Friday, March 28, 2014

TOP STORY >> State board to continue supervision of PCSSD

The state Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to continue supervision of the Pulaski County Special School District for another year.

The district is facing the loss of $20 million a year in state desegregation funds and the prospect of losing the Jacksonville area, which could form its own district if voters approve the plan in September.

Should the state end supervision of the PCSSD next year, that would be the time when Jacksonville could form its own district and school board.

PCSSD and the Helena-West Helena School District, have been under state supervision for almost three years.

Both districts still have to work out their fiscal problems and academic shortcomings, Tom Kimbrell, the state education commissioner, said.

TOP STORY >> Salvage grocers share the ‘gravy’

Leader staff writer

Wild West Salvage Grocery at 215 S. Redmond Road in Jacksonville has been serving a great need in this struggling economy since it opened in August, owners Karen and Alan West say.

Although the store is for-profit, there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Karen West said, “We get what we need and, if there is any gravy on top, we share it because that is how we were raised.”

“We like to help people,” she said. So the store donates any extras it has to local food pantries. It has even helped individuals who came in to shop.

The couple gave a cart of groceries to a man who came in and said he lost his job but needed to feed his children.

They also covered a 50-cent can of tomato juice this reporter forgot to grab and purchase with her first set of discounted goods at no charge.

The 6,000- to 6,500- square-foot store, housed in a 13,500-square-foot building, is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It accepts credit cards, debit cards and food stamps.

Prices are based on what the owners pay, the Wests said. For example, the store only makes 3 or 4 cents on a can of vegetables, according to Karen West.

“It’s still good food, and it’s cheap,” she continued.

The salvage grocery orders products from Tyson and receives things that have been discontinued or things from wrecked trucks that big-box places made an insurance claim on and couldn’t sell for legal reasons.

Some items are close to out of date. But, Karen West said, “We try to weed through everything.”

She added that shoppers should use their own judgment, especially when it comes to nonperishable goods with “best by” dates.

Karen West said some of the food with an expired “best buy” date may have lost freshness but is still fine to eat.

Other things, like crackers, will be stale, she noted. Karen West said, “You have to use your own head.”

For 10 years, Alan West used the location as an auction house, but business slowed, and his auctioneering experience sparked an idea.

“If you’ve never been to a food auction, that’s something to see,” he explained. “Everybody’s got to eat.”

But Karen West said there is more to it than that. “He loves to help people,” she said. “He has a soft heart. Sometimes I tell him it’s too big.”

So far that heart has paid off. Business is booming, the owners said.

Karen West said, “It’s going good. We’re growing.”

She said the store stays busy, so much so that the couple has trouble keeping it stocked.

Alan West said, “It’s been overwhelming to me, the people who come in to shop.”

He explained, “We didn’t know there was going to be so much demand.”

TOP STORY >> Three teens remembered

Leader staff writer

Ten years after three area cheerleaders were killed in a car crash at the intersection of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 89 in Cabot, their memory lives on and continues to impact the lives of others.

For the second year in a row, Western Sizzlin’ in Jacksonville is hosting a “Free Breakfast (but bring a donation!)” fundraiser from 6 until 10 a.m. next Friday to raise money for the families’ Three Cheerleaders Memorial Scholarships. And 103.7 The Buzz will do its show live from the restaurant that day.

Last year, the breakfast added $5,000 to the scholarship fund’s coffers, bereaved mother Becky Russell told The Leader Thursday.

Five scholarships are awarded each year — two are available to students at Jacksonville High School, North Pulaski High School, Cabot High School and Sylvan Hills High School, she said.

Two more are awarded to Sylvan Hills students, and another one is awarded to a North Pulaski student in honor of Taylore’ Hall, 15, Alicia Rix, 16, and Jae Lynn Russell, 16.

“They were all good girls. They were taken during the peak of their lives…Their songs were building to the crescendo,” Russell said. “It left us wanting something so much more.”

The three cheerleaders died on March 18, 2004, when their 2001 Saturn collided with a tractor-trailer rig. Theirs was not the first fatal accident at that intersection, now called Angel’s Crossing. A traffic signal has since been installed there.

Russell said, “I think all of the parents, and all of the siblings too, would say we all had a wreck…We’ve been totally transformed by their deaths.”

She added, “We are all much better people.”

Russell explained that she has told Jae Lynn’s sisters to “live large, have no regrets.” The mother also joined the Bereaved Parents of the U.S.A. board after the tragedy.

Russell said she has taken her own advice too. “I’ve learned to appreciate life more,” she said.

Hall and Rix attended Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood. Russell was transferring to Sylvan Hills from North Pulaski High School in Jacksonville.

One of the Sylvan Hills-only awards bears Hall’s name, and the other is named for Rix. The one awarded to a North Pulaski student is named for Jae Lynn Russell.

She was one of Becky Russell’s three daughters.

Becky Russell said, if her daughter and the other girls could say how they felt about the scholarships, “I think they would be so touched that they would be remembered so well.”

She also said the scholarships brought together the three families who didn’t know each other before the accident. “We’re still very close,” Russell said.

The girls met at cheerleader tryouts just a few weeks before they died.

Russell said she called Reg Hammand of Sherwood after the tragedy to talk about how Jae Lynn could best be remembered. “I wanted it to be meaningful. I wanted it to be large,” she said.

Hammand suggested that the three families team up to honor the girls in a big way. He told them, if the teenagers had lived another 50 years, they probably would have stayed in the area, gone to school and raised families.

Russell said the scholarships help young people do what the girls never had a chance to do.

Hammand set the families’ goal of giving out $250,000 in scholarships for each girl — a total of $750,000 — over the next 50 years.

