pesky neighbor in the tornado that carries Dorothy’s house to Oz.

Of course, some of the loudest applause followed the scene when 17 children graced the stage as Munchkins.

They all sang in beautiful harmony and a special shout out should go to both the Lullaby League and the Lollipop Guild.

Two young ladies pulled off delicate ballerina moves accompanied by soothing voices.

After that, three brothers — Samuel, Daniel and Michael McCarty — performed the hysterical and jerky dance of the guild that was memorable from the classic movie.

The actors’ family resemblance really adds something special to the roles.

Other deviations from the movie included extra characters, like the crows in the Scarecrow’s field, which had their own musical number.

An extra scene, one that was cut from the film, was added to the play.

And then there is a remarkable special effect in which the axe carried by the Tin Man leaves his hand, as if enchanted.

The cast, modifications to the script and the gorgeous set will make the Cabot Community Theatre’s “ The Wizard of Oz” an unforgettable experience.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe tennis after third title

Leader sportswriter

Leadership has changed but the tradition continues for the Beebe tennis team as the Badgers and Lady Badgers prepare to defend their 5A East Conference titles in 2012.

Beebe tennis has captured the league titles for the past two seasons on both the boys and girls sides, and new head coach Brian Davis said the returning players from those teams give them a chance to repeat once again.

“We’re pretty excited,” Davis said. “We would love to see a third conference title in a row – that’s what the kids are looking for. We feel like we have a pretty good chance at it.”

Returning on the boys’ side is the doubles team of Ben Groove and Than Kersey, who reached the quarterfinals of the 5A state tournament last spring.

“They started practicing with us as eighth graders,” Davis said. “The older kids didn’t learn their names and just called them ‘good tennis kids’ and things like that, but they’ve both grown into their games now that they’re older. They’re a pretty impressive team.”

Senior Annlee Glass splits her time between tennis and the Lady Badger Basketball team, where she serves as a backup post player to Division I prospect Angelina Williams. Playing both sports sometimes requires Glass to go straight from one practice to another.

“She’s been really good with that and has never complained,” Davis said. “You can always count on her to be in good shape. She’s had a different doubles partner every year because she’s always been paired up with seniors, so she’s exploring new doubles partners this year.”

One possible partner for Glass in doubles play is returner Erin Langley, who Davis said has become more aggressive at the net this season.

Jared Ashbrenner is another two-sport player who also starts on the Mark Crafton-led baseball team. Ashbrenner finished second in singles play last year as a junior.

“He’s one player you don’t want to face,” Davis said. “Hewill wear you down, and wear you out.”

Leading singles players on the girls’ side is Madelyn Poe, another multi-sport athlete as a tennis player and softball player. Poe was also second in conference singles last season.

“One of the positive aspects about her is that she is a good returner,” Davis said. “Where you think you’ve won the point, she can run it down and send it back. She’s tenacious, and she doesn’t back down.”

The Badger tennis team has a no-cut policy, which makes for an unusually large squad of close to 50 players. Beebe has become a big town for tennis on the high-school and community levels, a fact Davis credits to his predecessor, longtime tennis coach Carla Choate.

“She held little kids clinics for several years, and that got a lot of people involved,” Davis said. “The kids start playing, and that also got a lot of parents playing, because it’s something the family can do as an activity.”

This is the first year for Davis as head coach, but he has been active with the tennis team at Beebe for several years, starting as a volunteer under Choate.

Beebe will begin the season on Tuesday, Aug. 28 with a match at Cabot, and will start 5A East play two days later at Wynne. Davis said Nettleton is traditionally Beebe’s biggest league rival, though it is a friendly rivalry.

“The only bad thing is, they’re such nice people, you can’t get angry at them,” Davis said of Nettleton. “The kids and the parents, they’re all really great. It might be better if you could get mad at them, but it’s just not possible.”

SPORTS STORY >> Old rivals will soon face off yet again

Leader sports editor

The latest round of reclassifications gave us several minor tweaks to the athletic conference, as it usually does. This year it also gave us a brand new conference, the 5A Central. For most of the past 20 years, the 5A classification has consisted of West, East, Southeast and Southwest Conferences. Gone now are the last two and replacing them are the South and Central conferences. Three Leader newspaper area teams are in the new 5A Central, and four should be.

