Friday, January 16, 2015

EDITORIAL >> A corrupt Judiciary

Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio’s admission this month that he took bribes before slicing $4.2 million from a jury’s award to the family of a woman who died from negligence in a Conway nursing home was a severe wound to the reputation of the courts in our fair state. We hope it was not a mortal one, for the founders considered confidence in an independent judiciary to be the bedrock of democracy.

People must know that the courts, regardless of whether their decisions are wise or popular, act according to what they think the Constitution and the laws dictate, uninfluenced by the parties to suits or by officials of the executive and legislative branches of government.

This case, we fear, is bigger than one corrupt trial judge, whose career had already crashed upon the discovery last spring that he was the author of vile and unethical posts on a Louisiana sports blog composed under the pseudonym “Geauxjudge.” Among other perfidies, he had revealed the identity of an adoptive parent and the circumstances of the child in a confidential adoption proceeding before him, in violation of the law.

Judge Maggio’s admission that he had saved the nursing home owners $4.2 million after getting a flood of campaign money from the principal owner and in direct response to the money was something of a shock—shock that he would admit it. He had explained last summer, when the big checks to him came to light, that the gifts and his order slashing the jury’s verdict were just a coincidence.

But after federal agents found text messages and emails between Maggio linking the campaign checks and his action in the negligence case, the judge owned up to the quid pro quo. Now, we can presume that he will implicate the others, who were identified in the indictment only as Individual A and Individual B. They are believed to be Michael Morton of Fort Smith, owner of the largest chain of nursing homes in the state, and former state senator and Republican state chairman Gilbert Baker, a lobbyist and consultant who seems to have arranged the checks from Morton to Maggio through a passel of political-action committees that were set up to skirt the campaign-finance laws and keep the donors secret.

Morton has said all the checks to Maggio and to other candidates for trial and appellate courts and the new attorney general were written merely in the interest of having good judges and that he never expected anything in return for any of them. Baker has refused to talk about any of it. He had arranged campaign gifts for a number of Republicans running for judgeships as well as the Republican candidate for attorney general, Leslie Rutledge.

Judge Maggio, urged by Baker, was running for the state Court of Appeals last spring. He had raised quite a bundle of money, much of it from Morton and other nursing home owners, when the blog postings and a Democratic blogger’s revelations about Morton’s secret gifts came to light. Although unopposed at that point, he withdrew from the Court of Appeals race, and when the state Judicial Ethics Commission took up the matters, he promised never to run for a judicial office again. Then the Supreme Court ordered him off the bench immediately and his pay stopped.

Alas, this is bigger than Mike Maggio, who not only suffers disgrace but who surely will spend some time in the federal penitentiary. But we had been warned.

When he retired from the Supreme Court more than two years ago, Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Brown wrote an Arkansas Law Review article in which he warned that the Arkansas judiciary was about to be corrupted by a wash of money into judicial campaigns from groups with axes to grind. It had happened in Texas, California and other states that elect their judges and he saw signs of it in Arkansas. It would be the end, in our parts, of the independent judiciary that Hamilton, Madison and others considered vital to a functioning republic.

David Stewart, who was retiring as the head of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, uttered the same warning. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette editorial page savaged Brown repeatedly for his article because, it said, he was simply opposed to business and conservative groups electing judges who would favor their interests.

Maggio was not the only judge who received huge sums from Morton, the nursing home industry and other groups interested in the outcome of personal-injury, wrongful-death and product-safety lawsuits.

Judge Rhonda Wood of Conway, an associate of Maggio and whose seat on the Court of Appeals he was about to take, got $49,000 very early for her Supreme Court race that was directly traceable to Morton and $76,000 from the entire industry. She raised so much money that no one ran against her and she was sworn in last week. More about that in a moment.

Three other Supreme Court candidates — two of whom, Karen Baker and Robin Wynne, were sworn in with Justice Wood — received large gifts from Morton and others in the industry, far more than the $2,000 that is supposed to be an individual’s limit. Justices Courtney Henry and Jo Hart received big campaign donations in their races in 2010 and 2012. If you’re counting, that’s five of the seven justices who now form the Supreme Court.

This may be pertinent: The legislature in 2003, at Senator Baker’s urging, passed a law making it harder for people to get large money judgments for wrongful death, negligence or unsafe products. In separate lawsuits, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the two major provisions because they conflicted with the state Constitution, which says the legislature may not in any way restrict people’s right to recover for their injuries. If the court had upheld the law, the jury could not have awarded the big judgment for the family of the woman who died of neglect in Morton’s home.

When she was sworn in last week, Justice Wood volunteered a most strange comment. She suggested that she would not be declaring acts of the legislature unconstitutional with the willingness of past courts. Her donors, we are sure, sighed with relief. This, we are afraid, is the brave new world we are in.

TOP STORY >> Confederate vet sent to Panama

Lonoke County Museum

Bradley Tyler Stokes was born Feb. 5, 1843, in Frederick County, Maryland, to Robert and Harriet Stokes.

On the 1860 federal census, his occupation is listed as being president of a bank and his personal and real-estate property is valued at $40,000.

In 1861, Bradley was attending school to become a surveyor but enlisted at the outbreak of the Civil War. He joined Company G of Gen. Turner Ashby’s 1st Virginia Cavalry of the Confederate Army, which was made up of volunteers from Maryland and saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as Manassas) in Prince William County, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, and in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in March of 1862.

The infantry was at the Battle of Front Royal on May 23, 1862, fighting against fellow Marylanders, the 1st Regiment Maryland Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army. “This is the only time in U.S. military history that two regiments of the same numerical designation and from the same state have engaged each other in battle,” according to Wikipedia.

On May 25, 1862, the Confederacy’s 1st Maryland fought at the 1st Battle of Winchester and at the Battle of Cross Keys on June 8, 1862, where the infantry was under the command of Gen. Richard S. Ewell and successfully fended off three assaults by federal troops.

After the death of Gen. Ashby on June 6, 1862, Stokes was made 1st lieutenant and aid de camp on the staff of Gen. Bradley Tyler Johnson. He served in that position till the close of the war.

Stokes was with Johnson’s company at Seven Days Battles — a series of six major battles over seven days from June 25 to July 1, 1862, near Richmond, Va. — and was part of the Peninsula Campaign. The regiment spent the harsh winter of 1862-63 in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

Few of these men were equipped with tents; most slept in the open on the frozen ground. “It was no unusual thing to see several hundred men arise from a covering of a foot of snow that had fallen during the night,” according to Capt. W.W. Goldsborough.

In January 1864, the 1st Maryland Battalion changed its name to the 2nd Maryland Infantry.

Stokes was paroled on May 5, 1865, at Salisbury, N.C., and returned to his home in Frederick, Md.

In 1869-70, he was chosen by the U.S. government as one of the engineers sent to survey the Darien Ship Canal at the Isthmus of Panama.

In December 1872, he married Grace Robertson, who was also from Frederick, Md. They lived in New York for a while, moved to St. Louis, Mo., and then moved to Lonoke around 1877.

In 1878, Stokes was elected surveyor of Lonoke County, a position he held for nearly 25 years. He died in Lonoke on Jan. 8, 1905, leaving behind two children: a son, Charles, and a daughter who he had lovingly called Dixie.

The Lonoke County Museum is at 215 Front St. in Lonoke. Call 501-676-6750 for more information.

TOP STORY >> Roundtop station restored

Leader staff writer

Construction at the 1936 Roundtop Filling Station in Sherwood has wrapped up, but crews may return if the city is awarded a third grant to repair the parking lot and add landscaping.

Darrell Brown, chairman of the city’s History and Heritage Committee, launched the $192,000 restoration project two years ago. The building is at the intersection of Trammel and Roundtop roads.

‘I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done. It’s hard to believe it’s coming to an end…It’s probably been the greatest experience of my life,” Brown said.

He added, “It’s like it’s a different building. I just can’t believe it. I think it’s something Sherwood can be proud of.”

The chairman said the parking lot project could include removing and replacing the concrete around the structure, pouring a wheelchair ramp, adding barriers to keep people from running into the station, painting lines and installing bumpers for as much as $90,000.

But, Brown told The Leader, Sherwood will probably go with a less expensive alternative, like asphalt.

For landscaping, Brown envisions a flowerbed encased by the bricks people who supported the project bought as a way to donate.

Sherwood had already received two Arkansas Historic Preservation Program grants totaling $128,000. The city’s match for both was $64,000, but a portion of the matching funds was provided through donations.

March 1 is the deadline to apply for a third Arkansas Historic Preservation Pro-gram grant that would cover the parking lot and landscaping, Brown said.

The building will eventually open as a police substation because the grants the city was awarded required that the Roundtop have a purpose.

Brown said, although cops could start using it now, they’d most likely set up shop at the Roundtop within six months — after city workers have installed the sewer line.

Brown noted, “The sooner we have people in there, the safer it makes the building.”

The project only suffered one setback that wasn’t related to the weather. It was the target of a suspected arson in early November.

Painting the scarred side and replacing three customized windows and their frames delayed the project for a few weeks.

Since then, six cameras, a security system, two floodlights and various other lights for the dome have been installed. Although the police substation won’t be manned 24/7, Brown is confident that officers will continue to keep their watchful eye on the property.

The chairman also said he would meet with Mayor Virginia Hillman Young and Police Chief James Bedwell soon to discuss how the inside of the building will be decorated and furnished.

Brown’s ideas include making use of memorabilia, historical photos and a poster from the film that was shot there in 2010.

Already in the plans is installing a counter that adds to the historical look but would also serve as a desk where officers can sit to type up reports or do other business.

Aside from the sewer line, other finishing touches include an electrician putting up replicas of old light fixtures that were ordered and outfitting the building with two bronze markers.

