Saturday, March 09, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devils bring home crown

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville’s historic 54-43 victory over Paragould in the Class 5A state basketball championship on Friday did not come without its scary moments.

It was an up-and-down night for senior and University of Arkansas commit Jessica Jackson, who went on to earn game MVP with 22 points and nine rebounds to lead the Lady Red Devils, but an asthma attack with 5:30 remaining as she sat on the bench put a temporary damper on the buildup to celebrating the Jacksonville ladies’ first-ever state title.

Game play was stopped while medical personnel attended to Jackson, and she was taken back to the locker-room area before returning with just under two minutes left to play.

She attempted to return to the game in the final minute, but was denied by officials.

In her absence, sophomore point guard Shakyla Hill stepped up and made a pair of big free throws with 1:12 remaining to give the Lady Devils a 50-37 lead, and scored a layup off a steal in the final 30 seconds for a 52-41 lead. Hill finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.

“With a 10-point lead, and they were playing zone, I think the biggest part was we could hold the ball,” Lady Red Devils coach Katrina Mimms said. “And they had to goman. I knew that if they had to go man, they couldn’t stay in front of Shakyla. She does a great job of dishing, and she did, and she scored a couple.”

Jackson’s contributions in the third quarter got momentum back on the Lady Red Devils’ side, including a pair of technical-foul free throws at the 3:39 mark to give Jacksonville a 29-21 lead. She followed that with a basket and free throw seconds later to extend the advantage to 32-21.

Jackson remained on the bench to start the fourth quarter, and held out on a couple of opportunities to check back into the game. Jackson’s cries from the bench at the 5:30 mark brought play to a stop as a concerned tone fell over Barton Coliseum while she received medical attention.

“It was pretty difficult,” Hill said of carrying on without Jackson late. “Because she is our leading rebounder, but I think coach Mimms and coach Joyner prepared us to stay calm and stay going.”

The Lady Red Devils jumped out to a 14-0 lead during the first 3:57 of the first quarter. Jackson made a three-point basket at the 7:08 mark, followed by a three pointer by Tiffany Smith to give Jacksonville an early 6-0 lead.

Jackson kept momentum going for the Lady Devils with a bank shot assisted by Hill with 5:54 remaining in the opening period to make it 8-0, and followed that with a block and defensive rebound on the other end. That led to a hook shot by Jackson that also drew a Paragould foul, and the University of Arkansas signee converted the and-one to give Jacksonville an 11-0 lead with 4:42 to go in the first quarter.

Hill added a free throw on the Lady Red Devils’ next trip, and Jackson scored in the paint over two defenders to give Jacksonville (25-4) what appeared to be an overwhelming 14-0 lead at the 4:03 mark.

The rest of the opening period belonged to the Lady Rams, however, as Sydney Layrock made a pair of free throws and scored on a lay-in with 3:27 left in the first to cut Jacksonville’s lead to 14-4. Carson Gill then made an inside basket for Paragould, followed by a third-try putback by Layrock to close the gap to 14-8 by the end of the first quarter.

Markela Bryles scored at the 7:51 mark of the second quarter on the first possession of the period to make it 16-8, but Layrock answered on the other end for Paragould before Jackson finally broke a nearly seven-minute scoreless streak with a midrange shot that extended the Lady Devils’ lead to 18-10 with 6:44 remaining in the half.

Jackson and Hill scored again midway through the second to extend the Lady Red Devils’ margin again, this time to 23-14, but the Lady Rams (24-5) went on a late run before the half, outscoring Jacksonville 6-1 down the stretch. Rachel Dicus set the halftime score for Paragould with a three-point basket in the final five seconds to make it close again at 24-21.

Smith finished with seven points while Bryles added six points and seven rebounds for Jacksonville. Alunte Petties, Keaundra Alcorn and Ashli Evans all had two points each.

For Paragould, Layrock led with 23 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville holds back Alma

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils hoisted the championship trophy for the second time in five years Friday at Barton Coliseum after holding on for dear life in 56-53 victory over the Alma Airedales. It was a matter of Jacksonville’s four minutes in the second half was a little bit better than Alma’s other 12. The Red Devils stormed out of the halftime with a big run that led to a 17-point lead, and Sergio Berkley hit two free throws with 26 seconds remaining to set the final margin. Alma had one last shot. Senior Brock Widders, who nearly single-handedly brought Alma back from a huge third-quarter deficit, missed a three pointer under heavy pressure and Jacksonville’s Keith Charleston pulled down the rebound with four seconds remaining. Alma decided not to foul, and time ran out as Charleston hurled the ball to teammate Kevin Richardson to begin the celebration.

“Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner had one word for his emotions after the game. “Elated,” Joyner said. “I’m enjoying this one more than the first one because of how far this team has come. Early in the year we were not taking care of the ball, playing soft at times. When we got out of McClellan with that win, and didn’t turn it over against that press, I knew we turned the corner.”

“It feels good,” Jacksonville senior and championship game Most Valuable Player Justin McCleary said. “This is what we’ve worked so hard for. It’s unbelievable. It’s surreal, just surreal. It’s hard to believe it’s all over but that was the last one. That’s what all the hard work was for so it feels good to get that accomplishment.”

Jacksonville (25-4) put together a third-quarter blitz that blew open what was a close game at halftime. The Red Devils led just 24-21 at intermission, but scored 20 points in four minutes and took a 44-27 lead. It started when Alma (24-7) tried again to isolate senior guard Gage Jensen on McCleary. The Jacksonville point guard picked Jensen clean and hit Berkley for a layup. After another defensive stop, Charleston posted up guard Brandon Cadelaria in a mismatch and scored to give the Red Devils their biggest lead up to that point at 30-23.

