Saturday, September 26, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Bears’ golf wins league title

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills boys’ golf team won the 5A-Central Conference tournament for the first time since 2008 Tuesday at the Mountain Springs Course in Cabot. Senior Bear David Talcott was the tournament medalist with a round of 82. Talcott stumbled coming in, shooting a double bogey on the 522-yard par 5 No. 9. But he immediately made those two shots up as he made the turn onto the back nine. Talcott birded the 10th and 11th hole and was on his way to a six-stroke win over second-place Landon Davis of Beebe.

The Bears beat second-place Pulaski Academy by 19 strokes in the team competition. Sylvan Hills’ Dalton Schuster shot a 93 while Ethan Williamson and Nathan Martin each shot a 99 for the Bears for a 379 total. Beebe finished third with a team total of 412.

“No one shot their best scores,” said Sylvan Hills coach Greg Frantal. “The course was playing very hard. They can definitely shoot better than that, but it was great for these guys to get the first championship for the school in quite a while.”

Pulaski Academy’s Audrey Pulliam won the girls’ event, which consisted of only 11 players. PA and Beebe brought full teams, and the only other female competitor was Jacksonville’s Haley Elmore, who finished second behind Pulliam. The girls played just nine holes, and Pulliam shot a 38 to earn medalist honors.

Beebe finished second in the boys’ and girls’ tournaments, and both qualified for state with their scores. The girls’ 5A state tournament will be Sept. 30 at Hot Springs Country Club, while the boys will play at the Harrison Country Club on Oct. 5-6.

Frantal believes Harrison and Hot Springs Lakeside are the favorites in the boys’ state tournament, but thinks his team can compete.

“Harrison came down and played at Cyrpress Creek,” Frantal said. “We went over there and really shot pretty close to our best scores, and they still beat us by 10 strokes. So I want them to compete and leave there knowing they gave it their best.”

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils get needed win at Fair

Leader sports editor

A close game at halftime turned into a blowout win for the Jacksonville Red Devils; as they pick up their first win of the season 44-6 at J.A. Fair.

The Red Devils led just 7-6 until Malcolm Crudup scored from 3 yards out with 1:24 left in the first half to give Jacksonville a 13-6 lead. The Red Devils went on to score 31 unanswered points in the second half.

Jacksonville forced a three-and-out to start the second half, then got a break on its first possession. The War Eagles were called for roughing the kicker on a Jacksonville punt on fourth and 11. Four plays later, Robert Knowlin scored from 13 yards out and added the two-point conversion to make it 21-6 with 3:26 left in the third quarter.

The Jacksonville defense sent Fair backwards 10 yards on the next possession, and took over on its own 48 after an Eagle punt.

On the fourth play of the drive, quarterback Rowdy Weathers hit Stevie Eskridge for a 23-yard scoring strike, and Tyler Hooper added the extra point with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Jacksonville’s Nate Rob-bins turned in a monster fourth quarter. He caught a blocked punt in the air and returned it to the Fair 9-yard line early in the fourth, but Jacksonville failed to score.

The War Eagles took over on downs at their own 9. On third and 12 from the 7, Robbins broke into the Fair backfield on a sweep, and tackled the pitch man in the end zone for a safety to make it 30-6 with 7:28 left in the game.

On the ensuing possession, Crudup ran 24 yards on the first play to the War Eagle 26.

Weathers then found Shawn Ellis for a 13-yard gain, and hit Jonathan Hall for another 13 yards and a touchdown.

Hooper added the extra point to make it 37-6 with 5:30 remaining.

On Fair’s next possession, The Red Devils block another punt. This time Robbins scooped and scored for the final touchdown of the game with 4:03 remaining.

Jacksonville also scored on the game’s opening possession with its most impressive drive of the season.

The Red Devils went 91 yards in 15 plays, with Knowlin scoring from 4 yards out with 4:02 left in the first quarter.

Jacksonville’s next possession went 8 plays to the Fair 17, but ended with a sack on fourth and 11.

The Red Devils turned it over on downs again and Fair cut the margin to 7-6 on the ensuing possession with the help of a pass interference call.

The Jacksonville defense held the War Eagles to just 31 total yards. Fair rushed 25 times for 9 yards, including sack yardage, and competed 3 for 11 pass attempts for 22 yards.

Jacksonville compiled 348 total yards, 233 on the ground and 115 through the air. Crudup led the way with 19 carries for 150 yards and a touchdown.

Weathers completed 4 of 4 pass attempts for 77 yards and two touchdowns to lead Jacksonville in passing.

Jacksonville (1-0, 1-3) hosts Beebe (0-1, 1-3) on Friday for homecoming.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears pile up points, yards on the Comets

Special to The Leader

The Sylvan Hills Bears traveled to Mills on Friday night to open 5A-Central conference play. The Bears (4-0, 1-0) defeated the Comets (1-3, 0-1) 45-21 in a hard-fought contest. Sylvan Hills had a total of 554 yards of offense, 437 of which was rushing, while the defense held Mills to 287 yards.

“I’m really happy,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “I was pretty concerned about this. I thought they were going to play well. It’s two (Pulaski) County schools, and we always play hard and get after it. It was a very hard-fought game, very physical, just like it was two years ago. That’s exactly the way I thought it would be. I’m very proud of my players. They came in and played real well.”

The Bears had the first possession of the game and went 82 yards in three plays, the third play being a 66-yard touchdown run by Brandon Bracely. Tito Mandoza added the extra point, and the Bears led 7-0 less than a minute into the game.

The defense forced a Comet punt, but Mills returned the favor, and Sylvan Hills punted, also. However, that punt was fumbled, and the Bears recovered on the Mills 48-yard line. Sylvan Hills took advantage of the turnover, scoring again with 5:44 to go in the first quarter. Again, it was Bracely on the final carry into the end zone. Mandoza added the point after for the 14-0 lead.

Mills answered right back, gaining good field position due to a penalty on the Bears that was enforced on the kickoff. Another Sylvan Hills penalty also aided in the 49-yard drive, which was capped off by a 10-yard touchdown run by Comet back Brandon Bunting. That cut the Bears’ lead to 14-7.

The Bears responded with a 71-yard drive, moving down the field on runs by Bracely, quarterback Jordan Washington, and Deon Youngblood. It was Bracely again with his third touchdown of the night, to stretch the lead back to 21-7 with 11:55 to go in the half.

On Mills ensuing possession, Rajhon Ware escaped for a 43-yard touchdown run to cut the lead back to seven, at 21-14 with 9:25 remaining in the second quarter.

After the backs moved the ball from the Bear 36-yard line to the Comet 31, Washington connected on a touchdown pass to Ryan Lumpkin. Mandoza’s extra point made the Sylvan Hills lead 28-14.

A good punt by Washington pinned the Comets on their 9-yard line. Fred Marbley completed a pass to Lando Caldwell to midfield, but a fumble occurred on the next play, and Sylvan Hills recovered with one minute to go in the half.

The Bears moved from their own 47-yard line to the Comet 8-yard line in five plays, the last of which was a 25-yard completion from Washington to Cameron Sharp.

With two seconds on the clock, Mandoza was good on a 25-yard field goal to close the half and boost the Bears lead to 31-14.

Mills opened the second half with a drive that was ended by a leaping interception on the 1-yard line by Cameron Flippo. Sylvan Hills then drove 99 yards in six plays, the last 80 coming on Bracely,s fourth touchdown run of the night, making the score 38-14.

