Friday, March 13, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Big potholes plague area

How bad are the potholes right now?

“I’ve driven or been driven in Newton County, Belize, Mexico, Greece and Kathmandu, and the potholes on Hwy. 67/167 at Jacksonville are probably the worst I’ve seen,” Leader senior staff writer John Hofheimer said.

Drivers were having enough trouble navigating the construction zones with plenty of lead-footed motorists. Now they are struggling to zigzag through hundreds of potholes within just a few miles. The rain has not made it any easier.

The road crew in charge of widening and replacing overpasses on Hwy. 67/167 between Redmond Road and North First Street began by repaving the highway to provide drivers some comfort during the lengthy project. This stretch of highway is among the worst in the state.

Now, the snow and ice has taken its toll on the roads. Much of the temporary resurfacing is chipping away, and the conditions seem worse than ever.

Commuters cringe every time their vehicles plop over a pothole, fearing they’ll have to pay hundreds of dollars in repairs.

The state Highway Department told us Friday the potholes are being fixed now.

In the meantime, here are some tips from AAA about how to brave the roads out there:

1. Check that your tires have enough tread and have enough air.

2. Ensure that your vehicle’s shock absorbers are OK.

3. Look out for potholes while driving. Keep in mind that swerving to avoid them, especially in a construction zone, can be dangerous.

4. Slow down in areas where you know there are a lot of potholes. (Yes, you, too, Hwy. 67/167 speed racers.)

5. Watch out for puddles because the water will obscure the depths of the potholes.

6. After hitting a big one, take your car to the shop to have your alignment checked and be aware of unusual noises after hitting a pothole.

Good luck out there, drivers.

EDITORIAL >> Give district all its money

Memo to: The Pulaski County Special School District.

From: Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District patrons.

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is completing its separation from the Pulaski County Special School District on schedule. An interim school board is in place, and school board elections will be held in September. The new district should become completely independent during the 2016-17 school year.

But, according to Leader reporter John Hofheimer, there is friction between the two districts over the state’s final desegregation payment of $20.8 million to PCSSD.

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess wants to keep the entire amount for his district, while Daniel Gray, who sits on both the PCSSD advisory council and is president of the JNP interim board, says the new district should keep one-fourth of the desegregation settlement — or $5.2 million — since it will educate and build for about one-quarter of former PCSSD students when the new district breaks off.

Gray cites PCSSD chief financial officer Bill Goff’s projections as proof that the county district could build its facilities program without the $5.2 million that JNP is demanding. Goff says his projections include the real possibility that JNP would get a quarter of that final payment.

Hofheimer says this rift appears to be the biggest bone of contention between the parent district and its offspring. Jacksonville must insist on getting that desegregation money as it builds its own district from scratch.

The new district will need all the funding it can get. That $5.2 million will make a good down payment for a new high school or elementary school the district is planning to build in a few years.

Jacksonville Superintendent Bobby Lester should sit down with Guess and make certain that Jacksonville gets a cut of that desegregation money. Jacksonville has been shortchanged for too long — inadequate facilities, elimination of important subjects that are no longer taught, to name a few — so let’s not send all that state money to Dixon Road. The state can send $5.2 million to the JNP’s temporary address on Main Street in Jacksonville.

We are looking forward to taking a photograph of an oversized check for $5.2 million as soon as it arrives. We thank you in advance.

TOP STORY >> Crouch roasted in Cabot

Leader staff writer

Retired FBI agent “Snacks,” aka Eugene Crouch, was interrogated at the Cabot Scholar-ship Foundation’s 20th Roast and Toast banquet on Tuesday.

Eugene “Laddie” Crouch was a Cabot Junior High football coach. He was born in Helena and raised in nearby Lexa. He graduated from Barton High School in 1961.

Crouch attended the University of Arkansas on a football scholarship, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education.

He held coaching jobs in Brinkley and El Dorado schools before beginning a 25-year career with the FBI, including time with the bank robbery squad in New York City.

Later in Crouch’s career, he was assigned to Little Rock. He moved to Cabot in 1981.

After retiring from the FBI in 1995, Crouch taught and coached in Cabot schools, retiring in 2003. His support of Cabot’s sports programs continues with his regular attendance each season at most sports competitions.

Gene was married to the former Sue Wood until her death in 2013. Their sons, Lad and Andy, attended Cabot schools, and both were active in Cabot athletics.

Former Arkansas Razorback football coach Ken Hatfield was a teammate with Crouch and lit into him during the roast.

He said Crouch’s high school graduation class had 14 students and 13 of those were on the football team. Crouch was first team quarterback and first team defensive tackle at the same time.

Hatfield asked one of Crouch’s friends if he had dated much in high school.

“His nickname was bedspread — because all the girls turned him down,” Hatfield was told.

Hatfield and Crouch also played together in American Legion baseball one summer.

Crouch told him about a summer job he had with a rancher. Crouch said, “I had a problem the other day. They put this bull out there in the pasture. I looked up there for a day and the bull just sat over there despondent. I went to the vet and told him about it. He gave me some pills, and I gave them to the old bull. Woke up the next morning and that bull was jumping fences and hurling.”

Hatfield asked, “My gosh Laddie, what was in those pills?” and Crouch answered, “I don’t know, but they tasted like peppermints.”

Hatfield also said Crouch could be tight with money.

He asked Crouch’s wife if everything was alright at the house.

She said, “Tight? No, he took me out the other day for coffee and doughnuts — but I never donated blood before.”

Hatfield said Crouch was a man in charge of his house.

“I spent the night one time with him and Sue. I’d gone to bed and heard a little argument in the kitchen. The next morning, I got up and asked Laddie if everything was all right,” Hatfield said.

Crouch told him everything was great. “Oh yeah, I’m the master of my house. Everything always happens to end this way. I always have (Sue) on her hands and knees begging,” he said.

“What did she say,” Hatfield asked. And Sue Crouch scolded, “You better come out from under that bed, you coward.”

Then Hatfield said Crouch always wanted to be a coach. “He is as good as it gets.”

James Handley with the FBI met Crouch while they were teammates playing American Legion baseball. Crouch was a pitcher and Handley was a catcher.

That was in 1959, and they did not see each other again until 20 years later. Crouch went to Arkansas and Handley went to Mississippi State. Unbeknownst to each other, they both worked for the FBI.

Handley said Crouch was involved in one of the most famous bank robbery cases in the history of New York City.

“There was a movie made, ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ starring Al Pacino. It was about a guy who got caught inside a bank during a robbery. The big television camera rolled up. Crouch was very prominently mentioned in this movie,” Handley said.

He suggested looking for Crouch while watching the film.

“Gene was the guy who heroically left cover on several occasions to run to the hot dog stand to get snacks,” Handley joked.

He also remembered reuniting with Crouch in 1979 when they were in Fort Sill, Okla. for regional SWAT team training to repel out of a helicopter.

“I recall a guy from Oklahoma City who, before he gets on the helicopter, excuses himself and leaves. Next time I see him, he is standing in the back of the line. It happens three times. I check him out and get to looking at him. Lo and behold it’s Laddie Crouch. I don’t think he ever got on that helicopter,” Handley said.

Crouch and Handley met again when they were assigned to the Little Rock field office.

“When he and I would work together, if we would stop for gas, Gene would always get two of those great big Snicker bars. He would hand me one and open his up. He knew I could not handle chocolate. I’d take one bite and he’d get to eat the rest of mine along with the one he had,” Handley said.

Handley added that Crouch had always been a true Southern gentleman.

“Gene Crouch always had and always will have my back. I am privileged and honored to have Gene Crouch as my friend,” Handley said.

Cabot High School football coach Mike Malham finished grilling of Crouch.

“You already heard they call him ‘Snacks.’ When he worked at Cabot High School, it didn’t matter if you saw him mid-morning, noon, early afternoon, mid-afternoon or late afternoon. He either had a doughnut, a Snickers or a bag of potato chips in his hand,” Malham said.

Malham said Crouch was supposedly a pretty good athlete. He got a scholarship to play at Arkansas and played with Ken Hatfield.

“When talking with Ken before the banquet started, I asked what makes a good team,” Malham said.

Hatfield replied, “If you can get rid of all the dead weight, you are going to be successful.”

Malham said, “Well, Gene quit the team in ’63 and they won the national championship in ’64. So Gene, Ken wants to thank you for your part in the national championship.”

After retiring from the FBI, Crouch coached the Cabot Junior High football players.

“He was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had at the junior high. I tried coaching seventh and eighth graders for one day and I gave up. Those guys don’t listen to what you say. Gene had the most patience of any coach I’ve ever seen. Kids loved him and started calling him Grandpa,” Malham said.

“When Gene had to quit, we lost a real good coach. He had to help his late wife, Sue, with her health over the past 10 years. You have to have a heart of gold to do that.”

Gene Crouch said, “I am honored, humbled and blessed to be a part of this year’s recognition of the high school scholarship recipients. It is one of the great honors of my life.”

He then fired back at the roasters. “Ken Hatfield is a scratch golfer. Anytime he hits the ball, he scratches his head and wonders where it went,” Crouch joked.

He also told a story about Malham. “A couple of years ago, Coach Malham was preparing for a big game against Jacksonville. He went to his church, which is in Jacksonville, to pray and light a candle before the game.

“Inside the church, he looked up and noticed Jacksonville’s star quarterback lighting a candle a few feet away. Soon after he got up and left, Coach Malham walked over and blew out that candle,” Crouch said.

Crouch is a member of Cabot United Methodist Church and the Rolling Hills Golf Association. He was a Cabot Rotarian for many years, being honored as Rotarian of the Year for 2008-09.

TOP STORY >> Guilty plea made in wife’s murder

Leader staff writer

Former Lonoke County auxiliary sheriff’s deputy Charles Bryant was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a minor on Friday at Lonoke County Circuit Court for the December 2013 shooting of his wife, Sharae.

