Friday, April 24, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot beats North Little Rock twice

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot softball team earned a pair of 7A-East Conference victories over North Little Rock this week. On Tuesday, the Lady Panthers beat the Lady Charging Wildcats 6-1 at Burns Park, and on Thursday, Cabot eked out a 6-5 victory at home, thanks to a strong third inning.

In Thursday’s game at the CHS field, it was scoreless after two innings of play, but the Lady Panthers scored all six of their runs in the bottom of the third to take a 6-0 lead.

Macee Abbott walked to lead off the bottom of the third, and shortstop Heather Hill got the first hit of the game the next at-bat – a single up the middle of the diamond. Lauren McCluskey got a bunt single the following at-bat, which loaded the bases for three-hole hitter Megan Goodnight.

With a 2-1 count, Goodnight sent the fourth pitch of the at-bat over the fence in right center. Goodnight’s grand slam gave Cabot a 4-0 lead, and the Lady Panthers’ next two runs came on another homer.

Erin Eckert walked two batters later, and second baseman Rachel Allgood hit a two-run bomb to straightaway center field the next at-bat, capping the Lady Panthers’ six-run inning.

North Little Rock, though, didn’t go away easy. The Lady Cats (10-6, 7-3) scored their first two runs in the top of the fourth, and added two more to their side of the board in the sixth on a two-out single to right field by Bailey Harris.

Harris’ clutch hit made it a 6-4 game, and NLR scored another run on three hits in the top of the seventh, but were unable to do any more damage, and as a result, Cabot earned the hard-fought 6-5 win.

Goodnight earned the win in the circle Thursday. She threw the first five innings before being relieved by Kaitlyn Felder, who earned the win Tuesday, in the top of the sixth. Goodnight gave up just three hits and one earned run Thursday, and no walks. She also recorded two strikeouts.

The Lady Cats outhit Cabot 8-7, but gave up eight walks, while Cabot walked just two NLR batters. Hill led the Lady Panthers with two hits Thursday. McKenzie Escovedo and Reagan Sperling led NLR with two hits each.

In Tuesday’s game at Burns Park, Cabot and NLR each scored a run in the first inning, but the Lady Panthers added two more runs in the second, one in the fourth, and two more on a two-run home run by Allgood in the top of the seventh to get the 6-1 win.

The Lady Cats outhit Cabot in that game as well, 7-6. Sperling led all batters with three hits Tuesday. Cassidy Tucker had two hits for NLR Tuesday.

Hill was the only Lady Panther with multiple hits Tuesday. She had two – a double and a home run.

Felder pitched all seven innings in the winning effort. She gave up the one run and recorded three strikeouts.

“Two good games, two good wins against a quality opponent,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope on Thursday. “This is what we’ve been waiting on all year. We knew it was going to be a tough game, and we hope we’ll see them again at some point.”

The Lady Panthers’ playoff seeding will be based on how they do against the 7A teams within their conference. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s games were the first 7A-East games the Cabot girls have played this year, so winning those games were significant for Cabot’s chances to earn a No. 1 seed.

“A little edge is off now,” Cope said. “This is what we’ve been preparing for. I can take a deep breath, but we go again next week, too.”

With this week’s wins, the Lady Panthers improved their record to 20-3 overall, 9-1 in conference play, and 2-0 in 7A-East play, which is what matters.

The Cabot girls play a nonconference game at Sheridan on Monday before resuming 7A-East Conference play Wednesday at home against Little Rock Central.

Both games Monday and Wednesday begin at 5 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils get by NP

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons gave Jacksonville a scare in game one of a 5A-Central baseball doubleheader Tuesday. The Red Devils prevailed 6-2 in the opener, and then defeated their crosstown rival more easily in the nightcap, 12-0.

Jacksonville pitchers Derek St. Clair and James Tucker each turned in dominant performances. Each held North Pulaski to just three base hits. St. Clair struck out 15 Falcons while giving up two earned runs with four walks and one hit batter.

“We battled their tails off in game one,” said North Pulaski coach Michael Dean. “I thought we might have had a couple of two-out strikeouts that were really close that we didn’t get, and then the next pitch they roped line drives that scored runners. That’s baseball. You have to bounce back from bad breaks. Game two, we just played poorly and that’s on me. I’m still very proud of how they competed initially.”

Playing as the visiting team in game one on Hickingbotham Field, Jacksonville scored in the top of the second on a one-out single by St. Clair, followed by an RBI double to the wall in right-center field by Brandon Hickingbotham.

Jacksonville (15-6, 10-0) made it 3-0 in the third. Greg Jones got things started for the Red Devils by drawing a one-out walk. St. Clair then walked with two outs, setting Hickingbotham up for another RBI base hit, this one a single down the first base line that drove on both base runners.

The Falcons got one back in the bottom of the third inning, despite St. Clair striking out the first two batters of the frame. Leadoff hitter Chris Penn drew a two-out walk and St. Clair hit Dullee Ramer with a 1-2 pitch. Zach Douglass then singled to center field to score Penn and make the score 3-1.

Jacksonville’s D.J. Scott led off with a base hit in the top of the fourth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Laderrious Perry. After a fly-out, Ryan Mallison singled to right-center field to score Scott from second base.

The Falcons answered in the bottom half. Pitcher Ean Collie and first baseman Brandon Bridges drew back-to-back walks to start things off. Chance Perry then singled to score Collie’s courtesy runner, Hunter McPherson.

Neither team scored in the fifth or sixth innings, but Jacksonville added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Mallison was hit and Caleb McMunn walked to lead things off. Tucker then doubled to center field to drive in the two base runners and set the final margin.

Collie pitched well for North Pulaski. He gave up just six hits, but walked five while striking out two.

Tucker got a five-inning, complete-game shutout in game two. He struck out seven Falcons while walking just one. Meanwhile, North Pulaski’s defense, which went mistake-free in game one, committed five errors in the nightcap.

Falcon pitcher Chris Hildreth struggled with control in the first inning, walking two batters and hitting another. Jones and St. Clair added doubles and an E5 compounded the problems as Jacksonville grabbed a 4-0 lead.

Hildreth settled down and retired the Red Devils in order in the second inning, and gave up one run on two base hits in the third. But things fell apart again in the fourth, especially defensively.

North Pulaski committed four errors while Hildreth walked two and gave up doubles to Caleb Smith and Mallison. None of the seven runs in the fourth were earned, and Hildreth’s pitch count soared to 87 with the 32-pitch inning, ending his night on the mound.

Jacksonville got just six base hits, but four went for extra bases.

Douglass went 2 for 2 with two doubles in game two and 2 for 3 in game one to account for four of the Falcons’ combined six hits.

“They’ve got some players and I figured they would push us,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “They still have a chance to make the playoffs.”

