Friday, December 04, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Alleged killer squandered unique talent

Leader sports editor

News of the arrest of Jeffrey Leroy Clifton for the murder of his 2-year-old son Malik Drummond has spread around the state and nation since Wednesday. What hasn’t seemed to come to light is that Jeff Clifton was once a household name among Arkansas sports fans, and a bigger-than-life character for high school rivals in the late 80s and early 90s.

He’s an inductee of the Arkansas State University Lettermen’s Club Hall of Honor – i.e. the ASU sports Hall of Fame – and was one of, if not the, best basketball player that school has ever had.

Clifton was a 6-foot-8 phenom for Searcy High School in the late 80s and early 90s who originally signed with Middle Tennessee State. He transferred to Arkansas State and played for the Indians in the 1992-93, and 94-95 seasons.

I was a sophomore at Beebe when Clifton was a Searcy Lion senior, and memories of his dominance on the basketball court are vivid.

The Badgers started hot at SHS in December of 1989. Beebe went into the locker room at halftime ahead and believing an upset was in the making. But the larger, taller and more talented Lions prevailed by about 20 points when they found that the key to breaking the Beebe press was just letting the big man take the inbounds pass and do it himself.

Clifton averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds his two years in Jonesboro and was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year for the 93-94 season. Though he only played two years for ASU, he finished his career fourth all-time in scoring, fourth in rebounding and sixth in blocked shots with 72.

He played professionally briefly in the now defunct United States Basketball League, as well as in Spain.

He is one of only a handful of players in NCAA history to record 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game multiple times.

Clifton wasn’t heavily recruited by the Razorbacks because of academic issues, but he became a household name in Arkansas when he recorded 43 points and 25 rebounds in a high-profile matchup with UALR on Jan. 29, 1994. It was a game between two teams in a hot race for the SBC championship.

UALR had also made national news that week when the Derek Fisher led Trojans had refused to practice the day before the game, and had told then athletic director Mike Hamrick they would boycott the ASU game if coach Jim Platt were not immediately fired.

Platt was not fired and the team played anyway, but had no answer for the behemoth night had by Clifton.

Who could know at the time that all those accomplishments were by someone allegedly capable of such brutality on such a helpless, adorable and defenseless little victim – a victim for who Clifton was supposed to have been the main protector?

Since that night in late 1989 at Searcy High School, there’s been a respectful admiration for Clifton, at least for his God-given athletic talent. That lasted until Wednesday – when the sharp reminder came that talent means far less than character.

Lots of people are talented. Some people are fortunate enough to have the right talent at the right time in history to create opportunities others might not get.

Clifton’s talent afforded him those opportunities. He was bigger than MTSU or ASU coming out of high school, but he squandered the opportunity to play on the big stage by not making his grades. He squandered five years of college by not getting a degree.

Who knows why he didn’t make it professionally as an athlete. Maybe he just wasn’t quite talented enough. Most likely, though, his pattern of selfish and self-destructive behavior cost him a pro career.

Last Nov. 20, his selfishness reached deplorable heights as his destructiveness overflowed into the lives of a beautiful child and all who loved him. The ledger at the ASU Hall of Honor should be scrubbed clean of Clifton’s name, and then hopefully, someday, his memory.

Sports are supposed to teach character, and athletic institutions should not honor people who have none, no matter how talented.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers win big at swim meet

Leader sports editor

The Cabot boys’ and girls’ swim teams each won their second meet of the season Thursday, beating out seven other schools to win the Cabot Classic at Veterans’ Memorial Park in Cabot.

The Lady Panthers won by more than 300 points, scoring 683 to second-place Jonesboro’s 366. Pocahontas, a first-year team, finished third with 287 points.

Cabot swim coach Brian Bowen is losing a few seniors from this year’s team that have been major contributors for several years, but swimming participation is growing in Cabot and the future still looks bright.

“Payton Jones, Jessie Baldwin and Caytee Wright are graduating this year and that’s going to hurt us,” said Bowen. “But when I look at this freshmen group, and then the freshmen that will be coming in next year, I think Cabot is looking at several years of being a really strong team.”