Bryant, who is not eligible for parole, appeared before First Division Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore.

The murder took place at the Bryants’ home, 31 Watercrest Lane in the Cedar Lakes Estates off Dogwood Lane east of Cabot. The incident was recorded on home security surveillance tape.

Charles Bryant told State Police investigators that he shot and killed his wife after she shot him.

But, according to the arrest affidavit, the surveillance tape showed a different scene.

Sharae Bryant put their infant daughter in the car seat of a white Ford Expedition before going back inside the house, it states. About the same time, the tape recorded Charles Bryant getting something from his red Dodge truck and going inside the home.

The tape then showed Sharae running outside, followed by Charles, who chased her around her vehicle. She reached for the driver’s door. Charles Bryant approached, stood over her and shot her in the head.

Charles Bryant then walked approximately 10 feet away.

The tape shows that he shot himself in the midsection of his body. He fell to the ground, crawled back to Sharae’s body and placed something by her body. Charles Bryant crawled back to where he shot himself and laid down.

Emergency personnel pronounced Sharae dead at the scene. Charles Bryant was taken to Springhill Baptist Medical Center in North Little Rock, where he was treated and released for the gunshot wound.

Charles told investigators that he and Sharae argued before he took his two sons to school. Their oldest son and baby daughter were at the home with her.

When Charles Bryant returned, he said Sharae put the baby in their SUV and, at some point, went into the house. Charles Bryant said his wife took a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, with its holster, from a nightstand drawer and went outside. He said he followed with a .380 semi-automatic pistol. Once outside, Charles Bryant said Sharae shot him once and he returned fire, shooting her one time in the head.

According to Sheriff John Staley, Bryant had been a reserve deputy until about a week before the shooting, when he resigned. He did not have a violent criminal history.

TOP STORY >> Severe potholes getting repaired

Leader staff writer

The northbound lanes of Hwy. 67/167 were closed down during Friday’s rush hour between Redmond Road and the Main Street overpass for emergency pothole repairs.

Danny Straessle with the state Highway Department said vehicles were slowing down to 10 miles an hour in efforts to avoid or traverse the field of potholes in the area, the result of three waves of icy winter storms followed by more than two inches of rain Thursday and Friday.

Straessle called it a dangerous situation and, with the traffic already slowed to a halt, stopping traffic to quickly patch the holes was the most prudent thing to do. The repair work caused traffic to back up into Sherwood.

Mayor Gary Fletcher agreed. “It’s an inconvenient, but a small price to pay for the safety of our residents.”

The highway department also planned to close the southbound lanes near Vandenberg later Friday night to make quick repairs on the numerous potholes in that section.”

The mayor said he has been working with the state Highway Department all week to keep up with the repairs. “The weather just hasn’t been conductive for them. Throwing down a cold patch as a Band-Aid just isn’t going to hold much so they are using a hot mix so it will last longer,” the mayor said.

James Construction, the company responsible for replacing two bridges and widening the highway as part of a $41.6 million project, took care of milling and re-asphalting a pothole section on the highway near Main Street earlier in the week, causing lanes — one at a time — to be closed for two days during the morning traffic rush.

Straessle said that kind of emergency repair work is in the contract and the company had all the equipment already on site, but the potholes that stopped traffic Friday were outside the construction area. So the Highway Department had to do the repairs, not the construction company.

Straessle said, ultimately, the Highway Department is responsible for all repairs.

The northbound lanes of Hwy. 67/167 from Redmond Road to near the closed James Street exit, which became a minefield of potholes with each icy wave, was one of the hardest-hit sections of the highway. Quick patchwork was done between the second and third waves, but the repairs didn’t hold with the onslaught of a third wave and worsened.

And city hall heard about it.

The mayor said it was hard to tell people calling that the city couldn’t do anything about the highway issue. “We can’t do anything on the highway or the frontage roads,” Fletcher said.

Straessle said, “We have a number of paving and milling machines, but they are spread out through the state, and you have to basically sign up to have one in your area.”

That is the reason there is still a problem on the southbound Hwy. 67/167 lanes south of Vandenberg, he added. “We can’t get a machine over there until next week,” Straessle said. The Highway Department wants to properly make the repairs so they will last, he noted.

Straessle also said, this year, the Highway Department used very little sand on the highways. “We went to strictly rock salt, and it did a great job of melting the ice and then with the rains the salt dissolved so we don’t have that big cleanup that we’ve had in the past.”

One reason for the onslaught of potholes, according to the highway official, was the closeness of the three storms. “The few days we had in between we had to use for resupply, maintenance and repairs of our vehicles,” he said, adding that the winter of 2013 actually produced more bad weather. But it was spread out, making it easier to make the repairs.

TOP STORY >> District not out of fiscal distress

Leader senior writer

The Pulaski County Special School District, despite resolving 37 of the 38 issues for which it was placed in fiscal distress and taken over by the state in 2011, will remain under state control for a fifth and final year, the state Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday.

The unresolved issue revolves around the end of $20.8 million a year in state desegregation funds and loss of revenue when the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District steps out on its own in the 2017-18 school year, according to PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess.

“We’ve created a plan for (getting by) without the $20.8 million in annual state desegregation funds, but having a plan and doing it are two different things,” Guess said recently.

State Education Com-missioner Tony Wood had hinted earlier that the state board might release PCSSD from its control, but the agenda issue read: “Continuation of Fiscal Distress Classification under authority of the state for the Pulaski County Special School District; and allowing the community advisory board to remain in place for one (1) additional year.”

“PCSSD has done an outstanding job,” Wood said. “My memory is that there were 38 components of fiscal distress and only one remains.”

The board is required by law to review districts in distress by April 1, and Thursday’s was the last regular meeting before that deadline. Wood did not recommend release.

Board member Jay Barth asked Guess, “What’s the wisdom moving forward on the Community Advisory Board?”

“It’s a very appropriate method of management,” Guess said.

He recommended that PCSSD be continued in fiscal distress for another year.

Guess had said earlier that he would be comforted by another year of state oversight.

According to him, there are too many financial questions yet to be answered at a time when the district is losing millions of dollars a year in state desegregation aid and Jacksonville is detaching.

That means that, barring further consideration later this school year or next, Guess, the seven-person community advisory board and ultimately the commissioner will continue to run the district.

The board action concluded:

“The Arkansas Department of Education continues to review the status of the Pulaski County Special School District’s compliance with its Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan and its efforts to remove itself from fiscal distress. That review is ongoing.

“Because that ongoing review will extend past the date of this meeting, and because this meeting is the last meeting prior to April 1, we recommend that the Community Advisory Board remain in place at this time.

“However, should our review indicate that PCSSD is no longer in fiscal distress and has met all of the goals in its Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan, we will return to the Board with a recommendation that the district be removed from fiscal distress classification and from state authority.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot boys and girls add to title run

The Cabot girls’ and boys’ bowling teams captured their fourth state titles Wednesday in Jonesboro, giving the program eight combined titles in eight years of competition. This year’s championships were made even more difficult because both teams grabbed a lead, lost it and recaptured it by the end of the day.

“We have worked hard all year focusing on two days, conference and state, and our kids responded by winning both,” said Cabot coach Mike Nash. “Coach Pridmore and I are so proud of what our kids did this year. Each of the eight championships have been special and each has its own story and characteristic. It’s been a good ride.”

Added to the pressures of a state tournament were the weather delays.

The original date for state was Feb. 18, but had to be moved a total of five times until conditions would allow the teams to travel safely to and from Jonesboro. Nash said he had a simple message to his team to maintain its focus.

“I told our kids not to worry about the delays,” Nash said. “While it would be easy to get discouraged and become tired of the process, don’t fall into that pitfall. I told the kids to let the other teams mentally quit, but not us. Stay focused on our goal and let’s win state.”

At conference on Feb. 13, the boys dominated the competition, winning by 469 pins over second place Benton. In addition, Bentonville, who won the 7A/6A-West Conference, finished with 333 pins fewer than the Panthers. Nash said these were encouraging numbers, but it still would come down to which team had the better day.

“After eight years, I have seen some crazy things at state and like any other sport, any team can beat another on any given day. I was cautiously optimistic. I turned 44 in February and told my wife it was a sign that the boys would win their fourth and girls would win their fourth. Glad I was right.”

The Panthers got off to a hot start with their first set of individual games, bowling a total of 1,254 and were led by senior Zac Couch’s 235. Couch was assisted by freshmen Greyson Kaufman’s 223, freshmen Josh Imhoff who was the gold medalist at conference, bowled a 214. Sophomore Cole Stillman added a 213 and juniors Brandon Terhune and Blake Palladino contributed with games of 190 and 179, respectively. Despite the hot start, the Panthers had only a small lead over Benton.

SPORTS STORY >> First-inning rally lifts Panthers over Beebe

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers’ softball team improved its record to 3-0 this season with a 5-0 win over Beebe on Wednesday at the Cabot High School softball field.

Cabot scored all the runs it would need in the bottom of the first inning, and kept Beebe off the scoreboard with solid pitching from senior Conway transfer Megan Goodnight and timely defensive stops in the field by the Lady Panthers’ position players.

“We played good as a team,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope. “We put the ball in play and made things happen, and we made some plays defensively that helped us tremendously to back up our pitcher.”

Cabot scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Leadoff hitter Lauren McCluskey started the inning with a stand-up double down the left-field line, and two-hole hitter Erin Eckert walked the next at-bat.

McCluskey and Eckert stole third and second base with Goodnight at the plate, and Goodnight drove McCluskey in with a 4-3 groundout, which put Cabot up 1-0. Kaitlyn Felder then came to the plate, and drove in the Lady Panthers’ second run with a groundout to first.

