Friday, August 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> District is losing students

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District has returned to the trend of declining enrollment that has plagued its schools for the past several years, with the exception of 2012-13, when there was a gain of 300.

Jacksonville and Sherwood schools lost 149 students this year, a little more than half of the 290 drop seen district-wide, according to PCSSD’s eighth-day enrollment reported Wednesday.

The Cabot School District’s eighth-day count increased by just 63, indicating that the rapid growth its schools have experienced for years is slowing.

The Beebe School District doesn’t record an eighth-day count. As of Monday, its enrollment had increased by about 90 students compared to last year’s count reported around the same time.

The Lonoke School District’s preliminary student enrollment count is 1,812, down just three students from the end of last school year.


PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess said the district is up 314 students compared to last year’s three-quarter average. That average is the total number of students who attended the first three nine- week sessions of school divided by three.

The district receives funding for the year based on the three-quarter average from the previous year, Guess said. Last year’s three-quarter average was 16,724. Thursday’s count was 17,038, he noted.

Guess explained that calculating enrollment is difficult because of factors like students who show up one day and not another, don’t enroll until after Labor Day or are still enrolling.

The superintendent said, “What we do is the best job we can (counting kids)...I’m not necessarily agreeing that we’re down. It’s hard figuring these things out...I’m still optimistic that our numbers are good.”

Guess added that the district will have a more “reliable” count on Tuesday, especially after students enrolled in eSchool, an online alternative to traditional classes, are counted.

Of the 18 PCSSD schools in The Leader’s coverage area, seven saw an increase in students, according to the eighth-day count.

Only two schools had significant gains. Sylvan Hills Elementary School’s enrollment went up by 39, while Jacksonville Middle School saw an increase of 22.

The other schools who saw more students this year than last year were Cato Elementary with 12, Tolleson Elementary with seven, Bayou Meto Elementary with six, Warren Dupree Elementary with six and Murrell Taylor Elementary with two.

With the exception of Oakbrooke Elementary, which had the same count for 2012-13 and this year, the other Jacksonville and Sherwood schools saw a drop in the number of students enrolled.

The losses were 49 for Sylvan Hills High School, 39 for North Pulaski High School, 39 for Northwood Middle School, 32 for Sylvan Hills Middle School, 26 for Jacksonville High School, 22 for Clinton Elementary, 19 for Arnold Drive Elementary, eight for Pinewood Elementary, six for Sherwood Elementary and three for Adkins Preschool.


Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman said he didn’t have last year’s enrollment by school.

The 2012-13 total for the district was 10,170.

This year’s eighth-day total is 10,233. That total does not include the district’s 260 pre-kindergarten students, Thurman said. “Those sections are filled immediately from the waiting list when a student drops,” he added.

Thurman also said, “We’ve been expecting growth to slow for a number of years. I have visited with other large and neighboring districts, and very few have experienced growth this year.”

He continued, “I view this as an opportunity, from the district perspective, since providing space has been the priority for a number of years. We are now able to consider options rather than building facilities. Examples would be an increase in our technology initiatives and our infrastructure to support our network in the future.”


Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook said, “By this time, we have narrowed our no-shows and have a pretty good idea about how many are really enrolled.”

Although the formal total, not including pre-kindergarten students, is a little less than 3,300, Shook explained that about 30 of those are kids who moved over the summer.

Last year’s count around this time was 3,180, she said.

Shook continued, “The first two weeks have been as smooth as any year I can remember.”

With 2,800 students arriving and leaving schools that are located in one area, there were some traffic issues, she said. But that was expected, the superintendent noted.

“The parents and students have been wonderful as we have made adjustments and changes for safety reasons,” Shook added.

She also said the district just opened the new $4.5 million Beebe Middle School in McRae.

That two-story, 30,000-square-foot building has 10 classrooms, two science labs, an Environmental and Spatial Technology lab and a computer lab. To the left of the new building is a 4,200- square-foot tornado safe room designed to hold 700 people. It will be used for choir classes.

In 2004, when the McRae School District was consolidated into the Beebe School District, Beebe school officials promised to put in a storm shelter that the community could use during threatening weather.

At the dedication of the new school, Shook said, “This building started as a need for space. Our old building was about 15,000 square feet, built in the 1940s. The classrooms were very small. Although we all loved it and hated to see it go, the termites loved it as well.”

The district’s only new principal is Brandy Dillin, who will be leading the teachers and staff of the new middle school.

Shook said, “She is doing a wonderful job and I could not be more pleased with how she has everything running. She is a sharp thinker and a hard worker and I expect Beebe Middle School to be among the best in the state, if not the best.”


Lonoke Superintendent Suzanne Bailey, said, “We are showing to be down just a little at the present, although we are still in the process of looking at student numbers on a daily basis until after the Labor Day holiday. They can and tend to change.”

She added that the schools that have seen a drop in enrollment are the middle school and elementary school.

Bailey continued, “The high school and primary (school) are pretty constant with the high school having a few more at this time than at last year’s end.”

She said the district hopes to have a more accurate count after the holiday.

The enrollment counts are of K-12 students.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville chamber upstart blinks first

Leader staff writer

There will be no second chamber of commerce in Jacksonville.

Less than a week after the word was out that the grassroots group collecting signatures for the wet/dry vote had filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office and the IRS to form the Greater Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the idea is dead.

Mayor Gary Fletcher, in a statement delivered to The Leader on Friday afternoon, threw his support behind the old chamber, saying two chambers would rip the city apart.

“I must take a firm stand in supporting my local chamber of commerce that I have pledged publicly as recently as a few weeks ago to work to unite our efforts to be more of a seamless city in making our business community stronger,” Fletcher said. (See lettter, p. 6A.)

“The mayor decided not to back us and without the support of the city it would be hard for us to do what we wanted to do for Jacksonville,” said Jennifer Niemeyer, one of the individuals working on the votes and the new chamber.

The city’s longtime, yet beleaguered Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, apparently was not happy with the idea of another chamber. It blasted out an e-mail telling businesses to back away and got into a Facebook comment tit-for-tat with the new group.

Things started to unravel for the upstart enterprise when Amanda Clark, who was raised in Cabot, backed off. She was planning to help with membership, festivals and other programs.

Clark said she had approached the Jacksonville chamber and offered her service a month or so ago and was rebuffed. “I just wanted to be involved. I had no agenda. It was just about the community.”