The team is the largest it’s ever been this year at 38 swimmers and the sport has been given a seventh-period class time that Bowen says aids the team a lot, but also may limit the squad to 38 in the future.

“It’s a class now and you’re limited on the number of kids you can have in a class,” Bowen said. “I don’t really know how that’s going to work yet. I don’t know if we can have kids compete that aren’t actually in the class or exactly how all that’s going to work out. The top teams all have about 40 to 50 swimmers, so we’ll be right there with a competitive number. The main thing that’s going to help us is that we have some divers coming in.”

Swimming and diving all count towards one meet total, and Cabot’s lack of divers has been a detriment in state and conference meets. The pool the team competes in is only five feet deep and has no board. Bowen and coach Victoria Wadley are working on a way to get divers to UALR to practice once a week. And when the new aquatic center being built on 321 spur is finished, divers will have a place to practice throughout the summer.

“That new aquatic center is going to have a one-meter board, which is what high schools compete on,” Bowen said. “So by next year, we could have kids that have been practicing daily for three months when school starts. Then we can find a way to get them to UALR once a week just to stay brushed up. That will be a big help. Just having divers is a big thing, even if it’s just simple dives because those points are so valuable.”

In Thursday’s meet, Searcy’s Rachel McGuirt was the only swimmer preventing a Lady Panther sweep of every individual race. McGuirt won the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races. Cabot swimmers won the other six.

Wright won the 50- and 100-yard freestyle sprints. Senior Jessie Baldwin won the 100- and 200-yard butterfly and backstroke events, and junior Melanie Abbott won the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard individual medley.

Cabot also won all three relay races.

The Cabot boys won by nearly 300 points. The Panthers scored 549 to second-place Pocahontas’ 266. Jonesboro was third with 161. Individual results for the boys’ meet were not available on Friday, but look for those details in Wednesday’s Leader.

The Panthers’ next scheduled meet at Pocahontas on Dec. 10 was canceled, so a long layoff awaits Cabot swimmers. The team’s next meet will be Jan. 9 at UALR.

SPORTS STORY >> Devils fall to West Memphis

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville boys’ basketball team lost for the first time this season on Tuesday. The Red Devils gave the return match to West Memphis and lost 60-54 after leading most of the game. Jacksonville beat West Memphis 67-61 at JHS on Nov. 13, but couldn’t repeat the effort on the road.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner has said since the beginning of the season that wins and losses don’t matter much to him in these early games, instead focusing on gaining experience for a largely inexperienced team.

“This was a lot of those guys’ first time in a hostile environment like that on the road,” said Joyner. “We had that working against us. Kids just have to be in these situations to learn how to deal with it. It’s on the job training with most of these kids.”

Making matters even more difficult for the Red Devils on Tuesday was foul trouble. Junior guard Tyree Appleby, who has held or shared top-scoring honors in every game so far, did not play in the third quarter because of foul trouble, and fouled out midway through the fourth.

Senior LaQuawn Smith also played sparingly in the second half with foul trouble, but was able to finish the game on the court.

“We had to put a lot of young guys in there that had never dealt with that situation before,” Joyner said. “They couldn’t slow themselves down. They’re not used to the speed of the game at the varsity level yet. They know it’s faster than they’re used to, so they think they got to go fast all the time. It’s just a matter of experience.

“They were playing hard. They were trying their best, so I’m not going to fault anybody. They just have to keep being in these situations and they’ll get better.”

Jacksonville scored 17 points in each of the first two quarters. The Blue Devils trailed 34-28 at the half, but pulled to within one point in the third quarter, outscoring Jacksonville 14-9.

Red Devil junior Dejuan Ridgeway scored seven of the team’s nine points in the third. Senior post player Maurice Lambert scored the other two on a pair of free throws. Jacksonville (3-1) made just two shots from the field in the third as Appleby and Smith sat almost the entire quarter.

Shooting woes continued for Jacksonville in the fourth, many because of rushed, low percentage shot attempts. The Blue Devils, however, turned in their best scoring quarter of the game, posting 18 points and pulling away for the win.

