Friday, March 21, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Historic day on Sept. 16

Jacksonville residents will vote to leave the Pulaski County Special District on Sept. 16. That historic moment will be the culmination of decades of work by dedicated community members who have long fought to part ways with the Little Rock-based district that hasn’t built a new school here in about 30 years. PCSSD’s academics have suffered and its finances have been in disarray for years, sending families to prospering schools in Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke.

That should change when Jacksonville voters approve local control of their schools. After decades of declining enrollment in the Pulaski County Special School District, Jacksonville and parts of north Pulaski County will have approximately 4,400 students and the chance to build a new high school and perhaps even a new elementary school.

Residents will begin to see modern school campuses that will become a source of community pride. The rundown facilities that PCSSD for decades neglected to make repairs and renovations to will soon become a distant memory.

This is the community’s greatest achievments since the opening of Little Rock Air Force Base in 1955. A 30-year effort is finally paying off.

At least three generations of Jacksonville residents have campaigned for the creation of a separate school district, including former Representatives Pat and Will Bond, who pushed legislation through allowing Jacksonville to leave the Pulaski County Special School District. Let’s also credit younger people like attorney Patrick Wilson and Realtor Daniel Gray for getting the issue through the courts and the state Board of Education.

The late Ben Rice, the prominent Jacksonville attorney, did yeoman work for decades. In 2008, he presented petitions from Jacksonville residents to the Pulaski County School Board calling for a split. Alderman Reedie Ray and many others helped circulate those petitions.

Rice, who passed away in 2013, didn’t live to see the results of his hard work in behalf of the children and parents of north Pulaski County. About a year before Rice died, he visited the paper. He was looking for an old story of ours about the new Sylvan Hills Middle School that cost an astonishing $31.5 million.

He said the school could have been built much cheaper and Jacksonville needed and deserved a new school. For comparison, Cabot built a new Cabot Junior High North for $13.5 million in 2009.

Another project that Rice would have objected to was the new Maumelle High School that cost more than $56 million.

Critics complained to the school board that PCSSD couldn’t afford such grandiose projects. The district kept running at a deficit, and the state Education Department took it over in 2011. The department will continue to run the district for two more years.

Interim Superintendent Jerry Guess is straightening out the district’s finances in hopes of improving its schools and bringing back an elected school board. By the time he gets that done, Jacksonville should have its own district.

Guess said this week he will need to cut $20 million from the budget in the next three years. He’s making preparations for the loss of millions in property taxes after Jacksonville departs and desegregation funding ends.

He’s made some cuts since he took over three years ago, but more are expected, such as technology and speech classes. It was predictable that academics would eventually suffer even more after the free-spending ways of the old board members.

A Jacksonville school board will give the city a fresh start.

The community paid for two feasibility studies, and a third study was paid for with a $250,000 state appropriation sponsored by Will Bond. He also secured $750,000 to pay the school district’s legal fees toward ending the long-running desegregation lawsuit.

We’re glad state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell of Cabot chose Guess for this difficult task, both have been key supporters of letting Jacksonville form its own school district.

Many others deserve praise for their work: Martha Whatley, Merlene McGhee, Pat O'brien, Greg Bollen, Deana Toney, Bob Stroud, Ivory Tillman and former Mayor Tommy Swaim. Bishop James Bolden, Ron McDaniel and Pat Griggs chipped in along the way as did Jody Urquhart.

Former PCSSD Superintendent Bobby Lester, a living legend, has also done important work in behalf of the proposed district. Let’s hope someone will nominate him as superintendent of Jacksonville schools.

The city will soon begin the hard work of rebuilding and restoring residents’ confidence in its local schools.

TOP STORY >> Big parade set for vets at museum

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History’s third annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on April 5 promises to attract a larger crowd than previous years with its new exhibit.

At least that is what organizer and museum director DannaKay Duggar hopes.

New this year is the “From Arkansas to Vietnam Dog Tag” Exhibit.

Duggar said dog tags representing the 592 Arkansans killed in Vietnam would hang from the ceiling of the museum.

On the tags, there will be names, branches of service, hometowns and the dates the soldiers were killed in action.

There will also be a legend and map on the wall to direct visitors who want to look for the dog tag representing a loved one, Duggar said.

The idea for the new attraction came from the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, she explained.

Duggar said, at its old location, visitors who walked in the door there were greeted by a display of 58,000 dog tags representing the soldiers who were killed in Vietnam.

On those dog tags were the names, their branches of service and the dates they were killed in action.

An estimated 406 people attended last year’s Welcome Home Day in Jacksonville, Dugger continued. More are expected this year because of the new exhibit and the early start on setting up the event.

Organizers began planning the event before Christmas, the director said. Posters promoting it are already in storefronts, and businesses that want to display posters can pick them up from the museum free of charge.

Duggar said, “I really think we have an opportunity to at least increase (participation) by 200 or maybe even double it… My goal is that we reach outside of central Arkansas. I want to bring people into this town.”

In addition to the new display, the museum’s other exhibits will be available for free from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Another highlight of the day is the parade from 2 until 3 p.m. It will start from the First United Methodist Church on West Main Street and end at the museum, 100 Veterans Circle.

Everyone is invited to be in the parade, Duggar said. Bands, beauty queens, civic organizations, businesses and more are needed. The deadline to sign up is Friday.

The REAL Girls will perform live throughout the day, and veterans’ service organizations like the American Legion, the VFW, a survivor outreach service and a P.O.W. group from Missouri will have booths set up, Duggar said. A few booths, which are free, are still available.

Veterans and gold star families will be invited to sign an 8-foot-by-12-foot vinyl map of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia that will be displayed at the museum later.

Then, from 3 until 4 p.m., there will be an honor and remembrance ceremony with a MIA table ceremony performed by the Little Rock Air Force Base Honor Guard.

A $10 dinner will be served from 4 until 6 p.m. at the museum, but reservations for it must be made by Friday. Dinner sponsors are available for Vietnam veterans who can’t afford the meal.

While these attractions are meant to draw participants, Duggar emphasized that none of them are the main reason to celebrate. “The main reason (people) need to come out is to give the Vietnam veterans the welcome home they didn’t get when they came back,” the director said. “The war was very controversial, and a lot of the protesters took it out on the soldiers. There are those of us who remember how they were treated when they came home.”

Asked about how veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are respected and thanked now whether the war they’re in is supported or not, Duggar said people learned their lesson after Vietnam.

“I think society needed to redeem itself,” she said.

While the welcome-home event is not a fundraiser for the museum, donations will be accepted, Duggar said.

To sign up for the parade, reserve a booth, RSVP for the dinner or for more information, visit the museum, call 501-241-1943 or go online to

TOP STORY >> Absent assessor raises eyebrows

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County Assessor Jack McNally rarely attends monthly quorum court meetings, which has not gone unnoticed by the quorum court members who collectively represent all Lonoke County residents.

McNally’s absence Thursday night was especially noticeable because he was the center of much of the discussion.

It started when JP Matt Sanders asked why the hearing for the grievance filed against McNally by Therese O’Donnell, his chief deputy, had not been heard last week after being rescheduled twice.

McNally told The Leader that he had accepted the resignation that O’Donnell had offered many times but others said privately that she was fired.

“Was there actually an illegal termination?” Sanders asked, and Geoff Thompson, the county’s attorney, responded that neither party alleged any wrong- doing.