Southern Coating and Name Plating is donating another sign that pays tribute to the Roundtop’s late owner, W.D. “Happy” Williford. That sign will be hung with the replica light fixtures on a pole that extends from the station’s dome.

Brown said he would like to host a dedication ceremony in February, but a date has not been set.

The mayor, aldermen, city officials, contributors, architects, construction crew members and Williford’s family will be invited, he continued.

Williford, who operated the Roundtop for 36 years, passed away in March at the age of 95.

PDC Construction of North Little Rock put in the winning bid for the restoration project.

Real estate tycoon Justin Matthews built the station for the Pierce Oil Company after the federal government broke up the Standard Oil Company in 1911.

The landmark later became a Phillips 66, a Sinclair gas station and a DX station. It had three pumps.

Williford operated the Roundtop from 1936 until 1972.

He bought the station in 1957 and sold it in 1999 to George Brown.

When Brown passed away, his heirs gave the building to Sherwood.

Roundtop Road was once Hwy. 67, the main thoroughfare from Bald Knob and Searcy to Little Rock and North Little Rock. People from St. Louis also drove it.

The station was the only place that had public bathrooms between Searcy and Little Rock. Williford also allowed black and white people to use the same bathrooms when segregation was the practice statewide.

Two former governors campaigned at the Roundtop, and celebrities, like Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash, visited the station.

The Roundtop was also featured in “The Last Ride,” a 2010 film about Hank Williams Sr. that was directed by Arkansas native Harry Thomasson.

TOP STORY >> Mayor upbeat in state of city

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher reflected on “a year of major announcements and accomplishments” and said the city has much to look forward to as he delivered his state of the city address Thursday at the first council meeting of 2015.

He touted the opening of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex in early 2014, the announced construction of an $18 million outpatient ambulatory care campus and the November formation of a 30-plus-years-in-the-making Jacksonville North-Pulaski School District among last year’s triumphs.

About the new $3.2 million shooting range on Graham Road, Fletcher explained how “all the experts told us that, if 750,000 rounds were shot a year for the first five years, it could be deemed a success.”

The mayor pointed out that the range is just a few weeks from its one-year anniversary and 952,000 rounds have already been shot there.

Fletcher said, “This has not only been a success for the city in drawing people from around the country to Jacksonville, but has also been a great boost for local businesses that have been able to broaden their customer base.”

Future plans for the range include 40 RV sites and 20 3-D archery range stations, the mayor announced.

He called the project “definitely a bull’s-eye for the city” that will “serve as a source of recreation for generations to come” and “bring great financial strength to our local economy for years to come.”

Of the medical campus planned for 9.25 vacant acres across from North Metro Medical Center on Braden Street, Fletcher said it would bring specialists to the city and keep Jacksonville “on the cutting edge as a leader in the area of health care.”

The mayor noted that the campus, which could include an outpatient surgery center, would be plus for current residents’ quality of life and attract retirees to the city who want convenient access to “exceptional” medical care.

Fletcher said the new school district would “help our city to reclaim many of the young families that we’ve lost in the past due to the dissatisfaction and neglect of our students and parents have suffered over the past several decades.”

Residents of the proposed school district voted 95 percent in September for detachment from the Pulaski County Special School District, and the state Board of Education members made it official at their November meeting. An interim school board was selected by local elected officials and finalized by the state board.

The school board hired former PCSSD superintendent Bobby Lester to temporarily head the new Jacksonville district during a transition period of up to two years during which it is still legally operated by PCSSD. Assets will be divided and policies, boundaries and plans for facilities will be established this year, Fletcher said. A new school board will be elected in September, and a new superintendent will be hired to lead the new district when it finally stands alone.

The mayor continued, “This will also help to grow our city in terms of residential expansion and industrial recruitment, where education standards are so important for our children and also for our future workforce.”

In 2015, Fletcher continued, “We must work very hard this year to help start replacing park playground equipment, fire engines and police cars. Many have served beyond their life expectancy and usefulness.

“We must also work to secure more long-term revenue streams to operate the city, to reward employees for their sacrifices and service with pay and benefits, as well as to maintain infrastructure that keeps the city moving forward in growth and prosperity.”

Fletcher said funding cities have relied on in the past has become less reliable because the spending habits of today’s consumers put less money into local economies. He was referring to the popularity of online shopping, where purchasers are often not charged sales tax.

But, the mayor noted, that challenge must be met with new ideas.

He also said 2014 was a year when “several relationships were established, and other deepened, bringing promise and hope for a new, more economically sound future for our great city.”

Fletcher thanked Jacksonville residents for their votes and verbal support, paid staff and volunteers who keep the city running smoothly and those who serve on boards and civic organizations, who “make a difference because, in your heart, you’re making the world better than you found it.”

The mayor offered a special thank you to city employees, telling the room he constantly hears how impressed people are by their performance in providing daily services that may seem to go unnoticed and without “fanfare” but are noticed and appreciated.

He continued, “It is also encouraging to work with a city council that is focused on the big picture by moving forward as we redevelop Jacksonville, emerging into a great city of the future. Like most things in life, these things will not happen quickly, but it is coming for certain.

“These are exciting times that we are in today because I know of no other city that has as much to look forward to as the city of Jacksonville,” Fletcher said.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot swimmers win at PHS

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot boys’ and girls’ swim teams each finished first at the Paragould High School Invitational on Monday at the Paragould Community Center.

The Panthers took first out of eight teams, and totaled 460 team points. Jonesboro finished a distant second with 187 points. The Lady Panthers won the girls’ nine-team meet with 518 points. Mountain Home was second in the girls’ division, finishing with 339 points.

In the boys’ division, the Panthers won three different relay events. Cabot won the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:52.41, the 200-yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:51.17, and the 400-yard freestyle relay with a top time of 3:51.46.

Payton Jones was the lone Panther to win multiple events. He finished first in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:09.51, and won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 0:59.66.

Noah Joyner was the only other Panther to win an individual event Monday. He took first place in the 50-yard freestyle race, finishing with a time of 0:24.53.

The Cabot girls won two different relay events Monday. The Lady Panthers won the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 2:01.83, and finished first in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a top time of 4:11.10.

The Lady Panthers had two different swimmers win multiple individual events. Haylee Beckley won the 200-yard freestyle race with a time of 2:07.34, narrowly beating teammate Caytee Wright, who finished in 2:07.86.

Beckley dominated the grueling 500-yard freestyle race. She won with a time of 5:35.49. Megan Beaver of Mountain Home came in second in that event with a time of 8:33.31.

Cabot’s Jessie Baldwin won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 1:03.87. Teammate Riley Young finished second in that event with a time of 1:06.85. Baldwin earned her second winning event in the 200-yard IM, finishing with a top time of 2:21.10.

Young did win the 100-yard breaststroke event. Her top time of 1:20.99 beat Brookland’s Mckenzie Epperson’s second-place time of 1:22.15.

Lady Panther swimmer Katie Frederick came close to winning the 50-yard freestyle race. She finished that event with a time of 0:27.82, just barely behind Mary Kline of Jonesboro, who won with a time of 0:27.25.

Cabot will host its next swim meet at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Veteran’s Park Community Center. Lonoke will also compete in that meet.


Lonoke and Carlisle each competed in the Little Rock Central Invitational at UALR last Saturday.

Central won the boys’ meet with 315 team points. Russellville took second with 172 points. Lonoke finished third with 90 points and Arkansas Baptist finished fourth out of the six teams that competed in the boys’ division, finishing with 47 points.

In the girls’ division, Mount St. Mary finished first with 307 points. Central took second place with 250 points. Lonoke was fourth out of the seven teams competing in the girls’ division, finishing with 55 points. Carlisle was seventh with 29 team points.

Lonoke’s Kayla McGee was the local star of that meet. She finished with the top times in two different individual events. McGee won the girls’ 50-yard freestyle with a time of 0:25.88, and took first in the 100-yard backstroke with a top time of 1:09.03.

SPORTS STORY >> N. Pulaski routs Fair War Eagles

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Lady Falcons picked up their second conference win of the season on Tuesday, hammering J.A. Fair 58-27 in west Little Rock. North Pulaski got out to a slow start, but turned up the intensity late in the first quarter. Lady Falcon coach Stacy Dalmut called for pressure with about two minutes

remaining in the opening frame and her squad began forcing several turnovers.

“We started off really sluggish,” said Dalmut. “For some reason we’ve made a habit of that. But we did pretty well once we got going. We ran our press correctly and got steals. It was a good game for us to work on those things.”

Sophomore guard Allison Seats continued to shoot well, finishing with a game-high 20 points after scoring 26 in the Lady Falcons’ recent win over Mills. She is averaging 16.8 points per game, and 22 points per game since conference play began.

“She’s been pretty consistent for us but I’d like to see a lot more balance in our scoring,” Dalmut said. “It’s good that we’re getting points from different people at different times, but I’d like to see them all a little more consistent.”

Post player Raigen Thomas scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on Tuesday while Elisha Smith scored 10 points. But other players have had high-scoring games at different times this year, and then fallen off in other games.

Point guard Ilycia Carter was scoring well early in the season and Kiarra Evans scored 18 last Friday, but both managed just four points on Tuesday.

“Ilycia has been in a shooting slump lately and we’re working to get her out of that,” Dalmut said. “She’s shooting lights out in practice and it’s just not carrying over into games right now. Kiarra is another one that we know is capable of scoring more than she has been. We need to get everyone going together if we’re going to beat some of these top teams. But I really feel like we’re capable.”

The Lady Falcons entered last night’s matchup at home against Sylvan Hills 6-9 overall and 2-1 in conference play. They will travel to Jacksonville on Tuesday.

The North Pulaski boys dropped to 0-3 in league play with a 59-26 loss to the War Eagles on Tuesday.

