Saturday, July 04, 2015

TOP STORY >> Two awarded Purple Hearts

Leader staff writer

Former Army Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville, who was shot numerous times by a self-proclaimed terrorist in 2009, received the Purple Heart in ceremonies at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

Fellow solider and friend, Pvt. William (Andy) Long of Conway, was killed in the same attack and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

The June 1, 2009, attack on Long and Ezeagwula was the first homegrown terrorist incident following 9/11.

Ezeagwula knew the Purple Heart was a big deal, but it didn’t sink in until after the ceremony when an individual asked the 24 year old for his autograph.

“That really was the highlight of the day,” Ezeagwula said. “It certainly made me want to cry and, had I, they would have been tears of joy.”

More than 300 friends, family members, military members, dignitaries and complete strangers filled the second floor of the Capitol for the ceremony. Members of the Patriot Guard stood with American flags on the second floor as well as third- and fourth-floor balconies.

Nikki Brooks Winn, a Gold Star sister, meaning her brother was a Purple Heart recipient, sang the National Anthem and the words echoed off the marble walls, giving a certain solitude to the awards ceremony.

Ezeagwula, along with Long’s father, Daris, were awarded the Purple Heart by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. Long’s mother, brother and sister were awarded the Gold Star.

“It was just overwhelming,” Ezeagwula said. “I truly appreciate all the love that was shown. It made me feel good about myself.”

But he was quick to say he doubted that the Purple Heart would bring closure or ease the memories.

“I was shot five times and still go to the VA once a week. I’ll never get that time back. I can never change what happened,” Ezeagwula said.

He still thinks of the man who did the shooting, Abdul-hakim Muhammad, 23 at the time, who pulled up in a van and opened fire while Ezeagwula and Long were outside the Little Rock recruiting station, taking a break and discussing recent trips outside Arkansas.

Ezeagwula and Long were part of a recruiting program called “hometown recruiting assistance,” under which soldiers tell their stories to potential recruits. He said he was participating in the recruitment program because he wanted to show his peers that there is more out there beyond Arkansas and that the Army is a good way to see it.

Muhammad was charged with one count of capital murder and 16 counts of engaging in a terroristic act, charges stemming from shots fired at an occupied building.

The attacker was a native of Memphis and a Muslim convert. He told authorities that he was mad at the U.S. military because of what they had done to Muslims in the past.

“It’s a hard task to let go. It will take a lot to do that,” Ezeagwula said.

But he added that things were “falling right.” Even though his mother, Sonya, still lives in Jacksonville, Ezeagwula has moved to Little Rock and is a sophomore at Philander Smith College. He is majoring in business administration.

By 9 p.m. Wednesday evening, he was exhausted from the day’s activities and trying to get something to eat. “I didn’t have a chance to eat at all during the day even though there was food at the reception after the ceremony.”

Ezeagwula said he joined the Army because “I just wanted to help my family out. I thought it was a good way, and then, when I got in it, I actually learned to love the Army.” He was medically discharged shortly after the shooting.

He said that he and the Long family have become very close since the shooting. He said Long’s family “welcomed me with open arms” and has been supportive. And he expressed thanks to well-wishers and those who have offered prayers: “I really appreciate what they have done for my family and Pvt. Long’s family.”

It was Long’s father, Daris, who pushed for six years for changes in the rules and regulations regarding the Purple Heart so that his son, Ezeagwula and others who have been attacked while in the United States by terrorists or those influenced by terrorists would be properly honored.

The bereaving father, a former Marine, said it was about the motto of “never leaving anyone behind.”

Long told those at the ceremony his push was not for the Purple Heart but to complete a promise he made to his son just days before the attack.

“He had called me on Sunday, and I cut the conversation because I was busy with something that was only important to me. I called him back, apologized and said I would always be there for him,” the father said.

Sen. John Boozman (R- Ark.), one of many politicians at the ceremony, said, “The pair were targeted for their service, devotion and dedication to our country in a war where the frontlines against terrorism extend within our nation.

“Awarding Privates Long and Ezeagwula the Purple Heart for their service and sacrifice is simply the right thing to do.”

After the ceremony, many people told Ezeagwula’s mother, Sonya, that he was a hero.

She replied, “He was a hero before he got shot. He was our family’s hero.”

Thursday, July 02, 2015

TOP STORY >> New chief for district

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville-North Pulaski Superintendent Tony Wood took the wheel from interim Superintendent Bobby Lester on Wednesday morning, although for the moment Lester continues to help navigate.

After lunch, Wood, Lester and attorney Scott Richardson met to discuss some of issues left to be resolved with the Pulaski County Special School District before the new district is completely on its own one year from now.

“We’ve still got five things to settle,” said Lester, including bonded debt and selling facilities to the new district. He said fine-tuning and clearing up some ambiguous language were also among them.

Any areas of disagreement would go first to state Education Commissioner Johnny Key, and, if disagreement continues, to a magistrate.

A proposed salary schedule that starts first-year teachers at $38,000 and tops out at $55,500 is slated for consideration at the JNP board meeting at 6:30 Tuesday night in the Jacksonville City Hall Council Chambers.

The board usually meets on the first Monday night of the month, but, to accommodate the July 4th holiday, it was moved to Tuesday.

By way of comparison, at PCSSD this year, beginning teachers will earn $34,106 – a $2,000 increase — while a Ph.D. with 17 years will earn $69,206.

“The board will take a look at it Tuesday night,” Lester said. “I think they’ll approve the salary schedule for all personnel plus the appropriate stipends” for those with coaching or other additional duties.

Tuesday’s will be the first board meeting under Wood’s leadership. He was state Education Commissioner until January, when Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed Johnny Key to that post.

“The challenge is to put forth our best effort to provide the educational setting for the children of Jacksonville that they deserve,” Wood said Wednesday.

“The first item of business is to bring closure to the specific items of the separation,” he said. “We are beginning a new school district and everything allows it to function in an organized and structured way.

“One of our challenges to try to work toward being able to provide information (to current staff) regarding future employment,” he said.

“This community has been and continues to be so supportive of the educational process for the young people of Jacksonville. It’s a comforting feeling to know the community is united 95 percent.”

He said he would encourage the new board to ask voters for a property-tax increase tied to the construction of the new high school complex proposed for acreage the Little Rock Air Force Base owns.

“Tuesday night, we’ll discuss their interest in submitting a request for qualifications for architectural and construction management firms” regarding a new high school, he said.

The district has hired administrators for vacancies, including: Mike Hudgeons, principal of Jacksonville Middle School, Jacob Smith from Bald Knob and assistant principal Terrod Hatcher for North Pulaski High School; Angela Stewart as principal at Arnold Drive and Dr. Taniesa Moore as principal at Tolleson, according to JNP chief of staff Phyllis Stewart.

Hudgeons, most recently a consultant, is a former principal of Benton Junior High and principal of Paris High School.

