Friday, March 22, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Still doubtful on steel mill

Gov. Beebe, the legislature, the state Economic Development Commission and anyone else who entertained the idea that the state could not pass up the chance to help investors build a steel mill in Mississippi County should now take a deep breath and a step back. The taxpayers may get a good return on the $125 million they are about to put up for the steel mill, but that is looking unlikely. It certainly is not assured, and virtual assurance ought to be the standard for committing so much of the state treasury.

IHS Global Insight, the big business forecasting firm hired by the legislature to analyze the deal, was skeptical enough that any prudent investor would withdraw. But, of course, the state government is not a private investor. It is playing only with tax dollars, and it is easy to think that there is always more where that came from.

Big River Steel, a combine of investors put together by the promoter John Correnti, offered to build a steel mill on the Mississippi River near Blytheville if the state will float $125 million in bonds to lower the start-up costs for the billionaire Koch brothers and several other investors. Correnti said it would hire 525 people at fairly high salaries. Gov. Beebe thought it was the biggest economic deal the state had ever faced. A 10-year-old constitutional amendment allows the state to commit the state’s cash and credit to really big projects like this, if enough workers will be hired and the legislature will approve.

IHS Global Insight said the state could realize modest economic benefits from the investment in the mill if everything turned out just right, but the consultants were skeptical. Too many things would have to work out just right, among them a big increase in demand for steel. The steel industry is working well below capacity already. Koch’s petrochemical companies probably will buy steel from the plant in which the Kochs will be owners, but how much demand is Big River Steel likely to get beyond them?

As for all the taxes that will flow into the state treasury as a result of the big mill’s commerce and hundreds of employees, the IHS consultants figured there wouldn’t be that much. The plant can claim $216 million in credits against its future corporate income-tax liability. Nearly all of Big River’s sales will be out of state, minimizing Arkansas’ tax receipts. The state likely would collect little if any corporate income taxes for some years.

We have had a deeper concern about these industrial incentives. Should the taxpayers subsidize private investors like this? Conservatives, including leaders of the General Assembly, love to talk about the magic of the free market, which should mean free of government money as well as government restraints. Gov. Beebe and the others will say, yes, but if we don’t do it, another state — Mississippi, Ohio, Alabama? — will put up the money and get the plant and the jobs. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Sure, we need jobs. But even in this climate, the state needs to be coldly rational. What would Warren Buffett do if it were his $125 million? We think we know the answer.

TOP STORY >> Cabot mayor delivers meals to seniors

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert surprised several seniors at their homes on Wednesday by helping to deliver hot lunches during the Meals on Wheel’s Mayors for Meals national campaign to raise awareness about senior hunger.

The Cabot Senior Center delivers meals to 33 seniors with 22 delivered a hot meal Monday through Friday and 11 receiving one two-week supply of frozen meals.

The program, which is facing cutbacks, provides seniors with one-third of their daily nutritional requirements.

Cypert delivered about a dozen meals and stopped to chat with seniors, who were happy to see him.

The meals are cooked at the Lonoke County Council on Aging in Lonoke and transported to senior centers in Cabot, Lonoke, England and Carlisle. The meals are then delivered to residents.

The Cabot Meals on Wheels program is for residents 60-years-old or older who are physically homebound or taking care of their spouse who is homebound, incapacitated or battling an illness such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The Cabot program is donation based. “If they want to pay, they can,” site director Cherry Godwin said.

She said it is not a welfare program. It is supported by the Lonoke County Council on Aging.

The Meals on Wheels programs helps older adults stay at home a little longer and keeps them living independently as long as possible. The senior center holds fundraisers to help support the program.

For people who can get out, but do not have transportation, the senior center has a bus to pick up seniors at their home and bring them to the center for a meal and to socialize.

The Cabot meals route is 17 miles and takes a little over an hour. The meals are kept hot in warmers during transport.

Driver Joe Burton is a welcome sight for many of the seniors. They will call the senior center if he is running late.

“It is nice. Joe’s been really nice. The food is fine. Some days I wouldn’t have fixed anything if it weren’t for them,” Maudie Evans said about the program.

“It is a very good program. It helps out a lot,” Joseph Mato said.

He is able to heat up his wife’s meal when she is ready to eat.

“We enjoy our meal. It saves me a lot of time and energy and they are good,” Jean Pharr said.

Federal sequestration has not affected the program yet, but there will mostly likely be cuts to the program, according to council director Sharon Anderson.

She said no specific program has been cut, but the council is looking at a 5 percent cut of federal funding across the board, in addition to state cuts.

Anderson wants the council to be able to maintain the current level of residents on the meals program and not drop anyone from the service.

She said it is a wait-and-see situation.

The council is reimbursed $4.75 per meal, per day by the federal government. The money is used for food, labor, and fuel expenses.

The Cabot Senior Center needs volunteers, but not for deliveries.

Godwin said it would be helpful if volunteers could help out at least one day a week picking the meals up from Lonoke.

For more information about the program in Cabot, call the senior center at 501-843-2196.

TOP STORY >> Sales-tax collections show a dip

Leader staff writer

This was not a good Christmas season for Cabot as city figures showed its sale tax collections drop by almost $100,000.

But the Christmas shopping season turned out well for Jacksonville and Sherwood as both saw upticks in collections, but not enough to offset drops in the county tax collections.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert says the drop is not a real concern because some stores were closed because of the Christmas storm and collections for up for the year.

“If it was anything but the weather, it would be a cause for concern,” Cypert said, adding that annual sales tax revenue for Cabot has increased an average of 1.93 percent every year since 2006.

About two-thirds of most cities’ revenue comes from sales taxes and as the economy has dropped so has the intake at both the city and county levels.

All sales tax money is collected by the state then sent to the counties and cities. The counties share their portion with the cities based on population. All tax money is delivered about two months after it has been collected. The money the cities and counties received in February reflects December sales.

Cabot City Clerk Tammy Yocum said the weather definitely hurt the city’s December sales. Cabot’s one-cent sales tax collections were $363,683, a $98,000 drop from December 2011’s totals of $461,686.

However, collections for all of 2012 were up 2.93 percent from the previous year.

Cabot’s share of the one-cent Lonoke County sales tax also fell in December from $246,335 in 2011 to $211,417 in 2012.

Jim Durham, Jacksonville’s director of administration, thinks the city has turned things around. “Our December 2012 sales were about $250,000 higher than December 2011,” he said.

Durham added that what makes that really good is nearly all of central Arkansas was without power for up to seven days in late December, causing many businesses to lose out of the after Christmas shopping.

Sherwood has a one-cent sales tax and Jacksonville a two-cent sales tax, but half of that is dedicated to police and fire pension funds.

Jacksonville’s sales-tax take for December 2012 was $681,801 compared to December 2011’s amount of $676,002, up about $5,000. Durham was quick to point out that it may not seem much at the tax level but it equates to an additional quarter million dollars in sales. “That says something, especially with the weather,” he added.

In Sherwood, the city also saw a slight bump in December sales. Tax collections for December 2012 were $470,520, up about $9,000 from December 2011’s totals of $461,760.

Pulaski County’s share to Jacksonville fell, partly because the new census numbers kicked in between the two Decembers, and with a smaller population the city gets a smaller share of the county pie. In December 2012 it got $556,913, a drop of about $24,000 from December 2011’s amount of $580,515.