Cabot’s next run came in the bottom of the fourth. Bethany Knowles got things started in that inning with a walk. She later advanced to third and scored on a two-out ground ball off the bat of Shauna Attendorn that got by the Beebe second baseman, which gave Cabot a 3-0 cushion.

The final score was set the next inning. Rachel Allgood led off the bottom of the fifth with a double to right field, and she advanced to third the next at-bat on a 6-3 groundout by McCluskey.

Eckert then drove Allgood home with a 4-3 groundout, and Goodnight singled the next at-bat. That brought Felder back to the plate, and she drove in Goodnight with a two-out triple to center field, which made it a 5-0 ballgame.

Beebe had its chances to score Wednesday, especially in the early going. The Lady Badgers’ most promising opportunity came in the top of the second. In that inning, they had the bases loaded with two outs, but Felder, Cabot’s catcher, got the host team out of the jam by gunning down a Beebe baserunner at third after a Goodnight pitch.

For the game, Beebe left a total of eight runners stranded on base. Cabot left just two.

“This is the second time we’ve been outside in four weeks,” said Beebe coach Eric Chambers. “We’re a little rusty and it was just some of the little things. We got picked off at third on a big play when we had the bases loaded, little things that shouldn’t happen with a veteran team. But when you haven’t been playing, you know, they just kind of forget the little things, I guess.

“They shouldn’t forget, and that’s what we had a little discussion about afterwards. The little things are what got us beat today. It wasn’t them (Cabot) scoring a whole bunch of runs. We made a couple of errors and we gave them a couple of runs, but I think we’ll be alright. We just need some time out on the dirt.”

Goodnight earned the win. She finished the game with three strikeouts, and she gave up just two hits and three walks in the seven innings played.

Calah Hill and Megan Davlin each singled for Beebe’s two hits, and Cabot’s McCluskey, Goodnight, Felder and Allgood each had a base hit to lead the Lady Panthers’ offense.

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills could lose players to Jacksonville

One of the controversies about the North Pulaski football team merging with Jacksonville next year involves the number of North Pulaski students who reside in what will be Sylvan Hills’ zone once the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District breaks free from Pulaski County on July 1, 2016.

North Pulaski announced last week it would not field a football team in the 2015-16 school year. A rule allows students at schools in the process of consolidating, who wish to participate in an extracurricular activity not offered at the school they attend, to participate at the other school if it’s offered.

That leaves the potential for North Pulaski football players who currently live in the portion of North Pulaski’s zone that will become Sylvan Hills’ zone, to be allowed to play for Jacksonville next year if they stay at NPHS. They could still play for Sylvan Hills if they attend Sylvan Hills.

Sylvan Hills athletic director Denny Tipton understands the reasoning behind the ruling, but also thinks the issue with North Pulaski is different than most consolidations.

“This situation is a little different because most consolidations are two schools into one,” said Tipton This is really two schools into two. That’s kind of a weird deal.

“My understanding is that we’re going to get more North Pulaski students than Jacksonville will once the separation is complete. I’m told it’s something like 57 percent (of current North Pulaski students) that will be in our zone.”

Tipton and other Sylvan Hills administrators met with North Pulaski students who live in the future Sylvan Hills zone a few weeks ago. There were about 90 students at the meeting. Tipton says 74 have registered and are filling out schedules for Sylvan Hills next year, and of those, he expects about 11 to participate in football, though none are obligated to attend Sylvan Hills until the 2016-17 year.

“So there still could be some that play for Jacksonville next year,” Tipton said.

Tipton, who is also the head baseball coach for the Bears, and other coaches have decided to hold off on all sports tryouts at SHHS until later this summer, in order to give all the potential North Pulaski transfers an opportunity to take part.

“We’ve never done it like this before, but we don’t want to leave anyone out,” Tipton said. “They’re in a tough situation, too, and we want to make sure everyone has an equal chance. We’re just going to worry about Sylvan Hills. Whoever chooses to enroll here we’re going to open our arms and welcome them.”

SPORTS STORY >> JHS coaches visit North P.

Leader sports editor

With participation numbers in North Pulaski’s football offseason reported to be around 17, Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham and athletic director Jerry Wilson were surprised by the 44 NP students present at Wednesday morning’s meeting to discuss the possibility of playing football at JHS next year.

North Pulaski announced last week it would not field a football team for the 2015-16 school year because of low participation numbers, and that any student wishing to play football would be able to do so at Jacksonville because of a rule that allows students at consolidating districts to participate in extracurricular activities not offered at the school they attend.

Wilson, who is also the running backs coach at JHS, handed out sign-up forms to students at the meeting. Of the 44 present, 26 turned their signed forms in to Jacksonville coaches at the end of the meeting.

“We were shocked by how many were there,” said Hickingbotham. “We told them we were going to feed them lunch and we brought eight pizzas thinking there would be 17 to 20 kids. We had 26 sign up and now we’re going to start the process of checking on eligibility and all that. But it’s exciting to see that much interest in our program.”

The decision to not have a football program at NPHS was controversial from the start, and the number of potential football players at Wednesday’s meeting furthered the controversy. Speculation is there would’ve been more students participating in football offseason, enough even to have a team, if the Pulaski County Special School District had moved faster in replacing resigned head coach Teodis Ingram.

Ingram, however, didn’t officially resign until March 9, though it was known he would resign and seek a position in administration shortly after the football season ended.

PCSSD athletic director Danny Ebbs dismissed the speculation, saying the decision simply boiled down to the numbers.

“I can tell you this, if there would’ve been 45 kids in offseason, there would’ve been a football team at North Pulaski next year,” said Ebbs. “I believe coach Ingram held off his resignation because he wanted there to be an offseason program and something for kids to participate in. But when you only have 17 or so, that’s just not enough, really, for any program, much less one that competes in 5A. We had to make a decision based on the numbers we were working with.

“I feel for the kids and the parents. I’ve been in this for 40 years and I’ve seen this kind of thing come and go many times, and it’s never a pleasant thing. You just have to do what you have to. And if there had been 45 kids in offseason, there would’ve been a program.”

North Pulaski principal Jeff Senn backed up Ebbs’ statements.

“When I met with the kids interested in playing football, back when all this started, there were 24 in that meeting,” said Senn. “Seven of those I knew had already committed to play for Sylvan Hills and gotten that paperwork started. Then when I started looking at other things like academic eligibility and all that, there were a few more that I knew weren’t going to be able to play. Now you’re getting down to around a dozen or so and that’s just not enough.”

Another reason for the high numbers at the meeting might have been the announcement that there would be free pizza.

Senn, in the middle of the meeting, pointed out about a dozen in attendance who had already filled out registration paperwork for next year for Sylvan Hills.

The disparity between the number in attendance and the number who filled out the forms and turned them in to Jacksonville coaches doesn’t concern Hickingbotham.

He also noted that one player who came to speak to him after the meeting, already lived in Jacksonville’s zone.

“I think when it’s all said and done, we’re going to see a few more like that,” Hickingbotham said. “We have 26 that signed up and I’m excited about those 26. We’ve had up to 70 in our offseason so far and that’s weeded down now to the high 50s, low 60s. Kids fall out for different reasons, but we’re still looking at having better numbers here than we’ve had in a long time, and we’re very excited about that.”

Senn told the students that North Pulaski would provide a bus to the Jacksonville field house after school for those wanting to participate in the JHS offseason, but Hickingbotham didn’t know exactly when that would begin.

“We’re hoping we can start getting them over here the first week after spring break,” Hickingbotham said.

Current North Pulaski football coaches who want to will also be available to help out on Jacksonville’s staff. Hickingbotham and defensive coordinator Brian McDermott are currently the only two coaches available for football practice.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Petitioners get big break

Although the Jacksonville and Sherwood wet-dry campaigns did not get enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot this spring, they got a boost last week in the legislature, which passed a bill that requires signatures from far fewer registered voters to put the measure before voters.

The bill will allow alcohol sales for just on-premise consumption — at restaurants and hotels — but not for off-premise consumption, such as at convenience, grocery or liquor stores.

Jacksonville now needs only 1,977 names — just 15 percent from eligible voters. The new 15 percent requirement is 3,031 less than the 5,008 required before, which will be a much easier requirement to meet. Sherwood needs 1,876 signatures — 2,876 less than the 4,752 it had needed. Sherwood had collected 1,500 signatures, but none were turned in for verification.

If enough names are collected to set local-option elections and voters choose to go wet — allowing alcohol sales — rather than stay dry, only restaurants and hotels inside city limits will be affected. But they will sprout up soon enough.

Senate Bill 373 amended a state law passed in 2013 that allows residents of defunct voting districts, such as the local Gray Township, to circulate petitions. The petition drives in Jacksonville and Sherwood have been ongoing for nearly two years.

The township, which contains 90 percent of Jacksonville and the half of Sherwood north of Maryland Avenue, voted in the 1950s to be dry.

As reporter Sarah Campbell pointed out last weekend, both campaigns would have to start from scratch on gathering names. This would be the third try for Jacksonville, where petitioners were trying to turn in 1,415 signatures last Thursday to meet the 38 percent requirement and had hoped for a special election this spring. It shouldn’t be hard to meet the lower 15 percent requirement in the next round.

Jacksonville turned in more than 5,000 signatures in late January, but only 3,593 of those were verified in early February. Volunteers did a great job trying to meet the deadline, but, with bad weather, the odds were against them. The next time they hit the streets, it will be much easier for canvassers to get 2,000 qualified signatures than the previously sky-high requirement.

Sherwood economic developer Barry Sellers sees the new campaign as a compromise between liquor sales in restaurants and grocery stores or just restaurants serving drinks. “We’re kind of meeting halfway. I’m excited about it,” he told The Leader.

