Saturday, September 01, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Twinkle town leaves cloud over Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

It was an opening night choked full of big plays and large momentum shifts as Star City out-dueled Lonoke in a 44-35 scrapper at James B. Abraham Stadium on Friday.

The Bulldogs played many of their standouts on both sides, which made endurance a problem in the late going for the visitors. That gave the Jackrabbits multiple chances to close within one score after falling behind 28-7 early in the third quarter.

Lonoke fought its way back with two quick scores later in the third to pull within 28-22, and that set the stage for the back-and-forth shootout that ensued.

Star City had no shortage of playmakers, led by junior quarterback Zack House, who led all rushers with 17 carries for 192 yards and a touchdown on top of his safety duties on defense.

“He was a horse tonight,” Star City coach Blair Brown said. “And he is by far our most experienced defensive player. He had a heck of a ballgame. We were playing a lot of kids both ways. We showed our depth tonight – we had some issues with cramps and injuries. We lost three linebackers during the game and still prevailed. Every time we needed our offense to answer, they did.”

There was no shortage of big plays on Lonoke’s end, as junior quarterback Grant Dewey completed 14 of 29 pass attempts for 251 yards and two touchdowns. The Jackrabbits first scored on a missed assignment by Star City’s defense, which left senior receiver D.J. Burton wide open on the right side of the field for a 65-yard touchdown toss from Dewey with 7:50 remaining in the first half. Burton took the wide screen and ran up the sideline untouched to tie the game at six, and junior kicker Jose Garcia added the extra point to give the ’Rabbits their only lead of the game, 7-6.

Junior receiver Blake Mack was the recipient on the other long touchdown pass for Lonoke. Mack caught Dewey’s pass on the left side and cut to the middle to avoid defenders before breaking left again at the 9:19 mark of the third quarter to cut Star City’s lead to 28-15 following Burton’s successful Wildcat run to convert two more points.

The Jackrabbits took the ball over on downs and struck again, this time on the strength of senior tailback Eric Williams, who gave Lonoke a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line with a 32-yard rumble up the gut. Williams got the call again on first down and went the rest of the way to make it 28-22.

House answered for Star City with his only touchdown of the night on a nine-yard run with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter. He also ran in the two-point conversion to stretch the Bulldogs’ lead once again, 36-22.

Lonoke looked as if it would strike quickly on its ensuing possession with a 20-yard run by senior tailback Brent Sims that would have given the Jackrabbits a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, but a personal foul penalty for an illegal block backed them up to the Star City 11-yard line.

That killed momentum for the drive, as junior receiver Kody Smith was caught well behind the line of scrimmage on a pass from Dewey for a 12-yard loss, followed by short gain on a catch by Blake Gooden and two incompletions to give the ball back to the Bulldogs on downs.

The endless good-break, bad-break scenarios continued for the Jackrabbits on the next Star City drive. Lonoke stood up on defense and forced a 4th-and-11, but was called for an illegal substitution on the punt. That gave the Bulldogs a fresh set of downs.

The Jackrabbits eventually did get the ball back without giving up a score, and Williams took advantage with three consecutive carries for a combined 22 yards, including the six-yard tote to score with 8:24 remaining.

That closed the gap to 36-29, but Star City senior all-purpose player Lavante Gardner put a damper on yet another Lonoke attempt at a comeback when he returned Garcia’s kickoff 88 yards for another Bulldog score, this one to give them a 42-29 lead.

“We did an outstanding job in our kicking game,” Brown said. “Lavante Gardner, my gosh, we muff a punt, and he takes it and gets a first down. His kick returns were outstanding.

Lonoke kept digging and almost pulled even a third time when junior lineman Styver Hamric recovered a fumble when a shotgun snap got away from House and rolled back to the Star City 8-yard line.

The Jackrabbits were penalized for a false start and moved back to the 13, but Williams made it up on first down with an eight-yard carry, followed by another Wildcat run by Burton for the touchdown at the 4:55 mark of the fourth quarter. The extra-point attempt was foiled by a bad snap to leave the score at 42-35.

Lonoke took over once more on downs but was pinned deep in its own territory at the 5-yard line.

A bobbled snap on the Jackrabbits’ end resulted in Williams falling on the ball in the end zone for a safety to set the final margin.

Williams carried 16 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns for Lonoke, and had four receptions for 56 yards. The Jackrabbits finished with 381 total yards on offense.

For Star City, Gardner carried 13 times for 134 yards and a touchdown while Davis had 12 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. The Bulldogs had 511 yards offense.

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats pounce on Lake Hamilton

The North Little Rock Charging Wildcats came up big in their season opener with a 42-7 blowout victory at Lake Hamilton on Friday.

The Wildcats got the job done by committee as senior standout Altee Tenpenny led the way with 85 yards rushing and two touchdowns while classmate and fellow Division I college prospect Juan Day added 62 yards and another pair of scores for North Little Rock. Senior Rodney Bryson finished with 59 yards and a touchdown, while junior quarterback Peyton Holmes completed 6 of 10 pass attempts for 74 yards, and converted the Charging Wildcats’ final score of the game on the ground from a yard out.

Tenpenny struck first for North Little Rock with a nine-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter, and added to the Charging Wildcats’ lead later in the first with a two-yard rush into the end zone. Sophomore kicker Sandy Burks added the point-after successfully both times, and went 4 for 5 on extra points on the night.

Bryson got in on the scoring action in the second quarter with a six-yard touchdown run, and Day got his scores on long runs of 42 and 20 yards. Dion Tidwell also scored on a two-point conversion run for the Charging Wildcats.