Sherwood also saw a drop in its share of the county take, and it can’t be traced to a smaller population since the census showed Sherwood with increased numbers. Sherwood’s share of the county take in December 2012 was $579,669 and in December 2011 it was $604,235, a difference of about $24,000.

So while Jacksonville and Sherwood saw an up tick in December sales it was not enough to counter the drop in county collections. Durham says that although he is excited about the December numbers, it’s too early to see if the trend will continue.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD needs law to survive

Leader senior staff writer

The state Education Department would have to consolidate, annex or reconstitute the Pulaski County Special School District after June 30 unless the existing law is amended to allow state control of districts in distress for longer than the two years currently permitted.

The Education Department has proposed changes — chief among them extending to five years the length of time it can take over and run a district found to be in fiscal, educational or facilities distress. PCSSD and Helena-West Helena districts would be the most immediate beneficiaries of such a change.

That law is subtitled: “To amend provisions of law concerning academic, fiscal and facilities distress of public schools and school districts; and to declare an emergency.”

Sponsored by state Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, HB 1770 lengthens to five years the time the state can run a school or school district designated as being in fiscal, academic or facility distress.

Perry’s bill passed the House on March 14 by a vote of 89-1 and is currently in the Senate Education Committee, where it is slated to be for discussion Monday.

Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell has said he would not turn the district back over to local control in its current condition, which would be the only other choice.

Twenty-five of the state’s 30 senators are listed as co-sponsoring the bill being shepherded by Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, so barring unforeseen circumstances, the bill seems headed for passage and the state will have three more years to bring PCSSD out of fiscal distress.

Perry’s bill is just one of a myriad of proposals the Legislature is pondering that could affect Arkansans and, in this case, it hits pretty close to home.

Legislators are negotiating some of the finer points of expanding by 250,000 working class Arkansans the rolls of health-care insurance largely paid for by the Medicaid expansion provision of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

A local drink option would allow residents of dry areas like Jacksonville’s Gray Township to vote the areas wet. Going wet would mean restaurants could serve alcoholic beverages without a private club license and convenience and grocery stores could sell beer and wine. The option would not allow liquor stores in the areas.

The health-care expansion “should be rolled out in about a week,” according to state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy. “We still have a lot to do, especially on the (health insurance) exchange side,” he said, but “I think we have a good dialogue (with) the governor.

“I don’t think there’s a lot left to work out, but there’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s monumental, it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Dismang, who has worked closely with House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, says he’s not sure the health insurance expansion is linked directly to tax cuts, but a tax bill is waiting to come through committee. Among proposed tax cuts are those to capital gains, energy credits to businesses, cuts to farmers and income-tax rate reductions.

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, has sponsored a bill to move school elections from September to November, when general elections are held. That would save money on elections, but opponents say it would make it more difficult to pass local school millage increases.

It appears that although there are no documented cases of individual election fraud, lawmakers — particularly Republicans — have successfully passed a voter ID law that opponents think will make it more difficult for old folks and poor people to vote.

Under the current law, the state has only two years to straighten out problems with schools or districts in distress, and this problem is simply too big to fix in such a short period of time, according to PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess.

Kimbrell appointed Guess after the state took over the fiscally distressed district and fired the superintendent and disbanded the school board.

The new law would grant the education commissioner broad powers. He would only have to follow the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act.

Right now, PCSSD is being sued by its teachers’ and support staff’s unions for abrogating their contracts.

The new law would allow the commissioner to turn control of a school or district back over to a superintendent and school board if all the deficiencies are corrected. If they are mostly corrected after two years, the commissioner may appoint a committee of district residents to help guide the district until it’s ready to be self sufficient.

PCSSD has been in fiscal distress three times in five years, and Helena-West Helena twice. Guess said they were returned too quickly to the boards. He explained that problems still need to be resolved and the culture of the district needs to change.

“You have to build capacity (to govern well),” according to Phyllis Stewart, Kimbrell’s chief of staff.

The intent is not to turn operation back to the same board members who caused or allowed the problems in the first place.


The state needs control long enough “to institute new accepted practices so a new elected board won’t overturn changes and kick (the district) back into fiscal distress,” Guess said.

At the end of five years, if the district or school has not corrected all aspects of its distress, the state may remain in control only if the process “was impeded by external forces beyond the control of the school or district.”

Otherwise, it’s back to annex, consolidate or reconstitute.

A student in a school designated as being in academic distress may transfer to another district that is not in academic distress.

Guess’ one-year contract expires June 30, but he said if he’s offered a new one for the 2013-14 school year he’d be inclined to sign on.

“There’s a lot of exciting things going on in the district,” he said. “We’re working hard on unitary status and need to come up with some sort of phase down for desegregation money when the district is judged unitary.

“That would allow us to operate like any other district in Arkansas. I’m chasing it hard.”

SPORTS STORY >> Rockets power past Cabot

Leader sportswriter

Cabot got off to a tremendous start in the opening round of the 2013 Central Arkansas Invitational baseball tournament, but late mistakes and Little Rock Catholic’s superb hitting was too much for the Panthers to handle down the stretch as the Rockets won 12-5 Thursday at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock.

“They hit it well,” said Cabot coach Jay Fitch about Little Rock Catholic, the No. 7 ranked team in the state. “We saw where they had beaten Conway like 14-4, so we knew they had some sticks. They’ve beat some pretty good teams. So we knew they were good and that we’d have to play well.

“We came out hitting it like we want to. The deal is great teams do the right things consistently. We looked good early and then what we’ve been having a bad problem with is just taking good pitches that we should be hitting. The ones that we swung at we just either missed or just didn’t hit with authority, and they (Catholic) came back and smashed the baseball.”

The Panthers’ first four hitters reached base safely to start the game, and at the end of the first inning they led 3-1. Junior second baseman and cleanup hitter Riley Knudsen drove in Cabot’s first run with a RBI-single to centerfield.

Pinch runner Lee Sullivan scored on the play as he subbed in for leadoff hitter Ryan Logan, who started things off with a standup double down the first base line. Three-hole hitter Casey Vaughan scored Cabot’s second run as designated hitter Tristan Bulice was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

Grayson Cole drove in the third Panther run two-batters later with a RBI-single to right centerfield. Unfortunately for Cabot (4-5, 0-2), the lead didn’t last long. Catholic (6-2, 2-1) scored seven unanswered runs to lead 7-3 by the end of the fourth inning.

The Rockets grabbed theirfirst lead in the bottom of the third with a two-out single by second baseman Jonathan Lanehart that put the home team up 4-3. Matt Himstedt and Josh Cissell scored on the play.

Cissell scored again in the fourth as he hit a towering two-run home run over the wall in left centerfield to give Catholic the 7-3 lead. Vaughan cut the Rockets’ lead to two in the top of the fifth with a two-run homer of his own that also landed behind the left centerfield wall. Logan scored on the play as he walked to start the inning.

Catholic pushed its lead to 8-5 in the bottom part of the inning on a grounder to first base by leadoff hitter Justin Weigle. Zach Sokora scored from third on the groundout, and the Rockets put the game out of reach in the sixth with a four-run inning that was the result of timely hits and two costly errors by the Panther infield.

Sokora scored the final run on a passed ball at home plate with two outs in the sixth. Catholic outhit Cabot 13-7. Both teams committed four errors in the game. The majority of Cabot’s errors came late as the Rockets began piling on runs.