SPORTS STORY >> Bison girls rally past McCrory in fourth

Leader sportswriter

McCrory gave the Carlisle girls its best shot Tuesday night at Bison Arena, but a 39-point effort from freshman standout Kylie Warren helped the Lady Bison stay perfect in 2A-6 Conference play, as the Lady Bison beat the Lady Jaguars 63-55.

With Tuesday night’s win, the Lady Bison improved their 2A-6 record to 9-0 and their overall record to 11-5. The win certainly didn’t come easy, but that came as no surprise to Carlisle coach Jonathan Buffalo.

“I expected it to be competitive,” said Buffalo. “I told the girls today in practice that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. It doesn’t matter how you play, you’re going to get their best shot, and we took their best shot tonight.”

McCrory (7-6, 4-3), who’s 4-3 conference record ranks second in the 2A-6, jumped out to a 6-1 lead to start. Warren, though, answered with a bank 3-pointer and a tough inside bucket to tie the game at 6-6 with 5:22 left in the opening quarter.

Carlisle took its first lead at 14-12 on a transition bucket by Mollis Weems with two minutes left in the first. Warren had the assist on the play. The Lady Bison led 16-15 by the end of the quarter.

That margin was set on a pair of free throws by McCrory’s Ashtyn Rogo with 12.9 seconds remaining.

The Lady Bison extended their lead to 19-15 14 seconds into the second quarter on a corner three by Warren.

McCrory got within two of the Lady Bison lead with three minutes left in the half on an and-1 by Delviny Anthony, which made the score 24-22. However, Carlisle closed the first half with an 8-2 run to lead 32-24 at the break.

Six seconds into the second half, Carlisle pushed its lead to double digits, 34-24, on an inside basket by Warren, but the Lady Jaguars came storming back.

After Warren’s basket, the Lady Jags went on a 19-3 scoring run to lead 43-37 near the end of the third quarter. Carlisle responded, though, with an 8-0 run to regain the lead at 45-43 heading into the fourth quarter.

The third-quarter margin was set on a 3-pointer by Kayla Golleher with nine seconds left in the period. Carlisle led throughout the fourth quarter, but didn’t get much separation on the scoreboard until a 6-0 run led to a 55-47 Lady Bison lead with 3:27 left to play.

That run was capped with two free throws by Peyton Hitchings. After that, McCrory never threatened again, as the Lady Bison furthered their lead to nine, their largest of the fourth quarter, leading 61-52 with 1:29 remaining.

Carlisle finished the game 24 of 56 from the floor for 43 percent. McCrory made 19 of 64 shot attempts for 30 percent. The Lady Jags outrebounded the Lady Bison 37-34, but Carlisle won the turnover category 18-21.

Warren’s 39 points topped the 34 she scored in the team’s 58-48 win at Marvell on Jan. 9, giving her a new season high for points scored. She also had nine rebounds Tuesday.

Golleher also had a solid game for Carlisle, scoring eight points, while adding nine rebounds, four assists and five steals to the stat sheet. Hitchings and Weems added six points apiece for the Lady Bison.

Anthony led McCrory with 19 points.

The Lady Bison resumed conference play last night at home against Palestine-Wheatley after deadlines, and they’ll play another 2A-6 game Tuesday at Brinkley. Tuesday’s game tips off at 6 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears upset Devils

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears pulled off an upset victory on Tuesday, knocking off favored Jacksonville 48-37 in a 5A-Central matchup in Sherwood. The most incredible thing about the Sylvan Hills victory is not that it was an upset, but that the Lady Bears won despite making just seven shots the entire game.

Shooting percentage from the floor by both teams was atrocious. Free-throw shooting, however, was the difference, both in quantity and quality.

The Lady Bears shot more than double the number of foul shots as Jacksonville, and shot more than double Jacksonville’s percentage.

Sylvan Hills hit 32 of 47 free-throw attempts for 68 percent. Jacksonville only shot 23 free throws, and made only 7 for 30 percent. Five players fouled out of the game, two from Sylvan Hills and three from Jacksonville.

Jacksonville coach William Rountree focused on the total numbers, but didn’t blame referees entirely.

“You’d certainly like the foul count to be more even than it was, and I definitely thought it could’ve been,” said Rountree. “But they did a better job of driving to the basket and drawing those fouls than we did. I don’t know if they did twice as good as us, but that’s the way it went. It is what it is. They still have to come to our place, so we get another shot at them.”

The game was all about turnovers. Jacksonville committed an unusual amount of turnovers. The Lady Devils are used to forcing a lot of turnovers with their pressure, but the 20 they committed on Tuesday isn’t something they’re used to. Four of those turnovers came in the first three minutes of the game, and they helped Sylvan Hills jump out to an 8-3 lead. Neither team scored for several minutes from that point. The Lady Bears finally made it 11-3 on three free throws by senior Sarah Beckwith.

Sylvan Hills increased its lead to 10 on free throws by Dabria Thompson before Jacksonville’s Tatiana Lacy scored to make it an eight-point game.

Sylvan Hills made just one field goal in the first quarter, a 10-foot jumper by Jahnay Duncan, while Lacy made two baskets and Jerrica Hardaway added a free throw for Jacksonville’s points.

Both teams continued to struggle from the floor in the second period. Beckwith made two baskets while Thompson and Maddison Shelton each added a pair of free throws for Sylvan Hills in the second period.

Jacksonville’s Antrice McCoy drained a 3-pointer and added a free throw while Hardaway got an and-1 to make it 21-12 at halftime.

The third quarter belonged to the visiting team, at least the first half of it did. McCoy and Taylor Toombs each drained 3-pointers to pull within 24-22 with 4:03 remaining in the third.

Shortly thereafter, Beckwith picked up her fourth foul and Hardaway made 1 of 2 free throws to pull within 24-23. With 1:33 left in the third, McCoy drew Sylvan Hills post player Alana Canady’s fourth foul and made both free throws, giving Jacksonville its first and only lead of the game at 25-24.

A bucket by Makayla Smith gave Sylvan Hills the lead going into the fourth quarter, but Lady Bear coach Shelley Davis was worried.

“When they made that run in the third I thought, oh no, here they go,” said Davis. “They’ve been a team that could really get on a roll and just bury teams. So I was really, really proud of my girls for how they kept their composure, because honestly, we have not handled that well this year. This is the first time all season a team has put a run on us like that, and we responded. In the past, we’ve caved in. So maybe this is like a turning point for us.”

With the fouls for both teams piling up, the fourth quarter became a drawn out free-throw shooting contest, and Jacksonville’s shooting was abysmal. Sylvan Hills stretched out a small lead with better foul shooting, and sealed the game when Jacksonville was forced to foul.

Sylvan Hills made 16 of 22 foul shots in the fourth quarter while Jacksonville made just 1 of 9. Alexis James hit a 3-pointer and McCoy sank 4 of 6 shots from the field, but it wasn’t enough.

Thompson led all scorers with 23 points, including 21 from the foul line, and made it an impressive double-double with 14 rebounds. Beckwith added 11 for Sylvan Hills.

McCoy led Jacksonville (7-7, 2-1) with 20 points and was the only Lady Devil in double figures scoring. Hardaway scored five points for JHS, and added a game-high 19 rebounds.

“She had 19 rebounds and I’m proud of her hustle, but she didn’t score enough,” Rountree said of Hardaway. “She missed a lot of shots. We’ve got to find someone to score besides Antrice.”

Jacksonville hit just 22 percent from the floor on 13 of 58 shooting. Sylvan Hills was even worse, making just 7 of 52 shot attempts for 13.5 percent shooting for the game.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

EDITORIAL >> A good start for governor

We do not remember a new Arkansas governor who struck a discordant note in his inaugural address, and Asa Hutchinson did not disappoint yesterday either. Dare we hope that Governor Hutchinson will be the pragmatic, problem-solving, careful leader that the voters of Arkansas seem to want? We say that this is what voters want because they have seemed inordinately pleased with Mike Beebe, who embodied those qualities almost to perfection and who left after eight years with the highest approval rating of any chief executive in America.

He didn’t venture to do big or divisive things, so history will not accord him greatness like, say, Dale Bumpers, but Beebe kept the ship afloat and on course for eight years almost without rancor during particularly partisan and rancorous times. He just avoided partisanship and argument, refusing both to attack Republican extremists and to defend the divisive leader of his own party, Barack Obama, or his works, although they generally have benefited Arkansas and made the governor look good.

It will take a while to see if Asa Hutchinson fits the mold, but his middle-of-the-road campaign, the careful development of his executive team since November and his subdued inaugural words suggest that this is exactly what he intends.

But his party now controls both houses of the legislature, this time by margins so big that it can pass whatever it wants. It did that with Beebe and then overrode his occasional and muted vetoes. The courts—federal and state—threw out those acts because they violated the state or federal constitutions, or both. We are almost certain to see those again—on abortion, voting rights, public ethics, perhaps guns and official religious exercises—and they will follow the same course through the courts, this time no doubt with the governor’s signature rather than his veto. Hutchinson is a Republican and will not be caught trying to thwart the party’s agenda.

The substance of policy on government services—the matters that actually affect the health, opportunity and prosperity of people—is where we hope and expect Asa Hutchinson will exercise the sober judgment that he has seemed to evince since he entered the governor’s race. He took only mild and nuanced objections to the policy proposals of his Democratic opponent and his own policy ideas were generally unexceptionable.

There were two big disputes—tax cuts and the continued administration of the biggest feature of the Affordable Care Act—the badly belabored Obamacare. Both Hutchinson and his opponent, Mike Ross, said they would cut taxes, but they disagreed on the amount that was practical without harming essential public services like education, public protection and health care.

