Friday, December 05, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Buccaneers’ nose should be an All-Pro

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s own Clinton McDonald has already beaten the odds many times over just by being where he is today, the starting nose tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is a fifth-year pro, not counting one year on the Cincinnati practice squad after being drafted in the seventh and last round of the NFL draft out of Memphis University.

And while the 2014 Bucs isn’t the same team as last year’s Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, which McDonald started for the past three seasons, McDonald himself is having his best statistical season as a professional, and has been the perfect fit for a young team like Tampa Bay.

His performance on the field and his impact on the team is why he should be recognized this season as an All-Pro.

His statistics aren’t eye-popping at first glance, but a nose tackle’s statistics almost never are. They are, however, very impressive for a man who plays a position some teams don’t even have anymore. And when you take into consideration most people that do play that position are the biggest guys on the defense, while McDonald is one of the smallest defensive linemen in all of the NFL, it’s even more impressive.

In 11 games of the 16-game season, McDonald already has a career high in tackles with 36. That’s 27th best among defensive linemen in the entire NFL. Again, considering his position, that’s impressive. Most defenses are designed for the big guys in the middle to clog up holes and channel ball carriers to the outer linemen and linebackers to make the tackles. McDonald’s smaller stature, freakish strength and nimbleness allows him to get free and make many of those tackles himself.

Tampa Bay signed McDonald last summer to a three-year deal worth $12 million, and have gotten even more than it bargained for. Coach Lovie Smith has said more than once this season that McDonald has been even better than they thought he was when they signed him – saying he’s been “a force” and a “better pass rusher than we expected.”

It’s shown on the field, too. Brought in to be a run stopper, he hasn’t left the field in passing situations either. McDonald has played more snaps than any other defender on the team this season.

He has recorded three sacks, all three in the last three games, has one fumble recovery and one interception.

But what’s always been known about McDonald by people that know him well and especially by teammates, is his value off the field as well. Tampa Bay has come to know it in just part of one season.

Go all the way back in Cincinnati and you’ll find Bengals’ coach Marvin Lewis talking about what a great locker room guy McDonald was there. It was the same at Seattle, and now Tampa Bay players and coaches are raving about the former Red Devil’s leadership.

“He’s one of the elder statesmen,” Smith said recently at a press conference. “Guys listen to Clinton because he’s not a BSer. He’s just to the point, works hard. His overall play and in our locker room, on our football team has been outstanding.”

Second year defensive end Jacquies Smith, who came to Tampa Bay after McDonald, told the Tampa Bay Tribune how important McDonald is to the team.

“He’s meant a lot to me since I stepped through the door,” Jacquies Smith said. “Clint greeted me with open arms. He’s a great professional, a guy I can look up to in the room and see what it means to be a pro, on and off the field.”

And it’s not just his defensive teammates that notice McDonald’s leadership. Offensive tackle Demar Dotson also spoke to the Tribune about the nose guard.

“I like Clint, he’s a believer,” said Dotson. “He’s always in chapel on Saturday night and he’s always positive. He’s one of the hard-hat guys that every team needs.

“Some people like to talk but they don’t know how to back it up. Some people, you get tired of listening and you just want them to shut up. Clint’s one of those guys, when he opens his mouth, you want to listen. You might learn something and you know he’ll back it up.”

What voters should remember is that the NFL, unlike many other sports leagues, don’t call their postseason honorees All-Stars, it calls them All-Pros – and “pro” is only short for professional. When you combine the fact that McDonald is having the best statistical season of his career, which is also among the best for defensive linemen in the league, with the fact that throughout his entire career he has been a consummate professional; if you judge value to the team and see what McDonald has meant to the young Bucs, you can’t leave him off the All-Pro ballot this year.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls hammer Lady Lions

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls had no trouble picking up their fourth win of the season Tuesday night at Panther Arena, as the host Lady Panthers dominated Class 2A England en route to a 57-27 mercy-rule win.

Cabot wasted little time establishing its dominance, as the Lady Panthers took a 21-4 lead into the second quarter of the nonconference matchup, and their lead only progressed as the game did.

The Lady Panthers (4-1) pushed their lead to 21 by the end of the first half, 26 by the end of the third quarter, and, of course, 30 by game’s end. Cabot’s defense gave England (2-5) problems early, and the Lady Panthers were able to turn the turnovers forced into points at the other end.

By the midway point of the first quarter, Cabot led 11-2 on a transition layup by Anna Sullivan. The Lady Panthers got their first double-digit lead on a free throw by Alyssa Hamilton shortly after, which made the score 12-2, and the hosts closed the opening quarter with a 9-2 run to lead 21-4.

Leading 25-8 with 5:41 remaining in the second quarter, Cabot coach Carla Crowder pulled all five of her starters, but the Lady Panthers still managed to further their lead. Cabot took its first 20-point lead on a putback by sophomore center Carly Melder after a missed free throw, which made the score 29-9 with 4:39 left in the half.

England eventually got its deficit back into the teens as the half wound down, but Rachel Allgood pushed the Cabot lead back to 20-plus with a 3-pointer with four seconds remaining, setting the halftime margin at 38-17.

Both teams started the second half cold. Each team finished the third quarter 2 for 10 from the floor, but the Lady Panthers missed their first eight shots from the field. Cabot’s first field goal of the quarter came with 1:58 remaining, which was a three by Allgood.

Allgood’s three improved Cabot’s lead to 44-22 and the Lady Panthers closed the third quarter with a 4-0 run to lead 48-22 at the start of the fourth quarter. Cabot’s final bucket of the quarter came on a transition layup by Sullivan with eight seconds remaining, which was the result of a steal by teammate Chloe Bean.

In the fourth quarter, Cabot upped its lead to 26 with another transition bucket – this one by Josie Vanoss with 5:58 to play. Vanoss’ bucket put Cabot up 51-25, and with 3:04 remaining, Vanoss drained two free throws that made the score 55-25, and invoked the sportsmanship rule.

Cabot’s Rachel Key set the final score with a bucket in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, and Melder went to the free-throw line after being fouled with just seconds remaining. With the clock running continuously, Melder sank her first free throw, but time had already expired, and the basket didn’t count as a result.

The Lady Panthers outrebounded the Lady Lions 42-18, and the host team made 22 of 57 shots from the floor for 39 percent. England finished the game 8 of 41 from the floor for 20 percent. Cabot finished the game with 16 turnovers. England committed 19.

Alesha Penister led the Lady Lions with 11 points. Cabot’s Leighton Taylor also scored 11 points, all coming in the first half, to lead the hosts. Sullivan had 10 points for Cabot. Vanoss scored eight. CoCo Calhoon scored seven. Allgood had six.

Emily McCaghren, Hamilton and Melder added four points each. Key had two points, and Maddie Willhite had one.