“Hats off to them,” Fitch said of Catholic. “They swung it well. We did a good job defensively at times, but then we had times where we just kind of fell apart. We just have to be consistent with the sticks and play defense.”

Andrew Mashburn earned the win on the mound for Catholic. He pitched five full innings and was on the hill for all five of Cabot’s runs. The Panthers didn’t get a single hit after Mashburn left the game.

The Rockets had four different players with multiple hits. Cole Boardman led the way with a 3 for 4 performance at the plate. Vaughan was the only Panther with multiple hits. He had two. Logan, Knudsen, Bulice, Cole and Chipper Morris each had a hit for Cabot.

Cabot was set to play Kickapoo, Mo. at 5 p.m. Thursday in the loser’s bracket of the tournament, but the game was called because of inclement weather. The Panthers will wrap up the tournament on Saturday before resuming 7A/6A East Conference play Wednesday at home against Marion in a doubleheader. The first part of the twin bill starts at 4 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils lose to ’Jackets, Pats

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils picked up two losses on the first day of the Xtra Innings Classic in Jonesboro, losing 6-0 to Wynne and 11-4 to Marion on Thursday.

Jacksonville got just two hits in the shut-out loss to Wynne. Kaleb Reeves and Courtland McDonald picking up those base hits. James Tucker and Reeves combined for a decent showing on the mound, giving up just one earned run, but errors gave the Yellowjackets five more.

“We just didn’t play very good baseball,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “We made two pretty ugly errors that led to most of their runs. Maybe getting up at 5:30 in the morning and playing in those conditions had something to do with it, but we could have still played better than we did.”

Though the margin was even wider, Burrows was much more pleased with how his team played against Marion later in the day than it did against Wynne.

“Marion’s just a good team,” Burrows said. “They hit the ball hard the whole game. That’s probably the best team we’ve seen this year, as far as hitting goes.”

Jacksonville led 3-0 after three innings with Blake Perry on the mound. He also drove home the two runs on an 11-pitch at bat. After battling through 10 pitches, Perry’s shot to the gap drove in Ryan Mallison and LaDerrious Perry for a 3-0 Red Devil lead. Earlier in the inning, Mallison drove in Derek St. Clair for the first run of the game.

The Patriots finally began to find the gaps in the fourth inning after three innings of excellent Jacksonville defense.

“We made quite a few good plays defensively to keep them from scoring,” Burrows said. “Blake started to get tired in the fourth and they started hitting him pretty hard. It kind of seemed like we all got tired there all of a sudden.”

Blake Perry actually got a one-out strikeout with a breaking ball in the dirt, but catcher Greg Jones’ throw to first base sailed into right field. Two line-drive doubles followed that sparked a six-run inning. Another fielding error later in the inning kept things alive for the Patriots.

“We can’t give people four outs,” Burrows said. “We actually gave them five, but you’re going to make occasional errors on ground balls. You hate to strike people out and then throw it away.”

Trailing 6-3, Jacksonville started a rally in the top of the fifth by getting the first three batters on base. Greg Jones’ base hit scored Blake Perry, but back-to-back strikeouts brought a sudden halt to the rally with Marion still leading 6-4. The Patriots added five more runs off Jacksonville relief pitching in the sixth inning, all earned.

“They just hit it hard all the way down the lineup,” Burrows said. “I was impressed with that team. We swung it a little better than we had been, we just weren’t able to make the most of it.”

Blake Perry led Jackson-ville offensively, going 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

Jacksonville (3-6) is still waiting to hear about injured first baseman David Williams, who separated his shoulder on a collision two weeks ago. That will help settle some of musical positions Burrows has been playing, especially in the infield.

“Not having David is hurting pretty bad,” Burrows said. “He’s really good at first and on top of that, he’s our four-hole hitter. He’s really the only guy we’ve got that can hit for power. We need to know something about him one way or the other so we can get things settled. Blake is our best hitter right now and him and Reeves play the same position. All our pitchers are infielders so every time we make a change we have to start moving people around, and I just don’t like doing that. I’m not big on moving people around anyway. There are too many little things about this game. And when you’re young, you hate to do it even more. Hopefully we’ll get David back to at least swing the bat. There’s a chance they won’t let him throw at all.”

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats figure out soft-toss southpaw

Leader sports editor

For a class 4A team that’s starting four freshmen, Arkadelphia held its own with No. 1 ranked class 7A North Little Rock, at least for four innings. The Charging Wildcats eventually figured out the Badgers’ soft-tossing lefty and pulled away for an 8-1 win in the opening round of the Central Arkansas Invitational at Burns Park.

“That’s a solid little team and they’re going to be really good the next few years,” North Little Rock coach Randy Sandefur said. “They’re good now. They’re solid. They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”

Each team committed just one error, but those errors led to the first two runs of the game. North Little Rock got on the board first in the bottom of the second inning. Cleanup hitter Dylan Howell led off with a single to centerfield. Two batters later with one out, Jarrod Smiatek singled to right field. Howell scored from second base when the throw home went past Arkadelphia catcher Austin White.

Arkadelphia got its leadoff hitter on base in three of the first four innings, but could only manage one run off staff ace Preston Oberling. Badger centerfielder Jakahari Howell ripped the first pitch of the game to right field for a line-drive single, but Oberling struck out the side two through four, all three batters going down swinging. Oberling walked the first batter of the second inning but got Danny Spradlin to hit into a 4-6-3 double play, then fanned Jahlon Mitchell to set them down one, two, three.

Arkadeplphia’s only run came in the third, the first inning in the first four that it didn’t put its leadoff runner on base. With one out, nine-hole hitter Cutter Jester walked. Howell bunted him over to second base. John Franklin Matros singled to left field. The shot was hard and shallow and not enough to score Jester from second, but left fielder Danny Mitchell missed it on the hop, allowing Jester to score on the error and tie the game.

Arkadelphia pitcher Jacob Knight sat the Wildcats down in order in the bottom of the third, fanning Oberling for the second time to end the inning and preserve the tie heading into the fourth.

Arkadelphia got a walk and a base hit to put two runners on with one out in the top of the fourth, but Oberling buckled down and got out of the jam. First he picked off lead runner Austin White, then struck out Jahlon Mitchell for the second time to end the inning.

The Wildcats broke the tie in the bottom of the fourth with a single run. Catcher Alex Gosser was hit by a pitch to lead things off. Howell then doubled to the gap in left-centerfield to put runners on second and third. Zach Rathbun scored Gosser’s courtesy runner Heath Land with a sacrifice grounder to second base.

North Little Rock tried to manufacture another run with a squeeze bunt, but didn’t execute it. Smiatek’s bunt bounced high just a couple of feet down the third baseline, where Austin White was able to catch it and easily tag Howell as he was charging home. White even had time to turn the double play, but his throw to first base was off the mark. Knight got out of the inning on the next at bat when he got Jake Sandefur to pop up to second base.

After another three-up, three-down inning by Oberling in the top of the fifth, North Little Rock began to touch Knight. Though the Badger southpaw got out of the inning only allowing two more runs, he was finally chased from the mound early in the fifth. Knight put the leadoff hitter, River Warnock, on by plunking him in the ribs. Warnock stole second base and moved to third on a bunt single by Mitchell. That was it for Knight, who yielded to Griffin Rucker.