“I just want to make sure the employees are being treated properly,” Sanders continued.

Thompson had already explained that the complaint against McNally was under negotiation at the request of both McNally and O’Donnell, and that he expected a resolution within 10 days.

Thompson said last week following the last canceled grievance hearing that O’Donnell would likely go to work for another elected official and that, until the complaint is resolved, she will continue to draw her salary.

JP Mike Verkler compared the negotiations to the circuit court, where 75 percent of cases are resolved without going to trial.

And JP Mike Dolan, who has been on the quorum court longer than any other member, assured Sanders, who is in his second year, “The employee’s rights were protected.”

Quorum court members also discussed a $3,900 expenditure from the assessor’s $10,000 tax-relief fund. The money in the fund is supposed to be used to make homeowners aware that they are eligible for a homestead tax credit of up to $300 on the house where they live.

The JPs questioned McNally buying a $3,900 computer program from Data Scout that shows if tax payers are claiming the credit in more than one county.

JP Bill Ryker said it wasn’t the quorum court’s job to micro-manage elected officials’ budgets, but there was the matter of the purchase of six size 4X shirts from the assessor’s budget that seemed questionable. The shirts could only have been for one person, he said, but did not specify that McNally was the only person in the assessor’s office who would wear that size.

Ryker said McNally would need to find 20 violations of the homestead credit to pay for the program, perhaps an unlikely number, and the fund needed to be looked at more closely during the next budget process.

No one except Ryker commented on the shirts, but JP Tim Lemons said it seemed to him that the program from Data Scout was for policing not promoting the credit. Verkler agreed, saying it was definitely not what the state law that created the fund had intended.

In other business:

• The majority of quorum court members agreed that the Lonoke County Museum should be paid for cataloging and storing old county documents. The amount tentatively agreed upon was $6,000 a year, possibly paid by the month.

Maintaining the records is the responsibility of the elected department heads, such as the circuit clerk and county clerk, where they were initially filed. Therefore, the elected officials will be asked to pay the museum for the service from their budgets.

State law allows the county to contract for services that the county is unable to provide. Museum officials were asked to draft a “workable contract” for the service the museum provides and to make the county documents available for public view.

Museum director Sherryl Miller told the quorum court that, starting in April, the museum will be open six days a week from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. “We’ll be open more hours than the courthouse,” Miller said.

JP B.J. Weathers voted against paying the museum for keeping the old county records contingent on the contract with the county. He argued that the museum is a nonprofit and that, if the county pays for its services, other nonprofits will also ask to be paid for services they provide.

Last year, the quorum court voted to discontinue collecting voluntary taxes to support several nonprofit agencies after state auditors said the practice violated state law, according to several opinions from the state attorney general.

The quorum court also passed:

• A resolution recognizing the Lonoke High School basketball team for its 50-39 win in the Class 4A semifinals against Nashville and a resolution recognizing the high school for hosting the tournament. The Jackrabbits lost the championship to Brookland.

• A resolution accepting a $31,000 state general-improvement grant for the Mountain Springs Volunteer Fire Department to build two bays at the fire station.

TOP STORY >> Vote set for Jacksonville schools

Leader senior staff writer

By bedtime on Sept. 16, Jacksonville and north Pulaski County residents living within the boundaries of the proposed new stand-alone school district will know whether or not they are going to carve a district of their own from the sprawling Pulaski County Special School District.

The state Board of Education on Thurs-day unanimously voted to allow proponents to put the issue on the ballot. Daniel Gray, president of the Jacksonville/north Pulaski County Education Corps, said his group intended to get it on the annual education election ballot Sept. 16. (See editorial, p. 6A.)

The board congratulated Jacksonville for the persistence and skill with which they have pursued their goal over the decades.

“I’m going to turn somersaults in the street if this thing passes,” Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said Friday.

Thirty years in the making, detachment from PCSSD has seen false starts and false hope for proponents in the past, but just since the beginning of this year, some important things have happened.

In January, all parties to the desegregation settlement agreement — including PCSSD, the state and the Joshua Intervenors — expressly agreed that Jacksonville could detach from PCSSD without negatively impacting the remaining elements of the court-supervised desegregation settlement.

Soon after, U.S. District Judge Price Marshall signed off on that agreement, including that stipulation.

Then on Feb. 16, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel agreed with the state Board of Education that Jacksonville’s petition and supporting documents were sufficient and that ruling on the agreement cleared the way for both the vote and a subsequent Jacksonville-area district.

McDaniel’s opinion concluded: “All parties to the case have agreed that the state board’s approval of this district will not have a negative impact on the desegregation of PCSSD. We also note that the supporters of a Jacksonville/North Pulaski school district have expressed an intent to be bound by the desegregation obligations of the PCSSD that remain at the time of detachment.

“Perhaps the most difficult of the areas in which PCSSD is not yet unitary — desegregated — is in facilities, and the detachment of a Jacksonville district is considered a win-win situation there. Not only would PCSSD no longer be responsible for rebuilding Jacksonville-area schools, but Jacksonville and north Pulaski, considered less affluent that Pulaski County, would qualify for about a 50 percent match in state funds for construction of all academic facilities. PCSSD qualifies for almost no state match.

“The acceptance of the settlement agreement has provided the approval of the state board to proceed. Therefore, it is no longer necessary for the state Board to wait for any further federal court guidance,” the attorney general wrote.

Of the board’s Thursday approval, “It felt fantastic,” said Education Corps attorney Patrick Wilson, a graduate of Jacksonville High School. “It means we’re going to get to vote, to decide our own fate, and we’re going to get to have our own school district.

“Jacksonville has not been able to grow the way it would if it had had its own school district,” Wilson said. “Now folks are looking at moving to Jacksonville that wouldn’t have without the possibility of a school district.

“So it means everything.”

PCSSD enrollment has declined dramatically over the past decade, only recently beginning to increase again. Jacksonville’s population has been stagnant for 20 years, and actually declined a bit in the 2010 census.

But city leaders, as they have for decades, say the town has a lot of positives. They believe Jacksonville will grow again once it builds trust and new facilities.

“This is going to be a turning point for our city,” Fletcher said Friday morning. “Education is an important thing to young families.

“We haven’t had a new school in 43 years,” he noted.

Fletcher said this effort has been going on so long that several of the leaders — most recently perhaps attorney Ben Rice — have died.

It was Rice in 2008 who petitioned the PCSSD board for a resolution endorsing the standalone district, a resolution it eventually received.

“We’re not going to take it for granted,” the mayor said. “At one time we had some of the best schools around. We’ve seen the district pick it apart, and we’re ready to get back to quality and local control.

“But it starts with the involvement of parents and community,” he said.

The law allows up to a two-year transition period, according to Gray. Until the actual separation, PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess will lead both districts.

PCSSD is in fiscal distress, the state dissolved its school board and appointed Guess superintendent. It is likely that the fiscal distress designation — unlike the desegregation requirements — would not attach itself to the new district.

Gray said, for the 2014-15 school year, Guess would certainly be superintendent of both districts.

“We need to make sure everyone is aware of the date of the election, the benefits of local control and the (positive) impact upon facilities. We need to make sure they turn out the vote,” Gray said.

He hopes the city will use the emergency management phone system to make sure everyone knows when to vote.