Hutchinson intends to make a modest reduction in income taxes for those earning between $20,000 and $75,000 a year. The brackets are regressive now and Hutchinson’s changes will help slightly, although the economic benefit, both to individuals and the state, will be small. Taxpayers will forfeit part of the modest tax savings to the IRS.

The question was whether the state treasury could afford the lost revenue, $50 million next year $100 million in fiscal 2017. It can’t and it can. The state cannot lose that amount and still meet the state’s pressing budget needs, like housing the vast and growing prison population. But it hasn’t been able to afford it the past two years and the legislature cut taxes anyway. The state will continue to keep state inmates jammed in local jails, perhaps send a bunch to private lockups in Louisiana, release prisoners early and send other criminals home upon their arrest. The state will push that crisis down the road—to 2016, 2017, 2020, whenever—and do the same with other needs. There is no crisis if you don’t recognize it. In that sense, the state can afford Hutchinson’s or any tax cut.

But Hutchinson has said he was studying the possibility—recommended by Beebe—of postponing for a few years a couple of tax cuts that are already programmed—tax cuts for wealthy investors and manufacturers. The Republicans who passed those bills are not likely to be receptive, but it will be a test of the governor’s persuasion.

The most critical issue is continuation of Medicaid coverage for some 250,000 (by summer) Arkansans. Mike Ross said he would continue the program—it was drafted by Republican moderates in 2013 with Beebe’s approval—but Hutchinson has been noncommittal. Perhaps half the Republican caucus in both the House and Senate ran against the Medicaid program, so it will take a bravura effort by Hutchinson to get it passed for a third time. He has said he would announce his plans for the “private option” later this month.

It is widely expected that he will seek to continue the program, though he will have to be seen as insisting on changes in it so that it does not appear that he is a supporter of Obamacare or Barack Obama. It is almost essential that he continue it if he is to avoid wrecking the budget, which depends upon the massive infusion of federal assistance to the state insurance program for the elderly, disabled and poor. Hospitals, the medical profession and business groups are pushing to continue it.

His brief inaugural carried this hopeful and pointed message: “And while we strive to work and get ahead, we must not forget our responsibility to provide a safety net for those particularly in need.” There is only one safety net that is threatened: health insurance for people who earn too little to afford it without government help.

TOP STORY >> Terrorists here and overseas

Leader editor-in-chief

“Do not fear sudden terror or the destruction of the wicked when it comes.”


Three million people marched in France on Sunday, along with leaders from around the world, but high-ranking officials from the United States skipped the stirring protest against worldwide terror.

The heads of state from France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy, Israel, Palestine and Mali, along with the King of Jordan and others marched arm in arm, but President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were absent, sending only our ambassador to France to represent us at the historic march.

Attorney General Eric Holder was in Europe during the march, but he, too, skipped the event.

The White House admitted Monday somebody more prominent than our ambassador should have marched with some 40 world leaders. President Obama and his wife Michelle Obama would have made quite an impression on the French, as did President Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy when they visited Paris and turned Charles DeGaulle, a reluctant ally, into a genuine admirer.

Kerry now says he will interrupt his overseas travels and go to Paris on Thursday, although a bit late to show the world that the United States considers the war on terror as important as the fight against fascism and communism, which we won with a little help from the French.

My wife was inside a Jewish grocery store in Miami as the hostage drama was taking place at the kosher supermarket in Paris on Friday morning. She was getting cookies for my mother and the staff at the assisted living center where my mother lives. An employee there remembered my mother, a Holocaust survivor, who used to shop there and insisted on giving her and the staff a bag of cookies as a gift.

Contrast that small gesture of kindness with the Moslem terrorists who killed four hostages inside the supermarket, a female police officer the day before and seriously injured a jogger in a park. Earlier in the week, two Moslem brothers killed four cartoonists and eight others at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper, including two police officers, bringing last week’s death toll to 17.

France has now put 10,000 police officers and soldiers at Jewish schools and other potential targets. French authorities say several members of the terror cell responsible for the Paris atrocities are still at large. Two of them slipped away to Turkey and into Syria.

Eradicating terrorism may be more difficult than winning a world war because the enemy is everywhere: Boko Haram terrorists in Africa force 10-year-old girls to blow themselves up in crowded markets. Boko Haram wipes out entire villages, killing 2,000 just last week.

Terrorists have struck closer to home, setting off two bombs at the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing three people, including a boy, and injuring and crippling more than 200. The Tsarnaev brothers almost certainly received some help in their native Chechnya.

The shooting at the Army recruiting station in Little Rock in 2009 killed Pvt. William Long, 23, of Conway and injured Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville, who was then just 18.

Abdul-hakim Mujahid Muhammad, 24, aka Carlos Leon Bledsoe, reached for a cheap Chinese semiautomatic rifle and started firing at them. He had come back from Yemen, where he absorbed radical Islam in mosques and in classrooms.

Although he is serving a life sentence for murder, he was not charged with terrorism. His father, Melvin Bledsoe, thinks his son is a terrorist.

“My son was programmed and trained to kill by radical Islam,” he said during the trial. Jihadists “stole my son. They raped his mind. They changed his thoughts; they changed his behavior…and they manipulated him. He is no longer Carlos. He is Abdulhakim. I ask God to give me my son back.”

Prosecutors decided Muhammed was not a terrorist, which may be the reason why Ezeagwula and Long have not received their Purple Hearts.

Some of these terrorists may have received training from al-Qaeda or ISIS or Boko Haram, or they may have trained on their own, but the message is the same and the results are just as deadly.

The killers who thought they could put Charlie Hebdo out of business were mistaken. The staff that survived the massacre put together the new edition at another newspaper this week and printed 3 million copies in several languages — about 50 times the usual press run.

Charlie Hebdo has outlived the terrorists, but other terrorists are certain to strike again. It takes courage to publish under such circumstances, but journalists continue their work despite death threats around the world.

Many have lost their lives, and others are in prison. No ideology or government should force a newspaper to close. As Richard Kluger, the author and a former journalist, says, “Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism.”

TOP STORY >> Hospital cited for improvements

Leader staff writer

North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville is one of 28 hospitals statewide that have reduced hospital acquired conditions by 40 percent and re-admissions by 20 percent over the past three years as required by the new health-care law.

Both were goals set for members of the American Hospital Association/Health-care Research Educational Trust Hospital Engagement Network through the Arkansas Hospital Association.

According to a news release, as one of the 45 hospitals that participated in the program, North Metro has contributed to an estimated reduction of 2,144 events and a savings of $10.88 million across the state.

More specifically, at North Metro, there were no central line-associated blood stream infections, no surgical site infections and no ventilator-associated conditions in 2013 and 2014, according to chief executive officer Cindy Stafford.

She said the hospital also had a below average number of readmissions and no health care acquired infections for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — a bacterium responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections that is typically community acquired — and Clostridium difficile — a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon.

Illness from the latter most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after patients use antibiotic medications, Stafford explained.

About meeting the network-set goals, the CEO said, “This demonstrates our focus on quality and providing the safest care to our patients, our commitment is providing the best care to our patients closest to home…I’m very proud of the hospital and all the quality initiatives the clinic staff have put in place to make sure patients receive the best care.”

About reducing readmissions, Stafford continued, “We want to make sure we take care of the patients properly, and give them enough education so that when they leave, they don’t have to come back to the hospital.”

According to the release, the network North Metro is in is one of 26 networks in the Partnership for Patients program that was created under the Affordable Care Act, which is often referred to as Obamacare.

Stafford explained that the Affordable Care Act put best practices in place that have been evaluated over time. The hospital achieved the goals by implementing those practices.

North Metro is planning an event that will recognize its staff for all their hard work in meeting the network-set goals, Stafford added.

According to the release, a Department of Health and Human Services report showed an estimated 50,000 fewer patients died in hospitals and approximately $12 billion in health-care costs were saved from 2010 to 2013. It also states that hospital-acquired conditions went down 17 percent over that three-year period.

Bo Ryall, president of the Arkansas Hospital Association, said in the release, “Arkansas hospitals have embraced this work and have shown the importance of providing high-quality, safe care. We could not have seen these great results without the commitment of those hospitals who care for patients in their communities.”

TOP STORY >> Lawmakers set agenda for session

Leader senior staff writer

Asa Hutchinson, the state’s 46th governor, took the oath of office officially Tuesday morning before a joint session of the General Assembly and again at about 12:15 p.m. in a sunny but freezing public ceremony on the steps of the state Capitol, promising “A New Day in Arkansas.”

Hutchinson has promised the “three Ps” would be his top priorities — paycheck tax cuts, private option and prisons.”

$300 TAX CUTS?

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) — sworn in Monday as the Senate president pro tempore — and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia), also sworn in Monday, have said they await the governor’s guidance, but that $100 million in middle-class tax cuts is the top priority.

Hutchinson has said his proposal would cut taxes as much as $300 a year for Arkansans earning between $20,400 and $75,000 a year, by lowering the tax rate by 1 percent. The governor has said he wants the tax cuts before submitting his budget plan and considering prisons and private option.

Reducing revenues by $100 million a year may make it more likely that private option survives in some significant form since, without it, the state would lose another $100 million in revenues, this time from the federal government.

So, unless Hutchinson and the General Assembly are “starve-the-beast” Republicans, willing to shrink government by shrinking services and abandoning more than 200,000 working poor Arkansans who receive health insurance through private option, many think it’s in line for a tune up, even an overhaul, but not bound for the scrap yard.

Gillam said the first two days of the session were off to a great start.

He said he believed there would be a great deal of support for the governor’s proposed middle class tax cut, “once we see how the math will work out.

“It’s too soon to tell on private option,” he said. The governor will make his direction known later this month.