Hatcher graduated from Jacksonville High School and taught math in Bald Knob.

Stewart was principal at Bryant Middle School and Moore was assistant principal at Jacksonville Middle School.

“We recruited them into positions to be interviewed,” Lester said.

Then the actual hiring was through PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess, with Key — the one-man, acting school board — approving.

Lester said all administrators, teachers and others would have to reapply next year, because they are currently PCSSD employees through the end of the 2015-16 school year.

While activists have sought their own standalone Jacksonville-area school district for decades, over the past few years Lester has been the wizard behind the curtain.

His knowledge, contacts and Rolodex have helped bring the new district about.

Beginning this coming school year, all Jacksonville-area public middle school students will attend Jacksonville Middle School in the old Northwood Middle School building.

The bands and football teams from North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School will combine this year and, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, all will attend Jacksonville High School, freeing up North Pulaski for use as the district middle school, Lester said.

“We’ve met with band parents and boosters from both schools to elect new officers for the new high school, with representation from Jacksonville Middle School,” he said.

Students, parents and alumni are likely to have a hand in choosing school colors and a mascot for the combined high school and middle school.

Lester said the new district is expected to have between 4,100 and 4,500 students. “We’ve never gotten a real solid number,” he said. “We figured the budget and allocations for 4,100.”

Lester said he expected enrollment would climb as the new district has succeeded for a while. With a new high school and elementary school expected to be built on base land, he said, airmen will become more likely to live on base or in the Jacksonville area. Their children will go to Jacksonville-North Pulaski schools instead of to Cabot and elsewhere.

With 240 acres just off the base and a brand new high school facility, parents will be more likely to keep their kids in Jacksonville.

“We’re working on a no-cost or low-cost lease,” of that acreage, Lester said.

An additional 26 acres will be available for a school to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools, he said, with the Defense Department apparently prepared to chip in $18 million toward the new elementary.

Lester said the new elementary school could probably be built for about $25 million.

“The biggest challenge for Mr. Wood will be getting a complete handle on all of it,” Lester said, “income from the school district plus the human resources issue of getting all those people in place.

“He’s got the experience and the qualifications to get it done.”

As far as resolving the issues with PCSSD, Lester said, “Wood and the district’s lawyers would probably go through a settlement line by line and probably sit Key down in a room with them. That’s what I’d do.

“I’m going to be a volunteer,” said Lester, “on call. I’ve been volunteering for the past 15 years. I don’t think it will be as much as in the past.

“I’d like to express appreciation to this school board,” he said. “They are fine people with nothing but the kids in mind. There was nothing I proposed that I didn’t get a unanimous vote.”

He also praised Stewart, who is expected to continue as chief of staff. “Phyllis has been critical with her knowledge and background and stuff that’s happened in the past 15 or 16 years.”

She was the PCSSD superintendent’s administrative assistant for several years, and then worked for the state Association of School Boards and for Tom Kimbrell and Wood during their tenures as state Education Commissioner. “It’s been a pleasure to have her here.”

“It’s been an honor to be trusted by the people of Jacksonville,” he said. I’ve enjoyed it, but at times it’s been stressful. I’ll look back on it with a smile.”

Lester said that, in addition to keeping an eye on the new district, he would spend his found-again retirement attending ball games and events that his grandchildren participate in.

His 17-year-old grandson is an all-state pitcher/first baseman. He has two granddaughters who play catcher and a grandson who swims and plays soccer.

“I haven’t made up my mind whether I’ll continue doing superintendent searches,” Lester added.

SPORTS STORY >> Kingsley will see increased role for Hogs

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Without his good friend and former AAU teammate Bobby Portis, Razorback post player Moses Kingsley must transform from project to foundation in his third year.

Those obviously are Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s expectations. On Monday’s SEC basketball coaches summer teleconference, he discussed the impact that Kingsley and sophomore point guard Anton Beard must have now that SEC Player of the Year Portis and guard Michael Qualls have turned pro, while starting guard Ky Madden and starting forward Alandise Harris have graduated.

Growing up playing soccer in Nigeria and catching up mostly on athleticism and shot-blocking upon arrival to the United States, Kingsley will be called upon for an all-round role as a regular starter with Portis gone.

“It presents an opportunity for guys like Moses Kingsley, who I really feel will have a tremendous junior year, to really step up and be that big guy that we need,” Anderson said.

Kingsley does cast a big presence protecting the rim.

Only Portis, 50 blocks, rejected more shots for the Razorbacks in 2014-2015 than Kingsley’s 38. Portis blocked his 50 shots in 1,076 minutes. Kingsley blocked his 38 in just 391 minutes. He averaged a block every 7.5 minutes, but only averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds.

Beard, of North Little Rock, opened the the 2014-2015 season as a backup, but during the SEC campaign took supreme command on the point, freeing Madden to play off the ball.

In the selection of postseason All-SEC teams, Beard was noticed by the SEC coaches.

“Anton Beard was on the All-Freshman team last year,” Anderson said. “We certainly feel he will step into an impactful role on this basketball team.”


No doubt all of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks coaches in all sports have been asked about the controversy of the State of South Carolina first having the Confederate flag waving from the state capitol in Columbia, then feeling pressure, including calls from the governor of South Carolina and Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner, to take it down after nine blacks were murdered allegedly by a gun-toting white racist, while at a Bible study in church.

The suspect, Dylann Roof, had posted pictures of himself with a handgun and the Confederate flag before the murders.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin took more questions on the Confederate flag Monday.

Martin expressed the various interpretations of South Carolina citizens, but ultimately supports the flag’s removal from capitol grounds.

“It’s part of our history,” Martin said of the Civil War beginning with Confederates firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. “It’s part of our fabric. It represents a lot of good to a lot of people here and represents what people were willing to die for. But there is also another side to the equation that it’s offensive to numerous other folks.

“So we have to embrace both sides of it. We can’t just look at one side and say ‘the heck with the other group.’ That’s why I think there is a place for that flag in people’s private homes and museums that represent the Confederate states and the history of South Carolina, but not public places. Government buildings and government grounds are a representation of all of our people, not just some of our people. So that is a point that I was trying to make.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey did not equivocate.

“I support the calls made to remove the prominent displays of the Confederate battle flag, and applaud the leadership demonstrated around this issue,” Sankey said in a statement last week released by the SEC office. “SEC universities are learning communities filled with people of diverse ethnicities.

“Through intercollegiate athletics we provide a rallying point for people of all backgrounds and beliefs. We must provide our student-athletes an opportunity to learn and compete in an environment conducive to all races, creeds and colors.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot explodes in late innings for win

By GRAHAM POWELLLeader sportswriter

The Cabot Centennial Bank junior American legion team’s game with Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet Blue team was tied at 2-2 after four innings of play, but it was all Cabot in the final three innings, as Centennial Bank routed Gwatney Blue 13-2 Tuesday at Dupree Park in Jacksonville.