Mills added a touchdown, and then Washington hit Lumpkin for another touchdown pass in the end zone to set the final score at 45-21.

Bracely led the Bears with 194 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Washington rushed for 103 yards and passed for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

Flippo had 13 tackles and one interception, Marquaylan Jones had 10 tackles, and Jonathon Hicks had nine tackles.

SPORTS STORY >> BHS ladies steamroll through 5A-Central

Leader sports editor

Thursday’s volleyball matchup in Jacksonville between Beebe and North Pulaski appeared to have a lot riding on it. In the last match of the first round robin of conference play, an NP win would’ve caused a three-way tie atop the league between Beebe, North Pulaski and Pulaski Academy.

It never came close to that. The Lady Badgers swept their hosts in dramatic fashion. After a bit of a slow start, Beebe won by scores of 25-18, 25-7 and 25-10, completing its first trip through conference foes without dropping a single set.

“We didn’t really come out focused,” said Beebe coach Ashley Camp. “I think the heat had some thing to do with that. We’ve gotten a little spoiled with the air conditioning in our gym. But North Pulaski played really well at the beginning, too.”

Game one was tied at 12-12 when Beebe broke serve to take a one-point lead. Lady Badger Kayla Green then served back-to-back aces and Abby Smith slammed down one of her match-high 11 kills as Beebe stretched its lead to 18-12 before NP broke. That quick run proved to be the difference in the opening game, and the Lady Falcons never recovered the rest of the night.

Beebe dominated game two. Smith served up eight-straight points, including three aces, early in the second set to give the Lady Badgers a 17-6 lead. Jerra Malone and Gracie Rymel dominated on the outside.

North Pulaski broke with a huge kill by Kiarra Evans, but the Lady Falcon middle blocker couldn’t stay on the floor. Evans stayed in to serve, but would go to the bench for her other two back row rotations, and Beebe’s bevy of big hitters took advantage of NP’s smaller front line.

The break at 17-6 was NP’s last point of the game, as Beebe rolled off another eight in a row to close out game two.

The streak continued to start game three. Senior setter Sarah Clark scored eight-straight points on serve to start the third set, including three aces. She finally hit a serve into the net to give NP a point. North Pulaski played evenly for the next several points, and trailed 14-8 when the Lady Badgers went on an 11-2 run to finish the match.

The final streak started with six points on serve by Green that made it 20-8. NP broke serve and Payton Mullen served an ace for NP’s final two points of the match. Clark served out the match for Beebe, ending on an unforced error by the Lady Falcons.

Rymel finished with seven kills for the Lady Badgers and Malone had five. Almost all were assisted by Clark.

Earlier in the week, Beebe defeated Sylvan Hills 25-11, 25-10 and 25-12. Green had 21 digs and Lesley Keene served five aces in that win.

Not counting tournament games, the Lady Badgers are 10-0, losing only to 7A North Little Rock and Bryant in two-set tournament matches.


Elsewhere in league play, Jacksonville got its second conference win on Thursday, beating McClellan 25-16, 25-8 and 25-12 at the Devils’ Den. Jacksonville actually trailed 12-9 in game three when Kym House took serve and reeled off 16-straight points to serve out the game and match for the Lady Red Devils.

Brittney Eskridge had six kills for Jacksonville while House and Terionna Stewart clogged up the middle for the Lady Devils well.

After seven of the 14 conference matches, Beebe leads the way at 7-0. Pulaski Academy is 6-1, North Pulaski 5-2, Sylvan Hills 4-3, Mills 3-4, Jacksonville 2-5, McClellan 1-6 and J.A. Fair 0-7.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot gets blowout in third

Leader sports editor

A dominant red zone defense and a few big plays were enough for the Cabot Panthers to roll through North Little Rock on Friday, hammering their host 34-3 at the brand new Charging Wildcat Stadium.

Cabot (4-0, 1-0) had just four possessions in the first half. Two ended in touchdowns, two ended with fumbles. North Little Rock got inside the Cabot 20-yard line three times in the first half and only came away with three points.

“The defense played pretty well and we got some big plays,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “We didn’t sustain much offense tonight, but the Barnes brothers came through for us pretty good. We had the two fumbles in the first half. I’ve been saying we have a chance to be pretty good, but we still have some things to clean up.”

North Little Rock (0-4, 0-1) drove 61 yards on the game’s opening drive, but the Panther defense stopped them at the 19. The Wildcats missed a 36-yard field goal attempt, but Cabot fumbled it away on the ensuing possession.

After forcing a three-and-out, Cabot took the next possession 60 yards in eight plays with fullback Kolton Eads rumbling the last 7 yards for the score. Caleb Schulte’s extra point made it 7-0 with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats drove to the Cabot 14 on the next drive. Linebacker Easton Seidl then tackled Wildcat running back Alex Day for a 1-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, Austin Jones sacked quarterback Trey Cox for a 3-yard loss, setting up a 35-yard field goal that made it 7-3 with 8:23 remaining in the half.

Cabot fumbled on third and 5 on its next possession. The Panthers covered it, but were forced to punt on fourth and 12 from the 44. The Wildcats once again drove to the Cabot 15-yard line, but Cabot held and took over possession with 1:48 left in the half.

The Panthers lined up in the spread formation, and quarterback Jarrod Barnes threw over the top to Austin Nguyen for a 55-yard completion to the North Little Rock 30-yard line. Still in the spread, Barnes kept on the zone read and picked up 25 yards for first and goal at the 5.

After two Eads runs, Barnes got the final yard for a 14-3 Cabot lead going into halftime.

“We’re right there knocking on the door three times in the first half alone,” said North Little Rock coach Jamie Mitchell. “And we just don’t get anything out of it. I’m proud of my kids, though. They played their butts off the whole way. We’re right there. If we can get a little success maybe we can get a little momentum.”

The Wildcats needed to have more success in the first half, because the third quarter was all Cabot.

The Panthers lost 3 yards on the first play of the half, but Barnes kept on the option and went straight up the middle of the field untouched for 77 yards and the score on the next play. The extra point was no good, leaving it 20-3 with 11:04 on the clock.

On the ensuing possession, senior defensive back Holdyn Barnes stepped in front of a Cox swing pass and returned it 37 yards for the score, giving Cabot a 27-3 lead with 9:18 left in the third quarter.

Later in the quarter, sophomore nose guard Dayonte Roberts sacked Cox for a 10-yard loss, forcing the Wildcats to punt from their own end zone.

The punt was short, leaving Cabot with the ball at the Wildcat 38. Two runs and an incomplete pass left Cabot with fourth and 8 and the Panthers went for it.

Barnes dropped back to pass again and was forced to scramble to his right, where he was stopped and wrapped up near the Cabot sideline. But he somehow escaped, reversed field and picked up 10 yards to convert the first down before being dragged down on the North Little Rock sideline.

After a 3-yard run by Jess Reed, Barnes kept again and went 23 yards for the game’s final touchdown.

North Little Rock totaled 262 yards of offense, but only 81 in the second half on six possessions. Cabot finished with 373 yards, with 318 coming on the ground.

Barnes led all rushers with 154 yards and three touchdowns on seven carries. Eads carried 20 times for 87 yards and a score. Day led North Little Rock with 20 carries for 101 yards and caught two passes for 36.

The Panthers host Marion (3-1, 0-1) next week. The Patriots lost 34-21 to West Memphis on Friday.