The new group came out of the grassroots operation, Saving Jacksonville, which was formed to gather signatures for a local election on the wet/dry issue.

The group has close to 2,000 signatures, but needs 4,400. Before it took over the wet/dry petition drive, the old chamber of commerce had gathered only a dozen signatures in more than a month’s time.

“We’ve turned all of our petitions over to the city, and it’s up to them now,” Niemeyer said.

And why did she and others feel the need to try to create a new chamber?

“We talked to many businesses that weren’t members of the chamber and they made it clear there was a void that needed to be filled,” Niemeyer said. “We decided to fill that void. “We are not trying to compete with the Jacksonville chamber. There is enough for both of us to do to make this city great,” she said.

The new chamber’s stated mission was “to promote and improve new and developing businesses, stimulate a vibrant local economy and produce a cooperative effort to enhance the overall quality of life in Jacksonville to its highest potential.”

The Jacksonville chamber didn’t like the new upstart.

Marleen Eddlemon, a local resident, called the new group imposters on a social media site.

Jody Urquhart, a former chamber president, questioned the new group’s credentials, even though he admitted on Facebook that he had to get the old chamber back in good graces after the IRS pulled its nonprofit status for failure to pay back taxes.

Karen Carlisle, wife of Philip Carlisle, who is a chamber board member of the old chamber, said, “Please don’t confuse this new group with the long standing Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce that has been working for this city for over 50 years,” in a Facebook post.

She then questioned why the wet/dry group would team up with the new chamber.

“Why would you team up with the Greater Jacksonville Chamber? They don’t represent Jacksonville. You will probably lose support with this move,” she said in another post.

Niemeyer said, “One of the first things we want to do is to work with the city to bring in a high quality festival.”

She said the old chamber got out of the festival business two years ago and did not help the city in its effort to have one earlier this summer.

The Jacksonville chamber has, over the past few years, pulled out of running or supporting the annual citywide festival, the Christmas parade and the annual business expo.

But, in the chamber’s letter, the board of directors said, “It has been said before that your chamber has pulled support from certain community events, and that’s just not the case. We have simply elected to take a role of support within the parameters of those events to be more inclusive of our community partners.”

That said, organizers of this year’s festival, sponsored by the parks and recreation department told The Leader they received no help, assistance or support from the chamber, even after making numerous requests.

Amanda Clark, who helped organize the new chamber, said plans were in the works for a Halloween Bash at or near the Boys and Girls Club. “We wanted to do things that would involve the young people,” she said.

In a letter to its members that was posted on Facebook, the Jacksonville Chamber board wrote, “Please know that this group is in no way affiliated with, or supported by, your Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. They are also not affiliated with, or recognized by, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.”

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce is listed as a member of the state group and the Greater Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce had copies of membership paperwork turned into the state chamber.

Niemeyer said she had a phone conversation with Daniel Gray, another Jacksonville board member and told him, “We are in no way trying to be competition or rivals. We are in no way trying to steal any duties they already take part in; we simply want to add things to this town to help our community ensure future prosperity. There is absolutely no reason we can’t collaborate.”

But obviously there were reasons and the group folded.

TOP STORY >> Crawford says he still favors irrigation plan

Leader senior staff writer

Rep. Rick Crawford (R- Jonesboro) told Bayou Meto Water District board members and employees this week that he would be their advocate when House and Senate Water and Energy Bill conferees hammer out appropriations.

Crawford was on the fourth day of a five-day farm tour in his district. Later in the day, he was slated to visit the Grand Prairie Irrigation project board.

A continuing resolution would fund Bayou Meto at $5 million — enough to prevent mothballing the project and the giant irrigation pumps near Scott and Reydell, but not enough to move the project forward in a timely manner. Sullivan told Crawford they need another $13 million from the water and energy bill, which is currently in the Senate bill but not in the House bill.

Crawford said that as a subcommittee chairman, he would probably be on the joint conference committee and that he would seek House support to use the Senate version of that bill.

Bayou Meto Water District executive director Gene Sullivan said, if the project is funded for the next two years, the Army Corps of Engineers says the irrigation component would be available by the 2017 growing season. Sullivan said, if necessary money is available — $29 million over the next two years — water may be available for Indian Bayou farmers a year earlier.

About $90 million in federal, state and local money has been spent so far on the irrigation, conservation and flood control project intended to irrigate 300,000 acres, much of it in Lonoke County when completed, according to Sullivan.

“I was pleased,” with Crawford’s comments said Sullivan, as was the board as a whole.

He called that appropriation “the critical issue,” at this time. It funds the Army Corps of Engineers work.

Since earmarks are no longer permitted and this is a time when Congress seems disinclined to spend money, the eventual 300,000-acre irrigation plan has been scaled back to 90,000 acres on or near Indian Bayou, Sullivan explained.

The project does have an estimated $9.7 million to bring dedicated electrical lines from North Little Rock to the Marion Berry Pump Station near Scott. North Little Rock Electric will supply the electricity to pump the water from the Arkansas River into canals.

On the south end, Entergy will power the pumps moving flood water back into the river, Sullivan said, adding that figuring out the cost of bringing in that electricity is not a firm target. He noted, “We don’t have the money for the lower end pump station.”

Sullivan told Crawford, “We have got an application for a $20 million loan from the Rural Development Administration.” That would go for matching funds for building bridges and other local match money, he said.

Four bridges will be needed to span the canal that would move water into Indian Bayou.

Farmers in the district have been taxing themselves for eight years to pay for this project, from which they will still buy irrigation water.

Congress seems to somewhat confuse the Bayou Meto project with the Grand Prairie Project, about which several environmental concerns, such as habitat for the endangered Ivory-billed Woodpecker, have been raised.

After seeing the troubles and conflict that developed over the Grand Prairie Project — which dates back to the mid 1980s — those driving the Bayou Meto project worked hand in hand with environmentalists, hunters and other groups to address all concerns right out of the box, according to Sullivan. He was involved with Grand Prairie before he hired on with Bayou Meto.

One cause for optimism is that Maj. Gen. John Peabody, who “hadn’t been a real champion of groundwater,” is better educated on the issue.

Sullivan said now Peabody “sees that as a major mission and probably the biggest resource problem we have in this century.”

Peabody, who has been the Army Corps Vicksburg commander, is moving to Washington to replace Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations since December 2011.

