Friday, March 15, 2013

TOP STORY >> Mourners pay tribute to Rice

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville community was lined up at the doors of First United Methodist Church Friday afternoon to say final good- byes to Ben Rice, attorney, businessman, philanthropist and publisher.

One doesn’t have to look far to see the landmarks Rice left in Jacksonville.

There’s the military mu-seum, which was a 30-year battle to fruition. The Boys and Girls Club, the senior center, a secure water supply from Greer’s Ferry, the Rotary Club, and when the city gets its own school district it will be in large part to the hard working Rice has done over the past decade.

He also owned and operated the Jacksonville Daily News, operated the first radio station in Jacksonville and was well respected for his skills as an editorial writer.

Rice died Tuesday at the age of 75 after a battle with pneumonia, but remained active in the community he loved until a day before he died.

Rice was at the Jacksonville Rotary Club meeting Monday, which happened to be at North Metro Medical Center. “He was sick and didn’t need to be there, but it was his turn to introduce the guest speaker and he never faltered from his duties,” said longtime friend Joan Zumwalt.

Funeral service will be 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16 at First United Methodist Church, officiated by Rev. Mark McDonald and Rev. Brad Moore. Burial will follow at Concord Cemetery in Furlow.

“He was tenacious in advocating the common good,” said fellow attorney Mike Wilson.

Mayor Gary Fletcher used the same word to describe Rice: “His tenacity set him apart. When he got something in his head, he wouldn’t stop. He was coming to council meetings 20 years ago talking up the military museum. We knew it wouldn’t happen. He did. We were wrong and are glad we were.”

The mayor added retirement and relaxation just weren’t his vocabulary.

“I’ll always picture him with folders under his arm walking fast, doing something for Jacksonville.”

Gene Adams, Rice’s partner at the Rice and Adams law firm on Main Street, tells about Rice’s beginnings as an attorney in 1964.

“That was a year before I was born, so when he gave me advise, I knew he had the experience and I listened,” Adams said.

You couldn’t miss Rice back in those early days, Adams said. “In his seersucker suit on a hot July day he reminded me of Gregory Peck in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ He was the epitome of a Southern gentleman.”

Judge Robert Batton joined forces with Rice in the early 1970’s and the pair remained partners for two decades and friends for a lifetime. “Our partnership was formed on a handshake. Can you imagine two lawyers coming together and no paperwork? His word was his bond,” Batton said.

Batton called Rice a “treassure to his community. He was always upbeat and positive and never had a harsh word for anyone.”

Rice was born in Texarkana but grew up in Jacksonville and graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1955.

“He was a year ahead of me,” developer Tommy Dupree recalled, “and always a good student. All the teachers liked him.”

Rice went on to the Univer-sity of Arkansas and earned an associate degree in journalism.

His law degree came from George Washington University. “That’s one of the top five schools in the country, right up there with Harvard and Princeton,” Adams said.

After getting his degree, Rice had an interview with the legendary Herschel Friday, whose firm went on to become the largest in the state.

“He had the job,” Adams said, “but Herschel asked Ben what he really wanted to do. Ben said he wanted to start his own practice in Jacksonville. Herschel told him to follow his dream and that the door would always be open at the Friday Law Firm for him,” Adams said.

Friday went so far as to give Rice a key to the firm to use its vast law library whenever he needed it. “That’s how much respect Herschel had for him,” Adams said.

He was Jacksonville’s first city attorney, holding the post for a decade, starting in 1967.

Besides being an attorney, Rice was a dreamer, his friends said.

“He had the ability to see old buildings in the city and see a new future for them,” longtime friend Bart Gray said. “He turned the old funeral home into the military museum, the old telephone building on Main into a small shopping center. He bought the struggling Jacksonville Daily News in an effort to keep it alive too,” Gray said.

Rice was instrumental in the founding of the Jack-sonville Boys and Girls Club, the Jacksonville Museum of Military History and Jackson-ville Towers, and remained passionate about them.

To get the military museum opened, Rice pushed the city to start an Advertising and Promotion Commission and initiate the hamburger tax to promote the city. The commission’s first promotion was the museum and it has grown to be one of the best military museums in the region.

Zumwalt, who worked hard with Rice to open the museum, said if it wasn’t for his continued drive, the museum would not be a reality. “Plus he’s responsible for many of the one-of-a-kind collection items we have,” she said.

Zumwalt came to Jacksonville in 1963 to help Rice operate the radio station.

“Can you believe it has been 50 years and we’ve been friends throughout it all. Our families grew up and old together,” she said.

She said the 1,000-watt station, KGMR, operated out of a small red-brick building on Second Street close to the Daily News, which Rice ended up buying.

“We played country, gospel, contemporary and even had a segment called ‘Hits of Yesterday,’ and we did it all locally,” she said.

The director of city administration, Jim Durham, said, “Ben left his imprint on everything in the city, and he didn’t do it for himself. He did it for the love of the community.”

Ted Freeman, a longtime friend, echoed those thoughts. “He was dedicated to Jacksonville. He was a dedicated leader without being a flag waver for himself,” Freeman said.

He said Rice would do anything for projects he was pushing.

“We had a donkey softball game as a civic club fundraiser and it was hilarious watching everyone, including Ben, fall off time and again. But it didn’t faze him any because he turned right around and got on a mechanical bull at a fundraiser for the boys and girls club,” Freeman recalled.