Friday, September 25, 2015

EDITORIAL >> The future of Asacare

Confusion and indecision rarely serve the public interest, but they can be useful for a government official in the throes of a terrible political dilemma. So it is for Gov. Hutchinson, who must somehow persuade quarrelsome members of his own party to accept a program they viscerally hate. You know what that is—Obamacare and particularly the giant part of it that has insured medical care for 250,000 Arkansans for much of the past two years.

On the day he took office nearly 10 months ago, Hutchinson outlined a strategy that immediately worked. If you will vote to continue coverage of poor adults, which is paid fully by the federal government, for just this year, Hutchinson told lawmakers, I will find a “replacement” for the program by year’s end. And that is what he has been trying to do, with the help of millions of dollars paid to corporate consultants and a task force of advisers.

The program has been in convulsions ever since, even as the governor and the teams of consultants, advisers and legislators stumble toward producing the “replacement” for the so-called “private option,” the name that moderate Republicans gave to the alternative plan for covering previously uninsured poor adults and, in some cases, their children.

Obamacare—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010—called for all those people under 138 percent of the federal poverty line to get their medical attention through Medicaid, the government program that has insured some 700,000 of the elderly, disabled, poor youngsters and certain other vulnerable categories generally since 1965. The young Republican upstarts in the legislature in 2013 said, “Why don’t we have nearly all those poor adults buy health insurance in the private market created by Obamacare (the premiums paid, of course, by the federal government)?”

They convinced most of their colleagues in the legislature and Gov. Mike Beebe to do just that and it has been a roaring success, as the new governor, Asa Hutchinson, acknowledged. It has insured 250,000 Arkansans, saved community hospitals all over the state, filled the state treasury with cash that allowed the state to cut taxes and created thousands of jobs. And, of course, it was a bonanza for insurance companies.

But the new governor faced a new dilemma. The election that brought him into office also brought more firebrand Republicans dedicated to killing Obamacare root and branch. They had all promised to kill the private option, which many voters had figured out was still Obamacare even if it had a Republican twist.

To demonstrate his bona fides as an Obama foe to the arch-  conservatives, Hutchinson in early summer ordered the state Medicaid office to cut off insurance for people if they had not provided proof of their income status to the Medicaid office within 10 days of the state’s sending a letter requiring them to prove their continued eligibility for Medicaid.

Tens of thousands lost their insurance, even though most of them were clearly eligible and many returned the information on time. That was because the state Medicaid program found itself in utter disarray. The state office had wasted tens of millions of dollars on private contractors that were hired to develop a new computerized system for enrolling people in the various Medicaid programs, old and new, and none of it worked. Adding to that chaos were the tens of thousands of demands for income data from recipients. The department was overwhelmed.

Doctors and hospitals across the state find themselves waiting for many months to get reimbursed by the state, which once paid with amazing promptness. Unwilling to show weakness to the hard right in his party, Hutchinson held firm to kicking poor people off their insurance even if the state and its contractors were responsible.

Charitably, his sternness with the poor may help him in the end to bring the recalcitrants along to continue the program once he perfects it.

Amid all that confusion—can anyone casually following all the developments have the faintest idea what is going on?—the governor and the business consultants have outlined a few changes in the private option that the legislature can adopt this winter to make it more “conservative” and economical so that they can claim that the big insurance program is no longer Obamacare or even the private option. Or at least convincing enough that the necessary three-fourths of the legislature will approve the Medicaid spending bill for 2016-17.

All the changes they have suggested so far are mere tinkering. They tend to make it harder for the very poor, particularly those who do not have full-time jobs, to get medical care or else force them to jump through hoops like getting into job-retraining programs or performing community service. A few proposals would hew more closely to the original Obamacare that is implemented in most other states, by requiring more of the 250,000 to be insured in the old Medicaid program, where the government, not private insurers, insure them and where the payments to medical providers are much lower.

Now, only those in very poor health who require almost perpetual care are on straight Medicaid. Another proposal will require several thousand workers who are below 138 percent of poverty to enroll, still with government aid, in the small-business group plans set up by Obamacare.

When Hutchinson finally outlines all the modifications, they will no doubt lower the overall cost of the Medicaid expansion by a few million dollars a year, although not enough to bring the costs down to where they would have been if the state had merely followed Obamacare’s original directives to the state.

The governor notified Obama’s secretary of health and human services that the state probably would just stay in the federal insurance exchange rather than set up its own exchange, which is a sensible move and one that reduces future confusion. All Hutchinson’s changes, of course, will have to comply with the law and get the approval of the Obama administration.

But please remember, whatever you do, do NOT call it Obamacare or the private option. Governor Hutchinson, 250,000 of your fellow Arkansans and the hospitals and physicians of Arkansas will thank you.
 — Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY >> Speaker: Many ways to help foster kids

Leader staff writer

The state is in the midst of a foster care crisis, and — while the greatest need is for families to take in kids who have nowhere else to go — there are others ways to help, Michelle Hood told the Jacksonville Sertoma Club this week.

Hood is a community engagement specialist for Arkansas’ Creating Connections for Children (ARCCC) project. She’s with the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services.

Hood spoke at a combined meeting of the Jacksonville and North Little Rock Sertoma clubs held Wednesday afternoon at Southern Oaks Country Club in Jacksonville.

In Jacksonville, 122 kids are in the state’s care, but there are only 24 open and approved foster homes, she told them.

Foster families must pass background checks and complete 27 hours of training, but the state is working to condense that into 15 hours, Hood noted. Classes are offered during the day, at night and on weekends, but schedules vary by county.

There are 4,500 children in foster care across the site, and 628 in Pulaski County alone, she continued. The shortage in homes is widespread, i.e. there are 198 kids in the North Little Rock area but only 40 homes.

“We need to increase those (home) numbers,” Hood said.

The ARCCC project is a specialized recruitment effort to find foster families for youth ages 12 and older because they remain in the state’s care the longest and suffer from increased instability that leads to trauma, the specialist also explained.

Another goal is to have twice as many beds as kids so that there is a pool of homes to choose from, Hood said.

She then described how nearly all of the children in the foster care system experience three traumas. The first is being removed from their homes “because their parents are really all they know,” the second is being separated from their siblings, and the third is being “dropped off on the doorstep of people they don’t know.”

The No. 1 reason children enter the system in neglect cases is because their parent(s) are drug addicts, Hood added.

Aside from addressing the need for foster homes, especially those willing to spare kids a second trauma by accepting sibling groups, she pointed out people willing to help but not foster could do a number of things.

“We know that everyone is not willing to foster, (and) may not be eligible to foster,” Hood said.

Ways to help individually and as a group through a service project include:

• donating toiletries, food and other necessities because children often come into the system with nothing;

• helping offices with paperwork and other tasks;

• hosting birthdays and other celebrations for the children;

• mentoring them,

• helping transport them,

• staying with them if they require treatment at a hospital while a foster parent is at work,;

• sponsoring a family by providing for needs their foster children have,

• reaching out to people interested in fostering

• and raising awareness of the crisis.

Hood was asked what happens to kids when they turn 18 and may not be prepared to live on their own.

She said there is a transitional program that teaches life skills to those ages 14 and up, but foster children are encouraged to stay in the state’s care until they turn 21.

If they do, their college tuition is paid, they receive help with finding an apartment, and they are helped with their job search if they choose not to seek higher education, Hood explained.