“We’re one step closer to local control, “ Gray said. “Our own district will provide some unity in the community, bring us together and instill a sense of pride, but the biggest challenges are ahead of us. Some of it we’ll figure out as we go.”

Guess said, “This has never happened anywhere else (in Arkansas) before.” There have been all sorts of consolidations, but never one district split into two.

If area residents approve formation of the new district, the first item of business will be for the state Board of Education to appoint an interim seven-member school board, according to Guess.

Metroplan is expected to have determined seven board zones by then.

Representatives of both districts will have to divide up the buses, the computer, apportion the debt and figure out how to deal with teachers, administrators and other employees.

That’s complicated by the fact that an appointed school board doesn’t currently have the authority to hire teachers or other employees — including a superintendent.

Guess pointed out that a new session of the General Assembly will convene about halfway through the next school year and laws could be crafted and passed to change that.

“Meanwhile, if I’m going to lose 4,400 kids and $35 million, we have to reduce spending to have a balanced budget — and the most expensive part is people.”

What Guess didn’t say was that any reduction in pay or number of employees is likely to bring PCSSD into conflict yet again with its employee unions, which are not currently recognized as bargaining agents. But they still wield power, and members seem to control the personnel policy committees.

“This is an uncharted process,” Guess said. “We’ll take the next step, then determine what’s next.”

Former state representative Pat Bond said, “I think we have a long journey ahead of us, but it’s a task we can do if we do it right.” She is among those who have worked longest toward a local school district. “It’s a different task,” Bond said. “The issues have changed. I think we have a real opportunity to make a mark on education.

“Before, we had a vibrant school in place,” Bond said Friday. “We had really good teachers, a good curriculum, a well-balanced student body — all of those things. We do have an opportunity to take some kids and give them the kind of education they deserve. If we can do that, people will see us as a place they want to come to live and put their children in the school.”

Bond said, now, the new district would need not only to rebuild facilities but to rebuild the education, expectation and pride as well.

It will take a lot of money to rebuild and remodel Jackson-ville-area schools. PCSSD is expected to ask soon for an increase in school millage property tax. Whatever PCSSD’s millage — currently it’s about 40 mills — at the time of a detachment. That will be the new district’s millage rate until such a time as a new board proposes a new millage and patrons vote on it at a school election.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot opens league by upending champs

Leader sportswriter

Thanks in large part to Hannah Montgomery’s three home runs, the Lady Panther softball team escaped Tuesday’s 7A/6A East Conference game against North Little Rock, last year’s class 7A state champion, with a close 9-7 win at the Cabot softball complex.

Montgomery, a freshman, also got the win as she pitched all seven innings and recorded three strikeouts while giving up two walks. However, Cabot came close to blowing a seven-run lead in the last inning.

Cabot entered the top of the seventh with a 9-2 lead and all but dominated the first six innings of play, but the defending state champs wouldn’t go away so easily. Nine-hole hitter Kaylie Roberts led off the top of the seventh with a single to left field, which started the Lady Cats’ monster rally.

Leadoff hitter Sydney Parr then singled to center field, and Ashton Bobbitt followed with a single to left, which scored Roberts. Three-hole hitter McKenzie Escovedo flew out the next at bat, but cleanup hitter Katy Kinnison, the team’s best hitter, hammered a stand-up double to right field that scored two more runs for the visitors.

Hannah Lovercheck then came to the plate and made up for her 0 for 3 showing with a two-run bomb over the left-field fence that cut Cabot’s lead to 9-7.

Cabot coach Chris Cope called time to go out and settle his team down, and what he said in the huddle worked as Morgan Seaton flew out the next at bat for the second out of the inning.

Anna Beaver came in to pinch hit and got an infield single, which brought the tying run to the plate.

Reagan Sperling followed Beaver’s at bat with a hard line drive to right field, but Molly Wood was there to make the grab and end the game in the Lady Panthers’ favor.

“We were looking at that scoreboard and in those last three innings we didn’t do anything,” said Cope. “We had runners at second base and we had bases loaded with one out in the sixth inning and we just didn’t capitalize, and with a good team like that it can hurt you.”

Cope briefly described the message he had for his team when he called time late in the seventh.

“I asked Hannah how she was feeling,” Cope said, “and my pitcher said ‘all right. I’m ready, I got these next two outs.’ You just go out there and say ‘hey, the bases are cleared, two more outs and let’s get it done,’ and that’s what they did.”

Despite the final score, Cabot dominated early. The Lady Panthers led 3-0 after the first inning thanks to a solo home run by Montgomery and a two-run home run by cleanup hitter Kaitlyn Felder.

The Lady Panthers upped their lead to 7-0 after the second inning. Leadoff hitter Lane Justus led off the second with a single and Montgomery followed with a two-run shot to left-center field, which put Cabot on top 5-0.

Sophomore shortstop Heather Hill walked the next at bat, and two batters later, Wood hit a two-out, two-run home run to center field that made it a 7-0 ball game.

North Little Rock (2-2, 0-1) scored its first run of the game in the top of the third with an inside the park home run by Parr, but Cabot (2-1, 1-0) added two more runs to the board its next at bat.

Rachel Allgood got an infield single off the pitcher with one out, and two batters later, Montgomery hit her third home run of the day, this one over the left-field fence, which gave Cabot a comfortable 9-1 lead.

North Little Rock made it a 9-2 game in the top of the fourth with a double down the right-field line by Sperling that scored Lydia Belew.

Montgomery finished 3 for 4 at the plate with five RBIs. Wood and Felder each had two hits, while Justus, Hill, Allgood, Macee Abbott and Erin Eckert had one hit apiece.

The Lady Panthers traveled to Farmington this weekend for a tournament and they’ll play next in the Cabot/Beebe tournament next Saturday.

Conference play will resume April 1 at Marion.

SPORTS STORY >> Hillsiders hammer Mustangs

Leader sportswriter

After splitting a 5A-Central doubleheader against Little Rock Christian on Tuesday, Sylvan Hills ended the week with a 14-0 blowout win over CAC in nonconference action Thursday at Mike Bromley Field in Sherwood, a game in which Bears’ starting pitcher Marcus Long threw a no-hitter.

Long struck out six of the first seven batters he faced Thursday, and the Bears made sure he had plenty of run support early on as well; not that he needed it.

Sylvan Hills went scoreless in the first inning, but scored five runs in the second inning, all of which came with two outs, eight in the third and added one more in the fourth. After the Mustangs’ hitless at bat in the fifth, the game was called because of the 10-run lead after five innings sportsmanship rule.

“The first game (against Little Rock Christian) we stranded 11 guys,” said Bears’ coach Denny Tipton. “Every inning we had guys in scoring position with two outs and never got a hit. Tonight, we got some hits with two outs.

“We just blew opportunity after opportunity Tuesday swinging the bat. Today, we hit the ball hard and I thought we played real well. Marcus Long throws a no-hitter. Any time you have a pitcher come out and throw a no-hitter, you do a great job.”

In addition to the no-hitter, Long started the Bears’ two-out rally in the bottom of the second inning. With Jacob White and Connor Poteet at second and third base, Long hit a double down the left-field line that scored both runners and gave Sylvan Hills all the runs it would need.

Leadoff hitter Nathan Thomas then came to the plate and singled to center field, and the next at bat, TJ Burrow hit a stand-up triple off the wall in right field that drove in Long and Thomas, giving the Bears a 4-0 lead.