“He was a sneaky pitcher with a sneaky fastball,” Sandefur said of Knight. “And let me tell you something, I don’t care what anybody says, nobody likes to face a soft lefty. When they put the other guy on the mound it helped us a lot. Everybody likes to hit fastballs.”

Leadoff hitter Evan Peters drove in Warnock with a ground ball. Oberling then singled to right field to score Mitchell and give the Wildcats a 4-1 lead.

Gosser then singled to put runners at first and second with one out, but Howell hit into a fielder’s choice at third base, and Rathbun struck out for the second time.

North Little Rock (9-1) sealed it with four runs in the bottom of the sixth. Smiatek led off with a double to centerfield and Sandefur singled to put runners on the corners. Smiatek scored on a passed ball.

Rucker then hit Warnock and walked Mitchell to load the bases. Peters then singled to drive in two runs and Oberling walked, prompting Arkadelphia coach Brant Matros to take Rucker off the mound. He gave way to Ty Kosters, who got immediate results by picking off Oberling’s courtesy runner Zane Venetta. After walking Gosser, Kosters got Howell to pop up to third base and struck out Rathbun to end the Wildcat rally.

“We’re playing good fundamental baseball right now,” Sandefur said of his squad. “We’re making all the routine plays you have to make and we’re keeping mistakes to a minimum. We’re getting better at the plate and we’re going to become a good-hitting team. Our approach right now is much better than it was at the start of the season and hopefully it will continue to get better.”

North Little Rock finished with seven earned runs off nine hits. Knight threw four and two-thirds innings for Arkadelphia, giving up four hits and three earned runs while striking out three and walking none.

Oberling threw all seven innings for North Little Rock. He gave up five hits, no earned runs while striking out nine and walking four.

Everyone in the tournament was supposed to play two games on Thursday, but the late games were canceled due to the winter storm that moved in late in the afternoon.

SPORTS STORY >> Great pitching effort for naught

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills pitcher J.D. Miller turned in one of the best performances of the year, by any pitcher, in his outing at Burns Park on Thursday in the first round of the Central Arkansas Invitational, and he picked up the loss.

Miller completely shut down class 7A’s No. 2 ranked Springale Har-Ber Wildcats, giving up one hit and never letting a ball, any ball, not even an out, leave the infield through seven innings in a 1-0 loss.

“He threw a heck of a game,” Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton said. “It’s kind of sad. His last two outings have been a two-hitter and a one-hitter and we haven’t produced a single run for him.”

The Bears (4-5) only got two hits off three Har-Ber pitchers, but drew nine walks. The Wildcats got out of several jams with double plays and numerous base-running blunders by Sylvan Hills’ runners.

Har-Ber (9-1) never sent more than four batters to the plate in any inning. The Wildcats drew walks in the first, fourth and seventh innings, and got an infield single in the sixth, which eventually produced the only run of the game. Miller struck out 10 Har-Ber batters in the dominant performance, showing excellent command of his pitches and a solid, calm demeanor on the mound.

“He’s done that this year,” Tipton said. “His first outing at Vilonia he struggled in the first inning and they got five runs off of him. Since then he hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 19 innings.”

The game’s only run came with two outs in the top of the sixth inning when Har-Ber two-hole hitter Gus Vitt broke up the no-hitter with a grounder to the gap between shortstop and third base. Bears’ shortstop Brandon Baoni made the stop, but his throw back to first, with his momentum carrying him the opposite direction, didn’t get there in time to get the speedy Vitt.

The Wildcat left fielder easily stole second base on the next pitch. He broke for third base two pitches later. Catcher Reid Fawcett mishandled the outside pitch. Seeing the passed ball, Vitt broke for home and stumbled just after crossing third base. He kept going for home though and it appeared he would easily be thrown out. But Fawcett had trouble grasping the ball against the backstop and never made a throw to Miller, who was covering home plate.

Sylvan Hills blew prime scoring opportunities in the second, third, sixth and seventh innings. In each of those innings, the Bears had at least two runners on with no more than one out.

They had two on with one out in the second before Jacob White popped up to second base for the second out. Baoni then walked to load the bases, but was picked off by Har-Ber pitcher John Jaro for the third out.

Nine-hole hitter Blake Maddox walked to lead off the third inning and leadoff hitter T.J. Burrows singled to put two runners on with no outs. Charlie Roberts then struck out by missing a bunt, and catcher Justin Rasmussen picked off Maddox for a strikeout/2-6 double play. Chase Imoff then grounded out to third base to end the inning.

Sylvan Hills got its first three batters on base with two walks and a hit batter in the sixth. Roberts led it off, but was picked off on the first pitch to the next batter. Imoff then walked and Miller was hit to put two runners on. But two pop ups followed to end the threat.

The Bears got two on with one out in the bottom of the seventh and the top of the lineup coming up. Burrows ripped a hard ground ball down the first base line, but Har-Ber first baseman Zac DeShazo was squeezing the line and easily made the play. Roberts then struck out to end the game.

“We’ve just shot ourselves in the foot,” Tipton said. “I thought we outplayed them. Neither team had many hits, but we had a lot more opportunities to score than they did. That’s the positive. We can play with anybody when we play up to our capabilities. We battle at the plate. We don’t get blown away, we’re not striking out much. We just have to start turning those battles into hits, and I think we will. I’d rather hit in May than now anyway if I had the choice.”

Bad weather caused the postponement of the night games on Thursday and threw the tournament schedule into disarray. The Bears will be back on the field today, but time and place were not determined at The Leader’s deadlines. They will get back to conference play on Tuesday with a doubleheader at Mills.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panther softball team earns first league win

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers picked up their first 7A/6A East Conference softball victory in easy fashion with a 21-0 shutout over Little Rock Central on Friday.

The Lady Panthers did not need many hits during the run-ruled affair, as they loaded the bases repeatedly on walks against a Central team struggling to find consistent pitching.

The first few weeks of the season has not been so easy for Cabot, however, as a youth-dominated roster and new coach have worked to find their identity in what appears to be a closely-stacked East league. Cabot currently stands 3-4 overall, and is 1-1 in conference play after losing its league opener at North Little Rock on Tuesday.

Former Searcy coach Chris Cope took over the helm for longtime coach Becky Steward upon her retirement last summer, and is looking to build a program similar to that of his state-championship winning Lady Lions team in 2011.

Senior catcher Taylor Anderson leads the Lady Panthers at the plate with a stellar .573 average, followed by freshman Kayla Henard, who has a .400 average through the first seven games. While Anderson and Henard have enjoyed batting success early, Cope would like to see the overall team average improve.

“Right now, we’re not swinging the bats like we need to, or scoringruns,” Cope said. “After spring break, we’ve got to come back and look at scoring some runs and cut down on our errors to be successful.”

The numbers add up to a potentially deep Cabot team in the future with the varsity and junior-varsity rosters combining for 10 freshmen, four sophomores and five juniors with only three seniors.

The Lady Panthers also have a youthful look inside the pitcher’s circle with sophomore Kaitlyn Thompson handling most of the duties so far this season.

Freshman Kaitlyn Felder entered the season as the No. 2 pitcher, but is currently out injured, leaving another freshman, Payton Steadman, as Thompson’s backup if needed.

“Kaitlyn Thompson has done well for not really being a pitcher,” Cope said. “We’ve just kind of needed her right now for her leadership as a player. She’s done well, we just have to learn to make some plays behind her.”