Jacksonville, North Pulaski and Sylvan Hills are once again conference mates. They were all part of the old 4A East before classifications were added. North Pulaski dropped first, then Sylvan Hills, and now Jacksonville leaves the old 6A East to join the 5A Central and renew some old rivalries.

The inner-city rivalry between Jacksonville and North Pulaski resumes after a six-year hiatus. Jacksonville has dominated the series since its inception, and it should have the advantage this year, but the Falcon program is on the rise under second-year coach Teodis Ingram. North Pulaski won’t be an easy out this season.

Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills were always great games that usually came down to the final minutes. Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills were always great games that usually came down to the final minutes. The only game in recent memory that was decided early was in 2005 when the Red Devil defense was led by Clinton McDonald, who is now with the Seattle Seahawks. That game ended 36-12. The Bears went for it on fourth and long from inside their own 15-yard line while only trailing 15-6 early in the third quarter. They didn’t make the first down. Jacksonville scored soon after and the rout was on.

Even better than the football rivalry between those three schools were the games inside the gymnasiums. Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski has continued its rivalry as members of the 5A Southeast the past few seasons, but a showdown between Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills has eluded fans for the past few seasons, when both teams had arguably their best squads ever.

Basketball is big in central Arkansas, especially Pulaski County, so expect big crowds and exciting games when these two teams meet up again with league supremacy on the line.

Also joining the conference is state powerhouse Pulaski Academy and another west Little Rock private school Little Rock Christian Academy. Mills and McClellan round out the new league.

Beebe somehow managed to finagle its way out of the Central conference and remain in the 5A East, citing a desire to maintain rivalries among a few other dubious reasons. That meant that Helena-West Helena Central goes to the Central conference with seven schools from Pulaski County.

Now picture an Arkansas state map and notice Beebe just on the southwest tip of White County, 20 miles from Pulaski County. Now try to picture Helena, Arkansas.

If you don’t know where it is, here’s a way to remember. If you step one foot east of Helena, you’ll likely drown in the Mississippi River. But the Arkansas Activities Association, including director Lance Taylor, thought it more logical when drawing up the new conference to put Helena in Central and Beebe in the East.

Appeals are heard every two years by teams unhappy with their placements and Helena seemed to have the most open-and-shut appeal in the history of appeals. But alas, their appeal was denied. A fact even more startling when considering that a vast majority of other appeals were granted this year. Even Catholic High won its appeal to be taken out of the 7A East and put back in the 7A Central. Their grounds? Little Rock Central is four miles further east than Catholic High.

So the AAA determined that a four-mile discrepancy was worth reconsidering for the largest city’s largest private school, but a 120-mile slap in the face to the impoverished, struggling school district in rural far-east Arkansas needed no correction.

But there’s still the very positive renewal of all the old nearby rivals. It’s just a shame Beebe couldn’t see the logic in becoming one of those rivals.

SPORT STORY >> Jackrabbits bringing the intensity

Leader sportswriter

Some teams begin to grow tiresome of hitting each other toward the end of the second week of fall football practice, but the Lonoke Jackrabbits were making the most of it and then some with a spirited practice on Thursday morning.

The practice went for three hours, and featured every type of special teamwork, individual drills, and concluded with a half hour scrimmage that had players and coaches fired up.

“It’s intensity right now,” Lonoke head coach Doug Bost said. “It gets old banging on the same people, so if they can bring that intensity for these three weeks before we hit somebody live, that’s great. We want that. They’ve brought the intensity, and they are challenging each other. When the scout team does something good, they get excited, and that’s what we want.

“It’s tough to go over there and be a running back on the scout team that’s going up against a first defense, but we’re proud of those guys, and we love what they’re doing – they’re only making us better.”

Junior kicker Jose Garcia was relegated to the sideline during the final scrimmage, but did put in significant time in the middle of practice and went perfect on a series of full-scrimmage extra-point attempts with the exception of one attempt that was blocked.

The punt-return team also had significant practice time, as senior returner Blake Gooden put his speed and agility on display against the coverage team. Gooden slipped past his defenders on a few occasions and was cornered on other return attempts.