“It looks easy, you know, but Ben didn’t stay on that bull long.” Freeman said it was funny to see this respected lawyer sprawled out on the ground smiling.

Freeman said Rice appreciated the value of Little Rock Air Force Base and worked long and hard on their behalf. “He was always sensitive to the reputation of Jacksonville,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Community center bids sought

Leader staff writer

Bidding will open next week for almost $700,000 worth of repairs to the six-year-old Cabot Community Center.

Work is expected to start by late April and the pool will be closed for six months.

Cory Whalin from Clements and Associates Architecture, a North Little Rock firm that identified the problems with the center, said during a Thursday night meeting of the parks commission that he gets calls from contractors every day who want to know when the project will be bid.

Contractors need work so interest in the project is high, Whalin said.

The damage was caused by a faulty Pool Pac, a dehumidification system that apparently never worked properly and allowed moisture in the roof area that rusted the screws that hold the roof in place.

The building will need a new roof as well as moisture-proof doors and interior walls.

To pay for the work, the commission is borrowing up to $300,000 from the Bank of the Ozarks which offered the five-year loan at 1.8 percent interest, the lowest of all the banks in Cabot, which also bid.

The balance will come for the city which is contributing $250,000 and the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission which will pay $150,000. The commission oversees the 1.5 percent tax collected on prepared foods and hotel rooms that must be used to promote the city in some way.

Ken Kincade, vice chairman of the parks commission, noted during the Thursday meeting that memberships for the community center are down.

The repairs are projected to begin April 24 and be competed Oct. 30. But the planned repairs did not include painting or repairing the crack in the pool. Gary Clements, the owner of Clements & Associates, told the commission that he was unaware of problems with the pool.

But he told the commission, “Let us investigate.”

The Thursday night meeting was the first commission meeting attended by John Crow, the 38-year-old maintenance supervisor from the North Little Rock parks department who was selected earlier this month as the new parks director for Cabot.

Crow, who lives in Cabot and is married to a Cabot High School math teacher, will not officially be on board until April 8.

The commission had set the salary range for the parks director at $52,000 to $77,000. Crow will be paid $65,000 plus standard benefits.

He has a degree in physical education and wellness promotion. He has knowledge of budgets, grant writing, athletic administration, and developing and implementing maintenance plans as well as other duties related to a large athletic facility and event management..

As the former project coordinator for North Little Rock parks, he was the liaison between the city and the athletic associations assuring compliance with contracts and optimum performance. He coordinated all special events including tournaments and charity events.

Johnny White, the former athletic director for Cabot schools who now serves on the commission, is acting as the unpaid interim director until Crow takes over.

On Tuesday, White closed the skate park next to the community center at the request of the Cabot School District and city police because students were cutting class and going to the park. Braden Reshel, 20, and Michael Williams, 19, asked the commission to consider a solution that would allow them to keep using the park during the day because they have other commitments during the evening.

Some sort of sign-in procedure might work, Reshel said.

Alderman Ed Long said from the audience that the city has a curfew ordinance that says school-age children aren’t allowed outside during school hours except for school-related activities.

The police should simply enforce the law that is already in place, Long said.

White pointed out that the weekend and spring break was just ahead. So, the young men would have daytime access to the park for at least 10 days and that he would work on a solution in the meantime.

SPORTS STORY >> NLR girls shut out Panthers

Leader sportswriter

Clutch defense and a strong fourth inning helped catapult the Charging Lady Wildcats to a 4-0 win over Cabot in Tuesday’s 7A/6A East Conference matchup at North Little Rock’s Burns Park.

The first three innings were a defensive battle as both teams were held scoreless, but North Little Rock (7-4, 2-0) broke that streak in the bottom of the fourth. Five-hole hitter Hannah Lovercheck led off the inning with a single to centerfield, and Erin Columbus followed with a sacrifice bunt.

As Columbus ran to first, the throw from the third baseline sailed over Lady Panther first baseman Kayla Henard, and as the ball rolled past the right field foul line, Lovercheck scored with ease to put North Little Rock up 1-0. Columbus advanced all the way to third on the errant throw.

It was one of three Lady Panther errors in the game, and the Charging Lady Wildcats made them pay for it the very next at bat. With Columbus on third and no outs, first baseman Kathryn Kinnison hammered a two-run home run to straight centerfield to give North Little Rock a 3-0 cushion.

Cabot (2-4, 0-1) had a chance to put runs on the board in the top of the fifth, but like the previous two innings, it was unable to get the timely hit when it needed it the most. The Lady Panthers left a total of 10 runners on base in the game, and ended the third, fourth and fifth innings with the bases loaded.

“I think we pitched it pretty good when we had to pitch it at times,” said Charging Lady Wildcats coach Anthony Cantrell. “We got out of some big jams. They had the bases loaded at least twice, and we made plays when we had to make plays.”

The Lady Panthers were able to load the bases with just one out in the fourth and fifth innings, but on each occasion, North Little Rock pitcher Rachel Gregory made sure nothing would come from it.

With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, Cabot’s Lane Justus laid down a bunt, but the ball barely got past home plate, which allowed catcher McKenzie Escovedo to easily apply the force out at home.

Gregory ended the inning with one of her 12 strikeouts the next at bat. When Cabot was faced with the same scenario in the top of the fifth, Gregory ended the inning with two-straight strikeouts in dominant fashion.

