Saturday, November 09, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> State champions show new faces

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville High School’s basketball season got under way Tuesday night as the varsity boys and girls took the floor for the teams’ annual Red-White exhibition games at the Devils’ Den.

Both the Red Devils and Lady Red Devils won last season’s class 5A state championship, and even though some players are back from those championship teams, for the most part, each team has a lot of new faces that are hoping to build off of last season’s success and create their own basketball legacy at JHS.

The Lady Red Devils took the floor first and played three quarters of competitive basketball. The Red team got off to a quick 5-0 start, but the White team scored the next 14 points and took the exhibition by the final score of 30-23.

The boys’ game was similar in that aspect, as the Red team got off to a fast start, but the White team wearing black jerseys finished the four-quarter exhibition with an and-one play by returning starter Sergio Berkley to win bragging rights by the score of 54-53.

Berkley was one of the few recognizable faces on the floor for the Red Devils, and he finished the exhibition with a high of 30 points. However, a lot of the new faces on the floor for the Red Devils showed promise, and it may not take too long for the JHS boys to become state title contenders yet again.

“We’re starting over,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner. “They’re athletic and they’re trying to find chemistry, but I’m still learning them. They’re learning me. I mean, it’s a feeling out process every day I see them in practice.

“We need to get into some games and see how to put these pieces together. We’re athletic and we have our moments, but we have to fit it together. In order to win a title or even play for one, there are a lot of little bitty pieces that have to fit.”

Even though the Jacksonville boys added a few more players to their roster with the school’s football season ending yesterday, the Red Devils are still a pretty young team, and even though there’s talent there, Joyner is eager to see how his group will play together as a team once the regular season begins next week.

“I’m not trying to compare us to Miami (Heat),” Joyner said, “but look what Miami did as soon as they put them all together. Look what the Lakers did when they put (Gary) Payton, (Karl) Malone and all of them together. They were all All-Stars, but you can’t just put a bunch of players on one team and say ‘hey, go win it.’

“There’s a lot of give and take – a lot of sacrifice. There’s only one ball and it’s hard, and right now that’s where we’re at. We’ve got good players, a good nucleus, but right now it’s all over the place. We just have to learn to get it together before January. That’s the key.”

Joyner added that his team was chomping at the bits to play in front of a game-type atmosphere like the one Tuesday, and other than Berkley, Devin Campbell, Tedrick Wolfe, Braylon James, Kanaan Jackson, Marice Young and Tyree Appleby each put together solid scoring performances in their time on the floor.

In the girls’ game, Keke Alcorn and Tiffany Smith led the way offensively for the Lady Red Devils. Alcorn scored the majority of her 11 points early in the game as she led the White team to a bragging rights victory in the exhibition, but Smith kept it close with her play down the stretch. Smith’s 13 points led the Red team.

Like Joyner is with his team, Lady Red Devils’ coach William Rountree is still trying to get a feel for his new group of players. This is Rountree’s first year as the Lady Red Devils’ coach. He was hired in the summer to replace former coach Katrina Mimms, who resigned after last season’s state championship.

Rountree was hired as the Jacksonville girls’ coach after spending eight seasons as the head coach of the Carlisle High School boys’ basketball team. He never had a losing season during his tenure leading the Bison.

“I thought the kids played hard,” said Rountree after the exhibition. “I didn’t have any problem with the effort. Any time you split up your squad, there’s going to be a little of this or that offensively, but the effort was good. I thought overall the enthusiasm was good.

“It is what it is. It’s an intra-squad scrimmage, and we’ll all come back in the morning and look to get better.”

In addition to Smith and Alcorn, Rountree was complimentary of the play of Antrice McCoy, Ashli Evans and Sacha Richardson. Rountree did say he’d like to get Richardson more involved offensively, something he said the team will work on before the regular season begins.

Before opening their regular season at home against West Memphis in a nonconference game on Nov. 15, the Lady Red Devils will host a jamboree today, and play two quarters against Little Rock Central and two quarters against Sylvan Hills. Rountree hopes to see more improvement in those exhibition games in order to gear up for the regular-season opener.

“We’ve got several young players that I think are going to be good players,” Rountree said. “We had a couple that didn’t shoot it as well as they would normally shoot it. They were probably a little nervous, but they’re going to be good players.

“I liked our crowd. There’s a lot of enthusiasm here for basketball. Of course, it’s no secret this is a basketball hot bed. It always has been, and the girls did what everyone aspires to do last year. We hope we still have a lot of carryover from that, but I thought our fans showed up well in numbers, and it was good.”

SPORTS STORY >> Batesville pounds Beebe again

Leader sportswriter

Senior night was a bust for Beebe as visiting Batesville piled it on in a 45-14 Pioneer victory at Bro Erwin Stadium on Friday to wrap up the 5A East Conference championship with an unbeaten record.

Beebe (5-5, 4-3) was not able to establish momentum offensively due to an irksome Pioneer defensive line that invaded the line of scrimmage quickly off the ball and held the Badgers to short gains and some plays for losses.

With the victory, Batesville will enter next week’s 5A state playoffs as the No. 1 seed out of the 5A East with a home playoff game, while the Badgers will have to go on the road as the No. 4 seed out of the East. Beebe will play Alma, which went through the 5A West conference unbeaten to earn the top seed.

Batesville (8-2, 7-0) cashed in on a series of big plays, but also did its share of clock management with sustained drives. The Pioneers scored on all five of their first-half drives to take a commanding 31-7 lead at halftime, and put the game away with two more touchdowns in the second half, including their final one with 4:52 remaining to put the score at 45-7 and start the sportsmanship-timing rule.

“We knew they were real good coming in,” Beebe coach John Shannon said. “Hats off to them. They do a fantastic job each and every year. They play us tough every year. It’s very tough for us to move the football. We were really short handed tonight, but it would have been tough even if we were 100 percent against Batesville. They’re a really good football team.”

The Badgers did catch a lucky break that resulted in their biggest offensive play of the night when junior quarterback Micah Dubois threw a pass to senior receiver Jesse Crisco that was tipped by Batesville defender Eli Childress. The pass was initially off target, but the tip by Childress gave Crisco time to adjust and come back to the ball, and from there, he went 60 yards to give Beebe its first score with 7:02 remaining in the first half and cut the Pioneers’ lead to 17-7.

Batesville loaded the box against Beebe’s Dead-T offense most of the night, but the Pioneers still had enough team speed to deny the outside option game. The Badgers tried the option with no success in both halves on sweeps that ended up for no gain or lost yardage.

“We’ve got to be able to run the option,” Shannon said. “We didn’t do a very good job tonight. We’ve got to get better at it, because when you face teams this time of year, they’re all pretty good teams, and if all you can do is run off tackle and the dive, good teams can take that away. You’ve got to have that third option.”