A club member asked how long most children are in the system. Hood said the goal is to reunite them with their parents, but that court process typically takes a year or more.

Once a court case is settled, the child is returned or parental rights are terminated. If the latter occurs, that child can be adopted, she explained.

Another attendee asked what happens to kids who aren’t placed in foster homes. Hood said they live in group homes or emergency shelters in or outside their communities. “But children do best with families,” the specialist emphasized.

She said families can volunteer to temporarily foster children, i.e. on weekends only.

Hood said the state tries to place kids with family members, family friends, teachers or others who know them before placing them in an unfamiliar home. Workers also try to keep the children in their own communities, she said.

Hood began her presentation by saying Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a summit in August to address prison overcrowding and the foster-care crisis.

But she said she was disappointed in the turnout for the foster care discussion, especially because the prison reform talks drew a standing-room-only crowd.

“These children need a first chance,” Hood said.

TOP STORY >> Tourism staff visits Cabot

Leader staff writer

Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s Welcome Center managers made a stop in Cabot on Wednesday to learn about and help promote the city as part of their bus tour of the central Arkansas region.

Welcome Center managers take a spring and a fall tour visiting four of 12 regions each year. Arkansas has 14 Welcome Centers in the state.

Cabot Days Inn and Suites owner Jay Lallu is on the Cabot Advertising and Promotions Commission. He is also a volunteer board member of the Heart of Arkansas Travel Association that promotes tourism of Central Arkansas.

The Cabot A and P Commission is a sponsor of the Heart of Arkansas Travel Association, which chose Cabot as a tour stop. The Heart of Arkansas Travel Association works with the state’s tourism department.

According to Lallu, the 2 percent hotel tax helps support the state’s parks and tourism departments.

“You don’t get this opportunity often to showcase Cabot. You will see results of the tour within a month,” Lallu said.

“Welcome Centers are a great resource. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They get so many travelers who take restroom and Internet breaks. They are beautifully designed with free Wi-Fi service, walking trails, nice restroom facilities and brochure racks. People get maps and ideas to plan where they want to tour,” Lallu explained.

“At Welcome Centers, people from out of state ask managers so many questions; where to go, where to stay, where to eat and what to do. Welcome Centers make recommendations,” Lallu continued.

Lallu said, at Days Inn, they get people who are visiting or being transferred to Little Rock Air Force Base. They get people who stay for weddings and funerals and for school district tournaments and sports tournaments held at city ballparks.

Welcome Center managers went on a tour of Cabot guided by School Superintendent Tony Thurman, Cabot Parks and Recreation director John Crow and Cabot Chamber of Commerce director Amy Williams.

The group made passed by the Cabot High School and Freshman Academy campuses, the Cabot Public Library, Veterans Park Community Center, the Sports and Aquatic Center under construction and Holland Bottom farms.

They were told about CabotFest, the Christmas in Cabot celebration, the Fourth of July celebration and the Strawberry Festival.

The Lonoke County Regional Park, Cabot BMX track, Allman/Bevis Sports Complex and Cabot High School’s Museum of American History were also promoted. Mentioned, too, were Greystone and Rolling Hills golf courses, Allfam Bowling Center and Mean Pig BBQ for being featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.”

A list of Cabot restaurants and businesses was requested by the Texarkana Welcome Center managers.

Blytheville Welcome Center assistant manager Danece Burge said after the tour, “I didn’t realize how much Cabot has grown. I wish more people would take care of their city. Blytheville stays stagnate and doesn’t want to improve the town so much.”

“The schools are amazing. It looks like a college campus. I’m impressed with the water park. The sports complex is going to be awesome,” Blytheville Welcome Center assistant manager Charlotte McFarland added.

“I think we put information in the hands of people across the state that can help to promote our city,” Williams said.

According to data collected by the state’s Department of Parks and Tourism, visitors in 2014 spent $37.2 million in Lonoke County. Tourism supported the employment of 317 people and a payroll of $6.2 million.

Tourism in Lonoke County generated $2.2 million in state taxes and $641,507 in local taxes.

TOP STORY >> Officials don’t want cuts for county roads

Leader senior staff writer

A current proposal to raise state Highway Department revenues at the expense of cities, counties and the state general fund has rankled county judges and their association.

Arkansas Good Roads Foundation director Craig Douglass has sent the Governor’s Task Force on Highway Funding — of which he is a member — a proposal that would eventually raise about $194 million a year for highways through a series of measures that, if fully implemented, would diminish general state revenues by $427 million a years and cut state aid for county roads.

Included in the plan is a $198 million a year tax cut for corporations proposed by state Rep. Andy Davis (R-West Little Rock). The tax cut provides no additional revenue for highways — it’s just money out of the state’s general fund, which funds state departments and operations.

Douglass said Davis’ tax cut isn’t really part of his recommendations, but, in fact, it’s number four of the 12 steps listed on his Sept. 15 proposal.


Among the more controversial recommendations, besides the tax cut for corporations, are ones that would transfer thousands of miles of existing roads to the cities and counties for maintenance, while reducing the amount of state turnback tax money those entities currently depend on for road maintenance.

That means the already cash-strapped counties would have the responsibility to patch, repair, overlay, maintain, maintain signs, mow rights of way and clean ditchesand culverts on roads the state would be abandoning.

In Arkansas, county judges are over county roads and bridges.

“There will be 75 counties opposing that,” said Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin. That’s out of 75 counties.

“It would create an extreme burden on the county to pick up additional roads to maintain and keep up to standards,” Erwin said. “We currently have 850 miles of paved road and 250 miles of gravel.”

That’s at least 1,750 miles of ditches to mow and clean.

Lonoke County’s current road and bridge budget is about $5 million a year.


“We have an infrastructure crises in this country,” said Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde. “There’s not enough funding for national, state, county and city bridges and roads. I have concern that some folk may have thought that because of the crises on the state level that we should increase crises to cities and counties. That’s just bad logic.”

The Pulaski County road and bridge budget is $15 million, and it’s already not enough, he said.

The county is looking at rebuilding six bridges that the state has found to be out of compliance.

“They want to reduce city and county turnback,” said Hyde, “sacrifice cities and counties for benefits of state.”

Pulaski County has to maintain 800 miles of county-owned road.

Hyde said he’d heard they might want to make county roads of state Hwy. 10, state Hwy. 70, JFK Boulevard/state Hwy. 107 and state Hwy. 367.

Chris Villines, Association of Arkansas Counties executive director, said, “We can barely handle the 70,000 miles we currently have.

“Do we migrate funding to only those major highways that carry a great load of out-of-state travelers and commercial haulers, and in doing so forsake the roads that carry our children in school buses and crops to market?” Villines asked.


Among the recommendations from the Good Roads group is:

• Increase fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon, phased out over perhaps seven years.

• Transfer sales tax from new and used vehicle sales from general revenue to highway funds over seven years.

• Increase registration and user fees for electric, natural gas and hybrid vehicles, characterized as a fairness measure.

• Transfer of about $4 million a year in diesel taxes from general to the highway fund.

• Transfer 15 percent of fuel tax revenues from the road and bridge departments of cities and counties to city and county aid funds, administered by the state and monitored by state Bureau of Legislative Audit.

• Give corporations and individuals a $198 million a year tax break, at the expense of state government and state services.