“We had the bases loaded with one out and had hitters up that we thought we could count on, and just didn’t get the job done when we needed to,” said Lady Panthers coach Chris Cope. “Hopefully we’ll learn from that, and next time we’ll take care of it. We didn’t get a timely hit or a bunt.

“Then we had three errors in the game. When they went up 3-0, we had two errors in that inning, and that kills us right now. We’ve got to believe. We were in that game and North Little Rock is probably the best team in the conference right now, and we were there. We’ve got to find a way to win.”

North Little Rock set the final score in the bottom of the fifth with a one out, RBI-single by Lovercheck.

Gregory scored from second on the play after leading off the inning with a single to the left field gap.

Gregory pitched all seven innings in the winning effort. Lovercheck led North Little Rock with two hits. Gregory, Kinnison, Sydney Parr and Lydia Belew each had a base hit for the Charging Lady Wildcats.

Taylor Anderson led the Lady Panthers with two hits. Justus, Henard, Heather Hill and Brandyn Vines each had a base hit for Cabot.

North Little Rock’s next conference game will be March 26 at West Memphis. Cabot played at Little Rock Central yesterday after deadlines, and will continue conference play against Marion at home on March 26. Both March 26 games start at 5 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> SH ladies spoil NP’s first game of season

Leader sportswriter

The 5A Central Conference opener also served as the season opener for the North Pulaski Lady Falcons on Tuesday against local rival Sylvan Hills, and the Lady Bears put their experience to work in a 5-1 victory at Bill Blackwood Field.

The Lady Bears (3-1, 1-0) scored two early goals with breakaways by junior forward Abi Persson, while Anna Houston answered a goal by North Pulaski senior Taylor Hodge midway through the first half.

“Early on, I asked the girls to hold the defense the best they could,” Sylvan Hills coach Nate Persson said. “We usually try to keep the defense intact, because they are not as experienced as we’ve had in the past. Abi missed a couple of early opportunities. We needed her to score so we could relax, and she did.”

Persson added two more goals late in the first half, one on a straight-ahead breakaway from close range, and the other on a long free kick over 30 yards out from the right side.

The game went scoreless in the second half, as Persson dropped back and played more of a coaching role on the field in an effort to give some of the Lady Bears’ less-experienced players a chance at running the offense.

Sylvan Hills senior Jalmedal Byrd managed to break away twice late in the second half, but North Pulaski’s defense prevented her from scoring. Lady Falcon senior Laura Spell and sophomore Lindsay Spell put their speed to good use in the second half to disrupt the training session.

“We were at a disadvantage because No. 3 on their team, she’s too quick for us,” Persson said. “It was difficult. They have a good enough defense, and she is so super quick that our forwards aren’t quick enough. We didn’t do as well as we had hoped to do on that.

“But I’m overall pleased, because it’s always good when they get experience.”

After letting Houston slip through for the early North Pulaski goal, Lady Bears senior goalkeeper Naomi Gregory made a number of good saves through the remainder of the first half. Gregory saw limited time in the second half to make way for junior goalkeeper Courtney BoutteƩ.

“She’s our hope for next year,” Persson said. “This is her first time ever to play. We’re hoping to develop her for next year, because Naomi will be big shoes to fill. We’re also developing her as a forward, because she’s also a basketball player, and she has very good speed.”

The Lady Bears lost their first game of the season the day before at Batesville as the Lady Pioneers won a hard-fought 1-0 battle. Coach Persson said the absence of junior forward Caylyn Fulton was a big reason for the loss. Fulton suffered a knee injury during the late stages of basketball season, but was expected to return for Thursday’s conference match against Jacksonville.

“That’s huge for us,” Persson said. “She really makes a difference for us.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot gives No. 1 big tussle

Leader sportswriter

The top-ranked Charging Wildcats swept the visiting Cabot Panthers in the two teams’ 7A/6A East Conference-opening doubleheader on Tuesday. North Little Rock won the first game 5-2 and took the second game 8-5 at DeJanis Memorial Field in Burns Park.

In each game the Charging Wildcats pulled out to early leads. In the first part of the twin bill, North Little Rock (7-1, 2-0) scored three runs in the second inning, and two more in the third to take a 5-0 lead. Cabot (4-4, 0-2) didn’t score until the top of the seventh, after winning pitcher Preston Oberling was pulled from the game.

Oberling struck out nine Panthers in six innings of work, which was pleasing to the head Charging Wildcat, Randy Sandefur.

“He did a tremendous job,” Sandefur said of Oberling. “We didn’t have any errors and we spread the ball around pretty good. We were real patient with their lefty, because we knew that he was probably going to try and get us out of the zone a few times. But we stayed back and we really did a good job of pitch selection when we hit the baseball.”

Chipper Morris and Casey Vaughan scored Cabot’s two runs in the top of the seventh to set the final score of the first game. The Panthers had just three hits in game one, and committed five errors in the field. Unfortunately for Cabot, the mistakes continued in the second game.

Charging Wildcat cleanup hitter Chandler Thompson led off the second inning of game two with a high fly ball between first and second base. Thompson reached first safely as the routine fly was dropped, the result of three different Panther infielders calling for the ball and trying to make the catch.