“We’ve been hitting it 20 minutes a day,” Bost said of special teams. “That’s definitely an important part of the game, so we’re working on that, and still doing offense, defense, individual work. We’ve got more time this time of the year, so we’re getting our three hours worth.”

A few players are held out due to injuries, including senior receiver Reid McKenzie, who suffered an injury to his Achilles’ tendon during Wednesday practice.

Others are returning from previous injuries, as in the case of senior lineman Nelson Brown, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery last December. Bost stated that Brown is working out in practices, but is limited to offense.

“He’s been a two-way player for us,” Bost said. “So we hope he gets back, because he’s a big part of our team. I think we’ve got about six of seven banged up right now.”

While attendance has been an issue at some local schools, the Jackrabbits have been showing up consistently in full force during the past two weeks. Bost said that has helped contribute to a successful and productive camp thus far.

“The people who are on the team are here, they’re not missing practice,” Bost said. “We’ve got everything in, but it’s just over and over to where they don’t have to think about it. They just go and play fast – that’s what we want out of these three weeks.”

Lonoke will have its scrimmage game Monday, Aug. 20 at Maumelle High School with the junior high scrimmaging at 5:30 p.m. and the varsity team at 7 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Focusing on the little things

Leader sports editor

Take care of the little things. That’s been a key focus for the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats football team all summer long. It’s still a major focus as the second week of preseason practice wraps up today. All the tools are in place for the Wildcats to make a serious run at a state championship. They return 18 starters, most of whom are three-year starters. They have more speed than most teams have in two or three seasons combined. They have one of the nation’s top running backs, a big, experienced and deep unit of linemen and a solid kicking game.

What’s still not certain is whether or not the team will take care of the little things. That’s why the NLRHS coaching staff, led by head coach Brad Bolding, is nitpicking every little thing this summer.

“Most years we have one of the most talented teams,” Bolding said. “But here’s the deal, we haven’t taken care of the little things. We haven’t had the discipline those northwest Arkansas teams have had. So that’s something we’ve focused heavily on since January. If your shoestring is untied, we’re doing up-downs. When we run, you can’t even put your hands on your head. You can’t say “I’m tired.”

We’ve had discipline. I’m not saying we’ve been out of control. But we’ve got a lot of experience and we know the system. So we’re really focusing on getting all our I’s dotted and our T’s crossed. We’re going to have to be the kind of team that takes care of those things if we want to be champions.”

This year’s preseason practices have included a new jersey system borrowed from the University of Nebraska. Key skill-position players wear red jerseys, which mean they are not to be taken to the ground during contact drills. Starting offensive linemen wear white jerseys. Starting defensive players wear black and backups wear yellow.

“Those black and yellow jerseys could change at the drop of a hat, and they have,” Bolding said. “We’re fortunate enough to have the kind of depth this year, where if you’re in black and you aren’t hustling, you could come out of that black jersey real quick. If you make a mental error, you could come out of that black jersey real quick.”

After spring practice in May, Bolding said he would probably wait until late August to name a starting quarterback. Now that’s changed.

“It might go through non-conference games before we make that decision,” Bolding said. “And we may end up working throughout the year with both of them.”

Junior Payton Holmes and sophomore Heath Land are battling for the top spot. Both are 6-feet and approximately 180 pounds.

“If you could take them and mold them together you could make one great quarterback right now,” Bolding said. Payton is a little further along in checks. He’s making good decisions and he’s a little better runner. Heath is throwing a better ball right now and he runs pretty good. It’s pretty close. There are so many variables that we grade and we do it at the end of the week, and the order changes.”

The Wildcats went on a senior retreat to Petit Jean Mountain State Park last week. Bolding wouldn’t give specifics about the seniors’ activities on the mountain, but said it’s something they’ve been doing a while and something he believes is beneficial.

“That’s where we worked out our captains,” Bolding said. “It’s a lot of team building. We got together and we nailed down our expectations and we come back and try to be leaders in achieving those expectations.”

Three weeks ago, the team took part in boot camp, staying a few days at Camp Robinson with the Arkansas National Guard putting them through daily, early morning training.

“They stayed in the barracks there and those guys with the National Guard really put them through it,” Bolding said. “It’s another team building thing and another way to learn the kind of discipline and attention to detail that we have to have.”