Highway Department officials say they need an additional $110 million a year just to pay the state’s required match on anticipated funds from the federal Highway Trust Fund, according to Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie. And, because the cities and counties get a total of 30 percent of state highway revenues, it would take about $143 million for the state to net that.


“The Highway Department needs about $1.6 billion a year if it were to do everything it has promised,” McKenzie said.

Good Roads Foundation, the Asphalt Pavers Association and the Truckers Association — aka the road gang — all have a seat at the table on the governor’s task force, and each is expected to make its own recommendations to the task force.

McKenzie, who was on Gov. Beebe’s Blue Ribbon Highway Funding Commission a few years ago, said he suspects the working group will forward all recommendations to the governor, and he would pick and choose a la carte.

Meanwhile, a fairly flat highway bill is stuck in Congress with little hope of passage before the existing bill — a continuing resolution — expires at the end of October.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Hog fans should temper expectations

Leader sportswriter

For the second week in a row, the Arkansas Razorbacks disappointed on the gridiron, but considering the team lost to Toledo in the first of these two disappointing weeks, Saturday’s 35-24 loss to old Southwest Conference rival Texas Tech didn’t come as a surprise.

The bulk of Arkansas’ problems Saturday didn’t come on offense, as the team totaled 424 yards and was pretty well balanced (228 rushing, 196 passing). The obvious problem was on defense, where the Hogs surrendered 486 yards of offense.

The only time the Red Raiders (3-0) punted Saturday was during pre-game warm-ups, because the Razorback defense didn’t have an answer for slowing down TT’s fast-pace, quick-pass offense.

Leading up to the game, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury compared his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, to 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel because of his dual-threat capabilities.

Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator for A&M the year the current Cleveland Browns quarterback won the Heisman. Mahomes is no Johnny Football, but the Hogs’ defense made the comparison look credible on Saturday.

Mahomes completed 26 of 30 passes (86.7 percent) against the Razorbacks for 243 yards with one touchdown. He did throw two interceptions, but one of those was practically a punt at the end of the first half.

Mahomes also ran for 58 yards and two TDs on 10 carries. A couple of those runs came on critical third-and-long situations, which helped the Red Raiders finish the game 7 of 10 on third-down conversions.

Arkansas’ offense had the right game plan going in, which was to control the ball and clock and keep the Red Raiders’ up-tempo offense on the sideline. That strategy doesn’t work, though, if your defense can’t keep the opposing team’s offense out of the end zone.

For Arkansas’ offense, the play up front was an improvement from last week, where the vaunted biggest offensive line in all of football got their tails handed to them by Toledo.

Big doesn’t necessarily mean good, though, and although the O-line showed improvement Saturday, improvement was to be expected against Texas Tech’s less than stellar defense – where throughout the Big 12, at least in this day and age, football scores look more like basketball scores.

In last year’s win against the Red Raiders, the Razorbacks’ ground game absolutely pummeled and demoralized the Texas Tech defense. In that game, the Hogs rushed for 438 yards and seven touchdowns en route to a 21-point win, and a good chunk of those yards came when Texas Tech’s defense knew what was coming. They just couldn’t stop it.

Because of last year’s struggles stopping the run, Kingsbury made it an offseason priority to recruit bigger and stronger players to add to his defensive front, and although the Red Raider defense has improved from last year, especially in that area, it’s still one of the weakest defenses Arkansas will face this year.

Junior running back Alex Collins bounced back from last week’s not-so-impressive effort with 170 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries. He didn’t finish the game on a high note as he got the ball stripped from him by a 175-pound redshirt freshman safety on Arkansas’ final offensive possession. But other than that, he looked a lot better running the ball compared to last week.

Senior quarterback Brandon Allen, who’s (often unfairly) been the most criticized Razorback since he earned the starting job three years ago, completed 76 percent of his passes for 196 yards and two scores with one pick Saturday.

The one interception came when he was trying to throw it out of bounds, but was rolling left on the play and the right-handed QB couldn’t get enough juice on the throw to get it out of play.

Allen, as usual, did miss some throws, one of which came while under pressure in the second half to a wide-open Jeremy Sprinkle near the goal line on third down. But, at this point in his Razorback career, it’s become clear that you can’t expect Allen to make every single throw, and that includes the clutch ones.

The senior QB would’ve had a third TD toss had it not been for a questionable offensive pass interference call on tight end Hunter Henry midway through the fourth quarter that would’ve brought the Hogs within 35-30 of Tech’s lead.

A good portion of the Arkansas fanbase will likely continue to put the blame for the Razorbacks’ early-season struggles on the senior QB, when in reality he’s far from the main or only problem with the team.

The defense couldn’t tackle in space and was awful Saturday. Then again, it looked like a defense that was without three NFL caliber players on a team that finished the 2014 regular season 6-6 with just two SEC wins.

Although the offensive pass interference call on Henry was questionable, the Hogs continued to pick up costly penalties Saturday, totaling five for 43 yards. At least those numbers were nearly cut in half from last week’s nine penalties against Toledo. So, there was improvement there.

The redshirt freshman kicker, Cole Hedlund, has yet to live up to the expectations that surrounded the former high school All-American.

In the last two weeks, he’s missed two field goals that someone of that caliber and hype should probably make, including a 37-yarder in the fourth quarter that would’ve brought Arkansas within 35-27 of Tech’s lead.

Another obvious problem for Arkansas is injuries. Looking at the sideline Saturday, it looked as if the Razorbacks were playing in late November with the several players that were sporting crutches, including last year’s leading rusher.

Already down two receivers, Arkansas lost yet another wideout Saturday when Jared Cornelius broke his forearm while landing awkwardly on the sideline after a 34-yard reception.

Now down three receivers for an extended period of time, one of which is the team’s best in Keon Hatcher, on a receiving corps that wasn’t very good to begin with, will surely lead to struggles in the passing game when the team gets into its SEC schedule, which starts this Saturday against No. 14 Texas A&M (3-0).

The players don’t deserve all the criticism, though. The team flat out didn’t look ready to play last week’s lone Little Rock game against Toledo, and there was no answer for stopping Tech’s offense on Saturday.

The lack of preparation and inability to adjust accordingly falls on the coaching staff, and it starts with the head coach, who’s paid millions of dollars a year to have this team as best prepared as possible to play each and every game, and that ultimately hasn’t been the case these last two weeks.

It also doesn’t help matters when your head coach fails to back up his words. On the week of the Little Rock debacle, head coach Bret Bielema was openly critical of top-ranked Ohio State’s strength of schedule (or lack thereof).

Bielema was right in the fact that Ohio State’s schedule is, on paper at least, a lot weaker than the SEC gauntlet the Razorbacks will have to go through, but what immediately followed that criticism was the loss to Toledo of the Mid-American Conference.

Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, known for his colorful interviews, was asked at a weekly press conference early last week if he wished the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots played in a different division than his team.

“Yeah, probably,” said Ryan. “Play somebody else. Not gonna mention names. I’m not gonna pull an Arkansas coach.”

Bielema was once again forced to put his foot in his mouth after the Texas Tech game, for comments he allegedly made during the summer at the Texas high school football coaches’ convention.

Kingsbury, the son of a Texas high school football coach, clearly took offense to the head Hog’s supposed comments and wasn’t shy about his dislike for Bielema during Saturday’s post-game press conference.