North Pulaski (9-8, 4-6) bounced back on Wednesday with a 15-4 victory over eStem Charter. It didn’t start well for the Falcons. The Mets scored all four runs in the top of the first inning, and still held a 4-2 lead going into the fourth inning. North Pulaski then scored seven in the fourth and six more in the fifth to invoke the mercy rule.

Freshman Brandon McGuire got the win on the mound. He gave up four hits, including three in the first, while striking out two and walking one.

Myles Bush led the way offensively for the Falcons. He went 3 for 4 with a double and two runs scored. Ramiro Urena went 2 for 4 for the Falcons, who compiled 11 hits.

North Pulaski plays McClellan next Tuesday, then hosts Beebe the following Tuesday for what will likely determine the Central’s No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Falcons will have to sweep the Badgers to make it. Beebe split with Pulaski Academy while the Falcons were swept by the Bruins in the first conference doubleheader of the season.

SPORTS STORY >> Big first enough for Rabs

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits got 17 runs on 13 base hits in a dominant 17-1 victory over eStem Charter on Thursday at the Lonoke Ballpark. Amanda Sexton was a double away from hitting for the cycle, going 3 for 3 with a home run, a triple, three runs scored and five runs batted in. On the mound, Charley Jo Chesney threw a two-hitter with seven strikeouts and one walk as the Lady Jackrabbits improved to 10-4 overall and finish 6-2 in the 4A-2 Conference.

The Lady Mets grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, thanks to a one-out error and a two-out double. It didn’t take long for that lead to evaporate and become a distant memory in the bottom half of the first.

Sexton drilled a 0-2 pitch over the fence in right field that gave Lonoke a 3-1 lead, and that kicked off a 14-run first inning to effectively end the competition.

With the bases cleared and one out, Maddie Pool re-started the rally by drawing a walk, and Janae Miller reached on an error. Candace James walked and Gracie Cole singled to score Pool and Miller and leave runners on the corners.

Sidney Hallum walked and Chesney hit into a 1-5 fielder’s choice that scored James’ courtesy runner, Madison McFadden, and got Cole thrown out at third. Lindsey McFadden ran for Chesney and advanced to second when Jasalyn Truelove walked to load the bases. Jarrelyn McCall singled to center field to score Hallum and Lindsey McFadden and make the score 8-1.

Sexton then singled to drive in Truelove and McCall for her fourth and fifth RBIs of the inning.

Pool walked again and Miller was hit by a pitch to again load the bases. James then cleared them with a three-RBI triple to center field. Madison McFadden then scored on a single by Cole before Chesney’s ground-out to shortstop finally ended the inning at 14-1.

Lonoke got three more in its second and only other at-bat, starting with a leadoff triple to right field by Truelove. McCall fouled out and Truelove scored on a passed ball before Sexton could make it six RBIs with a triple to right field.

Pool hit an infield single to second base that scored Sexton to make it 16-1. Miller later singled and scored on an error to set the final margin.

Lonoke traveled to DeWitt for a nonconference game on Friday, and will begin play in the district tournament on Thursday at Riverview.

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons bury Fair in soccer matchup

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski soccer team got a surprisingly easy victory over what had been a streaking J.A. Fair club on Thursday. The Falcons hammered the War Eagles 6-0 at Falcon Stadium, ending the game on the mercy rule when senior Hayden Dean completed the hat trick with his third goal of the game.

Giancarlo Nino added two goals for North Pulaski and Illajah Carter got the other as the Falcons dominated the hot-and-cold Fair squad.

J.A. Fair lost its first three games of the season before reeling off four-consecutive wins. Thursday’s loss was the second in a row and second this week after the War Eagles fell to Sylvan Hills on Tuesday.

Both teams played the game with two key starters out with injuries, but the Falcons proved the deeper squad, especially with the four senior girls playing since J.A. Fair does not have a girls’ team.

“It’s our senior night and I wanted them to have a chance to play,” said North Pulaski coach Donny Lantrip. “We go to Sylvan Hills and Jacksonville and Beebe to finish our season, I wanted them to get to play their last home game.”

Nino scored very early in the game to give the Falcons a quick lead. Midway through the half, Carter got a nice pass over the top of Fair’s defense from Nestor Perkaz-Ortiz and made an easy one-on-one goal for the 2-0 Falcon lead.

Just a few minutes later, Carter was tripped just as he was about to take a shot from in front of the Eagle goal. That set up a short penalty kick that Dean put into the back-left corner of the goal for the 3-0 lead.

Dean scored again just before halftime on a rebound of a hard shot on goal by Zachary Maier, and the Falcons took the 4-0 advantage into intermission.

A change and goalkeeper proved effective for the War Eagles. North Pulaski got several shots on goal through the first half of the second half, but couldn’t get one past the new goalie.

Finally, on a corner kick and two blocked shots, Nino got the putback for a 5-0 lead.

The final goal came as a result of another offensive attack. The initial shot was deflected. The Falcons reset and Dean completed the hat trick with a 15-yard kick from the middle of the field.

The Falcons improved to 8-3 in conference play. Though that’s second-most wins in the league behind 9-1 Pulaski Academy, they are still a game behind 7-2 Jacksonville in the loss column.

The Red Devils beat Sylvan Hills 2-0 on Thursday, handing the Bears their fourth conference loss of the season and first at the hands of the Red Devils.

The North Pulaski boys and girls are at Sylvan Hills on Monday, then the boys only play at Jacksonville on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers sweep Wildcats

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot baseball team earned a 7A-East Conference sweep over North Little Rock this week. On Tuesday at Burns Park, the Panthers scored three runs in each of the third and fourth innings to win 6-3, and on Thursday at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Field in Cabot, the Panthers shut out the Charging Wildcats 3-0.

The first two innings of Thursday’s game were scoreless, but Cabot scored the only run it would need in the bottom of the third. With two outs in the inning, Dylan Bowers walked, and Blake McCutchen reached on an error at shortstop.

Before Tristan Bulice was intentionally walked the following at-bat, Bowers scored on a passed ball at home plate, putting Cabot up 1-0. The score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth, when Cabot set the final score with two more runs.

Bowers hit a one-out single to center field to start that rally, and McCutchen singled the next at-bat. Bowers advanced to third on McCutchen’s single, and with runners at the corners, Bulice was intentionally walked for the second time, which loaded the bases.

Landon James then reached on a fielder’s choice at second base, and picked up an RBI on the play as Bowers scored from third. McCutchen advanced to third on James’ sacrifice, and scored the next at-bat on Denver Mullins’ third single of the game. That gave the Panthers their 3-0 lead.

North Little Rock’s best chance to score after that was in the top of the sixth. The Charging Wildcats had two on with one out, but winning pitcher Chase Kyzer got out of the jam by getting the two outs needed the next two at-bats, the last of which was a strikeout.

In the top of the seventh, Kyzer retired the side to end the game. He struck out the first two batters he faced before a 6-3 groundout put the stamp on Cabot’s win.