Thompson moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jarrod Smiatek, and scored the next at bat as Dillon Howell reached base on another Panther error, this one an E3. Thompson scored with ease as the throw to first was well off the mark.

“Man, we just didn’t get it done defensively,” said Cabot coach Jay Fitch. “I think in this doubleheader we had 11 errors. I don’t know that we’ve ever done that. I’m just trying to think of the last time we played that poorly on defense. I don’t think we’ve made that many all year, and then to come into our first conference game and to do that, it’s disappointing.

“We know we have to fix some things defensively, and what’s so confusing about that is we haven’t done that all year. It’s not that the plays were just really hard plays. Some of those were just routine plays that we just didn’t make. So that’ll get you beat against the number one team in the state.”

North Little Rock gave itself a lot of cushion in the fourth inning, scoring seven runs to push its lead to 8-0. University of Arkansas signee Alex Gosser started the rally with a one-out solo home run off the scoreboard in right centerfield.

Howell drove in North Little Rock’s third run of the game on a RBI-single, and Spencer Byrd, who picked up the win on the mound in the second game, followed with a three-run home run over the left field wall to put the Charging Wildcats up 6-0.

Gosser picked up his second RBI of the inning after walking with the bases loaded. River Warnock scored on the play, and Evan Peters scored one-batter later as Thompson also walked with the bases loaded.

Cabot finally got on the board in the fifth as Coleman McAtee scored from third base on a grounder by Brent Dean. The Panthers added four more runs in the top of the sixth, and had two runners on base in the seventh with the tying run at the plate, but Grayson Cole’s swing was just under the closer Howell’s pitch, and Cole hit a routine fly ball to end the game.

Byrd struck out seven, walked three and gave up just one run in five innings of work in game two. Gosser led North Little Rock with two hits. Smiatek, Howell, Byrd and Warnock also had a hit in the second game.

The Panthers outhit the Charging Wildcats in the second game 8-6. Riley Knudsen had two of those hits. Morris, Cole, McAtee, Kason Kimbrell, Ryan Logan and Conner Vocque had a hit apiece.

Both Cabot and North Little Rock will play again Thursday in the Little Rock Catholic invitational tournament before resuming conference play next week after spring break. The Charging Wildcats continue 7A/6A East play March 26 in a doubleheader at West Memphis. The Panthers continue conference play March 27 in a doubleheader against Marion at home.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Tweaking Medicaid

Arkansas will be at the forefront of working on how health care costs can be decreased now that it’s been awarded $42 million to improve and sustain a statewide system to monitor patient care with the goal of saving money.

“The $42 million … will allow us to better support providers as they move to a new payment model and new ways of doing business,” Amy Webb, spokeswoman for Arkansas Department of Human Services, said. “It also will help us fully engage patients in their care.”

The payment initiative aims to make providers accountable for the care they give. Arkansas recently announced savings in its Medicaid program based on using the new model.

The legislature, in an ongoing battle with Gov. Mike Beebe over accepting federal Medicaid money, will not have to approve the acceptance of the $42 million.

“We will provide the legislature with information on the grant – and we’ve already talked to them about it informally – but it does not need to be approved by the legislature,” she said.

The initiative for which the grant was given is called the Arkansas Health Care Payment Improvement Initiative, a statewide program.

Beebe suggested two years ago that Medicaid stop paying doctors on a fee-for-service basis and move to paying for quality of care. The payment improvement initiative was formed to stop paying doctors and other providers for individual services and move toward how well their patients were doing. In addition to Medicaid, private insurers are involved in the project.

The program rewards or punishes providers based on the number of times that the patient sees the provider for a particular illness, called “medical episodes,” under the new system. The program follows five types of treatment including upper respiratory infections, total hip and knee replacements, congestive heart failure, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and perinatal care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says these the most expensive in health-care.

The program has been in use since July. “We’ve already rolled out five episodes of care under the initiative, and plan to roll out many more. In addition, we are preparing to launch patient-centered medical homes,” Webb said. Medical homes are teams of providers, rather than physical places, that help patients who suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma. The payment initiative would encourage Arkansans to have medical homes in three to five years, with the goal of keeping people out of emergency rooms.

“Patients, doctors, and other providers know the system has not been working well. The approach we are taking helps support doctors and hospitals to deliver the care patients expect,” Dr. Joe Thompson, Surgeon General of Arkansas, said in a press release. According to the payment initiative, the provider’s average cost of care will be identified as acceptable or commendable, depending on the number of patient visits.

The provider will pay a portion of excess costs or be eligible to share in savings with the payer, depending on the level of care.

TOP STORY >> Students from Japan visit Cabot High School

Leader staff writer

A group of Japanese high school students visited Cabot High School on Monday on the two-year anniversary of the massive earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

The earthquake on March 11, 2011, measured a 9.0 magnitude on the Richter scale, the strongest quake on record in Japan’s history. Three Fukushima power plant reactors melted down after its cooling systems were knocked out by the tsunami. An estimated 19,000 people were killed or missing and 300,000 people were displaced.

The tour group had 19 English language students and their teacher from Kozukata High School in Yahaba, Iwate Prefecture. Their visit was part of the Kizuna (bonds of friendship) project between the Laurasian Institution in Seattle and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. The project provided fully funded two-week study tours to Japanese and American youth. The program’s purpose was to promote an understanding about the current situation in Japan and the recovery efforts after the earthquake and tsunami. It also allows first-hand experiences with each country and their cultures.