SPORTS STORY >> West Memphis gets JHS again

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Lady Devils hung close with Class 7A West Memphis on Tuesday, but lost for the second time this season to the Lady Blue Devils in a 62-50 final at JHS.

Jacksonville’s Desiree Williams hit a 3-pointer that gave the home team its final lead at 35-33 with 2:36 left in the third quarter. West Memphis answered with a seven-point run, all seven points on one trip down the floor, and maintained control the rest of the way.

“I thought we played better, longer than we did when we played them down there,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree. “That’s a 7A school. They’re twice as big as us in enrollment and physical size. We’re not supposed to beat them. But we were in position to give ourselves a chance late in the game and that’s what you want.”

The turning point began right after Williams’ 3-pointer at 2:36. Blue Devil LaShayla Hicks hit the first of two free throws, got her own rebound of the second miss, put it back up and in while being fouled. That made it 36-35 West Memphis.

She missed the free throw again. This time her teammate Amesha Hamlet got the rebound, scored and was fouled. She also missed the free throw, but Hicks got the rebound and scored, making it 40-35 with 1:09 left in the third quarter and West Memphis never trailed again.

“They had a big size advantage but we also did a terrible job rebounding,” Rountree said. “We didn’t block out, we didn’t get a body on anyone. That’s one thing that has to get a lot better.”

The West Memphis lead was 44-38 when Jacksonville scored four-straight points off Blue Devil turnovers. That prompted a timeout by West Memphis coach Sheila Burns with 6:44 remaining in the game, and the team responded to her fiery admonishments during the break.

The Lady Blue Devils scored the next eight points to take a 10-point lead, but Jacksonville wasn’t quite put away. Jacksonville continued the pressure and continued to force quick shots or get turnovers. Point guard Antrice McCoy and post player Tatiana Lacy combined for six-straight points, all from the line, to make it 52-48 with 3:11 left.

Lacy fouled out 19 seconds later, and the Lady Blue Devils began exploiting their now even larger size advantage.

“When they brought No. 10 (the 6-foot-2 Hicks) off the bench and she played so well, that really hurt us,” Rountree said. “Tatiana didn’t have her best game, but she’s sick and played through it, so I’m proud of her effort.”

Jacksonville shot just 27 percent from the floor, hitting 15 of 56 shot attempts. Both teams were bad from the free-throw line, where both teams found themselves repeatedly. Jacksonville made 16 of 31 foul shots while West Memphis was even worse at 15 of 33. The Lady Blue Devils outrebounded Jacksonville 39-25, but Lady Devil Jerrica Hardaway led all rebounders with 11.

West Memphis’ Alexis Hamlett led all scorers with 24 points, and added six steals and four rebounds. She was the only Blue Devil in double figures. McCoy led Jacksonville with 16 while Williams added 11 and Alexis James scored eight.

The Lady Red Devils, 3-5, play just once more for nearly three weeks when they host Mount St. Mary on Tuesday. They’ll be off for finals before resuming play in the Red Devil Classic that begins on Dec. 22.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers get past England in tussle

Leader sportswriter

Class 2A England gave Cabot all it wanted in their nonconference game at Panther Arena on Tuesday, but the host team prevailed in the end, beating the more athletic Lions by the final score of 45-35.

England (1-2), who advanced to the Class 2A semifinals last year before losing to eventual state champion Cedar Ridge, held a 6-5 lead over the Class 7A Panthers at the end of the first quarter.

The Panthers (2-1) trailed 6-3 until sophomore guard Jarrod Barnes set the first quarter margin with a left-handed finger roll with about 40 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Fifteen seconds into the second quarter, Cabot took a 7-6 lead on an inside turnaround bucket by Hunter Southerland, which sparked a 7-0run by the Panthers.

The run was capped with a transition bucket by Garrett Rowe near the six-minute mark, and that gave Cabot a 12-6 lead.

England later cut the Panther lead to two, trailing 14-12, with four-and-a-half minutes remaining in the half, but the hosts responded with a 6-2 run that was capped with a steal and slam by Barnes at the 2:30 mark.

Both teams added a basket before the half, which sent the Panthers into halftime with a 22-16 lead. Cabot’s defense set the tone in the first half, as the Panthers forced England to commit 15 turnovers in the first two quarters.

Ten of the Lions’ 15 first-half turnovers were Cabot takeaways, and the rest were charges taken by the Panthers. Barnes and point guard Bobby Joe Duncan each had three steals in that time, while Southerland had two, and Rowe and Jared Dixon had one apiece.

The turnovers allowed Cabot to get more than double the shots England had in the first half. Cabot was 10 for 30 from the floor in the first half, and the Lions were 6 of 13. Even with more than double the attempts, though, the Panthers only had a six-point lead at the break.

“We outshot them two to one on attempts, but we’ve got to make baskets,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “We’re going to get there. We were stepping up and taking charges.

“We aren’t afraid to take a hit, and if you’re going to play against teams that are more athletic than you, in most cases, you’ve got to do that. Like I said, we’re getting there. It’s not pretty. We’re not blowing out anybody. Even if it’s someone you think we should blow out, we aren’t right now.

“We’re going to have to work for it, keep grinding, but you’ve got to give England credit. They didn’t come in here scared to play a big school. They played ball, and I knew they would.”

The Lions opened the second half with a 4-0 run that trimmed the Panthers’ lead to two, 22-20, but the Panthers answered with a 6-0 run on baskets by Tyler Hill, Southerland and Rowe.

By the end of the third quarter, Cabot pushed its lead to double digits with the score 33-22. The final points of the quarter came on a 3-pointer by Barnes with 38 seconds remaining.

In the final eight minutes, the Lions got within five points of the Panther lead on two occasions. The first came with 3:54 to play on a corner three by Lajuan Jackson that made the score 36-31.

Cabot added two more points to its side of the board before Jackson made two free throws near the three-minute mark, which made the score 38-33 Panthers. England, though, couldn’t get any closer the rest of the way.

The Lions were forced to foul as the game wound down, but the host team made their free throws, finishing the quarter 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. Duncan made five of those free throws, and his last two pushed the Panther lead back to double digits, and set the final score in the process, with 26.7 seconds to play.

Cabot outrebounded England 30-24, and the Panthers finished the game 17 of 56 from the floor for 30 percent. The Lions made 12 of 33 shots for 36 percent. The Panthers finished the game with 14 turnovers. The Lions committed 22 for the game.

Jackson led all scorers with 13 points. Barnes led Cabot with 12 points. Southerland and Duncan each scored nine. Rowe had seven. Dixon scored six, and Hill rounded out the Panthers’ point total with two points.