Catcher Chase Imoff then came to the plate and hit a double to deep left-center that allowed Burrow to easily cross home plate and set the Bears’ run total for the inning.

Sylvan Hills put the game away in the bottom of the third with its eight runs scored, and even though Tipton subbed in for several starters in the fourth, the Bears added one more run to their side of the board to set the final score.

CAC relief pitcher Hunter Corbell had some control problems in the fourth and loaded the bases before junior Blake Maddox approached the plate. Maddox battled with Corbell, but was eventually walked, and he got an easy RBI after Thomas scored the 14th and final run of the game.

Sylvan Hills finished with 13 hits. White went 3 for 3 with three doubles. Burrow, Imoff and Reid Fawcett each had two hits, while teammates Thomas, Long, Hunter Heslep and Haden Hawkins totaled one hit apiece.

On the mound, Long struck out seven CAC batters in the five innings played and walked just three. The Mustangs’ record fell to 3-4 with the loss.

The Bears (4-3, 1-1) are on spring break next week, but will still play games, albeit in Orlando, Fla. Sylvan Hills will play in the Walt Disney World Classic that’ll take place Monday through Thursday.

Bears’ softball wins

The Lady Bears’ softball team also got a win Thursday. They came from behind to beat Fordyce 6-5 in an exciting nonconference game at the Sherwood Sports Complex.

The Lady Bears entered the bottom of the seventh inning down 5-3, but came back and tied the game at 5-5 before Jordie Flippo drove in the game-winning run with a base hit.

Callie Cavender got the win as the starting pitcher as a result. She threw all seven innings and recorded seven strikeouts. At the plate, Flippo and Cara Pozza each went 3 for 4, while teammates Cavender and Ashley Broadway each went 2 for 3.

The Lady Bears now have an overall record of 7-3 and are a perfect 2-0 in 5A-Central play.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils win fourth in a row at Burns Park

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils moved to 4-2 with a pair of home wins on Wednesday and then a 3-0 victory against North Little Rock on Thursday at Burns Park.

Not only did Jacksonville win its fourth-consecutive game after starting 0-2, it also tied last season’s extra-base hit total.

“It took us 30 games to get 24 extra-base hits last year, this year we’ve done it in six,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “They’re just growing up. Most of these juniors have been starting since they were freshmen.”

Playing a day after it was originally scheduled, the Red Devils opened conference play in the 5A-Central on Wednesday by hammering Helena-West Helena Central 18-0 and 16-0 in a doubleheader.

Jacksonville pitcher Derek St. Clair threw all three innings, facing just nine batters andstriking out all of them. A short game was apparent in the very early going. After St. Clair sat down the first three Cougars, Jacksonville’s first two batters walked on eight pitches. Kaleb Reeves was then hit by the first pitch he saw to load the bases.

Cleanup hitter Greg Jones saw the first strike thrown in the bottom of the first, and roped it to the wall in center field for a three-run double. Laderrious Perry hit a hard grounder to shortstop that was misplayed. Jones scored and Perry made it to second on the play, but Perry was thrown out during the next at bat trying to steal third.

Ryan Mallison walked and Blake Perry was hit by a pitch to put two on with one out. James Tucker then singled to score Mallison for the final run of the inning.

HWHC pitcher KeShawn Simpson settled down and struck out the next two batters to stop the Red Devil run.

But things got worse for him in Jacksonville’s second and final at bat. It started with a third-straight strikeout, but the catcher didn’t hold onto the ball and made a bad throw to first base, leaving St. Clair safe.

Reeves was hit again and Jones reached on another E6. Laderrious Perry flew out to deep center field to score St. Clair. Mallison and Blake Perry followed with RBI singles to make it 8-0.

Tucker hit what should have been a routine fly ball to centerfield that was dropped, and Dante Harris doubled to the wall in left-center to drive in two more runs.

Courtland McDonald also doubled and St. Clair reached on another error, this time in left field, the first of two in a row. Jones grounded out to second base after Reeves reached on the second E7 for the first out of the inning. Laderrious Perry singled and Mallison doubled to make it 15-0.

Blake Perry then hit a shot off the scoreboard in left field for a two-RBI round tripper.

Tucker walked on four pitches and ended up scoring on passed balls and wild pitches before the next at bat ended. That run set the final margin.

Game two was just more of the same as the Red Devils piled up nine base hits to go with a series of Cougar errors. Blake Perry faced just 10 batters in three innings of work to earn the victory.

In Thursday’s outing against the defending 7A/6A East champion Wildcats, Tucker found himself in a pitching duel with North Little Rock’s Ty Hauser. The game remained scoreless until Hauser left the mound after five innings of work.

Jacksonville posted all three runs in the sixth inning, starting the rally with a single by McDonald. Reeves and Jones then singled, but the rally was almost put to a halt on the next at bat. With the bases loaded, Laderrious Perry hit a hard grounder back to the pitcher for a 1-2-3 double play that left runners at second and third. Mallison then doubled to right-center field to score Reeves and Jones. Mallison advanced to third on the throw home, and scored on a passed ball to set the final margin.

Jacksonville got eight base hits with Reeves going 3 for 4 with a triple. Mallison got two hits while McDonald, Jones and Brandon Hickingbotham got one hit apiece. Tucker threw six innings, giving up three hits while striking out four and walking none. St. Clair took the mound for the seventh inning. He gave up a leadoff single before striking out the side.

Reeves has been red hot so far this season. He is now 11 for 15 with three triples and a home run.

SPORTS STORY >> Records break at Bryant

Leader sports editor

Overall and school records fell as the Cabot Lady Panthers took third place in the Hornet Relays at Bryant on Thursday.

The Lady Hornets finished with 103 points and Lake Hamilton was second with 77. The Cabot girls finished with 74.5. North Little Rock and Little Rock Central rounded out the top five in the girls’ meet.

“We didn’t put everybody in every event they could be in,” said Cabot coach Leon White. “We’re moving people around and trying people in different areas. But we had some really good performances.”

Lexi Weeks again won the pole vault by more than three feet by clearing 13-10, which breaks the state overall record. It’s also currently the best high-school vault in the nation this season. She also won the 400-meter dash with a time of 1:00.79, and was second in the long jump with a leap of 17-10.25. Though the leap was five inches behind North Little Rock’s Malica Monk, it was still good for a school record, breaking the old Cabot record by five inches. Monk also won the triple jump and Tori Weeks took fifth.

Tori Weeks won the 300-meter hurdles with a school record time of 46.44 seconds. She was also third in the hotly-competitive 100-meter hurdles. In the 100-meter hurdles, four runners finished between 15.4 and 15.8 seconds, with Mount St. Mary’s Molly Sampson winning with a time of 15.41.

Tori Weeks also took sixth in the high jump.

Cabot won the girls 4x400 relay with a time of 4:10.41, three-plus seconds ahead of Maumelle’s second-place finish and six seconds ahead of Bryant in third. The time qualified the team that consists of Courtney Briswalter, Tori Weeks, Micah Huckabee and Lexi Weeks for the state meet. The Cabot 4x800 team made up of Samantha Nickell, Emily Dey, Ashley Odom and Ashley Gore finished fifth.

Huckabee won the 1600 by nine seconds with a time of 5:16.32, which is a personal best in that event.