Last year a group of 23 Cabot students visited Japan as a part of the program.

The Japanese students spent three days in Cabot with host families. They live in the mountainous northern part of Japan. Their cities are a few hundred miles away from the off-shore epicenter of the huge quake and Fukushima. They were not affected by the tsunami since they were so far inland. They did, however, feel the shaking of the quake.

Minami Wada of Morioka and Kuzuki Yamaguchi of Hanamaki are both 10th graders at Kozukata High School.

“It was very scary. We had blackouts,” Wada said.

“No electricity for three days,” Yamaguchi said.

They said the junior high school had some of the roads were damaged.

Wada is a member of the school choir, famous in Japan. The choir travels to relief camps in disaster areas and performs. Wada said singing raises the spirits of the displaced. The people are moved by the music, they become emotional and then smile.

Cabot High School 12th graders Melissa Mosqueda and Mark Kingan went on the group trip to Japan last year. Mark said in one of the areas they toured, the sea salt turned the trees red.

Kozukata is a traditional Japanese school. The girls said they have to wear uniforms to school. They cannot wear make-up, color their hair or paint their nails or wear jewelry.

Japanese schools do not have a school bus. Yamaguchi takes a 30-minute train ride. Wada takes the city bus for a 90-minute ride. They cannot drive to school. Their classrooms are not air conditioned.

Students do not change classrooms. They stay in a home room and the teachers change. A class has 42 students and is for 45 minutes. They start school at 8:25 a.m. to 4 p.m. with activities until 6 or 7 p.m.

One similarity to Cabot is their high school is 10th through 12th grades and has about 1,000 students.

After graduating from high school Yamaguchi would like to be an ambassador. Wada would like to help the needy in other countries. Yamaguchi’s favorite subject is English. Wada likes English and math. Wada’s parents are elementary school teachers. Yamaguchi’s mom is an office worker.

For both Wada and Yamaguchi it was their first visit to the United States.

“I was very excited. It’s very delicious and has very beautiful views,” Yamaguchi said.

Wada said salespeople were very friendly.

During their trip to the students visited schools and universities in Seattle and San Francisco. The group’s stop in Cabot was brief. They arrived on Saturday night and left early Tuesday morning.

Wada host family played card games. On Sunday they went to church and ate out.

Yamaguchi host family took her on Saturday night to Walmart and a Starbucks.

On Sunday they went to the International House of Pancakes. She visited Little Rock Air Force Base and then went shopping at Park Plaza Mall. On the way back they ate at On the Border. It was her first time eating Mexican food and she liked it. Yamaguchi said salsa is hotter than wasabi.

The group of students spent Monday at Cabot High School. They gave presentations, participated in AFJROTC marching practice, ate in the cafeteria and shadowed their host family’s students sitting in on some of their classes. A catfish dinner for the students was held in the evening.

TOP STORY >> Cypert preaches to Cabot ‘choir’

Leader staff writer

Although at first glance the turnout might have appeared to be fair for a town hall meeting held in Cabot on Monday evening to familiarize voters with the projects they will be asked to pay for by extending the city’s existing sales tax on April 9, a closer look would have revealed that the number of actual voters looking for information could be counted on one hand.

Several seats in the Magness Creek Elementary cafeteria were occupied but the audience was made up mostly of city employees, members of Cabot’s park and water and sewer commissions, city council members and members of the Lonoke Prairie Regional Library Board.

Asked if he was preaching to the choir, Mayor Bill Cypert conceded that the audience was in fact made up almost entirely of those who support extending the sales tax to pay for about $40 million in infrastructure projects.

The mayor has scheduled several town hall meetings, mostly at schools across the district, in an effort to gain support for the tax extension set for election on April 9.

The Monday night meeting highlighted the proposed $2.6 million library that will be built in the old Knight’s building on Main Street as well as the proposed $8.2 million in sewer improvements.

Library Director Leroy Gattin told the audience that growth of the Internet has not made books or the library obsolete and use of the library has actually doubled since the current facility was built in 1996.

“Books won’t go away,” Gattin said. “Not everyone can afford a Kindle or a Nook.”

Plans for the 21,000-squa-re-foot Knight’s building include meeting rooms, more room for the children’s programs and books, more comfortable seating where people can read newspapers and a coffee bar.

Cypert said the old 8,196-square-foot library will be turned over to the senior citizens to replace the center they have outgrown and that building will either be sold or used for some other purpose.

Gary Walker, chairman of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, told the audience that although the $5.7 million Four Mile Creek Project that will increase sewer capacity in the Hwy. 5/Greystone area is getting the most attention, the entire project is made up of seven parts including replacing deteriorating pipes in the older part of the city and upgrading from lift stations to gravity feed lines in the areas of West Oaks, Countrywood, Polk Street and Shiloh subdivisions.

As with all the planned parts, the Four Mile Creek project is intended to take care of existing customers and to allow for growth, Walker said.

In response to comments from Tom Stanley, who opposes the Four Mile Creek project, the mayor said the area it will serve is the only growth area left in Cabot because Cabot is surrounded by other water districts and Cabot won’t annex areas it can’t provide with water.

“Water turfs are highly protected,” he said.

Walker said if the tax extension doesn’t pass, sewer rates would need to more than double to pay for the seven projects.