The Panthers will begin hosting the Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament at 7 p.m. Thursday against Hot Springs Lakeside.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils win home opener

Leader sports editor

Fouls kept Jacksonville’s first home game from being all that entertaining, but the Red Devils shot free throws supremely to come away with a 67-57 victory over West Memphis on Tuesday.

There were 47 fouls and 63 total free throws. Jacksonville got the Lions’ share of the foul shots, shooting 41 and making 32 of them. The Red Devils shot 22 free throws in the fourth quarter when the Blue Devils were forced to foul, and made 19.

Jacksonville was more intentional about driving to the basket, which was part of the reason for the free-throw discrepancy even though the foul count was about even. But Jackson-ville coach Vic Joyner wasn’t entirely pleased with that strategy.

“We’re not moving the ball offensively,” said Joyner. “The ball is sticking in people’s hands and we’re forcing it.”

Jacksonville’s starting five quickly fell into a 9-2 whole and did not make a field goal for nearly half of the first quarter. They left the game trailing 15-9 when Joyner went with wholesale substitutions.

The second five took the floor and went on a 9-0 run to give Jacksonville an 18-15 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Senior Jarvis McChristian got the run started with a pair of steals. He also hit the 3-pointer that gave the Red Devils their first lead.

West Memphis answered with a 7-0 run to reclaim the lead, and held it, taking a 35-30 lead into intermission.

The Red Devils pulled even early in the third quarter. West Memphis led 42-41 when senior guard Craig Watson scored five-straight points to give the home team a four-point lead. Kahlil Hill got a steal and fed Watson in transition for a 3-pointer. After another defensive stop by Jacksonville, Watson drove and hit a 10-foot floater to make it 46-42 at the end of the third.

“In both halves the second group went in and just outplayed the first group,” Joyner said. “They’re the reason we won that game because they came in, defended, shared the ball and got us back into it.”

The fourth quarter took 30 minutes with 31 free throws and Jacksonville’s deadeye shooting from the line sealed the victory. Joyner talked with his team for almost another 30 minutes after the game in a closed-door session.

“We have got to get better defensively,” Joyner said. “That’s what that talk was about. That’s all this week’s practice is going to be about.”

Forward Tedrick Wolfe led Jacksonville with 18 points and eight rebounds, including seven in the first half. LaQuawn Smith and Tyree Appleby each finished with 11 points while Watson added 10 for the Red Devils.

Jarvis Williams led West Memphis with 15 points while Rai East and Gary Henderson each scored 13.

The Red Devils, 5-1, play Memphis Central at 3:30 p.m. today at North Little Rock High School in the Battle of the Border Classic. Joyner hadn’t been able to get much information on today’s opponent as of Thursday evening. “They play (Memphis)Hamilton on Friday so I’ll probably drive over there and watch that if I can’t get any tape,” Joyner said on Thursday. “We need to worry about us right now anyway.”

TOP STORY >> Meth busts

Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies arrested three men for possession of methamphetamines in two separate incidents this week.

In the most recent incident, the sheriff’s office helped the Lonoke Police Department on Tuesday by locating and taking Joseph Willis, 33, of Little Rock into custody during a traffic stop. He was a suspect in a domestic battery investigation.

Approximately 60.2 grams of meth, with an estimate street value of $7,000, were found in Willis’ car.

A baggie of “suspected cutting agent” weighing 65.2 grams was also found in the car, according to a news release.

The release explains that a cutting agent “is typically mixed with the narcotic to give the impression that the user is getting more, and it gives the seller more profit for less product.”

Willis was charged with felony possession of meth with the intent to deliver and felony possession of drug paraphernalia.

In an unrelated incident on Sunday, Alejandro Monadono, 26, and Rodrigo Esteban, 39, were pulled over.

Approximately 57.2 grams of meth, with an estimated street value of $6,000, was found in the car.

Monadono and Esteban were charged with felony possession of meth with the intent to deliver. They are being held for the Immigration Customs Enforcement Office.

TOP STORY >> HIPPY prepares kids for school

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District’s HIPPY branch is a free program that helps parents prepare their pre-K youngsters for school. There are HIPPY programs throughout Lonoke County and in Beebe.

HIPPY stands for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters.

The PCSSD HIPPY program is based at Homer Adkins in Jacksonville. There are 135 children in the program throughout Pulaski County. The PCSSD HIPPY program began in 1986. It partners with Head Start, Adkins Pre-K and Emmanuel Learning Center for Children in Jacksonville.

HIPPY home visitors meet with parents once a week, teaching a 30-week curriculum for parents to work one-on-one with 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. The HIPPY program focuses on a child’s motor skills, language development, literacy and math skills using fun activities, crafts, word recognition and songs. Books and learning materials are supplied. Monthly group meeting are held at Adkins Pre-K School with dinner, a speaker and activities for parents and students.

“It’s important for the parent to be involved in their child’s education early. They’ll be more involved throughout their school-age years. It gets parents comfortable talking with teachers and helps with child behavior,” HIPPY coordinator Carletta Wilson said.

Wilson said, when students fall behind in school, it often begins in Pre-K. Parents must be willing to take 10 to 15 minutes a day with their children to help them develop skills, she said.

HIPPY home visitors are qualified in early childhood development and take 30 hours of annual training. Parents set up the time and day of the visits, which can be at the families’ homes, at the workplace during lunch or just about anywhere. And HIPPY visitors review lessons with parents by role playing.

LaTonya Settles of Jacksonville is a parent in the PCSSD HIPPY program. It is her first year to be in HIPPY with her 3-year-old daughter.

“I think it is a good program. My daughter enjoys the work and activities we do. The house visits are nice. (The home visitor) teaches me how to teach my daughter,” Settles said.

Settles said some of the activities they did were making sock puppets and going on a scavenger hunt.

She also said HIPPY has been beneficial to her daughter. Her daughter was nonverbal, but now listens to the stories, and they keep her attention. She comprehends what she is learning and can answer Settles’ questions instead of simply repeating the words her mother said.

Wendy Bennett of Jackson-ville had her twin daughters in the program before entering kindergarten. She was seeking resources because they were born prematurely.

“I think the program is wonderful. It offers interactive learning at an age-appropriate level,” Bennett said.

She said HIPPY develops children’s intellects and motor skills by throwing a ball and having climbing activities.

“If there is a delay, HIPPY home visitors can catch it,” Bennett said.

Bennett said her children are at the top of their class.

HIPPY is supported through grants, so there is no cost for parents to enroll in the program if their family meets eligibility guidelines.

The kinds of people who can participate for free include a parent in the military serving overseas, low or no income, a parent without a high school diploma or a GED, limited English proficiency, a parent who was under the age of 18 when her child was born, someone who has an immediate family member with a history of substance abuse or addiction or has been arrested and convicted of drug-related charges and a parent with a history of abuse or neglect or who was a victim of abuse or neglect.