Cabot (19-4) scored the game’s first two runs in the top of the third inning and Jacksonville (7-9) answered with both of its runs in the bottom of the fourth. Unfortunately for Gwatney Blue, though, Centennial Bank took complete control the rest of the way.

The Cabot junior team put up four runs in the fifth inning, then scored three more in the sixth and four more in the seventh, while holding Jacksonville scoreless through that stretch, to take a double-digit lead and set the final score in the process.

“I think the second time we went around in the lineup they kind of figured the first (pitcher) out,” said Cabot assistant coach Joe Bryant. “I was real impressed with our starting pitcher, (Dylan) Billingsley.

“Our last kid (Skylar Weidman), he’s never pitched before. I wanted to see what he could do, and he came in and threw strikes.”

Billingsley earned the win on the mound. He threw the first six innings Tuesday, and gave up four hits and just one earned run before being relieved by Weidman in the seventh. Weidman retired the side, ending the game with a strikeout. Jacksonville’s two-run fourth inning started with a Tyson Flowers bunt single. Caden Sample singled to center field the next at-bat, and starting pitcher A.J. Jackson lined out to shortstop the following at-bat.

Jackson’s hit was caught by Cabot shortstop Blake McCutchen. Sample was off first base as McCutchen made the catch, and in an effort to turn two, McCutchen threw the ball to first base, but the throw was high, allowing Flowers to score from second base, which cut Cabot’s lead to 2-1. Sample advanced to second on the play.

A bunt single by D.J. Stirgus the next at-bat advanced Sample to third base, and two batters later, Sample scored on a sac fly to center field by Ryan Rosel, which tied the game at 2-2.

Cabot answered in the top of the fifth with its four runs scored that inning. Brian Tillery led off the inning with a walk. He stole second base before scoring via an error at shortstop. That ground ball to short was off the bat of Brenden Sheldon, and it gave Cabot the lead for good.

McCutchen reached on an error at second base the next at-bat, and both Sheldon and McCutchen scored two batters later on a single to right center by Easton Seidl. Seidl later scored on a two-out single by Ty Cyr, which put Cabot on top 6-2.

“We came back up and it was a new ballgame,” Jacksonville Blue coach Clayton Sample said of his team entering the fifth inning. “We walked a few guys and then they got a few base hits, and next thing you know, it’s 6-2, and I think it kind of snowballed from there.”

Cabot then added three more runs in the sixth before scoring four more in the seventh to make it an 11-run game. Tillery scored the 10th run for Cabot after drawing his fourth walk of the game. He crossed the plate on a double by McCutchen.

Centennial Bank’s next run was scored on a sac fly to center field by Seidl. Sheldon scored on the play after walking three batters earlier.

McCutchen made it a 12-2 game after scoring on a passed ball and Brett Brockinton scored the final run of the night on a wild pitch shortly after.

Cabot outhit Jacksonville 9-4 Tuesday. McCutchen led all batters at the plate, going 3 for 3 with two RBIs and four runs scored. Seidl and Brockinton also had multiple hits with two each.

For Jacksonville, Kam Whitmore, Flowers, Stirgus and Sample each had one hit.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville athletics fills four more open spots

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville High School has now filled all but one of the many coaching positions left open at the end of last school year, and some of the new hires, plus other departures from North Pulaski, means that all JHS and NPHS springs sports will combine in the 2015-16 school year.

“All the spring sports are going to merge together next year,” said Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson. “Baseball, softball, soccer and track will be here. But we’re going to play some soccer games at North Pulaski.”

North Pulaski was left without its track coach when Teodis Ingram was transferred to Fuller before second semester last year. It was also left without a softball coach and athletic director when Tony Bohannon retired at the end of the school year.

The Falcons lost their soccer coach when Jacksonville announced the hiring of Donny Lantrip to head the ninth-grade football program and varsity soccer, and will now lose their baseball coach.

Head baseball Falcon the last two years, Michael Dean, will join head coach Larry Burrows and assistant Jeremiah Clennon onthe Red Devils’ baseball staff.

Crystal Scott, who was William Rountree’s assistant the last two seasons, has been promoted to head girls’ basketball coach after Rountree’s departure for Maumelle. Before coming to Jacksonville, Scott was the head girls’ coach at Dollarway High School in Pine Bluff. She will also continue as girls’ track coach next year.

The football program added a vast amount of experience to its staff with two new hires. Former Vilonia head coach Jim Stanley is now part of second-year coach Barry Hickingbotham’s staff, as well as longtime coach Bobby Gentry.

Stanley only officially resigned from the head VHS position earlier this week, and will likely work on the offensive side of the ball. Stanley’s T-style offenses at Vilonia featured misdirection plays and lifted the Eagles to contender status for several years in the tough 5A-West Conference. Stanley will also be the head boys’ track coach at JHS.

Gentry also joins the JHS football staff, bringing more than 40 years of high school and college coaching experience in Arkansas and Texas.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Whitney Abdullah would take over the girls’ varsity volleyball program and Stephanie Nation would run the ninth-grade team.

It was also announced that Tirrell Brown would assist Lantrip with ninth-grade football before going back to North Pulaski to assist Roy Jackson with the North Pulaski basketball program.

That leaves only the Jacksonville Middle School head boys’ basketball and assistant football position to be filled. Josh Nation is the head JMS football coach and will assist the new basketball coach.

“My goal for football is to have four coaches at every program,” Wilson said. “We get two for middle school and I’m going to try to get two volunteers. We have two for ninth grade and I’m going to try to get two volunteers. We’re starting basically from scratch here and I don’t want to leave these kids shortchanged by not having enough coaches for them. We’ve been lucky enough to have some people who have been helping us out the last couple of years, and I think we’re going to be able to keep that going.”

The JHS varsity football team will have six paid coaches, Hickingbotham and five assistants – defensive coordinator Brian McDermott, Burrows, Wilson, Stanley and Gentry.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney gets its payback

Leader sportswriter

The last time the Jacksonville and Cabot senior American Legion teams played each other, Jacksonville gave up a big lead and Cabot won on a three-RBI, walk-off triple. On Tuesday, it was Gwatney Chevrolet that won via walk-off, as the Chevy Boys knocked off Centennial Bank 8-7 in eight innings at Dupree Park.

Jacksonville (9-5) tied the game at 7-7 in the fifth inning on a two-out, RBI single to right field by Courtland McDonald. Chris Penn scored on the play, but the game remained scoreless for the next two innings, which sent the game to extras.

Gwatney held Centennial Bank scoreless during its at-bat, and Jacksonville started the bottom of the eighth strong. With the top of the order up, McDonald reached on an error at second base to start things off, and two-hole hitter Ryan Mallison walked the next at-bat.

Three-hole hitter and winning pitcher Brandon Hickingbotham laid down what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt down the third base line, but the bunt was so well executed that it turned into a single.