“Our pitching’s been big all year for us,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin. “We haven’t really gotten blown out in games. We’ve had one or two hiccups, but outside of that our pitching has given us a chance.

“Today, I thought we left a little bit on the table, offensively. We made a few base-running blunders. But, we took advantage of their mistakes when we had opportunities to, and you just can’t say enough about Chase Kyzer. The name of the game today was Chase Kyzer.”

In addition to getting the complete-game shutout win over NLR on Thursday, Kyzer earned a save against NLR on Tuesday. Gavin Tillery earned the win Tuesday. He pitched the first five and two-third innings before being relieved by Kyzer. Tillery finished that game with five strikeouts.

Cabot outhit NLR 11-6 on Tuesday. Bowers, Bulice and Jonathan Latture led the Panthers with two hits apiece. On Thursday, Cabot and NLR each had five hits, with Mullins leading all batters – going 3 for 3 with an RBI.

With this week’s wins, the Panthers improved their record to 12-7 overall and 7-3 in conference play, but they’re now 2-0 against 7A-East teams, which is what matters as far as playoff seeding.

“We’re 2-0 now in these 7A games, which is really what’s important as far as getting to the postseason,” Goodwin said. “It’s like I told our players, all the games up to now were kind of preseason games to figure out what we have.

“Seven-A games are really your season, and if you want to play in the postseason, you’ve got to take care of your season. Unfortunately, the way it’s set up there’s only a six-game season.”

With the two losses to Cabot, North Little Rock’s record fell to 9-9 overall and 0-2 against 7A-East teams.

The Panthers will look to improve to 3-0 in 7A-East play Wednesday at home against Little Rock Central. That game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

TOP STORY >> Exceptional airman wins AF honor

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. Eric Sims, a 314th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron hydraulic systems craftsman, has received the 2014 Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez Award.

Sims rose above the ranks by performing above and beyond his duties.

The Marquez Award is given each year to an outstanding Air Force maintenance crew member who demonstrates exceptional job performance, efficiency, knowledge and airmanship.

The award is much sought- after in the maintenance community. From executing day-to-day operations, to exceeding standards in the workplace and off-duty, the Marquez Award portrays exceptional dedication to the mission and the Air Force.

Sims proved himself to be an excellent aircraft hydraulic systems specialist by solving issues with landing gears, brakes, flight controls, cargo- door systems and more. He thought of innovative ideas that averted potential aircraft damage and ensured the safety of C-130 aircrews.

Along with excellent job performance, Sims coached a local youth soccer team and helped airmen improve fitness scores through becoming a certified cross-fit instructor and physical training leader.

Sims attributes his successes to his peers and mentors.

“I couldn’t have done it without the guidance and support of Master Sgt. George Terrell (the 314th Maintenance Group plans and programs non-commissioned officer in charge) and the teamwork of the hydraulic shop, especially Staff Sgt. Tyler Mitsuyasu (a 314th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron hydraulic systems craftsman),” Sims said.

Sims has worked 13 years to master his craft. Now that he has been recognized as best of the best, he plans to pass on his skills to younger airmen.

“I’m excited about the award,” Sims said. “I look forward to teaching the less experienced airmen everything I know.”

TOP STORY >> Storms hurting farmers in area

Leader senior staff writer

An unusually wet spring has delayed timely planting of some crops, according to Lonoke County Extension Chief Jeff Welch, but the window hasn’t yet closed on rice and soybean planting, he said Friday.

Rain was expected to continue through Friday and into Saturday morning, but with reduced chances through Monday.

But with yields expected to suffer and prices low, at least one area farmer has joined the ranks of former farmers.

Also hampering farmers are new farm bill provisions that halted direct payments and may leave them waiting 12 months for payments, Welch said.

That means some farmers won’t be able to repay bank loans for a year but still need the unpaid banks to fund the next year’s crops. “Will bankers stay with that farmer when owed for 12 months?”

Welch said soybeans might be the only crop that makes the farmer any money this year.


“We’ve got most of the corn planted, and been planting rice between showers,” he said.

Around Carlisle and England, farmers are doing all right, he said, but in the area around Bearskin Lake and across to Pettus and the eastern part of the county, clay soils have kept farmers out of the field. Farmers are really behind, he said.

“I talked to one farmer’s father who said his son hadn’t planted any rice yet,” Welch said. “It’s tough on these heavier clay soils.

“We may have more water-seeded rice,” he said. “Drilled seed takes 100 percent of the time, but water seeded you have to manage water really well.”

For water seeded, on zero-grade fields, the rice is wetted to start germination, then dropped from crop dusters into the mud. If it’s not pegged down, it floats and ends up on the edge of the field.

The wheat has begun to head — about 10 percent to 15 percent of it, but usually by now about 45 percent has headed.


“The danger at this point is hail storms,” Welch said. “With wheat, we almost have to have hail insurance.” Wheat price is kind of low, he added.

He said, if farmers lose on wheat and follow with soybeans, they are likely to lose money in those fields.

With commodity prices depressed, soy is not spectacular, but “it may be the only crop in which we can make a profit.

“We have to make extraordinary yields to break even,” he said. “Rice you need 200 bushels an acre and corn, 200 bushels an acre, to break even.

“You can do that on a couple of acres,” he said, “but not a whole crop.

“Looking at the bottom line at the end of the year, you need soy to hold a profit margin.”

He said one farmer told him he will lose $125,000 from lack of direct payments and prices would hit him for another $150,000.


“That farmer got out of business and several are considering that solution,” he said. The others stayed in because they already had bank loans and planted fields.

“If you were smart two or three years ago, you would have saved back some money to see you through years like this.” Welch said. “If they expanded or bought new equipment, it’s going to end up biting him.

“You’re not in business year-to-year, you have to be in long term,” he said. “He needs a marketing strategy and enough revenue that will keep you in the ball game.”

Welch said that, although drought will badly hurt produce production in California, local farmers couldn’t switch.

He said produce is capital intensive, highly mechanized, with extremely high risk. “You make a lot of money one year, lose it the next. And you have to market it to somebody.

“Other than Odom and Barnhill,” area farmers all grow row crops.

California is automated all the way through. “We’re mom and pop compared to big company agriculture,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Wakes after 5-month coma

Leader staff writer

A local family is asking for prayers and donations as they welcome with a bittersweet homecoming Lonoke High School graduate Toni Mathews, a vibrant 20-year-old who recently woke from a five-month coma.

Toni’s grandfather, Charles Mathews of Jacksonville, said the Arkansas Tech student is suffering from a traumatic brain injury — the result of a Nov. 17 one-vehicle accident in Russellville.

The family needs pajamas, sheets for her hospital bed, absorbent pads, briefs, pillowcases, pillows, washcloths, towels, cleansing face wipes, body wash, laundry detergent, Tide preferred, Lysol wipes, Lysol spray, a baby monitor with video and financial help with medical-related expenses.