West Memphis (3-2) also got a much more balanced scoring effort than in last month’s loss at JHS. In that game, Gary Ward was the only Blue Devil in double figures with 21 points.

On Tuesday, 10 Blue Devils scored. Demorius Hudson led the way with 13 points while Montavius Johnson scored 10. Ward and Dylan Gazo each scored eight for the home team.

Ridgeway was the only Red Devil in double figures with 18 points. Appleby scored eight while Lambert and post player Chris Williams scored seven apiece.

The Lady Red Devils (3-5) lost for the second time to West Memphis, falling 47-33 on Tuesday.

Jacksonville’s boys and girls hosted Vilonia last night and will host makeup games with Hot Springs on Monday. Look for details of those games in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> LHS girls breeze to finals at CSJHS

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits picked up their third win of the week Thursday night in the semifinals of the annual St. Joseph Classic, as they made easy work of Perryville, beating the Lady Mustangs 51-24 to advance to today’s championship game against England.

The Lonoke girls also got an easy win over Shirley in the first round of the tournament on Monday. They then traveled to Southside Batesville for a 4A-2 Conference game on Tuesday, where the Lady Rabbits escaped Independence County with a 55-52 overtime win over the Lady Southerners.

Thursday night’s tournament semifinal win over Perryville was a good one, but the conference win against Southside was the one that matters. That doesn’t mean the Lonoke girls are giving any less effort in the St. Joseph Classic.

“The most important win of the week was the overtime one at Southside,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “The other two were going to be practice, but now that we’re in the finals we want to win it.

“This week we’re getting four games in six days and we want to make the most of it.”

The overtime win Tuesday night was a thriller, but Thursday’s game wasn’t even close.

Lonoke (5-1, 1-1) scored the first five points of the game and led 12-4 before Perryville (2-3) ended the opening quarter by scoring four of the last six points, which cut Lonoke’s lead to 14-8 after one.

Lonoke scored the same number of points in the second quarter while holding the Lady Mustangs to six, which doubled Perryville’s point total by halftime, as Lonoke took a comfortable 28-14 lead into the break.

The third quarter was more balanced as far as scoring, but Lonoke edged Perryville 9-7 to take a 37-21 lead at the start of the fourth. The Lady Rabbits made just one field goal in the third quarter, but made seven free throws and forced turnovers and stops on defense.

Lonoke found its scoring groove again the fourth, making six field goals, and the Lady Rabbits quickly pushed their lead to 20-plus.

The Lady Rabbits first pushed their lead to 20-plus on a short baseline jumper by Keiunna Walker with 5:47 to play. That made the score 43-22. The lead grew to 47-22 on a Kennedy White putback after a missed three by Jarrelyn McCall just outside the three-minute mark.

Both teams pulled their starters shortly after, but Lonoke’s lead grew to 27 by game’s end, with Lonoke’s Tashalla Gomillion draining 3-pointer that hit nothing but the bottom of the net just before the buzzer sounded. It was set up by a Kaley Woodruff lane-penetrating dish to the perimeter.

Lonoke made 18 of 42 shot attempts Thursday for 43 percent. Perryville made 9 of 27 shots from the floor for 33 percent. Lonoke was 5 for 12 on 3-point attempts, while the Lady Mustangs made zero threes on three attempts. From the free-throw line, Lonoke made 10 of 17 attempts and Perryville went 6 for 13 from the stripe.

Lonoke committed 10 turnovers in Thursday’s game, but had zero in the fourth quarter when the starters were on the floor. Perryville committed 22 turnovers.

Walker led all scorers Thursday with 24 points. McCall added 13 points, Ashlyn Allen and Mickenzie Williams scored four each, Gomillion had three, White had two and Woodruff added one point.

Brooklyn Fuller led Perryville with eight points.

Walker again led the scoring Tuesday at Southside with 22 points. McCall had 13 and Williams scored 10.