Asked if passage of a $100 million tax cut would make reauthorization of private option more likely, Gillam said, “I think there’s a lot of folks applying conventional wisdom, but have yet to see how the mathematical equation will play out.”

Sworn in as president pro tempore, Dismang said he would work as a facilitator to make everyone successful. Issues other than private option may be divisive, he said, but senators need to recognize each is doing the best they can for their constituents.


“We are going to protect this institution and do the very best we can for the people of Arkansas,” he said.

Asked about the future of private option, if the governor doesn’t support reauthorization, Dismang said, “If he doesn’t support it, it may be very difficult to get beyond that.”

Dismang’s son, 5-year-old Sawyer, led the prayer. His other son, Cade, led the body in the Pledge of Allegiance. His wife, Mandy, and his parents were also at the ceremony.

Dismang appointed Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) and Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) as assistant presidents pro tempore.


Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) was among area representatives sworn into their first terms on Monday.

“I’ve been really impressed with leadership of the House,” she said. “The speaker is doing all he can to reach out.

“I’m concerned about the tax cuts. But, until we know what our budget is, it’s hard to make tax cuts the first matter of business and then figure out if we can pay bills.”

Bennett, a lawyer, was appointed to the judiciary and the state agencies committees and also the House management committee.

Although Republicans control the House, the Senate and the governor’s seat for the first time in more than 100 years, Democrats won’t be left powerless, Bennett said. “Anything financial or fiscal will require a super majority — 75 percent — and that’s not possible without some help from Democratic lawmakers.”

Bob Johnson (D-Jackson-ville) says he’s optimistic. He said the governor “wants to cut taxes for the middle class, but he doesn’t want to cut services. He wants to trim the fat.”

Johnson is assigned to the Transportation Committee, the veteran’s affairs and elderly committee and was appointed to the retirement and social security subcommittee. “The Highway Department is now my best friend,” he joked.


Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood) said events were very exciting and moving. “We’ve got a Republican majority, including all constitutional officers. That’s a phenomenal situation…an opportunity to prove that conservative principles work. She said Hutchinson’s speech was “delightful, conciliatory” and reached out to encourage everyone to work together.

Brown is on the House transportation committee, the children, youth, aging and military affairs committee and governmental affairs committee. “It feels like a very good fit,” she said. Brown has been “looking into transportation issues for years” and minored in urban planning and design.


She said she’s not sure that bike and walking paths are the best use for transportation money.

Donnie Copeland (R-North Little Rock) said he’s waiting to hear what the governor’s plans are. “I think the private option needs to go away in a way in which it doesn’t cause undue harm to those trying to move (forward.) It has to be done in a very judicious way.

“People are asking for something,” he said. “The governor’s going to respond. We’re 47th and 48th in a lot of categories. Incremental change is not acceptable.”

Copeland is assigned to the judiciary committee, city, county and local government committee and the joint legislative council.

Tim Lemons (R-Cabot) could not be reached for comment.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot wins first in pair of divisions

Leader sports editor

Seven Cabot wrestlers advanced to the medal round and two brought home first-place medals in the Fayetteville Classic tournament on Saturday. Senior Michael Morgan and junior Dillon Freisner won their respective divisions, with Freisner also bringing home the Outstanding Tournament Wrestler award from the event.

Freisner beat Woodlawn’s Tyson Hume 9-2 in the championship match of the 126-pound weight class after pinning wrestlers from Fort Smith Northside and Springdale, and beating a member of the powerful Talequah, Okla. team 6-4 in the semifinals.

Morgan opened his tournament with pins of competitors from Gentry and Greenbrier in the preliminary rounds.

In the semifinals, he dominated Har-Ber 19-4 before beating Gavin Long of Rogers-Heritage by a thin 13-12 decision in the championship of the 145-pound weight class.

Freshman Clayton Pitch-ford and senior Cody Pugh took third place in the 106- and 152-pound classes respectively.

Senior Tyler Giorgini also took third for Cabot in the 220-pound weight class.

Cameron Pitchford, a sophomore Panther in the 120-pound division, and Harris Sutton, a 285-pound sophomore, each took fourth place.

SPORTS STORY >> SHHS indoor pioneers

Leader sports editor

A little more than a dozen Sylvan Hills athletes are embarking upon new territory for the school. The Lady Bears’ indoor track team just competed in its first event on Saturday at the Southeast Missouri All Comers meet in Cape Girardeau.

As one might expect for a team in its first-ever meet, the Lady Bears didn’t take the SEMO Rec Center by storm, but that’s not what coach Grover Garrison and his band of pioneering athletes are doing it for, at least just yet.

“When I came here last school year there were only three or four kids returning for track,” said Garrison. “We walked the halls and visited with many young ladies who weren’t involved in other sports. We started training in September and they were diligent enough to believe in what we were trying to instill.”

Garrison was talking about his first outdoor track team, and that group that started the previous September, dominated the 5A-Central Conference meet last spring.

Since then a few of the athletes continued competing in meets across the region over the summer, then came together to form SHHS’ first-ever cross country team. Last year’s outdoor conference champion had only one senior, so expectations are high this year as well.

This year’s team has only three seniors, Justis Jakes, Jahnay Duncan and Jamia Willis. Jakes has assumed the role of team leader. A gifted distance runner, she won two events in conference last season and placed well in several meets over the summer. But it wasn’t always that way.

“Justis is an interesting story,” Garrison said. “There was a strong consideration to let her go last year. She wasn’t fully into the pain of working hard every day. Over the summer we made the decision to adjust her events. She began working with coach Tai Canady while running for Team Elite Track Club and the light came on. She has done a 180 in track and in the classroom.

“I’ve put a lot on her. She understands what we’re trying to accomplish and accepts criticism proactively. She’s been a joy to work with.”

Some of the other strengths of this year’s team is sophomore distance runner Chloe George, a transfer from Monette, Mo., who Garrison says is “just as good as Justis.”

Junior Mya Graham returns as the 400-meter conference champion from last year, and is stronger and faster than she was a year ago, according to her coach.

Jahnay Duncan, who is currently competing with the Lady Bears’ basketball team, won the 110-meter hurdles last year at conference. Garrison also mentions a trio of freshmen in Erykah Sanders, Brielle Hayes and Chanel Miller who will make an immediate impact this season.

Hayes and Miller were the only two Lady Bears with top-eight, point-scoring finishes at SEMO. Hayes finished seventh in the long jump and Miller took second in the triple jump.

And while Garrison heaps the praise on his athletes, they athletes give their coach a lot of the credit.

“It just became totally different when he became the coach,” said Jakes. “The difference is amazing. To be honest, Sylvan Hills track was at the bottom and then in one year we won conference. He pushes me more and from where we were last year to this year, it’s just much better. I can see myself that I’m a lot faster. The team has grown and everyone has worked hard and improved a lot.”

Garrison is also excited about the future. He’s already brought eighth-grader O’Shayla Muldrow up to practice with the varsity, though she’s not yet eligible to compete at the high school level.

The Lady Bears get back to competition quickly. They will be competing in the Arkansas High School Invitational this weekend in Fayetteville.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS girls shock Beebe with easy win

Leader sports editor

Beebe girls’ basketball coach Greg Richey called two timeouts in the first quarter and three within 30 seconds of the second, but they didn’t stem the tide the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils rode to a 51-29 victory Friday at Badger Arena.

Beebe came out focused on Jacksonville leading scorer Antrice McCoy. She still got six points in the first quarter, but also began to find center player Tatiana Lacy open on the low post. Lacy also dropped in six points in the opening frame. A quick 9-0 run put Jacksonville up 11-2, prompting Richey’s first timeout.

Asiah Williams prompted the run for Jacksonville with three steals and two assists during the stretch.

Lady Badger Taylor McGraw hit a 3-pointer that made it 13-7 and added a free throw to trim the margin to five. But when McCoy got a defensive rebound and dribbled the length of the court for an open layup, Richey used his second of five timeouts. That basket made it 17-9 with 35 seconds left in the first quarter, and that’s how it stayed until the start of the second.

Beebe got the ball first to start the second quarter, but two possessions led to two turnovers and two easy baskets for Jacksonville, resulting in a 21-8 Jacksonville lead and the burning of Beebe’s third timeout.

But nothing much changed. Jacksonville’s pressure continued to cause Beebe turnovers. The Lady Badgers committed 12 in each half. Beebe briefly pulled to within eight points a little more than halfway through the second period. That’s when junior Desiree Williams came off the bench to spark another Jacksonville run.

Desiree Williams scored seven-straight points, then got a steal and assist to McCoy for three that put the Lady Devils up by 18, their biggest margin of the first half. Jacksonville carried that 31-13 lead into intermission.

“We got out of Desiree what I’ve wanted to get out of her,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree. “She’s capable of scoring a lot of points and at times scoring them in a hurry. She can be quite a weapon for us, bringing a player in that can score like that off the bench.”

Kierston Miller got going for Beebe, scoring three-straight made baskets in the third quarter, but they were the only baskets the team made in the frame. Jacksonville only scored 11 in the third quarter, with Alexis James and Asiah Williams adding their names to the scoring ledger for the visitors.

Jacksonville caught the turnover bug in the fourth quarter, committing nine, but Beebe’s inability to score kept it from taking advantage of the Red Devil mistakes.

Richey got a technical foul with 1:04 left in the game over his view that McGraw was fouled several times with no call. Rountree felt the same about McCoy.

“They were pretty physical with Antrice, too,” Rountree said. “She was still the best player on the floor. She got other people involved and those people stepped up in a game she wasn’t able to give us all the points she had been.”

McCoy still finished with a game-high 20 points, about five below her season average. Desiree Williams scored 12 for Jacksonville while Lacy had eight points and nine rebounds. Miller led Beebe with 11 points.