“If we can get leadership together in D.C. with some of you guys,” Sullivan said to Crawford, “we have some pretty good results.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers win first three of season

Leader sportswriter

In Tuesday’s season-opening volleyball tri-match at Cabot’s Panther Arena, the host Lady Panthers dominated the competition to start 2013, while Lonoke finished the tri-match 1-1, and Jacksonville 0-2.

The Lady Panthers remained unbeaten with a 3-1 win at Batesville on Thursday. Cabot won by scores of 25-21, 16-25, 27-25 and 25-21.

In Tuesday’s tri-match, Cabot and Jacksonville played the first set of games and the Lady Panthers started strong, beating the visiting Lady Red Devils 25-8 in the first game and 25-11 in the second to win the match in two games. Jacksonville stayed on the floor to face class 4A Lonoke in the next set of games and continued to struggle as the Lady Jackrabbits dominated the first game 25-8.

Lonoke looked as if it might run away early in game two after taking a 3-0 lead thanks to three-straight aces by sophomore Jarrelyn McCall, but the Lady Devils battled back to win the second game by a convincing 25-16 margin.

In the third and final game, Lonoke scored the first four points and played more like it did in the first game of the match en route to a 25-10 win. Even though Jacksonville lost both matches, head coach Kendra Sauheaver was pleased to see her young team, which consists mostly of sophomores and juniors, come together and win one of the three games against Lonoke.

“In the second game they really pulled together,” said Sauheaver. “They did everything they were supposed to do and it just all kind of fell into place. In the third game, I have no idea what happened there, but we’re going to take a look at the film and see where we need to cover up.”

In the match against Jacksonville, McCall and junior hitter Eboni Willis led all players with a match-high five kills each. McCall also finished those three games played with 13 total aces from the serving line. In that time, junior setter Charley Jo Chesney led all players with 13 assists.

For Jacksonville, sophomore Emily Lovercheck led the team with two kills and junior Taylor Hayden had a match-high five digs.

Lonoke stayed on the floor for the final match of the evening against the Lady Panthers, and the time off in between games had no negative effect on the host team as Cabot won the first game 25-12 and the second game 25-13. Of Cabot’s 19 players, only six are seniors, but five of those seniors have been starters for the Lady Panther volleyball program since their sophomore year.

The six seniors, Lakin Best, Bailee Uhiren, Taylor Bitely, Kaitlyn Pitman, Becca Moffett and Raven Gilbert, each played solid throughout the entirety of both matches, and head coach DeAnna Campbell couldn’t be more proud of the way her veterans have led the team on and off the court.

“Five of these six seniors have started on varsity since they were sophomores,” said Campbell. “Two years ago when I took the job I started them because they were talented and they were go-getters. I told them then ‘you’re young and you’re going to take your licks this year, but hang in there and work hard and some day you’re going to be the old kids,’ and now they are.

“Those kids have waited so long for this and they’ve worked so hard and they’ve been through so much that any win we get they’re going to value it. They are one of the best groups of kids as far as attitude and work ethic. The six seniors are all leaders because they’ve been together for so long and they can lead together. As long as they can keep that going they’re going to do a lot of good things this year.”

Bitely led all players in the match against Lonoke with five kills. She also had four aces and two digs. Uhiren, Best and Pitman each had three kills. Best added five assists and two aces in the final match. Uhiren led all players with eight assists in the two games played. Gilbert totaled four aces, one kill and one assist in that time, and Moffett had three digs.

Cabot and Batesville battled tooth and nail the entire match on Thursday. Campbell said it was one of the most exciting matches she’s coached.

“That game was a war,” Campbell said. “It was a huge match for us both physically and mentally. I was very proud of how both teams went all out, all the time. It was great volleyball and it was exciting to be a part of that.”

SPORTS STORY >> Education film about heat illness stars CHS

Leader staff writer

As the hot temperatures, high humidity and the blazing sun shone down Tuesday and Wednesday it was perfect weather at Cabot High School for filming an educational training video for the Arkansas Department of Health on how to prevent and treat heat-related illness.

During this time of year football players are often the first thought of who could become ill from the heat, but Greg Brown, section chief of Emergency Medical Service for the Department of Health said the heat can affect students in band, ROTC or any outdoor activity.

Brown said heat-related illness happens when someone is overcome by heat from an exertive activity when the air temperature is over 85-degrees. The loss of body fluid exceeds what the body can tolerate. When it is not addressed immediately, a person can go into heat stroke. The body temperature can get to 108-degrees. If not treated, the body’s organs start shutting down and a slow process toward death can occur.

Brown said the purpose of the video is for school districts across the state to develop an action plan with their local emergency medical services on how they are going to react to the situation. The video may also be shown nationally.

“The goal is to bring awareness nationwide to the local level, where they can help recognize when a student is leaning towards a crisis,” Brown said.

“(The illness) may not be on the field but in the classroom or at home an hour or two later,” Brown said.

He said in the past, if a student had a heat-related illness, an ambulance was called and the student was rushed to the emergency room. Now the preferred method is to put a student in a big tub of icy water for at least 20 minutes until the body cools down.

The loss of heat is 19 times faster in water than air.

Then they are transported to the hospital if further medical care is needed. The emergency room doesn’t have a way to cool kids down the way they need to be treated.

Cabot athletic trainer Jason Cates said last Tuesday, a seventh grader collapsed due to overheating and was in a tub of icy water to cool down.

Brown stressed the importance of drinking plenty of water during day, being well hydrated before football practice. He said players are weighed before and after practice for 14 days to see how much water they have lost. It takes up to two weeks for the body to become acclimated to the heat.

In making the video, Brown said, “If we can impact the life of one kid, we accomplished what we wanted – to address the preventive illness that is deadly.”

Brown said Cabot was chosen because the athletic trainers and program is an elite group. They have an aggressive protocol on heat illnesses.

Over the two days the film crew recorded footage, interviewed Joey Walters, deputy director of the Arkansas Athletic Association; Rhonda Fincher with the Kendrick Fincher Hydration Foundation, Cabot athletic trainer Jason Cates and emergency medical doctor Timothy Calicott with St. Vincent.

Two heat-related illness situations were simulated. One was of a football player who collapsed on the practice field and the other was a band student who began having problems in class.