Their child can be a foster child, been born under six pounds, or have an imprisoned parent.

Wilson said HIPPY is trying to increase grant funding, which provides about $175 per child. It’s been that amount for the past 16 years.

But, she said, prices have increased for supplies and books, along with hosting dinners, travel mileage and training.

Parents can enroll at any time of year by calling the PCSSD HIPPY office at 501-982-2013 or stopping by.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke overpass officially opened

Leader staff writer

The city of Lonoke and the chamber of commerce held a ribbon-cutting celebration on Friday for the new $9.6 million Hwy. 89 and I-40 interchange that recently opened. The project has been in the works for more than 16 years.

Rain forced the ceremony to be moved inside the Sawbucks restaurant at the old Perry’s motel.

Local and city leaders believe the new interchange will be a hub for industrial and commercial growth in Lonoke. But, before companies will commit to building, the area needs sewer service. The projected cost of that is $350,000.

Mayor Wayne McGee is working on a grant for funding from the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District.

The city is talking with Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department deputy director Emmanuel Banks about adding lighting to the interchange.

Highway Commissioner Tom Schueck said Lonoke signed an agreement in 2006 with the highway department to fund the project with 80 percent in federal aid and 20 percent in local aid.

But, when Schueck became the commissioner in 2011, he heard about the project for the first time. Schueck said he committed $1.5 million in available funds from the Highway Department for the construction of the interchange. Then, in April 2013, the final $7.9 million became available.

Lonoke Industrial Development Corp. chairman Michael Florence said John Tull and Joe Melton, who started the LIDC, needed to be recognized.

The LIDC provided more than $800,000 in private funds to help pay for the interchange. Another $114,000 from Metroplan was allocated by the county judge.

The old Hwy. 89 overpass was replaced when the interchange was built.

Schueck said, “Today we’ve completed the chore and gave the people of Lonoke what they wanted and sought. I’m personally proud to be involved with this because sometimes it takes new blood to come in, take a project and move with it.

“Working together with the city, county and state and the highway department, we can accomplish goals that are achievable,” Schueck said.

State Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke) said, “We struggled for years. When we got a (highway) commissioner to pay attention to us, it all happened.”

Former state Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle) said, “This is the largest project that had been approved for this area, that I know of.”

Glover said former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry was responsible for raising between $7 million and $8 million for the interchange project. Sen. Mark Pryor assisted Berry in the getting the appropriation approved. The city provided the funds to repave Hwy. 89 from the courthouse to the cemetery.

“Had the (highway) commissioner not made a commitment and saw it through along with the director, we wouldn’t be here today,” Glover said.

Glover said he was impressed with the layout and construction of the interchange. He said it is the biggest thing to happen to Lonoke since Remington.

County Judge Doug Erwin said, “The exit is going to open up all that area for industrial (growth). It is close to Little Rock. The future of Lonoke is very bright.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Possible sites for a library

Sherwood voters on Election Day passed a special property tax to build a $6 million library. It will be a first-rate addition for the growing community that will help attract families to the area and serve readers of all ages.

The aging and overcrowded Amy Sanders Library does not have room to expand and is perhaps the weakest facility, though not in its offerings, in the Central Arkansas Library System. It was built in 1989. We hope the new one will last longer than 25 years.

In 2009, Jacksonville opened its new library, also a CALS branch, and residents there are still proud of it. It also helped initiate the revitalization of downtown.

The next step for Sherwood’s library project is to select a committee that will hold public hearings on its design, location and more.

We have a few places in mind. The old Harvest Foods across from the city’s golf course on JFK Boulevard is an eyesore that gives the wrong impression about the city to visitors. The building has been vacant for at least a decade, and it’s said that a grocery store bought the building to prevent competitors from opening there. It offers lots of parking and plenty of raw space to be creative with.

Cabot is now converting the old Knight’s Super Foods into a new library for $2.6 million. Many visitors won’t know the place was ever a grocery store.

Another possible location for Sherwood’s new library would be along Hwy. 107 in Gravel Ridge, where a building boom is guaranteed even if the I-440 North Belt never gives drivers easier access to the area. A library there would show the community, which was annexed in 2007, that it is part of the city’s long-term plans.

The Indian Head Shopping Center, near Hwy. 67/167, might also benefit from a major project like a new library.

Every community needs a great library. Ray Bradbury once said, “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”

Here’s to Sherwood’s endeavor and future.

EDITORIAL >> Security plan at courthouse

Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham says security at the courthouse must be improved before someone gets killed or injured.

For the third time in three years, Graham, who is a Republican, asked justices of the peace and County Judge Doug Erwin to provide about $100,000 annually to post two deputies while the courthouse is open and pay $22,500 to install cameras inside and outside the building, add key-card access equipment for employees to side doors, as well as close all but the front entrances, leaving only the back door available to handicapped visitors.

It’s a common-sense plan that will provide a basic level of protection and bring security measures at the courthouse more in line with its counterparts in other counties in the area.

Graham has called for an overhaul of security at the courthouse since 2011, his first year on the job, after a shooting in Van Buren.

More recently, in late October, there was a shooting at a courthouse in Nashville, N.C., which has a population of 5,482, compared with Lonoke’s 4,229. Just last week, a shooter targeted a federal courthouse in Austin, Texas.

Lonoke County residents may be surprised to know there are security checks with metal detectors only outside the courtrooms, just past the prosecutors’ offices. Imagine airport security after people board the plane.

“We get threatened every day,” Graham told us Monday. Fortunately, those making the threats are usually in custody and being sentenced for other crimes. “I’m worried someone’s going to come in here and start shooting. This is the world we live in. We owe it to our folks to keep them safe.”

Judges and prosecutors are not the only ones who would be endangered if a gunman were to target the courthouse. Ordinary people and county officials would be in the line of fire, too. As Graham pointed out during a recent quorum court meeting, “They hate Doug (Erwin) as much as they hate me.”

Sheriff John Staley also supports the plan, but he needs more money from the county to make it happen. “We cannot afford to place deputies at the courthouse without additional funding and manpower. It is needed, and it can be done in phases,” he said. Finding $100,000 a year to pay for deputies at the courthouse from a nearly $7 million budget shouldn’t be too difficult.

The quorum court should listen to Graham and Staley. It will meet next week to try and find a way to pay for the plan.

TOP STORY >> Christmas musical opens Friday

Leader staff writer

The Community Theatre of Cabot on Friday will open its new show “Rented Christmas the Musical” at its new location – the Starlite Dinner Theatre, 1102 S. Pine St., in the Heritage Plaza.

Times for dinner-and-show performances are this Friday and Saturday; Friday, Dec. 12 and Saturday, Dec. 13. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. Catered dinners are served at 6:30. Shows start at 7:30.