McCleary later got another steal and a plus-one layup that made it 35-25 with 5:45 left in the third. Alma called timeout, but it didn’t stop Jacksonville’s momentum. Senior Aaron Smith hit a three pointer to make it 38-25 before Widders scored the first of his 24 second-half points. The run finally ended with back-to-back baskets by Charleston, the second a two-handed slam after a steal by Richardson that made it 44-27 with 3:41 left in the third quarter.

“Coach just told us to go out there and play hard,” Charleston said. “We didn’t play as hard as we could have in the first half and coach was yelling at us.”

Alma coach Stan Flenor wasn’t surprised by the Red Devils’ run.

“I think their athleticism got to us a little bit there,” Flenor said. “Those kinds of runs are going to happen. We knew there would be one. I’m so proud of how hard my guys fought to get back in it.”

And get back in it Alma did.the Airedales weren’t ready to concede, at least Widders wasn’t. The 6-foot-4 guard/forward put the Airedales on his back and led a furious comeback that had Jacksonville’s lead down to one point 26 seconds left in the game.

Widder scored 20 of Alma’s next 22 points and finished the second half with 24 of the team’s 32 points.

McCleary attributed Alma’s comeback to excellent offensive execution by Alma.

“They just have lots of different disguises for the same play,” McCleary said. “They ran it well and just got open shots on us a few times. And of course number 23 (Widders) was knocking them down.”

Smith admitted that fatigue may have been a factor.

“We usually play a lot of guys a lot of minutes, but we had the starting five out there most of the time,” Smith said. “I think we just needed to regroup and get our second wind. We finally were able to do that.”

Jacksonville didn’t help itself by missing several big free throws that could have put the game away much earlier. The Red Devils missed six of their first seven free throws in the fourth quarter, three of which were the front end of one-and-ones while Alma was purposefully fouling to extend the game.

“I think we were a little bit tired,” McCleary said.

Jacksonville made its final three foul shots in the last minute, including Berkley’s two at the end, making up for missing one of the front ends earlier in the quarter.

Jacksonville chose not to force the tempo in the first half, electing to walk up and down the floor with the Airedales. The Red Devils shot poorly, but relentless rebounding resulted in several second-chance points and an early 12-7 lead. Alma then went on a 6-0 run and took its first lead of the game with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.

Jacksonville held for the last shot. McCleary’s 17-footer from the right baseline sailed over the rim, but Smith was in position for the rebound. His 12-footer from the left baseline found nothing but net, giving the Red Devils a 14-13 lead heading into the second quarter of play.

The pace dipped even more in the second period, slowing to a crawl at times. Alma tried to isolate Jensen and put him in one-on-one situations with McCleary, but the strategy didn’t work. McCleary picked Jensen’s pocket twice early in the quarter, but the Red Devils failed to produce any points off either turnover.

McCleary admitted being surprised by the Airedale’s strategy to try to take him one-on-one with Jensen.

“It did surprise me,” McCleary said. “I feel like I’m a pretty good defender so I took it as a challenge. I just wanted to do my job.”

A short jumper by Berkley and a one-of-two trip to the line by Charleston gave the Red Devils a 17-13 lead, but that was quickly erased by two Alma possessions.

The Airedales tied the game with four minutes left in the first half. Smith gave Jacksonville the lead back with two more free throws, but Alma took its second lead of the game on a bucket by Jake Folkerts. With 1:31 left in the half, Alma led 21-20, but Jacksonville would get the final four points.

Leading 22-21, the Airedales tried to isolate Jensen again, and again McCleary picked him clean. This time Jensen stood still instead of trying to get back on defense, and McCleary made a wide-open, uncontested layup to send the Red Devils to the locker room with a 24-21 advantage.

Smith led Jacksonville with 17 points. Berkley scored 14 and Charleston 13. McCleary finished with nine points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals.

EDITORIAL >> More Medicaid hospital lifeline

Hospitals in small towns and rural communities have struggled for decades as they cared for indigent patients who are uninsured and cannot pay their medical bills. North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville, for example, has written off millions of dollars in indigent care over the years without hope of recovering any of that money.

Jodi Love, the chief executive officer at North Metro, says in a front-page story today that the latest Medicaid plan for Arkansas would help some 200,000 uninsured poor through the health-insurance exchange by paying for most of their hospital expenses.

As much as $100 million in additional Medicaid funds would make their way to Arkansas with no cost to the state for three years. After that, Arkansas would have to match 10 percent of Medicaid, which is still a good deal for a poor state like ours.

With more Medicaid, the number of expensive visits to the emergency room would drop as patients get admitted to North Metro with the additional funds available to hospitals and doctors. The poor, who are now uninsured, could see a physician before an emergency occurs.

North Metro is also getting squeezed with lower reimbursements from insurance companies and Medicaid and Medicare. North Metro, like most hospitals, gets a flat $850 per day reimbursement for Medicaid patients, regardless how much service they receive. What’s more, the recession has cost the hospital millions of dollars in lost revenues for elective surgeries that people have put off until the economy improves.

Regardless of the challenges facing North Metro and other small hospitals, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into health care through Medicaid can only help solidify North Metro’s bottom line in these difficult times.

EDITORIAL >> Military bill becomes law

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) and Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) on Tuesday stood beside Gov. Mike Beebe as he signed important legislation affecting military families.