Jacksonville (7-6, 2-0) had 15 steals and won the rebounding battle 31-22. Beebe dropped to 5-9 and 1-1.

SPORTS STORY >> Top-ranked NLR barely escapes Cabot

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls came oh so close to knocking off top-ranked and No. 18 nationally ranked North Little Rock in the 7A/6A-East Conference opener Friday night at Panther Arena, but the Lady Charging Wildcats made just enough plays in overtime to escape Lonoke County with a 44-40 win.

Cabot trailed the state’s top-ranked girls by 12 at halftime, but made it a five-point game by the end of the third quarter, trailing 33-28.

The Lady Panthers tied the game at 37 on a steal and fast-break layup by senior guard Danielle McWilliams with 4:11 left in regulation, and Cabot took a 39-37 lead on a Leighton Taylor steal and transition bucket by CoCo Calhoon with 1:10 to play.

However, University of Arkansas commit Malica Monk answered with a lane-penetrating bucket on the ensuing possession, tying the game at 39. After getting the ball past half court, Cabot held for the final shot, and got the ball to McWilliams, who had the hot hand throughout the second half.

McWilliams drove the ball down the baseline and went for a layup in the final seconds, but with two seconds remaining, Monk stole the ball and dribbled out of the lane as time expired, sending the game to overtime with the score tied at 39.

North Little Rock struck first in OT with an and-1 by 6-foot-4 center Brogan Jones with 2:50 remaining. That made the score 42-39 NLR.

Cabot senior post Alyssa Hamilton returned to the game with 90 seconds left in overtime. She suffered an ankle injury with 2:52 left in regulation that forced her out of the game.

Even with Hamilton back on the floor, Cabot didn’t score until there was just 27.6 seconds left in overtime. The Lady Panthers scored their first and only point of OT on an Anna Sullivan free throw, which made the score 42-40 NLR.

Sullivan made the first of a two-shot foul, but McWilliams chased down the rebound on the miss. McWilliams dribbled out near the home bench, and attempted a 3-pointer from the corner, but the shot fell just short, hitting the front of the rim.

North Little Rock got the rebound and got the ball to Monk, who was then fouled with 15.7 seconds remaining.

Already in the double bonus, Monk made both free throws to seal the game in the Lady Charging Wildcats’ favor. It also set the final score. Cabot attempted a desperation three on the game’s final possession, and that shot fell way short, ending the game.

Cabot lost 55-44 to the same NLR team in the finals of the annual Heavenly Hoops Tournament at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock on Nov. 22.

The Lady Panthers battled in both games, and actually had a chance to get the upset win at the end of regulation Friday, but despite Friday’s loss, the Cabot coaches were pleased overall with the way their team played.

“We played real well,” said Cabot assistant coach Charles Ruple. “We were two down at the half at St. Mary and got beat by 11. We were down 12 today (Friday). We wanted to get it down to one or two (points) there at the end, and we had a chance to beat them at the end. But the kids played exceptionally.

“They played very smart. We did some subtle things that we worked on the last two or three days. We made some big plays. They missed some shots. We missed some shots, but it was a good game.”

North Little Rock led 13-11 at the end of the first quarter, and began to separate itself in the second. The Lady Cats’ first double-digit lead came on a long two from the corner by Kyra Collier with 3:01 left in the opening half that made the score 24-14.

Collier later set the halftime margin, 26-14, on a pair of free throws with 1:21 remaining in the second period. Cabot’s momentum shift began in the third period.

Cabot opened the second half with consecutive buckets by McWilliams, and with 4:13 to play in the third quarter, McWilliams made it a three-point game, 29-26, with a pair of free throws.

McWilliams also set the third-quarter margin at 33-28 on a putback with one second remaining after a missed three by Calhoon.

Sullivan scored the opening bucket of the fourth quarter on a tough left-handed lay-in off the glass. With 4:28 to play, Cabot got within two of NLR’s lead on an and-1 by McWilliams that made the score 37-35. On the ensuing possession, McWilliams got the steal and fast-break layup that tied the game at 37.

McWilliams was guarded by Monk throughout the second half, and outplayed the UA commit, as the Cabot guard scored 13 of her game-high 14 points in that time. Monk was held to just three points in the second half.

McWilliams also grabbed five of her game-high seven rebounds in the third and fourth quarters.

“She played very well,” Ruple said of McWilliams. “Now she played sporadic early. She sat out for a little while in the first half, but she came back and she got settled down, and she played really well in the second half.”

In the four-and-a-half quarters played, Cabot finished 15 of 40 from the floor for 38 percent. North Little Rock made 13 of 46 shots for 28 percent. The Lady Cats made all three 3-pointers in the game, and made more shots at the free-throw line as well.

The Lady Cats made 15 of 21 free throws for 71 percent. Conversely, Cabot went 10 for 13 from the stripe for 77 percent. Cabot outrebounded NLR 28-24, but the Lady Cats won the turnover battle 14-26.

Other than McWilliams, Cabot’s Sullivan also scored in double figures. She had 11 points and added six rebounds. Calhoon scored eight points. Hamilton scored four. Sarah Davis scored two for Cabot and Taylor added one.

Collier led NLR (13-1, 1-0) with 13 points. She was the only Lady Cat to score in double figures.

The Lady Panthers (12-4, 0-1) continued 7A/6A-East play last night at Marion after deadlines, and they’ll play another conference game Friday at home against West Memphis. Friday’s game at Panther Arena will tip-off at 6 p.m.

Monday, January 12, 2015

TOP STORY >> Resolving issues key for launch of district

Leader senior staff writer

The clock has started on a 120-day deadline for the Jacksonville-North Pulaski and Pulaski County Special School Districts to work out division of assets and liabilities and other issues after the state Board of Education on Thursday approved the operating agreement sanctioned last month by U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall.

When the state took over the fiscally distressed county district, the state board dissolved the elected PCSSD school board, fired Superintendent Charles Hopson and then-Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell hired Guess.

The hiring of former PCSSD Superintendent Bobby Lester as interim Jacksonville superintendent became formal with the board’s approval of a working agreement between the two districts. The agreement leaves PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess in the driver’s seat for as long as another 18 months or until the new district is ready to stand alone.

Lester said he and Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart have been working for free so far, but they will be on the clock starting Monday. Lester said his annual salary was $150,000.

Guess told the board the appointed community advisory board that performs some functions of a school board was a good training ground for the next generation of PCSSD board members, who could be elected next September.

Daniel Gray, president of the newly appointed Jacksonville-North Pulaski interim school board, and vice president Ron McDaniel also sit as Jacksonville-area representatives on the PCSSD advisory board.

Guess said he hoped that serving on both boards would fast-track development of local leaders for the new district.

“I think they have gained vast insight,” he said.

Accounting for the loss of revenue from detachment of the Jacksonville School District from PCSSD and for the loss of $20.8 million a year in state desegregation funds is all that prevents PCSSD from emerging from its fiscal distress designation and state control.
Both districts are exposed to great risk financially, Guess said.

Guess said, “This detachment exposes both districts to significant challenges” after the loss of $35 million.

State Board president Sam Ledbetter said — of Guess, Joshua Intervenor Attorney John Walker, Lester, Goff, Gray and others from Jacksonville — “a lot of good minds are working on it, and we’re pulling for you.”

In a separate but related issue, Lester said Friday that Patrick Wilson, chosen to be the attorney for the new district, would also be its employee starting on Monday. He had been the Jacksonville-north Pulaski Education Corps’ attorney.

Accounting for the loss of revenue from detachment of the Jacksonville PCSSD chief financial officer Bill Goff told the board that the district had corrected 37 of the 38 problems for which it was cited, placed in fiscal distress and taken over by the state in 2011.

He said the district would petition by the April board meeting the Education Department and the board for release from the designation and the state oversight.

Education Commissioner Tony Wood, who is also the de facto, one-man PCSSD school board, said, “The only outstanding unresolved issue is how they are going to deal with the loss of revenue from the phaseout of desegregation revenues.

They will present a detailed plan this month. Once they have submitted that, there will be consideration of an appropriate time to turn over control.”

Goff said, “We are working on a five-year impact (forecast) of Jacksonville detachment and of loss of about $20.8 million a year in state desegregation funds. The projection is that we can meet that loss in reasonable ways and still maintain fiscal integrity.

“We have to make a lot of hard decisions over the next 18 months,” Goff said. “We can put a plan together that looks good on paper, but dealing with paper and dealing with people are two different things.

“Wood expects (our plan) by April. They have to decide whether to release us from fiscal distress. If we’ve met our plan, there’s no choice but to release us from fiscal distress.”

State board member Jay Barth asked Goff if the district had met its legal fund balance. Goff answered, “Yes, for the last two years.”

Wood said, “This is a matter with clear guidance in law, the process of being in fiscal distress and coming out. We’re trying to be attentive to that.”

The 11-point agreement approved by the state board without discussion and in less than a minute Thursday was worked out by Guess, Lester, Wilson and PCSSD attorney Allen Roberts. Among those points were:

• PCSSD administrators shall operate the Jacksonville district during the transition.

• The PCSSD superintendent will be CEO of the district, reporting to the commissioner in lieu of a school board.

• PCSSD continues its obligations as a non-unitary desegregation defendant.

• Both districts will be considered a single unit for purposes of desegregation status.

• The commissioner shall select a superintendent and other employees for  the Jacksonville district and confirm Wilson as attorney, paid by PCSSD.

• Employees assigned to Jacksonville-area duties continue as PCSSD employees until the new district is fully operational.

• During the remainder of 2014-15, the Jacksonville superintendent designate will be an integral participant in all personnel decisions related to the new district.

• The goal of the PCSSD administration will be a turnkey job in which the new district and its board will be vested with all powers and responsibilities.