A matinee show-only performance will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7. A show-only performance will also be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7.

Ticket prices are $25 for adults for dinner and show or $15 for show only. Children are $15 for dinner and show or $10 for show only. For reservations, call 501-941-2266.

The nonprofit theater group recently moved from the Center Stage Playhouse in downtown on North First Street. The new location is roomier.

Director Joni Coats said, “The audience will have a much better experience with more viewing angles. There is not a bad seat in the house.”

Theater board member Bob Morris said, “This is a step up. We needed to grow. We had been there for seven years.”

Coats said the Cabot theater is encouraging development of the arts.

“The theater is an opportunity for children and adults to be involved,” he noted.

Cast members are from Cabot and Jacksonville. For past performances, actors have traveled from Benton and Searcy to participate.

“Rented Christmas” is about rich single businessman John Dale, who has not enjoyed Christmas in years. Dale decides he is going to “rent” a Christmas from Anne Weston, who owns the local rental store. The Christmas requires a tree with presents, Christmas carols and a wife with five children.

Anne calls the actors’ guild for the Christmas family, but the child actors get the measles. So Anne turns to the local orphanage. The guild cannot find a “mother,” and Anne plays that part.

The musical is heartwarming and is a roller coaster of emotion. The cast hopes the audience will laugh, cry and get in the Christmas spirit.

“Rented Christmas” is a newer musical and is similar to “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Coats said, “Every character is trying to make someone happy.

“It’s something you’d see in a Hallmark movie. Everyone becomes less selfish.”

The cast of “Rented Christmas” is Autumn Romines as Anne Weston, Seth Coats as John Dale, Bob Morris as Briggs, Catherine Roberts as Martha, Greg Stone as Jimmy and Emily Tripp as Jean.

Kailyn Rosenbaum plays Cynthia. There is Dustin Lauderdale as Willie, Reagan Helms as Lettie, Skylar Ward as Sarah Whitford, Micah Coats as Benjamin Whitford, Laura Harris as Mrs. Lindsey and Analisa Wilson as Danielle.

Turner Ward is Tom, and the Whitford children are played by Lily Guess, Carly Lauderdale and Gaunne Fox. The orphans are Jaklyn Stone, Ginaley Rogers and Peyton Reynolds.

Keith Renuard plays Father Christmas.

TOP STORY >> Prison reform pushed

Leader editor-in-chief

The Department of Correction wants $100 million for a new prison, but Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) thinks that’s a waste of money.

Williams, who chairs the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, says we need new ideas on reducing recidivism — 42.2 percent of parolees are back in prison within three years, although a new report says that figure is more than 55-60 percent.

He insists a new prison would cost $230 million with interest on a bond issue and $40 million a year to operate. Williams thinks Arkansas should follow Texas, which has closed three prisons despite a forecast in 2007 that it would have a 10,000 shortage of prison beds. Texas has built several transition work centers to help ease parolees back into society.

Williams, who holds the purse strings for prison funding, has got the attention of prison officials. They told a Senate committee Tuesday that they welcome Williams’ call for more re-entry work centers, where parolees get training for a fraction of the cost of prison beds.

Williams wants more low-cost training centers for parolees in converted school buildings, like the one in England in southern Lonoke County.

He thinks the old Jacksonville Elementary School along the railroad tracks would make a good transition work center, although some would say the old Jacksonville junior high schools look more like prisons and might make better halfway houses.

Williams was attending a reception Monday for the new Jacksonville School Board when the subject of prison reform came up. He says he’ll keep pushing for cheaper and more effective alternatives to prisons.

The senator is passionate about reforming prisoners. “We need to do a better job of preparing people who are coming out not to come back,” he said.

“The average time in Arkansas prisons is three years and 10 months. They’re going to be out with no training, no driver’s license, no money, no job, no place to live, and we’re hoping they’re going to succeed. We’re fooling ourselves if we keep doing that.”

Williams says inmates who are going to be paroled in January should wait six months and go to a re-entry center, such as the one at the old England Middle School, which was closed years ago and has been remodeled into a successful work center for prisoners.

Re-entry centers house between 50 to 250 people. Williams expects them to get a driver’s license and learn a trade there. He hopes those served by the centers will never return to prison again.

“We need that person to get an opportunity to succeed in life,” Williams says, sounding like an old-fashioned do-gooder. But that’s all right with him.

Prison officials say the state should build five halfway houses. Williams is glad they’re finally responding to pressure from the legislature to do better as the recidivism rate continues to rise.

He was upset back in September when he read in The Leader that murderers and armed robbers were working at Cabot Junior High North installing gym equipment.

The department has changed the rules in its work-release program — no more murderers and armed robbers allowed in our schools — but Williams says the department is way out of line when it says it won’t ease overcrowding until a new prison is built.

He says the state doesn’t have money for a new prison. “We don’t even have money for schools,” he says.

As a powerful committee chairman, Williams will help decide next year’s budget. With a Republican governor about to be sworn in, expect reduced spending on most state programs. Asa Hutchinson will look to Williams for guidance. His views on prison reform offer a glimpse into how the new administration will run the state.

Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) last year introduced a bill on establishing a re-entry system in Arkansas, leading to the passage of Act 1190.

Brenda Sharp, director of the Arkansas Department of Community Correction, submitted a report to the legislature offering ways to improve the state’s parole system.

“To better assist the supervision population with transitioning to the community upon release from prison, a comprehensive and coordinated network of state agencies and community service providers must be created to ensure services are delivered through an integrated approach,” Sharp said in fancy language that Williams might translate into plain English as: The prison system is a failure. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result, we’re crazy.

The department also wants to hire more than 200 probation officers. But here’s the kicker: You ask a prosecutor like Chuck Graham in Lonoke County, he’ll tell you, sure, we must prepare parolees for life outside prisons.

But we must also find the money for a $100 million prison. “We still got to put people in prison,” Graham said. He mentioned Arron Lewis, a parolee who is accused of killing realtor Beverly Carter.

“They’re still terrorizing people,” Graham said. “Parolees are killing people. How do we keep people safe? We need to build at least one $100 million prison. We’ve got to have the capability of locking people up and balance our budget.”

TOP STORY >> Lester to put his stamp on new district

Leader senior staff writer

“I’m ready to put my shoulder to the plow and do the best I can,” interim Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District Superintendent Bobby Lester said Tuesday.

Monday night, at its second meeting, the new Jacksonville board chose Lester to lead the district through the first few months of its two-year transition to independence, pending his actual hiring by state Education Commissioner Tony Wood and approval of the district’s actions by U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall.

School board president Daniel Gray said Lester, 69, long active in efforts to detach a Jacksonville-area district from the Pulaski County Special School District, was the only candidate considered for the position during a 44-minute executive session.