Today’s championship game of the St. Joseph Classic between Lonoke and England will tip off at 5:20 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke survives Daredevils

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – Lonoke won its second game of the round-robin style St. Joseph Class on Thursday, but it didn’t come easy. The Jackrabbits entered the fourth quarter tied with recent Class 1A powerhouse Wonderview, but Lonoke took the lead for good 58 seconds into the final quarter, and ended up winning 53-48.

The game was tied 43-43 entering the final eight minutes of action. Lonoke struck first in the fourth quarter with a Haven Hunter 3-pointer from the corner with 7:02 to play. The Jackrabbits never lost the lead, but the Daredevils kept it close throughout the fourth quarter.

Before the final score was set, Lonoke led by five at 48-43 and 50-45. Both baskets that put the Jackrabbits up by that margin were scored by junior post player Kylan Branscomb.

After taking the 50-45 lead, Wonderview made it a two-point game on the following possession with a 3-pointer by Dusty Hahn. Hahn made three threes in the second half. His third made it 50-48.

With 1:37 remaining, Hunter added the next basket on a long jumper, which gave the Jackrabbits a 52-48 cushion. Lonoke’s defense stayed strong and kept Wonderview off the board the rest of the way, and Jawaun Bryant added the final point of the game on a free throw with 9.5 seconds to play.

Wonderview’s overall record this season dropped to 3-10 with the loss, but many of those losses were close games, and the Daredevils showed Thursday they’re a better team than that record indicates.

“They’ve got kids that shoot it real well,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of Wonderview. “At times we got frustrated with them. They play extremely hard and they’re a good ballclub. They place a lot of different challenges for us.

“We had our moments where we didn’t finish plays, but we were able to overcome, and we hunted and found those people that were being successful for us and fed it to them.”

Branscomb had the hot hand in the second half for Lonoke. He scored 12 of his team-high 16 points in quarters three and four, and was one of the biggest keys to the team’s success Thursday.

“He’s still developing,” Campbell said of his junior post player. “He’s very young to the game – didn’t play hardly at all in junior high, as a ninth grader – got thrown in a little bit last year.

“He’s really making huge strides and will continue. I believe the ceiling is very high for him.”

Bryant led Lonoke’s first-half scoring. He scored 10 of his 14 points in the first two quarters. The Rabbits led 7-2 at the start of the game, and 15-12 at the end of the first quarter.

Lonoke maintained its three-point lead at halftime, with the score 31-28. Branscomb added the first two baskets of the second half to give Lonoke a 35-28 cushion, but Wonderview battled back and tied the game 38-38.

The Jackrabbits took a 43-40 lead late in the quarter before Wonderview’s college prospect, MJ Griffin, drained a buzzer-beating three that tied it at 43-43.

Lonoke finished the game 19 for 47 from the floor for 40 percent. Wonderview was 18 for 39 shooting for 46 percent. The Daredevils made 7 of 12 threes, and the Rabbits made 4 of 18 shots from downtown. From the free-throw line, Lonoke made 11 of 16 attempts, while Wonderview made 5 of 11.

The Jackrabbits had just seven turnovers for the game, while forcing 24 Wonderview turnovers.

Branscomb and Bryant were the only Jackrabbits to score in double figures, but Bryson Jackson added eight points, Isaac Toney six, Tyler Spencer four and Yancy Cooney two.

Griffin led all scorers with 20 points.

By beating Wonderview on Thursday and Perryville on Wednesday, Lonoke advances to today’s championship game at St. Joseph High School, where it’ll play Guy-Perkins at 6:40 p.m.

With Thursday’s win, Lonoke improved its overall season record to 5-1. The Jackrabbits lost for the first time this year Tuesday at Southside Batesville. The Southerners won that game 52-44.

Lonoke trailed by two going into the fourth quarter of that 4A-2 Conference game, but were outscored 18-12 in the final eight minutes to set the eight-point margin.

Bryant led the Jackrabbits (1-1 in conference play) against the Southerners with 15 points. Jackson added 11.

EDITORIAL >> School plan impressive

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District officials know that a new high school will have to make a strong statement architecturally, as well as academically, in order to make the city’s school system first rate.

Difficulties are sure to arise, but, if the school board remains focused, as they appeared to be in a Tuesday night meeting, all challenges can be overcome.