The inexperience of the Lady Panthers on defense caused a significant amount of errors at the start of the season, but with the beginning of conference play, Cope said he has seen solid improvement on that end, but still has his concerns when it comes to batting.

“We’re getting better,” Cope said. “We started our first game with eight errors, and in our conference game against North Little Rock, we had just three, so we’re cutting them down. We just haven’t woke our bats up like we need to, and that’s something we have to get back to practicing to make a run. There’s only a month and a half left, and then you’re done.”

As far as the 7A/6A East Conference itself, Cabot is not the only rebuilding team this year with several youth-dominant lineups throughout the league.

The new conference alignment has also landed the Lady Panthers in the same league as perennial 6A powerhouses Searcy and Mountain Home, though the Lady Lions are one of those rebuilding teams.

“From top to bottom, our conference looks pretty even,” Cope said. “North Little Rock right now would get the heads up, they’re 2-0. We’re 1-1, and there’s a bunch of 1-1s. In our conference, we have four 6A and four 7A, and I think on any given night, everybody can beat everybody, so it’s pretty even for the most part.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers, Wildcats perform at Bryant

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers girls track team turned in a fine showing at the Bryant relays on Thursday, finishing second behind the host school in a field of 23 teams. The boys also weren’t bad, finishing in 11th place, and getting most of their points from an unusual source for Cabot, sprinters.

The Lady Panther sprinters were good too, especially the Weeks sisters, who teamed up for several points in sprints and field events.

The North Little Rock girls finished fourth in the event, with sophomore Malica Monk leading the Charging Lady Wildcats in total points.

In the girls 100-meter dash, North Little Rock had two finish in the points. Monk took third place behind Little Rock Central’s Tamara Kuyinendall and Bryant’s Fenice Boone. Cabot’s Tori Weeks was fifth and North Little Rock’s Brandi Hughes got a point with an eighth-place finish.

Cabot’s 4x100-meter relay team took fifth place. Lady Panthers Ladaysha Evans, Rochelle Mallory and Tori and Lexi Weeks finished with a time of 52.24. That was three spots and two seconds behind North Little Rock’s Monk, Hughes, Makayla Daniel and Ashleigh Taylor, who took second in the event. Bryant won it with a time of 49.68.

North Little Rock’s Lagradia Nelson took fifth in the 400-meter race, which Boone won with the only time under one minute at 58.31.

The same Cabot relay team took third in the 4x400, which Bryant also won by a large margin. North Little Rock took fourth in the event, a full 10 seconds behind Cabot, who was 14 seconds slower than Bryant.

North Little Rock’s Shadeanna Gatlin scored one point in the 100-meter hurdles with an eighth-place finish. Camden Fairview’s Tracy Walker won the event, one of three wins for the Lady Cardinal senior.

Cabot sophomore Micah Huckabee won the 1600-meter race, finishing four seconds ahead of second place with a time of 5:29.80. She also finished second in the 800-meter race behind Bryant junior Melinda Murdock.

Monk finished second behind Walker in the high jump. Her leap of 5-foot-2 was two inches below Walker’s winning jump. Monk was also sixth in the long jump, four spots behind Lexi Weeks, who finished second with a jump of 17-feet, 2 ¾ inches. Bryant’s Alexis Royal won that event with a jump of 17-6.

Monk also finished third in the triple jump while Tori Weeks was fourth for Cabot. Royal also won that event with a jump of 35-11 ¾.

The Weeks sisters easily took the top two spots in the pole vault. Lexi vaulted 12-6 while Tori cleared 12-0. Tori’s vault was an even two feet higher than third place Catherine Sales of Jonesboro. Gatlin of North Little Rock finished sixth with a vault of 7-6.

Cabot’s Haley Buford finished second in the discus and sixth in the shot put to pull in 11 more points for Cabot. Camden Fairview’s Betty Jo Garrett’s discus toss went 102-5 to beat Buford’s 99 feet.

In the boys meet, Cabot junior Jordan Burke finished third in the 100-meter dash. His time of 11.13 was only three one-hundredths of a second behind winner Tre James of Central, and one one-hundredth behind second-place Brandon Cox of Conway. North Little Rock’s Altee Tenpenny finished sixth with a time of 11:25. Burke also took third in a very tight 200-meter race. Mills’ Floyd Pugh won with a time of 22.67. Marion’s Trey Chambers and Burke each finished at 22.78 with Chambers being award second place.

North Little Rock’s 4x100 team took first place. The team of Martinez Butler, Kavin Alexander, Tenpenny and Rodney Bryson finished in 42.74, just ahead of Central’s 42.78. Cabot’s team of Layton Ally, Hayden Richey, Seth Hoggard and Burke took eighth place for one point.

North Little Rock’s Timothy Curry finished fourth in the 400-meters, four seconds behind winner Trey Chambers of Marion. Curry’s teammate Martavious Stozier finished fifth in the 110-meter hurdles. Bryant’s Sullivan Spencer won that event. Wildcat Ed’Zemien Lyons also lost to Spencer in the 300-meter hurdles, finishing fifth with a time of 42.38.

North Little Rock’s team of Curry, Aaron Adams, Brad Agee and Anthony Louden took third in the 4x400 relay. Marion won that event and Bryant was second.

Lyons and teammate Marquez Jones tied for fifth in the high jump with leaps of 5-10. While Adams jumped 20-2 for sixth place in the long jump.

Butler won the triple jump for North Little Rock with a jump of 43.7 while Cabot’s Hoggard finished seventh at 40-3.

North Little Rock’s Marcus Lindsey was fourth in the shot put and Cabot’s Keith Pledger was sixth. Lindsey was also fourth in the discus while teammate Deon Tidwell finished seventh.

SPORTS STORY >> Lions can’t catch up after early Beebe lead

Leader sportswriter

Timely hits and key defensive stops helped the Badger baseball team start spring break on a high note as it beat Searcy 8-4 in nonconference action Friday at Beebe High School.

Although Beebe (6-4, 0-2) never trailed, Searcy (4-4, 1-1) stayed within striking distance throughout the game. There were various moments in the contest when the Lions appeared to make a serious run at the Badger lead, but the home team had an answer for nearly every Searcy run.

Beebe led 1-0 at the end of the first on a sacrifice fly by three-hole hitter Justin Browning. Leadoff hitter Than Kersey scored on the play after starting the inning with a walk. Searcy knotted it up at 1-1 in the top of the second on a RBI-single by Anthony Arnold that drove in Justin Rea.

A one-out single by Brandon Stane and a ground ball to third base by Browning put Beebe back up 3-1 in the third. Deion Byrd cut the Badger lead to 3-2 in the top of the fifth with a double down the first baseline that scored Matthew Parsley. But the top of Beebe’s order started doing damage to the Searcy pitching corps from the fifth inning on.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Browning hit a two-run home run over the left-field wall to give the Badgers a 5-2 cushion. Searcy added a run in the sixth, but another two-out Badger rally in the bottom part of the inning scored three runs and gave the home team its largest lead at 8-3.

After a Kord Simpson walk the previous at bat, Kersey drove in the Badgers’ sixth run of the game with a hard hit, RBI-single up the middle of the diamond.

Kersey stole second with Stane, the two-hole hitter, at the plate, but it wasn’t necessary. Stane followed with a two-run home run over the left field wall to give the Badgers the five-run lead.