Williams’ Senate Bill 15 adopts the interstate compact on educational opportunity for military children, who often move around as their parents are transferred to new military bases. The new law directs school administrators to make sure students get credit for course work they completed previously in other states or school districts. Students of military children would get excused absences if necessary.

According to Williams, another provision allows first graders and kindergarteners to continue at their grade level, regardless of their age. For example, not all states have the same official starting date for youngsters and a military child transferring into the state may be a few weeks too young to start first grade in Arkansas. Under Senate Bill 15, those children would not have to be held back a year.

Senate Bill 7, another bill passed by the Senate, helps the spouses of active-duty members of the armed services who are transferred to bases in Arkansas and who are looking for a new job. It would authorize state boards and commissions to grant temporary licenses, certificates and permits to spouses of active-duty personnel.

Senate Bill 7 also authorizes boards and commissions to expedite the granting of permanent licenses to spouses, as long as they are in good standing in the state from which they came.

Col. Brian Robinson, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, Adjutant Gen. William Wofford, as well as several military families, also attended the bill-signing ceremony, along with Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), Larry Biernacki of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and Daniel Gray of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski Education Corps.

The new law will benefit hundreds of military families, and we salute the initiative of our local legislators to help these deserving families.

TOP STORY >> Beebe High School goes ‘Footloose’

Leader staff writer

The Beebe High School theater will perform the musical “Footloose” at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in the auditorium.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for students.

“Footloose” is the story of high school student Ren McCormack.

He moves from Chicago to the small farming town of Bomont.

Ren is prepared for his new high school, but not for the strict local laws.

The local city council members and preacher, who lost his son in a tragic accident, have banned loud music and dancing.

While Rev. Shaw Moore tries to control the town’s youth, he cannot control his own teenage daughter, Ariel.

Ariel sets her sights on Ren, but many townspeople believe the worst about the new kid. Ren falls in love and decides to shake up the town by bringing dancing back into the community.

Theater teacher Dianne Ingle said, “‘Footloose’ celebrates the wisdom of listening to young people, guiding them with a warm heart and an open mind.”

The cast of “Footloose” includes Josh Graves as Ren McCormack, Sonja Wagner as Ethel McCormack, Casey Jackson as Rev. Shaw Moore, Justine Damon as Vi Moore, Ashley Gentry as Ariel Moore, Sierra Woods as Lulu Warnicker, Tyler Spears as Wes Warnicker and Bickle, Ryan Coleman as Coach Roger Dunbar and Gracie Villicana as Eleanor Dunbar.

Also performing in the show are Cheyenne Gibbs as Rusty, Dani Peterson as Urleen, Patty Wells as Wendy Jo, Jake Peterson as Chuck Cranston, Dillon Ratz as Lyle, Levi Smith as Travis, Bill Nance as Cop, Leann Pullan as Betty Blast, Lane Hancock as Willard Hewitt, Danielle Spence as Principal Clark, Keith Turner as Cowboy Bob and Neil Garcia as Garvin.

The staff is comprised of Neil Garcia, Kassidy Ratz, Casey Henderson, Shawna Smith, Peyton Bell, Brianna Thomas, Raissa Silva, Gracia Villicana, Justine Damron, Danielle Spence, Leann Pullan, Sierra Woods and Sonja Wagner.

Technical crew members are choreographer Stefanie Harris, music director Cindy Joslin, student musical director Jake Peterson, scene director Dianne Ingle, sound director Chuck Ward, stage manager Ryan Coleman and technical crew members Jared Smith, Christian Beam, Kaitlyn Uribe, Rose Thomas and Brianna Farmer.

TOP STORY >> Medicaid plan could benefit North Metro

Leader staff writer

Medicaid expansion is expected to benefit hospitals, but administrators here aren’t sure of the specifics, according to Jodi Love, the chief executive officer of North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville.

“There are still so many unknowns,” Love said.

Uninsured people make up 10 percent of the patients North Metro sees each month, according to the CEO. Another 6 percent have Medicaid coverage.

The hospital collects a flat fee — $850 per day per Medicaid patient — regardless of services rendered, Love continued. She said it is “very hard” for North Metro to collect payments from uninsured patients.

One of the recent announcements concerning the expansion was that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has approved a new government-paid, private-sector insurance proposal.

Love said, from what she understands, “it’s still Medicaid, but (lawmakers are) calling it something different.”

Like the CEO, state legislators are waiting on more information about the alternative.

The new proposal, if approved, would mean insurance companies receiving Medicaid funds, rather than Medicaid paying doctors and hospitals directly.

“I’m hopeful. Everything really seems to be good for hospitals,” she said.

The working poor between 18 and 64 and their families — about a quarter of a million people in the state — would be the primary population to benefit from the expansion.

Love said what is hopeful about the proposal is that the reimbursement rates hospitals receive for providing services to Medicaid recipients is expected to be better.

But one of the most pressing questions administrators like her have is what the new insurance policies will cover in 2014.

Essential health benefits on the table right now, Love said, are ambulance services, emergency services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse disorder services, prescription drugs, rehabilitation and habilitative services and devices, preventative wellness services and chronic disease management and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

The Affordable Care Act requirement that every patient have a primary-care doctor will help hospitals because the services they provide to patients would be preventative and less expensive than emergency-room visits, Love explained.

She said most uninsured patients only see a doctor when they have to go to the hospital’s emergency room for serious conditions.

Those costly trips to the ER could be avoided with preventative measures prescribed by primary care doctors, Love continued.

That means the reimbursement North Metro gets would be more likely to completely cover what the patient needed done, the CEO added.