The board discussed how the new high school should look. It will be built on the long-neglected campus of the old middle schools near Hwy. 67/167 and Main Street.

They don’t want a cheap metal building. They asked an architect from the WER firm in Little Rock to come up with something tasteful that has classical influences and a modern look, such as the grand Esther D. Nixon Library, to help inspire urban renewal downtown.

The architect presented the board with renderings of a three-story, 60,000- to 80,000-square-foot building with modern sports facilities.

To get the school built, residents will have to increase the millage rate from 40.7 to 48.3. That will amount to about $152 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home. It will also help raise $45 million for the district that’s trying its best to improve academics, facilities and stabilize its financing while it breaks away from the Pulaski County Special School District that essentially bilked Jacksonville residents of their taxes and abandoned the city’s schools for decades.

Residents voted overwhelmingly to exit PCSSD last year. Now they’ll have to vote again to reaffirm their support for giving the city’s schools a new start. If they reject the tax increase, property values may decline as young families look to nearby communities with better schools. In that case, the new district will be forced to take the thrifty route, and, at best, it would build a few unappealing schools and try to fix up the rest.

The new school board has shown its commitment to revitalizing downtown. They know the new district has the potential to breathe new life into other facets of the city’s economy. A beautiful new school downtown will be visible from Hwy. 67/167 and give more people a reason to live in and visit the area.

The school district is also restoring the old dilapidated Jacksonville Police Department to use as its headquarters. That project will cost about $350,000.

We hope all types of other construction projects will follow and, with them, a rebirth of Jacksonville.

TOP STORY >> House returns $500 oil contribution

Leader executive editor

Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) has returned $500 from the ExxonMobil Political Action Committee, citing the Mayflower oil spill caused by the oil company’s Pegasus pipeline in 2013.

House said property values have plummeted and the Mayflower School District and the city have lost tax revenues because of the oil spill.

“I regret that I cannot accept your PAC’s offer of a check in the amount of $500,” House wrote to Courtney S. Walker, a lobbyist for ExxonMobil. “It certainly would have been put to good use. Although I’m unopposed, we are allowed to use such contributions for office-holder expenses (postage, travel, telephone, etc.) that the taxpayers do not fund.

“However, some of my constituents have legal disputes pending as a result of the Mayflower (spill). It is in their best interests, and the interests of the energy industry, that I return the check. I do not want any to have reason to think that my constituents do not have my first loyalty.”

Although House praised ExxonMobil’s response to the oil spill, he was critical of the economic fallout from the spill.

“There is an issue that continues to distress my constituency,” House wrote to Walker. “I have received reports that, immediately after the spill, the Mayflower zip code went on the ‘do not loan’ list of the national mortgage writers. Real estate closings and sales were canceled, buyer interest in new and existing homes went to zero, and, today, real estate values remain depressed.

“Property owners directly affected by the spill have, or will, recover compensation for damages and depreciation of their property values. But overall real estate values in the vicinity, including properties not directly affected, are depressed. This is causing a loss of real estate tax revenue to the Mayflower School District and the city of Mayflower.

“I am disappointed that the state and federal treasuries appropriated the lions’ share of proceeds of the recent settlement of the litigation,” wrote House, an attorney and a retired Army colonel.

He pleaded with Walker to provide more help to Mayflower.

“Please keep the Mayflower School District and the city of Mayflower in mind before you close your files. Their losses remain unaddressed.”

Still, the representative wrote, “our economy and prosperity depend on energy. Pipelines are still the safest and most economical way we have to move petroleum products from the source, to the refiner and to the user. I worry more about derailments and tractor-trailer wrecks on the two major railroad lines and interstate highways that bisect my district,” House wrote. “Yes, we do have concerns about the integrity of the Pegasus pipeline. I am encouraged that Exxon is both listening and acting on our concerns. I am confident that your engineers will arrive at the safest solutions regarding Pegasus.”

House said he deferred to local and state authorities after the oil spill. “My role was to monitor,” he wrote. “Exxon did everything they asked. I was particularly satisfied that Exxon was able to settle with most of the affected residents. Those disputes which could not be settled are properly pending in the courts.”