Badger fans did get a glimpse of the future in the final minute as Shannon began using some of the freshmen players who moved up from the ninth-grade team. The junior Badgers clinched a conference championship earlier in the week, and five of those standouts dressed out on Friday night for the first time.

That included fullback Xavier Jones, who put the final points up for Beebe when he scored from 12 yards out with 1:55 to go to make it 45-14 after Tyler Jones added a point-after kick.

“Those ninth graders did a good job,” Shannon said. “They won their conference championship Tuesday night, and we feel like they’re going to be a really good group. Any time we feel like we have ninth graders who are physically ready to move up and help us, we’re going to give them a shot.

“Xavier, he’s a special kid. You don’t see too many ninth graders who are 6-4 and 230 pounds like that. Hopefully, we’ll have him for a few more years to go along with what we’ve already got coming back.”

Batesville settled for a 32-yard field goal by Osvaldo Espericueta on its first drive to take an early 3-0 lead, and extended it to 10-0 early in the second quarter on a 50-yard touchdown run by Jaylen Haynes. Childress made it 17-0 when he scored from 36 yards out on a rush at the 8:26 mark of the second quarter.

Quarterback Kenton Crawford found Riley Caroway for a 46-yard touchdown just over two minutes later, and Crawford called his own number in the closing seconds of the half on a 13-yard touchdown run that made it 31-7 at intermission.

Sophomore Trip Smith led the Badgers offensively with 29 carries for 146 yards. Beebe had 216 yards of total offense. For Batesville, Haynes led all rushers with 8 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Crawford was 5 of 10 passing for 119 yards and two touchdowns. The Pioneers had 464 yards of total offense.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears roll through Falcons in finale

Leader sports editor

The good news is that North Pulaski closed its final regular-season game by scoring 19 unanswered points. The bad news is that it trailed 48-0 when it went on its run that ended a 48-19 loss to Sylvan Hills on Thursday at Falcon Stadium.

Still, ending the game and the season on such a positive note is a small bit on which the team can begin to build for next season.

“I’ve always said since I got here that turning this thing around was going to hinge on the freshmen,” said North Pulaski coach Teodis Ingram. “We’re a junior-heavy team. Those freshmen will be seniors next year so we’re still looking for that turnaround. This was at least a small thing to start it off with.”

The last two of those three unanswered touchdowns were against Sylvan Hills backups. The first was a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by senior Steven Farrior, who had a 50-yard return on the prior kickoff, but fumbled it away during the run.

North Pulaski dressed out only 23 players for the game with 14 sitting out due to injuries. Nine Falcons suffered season-ending injuries this year.

Bears’ coach Jim Withrow, knowing the Falcons had struggled even before the injuries, and had a badly depleted roster, decided to try to use the final game to work on aspects of the offense that had been lacking as the team gets ready for the playoffs.

Despite being such heavy favorites, he wasn’t sure how things would go on Thursday.

“We didn’t have a very good week of practice,” said Withrow. “To be honest, I was a little worried.”

Those worries were put to rest early in the game. Quarterback Trajan Doss completed five of 11 pass attempts for 101 yards and a touchdown, and ran seven times for 133 yards and three touchdowns. All passing yards were to Elijah Sowards and Nathan Thomas. Sowards caught two passes for 53 yards while Thomas caught two passes for 48 and a touchdown.

“I was pleasantly surprised with how we came out and executed because we just didn’t look good on Monday and Tuesday,” Withrow said. “Tra played a great game. We blocked well. The receivers ran good routes. The starters played a good game.”

The Bears got the ball first and kept it on the ground. They went 54 yards in eight plays. The big one a 26-yard run on third and 7 by Doss that gave Sylvan Hills first and goal at the 2-yard line.

The Falcons went three and out on their first possession, and the Bears took to the air on their next drive.

Doss hit three-straight passes and the drive took just 36 seconds. Starting from its own 45, Sylvan Hills got 15 yards on a catch by Thomas, 17 more to Sowards and the rest to Thomas again. The extra point made it 14-0 with 7:10 left in the first quarter.

The score stayed that way the rest of the first as North Pulaski was able to put together a couple of decent drives, but fumbled once at the Sylvan Hills 13 and gave it up on downs inside Bears’ territory on another drive.

On the second play of the second quarter, Doss kept on the read option and appeared to be stopped for no gain. Forward progress had stopped and players all stopped the action thinking the play was over.

That is all players but Doss. Noticing there had been no whistle, Doss came out of the pile up having never been taken down, looped around to the opposite side of the field and raced 42 yards before being caught by Kalise Vines at the 15-yard line. Three plays later, tailback Marlon Clemmons ran in from 7 yards out to make it 21-0 with 10:56 left in the half.

After another NP three and out, Doss threw two incompletions before hitting Sowards for a 36-yard gain to the 28. Doss got that all on the next play to make it 28-0 with 9:12 left in the half.

The Falcons got one first down on their next drive, but punted again. The Bears started at their own 33 and went that distance in seven plays, with Doss again getting loose for 26 yards and the score with 4:36 remaining.

There were still five touchdowns in the second half despite the sportsmanship clock running the entire time. Farrior’s fumble at the end of a long kickoff return set up a fast two-play drive by the Bears that made it 42-0. Sophomore running back Fred Williams capped the drive with a 37-yard run right up the middle.

The Bears’ next score was a 28-yard run by Quincy Flowers with 4:20 left in the third quarter that made it 48-0 with the missed extra point.

That’s when Farrior got his kickoff return. The Falcons held Sylvan Hills to consecutive possessions without a first down, and scored after both of them.

The first was a 1-yard run by quarterback Michael Barnes, set up by a 28-yard scamper by Vines.

On the next drive, Barnes hit Tracy Reed for 16 yards up the middle on third and 6 to keep the drive alive. Vines got the rest, scoring from 15 yards out to set the final margin with 1:37 remaining in the game.

Vines led North Pulaski with 17 carries for 92 yards. The Falcons had 168 total yards to 378 for the Bears.

Sylvan Hills will play at Hope at 7 p.m. next Friday in the first round of the class 5A playoffs.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers win outright title

Leader sports editor

When Cabot led 31-0 in the second quarter on Friday at Lion Stadium in Searcy, all indications were that it would be another mercy rule blowout against an overmatched 6A team, but that never materialized as Searcy battled evenly with the Panthers the rest of the game. Cabot still won 44-14, finished the regular season undefeated and clinched an outright conference championship and a number one seed in the playoffs, but head coach Mike Malham didn’t seem like an entirely pleased coach at the end of the game.

“Sometimes when you start out and it’s so easy, you have a little letdown like we did in the first half,” Malham said. “What I was disappointed in was how we came out in the second half. We just didn’t come out sharp at all and they shut us down two times in a row. That hasn’t happened very much this season against anybody, not moving it at all two straight drives. But you know, we’re celebrating a conference championship so we’re not going to rain on it too much right now.”