Once voters approve the latest initiative, Sellers can tell restaurant owners that have expressed interest in opening locations in the northern half of the city and elsewhere that they could serve alcoholic beverages without obtaining private club licenses through the state Alcohol Beverage Control Division.

Right now, restaurants that want to sell alcohol by the drink in dry areas pay thousands in annual fees for the licenses and can’t purchase alcohol at reduced wholesale prices. A vote to go wet would eliminate both issues for them. Sherwood and Jacksonville are hoping to establish restaurant rows like other area cities, mainly North Little Rock.

Both cities have touted a University of Arkansas at Little Rock study that found going wet could add $10 million to Sherwood’s economy and $600,000 to Jacksonville’s economy. But those estimates will change now that convenience and grocery stores are off the table. Liquor stores were never on the table because the ABC allows one liquor store per 5,000 people and Pulaski County is maxed out on permits.

Voters should approve this compromise in favor of economic development. Look for more canvassers near you soon.

TOP STORY >> Longer school days in Beebe

Leader staff writer

The Beebe School District will make up seven missed snow days by extending the school day one hour for the next two months. School will start 15 minutes earlier, at 7:45 a.m., and end 45 minutes later, at 3:42 p.m.

The longer days will begin Monday and continue until May 1. Morning bus route times will not change.

Superintendent Belinda Shook said most bus riders arrive at school by 7:30 a.m. Students are in the cafeteria or in the gym then, waiting for classes to start.

The extended-hour days will allow five days to be made up before PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing at the end of April and early in May. It takes six extended-hour days to equal one missed day. Schools are required to have six instructional hours.

Students will also go to school on April 24 and on May 29, the last day of school.

School board members chose the option that the state legislature approved recently.

Shook said most of the teachers and advanced placement students supported the option.

But there are many students who have jobs or extracurricular activities. She said school administrators will work with those students and be flexible. Parents will have to come and pick them up or check them out.

School board member Janet Hines was worried about younger students getting hungry. Shook said the district would look at providing snacks and making sure students eat breakfast.

“We want it to work out to be a positive thing and use the time wisely for instruction,” Shook added.

At the high school, minutes will be added to each class period.

“I know there are concerns about students staying later and homework. It will actually give them more time to do their homework,” Shook said.

Another option was kids going to school on Saturdays. “When I was senior in (Beebe) high school, it was very unpopular, but we did it,” Shook said.

Board vice president Brenda McKown said, with Saturdays, there are shared- custody issues.

Going to school during spring break was an option, but Shook said parents complained that they have cruises planned and would lose money.

All the missed days could have been added to the end of the school year, which would have been June 5, the same as last year. Shook said everyone is exhausted by then and wants fun days.

“There is always someone affected by any decision made,” she added.

The school district is also looking at possible changes for next year’s calendar.

Some people suggested scheduling snow days later in the year or consider having a two- or three-day break at Thanksgiving instead of the entire week, when parents usually have to find childcare while they work.

The other suggestion was that, if a day off set as a snow day falls on the week of a holiday, they be scheduled together on the holiday when many parents are off work.

• In other business, the board approved a resolution issuing $1.4 million in second lien bonds to fund construction of the 9-10 cafeteria and to add heating and air conditioning to Badger Arena.

FTN Financial Capital Markets was awarded the bid. Second lien bonds are repaid with excess revenue generated from existing debt service mills not needed to repay outstanding bonds. Voter approval is not required.

• The board approved of paying $10,422 to G and W Diesel Service for bus repairs and $12,187 for tuition to Arkansas State University-Searcy for Beebe High students taking college classes.

• Board members approved the resignations of counselor Dana Simmons, behavior interventionist for the alternative-learning environment; Thomas Ritchie, Beebe Elementary second-grade teacher Claire Grimes; kindergarten teacher Donna Choate Hill.

Also, music teacher Melanie Simpson; administrative assistant and “The Voice” of the Beebe School District Florence Fitch; groundskeeper Christopher Goforth; paraprofessional Mackenzie Herndon; bus driver Leon Bam and custodian Rose Pate.

• The board approved administrative changes at the elementary schools.

Karla Tarkington will be principal of second, third and fourth grades. Sarah Shannon will be the assistant principal of pre-K and second grade. A new assistant principal position will be formed for third and fourth grades.

• The Beebe wrestling team and coach Jerry Price were recognized for excelling at the state tournament. Destiny Nunez was the first female state champion.

TOP STORY >> Saboteur: ‘I’m guilty’

Jason Woodring, 38, of Jacksonville pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges related to attacks on the central Arkansas power grid between August and October 2013, according to the U.S. Attorney in Little Rock.

A release states that both parties have agreed on a 15-year prison stay for his causing about $4.59 million in damages, but Judge Billy Roy Wilson will sentence Woodring and determine the amount of restitution he will pay at a 10:30 a.m. hearing June 18.

He could receive a 60-year stint in prison, if the maximum sentence is levied. According to the release, Woodring could also face a $250,000 fine for each charge and up to three years of supervised release.

He was accused of sabotaging an electrical support tower and downing a 500,000-volt power line onto a railroad track near Cabot, causing approximately $550,000 worth of damage; cutting down two power poles, causing a temporary loss of power to approximately 9,000 people in Jacksonville; and setting fire to an extra high voltage switching station in Scott, causing over $4 million in damages.

Damages from the Jacksonville incident exceeded $48,000, according to First Electric Cooperative, the release continues.

Although Woodring was indicted on eight counts in November 2013, he pleaded guilty to two counts of destruction of an energy facility, using fire to commit a felony and being an illegal drug user in possession of various firearms and ammunition. The guns and ammunition were forfeited as part of the plea agreement.

Woodring had been in federal custody since his arrest, according to the release.

Destruction of an energy facility means up to 20 years in prison.

Use of a fire to commit a felony has a statutory sentence of 10 years that must be served consecutively with time assigned for the underlying felony.

Being a drug user in possession of a firearm or ammunition carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years.

TOP STORY >> Hill warns on cuts at air base

Leader senior staff writer

Second District Rep. French Hill (R-Little Rock) favors sequestration spending caps for the federal budget, but thinks the military needs more spending flexibility within its allotment instead of across-the-board cuts, he said Monday following a visit to Little Rock Air Force Base.

Hill, speaking in a drizzle under the static C-130 display at the base’s front gate, had just finished a 90-minute tour of the premiere C-130 base in the world and a meeting with its commander, Col. Patrick Rhatigan.

“I believe the Congress should have the ability to spend money more appropriately, including the military,” he said.

Hill said the $108 million replacement of the base’s 12,000-foot runway plus its landing strip were signs of investment that showed that Congress and the Pentagon recognized the base’s importance.

“I don’t mind the cap overall that was put in place by sequestration, but I believe it is not being prioritized for our military,” said Hill, a former banker. “I think the Congress, through the armed services committees and the Pentagon ought to work to better use the funds that are being allocated for national defense.”

“That’s the big issue facing us right now,’ he said.

“I would support the sequestration cap, but we would be better off and have more confidence in our military planning if we had flexibility within the military component.”

He praised the base for setting the curve when it comes to public-private cooperation, saying the local civic sector, the base and the public partnerships deserve credit. Hill said those partnerships include training, a library, electricity, tooling and future water and sewer connections.

“They save hard-earned taxpayer money and (increase) efficiency,” Hill said.

“I saw the (Joint Education) Center for the first time,” he said, calling it “an impressive facility.”

Jacksonville residents taxed themselves to raise $5 million toward the center, with the Defense Department putting in $10 million.

He acknowledged the base’s importance in military airlift.

“The biggest challenge for airlift is moving from the C-130H model to the (state-of-the-art) C-130J model, and all the training and maintenance that goes along with it,” Hill said. “This is the future of the mobility command.”

He demonstrated a basic understanding of the difference between the two airframes.

He said he didn’t know how Congress would address the need to update the H-model planes in avionics, maintenance and navigation, which must be done by 2020.

“I’m convinced that Little Rock Air Force Base is the center of excellence for C-130 training. The Pentagon recognizes that and the Congress recognizes and I’m going to work hard to make sure that’s the case,” the congressman said.


Hill went to Selma, Ala., on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march.

“It was memorable to stand on the notorious Edmund Pettus Bridge five decades later with march leader and my colleague, Rep. John Lewis. I admire his courage and tenacity.”

Hill said he was honored to be there with a very large—over 90—delegation of the congress and with Presidents Obama and Bush.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears fall in first round play

Leader sports editor

PARAGOULD – The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears made a first-round exit from the Class 5A state tournament Sunday, but gave East two seed Batesville all it wanted before succumbing 61-54 at Greene County Tech High School.

Save for a blitz of Batesville 3-pointers early in the first quarter, the game was played evenly throughout. Sylvan Hills jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead on a basket by Sarah Beckwith and a steal and layup by Dabria Thompson. But the Lady Pioneers heated up from outside and went on a 17-3 run to take a 10-point lead. After Sylvan Hills cut it to 17-10, Batesville’s Sarah Hayes connected on a fourth, first-quarter trey to make it 20-10 going into the second quarter.

The rest of the game was tooth and nail, with Batesville leading by as many as 18 and Sylvan Hills pulling to within four with about a minute remaining.

The Lady Pioneers led 38-23 at halftime and drained another three to open up the second half. From there, Sylvan Hills began its climb back into the game.

The Lady Bears forced several turnovers and did a better job of guarding the perimeter in the second half, but Batesville dominated the boards and seemed to end up with every loose ball.

“That’s really what it came down to,” said Sylvan Hills coach Shelley Davis. “I really think we just got outworked in the first half and I told them that at halftime. We would just stop and watch, thinking it was going out, and here they would come from behind us and get it. There’s just no excuse for that, and I think that was the key difference in the game. They got every loose ball and they rebounded harder than we did. We didn’t start really playing hard until the last three minutes.”