That brought cleanup hitter Laderrious Perry to the plate with the bases loaded, and with a full count, Perry hit a chopper to third base that was fielded cleanly by Brandon Jones.

Jones threw home for the force out, and although the throw was in time, it was too high, and that allowed McDonald to score the game-winning run.

“They played hard,” said Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham of his team. “We really swung the bats well tonight, played pretty good defense. We’re playing kids in positions they’ve never played before. We’re just really shorthanded on players.

“They’re working and trying to do the best they can. We’ve just been playing a lot of days in a row and we haven’t gotten a chance to take a break. They’ve had good days and bad days, but I’m proud of them and it was a good effort tonight.”

Coach Hickingbotham acknowledged that his players had their last meeting with Cabot on their minds entering this game. In that game in early June, Jacksonville jumped out to an 8-0 lead, but Cabot steadily chipped away at that lead and came back to beat Jacksonville 12-11 on a walk-off, three-RBI triple.

“They did,” Hickingbotham said. “They got embarrassed last time. We went up eight runs and then we got beat 12-11. That kills your attitude a little bit, but they came back and played hard. Cabot’s got a good ballclub, a lot of good talent on there. We just played a little better tonight.”

After a scoreless first inning, Cabot reeled off four runs in the top of the second to take a 4-0 lead. Jacksonville, though, answered with five runs in the bottom of the second to make it a 5-4 game. Cabot, however, answered with three more runs in the top of the third.

Gavin Tillery reached base that inning after being hit by a pitch, and Easton Seidl followed with a stand-up double off the fence in left center. Two batters later, Hayden Vinson drove both runners in with a single to left field.

Vinson advanced to second base on a Caleb Harpole walk. He then reached third, then home on wild pitches, which gave Centennial Bank a 7-5 cushion.

Jacksonville scored its sixth run in the bottom of the third on a two-out, stand-up double by Penn that sailed to the fence in left center. Donte Crudup scored on the play after also reaching base via double one batter earlier.

Both teams were scoreless in the fourth inning, but Jacksonville tied it up in the fifth on McDonald’s two-out single to right field, which made it a 7-7 game.

Brandon Hickingbotham took over pitching duties with one out in the top of the fifth and pitched a gem from that point on. He gave up only two hits in his time on the mound, and recorded four strikeouts as well.

At the plate, Jacksonville outhit Cabot 12-8. Brandon Hickingbotham and McDonald each went 3 for 4 to lead all batters. Penn was the only other Jacksonville player with multiple hits. He went 2 for 4.

Seidl, Vinson and Harpole led Cabot at the plate Tuesday, as each went 2 for 3.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Too many stranded, Cabot falls to Conway

Leader sports editor

The Centennial Bank senior American Legion team made it to the championship game of the Gwatney Chevrolet Summer Classic in Jacksonville, but lost 6-0 to the Conway Cougars on Sunday. Missed opportunities on offense and errors on defense told the story of the game.

Cabot put runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings, and had multiple runners in scoring position with one or fewer outs in the fourth and fifth innings. Cabot loaded the bases with one out in the fifth and failed to score.

Centennial Bank pitcher Lee Sullivan retired Conway’s first nine batters before giving up two singles to start the fourth inning. That’s when the Cabot defense fell apart. The runners advanced on a wild pitch and leadoff hitter Scott Weaver scored on a 6-4 fielder’s choice. Conway scored four more runs in the inning and three were results of errors, one at third base, one in right field and one at the plate.

Conway got one more run on a solo homer by cleanup hitter Josh Walker off relief pitcher Logan Gilbertson to set the final margin.

Cabot won three games to make it to Sunday night’s championship. They beat Searcy 4-2 on Saturday and beat Benton 8-2 early Sunday afternoon.

Cabot scored two runs off two hits in the first inning against Benton. Logan Kirkendoll was hit by a pitch with two outs before Gavin Tillery reached on an error at second base. Logan Edmondson and Brandon Jones then hit back-to-back singles to drive in the runners.

Benton scored one unearned run in the bottom of the first and the second inning was scoreless. Cabot scored four in the third to take command of the game. Braden Jarnagin hit a leadoff single before Kirkendoll was hit by a pitch. Tillery singled to load the bases and Edmondson hit into a 6-2 fielder’s choice that got Jarnagin at home plate.

Jones flew out to left field and Hayden Vinson was hit by a pitch to drive in the first run. Two walks and a wild pitch brought home the other three.

Benton scored once in the bottom of the third and Cabot added two more in the sixth. Dylan Bowers and Jarnagin got two singles to start the sixth inning, and both scored on sacrifice grounders by Kirkendoll and Tillery.

In Sunday’s game against Searcy, Cabot broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth inning for that victory.

Cabot took a quick lead in the top of the first inning, scoring one run on two walks, a stolen base and a sacrifice fly by Kirkendoll. Searcy tied it in the bottom of the first with a hit and a Cabot error. Searcy took the lead in the bottom of the fourth with back-to-back doubles down the left field line, but Cabot tied it in the top of the fifth with a solo home run by Sullivan.

Centennial Bank then got its first two batters on base in the sixth when Tillery and Jarnagin singled to start things off. After a passed ball put them in scoring position, Gilbertson and Vinson drove them in with sacrifice grounders.

Cabot played at Jacksonville last night in a zone matchup. It will play at Benton tonight and at Sheridan on Thursday. Look for details of those games in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney drops game behind second

Leader sports editor

After opening its Summer Classic senior American Legion tournament with a win, Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet squad lost its last two games at Dupree Park Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Jacksonville gave up six runs in the top of the first inning en route to a 9-3 loss to tournament champion Conway. On Sunday, three Chevy Boys’ errors blew two late leads in a 9-8 loss to Benton.

In Saturday’s game, Conway’s first-inning rally included three base hits, and was aided by two walks and an error. Jacksonville scored one run in the third inning when D.J. Scott got a leadoff base hit, followed two batters later by an RBI single to left by Laderrious Perry. Jacksonville scored two more in the fourth on another base hit by Perry, two walks and a passed ball.

Conway scored its next three runs in the sixth on two hit batters, two walks and a base hit.

While walks and hit batters were the main culprits in Saturday’s loss, errors led directly to the loss on Sunday. Jacksonville took a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Colton Goodman got a one-out base hit, which Perry and Caleb McMunn followed with back-to-back walks that loaded the bases. Chris Penn hit a fly ball to center field that scored Goodman. Deaundray Harris and Peyton Traywick then hit back-to-back line drives to center field to score Perry and McMunn.

But Jacksonville committed a pair of two-out errors that led to six unearned Benton runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, a pop-up to shallow right-center field dropped to the ground when Penn and Harris’ gloves collided just as the ball reached them. That allowed three runs to score and tie the game. Two base hits followed before another error gave up another run and a 6-3 Benton lead.