House also praised Jeff Copeskey, another ExxonMobil lobbyist. “He was accessible, kept me informed on the cleanup and when he had a problem he could not resolve.

“Emotions ran understandably high, especially among my constituents with children, health problems and homes in close proximity to the spill.”

Because of the lasting fallout from the spill, House could not accept ExxonMobil’s contribution. House ended his letter on a positive note. “Again, thank you so very much for your tender.”

TOP STORY >> ASU-Beebe hires Fisher as chancellor

Arkansas State University-Beebe has hired a new chancellor who will take the reins in January.

Karla Fisher, who has been vice president of academics at Butler Community College in Kansas since 2010, will succeed Eugene McKay, who is retiring after working almost 50 years at ASU-Beebe, including the past 21 years as its chancellor.

Fisher has a Ph.D. in educational administration from the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas, as well as a master’s of arts in communication and a bachelor’s of arts in English from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

Her salary will be $183,000. She starts her job Jan. 16.

ASU system president Charles Welch made the announcement Thursday.

“We conducted an extensive national search and have chosen a dynamic administrator who will build on Chancellor McKay’s excellent work. (Fisher) brings to ASU-Beebe a wealth of experience in curriculum, student engagement and marketing. Butler and ASU-Beebe share many similarities in serving a broad mix of students on multiple campuses. The search committee and campus constituencies were very impressed with her background, and we’re confident she’s the ideal leader to further enhance ASU-Beebe’s standing as a leading two-year college in the region.”

Fisher was chosen by a 14-member search committee, whose members included faculty, staff, students and community leaders. She beat out Michael DeLong of Pulaski Technical College and Ted A. Lewis of Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn, who were also among the finalists.

Fisher was interim president at Butler Community College for seven months in 2013 and had been an associate of the Center for Community College Student Engagement since 2007, as well as having served as director of institutional marketing at Salt Lake Community College from 2001-2007.

“I am honored to join the ASU System,” Fisher said. “Everyone involved in the search process was incredibly welcoming. ASU-Beebe has a great history and, working together, I’m confident we’ll build an even greater future.”

The National Association of Instructional Administrators this year honored Fisher as Chief Academic Officer of the Year.

She also received the Kansas Board of Regents Annual Award for Data Quality and Planning and the Wichita Business Journal Annual Award for Innovation for creation of Butler Early College Academies.

ASU-Beebe is a two-year college and serves more than 4,500 students.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

TOP STORY >> First production for new theater

The newly formed Community Theater of Jacksonville will perform “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11; Saturday, Dec. 12; Friday, Dec. 18; and Saturday, Dec. 19 at Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School, 251 N. First St.

Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets, which will be for sale at the door, are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and military, and $10 for students.

Seating is first come, first served.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is based on the children’s book by Barbara Robinson and features a lively cast of children and adults. It will be directed by Shann Nobles.

“Both the young and old will enjoy this holiday classic, which tells the story of the six children who go to church for the first time after being told the church offers snacks. The children are given roles in the Sunday school’s Christmas pageant, in which they tell the Christmas story in an unconventional way,” Nobles said.

The Community Theater of Jacksonville plans to have four productions a year.

“There is great interest in the arts in Jacksonville, and our goal is to create opportunities for people to participate in the arts, whether on stage or as a backstage volunteer, or enjoying our local talent from the audience,” said Nobles, who has spearheaded the start of the community theater.

To reserve seats if needed, or for more information, email or call 501-743-2985.

TOP STORY >> Heavy downpour over

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s Dupree Park was under six to eight inches of rain earlier this week and is still flooded in many portions as about six inches of rain fell in the area Friday through Monday.

The possibility of flooding will continue throughout this week, according to the National Weather Service.

The four-day soaker helped make November the third wettest in the 120 years of record keeping, with total precipitation coming in at 11.27 inches.

That’s still a solid three inches under the record-setting wet November of 2011.