Bryant took first place in both events, with the Hornet boys blowing away the competition with a 61-point margin over second place. The Hornets finished with 133.5 points and Little Rock Central was second with 72.5. North Little Rock’s 67 was good for third. Catholic was fourth with 63 points and Cabot finished with 58 points.

The Sylvan Hills boys also had a few good showings, finishing in 11th place out of 25 teams competing.

Cabot’s Jordan Burke broke the 11-second mark to win the 100-meter dash by three one-hundredths of a second over Central’s Tre James. Cabot’s Layton Alley finished seventh for two points, and Sylvan Hills’ Quincey Flowers earned a point with an eighth-place finish. James reversed the tables on Burke in the 200, winning with a time of 22.18 to beat Burke’s 22.31.

Cabot’s Parker Dey won the 1600 by less than a second over Catholic’s Matt Forte. Dey finished the race in 4:40.97.

Panther Caleb Duerkop placed in the 300-meter hurdles, finishing eighth with a time of 44.94.

The Panthers’ relay sprint team of Layton Alley, Jordan Burke, Jason Shrunk and Logan Melder took fourth in the 4x100-meter relay, just ahead of Sylvan Hills’ fifth-place finish. Central won the event by nearly a second with a time of 42.69. The Cabot 4x800 relay team also took fourth place for five points.

Sylvan Hills’ Tre West won the high jump by clearing 6-feet, 4-inches, two inches higher than Bryant’s Darian Jarrett.

Cabot’s Aaron Henry took second in the shot put with a toss of 46-3, but was five feet behind winner Jeffrey Rogers of Catholic. Henry also took fourth in the discus throw, an event Rogers also won by a large margin. Holdyn Barnes was third in the long jump at 21 feet.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Despite loss, Hogs’ track back at top

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Only at Arkansas it seems, is a team finishing national runner-up finish at the NCAA Men’s Indoor Track and Field Championships deemed coming up short.

Coach Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men, were second with 54 points to Oregon’s 62 at the NCAA Indoor last Friday and Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M. That was despite missing the 16 points that distance runners Kemoy Campbell (redshirting with an injured Achilles) and Stanley Kebenei (hardshipping indoors because of mononucleosis) and long jumper Raymond Higgs (injured on his first jump last Friday) combined for when Arkansas won last year’s NCAA Indoor in Fayetteville.

Oregon won it by dominating the distances while the Hogs had only one qualifier in any race above the 800.

Nevertheless, the Razorbacks, ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Florida, despite defeating Florida to win the SEC Indoor three weekends ago in College Station, Texas, outscored third-place Florida by 19 in Albuquerque while sporting two national champions. Sophomore Jarrion Lawson lept 27-6.5 to win the long jump, and freshman Omar McLeod ran the 60-meter hurdles in a blistering 7.58.

Lance Harter’s Razorbacks women, particularly distance runners Dominique Scott, Stephanie Brown and Grace Heymsfield, “went beyond expectations” Harter said. Bet-ween them, Scott, Brown and Heymsfield were involved in scoring 29 of the 30 pointsArkansas tallied to finish sixth in the nation as Oregon won the women’s meet, too.

Joined by Arkansas junior quarter-miler Chrishuana Williams, Brown, Heymsfield, and Scott won the Arkansas women’s first-ever NCAA distance medley relay title. Brown also took second in the mile, while Scott and Elkins native Heymsfield were second and sixth in the 3,000.


With Sunday’s morning rain turned to snow, the first of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 15 spring football practices was rerouted to an indoor workout inside the Walker Pavilion.

Sunday’s workout, the first of two NCAA mandated noncontact practices without pads, was closed to the public and media.


For this Razorbacks’ baseball season, Trey Killian now stands 0-3.

At the least he ought to be 2-1. The University of Arkansas sophomore Norfork native and Mountain Home High grad, or anyone else pitching like Killian has pitched his last two starts, doesn’t deserve defeats accompanying his most recent efforts.

Two weeks ago against the California Golden Bears in Berkeley, Calif., Killian threw seven complete innings into the eighth, scattered five hits and allowed one earned run. He was charged with a 2-1 defeat. The winning run scored on an eighth-inning error.

With Arkansas coming off a 2-1 Friday night loss opening its SEC opening series in Gainesville, Fla. against the Florida Gators, Killian on Saturday threw a complete game. For eight innings he scattered seven hits, struck out six and walked but one and consecutively retired 10.

But he was tagged for a first-inning home run and the Razorbacks never scored. So he lost 1-0.

At California, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn marveled about Killian against the Golden Bears.

“He battled,” Van Horn said during the postgame in Berkeley. “He was a warrior out there. He’ll tell you his breaking ball was not there the first three or four innings and then he found the breaking ball. He battled his butt off. was really proud of him. He hung in there, got a lot of fly balls and spotted a lot of pitches.”

At Gainesville, Killian merited praise again.

“He did a great job,” Van Horn said. “He gave up a solo home run (to Peter Alonso on a full count) with two outs in the first inning on a fastball out over the plate.

The ball jumps here when the sun is out for the most and the ball got out of the park. He got in trouble a couple of other innings and battled his way out of it. I thought we did a good job playing defense for the second day in a row as did Florida. Again, we just didn’t get a hit.”

Arkansas bats awoke Sunday to flog Florida, 9-3.

The Razorbacks hosted Grambling at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and again at 3 p.m. today, then open SEC play with the Alabama Crimson Tide arriving for games at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers win Searcy meet, ladies second

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers finished atop the team standings in the Lion Relays last Thursday in Searcy. The boys scored 96 points to beat defending class 5A state champion Vilonia by five. Conway was third with 90 points. Marion and Batesville rounded out the top five with 81 and 63 points.

The Lady Panthers piled up 118 points, but it was three shy of relay winner Lake Hamilton. Little Rock Parkview finished third with 83 points. Conway had 76 and Vilonia totaled 67 to round out the girls’ top five.

The Panthers have sprinters this year, and it was evident when Jordan Burke and Alley Layton finished one and two in the boys’ 100-meter dash. Burke won the event with a time of 11.13 seconds and Layton finished in 11.54. The entire top three came from Heat 4, as Heber Springs’ Marcus Robinson was third with a time of 11.67, beating Marion’s Dmarius Guy by one-one hundredth of a second.

Burke also brought in eight points with a second-place finish in the 200-meter dash. Timing had to go to the thousandths of a second as he and Searcy’s Karonce Higgins both finished with a time of 22.92.

Burke and Layton also helped Cabot win the 4x100-meter relay. The Panthers ran it in 44.49 seconds, beating Batesville by more than half a second, and everyone else by at least a second and a half.

Cabot’s 4x400 team finished sixth, afull 11 seconds behind Marion’s blistering winning time of 3:33.13. The 4x800 team finished fifth with a time of 8:58.02.

Cabot scored no points in the middle-distance races, but Parker Dey finished second in the 3200-meter race with a time of 10:20.77. He was seven seconds behind Vilonia’s Zachary Rail.

Keith Pledger and Aaron Henry scored for Cabot in the shot put, and Pledger won the discus throw. Pledger threw the discus 135-9 to beat Conway’s Austin Norris by three feet and eight inches. Pledger was second in the shot put with a toss of 46-3.5. Marion’s Caleb Brown won with a distance of 48-4. Henry finished seventh and brought home two points with a toss of 42-10.5.