Sylvan Hills pulled to within 11 in the third before Batesville’s Hannah Qualls scored the last bucket of the quarter, making it 49-36 going into the final frame. Sylvan Hills guards Jessica Brasfield and Thompson took over in the fourth, but poorly-timed turnovers thwarted the Lady Bears’ comeback.

Brasfield got back-to-back steals and layups to pull her team to within 57-51 with 1:10 remaining. Sylvan Hills’ pressure then forced a quick Batesville shot and Jahnay Duncan came down with the rebound for Sylvan Hills. She passed to Thompson, who went the distance for the bucket and the foul. She missed the free throw with 51 seconds left, but Sylvan Hills got another defensive stop when Batesville threw the ball out of bounds. It was the first of two possessions that gave the Lady Bears a chance to pull within one possession, but they turned the ball over both times. Thompson threw it away on a penetrate-and-dish attempt and Beckwith was stripped from behind pulling up for a midrange jumper.

Qualls led all scorers with 27 points for Batesville while Haley Cole added 11. Batesville (21-9) went 6 for 11 from 3-point range, but was 5 of 7 in the first half.

Thompson, a junior, finished with 15 points to lead Sylvan Hills (15-12). Brasfield, a senior, scored all 11 of her points in the second half, including eight in the fourth quarter.

Beckwith, also a senior, scored 10 in her last game for the Lady Bears.

SPORTS STORY >> Grizzlies bury Panthers early in first round

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers’ season came to an end Friday in the first round of the Class 7A state basketball tournament at Springdale Har-Ber, as West No. 4 seed Fort Smith Northside jumped on the Panthers early, and cruised to a 71-44 victory.

Cabot, who squeaked into the tournament as the East three seed, struggled mightily on the offensive end in the early goings Friday, while Northside couldn’t seem to miss.

The Grizzlies opened the game with a 16-0 run to take an early double-digit lead, and Cabot could never recover. The Panthers eventually got on the board, but the sluggish start ultimately led to their demise. At the end of the first quarter, Northside led by a commanding 22-5 advantage.

“They came out with an uppercut on us early, and I guess we just didn’t get up off the mat very well afterwards,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “They came out on fire. We watched the first eight minutes, coach (Nathan) Brown and I, and the first three or four minutes we’re getting shots, but we’re not making shots.

“We missed a few layups in the mix, and next thing you know it’s 8-0 and then it’s 16-0 and we really hadn’t turned it over any. Now we’ve got to try and play catch-up the whole game against a very, very athletic team, and they just played well. You’ve just got to give them credit.”

Cabot went on a bit of a run in the second quarter and got within 11 of Northside’s lead, but the run took a lot out of the Panthers, and the Grizzlies were able to respond and narrowly outscore Cabot 19-18 in the second quarter to lead 41-23 at halftime.

The third-quarter scoring was nearly as balanced, but the Grizzlies outscored the Panthers again in that quarter, 16-13, to lead 57-36 at the start of the fourth.

Northside put the dagger into the Panthers’ season in the fourth quarter, outscoring Cabot 14-8 to set the final score.

“At times we showed a few flashes,” Bridges said. “We got it down to 11. It just took a lot out of us. By far it wasn’t one of our better games. You hate for it to end like that, but we’ve been through a lot this year and I’m still proud of our efforts toward the end of the year that we were able to play ourselves into the state tournament. I just wish we could’ve had a better showing.”

Three different Grizzlies finished the game in double figures, scoring-wise. Sophomore forward Logan Gilbertson was the only Panther to do that Friday. He had 11 points.

Fellow sophomore Jarrod Barnes added nine points for Cabot, and junior forwards Hunter Southerland and Garrett Rowe added six points apiece.

The Panthers started their season well, but by the time conference play began, Cabot was overwhelmed by injuries, which led to a losing streak that made the Panthers’ playoff chances dim.

Cabot, however, steadily got healthier as the season progressed, and the Panthers scratched and clawed their way into the 7A state tournament by the end of the regular season.

“At one point in the season it didn’t look good,” Bridges said of his team’s playoff chances. “We slowly started getting people back and we played some good games.”

Friday’s game was the last for senior guard Tyler Hill, who was one of two seniors on the team, but was the only senior able to finish the season. Near the midway point of the season, when Cabot’s starters suffered a plethora of injuries, senior guard Jake Ferguson re-aggravated a knee injury he first suffered during football season that kept him off the floor for the rest of the year.

In his final game as a Panther, Hill finished with three points, three rebounds and one assist.

“We lost Jake during the season,” Bridges said, “and losing him really hurt because he had been there for us, and brought leadership and toughness. That hurt losing Jake.

“I was proud of Tyler Hill for sticking with us all these years. It just tells you a lot about his character and his work ethic. To stick with us being a young team – it’s kind of tough when you don’t have many seniors. He can say that he’s been to the state tournament three years in a row, and that’s something to be proud of.”

The Panthers finished the 2014-2015 season with a 15-12 overall record.

SPORTS STORY >> VV Blazers too big, physical for Beebe

Leader sports editor

PARAGOULD – Beebe coach Greg Richey knew his team got a tough state tournament draw as the No. 2 seed from the 5A-Central Conference, but didn’t expect his team to struggle quite like it did in a 57-40 loss to 5A-East three seed Valley View on Sunday at Greene County Tech High School.

Valley View is widely regarded as the best team in the East when at full strength, but suffered injuries that cost it wins during the regular season, including one to Beebe in early December at Badger Arena, before the Lady Badgers lost two starters to season-ending injuries.

The Lady Badgers, however, caught the Lady Blazers at full strength and playing a throw-away defense designed to hound Beebe point guard Taylor McGraw and take her out of the offense. McGraw was banged around the entire game, but Beebe coach Greg Richey wasn’t making any excuses.

“The East is a much more physical conference than the Central, and we didn’t adjust very well,” said Richey. “The East coaches all pretty much agree that when they’re at their best, they’re probably the best team in the East. They beat (conference champion) Greene County Tech two out of three, and beat them by 26 one time. Unfortunately for us, we caught them at full strength and playing very well. They just played a better game than we did.”

On the other end of the floor Valley View’s size was too much for the injury-riddled and small Lady Badgers. The Lady Blazers started three players taller than any starting Lady Badger. Six footers Allegra Melton and Amanda Meister dominated the boards while 5-10 forward Ashleigh Guthrie was hitting from inside and out, and finished with 29 points.

The Lady Blazers started hot, with all five starters scoring at least one basket. Conversely, only two Beebe starters made baskets in the first quarter and the Lady Blazers jumped out to an 18-8 lead.

Beebe’s Hannah McGhee came off the bench and scored before the buzzer to cut Valley View’s margin to eight points by the start of the second period.

Beebe’s 6-foot-2 center Gracie Anders came off the bench to provide defensive help inside, but Beebe still struggled offensively with McGraw wearing Valley View’s Anna Reddell every step she took. The result was a 9-8 quarter and Valley View taking a 27-18 lead into halftime.

The second half was all Guthrie and Valley View. Guthrie scored 22 of her 29 points in the second half, including 14 in the third period. Melton added six more for VVHS in the third and the Lady Blazers stretched their lead to 47-27. The margin grew to as much as 28 but Beebe closed the game with an 11-0 run over the last two minutes.

Melton finished with 12 for Valley View while Meister and Harleigh Jones scored seven each for the Lady Blazers, who improved to 20-8.

Beebe got 14 from Ashlyn Johnson and McGraw still ended up with 10 points for the Lady Badgers, who finish the year with a 14-13 record.

Despite the fact that this was Beebe’s fourth-straight year in the state tournament, more than half of this year’s Lady Badgers had never played in the playoffs. Richey sees it as reason for optimism about the future.

“I think when you consider everything this team has been through, they did a remarkable job to finish as the two seed and make it to the postseason for the fourth-straight year,” Richey said. “I’m looking forward to making another run and being even better next year.”

SPORTS STORY >> Har-Ber shocks Cabot at state

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls’ Class 7A state tournament run ended sooner than expected Friday at Springdale Har-Ber High School, as the tournament hosts upset the Lady Panthers in the opening round, beating them by the final score of 56-41.

Cabot struggled with its shooting throughout the game, and trailed 13-8 at the end of the first quarter. The Lady Panthers (23-6) outscored the Lady Wildcats (20-10) by two in the second quarter, which cut Har-Ber’s lead to three by halftime, with the score 25-22.

The Lady Panthers got within 34-32 of the hosts’ lead near the end of the third quarter, but Har- Ber ended the third quarter with a 3-pointer, which upped the Lady Wildcats’ lead to 37-32 at the start of the fourth.

In the fourth quarter, Har-Ber made as many free throws as Cabot did the entire game, going 12 for 15 from the line, which helped the Lady Wildcats pull away from the Lady Panthers down the stretch. For the game, Har-Ber made 23 of 32 foul shots, while Cabot made 12 of 20.

Cabot entered the state tournament on a nine-game winning streak, which helped the Lady Panthers earn a share of the 7A/6A-East Conference championship – sharing that title with North Little Rock and Little Rock Central.

Despite being conference co-champions, Cabot entered the state tournament as the No. 3 seed from the East, behind Central and NLR. That put the Lady Panthers against the No. 4 West seed Lady Wildcats.

As far as what led to the loss, Cabot coach Carla Crowder said it came down to the fact that her team just didn’t play as well as it had been.

“I think we just didn’t play well,” said Crowder. “Har-Ber is a really good team and I don’t want to take anything away from them. I thought our kids played really hard throughout the year. They worked really hard and I’m really proud of them. I just hate it that we have to end like that.”

Friday’s game was the last in a CHS uniform for seniors Alyssa Hamilton, Danielle McWilliams, Maddie Willhite and Emily McCaghren, and those four will be missed, according to Crowder.