Everything was easy for Cabot in the first quarter. The Panthers forced a three and out to start the game and went 55 yards in two plays for the first score. Quarterback Kason Kimbrell kept for 15 yards on the first snap, and the halfback dive to Chris Henry got the rest with 10:14 left in the first quarter.

Searcy got one first down thanks to a Cabot penalty on third and 5 on its next drive, but punted from its own 30 after that. This time, it took the Panthers 6 plays to again go 55 yards.

Fullback Zach Launius got the key play, a 31-yard burst up the middle to the 12-yard line. Three plays later, Henry scored from 3 yards out with 4:05 left in the opening quarter.

After another defensive stop, Cabot was on its way to the goal line again. Halfback Dylan Thompson broke loose for a 20-yard gain, but was stripped at the 5 and Searcy recovered on its own 3-yard line.

Another three-and-out got the Panthers’ offense the ball again early in the second quarter, and it went 54 yards in seven plays to go up 21-0. Kimbrell found receiver Jake Ferguson open for a 39-yard reception to the 6-yard line on the fifth play of the drive. Kimbrell kept for the final 2 yards with 8:11 left in the half.

The Lions put together their best drive of the first half on the ensuing possession. Ferguson helped the home team out with a personal foul penalty that put it at the Cabot 22, but the Lions couldn’t capitalize.

Electing to go for the first down on fourth and 4 at the 16, quarterback Christian Reynolds was bottled up for a 1-yard gain and Cabot took possession at its own 15.

On the first play of the ensuing possession, halfback Preston Jones broke loose for a 74-yard gain to the Lion 11. After one incomplete pass, Jones took another handoff and went the final 11 yards for the score. Trevor Reed’s extra point made it 28-0 with 2:28 left in the first half, but the scoring was far from over.

Cabot used its three timeouts on defense to get the ball back. A 30-yard punt return by Henry gave Cabot the ball at the Searcy 21-yard line with 2:00 on the clock, but they had to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Reed with 1:02 remaining that made it 31-0.

Reed’s next kickoff was the first one of the game that didn’t go into the end zone for a touchback, and there was a heavy price to pay. Searcy’s Karonce Higgins fielded the kick at the 3-yard line and ran straight up the middle between the hash marks 97 yards for the score to make it 31-7 with 46 seconds remaining.

Cabot started the next possession from its own 27, but picked up 59 yards on the first play when Kimbrell hit Ferguson on a short slant. The first defender missed with no safety in the backfield, allowing Ferguson to get to the 14-yard line.

The officials tacked on another 7 for a horse-collar tackle and another three and a half after that for lining up off-sides. Kimbrell then hit Henry on a 3-yard rollout pass with 11 seconds left, but the extra point was no good, leaving it 37-7 at halftime.

Cabot went three and out on the first possession of the second half, and Searcy drove 50 yards in seven plays to make it 37-14 with 6:55 left in the third quarter. Tailback Anthony Arnold finally found some daylight on the read option handoff, and rumbled up the middle for 30 yards and the score.

The two teams traded possessions before Cabot got its only touchdown of the second half on its third drive. It was a seven-play, 70-yard drive with Launius picking up 50 of it on the fifth play. The extra point set the final margin with 11:46 remaining in the game.

Cabot finished with 454 yards of offense, but only 115 in the second half. Searcy had 127 yards in the second half and finished with 186 total.

Launius was again the yardage leader with 11 carries for 112 yards, though he got 81 yards on two of those carries and was bottled up most of the night.

“They were gambling quite a bit on defense to stop that fullback and they guessed right a few times,” Malham said. “Of course you saw when they guessed wrong, Launius burned them.”

Cabot also had a rare 100-yard receiver. Ferguson caught three passes for 104 yards. Kimbrell completed four of eight attempts for 107 and one touchdown. Henry had three carries for 47 yards and two touchdowns and one catch for 3 yards and a score.

Jones had three carries for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Cabot gets a first-round bye in the state playoffs and won’t be back in action until Nov. 22 when it hosts next Friday’s winner between Fayetteville and Little Rock Central.

Friday, November 08, 2013

EDITORIAL >> City is facing fiscal crunch

Jacksonville is facing its most serious financial challenges in decades. Mayor Gary Fletcher this week informed the city council that $2.95 million will have to be cut from next year’s budget.

All city departments are likely to take a hit, which will almost certainly affect services to residents.

The financial problems have been spurred on by a weak economy and poor census results that cut $1 million in federal turnback money for Jacksonville in 2011. That hurt. Also, the mayor is determined to make much-needed improvements, though those ambitions have stretched the city’s budget ever since he took office in 2009.

An expensive police- and fire-training facility, a new police department, a beautification project on Main and James streets, and now the new sports-shooting facility on Graham Road — all are valuable upgrades, but perhaps they could have been completed decades ago when the city was doing better economically.

Did the scope, scale and timing of these projects wreak havoc on the city’s finances? Simply put: too much, too soon, but you can’t fault the mayor for an ambitious agenda, including a $3 million shooting range on Graham Road, although the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation is paying two-thirds of the cost. Good for them and us.

For the last two years, Jacksonville has used its reserves to avoid cutting budgets of the various city departments. Officials had hoped to rely on the city’s coffers temporarily and see a boost in sales-tax receipts. But tax collections are flat, and it’s uncertain if those will pick up pace.

Fletcher told the city council Thursday, “We’ve got to tighten our belts up….We’re going to have to bite the bullet here to get a hold on it. You (the aldermen) are going to have to learn to say no…This is the ugly part of being an elected official.”

One option to address the shortfall is taking a 10-year bond issue to voters. Fletcher said the bond would not be a new tax but would restructure the city’s debts into smaller monthly obligations and free up cash flow.

During a recent Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission meeting, its members considered auditing restaurants and hotels because they suspect business owners are shortchanging the city on hamburger tax. (That’s the two-cent sales tax on prepared foods and hotel rooms.) The commission’s options on how it spends those funds are limited to city festivals, other cultural events and advertising. Much of the hamburger-tax revenue is given to the Sells Agency, a Little Rock-based public-relations firm, which uses its $150,000 annual contract to purchase a handful of TV commercials and a few billboards.

In a concession, after the contract was criticized in these pages, the A&P commission proposed giving the Sells Agency $100,000 next year. That’s still a big waste of money.

No other city in The Leader’s coverage area employs a public-relations firm, especially since local chambers of commerce should promote their own cities without outside help.

Money collected in Jacksonville should be spent here. Providing substantial funding for the new city festival would be a start. The A&P commission plans to give Festiville only $20,000 next year.

Next year, the A&P will have $880,700 to spend. It saved $230,000 to help pay for the shooting facility and will pitch in another $180,00 next year. That will be a shot in the arm for the local economy as thousands of shooting enthusiasts are expected to attend tournaments here starting next year.

City council members, who are mostly quiet during their meetings, need to start inquiring about budget planning and the necessity of some of the city’s expenses. Mayor Fletcher, who was an outspoken alderman for decades, cannot improve the city without an inquisitive and vocal council to guide him.