Next week, North Little Rock will venture out of state to face Longview High School in Longview, Tex. in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Lake Hamilton will try to recover on Friday against Earle in another home game at Wolf Stadium.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Wildcats top Cabot in three

Leader sportswriter

After a near double-digit win for North Little Rock in the first game of Thursday’s volleyball match with Cabot, the Lady Panthers gave the Lady Charging Wildcats all they could handle in the next two games, but fell just short in both as North Little Rock won the match 25-16, 26-24, 26-24 at Panther Arena.

Cabot never led in game one, but managed to stay within striking distance until the Wildcats reached the 20-point mark. Leading 20-15, NLR outscored Cabot 5-1 down the stretch and took the game on a kill from senior outside hitter Kelsie Claussen.

North Little Rock’s momentum carried over in the second game. Lady Wildcats jumped out to an 8-2 lead, forcing a Cabot timeout. However, North Little Rock stayed in control and appeared to be on its way to a lopsided win after leading 21-12. But the Lady Panthers scrapped their way back into the game.

Cabot scored the next point and with junior middle blocker Lakin Best serving, Cabot went on a furious 7-2 run to cut North Little Rock’s lead to three. The Lady Charging Wildcats scored the next point to lead 24-20, but Cabot’s Bailee Uhiren picked up a kill that sparked the Lady Panthers to go on another run and tie the score at 24.

Best nearly gave Cabot its first lead of the game as she went for a kill at the middle of the net, but senior middle blocker Keedra Johnson timed the attempt just right and blocked the ball back over the net, giving North Little Rock the lead once again.

Johnson closed the game for North Little Rock with a kill on the next serve, and the Lady Charging Wildcats earned the close 26-24 win.

“At first they got a little sloppy,” said Lady Charging Wildcats coach Becky Mat-thews about the close win. “They got a little slacked and a little lazy, and they weren’t moving their feet. I got a little mad in the huddle and I think that sparked them a little bit. A couple of the girls were a little angry too, and I think it just came down to they really wanted it badly.”

Down two games to none, Cabot’s spirits could’ve been weakened after such a heartbreaking loss, but the team kept scrapping with the athletic Lady Charging Wildcats in the third game. The two teams traded leads until Cabot’s senior setter Brylee Staten picked up back-to-back aces on serves, which gave the Lady Panthers a 9-7 lead.

After Staten’s aces, Cabot went on a 5-1 run to lead 14-8. It was the largest lead Cabot would have for the remainder of the game. The Lady Panthers continued to score, but the Wildcats kept the margin close. Cabot gained the advantage late, leading 20-16, but the Lady Charging Wildcats quickly cut the Lady Panthers’ lead to one after scoring the next three points.

Cabot then picked up two points in a row to lead 22-19. NLR scored again, but Cabot answered with another score to lead 23-20. The Lady Charging Wildcats responded by scoring the next four points to grab a 24-23 lead – their first since leading 7-6 in the game.

The Lady Panthers answered with a clutch kill from Best to tie the score at 24, but North Little Rock regained the lead with a kill from Keandra Tillman. Johnson closed the game again for North Little Rock with a kill over the middle of the net that gave the Lady Charging Wildcats another hard-earned 26-24 win.

“That’s the best we’ve ever played mentally,” said Cabot coach DeAnna Campbell. “That’s the hardest we’ve ever attacked, the hardest we’ve ever gone for something. The first game they were trying to get the timing down, because we haven’t seen anything like (NLR). But now they know they can play with those girls. Sometimes we just don’t have a lot of luck, but if we keep fighting like that we’re going to win.”

Johnson led North Little Rock with 16 kills to go with eight blocks. Claussen had 10 kills while senior setter Katie Drake had 18 assists for the Lady Charging Wildcats. Uhiren led Cabot in kills and assists with nine each. Taylor Bitely had eight kills and six blocks for the Lady Panthers. Best finished the match with seven kills and eight blocks.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS girls slip past Mills, fall to LRCA

Leader sportswriter

It was a week of mixed results for the Jacksonville volleyball team.

The Lady Red Devils started the week with a 3-1 victory over Mills University Studies to begin 5A Central Conference play Tuesday, but Thursday’s matchup against a loaded Little Rock Christian team did not go as well. The Lady Warriors took the match in straight games.

Sophomore Bailea Mitchell had a standout performance against Mills, backing seniors Alunte Petties, Shyrel McKinney, Coyja Hood and Katie Lawrence. The Lady Comets used a strong service game to take the opening frame 22-25 before Jacksonville rallied back to sweep the next three games 25-13, 25-21 and 25-19.

“They settled in and found their rhythm,” Lady Red Devils coach Kendra Sauheaver said. “They started playing like I know they can play. They were really excited to get the conference season started on a good note.”

The Lady Warriors feature several year-round players who participate in Junior-Olympic volleyball, which created a mismatch for Jacksonville.

“A lot of them play J.O., and yeah, it made a big difference,” Sauheaver said. “But, when several of their players come up and compliment our kids, it really says a lot.”

The Lady Red Devils were further hampered by having to play without Hood, one of the team’s leading hitters. There were bright spots for Jacksonville, however, as sophomores Taylor Hayden and Asheley Adams got their first taste of varsity court time against one of the state’s most successful programs.

The Lady Warriors took runaway victories in the first two frames before the Lady Red Devils gained ground in the final game which ended in favor of Little Rock Christian 25-13.

The Lady Red Devils are 1-2 overall and 1-1 in 5A Central Conference play, and have shown fast improvement in the young season. Sauheaver continues to work with the team to improve its serve-receive game.

“The serve-receive is what got us,” Sauheaver said of the struggles against Little Rock Christian. “We’ve been working on it. It’s what got us in the first game against Mills, and it happened again against Christian, we just couldn’t get it back.”