If it does pass, rates would still need to go up for maintenance and improvements in the area of South Hwy. 89 at the rate of 15 percent a year for five years beginning in 2015.

Walker’s presentation included a 2010 survey that showed Cabot sewer rates are some of the lowest in the area. By comparison, the rate for 5,000 gallons is $17.25 in Searcy, $19.18 in North Little Rock, $22.25 in Ward and $24.67 in Beebe.

In addition to the library and sewer projects, the April 9 ballot includes $9.5 million for the north interchange and connector road to the railroad overpass built with revenue raised from the 2005 tax election, $500,00 to improve drainage in the Highlands subdivision, $5.5 million for expanding the community center and $13.5 million for a baseball park and outdoor pool complex that will be built on Hwy. 321.

TOP STORY >> Sequestration cuts start to hit LRAFB

Leader staff writer

Brig. Gen. (Select) Brian Robinson, 19th Airlift Wing commander, explained Tuesday to the community council — area and business leaders — how sequestration is affecting Little Rock Air Force Base.

Just announced was a cut in the tuition assistance program and the cancellation of the annual Air Mobility Rodeo competition, which pits C-130 crews from around the world against each other in readiness exercises. This goes with civilian employee furloughs, any planned fly-over for special events and any air show unless the community covers all the costs.

Robinson was guest speaker at a quarterly meeting of the base’s Community Council. He started the meeting lightheartedly, saying “welcome to our quarterly sequester luncheon.” After that it was all business.

“You are already seeing less flying overhead,” Robinson said. “We’ve cut our time in the air by 35 percent overall. For C-130Js, sorties, or flying exercises, have been cut from five hours to two hours. For the H model, sorties have been sliced from five hours to 3 ½ hours.”

The 19th Airlift Wing will use the simulators more, but Robinson pointed out they are already being used at about 98 percent capacity and 92 percent of that is for student training which has the priority. Losing a day of student training is not like a sick day, it’s like a three-to-one ratio in lost days, he explained.

The commander said the task is to handle the cuts with minimal impact on the mission and the people. “But the longer sequester goes the greater the risk, the greater the impact,” he said.

Robinson said he has been told to take actions at this point that are reversible to mitigate as much of the impact as possible.

He said at the big picture level the Department of Defense has to make $46 billion in cuts over the next six months, or about a nine percent cut across the board. He said the civilian furloughs that have already been announced would save $5 billion. “But there’s still $41 billion to deal with.”

The civilian furloughs will start April 15. “We have about 650 civilians on the base affected by the furlough and they will have to take two days off every pay period. That amounts to a 20 percent salary cut for at least the next six months. That hurts,” Robinson said, adding that the impact of the furloughs across Arkansas will be $19.5 million.

He said because a number of the base civilian employees work in the health clinic, the furloughs would affect access to health care for all military members. The sequester will delay infrastructure repairs and future construction.

“We are looking for smarter, more efficient ways to do things,” Robinson said. “For about the last 15 years, if we needed money for a project or a mission we were able to get it. Now we are hearing the words ‘constraints and restraints’ with everything we do.”

In response to a question from the crowd of about 150, Robinson said, “We will probably see a decrease in our readiness based on our standards. But we will get through it and come out stronger. We just have to make sure the decisions we make are safe and with the least risks.”

The commander was concerned about the way news of the tuition assistance cuts got out. “It made the round on the Internet and emails before we had a chance see what would be the best way to handle it.”

Robinson wasn’t the only base leader to speak of what the future holds. Col. Todd Pavich, vice commander of the 314th Airlift Wing; Col. Steve Eggensperger, commander of the 189th Air National Guard, and Col. Archie Frye, commander of the 22nd Air Force Detachment 1 also spoke.

Pavich said, sequester to the side, this would be a year of a lot of changes in both personnel and mission for the 314th. “Pretty much everyone is leaving,” he quipped, adding that many of the officers in leadership roles will be transferring or retiring.

“There’s a lot of flux as to how and who will execute our mission in the future. It could be the Guard, the Reserves or a combination of all three of us,” he said.

On the good news side, Pavich said, “We will keep the C-130H training here, but there will be a drawdown of manpower.”

He said two more C-130Js are slated for the base this year. “We’ll get one in July and the other in late August or September and it will continue to grow. Every country wants C-130s in one form or another and we have had a solid flow of international students.”

Brewer said there are a lot of changes in the 189th too. “In March we had two change of command ceremonies and two longtime Guard members retire.”

Because of sequestration, the unit took about a 40 percent cut in March. “We are postured to get a number of slightly used C-130s, they’ll still have the new car smell, in 2015 and along with that about 150 additional Guardsmen,” Brewer said. He added that the Guard is growing at the state level although it is shrinking nationally.

Frye said the decision to cut tuition assistance hurts. “That’s our number one recruiting tool.” Like the other commanders, Frye said the detachment is in flux, too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devils’ journey had family feel for Mimms

Leader sports editor

All coaches show at least a bit more excitement after winning a state championship than winning any other game. For Jacksonville girls basketball coach Katrina Mimms, the gamut of open emotions she showed as time ran down on her team’s state championship win over Paragould on Friday revealed something deeper than the excitement that accompanies such a feat.

In the waning moments of Friday’s victory, Mimms went back and forth between celebrating and coaching as she sensed victory was near, but still had some work left to do.