Jacksonville came back in the top of the sixth. Ryan Mallison drew a one-out walk and Brandon Hickingbotham singled to right field. Goodman struck out for the second out, but Perry hammered a towering three-run homer over the wall in left-center field to tie the game.

After Goodman held Benton scoreless in the sixth inning, Jacksonville reclaimed the lead with two runs in the top of the seventh. Penn started the rally with a leadoff single before Harris struck out. Courtland McDonald then ripped a line drive triple to the base of the wall in straightaway center to score Penn. He then scored on a sacrifice grounder by Scott that gave Gwatney Chevrolet an 8-6 lead.

But the bottom of the seventh saw another two-out error on another pop-up past second base that led to the Benton victory. This time, instead of two people trying to catch the ball, no one did, as Penn and Scott stopped and looked at each other as the ball landed between them.

“Anybody could’ve caught both of them,” said Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham. “The first one should’ve been the right fielder’s ball but he waited too long to call it. The second one probably should’ve been second base, but after the first one he wasn’t sure. They just have to learn to talk out there. It could’ve been avoided if they’d just talk. We shouldn’t have lost that game.”

For the tournament, Perry went 5 for 8 with three walks and was hit once. He finished with a double, a home run and five RBIs.

Jacksonville hosted Cabot on Tuesday and will host Conway on Thursday.

Look for details of those games in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Henderson at brink of Olympic glory

Leader sports editor

The precipice of greatness is an exciting place to be, and central Arkansas sports fans have a rare opportunity to follow and support one of their own as he stands at that precipice. Jeff Henderson, a 2007 graduate of Sylvan Hills, is one of the world’s best long jumpers, and his famous Olympic-gold-medal-winning coach, Al Joyner, believes track and field’s greatest glories, a world record and Olympic gold, are only a matter of time.

Few could imagine a less likely path to world-class status in track and field than the one followed by Henderson, who hails from McAlmont. Unheralded out of high school, but supported by a hard-working father and a committed mother who now lies in bed at home with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, Henderson never lost belief in himself, even when no one else seemed to notice his talent.

That belief led him to this precipice. The next step, according to his coach, is into hallowed territory – the track and field world record books.


Last week in Eugene, Ore., Henderson qualified for the world championships in Beijing by finishing second at the USA championships. He had the longest legal jump, but a wind-aided jump beat his for first place. Henderson has the two longest legal jumps in the world this year at 8.50 and 8.44 meters. The 8.5 achieved at last week’s nationals. He will head to Toronto on July 17 to compete for the United States in the Pan Am Games before Beijing, with the ultimate goal of winning a gold medal in the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

But Henderson was not a standout athlete in high school. He wanted badly to play football, but no offers were forthcoming until a very late offer by the University of Arkansas, and even it wasn’t a full scholarship.

He was, however, the most successful track athlete in the state that nobody knew about. He finished second in the 2007 decathlon without competing in the pole vault, and he set state high school decathlon records in the long jump and 100-meter dash.

Even with that success, track scholarships weren’t flowing in either.

Henderson ended up signing with Hinds Junior College in Raymond, Miss., where he utterly dominated JUCO competition for two years. At Hinds, Henderson won 10 JUCO national championships. He won the indoor and outdoor long jump and 100-meter dash, and ran the first leg of the two-time outdoor 4x100 relay team his freshman and sophomore years.

The relay team competed in events that included several Division I colleges. In one of those meets, the Hinds team finished third, behind only LSU and Florida.

But the major colleges still weren’t taking notice. Henderson signed with Florida Memorial University, a historically black NAIA school in Miami Gardens. That lasted just one semester. A late semester injury went untreated during the holiday break because he was not on scholarship again until the second semester began.


So Henderson came home. He kept in shape and sat out until the fall of 2012, when he landed a scholarship to Stillman College, an NCAA Division II program in Tuscaloosa, Ala. It took a while for Henderson to get back into top shape that first year, but a major event took place that vastly increased his distances. That’s when someone important finally noticed him.

Al Joyner, an East St. Louis native and Arkansas State graduate, won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympic triple jump. He was also married to and coached Florence Griffith-Joyner, who won three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics and is still the world record holder in the women’s 100- and 200-meter dashes. She died of an epileptic seizure in her sleep in 1998.

Joyner saw Henderson at a world class indoor meet in New Mexico, running back and forth from the long jump to the sprints. And while he wasn’t posting world class times or distances, Joyner liked how much he was enjoying himself, and saw a lot of potential.

“You could just see the joy in his eyes and how much fun he was having,” said Joyner. “Then after getting a chance to meet him and know him a little bit, I could see he had the X factors. He had the right stuff, and he didn’t even know how good he really was.”

But Henderson turned down Joyner’s initial offer to join the International Association of Athletic Federations, and begin working with him full time. Instead, he opted to go back to Stillman for his senior year and finish his degree. By the end of that senior year in 2013, he had won two more Division II national championships in the outdoor long jump and 100-meter dash.

“I was OK with him going back to school,” Joyner said. “In fact, that told me a lot about what kind of man he was. He was going to finish what he started.”

Soon after graduation, Henderson moved to San Diego and began working with Joyner, who instantly made him lose 24 pounds off his 202-pound frame.

“I was jumping and every time I would land, I would impact my ankles and they would hurt,” Henderson said. “I’m much lighter now. I don’t feel as strong or as powerful as I did at 200, but I’m 178 now and my distances are a lot farther.”

Henderson broke out last year. He was the USA long jump champion in 2014, and finished in the top three in meets around the world, including Shanghai, Glasgow, Scotland and Stockholm, Sweden. He jumped a personal best 8.50 meters at Mount San Antonio’s SAC Relays earlier this year before matching that jump in Oregon last week.


Joyner bragged about Henderson’s work ethic and competitiveness, and that’s something that began at a very early age. It was his competitiveness that sparked the work ethic.

At about 13 years old, Jeff began to compete in local open track meets, and kept getting beat by another kid from Little Rock. He lobbied his father, Laverne, for a sled to pull around the back yard. A custodian at Sylvan Hills High School, there wasn’t enough money for a sled, so Dad put his creativity to work.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Dad, this boy keeps beating me. I need a sled.’ So I told him I would come up with something.”

He laid an old car engine block on an old car hood, rigged up a harness to attach to it, and Jeff went to work.

“When he first strapped that thing on, that first step was really slow,” said Laverne Henderson. “I told him to take that thing off because he was going to hurt himself. He said, “no” and in a few weeks he was dragging that thing back and forth across the lot back there.”


Henderson comes from a strong family. He is the son of Laverne and Debra, and the youngest of six children, including four sisters and one brother. Debra is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She lays bedridden in a room covered with posters and memorabilia of her son’s accomplishments. She can’t speak, but her eyes widen and turn towards her husband’s cheerful voice as he talks about her impact on their son’s success.