The Lady Red Devils return to 5A Central conference play on Thursday with a home match against crosstown rival North Pulaski at the Devils Den with junior-varsity play opening at 5 p.m. followed by the varsity matchup.

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons stop War Eagles at goal line

Leader sports editor

They didn’t make it easy. They didn’t make it pretty, but they made it happen. The North Pulaski Falcons beat J.A. Fair 13-12 Friday night in Little Rock to open the 2012 football season. The win gives second-year coach Teodis Ingram his first victory at North Pulaski and gives the Falcons their first win since 2010.

It came down to a defensive stand on a two-point conversion with 52 seconds remaining. Fair lined up in the spread and handed off to Isaac Nelson. Nelson cut inside, but was tripped up by sophomore defensive tackle David Jackson at the 1-yard line to preserve the victory.

As North Pulaski took a knee to run out the clock, defensive back Daniel Drone said to Ingram, “We did it for you coach.” Drone explained what he meant.

“Coach Ingram has just meant so much to this team,” Drone said. “He came here last year and he’s really worked hard to get people out on the team, get them to work hard. I’m really happy for him that we were able to get this win for him.”

The War Eagles scored on a busted play to pull within a point. Fair quarterback Damariaus Robinson was flushed out of the pocket and began to scramble. The Falcons’ defensive backfield, which was solid all night, left coverage too soon to rush the quarterback before he crossed the line of scrimmage. Robinson spotted Rodney Thomas all alone at the 10-yard line. Thomas hauled in the 40-yard pass and walked into the end zone. That set up North Pulaski’s two-point conversion stand.

“I just wanted those kids to know what this feels like,” Ingram said. “We did a lot of things wrong and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but they made it happen. Listen, those kids could have lost hope right there but they didn’t. They made a play and they earned that victory.”

North Pulaski dominated the game statistically for most of the game. Penalties were a problem for both teams, but turnovers killed several Falcon drives. North Pulaski lost five fumbles, all of them inside the War Eagle 15-yard line, including two inside the Fair 5-yard line.

“We moved the ball pretty well,” Ingram said. “We missed some things at times, but we moved the ball. We have to take care of it better than that and we have to cut out the penalties. We’re going to play a lot better football teams than this, and we’re not going to beat good football teams turning it over five times.”

Ingram blamed some of the mistakes on not having a preseason scrimmage opponent. The Falcons were scheduled to play in a jamboree at Joe T. Robinson, but their opponent cancelled.

“I think that has a lot to do with it,” Ingram said. “It was first-game jitters and it was worse than usual because this was the first time my guys had been on the field against someone else.”

The Falcons held JA Fair to negative 4 yards in the first half. They got the ball to the Eagle 13-yard line on their first possession, but fumbled it away.

After a defensive stop, North Pulaski got the ball back at the Fair 42 and drove to the 11-yard line before fumbling it away again.

Fair got its one and only first down of the first half on a pass interference call, but the Falcons stopped the Eagles and took over on downs on their own 45.

This time they drove to the 23-yard line before a bad call started a backwards momentum that didn’t stop until Fair had scored to take the lead.

A 37-yard pass play from Doug Gates to Nick Weaver put North Pulaski on the 23-yard line. From there Damon Thomas was stopped for a 2-yard loss. The Falcons moved early twice before the next snap, resulting in second and 22 from the 35-yard line. Fred Thomas was stopped for a 1-yard gain on a screen pass to make it third down and 21. Gates re-entered at quarterback for Steven Farrior, and hit Yakeem Young at the 3-yard line, but the line judge called offensive pass interference. Another flag came out and the Falcons were called for unsportsmanlike conduct, which is 15 yards and a loss of down. It all left NP punting from its own 49-yard line, but the backwards momentum wasn’t finished.

The punt snap was high. Punter Dylan Swaggerty chased the ball down and managed to kick it from his 22-yard line, but it was blocked by Robinson. Ladarious Slater picked it up at the 13-yard line and carried it into the end zone. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful and Fair led 6-0 with 8:06 left in the first half.

The Falcons wasted little time answering. Damon Thomas took the first handoff of the ensuing drive 25 yards to the Fair 33. Another motion penalty pushed it back 5 yards and two more plays gained just 1 yard. On third and 14, Gates hit Fred Thomas for a 12-yard gain. On fourth down, Fred Thomas took it 26 yards up the middle for the score.

North Pulaski’s first two drives of the second half ended on downs.

Fair finally put together a good drive late in the third quarter, moving from their own 34 to the North Pulaski 13 before the Falcons’ defense held on fourth and 6.

North Pulaski then drove from their own 13 all the way to the War Eagle 1-yard line before another fumble thwarted the drive.

The Falcon defense again held Fair without a first down, and the offense took over at the Eagle 31 after the punt. It took seven plays with Farrior getting the last 6 yards on a quarterback keeper with 2:55 left in the game.

The extra point snap was low, leaving the score 13-6.

Fair picked up 126 yards in the second half to finish with 122 in the game. North Pulaski finished with 263 total yards. The net yards for both teams is much less. Fair was flagged eight times for 53 yards. North Pulaski was called for 11 penalties totaling 70 yards.

Damon Thomas led all players with 22 carries for 116 yards. The junior also had one reception for 11 yards on third and 8 that set up NP’s final touchdown.

Fred Thomas carried six times for 67 yards for a 10.7 yards-per-carry average, but fumbled twice. He also made four catches for 31 yards.

North Pulaski will play its home opener on Friday against Maumelle. Fair will travel to Joe T. Robinson.

Friday, August 31, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Clint bombs in Tampa

Though The Leader has not admired Clint Eastwood since “Every Which Way But Loose,” the actor’s 1978 swan song in which he co-starred with Clyde the orangutan, we worry that his performance on Thursday at the Republican National Convention may further deplete his legacy as an actor.