Hayden Richey finished third in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 44.44. He was not far behind Marion’s Fernando Smith and Russellville’s Rashaad Jackson. Richey also finished eighth in the 100-meter hurdles to score one point for Cabot. His time of 18.56 was almost two seconds behind Jackson.

Peter Seyler tied for fifth in the high jump, clearing 5-4. Three competitors cleared at least 6-0 in the event. Tripp Reed of Vilonia cleared 6-3. Kennedy King of Conway reached 6-2 and Rail cleared 6-0.

Two Cabot girls combined for six first-place finishes. The Lady Panthers made it a Cabot sweep of the 100-meter dash, with junior Lexi Weeks winning with a time of 13.19. Miranda Walker added two points for Cabot by finishing seventh with a time of 14.14. Weeks also won the long jump by four inches over Searcy’s Arabriaun Mack with a jump of 17-1. Sophomore Miranda Walker was sixth for Cabot in the long jump by leaping 14-3.5.

Tori Weeks won the 200-meter dash with a time of 27.76. She also won the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 49-14, and won the triple by bounding 35-9.

Marquetta Magwood took eighth in the 300 hurdles for Cabot and Walker was third in the triple jump. And as has become a pattern, Lexi and Tori finished one and two in the pole vault.

Lexi won the event by clearing 13-4, while Tori cleared 13-0. Both were far higher than anyone else in the competition. Three competitors tied for third place with heights of 9-6.

Junior Micah Huckabee garnered another first-place medal in this event with a win in the 3200. She blew away the field with a time of 11:47.94, almost 54 seconds ahead of second-place Angel Crawford of Lake Hamilton. Cabot sophomore Samantha Nickell also scored in the event, finishing in seventh place.

Cabot also won the 4x400 relay by a wide margin. The team finished with a time of 4:14.93, more than eight seconds ahead of second-place Lake Hamilton. The Lady Panthers also took third place in the 4x800 relay.

The Cabot girls didn’t show extremely well in the middle distances, but weren’t shut out of points like the boys. Sophomore Ashley Gore took seventh in the 1600 while Seaton Howard finished eighth in the 400-meter race, making it once around the track in 1:09.45.

Magwood finished seventh for Cabot in the 100-meter hurdles to add two points to Cabot’s total.

Rachael Hall added three points to Cabot’s total with a sixth-place finish in the high jump, and Lauren Backus finished seventh in the shot put for the Lady Panthers.

SPORTS STORY >> SH girls win two titles in one day

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears won a pair of early-season tournaments in one 24-hour period last weekend. After advancing to the championship game of the North Shore Soccer Shootout at Vilonia, the Lady Bears beat the host team 2-1 in the championship game on Friday afternoon. The round robin tournament included a win over Hot Springs earlier in the week.

After Friday’s win, the Sylvan Hills girls picked up another piece of hardware for the trophy case on Saturday by winning the one-day Panther Invitational Tournament in Benton.

On Saturday morning, Sylvan Hills got past the tournament host, beating the Benton Lady Panthers 3-1. That win put them in the tournament championship game against Malvern. The offense continued to improve, as the Lady Bears scored four goals to beat the Lady Leopards by three.

Senior Abigail Persson, who recently signed with the Liberty University Flames in Lynchburg, Va., scored all nine of Sylvan Hills’ goals in the three games.

Persson entered the Saturday tournament four goals shy of 100 career goals scored. She reached that milestone with her second goal against Malvern.

Persson is the first Lady Bear soccer player to score 100 goals, and the first to sign a Division I scholarship. She is also this year’s SHHS valedictorian, and her academic scholarship to the private Christian college in the Big South Conference is worth $80,000.

Sylvan Hills got 5A-Central Conference play underway yesterday with a road match against nearby rival North Pulaski, and hosts conference foe Jacksonville at 4 p.m. tomorrow. Conference games are girls and boys games.

SPORTS STORY >> Mustangs, Bearcats too good

Leader sports editor

Since joining The Leader sports staff in September of 2001, the opportunity to cover local basketball teams in the state championship game has arisen 19 times. Local teams have amassed a cumulative 9-10 record in those games.

It’s been said that high-school basketball in central Arkansas is as good as anywhere in the nation. That’s a subjective statement, but what is empirically verifiable is that, as a whole, high-school basketball in central Arkansas is better than anywhere else in the state.

Since that’s 19 championship games in 13 seasons, many of those years multiple Leader coverage teams made it the same year.

That was the case again this year when the Lonoke and Jacksonville boys advanced to their respective classifications’ title games. But this year was the first when more than one team made it that far, none of them won.

Lonoke lost 60-50 to Brookland in the 4A championship on Thursday, and Jacksonville fell 69-60 to Forrest City in the 5A championship on Friday. There have also been games in which the local team pulled an upset, and games in which it was clear the local team was better, but for one reason or another, didn’t pull it out.

But this year, even if it wasn’t evident before the game, it was clear the local teams had an uphill battle, and the better team won.

After suffering a miserable shooting performance early that never improved much as the game moved along, Lonoke proved that it had the skills to not only beat Brookland, but probably blow them out. But skill is not all a team needs. A team needs depth to play the way Lonoke has to play in order to beat Brookland.

After falling behind by double digits, the Jackrabbits went to the full court press in order to try to climb back into the game.

In that time period, Brookland was a wreck. The Bearcats were completely incapable of handling Lonoke’s pressure. On about four consecutive possessions, they didn’t even get the ball across the half-court line.

But the Jackrabbits only go about six deep of players that could be considered starters, and only about seven deep with players that got considerable minutes in big games this year. With that lack of depth, the style of play that got Lonoke back into the game, the relentless, unwavering, run-and-jump pressure defense, is unsustainable.

The other problem Lonoke had was the shooting woes. Even after forcing so many turnovers, the Jackrabbits could hardly get a shot to fall.

And though Brookland doesn’t pressure the entire court, its brand of half-court defense is inside your pocket, and that made scoring awfully tough for the Jackrabbits.

Lonoke had proven at times earlier this season that it was capable of shutdown defense. It had been utilized in wins over Heber Springs during the regular season, against Jonesboro Westside in the regional and again against Nashville in the state semifinals.

When the Jackrabbits make up their mind that they need to stop you, they are going to stop you. But instead of being tied or slightly ahead, and trying to put the game away, they were trying to erase a deficit against probably the second-best defensive team in 4A, on a night when shots wouldn’t fall.

Brookland had more depth and an overall better shooting team. They commit very few turnovers in a regular flow of play, and that’s something that has plagued Lonoke all season.

Brookland also had a better inside game. Blake Mack was the biggest player on the floor, but more often than not, he received the ball up high and penetrated.

In the 5A game, Jacksonville was overmatched. The Red Devils have enjoyed advantages in size and depth in almost every game, and certainly in every conference game. They had neither of those advantages against the Mustangs.

Forrest City is not only the biggest team in 5A, but the biggest team in Arkansas. They go at least as deep as Jacksonville and probably deeper. The Mustangs got 28 of their 69 championship points from non-starters. They have four players who are taller than Jacksonville’s tallest player, including Arkansas Razorback signee Trey Thompson, and a Division I prospect at guard in sophomore Robert Glasper.

Glasper has unfairly developed a reputation as a shooter because of his fearlessness in launching, and making, shots from several feet beyond the 3-point line.

Fact is, Glasper can get inside and finish, and has a keen knack for knowing plays, how they’re supposed to work, and delivering bullet passes to teammates with open looks.