The city council also needs to emphasize that, while budgets are being slashed, the mayor should cancel the contract with Rickey Hayes, an Oklahoma-based economic-development consultant who has yet to bring a major business to Jacksonville. The mayor has mostly ignored critics of Hayes’ contract and has apparently decided to continue the deal despite the budget shortfalls.

If restaurants and hotel owners are going to be audited by the city because of suspicions and rumors about their supposed dishonesty, officials must demonstrate that they will spend that money wisely.

It won’t be easy, but the city can balance the budget while making improvements. First, city council members must show an interest by asking questions, taking a position and planning for the future. They can start now by balancing the budget.

TOPS STORY >> Knight runs for Dist. 41 seat

Leader staff writer

Danny Knight of Sherwood announced this week he is running as a Democrat for the state House Dist. 41 seat held by term-limited Jim Nickels.

The area Knight would represent if elected is Sherwood, parts of Jacksonville and parts of North Little Rock.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to be part of the political process,” Knight said in an interview with The Leader.

He railed against partisanship, saying, “If we’re not careful, we’re getting to the point where it’s an us-against-them process, not a for-the-people process…You’re only as strong as those you work with. Times are hard enough without infighting.”

Knight, 67, is a retired public educator with 42 years of experience. The Dermott native served as superintendent of the Watson Chapel School District in Pine Bluff for 25 years. In 1994, Knight was named Arkansas Superintendent of the Year. He was also superintendent at Gould for 17 years. At age 24, Knight was the youngest superintendent in the state.

He said there has been more partisanship in the state government than ever over the last two or three years.

One of the partisan bills Knight disagreed with would have restructured the operation of the state Board of Education. The governor appoints the members.

If the bill had passed, the speaker of the House and the Senate pro temp would have been able to appoint all but one of the members with the governor appointing one member.

Knight explained that this was an effort to recognize more charter schools. He said he fought the bill because it would have given public money to entities that don’t have the same accountability as traditional public schools.

But, Knight clarified, he isn’t against charter schools. “(They’re) free to go out of the box. Some charter schools are for profit and that’s wrong. There is nothing wrong with charter schools if they’re there for the right purpose,” Knight said.

In addition to the charter school bill, the candidate said he was opposed to the highway commission’s request for part of the state’s general fund revenue, which it has never received.

Knight explained that there is a dedicated tax for that group to use and giving them a piece of the general fund would have cut services to the elderly as well as education.

He continued, “One of the challenges we’re facing is getting more jobs in this area.” If elected, Knight said he would work closely with the Economic Development Com-mission to bring industry here. The Arkansas Retired Teacher System he is involved with has already taken one step to do that in Northeast Arkansas by investing $60 million to move a state-of-the-art steel mill to Osceola.

Knight said he also helped develop 22 bills that would have saved the state $13.7 billion that was in the Retired Teacher System’s budget.

In the local area, he supports the efforts of Sherwood and Jacksonville to detach from the Pulaski County Special School District.

Knight didn’t take a position on whether those cities should go completely wet — allowing alcohol sales at restaurants, convenience and grocery stores with a special permit – but he did voice support for getting the wet/dry issue on the ballot.

His main platform is one that stresses unity and service.Knight said, “I’m a listener. I want to be with someone doing the grunt work. We need to have unity without blame…You don’t go in with ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.”’

It’s about “we,” he explained. “I just want (voters) to look at me for the person I really am. I want them to see me as a person who cares about people.”

Knight has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Arkansas at Monticello, a master’s degree in secondary education from North Texas State University at Denton and a specialist in education degree from the U of A at Fayetteville.

Knight volunteers with the Arkansas partnership for No Kid Hungry and the Hunger Relief Alliance and is a trustee of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. He is married. The couple has two sons and two daughters.

TOP STORY >> Terrorism charge in power-grid case

A Jacksonville man accused of destroying parts of the power grid in Lonoke County last month was indicted on Wednesday by a federal grand jury on eight counts for the attacks.

Jason Woodring, 37, who is in federal custody, is charged with:

 One count of a terrorist attack against a railroad carrier. During his alleged dismantling of a high-voltage tower on Aug. 21, a power line fell on a nearby railroad track and was later hit by a train. The power line was severed and caused a brief power outage in Cabot. If convicted, Woodring faces up to life in prison and/or not more than five years of supervised release.

 Three counts of destruction of an energy facility. One is for the alleged attempt to destroy the high-voltage tower and the power lines it carried on Aug. 21. One is for a fire set Sept. 29 at an extra-high voltage switching station in Scott. One is for allegedly cutting down two power poles and pulling one down with a stolen tractor on Oct. 6, causing a power outage in Jacksonville. The charge of destruction of an energy facility carries a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

 One count of using fire to commit a felony for Woodring allegedly setting the extra-high voltage station on fire. If convicted, Woodring will have a statutory sentence of 10 years consecutive to the underlying felony.

 One count of maliciously damaging or destroying by fire the extra station building. The charge carries a sentence of five to 20 years in prison.

 One count of possession of an unregistered short-barreled shotgun with an obliterated serial number. If convicted on the count, Woodring will have to forfeit the shotgun.

 As an alleged methamphetamine user, he was charged with being an illegal drug user in possession of two rifles, three shotguns and multiple rounds of ammunition.

If convicted on the count, Woodring will have to forfeit the guns and ammunition. He could also face up to a $250,000 fine for each charge against him.

Attorney Michael Gordon is prosecuting this case for the government.

TOP STORY >> Area schools among those needing improvement

Leader staff writer

Most schools in the area need improvement, according to a recently released list by the state Education Department.

In fact, 90 percent of the state’s schools need improvement.

Only three schools are listed above average or in the “achieving” category. They are Southside Elementary in Cabot, Westside Elementary and Ahlf Junior High, both in Searcy.

Only nine schools across the state made the top category of “exemplary,” and none were from this area.

But two local schools were among the 43 that made the bottom category, “needs improvement priority.” They are Jacksonville High School and Harris Elementary.

Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman takes offense to the state listings, which place most of Cabot’s schools in the middle category, “needs improvement.” He says the designation can be misleading.

“As a district, our scores are strong and our annual measurable objective targets are quite high as a result. In comparison, there are districts in Arkansas whose scores are significantly lower than Cabot’s that are designated as ‘achieving’ because their AMO targets (objectives) are not as high,” the superintendent explained in an open letter to district patrons.

Simply put, a school with low scores has more room to improve than those with high scores like Cabot. Thurman also said part of the ranking problems stem from a change over in teaching methods across the state. Nearly all schools are following a new curriculum based on Common Core standards but are still being tested on the Arkansas state standards, and there are learning gaps between the two.

A school is placed in one of five categories — exemplary, achieving, needs improvement, needs improvement focus and needs improvement priority — based upon its annual benchmark scores.