“We’ve got four seniors, and all four are great kids,” Crowder said. “We hate losing those four.”

Hamilton led all scorers Friday with 19 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils stung by Hornets

Leader sports editor

PARAGOULD – Jacksonville flirted with disaster after building a big first-half lead in the first round of the state tournament, but escaped with a victory. The Red Devils did it again in the second round and weren’t as fortunate. Maumelle scored with 2.6 seconds remaining to beat Jacksonville 51-49 Monday and advance to the semifinals in Class 5A at Greene County Tech.

The Red Devils (21-8) led by as much as 12 in the first half and held a 34-25 advantage at halftime. Offense broke down in the third quarter and was non-existent in the fourth.

Maumelle climbed to within 46-45 by the end of the third period, and Jacksonville managed just three points in the final eight minutes.

Even with such dismal offensive output, the Red Devils had the ball and a chance at the last shot of regulation. Senior Devin Campbell, who had scored nearly half the team’s points in the game, took the ball about 40 feet from the basket with 10 seconds remaining. He drove to the top of the key, spun to his right to the free-throw line, where Maumelle’s Darius Tate stripped the ball away. Hornet forward Tremont Robinson scooped up the loose ball on the run and hit the game-winning layup.

Monday’s game was similar to Jacksonville’s 71-63 win over Forrest City on Sunday. The Red Devils cruised to a 32-14 lead in the first half before allowing the Mustangs to pull to within 62-59.

“We’ve had a problem with focus and cohesion all year,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “Since day one we’ve been trying to figure out how to play as a team. We just never found the right formula. But I don’t want to say anything negative about this team. I just want to say this. We lost almost all our production from last year. We’re rebuilding, and this group still went out and won 21 games. It was a struggle all year for everybody, and they still found a way to win 21 games. That’s phenomenal. If we could’ve found that chemistry and cohesion, it could’ve been better, but without it, to win 21 games is impressive.”

Despite the unfortunate circumstances of the final play, Campbell had a phenomenal tournament. He was the leading scorer in both games with 24 points in each one. He also had seven rebounds in both games. He went 4 for 4 from 3-point range in Monday’s loss and 8 for 8 from the free-throw line.

His efforts earned him a spot on the All-State Tournament Team.

Tedrick Wolfe finished Sunday’s victory near his season averages of 16 points and nine rebounds, but managed just two points on 2 of 4 free-throw shooting, and three rebounds against Maumelle. Junior guard Laquawn Smith scored 12 against Forrest City and was the only other Red Devil in double figures in either game.

A big key to Maumelle’s comeback was rebounding. The Hornets dominated the boards 37-27, despite losing 6-foot-3 guard-forward Gary Burton to a dislocated shoulder in the second quarter.

Maumelle had two players post double-doubles. Robinson finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds while post player Blake Conner had 10 points and 13 rebounds. Point guard Jimi Minix and reserve forward Demarion Johnson each contributed nine points for the Hornets.

One half the boys’ semifinals features two teams from the 5A-Central. League champion McClellan faced four seed J.A. Fair while Maumelle took on Hot Springs Tuesday in the semifinals after Leader deadlines. Hot Springs also overcame a 12-point deficit to beat Mills while J.A. Fair came back from a nine-point deficit to beat Vilonia in the other quarterfinal matchups on Monday.

Monday, March 09, 2015

TOP STORY >> Young actors thrill audience

Leader staff writer

Warren Dupree Elementary fifth-grade students in Rick Kron’s class performed a humorous interpretation of Macbeth vs. Star Wars during last weekend’s Shakespeare Scene Festival at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The audience enjoyed the performance of  the fifth graders from Jacksonville. It was a mashup of pirates, ghosts, witches, Star Wars’ Darth Vader and of course Macbeth, in a battle of good versus evil. 

Philip Eierdam, who played one of two Luke Skywalkers in the performance, said he was scared at first and skittish about going on.

A’leah Williams, who was Lady Macbeth, said, “It was hard if you had long lines to remember. Some of the words were hard to understand. After we started reading though; it began to make sense.”

Naivyaj Taylor said the most difficult part of the play was wearing tights. All students were in tights to give them a feel for acting in Shakespeare’s time.

Their teacher called it “a rite of passage. They hollered about wearing them, but once they had them on they wanted to keep the tights,” he said.

Dr. Kris McAbee, the assistant professor in the English Department at UALR who directs the Shakespeare Scene Festival, said she loved the actors wearing tights on a college stage.

“It is true to form. It is adorable,” she said.

Fifth grader Jessica Williams, the narrator whose job was to keep the play on task, said, “I learned if we mess up, to keep going and have fun.”

David Foster said he was comfortable.

“I knew my lines. It was easy, but I got a little nervous. When we messed up (the audience) thought that it was part of the show,” Foster said.

“If you know you want to do, just do it,” Foster added.

Many of the students said afterward they would like to continue in the performing arts. They agreed it was a good experience performing in front of people.

McAbee said, “(Kron’s) class is always well prepared. I like to have him as the closing. It is the highlight of the festival.”

“If they did not have all the snow days (four), they would have been perfect,” McAbee said. 
After his class received a standing ovation, Kron told the 19 students they earned an “A” in English, reading and social studies as the performance-based activity spanned all three subjects. 

The students started reading and discussing the full version of Macbeth in January and quickly made connections between it and Star Wars.

“In Macbeth, Banquo says, ‘God be with you.’ Is that the same was ‘May the Force be with you?” Robbie Williams asked.

Jordan Bonds, who played the hero Macduff, said like Star Wars, it was a battle of good versus evil with good not coming out on top until the end.”

Another student said both Darth Vader and Macbeth went over to the dark side.

McAbee said she would like to see more elementary schools participate in the two- day festival.

The Shakespeare Scene Festival is a UALR event sponsored by the Departments of English and Theatre Arts and Dance. Its main purpose is to provide teachers and students a venue for the performance of Shakespeare’s plays.

Although McAbee stressed it is not a competition, schools try to outperform each other and to do better than they did last year.

Besides Warren Dupree, Friday’s slate of activities listed performances by Central High School, Sheridan Middle School and Perryville High School, a lute demonstration and a friendly contest of tossing about Shakespearean insults.

Thursday’s performances were canceled because most of the schools were still closed because of snow and ice. McAbee said efforts are being made to reschedule the canceled events.

TOP STORY >> Jail proposal to have local impact

Leader senior staff writer

Local sheriffs and the Arkansas Association of Sheriffs say Gov. Asa Hutch-inson’s three-pronged plan for managing the state’s prisons and prisoners is “a step in the right direction,” although they would have preferred the addition of a new $100 million, 1,000-bed state prison.

Instead, Hutchinson has proposed a $50-million fix that would include 790 additional jail beds, plus another $14 million to the Department of Community Corrections to hire more probation and parole officers, expand alternative sentencing and create a network of re-entry houses for inmates nearing their release dates.

Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay and Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley both endorse the moves, but express concern that it is to be paid for by one-time money, without guarantee of future funding.

Meanwhile, the enabling legislation, which does not include appropriations, has passed the Senate 33-1, and after two votes, the House sent SB472 to its judiciary committee, where it’s slated for consideration Tuesday.

With a do-pass recommendation, the bill would need only 51 votes in the whole House before going to the governor for his signature.

A lot is “still up in the air,” Holladay said Friday. “The money still needs to be appropriated from the state Insurance Department’s reserve fund.

“We’re beginning to see some positive impact in Pulaski County,” he said, with a reduction in state inmates backlogged—especially in the last three weeks.”

His jail is approved for 1,210 inmates and has frequently been closed to all but violent offenders, but “Our population this morning is 1,117 and it was 1,109 earlier—the lowest we’ve seen in months.”

“I’ve got 42 waiting to go to prison,” said Staley. “It could go to 56.” He said his capacity is150 prisoners. “We’ve got 170 sometimes. How do you let go? We can’t hardly house any misdemeanors.”

“I’ve prayed about this,” Staley said. “We’ve got drug convictions cleaning up trash. He said they can straighten up while supervised and in jail, but then they “go back out and fall back into drugs. There are going to have to have some structure, some transitional houses.”

“The (the governor) introduced his plan, the backlog (of state inmates in county jails) was 2,799. It will take a while for that population to be reduced,” Staley said.

But when you spend more than $60 million to begin addressing the problem—to make programs continue to work, at some point you have to find additional money.”

The hiring of 52 parole and probation officers is a good step,” Holladay said. “They are overburdened with a caseload beyond their capability. The reentry programs will take longer to implement.”

“We’re always going to have a bed for the violent offender,” Holladay said. But he noted that by releasing non-violent offenders to make room for violent offenders, a facility becomes more and more violent—dangerous to guards, staff and other inmates.

“We can’t get in the business of locking everybody up and throwing away the key,” he said. “There has to be a balance.

Not everyone is happy. Outspoken Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin says Hutchin-son’s plan is “trying to reduce mass incarceration by enlarging the capacity to perpetuate it. One does not cure the causes of cancer by building more cemeteries and hiring more funeral directors and grave diggers.”

Hutchinson says that the state has 18,000 people in prison, with another 2,500 backed up in the counties. The state experienced a 17 percent growth rate of inmates over one year. Recidivism is 43 percent. “If we reduce that, we save money,” he said.

The governor would spend about $32 million over the biennium to make room for 790 more prisoners.

That include 288 being sent on contract to the Bowie County, Tex. Jail for $36 a day each, less that what it costs the state DOC to house an inmate.

The governor would open 48 beds at the Pine Bluff Work Center, 178 beds at the Pine Bluff Ester Unit, which doesn’t currently have operating funds, 28 beds at Tucker and 48 beds at the Ouachita River Unit at Malvern and if possible, another 200 beds through contracts with regional jails.