The video production was a collaborative effort with the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the Arkansas Athletics Association, the Korey Stringer Institute, Lifetouch school photography of Minnesota, the Cabot School District, the Kendrick Fincher Hydration Foundation, MEMS, the Cabot Fire Department and the Arkansas Athletics Trainers Association.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers’ offense good at Harding

Leader sports editor

The Beebe football team moved the ball well against Harding Academy and Central Arkansas Christian on Tuesday during a three-team benefit scrimmage in Searcy. Badger coach John Shannon liked that his offense was able to successfully move the ball, but he didn’t like that it turned it over three times.

“We moved it up and down the field, but we had two fumbles and an interception that killed good drives,” said Shannon.

The format pitted Beebe’s starting offense against Harding Academy’s starting defense for 15 consecutive plays, and later against CAC’s defense for 15 plays. In between, the second units would take the field and the starting offenses and defenses would swap.

All starting offensive and defensive units played one 15-play series against the other two teams.

The Badger defense was also impressive, save for one play.

“On defense I thought we flew to the ball really well,” Shannon said. “We gave up one big pass when we had a misdirection and they hit us on a seam route. Other than that, we stopped both teams on downs a few times and caused a few turnovers. So I was very pleased with the defense.”

Shannon only used his typical dead-T offense for 20 of the 30 plays. The Badgers lined up in the spread formation the rest of the time, still running the ball out of that formation as much as passing it.

“We had all the plays scripted and we just stuck with the script no matter where we were on the field,” Shannon said. “The first time the first offense was out there, we ran the spread five times, throwing it twice and running it three times. The second time we threw it three times and ran it twice.”

Of the five pass attempts, all five were caught, four by Badgers. Connor Patrom, Marcus Burns and B.J. Farmer all made receptions. The Badgers also had a 25-yard touchdown pass called back for holding.

On the Badgers’ first 15-play possession, they drove it to the Harding Academy 30-yard line before fumbling. After the fumble, they turned around at the 30 and was at the 50-yard line in two plays before an interception thwarted that drive.

“We picked up good yardage on every play, but we turned it over twice in the first seven plays,” Shannon said. “I wasn’t too happy about that. We got things going a little better for quite a while, but then we had another turnover against CAC, so we’ve got to cut that out things aren’t going to be pretty.”

With eight plays remaining after the second turnover, Beebe started over at the 30-yard line and used all eight plays before capping off the 70-yard drive with a touchdown. Fullback Tripp Smith punched it in on the last play.

On the starters’ second series against CAC, Beebe drove deep into Mustang territory before committing another turnover. After turning around, the Badgers put together another long scoring drive.

“Overall I thought we looked better than we did last year at this time,” Shannon said. “The offense moved the ball consistently. We threw and caught the ball well. The O-line did a good job of pass protecting and run blocking. We just have to cut out the turnovers and penalties.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers, Devils set to clash

Leader sports editor

When Cabot and Jacksonville leave the field at Panther Stadium after their season-opening football game on Tuesday, it will end 30 years of the two teams meeting each season. When the series started in the 80s, Jacksonville was the larger and dominant team. Sometime in the mid 90s, Cabot school district became larger than Jacksonville, and the gap has continued to grow to the point that CHS is now more than three times the size of JHS.

Cabot has won all but two games since the turn of the century, including the last five in a row. Some prognosticators believe the 2013 Panthers could be the best one in many years, but none of that fazes Jacksonville coach Rick Russell, who says his team is entering the game with a mindset to win.

“We’re going to do everything we can to win the game,” said Russell. “We feel like we can compete with them. We have to protect the football and execute our game plan. We have to win at the line of scrimmage and if we do all that, we feel like we give ourselves a chance to win.”

The Panthers showed a slightly different formation than they have run in the past. Instead of the dead-T with two tight ends and no wideouts, the Panthers have gone with one tight and one split end. They threw the ball 15 times from that formation in their scrimmage game against Lake Hamilton.

Russell was at the scrimmage game, but doesn’t think there are any dramatic changes in how to prepare for Cabot.

“They’re a little different but it still comes down to that offensive line,” Russell said. “If you can’t stop that line you can’t stop Cabot. So we’re going to try to win at the line.”

Russell also doesn’t agree with Cabot coach Mike Mal-ham’s assertion that he has one of the shallowest depth charts in years.

“They look to me like they have a lot more depth than they have had in a long time,” Russell said. “They have two units that looked really good. They have speed on both sides of the ball, and they look like a physical football team. It’s going to take 48 minutes of playing as hard as we can to be successful.”

Jacksonville did not play a preseason scrimmage game against another opponent, and Cabot coaches didn’t go to their Red-White game last Saturday.

Malham felt like he needed to focus on getting his own team better.

“We just have to get our situation straightened out,” Malham said. “We’ve got this new set that changes the blocking up a little bit when we split one out.

“Jacksonville always has good speed and I’m hearing they’ve got more than usual this year. We’re going to have to slow that down. If they score a lot of points we’re going to be in trouble.”

It was primarily Jacksonville’s decision to end the series. Malham said he enjoyed the game itself and would have continued, but admitted that it adds some pressure for his players.

“Well you start off with a 5A team and you lose to them, then your kids look at the schedule and there’s nothing but 7A teams left, it can kind of give you a bad outlook,” Malham said. “So it’s important for us to get a win here. But I don’t think it’s going to be an easy game. It’s the last one, at least for a little while, and they’re going to come in here with guns a blazing. I don’t know how long they’ll be gone though. If they get their school district we’ll probably be right back in there with them.”

As the underdog every year, it’s easy for the Red Devils to get fired up for the game with Cabot. But Cabot still circles this game as well.

“Oh definitely, you have to beat Jacksonville,” said Cabot senior fullback Zach Launius. “Every year you have to beat Jacksonville and you have to beat Conway. So yea, this is a big game.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Devils stay healthy Saturday

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville football coach Rick Russell easily summarized what he got out of Saturday’s Red-White intrasquad scrimmage at Jan Crow Stadium.

“We got a fundraiser out of it, and we got out of here without any of my players leaving in an ambulance,” said Russell, who saw standout receiver Robert Harris lost for the season with a severely broken ankle in last year’s Red-White game.

“We didn’t do any full-on, one versus ones because we’ve got to get to the first game healthy,” Russell said. “As far as what we looked like considering the format, I was pleased. The starters produced on offense and got stops on defense. That’s what you want to see.”