Also, many uninsured patients are asked to bring some money to a doctor’s office so they can pay up front for a visit. Many of them don’t have that much money on hand and won’t keep an appointment, Love noted.

The Affordable Care Act requirement would eliminate that practice.

But there is also a drawback to this portion of the act, Love said.

One of the concerns the administrator had is the availability of primary care physicians. Many primary care doctors are older and not accepting new patients, she explained.

The CEO is also worried that people will be confused about the new process.

“It will have to be made simple,” Love said.

Sequestration cuts are another looming factor, she noted. The expected cuts, especially to civilian positions at Little Rock Air Force Base, will have a ripple effect on North Metro, the CEO said.

Love said her husband, who works on base, is looking at losing 16 of the 80 hours he puts in every pay period.

People who have incomes that take that kind of hit won’t purchase elective procedures such as knee surgery from North Metro, the CEO explained.

TOP STORY >> Gardens start in Lonoke County

Leader staff writer

As spring arrives many green thumbs begin thinking about growing vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The potted starter plants sold at many retail garden centers are grown locally in greenhouses at the Bonnie Plants farm in Lonoke County.

Cathy and Tom Ellis oversee the Bonnie Plants growing station a few miles south of Furlow off Gentry Road. The couple have managed the plant farm for the past 15 years during the growing season. Off-season they return to their home near Union Springs, Ala., the headquarters of Bonnie Plants.

The company was started 95 years ago. It has more than 70 growing stations in the U.S., but only one in Arkansas.

The Lonoke County plant farm has 122,000 square feet of greenhouse space. Cathy Ellis compared it to the size of a Walmart.

Bonnie Plants supplies potted vegetable and herb plants to Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and to many smaller garden centers and farm stores.

Ellis said many people take up gardening “as a way to be self-sufficient and to combat prices at the grocery store.”

Bonnie Plants transferred the Ellises to Arkansas 15 years ago.

“Lonoke was known to have cheap gas,” Ellis said.

The plant farm was once the location of Vastel greenhouses many years ago, according to Cathy Ellis.

The plant farm has eight full-time salesmen and 30 guest workers from Mexico. They live in homes on the plant farm when the work in the greenhouses begins in January through the end of the growing season in July and then return home. It’s a seven day a week operation.

Hundreds of vegetables and herb varieties are grown. From cold weather crops like broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower to summer crops of tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers. The varieties of specific vegetables are numerous. For example, the farm has 89 different kinds of peppers.

The plants grown in Lonoke are shipped to stores in central Arkansas, north to Springfield, Mo., and south to El Dorado. A third of the plants grown are shipped out of state.

“The (tomato) greenhouse will be filled six times before the growing season is finished up,” Ellis said.

Workers plant an average of 160,000 tomato seedlings in pots every day.

Bonnie Plants also has a free cabbage growing program for third graders. Bonnie Plants awards a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each state, chosen by the state’s agriculture director. The program’s goal is to cultivate student interest in gardening, healthy eating and the environment.

“Bonnie Plants provided 22,000 cabbage plants to third graders in Central Arkansas from this location,” Ellis said.

The plant farm also grows 30 different kinds of flowers for planting including pansies, marigolds and petunias. The flowers are sold to independent dealers and farm stores.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Charging Wildcats punch ticket

Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE – North Little Rock got a tougher challenge than it, or anyone else, expected in its semifinal matchup with West Memphis, but the Charging Wildcats got the job done nonetheless, beating the Blue Devils 86-69 and advancing to the class 7A state championship game against Fayetteville on Saturday.

North Little Rock had beaten West Memphis twice already this season, once by 40 and once by 16, and even though Saturday’s win was by 17, it was a tougher scrap than either of the two previous games.

“I just felt like they played harder than we did in spots,” North Little Rock coach Johnny Rice said. “Especially in the first half they were just outhustling us and they were making shots. They had some guys step up and hit outside shots that they didn’t hit in our other two games.”

It was primarily one player than stepped up big for the Blue Devils. Forward Robert Bradford hit five three pointers, including three in the first half that many times came at crucial moments when it seemed the Wildcats might pull away.

The Blue Devils also kept it close in the first half by dominating the glass. West Memphis finished the game with a 45-34 rebounding advantage. The Blue Devils led four times in the first half, with the biggest lead coming at 27-24 with 90 seconds left in the second quarter.

Like so many other times this season, the Wildcats charged back to finish the half with a 9-2 run and took a 33-29 lead into the break.

“In the locker room we put two numbers on the board, 40 and 16, and said this is how much you beat them by this year,” Rice said. “Then we said if you think it’s going to be like that just because you showed up, you’re wrong. I think by halftime they knew they had to get back to what got us here. We sat every one of them down individually before the season started. We told them then, if they hand out state championships for being the best on paper, we got it. But they don’t do that. We’re going to have to play harder than they do and playtogether as a team. For the most part we’ve done that, but we didn’t do it in the first half in this game and hopefully we’ve learned something from it.”

The Charging Wildcats didn’t take long to assume control of the game in the second half. West Memphis pulled to within 37-36 in the breakneck pace that was the third quarter. North Little Rock’s sophomore guard Kevaughn Allen got back-to-back fast-break dunks to make it 41-36 with 6:18 on the clock. Senior Gary Vines then got a steal and dished to Allen for a layup that put the Wildcats up by seven in a flash.

“We came out much more focused and playing a lot harder in the second half,” Rice said. “We can’t make it a habit to wait that long to start playing though. If we start like that against Fayetteville we won’t be up by four points at halftime. I can promise you that.”