• Parties continue to negotiate in good faith to resolve issues such as division of assets and debt, student assignment, teacher salary schedule and configuration of board zones prior to the September 2015 school elections.

TOP STORY >> Common Core right for state?

Leader staff writer

As state lawmakers convene for the regular session of the 90th Legislative General Assembly on Monday, The Leader interviewed local school leaders and legislators about key issues affecting education.

The newly implemented Common Core state standards, which provide schools with more universal curriculum requirements in English, literacy, history, social studies, science and math, tops the list of concerns for area superintendents.

However politically charged and frequently misunderstood the issue is, school leaders say they stand behind Common Core and insist it needs time to start showing results, while Republican legislators in the area are afraid of the federal government having too much control over local schools.

Cabot School Superintendent Tony Thurman said the standards are rigorous and can be modified if problems arise. For a military community like Cabot, students who move there or away to other bases around the country will be able to pick up with the same lessons at their new schools.

It will help students avoid starting over with new standards and coursework by repeating or even skipping over lessons.

Lonoke Superintendent Suzanne Bailey said, “The concept is advantageous for promoting deeper student learning. It will take time and energy to implement the necessary strategies required for higher-level learning and student engagement into critical thinking tasks, and closes the gaps that exist due to the shifting of standards.”

State Senate Education Committee member Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) said he has been in discussions with several school superintendents. He sent a report to Gov. Asa Hutchinson that provides feedback about Common Core and considers making fundamental changes to Common Core.

“It will get a lot of attention in the legislative session,” Williams said.

Common Core has received backlash from some parents and even became a campaign issue in the November election.

Beebe School Superintendent Belinda Shook said, “Common Core has become the catchall for anything someone doesn’t like about public schools. We ought to give it time to work before we change it.”

But Tim Lemons, an engineer who is starting his first term as a Republican state representative for the Cabot area, said, “I cannot support Common Core until I have some assurance that it will curtail federal involvement with our local school districts. I can see where some national standards are not a bad thing. However, if we give up local control of our school districts, I have a real problem with that because schools are the identity of their community. If they lost that, I could see where that would be detrimental.”

But Lemons also said he does not have a problem adopting the academic standards.

Shook said much of the challenge in implementing Common Core is preparing for the new standardized test that will replace the Benchmark test. The PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will be the new measure of academic performance for students across the country.

PARCC testing will begin this spring. Students will take the test simultaneously, using laptop computers on the schools’ wireless network. The test will not be given on the Internet, which will ensure that students’ privacy is protected. Some parents have worried their children’s personal information could be exposed.

To administer the test, schools had to buy hundreds of new computers.

“We’ve invested a lot in Chromebooks and made sure we’ve had enough for the testing,” Shook said.

She anticipates some technology problems. Shook said students have taken practice tests to see how the school’s computer network will handle the load.

Lonoke’s superintendent is confident her district can adapt to the new test.

“We, at Lonoke, feel as prepared as we can be at this point in time with preparing to take the PARCC online assessment in the spring with our technology infrastructure,” Bailey said.

“Many hours have gone into planning, scheduling and piloting for this upcoming student assessment. Our students are preparing throughout the school year to be ready to use the technology required. We are hoping that this will all work successfully, and there will be no glitches on our end or with the testing company,” she continued.

Shook said, “Requiring schools to do all this so quickly has been pretty hard. Some school districts aren’t going to be able to do the tests online and will use paper and pencil.”

The Beebe superintendent did not mince words about the politicization of the standardized tests.

“Why are people complaining about Common Core and PARCC when legislators compare schools on a national level with NAEP?” she asked, referring to the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam that is given to randomly selected schools. The results are then used to compare states, not school districts.

“Taking the PARCC test makes more sense than the NAEP test. We just started Common Core a few years ago. We haven’t given it time to test the standards. We don’t focus on the NAEP standards,” Shook said.

“We never get any results, except for the state’s results. When you see a report, for example, it compares Arkansas to Massachusetts. It does not show how a district compares to other districts in other states,” Shook said.

“We don’t know what they are testing or what the results are. I’ve tried to get Beebe’s (NAEP) scores, but they won’t give them. At least with Common Core and PARCC we know what the standards are, and we are taking the same tests.

“If we are going to have a national test, let us know what the standards and tests are we are going to use,” Shook said.

She said students in Arkansas have made more progress in the NAEP test than students in any other state.

“If the NAEP test is going to be the measure, then why don’t we use the NAEP standards?” Shook asked.


Superintendents are also concerned about talk of legislation to create state-funded scholarships and vouchers for children to attend private schools.

Sen. Williams said, “I’m a proponent for vouchers. I don’t see vouchers as a threat to good performing schools. If a school underperforms, parents should be able to get vouchers to better educate their kids. It is competitive and makes for better schools.”
But area superintendents couldn’t disagree more.

Cabot’s superintendent said, “I believe, if they are to take taxpayer money from public schools, that private schools should be held as equally accountable as public schools.”
Shook said, “I’m very anti-vouchers and scholarships for private schools. I’m not against private schools and people who want to send their kids there; I am against using public school money.

“I don’t want my tax money that I’m paying for public schools to go to a private school to pay for someone else’s child when they could send their child to a public school.”

Bailey also opposes giving tax dollars to private schools. “Public schools would be harmed if the funding available for public schools was reduced and given to private schools,” she said. 

Thurman and Bailey suggested that, if the state wants to begin funding private schools, the private schools would need to report student academic performance in the same way that public schools do.

The state also requires public schools, but not private schools, to provide special-needs programs, physical education, music and art, Thurman pointed out.

Shook said, “If they did start giving scholarships and voucher money to private schools, they should meet the same accountabilities systems as public schools and offer the same services.”


Thurman said public school administrators do not want legislators to make any changes with the funding matrix, which is the state’s equation that provides funding for school districts. He said the current system is working well and is fair and equitable.

Thurman said there is talk about “tweaking” the funding matrix.

“We believe that would be detrimental. We’d like for it to stay. We understand it. We know how it works. We know it is fair. It is in compliance with court rulings, with equal education for all,” Thurman said.

Shook agreed. “I’m happy with it and want them to leave it alone. New legislators look at the funding as an expenditure,” she said. 

Lemons, the freshman legislator, said, “There are some schools under the current program that are being disenfranchised to some degree and some that are probably overfunded. I could see where that might need some adjustment to be a little more fair. It is a work in progress. As the needs of the people change, it can be modified.”

Rep. Camille Bennett (D- Lonoke), another freshman legislator, said, “Everyone needs money.

“We have to figure out how to collectively meet the best needs of the people of our state. Education has to be our top priority. We don’t have an option. If we don’t invest in education, eventually it is going to get worse. Bad things happen. Drug abuse, people in jail and welfare all ties to not having a basic education. You can’t get a job. Most (pregnant) teens are reading at a fifth-grade level. Education changes people’s lives,” Bennett said.


Next on the superintendents’ list of concerns is securing state money for districts to build new schools and pay for remodeling projects. State money has helped build several new campuses in Cabot and others in Beebe, Lonoke and Sherwood.

The partnership is based on a district’s wealth index.

That is especially important for the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, which is hoping to see a windfall of state money that was not available to it when the area was part of the Pulaski County Special School District.

Some of the money has been moved from the partnership-funding program to pay for teachers’ insurance, and there are concerns that much needed projects will not happen because of a lack of available money.

Thurman said, “We want the facility funding to remain intact and the funding that was removed put back. Districts can’t take on the sole responsibility for paying for new facilities.”
Shook said, “If Beebe has to build new buildings and doesn’t have state partnership funding, it will have to pass a millage, which would be difficult.

“I’ve been a superintendent for 10 years, and we have taken advantage of the state partnership facility funding,” she said.

State partnership funding has paid for 63 percent of the building and remodeling projects in the Beebe School District, Shook noted. It has helped pay for the new middle school, the Early Childhood building, the high school’s Career and Technical Building, additions at the junior high and high school and the remodeling of two elementary schools.


The superintendents also recommend legislators help their districts pay for the cost of providing thousands of free and reduced-price meals every day by renewing the National School Lunch Act, which provides state funds to districts based on the number of students receiving free meals.

Thurman said research shows children from homes that are struggling economically typically require nutritional assistance as well as remediation studies and more. That can be an expensive burden for districts.

The National School Lunch Act also provides districts with money for additional instructional programs, afterschool programs, nurses, interventionists, specialists, tutors and summer school. Districts could not provide those services to so many students without that funding.
Shook said, “It will kill a lot of our programs if that was taken away.”

Thurman said many other school leaders are asking legislators to maintain National School Lunch Act funding and continue to allow districts flexibility in how they use the money based on their needs.

Bailey said, “Flexibility should continue with this funding. More requirements and restrictions on how school districts spend the funds is not needed nor desired.”


Thurman believes the school choice cap of 3 percent for incoming and outgoing students transferring between school districts should remain the same. He said the cap helps districts maintain budgets based on enrollment numbers.

However, Bailey said, “The 3 percent cap should be reduced due to the financial burden it can cause districts with the loss of revenue.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Jane English (R-North Little Rock) said, “Every parent ought to have a choice for the education for their child. Every parent needs to be able to make that decision on which school their child can go to.”

English said one school district may offer programs another does not or offer services for special needs students.

Shook said, “It’s not been a big problem for us.”

Beebe, Cabot and Lonoke school districts have all been working with each other on school choice.

Bennett said, “School choice is great as long as it doesn’t impact disadvantaged people.”
She is concerned that school choice could have a detrimental impact on smaller schools if they are  in danger of school closure. The Scott School District and the England School District are examples Bennett gave.

She does not want to see school choice as “white flight” or the selective pulling of better performing students out of one district for another. However, Bennett sees it as a plus that can work for larger districts.
(Next: Other education issues before the legislature.)