She could be seen lifting her arms in triumph, then coaching, running in place and coaching some more, to finally and stiffly jumping up and down in an alternative rock concert style as the clock expired and the buzzer sounded on the 54-43 win.

But there were two other, less frantic celebrations that tell the rest of the story. There was a brief moment of reflection when she paused to gaze at her championship ring from her playing days at Searcy High School. Then there was the embrace of several like-featured, brown-haired, similarly skin-toned men of similar age.

Those men are her four cousins who all reside in, and graduated from, Jacksonville, but they’ve been more than cousins for Katrina, a Searcy native.

They’ve been her brothers by proxy. Katrina’s real brother, Kevin Johnson, died in June of 2011 after suffering a stroke caused by a long battle with melanoma.

He had been the head football coach at Springdale High School after spending nearly 10 years as an assistant for Gus Malzahn at Shiloh Christian and Springdale.

Her four cousins, Jeff, Jason, John and Jeremy Johnson, were all present at the championship game. Jeff announced Jacksonville home games and Jason, a physical therapist, sat on the bench with the team during the tournament.

They were all involved in athletics at JHS, including being involved in state championship football and baseball teams in the 80s, while Kevin and Katrina were enjoying similar success at Searcy.

“They had all told me when Kevin died that I still had four brothers, and they’ve acted like it,” Mimms said. “Being the coach at Jacksonville and being able to have them all close by through everything has been a real blessing. The emotion of that was very emotional for me at the end of that game.”

Pausing to look at the ring she earned by winning a state championship as a Lady Lion was more than just pondering the journey that has come full circle with another title as a coach.

Mimms didn’t get that 1985 championship ring until August of 2010, as a gift from her ailing brother.

“It meant so much to me,” Mimms said with breaking voice and fighting back tears. “It was so thoughtful. He just thought I deserved to have it since I never got one back then.”

Kevin won several rings as a coach, and now he and his little sister have something else to share.

SPORTS STORY >> Did you notice at the 5A games?

Leader sportswriter

It is rare for a school to sweep both the girls and boys basketball finals, but that feat became reality for Jacksonville High School on Friday as the boys defeated a persistent Alma team 56-53 while the Lady Red Devils downed Paragould 54-43 in the late game on Friday.

Seniors Justin McCleary and Jessica Jackson took home the MVP honors in each game, giving boys coach Victor Joyner his second state title in five years and girls coach Katrina Mimms her first ever.


Jessica Jackson served notice early on who the night would belong to as she dominated the lane and the outside for 10 quick points to give the Lady Red Devils a 14-0 lead by the 4:03 mark of the first quarter.

Adjustments by the Lady Rams slowed her down from her frantic opening, but Jackson still finished with 22 points despite missing the entire fourth quarter due to an asthma attack. She also had nine rebounds, including eight defensive boards, as well as three blocked shots. It was enough to earn the future Lady Razorback the game’s MVP award.


Perhaps basketball fans and media figures have grown spoiled by the plush amenities of such venues as the Stephens Center on the campus of UALR and Summit Arena in Hot Springs, but it was evident early on in the championship weekend that few were comfortable with the cramped confines of the dated T.H. Barton Coliseum.

From a wireless network that refused to cooperate to a hospitality room that tripled as an interview room and work station, and appeared to be some sort of old converted janitorial closet, it was far from press friendly.

And while the old concert posters of rock and country acts from the 1970s and 80s that lined the hallways served as a reminder of the golden age of the arena, they also served as a reminder of the age of the arena, which was dedicated in 1952.


The final scores varied, but the Red Devils and Lady Devils both led their opponents 24-21 at halftime.

Both teams also scored 14 points in the opening quarter, with the boys leading Alma 14-13 at the end of one and the girls leading Paragould 14-8.


Alma’s Gage Jensen was not shy about putting his arrogance on display early on, from belittling an official after being charged with his second personal foul early in the second quarter to repeated verbal jabs at game MVP Justin McCleary.

Red Devils post player Keith Charleston got his fill of Jensen’s antics at the 3:55 mark of the third quarter, as he got in his face following another wisecrack.

Officials diffused the situation and gave Jensen a warning to curb his attitude without charging a technical foul to either player, and Charleston let his playing do the talking for him directly after the incident with a dunk that got the Red Devil fans on the their feet and gave Jacksonville a 44-27 lead.

Jensen kept his mouth in check for the most part for the duration, and even hugged Charleston and McCleary in the greet line at the conclusion of the game.


Mimms is normally regarded as a somewhat subdued coach when it comes to sideline demeanor, but the head Lady Devil was quite animated during the championship finals on Friday.

Mimms paced the sideline frantically late in the second quarter when Paragould started its comeback, and borrowed a page from boys coach Victor Joyner when she disputed a foul call against Jacksonville earlier in the frame.

Her most humorous gesture came in the opening minutes when she caught air following a Jacksonville turnover, as her hair whipped forward similar to that of a hard-rock singer. Mimms was all smiles following the game, however, as she spoke about the historical significance of the girls’ first-ever state championship.

“Even Jessica’s ninth-grade year, when I pulled her up, in conference we went 0-14,” Mimms said. “Just within three years, last year, we went to the final four and got beat. This year, we go from a 0-14 to a 14-0 turnaround, so it’s meant everything for basketball at Jacksonville High School.”