“Of course we had two home runs in the game, which was good for us because it gave us a little confidence,” said Beebe coach Mark Crafton. “We hadn’t been hitting the ball well, and we scattered some hits around today. And we scored all those runs in the fifth and the sixth with two outs.

“So that just shows them when they put in the work, they get to reap the rewards if they do what they need to do.”

Searcy set the final score in the top of the seventh on the Badgers’ lone error of the game. Jacob Sexton grounded out to start the inning, but Beebe freshman pitcher Angus Denton began to show the fatigue of pitching a complete game as he walked the next two batters.

A stolen base put Arnold on third, and Brady Anderson followed with a ground ball to shortstop. Stane fielded the ball cleanly, but the throw to first was off, and Arnold scored to make it 8-4. With two on and one out, the Badgers got out of the jam as leadoff hitter Brandon Zomant grounded out to second base, and Stane redeemed himself by throwing out Colby Crossen at first after a routine grounder.

Denton earned the win on the mound for the Badgers as he struck out four and walked three in his seven innings of work. His performance stood out to the head Badger.

“That was his first complete game,” Crafton said. “He threw for us earlier in the year and has done well on the mound. He’s really stepped up and played good third base for us, but we wanted to throw him into the fire against a top-notch ball club like Searcy, and he rose to the challenge.”

Stane and Browning led the Badgers with two hits apiece. Kersey, Denton, Jonathan Underwood and Pete Drennan also had hits for Beebe.

The Badgers won’t play again until March 26 when they host Forrest City in a 5A East Conference doubleheader starting at 4 p.m.

SPORT STORY >> Bears upend touted Tigers

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bears got a confidence-boosting 4-2 win over class 7A Little Rock Central on Friday at Sherwood Sports Complex. The Tigers are among those considered serious contenders for the class 7A state championship, and have looked the part so far this season. But Sylvan Hills (4-4) put them in a hole at the very beginning with two runs in the first, and held them off with good pitching and defense for seven innings.

“This is a good win for us,” Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton said. “We’re so young this year I didn’t expect us to be great right from the start. It’s going to take us a little while but there’s talent on this team. I like this group and I think they have a chance to end up being pretty good.”

Sylvan Hills starting pitcher Connor Poteet had an excellent outing. He pitched five innings and gave up just two hits and one earned run. He hit three batters and left the game after walking the leadoff hitter in the top of the sixth inning. T.J. Burrows came in from left field and inherited a 2-1 lead with a runner on and no outs after Poteet walked Central’s Daniel Massiner. Walter Bass sacrificed him to second base and he moved to third on a groundout. He finally scored on a passed ball that tied the game and ruined Poteet’s chance to be the winning pitcher.

Central (8-2) appeared to have the momentum after tying the game, but Sylvan Hills answered the Tigers’ salvo with a two-out, two-run rally that set the final margin. Chase Imoff walked with two outs. He then scored when J.D. Miller’s line drive to left field was mishandled. Poteet then hit a line-drive double down the third-base line that scored Miller easily and gave the Bears a 4-2 lead.

Central threatened in the top of the seventh when leadoff hitter Noah Burks singled to left field with one out. Two-hole hitter Joey Abraham and Burrows battled for nine pitches on the next at bat, with Burrows winning the duel by forcing Abraham to pop up to second base for the second out.

Three-hole hitter Kevin Garner did not take as long. Burrows struck him out in three pitches without a single swing of the bat to end the game and seal his relief victory on the mound.

“We got good pitching today from both our guys,” Tipton said. “They didn’t throw either of their two DI guys, but we didn’t throw our first two either. Connor pitched a great game and T.J. came in and finished it off for us. We need to get our bats going a lot more, but I think that’ll come.”

Sylvan Hills’ first two batters scored in the bottom of the second inning. Burrows and Charlie Roberts drew back-to-back walks before Imoff doubled to left field to drive both runners in. Those were the only two runs through four innings of play. Central got one back in the top of the fifth when Poteet hit nine-hole hitter Jonathan Thompson with one out. He then gave up a single to left field, where Burrows failed to scoop up the rolling ball, allowing Thompson to score all the way from first base.

Tiger pitcher Alex Stillwell rebounded from the rocky start and fanned the first two Sylvan Hills batters in the bottom of the fifth. He then got Blake Maddox to bloop one back to the mound for an easy third out of a quick bottom half of the sixth inning.

That set the stage for Central’s tying run in the sixth.

The Bears will be back in action on Thursday in the Central Arkansas Invitational. The CAI is a 16-team, double-elimination tournament in Little Rock that is being held at four different sites. The Bears open at 2:30 p.m. at Burns Park against Springdale Har-Ber. Other first-round games include Little Rock Catholic taking on Cabot at noon Thursday at Lamar Porter Field. Springfield, Kickapoo plays Bentonville at 2:30 p.m. at Lamar Porter Field as well. Little Rock Central will host Russellville at Central High, followed by El Dorado taking on Van Buren. At Benton High School, the Panthers will play Alma at noon and Pulaski Academy will take on Southmoore High at 2:30. North Little Rock plays the first game at Burns Park at noon against Arkadelphia.

EDITORIAL >> Obamacare in March

The critical issue of the 2013 session of the Arkansas legislature, believe it or not, is not abortion, birth control, guns, tattoos or voter ID cards but the federal offer to insure medical care for some 250,000 low-income workers, 4,000 of them or more in our own community. That issue seems finally coming to a resolution, and we’re happy to report—well, good news and bad news.

The good news? It is looking more and more conceivable that the legislature—the necessary three-fourths of the members of both houses—will approve the expansion of Medicaid starting Jan. 1 to cover the neediest Arkansans who do not now have access to insurance, which sometimes means no access to medical attention when they need it. Only a month ago, that was extremely unlikely because all Republicans, who dominate both houses, have fiercely opposed the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010 and every aspect of it, including the Medicaid expansion.

The state Department of Human Services reported Monday that, despite earlier fears, Medicaid expansion through private insurance might not cost Arkansas more because medicine is a lot less expensive here than in many other states.

If other states demand and get the same arrangement, it will run into many billions of dollars more a year than the straight Medicaid deal for the states in the Affordable Care Act (in the vernacular, that’s “Obamacare”). No one knows how much — almost certainly more than $100 million a year if other states follow the Arkansas plan as costs are higher elsewhere.

A few Republican leaders of the state Senate and House of Representatives cooked up the new arrangement, which will have the federal government (and after 2017 the state government as well) buy private insurance policies for the 250,000 rather than have them treated under the Medicaid program.

We think it is still good news because, even at a higher tab, all of us, not merely the people who will get health coverage for the first time, will be better off when everyone is insured and has equal access to care and medicine. By any measure, Arkansans are on average among the unhealthiest people in the country. If you measure everything by economic principles, you can figure that it will mean increased productivity.

Hospitals, doctors and other health providers have clamored for the legislature to approve the Medicaid expansion. If Medicaid expansion fails, community hospitals will be in deep trouble and the regional medical centers will have to find new sources of financial support because reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid are set to be reduced in 2014.

Businesses that provide insurance for their workers and many of the self-insured support the expansion because it will end the massive cost shifting of charitable care to the premiums of the insured.