Donations will be accepted any time at Lonoke High School, First Baptist Church and Victory Baptist Church, both in Sherwood; First Baptist Church in Jacksonville; the home of Brenda Law at 1112 Sorrells Drive in Jacksonville and Toni’s grandparents’ home at 213 Raney Place in Jacksonville.

There will also be a drop-off event from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 2, at First Baptist in Sherwood.

To contribute financially, search “Team Toni by Claire Wilkerson” on, and there is a “Toni Mathews Prayers of Support Page” on Facebook.

About the accident, her grandfather said, “We do not know what happened. She was on a gravel road. She was following her boyfriend (of about one month, although they’d been friends before that), and he looked back, and she wasn’t there. There was a truck that sped by him,” he explained. Toni was wearing a seatbelt.

“On a gravel road, you don’t know what happened…She lost control and hit a tree.”

The family is optimistic that she will recover, but that road will likely be a long one.

Charles Mathews said, “(Doctors) are saying that, you know, there’s a possibility, and it could take up to two years…She may never walk again, but that’s where we just have to trust God.

“We’ve got hope and our hope is in the Lord, Jesus Christ,” he continued. “It’s devastating. You think this happens to somebody else, but it can happen to you and your family.

“But, whatever happens, it’s all in God’s will and we’re going to trust Him for everything.”

Toni was flown to Baptist Hospital’s intensive-care unit in Little Rock after the accident.

She was there for three months. Toni was then moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga. — a facility that specializes in traumatic brain injuries.

She returned Friday to Carlisle. Toni, her parents and her sister moved there a few years ago after their mobile home in Lonoke burned.

Her grandfather said Toni is coming back because the next step the Shepherd Center could take was to enroll her in rehabilitation.

But, he explained, “She’s not able to move enough to go to rehab for three hours a day.” Toni is also eating through a feeding tube.

He continued, “She can answer, every once in a while, a question, but she is unable to move her(self), to turn her head, lift her arms or anything like that.”

Toni also has vision problems. “It’s hard for her to focus.”

Charles Mathews compared his granddaughter’s injury to what happens with shaken baby syndrome, saying her brain stem was stretched.

Before the accident, Toni was co-captain of the flag line at Lonoke High School and had joined the line at Arkansas Tech.

It was her third semester of college, and Toni’s good grades had gotten her on the dean’s list for the first two semesters.

The bright young woman was classified as a junior, having earned college credits while in high school.

Her grandparents say she hadn’t decided what to study yet s but was leaning toward a degree in social work.

“Toni was outgoing. She loved to sing. She was in a praise band with Missionary Baptist Student Fellowship in Russellville,” Charles Mathew said. “She was active in a lot of things, but her passion was band and the drill team (a.k.a. the flag line).”

Toni played the flute in high school and college, too.

Her grandmother, Judy Mathews, said, “She was enjoying college life. She was enjoying the music up there she was participating in. She loved the flags…She enjoyed movies, Walt Disney-type things and others. She had a dog she liked.”

Charles Mathews added, “She loved school.”

He also said Toni was giving back while in college by helping the flag lines at Lonoke High School and a few other small high schools in the area.

Her grandmother added, “She was just a happy person.”

Toni’s grandfather is looking forward to seeing her daily and singing to her, as they both share a love of music.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Kids should play Legion summer ball

Leader sports editor

Summer baseball is almost here, and with that renews the controversy over whether kids, especially older ones, should play localized team baseball or join traveling leagues or prospect camps. The debate usually centers on creating opportunities to be noticed by college coaches and professional scouts. Since The Leader doesn’t cover, in much detail, ages below high school, this space will address the debate as it pertains to American Legion vs. prospect/elite clubs.

Athletes will, the prospect proponents argue, get to play in front of more coaches and scouts in one weekend of prospect games than they will an entire summer of American Legion games.

This common point misses the major one, so we’ll deal with it quickly and move on to the more important matters.

The prospect ball proponents are, to put it plainly, right. But only on that one point, and it’s a minor one if our priorities are in the right place. There’s also the economically logical pitfall of that argument.

The prospect clubs cost, at the low end, around $1,500 to join, and some are closer to $5,000. Whereas college baseball scholarships are very rarely full rides, and the cost of playing for a club that gets one noticed could easily end up being more than the scholarship gained is worth.

Beyond that, the likelihood of being drafted by a professional organization out of high school requires a talent so unique and notable, those athletes don’t need to shell out dollars for notoriety. A good recent example of this was Jacksonville’s D’Vone McClure.

He did forego American Legion ball after his junior year, but not because he wanted to be noticed. The fact that he was going to be drafted was a foregone conclusion. The only question was how high. He went to Florida and played in a major-league sponsored camp with other draft prospects in order to help scouts get a better idea of who they wanted and how highly to prioritize them when the draft came around.

People like him are extremely rare.

All that, though, is beside the point. What are youth sports really about, or at least, what are they supposed to be about? It is already understood that what follows will be instantly dismissed as folly by many.

It intends to dispute the modern idea that certain virtues are justifiably sacrificed at the altar of self-fulfillment, and purport that fulfillment, paradoxically, more often stems from self-sacrifice.

American Legion baseball teaches the right virtues, and finishing out a youth career with friends is more important than gathering a load of scholarship offers. American Legion ball is more fun, it nurtures friendships, which itself teaches the importance of friendship, and that is vital to healthy development and long-term fulfillment.

Friendship is something that everyone shares a soul-deep need for. Paying a lot of money to leave friends, leave a long-together team, and chase a personal goal, especially one that can probably be attained even by staying with friends, teaches young people that team and friend can justifiably be sacrificed for personal ambition.

Some might read that last sentence and wonder where the problem lies. Today, almost anything is justifiably sacrificed for self-fulfillment. Indeed, self-fulfillment has become the primary virtue.

The problem lies in the fact that it’s a lie. Fulfillment never comes when right virtues are sacrificed.

A pauper with a handful of good friends lives a more fulfilling life, even if less comfortable, than a lonely rich man.

How important is friendship? Proverbs tells us that, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Also, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but an enemy multiplies kisses”…… “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. Finally; “A brother is born of adversity.”

The last two deal with deep relationships. There is no sharpening or refining if there is no relationship. There is no adversity to forge a brotherhood when nothing is on the line. And nothing is on the line in prospect games, which are more similar to stage auditions than sporting contests.

If you fail in the American Legion playoffs, you fail as a team and you have teammate friends who share your failure and disappointment. If you fail to get a scholarship or get drafted from a summer of club ball, you fail alone.

And that’s not the worst part. The worst part is if you succeed in getting that scholarship, you succeed alone.

True despair in life is not borne of weariness of pain or disappointment, but of a weariness of success and pleasure.