From the scores, the state sets targets that the schools must reach to be considered achieving or exemplary.

“The better each district performed on the benchmark and end-of-course exams in 2011, the higher the targets were set,” Thurman explained, adding that the target levels will increase again next year.

Two groups are measured in math and literacy to see if a school or district is “achieving.” The first is all students. The second group is students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are economically disadvantaged.

“If a school or district doesn’t meet its annual measurable target in any single category, that school or district is assigned the designation of needs improvement regardless of the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced,” Thurman said.

For example, Stagecoach Elementary’s third graders on the 2013 Benchmark exams were 93 percent proficient or advanced in math and 89 percent did the same in literacy compared to state averages of 86 percent in math and 79 percent in literacy.

The school’s fourth graders were 96 percent proficient or better in math and 90 percent made the cut in literacy.

The state average was 82 percent for math and 85 percent for literacy. Yet the school did not meet its required goals and has been placed in the “needs improvement” category.

Most Cabot schools beat the state averages.

“It is exciting to have our schools recognized as some of the highest overall achieving schools in Arkansas, yet disappointing to be designated as ‘needs improvement’ on the accountability system,” Thurman said.

Here is how the Arkansas Department of Education ranked area schools:




Cabot’s Southside Elementary and Searcy’s Westside Elementary and Ahlf Junior High School.


Lonoke primary, elementary, middle and high schools; England elementary and high schools; Carlisle elementary and high schools; and Sherwood’s Lisa Academy North’s elementary, middle and high schools.

In the Pulaski County Special School District, schools are all Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School campuses, Bayou Meto Elementary, Clin-ton, Warren Dupree, Tolleson, Sherwood, Sylvan Hills, Cato, Pinewood, Arnold Drive and Oakbrooke elementary schools; Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Northwood middle schools; and Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski high schools.

Cabot schools in this category include Eastside, Central, Westside, Ward Central, Mag-ness Creek, Stagecoach and Mountain Springs elementary schools; Cabot Middle School South and North; Cabot Junior High South and North, Cabot High School and Cabot Learning Academy.

Beebe schools that fell into this category were Beebe elementary, middle, junior high and high schools; Badger Elementary; Badger Academy; and Beebe Early Childhood.

In Searcy, it was Sidney Deener and McRae elementary schools, Southwest Middle School and Searcy High School.


Cabot’s Academic Center for Excellence and Murrell Taylor Elementary in Jacksonville.

Needs Improvement Priority

Jacksonville High School and Harris Elementary.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

TOP STORY >> Library eyes $80,000 sculpture

Leader staff writer

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) unveiled plans last week for an $80,000 metal sculpture to be installed at the Esther D. Nixon Library in Jacksonville.

The art will be placed at the front of the building, on the pathway leading patrons from West Main Street to the library’s front doors.

Created by artist Alice Guffey Miller of Monticello, the aluminum art work will be comprised of six octagon- shaped aluminum columns. The hollow columns will have lighting inside to make them glow like jack-o’-lanterns.

Around 500 initials will be cut into the metal columns to represent community leaders, students and library patrons.

The first two columns will be 8 feet tall, followed by two 10-foot tall columns and two 12-foot tall columns.

The pillars will lead the way to the whimsical girl holding a book that will complete the artwork.

CALS director Bobby Roberts said the plan is to have a sculpture for all of the library system’s buildings within the next 10 years.

Roberts said CALS will be providing $32,000 to install and finish the piece at Nixon Library.

That amount is 1 percent of the cost of the $3.2 million Nixon library building.

The remaining money needed for the sculpture will be collected through fundraising efforts, larger donations from local philanthropists and smaller amounts from what people can afford to give, officials say.

No timetable was given for when the metalwork would be installed, as funding is needed first.

A miniature of the work can be viewed in one the display cases in the library’s lobby. And the public is encouraged to leave comments on the project at the library.

A CALS committee selected Miller’s project from four submissions. The criteria for the art sculpture project were to use an Arkansas artist if possible, that the piece be unique and creative, that the work involve the public and that it be something the community is interested in.

“Every project is different. The scale has to be right for the building,” Roberts said.

The columns reflect the architecture of the Nixon Library.

CALS board of trustees Jacksonville representative Kirby Miraglia said, “We all loved Alice’s work. She was great about getting feedback. We love our city and want to stay involved with it.”

The mayor said, “I like it. I’m ready to see the lady dancing on Main Street.”

Miller’s metal work of eight dancers and a fiddler can be seen at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.

Her art is also on display at the Bernice Sculpture Garden at 1401 S. Main St., Little Rock.

And, several years ago, Miller created two concrete dragon sculptures and a sitting area at a courtyard of Cabot Middle School South.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood pushes wet-vote petition

Leader staff writer

Sherwood is putting its drive to become completely wet into third gear, according to chamber of commerce executive director Marcia Cook.

“We’re excited to report that our plans of putting the economic development issue on a ballot to allow restaurants/grocery stores to sell alcohol in currently dry areas of Sherwood are moving along nicely,” she said.

“We will have volunteers out in neighborhoods this weekend knocking on doors and asking for signatures,” Cook continued, adding that volunteers are still needed.

“We’re asking for 50 people to go door-to-door by twos in two-hour shifts from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday or Sunday,” the chamber director said.

The signatures don’t mean that the half of the city that is dry (no alcohol sales, unless by special state permit) will instantly be allowed to sell alcohol. The petition merely asks for a vote on the issue.

Sherwood is about 50 percent dry. The dry area is pretty much everything north of the east- and west-running Maryland Avenue, with the Bayou Meto forming the eastern boundary. Maryland Avenue is on the south, Batesville Pike is on the west and the county line is to the north.

A study by the University of Arkansas figures Sherwood is losing out on about $10 million a year in local sales because of the dry section in the city.

By going wet, the number of liquor stores will not increase, according to backers. A vote to go wet would only allow businesses, like restaurants, to sell alcohol by the drink. It also could bring beer and wine to convenience stores and bigger businesses, like Walmart. Right now, depending on where those businesses are, most residents won’t see a big change, Cook said.

Sherwood is one of four areas in Pulaski County that are dry.

Another area is Park Hill in North Little Rock, and wet supporters there garnered enough signatures to have a special election Nov. 12 on the issue.

Jacksonville, also working toward a wet vote, is 90 percent dry.

Sherwood and Jacksonville are split on alcohol sales being allowed because Gray Township, which encompassed large areas of both cities, voted in 1954, and again in 1956, to go dry — not allowing any alcohol sales unless a private-club permit was issued.

That political entity doesn’t exist anymore, and a law passed by the 2013 legislature allows for residents in those old political areas to vote on whether they want to stay dry or go wet.

For Sherwood to have the vote, volunteers need to collect about 4,200 signatures. Jacksonville needs about 4,400.

“We are shooting for 5,000 or more signatures,” Cook said, “as there are always some duplicates and invalid signatures.”