Russell said the $750,000 goal had not been reached yet, but the fund has between $300,000 and $400,000. And more than $100,000 in scholarships has been awarded to six or seven students. A committee separate from the parents chooses the recipients to prevent bias.

About the aftermath of the tragedy, Russell said, “One of the most incredible and surprising stories is how the community has come together.”

One of the scholarship winners, Taylor Barrow, has graduated college, teaches in Greenbrier and has asked one of Jae Lynn’s sisters to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding.

Another recipient, Austin Rodgers, attends Hendrix College in Conway and is very involved with the drama department. He has starred in several productions, Russell said.

The scholarships have no big sponsors, she continued. It is moms, dads and friends donating small amounts.

Her family has a few wealthier friends who have donated $500 or $1000, but those are the largest contributions, Russell said.

Friday’s breakfast is not the only soiree that raises money for the scholarship fund, she added.

Every year on the anniversary of the accident, the families host a free dinner, but bring a checkbook event.

After a few years, a silent auction was added to that. With hundreds of small items donated by local businesses, it raised $12,000 this year, which Russell said was the last year it will be held.

The families also host an annual softball tournament that will be held on Memorial Day weekend. Three sponsors are needed to pay for T-shirts, trophies and hire umpires. All three girls played softball, Russell said.

Then she described her daughter as “curious” and “full of whimsy.” Russell said Jae Lynn loved the uniqueness of people.

Jae Lynn used a dry erase marker to draw a picture of a girl going fishing on her mother’s mirror the morning of the accident. A copy of that picture now adorns the site where her life ended.

Russell said her daughter was affected by the deaths of two teenage boys who were killed in a similar crash a few months before the cheerleaders died.

Jae Lynn, in her dairy, wondered about death and whether she would be loved and missed like those boys, Russell said.

The mother told her daughter she would be, and her word has been proven true.

Russell also told The Leader that Alicia was beautiful, poised and mature while Taylore’ was an infectious, impish tomboy who knew how to be a lady too.

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills undefeated at Florida

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills baseball team went undefeated in the Disney World High School Invitational during spring break. The event was not a tournament. Teams were split into groups of five and every team was guaranteed four games. In an odd placement, the Bears were put into a division with four teams from Illinois, and swept the Prairie State.

The Bears started the week with wins over Grayslake Central and Niles North. On Wednesday and Thursday, they beat Grayslake North 3-2 and Fenwick Prep Academy 8-5.

“We played some really good competition,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “We were by far the smallest team there. A couple of the teams, I’d swear we were playing a college team. But the kids competed. I guess the thing that made me proudest was that everybody contributed. We took 17 players and all 17 contributed in one way or another. We played really good defense. The pitching was outstanding. It was just a really good tournament. I guess we won the state of Illinois.”

The game against GLN was a pitchers’ duel for five innings. The Bears finally broke a scoreless game in the sixth inning with three runs. Jacob White led off and got on base with an E6. Brandon Baioni moved him into scoring position with a sacrifice grounder. Three-straight base hits then brought in the three runs. Blake Maddox singled to score White. Connor Poteet then tripled to bring in Maddox, and Haden Hawkins singled to score Poteet and give the Bears a 3-0 lead.

Junior Marcus Long started and pitched five innings before leaving with a blister on his hand. He gave up just one hit. He walked the bases loaded with two outs in the fourth, but got ground ball to shortstop to get out of the inning. He retired the side in order in the fifth, striking out the last batter he faced before yielding the mound to Charlie Roberts.

Roberts put GLN down in order in the sixth, but got into some trouble in the seventh as the Knights began to rally.

After getting the leadoff batter out in the seventh, Roberts gave up a base hit, hit a batter, walked a batter and gave up two more base hits. With the Bears still clinging to a 3-2 lead, Mackenzie Seats took the mound and got a game-ending double-play ball to seal the victory.

Against Fenwick, the Bears jumped out to a 7-1 lead through five innings and then held off another late rally. It started with three runs in the first off three base hits and a hit batter. Nathan Thomas was hit to start the game. Two batters later, Chase Imhoff doubled to score Thomas. Roberts then singled to score Imhoff and Hunter Heslep doubled to drive in Roberts.

Fenwick got one in the bottom of the first, but the Bears added three more in the second. Joseph Craft started things off in the second with a leadoff walk. He moved to second on a sacrifice by Carson Sanders.

Thomas was again hit by a pitch and T.J. Burrow singled to drive in Craft. Imhoff was hit and Roberts walked with the bases loaded to drive in a run. White then hit a fly ball to center field for another RBI.

The Bears made it 7-1 in the fourth when Thomas walked and scored on a hit by Imhoff.

Fenwick closed the gap with two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth. The Bears added an unearned run in the top of the seventh to set the final margin.

White was on the mound for the duration against Fenwick. He scattered nine hits over seven innings, striking out seven and walking just two.

The Bears, 8-3, get back to conference play when they host a 5A-Central doubleheader against Mills.

SPORTS STORY >> CJHN student racing for cure on dirt track

Leader sportswriter

After a successful rookie campaign, Cabot Junior High North freshman and stock-car driver Rebekah Harris will be competing in her first full season at the Plumerville Super Speedway in Plumerville this year, and at the end of the season, she’ll donate half of her season’s winnings to a great cause.

Harris, a 14-year-old Ward native, will be the lone female competitor in her age group at the track this season, and half of her winnings will go to the Breast Cancer Foundation of America once the season ends in October.

Harris won the Rookie of the Year award and finished seventh in the overall points standings last year at Plumerville, and even though she’s set her goals even higher for this year, she wanted to do something more, and that’s what led to her decision to donate to a greater cause.