The best thing about the Red-White game, according to Russell, is that it brought an end to preseason practice. The Red Devils open the season on Tuesday against Cabot, meaning two extra game-plan practices on Monday and Tuesday before shifting into game-week mode on Wednesday.

“Preseason is over,” Russell said. “We have a game to get ready for now. We’ve got the foundation installed on offense and defense and now we go to work on what we’re doing for each opponent. That’s the best thing about this game. Preseason is over. All the preparation all the way back to the start of offseason last year, all that’s done. Now we build on that and move forward and have a successful season.”

Jacksonville’s starting offense took little time in getting to the end zone. Tailback Lamont Gause took a swing pass to the right 45 yards to the 5-yard line on the second play. He carried it up the middle for those remaining five yards on the very next play.

Gause then carried 16 yards on the next play from midfield. Quarterback Reggie Barnes dropped back to pass on the next play, but after finding no one open, scrambled for a 15-yard gain.

Harris caught a pass for 8 yards that was called back for holding. On first down and 12 from the 21-yard line, Barnes hit Devin James for a 17-yard gain. James then carried it in from 4-yards out for another score by the starters.

They needed just two plays on the next set of downs. A reverse handoff to Harris picked up 28 yards. Barnes then found Kajahn Daniels for a 22-yard scoring strike to end the starting offense’s first possession.

Linebackers Durrell White and Justin Abbott got back-to-back tackles for loss to start the starting defense’s night. After one incomplete pass by Brandon Hickingbotham, linebacker Jacob Price picked off a Hickingbotham pass.

The next two passes were also incomplete before KaJahn Daniels finally picked up positive yardage with a 6-yard run.

Quarterback Caleb Price then threw incomplete and Malcolm Crudup lost two yards as he was gang tackled by White, Abbott and Price.

On fourth and 8, Price dropped back to pass, but after being unable to find an open receiver, pulled the ball down and scrambled 10 yards for the scout offense’s first first down.

Price then hit Crudup for a 5-yard gain, then scrambled up the middle for another 10-yard gain and first down. But that was all the positive yardage the backup offense could muster.

The final stage saw the starting offense go against a mostly starting defense. The four down linemen weren’t starters, but the linebackers, safeties and corners were.

The offense put the defense on its heels for the first several plays. Starting from the 35-yard line, the offense marched 59 yards in seven plays to the 6-yard line. Avery Wells caught a 4-yard swing pass before Barnes hit Harris for 16. Barnes then scrambled for 11 and Gause ran for 13 on the next play. Jerrell Thomas dropped a pass on first down, but Daniels caught a 7-yard pass from Barnes and Carlin Herd ran for 8 to set up first and goal at the 6.

From there the defense buckled down. Two incompletions were followed by a 4-yard loss on a sack by Terry Brown to set up fourth and goal from the 10. Kicker John Hermann nailed a 27-yard field goal to end the scrimmage.

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons display physical Friday

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons played their annual Red-White intrasquad scrimmage game last Friday night, and displayed the athleticism that coach Teodis Ingram has been enjoying during fall practice.

The Falcons looked bigger than most recent teams and play on Friday was more lively and physical than most preseason intrasquad games.

“This has been a much more physical preseason than any other I’ve had here,” said Ingram.

Play began with the first-team defense taking on the scout offense and it went as one would expect. The offense hit one pass for a 15-yard gain, but gained little else in 12 plays. Defensive tackle Brandon Green and linebacker Fred Thomas each recorded sacks. Green bull rushed through the guard while Thomas got his sack on a stunt.

The second stage was first-team offensive skill players running full-contact 7-on-7 against linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties, but they didn’t look sharp. Quarterback Michael Barnes did hit Thomas for a 30-yard gain down the left sideline. Thomas likely would have scored on the play but coaches blew the whistle to avoid any dangerous sideline tackles. Thomas also fumbled once and receivers dropped several passes.

The spread is not North Pulaski’s base offense this year, and it looked much better when the linemen came onto the field and the Falcons lined up in the wishbone. Thomas broke loose for 30 yards on the first play and may have scored again if not for another quick whistle.

Other highlights of the first-team offense’s first full drive was a hard-nosed 12-yard run by Darren Penn, in which the big fullback broke several tackles. Barnes also connected with receiver Yakeem Young for a 50-yard touchdown pass also down the left sideline.

North Pulaski does not have a benefit scrimmage game this year, and will open the season on Friday, Sept. 6 at home against J.A. Fair.

SPORTS STORY >> ’Rabbits at least got to hit someone

Leader sportswriter

Before opening their regular season on the road next Friday against Star City, the Lonoke Jackrabbits traveled to Maumelle on Monday for an unconventional preseason scrimmage against the host team as well with class 6A Little Rock Fair.

The Jackrabbits and host Hornets kicked off the event with a 20-minute, continuous-clock exhibition scrimmage. At the end of the 20 minutes, Lonoke’s second-teamers took the field and competed for a while with Maumelle’s second team before the Jackrabbit starters retook the field for another nonstop 20-minute showdown with the War Eagles.

The first game began about as expected. Both teams started off a little careless, both offensively and defensively, but once the two respective class 4A teams settled into the flow of the game, the matchup was quite competitive. However, just as the action was picking up, the clock ran out to end the first exhibition.

Even though there really wasn’t much to it, Lonoke coach Doug Bost said it was a good opportunity for his team to beat up on somebody else for once rather than on each other.

“He (Maumelle coach Mike Buchan) called me last week and asked if Fair could come over,” said Bost, “and I said ‘coach, it’s your house, you get to make the rules over there. We’re just ready to play and hit somebody different.’ So that’s what we got to come out and do tonight.

“It was a little different. You couldn’t really get in a rhythm with anybody, but we were able to get it on film so we can see where our mistakes are, maybe if you’re wrong personnel-wise in a couple of spots you can see it on film, because you’re seeing it against live bullets right here. So yeah, we’re going to go and break the film down and see what we got.”

Lonoke’s offense turned the ball over on downs on its first possession, and gave up a 54-yard touchdown run on the sixth play of Maumelle’s first possession to trail early. The Jackrabbits went three and out on their next drive but forced the Hornets to punt the following possession. A shank punt resulted in great field positioning for Lonoke, and it took advantage of the opportunity.

With 5:35 left on the clock, senior starting quarterback Kody Smith connected with fellow senior standout receiver Blake Mack for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Jose Garcia’s extra point was good to knot the score up at 7-7.