The dynamic guard tandem of Allen and Dayshawn Watkins led North Little Rock. The duo combined for 53 points with Allen dropping in 30. Vines added 14 points and senior forward Thomas Alexander added 10 for the Wildcats.

Bradford led West Memphis with 27 points while point guard Rai East and Kevin Mooney scored 11 apiece. Post player Vakemeyus Davis added 10 for the Blue Devils.

North Little Rock will face the Fayetteville Bulldogs in the state championship. Fayetteville beat West conference rival Bentonville 54-51 in the other semifinal game. The Cats and Dogs will meet at 4:15 p.m. Saturday at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock.

North Little Rock pummeled Bryant 82-44 in the quarterfinal round after the Hornets beat Cabot in OT.

SPORTS STORY >> Boys to face Airedales

Leader sports editor

After emerging triumphant in the semifinal showdown with top-ranked Clarksville, the Jacksonville Red Devils now face two-time champion Alma in the class 5A state championship game Friday at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock.

Jacksonville (24-4) will make its third championship-game appearance in five years, winning one of those two class 6A title games.

Alma won the class 5A championship in 2007 and 2011, both times against teams from central Arkansas.

Alma coach Stan Flenor believes his team will be considered an underdog, but has confidence in his team to beat the odds the way it did in previous years.

“We were underdogs against Mills and with good reason,” Flenor said. “Mills had won it the year before. When we beat Sylvan Hills, I think a lot of people had them picked with the star player and all that. But I really felt like we had the deeper and more experienced team that year.”

Alma won’t be as deep as Jacksonville is on Friday, but it will have two seniors, Brock Wither and Gage Jensen, that played significant roles in the 2011 championship season. That kind of experience is irreplaceable, according to Flenor.

“Those two have been there and know what’s involved,” Flenor said. “They’re not going to get rattled. They’ve been great leaders for us all season and the rest of the guys have grown up around them as the season progressed.”

Jacksonville had been under pressure this season as well. The Red Devils played a murderous nonconference schedule. Three of its four losses have come to teams playing this weekend in their respective championship games. They lost twice by eight points to class 7A North Little Rock in a home-and-home series. They lost by eight points to Jonesboro, who plays Hall in the 6A title game, in the Arkansas Hoops Challenge. Jacksonville’s accomplishments aren’t lost on Flenor.

“They’ve played some very good teams and they’ve been a 6A powerhouse the last several years,” Flenor said. “We’ve lost twice to Clarksville and they beat them in a pressure-packed game. But like I said, this team isn’t going to get rattled by pressure. We’re going to play hard and play our game. We like to play fast. We feel like that’s what we’re good at and that’s what we’re going to try to do in this game.”

Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner welcomes a fast-paced approach by the Airedales.

“Let them run,” Joyner said. “If they want to play fast, come out running. We’ll love that.”

The Airedales play a style of basketball that can be difficult to defend in the halfcourt set, just as Harrison learned in the semifinals. Alma’s constant lane penetration either produced a bucket or a Harrison foul. It’s an offense that Joyner hates to defend.

“There’s no secret what they’re going to do,” Joyner said. “They’re going to dribble-drive and kick out, dribble-drive and try to get a layup or foul. What’s a defense supposed to do? You can’t just let them go by you so there’s almost always going to be contact, and nine times out of 10 the officials are going to call it on the defense. You just have to move your feet and get in position.”

In fact, Joyner says his team’s success in Friday’s game will come down to its ability to defend on the ball.

“We just have to defend the ball,” Joyner said. “Our ball contain has to be good. We have to keep it in front of us because everything they do is predicated on that penetration. If we get behind on the drive and players have to start rotating, that’s going to free up the shooters. Defending the ball is what this comes down to.”

Guard play has been the staple for Jacksonville this season, led by three seniors with key roles. Aaron Smith is the team’s leading scorer. Justin McCleary is the floor general who also averages 16 points per game.

Kevin Richardson is the team’s best overall athlete who usually comes off the bench to provide the team’s best on-ball defense. But Jacksonville goes about 12 deep and Joyner doesn’t think this game comes down to any one player, or even a handful of players.

“This is everybody’s game,” Joyner said. “They all have to execute and they’ve done that for the most part. They got us here and that’s what you want. You want an opportunity to play for a championship. They have that opportunity, so now they just have to keep doing what they’ve done. This group has done all the right things. They work hard in practice. They play together. They don’t care who gets the glory. They just work together and that’s what’s got them this far.”

SPORTS STORY >> Ladies taking on Rams

Leader sports editor

This Friday night at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils will make the first appearance in school history in the girls basketball state championship game. The opponent will be the Paragould Lady Rams, who not only have been in previous state championship games, but were in the last one, losing last year’s class 5A championship game to Greenwood. This year’s Lady Rams have every starter back from that team, making this year’s championship game one of the most intriguing of the 14-game lineup.

Both teams’ base defense is an aggressive man-to-man and each team will switch to zone at times. Jacksonville (24-4) has gone with full-court and half-court pressure and traps more than Paragould has, but the Lady Devils haven’t done that so far in the state tournament.

While defensive strategies are similar, offenses aren’t. Paragould wants to create open shots for post player and leading scorer Sydney Layrock, and using the inside game to open things up for a group of good perimeter shooters.

Jacksonville creates much of its offense with its defense, but has the best guard-forward combo player in the state in 6-foot-2 Jessica Jackson that is an effective scorer inside and out in the halfcourt set.