The $16 million he’d send to the Department of Community Corrections includes $7.5 million for 52 additional parole and probation officers and support. The opening of transitional reentry housing could accommodate about 500 pre-release prisoners at about $30.62 a day, about half the cost of prison housing, at a cost of $5.5 million.

Hutchinson said he’s counting on help from the “faith-based community, and from non-profit organizations.

He also calls for $28 million in alternative courts and sentencing.

“This is a significant opportunity to increase public safety by changing behavior and increasing accountability,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Winter weather was brrr...

Leader staff writer

Weather-wise, winter ended the last day of February, but based on the wintry mix that hit the area Wednesday and Thursday, Arkansas didn’t get the message.

This last wave, the third in three weeks, closed area schools for two days (Thursday and Friday) and shut down most government operations Thursday.

It started Wednesday with rain that turned to freezing rain then turned to sleet and finally snow around midnight. It dumped about 6 inches of ice and snow in the area.

By Thursday morning, many sections of I-30 and I-40 as well as parts of Hwy. 67/167 were impassable because of the ice and snow or because of accidents blocking the roadways.

More than 1,000 18-wheelers were stranded for 24 hours or more between North Little Rock and Lonoke because of the weather and accidents.

One FedEx driver, who said Thursday it took him more than eight hours to get from Memphis to Little Rock, said I-40 around Lonoke was littered with accidents and trucks were stopped for miles.

The good news is the winter weather seems to be over, according to the National Weather Service, as the temperatures are expected to be closer to the average highs of 60 degrees next week.

The recent storm caused most area cities to be a day behind in garbage pickup. Numerous government meetings were canceled, including the Jacksonville City Council.

Cabot District Court session was canceled Thursday and has been rescheduled to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 26.

The early March storm capped a rollercoaster February that ended very cold and snowy.

February turned out to be one of the coldest on record, bringing what started as a warm winter to a colder-than- normal finish.

High temperatures for the first two weeks of February were mostly above average, hitting the lower 70s on Valentine’s Day. But the temperature dropped 50 degrees within 24 hours, landing at 22 degrees.

Colder-than-average temperatures continued through the remainder of the month, making February the coldest February in more than 30 years.

The average high temperature was the fifth coldest on record and the average low was the coldest since 1979, making it the second coldest on record.

Overall in February, the average high temperature was nine degrees below the 30-year average, and the low temperature was 8.4 degrees off the mark.

Twenty-one of February’s 28 days had temperatures below normal.

It was a winter of opposites as the average high temperature for the season was the coldest in four years, but the average low temperature was the warmest in the past two years.

The winter season — Dec. 1, 2014 through Feb. 28 — started out slightly warmer, but with a long February cold snap, the winter season finished one degree colder than the 30-year average, according to National Weather Service records.

Even though schools have already lost five to six days of education because of snow and ice, precipitation for the winter was actually less than normal, even though snowfall was above average.

As a general rule, it takes 10 inches of snow to equal one inch of precipitation.

For the seventh-consecutive winter there was measurable snow, and it all fell in February. It was the third winter in a row that snowfall was above average.

The coldest day of the winter was Jan. 8 when the temperature only hit 10 degrees.

But the coldest span, based on departure from the normal temperature, was the last two weeks of February, according to the NWS.

Although it may have seemed like more, just 42 days were at or below freezing, and two days saw temperatures of 70 degrees or higher.

Record temperatures set during February include 22 degrees on the 15th, tying a low temperature set in 2007 and 1986. On the 16th, the high temperature only hit 27 degrees, tying a record set in 1980 and 1979.

A high temperature of 30 degrees on Feb. 23 broke the cold record high of 33 degrees originally set in 1989. The low temperature of 23 degrees on the 28th was the coldest finish of the month since 2002.

Four snowfall records were set during the month. On Feb. 16, the area received 0.8 inches of snow, breaking a 36-year record for that date. The 0.8 inches on the 22nd, the 1.3 inches on the 23rd and a trace on the 27th were all record-setting snowfalls for those dates.

The weather service forecasts a warm weekend and next week looks to be sunny and in the 50s and 60s. Roads should be clear today.

EDITORIAL >> Re-homing harms kids

We had heard about “re-homing” children, mainly from a Reuters investigation two years ago about Americans who adopted children from overseas and then used the Internet to dump them, sometimes to predators, when the kids proved to be troublesome. But we were shocked to learn that trafficking in vulnerable children happens right here in Arkansas, apparently legally, with the tragic results you would expect.

If the legislature can put aside the strange politics of the situation, it will pass a law making the practice illegal or at least subject to the monitoring and protections that the state is supposed to provide children who are abused or orphaned by one circumstance or another. Gov. Hutchinson said he was alarmed by the story in the Arkansas Times revealing the scandal and asked the state Department of Human Services to provide a remedy.

If you follow the news, you already knew half the story. A year ago, the State Police arrested a Bella Vista man, Eric Cameron Francis, for raping a 6-year-old girl who was in his custody. Francis had been the head teacher at a Christian preschool at West Fork called Growing God’s Kingdom, which was run by state Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork, a prominent Republican lawmaker, and his wife. Harris said at the time that he was “devastated” by the little girl’s rape and revealed that he had let Francis go at the school because the head teacher missed too much work. But he said Francis had “a pristine record” as a youth pastor and came highly recommended. Francis was convicted and is in the Benton County jail. Francis told a reporter at the jail last month that it was a “mistake” to have raped the little girl.

What Rep. Harris did not reveal at the time and what the Arkansas Times revealed this week was that the 6-year-old girl whom Francis raped and her 4-year-old sister were Harris’. Harris and his wife had adopted the girls from the state Department of Human Services in 2013 and when they proved to be unhappy and disruptive for his family Rep. Harris just gave them to his head teacher, Eric Francis, and his wife. Francis’ wife divorced him after his arrest for raping the girl. It all started when an anonymous caller to the state child-abuse hotline said Harris had abandoned the two girls to Francis and that they were being mistreated. The caller said the Harrises had continued to get a monthly subsidy from the state for raising the two girls even after abandoning them.

When the Arkansas Times asked Harris the other day if he re-homed his adopted children to Eric Francis, he refused to confirm it and accused the newspaper of slurring him and his wife. Harris uses Scripture when he gets in trouble. This time he quoted Isaiah 54:17: “No weapon forged against you will prevail and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.”

But Rep. Harris dodged chances to “refute every tongue” until a brief press conference Friday, which didn’t explain anything. His attorney issued a short statement this week saying, “Rep. and Mrs. Harris have suffered a severe injustice.” It said that the two little girls “presented a serious risk of harm to other children” in the Harris home and the couple was “forced to move the children to the home of trusted friends, who had a lot of experience with children with reactive attachment disorder.” It said they were “devastated” about the outcome—the older girl’s rape — but that they had done the best they knew how.

“Reactive attachment disorder” means the girls were unhappy about who had adopted them.

The Harrises, according to the statement, gave the kids away rather than contact the state agency that had approved the adoption “due to threats of possible abandonment charges.” Harris has had some trouble with the women in the agency. Rep. Harris’s daycare business gets about $900,000 a year, about 95 percent of it from federal and state taxpayers, to provide preschool to about 150 children. Several years ago, when state social services people learned that the schooling consisted of Bible reading, they told Harris that taxpayer money could not be used that way because it violated Thomas Jefferson’s injunction against combining church and state. Harris said he moved the religious teaching to after regular hours and the school has continued to get the government aid.

Harris is a vigorous critic of other state spending. He sits on the Joint Budget Committee, which fixes the budget of all children’s programs, sits on the Education Committee and is vice chairman of the committee that will consider any legislation to correct the adoption flaws.

Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville filed a bill to halt the practice of re-homing. But political problems arose instantly. Republican leaders came to Rep. Harris’ defense and said he was a godly man and that the real villains were the media. Rep. Nate Bell of Mena called the reporter and editor who provided the first account of the girl’s abandonment and rape “the lowest fork of muckraking slime on earth” and said the editor was going to hell.

Gov. Hutchinson reacted appropriately. He said the issues raised by the Harris-Francis story needed to be addressed urgently because “our children deserve nothing less than our full attention and utmost care.” Mike Beebe said he learned of the re-homing last year but felt indisposed to seek legislation to correct it because he had obtained the information about the Harrises confidentially. That’s not good enough.

Not every such story has a happy ending, but this one sort of does. Those little girls—what happened to them? The Times reached the parents who adopted the girls after the Francises. The mother said she regretted the girls’ path to get where they are, but they are finally in a home where they are treasured. “They are our daughters. They are precious, precious, amazing girls, and we are so blessed to have them.”

SPORTS STORY >> Tournament bound Hogs close season against LSU

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE - Before they play the season’s Walton Arena finale today, the hosting Arkansas Razorbacks LSU Tigers could entertain each other with recent tales of the inexplicable.

Arkansas (24-6, 13-4) in the SEC, is two games ahead of third-place and assured second behind Kentucky. LSU (21-9, 10-7) is tied for SEC fifth with Georgia and plays Arkansas for the first time this season at 1 p.m today at Walton on ESPN.

LSU, commencing the week seemingly NCAA Tournament bound, veered badly towards the bubble in its final home game Wednesday night against a Tennessee team it throttled 73-55 earlier this season in Knoxville. Coach Johnny Jones’ Tigers were routed 78-63 at the Maravich Center.

No. 18 Arkansas, a lock for the NCAA Tournament but nonetheless unhinged in last Saturday’s 84-67 loss at Kentucky, went Thurs-day to Columbia, S.C, assumed a 22-point lead during the first half over the now 14-15, 5-12 South Carolina Gamecocks that Arkansas whipped 75-55  on Feb. 3 at Walton. Arkansas not only lost Thursday’s lead but trailed by 11 during the second half before closing with an 18-3 run to win 78-74.