Maumelle’s offense then moved the ball down field and kicker Hunter Cockrell booted an 18-yard field goal to put the home team up 10-7. When Lonoke took the field again for its fourth possession, only 2.8 seconds remained in the scrimmage. Smith tried again to connect with Mack on a deep ball near the sideline, but the desperation pass fell incomplete and the first exhibition ended.

Like the first 20-minute scrimmage with Maumelle, Lonoke showed promise offensively against Little Rock Fair by moving the ball downfield on its first possession. However, this time the Jackrabbits punched it in the endzone on a 10-yard quarterback keeper by Smith. Garcia’s extra point was good to set the final score at 7-0.

“I really didn’t like it,” Bost said of the scrimmage format. “It wasn’t a lot of work, but it’s different than practice because we’ve been going at it for three weeks – hitting the same people every day. So that’s good, and like I said, we’ve got it on film, so we can go back and watch it and adjust from there.”

Lonoke’s Sept. 6 regular-season opener at Star City will kick off at approximately 7 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot dominates Lake Hamilton

Leader sports editor

There was some speculation as to whether Cabot would show the passing attack it’s been working during its scrimmage game against Lake Hamilton. All doubt ended when quarterback Kason Kimbrell fired over the top of the Wolves’ defense on the Panthers’ fifth play for a 53-yard gain to the 10-yard line.

Junior receiver Jake Ferguson put a spin move on the defender to break loose behind the safety before hauling in the pass about 25 yards downfield before racing the rest of the way. Tack on five yards for a horse-collar penalty and Cabot was set up with first and goal from the 5-yard line. Lake Hamilton then jumped off sides, moving it to the 3. From there fullback Zach Launius punched it in for the Panthers’ first score.

Cabot coach Mike Malham said there was never any question whether or not they would run the split-end formation and reveal some of the passing game.

“We had to work on it and see what we got,” said Malham. “We hadn’t practiced two tight all fall so we had to run what we’ve been working on.”

The format pitted each team’s starting offense against starting defense for two 15-play drives and two 15-play drives for backups. Working with the starting lineup, Kimbrell completed 3 of 8 pass attempts for 122 yards. Backup Grant Bell completed 4 of 7 for 54 yards. With all scores added up from each team’s four possessions, Cabot outscored Lake Hamilton 39-6. Each team then took three sets of downs from the opponent’s 10-yard line. Lake Hamilton scored twice and Cabot scored all three times, bringing the total points scored to 60-20.

“That’s not bad,” Malham said. “We’re still a better running team than we are a passing team. I just didn’t want us to come out and throw to the other team and we didn’t have any interceptions, so it’s looking OK right now.”

While the Panthers didn’t have any interceptions, they did have four fumbles and lost three of them.

“We can’t have that,” Malham said. “The ones that fumbled are probably not going to get much playing time.”

Neither Lake Hamilton’s first or second group could get much going offensively, but each did have one big play. After losing a yard on its first set of downs, the Wolves faced fourth and 11 on its second set when it hit a 46-yard touchdown pass over the top.

“They picked on our sophomore we had rotating in there and that’s just sophomore inexperience,” Malham said of cornerback Holdyn Barnes, who lost coverage and gave up the big play. “He can play though. He did a good job most of the night. Him and Logan Melder are rotating and they’re both doing a good job.”

The extra-point attempt failed.

The Wolves lost 21 yards on the next play because of a high snap. On second down from the 4-yard line, defensive end Brian Marshall and Brandon Allinder sacked Nathan Sawrie in the end zone for a safety with one play left for the Wolves.

On first down from the 25-yard line, and with Cabot’s defense in keep-them-from-scoring mode, Sawrie kept for a 13-yard gain before Cabot took possession.

After the first touchdown, Cabot started over at the 25 and faced fourth and seven when Kimbrell hit Launius on the left sideline for a 26-yard gain and a first down at the Lake Hamilton 46.

Four-straight incompletions followed for Cabot’s only stop on downs in the game. With one play left, Cabot ran the halfback counter to perfection, springing Preston Jones for a 50-yard touchdown run. Caleb Schulte hit the PAT.

Lake Hamilton’s backup offense then ran 15 plays and totaled -6 yards, as Cabot’s second-string defense dominated the Wolves.

After being held to 1 yard on the first four plays, Lake Hamilton picked up just enough for a first down on fourth and three on the second set of downs, and got first and five after Cabot jumped off sides. From there it was all bad news for the Wolves’ offense.

Alex Rodriguez got a sack for a loss of 5 yards before a 3-yard gain that made it third and seven.

Peyton Barger then busted up a wildcat handoff for a 7-yard loss, and followed that with a sack for another -7 yards.

Resetting for first down at the 25, Lake Hamilton found an open man downfield, but linebacker Jack Whisker made a huge hit that jarred the ball loose and incomplete. Whisker then picked off the next pass for another stop, and made a tackle after a 2-yard gain on the last play of the possession.

Whisker looked good on the second-string offense as well until he fumbled to thwart a drive that had gone seven plays for 49 yards. Resetting at the 38-yard line, Cabot went 62 yards in six plays with Whisker picking up 35 of it on one carry to set up first and goal at the 4. Dylan Thompson punched it in from there and Christian Underwood hit the extra point.

Neither of Lake Hamilton’s units could score and each managed just one more first down on the second set of possessions.

Kimbrell and Ferguson hooked up for another big gain, but Lake Hamilton’s Donnell West clubbed the ball out of Ferguson’s hands and recovered it after a 43-yard gain. Resetting at the 25, Cabot went 75 yards in nine plays for another score, but the PAT failed after a bad snap.

Cabot almost scored on the last play again when Chris Henry broke loose for 59 yards to the 5-yard line. From there, Schulte hit a 22-yard field goal.

The Panthers’ second string chewed up big chunks of yards to start their next possession, but Jason Shrunk lost a fumble after an 8-yard gain to stop the drive after 48 yards on six plays.

Whisker broke loose for 40 yards on the second play of the next set of downs. Bell kept for 14, Thompson gained seven and Whisker got the last five for another Cabot touchdown.

EDITORIAL >> Healing rift is under way

The healing process has begun in the rift that pitted Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher against the city’s chamber of commerce over how the city should approach economic development.

When the mayor took office, he slashed funding for the chamber, which he saw as not being aggressive enough to attract businesses to the city.