“We feel like Jessica gives us at least one advantage no matter who we’re playing,” Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms said. “Looking at Paragould on film, they don’t have anyone who can match up with her physically. Their post player is very good. She’s very strong and she’s a smart, effective player, but she can’t match up with Jessica physically. She might be pushing six feet, but I don’t think she’s even that tall, and she’s not as quick as Jessica is. So we think that’s one advantage we’ll have.”

One advantage that Paragould may have is championship experience, but Mimms believes her team has been in enough big games this season and last to minimize that factor.

“They were here last year and we missed it by one game,” Mimms said. “But this team has been in some big-time games this year. And when we left that semifinal floor last year with a loss, these girls knew they weren’t going to let that happen again. Now they’re past that and they got rid of that, but they’ve got the attitude that they’re not finished. They’re not satisfied with just being the first Jacksonville team to get this far. They don’t want to let this chance for a title slip away. They’ve been focused.”

The two teams share two common opponents, but little can be learned from them. Each team has played 7A Central members Cabot and North Little Rock. Jacksonville lost twice to North Little Rock in a home-and-home series, and beat Cabot by 30 points at Cabot. Paragould lost at Cabot and beat North Little Rock at home.

“What do you do with that,” Mimms asked. “You can’t take anything away from that. It’s a strange thing.”

Jacksonville hasn’t been very deep most of the season, but has been developing depth over the course of the year, and have been giving bench players more minutes in playoff games. Guards Keke Alcorn and Antrice McCoy have been the biggest contributors off the bench.

“McCoy is a really good ball defender that can come off the bench and get into a point guard’s legs a little bit,” Mimms said. “Keke came off the bench against Huntsville and gave us eight points, and that’s what we need from her.”

Sophomore point guard Shakyla Hill went down with an injury early in the second quarter against Huntsville. She came back in the fourth quarter but wasn’t 100 percent. She is expected to be ready to play on Friday.

Hill has run the point the last two years, and says the transition from eighth-grade ball to varsity was a tough one, but getting this far makes it worth it.

“It was very different because players didn’t do things the same as in eighth grade,” Hill said. “It takes a while to get used to everything, being the youngest one and learning your role in senior high. But I think this is a big deal because as a team we’ve improved so much from last year. Now we just have to keep playing hard and finish it.”

Junior guard Tiffany Smith has a simple characterization for her role. “I’m the shooter,” said Smith. She’s also a two-year starter and sees the biggest improvement from last in cohesion.

“Team chemistry is a lot better,” Smith said. “We’ve really come together as a team and are playing better together.”

Senior Sasha Richardson has been a defensive stopper for three years. Her job in each game is to defend the other team’s best player. As a senior, she remembers some of the lean years that preceded recent success.

“This is good for us and good for our program because we’ve made it so far,” Richardson said. “We weren’t that good for a long time and we want to get this win for coach Mimms because she’s worked really hard to get things where they’re at now.”

EDITORIAL >> Cabot looks to progress

The pieces needed to get voter support for a sales-tax extension that is going to a vote April 9 in Cabot are coming together.

The parks commission has selected a spot on Hwy. 321 to build a baseball park and outdoor swimming-pool complex, and architect Bob Schelle has delivered a drawing of how the old Knight’s grocery store on Main Street will look as Cabot’s new $2.6 million library.

As with any new tax, or in this case an extension of an existing tax, there is opposition to Mayor Bill Cypert’s plan to raise about $40 million through bonds secured by a one-cent tax to pay for projects the city couldn’t afford otherwise. The mayor has always said he was opposed to new taxes (the one he proposes would be just an extension), and pointing out that a growing city like Cabot will always have a sales tax for infrastructure.

Voters will be asked to extend what was first passed in 1999, so if they say “yes” to the extension, they won’t be out any more money, but they do stand to gain a new swimming pool and baseball park as well as a couple of new softball fields. They could get a nice room at the community center for large dinners and wedding receptions.

If the proposed interchange at Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 321 is built and a new sewer line allows more businesses to develop, residents will get more places to shop and eat around the new interchange and perhaps less traffic congestion in the Main Street area.

One outspoken resident is vehemently opposed to spending $8.2 million for sewer improvements, more than $5 million of which would increase capacity for growth in the Hwy. 5-Greystone area.

As critics see it, a rate increase, something customers haven’t had in more than a decade, could pay for improvements in other parts of Cabot, and a sewer-improvement district, made up of the customers who would benefit from bigger and better sewer in the Greystone area, should pay for that project.

But even supporters of the park and library said they needed a site for the new $13.5 million park and at least a picture of the new library. They weren’t willing to vote yes to a pig in a poke.

Until the election, the mayor, parks commission and water and sewer commission will hold public meetings during town-hall meetings in school cafeterias and with service organizations in restaurants and meeting rooms all over Cabot to try to win support for the various improvement projects.

The mayor has said the $9.5 million for the city’s half of a north interchange likely won’t need much explanation. But there are some who say there is no guarantee that the state highway department will pay the other half. And there are at least a few who say an interchange and new road connecting to the railroad overpass that was build after the last tax extension in 2005 is pure folly because the location is wrong.

Last week, during the first town- hall meeting called to explain the benefit of continuing the sales tax, the mayor encountered opposition to paying $500,000 for drainage projects in the Highlands subdivision. But the mayor says the city should never have allowed the problems to develop, but now those problems are the city’s responsibility.

And even before the park site was selected last week, the mayor was recommending a strategic change in classification for part of the new park. The pool complex was initially called a water park, but feedback from the community alerted the mayor to a developing image problem. They said water park, but people heard Magic Springs and decided Cabot didn’t need one.

Rumblings about the need for spending $5.5 million to expand the six-year-old community center that was completed after the 2005 tax extension have also been heard.