“She’s the reason for all this,” Laverne says, waving a hand around the room. “She’s the one that pushed him. She drove him to meets all over the countryside. She drove him to Fayetteville for his private training. She did it. I was working and couldn’t get to a lot of it. She saw his potential before anybody else, and made sure he had every opportunity to reach it. She did it. She’s the reason for all this.”

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most difficult for families, and Jeff says chasing his dream in San Diego while his mother fades away back home in Arkansas is sometimes hard to deal with.

“I know there’s not really anything I can do for her, anyway, but it’s still hard,” Henderson said. “It was actually harder to deal with when we first heard the diagnosis. That was my senior year in high school. That was really hard.”

There is one thing Jeff can do for his mother, and that’s what he does. He strives to achieve the potential she first saw in him. And even though it means 2,000 miles between them, his heart is at ease because it’s where her vision can best be fulfilled.


It’s also where Joyner puts him through the ringers four days a week. Training is intense, though it almost never includes any jumping.

“I do maybe two jumps every two weeks,” Henderson said. “It’s just a lot of running and bounding and weights.”

The training doesn’t take up an exorbitant amount of time, but it does take up most of his energy. He trains about 30 hours per week, but there’s not much life outside of the training facility. When he’s down, he opens his book of situational and encouraging Bible verses, and occasionally attends New Hope Church in San Diego on Sundays. But he says nightlife is out of the question and relationships are on hold for the time being.

“There’s no one stopping you from going out at night,” Henderson said. “But if you do, you’re going to be so tired the next day in training. And you’re so tired at the end of the day anyway, all you want to do is go home and relax. So really the only people you know are the other people at the training facility.”

That’s the kind of dedication Joyner knows it takes to achieve Olympic greatness. Joyner has searched and waited a long time for another athlete that has all the necessary requirements for that kind of greatness, and he believes he’s found one in Jeff Henderson, heaping the highest praise possible from a man with Joyner’s past.

“It’s been 25 years since I’ve had the honor of coaching my wife,” Joyner said. “Jeff is that type of competitor and athlete. He’s going to be one that people don’t forget. And they aren’t going to remember him as just a long jumper. They’ll remember him as a sprinter, too.”

And about that world record, Joyner is more than confident.

“It’s going to be a great pleasure for me to help win another gold medal for the state of Arkansas,” Joyner said. “Because I don’t have any doubts about that. I don’t have any doubts he’s going to break the world record, either. The only question I have is, how many times?”


Jeff recently joined the National Athletic Institute, which advocates for able-bodied and para-athletes. Unlike athletes in other countries, United States athletes do not receive funding from government sources. Jeff relies on NAI donations for his daily living expenses in order to train full time. Donations can be made through the NAI website,, and can be earmarked specifically for your athlete of choice.

EDITORIAL >> Do we need a high court?

You may or may not care about the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on several monumental issues, from legalizing same-sex marriage to upholding Obamacare, but at least the highest court in the land made cogent arguments in those landmark cases.

Contrast that with the Arkansas Supreme Court, which sat on a same-sex marriage appeal for seven months and did nothing. The frightened justices hoped and prayed the U.S. Supreme Court would rule before the state court and let them off the hook.

Most of the justices on the state high court hold few principles of their own: They’ve been bought by special interests — from nursing home owners to trial lawyers and others — who helped them get elected. The Arkansas Supreme Court is just a parody of jurisprudence sold to the highest bidders, many of them shady operators who are defendants in criminal cases that could be appealed to the high court.

Presumably, most of the justices who are beholden to those defendants would have to recuse themselves and a temporary court would be appointed for those appeals. Or voters could repeal the state Supreme Court and save us from further embarrassment.

The tireless Max Brantley, who conducts the indispensable Arkansas Times Blog, revealed last Sunday just how corrupt our state high court has become in recent years. Brantley has gained access to its proceedings, which show a pusillanimous court reluctantly weighing its options. According to Brantley, the court was ready to side with Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza, who last year declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

But, later, the justices swung the other way and voted to overturn Piazza’s ruling. Reluctant to announce their decision, they waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule Friday morning in favor of same-sex marriage. But, rather than saying later that morning that their decision no longer mattered, the state Supreme Court waited until late Friday, when everyone had gone home, to declare the case moot.

Brantley caught the filing at 5:15 p.m. Friday on his way home and has had a field day ridiculing our tremulous justices. The rest of the Little Rock media missed the decision. The state newspaper seemed unaware until it ran a cartoon Tuesday by John Deering, who at least reads the Arkansas Times Blog.

TOP STORY >> Huckeby House opening soon

Leader staff writer

The Huckeby House Adult Day Health Care center plans to open next week in Sherwood. The facility hopes to bring fun and engagement to our most undervalued assets, according to administrator Sandra Mancell.

“We are very home-style, not institutional, like some of the others,” she emphasized, comparing the center to a 12-hour nursing home, but one that lends a hand to seniors who remain independent by going home in the evenings and on weekends.

“We want them to feel comfortable and home. I mean, nobody wants to go to a doctor’s office, a hospital-type setting. We’re trying to keep them at home rather than having to go into a nursing home, which then possibly would cost them as much as $6,000 a month.”

The center is licensed for 50 “elders,” ages 55 and up.

Offerings of the 16,000-square-foot Huckeby House at 100 Shadow Oaks Drive include the following “play, fun and fabulous ideas”:

• physical, occupational and speech therapy through a partnership with Arkansas Physical Therapy and Wellness Center;

• medication management,

• Alzheimer’s and dementia care;

• meals and snacks;

• exercise classes;

• back-and-forth transportation for those who qualify to have that cost covered by Medicaid;

• arts and crafts;

• sewing, crochet and knitting clubs (the center has a working treble-foot Singer sewing machine from 1908, Mancell said);

• a game room with a pool table, cards and more;

• napping rooms for both genders;

• a “pet shop” where elders, especially those suffering from dementia, can “check out” a stuffed animal to care for throughout the day;

• a real-life rabbit and two cockatiels to interact with;

• a TV, movie and media room;

• once-a-week lessons from a piano teacher, who is trained to work with dementia patients and contracted from a national company;

• and a computer room where elders can be trained in using technology like Facebook and Skype to connect with relatives that live in other states and countries.

There is also a library with books from when the elders were students, Mancell said. “When they progress back with dementia, they progress back with age,” she explained, noting that the library will help with behavior modification when the elders become stressed.

“We can bring out something they know and will recognize because they’ve already progressed back and be able to do a little one-on-one and be able to calm them down.” Mancell said.

She added that, while the facility can’t provide Farmers’ Market produce because of its licensing requirements, elders could bring vegetables in to prepare at Huckeby House and take home.

“We’re trying to be centered around them, not us and our industry. It’s all about them,” Mancell continued. “We’re just trying to give back to our elders in our community.”

She lamented, “Today’s generation has no use for our elderly population, which is a shame.”

Mancell also said the center is more affordable than a nursing home.