“I have friends and a lot of people I know that have had breast cancer,” said Harris. “My mom actually came up with the idea. I’ve always been somebody that likes to give back to other people, and when she mentioned the breast cancer idea, I thought it was a good idea.”

On the back of Harris’ customized No. 99 Chevrolet Monte Carlo it reads ‘Racing For The Cure… All Through The Year!’ Harris is carrying on her family tradition of racing at the dirt tracks, something she got into by watching her father, Jerry Harris, do competitively at the I-30 Speedway in Little Rock.

“I watched him race every Friday and Saturday night,” Harris said of her father. “I learned how to drive a car and one day I asked him if I could race, and he bought me a car. It wasn’t ready to race or anything. So he asked one of his friends if I could drive one of their cars in the Powder Puff. So I started racing in Powder Puff and I didn’t stop because this is what I want to do.”

Harris first began racing in motocross with her brother, but she got hooked on stock-car racing when she began competing in the Powder Puff (all girls) division at the I-30 Speedway. She was 13 when she started.

Harris finished fifth in the overall points standings that season, and after that, she got her first car. The next season, Harris began racing in the Super Stock division at I-30 Speedway, but about halfway through the year, she decided to start racing at Plumerville Super Speedway.

Part of the reason Harris said she decided to start racing at Plumerville was because she wanted more of a challenge than what was offered in the Powder Puff division at I-30 Speedway. But that step up in competition has also come with a bit of adversity.

Since Harris is the lone female racer in her division that regularly consists of around 20 participants, she admits that some of her competition has felt threatened by the fact that they’re competing against a girl.

“A lot of people think it’s a good thing and are like ‘that’s cool that you do this,’” Harris said. “Some of the guys don’t like it, but it’s whatever. It’s definitely a challenge having to deal with some of the guys and what they say, but I try not to let it bother me. At first it did, but this is something I like to do and it really doesn’t matter what people think.”

Harris said it can be tricky juggling her top hobby with school, but regardless of how busy she can be, she still finds the time to compete and be at the track every Saturday of racing season, which takes place from March through October.

Even though Harris has had some success in her short time racing, she did have a scare at the end of her rookie season. In her last race of the season, she got tangled with another car and ended up rolling her car on its side.

Some family members wondered if the accident would cause her to step back from competition, but Harris said that even though the accident was a bit of a scare, it wasn’t enough to turn her away from the sport that she loves.

“After I had my wreck, I was kind of scared to get back in the car,” Harris said. “But they (family) told me ‘if you don’t do it now, you’re never going to want to do it again because you’re going to be scared of it.’

“Well, we had gone to a race at a different track for a bigger race the next week, and I was like, I have to do this because I love this and if I don’t do it now I’m not going to want to do it ever again.

“I knew that for a 14-year-old that didn’t have very much experience, I was pretty good. I didn’t want to give up my career in it, so I kept going.”

As for this season, Harris said her biggest goal is to finish in the top three in the overall points standings by season’s end, and that she looks forward to the challenge.

“Last year was more of a learning year,” she said, “and this year I want to be able to get up there. I’ve won a race in Powder Puff, but I’ve never won one with the boys. So that’s one of my goals, and being in the top three in points and making every single race.”

Harris will race all season at the Plumerville Super Speedway and the first official race of the year took place last Saturday.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS wins three to end GSC Classic

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville baseball team finished the Gulf Coast Classic tournament with three-straight wins after dropping the opener 1-0 to the No. 5 team from Alabama. After the loss on Monday, the Red Devils beat Heritage Christian Academy, a 1A school from Indianapolis that brought a 14-5 record into the game, 16-0.

They followed that with a 4-1 win over McGill-Toolen, another 6A team from Mobile, Ala. The Red Devils closed the tournament on Thursday by beating the hosting Gulf Shores Dolphins 13-2.

“We had a good time and we played pretty well,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “That makes it worthwhile.”

Against Heritage Christian, the Red Devils got a complete-game shutout on the mound from sophomore Brandon Hickingbotham. He gave up four hits while striking out five. He was also one of three Red Devils to get three base hits in the game. Deaundre Harris and Derek St. Clair also got three hits.

St. Clair, hitting in a new position in the lineup, had a monster game with a double, a triple and six RBIs.

“He got a little better this week,” Burrows said. “I moved him to the seven hole and I liked it a lot better. It gives us a little speed at the bottom of the order, and it gave him an opportunity to drive in some runs. Our middles have been getting on base quite a bit.”

Hickingbotham, who has the team’s second-highest batting average at .526, moved into the two-hole.

“I like it,” Burrows said. “I like how it went this week anyway.”

James Tucker went the distance against McGill-Toolen, 13-13. The Red Devils were out-hit 8-3, but committed no errors as Tucker worked his way out of a few jams.

“Tucker threw really well,” Burrows said. “He’s showing some toughness working out of some jams. They can hit. I think they swung it better than Hillcrest. They were a big team and we just didn’t give them anything.”

Tucker also got a two-out, two-RBI double in the first inning to score Hickingbotham, who had hit a one-out single three batters earlier, and Greg Jones.

“He crushed it,” Burrows said of Tucker’s hit. “It would’ve been gone at our park, but that field was huge.”

In the second inning, St. Clair drew a walk and stole second base. Blake Perry moved him to third and Harris drove him in, both with sacrifice grounders.

McGill-Toolen got its lone run on three-straight, one-out base hits in the fourth inning. With two runners in scoring position, Tucker got out of the crunch with a strikeout and a groundout.