Supporters of expansion say it was built too small, and the city really needs a banquet hall large enough to accommodate gatherings of 500 or more and it needs a real gym, not just a few pieces of equipment set up in a hallway.

Whether the mayor and other supporters will be able to get their message out to enough people who want those things to get the tax extension passed won’t be known until the votes are counted.

The only thing that is certain is that the next month will be a busy one for supporters and opposition alike.

TOP STORY >> Bankers cheated military

Leader editor

The bankers who illegally foreclosed on about 1,000 military families are paying billions of dollars in fines for their criminal behavior. These bankers cheated service members and their families even if they were current with their mortgages.

Bank of America, Wells Far-go, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and other banks have agreed to pay $3.6 billion and additional costs for evicting thousands of homeowners, many of them in the military serving overseas. That fine is less than the bonuses the fat cats give themselves every year.

“It’s absolutely devastating to be 7,000 miles from your home fighting for this country and get a message that your family is being evicted,” said Col. John S. Odom Jr., a retired Air Force lawyer in Shreveport, La., who represents military members in foreclosure cases. “We have been sounding the alarms that the banks are illegally evicting the very men and women who are out there fighting for this country. This is a devastating confirmation of that.”

The courts should make the banks give generously to service members and their military bases, which are trying to make ends meet during the so-called sequester. There’s not enough money at Little Rock Air Force Base for flight training, which has been curtailed from five days to four days, or to repair equipment and buildings as $2 million has been eliminated for those projects. Food services could also be cut if the sequestration fight continues indefinitely.

The least the bankers could do is donate 1,000 gallons of aviation fuel for every wronged military family — about a million gallons of fuel — to keep the C-130s flying.

The fat cats should come to Little Rock Air Force Base and see the sacrifices the military is making. Or send the bankers to Helmand Province in Afghanistan and see what war is like up close. That might make them think twice before throwing innocent families out of their homes.

Across the nation, Air Force pilots will lose 200,000 flying hours. Active-duty combat units will reduce training at their bases. The Army will reduce training by 80 percent for its ground forces because of the sequester. Two-thirds of its combat teams will be unprepared for combat.

As the Pentagon’s budget is cut, the military’s insurance program, Tricare, faces a $3 billion shortfall. That will hit veterans and their families pretty hard, although the bankers won’t lose much sleep over that either.

Although enlisted personnel are excluded from the sequester, civilian workers, many of them military veterans, face up to two days of furloughs a month. That will make it harder for them to pay their mortgages. Let’s hope the fat cats don’t take advantage of them and try to evict them before this latest crisis is over.

Let the bankers come here and rehabilitate some of the homes they’ve wrongfully foreclosed on. According to a recent report, 141,000 veterans — 10 percent of them women — spend at least one night a year in a homeless shelter.

Bankers and others could help homeless veterans by donating to Volunteers to America and U.S. Vets that have reached out to women veterans, many of them back from overseas, who have had a hard time readjusting.

Many of these veterans are single mothers who can’t afford child care.

The cost of taking care of homeless vets is three times greater than helping those who live at home.

And isn’t it time to end bonuses for bankers while military members are told to do more on salaries that are a lot less than what bankers spend a day flying their private jets?

How about sequestering those private planes? Give their fuel to the hard-working crews flying those old C-130s, many of them still in Southwest Asia.

TOP STORY >> Medicaid plan could be accepted

Leader senior staff writer

State lawmakers across the board seem to like the new government-paid, private-sector insurance proposal approved by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius better than the Medicaid expansion that the White House initially proposed, but they want more information.

At the request of legislators, Gov. Mike Beebe recently visited with Sebelius in Washington and came back with good news for those wanting more options.

House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) stopped short of optimism regarding the so-called private-option, but said it has a better chance of getting the necessary three-quarters approval of both houses than did the Medicaid expansion.

Carter said lawmakers are still awaiting more data from the state Department of Human Services filtered this time through the private-option insurance expansion proposal.

“We’re now in a posture that appears we are going to be able to purchase private policies for the entire population we’re talking about,” Carter said Tuesday.

That population is primarily working poor between 18 and 64 and their families — about a quarter of a million people.

Dr. Joe Thompson, the state surgeon general, doesn’t seem to have any misgivings. He said this would be a boon on several levels to clients, doctors, hospitals and the state -— particularly in rural areas where poverty is high, the percentage of insured is low, and hospitals often closed or threatened with closing.


Among residents between 18 and 64 years old in 2010, about 25 percent of those in White County and 23 percent of Pulaski and Lonoke County residents had no health insurance — and about 50 percent of those residents below 138 percent of the federal poverty level were not insured.

Thompson, who has been an activist trying to get more Arkansans insured for more than a decade, says there’s a lot to like about the private option.

People can get a private insurance card and doctors and hospitals get paid more than they would under Medicaid.

Because people will be insured with a private company, they can keep the same insurance as they go up and down the financial elevator. A Medicaid recipient who got a better job might not be qualified any longer and thus might have to find new insurance.

He said that, because those above the poverty rate would have copays, it would be possible to steer them away from the emergency room while making it more attractive to get preventative care.


Thompson said the private option could save an estimated 2,300 lives a year and most of the insurance money would flow to rural parts of the state.

State Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), an insurance agent, said he believes a private company can usually administer services better than the government can.

“If the benefits were the same as Medicaid, the care and payment would be better,” Perry said. “Tennessee does it.”

State Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) says, “I’m very interested in the private sector option, with Medicaid folks being able to go on private insurance. It’s a much better plan.”