Fletcher instead hired an Oklahoma-based consultant who promised to do better. Years later, the well-compensated Rickey Hayes has accomplished nothing more than a sandwich shop that was already in the process of opening several locations in central Arkansas.

The mayor and Hayes, who works from home with little oversight and has no ties to Jacksonville’s business community, have promised that they would soon make a deal to build a major big-box retailer and chain restaurants. Those deals have apparently fallen through.

When Hayes was hired, many longtime Jacksonville chamber members felt betrayed. The mayor had unintentionally alienated the city’s business community. It was a rough start for a new mayor who’d only hoped to reroute some city money and bring in some new businesses.

If the out-of-state consultant had gotten better results, Fletcher would have been able to tout it as a major success and silence his critics.

It’s time for the mayor to cut his losses with Hayes and re-establish a partnership with the chamber. This feud has divided the city long enough, and Hayes has had his chance.

Both sides have extended an olive branch. During a recent town-hall meeting to discuss expanding alcohol sales in Jacksonville, the mayor and Roger Sundermeier, a longtime chamber devotee, unveiled a new marketing campaign: Jacksonville Soaring Higher Together, emphasizing the new effort to move past the divisions and focus on what can be accomplished by working together.

The mayor and chamber members know that Jacksonville has a promising future, but that it will take a lot of work to accomplish its goals such as creating its own school district, building a veterans home, reinvigorating city festivals and opening businesses.

As the divisiveness subsides, we look forward to seeing the city and chamber get back to work.

TOP STORY >> Kamikaze survivor lives to 100

Leader staff writer

John Derickson, the owner and co-founder of Hiwasse Manufacturing in Jacksonville, turned 100 years old on Thursday.

Family, friends, employees and former workers enjoyed a picnic lunch at the plant to celebrate Derickson’s birthday. He is known to many of his employees simply as “Mr. D.”

Derickson founded the company more than 65 years ago.

The North Little Rock resident drove to his plant on Redmond Road every day, until a stroke slowed him down two years ago.

“I’ve lived a simple life. I don’t drink. In the Navy, I drank a little beer. I am happy I got to make it to 100. I would like to make it to 101, but it is up to God. I can’t complain. I’ve had a good life,” Derickson said. His mother, Hilda, lived to be 102 years old.

Derickson continued, “I am quite religious, believe in God. He has been good to me. I intend to live a Christian life for the rest of my days.”

When he was younger, Derickson traveled extensively, including a trip to China, he said.

Derickson has been married to his wife, Jerrie, for 59 years and has three children. He was born in Red Wing, Minn., on Aug. 22, 1913.

Derickson remembered his parents leaving for Arkansas in a covered wagon.

His family moved to Leslie in Searcy County when he was a youngster. Derickson graduated high school in 1930 and would have attended college but, his son Richard explained, the Great Depression hit.

Instead Derickson went to trade school in Chicago to learn about the electrical field. He worked for Burgess Battery Company.

During World War II, Derickson joined the Navy at age 28 after learning his parents received a letter from the Selective Service.

He was an electrician specialist on a destroyer in the Pacific during the war, where he survived a Kamikaze attack on the ship. Japanese pilots killed themselves as they slammed into U.S. ships out of desperation.

Derickson said a gunner hit the plane, and the plane broke apart as it hit the back of the ship.

“I put four years in the Navy. I had some really close calls. It was me or someone else,” he said.

The war ended just a few weeks before his 32nd birthday.

Derickson retired as a chief. He also wears a cap that says he is a Kamikaze survivor.

In 1946, after the war, Derickson became a sales representative for Thurman Supply Company in Little Rock.

He met his business partner, Roy Hackett, when they roomed together at a house in Little Rock.

The two began their business in 1947. Hackett lived in Jacksonville, and that is where the company was located.

The business was set up in an old carpentry shop where city hall stands today.

According to the company’s website, Hiwasse is a Cherokee word for pleasant place or sunny spot.

At the beginning, Derick-son and Hackett wanted to make lawn furniture, but steel was not available. They used aluminum instead to make a variety of products, including caskets, pogo sticks, travel trailers and awnings.

Hiwasse’s main product today is producing trim and decorative pieces for washers, dryers, stoves, ovens and portable kitchens for appliance manufacturers such as GE and Maytag.

Derickson’s son, Richard, is the company’s president.

“I am lucky I have Richard. We need more business.Richard is working, but if half is what is promised, we’ll have plenty,” Derickson said.

Hiwasse has 23 employees but hopes to rehire some later this year when the economy improves and demand for new appliances increases.

David Norman of Little Rock worked at Hiwasse 47 years. He said he is semi-retired, helping to take care of Derickson.

“It’s been a good job, made money for my family. I went through the ups and the downs of the business,” Norman said.

He added that Derickson treated his employees well.

One of the highlights of Thursday’s celebration was an energetic performance by a lithesome belly dancer.

Derickson said, “She was unbelievably good. We had a belly dancer 20 years ago (for my 80th birthday), but she was not in the class as this one here.”

Jacksonville aldermen Kenny Elliott and Bill Howard presented Derickson with a ceremonial key to the city during the lunch.

TOPSTORY >> Power lines hit often across U.S.

Leader editor

“More than a decade into the new millennium, it’s still Sept. 10, 2001, in America.”

— David Omick

Whoever sabotaged the extra-high voltage transmission lines last week in Holland Bottoms in Cabot knew what he was doing.

Not only did the vandalism hit close to home, but here’s something else that might scare you: Such attacks occur in the U.S. almost every week.

David Omick runs a website called Operation Circuit Breaker and is an expert on the vulnerability of power lines. He told us Tuesday, “First, what is surprising about attacks like this is that they’re not more common. The electrical distribution system that we all rely on for dependable power is outdated and inherently vulnerable.

“In this attack, the saboteur obviously had knowledge of how to work around electricity,” Omick continued. “It’s difficult to ascertain what his intention was, however, since he could have targeted more vulnerable components with less risk to himself. If he had, this attack could have been significantly more disruptive.”

He thinks power lines need better protection. He fears a terrorist attack could knock out power in entire cities and states.

According to his website, a small group with “minimal skills, technical expertise or financial assets” could easily exploit these unsecured power lines, resulting in a huge number of casualties and causing economic devastation.