Lester served as interim superintendent in 2011 when the state declared the Pulaski County Special School District in fiscal distress and took over, dissolving the board and firing then-superintendent Charles Hopson.

“I can go in there and work with (PCSSD Superintendent Jerry) Guess,” said Lester, who was serving as PCSSD interim superintendent when Guess was hired in 2011.

“I want to get through the initial steps,” he said. “In 120 days, a lot of things need to be accomplished.

“People stopped me in Walmart and asked me to do this,” he said.

“I’ve probably lost my mind,” he said Monday. “My head says I shouldn’t, but my heart says I have to.”


“It is gratifying,” he said. “I appreciate the support I’ve always had from mayor (Fletcher and previously, Tommy Swaim) on down. I’ve got a long history here — as principal, Jacksonville High School had a lot of problems. We turned that school around.”

A PCSSD administrator for more than 30 years — half of that as superintendent — Lester is widely respected and trusted by many area residents, and has long worked behind the scenes to help create the new, standalone district.

He is a consultant for McPherson & Jacobson, a national executive recruitment and development group that specializes in superintendent searches and salary studies.

Calling it “an arduous task,” he said it would be “hard to find someone else in Arkansas that’s been through these things. I’m here to serve anyway I can.”

He said, when the board finally hires a superintendent to actually run the school district, “It’ll take me a few days to get out the door. I don’t want to serve beyond June 30. Hope I can live up to your expectations.”


The interim board will launch a nationwide search this spring to find a superintendent to run the fledgling district, but the board wasted little time in choosing the hometown favorite until then.

Lester, who was Pulaski County Special School District superintendent during “its glory days,” in the words of Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, can’t officially take that position until Judge Marshall approves the board’s choice at a Dec. 18 status conference.

In its order establishing the new district, the state Board of Education gave PCSSD and the new Jacksonville district 120 days after receiving the necessary court orders from Marshall to submit:

 A plan to select and hire a superintendent.

 A plan for the zoning and election of school board members in September 2015.

 A determination of the millage necessary to operate the new district.

 A plan for distribution of real and personal property, assets and liabilities including debt, duties and responsibilities.

 A specific plan addressing the procedure to employ licensed and nonlicensed staff.

Lester said he will recommend the districts work with consultants to settle debts and millage but that any action is premature until the court order, which could be issued as soon as Dec. 18.

The hiring of an assistant “will be my call,” Lester said. “I have some ideas but don’t know who’s available. I can’t do it by myself. Dr. Guess is still in charge,” he added.


In other action, the board deferred action on a request by Col. Stephen Weaver, commander of the 19th Mission Support Group, to appoint a non-voting, ex-officio school board member to represent Little Rock Air Force Base.

Gray tabled the request, saying the board’s authority is not yet fully vested, pending further action by the court.


The board asked Guess to ask Metroplan to recommend some five- and seven-zone configurations for board representation.

Metroplan has helped PCSSD in the past when census changes have required redrawing the zones, Guess said.

The board said it would start a website for the new Jacksonville district to keep patrons informed and involved and also said it would make time for public comments at board meetings.


“The base is very excited,” Weaver said. He said the base was confident that, under local control, the students will have the best opportunity for a good education.

“We estimate we’ll have 500 kids in the district, with more in the future,” he said. He further estimated that airmen have 1,900 school-age children, with about 1,300 of them currently in Cabot schools.

Weaver said the base has offered 300 acres to the district for an educational campus, and the Defense Department could pay as much as 75 percent of the cost of replacing the decrepit Arnold Elementary School on the base and money toward repurposing North Pulaski High School into a junior high.

A base representative on the board “would not be unique. There are a number of these kinds of relationships in other communities,” Weaver said.

Before the meeting, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce hosted a welcome gathering of about 50 people at its office, where the new board was introduced to an enthusiastic reception.

SPORTS STORY >> Turnaround by Badgers, Devils mark 2014 season

Leader sportswriter

The 2014 football season is over for all The Leader area teams, and though none made it to the capital city this year, there were plenty of notable stories worth remembering.

It starts with the turnaround made by the Beebe Badgers. Expectations were high in the preseason, but the team suffered as bad a start to the season as can be feared. Some of the problems, like injuries to several starters, could not be controlled. Other things, like an unforgiveable number of fumbles, turnovers and penalties, could have been.

For just about the entire first half of the season, it seemed like as soon as one key starter returned, another one went down.

It wasn’t until week seven when coach John Shannon fielded a team at full strength, and even then that was debatable. Everyone he expected to have was playing, but they weren’t all playing at 100 percent healthy. Regardless, the team fell behind quickly in that game at Mills, giving up a long run on the firstsnap. But that seemed to be the turning point of the season.

The Badgers went into that game with a 1-5 record and finished the year 8-5 after being awarded a forfeit win for its week-four game at McClellan, and winning six consecutive games before losing to perennial powerhouse Wynne in the Class 5A semifinals.

While the 21-7 win at Mills was, in retrospect, the turning point, it was the following week’s 41-37 victory at then undefeated Sylvan Hills that announced to the rest of the state that the Badgers were legitimate.

Beebe closed out the season with a pair of easy wins and got the McClellan game back to go into the postseason 6-4 overall, 6-1 in the 5A-Central and with a No. 2 seed. The Badgers won high-scoring thrillers in the first two rounds, beating Nettleton 49-48 and winning 42-35 at Hot Springs, the 5A-South champions.

Those two wins sent them to Wynne, where they were huge underdogs. Not only did no one pick Beebe to win, predictions ranged from a low end of a 14-point margin, to a 35-point margin at halftime and a continuous clock the second half. Most predictions were in between that, but most of those were nearer to 35 than 14.

Instead, Beebe imposed its will offensively and took the Yellowjackets to the wire, driving the ball while down seven when time ran short. The Badgers had to get away from its bread and butter of pounding it forward, and try for big yardage. It didn’t work and that was the game. But rest assured, Wynne got more than it bargained for from Beebe, and the Badgers proved their semifinal appearance was no fluke. The Badgers ended the 2014 season as good as any other 5A team in the state.

No one gives out a “turnaround of the year” award, but one way to recognize it would be to name John Shannon the Class 5A Coach of the Year. He deserves it. A lot of the credit goes to the seniors for staying focused and driven through such a miserable start, but a lot also goes to the man in charge. He never lost hope in those players, and began to sound like a broken record, telling the players each week to keep plugging, reminding them that they make up a good team that will come through if they’ll persevere.

A lesser leader couldn’t have held a group of kids together through the kind of turmoil the Badgers endured this season. Shannon deserves the honor and recognition.


There was another turnaround worth noting right there in the very same conference.