Unlike Jacksonville, which has seen a lot of anti-liquor campaigning already, Cook said there has been very little vocal opposition in Sherwood.

Kelly Coughlin, Sherwood’s former economic development director, did a lot of leg work and research to set the effort in motion. She took a new job out of town in the summer, causing Sherwood’s effort to slow.

“But we are ready now,” Cook said.

Besides the push this weekend, Cook said petitions are available for residents to sign at Thursday’s chamber luncheon.

Petitions are also available to sign at the chamber, Gregory Polaris, Sherwood Crossfit and North Pulaski Storage.

For more details or to volunteer, call the chamber office at 501-835-7600.

EDITORIAL >> Thanksgiving feast for all

It’s that time of year again when everyone, or almost everyone, starts planning their holiday festivities.

It’s important to try to keep in mind those who are less fortunate, whose food stamps may have been cut, or who have fallen into recent misfortune, sickness, loss of a job or death of a loved one. It’s easy to forget that they are there. But they are, and they don’t have bootstraps.

Several groups and churches in The Leader’s coverage area are gearing up now to help alleviate holiday anxieties and help the needy over the hump.

One notable event is the annual Cabot Community Thanksgiving Feast organized by Heather and Dane Moore with help from loyal volunteers. This year’s will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 28 at the Cabot Church of Christ. Organized primarily to feed the community’s hungry, the dinner is open to anyone who does not have Thanksgiving dinner. The dinner has also drawn the bereaved and those who have recently been befallen by tragedy.

One family attended last year after their house burned down. They had no place to go for Thanksgiving.

Because the dinner is free, donations of food and cash are needed. Last year’s dinner served 500. For more information or to make a donation, call 501-259-3799 or visit

Many organizations, including the Lonoke County Christmas Coalition, have plans to make the holidays pleasant for children and families. Food banks such as Fishnet Missions are always in need of donated food, which they distribute as fast as it comes in, no questions asked. Many churches have soup kitchens.

If you can help out, it will be much appreciated in many, many quarters. Your reward comes later.

EDITORIAL >> Ace survived Hanoi Hilton

Brig. Gen. Robinson Risner,
James Robinson Risner, an Arkansas native and legendary Air Force fighter pilot, died on Oct. 22 at the age of 88.

Born on Jan. 16, 1925, in Mammoth Springs near the Missouri state line in Fulton County, Risner was a two-time recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second-highest award next to the Medal of Honor, which he earned after being hit by enemy fire numerous times, and again for enduring seven years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, the North Vietnamese Army’s prison, where he was tortured repeatedly, beaten often and held in solitary confinement along with dozens of other American servicemen.

He first made his name as a flying ace during the Korean War by shooting down eight Soviet-made MIG-15 jets fighting for the North.

When he was shot down in Vietnam in 1965, the North Vietnamese, having read a Time Magazine cover story on Risner’s bravery in battle, believed they’d hit the jackpot. He recalled an interrogator telling him that there were only three other people they’d prefer to have captured: President Lyndon Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

His fellow prisoners of war included James Stockdale, who was Ross Perot’s running mate in the 1992 presidential campaign; Air Force pilot Bud Day; Sen. John McCain; Air Force Col. Joseph Kittinger, and Major Gen. John Borling.

As a lieutenant colonel, Risner was the highest-ranking U.S. officer at the Hanoi Hilton, so he was expected to provide leadership as well as uphold the chain of command. (He was promoted to brigadier general in 1976 upon retiring.)

Risner would offer his men practical advice to help them survive the monstrous conditions. “Resist until you are tortured,” he said, “but do not take torture to the point where you lose the permanent use of your limbs.”

In February 1971, two years before he was freed, Risner, raised in the Assembly of God, defiantly led a religious service, although warned by guards that he’d be tortured for doing so. While being led away to solitary confinement yet again, 40 or more P.O.W.’s sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” to boost his spirits.

Recalling that moment he said, “I felt like I was 9 feet tall and could go bear hunting with a switch.” Today, a 9-foot statue of Risner stands at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., to honor him.

Much has changed since Risner’s dogfighting days: Vietnam, though still communist, is now a U.S. ally that is wary of China’s rising military power, and drones are beginning to replace fighter pilots. The unmanned, lightweight aircraft can stealthily kill enemies cheaply and effectively without placing pilots in harm’s way.

Risner may be one of the last of his kind. He should be remembered as much for his bravery, endurance and religious convictions that he showed as a prisoner of war as he is for his heroism in the cockpit.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville hoping to beat Bruins

Leader sports editor

There’s no way to put it other than to say that the 2013 football season has been a disappointing one for the Jacksonville Red Devils. Expectations were soaring in the offseason and gained altitude over the summer when they enjoyed such a successful 7-on-7 campaign, including a Top-8 finish in the nearly 30-team, five-state Shootout of the South tournament in Little Rock.

The host team of that tournament will also be Jacksonville’s host at 7 p.m. Friday in the season finale for the Red Devils. It’s the season finale because Jacksonville can’t make the playoffs, even if it beats the Bruins and finishes in fourth place. The best the Red Devils can do is tie for fourth, and they lose the tiebreaker with any of the teams it could tie with.

There is still great motivation for the team. A game against Pulaski Academy is always inspiration to play your best. Jacksonville became a thorn in the Bruins’ side over the summer, beating them two out of three times, including at the Shootout, when a bid to keep playing on day two was on the line.

But the two teams have gone in opposite directions since the real season began. Pulaski Academy was supposed to in a rebuilding year after losing three Division I players from last year’s team. Instead, the Bruins have exceeded everyone’s expectations and boast a perfect 9-0 record.

For Jacksonville, even the most faithful Red Devil fan knew it would have an uphill battle in week one against Cabot, who is also 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in class 7A. But expectations were such that the team and many fans sincerely felt the Red Devils could be 8-1 and undefeated in conference, and that this week’s game would be for the outright 5A Central title.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Jacksonville is 4-5 and 3-3 after losing by three scores at West Helena, and dropping close games against Sylvan Hills and Mills.

The passing game that looked good most of the summer failed to ever materialize as a consistent threat. Injuries and academic attrition turned a deep and talented group of linemen into a small group that had to play on both sides of the football much of the time. Quarterback play didn’t reach the level needed to be effective in new offensive coordinator Adam Thrash’s offense, and dropped passes plagued the team all season long. The running game was stellar at times. Line and downfield blocking improved as the season ran its course. Junior tailback Lamont Gause showed glimpses of becoming a walking highlight reel, but at times also showed a propensity for losing his grip on the football.

Despite all of that, Jacksonville still has a chance to continue to be a thorn and hand Pulaski Academy its first loss of the season. In the brief moments this year when all the pieces seemed to be working together, Jacksonville has torched opponents with long drives and big plays, even against the better teams its played.

The Red Devils looked like they were going to score at will for a quarter and a half against Benton. And when option quarterback Robert Knowlin went down with an injury against Sylvan Hills, the passing game was unstoppable in the fourth quarter against Sylvan Hills.