If you are not keeping score on the politics, you need some background. The Affordable Care Act has a hundred moving parts but the three big features insure people who aren’t insured now: (1) a mandate for insurance companies to issue policies to people with preexisting conditions or who are denied coverage for some other reason at the same rates, (2) a mandate that large employers and individuals who are self-employed or work for small employers buy coverage from a private insurance company through a market called an exchange, with the federal government helping pay the premiums for families earning between 138 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, and (3) expansion of Medicaid for people below 138 percent of poverty, who are presumed to be too poor to afford any part of an insurance premium.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states, which are partners with Uncle Sam on Medicaid, could refuse to participate in the Medicaid expansion. The federal government pays 100 percent of the coverage until 2017, when the states begin to pick up a small part of the tab. In 2020 and afterward, Arkansas would pick up 10 percent of the expanded costs and the federal government 90 percent. Even after 2020, Arkansas would be getting such a huge infusion of money into its economy and would be shifting so much of the current Medicaid costs to Washington that it will be a fiscal bonanza for the state.

But Republicans who had denounced Obama-care as an unmitigated evil could not be seen as going along with any part of it. So several GOP leaders said, hey, what about removing all those 250,000 low-income workers from the Medicaid rolls and having them buy insurance policies on the exchange like people who earn up to 400 percent of the poverty line? The federal government would have to pick up the full cost of the premiums, which are estimated to be as high as 50 percent more than the cost of Medicaid coverage in many parts of the country if not in Arkansas, but it would be a private insurance program and not so much a government program.

Gov. Beebe took the idea to Washington, and Kathleen Sibelius, the secretary of human services, said sure, be our guest. So that is the proposition that apparently will go to the legislature. It will have to enact an appropriation to spend the billions in federal money that will flow through the state treasury and then out to the insurance companies. Under a bizarre constitutional amendment adopted in 1934, the appropriation will require three fourths of the each house, a very high hurdle.

The insurance industry is thrilled. It means billions in new profits from Arkansas. It’s a good deal for the doctors and hospitals because insurance companies pay them much more for a medical procedure than Medicaid or Medicare does. And you can argue that it is a pretty good deal for the poor because more doctors will be willing to treat them if they are going to be paid far more for an office visit or a procedure.

TOP STORY >> Whit Davis celebrates 60 years

Whit Davis’ son, John Davis, left, with company president Terry Toney. Toney, along with John Davis’ three children, now own the business.

Leader staff writer

John Davis remembers the school bell ringing to signal the end of his academic duties. That bell also meant he had just 10 minutes to get to work at Whit Davis Lumber in Jacksonville, the company his father started 60 years ago.

Whit Davis will celebrate its anniversary April 4-6 with special sale prices at its three locations — 723 School Drive in Jacksonville, 340 Arena Road in Cabot and 80 S. Broadview St. in Greenbrier.

On Saturday, April 6, there will be free hamburgers, hot dogs, vendor demonstrations and KSSN radio station at all the stores.

There will be an animal adoption unit and car seat safety checks at the Cabot location.

During the event, visitors can register for a chance to win $1,000. The name of the winner will be drawn the week of April 8.

Davis said his dad’s name was Whit, his mother was known as “Mrs. Whit” and he was called “Little Whit.”

“Little Whit” said his parents bought Oliver Lumber Company on April 1, 1953 for $12,000, but they spent more than that because Oliver’s inventory of lumber was low.

His parents got the business started with just one truck driver, Max Pierce. Whit Davis employs more than 100 people today.

Davis was 11 years old when the store opened.

The entire family pitched in, working for the company.

Davis made 75 cents an hour sweeping up, waiting on customers, checking shipments in and more. He learned the business firsthand.

“My dad taught me a lot,” Davis said.

Although his mother was responsible for bookkeeping, she did other things, like driving the truck to pick up inventory in Little Rock.

Davis said, “She did what was necessary. We all did what was necessary.”

He continued, “I remember, as a kid, having to work hard. It was 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week in the summer.”

Whit Davis was first located at the western end of a shopping center. The center, which has been demolished, was located where the Jacksonville Senior Activity and Wellness Center is now. The company’s first address was 100 Victory Circle, Davis said.

He recalled that Jackson-ville was a town of less than 2,000 people, and the Little Rock Air Force Base wasn’t there yet. Construction of the base started in 1955, Davis noted.

“So, Whit Davis got to grow with the community. Jacksonville has been very good to Whit Davis Lumber Company,” he said.

The company has put customer service first since the beginning.

Davis said, “We had a saying that if we didn’t have it, we’d have it the next day. Most people weren’t in a hurry like they are today.”

He noted that customers who wanted items his parents’ store didn’t have would have to wait or get the product in Little Rock. The drive there was 45 minutes on Hwy. 161 because Hwy. 67/167 didn’t exist.

Most of the customers preferred to wait, Davis said.

He said the way his father managed the company was influenced by how hard life was in the 1930s. His father was born in 1906.

“Most people in getting through the Depression they learned what the word frugal meant. Daddy used those principles in business,” Davis said.

In August 1956, a 50-by-70-foot Whit Davis store and a 70-by-100-foot warehouse were built on School Drive. The warehouse has been torn down and replaced with a taller building.

Davis said the building was expanded twice. It gained 50 feet the first time and 35 feet the second time.

Whit Davis managed the company until his death in 1985 from kidney failure. But John Davis started handling a lot of the operations for four years before that because his father was on dialysis.

The company’s president, Terry Toney, started working at Whit Davis in 1985. Davis said Toney started at the bottom and is president today because of his dedication.

In 1994, the company acquired the rodeo arena in Cabot and converted it to a drive-through lumber yard. The Greenbrier store was built in 2006. “We are proud of our three facilities. They are what I would consider first class,” Davis said.

The first computer at Whit Davis was installed in 1986.

“It was probably the biggest change in the company as far as saving time,” Davis said. He recalled having to handwrite everything. Calculating contractor prices took weeks instead of hours and minutes, he said.

Davis described the Jacksonville store, which was constructed in 1988, as a 15,000-square-foot “showroom.”

Despite the company’s growth over the past 60 years, some things haven’t changed.

Davis said his parents always valued employees, and he is proud of the company’s tenured workers. “That is the greatest asset we have,” Davis said.

The company has also always been a family affair.

Davis said, “We have a lot of family in Whit Davis.”

His sons, Dan Davis and Paul Davis, both work for the company. Dan Davis is the general manager at the Jacksonville store. Paul Davis buys lumber and commodities for all three stores. Davis’ son-in-law, Don Millar, is head of the installation division.

On Jan. 1, ownership of Whit Davis Lumber Company was turned over to Toney, the company’s president; Dan and Paul Davis and their sister, Stacey Millar.

TOP STORY >> Rising star returns to Beebe

Leader staff writer

It was a homecoming for Beebe native Cody Belew Saturday night, when the singer performed at the Beebe school auditorium.

The recent contestant on NBC’s singing competition show “The Voice” came back to his hometown to support Beebe High School’s Project Graduation, an all-night party for seniors held after graduation. The project holds fundraisers throughout the year to purchase prizes and college necessities, such as laptops that are given away during the party.

“I participated in Project Graduation, my parents were heavily involved and my brother, Casey, did it. A great way to celebrate in a safe way,” said Belew, a 2003 Beebe High graduate.

“I haven’t been back to the school since freshman year in college,” he said.

The concert brought in $8,409, as the auditorium was packed with an audience of 660.

“It was a good crowd. I was worried we wouldn’t have a great crowd,” Belew said after the concert.