He also drew a walk to start the sixth inning. Caleb Smith was his courtesy runner and he stole second base. St. Clair then hit a two-out double to drive in the last run of the game.

Perry started and got the win against Gulf Shores. Caleb Reeves threw the last inning for the save.

Courtland McDonald and Reeves each got three base hits, and Hickingbotham added two more.

“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Burrows said of his sophomore. “We talked all fall about how we expect him to swing it. He’s going to have a high average.”

Jacksonville, 7-3, gets back to local competition when they travel to Little Rock on Tuesday for a 5A-Central doubleheader against McClellan.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers win twice at CAI

Leader sports editor

The Cabot baseball team made a power play on Thursday in the opening round of the Central Arkansas Invitational. The Panthers opened the three-site tournament at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock, and whipped Alma 9-1 in a rain-delayed game, getting two first-inning home runs to take command of the game. Cabot pitcher Zach Patterson gave up a single run in the top of the first on no hits, but the Panther bats erased that deficit quickly. The Panthers scored four runs in the bottom of the same inning and never trailed again.

The Airedales’ first-inning run came after Patterson walked leadoff hitter Askitu Williams on four pitches. He moved to third on an error in left field with one out, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dylan Brown.

Patterson threw a two-hitter the rest of the way.

Cabot’s four-run rally in the bottom of the first started with an error in right field with one out. That left Adam Hicks safe at first. Riley Knudsen then singled to put two runners on for Tristan Bulice. The junior designated hitter blasted one over the high fence in left-center field.

After a grounder for the second out, Patterson had the rare green light on a 3-0 pitch and drilled a solo home run for a 4-1 lead.

Though Alma struggled to hit Patterson, the hard-throwing Division I signee struggled with control. He started the second inning by hitting and walking the first two batters, but finished it by striking out the side.

Cabot added two more runs in the second frame, starting with a one-out double by nine-hole hitter Conner Vocque. Leadoff hitter Lee Sullivan then singled to score Knudsen and Hicks walked. Knudsen then hit an RBI single to make it 6-1.

Patterson had to work out of a little trouble again in the third inning. He hit Cade Spelker with one out, and Brown followed with the Airedales’ first base hit. But Patterson struck out Brent Ferris and got Will Montgomery to hit back to him for a 1-3 play that ended the inning.

The Panthers added two more in the fourth inning before the rains came. Patterson drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a grounder to shortstop by Logan Kirkendoll. Grayson Cole then walked on four pitches and two batters later, both runners scored on a base hit by Sullivan. The rain blew up the brackets and tournament organizers reverted to just trying to get teams games.

That meant Cabot played Kickapoo High of Springfield, Mo., Friday morning. The Panthers won that one 8-1.

Hicks threw five innings, giving up no earned runs. Gavin Tillery pitched the last two innings of scoreless baseball.

“We’re starting to hit the ball a little better,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin. “The kids had a good approach. They weren’t just going out there trying to hit home runs, but we took advantage of that ballpark. We had the wind with us a little bit, but we were just trying to go out there and hit the ball in the middle of the field.

“The pitching has been pretty good from the start and the offense is starting to catch up. I told them I feel like if we can score four runs or more a game, it ought to win 80 or 90 percent of the time.”

In game two, Knudsen got a double and a single with two RBIs. Bulice got another extra-base hit and Sullivan reached on every at bat, including three walks.

The Panthers were scheduled to face Springdale Har-Ber last night after Leader deadlines.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SPORST STORY >> Ex-Trojan gives uplifting message

Leader sportswriter

Former professional football player Keith Davis paid a visit to Cabot High School on Thursday to share his message of hard work, persistence and inspiration.

Davis was a standout linebacker at the University of Southern California, and after leading the Trojans in tackles and being named to the Pac-10 All-Conference team, he signed a professional football contract with the New York Giants in 1988.

A career-ending knee injury during the 1988 preseason put an end to Davis’ playing days, but he found his second calling soon after as a motivational speaker.

Davis has traveled around the world since then, and has spoken in about 10,000 schools in over 51 countries, spreading his message of making the right choices and working hard in the classroom to youths everywhere.

A lot of Davis’ motivation to do such work came from personal experiences of overcoming adversity, whether it was on the field or off, particularly in the classroom.

“I went from remedial reading status to graduating from USC with the team’s highest overall grade point average,” said Davis. “I was Academic All-Conference and an Academic All-American. So, what I say to the young people is you don’t have to be great to get started, you just have to get started to be great.

“It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. I started speaking in LA (Los Angeles) and at USC, and next thing you know I’ve been to 51 countries and probably spoken in about 10,000 schools.”

Davis is part of a big movement by pro athletes, current and former, that have come together to spread a positive message to today’s youth in hopes of inspiring future generations to avoid things like substance abuse and to succeed in spite of whatever adversity they may be faced with along the journey.

“We have about 20 other players that speak with us – guys from the Patriots, Packers and Colts. We all have a similar vision, which is to help young people get inspired, encouraged – no more drug abuse, no more alcohol abuse, no more teen suicide.

“And even though they may be dealing with issues of depression and their parents are getting divorced and everything, you never know in the midst of it all what difference you can make. That’s the gist of the program, but we have a lot of fun with it and keep it exciting. It’s just something that we decided to pursue and it’s been great.”

Davis, along with his co-speaker Clarence Lee, who played for legendary coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State and is still the strongest player in Florida State football history (650-pound bench press), kept the students entertained with a few strength demonstrations, some of which included Lee doing push-ups with some of Cabot High’s biggest kids standing on his back.

The fun, though, was never overshadowed by the message of inspiration, which Davis and Lee referred to as ‘the second half’.