“At the Texas high school football convention this summer, he said, ‘If you don’t play with a fullback, we’ll kick your ass. If you throw it 70 times a game, we’ll kick your ass.’ He just got his ass kicked twice in a row, and probably next week by (Texas) A&M as well. So, that did feel good,” said Kingsbury.

It’s one thing to be outspoken and talk a little trash, but when you don’t back it up, especially against teams from the MAC, expect to be mocked and ridiculed for it.

Considering the Razorbacks enter SEC play this week with a 1-2 record and have already been bitten hard by the injury bug, rather than expecting a season like last year’s, Hog fans should expect a season more similar to 2013, where the team finished that season winless in SEC play for the first time.

As far as fans go, it’s OK to be critical, but the Arkansas faithful should continue to support the team. Win or lose, that’s what real fans do, and this year’s team needs all the help it can get.

At the same time, the Razorback fanbase, if it hasn’t by now, should seriously temper its expectations for this season. Be supportive of the team and hope for the best, but don’t expect much success the rest of the year.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers fighting through injuries

Leader sports editor

Beebe hosts McClellan in another important matchup. This game could be described as being a matchup of two teams going in opposite directions. McClellan has been impressive this year in blowing out Sheridan, battling hard with Bryant in a tough loss, and defeating Lonoke last week, a team that beat Beebe the week before.

Beebe isn’t slipping because of internal problems or subpar performances, but the injury bug has hit the Badgers hard. Two publications had the Badgers ranked third to start the season after surging at the end of last year and coming a touchdown short of making the state championship game.

All those high expectations looked correct after Beebe blew past Greenbrier in week one, but disaster struck at Lonoke when starting halfback Jo’Vaughn Wyrick was lost for the season with a broken leg.

Since then, the Badgers have temporarily lost defensive lineman Reece Anders, who should be back this week, offensive lineman Sam Henry, who is still questionable for Friday, and quarterback Justin Burlison, who won’t start Friday, but could play after sitting out last week against Vilonia.

“We felt like we had a chance to be really good if we could stay away from those injuries,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “Unfortunately we’ve had a bunch of them. Of course, Jo’Vaughn is out for the season and that’s a big one. But we might have everybody else back this week.”

Beebe struggled mightily on offense in the first half of last week’s loss to Vilonia. The Badgers outscored the Eagles in the second half, and Shannon hopes that’s a sign that his team is beginning to overcome the setbacks caused by the injuries.

“The second half against Lonoke and the first half against Vilonia, we kind of looked like the walking dead out there,” Shannon said. “We didn’t have Justin last week and we had to cut back our playbook quite a bit. But we started doing some things in that second half.

“It looks like that might’ve been the point where we finally stopped feeling sorry for ourselves over losing Jo’Vaughn and started moving forward.”

Sophomore Mason Walker started at quarterback last week and will start again on Friday. Shannon was excited about Walker’s athleticism in the preseason, though at the time he was projected to play mainly defense.

He doesn’t know the entire offense as well as Burlison, but he could present a more serious option threat for Beebe opponents than Burlison does.

“Like I said, we cut way back on the playbook for him last week trying to make things a little easier,” Shannon said. “We tried the option once and he did a good job, but the halfback screwed it up. He’s looked good running it in practice. Mason’s a good athlete so that might be something we’re able to do with him out there.”

McClellan beat Beebe in overtime last year in week four, but had to forfeit that game and its win over J.A. Fair.

The Lions were on pace to get at least a three seed until the forfeits, and instead, found itself needing to beat Jacksonville in the final game of the regular season just to make the playoffs. They lost that game 16-7, and have been on a mission this season under third-year coach Maurice Moody.

“We’re getting better every single week,” Moody said of his Crimson Lions. “I thought we played well against Sheridan and played hard against Bryant. We just had some mistakes that cost us that game against a tough 7A team. We knew we’d have to play well to beat Lonoke.

“They were No. 4 in the state. We gave up two doggone long plays, but other than that, we kept them in check defensively. We just have to keep doing what we do. I’m so proud of the kids. They’ve worked hard, gotten stronger in the weight room. We didn’t like the way it ended last year, and we’re working hard to change that. It starts this next game. We’re going to take it game by game, and play by play.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Falcons roll through Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski volleyball team successfully conquered its second big rival of the week last Thursday when it defeated Jacksonville 3-0 at the Falcons’ Nest. Thursday’s win followed a 3-1 victory over Sylvan Hills on Tuesday, and put the Lady Falcons in position to play for a share of the lead in the 5A-Central Conference tomorrow.

“First time through the conference is almost finished,” said North Pulaski coach Ben Belton. “We’re 5-1 going into Beebe, and I don’t think that’s ever been done here. We’re not supposed to beat Beebe, but we’re going to give it everything we got.”

Jacksonville continues to show improvement despite failing to beat any of the league’s top tier teams. Scores in Thursday’s match showed how competitive the Lady Red Devils have become. The Lady Falcons won each game by scores of 25-17, 25-21 and 25-20.

Game one was nip and tuck until North Pulaski’s ? Brown took serve with her team leading 6-4. Brown served back-to-back aces before teammate Kelsie McQueen got a back row kill, forcing Jacksonville coach Whitney Abdullah to call a timeout. After the break, Brown served another ace. Brown kept serving all the way to 13-4 before finally serving long.

“She’s one of the two I’ve got who can put a serve wherever I tell her to put it,” Belton said of Brown.

Jacksonville stayed within two of North Pulaski for most of the second game. The score was 16-14 when Kayla Reardon scored two points on serve for NP, and the two teams traded side outs the rest of the way.

Jacksonville led 15-13 in game three before Brown’s service game gave control back to the Lady Falcons. She took serve at 15-13, and served six-consecutive points, including four more aces to put NP up 19-16. She again served long on a sky serve to make it 19-17.

The two teams traded service breaks the rest of the way. Jacksonville’s final point came on a huge kill by Rebecca Brown that made it 22-20. But North Pulaski’s Payton Mullen got the matches’ final two kills after a service break to seal the victory for NP.

North Pulaski (5-4, 5-1) plays at Beebe on Thursday. The Lady Badgers are currently leading the 5A-Central race at 6-0.

Pulaski Academy lost to Beebe and sits at 5-1, while North Pulaski’s lone league loss so far was to PA. An NP win in Thursday would create a three-way tie atop the league standings heading into the second round robin of conference matches.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers concerned about winless Charging Wildcats

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers open 7A/6A-East Conference play with a visit to the brand new Charging Wildcat Stadium on Friday. On paper, the game seems to have lost some of the luster its had in recent years, when these two teams were among the elite in the state.

This week’s matchup features 3-0 Cabot visiting 0-3 North Little Rock. The Wildcats have a new coach in Jamie Mitchell, who is installing a power run game to replace the spread attack run by previous coach Brad Bolding.

Mitchell also stepped into a circus that was surrounding the ousting of Bolding, who appealed his firing after the NLRHS administration self reported violations by Bolding to the Arkansas High School Activities Association.

To make things worse for the first-year coach, three Division I college prospects were all lost to season-ending injuries before the first game.

None of that means Cabot is taking the Wildcats lightly. Panther coach Mike Malham still sees a very athletic team that might be on the verge of putting things together under Mitchell’s new system.

“That’s probably the best 0-3 team in the entire state,” said Malham. “They’ve got size and speed and those are the two main things you need. They lost three DI’s before they ever got started and that’ll hurt anybody. But they’ve got a lot of good athletes out there. Whenever they get it going they’re going to be a pretty good team. We just hope it’s not against us.”