North Little Rock’s first live action will be Wednesday, Aug. 22 in a scrimmage game against Conway. The Wildcats open the season on Friday, Aug. 31 at home against Lake Hamilton.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

EDITORIAL >> The fires this time

Two smoking burn barrels were the presumed cause of a grass fire off Gillham Road outside Beebe on Friday afternoon that was extinguished by residents and the El Paso Fire Department.

I became vaguely aware of the fire when I stepped outside after finishing my last story for the day, but the threat didn’t completely register.

When you grow up and live in the country you dispose of leaves, yard debris and paper by burning so the smell of smoke was not alarming.

It wasn’t until 30 minutes later when I heard a tractor outside my office door and found my son filling a 50-gallon barrel with water that I realized we might have a problem.

“This is about self-defense,” he told me as he asked for my dishwashing liquid to make the water wetter.

The fire was contained inside a five-acre field without burning outbuildings or the nearby home of a young man I have known for almost 30 years. And if the truth be told, when I saw my three sons driving back to the fire with a larger tank of water loaded into a Jeep, I could tell they didn’t mind the diversion that took them away from their normal activities for a little while.

But what made me think was how easily I ignored the danger. I finally concluded that people like me are the reason firefighters must be on alert at all times. When you are accustomed to burning, you burn, especially if there has been a small shower like the one in my area that morning.

But small rain showers aside, people need to understand just how dry everything is and refrain from burning. Nearly all of the state is under a burn ban. And regardless of how we country people grew up, it’s simply not safe to carry on as usual. —Joan McCoy

TOP STORY >> Road widening moving forward

Leader staff writer

The contractor who has been relocating water lines on Graham Road is finally gone after five months of delays.

The $3.35 million widening project is now full steam ahead.

For decades, the city’s master street plan and other area maps have shown a four-lane road connecting Hwy. 89 in Lonoke County to Hwy. 107 in Pulaski County.

The widening of Graham Road to four lanes from Loop Road to Elm and Oak streets, a distance of about a mile, is part of that master plan. The project is 80 percent federally funded.

The widening, which is being done by Township Builders of Little Rock, is 20 percent complete, according to Glenn Bolick, spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway Department.

He said the project is scheduled to be finished in May, but it could be completed as soon as February or as late as June.

Bolick explained that the off-season for construction is from mid-December to mid-March. During this time, contractors aren’t penalized for delays.

“If we have a mild winter, they can do it quicker. They’re making progress,” Bolick said.

As for the utility relocation, Jacksonville Waterworks is awaiting a final invoice from CoBar Contracting, according to general manager Jake Short.

The latest estimated cost was around $487,000, thousands more than the original bid price of $436,000.

The original deadline was Jan. 1.

The waterline work was substantially completed on June 4, five months behind schedule. CoBar recently finished some punch-list items and cleanup.

The water department withheld $6,000 for six days of delays from the contractor.

Short said his office had wanted to withhold 24 days, or $24,000, from CoBar, but decided on the six days in order to avoid the hassle of a lawsuit that would further delay the project.

He said the department believed that decision was the best one that could be made for both parties.

Short said the state would reimburse the city for the total cost of the project.

Charles Tankersley of CoBar did not immediately return a call.

But he earlier blamed the delay on the water department’s plans and changes to the project.

Short said the water department requested four changes and gave the contractor extensions to complete them.

TOP STORY >> Animals suffer in record heat

Leader staff writer

Panting and shedding, the natural defenses of man’s best friends, aren’t enough to keep them safe while record-setting heat is plaguing Arkansas.

The high in Little Rock early last week was 111, the city’s third-highest temperature ever, according to the Weather Channel.

Temperatures rose into triple digits much of last week and into the weekend, and more 100-degree-plus weather continued this week.

Hedy Limke, director of animal services for Jacksonville, said her office has picked up at least seven dogs in the last two months which died in the owner’s backyards from exposure to the extreme temperatures.

She urges pet owners to keep dogs inside their homes or in air-conditioned garages.

“It’s just too much for them to be outside,” Limke said.

Animals should also not be left in parked cars, she emphasized.

Senior animal control officer Charlie Gullette agreed. She said that if it is 100 degrees outside, the inside of a car, even one with its windows cracked, could get to 120 degrees in a matter of minutes.