Ecclesiastes, a book written by, professionally and materially, one the most successful men who ever lived, attests to that fact.

There is, perhaps, no secular youth sports organization that better emphasizes the true character building purpose of sports than American Legion. Much of it is right in the pledge that participants must take. “I will keep faith with my teammates.” That phrase, “keep faith” goes even deeper into the essence of friendship and relationships than have been touched upon in this space.

It behooves any young man who loves to play baseball and has a local American Legion program, to stay with his friends and learn how deep it can go.

For those interested, Cabot’s American Legion program will be holding tryouts on Sunday, May 3 at the high school field. Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham plans to have three teams this year, and is holding a meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 26 at Dupree Park for anyone interested in participating.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS outlasts Badgers

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville boys’ soccer team bounced back from just its second loss of the season with an overtime victory over Beebe on Monday at Jan Crow Stadium. After the Red Devils and Badgers played each other to a 1-1 tie in regulation, Jacksonville outscored Beebe 4-2 in the penalty kick round for the victory.

“We practice penalty kicks every day in practice,” said Jacksonville coach Adam Thrash. “I think that’s probably the first time we’ve ever made four.”

Jacksonville goalkeeper John Herrmann blocked the first Beebe kick initially, but couldn’t get up and recover in time to keep the backspin of the rebound from rolling into the corner of the goal. Beebe’s second penalty kick fooled the Devil goalkeep and scored easily. The third was almost a repeat of the first, with Herrmann blocking the initial kick, but this time he was able to make a diving, slapping save just before the rebound spun back across the goal line.

Herrmann straight rejected the fourth attempt, so when Jacksonville’s Cortez Jordan made the fourth Jacksonville kick, it sealed the Red Devil victory.

“John Herrmann is such a great competitor and kid,” Thrash said. “It was great to see him come through like that.”

Beebe (4-5) scored early in the game on a free kick goal by T.J. Lovston. The Badgers held that lead for the rest of the first half, then came out in the second half playing a five-defender defense that confused the Red Devils much of the time.

But a single mistake by Beebe led to the game-tying goal in minute 29 of the second half. Stevie Eskridge lobbed a pass towards the Beebe goal where Jordan had gotten behind the entire Badger defense.

he pass went over his head, but Jordan, a speedster who signs a letter of intent today with Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D., was able to chase it down and head it into the goal just as Beebe goalkeeper Connor Patrom approached to catch the ball.

The win followed a shocking 3-2 loss to J.A. Fair on Thursday. Jacksonville (7-2) had beaten Fair easily in the first meeting, but Thrash benched four starters for last week’s game after missing or showing up late for practice.

“They weren’t happy with me after that game and they were vocal about it,” Thrash said. “But we set rules at the beginning of the year. What kind of example am I setting if I don’t follow through with those rules? There are certain expectations people have when you say you’re going to be part of a team.”

The head Red Devil was pleased to get the win on Monday, but still felt his team could’ve performed better.

“I really thought Beebe played harder than we did for most of that game,” Thrash said. “We showed a lot of heart at the end and we were able to come through in the clutch. I need them to understand how much better we could be if we would play that way from start to finish. I have a lot to learn, too. This is my second year coaching soccer. I never played soccer, so I’m learning as we go just like they are. So I have to try to be patient with them sometimes, too.”

Beebe won the girls’ game by forfeit. Jacksonville coach Jerry Wilson elected not to play the game after getting minimal participation in practice last week.

The Red Devils will host Sylvan Hills on Thursday while Beebe hosts Pulaski Academy.

TOP STORY >> Report cards: Charter top area schools

Leader staff writer

Based on the state’s re-port cards, the Jacksonville Lighthouse schools and Lisa Academy North campuses scored better than most public schools in the area.

Lighthouse had an A, two B’s and a C, while Lisa Academy had one A and two C’s – better than the many C’s, D’s and F’s given to the Pulaski County Special School District.

Lighthouse and Lisa Academy also spent about $2,000 less per student than the state and close to $4,000 less than PCSSD.

The state recently released the report card grades for all state schools, and 162 schools received A’s, 322 got B’s, 365 received C’s, 160 garnered D’s and 43 were labeled F schools.

Jacksonville Lighthouse, which started in 2009 with one campus, now has four operating in the Jacksonville area. Mike Wilson, one of the school’s founders, was pleased with the results and wanted people to know about the good grades.

Its Flightline Upper Academy, with 194 students and an average class size of 20 students, received an A from the state with a score of 281. It was also listed as an achieving school, the second highest ranking in that category and one of just 67 schools statewide to be so honored.

Exemplary is the best, and only one school in Arkansas last year reached that title.
Cabot’s four elementary schools — Eastside, Southside, Stagecoach and Mountain Springs — were the only other schools to get A’s  here.

Lighthouse’s College Preparatory Academy, which has yet to run a full class through graduation, received a score of 257 and a B and was listed as an achieving school. Its inaugural students are juniors now. The school has 158 students and an average class size of 18 students. Its students bested the state average on the algebra and geometry end-of-course tests.

In the 2013-14 school year that the state grade is based on, the school had no junior class and there were no scores on the 11th grade literacy exam.

The original campus — the elementary school with 251 students — scored 251 points for a B, too. However, it was listed as a needs-improvement school on the state’s other ranking list, which is third from the top.

The middle school, with 213 students, had 211 points for a C, but was just two points from falling into the D range. It was also listed as a needs-improvement school.

Lisa Academy North’s high school, with a student population of 112 and average class sizes of about 12 students each, garnered 280 points for an A, but was listed as a needs-improvement school.

The middle school, with 177 students, received a C with 210 points, just a point from falling into the D range. It was considered a needs-improvement school, too — one of 876 schools statewide with that designation.

Lisa Academy North’s elementary school was also given a C grade by the state with a score of 234, six points short of a B. The school, with 304 students, was also rated as a needs-improvement school.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Bears preserve win with double play

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bears picked up a quality nonconference win on Friday, beating Little Rock Central 3-2 at the Sherwood Sports Complex despite getting outhit 9-3.

The Bears scored two runs in their first at-bat and another in the final one for all the offense it would need, thanks to six solid innings on the mound by Blake Maddox and solid defense by the Bears.

Maddox also came through with the game-winning RBI. Lukas Burrow was hit by a pitch to start the sixth inning and advanced to second base on a passed ball. Nathan Thomas then popped up to the catcher for the first out. Burrow advanced to third during Maddox’s at-bat when a pickoff throw from the catcher was off the mark. Maddox then came out swinging at a 3-0 pitch and drove a base hit to right field to score Burrow and set the final margin.

Maddox sat Central down in order to start the game, and the Bears scored two runs on one hit in the bottom of the first. Burrow drew a leadoff walk and Thomas followed suit. A passed ball moved the runners into scoring position, and Maddox hit a sacrifice grounder to score Burrow for the 1-0 lead. After a strikeout, Mackenzie Seats singled to left field to score Thomas.