Jacksonville didn’t have a point guard at all. Sergio Berkley, a senior who has played the two and the three since becoming a starter his sophomore year, moved to the point this season out of necessity.

Tyree Appleby, a freshman who Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner moved to varsity this year out of necessity, showed signs that he’s going to be a great team leader, but he wasn’t ready to carry a team in a game of this magnitude.

Two things in particular stood out about Appleby’s leadership qualities. He showed his own fearlessness in launching big shots, draining two 3-pointers in the third quarter, each of which stemmed a Forrest City run. But the most dramatic display of toughness came when he took a charge in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t just an ordinary charge. Forrest City got a steal near midcourt and Mustang senior Dwain Whitfield came barreling down the middle of the court.

Whitfield is 6-foot-7, and probably weighs around 210 pounds. Appleby is 5-foot-8 and probably weighs about 120 pounds. Appleby set his feet in the middle of the lane before Whitfield even got to the three-point line, and stayed there. He stayed there as the man a foot taller and nearly 100 pounds heavier steamrolled him and threw down a monster dunk. The slam brought the house down, but didn’t count. Appleby had done his job again. That’s the kind of toughness and composure a team needs from a point guard.

Jacksonville out-worked, out-rebounded and outscored Forrest City in the first half. Mustang coach Dwight Lofton got his team’s attention at halftime, and they came out with a renewed focus in the second half. When the Mustangs matched Jacksonville’s effort, there was no question which team was better.

Still, almost all the players on the floor in Red uniforms already have a championship ring from last year, and that counts for something. Joyner mildly derided one reporter for asking if there is any solace in already having won a championship, saying they didn’t come here to lose, and that last year’s title means nothing. But he said so while gesturing with hands that were sporting two big, shiny championship rings from years past. He doesn’t wear those rings for nothing.

These players had already proven themselves champions. Of the 10 different Leader area teams that make up the 19 championship game appearances in the last 13 seasons, the most any one team has made it is four, and that’s the Jacksonville boys. All four have come in the last six years. The Red Devils have become a marquee program, and more title games await.

EDITORIAL >> Corruption in judiciary

Circuit Judge Mike Maggio’s offer to withdraw from the race for a seat on the state Court of Appeals after a blogger exposed his misconduct was welcome, but unfortunately it is not nearly enough. The state must take stronger action against the judge to reassure the public that breaching the independence of the judiciary will never be tolerated.

No principle is more firmly stitched into the fabric of the nation’s constitutional system than the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. The public must always have confidence that the courts are free from coercion by the other branches of government or from private interests or else there is no assurance that individual rights will be protected, and that is what the courts are for.

Matt Campbell, the indefatigable blogger who exposed a series of illegalities by Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, forcing his resignation last month, identified Judge Maggio as the author of a string of crude rants against women, minorities, gays and poor people that appeared on a sports website under the pseudonym “Geauxjudge” and as the man who on the same website unlawfully disclosed confidential information about an adoption by actress Charlize Theron in the Faulkner County courtrooms where Maggio presides.

When the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, which sanctions judges who violate the code of judicial ethics, began its investigation, Judge Maggio said he would withdraw from the Court of Appeals race and apologized for the disgusting conduct. Word at the Justice Building was that the commission would not recommend his removal from office if he abandoned the Court of Appeals race because he would leave the bench anyway Jan. 1.

But then Campbell revealed far more serious breaches. A jury in Maggio’s court had awarded $5.2 million to the family of a woman who died in a nursing home from neglect—the nursing home ignored a doctor’s order that the gravely ill woman be taken to the hospital emergency room. The owner of the home and some 68 other nursing homes asked Maggio to throw the verdict out or reduce the damage award, so Maggio reduced it by $4.2 million.

It turned out that when the owner, Michael Morton of Fort Smith, asked the judge to reduce the verdict, Maggio’s campaign asked him to make gifts to Maggio through some seven political action committees that were set up to launder money from corporate interests into Maggio’s election war chest and other candidates for judge. Morton promptly did so and Maggio slashed the verdict.

Money from Morton and other allied nursing home interests accounted for a huge part of Maggio’s political account.

Morton insists that he did nothing wrong and that he did not regard Maggio’s reducing his payout to the family by $4.2 million as a reward for his big campaign checks. It’s just a coincidence, he said. Now the judicial ethics commission is investigating those circumstances, too.

The judicial code prohibits judges and candidates for judge from soliciting campaign contributions. It must be done by a committee that the judge appoints, but he or she must remain ignorant of the donors. Otherwise, the judge will feel immense pressure to favor a donor if he has an interest in a case before the judge, and the public must forever remain confident that judges, whether they are in error or not, make decisions based upon what they believe the law dictates and not to reward supporters and benefactors.

Maggio is a Republican, although candidates for judge no longer run as Democrats, Republicans or independents. His party would be immaterial if it were not for a pattern. Last year, a Republican official announced that political action committees would be formed, somewhat independent of the party, that would raise money for judges who were committed to the Republican philosophy of government.

Reporting by the Arkansas Times over the weekend disclosed that large sums from Morton and other medical and allied corporate interests were flowing into the campaign treasuries of judges and candidates from a judge in Faulkner County who happened to be associated with Republican politics. Also, the gifts are typically made to blind political action committees instead of directly to a candidate’s campaign, so that it is hard for the public to locate the source of a candidate’s money.

In perhaps the worst court decision in 50 years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled four years ago that corporations, associations and people of wealth had the right to exercise as much influence on elections as their money allowed and to remain anonymous.

Rhonda Wood, a former colleague of Maggio in Faulkner County and a sitting Court of Appeals judge, filed for the Supreme Court this month and got no opponent because it was known she would have a huge campaign treasury from nursing home, medical and other business interests. A circuit judge candidate in Faulkner County got money from the same PACs. Justice Karen Baker, who is running unopposed for another term on the Supreme Court, also benefits.

So why are they so interested in trial and appellate court seats? It is no secret. Donations to legislative candidates in the last decade produced a law that sharply restricted how juries could award judgments for neglect or malpractice. The Arkansas Constitution strictly forbids the legislature from ever passing such laws and the Supreme Court twice in the past three years has struck down portions of the law because the Constitution clearly prohibited them.

If you have an interest in nursing or medical institutions and you can’t get the Constitution changed, the remedy is different judges. For the state, the remedy is to see that the courts are not corrupted in that way.

TOP STORY >> Leader wins 18 awards

The Leader took Best of Division for large weeklies in the Arkansas Press Association’s 2014 Newspaper Advertising Awards luncheon held Friday at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute of the University of Arkansas at Petit Jean Mountain.

The Leader won 18 awards, including second place in the overall sweepstakes category.

The Leader’s ad staff and graphic artists took four first places, including first place, best ad of division for a half-page Fort Thompson fall optics sale for ad rep and publications manager Matt Robinson. The ad was designed by Brooke Cotton.

Another of Robinson’s ads, the Jacksonville Community Center Pool’s Easter egg hunt, took first place for most original idea. Cotton was the designer.

Also taking first place was The Leader’s Hunting Season Preview, a multiple advertiser collaboration by graphic artists Lisa Tigue, Clay Knupp and Brooke Cotton; advertising sales representative and general manager John Henderson, ad rep Susan Swift and Robinson.