The Red Devils had sporadic moments of difficulty throughout the class 5A state tournament and championship game, but breezed their way through the postseason for the most part with a strong bench and a starting five that never seemed to run out of gas when it was apparent their opponents were operating on an empty tank.

That scenario became apparent in the middle of the fourth quarter when Alma stalled after coming back from a 17-point deficit to close the gap to five. The Airedales played on pure heart in the closing minutes and even cut it to 54-53, but Charleston stepped to the line in the final 20 seconds and made a pair of free throws that set the final margin.

SPORTS STORY >> Charging Wildcats earn title, finally

Leader sportswriter

Top-ranked North Little Rock survived a late Fayetteville run to win the boys class 7A state championship game 64-52 in front of a crowd of 9,018 Saturday at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock.

Fayetteville rallied early in the fourth quarter to take a 47-46 lead with six minutes left in the game, but the Wildcats answered with an 18-3 run that put the game away and gave NLRHS its first boys basketball state championship since 1971.

At the end of three quarters, the Charging Wildcats (28-1) led 42-37, but the Bulldogs (26-4) had the momentum heading into the final eight minutes. A free throw by senior forward Thomas Alexander late in the third quarter gave North Little Rock a 42-33, but Fayetteville’s Manuale Watkins scored the final four points of the period to cut the deficit to four.

Manuale Watkins, who led all scorers with 19 points, opened the final period with a transition layup to bring the Bulldogs within three. Fayetteville cut it to one on a putback by 6-foot-10 senior forward Tyler McCullough, and took the lead the following possession with another McCullough basket inside the paint, which put the Bulldogs up 47-46 with 5:54 to play.

The lead didn’t last long. Charging Wildcats senior point guard and floor general, Dayshawn Watkins, scored the next four points to give North Little Rock the lead for good. The go-ahead basket came on a three-foot floater in the middle of the lane with 4:55 to play. The second was an eight-foot jumper over McCullough, which put the Charging Wildcats up 50-47.

Dayshawn Watkins scored seven of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, and grabbed two key steals in that time to help North Little Rock capture its first boys state basketball title in 42 years.

“As the point guard of this team, I was just scoring whenever I needed to,” Dayshawn Watkins said. “I knew at the end I needed to take over a little bit, because we weren’t getting the high-percentage shots in the paint. So I just took over from there.”

After a free throw by Fayetteville’s Jawan Smith with 3:37 to play, North Little Rock scored 14 of the game’s next 16 points, which gave the pro-Charging Wildcats fans plenty to cheer about.

North Little Rock took its first double-digit lead, 60-50, on an inside basket by senior center Cameron Williams with just over a minute to play. The Charging Wildcats pushed the lead to 14 before Fayetteville’s Tre Boyd connected on a jumper just outside the top of the key with seven seconds remaining to set the final score.

“In the last five minutes we stepped up, made plays and got stops,” said North Little Rock coach Johnny Rice. “That was the difference. We tried to get Tyler (McCullough) away from the rim a little bit so we could open up and get to the rim. And Dayshawn, I don’t know what he did (statistically) in the last three or four minutes, but he controlled the game.”

Manuale Watkins scored the first point of the game on a free throw, which was the only other time Fayetteville held the lead. Kevaughn Allen, who took the Most Valuable Player award, paced the Charging Wildcats’ scoring in the first two quarters.

He scored six in the first period as North Little Rock led 13-9 at the end of one, and five in the second to help his team build a 27-23 lead at halftime.

“It was very fun for me just to be out there with these guys, having fun and playing the game,” Allen said. “It’s very important to set the tone early. When you do that it’s easy for them (teammates) to feed off that energy and get in rhythm.”

North Little Rock made 25 of 53 shots from the floor, including 4 of 9 from three-point range. Fayetteville made 22 of 41 shots from the floor and 2 of 7 from beyond the arc, but suffered from a 13-1 deficit in steals.

“We had a couple of crucial turnovers,” said Fayetteville coach Kyle Adams. “When you get out there and you’re up 48-47, we got them reeling a little bit. I’m not sure they’ve been behind in the fourth quarter in a long time. But they’re (North Little Rock) an awfully good basketball team. So let’s give them all the credit in the world. Coach Rice has done a good job with that team. They share the basketball very, very well, and obviously they’re very talented.”

Both teams had four players finish with double-digit points. Manuale Watkins’ 19 paced the Bulldogs. Smith had 11. McCullough and 6-8 senior Caleb Waitsman scored 10 apiece. McCullough finished with a double-double as he also grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.

For North Little Rock, Alexander and Allen scored 17. Watkins had five assists to go with his 16 points, and senior guard Gary Vines finished with a double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, four of which came in the fourth quarter.

“I thought Gary’s rebound late in the fourth quarter kind of sealed it for us,” Rice said. “I don’t know of a better rebounding guard.”

For Rice, a North Little Rock native that played for the Charging Wildcats in the ‘80s, coached within the school district for 21 years before taking over as the head senior boys basketball coach this season, bringing home the program’s first state title since 1971 is a dream come true.

“We haven’t won it in 40 years and I’ve been around for a while,” Rice said. “We put the schools together in about ’91, and everybody thought we had all these state championships, and we never have done it. It’s been so much hard work and there were so many people pulling for us. That’s what went through my mind.”