If they can get that kind of execution for an entire game, Friday’s game could be an interesting one.

Jacksonville coach Rick Russell believes his team has bounced back from the disappointment and has been pleasantly surprised how they’ve approached practice this week knowing the playoffs are not a possibility.

“It was a heartbreaking loss and there was a lot of disappointment Friday night,” Russell said of the 21-14 loss to Mills that ended Jacksonville’s playoff aspirations. “But I’m proud of how they responded. The seniors have one more game together, and it’s Pulaski Academy. You still have a chance to accomplish something no one in this conference has accomplished, and that’s beat PA.”

Most of the teams in the 5A Central run the spread offense, so the defensive approach won’t be much different this week, it will just have to be better.

“It’s not much different than any other spread team,” Russell said. “They run a lot of different plays out of similar formations. So they’re not going to tell you much with how they line up. We just have to get lined up right and execute with them. That’s what they do better than most is they execute.”

Quarterback Reggie Barnes was knocked out of last week’s game after a huge blind-side hit. His return is still questionable, but Jacksonville will still keep its passing scheme in place and go with junior Caleb Price at quarterback, as well as Knowlin.

“We’re going to throw some formations at them that they haven’t seen from us,” Russell said. “Hopefully that will give them some problems. Other than that, we just have to execute.”

SPORTS STORY >> Bison try to rebound

Leader sportswriter

After losing their first game this season to Des Arc last week at home, the Carlisle Bison will look to start another winning streak Friday when they travel to England for the final regular-season game of the year. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Carlisle can still win a share of the 2A-6 Conference championship if Hazen beats Des Arc on Friday. The Bison even have a shot at still getting the No. 1 seed in the class 2A state playoffs if they beat England by at least 13 points, and if Hazen beats Des Arc by at least seven points. If Des Arc wins, Carlisle will be guaranteed the No. 2 seed if it beats the Lions by the 13-point margin.

The injury bug has bitten the Bison (8-1, 5-1) significantly in the past few weeks. After losing senior quarterback/safety Austin Reed to a season-ending knee injury after week seven’s game against archrival Hazen, Carlisle had a plethora of injuries during last week’s game against Des Arc, who took control of the 2A-6 standings with the 20-14 upset win.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Des Arc,” said Carlisle coach Brandon Barbaree. “They’re a good, physical football team, and well-coached. Coach (Dustin) Prescott does a great job. We got beat up a little bit, had some injuries early, and it affected some of our play-calling and what we can do offensively and defensively.

“But Des Arc physically controlled the game, and when it all came down to it that’s how they beat us.”

Senior standout running back DeRon Ricks, who’s put together a stellar season in the Bison backfield, was forced to carry the load almost single-handedly last week against Des Arc as fellow senior standout running backs Bo Weddle and Justice Bryant, as well as junior running back Chance Richards, had to leave the game for various injuries.

Weddle’s injury was a strained hamstring, but he later returned to the game despite soreness, and is expected to suit up Friday at England (6-3, 4-2).

Bryant has a hip-pointer and will likely sit out this week’s game. Richards, who’s the Bison’s fourth running back, suffered a badly sprained ankle against Des Arc and will likely sit out this week as well.

“We’re having to move bodies around and play guys that we didn’t know we’d have to count on,” Barbaree said, “but they’ve stepped up and are trying to get better. So we’ll have a little different lineup this week.”

Barbaree, who’s in his first season as the head Bison, previously coached at England.

In 2010, he led the Lions to their first winning season in more than 20 years. He left the program in 2012 to join former Carlisle coach Scott Waymire’s staff, but is still very familiar with who the Lions’ current playmakers are and who to be aware of on the England defense.

“Of course they’ve got some tremendous athletes,” Barbaree said. “They still have a lot of the guys I got to coach as seventh, eighth and ninth-graders. It’s a different environment for me just because I’ve been around those kids and they were my life for three years. It’s a good group of kids, and they’ll give us a good fight.”

Barbaree said this version of the Lions under current coach Terry Farmer have been seen on film in as many as 27 different formations.

Earlier in the season, England’s offense took a lot of snaps out of the Spread formation, but as of late the Lions have run a lot of Pro-I and Wishbone plays.

Even though Barbaree has seen everything England does offensively, he’s not entirely sure how his former team will plan to attack his current team.

“You never know,” Barbaree said. “When you’re able to get in that many formations, and be so multiple, you never know what they’re going to get in against us. But we’ll prepare for what they do best, and hopefully we’ll be ready to go.”

Defensively, England is also multiple in its formations, but last year the Lions consistently lined up with six down linemen against the Bison, and Barbaree expects that to be the case come Friday.

“They ran a six front against us last year,” Barbaree said. “On film we’ve seen them in a five front, but we’re going to prepare for both of them, and hopefully we’ll be able to block both of them and see how we like our personnel.”

SPORTS STORY >> SH ladies celebrate volleyball landmark

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills volleyball team achieved a landmark accomplishment this season. Last Tuesday the Lady Bears beat Magnolia in the first round of the class 5A state tournament, and it was the first playoff win for the Lady Bears in school history.

Now that the season is over, Sylvan Hills coach Harold Treadway looks back on it, and has the sincere feeling that his program is making progress towards becoming a solid contender in a sport that has been dominated by the east and west extremes of the state.

Fans approached Treadway late in the season and expressed opinions that the team was getting better and better. Now that the season is over, he finally says he agrees.

“I really do think this team has improved a lot this year,” Treadway said. “We were the lower seed, but I actually felt good about our chances in the first round. That’s taking nothing from Magnolia. I just felt like we were playing really well at the end of the season.”

In the last week of the regular season, Sylvan Hills closed with 3-0 victories over arch rivals North Pulaski and Jacksonville. In the season finale, the Lady Bears beat Conway St. Joe, a No. 1 seed in the 3A state tournament, 3-1.

“In our last three matches, we were 9-1 in games and I’m thinking that’s not bad,” Treadway said. “We always seem to play North Pulaski to five games because that’s such a rivalry, but we blew them out. Then we handled Jacksonville and beat a No. 1 seed, even though it was a lower classification.”

The opening playoff game didn’t start well, and Treadway admitted to wondering if his squad was overwhelmed by the task.

“There have been other years I felt pretty good going in, but we just didn’t rise to the challenge,” Treadway said. “When we lost that first game, I thought I could see it in their eyes and I thought, here we go again. But we huddled after that game. We regrouped and they went out there and played like they’re capable of playing. So it wasn’t just that we won. We faced some adversity. We overcame that history of not playing like we’re capable when we get on that big stage.”

The second-round loss to eventual state champion Paragould wasn’t a matter of not playing up to capabilities. The Lady Rams were better than everyone else this year. In fact, the 5A East put three teams in the semifinals and it was an all East championship match. The two teams ahead of Sylvan Hills in the 5A Central were blown out just as badly as Sylvan Hills in the second round.