The heat causes damage to a pet’s organs, Gullette said.

She said animal control officers statewide have reported at least six heat-related deaths because dogs were tied up and couldn’t get to water.

She said if pets have to be kept outdoors, they should be left with a constant supply of water and shade where they can cool off.

In Sherwood, animals have to be tied up with a trolley cable, which stops automatically to keep it from becoming tangled, Gullette said. A rope or cable that gets tangled may cause a dog to be unable to reach its water.

She said another concern is water getting knocked over. Gullette said pet owners should set the container or bowl inside a tire or dig a hole for the bowl.

She also said a lot of people think the shade of a doghouse helps. But, Gullette explained, if the doghouse is in the sun rather than in the shade, it can trap heat like an oven.

She also suggested pet owners make cold treats for their dogs. One way to do that is to mix peanut butter with some kind of broth and freeze it like a popsicle.

Gullette encourages residents to leave out a bowl of water for stray animals and wildlife which may need it.

The Jacksonville and the Sherwood animal shelters have air-conditioned kennels and concrete floors.

Limke said the dogs are not being taken out to play. They are kept in the kennels and are allowed outside only to go to the bathroom.

The Lonoke Animal Shelter does not have air-conditioned kennels, but has been using two big fans and two smaller fans to keep the animals cool 24/7, said director Ben Kittler.

He said his office hasn’t had any problems with people’s pets or shelter animals dying or getting sick from the heat.

Kittler said animals that are stressed are more susceptible to the heat because they run around and pant more. He said owners need to keep water bowls clean because the heat could foster bacterial growth.

Cabot Animal Shelter manager Jason Ellerbee said when it gets very hot, cats and dogs at the shelter stay cool. They are kept inside with plenty of fresh water.

“We limit the amount of time the dogs are outside during the cleaning of the cages,” Ellerbee said.

The city had very few heat-related welfare calls about pets in vehicles this year, Ellerbee said.

Beebe Animal Control officer Horace Taylor said he has received only one call for an animal-welfare check at a home on Apple Street. He hasn’t had any reports of dogs left in cars.

Taylor said the animal shelter has a sprinkler system to keep the dogs cool when they go outside. Each indoor pen has a doggie door to an outside pen. The shelter also has two water coolers.

Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Beautification plan to spruce up Cabot

Leader staff writer

New sidewalks, banner poles and full-grown, red crepe myrtle trees will be installed from 5th to 9th streets under a Main Street beautification plan in Cabot.

The work is expected to go out for bids next month and be completed next summer.

The $306,000 project will be paid with a $200,000 state highway grant and $66,000 in federal funds, leaving the city to pay only $40,000 of the cost. But one city council member said during a committee meeting Monday night that the project is so good, he would like to make it bigger if the price isn’t too high.

Alderman Ed Long, the chairman of the public works committee, asked last month for an update on the project that has been in the works for at least two years. He asked Brian Boroughs, head of the city’s public works department, Monday to find out how much it will cost to extend the project to 10th Street. It would be less expensive to do it along with the rest of the project because the workers would already be on the site. Besides, Long said, he has been around long enough to know that you almost never go back to a project when it’s done.

The city is doing well financially, Long said. He told Boroughs that if he needs more money for the project, it could probably be included in the 2013 budget.

“If you don’t complete it when you start it, it’s going to be a lot harder,” Long said.

Long was also concerned about talk of installing fewer than the planned 46 banner poles that will also include traffic signs.

“Don’t downgrade the poles to where it looks like we ran out of money,” he said. “This is a good opportunity to develop a good entrance to the city. Let’s don’t cheapen it. It could make this city look really good.”

Boroughs said since the project will be paid mostly by the state and it is on a state highway, the state calls the shots.

The $200,000 state grant is for a streetscape, which is a beautification project with sidewalks. Boroughs said he would have preferred to spend the money on more sidewalks with a few holly bushes, but it’s not up to him or anyone else in the city.

The project also will include filling one ditch with concrete drain pipes and eliminating several driveways at businesses that have more than is needed.

Boroughs said he is also talking to Entergy about relocating the overhead powerlines in the area so they don’t detract from the finished project.