“A society,” Omick warns, “that fails to identify and correct such vulnerabilities before they become targets, does so at its peril.”

The public is often kept in the dark (no pun intended) about these attacks because utilities don’t want the publicity — although Entergy did notify law enforcement and the media right after the Cabot tower was snapped.

The FBI has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

What worries power companies and law enforcement is how easy it is to bring down a transmission tower along with the power lines. You can get instructions on the Internet.

Fortunately, no one was hurt and the electricity stayed on in Cabot, but the saboteur probably didn’t even have to check the Internet: He must have worn the right protective clothing to keep from getting electrocuted, or at least that’s what one expert told us.

The culprit, who may have brought a ladder with him, climbed up the 100-foot tower and cut a steel shackle that holds one set of power lines to the tower arm, causing the wires to drop. He then attached a cable to the electrical tower and ran the cable across the Union Pacific railroad tracks, hoping a moving train would bring down the tower, which runs from Holland Bottoms to Keo.

A train snagged the cable and caused the upper portion of the electrical tower to bend. Entergy’s safety features rerouted the electricity. There were no injuries or outages.

“Bringing down a high-voltage power line wouldn’t be difficult for someone who knows how,” a utility contractor who works on electrical lines told The Leader last week.

“With the right gloves and a special suit, the energy goes around you. But without the right equipment and the knowledge, you’re dead, fried internally,” he said.

According to a recent congressional report, “The transmission network is the part of the power system of greatest concern because it is highly vulnerable to attack, and the consequences can be great. The lines themselves are essentially impossible to protect because they extend many thousands of miles, often in sparsely populated areas.”

A previous congressional report titled “Physical Vulnerability of Electric Systems to Natural Disasters and Sabotage,” cites several attacks: an average of 39 a year, from Kentucky to Montana, from West Virginia to Wyoming. Many of the attacks are a result of labor disputes or youngsters playing pranks.

Somebody out there is plotting another attack like the one in Cabot last week. Let’s hope he’s caught before he disrupts a whole community.

Someone needs to invite David Omick to a congressional hearing on the vulnerability of power lines. Sen. Mark Pryor, Rep. Tim Griffin, Rep. Rick Crawford — are you listening?

TOP STORY >> Veterans-home site never chemical plant

Leader staff writer

The land that Jacksonville is offering for a state veterans’ home has never been the site for a chemical plant as erroneously described by a chamber of commerce official in a presentation to the veterans task force that will choose the home’s location.

There are at least two rumors circulating about the drive to get Jacksonville’s site selected for the new $25 million state veterans’ home. One is that the home will be used for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and the other that it was used as a chemical plant. Both are wrong.

The most damaging rumor is that Vertac Chemical Corp. owned the 57 acres off General Samuels Road near Swift Road that Jacksonville is offering to donate for the project.

“It’s not, never has been and therefore there’s no need to talk about it. It’s just pouring gas on something there’s no fire on,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said.

The rumor sprang from the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s proposal, listing “chemical facility” as a previous use of the property.

Chamber director Amy Mattison said Pulaski Industrial Park owned the land.

The for-profit corporation filed its last paperwork with the secretary of state’s office in 1963. Kenneth Pat Wilson, founder of First Arkansas Bank and Trust, was president of the corporation.

The mayor said Pulaski Industrial Park was a group of business people who sought to establish an industrial park in Jacksonville. An industrial park is an area zoned and planned for the purpose of industrial development.

When asked whether there ever was a chemical plant on the proposed site, Mattison said her research so far has shown, “There was not one there…There was never anything on there.”

She said, “I can’t answer that,” when asked why chemical facility was listed as a previous use on the proposal that bears her signature on the first of its 13 pages.

Mattison said the chamber is working to retrieve a title search through the county assessor’s office. The search will provide a more detailed history of the property.

In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency found that Vertac’s land on Marshall Road was contaminated with dioxin, a toxic waste. The property was cleaned up in 1998 with $150 million from the federal Superfund program.

The proposed site for the veterans’ home is mostly flat, undeveloped timberland. It shares a border with the Vertac site, but was not owned by the company, Mattison said. It was not a contaminated site.

A second rumor is that the veterans’ home will be a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center like Fort Roots in North Little Rock.

State Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) said that’s not true. It will be a nursing home-type facility, she noted last week.

English did not return calls about whether having “chemical facility” on the city’s proposal would affect its chances of being selected.

Jacksonville’s proposal says that the veterans’ home could serve up to 150 veterans as a nursing home or an assisted living facility that could provide dementia care, day care and/or hospice care.

The state has applied for an $18.1 million federal matching grant to construct the facility. Arkansas lawmakers have agreed to use $7.5 million in surplus funds to match the grant.

Jacksonville’s proposed site, which is zoned for light commercial use, is about a mile from the front gate of Little Rock Air Force Base.

It has electricity, a telephone line, the ability to connect to high-speed Internet, water, sewer and gas lines.

A phase I environmental study has been completed, and the proposal includes a letter from the mayor.

The mayor wrote that the site would be shovel ready if Jacksonville were selected for the project.

The proposed site is just two miles north of Hwy. 67/167 and five miles from Hwy. 440. The city is 15 miles north of Hwys. 40 and 30.

North Metro Medical Center is 1.19 miles south. Jacksonville Medical Clinic is one block north of the hospital. The clinic has 11 primary care physicians.

The Jacksonville Fire Department’s Central Station is 2.2 miles south.

The John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital is 18.1 miles south.

There is a Central Arkansas Transit bus stop about a block away and could be nearer.

City officials say the site meets all of the state’s criteria and could easily accommodate a cottage-style, branch/wing-style or pod-style veterans’ home with a pond.

Four other sites — in Benton, Fort Smith, Russellville and Searcy — are being considered.

The veterans’ home would create at least 100 jobs, so competition for the project is fierce.

A 22-member task force led by English and formed by the state legislature this year selected the sites in Jacksonville, Benton, Fort Smith and Russellville as the best of 61 proposals the group received.

Another group, the Arkansas Veterans Commission, announced last week that it would be looking at Searcy’s site.

Searcy turned in a proposal weeks after a June deadline set by the task force.

The 15-member commission, unlike the task force, was created after World War II.

The commission and the task force are making recommendations to Cissy Rucker, the state Department of Veterans Affairs director. She will have the final say on which site is selected.

Rucker has said she would look at other sites proposed between now and when she makes the final decision.