“By the time I was in 10th grade, I was at my 19th different school,” Davis said. “I had so many challenges at school and family challenges, but people encouraged me not to quit and not to give up, and I call that ‘the second half’.

“I’m living a great second half now. That teacher, that coach, that counselor at my school encouraged me and I said ‘I want to be a positive voice’. I just want to be a dream-maker and a positive voice, and it’s just a real good way to spread the message and get people excited.”

SPORTS STORY >> CHS falls at Farmington

Leader sports editor

The Cabot softball team wasn’t able to capitalize on the momentum of beating the defending state champs earlier in the week. The Lady Panthers took part in the Farmington-Fayetteville tournament over the weekend and went 0-3.

“I don’t know, we just hit a lull or something,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope. “We started out beating Batesville, who is good. We lost to Beebe by one run on an error, and then we beat North Little Rock, who has all but one player back from the state championship team. Then we get to this tournament and just didn’t play. Maybe it was a lull after that high of beating North Little Rock. Maybe we were looking forward to spring break. I don’t know, but we didn’t play well at all.”

The sign that it would be a long weekend came quickly. Cabot opened the tournament against Fort Smith Northside on Friday and lost 8-7. The Lady Panthers hit the ball well, out-hitting the Lady Bears by a wide margin, but dug a hole early with bad defense that they couldn’t climb out of.

Cabot committed seven errors in the first inning alone, giving up seven runs.

“That’s not exaggeration,” Cope said. “Seven errors in the first inning, and I think it was the first seven batters.”

The Lady Panthers went on to play better defense the rest of the tournament, but could never get the bats going like they were against North Little Rock, when the team hit five home runs.

On Saturday, Cabot, 2-4, lost 3-1 to Pea Ridge and 7-0 to Rogers before the tournament was called off because of rain.

Mena was declared the winner of the tournament for having won the winners’ bracket. Farmington was up 3-2 on Greenbrier in the semifinals of the losers’ bracket with the winner advancing to face Conway when play was halted.

Cabot and Beebe will host the Beebe-Cabot Invitational on Saturday. The Lady Panthers open play at 10 a.m. against Bauxite. Brookland takes on Atkins at 11:30 a.m. in Cabot. In Beebe, the Lady Badgers play Cedar Ridge at 10 a.m. and Bryant faces Salem at 11:30 a.m.

“I still think we have a team that can compete with anybody,” Cope said. “But we’re going to have to play a lot better than we did, and it’s going to have to start soon. This Beebe-Cabot tournament has good teams in it too.

“But hey, we’re still 1-0 in conference and that was against the top team in the conference coming in. So we’re still in a good spot where it really counts. We’re young and we just have to learn how to not let these things happen.”

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils almost earn a big upset

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville baseball team’s four-game winning streak came to an end Monday in the Gulf Coast Classic hosted by Gulf Shores High School in Alabama. The 32-team field includes teams from seven states, and Jacksonville drew Tuscaloosa-Hillcrest in the first round. Hillcrest won 1-0, but Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows wasn’t down about his team’s performance – especially the performance on the mound by junior Derek St. Clair.

“Derek was awesome on the mound,” Burrows said. “He gave up a leadoff single and didn’t give up another hit until the sixth inning.”

Making the effort more impressive is that Hillcrest is Alabama’s No. 5 overall ranked team from the state’s largest classification. The Patriots are already 22-4 this season and fresh off a 12-8 win over the No. 13 team in the nation, DeSoto Central. Arkansas rules only allow teams a total of 25 regular-season games. The loss dropped Jacksonville’s record to 4-3.

Hillcrest’s lone run came in the first inning after leadoff hitter Keith Holcombe beat out a ground ball to shortstop for an infield single. Holcombe, 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, has already signed a football scholarship with the University of Alabama as an outside linebacker, and had dozens of baseball scouts on hand Monday evaluating his draft worthiness.

He then stole second and third base on pitches in the dirt and scored on a sacrifice grounder to second base with one out.

After that, the Patriots scarcely threatened to score. Riley Nix got a base hit in the sixth inning for the Patriots, but St. Clair picked him off at first base.

Hillcrest also boasts prospects in pitcher Braxton McFerrin and shortstop J.C. Frederick. Frederick made two base-hit saving plays in the gap. One play robbed Jacksonville leadoff hitter Courtland McDonald, and another robbed St. Clair.

“He just made two plays in the gap where he threw them out at first on backhand snags,” Burrows said. “And those two are really the only two we have that run really well. He just made two outstanding plays.”

Even with those two hits stolen, the Red Devils out-hit Hillcrest 4-2. The Red Devils threatened in the last inning, loading the bases with two outs, but were unable to get the timely hit.

Catcher Greg Jones went 3 for 3 to lead Jacksonville offensively. James Tucker got the other base hit for the Red Devils.

“We didn’t get many on base, but we only struck out three times,” Burrows said. “We swung the bats pretty well. We put it in play. They’re just really good.”

Jacksonville faced Heritage Christian High School of Indianapolis on Tuesday after Leader deadlines. They will play McGill-Toolen Catholic of Mobile, Ala., on Wednesday. Depending on results in those games, the Red Devils could move into bracket play on Thursday.

“We could still get into it if we win out, but losing that first one probably hurt our chances,” Burrows said.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears win two at Disney

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills baseball team is 2-0 after two games in the Walt Disney World High School Challenge. On Monday, the Bears beat Grayslake-Central of Grayslake, Ill., 4-1. On Tuesday, in a 9 a.m. game, the Bears beat Niles North, Ill., 12-0.