SPORTS STORY >> NP shows growth at team camp

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski volleyball team returns a lot of key players from last year’s squad that barely missed out on the class 5A state playoffs. The team has been practicing since July and has taken part in two team camps this month. Last week the Lady Falcons went to Rogers-Heritage, and are competing in a camp at Vilonia this week.

The early start has been good for many of the less experienced players, and has highlighted improvements made by some of the returning players.

“Shelby Floyd, our main hitter, played well up in Rogers,” Belton said. “Emily Long, our setter, played extremely well. My ninth-graders I took up there proved they deserve to be playing varsity. As a whole I thought we played well. We made some mistakes but not as many as we did at times last year. Overall I think we’re ahead of where were at this same time a year ago.”

North Pulaski played tough competition at Heritage. They didn’t win, but held their own and were competitive against 7A West teams like Springdale Har-Ber and Rogers Heritage. Other games weren’t as good.
“It was strange because we competed with those big schools pretty well I thought,” Belton said. “But then we played Prairie Grove and they beat us like we stole something from them. We were very inconsistent, especially on the back row. I was disappointed in how we received the ball and played defense.”

Belton thinks he knows why the back row was a weak point at the Fayetteville camp.

“We’ve had trouble getting everybody all together at practice, and a lot of it is our back row players,” Belton said. “I’m disappointed in some of our returners right now. We have some players that started last year that haven’t come to practice regularly, and it shows when they do. The play is inconsistent. We may have a situation where some ninth-graders will fill some roles some other people thought were their’s just because they were their’s last year.”

Kierra Evans and Raigen Thomas are the two freshmen that figure into the mix for varsity. Megan Shurginov has also played her way into the starting rotation. Nebreigh Thomas is a returning starter. Ashley Van Horn will be the team’s libero. Shayla Evans and Brianna Lyons are also key players for this year’s squad.

The team will also sport a new look for the first time in many years. It took some doing, but the Lady Falcons got new jersey’s for the upcoming season.

“That’s thanks in large part to Mr. Sinn,” Belton said of the NPHS principal. “That’s something we’ve been needing and he got that done for us.”

The Lady Falcons will put their new team and uniforms on display for the first time on Aug. 20 when they open the season at Greenbrier.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears practice all night long

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears volleyball team had its own version of Midnight Madness on Sunday night, with a practice session that went into the early hours of Monday morning.

It was a practice mixed with a slumber party-like atmosphere, as the evening got underway at 8 p.m. with food and games. The Lady Bears alternated between practicing and watching movies, while some slept through the latter stages of the assembly. A series of team drills started at midnight and ended around 3 a.m.

“It something I’ve been wanting to do for several years,” Lady Bears coach Harold Treadway said. “It was something different. We have a large group of sophomores, and it was a team-building type of thing. It gave everyone a little bit of time together other than on the practice court. Midnight may not be the ideal time to practice, but I got a lot of positive comments from it.”

Building team chemistry has been critical for Treadway, who is working with one senior in hitter Val Jarrett. Three juniors with limited varsity time return in Jordie Flippo, Michelle Sorensen and Ashton Williams, while juniors Shelby Simpkins and Maredith Vanderlugt come up from the junior-varsity squad this year.

The Lady Bears began their fall sessions with five practices before attending a team camp at Greenbrier on July 26.

“I was pleased with what we accomplished,” Treadway said. “We’ve been able to see what some of the sophomores can do as far as helping out with varsity, and I saw some surprises in a couple of the juniors. Everybody came back in about the same shape.”

Though experience was lost with most of last year’s varsity hitters and setters graduating, many of the underclassmen return with valuable Junior Olympic experience under their belts.

“The ones who have played (J.O.) have picked up things a lot easier,” Treadway said. “Some of the J.O. systems are similar to what we do. The positions might be a little bit different, but the ones who have played are always asking questions about what happens if a ball goes to a certain area.

“That makes practices go a lot quicker, and it sets a good example for the kids who have not played.”

Many of the faces are new on the players’ side, but the coaching staff is familiar with Lara Allred assisting Treadway with the varsity program as well as overseeing the junior-varsity group. Treadway and Allred have led the volleyball program at Sylvan Hills for several seasons now, as the two have filled in for each other during military deployments and maternity leaves throughout the years.