Central scored on a walk, a single and an error in the third inning, then hit three-straight singles by the four, five and six hitters to start the fourth inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, Maddox struck out the next batter, and then got a pop-up to shallow right field. Nine-hole hitter Cole Weber then hit a line-drive single to left field to drive in the tying run, but Maddox got leadoff hitter Dylan Chilcate to fly out to right to get out of the jam.

Seats pitched the final inning. He fanned Chilcate to start the inning before things got interesting.

Tucker Mann doubled to the wall in center field and Seats hit Jonathan Carruth. But an E4 by Nathan Abraham on the next at-bat turned into good fortune for Sylvan Hills when the Bears got Carruth out at third, then got Mann, who was hung up between third and home, breaking for the plate for a 4-5-2 double play.

Maddox went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and Seats 1 for 2 for all of Sylvan Hills’ base hits.

Maddox gave up eight hits while striking out four and walking one in his six innings on the mound.

Sylvan Hills (11-5, 6-2) will face McClellan at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a 5A-Central Conference doubleheader at the Sherwood Sports Complex.

SPORTS STORY >> Diamond Rabbits beat CAC, Newport

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbit baseball team improved its record to 10-1 overall and 6-1 in 4A-2 Conference play with a 12-3 win over Central Arkansas Christian on Monday at North Little Rock’s Burns Park.

Lonoke didn’t waste any time putting runs on the board in the conference matchup. The Jackrabbits scored two runs in each of the first two innings of play, and scored seven runs in the third to build a comfortable 11-1 lead.

Nick Graves started the Jackrabbits’ monster third inning with a single to the left-field gap, and shortstop Christian James hit a line-drive single to the same gap the next at-bat.

With runners at first and second with no outs, Todd Pool came through with a stand-up double to deep left-center field, which drove in Graves and gave Lonoke a 5-1 lead.

Caleb Horton walked the following at-bat and right fielder Savonte Rountree singled to left field, which sent James and Pool across home plate, upping the Jackrabbits’ lead to 7-1.

Catcher Elijah Seigrist followed Rountree’s at-bat with a walk. That brought leadoff hitter Casey Martin back to the plate. Martin then hit a two-RBI double to left field, allowing Horton and Rountree to score for a 9-1 Lonoke lead.

Still no outs in the inning, the Mustangs made a pitching change, and Haven Hunter lined out to left field for the first out. Cody Martin singled to center field the next at-bat, which drove in Lonoke’s final two runs of the third to make it a 10-run game with the score 11-1.

CAC (2-11, 1-3) added what ended up being its final two runs in the bottom half of the third inning, and Lonoke scored the game’s final run in the top of the fifth to set the final score.

The Jackrabbits outhit the Mustangs, 14-4, and Lonoke did the better job in the field as well. The Rabbits did finish the game with two errors, but CAC had five, and Lonoke took advantage of those errors.

After scoring two runs in the top of the first, the second of which came on a two-out bloop single to center field off the bat of James, the Jackrabbits scored their two runs in the top of the second on one errant throw from behind the plate.

Lonoke had runners at the corners in that inning, with Rountree at third and Levi Ward, Seigrist’s courtesy runner, at first. With Casey Martin at the plate, Ward stole second base, and CAC catcher Tanner Weber came up throwing, but went to third base instead of second in an attempt to try and catch Rountree sleeping on the play.

Rountree would’ve been safe even if Weber’s throw had been on target, but the throw was low, and the ball bounced its way into left field as a result. Rountree easily scored, and for whatever reason, CAC left fielder Grant Wood had trouble retrieving the ball, and that allowed Ward to score as well.

Those two runs gave Lonoke a 4-0 lead at the time, and the Jackrabbits carried that momentum into the third inning, where they took complete control of the game.

“We took advantage of all the mistakes that they made,” said Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery. “They put on a lot of runners for us, and we came through with some hits whenever we needed to. Our kids did a good job of being patient at the plate, trying to get their pitch.”

Cody Martin earned the win on the mound. He threw the first five innings, giving up four hits and two walks, while recording a game-high five strikeouts.

At the plate, James and Graves led Lonoke with three hits apiece. The two Martins and Rountree also had multiple hits. They each had two.

The Jackrabbits bounced back from their first and only loss of the season to beat Newport 9-3 in an important 4A-2 Conference matchup on Thursday at the Lonoke Ballpark. Newport led much of the game, but Lonoke took advantage of the Greyhound pitchers’ struggles to find the strike zone, and picked up some timely base hits to earn the victory.

Cody Martin threw a solid six innings while James came through with a pair of late extra base hits to lead the Jackrabbits to the win.

The visiting Greyhounds led 3-2 after four-and-a-half innings, but the Jackrabbits rallied for four runs in the bottom of the fifth, and three more in the sixth to pull away for the victory.

Cody Martin drew a walk to start the big bottom five, followed by another walk by Graves. Cody Martin advanced to third on a passed ball, but Graves stayed at first. James then came through with his first big hit, a double to left field that scored Cody Martin and left Graves at third. After a strikeout by Pool, Graves and James scored when Horton’s ground ball to shortstop was fielded and thrown wild to first base, giving the Jackrabbits a 5-3 lead.

Rountree walked with one out before Seigrist hit a hard line drive right to the Newport left fielder. Casey Martin then drew a walk to load the bases, and Hunter drew a fourth walk in the inning to score Horton and cap the rally.

Cody Martin sat Newport down in order in the top of the sixth, and Graves drew yet another walk to start the bottom half of the inning. James came through with his second double to put two runners in scoring position, and Pool walked to load the bases. Horton walked again to score Graves and make it 7-3. Rountree then hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but James scored to make it 8-3. Seigrist then doubled down the third base line to score Pool and set the final margin.

Lonoke took the lead in the bottom of the first inning on three walks and a passed ball. Newport tied the game in the top of the second on a leadoff single, two stolen bases and a passed ball. The Greyhounds took their first lead in the top of the third on three base hits and a walk, but Lonoke tied it in the bottom of the fourth on a triple by Casey Martin and an error at shortstop.

The Greyhounds took their final lead on two singles and a walk in the top of the fifth.

Both teams finished with seven base hits, but five of Lonoke’s went for extra bases and the Jackrabbits walked 12 times.

Cody Martin gave up all seven hits and two earned runs in his six innings on the mound. He struck out seven and walked only two. James threw the final inning for the save.

The Jackrabbits will look to improve to 7-1 in conference play tomorrow at home against eStem, and on Friday, they’ll play a nonconference game at home against Mayflower. Both games are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers walk past Devils

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers got little offense going, but showed patience at the plate to get on base and pushed across three runs with the help of Jacksonville errors to beat the nearby rival 3-1 Friday at Brian Wade Conrade Field. Jacksonville junior Caleb McMunn took the loss on the mound, giving up just one base hit. He threw five innings, striking out three, walking four and hitting two batters. That coupled with Jacksonville’s four errors, and a fine performance on the mound by Evan Hooper, led to the Panther victory.