“We’ve played pretty well down here,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “We’re hitting the ball pretty well and we’ve had two outstanding games on the mound. We’ve won two games and only had to throw two pitchers. They’ve given up one run combined so you can’t ask for much more than that.”

In Monday’s game, Connor Poteet threw a complete game, giving up seven hits while striking out four Ram batters. Grayslake Central is the No. 3 ranked class 3A team in Illinois. Sylvan Hills’ defense gave up three errors behind him, but Poteet pitched out of trouble several times to keep the Rams at bay.

Niles North got its run in the top of the first inning, but Sylvan Hills answered with two in the bottom of the first and never trailed again. Nathan Thomas started the first-inning rally by taking a pitch to the hip. Chase Imoff singled to move Thomas to third. Thomas then scored on an error at second base off the bat of Charlie Roberts.

Sylvan Hills added two more in the fourth inning on four base hits, starting with a leadoff hit by Jacob Franco, who was then replaced on the base paths by Marcus Long.

Thomas followed with a base hit to put runners on the corners. T.J. Burrow then singled to score Long and Imoff singled to drive in Thomas for the final run of the game.

In Tuesday’s game, Sylvan Hills got 11 base hits and 12 runs, but it was pitcher Hunter Heslep who stole the show. Heslep went the distance, throwing a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts.

“He had a really good day,” Tipton said. “They weren’t able to touch him. He was just dialed in.”

Heslep gave up a single to the first batter he faced before retiring 21 of the remaining 23 batters he faced. Sylvan Hills scored three runs in the first inning, one in the fourth and four each in the fifth and sixth innings. The Bears committed no errors on Tuesday.

“Jacob White and Chase Imoff are both hitting the ball really well right now,” Tipton said. “They’re up there at the top of the lineup and they’re getting us off to good starts. But it’s really been up and down the lineup. We’ve had production from about everyone.

“And for the most part we’re playing pretty good defense. We had no errors today and that’s what you want.”

Sylvan Hills, 6-3, was put into a pool with all Illinois teams, and will face Grayslake North today at 1 p.m. EST.

EDITORIAL >> Parole system enables crime

Stephen Thomas Miller of Cabot was stabbed to death earlier this month after he got into a fight with a couple at a local bar. Miller, who was only 28, apparently exchanged some nasty words with a parolee named Arthur Lockhart Jr. of Searcy and his wife, Tere.

Miller, who was white, and the Lockharts, who are black, must have exchanged some heated words early Sunday morning after a night out at The Hangar bar off Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville. They stepped into the parking lot, where Miller supposedly hurled the n-word at Mrs. Lockhart.

Miller probably had no way of knowing that Arthur Lockhart was a habitual criminal who had been in and out of prison thanks to Arkansas’ generous parole system.

Lockhart, 35, was out on parole the morning Miller was killed in March. In 2005, Lockhart was sentenced to 26 years in prison for aggravated assault and possession of firearms.

He obviously didn’t serve anything close to his sentence because, in 2011 — just six years after his conviction — Lockhart was found guilty of felony possession of a controlled substance, felony tampering with evidence and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

He was sentenced to 45 months for the more recent drug charges, but there he was out drinking with his wife on the night of the stabbing.

Lockhart was also sentenced in 1995 to six years for second-degree battery and robbery.

In 1998, Lockhart was sentenced to six years for possession of a controlled substance with purpose to manufacture or deliver.

Lockhart has several tattoos, including one that says “nigga.”

The Lockharts have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in Jacksonville District Court, even though Arthur Lockhart allegedly confessed to the killing.

He has also been charged with tampering with evidence because he allegedly threw a knife onto the roof of the bar after the stabbing.

The Lockharts are being held at the Pulaski County jail with a $250,000 bond for Arthur Lockhart and a $100,000 bond for his wife.

EDITORIAL >> Community as in unity

Thanks to more people we can name or count, only a Sept. 16 referendum on the school election ballot now stands between local residents and their own stand-alone Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district.

Like a glacier creeping across the landscape — perhaps a fitting analogy in the new age of the polar vortex — the movement for a stand-alone Jacksonville-area school district has relentlessly overcome all obstacles in its path.

Put another way, Jacksonville residents put the “unity” in “community.”

The Pentagon didn’t throw a dart at the map and decide to build what’s evolved into the world’s premiere C-130 Air Force base in Jacksonville — the city leaders competed for, donated land for and wooed the Air Force for the base, which opened in 1955.

These are the same people who won the base the coveted Abilene Trophy for having the most community support among Air Mobility bases in the country.

And neither did the state, the Pulaski County Special School District, the Joshua Intervenors or the federal courts drop by one day and ask if Jacksonville would like to break off from PCSSD and start its own district. It took decades of grueling work that too many felt would be an impossible accomplishment.

But the real work of educating our children and rebuilding our schools has just begun.

Residents have to pass the detachment authorization Sept. 16. They are also likely to be asked to approve a property tax increase, which will help the new district accomplish its goals while securing its financial footing. The good news is that the days of Jacksonville property owners being taxed only to see their money spent in other cities are over.

If all the decrepit 40-year-old school buildings are to be replaced, the new district will likely need a millage increase. Jacksonville’s residents have been generous about funding things for their children and to better education.

Jacksonville residents taxed themselves to build a swimming complex for the youth, and again to pitch in $5 million toward the Air Force’s Joint Education Center, a confederation of colleges that now sits at the intersection of Vandenberg Boulevard and John Harden Drive — testimony to what the community can do when it puts its broad shoulder to the wheel.

TOP STORY >> Super Bowl star in homecoming

Leader staff writer

Super Bowl champion Clinton McDonald is returning to Jacksonville the week of April 14 for “A Homecoming for a Championship Week.”