Eastwood’s endorsement of Romney was bizarre. It included an awkward comedy routine where he argued with an imaginary President Obama in an empty chair. The routine would have been funny for about 15 seconds.

Though Dirty Harry’s was as insincere as most of the speeches at the event, many in the audience seemed a little uncomfortable with the 82-year-old’s criticism of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which he said can’t be won because “we didn’t check with the Russians to see how they did there for 10 years.” The remark still drew several cheers.

He belted out the usual sound-bite Obama potshots, while struggling to remember his lines complimenting Romney. The speech included several long pauses.

But the spaghetti western star’s rambling introduction still stole the show. He even told the crowd to “save a little for Mitt.” The Wall Street titan was upstaged by the Hollywood hero.

Romney is hoping for a fate better than that other Eastwood co-star.

Clyde the orangutan died of a brain hemorrhage shortly after filming a sequel with Eastwood during which he was severely beaten by his trainers, as documented by primatologist Jane Goodall.

Will Morgan Freeman, another Eastwood co-star, get to do an improv at the Democratic convention? Perhaps it’s best to keep Hollywood out of these conventions. Not since Ronald Reagan has an old actor brought a convention to its feet, but Thursday night Dirty Harry missed badly.

TOP STORY >> Farmers fear too much rain

Leader senior staff writer

After a rainless season of sizzling heat, followed late this week by Tropical Storm Isaac’s wind-driven rain storms, Lonoke County-area farmers are stuck between a drought and a wet place.

Rice farmers worked around the clock to harvest their crop and move it to driers or covered storage ahead of the rains. Long lines of trucks waited to offload their rice at Riceland and elsewhere before racing back to their farms for another load before the rain came.

Despite flooding in Pine Bluff and high waters cutting off some roads in England, actual flooding is not yet a problem for area farmers. A new storm front was expected on Friday however.

Pine Bluff received 7.82 inches of rain in about 24 hours. In Lonoke County farmers received a more manageable 2 to 4 inches.

Rich Hillman of Carlisle, a Lonoke and Prairie County rice farmer, said, “After this flood, that may be past tense,” with a smile you could hear over the phone.

Hillman is a fifth-generation farmer who planted his first crops in 1987, He says he is much older in farmer years.

“Kind of like dog years,” Hillman said. “I’m 49 and getting older by the hour.”

“It wasn’t very bad this morning until a couple hours ago,” he said at about 11 a.m. Friday.

Hillman, who is a Farm Bureau vice president, had gotten about three inches of rain Thursday and overnight. “It’s been relentless since. Probably another three inches since and its probably raining about an inch every half hour.”

He had about 60 percent of his crop in before the rain hit. Ideally, rice is harvested at 19 percent moisture or less. His harvest was 13 to 14 percent, but the rain stopped the harvest dead in its tracks. The wind knocked grains off the heads and knocked plants over as well.

He figures he’s losing about 10 to 20 percent of his remaining crop, and what he salvages is likely to be downgraded.

He will still harvest those fields when the rain eventually stops — and the Weather Channel says there’s more to come — he will not be able to get his combines back into the fields for a while.

A single combine can harvest 40 to 50 acres a day in normal conditions. But after the stalks are knocked over and the fields are wet, a combine can harvest 15 to 20 acres per day.

On the positive side, he said, “It will help if we can cease to irrigate.

“I haven’t turned irrigation pumps off until about five days ago,” Hillman said. “We started irrigating rice the first week of May and haven’t stopped.”

Farmers like Hillman have scores of irrigation pumps. It can cost a farmer about $3,000 a month to pump from a 100-foot well, but some wells are 400-feet deep and can run up a diesel or electric bill of $10,000 a month, he said.

Hillman said it would greatly benefit not only the farmers, but towns and communities east of Little Rock in the Grand Prairie if Congress would fund the two stalled irrigation projects – the Grand Prairie Project and the Bayou Meto Basin Water Management project.

Hillman said he has farms in each of those areas.

“If we run out of water, we’ll see a mass exodus of population,” according to Hillman. “We’ll all be dry-land farmers, not much money in that.”

Lonoke County Chief Extension Agent Jeff Welch said, “Before rain came in, farmers were working 24 hours a day to harvest rice.”

Throughout the county, farmers got between two and four inches of rain Thursday and Friday and winds of 25 miles and hour.

He said the rain and wind have driven thousands of acres of rice to the ground where it can be harvested only with great difficulty.

“A farmer can lose 20 bushels to 70 bushels an acre,” he said.

Typically, farmers get 180 to 190 bushels an acre.

The rains are “a God send” for cattle producers.

They may be able to get a second cutting of hay, and can put pastures in small-grain crops for winter forage. The y are planting wheat, rye and rey grass and a new crop, tritacale, which is a cross between rye and wheat.

The corn crop is nearly all harvested and because of early planting, the yield is higher than average and in some cases extraordinary, Welch said.

An average good yield would be about 200 bushels an acre, but this year there are fields yielding 230 to 275 bushels an acre.

“Yields above 230 bushels an acre are unheard of,” he said.

Welch said the rains were sufficient to soak into the ground and also to help refill some on-farm irrigation reservoirs, especially those that can be refilled with water pumped from replenished creeks and ditches or Bayou Meto.

TOP STORY >> Outages reported as storm blows by


Leader staff writers

Electric providers are addressing outages as Tropical Storm Isaac pushes wind and rain through central Arkansas this weekend.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 5,358 customers without power in Pulaski County. Most of those were in North Little Rock.

There were five outages in White County after about three inches of rain fell in the area.

On Thursday, Julie Munsell of Entergy said the company was asked to send people to Louisiana.