Belew performed in front of his home crowd that have supported his career and called in their votes during his run on “The Voice.”

About playing for Beebe residents, he said, “It meant the world and there’s no greater feeling than that.”

Belew continued, “I didn’t bring home the trophy (on “The Voice”) but it felt that way.”

Throughout the concert there were cheers and screams of “I love you Cody — We all love you,” from a group of tweens near the stage.

Beebe High 2013 honor graduates introduced Belew. He started the show by singing Beebe High School’s alma mater. The curtain opened to reveal Belew wearing his Beebe letterman’s choir jacket.

Backing him were his band from Nashville. They are drummer Jared Romero, bassist Rob Cureton, keyboardist Dustin Ransom and lead guitarist Dylan Williams.

Belew went immediately into “Crazy in Love” and then performed his new song, “You Gotta,” before singing “One and Only.”

Belew spotted a former classmate, Jennifer Ridings in the audience. He tried to get her to come on stage, but she stayed in the audience.

“I haven’t been home since I was on a little TV show called “The Voice,” Belew told the crowd.

He gave credit to his fans in Beebe who voted and supported him in the talent competition show.

Belew said growing up his family lived in Stoney Point, “when we were really poor.”

He had a cassette tape of Dolly Parton that he listened to over and over. She shaped his love of music. He said he didn’t know who she was or what she looked like, but if he had known, things might have been different.

He then sang “Jolene.”

Belew was in the 10th grade when the auditorium was being built.

“If it was built for anybody, it was built for me. I’m proud of this place,” Belew said.

He sang “Baby Get Out,” a new single released Monday, and then “Here With Me.” Belew said he heard the song and wished he had written it.

He got the audience to their feet when he sang “Lady Marmalade” and some started dancing.

Belew continued with “One More Try,” the last song he performed on “The Voice,” and slipped in the one thing he held was Badger Pride into the lyrics.

Belew recalled in kindergarten they would call roll in the morning. He said there were kids who brought their lunch, had money, or were charge-it kids.

“I was a charge-it kid,” he said.

He gave props to the lunch ladies. He said we always had good food and always had enough to eat.

Belew said no one should go hungry and is teaming up with Heifer International to fight hunger.

All proceeds from his new song, “Say Love,” debuted at the Beebe concert, will go to Heifer International. The Say Love campaign rolls out on April 1. This week Belew travels to Ecuador with Heifer International as part of the program.

Belew rounded out his show with Beebe High’s ninth-grade choir led by Jane Cunningham joining him on stage to sing “Somebody to Love.”

Cunningham was Belew’s school choir teacher from fifth through 12th grade. He said she was great and allowed her students to be creative.

For an encore, Belew sang “Desperado.”

“I just wish you’d travel with me to all my shows,” Belew said.

After the 50-minute concert, Belew took the time to meet with his fans and friends. For an hour and a half he stayed in the auditorium lobby shaking hands, signing autographs, posing for pictures and giving hugs.

He didn’t disappoint anyone. No one was turned away, not even the last woman in line.

Belew plans to release an album at the end of August, but will release singles throughout the summer.

TOP STORY >> Liquor may be allowed in township

Leader staff writer

After more than 60 years of being dry, Gray Township, which includes large portions of Sherwood and Jacksonville, may finally get the opportunity to go wet—if Senate Bill 374 passes.

Sponsored by Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock), Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) and others, the bill gives residents in defunct townships a chance to decide on the issue of being wet or dry—allowing liquor or not.

English said the bill came at the urging of North Little Rock, Sherwood and Jacksonville officials and their chambers of commerce. The bill, which was approved by more than a two-thirds majority (25 for it, nine against it) in the Senate, is now in the House rules committee which will vote on it this week. Among those voting against the bill was Sen. Jonathan Dismang.

However, English sees no reason for the committee to hold it back and the full House should vote on it next week.

“It doesn’t make any of these areas wet, it just gives them the opportunity to have a local vote on the issue,” English said, adding that without the bill being approved there would be no way to resolve the “dry issue” that has plagued Sherwood, Jacksonville, Little Rock and North Little Rock for years.

Besides Gray Township, the bill also covers three other dry, but defunct townships in Pulaski County. One is in North Little Rock around Park Hill, another northwest of the air base and the other in southwest Little Rock.

In 1956, Pulaski County was made up of 16townships or separate sections. Four of those — Gray, Hill, Bayou Meto and Union — designated themselves dry. But most of the townships are no longer recognized as political entities by the county or state, so township residents have no way to reverse any of the earlier decisions.

The boundaries of Gray Township were readjusted in February 1956 due to some annexations made at the time by Jacksonville. Residents in the newly-aligned township voted on Nov. 6, 1956, to go dry by a vote of 421 against alcohol and 219 for alcohol.

In Sherwood, Gray Town-ship is pretty much everything north of the east-and-west- running Maryland Avenue. In Jacksonville, it encompasses some of the most desirable land that national restaurant chains are looking at.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher wants the bill so the city can benefit from the economic impact of more family restaurants like Chili’s, which consistently brings in around $4 million a year in sales.

“With the air base here and its $780 million impact, Jacksonville ought to be home to every name-brand restaurant around. But we are not because of the alcohol restrictions,” the mayor said.

He added that restaurants, like Chili’s, can still come into the Gray Township area of the city as a private club being operated by a nonprofit group to satisfy the requirements of the dry township, but that’s extra hoops a business has to jump through at an extra cost.

“We just lost a restaurant recently because of that reason. They went elsewhere in central Arkansas that was already wet,” he explained.

“When we get 65 percent of our revenue from sales tax, we need more businesses in our area,” he said. “The bill doesn’t mean all of Jacksonville will be wet or that we will instantly have a vote. Someone like the chamber will have to organize a petition asking for the vote and then it’ll be up to the people.”

According to the bill, the Pulaski County Quorum Court would be the body to sanction the election and the only residents allowed to vote would be those living within the boundaries of the defunct township. The cost of any election over the alcohol issue will be covered by the county.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman also believes it is fair for the voters to have an opportunity to make the decision on alcohol. “The bill doesn’t mandate alcohol,” she emphasized, “it just allows for a local vote.”

She added that a lot of Sherwood residents may not be aware that the city is split between wet and dry. “Our residents, even in the dry areas, are so close to the wet areas, they may not notice, but businesses do.”

The issue of dry townships made its way to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1985. The court sided with the 1956 election and said those areas were dry.

In 2011, Sherwood officials asked the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Division if its annexation of a portion of Gray Township changed its status. Sherwood was hoping the annexation made the area wet.

But Don Bennett, an attorney with the ABC, wrote, “The annexation by the city of Sherwood had no effect upon the local option status of Gray Township because the only way that the prohibition placed in effect in 1956 can ever be removed is for the exact same territory, even though it does not any longer legally exist as a separate voting unit, to remove the prohibition.”

Bennett’s decision was based in part on an opinion written by then-Attorney General Mark Pryor in 2002, who said, “Because the theory of local option laws is that the people of a political or governmental unit shall have the right to determine their status, and the correlative right to change it, according to the provisions of those laws, a status once adopted is usually considered to attach to the territory which was originally bound by the vote, and to remain operative, unless lawfully changed.”

That is the catch — there is no lawful way to currently allow the status to be changed. For that to happen, English said, the state Legislature has to pass Senate Bill 374.