“Well, I said it on TV, we giveth and we taketh away,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Thursday on postgame radio. “We were up in this game by 20 and South Carolina got some momentum there right before halftime. They came out in the second half and they were possessed. It was a game of runs, but thank God we had the last run. We had some big plays down the stretch by some key guys.”

“Key guys” Portis, Arkansas’ 6-11 All-SEC forward and strong candidate to be named SEC Player of the Year, scored 24 points with eight rebounds and a blocked shot while junior guard Qualls scored 18 with seven rebounds. Senior guard Ky Madden registered nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds while Anthlon Bell scored 17 off the bench.

LSU has two forwards nearly averaging a double-double and destined for the NBA. SEC leading shot-blocker, 6-foot-8 Jordan Mickey and 6-10 Jarrell Martin. Its  6-6 guard  Tim Quarterman, Monday was named SEC Player of the Week after an 18 points/10 rebounds/10 assists triple double against Ole Miss.

Didn’t matter to Tennessee. Hornsby couldn’t believe Tennessee’s dominance.

“It was a new experience for us, teams taking it to us in the second half and hitting every shot,” Hornsby said. “I felt like we were looking around like, ‘What’s the right way to respond?’ In a game like this, you can’t do that.”

Even with a big nonconference victory over Big 12 power West Virginia and a home and home SEC sweep of Ole Miss, and taking Kentucky to the 71-69 wire, Jones knows the Tennessee loss at home reminds the NCAA Selection Committee that SEC bottom feeders Auburn, in Baton Rouge, and Missouri, in Columbia, Mo., both defeated LSU.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had some tough home losses that certainly don’t help you,” Jones said. “We’re hopeful, because some of the wins we have and places we’ve won against the caliber of competition we’ve played, that it balances itself out.”

They know nothing could favorably tip the balance going into next week’s SEC Tournament than upsetting Arkansas at Walton.

“They’re all must-win,” Hornsby said. “We have to move on and learn from the issues we had and face Arkansas.”

Arkansas strives both to continue momentum from its comeback in Columbia into the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn. and give its fans fond remembrance on a Senior Day farewell to native sons Madden of Lepanto via East Poinsett County High and starting forward Alandise Harris of Little Rock Central.

“We are looking forward to coming home and finishing this thing out in a strong, strong fashion,” Anderson said. “These guys are leaving it all on the floor. We are looking forward to having a great, great audience at Bud Walton Arena on national TV. It’s a quick turnaround and our guys are spent right now, but they will be ready when we tip it up.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot medley champs

Leader sports editor

The Lady Panther 200-yard medley relay team brought home the gold from last Saturday’s state championship swim meet at UALR’s Donaghey Center.

Juniors Jessie Baldwin and Caytee Wright, along with senior Riley Young and freshman Melanie Abbott teamed up to beat out second-place Bryant by a little more than a second to earn the state title. They finished with a time of 1:54.92 to beat the Hornets’ 1:56.10.
Bentonville was third at 1:56.28. No other team in the 7A/6A division came in under two minutes.

While the medley relay was the only state title for Cabot, the entire Lady Panthers’ squad turned in a strong performance, finishing with 194 points and placing third overall behind Bentonville and Conway.

Junior distance swimmer Haylee Beckley picked up several points for Cabot with a third-place finish in the 200-yard individual medley and a fourth-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Beckley was less than two seconds behind second place in the IM, while Bentonville senior Eunsol Chon won the event by finishing six seconds ahead of Beckley with a time of 2:11.23.

Three of the medley state champions, including Baldwin, Wright and Young, teamed up with senior Katie Frederick to place third in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Bentonville won the race by 3.18 seconds, while less than .65 separated second-place Conway from the Cabot team. 

Wright also came within .38 seconds of winning the 100-yard freestyle. Carly Holland of Rogers Heritage won that event with a time of 52.96. Wright also took third place in the 50-yard freestyle. Benton senior Hope Ernhart set a new state record with a time of 23.65 with El Dorado’s Isabella Gati and Wright on her tail at 24.34 and 24.56.

Baldwin also performed well in the 100-yard backstroke, but had to contend with Heritage’s Holland, who set a new state record with a time of 56.01. Baldwin finished third with a 59.66 time, and also finished third in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Springdale High’s Lauren Lamaestra won the event with a time of 1:08.83, while Alma’s Savannah Martin was second at 1:09.54. Baldwin was very close behind, finishing in 1:10.05.

The Cabot boys also placed in the medley relay, finishing sixth behind winner Bentonville. Juniors Payton Jones and Chris Daniel joined with sophomore Ben Cameron and senior Noah Joyner to finish in 1:47.40.

Jones also took fourth in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:50.04, and placed fifth in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 55.46.

SPORTS STORY >> UA women beat Rebs, wait for bid

Leader sportswriter

The Arkansas Razorback Women’s basketball team entered this week’s SEC Tournament at North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena hoping to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament later, and made a strong case for itself.

Arkansas, the No. 9 seed in the tournament, beat No. 8 seed Ole Miss in Thursday’s opening game by the final score of 72-61, and on Friday, the Razorbacks competed with top-seeded South Carolina (28-2) through the first portion of the second half before the taller and more talented Gamecocks pulled away in the latter portion, winning by the final score of 58-36.

In Thursday’s win over the Rebels (17-13), a team that beat Arkansas by 14 points back in early January, Arkansas (17-13) got 21 second-half points from Jacksonville native and JHS alum Jessica Jackson, which helped the Hogs pull away in the second half.

Jackson had just four points in the first half Thursday, but came alive in the second to lead the home-state team to the NCAA resume-boosting win.

Jackson gave the credit for her second-half scoring tear to her teammates.

“My teammates are the ones that keep me going,” said Jackson. “We all feed off each other. We were able to get some defensive stops and feed off of that, and that helped our offense. I always get told by everyone that if your first couple of shots don’t come to you, don’t let that define your whole game. You’ve just got to keep playing, and hopefully the shots will fall. So my teammates are what keep me going.”

 Arkansas led 29-28 at halftime Thursday, but shot 65 percent from the floor in the second half to help further its lead.

The Razorbacks also made 28 of 35 free throws in the game, while Ole Miss went just 8 for 17 from the stripe.

Fellow Arkansas starting forward and Cabot High School graduate Melissa Wolff didn’t see as much time on the floor Thursday as she usually does, playing just 12 minutes, but she played 38 minutes in Friday’s loss to South Carolina, and finished that game with eight points and four rebounds.

Even though the Razorbacks lost by 22, they cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 38-31 at the midway point of the second half after trailing 31-17 at halftime.

South Carolina responded, though, and once the Gamecocks pushed their lead back to double digits, they piled on the points as the game came to a close.

Despite the loss, Wolff and Jackson both feel good about their chances at getting an NCAA Tournament bid on selection Monday, which is March 16.

“I’m really proud of my team,” said Wolff. “I think we fought hard and we’ve done everything that we can to get in that tournament. That’s been a goal of ours since the very beginning, and I think that we’ve given it everything that we have.

“I feel pretty confident. We’ve had a tough schedule all the way through the season. Half of the SEC is ranked in the top-25, and I think we’ve battled well and we’ve proven that we’ve done everything we can and we deserve a spot.”

“I think we’ve competed well as a team this postseason,” Jackson said, “and I think we deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.”

Jackson finished the Razor-backs’ two games played in the SEC Tournament with 38 points and 11 rebounds, and Wolff added 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Entering the SEC Tournament, the Razorback Women were projected as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was one of the last four teams projected to make it in.

SPORTS STORY >> Falcon football forsaken

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski High School will not field a football team for the 2015 season, and NPHS students who want to play next year will be allowed to do so at Jacksonville High, without having to transfer.

A letter dated March 6 from NPHS principal Jeff Senn, to parents, states that North Pulaski currently has only 17 players participating in football offseason, which is not enough to compete at the Class 5A level.

Pulaski County Special School district athletic director Danny Ebbs said so few players is not feasible.

“You look and if you average three or four players get hurt per week, you wouldn’t be able to field a team by week three,” said Ebbs. “This is not a situation where you can really afford to wait until the last minute to make that decision. It impacts 10 other schools.

“This gives those other teams time to make other arrangements and gives those kids who are good players and want to play, a chance to go somewhere and play.”

Jacksonville and North Pulaski recently won the right to break free from PCSSD and form the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District. Rules allow students who attend schools in the process of consolidating, to participate in extracurricular activities at the other school, if the one they attend does not offer it.

Arkansas High School Activities Association executive director Lance Taylor is aware of the decision by North Pulaski and the PCSSD, and agrees there are no violations.

“This law applies to any extracurricular activity,” said Taylor. “If Jacksonville has, say, forensics, and North Pulaski doesn’t, those kids can compete in forensics at Jacksonville. And vice versa. If North Pulaski offers something Jacksonville doesn’t, the Jacksonville students can participate at North Pulaski.”

This consolidation rule also applies to students who attend Jacksonville or NP, but do not live in that school’s zone, as long as they have been in that school for 365 days.

“It’s the 365-day rule,” Ebbs said. “If a student has been at North Pulaski for 365 days but does not live in North Pulaski’s zone, that student is considered a North Pulaski student and can go play for Jacksonville. The only way he could go back and play for the school he’s zoned for, is if he transferred from North Pulaski to that school.”

The letter from Senn urged players interested in playing football to begin going to Jacksonville’s offseason program as soon as possible.

“We will provide transportation for them,” said Senn.

The North Pulaski players will add to an already booming Jacksonville football offseason. JHS athletic director Jerry Wilson says 70 athletes are currently taking part in football workouts, and says the NP players will be welcomed and treated like family.

“Absolutely,” said Wilson. “We’ve been working for a long time to bring these two schools together so we can have one hometown school. That’s what it’s about, and the North Pulaski kids are going to be a big part of that.”