“We haven’t dispatched the linemen because we want to know what the needs in Arkansas will be,” she said.

Munsell said Entergy has sent some “scouts” out of state. They assess storm damage but don’t restore service, she explained.

“We know it’s coming. We’ve asked people around the state to come in ready to travel,” she added.

By Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting one quarter to half an inch more rain for the rest of the day and night, not enough to make Beebe street superintendent Jim Greer think flooding would be a problem.

The much-publicized issues in the Windwood subdivision are too big for his department to tackle, Greer said.

But the dry summer has been an opportunity to get ready for a lot of rain elsewhere in Beebe, he said.

His crews have cleaned ditches and replaced some culverts with box bridges, Greer said.

“We’ve done a lot correcting the problems and even another inch or two of rain won’t hurt,” he said.

In Lonoke County, flooding closed East Shafer Road in Lonoke and Red Wine Road south of Carlisle.

By early Friday afternoon, Eddie Cook, director of operations in Cabot, was calling the hurricane a well-prepared for, non-event in his city.

Cook said the sandbags were filled, the generators were checked to make sure they were running well and street department workers were on standby with heavy equipment if it was needed. Some of those workers reported that they had barely slept Thursday night because they were listening to the wind, he said.

But there was no flooding and the wind only knocked down a couple of limbs that were quickly removed. One traffic light controller went out and had to be replaced but that incident doesn’t appear to have been caused by the weather, he said.

A couple of inches of rain were measured at the city sewer plant but instead of a flood, Cabot got a much-needed, slow rain.

“For a non-event, we were very well-prepared,” Cook said.

That was not the case in southern Lonoke County.

“We’ve sent sandbags to England,” said Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin.

“They had a lot more rain in the southern part of the county than in the north. I don’t know the total, but people were pouring six inches out of their rain gauges,” Erwin said.

In White County, Judge Michael Lincoln said his people were ready for a storm and pleased that they didn’t get one.

“We brought in sand and had extra dispatchers on alert.” Lincoln said. “Of course we had all the chainsaws sharpened in case they were needed. But they weren’t.”

As of Friday afternoon, there was one outage reported in White County and no outages reported in Pulaski County.

Tori Moss, communications coordinator for First Electric Cooperative, said the cooperative has a comprehensive emergency response that includes procedures for major outages.

“We want to make sure we can take care of our members first,” she said.

She said customers could help by reporting an outage. They need to call 1-888-827-3322.

Caller ID will match the phone number to the number listed on their account. That is how First Electric will know where the outage is, Moss said.

She said customers could see current outages at or receive updates from First Electric’s Facebook page.

Moss said the company has not sent any workers outside of the cooperative’s service area.

Kathy Spider of North Little Rock Electric said the business has an ongoing tree-trimming procedure. Fallen limbs and trees are the most common cause of outages during a storm, she explained.

Jill Ponder of the company’s Energy Conservation/Demand Side Management Department, said North Little Rock Electric had not been asked to send workers anywhere Hurricane Isaac made its debut.

She said the company is unique in that it has service crews on duty 24 hours a day.

Ponder said they have asked additional employees to be available during the severe weather.

“We’ll be able to respond. We just made sure the service crews and equipment are ready to go,” she said on Thursday.

Ponder said customers can follow the company on Facebook, Twitter and call 1-888-728-4004 to report an outage.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers, Panthers keep rivalry alive

Leader sportswriter

Many schools have seen their season-opening opponents change over the past two or three years, but Friday’s game between Beebe and host Greenbrier continues a Week 1 series that dates back 12 years in a rivalry that spans nearly four decades. The Badgers and Panthers now represent 5A programs, with Beebe in the 5A East Conference and Greenbrier in the 5A West, but there was a time when both were tiny 2A schools, and off-and-on league rivals.

There will be little reminiscing of the past when Beebe descends on Don Jones Stadium in an attempt to avenge last year’s 41-20 loss. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

“They looked pretty solid in their scrimmage,” Badgers coach John Shannon said. “The defense runs to the ball really well. Their quarterback looks like he wants to run more than he does throw the ball, so we have to be ready for both. With the Burcham kid, he never really was much of a runner, so now having to deal with a dual-threat quarterback makes it tougher on us.”

The Badgers had their shining moments and tough moments in last week’s scrimmage against Harding Academy.

The defense flew to the ball on some occasions and broke up several good pass attempts, only to allow Harding Aca-demy to throw right over the top of them a few plays later for big gains. The offense fumbled a few more times than Shannon wanted to see, but a week of practice to correct those issues should have the Badgers in game shape for Friday.

“It’s like I was saying that night that it was never as bad or never as good as what you think,” Shannon said. “The little things – things you would think we had worked out by now, but we were able to go back on Thursday and Friday and Saturday and work on it. We feel better about it.”

It takes about an hour to reach Greenbrier from Beebe, but with long-distance East conference road games at Blytheville and Forrest City on tap for the 2012 season, Shannon views it as an early opportunity to get his team acclimated to long bus rides on important game nights.

“Anytime you’re on the road, it’s tough,” Shannon said. “And I think the older I get, the more I hate having to get on that bus on Fridays. But you have to get on that bus, and you have to try and stay focused. That should help us later on when we go to Blytheville and Forrest City.

“Hopefully this will help us in teaching the kids how to stay focused.”

Beebe mixed it up at the quarterback spot during the scrimmage, trying as many as four different players. But when the season officially kicks off Friday, original projected starter, sophomore Aaron Nunez, will be the starting signal caller. Nunez has no varsity experience heading into Friday’s opener, but his quick feet and early signs of leadership abilities have Shannon confident in the youngster.

“He’s going to be our quarterback,” Shannon said. “We’ve made that decision, and we’re going to stick with that. We know there’s some unknown there with him being inexperienced, but we feel like there’s a lot more upside with him as far as being an athlete.”