Cabot and North Little Rock share one opponent, and that indicates an evenly matched game. Both teams went into overtime with Catholic High. The Rockets prevailed 32-25 over NLR while Cabot won its game 40-33.

Cabot beat Conway 34-18 and hapless J.A. Fair 42-6. The Wildcats lost 53-14 to 7A favorite Fayetteville in week two and 41-17 to 6A favorite Pine Bluff last Friday.

“We’ve got one common opponent and that was pretty even,” Malham said. “Other than that, they’ve faced a lot better opposition than we have. So we’re in no position to think this will be an easy game.”

Cabot remains unbeaten despite a propensity for penalties and putting the ball on the ground. Those two things usually lead to certain defeat, especially in a ball-control offense like Cabot’s.

The Panthers fumbled four times in each of its first two games, and even lost a fumble inside the Eagle 10-yard line last week.

Those are things Malham says North Little Rock could exploit if given the opportunity.

“We just haven’t taken good care of the football,” Malham said. “We got some procedure penalties last week, and against good teams we can’t have that. You get that penalty on first down, even if you get five yards, that leaves with second and 10, and that kills us. We still have a ways to go to play our best, or what I think our best could be.”

Most of the fumbles have been by junior quarterback Jarrod Barnes, who never stops trying to make a positive play until the whistle blows, even when the play appears to be stopped by the defense.

“Sometimes you have to just take the loss (of yardage),” said Malham. “Then other times he does something crazy and it works out and you get a big play from it. You got an athlete like that, sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.”

Cabot has been fortunate so far this season with injuries. Only a few minor bumps and bruises have occurred, and everyone who started the season should be ready to go on Friday.

EDITORIAL >> Sore spots for JNPSD

It’s inevitable, this divergence of interests among groups in the new school district.

Essentially everyone in the Jacksonville-North Pulaski County area was in favor of a stand-alone school district when it was a simple, binary proposition.

Resolved: We support a Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District — Yes or No.

In the face of decades of neglect, 95 percent voted yes.

When you didn’t have to figure out a budget, a salary schedule or what programs the district could afford — when you could assume JNP could keep everything that worked at PCSSD and jettison that which didn’t — it was all good.

Patrons didn’t know that the top teacher pay would be only about 78 percent of the top pay at PCSSD, that Jacksonville-area teachers couldn’t use seniority to take the better paying jobs at PCSSD, or that 80 students currently enrolled in PCSSD’s Scholars Program would have to leave the program and come home to JNP schools beginning next year.

Here’s the rub — the inevitable part: There’s not enough money in this new, 4,000-student district to do everything.

Until the board knows more about its funding and passes a healthy property tax millage increase, the district must budget conservatively and its patrons will not get everything they may have expected.

The devil is in the details, and, in some cases, the interests of some are pitted against the interests of others.

Two cases in point:

Currently, 80 students living in the JNP boundaries are bused every school day to College Station Elementary, Fuller Middle and Mills High schools, where they participate in the Scholars Program. That innovative program is said to be more rigorous than simple Advanced Placement classes. JNP Superintendent Tony Wood is disinclined to send them back beginning next year, costing the district about $520,000 a year in state minimum foundation aid — money that would instead follow the students to PCSSD.

“We have not been satisfied with curriculum offerings for our students at Jacksonville,” said JNP School Board President Daniel Gray. “PCSSD channeled all the best in the district to one school, far from our home schools. They have recruited our kids. We want kids of this caliber, and we’ll increase offerings.”

Students living within the boundaries of the JNP School District will go the JNP schools, according to Wood.

At the same time, at least for the first year, JNP can’t afford to start a Scholars Program.

Some parents are upset and say they might move.

We think maybe there’s an opportunity for compromise, allowing students who would be seniors next year, for instance, to stay in the PCSSD Scholars Program to graduate with the special scholars designation on their diplomas and in their transcripts.

Just using averages, 10 students, and about $65,000, would be diverted from Jacksonville’s bottom line to PCSSD’s for the 2016-17 school year.

The new JNP teachers’ salary schedule is another area of concern. It offers a competitive beginning pay of $38,000, but, at the top end, it lops off as much as $15,000 a year for the most educated, most experienced teachers, compared to what they currently earn with PCSSD.

We think that needs to be addressed as attendance numbers and revenues increase.

We fear the district will lose many top-flight teachers from its schools before the beginning of the next school year.

These are the first of many areas in which we will find we’re not quite in nirvana.

We urge patience, compromise when possible and resounding community support for the inevitable property tax increase election.

The lion’s share of such an increase would be dedicated toward the $100 million or so needed to replace or repair ancient school buildings, a requirement for PCSSD and JNP to achieve unitary status and be released from federal court desegregation oversight.

The JNP board and interested parties met Monday night in a work session to begin determining what schools to build and replace, to submit on the state Facilities Long Range Masterplan by Feb. 1 and what to actually apply for by the March 1 deadline.

A lot has been accomplished in a short period of time and much remains. Running and refining a school district is a never-ending proposition.

The Jacksonville area has always been generous and supportive when it comes to providing for its young folks, and we expect that to continue.

TOP STORY >> Church celebrating 165 years

Leader staff writer

“There’s a love in this church, a love and a caring between people,” Carolyn Gray says of First United Methodist Church of Jacksonville — the city’s oldest congregation, which celebrated its vibrant history with a recent homecoming and revivals.

Several the church’s longtime members shared their memories with The Leader last week, following the festivities. They also provided an account of its past that was written by church historian Walt Jones in 2004.

While many things have changed since JFUMC was established in 1850 — the location, buildings, services and programs — that sense of community has stayed, according Gray.

Also, the original 500-pound bell forged by the C.S. Bell Co. of Hillsboro, Ohio, and shipped by rail to Jacksonville is still around, behind the current chapel at 308 W. Main St.

Gray has been attending the church since age 5, but didn’t want to reveal a year. Gray joked that she didn’t want readers to know how old she is.

The others — Vera Gray, Colleen VanNostrand and Arleta Dupree — have been members since the 1950s.

The first church was a two-story log building in front of Bayou Meto Cemetery at the intersection of Hwy. 161 and Gregory Street. Russell G. Beall of Mississippi donated the land.

He bought the military bounty property that had been granted to John Ireland for service in the War of 1812 but which Ireland never settled on.

The building also housed the Masonic Lodge upstairs and school was held there on weekdays.

Carolyn Gray said she came to the church because her grandmother attended services in that very first building and her mother grew up with the congregation, as did she.

She recalled many fond childhood memories, like how one of the pastor’s wives would give her mayonnaise sandwiches, looking forward to vacation Bible school for the Kool-Aid and cookies it offered, earning stars for memorizing verses in Sunday school classes and being allowed to fidget beside one of the Wilson sisters during services.

Carolyn Gray said the sister who would make handkerchief dolls for her, “let me move some and lay down in her lap.”

The city developed about a mile south on the rail line while church was held in the Bayou Meto building. The lodge and school moved into town, and the congregation followed.

A new church was built on Main Street in 1876. Logs from its first meeting place were used for the flooring of the new facility.

The Gray family and J.P. Jones family donated land for the move.

The new 40-by-60-foot church faced south and had a steeple “reaching high and looking majestic.” But that had to be removed later because leaks caused it to lean.

A straight portico-style front with a belfry replaced the steeple.