The Jacksonville Red Devils didn’t make it to the semifinals, but they made it to the playoffs, which was farther than anyone expected – anyone except the people in coach Barry Hickingbotham’s locker room.

The Red Devils were 1-6 overall and 1-3 in conference play through seven games, and closed with three-straight wins to advance to the playoffs. They were expected to beat North Pulaski in week eight, but the last two games were basically playoff games. Losses to either Mills or McClellan meant no week 11 for the loser.

This group of Red Devils had little experience in high-pressure games, and little experience winning at all. But it also persevered, rose to the challenge and won.

Hickingbotham got a late start with the team. He was hired after spring practice, and so did not get to work with the team then. He was hired too late to get into any summer leagues or camps. The team went on retreat to Walnut Ridge for a few days in late July, and that’s when the Hickingbotham era began.

It ended with a first-round loss at 5A-East champion Batesville, but not before the heavy underdogs put the Pioneers on the ropes in the first half.

The old adage about how athletics strengthens virtue and teaches life lessons is, honestly, overused. The sad truth is, in this day and age, athletics more often ruins virtue than strengthens it. But the players that made up the 2014 Badgers and Red Devils did show strength and virtue, and did learn lessons that can be carried through life.


Not every turnaround this season was a positive. Sometimes the injuries come late instead of early, and can help sabotage what seemed like a wonderful season. That’s what happened to Sylvan Hills. After an 8-0 beginning, the Bears finished with three-straight losses, largely because of an injury to the starting quarterback. While the Bears were pretty loaded with talented skill players, Trajan Doss made that team go. He got hurt against Beebe and finished the game, then was lost for the season the first day of practice the following week.

Bears’ coach Jim Withrow still believes sophomore Jordan Washington is the most physically gifted player he has, and will be a great player, but throwing a sophomore out of the frying pan of wideout and into the fire of quarterback in week 10 against a state powerhouse is not a position any team wants to be in.

The three teams Sylvan Hills lost to made up 3/4 of the semifinals and 100 percent of the championship game, so it’s not like the Bears suffered a total collapse and lost to bad teams. It’s just that without the player that has been running the system for three years, they couldn’t beat the state’s elite.


Venturing just a little further south than one is apt to find our royal blue boxes, there’s another team that could learn a few lessons. North Little Rock, once again, lost in the semifinals despite bringing in ringers from all over Pulaski County. The statewide daily newspaper ran a feature on one of those players last Friday. In that article, the player openly said he transferred from Catholic to North Little Rock to get better prepared for Division I football after signing with Northern Illinois.

Besides the fact that the excuse is nonsense – Catholic plays the same level of ball as North Little Rock, and hundreds, if not thousands, of players from much smaller high schools go DI every year, it’s also a violation to transfer for athletic purposes.

The main lesson, however, is this. Teams will almost never win a title with no stability or continuity. Bringing in new ringers every year does not provide stability – especially when they’re coming on false pretenses that are, at their core, selfish. How can a coach preach loyalty and teamwork to a group of guys brought in for personal reasons?

How much pride will folks in North Little Rock even have if the Wildcats were to win a title, knowing that it’s largely based on players from Little Rock, Bryant, Cabot, Jacksonville, Sherwood, etc. There is plenty of talent among North Little Rock’s own youth to have a successful program. Let those kids have a shot at it for a while. Let them have that bond of pride in common community and let them play together amidst that bond.

The current and recent NLR players, like this year’s Beebe players, know what it’s like to come close and lose. But unlike Beebe kids, they’ve had no opportunity to learn that there’s honor in defeat because the leadership set winning above all else. That’s precisely when athletics ceases to strengthen virtue, and that’s where athletics, by and large, is at today.

SPORTS STORY >> Ouachita Baptist’s Brown gets MVP

Great American Conference Comm.

RUSSELLVILLE – The Great American Conference announced the league’s Players of the Week for the third week of the 2014-15 basketball season.

Ouachita Baptist’s Tirrell Brown earned the men’s honor and Arkansas Tech’s Fatima Adams won the women’s award.

Brown, a junior forward from Jacksonville, shot an incredible 86.8 percent from the field in three games. He began with 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting against Champion Baptist. At the Arkansas Tech Thanksgiving Classic, he opened with 20 points against Southwest Baptist.

Against Northeastern State, he went 13-for-14 in scoring 33 points and added eight rebounds. He earned Tournament MVP honors for his three-game performance.

A Jacksonville duo has helped lead the Tigers to a 5-1 start to the season. Brown and sophomore point guard Justin McCleary, also from Jacksonville, are the team’s two leading scorers. Brown is also the team’s leading rebounder while McCleary is second in scoring and first in assists.

OBU will be back in Russellville tomorrow to face Arkansas Tech in a GAC matchup before two more road games this weekend. On Saturday, the Tigers travel to Magnolia to take on Southern Arkansas University, and on Sunday goes to Nacogdoches, Texas to take on Division I Stephen F. Austin.

SPORTS STORY >> Rabbits frustrated in loss

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – Questionable foul calls, bad shot selection early, and a lack of consistency on defense all contributed to Lonoke’s 81-68 overtime loss to Guy-Perkins on Monday in the first round of the Conway St. Joseph Classic.

It was the first loss of the season for Lonoke (2-1, 1-0), who was coming off a 4A-2 Conference-opening win over Heber Springs last week. Monday’s game with the Class 1A Thunderbirds was close throughout, but the margin of foul calls wasn’t, especially in the early goings.

For the game, Lonoke finished with 29 fouls called against them. Guy-Perkins was called for a total of 16 fouls. A good portion of the early fouls called against Lonoke were iffy, which frustrated the inexperienced Jackrabbits.

“I feel like we were attacking and doing the same things, and we weren’t getting the same result,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of the fouls called. “So our guys got frustrated, and that’s going to happen with a young group. We’ve got to keep fighting.

“I hate tonight’s game because we’ve got to play three in a row now, but in the grand scheme of things, (Tuesday’s game) is more important than tonight’s was. We’ve got to take care of tomorrow (Tuesday) night. That’s more important.”

Lonoke played its second 4A-2 Conference game of the season last night at home against Southside Batesville. Look for details of that game in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

The first quarter of Monday’s game with Guy-Perkins (6-5) was back and forth, and the Jackrabbits were ahead on the scoreboard toward the end of the quarter, but the Thunderbirds took the lead on a Corey Ealey contested lay-in that just beat the buzzer, and made the score 18-17 Guy-Perkins.

Guy-Perkins held the lead for most of the second quarter, but it never got much separation from the Jackrabbits on the scoreboard. Trailing 32-30, Lonoke’s Tyler Spencer tied the game at 32 apiece on a short baseline jumper with less than a minute remaining.