The rate is $10 per hour with a four-hour minimum.

The monthly cost for eight hours a day is $1,600. The monthly cost for the maximum, 12 hours a day, is $2,000.

Private pay and Medicaid — pending licensure and via the Elders’ Choice program — will be accepted. Long-term insurance that would pay for a nursing home could cover services, too, according to the administrator.

The Arkansas Alzheimer’s Association also awards $500 grants for respite care that would help pay for Huckeby House services, she added.

The center is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but the staff will stay later if caregivers call and ask them to, Mancell said.

The full medical staff of 25 — CNAs, LPNs and Executive Director Lynda Coberley, who is an RN — has decades of experience.

Elders will be assigned to groups, five to one CNA, which Huckeby House hopes they will build a bond with. Elders will spend all day, even meals, with their CNA.

Mancell said family members are also encouraged to call that CNA after hours if they need a night out, although that service would be offered by the individual staff member and not the center.

Several elders are already signed up and “everyone is excited about it,” the administrator told The Leader last week.

Why is she so passionate about her work? It’s a family tradition, and the facility was named for Mancell’s family. She is the fourth generation to work in this industry.

Mancell said, “I was raised to be respectful of my elders. Still to this day, it doesn’t matter where I’m at, if I’m in a restaurant and I see somebody that’s having some physical problems that needs some help, I’m opening doors. I’m checking on them; do they need help getting to their table?”

She said history is not being taught as much as it should be and that seniors are waiting to impart stories you won’t find in a textbook.

“That’s our goal, is to pay tribute back to them and maybe teach a new generation what they didn’t learn in school: to respect our elders, to listen to them. They are a wealth of knowledge,” Mancell concluded.

Coberley, her business partner, said she does this because her parents never knew a stranger and she wanted to be a nurse at age 10 because they help people. Her family has also worked in the elderly care industry.

TOP STORY >> Delivering Afghanistan’s fourth C-130H from base

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Since 2013, airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base have advised and trained Afghan aircrews on C-130 operations.

Two Afghan pilots completed the Afghan Air Force’s first-ever C-130 training flight September 2013 at Little Rock AFB. About a month later, Afghanistan received its first two C-130H aircraft from the United States.

Since then, U.S. and Afghan airmen have continued to work side-by-side to make significant progress on the Afghan Air Force’s combat airlift capabilities.

Air Mobility Command airmen recently delivered the fourth C-130H to Afghanistan.

“This will be the last projected C-130 delivery to the Afghans,” said Capt. Adam Fletcher, a 52nd Airlift Squadron C-130H pilot and commanding officer of the C-130H delivery operation.

The Afghan armed forces have relied heavily on helicopters for cargo air support over the past years. This fourth C-130H will enable the Afghan forces to have the same capabilities that NATO forces have used to successfully supply military outposts throughout the country.

In 2010, coalition partners recognized that C-130s could provide the Afghan Air Force with increased airlift, resupply and casualty evacuation capabilities, and a plan to supply the Afghan Air Force with a fleet of their own was born.

Two aircraft arrived in mid-2013, with a third the following summer. The arrival of the fourth and final C-130 from the United States completes a program five years in the making and well worth the wait, said Lt. Col. Tyler Faulk, deputy director of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan’s Security Assistance Office.

“These C-130s are the Afghan Air Force’s first four-engine aircraft with this type of expanded capability,” said Faulk. “This fleet allows them to transport supplies or troops within Afghanistan, as well as to partner nations where they can execute missions, trainings and exercises; a whole host of international activities.”

Faulk explained that the C-130 is a medium-lift aircraft, capable of expediting troop and supply movement, and allows for international reach, making it “a huge force multiplier.”

“Afghanistan needs to perform more missions, and having a fourth C-130 allows for that,” said Afghan Air Force Capt. Muhammad Azimy, a C-130 pilot who has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the aircraft.

“We need to support more troops, moving them as soon as possible from one point to another, getting them into the fight faster. Getting commandos from the north to the south by helicopter would take days, but by C-130 it will take only a few hours.”

Faulk said, “The new fleet is a complete departure from anything the Afghan Air Force has owned before.”

Fletcher and a team of eight other airmen made the trip to Kabul to deliver the aircraft, which was formerly assigned to the 19th Operations Group at Little Rock AFB.

“I’m really excited for the trip,” said Senior Airman Kyle Miesbauer, a 50th Air-lift Squadron loadmaster assigned to the delivery flight, before they left. “I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but I joined the military to do things like this.”

The cargo plane was modified for its new home and has its own Afghan Air Force tail insignia and lettering.

“Maintenance crews from the 19th AW, 314th AW and 913th Airlift Group worked on the plane for more than 70 total man-hours to ensure that it was in outstanding condition,” said Fletcher.

The Afghan C-130H will be the second to come from Little Rock AFB. The four aircraft are the largest planes in the entire Afghan Air Force fleet.

The Air Force strategically picked a crew made up of Little Rock airmen as well as airmen from Peterson AFB, Colo.

“Who better to ask than the 50th Airlift Squadron and the 52nd AS,” said Fletcher. “They are two of the last active-duty squadrons that specialize solely on C-130Hs.”

Though this will be the last projected C-130 delivery, airmen from Little Rock AFB will continue to help the Afghan Air Force make Herculean steps toward military independence through training their aircrews.

The C-130 formal training unit here has been training aircrew members from across the Department of Defense and 44 allied nations for years. Afghanistan is among the newest nations to receive initial combat airlift training from the 314th AW at Little Rock AFB.

The base is the only place equipped with the most experienced cadre of C-130 flight instructors and a $1.05 billion C-130 Aircrew Training System.

Without the initial training provided by the 314th Airlift Wing’s tactical airlift “Center of Excellence”, the delivery of four C-130Hs to the Afghan Air Force would not have been possible.

Aviators, mechanics and loadmasters trained here in preparation for the arrival of the fleet, and the Afghan Air Force can now conduct regular maintenance and training in country.

As the Foreign Military Sales executor, the Security Assistance Office brought together the requirements needed from the Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air advisers and connected them with available equipment in the U.S. inventory. After each plane’s arrival, the Afghans took control of the aircraft and are committed to taking good care of them.

“Our goal is to get them to self-sufficiency and train them well enough that they are able to take over the entire process from development of the capability, through procurement, sustainment and even life-cycle management,” Faulk said.

Faulk has no doubts the Afghan Air Force will be able to step up to the challenge. He stressed that the collaboration between Afghanistan and the Security Assistance Office played an important role in the successful procurement of the fleet.

“This was a massive effort taken on by the Afghans, but we’ve been around every step of the way to help ensure the mission’s success,” Faulk said.

“It’s a very effective aircraft and will accomplish a lot of missions for the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and even President Ghani,” said Azimy. “This fourth C-130 is very important to us.”

TOP STORY >> Fighting abuse of prescription drugs

Leader staff writer

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series examining illicit drug use in the area.