“I really enjoy working with her,” Treadway said. “She is a tremendous asset to the program. A lot of times, we’re on the same page; we read each other well. She works real hard with the J.V. program, and it’s just nice to have another set of eyes to evaluate what’s going on. Something we will do a lot of times in practice is we will switch, and she will work with the varsity group while I go over to the J.V. bunch, just to give the kids a different perspective on certain things.”

The Lady Bears open the play on Aug. 21 at Greenbrier.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe looking good in pads

Leader sportswriter

Old-school football coaches enjoy the old-school methods of practicing, so it was hardly a surprise on Monday when Beebe head coach John Shannon was beaming over the first day of August two-a-days.

The Badgers started the second week with a morning session that went from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m., and returned in the afternoon for a 1 p.m. session that went until around 3:30 p.m.

“The first week, I was pleased with it,” Shannon said. “I thought it went pretty good. It was an adjustment – basically, we didn’t get any contact. And then Saturday, we brought them in and scrimmaged. The scrimmage went pretty good. There’s always things you can work on, but we were pleased with where we were at at the end of the first week.”

Shannon, who was himself a standout lineman at Beebe in the early 1980s, expressed his frustration last week at the limited amount of days where two separate practices can be held. Now, with two-a-days as an option every other day at the start of the second week, the head Badger plans on making the most of those sessions.

“To me, it’s a time where you can build your team chemistry,” Shannon said. “You don’t have anything else going on but football. It’s usually hot, and you have to depend on each other. It’s just a good time to build that unity that you need for a football team. That’s something we don’t get to do anymore except here and there. We have to adjust and monitor, and try to find new ways to do things – try to get the same results we’ve gotten in the past.”

One of the main focal points for the Badgers this fall is replacing all-conference nose guard Dustin Skinner. Skinner, a junior who started as a sophomore and displayed tremendous strength and instincts on the field, suffered a knee injury with a torn anterior cruciate ligament at a team camp back in July. He is scheduled for surgery on Aug. 8, and will be out for the entire season.

“At least it happened at a point where we had time to find someone to replace him,” Shannon said. “We’ve got two or three guys working in that spot. Hopefully they’re going to be ready by the time we play Greenbrier.

“It’s going to be a big loss for us, and we’re going to need some kids to step up to replace him. As good as he played as a sophomore, the way he was progressing and as strong as he was getting, we felt like he probably had a shot to go somewhere (college wise). And hopefully, he still will if he works real hard and rehabs right, comes back strong for his senior year, things will be good. Right now, it’s tough on him simply because he’s isolated from the rest of us and doing his rehab on his own.”

Beebe will host a scrimmage game with Harding Academy in two weeks before opening the regular season at Greenbrier on Aug. 31. With 100 percent of the offense and defense already installed, the remainder of fall camp comes down to resilience for the Badgers.

“At this point, we basically have everything in on both sides of the ball,” Shannon said. “It now just becomes repetition – getting better at what we do. Even though we’ve been running the same plays and working the same defense from February until now, you never get in enough reps.

“We’re to the point now where we’re just working on mental toughness – the heat and the long practices, and just trying to toughen them up.”

SPORTS STORY >> JHS girls get third coach in just four seasons

Leader sportswriter

The search for a new head coach is all but over, but the search for setters continues as the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils prepare for volleyball season in their new conference home of the 5A Central from their former 6A East Conference.

Though it is not yet official, former assistant Kendra Sauheaver is projected to be the new head Lady Devil pending a formal interview process, replacing former coach Justine Rial. Rial took the job in 2009, replacing Missy Reeves. Reeves then took over again in 2010 while Rial went back to school to earn her master’s degree. Rial led the team again last season, but now Sauheaver takes over as the Lady Devils’ foray into the 5A classification.

Sauheaver inherits five seniors on this year’s roster of 13 players, but only a few have significant varsity court time.

Jacksonville’s most experienced senior, hitter Victoria Cummings, will not see court time this season due to a knee injury, but is still helping out with the team as a mentor to younger players, as well as lending moral support. The impact of Cummings’ court absence is offset somewhat by the return of fellow senior Coyja Hood, who missed last season due to a knee injury.

The Lady Devils will rely on a new group of hitters this season, including senior Alunte Petties and junior Markela Bryles, as well as sophomores Taylor Hayden and Bailey Mitchell, who will also put in time as a setter.