“The Jonesboro, Paragould area has had that junior Olympic and club programs established up there for so long,” Treadway said. “The far west is the same way. We’re starting to get that sort of thing established here. And I think you’re going to see teams around here becoming more and more competitive, but it’s going to take a little time.”

Sylvan Hills returns most of its key players, but it was a difficult senior class for Treadway to let go of.

“I told them I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Treadway said. “Ashton (Williams) and Jordie (Flippo) are three-year starters and they came into a tough spot three years ago. Shelby (Simpkins) has worked hard and has really become a good setter for us. I’m going to miss them.”

Even with the loss of three key players, Treadway believes he has the pieces in place to keep improving.

“I’m going to have seven back that played all year long,” Treadway said. “We’ve got some really good athletes on the junior varsity team and we have some ninth-graders moving up next year that are ready to start offseason now. They want to get after it and that’s the thing you need to keep building a program.”

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits seek to keep momentum

Leader sportswriter

Even though Lonoke has already locked up the No. 2 playoff seed out of the 4A-2 Conference, the Jackrabbits will look to finish the regular season on a high note as they travel to Clinton on Friday for a week-10 matchup with the Yellow Jackets. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

“We’ll prepare just like it’s any other game, and get ready to go play ball,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost. “We want to keep winning. We’d love to be on a nice three-game win streak heading into the playoffs.”

Clinton’s narrow 35-33 win over Heber Springs last week put the Yellow Jackets (4-5, 3-3) back into the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Lonoke (7-2, 5-1) also had a close game last week, beating a scrappy Stuttgart Ricebirds team 20-18 at James B. Abraham Stadium to secure the No. 2 playoff seed.

The Yellow Jackets return 15 starters from last year’s team that finished 2-8, their worst record since 2003. Clinton’s biggest strength on both sides of the ball is at the skill positions, starting with junior quarterback, Fielder Dufrene (5-10, 150).

Dufrene started all 10 games as a sophomore a season ago, and in last year’s regular-season finale at Lonoke, he threw two touchdown passes.

“They’ve got a lot of returning guys,” Bost said. “A lot of their skill guys are back. Their quarterback is the coach’s son. He took a pounding out there last year, running for his life. He is definitely a lot more improved. He’s got some better linemen in there blocking for him.

“They have traditionally over the years been a Wing-T team, and they still base out of that, but they’re doing a whole lot more Spread, and letting the quarterback throw it. They might be as high as 70 percent with them going Spread now. So they’ve got a couple of different formations we’ve got to really look at this week.”

When Clinton lines up in the Wing-T, Bost says the Yellow Jackets have three running backs that get consistent carries, and all three are hard-nosed runners that fit that physical style of offense.

“We’ve just got to really play sound football,” Bost said of his defense. “You get to chasing people going every which way and you’re going to be in the wrong spots. So we have to really read our keys and be in the right spots.”

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets have been seen in three different formations this season, but will primarily line up in a 3-4. The last time Lonoke saw a 3-4 defense was in the conference opener against Heber Springs.

“We’re going to really brush up on that this week,” Bost said.

After losing a close week one matchup with Star City, Lonoke has won seven of its eight games played since, and would like to carry that winning momentum into Clinton on Friday to get ready for what is hoped to be a strong showing in the playoffs, which start next week.

“I think we’ve come a long ways,” Bost said. “We’ve improved week to week, and there were some things that Stuttgart showed us that might have been a weakness that we’re going to work on. So any time you keep improving and getting better, that’s a good thing.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot cleaning up penalties

Leader sports editor

Cabot had a tough time for about two and a half quarters last Friday at Jonesboro, but managed to pull away in the latter stages of the second half for a 42-14 win. The Panthers scored 35 unanswered points to invoke the sportsmanship rule in that game, and hopes to carry that momentum into their season finale at Searcy at 7 p.m. this Friday.

The Lions have improved quite a bit since last season, but will still be heavy underdogs when the Panthers pay a visit.

Even if Searcy does the unimaginable and pulls off an upset, it will still be Cabot’s last game for two weeks, as the Panthers have locked up a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the class 7A state playoffs.

If Cabot were to lose this weekend, North Little Rock and Conway could still tie the Panthers’ conference record, but both lose the head-to-head tiebreaker and points work out in the Panthers’ favor as well.

“We’re in good shape for the playoffs, but we don’t want to relax and slack off,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “You do that and you regress. This is the wrong time of the year to start regressing.”

Cabot certainly has some things to work on as it heads toward Friday’s finale and the playoffs. The Panthers have received personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in each of its last two games, and were called for several 15-yard penalties at Jonesboro.

“We definitely can’t keep getting those kinds of penalties,” Malham said. “Let’s see, in the first quarter we got a pass interference, got called for going below the knee on the pulling guards, got a personal foul for a late hit, an unsportsmanlike conduct. You give a team four 15-yard penalties in the first quarter, you’re probably going to be behind.”

Cabot never trailed Jonesboro, but didn’t touch the ball almost the entire first half. The Panthers scored first, then practically marched the ball down the field for the Hurricane offense, helping them to the end zone. After the score, Jonesboro covered an onside kick and went down the field again before Jake Ferguson intercepted a pass near the goal line late in the second quarter.

The Panthers scored quickly again, then got a turnover deep in Jonesboro’s territory and scored again just before halftime to go into intermission up 21-7.

“They definitely made us work for it,” Malham said. “We helped them out quite a bit but we were able to overcome it. It was probably good to see a little adversity and overcome it. We saw a lot of adversity early in that game.”

Searcy’s most recent performance should give Cabot some extra motivation. The Lions pulled off its best win of the season last week, beating West Memphis 35-34. Searcy lost 40-0 to Jonesboro the week before, but West Memphis beat Jonesboro earlier this season.

“They definitely showed a lot of improvement from one week to the other,” Malham said of the Lions. “It looks like they’re starting to put some things together on offense. They’ve had trouble stopping people all year, but they looked good on offense last week.”

The Panthers will be without linebacker and leading tackler Jake Vaughn, who is out with an illness, but he should be back by the second round of the playoffs. Cabot is otherwise healthy.

Fullback Zach Launius, who has already become Cabot’s first 1,000-yard back since 2009, has a chance to go over 1,300 yards this week. He currently has 1,242 rushing yards this season in just eight games. He sat out the Conway game with concussion-like symptoms.

If Cabot invokes the sportsmanship rule this week, it will be for the third-straight game. With a week off for the first round, it could be five weeks since the Panthers have played a team that was very competitive. Malham sees the drawback in that, but mostly enjoys having a bye.

“It depends on how you look at it,” Malham said. “I think it’s kind of nice to have a week to just go back and work on fundamentals, where you don’t have to worry about specific game-planning. You get to rest your bumps and bruises and if you’ve got some injuries. I’m fine with it.”