The only question that remains – are the Badgers ready after a hot summer coming off a second-round playoff appearance last year?

“I think so,” Shannon said. “I think that was part of the problem the other night is that we were kind of in a lull; there wasn’t any fire in their bellies. But the way they came back to practice on Thursday, I think it was a wake-up call. I know they’re tired, and it’s been a long three weeks, but you have to fight through the adversity to get to the good stuff.”

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits happy to be playing Star City at home

Leader sportswriter

For the first time in three years, the season-opening game between Lonoke and Star City will not be included as a Hooten’s Classic game, it will be one of many Friday-night games across the state of Arkansas when the Jackrabbits and Bulldogs square off at James B. Abraham Stadium at 7 p.m.

The UAPB Campus in Pine Bluff has been the site of the two previous meetings, with Lonoke winning the 2010 game thanks to a late-game breakaway touchdown run by a then-unknown sophomore named Eric Williams. Star City won a more defensive outing last year 21-7 on its way to a 7-4 final season record.

Jackrabbits coach Doug Bost is happy to have the season opener in their back yard this season, giving fans a better opportunity to come out and show support rather than having to travel over an hour in the middle of the week.

“Especially when you can get one at home,” Bost said. “We always looked at the Hooten’s games as road games, and you never get any money off the gate, so it’s definitely better to be at home.”

The Jackrabbits are coming off a successful scrimmage against Maumelle, in which the defense stuffed the Hornets for 12 tackles for losses, and recorded six sacks. Maumelle was able to break a couple of long runs due to missed defensive assignments for Lonoke.

“We did good things offensively,” Bost said. “Our pass game went well for the first time out, and that was a good thing to see. The first team had no turnovers and that was good, but we had a few too many penalties – holding penalties we shouldn’t have had.

“It’s been a full year, and the kids were ready to hit on something other than each other, and they came out fired up. We treated it like a real game.”

Bost was impressed with the efforts at the line by right offensive tackle Austyn Soderling, who spent the entire spring and summer recovering from a back injury. Soderling received doctor’s clearance a week before the start of fall camp, but Bost said the senior has made up for lost time in a big hurry.

“He had the best job on the offensive line,” Bost said of Soderling during the scrimmage. “We’re real proud of him.”

Defensively, Bost said senior Dra Offord was impressive from his linebacker position, and was in on most of the stops in some way.

It has been implied most of the spring and summer that junior Grant Dewey would assume the leading role when it came to starting quarterback, but an equally impressive spring for another junior, Nick Watson, made the decision tougher for Bost. Bost would not name a definite starter until recently, when he confirmed it will in fact be Dewey.

“He’s shown us he can get the job done,” Bost said. “When we worked out our new pass concepts back in February, he took the play book and he learned it. He knows his pass concepts, his reads, and he has good control.”

The focus this week will be getting ready for a Star City team which depending on talent cycles can be a pass-oriented spread team or a wing-type running team.

“We watched them Tues-day, and they want to run the ball,” Bost said. “Their quarterback’s going to run the option, and he’s going to send a guy in motion to come around and he can pitch to. Defense, they’re going to play corners and lock down – they’re real similar to us defensively running that 4-2-5.”

SPORTS STORY >> Jessica Jackson commits to Hogs

Leader sports editor

Hog calls went up at the Jacksonville High School gym Monday morning because highly sought-after Lady Red Devil hoops star Jessica Jackson held a press conference to announce her intention to play college ball at the University of Arkansas.

Jackson, who is 6-foot-3, is rated a Top 20 prospect by several scouting services and has been offered scholarships by all the national powerhouses in women’s NCAA basketball.

Arkansas is a program on the rise. Head coach Tom Collen took over a program that had sunk to the SEC cellar. Last year the Lady Razorbacks went 24-9 overall and 10-6 in the SEC, their first winning SEC season in nearly a decade.

All that, plus a love of the Razorbacks since childhood, led Jackson to her decision.

“I love Arkansas,” Jackson said. “It’s my home state. I always wanted to go there. As I got older and was good at basketball, they were really the first team on me and they stayed with me through the whole thing.”

While scholarship offers poured in from all over the country, Jackson always felt a lean towards matriculating to Fayetteville. But she kept a close eye on two other schools, Texas and Texas A&M.

“Arkansas, Texas and Texas A&M were my top three schools,” Jackson said. “Texas A&M was the first school to actually offer me a scholarship so I kept them in mind because of that.”

Jackson also admits to wavering slightly on her long-held, though unspoken, commitment to Arkansas when the Lady Aggies won the national championship two years ago.

“Maybe just a little bit,” Jackson said. “Not very much. A national championship is a big thing, but I still knew I loved Arkansas.”

Jackson has not taken official visits to any out-of-state schools.

Jackson didn’t know what to expect from the press conference organized by her father Jeff Jackson. A bit shy during the proceedings, Jackson enjoyed the moment.

“It was overwhelming,” Jackson said. “To have my friends there, my grandmomma, my auntie and my daddy, my coaches. It was really special.”

Monday’s announcement was a verbal commitment only. She’s not bound by her commitment until she signs a letter of intent on national signing day in November, but she’s solid in her commitment.

“I just knew all along so why wait,” Jackson said.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot pulls away from Devils

Leader sports editor

A tough battle for a half turned one side in the third quarter as the Cabot Panthers scored 21 points in the third to beat Jacksonville 28-0 Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium.

The Panthers led 7-0 at halftime and were stopped without a first down on the opening possession of the third quarter, but that’s when the big break came.

Jacksonville’s do-it-all man Aaron Smith fumbled the punt and Cabot’s Blake Gibson covered it at the Jacksonville 24-yard line.