However, Guy-Perkins took a one-point lead into halftime on a free throw by Matt Baker, who was sent to the line because of a bogus foul call on Lonoke post player Byron Fair in the waning seconds of the half.

Baker, who got away with a blatantly unsportsmanlike shove on Fair earlier in the quarter, put his team up 33-32 at the half with the free throw.

Lonoke made 50 percent of its shots in the first half, but went 2 of 10 from the 3-point line. Guy-Perkins made 63 percent of its shots in the first half on 12 of 19 shooting.

The questionable foul calls against Lonoke continued in the second half, which helped the Thunderbirds build a double-digit lead midway through the third quarter, leading 50-40.

Lonoke then went to its full-court press, and went on a 7-2 run before Thunderbird guard Sam Gonzalez sank two free throws after a bogus technical foul was called on Lonoke’s Justin Meadows with 1:04 left in the quarter.

Meadows was making a play on the ball while trying to get a steal at midcourt, and instead of getting called for a foul on the reach-around, he was given a technical foul for what the official said was a push on Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s free throws gave Guy-Perkins a 54-47 lead, and at the end of the third quarter, the Thunderbirds led 55-49. Lonoke opened the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run to tie the game at 55-55, and the Jackrabbits took the lead on a transition layup by Tamarrea Moore after a steal and dish by teammate Brenton Bryant.

Moore’s layup put Lonoke up 59-57 with 4:33 to play, and it was back and forth from there to the end of regulation. Guy-Perkins retook the lead with 43 seconds left in the fourth on an inside bucket by Spencer Brown, which made the score 66-65.

Lonoke tied the game at 66-66 on a free throw by Jawaun Bryant with 18.5 seconds left, and with 3.5 tics remaining in regulation, Guy-Perkins’ leading scorer Cole Dixon was sent to the line for two shots that would’ve won the game for the T-birds, but he missed both free throws, sending the game to overtime with the score tied at 66.

The Jackrabbits scored the first points in overtime on a basket by Spencer less than a minute into the extra period, but it was all Guy-Perkins from there. After Spencer’s bucket, the Thunderbirds closed the game with a 15-0 run to set the final score.

“We’re going to really concentrate on defending the ball and being in the right position to help, blocking out and finishing plays,” Campbell said. “Those things we’ve got to fix.

“Our kids are giving good effort. That’s never been an issue. I knew that was never going to be an issue with this group, but our basketball IQ has to improve.”

Lonoke finished the game 29 of 65 from the floor for 45 percent. Guy-Perkins made 25 of 41 shots for 61 percent. The T-birds made 27 of 40 free throws for 68 percent. Conversely, the Rabbits went 7 of 16 from the stripe for 44 percent.

The Jackrabbits outrebounded the Thunderbirds 31-23, and finished with one fewer turnover, 25, than the victors had (26).

Dixon led all scorers with 28 points. Meadows led Lonoke with 12 points. Nichalas Bates added 10 points for the Rabbits. Spencer had nine. Jawaun Bryant had eight. Anthony Morris had seven. Isaac Toney had six. Brenton Bryant, Fair and Moore had four points each, and Yancy Cooney and Bryson Jackson had two points apiece.

The Lonoke boys play again at 8:15 tonight in the first consolation game of the Conway St. Joseph Classic. They’ll play the loser of last night’s game between the tournament hosts and Perryville.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke ladies dominate GPHS

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits bounced back from last week’s conference loss to Heber Springs in a big way Monday by beating Guy-Perkins in the first round of the Conway St. Joseph Classic by the final score of 83-65.

Lonoke scored at least 40 points in each half, and did so, in large part, by taking high-percentage shots. The Lady Jackrabbits made it a point, especially in the second half, to get the ball inside to its post players and forwards, where they had the noticeable size advantage.

“We fed the post a little bit better,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “I think there was a time or two that we didn’t and we wanted to, but we have to make an emphasis to go there, and then it can come back out for shots – not swing it around and shoot. We have to be able to get the ball in there.”

All five of Lonoke’s starters scored in the opening quarter, doubling the Lady Thunderbirds’ point total in that time to lead 24-12 at the start of the second quarter.

By the end of the first half, the Lady Jackrabbits pushed their lead to 15. Senior point guard Kerasha Johnson scored the final four points of the half. She sank a one-handed floater with 24 seconds remaining, and made two free throws with 7.7 tics left to give Lonoke a 43-28 advantage at the break.

Senior post Eboni Willis scored Lonoke’s first six points of the second half and with 4:37 left in the third quarter, Willis added another inside bucket that put her team up 21, leading 53-32.

Lonoke upped its lead to 25 after forward Ashlyn Allen followed her own miss with a putback in the final minute of the quarter, giving the Lady Rabbits a 66-41 lead, but the Lady Thunderbirds ended the quarter with a 5-0 run that cut the Lonoke lead to 66-46 by the start of the fourth.

The Lady Rabbits opened the fourth quarter with a 4-0 start, thanks to a pair of inside buckets by seniors Riely Rowton and Amanda Sexton, which pushed Lonoke’s lead to 70-46 and forced a Lady Thunderbirds’ timeout.

Lonoke (3-1, 0-1) led by 20-plus points for most of the fourth quarter. Guy-Perkins (5-6) got its deficit back to the teens on a pair of free throws by Abigail Smith with 3:30 to play. Smith’s free throws made the score 76-58 Lonoke, but it wasn’t long before the Lady Rabbits pushed their lead back to 20-plus.

However, the Lady Thunderbirds got their deficit back into the teens on two more free throws in the waning seconds, which also set the final score.

“It’s hard to play against a team like Guy-Perkins,” Morris said. “They like to shoot it. They like to shoot it quick and rebound it. They’re never out of a ball game. I’ve seen 20-point games against them change really quick.

“It’s a tough team, but it’s a good game to have coming out of Thanksgiving, because your legs haven’t worked a lot and they had to work them.”

In the second half, Lonoke made 17 of 27 shots from the floor for 63 percent. Conversely, Guy-Perkins was 10 of 24 from the floor in quarters three and four for 42 percent.

Lonoke had just three attempts from the 3-point line in the second half, missing all three attempts. Guy-Perkins made one 3-pointer in the second half, but had 14 attempts from beyond the arc.

Smith led all scorers with 24 points. Willis and Jarrelyn McCall, though, led Lonoke with 21 points each. Johnson added 12 points for Lonoke, and Allen 10. Sexton finished the night with eight points. Kimistri Balance added six points and Rowton had five.

Lonoke played its second 4A-2 Conference game of the season at home against Southside Batesville last night after deadlines, and they’ll travel back to Conway St. Joseph tomorrow to play the Conway St. Joseph/Perryville winner in the semifinals of the tournament. Tomorrow night’s game tips off at 7.