Prescription-drug abuse rates here are trending downward, according to local law-enforcement officials, but the problem is still prevalent, sometimes deadly and being combated in numerous ways.

Those include semi-annual drug takeback events, drop boxes at police departments, public-education programs, training classes for officers, a special investigative unit in Sherwood and initiatives like the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Operation Pilluted.

The DEA, with help from agencies in The Leader’s coverage area, recently netted 50 felony arrest warrants in the pending case against a Little Rock doctor accused of writing fraudulent prescriptions.

Steve Varady, program manager for the state drug director’s office, said prescription- drug abuse had dropped about 3 percent over the last five years among 92 percent of public high school students who participated in the Arkansas Prevention Needs Assessment Survey.

The state report for 2014 hasn’t been published yet, he clarified, but it may show prescription-drug abuse figures hitting a plateau after steadily decreasing over the last few years.

In Lonoke County, the lifetime use rates for sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders were 11.9 percent in 2011-12, 8.4 percent in 2012-13, 7.8 percent in 2013-14 and 8.8 percent in 2014-15, according to the survey.

For Pulaski County, they were 9.8 percent in 2011-12, 7.8 percent in 2012-13, 7.3 percent in 2013-14 and 7.6 percent in 2014-15.

Although Varady couldn’t provide figures related to deaths by overdoses, he said, “It’s heartbreaking” to hear of them. “It’s real Arkansas families and real people.”

To combat this issue, Varady noted, the state has advocated for legislation, like a bill passed this year that expands access to a nasal spray which can stop an overdose in progress.

Capt. Carl Minden of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said Arkansas was once No. 1 in the U.S. for prescription-drug abuse, but he thinks it’s done better in the national rankings since then.

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley said that was in 2007, but — citing the survey — rates in past 30-day and lifetime measures have dropped significantly in the last five years.

Jacksonville Police Chief Kenny Boyd and several other agencies provided their own figures showing how prevalent prescription-drug abuse is in their areas.

He wrote in an email to The Leader that his department conducted 14 undercover buys of prescription pills in 2012. They had two buys in 2014 and 12 as of May 2015.

Cabot police arrested 35 people last year for misdemeanor and felony possession of prescription medications, according to Sgt. Keith Graham. In 2014, there were five deaths — three suicides and two others where the person was attempting to get high — in which prescription medications were a factor, he added.

Boyd said, according to the Centers for Disease Control website, 44 people nationwide die each day from overdosing on prescription painkillers, nearly two million Americans abused them in 2013 and almost 7,000 are treated by emergency rooms each day for using them incorrectly.

Staley said that in 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported there were 6.8 million pill poppers. In 2011, he continued, 2.38 million of the 4.024 million prescriptions written were for narcotic analgesics and 136 million of those were for Hydrocodone.

Minden said the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t track deaths by prescription drugs, but he remembered the coroner calling in about 30 teen overdoses one year.

Staley said, nationally, one person dies every 14 minutes from overdosing on a prescription.

Pills are abused because people can easily access them and don’t realize how dangerous they can be, according to law-enforcement agencies in Pulaski and Lonoke counties.

Staley said, “Kids believe the drugs are safe because they’re manufactured in a factory with people with white coats.”

Graham added, “You can walk into any home in any neighborhood and you will find them.”

Lt. Jamie Michaels of the Sherwood Police Department pointed out, too, that pills can cost less than other drugs at first and that many are highly addictive, being opiate-based.

Boyd said some suspects he’d interviewed became addicted while they were legally prescribed pills after a surgery or to treat another condition.

Others succumbed to peer pressure or became addicted early on while growing up in a home where drug abuse was prevalent, he noted.

The Jacksonville chief said pills are readily available to young adults and children from their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets. Getting drugs that way and for free can be more appealing than purchasing them from a dealer on the streets, he said.

The sheriffs and representatives from local police departments generally agreed that people who take pills to get high come from all walks of life. It affects every demographic group and socio-economic class, they told The Leader.

But Minden, with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, said it’s primarily teens who abuse prescription drugs, while the Lonoke County sheriff said most abusers are 35 or younger.

Graham, with the Cabot Police Department, also said its officers tend to arrest more people in that age group for prescription drug-related charges.

Michaels, with the Sherwood Police Department, added, “People at the crest of their careers have fallen into it.”

No one The Leader spoke with seemed certain when prescription drug abuse became prevalent, but most claimed it was the 1990s and early 2000s.

Staley said, in early 2010, a coalition lead by the state drug director and other officials launched the “Monitor, Secure and Dispose” campaign that coordinated Arkansas’ participation in the DEA’s National Take-Back Initiative. In the 10 events held since 2010, 72.26 tons of unwanted/unused medications have been turned over for safe disposal in Arkansas, the Lonoke County sheriff noted.

Graham said pills have always been around but are being prescribed more often. “People can go to the doctor and say certain things and get pretty much anything prescribed.”

People who sell pills are also from all different backgrounds, law enforcement officials agreed.

Staley elaborated, “What we’ve seen in Lonoke County is the same people dealing illicit drugs are the same people selling prescription medication.”

The Jacksonville police chief said, for the most part, people sell them for the money. Even professionals — doctors, nurses, pharmacists — with access have done so, Boyd noted.

He said some people sell medications legally prescribed to them, and others have pills stolen by people they live with or others who are allowed into their homes.

People who break into vehicles, houses and businesses may also find pills and sell them, Boyd noted.

Agencies have begun to look at where prescription drugs are coming from, he told The Leader.

Staley agreed. His deputies are using tools to identify the “easy writers” of prescriptions and working closely with pharmacists so they feel comfortable in reporting people who send up red flags.

Jacksonville officers find pills by knocking on doors following tips, during traffic stops, by frequenting the house of someone who was reportedly selling them and using undercover cops to buy the pills from a suspect, who is then arrested, according to the chief.

“We also follow up if they are selling narcotics from a residence with the nuisance- abatement aspect of the law and work on evicting them from the property to clean up neighborhoods,” Boyd added.

Of the 35 charges related to prescription-drug abuse, only two are misdemeanor offenses that come with a minimum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail.

For felony possession, depending on the amount and type of pills found, penalties were a $1,500 fine with up to six years in prison; a $2,000 fine with three to 10 years; and a $2,500 fine with five to 20 years.

For purpose to deliver or delivery of prescription medications, also dependent on type and amount, the maximum penalty one could face a $25,000 fine and up to 40 years in prison for the most serious offense.

Local law-enforcement agencies are continuing to address prescription-drug abuse through free training classes offered by the Criminal Justice Institute, the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, the DEA, federal prosecutors and others.

Minden, with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, added that an annual conference is held and more training is available now than was available five years ago.

Graham said Cabot officers are invited to groups throughout the year to educate the public on prescription drug abuse. That police department also uses the PRIDE Program to teach younger generations about the dangers of it.