The setter situation is still up in the air, as Sauheaver has evaluated several players in the first two weeks of practice.

“We’re still playing around with that,” Sauheaver said. “We have two or three we’re working with. We may be switching some of them around a few times.”

Sauheaver expects to find some answers as the team attends a three-day camp at Vilonia this week. The camp will also host Heber Springs, Conway St. Joseph and North Pulaski. The camp started on Monday and continued into Tuesday, with the final day on Thursday.

Seniors joining Hood and Petties are Mori Shore, Shyrel McKinney and defensive specialist Katie Lawrence, the only three-year returning starter.

“We’re pretty well on schedule,” Sauheaver said. “We still have a few things that need to be worked out through practices and drills.”

Sauheaver is a teacher at Dupree Elementary, and served as an assistant under Rial last season on the Jacksonville volleyball team before taking the helm as head coach of the North Pulaski girls soccer team.

Her teaching duties will remain separate from coaching, and the plan for now is for Sauheaver to coach volleyball at Jacksonville this fall and return to the soccer field at North Pulaski in the spring.

The Lady Red Devils will open the regular season on Aug. 20 with a match at Pulaski Robinson.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot ladies much improved

Leader sports editor

If experience is important to success in athletics, Cabot’s volleyball team should be much better this season than the 1-13 conference record it put together last year. The Lady Panthers lost just one starting senior from last year’s squad, which was dominated by inexperienced sophomores who were starting their high school careers under a brand new head coach. This year the starting lineup will be dominated by juniors and all of them have a year of work under Deanne Campbell, who assembled quite a busy off-season schedule.

“We’re definitely much farther along right now than we were at this time last season,” Campbell said. “Taking the job six weeks before the season started didn’t really give us much time to prepare. And on top of that we were going to have so many sophomores playing, it was just a tough adjustment for everyone.

“This year we did conditioning every day. We did speed drills and jumping drills and really worked on improving those things that make you better a volleyball team. Plus we’re in better shape. We’ll have more energy at the end of matches than we did last season.”

The 2012 Lady Panthers have 20 players on the roster, including 11 sophomores, but only two figure heavily into the main varsity rotation.

Senior Briley Staten returns as the starting setter. She missed the last third of the season with a severe ankle injury. When she rotates to the front row, she’ll be replaced by sophomore Haylee Callison. Junior Lakin Best was an outside hitter last season, but will get more work in the middle this year. Junior Taylor Bitely is the other starter in the middle. The key outside hitters this year will be senior Samantha Mantione and junior Kaitlyn Pitman. Senior Evye Pifer is a defensive specialist who will stay on the back row and senior Hannah Montgomery will handle the team’s libero.

“Hannah has improved so much it’s incredible,” Campbell said of her libero. “She’s playing some of the best back row I’ve seen.”

The Lady Panthers were supposed to be in team camp this week at Hendrix University in Conway, but the camp was canceled with just a week’s notice.

They competed in a camp at the University of Arkansas last week and performed well enough to draw some praises from the second-year coach.

“We did really well,” Campbell said. “Our first two days I felt like you could really see the improvement. Last year we only had one true hitter in every rotation. This year I think we’re going to have two or three. And we’re doing better at not just putting the ball down, but putting it down strategically. Approaching it with an idea of where we want the ball to go.”

One key to team success is the belief it can win. After a 1-13 conference campaign last year, that’s a hurdle that Campbell knows she can’t coach her team over.

“They have to make up their minds that they can win,” Campbell said. “I see the improvement. It’s clear to me they’re all so much better volleyball players than they were a year ago. But they have to make up their minds that they’re good enough to beat these teams we’ve been playing.

“We were competitive in most all of our games last year. And one of the reasons I think we lost so many of them was lack of experience and lack of conditioning. We were terribly inconsistent at the end of matches and I think conditioning had a lot to do with that. This year we’re much more experienced and in much better shape. So hopefully we’ll have more success.”

The Lady Panthers first competition is at the Conway High School jamboree on Thursday, Aug. 16.

Their first official matches of the season will be at home on Aug. 21 in a multi-match setting with Russellville, Morrilton, Batesville and Heber Springs.