There were two doors — one for women and one for men — two “amen corners” on either side of the pulpit and three rows. One was for men, another for women and the middle one was for youth.

The church was rebuilt in 1896 with one entrance, a vestibule opening to the east, belfry and side rooms for Sunday school classes.

Vera Gray recalled teaching Sunday school classes. She joined the church in 1950.

“Everybody was warm and friendly and reverent. You just felt at home. It meant so much to you. Your church was an important part of your life,” she said. “It seems like our church drew people to it...That was a blessing.”

Vera Gray remarked, “I can remember back in my kids,’ my children’s younger days, when we held Bible school and they’d climb up in the tree and I’d be out there (yelling) ‘get down out of that tree.’”

The building was remodeled at least five times between 1896 and 1957.

VanNostrand said she and her husband were the first to be married in a new chapel.

She told The Leader they shoveled sawdust on Friday night, borrowed chairs from Jacksonville High School and were wed Saturday night to piano music rather than organ tunes.

If the couple had wanted an organ, they would have been the last couple married in the old chapel, and VanNostrand said they wanted to be first instead.

The church has also had many leaders over the years.

Early pastors were students from Hendrix College or State Teachers College, which is now the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Since 1950, though, full-time seminary-trained men and women have preached there. About 50 pastors assigned by bishops have headed the congregation since 1878.

Vera Gray said of the preachers, “you got very close to them.”

Dupree added, “Each one of them has had some special talent.”

One thing is for certain, and that is the church has experienced explosive growth.

In 1942, there were 129 members and the property was valued at $3,000.

In 2003, there were more than 1,200 and the value had risen to $3.26 million.

In 1992, FUMC launched a major expansion of its Main Street campus. The $1.5 million project completed two years later included a 500-plus capacity sanctuary, Family Life Center, connecting the sanctuary and education building, demolishing a house the church owned to add parking and installing 24 stained-glass windows that had been donated.

The staff has also grown with the membership.

In the 1970s, four positions were added. Another 10 were added before 2003 — the year the major expansion was dedicated because that is when church debts were paid off.

In 2007, FUMC bought the old library building, which was renovated for $1 million and occupied by its staff two years later. The old church office then became the youth center.

That change made the most impact on Dupree because she was on the staff for 24 years.

“I was delighted when we (got the library building)...I knew we needed the space real bad,” she said.

Several ladies commented on how things used to be.

VanNostrand came to FUMC in the 1950s. Back then, she said, “There was not a lot to do. Now you have to spread yourself so thin. That’s why the church has become less important in people’s lives, maybe. They just don’t have the time because they’re involved in so many other things.”

Dupree said, “There’s been some times I haven’t been real happy, but this is my family...I go to church, and I see the young people with little children. I remember those young people when they were little children. And it’s so wonderful to see them in church bringing their children. That’s a highlight to me.”

The article written by the church historian in 2004 states that there were three worship services every Sunday (which are still being held today), compared to one when the church was founded; 19 Sunday school classes (there were just two or three at first), three choirs for adults, children and youth; a handbell choir, two youth fellowship groups, four women’s circles and one men’s group.

The church hosts several other programs and also provides space to community groups, like quilters and Boy Scouts.

All four women who spoke to The Leader agreed that, while the congregation has lost some of its closeness by growing so large and LRAFB bringing short-term members, more people have been touched by God’s word through it and that the church can do more for the community as well as be directly involved in worldwide mission work.

TOP STORY >> District planning new high school opening in 2019

Leader senior staff writer

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District’s new high school should open for the 2019-20 school year. The question is where.

A new elementary school, replacing Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools, should be ready for business at the same time, and district officials know where that school will be — on Little Rock Air Force Base.

In fact, the Defense Department will probably pay half of the estimated $17 million to build the new elementary school, with the district and the state partnership program each paying about $4.25 million.

That’s what WER Architects and JNP facilities consultant Charles Stein told new and old JNP school board members and a few members of the public Monday night at the Jacksonville Police Department’s FEMA Training Center.


In what Superintendent Tony Wood described as “a dress rehearsal” for the Oct. 5 school board meeting, WER Architects roughed out the advantages and disadvantages of three sites for the high school.

Site preparation for 55 acres of a 91-acre undeveloped campus the district could get or lease cheap from the Defense Department would cost an estimated $14.2 million, while site preparation — including demolition of existing schools — would cost about $8.2 million at the existing Jacksonville High School or $7.2 million at the existing middle school site, according to Eldon Bock, a principal architect at WER.

Based on historical attendance figures at the Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools, which will roll into one school next year, WER would plan and Baldwin & Shell would build a school for 1,699 students, with contingencies to expand to 2,000 students.


The original build would be 280,695 square feet, according to state standards. At $200 a square foot, that building would cost roughly $56 million, plus the already-mentioned cost of site preparation. If the wealth index were determined to be 55, the district would pay $30.9 million or more. The state’s share of costs on the facilities partnership program is based on an area’s wealth index. The JNPSD wealth index will be calculated for the first time about January 2017.

Meanwhile, it’s estimated the district’s wealth index is about 55, meaning that for all state-approved academic-use facilities, the district would pay $550,000 of every $1 million, with the state paying $450,000.

As to whether to renovate or replace the high school, the national standard is to replace if the cost of renovating is 65 percent the cost of replacing, according Stein.

According to a July visit by the state, it would cost 75 percent as much to renovate as to rebuild.


Telling the board members that time was of the essence, Wood outlined the things that need to be done by or at the Nov. 2 board meeting.

By that date, the board needs to formulate and approve a six-year state master facilities plan, determine how much the plan will likely cost and the property tax millage increase needed to finance construction and renovation. The board must also set a date for that millage-increase election.

“Either we make this happen or we lose two years,” said Wood.


Next February is the ideal time for a millage-increase election, according to Stein.

The deadline to submit a master plan is Feb. 1 and a partnership funding application is due March 1. Stein said the state would notify the district May 1, 2017, of what it would fund.

State guidelines suggest a high school this size should be on 52 Acres. The air base site would be 55 acres; the current high school site would be 40 acres, and the old Jacksonville Middle School is 35 acres, according to architects.

If the board decided to build on the air base site, the district could sell either the old high school, the old middle school, or both.

Developers have been particularly interested in the old middle school on Main Street for a retail and restaurant mall, said Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher. That would be helpful to the city, which gets 65 percent of its revenues from local sales taxes.


Tentatively, the JNPSD Partnership Program Projects include:

2017-2019, year one —

 Replace Jacksonville High School

 Combine Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools.

 Convert North Pulaski High building to a middle school.

2017-2019, year two —

 Replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools

 Combine students into one new elementary school.

2019-2021 —

n Elementary school additions/renovations.


Newly elected school board members — the elections have not been certified yet, nor new members sworn — Jim Moore, Marcia Dornblaser and Dena Toney attended the meeting.

Current members are Board President Daniel Gray, Vice President Ron McDaniel, Secretary Carol Miles — all of whom were reelected — Richard Moss and Robert Price, who won’t be on the new board.

In addition to Bock, WER architects Russell Fason and Ngozi “Nome” Brown presented.

Baldwin & Shell was represented by Central Arkansas President Bobby Gosser and Central Arkansas Vice President Tony Curtis.

Aaron Robinson represented Bond Engineering, and Col. William Brooks was there for Little Rock Air Force Base.

In addition to Wood, Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh and Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart represented the district, as did attorney Scott Richardson.