Though a nonconference game, the win was a needed one for Cabot, who entered the game fresh off dropping both ends of a doubleheader at Jonesboro two days before.

“You never want to complain about a win,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin. “Jacksonville is a quality ball team. I just think what you saw in this game was two teams a little tired. I know they played yesterday, too, and had a doubleheader earlier in the week. But really, tonight, what you saw was two pretty good teams playing pretty mediocre baseball.”

Hooper held the Red Devils (13-7, 8-0) to just two hits while striking out five in six innings. Hooper, though, issued just three free bases and hit no one.

Cabot (9-7, 5-3) scored first with two outs in the bottom of the third inning. Logan Kirkendoll drew a leadoff walk before a strikeout and pop-up. McMunn then hit Blake McCutchen with a 3-1 pitch before Tristan Bulice got the Panthers’ only hit of the game, an infield single to third that left the bases loaded. Landon James then hit a ground ball to shortstop that was mishandled and Kirkendoll scored. McCutchen tried to score on the play but was thrown out at home to end the inning.

Jacksonville tied it in the top of the fourth, also without a base hit. McMunn drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second base on a balk by Hooper. Greg Jones hit a grounder to third that resulted in a bad throw, which allowed McMunn to score from second.

Hooper got a strikeout before an error at first base left runners at first and third, but Brandon Hickingbotham hit into a double play to end the inning.

The game stayed tied until the bottom of the fifth when Kirkendoll again drew a leadoff walk. Lee Sullivan then reached on a throwing error by Jones. The Jacksonville catcher picked up Sullivan’s one-hopper in front of the plate and fired a throw into right field.

Kirkendoll scored all the way from first base on the play while Sullivan stopped at second. A sacrifice grounder by Dylan Bowers moved Sullivan to third, and another sacrifice by McCutchen scored Sullivan and set the final margin.

Jacksonville got its first hit of the game in the top of the fifth when D.J. Scott singled to shallow right-center field, but Hooper got the next three batters in order.

Jacksonville put two runners on with two outs in the sixth. Hickingbotham scorched a hard ground ball down the first base line, but Bulice gobbled it up and touched first base to end the rally.

Logan Gilbertson took the mound for Cabot in the seventh, and gave up a leadoff single, this one again by Scott. But Glibertson dominated from there, striking out the side by getting Jacksonville’s nine, one and two hitters swinging.

On Monday, Cabot hammered Little Rock Parkview 16-0 in three innings in a nonconference game at home. Dylan Billingsley threw all three innings, giving up just one base hit while striking out six and walking zero.

The Panthers got just seven base hits against the error-prone Patriots. Dylan Bowers, Ethan Smith and Sullivan each got two base hits while Jake Slunder went 1 for 1 for the Panthers.

EDITORIAL >> Report cards a mixed bag

In the state’s efforts to give parents a simple way of seeing how their schools are doing, it has created an often contradictory, hard-to-understand report card that doesn’t show how the state decided on the grade for each school.

But, first, congratulations to Cabot’s four elementary schools — Eastside, Southside, Stagecoach and Mountain Springs — Lighthouse charter schools in Jacksonville and Little Rock Air Force Base and Lisa Academy in Sherwood for scoring A’s on their report cards. Yet three of the Cabot schools receiving A’s were also told they were in the “needs-improvement” category.

Has anyone seen a child’s report card filled with A’s and then the teacher noted “needs improvement”?

The contradictions are endless.

Some background: The legislature passed a law in 2013 requiring schools to be given a letter grade just like students, but, when a student gets a bad grade, nearly every teacher provides some sort of summary or detail: “Not turning in work, sleeping, high rate of absences.”

With the state’s letter grade for a school comes 16 to 21 pages of data. The parent must go through it all to try figuring out which pieces caused the grade.

To make things even worse, the letter grade is not even on the first sheet of the report packet. Instead, it appears in small print on page 6, 7, 8 or 9.

Aside from the letter grade, the state is still identifying schools as exemplary (only one in the state), achieving and then four worsening categories of “needs improvement.”

A school can be achieving and not get an A, or it can get an A and need improvement.

In the Pulaski County Special School District, Arnold Drive Elementary, which has been named a “Blue Ribbon” school for excellence (only 24 schools in the state hold that title) is a B-rated school? What? Plus, the state says it “needs improvement.”

Jacksonville High School, which has been making strides, received a C, but the 11th-grade literacy test from last year showed that more than 38 percent of its juniors cannot read or write sufficiently. Less than half scored proficient or advanced in algebra.

The school’s dropout rate is four times higher than the state average and nearly 60 percent require college remedial courses, but it still ranked a solid C. C means average, and it doesn’t sound like the high school is up to that point yet.

The state needs to spend less time coming up with cumbersome, unreadable reports and focus on how to help schools improve — the report card grade brings out discussion but offers no solutions.

At a time when many school districts are in turmoil, parents need to know what’s going in their child’s classroom: Who is teaching and learning and, just as important, who is in charge and if they have the qualifications to lead.

While our superintendents have done well, others have left a trail of doubt. Little Rock School Superintendent Dexter Suggs resigned Tuesday after allegations of plagiarism that were first reported last week by Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell on his Blue Hog blog, which also unmasked former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr over financial improprieties and Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio for his many ethical lapses.

Matt Campbell is batting 3-for-3. Arkansas schools need someone with his energy and guts to help report the truth about our schools.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke homecoming for attorney general

Leader staff writer

It was a sort of homecoming for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Tuesday as she made a stop at the Lonoke County Courthouse to mark Crime Victims Rights Week.

Rutledge was a Lonoke County deputy prosecutor from 2005-06. She went to law school with Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham. Rutledge, Graham and Lonoke County Circuit Court Judge Ashley Parker worked together when they all were deputy prosecutors.

Rutledge said being the state’s chief law-enforcement officer means working with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, the Lonoke and Cabot police departments “to understand these crimes so, when we handle them on appeal, we can be successful in upholding convictions that are obtained in Lonoke County.

“The Attorney General’s Office has a cybercrimes investigative unit. Chuck and his office have been partners with us and have been advocates since its inception,” Rutledge said.

“We had a case involving a Sherwood man who had his computer worked on in Cabot. We had a member of the Air Force living in Cabot,” Rutledge said.

Both resulted in convictions for child pornography. The attorney general’s office worked with the Cabot Police Department to extradite one man from Kansas City to face pending charges.