English said the original plan would have essentially turned 250,000 more Arkansans into welfare recipients. “But,” she warns, “everything is in the details.”

The private sector option is getting a warmer reception than the original Medicaid expansion did, according to state Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke).

TOP STORY >> Officials want to change time off

Leader staff writer

Too much comp time for city employees was the topic of a lengthy discussion Monday night during a Cabot City Council committee meeting.

Matthew Hood, the city’s human resources director, called the 2,800 hours of comp time that was carried over into 2013, “an absurd amount of comp time.”

He recommended a change in the handbook that would require employees to use the time in the year it is accrued and to use the time before taking vacation time.

But to clear the 2,800 hours from the books this year, he proposed paying the employees for any hours they haven’t taken off by the end of the year.

Using an average wage of $15 an hour, paying for the comp time would cost Cabot $42,000.

The only real objection to the proposal among councilmembers came from Alderman Angie Jones, who said some employees almost certainly saved the hours to use during hunting season and counted on continuing the practice.

Fire Chief Phil Robinson also cautioned that an abrupt change could cause a morale problem among his firefighters.

Council members meet as three distinct committees: Budget and personnel, fire and police and public works. And even though most aldermen participate in discussions during every committee meeting, only the members vote to send proposals to the full council.

Hood said he wants to implement the comp-time policy immediately so the budget and personnel committee voted to send it to the full council.

During the public works committee, Mike Wheeler, head of animal control for only a few months, gave a progress report on his department. Wheeler said the number of animals brought into the shelter is up but the “animal release rate” is also up, thanks in part to the mobile adoption unit and a new electronic sign and message center on South First Street.

Accomplishments in the first two months of this year include developing procedure manuals for cash and asset handling, as well as drug handling, and moving the shelter technician — who worked the desk at the shelter into the field.

But the changes that will make the shelter more inviting to the public and possibly further increase the release rate are all part of a $15,655 donor-funded shelter makeover expected to be completed by March 15.

Those changes include stained concrete floors in the lobby, meet-and-greet room and customer hallway; custom-built benches in the customer seating area; canvas artwork of recently adopted animals in the public areas that will be auctioned and replaced every year; plants and trees in the public areas; professional signs on all doors with room information and safety instructions; new guest registration station; and landscaping.

Wheeler said he can’t take credit for the professionally framed and matted artwork from Cabot students that will hang in hallways and be replaced each spring and fall to increase foot traffic from mothers and grandmothers.

He got the idea from the artwork that hangs at Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, he said.

The unveiling of the new and improved shelter will be April 13 during the spring open house and yard sale complete with grilled burgers and hotdogs and a bounce house for kids.

“We want to be the premier shelter in central Arkansas,” Wheeler said. “We’re working hard toward it.”

Council members also heard from Jack Odom who wants the city to build an airport. Air transportation is integral to industrial development, Odom said, adding that Conway’s airport cost $30 million but 90 percent of that amount was paid by the federal government.

In other business, the budget and personnel committee voted to appoint Nancy Cohea to the planning commission. Ron Craig, planning commission chairman, said Cohea already attends most planning commission meetings and that she would be an asset.

The fire and police committee heard a report from Jon Swanson, director of MEMS, which provides ambulance service to Cabot. Because of Medicare cuts, the city will need to pay an $11,835 subsidy for the service, Swanson said.

TOP STORY >> Charge reduced in shooting

Leader staff writer

Christopher Reynolds, the Ward man who shot and killed his employee in November, pleaded not guilty in circuit court Monday to manslaughter, a Class C felony which carries a sentence of three to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Reynolds, 34, was not charged with murder as Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham said was likely when he was arrested 17 days after he admitted to shooting Ernest Hoskins, 21, in the face.

Reynolds is set for pre-trial on June 3 and jury trial on June 5. He has been out of jail on a $100,000 bond since he was arrested Nov. 26.

Graham recused himself from the case and Jack McQuary from the state Office of Prosecutor Coordinator was appointed as special prosecutor in late January.

McQuary said Tuesday that after interviewing all the witnesses to the shooting and reviewing the State Police investigation, manslaughter was the charge that fit under Arkansas law.

Usually, recusal is used to avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest. But Graham said he stepped down because it was apparent to him that Hoskins’ family was uncomfortable with him, and he didn’t want to be the cause of more distress.

The case received national attention after the Hoskins family retained a lawyer specializing in civil-rights cases during the 17 days between the shooting and Reynolds’ arrest. Reynolds is white. Hoskins was black.

Reynolds shot Hoskins during a business meeting at his home at 26 Deer Run Drive.

He made the following statement to an investigator with the State Police: “On November 9, 2012, at approximately 2 p.m., I was conducting a meeting at my house for my business. My business reduces gas mileage on vehicles. Rachel Watson, Brian Washington, Melissa Peoples and Ernest Hoskins were at my house for the meeting. All four are my employees. I was discussing with Ernest why his sales figures for the week were so low. He had lower figures than Melissa and Rachel. Ernest told me that I needed to get off my couch and work as well. We were bantering back and forth. I picked up a Desert Eagle .44 magnum pistol from behind me. I pointed the pistol at Ernest’s head and we were bantering for approximately one minute. I pulled the trigger and the gun did not go off. I then pulled the slide back and a round went into the chamber. I tried to de-cock the hammer on the pistol by pulling the trigger and holding the hammer and it moved forward. The gun then went off and struck Ernest in the face. I put the gun back up and called 911. I have had weapons and firearms training while I was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.”

Reynolds is represented by Hubert Alexander of Jacksonville.