The Leader’s high school football tabloid publication took first place for best special section in sports. The Leader’s High School Hoops, a high school basketball tabloid, took second place for best special sports section. The two sections were a collaboration between advertising sales reps and graphic designers, including creative editor Christy Hendricks.

Taking second place for best use of humor was Robinson’s Whit Davis Lumber ad, “Attention, Hunters.” It was designed by Knupp.

Lisa Tigue’s classified advertising took two second places — one for Swift’s Century 21 Real Estate Unlimited and one for Positive Growth, Fertilizer Tech, a help wanted ad.

Swift also garnered a third place for single ad, 10 inches and under, for Stock My Pond, designed by Cotton, and single ad, over 10 inches, for Crafton’s Furniture, designed by Knupp.

Tigue also garnered third for real estate classified for Vowell Realty’s three bedroom rental ad.

Honorable mentions were bestowed on The Leader for Henderson’s North Point Ford Black Friday advertisement for best use of process color. It was also designed by Cotton.

North Point Ford’s “Our Goal,” also Henderson’s, received an honorable mention for single ad over a half page. It was designed by Knupp.

Henderson also received an honorable mention for best use of original photo for Classic Hair Creations Back to School Haircuts, an ad of Knupp’s.

Linda Hostettler’s Sonic ad, “Let’s Go!” received an honorable mention for best supplement ad on newsprint.

The Leader’s Health and Fitness tabloid cover, by creative editor Christy Hendricks, also received an honorable mention.

TOP STORY >> Fired teacher continues to tutor

Leader staff writer

The former Lonoke High School biology teacher fired on March 11 by the school board volunteered on Saturday, four days later, to help students prepare for their upcoming science tests.

An eight-hour study session with Boaz Cotton was held at the Lonoke County Museum. Cotton volunteered his time to help his former pre-advanced placement biology, advanced-placement biology and environmental-science students get back on track.

Cotton was suspended from the classroom in early February after school administrators investigated an alleged report of Cotton slapping a student in the gym.

The school board voted for Superintendent Suzanne Bailey’s recommendation to terminate him for the incident. Cotton was also accused of using profanity in the classroom, having inappropriate contact with a student, showing a graphic video in class and eating lunch with students in his classroom.

Parent Shannon Clement organized the Saturday class within two days. Word spread fast as 20 students were scheduled to attend the tutoring session. Plans are to have two more classes with Cotton.

“My child has fallen behind in AP biology. I thought the students could benefit for the AP and end-of-course exam. Our decision as parents was to put our children first despite the (school) board’s and administration’s decision not to do so,” Clements said.

Cotton said he was already planning to have a study group when a parent suggested it. He said the students are about three weeks behind and they can cover a week of teaching in one day.

“I give my phone number to anyone who wants, if they want to connect, if they need help,” Cotton added.

Parent Adam Sims said, “Very few teachers have the ability to impact a student’s life in such a way that they would give up their free time to learn.”

Laurie Sims, another parent, said, “I think God sends people like (Cotton) to help the kids succeed.”

Senior Mason Moody spent his Saturday helping Cotton with the students. Moody was one of Cotton’s teaching assistants. “I wanted to help these kids. I wanted to be here,” Moody said.

“I’ve known Mr. Cotton for three years. After taking his class, it leaves an impression on you. I came back year after year to be part of that,” Moody said.

He said, after Cotton was suspended, high school administrators pulled him and another teacher’s assistant from the classroom.

“I was told I could be a T.A. for anyone else, but not a science teacher. The science department is my second home. (I’m down) from four periods to one. I now have three periods of study hall. I would like to be re-instated as a science teacher aid for any teacher. I enjoy science. It is a big passion for me,” Moody said.

Several students took advantage of the extra learning time with him and Cotton.

Chloe Schell, a 10th grader, said, “I found this very helpful because in a large class. It’s hard to get one-on-one help. Mr. Cotton knows how to explain it so I can understand. He uses wordings and descriptions that can be related to other things.

“It’s hard to switch from one teacher to another so late in the year. (The new teacher) is different. She and Mr. Cotton have completely different teaching styles. She over-explains things. (He) describes it enough that it’s understandable without losing us,” Schell said.

Bailey Staton, an 11th grader, said, “It’s been really helpful because the teacher we have now is unsure where we left off.”

Cody Sims, a 10th grader, said, “Mr. Cotton made it a fun environment, not a classroom or jail. You wanted to be there.”

Sims said having study sessions helps him learn more on some basics he didn’t understand.

“You don’t feel stupid asking a dumb question. It’s more in-depth. We have hours instead of 52 minutes,” Sims noted.

TOP STORY >> Musician looks back

Leader staff writer

Hall of Fame rockabilly musician Ray (Lefty) Sexton turns 80 years old on Wednesday. A reception will be held 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Grandpa’s Bar-B-Que in Cabot. The Trimble family band Hwy. 31 is scheduled to play.

Sexton sang and played the rhythm guitar. Sexton, who lives in Beebe, promoted several senior county dance halls in the area. He also owned one of the largest a fence companies in the state.

Sexton was born on March 19, 1934, in Park, Ky. He came from a musical family. His younger brother, J. D. played a mandolin and the fiddle. His dad played the fiddle, an aunt sang and played guitar and an uncle was a gospel singer and guitarist. Sexton learned to play guitar after buying a book sold on the radio for 98 cents. He listened to a Victrola that inspired him to play. His grandmother got tired of hearing his records and made him listen to them in the barn.

Sexton left school after sixth grade. He moved out on his own at age 14. Living in Memphis he worked odd jobs, including shining shoes.

He met rockabilly brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette there and lived with them for a time. Every other night he was able to perform with a group of friends at an ambulance-service office.

Sexton formed a band, the Rhythm Rangers. They played Thursday nights at VA hospitals, political rallies and grand openings.

They also performed at a regular Saturday night jamboree during 1953-54 at the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium in downtown Memphis.

“One night a longer haired, poorer looking guy asked if he could back us up on a song. That was Mr. Presley. He had a little old Stella guitar. The cheapest guitar money could buy,” Sexton said.

Sexton said one night while developing film for a photo processor he nearly fell over when he heard Elvis’ sing “Blue Moon” and “That’s Alright Mama” on the radio.

Sexton said, “I wanted to sound like everyone else. I needed a style of my own,” which is why he said he never made it big as an entertainer.

Sexton and his band continued performing regionally until 1962, when he was hired to install fencing along the interstate highway. Sexton left Memphis for a job as a foreman for the highway department. He built fences in Tennessee and Alabama.

He left in 1968 and moved to Cabot to be near family. Here he worked for Interstate Sign Erectors and Guardrails.

In 1972, he started his own fencing business. Sexton Fence Company was the fourth largest fence company in the state during the 1980s. The family business closed in 2010 during the recession.

Sexton resumed his music career in the 1980s, with the Hayloft Jamboree Show held in Cabot next to Mount Carmel Cemetery on Hwy. 89. He then promoted senior citizens dances at Union Hall in Jacksonville at Redmond Road and West Main Street. He then moved to Cabot and held dances behind the old Knight’s grocery store on West Main Street in the building now home to New Life Church.

Sexton moved to Beebe and promoted dances in the building next to the revenue office on West Center Street near the old train depot.

He moved the dancing once more to Ray’s Country Dance in Ward. Sexton doesn’t perform there anymore, but dancing continues there every Friday night. He stopped playing music five years ago because of health problems.