The Jacksonville native 2005 graduate of Jacksonville High School will be the guest speaker for the annual Boys and Girls Club of Jacksonville banquet and host a youth football camp to conclude the homecoming week.

All money raised from events will be split between the Boys and Girls Club and Jacksonville High School.

The banquet will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 17 at the Jacksonville Community Center. Tickets are $50, and table sponsorships are available.

The event will include a silent auction, recognition of the club’s volunteer of the year and presentations of the Boys and Girls Club of Jacksonville Scholarship and the Dub Meyers Leadership Scholarship.

McDonald was pleased at being asked to speak. He said, “I attended the Boys and Girls Club from age 6 to 13. The Boys and Girls Club was a place where my friends, my brother and sister and I would go and play with the other children from the neighborhood.”

Two days later, the star will host his second annual Iron Sharpens Iron youth football camp. It starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 19 at Jacksonville High School.

McDonald, a defensive tackle who played for the Seattle Seahawks but recently signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, explained, “Iron Sharpens Iron comes from a book in the Bible, Proverbs 27:17 — ‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.’

“My mother and father would instill the foundation of who God and Christ are in our lives, and this is just one of the verses that really stuck with me over the years,” McDonald said.

Registration for the football camp is $35 per player in advance or $40 on the day of the camp. Register at the Boys and Girls Club or at

The camp will teach youngsters playing skills that the NFL, college and high school coaches and players use. Among those scheduled to attend are Buccaneers defensive end Michael Johnson, retired Carolina Panther defensive back Dante Wesley and former NFL players and Arkansas Razorbacks Anthony Lucas and Matt Jones.

During the camp, parents and students can talk with college recruiters and educators about scholarships, applying for admissions, ACT testing, the athletic recruitment process and financial education. The educational portion of the camp is free and open to the public.

Those registered for the camp will meet and greet NFL players on Friday night, April 18 at Old Chicago Pizza in North Little Rock.

But the homecoming week’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. Monday, April 14 with the retirement of McDonald’s high school basketball and football jerseys at the Jacksonville High School basketball gym. The ceremony is free to attend and open to the public.

The week’s fun continues at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 15 with a fashion show at the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club on 1 Boys Club Drive off Graham Road in Jacksonville.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children and free for 3-year-olds and younger kids. They may be purchased in advance at the club or at the door on the day of the show.

The two-hour show will feature many local vendors and boutiques showing off spring fashions for children and adults. Entertainment includes the Price Brothers of Jacksonville.

Fashion show organizer Whitney Dobbins, a Jackson-ville High graduate, said the show is about appreciating children and their talents. She said there are a lot of local people trying to do different things with their lives.

“Strive to do what you want to. I’ve always been into fashions. If you have the talent, display it and use it to help others,” Dobbins said.

The Boys and Girls Club has 430 children registered members. Annual membership is $30.

The organization is known for its after-school and summer programs for youth. McDonald said he and his siblings took advantage of those programs and others like them.

“We also participated in the summer lunch program that the club offered, which gave the neighborhood children as well as myself an opportunity to eat a free lunch in a safe and friendly environment,” the football star said.
“Some of my favorite memories at the Boys and Girls Club are going to a private airport and actually being able to fly on a propeller plane. I also enjoyed going to interact with different children, some who are still good friends of mine to this day.”

McDonald earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2009 from the University of Memphis. He played football at Memphis and was drafted in 2009 by the Cincinnati Bengals.

TOP STORY >> HUD seeks ideas for city

Leader staff writer

From too many renters to dilapidated schools and lack of new industry, Jacksonville is rife with issues that need to be addressed, according to attendees at a recent community meeting hosted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD senior management analyst David Blick explained that the purpose of the meeting was to develop a community needs assessment.

Another meeting will be held in April to finish compiling that.

“HUD wants to solve locally identified and locally driven community goals,” Blick said at the March meeting. “We want to focus existing federal, state and local resources for a resolution of those goals.”

He told the crowd of about 40 at the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex on Graham Road, “This is kind of an experiment.”

The Little Rock field office had to identify from a list one or two communities that met certain criteria and that the staff wanted to work with, he noted.

The staff chose Jackson-ville for its “engaged leadership” and because the city fell under the jurisdiction of Metroplan, which has an existing HUD grant.

Wanda Merritt, director of HUD’s Little Rock field office, welcomed everyone to the meeting.

She said, “(The department wants) to provide avenue such as this for increased collaboration across HUD programs (that support) sustainable communities.”

Merritt added, “We want to come together to look at do we have any money? How do we spend the money? Where is the money?”

After introductions, participants were grouped by the six tables they were seated at. Each table was given a poster board to write down things they wanted to see addressed in Jacksonville.

After an hour of discussion, they reported that Jacksonville needs to:

• continue the rehabilitation of dilapidated houses and structures, especially those in the Sunnyside Addition;

• provide resources, like a shelter, to its homeless population;

• recruit more industrial leaders and retailers with tax credits;

• partner with the Delta Regional Authority the Housing Trust Fund and banks to accomplish goals;

• feed more low-income residents;

• increase the amount of affordable housing to encourage more home ownership;

• encourage faith-based organizations to provide labor and/or materials for residents who need home improvements but are unable to do them because of their incomes or because they are elderly;

• improve public transportation options;

• see if more than two pharmacies will deliver medicines to homes;

• improve schools;

• turn around the negative perception many have of North Metro Medical Center;

• work through being landlocked by finding spaces to build houses or businesses;

• get the wet/dry issue on the ballot by completing the petition;

• figure out a plan B if Little Rock Air Force Base were to close at some point;

• develop a city center where people can meet for any large celebration;

• provide even more opportunities for recreation;

• lower its high crime rate;

• fix potholes and

• adjust planning to urbanize the area by putting houses with businesses and becoming more walkable.