EDITORIAL >> New schools won't be easy

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District needs a large or even staggering amount of money to build its way out of one of the worst school building situations in one of the poorest states in the country.

The schools that interim Superintendent Bobby Lester will consider when applying for state partnership funds are Homer Adkins pre-K, Bayou Meto, Murell Taylor, Pinewood, Tolleson, Arnold Drive, Warren Dupree elementary schools, Jacksonville Middle, Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School.

Current, unofficial plans call for building a new high school on 300 acres on Little Rock Air Force Base land, converting the North Pulaski High School into the district’s middle school, building a new elementary school on the base to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools and to remodel and add on to Murell Taylor, Bayou Meta, Pinewood and Warren Dupree elementary schools.

The Defense Department has said it would help with some funding for the high school and the elementary school that would be constructed on its base.

One of Lester’s first chores when he starts work Monday will be to compile a school facilities plan for the state Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation. To be eligible for state facilities matching funds for the 2017-19 biennium, Lester must file a skeletal plan by Feb. 1.

The informed but estimated building needs of the schools that will belong to the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District when it opens its doors—probably in the 2016-17 school year—range from $88 million to $93 million to do it right.

The $88 million estimate comes from the most recent detachment feasibility study, prepared by Winston F. Simpson in his 2013 report.

“Please be mindful that most of the data on which my study is based was gathered in the fall of 2012,” Simpson told us. “Numbers will change as time passes. However, the conclusion of the study (that the Jacksonville area can financially support a competitive school district) stands. Further, the facilities options included in the study are based on the data available to me from PCSSD and the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation.”

The $93 million estimate was from the PCSSD’s 2013-15 update to its 10-year facilities plan, on file with the division.

Lester, who starts fulltime Monday, will help determine the extent of that need with Simpson serving as a consultant.

When you are headed into a swamp, it’s good to have experienced guides, and that’s just what we have with Simpson, Lester, his chief of staff Phyllis Steward and Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess.

The known unknowns, as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might have said, include”

1. How much money do we need?

2. Will the General Assembly continue to fund state matching money for building schools? If so, what would be Jacksonville’s share? It has been variously estimated that the state would pay between 50 percent and 64 percent of new school construction.

3. The desegregation agreement calls for PCSSD to get the final year of $20.8 million desegregation funds for building or upgrading facilities. Will Guess be able to use it to carry out his building plans, or will the new district get approximately $5 million of that as a proportionate share of the settlement, for their facilities?”

4. It seems likely that a property tax increase will be required of JNP district patrons to attack the problem in a timely manner, but how much of an increase, and will it pass?
Jacksonville-area residents have taxed themselves at every turn when it comes to education and their children, and we suspect they would do so again if they understand how the money will be used.

TOP STORY >> The story of Aaron Downing

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A convoy rides through the streets of downtown Tikrit, Iraq, on July 28, 2007. Inside the lead vehicle sits then-Staff Sgt. Aaron Downing, a security forces airman working with the Army 82nd Airborne, 89th Military Police Company. After a long day of training the Iraqi police, Downing and his team are headed back to Camp Speicher.

The convoy weaves through the streets just like any other day of the week. The team is vigilant despite how routine the day seemed. They have no idea just what they are about to drive into.

The vehicles briefly stop at the corner of Saddam Boulevard and Business One to make a left hand turn. The lead vehicle makes the turn and the rest follow.

Downing has lost his memory of what happened as the fourth vehicle made that turn.

Moments after, he regains consciousness and emerges from the wreckage of the first vehicle with a ringing in his ears. He sees the vehicle; its entire engine department demolished from the blast. Before he has time to assess what just happened, adrenaline takes over. He jumps into action.

“I directed the driver to move out of the kill zone 10 more feet before the engine gave out. There was some sporadic gunfire after we moved out of the kill zone,” Downing said. “That’s when I called for support over the radio.”

A truck arrives and Downing picks up a bulky tow bar and links it to the convoy lead. Once connected, the tow truck drags the shattered vehicle back to Camp Speicher.

Once they arrive at the camp, Downing, along with the rest of the team, are evaluated for injuries.

Downing later learns that his team was attacked by an improvised explosive device. Two 155 artillery rounds of 15-gallon cylinder propane were linked to a command wire that detonated 3 to 4 feet away from the convoy lead and totaled the engine compartment of the vehicle.

With his quick thinking and training, Downing led his team back to safety.

“Even though I wasn’t in the right state of mind, training and muscle memory kicked in,” Downing said. “We did what we were trained to do, which was recovering the vehicle and assessing any wounded.”

After the IED explosion in July 2007, Downing was near nine more IED incidents.

“I didn’t expect to be a part of that many IED events,” Downing said. “Honestly, you never know what you’re going to expect. You go into a deployment expecting the worst and hoping for the best.”

After his deployment to Iraq, Downing did two tours to Afghanistan.

Traumatic events within deployments, like IED blasts, can create a heavy emotional and physical toll on the body. To keep up with the demands of the mission, Downing found himself turning off his emotions.

“In certain points during deployments, you pretty much have to shut off your emotions,” Downing said. “You have to go numb to get the mission complete. It’s kind of mandatory.”
Although he said shutting off emotions was easy, Downing has had some difficulty adapting back to the real world.

“The hard part is turning it back on when you get home,” Downing said. “Seven years after the fact, I’m still trying to do that. I’m not the least bit ashamed that I have sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder for seven years on and off.”

In between his deployments in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2013, Downing has had to balance his treatment with his deployment requirements.

“I couldn’t handle the thought of someone going in my place,” Downing said. “If something were to happen to someone whenever it was my time to go and fight, I don’t think I could live with myself. When it was my time to go, I went.”

Seven years after his deployment to Iraq, Downing received a Purple Heart for his actions in a ceremony held last September at Little Rock Air Force Base. Lt. Gen. Carlton Everhart, 18th Air Force commander, attended the event.

Today, Downing, now a master sergeant, works with the 19th Security Forces Squadron here as the weapons and tactics superintendent.

Although Downing has had many experiences in his military career, his perspective has changed, thanks to his treatment.

“It’s given me a different outlook on life,” Downing said. “It’s slowly helping me reconnect with my family and friends. It’s helping (keep) me from pushing people away. I’m learning a lot of coping techniques that help with functioning in society. Am I there? No. Will I ever be there? I don’t know. But I’m hopeful. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be continuing my treatment.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears rebound to knock off comets

Leader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills girls shot poorly in the first half of their 5A-Central Conference opener against Mills University Studies on Tuesday at Sylvan Hills High School, but the Lady Bears, led by point guard Jessica Brasfield, turned things around in the second half, and won the conference opener 41-37.

Sylvan Hills (5-7, 1-0) made just 4 of 31 shot attempts in the first two quarters of play, and yet, were still in the ballgame by halftime, with Mills (9-6, 0-1) leading 18-12.

Though their shooting percentage wasn’t great in the second half, the Lady Bears had a much better offensive performance than the first half, making 9 of 24 shot attempts in quarters three and four, and Brasfield scored 16 of her team-high 18 points in that time to lead the hosts to the win.

Mills struck first in the second half. An and-1 by Lady Comet sophomore guard Mackenzie Tillman, who led all scorers with 19 points, scored on an and-1 at the 6:27 mark of the third quarter to give Mills its largest lead at 21-12.

Sylvan Hills, though, answered with five-straight points to cut the Lady Comets’ lead to four, and by the end of the third, the Lady Bears trimmed their deficit to 27-26. The third-quarter margin was set on an inside bucket off the glass by Sylvan Hills’ Makayla Smith with two seconds remaining.

Mills scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, but the Lady Bears answered with consecutive 3-pointers by Dabria Thompson and Sarah Beckwith. Thompson’s three tied the game at 29, and Beckwith’s three gave the Lady Bears a 32-29 lead with 7:08 to play.

Brasfield added a free throw near the 6:30 mark to further the hosts’ lead to 33-29, but Mills responded and took the lead again at 36-34. Each team added a free throw before Brasfield scored on a midrange jumper with 1:49 remaining, which tied the game at 37.

Things went south for Mills from that point on. The Lady Comets had three players on the floor with four fouls at that point, and Tillman fouled out with 1:02 left to play.

Rasia Reed fouled out with 41 seconds to play after fouling Brasfield, and Brasfield went to the line and made 1 of 2 free throws to give the Lady Bears a 38-37 lead.

Brasfield made the first free throw and missed the second, but teammate Maddison Shelton got the rebound to keep the ball in Sylvan Hills’ possession. After Lady Bears’ coach Shelley Davis called timeout, the hosts got the ball to Brasfield, who was fouled with 22.9 seconds remaining.

Brasfield made 1 of 2 free throws again to give the hosts a two-point lead, and after Mills failed to score on the ensuing possession, Brasfield got the ball and was fouled again with one second to play. This time, Brasfield made both free throws to set the final score.

The Lady Bears finished the game 13 of 55 from the floor for 24 percent. Mills made 15 of 46 shots for 33 percent. Neither team shot great from the free-throw line either, but the Lady Bears had more attempts, and therefore, more points from the stripe.

Sylvan Hills made 12 of 22 free throws for 55 percent. The Lady Comets made 5 of 10 free throws for an even 50 percent. The Lady Bears outrebounded Mills 36-33, and the hosts finished with 16 turnovers to Mills’ 21.

Brasfield was the only player for Sylvan Hills to score in double figures. Thompson’s seven points were the second-highest for the Lady Bears. Tillman added 12 rebounds to go with her game-high 19 points, and teammate Jessica Stout was the only other player for either team to score in double figures. She had 10 points.

The Lady Bears continued conference play last night at J.A. Fair after deadlines, and they’ll play host to Jacksonville in another 5A-Central game next Tuesday at 6 p.m.