The Panthers rode the momentum. Fullback Zach Launius picked up 18 yards on first down to set up first and goal at the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Launius scored from 2 yards out. Jesus Marquez added the extra point for a 14-0 Cabot lead with 7:38 left in the third quarter.

“That swung the game,” an emotional Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said afterwards. “We made too many little mistakes that cost us early, then we had the big one there with the fumbled punt. Too many procedure penalties – we have to clean that up. We can be a great football team. We just have to believe we can be, especially on offense.”

Jacksonville picked up 20 yards on a reception by sophomore Lamont Gause to start its next drive, but things stalled from there. The Red Devils were called for illegal procedure on third down and four yards to go, then threw incomplete and were forced to punt.

Cabot’s Chris Henry returned the kick all the way to the Jacksonville 26-yard line with another five tacked on for a facemask penalty. It took the Panthers five plays to go 21 yards with Launius scoring again, this time from 5 yards out with 4:10 left in the third quarter.

Jacksonville’s senior speedster Kevin Richardson returned the kickoff 49 yards, but was injured at the end of the play and did not return. Smith, who played quarterback, safety and punt and kick returner, was also injured early in the third and did not finish the game.

Jacksonville lost 14 yards on the next drive. The Devils went for it on fourth and 24 from their own 40, but were called for two penalties on the play, including a personal foul. It all left Cabot with another short field, this time needing just 14 yards for another touchdown.

The Panthers got it in five plays with Kyle Edgar diving in from 1 yard out with 1:12 left in the third quarter.

“I thought we started out kind of out of sync on offense and just couldn’t get anything going,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “Our defense played well the whole game and that’ll win you ball games. If they can’t score it’s going to be hard for them to beat you.”

The running game wasn’t working early, so Cabot resorted to the pass. The result was a 25-yard touchdown play from quarterback Kason Kimbrell to tight end Brandon Boatright and a 7-0 Cabot lead with 7:33 left in the first half.

Cabot found the smaller Jacksonville defense a difficult foe in the early going. After having their way with Lake Hamilton’s defense in a preseason scrimmage, the Red Devils were in a stingy mood, stopping Cabot on their first three drives before giving up a nine-play, 73-yard drive capped by Boatright’s touchdown catch on third and 9.

Cabot’s defense was solid too. Jacksonville managed a few good plays, but had trouble putting things together with Cabot defenders frequently finding their way into the Red Devils’ backfield.

Jacksonville had its best drive after Cabot’s score, driving into Cabot territory before Gause fumbled at the Panther 37, where Cabot’s Rob Rankin recovered it with 5:22 left in the half.

Cabot was on its way to a two-touchdown lead as time expired in the half, but Jacksonville came up with a big goal-line stand. The Panthers moved it to Jacksonville 9-yard line on a 13-yard quarterback keeper by Kimbrell on third and 5. Two more plays gained just three yards and Cabot hurt itself with an illegal procedure penalty on third down. Max Carroll gained 7 yards on third and goal from the 11-yard line, setting up fourth and goal from the 4-yard line. Cabot called its last timeout with nine seconds left in the half to set up the final play.

It was a reverse handoff to tight end Keith Pledger, who had an almost-clear path to the goal line, save for Jacksonville’s Damitrious Ervin. The two met at the 1-yard line with Ervin hitting Pledger at the knees. Pledger flipped into the end zone, but the ball touched the ground before crossing the plane, giving the Red Devils possession with two seconds left in the half and keeping the margin at seven points.

Cabot finished with 278 yards of offense while Jacksonville totaled just 145. Launius led the Panthers with 81 yards rushing on 12 carries, including two touchdowns.

The Panthers will host Little Rock Catholic on Friday, Sept. 7 at Panther Stadium. Jacksonville will travel to Benton on the same date for its second game.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Taxpayers get a break

The Pulaski County Equalization Board is a little-known outfit in downtown Little Rock where struggling property owners can appeal their ever-rising assessment and hope to catch a break. All they have to do is convince a usually sympathetic board to lower their taxes, and chances are good taxpayers will be glad they made the effort.

While the county assessors have a special incentive to raise taxes not just for local schools and services but to make sure their staff is well-paid, the equalization board consists mostly of volunteer professionals who don’t mind giving hard-pressed taxpayers a break.

We appreciate the fairness of two longtime Jacksonville board members, Bud Perry and Jim Peacock, who have listened to our special pleadings with sympathy and respect. There’s never a condescending tone when you go before the board, unlike at the assessor’s office downtown, where the reception can be intimidating.

But you have to find the equalization board first. Its existence was not well-publicized until reports in the media talked of sticker shock after taxpayers received their bills indicating their real estate had increased in value. That was news to a lot of people since many of them can’t sell their property for what they paid for it.

Real estate values in Pulaski County supposedly increased from $26.8 billion in 2009 to $29.8 billion early this year, or about 11 percent. That’s hard to believe in this economy, but the assessor is seldom wrong, except when he is.

That’s where the Pulaski County Equalization Board comes in. We know people who have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years thanks to fair and balanced treatment you will likely receive if you take the time to make the trip to Little Rock.

Sure, traffic is awful and parking isn’t easy. The office is in a dark, hard-to-find place, but once you get there, you’re bound to receive a sympathetic hearing. Even if it takes a couple of hours of travel and waiting to go before the board, saving several thousand dollars in these hard times can make the difference between staying solvent or going under water.

Thanks to the Pulaski County Equalization Board, ordinary people get a little relief from having to keep government afloat with an ever-increasing share of their tax dollars. Who said never give a sucker an even break? Lucky for us, the equalization board doesn’t believe it.