Code enforcement officer Charles Jenkins said, “With more industry, with more business you have people earning wages…they can afford better housing and a better quality of life.”

Deen Johnson, an executive broker with Century 21, said, “We’ve got a great hospital here, but there’s a perception that people don’t want to go to that hospital and we need to try to turn that perception around.”

Jim McKenzie with Metro-plan said, “One of the tests that urbanists say is if your team won the high school state championship, where would the community go to celebrate? We decided it was the Walgreens parking lot.”

He pointed out that Jacksonville’s split main street is unique. McKenzie suggested looking at form-based zoning that would stress aesthetics and, if the city owned all the property in the middle of the city, turning the split island in the middle of West Main Street into a park.

McKenzie agreed that Jacksonville is land-locked, so it needs to put more on what it has instead of look for more land to spread out.

Gwendolyn Harper said the city needs more families. She said, “We don’t get the young child-bearing people here” because of how the city is perceived.

Harper explained that people see the high crime rate, that the city lost the state fair, that it lost the veterans’ home and that it lost a large chicken plant.

Mayor Gary Fletcher kicked off and ended the meeting with optimism, sharing the vision he has for the city.

The mayor said, “Jacksonville is fixing to turn a corner and create a new city” because it will detach from the Pulaski County Special School District to form an independent school district soon.

“This city has more potential than any city around,” Fletcher continued, adding, “I believe there are two things that grow a community, education, and we’re taking care of that, and health care.”

He said a Dallas consultant is working on a health study that could provide suggestions for improvement there.

But, Fletcher also said, “I believe that Jacksonville needs to focus on something and that is moving people from rentership to ownership. We have one of the highest rates of rentership in central Arkansas.”

He noted that there is a “mindset difference” with the children of homeowners being more likely to graduate high school, receive a post-secondary education and graduate from college, according to several studies.

Fletcher said, “People need to feel they’ve got a stake, they’ve got a say, in something…The one thing that I think we lack and need to work more on is a sense of community.”

The mayor concluded the meeting by repeating, “The reality is this town is on the move.”

TOP STORY >> Gillam to reassess private option

Leader senior staff writer

Jeremy Gillam, a White County farmer, is the House speaker-designate for the next session of the state General Assembly.

Gillam, a Judsonia Republican who won 57 of 100 votes in a four-man race last Wednesday, said he’s not absolutely committed to health care insurance for the working poor, although he’s supported the expansion this session and last year.

He said he was committed to taking a hard look at the current program, popularly known as the private option, when the biennial policy session of the General Assembly convenes in January.


“I don’t necessarily have that agenda,” Gillam said. “My goal is to see us put out sound policy. If it’s working, we can proceed.”

Gillam, 35, said the legislature should monitor costs. “For right now, we’re charged with protecting the state budget. A healthy workforce is more productive.”

Gillam and the three representatives he defeated in the speaker race all voted for the private option. The others were Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) and Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock).


His election is not necessarily binding. If Democrats win back the House in November, there could be a new speaker election in January.

“I’ve been running from one meeting to the next,” Gillam said Friday. He spoke at the Political Animals Club at the Governor’s mansion, talked with media and visited some agencies.

“We’re going to begin planning for the 2015 session, getting structure set up for that, make sure the membership is ready,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gillam says state Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) “is still very much the speaker until January.”

At the end of last year’s session, Rep. Darrin Williams (D-Little Rock) was elected speaker-designate. But, when the Republicans gained control of the House, the speaker’s race came down to Carter and Terry Rice (R-Waldron). Carter won support of enough Democrats to win the speakership.


Rice is a foe of the private option, and Carter was one of the staunchest defenders and authors of Arkansas’ innovative solution. So Carter’s election may have been pivotal in the eventual passage in the House of the private-option Medicaid expansion.

The House speaker sets the agenda.

Gillam said he hasn’t settled on a chief of staff yet. “We have a great staff there right now.”

Carter’s chief of staff is Gabe Holmstrom, a Democrat.

“He’s a good friend of mine,” he said, “working to make the transition as smooth and productive as possible.”


In January, the General Assembly will have to deal with education, higher education, workforce education and “a whole host of other needs — health care costs and highway funding issues, for example,” he said.

“I’m going to be meeting with Sen. (Jane) English as we move forward,” he said, regarding reorganization of workforce education.

English, a North Little Rock Republican, was the critical 26th vote to pass the private option in the Senate. An opponent of the private option, she said she traded her vote in exchange for meaningful reorganization of workforce education and skills training.

“The membership as a whole is engaged in this,” Gillam said. “Higher education is not the right path for everyone.”

He said he wants to make sure everyone has employment opportunities.


In other business before adjourning last Wednesday, both houses overrode Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of language defining sand as “equipment,” giving a tax break to out-of-state companies fracking in Arkansas.

The vote was 55-41, with Republicans voting to override, while all but four Democrats, including Rep. Mark Perry (D- Jacksonville) supported the governor. The tax break may be headed for a court challenge.

Gillam is a graduate of Beebe High School. He attended Arkansas State University in Beebe and received degrees in criminology and psychology from Arkansas State University.

He has served on the White County Farm Bureau board of directors, the ASU-Beebe Development Council and the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Board.

Gillam has been recognized with several awards from the Arkansas Farm Bureau, and, in 2010, he was a runner-up for the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award.

He and his wife, Carissa, have two young sons.