TOP STORY >> Ex-cop, school janitor arrested

A former Jacksonville police officer and a Cabot School District janitor, who is also the chief organizer of Cabot Christmas for Kids, were arrested Tuesday for selling narcotics, according to the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Donald Bredenberg of Jacksonville, who until recently worked as a school resource officer and patrolman for the Jacksonville Police Department, was arrested during a raid at 505 South Stagecoach Road in Lonoke County.

Randy Holden of Cabot was also arrested. He is known for his work with Cabot Christmas for Kids, which provides holiday gifts to poor children.

Approximately 26 grams of methamphetamines in individual baggies, several prescription narcotic pills, drug paraphernalia, seven firearms — one of which was stolen — and $1,387 were seized.

Cathy Joe Sneed and Bonnie Holden, both of Cabot, were also arrested.

They are expected to be charged with felony delivery and possession of methamphetamines, possession with the purpose to deliver prescription pills, maintaining a drug premises in a drug-free zone, possession of drug paraphernalia, endangering the welfare of a minor and theft by receiving.

They are being held at the Lonoke County Detention Center.

The Jacksonville and Cabot police departments assisted the sheriff’s office with the investigation and raid.

“I will not tolerate drugs being sold, or used, near schools in Lonoke County. The safety of our children is very important to us, and we will do what it takes to keep the drug-free zones in Lonoke County drug free,” Sheriff John Staley said, referring to Stagecoach Elementary School in Cabot, which is near where the arrests were made.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood sees millage benefit

Leader staff writer

Sylvan Hills High School has grown from 750 students to almost 1,000 in two years and could see 1,700 by 2017-18, Alderman Beverly Williams told chamber members at their monthly luncheon on Thursday.

That is one reason the Sherwood Public Education Foundation, which Williams co-chairs, supports the 5.6-mill increase that will come before voters Tuesday, May 12.

The group’s other chairwoman, Linda Remele, said Sherwood would see $61 million in improvements to its schools if the tax passes.

A total of $221 million in district-wide facility improvements are planned.

The increase would equate to about $10 a month for the owner of a $100,000 home, Remele noted.

Early voting is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 5 through Friday, May 8 at the Jack Evans Seniors Citizens Center, 2301 Thornhill Drive.

Remele and Williams are former Pulaski County Special School District administrators. The foundation they head, formed by a city council-approved resolution in 2013, is working toward detachment from the Pulaski County Special School District.

Williams emphasized at the lunch that the millage would pay for a $51 million expansion and update of SHHS. Included in those plans is a multipurpose building that could be used in partnership with the district as a community-event venue.

Williams said the tentative time frame, if the measure is approved, would be one year to plan, two years to build and students would use new facilities in 2017-18, although projects planned for elementary schools could take less than a year.

PCSSD Jerry Superintendent Guess, who also attended the luncheon and spoke there, added that elementary school projects range from adding indoor physical education space to more classrooms.

No improvements are planned for buildings in the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, even though it will operate under the PCSSD umbrella until 2016-17. Those patrons will not vote on the millage nor pay the increased rate if it passes.

“We actually need this space,” Williams continued, pointing at a board depicting the planned expansion of SHHS. She also said some work was planned for the four-year-old Sylvan Hills Middle School.

Williams explained that SHMS parking must be reworked for safety reasons. Also, a restroom between the practice field down the hill where physical education classes are held and the main building wasn’t thought of then.

Williams added that SHHS needs the multipurpose building because its doesn’t have indoor space where all of its students can gather. It doesn’t even have an indoor space big enough to seat the large ninth-grade class for orientation.

Not only does Sherwood’s growth warrant the millage increase, but Williams said the city won’t get its own district without it because PCSSD must be declared unitary – desegregated — and released from federal court oversight before any detachment effort besides Jacksonville’s goes through. The desegregation settlement signed last year states that.

Facilities is one area in which PCSSD has not gained unitary status and the millage will help it do so, Williams explained.

Remele said, “We want our children to have world-class facilities right now. They shouldn’t have to wait until we form our own school district when the district becomes unitary.”

She also shed light on why PCSSD needs more funding. Remele said, “The last time a millage was passed in the Pulaski County Special School District was 1992. Now, you can sit there and think about: could you run a household or a business on the same amount of money you were making in 1992?

“Another reason we’re supporting this millage is the district has gone about it the right way,” she continued. “They’ve gone to each one of the buildings all over the district, but certainly in the Sherwood area, and met with the staff and said, ‘What are your concerns? What are your needs for the facilities?’

“So they’ve listened to our teachers and administrators in saying what they need before they planned these projects.”

The foundation also supports the increase because all the projects will be worked on at the same time, Remele said. “Everything is phase one.”

Guess and both women agreed passing the millage must be a district-wide movement. The superintendent told chamber members, “I am very optimistic about this not only because of the enthusiasm here but because there is a similar enthusiasm across the district to improve the public education of kids in the district.”

He added that plans are to build two new high schools in the Mills and Robinson zones and convert the current high schools into middle schools while still keeping millage in PCSSD lower than that of nearby districts.

This year’s SHHS valedictorian, J.T. Espejo, was a surprise speaker who offered a student’s view of the issue.

He said, “It’s crazy walking through the hallways with crowded space, and, as you can imagine, when you’re walking through halls with another 1,000 students and it’s hot outside, it’s rough.”

Espejo called attending class in a portable building “not fun” because the air conditioning is “not the best.”

He explained, “It takes your mind off the education. We’re wanting to keep students’ minds on the education, not where they are.

“It’d be incredibly helpful for us to be able to expand our school so that we can keep our students learning in a rich environment and so that students can feel happy about where they are.”

Espejo added that the expansion would have another benefit. “It’s so exciting for us as students to see something we can take pride in.”

About the detachment effort, Williams — in her introduction — said foundation members haven’t been lazy.

She also joked about Guess’ support for the initiative. “We’re taking part of his heart and everything but, actually, he loves us so he’s going to let us have that part of his left ventricle.”

A new feasibility study will have to be completed now that Jacksonville has split off from PCSSD, Williams said.

The foundation campaigned to get a law passed that lowered the enrollment threshold of both a new district and the existing district it wishes to detach from.

For Sherwood to split before the law was passed, PCSSD would have been required to have an enrollment of 15,000. It had 17,000 before Jacksonville detached, but the new JNP district took between 4,000 and 4,500 students.

That means PCSSD would have had less than the 15,000 minimum and Sherwood would not have been able to detach.

The new law also lowers the number of students a new district must have from 4,000 to 2,500 and the square footage for the existing district from 700 to 450 square miles. The existing district must have at least 2,500 students after the detachment, too.

“Now there’s no Arkansas law in our way,” Williams summarized.

She also repeated that the federal court is not opposed to the idea. When it was presented last year to Judge Price D. Marshall, who is presiding over the desegregation case, Williams said he stated, “Sherwood, I am not telling you no. I am telling you not now.”

She added that the city is the 14th largest in Arkansas and would have the 16th largest school district of 235 in the state when it detaches from PCSSD.