TOP STORY >> Silver Haired Legislators serve in the state Capitol

Leader staff writer

Seniors from all over the state converged on the Capitol last week for the biennial Silver Haired Legislature, a forum for seniors representing the state’s eight Area Agencies on Aging.

Elected delegates from each county and their alternates prepared mock legislation which they debated in committee sessions.

Issues the seniors tackled in committee meetings included legal, revenue and tax; aging services, long-term care and senior centers.

Long Term Care Committee chair Billie Dougherty, 83, of Ward said it was her sixth time to participate in the Silver Haired Legislature.

She said her committee proposed bills to supplement federal funding for the ombudsman program which, by the 1965 federal Older Americans Act, provides advocates for residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Dougherty’s committee also seeks to balance the Medicaid long-term care system by increasing home and community based supports and services.

Another of the committee’s bills would reduce Medicaid expenditures by providing care transition and medication management services to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations.

The committee would seek $2.5 million from the state to stabilize Meals on Wheels.

“I know now how to write the bills. Our (committee) was quiet,” Dougherty said. She said earlier that previous sessions have developed bills which were eventually taken into consideration by legislators. Dougherty’s committee co-chair was Harriet Raney of Region II, the White River Agency on Aging which includes White County. Jack Harris was the representative from White County. Shelly Moran of Cabot was also a Lonoke County delegate.

CareLink President Elaine Eubank of North Little Rock said, “I thought the bills that came through the committee were thorough.” CareLink, Region V, includes Lonoke, Pulaski, Faulkner and Prairie counties in its six county area.

The session examined is-sues important to seniors, including revenues and taxation, aging services, long-term care and senior centers. This year’s session dealt with some critical problems older persons are facing now and will face in the future.

“Most seniors are worried about changes coming for Medicare and Medicaid,” Dougherty said.

Others have voiced concern over nutrition programs at their local senior centers. The centers are facing cuts at a time when hunger among seniors is reported to be on the rise. The committee dealing with problems facing the state’s senior and wellness centers asked for additional funding for the centers including $5 million annually for operations, congregate meals, home-delivered meals and transportation.

TOP STORY >> New director of State Police is from Austin

Leader staff writer

An Austin man who has been with the Arkansas State Police for 27 years will become the agency director Friday.

Maj. Stan Witt, 55, replaces Col. J.R. Howard who came out of retirement in April 2011 to become the director.

“Stan Witt has a wealth of law-enforcement experience and will approach the role of director with the same even-handed manner that has earned him respect and admiration,” Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday when he announced Howard’s replacement. “His 27 years with the Arkansas State Police have made him an expert in policies, practices and procedures: knowledge that will serve him well as the leader of this great agency.”

Beebe called Witt “a trooper’s trooper. He’s worked in nearly every facet of the agency during his 27 years, and has shown his skills as an administrator time and again.”

Witt could not be reached for comment about his new position. Bill Sadler, agency spokesman, said Witt would be in the field for the rest of the week meeting with division heads, but that he was agreeable to interviews next week.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Austin Police Chief John Staley said of Witt’s appointment to the top police position in the state.

Staley said Witt was “a great guy” who helped his department last year when several cars were broken into. Catching the thieves was easier because of help from the state police, he said.

Witt has been in administration for five years, most recently as the Administrative Services Division commander. For the first seven years he worked in highway patrol and then he worked in criminal investigation for 15 years.

Witt began his law enforcement career in 1975 with the Walnut Ridge Police Department. He was 18 years old. For the next 10 years, he worked in various departments in northeast Arkansas including serving for a short time as the sheriff of Lawrence County.

Beebe called Howard his friend and he didn’t want him to resign. But he said he understands Howard’s desire “to go home to Searcy and spend more time with his family.”

Beebe is also from Searcy. “I’m joining him in a little more than two years,” said Beebe, who will be term-limited out of office.

TOP STORY >> Units find shelter as hurricane moves in

Leader senior staff writer

Forty-one Hurricane Isaac-evacuated transport planes from Florida and Mississippi had joined Little Rock Air Force Base’s C-130s on the flight line for safety by Monday afternoon,

It has been standard operating procedure for the Air Force to move planes and personnel to LRAFB and elsewhere from bases that could be impacted by hurricanes or tropical storms until the danger to the aircraft, crews and maintainers had passed.

This hurricane evacuation includes CV-22 Ospreys of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field at Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and six C-130s from Hulbert and from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., according to Col. Trae Watkins of the 19th Airlift Wing Mission Support Command.

The evacuation also includes a small number of PC12, which are small personnel carriers, he said.

Some of the personnel who flew planes here had returned to Keesler in case more aircraft are needed to be moved to LRAFB.

As for the personnel, “We filled up all of our buildings, then pushed the rest downtown,” Watkins buildings, then pushed the rest downtown,” Watkins said. “They will return shortly after the weather passes.”

As of Friday afternoon, about 400 “hurrevaced” personnel where staying either on base or at local hotels.

Similar evacuations of aircraft and airmen to Little Rock occurred most recently in August 2011 to escape Hurricane Irene.

According to Keesler’s web- site, “The last major storm in the region, Hurricane Katrina, caused massive damage on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, leaving 236 people dead, 67 missing, causing an estimated $125 billion in damages. Keesler Air Force Base suffered nearly $1 billion in damages alone.”

Hurlburt Field officials decided Saturday to fly most of their planes to LRAFB for safekeeping. Evacuation flights started early Sunday morning and were expected to continue into Monday, officials said.

The remnants of Hurricane Isaac will hit Arkansas’ southern border about 1 p.m. Thursday and completely cover the state by noon Friday. Weather forecasters are expecting central Arkansas to get hit with three to six inches of rain between Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning, but high temperatures will remain around 90 degrees all three days.

Winds will blow through the area at 20 to 30 mph.