But the rain didn’t seem to put a damper on local shoppers as store parking lots were full.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Young said, “We are definitely saturated, but problems were minimal. Our sewer plant, which in some past rains has had some issues, did real well.”

She also said she was glad the storm moved out Monday for the lighting of the city’s Trail of Lights. “It was misting some, but not bad.”

Young expects a record turnout this year for the mile-long Trail of Lights, at Sherwood Forest, off Maryland Avenue, which will operate every evening from 6 to 9:30 through Dec. 30.

Bill Cypert, Cabot’s mayor, said the city had no issues, “But we’ve invested heavily in expensive long-term projects to curb flooding problems.”

He said two 100-year rain events in 2011 showed the city had some problems.

“We’ve worked diligently since,” Cypert said, adding that the projects are working. “We’ve had four more major rain events in 2015 and no issues.”

The area saw rain 14 days during this November, and, for the year, the area is five inches above the normal average, thanks to the November rains and the May rains that made May the second wettest May ever.

In between, it was dry. So dry that by Oct. 20 the southern half of the state, including Pulaski and Lonoke counties, were in a moderate to severe drought and 61 out of 75 counties had burn bans.

That changed with a 3-inch deluge Nov. 17 and then the recent four-day wet span.

The winter outlook, according to the weather service, is mild and wet thanks to it being an El NiƱo year, meaning more snow, but less ice to deal with.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood sees library opening middle of 2017

Leader staff writer

Energy efficiency, meeting rooms with a shared kitchen and an “outdoorsy” or “rustic” look were ideas discussed last week as Taggart Architects gathered input on designing the new $6 million Sherwood library.

Seated at the same table was Central Arkansas Library System Director Bobby Roberts, and several city officials attended the meeting.

Preliminary plans call for a building of about 14,000 square feet. In November 2014, voters approved a temporary 1.3-mill property tax increase for the project — an estimated annual cost of $39 for the owner of a $150,000 home.

One mom wanted to know when the building would open because her son, coming from Oakbrooke Elementary near the current Amy Sanders Library, is enrolling at Sylvan Hills Middle School. The new library will also be within walking distance, on Johnson Avenue and behind the Mapco gas station on Hwy. 107, and he’s excited about it, Charlotte Watson said.

Roberts and city officials told her that, for tax reasons, the property owner doesn’t want to close on the sale of his 14 acres until after the first of this year. The land still needs surveyed, and soil samples must be taken before construction begins, the system director explained.

Roberts said, once all that is done, it would probably take crews 15 months to build the library. He added that city officials could speed things up by getting permission to access the property before the sale is finalized.

Mayor Virginia Young said she would look into that, noting that she didn’t think the property owner would have a problem with the city having early access.

The mayor also mentioned at the meeting that she’d seen a life-size chess set at another library and wondered if Sherwood could have something like that.

Roberts answered that the system would match up to $45,000 for a piece of public art. That means, if someone donates $45,000, the system would spend $45,000 and the library would get a $90,000 display.

Alderman Beverly Williams helped kick off the brainstorming portion of the meeting by responding to comments that adults and children should have separate areas.

She noted that the middle-school kids shouldn’t be left out.

Williams added that Sher-wood also has a large elderly population. The new library should have a good selection of books on tape for them and a delivery service, the alderman said.

Williams also suggested incorporating a safe room in the new library.

Several people supported the idea of both permanent and rotating displays at the new facility. Amy Sanders, the current library’s namesake and a founding mother of Sherwood, said she’d like to see an exhibit there on the city’s history.

Roberts noted that local history, along with genealogy and environmental topics, could be part of the facility’s programming.

One attendee told him the new library should have plenty of plugs, better Wi-Fi and TVs in each meeting room.

Roberts agreed with those points, adding that the system had already bought more bandwith to improve wireless Internet at all of its branches and is keeping in mind that streaming videos will be in demand soon.

Alderman Ken Keplinger wants the new library to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified, saying that would be a credit to Sherwood. He also asked that installing electric car charging stations there be considered

Roberts and the architects said they would look into the certification as an option, but warned that it can be costly, with a price tag of about $70,000.

Energy efficiency is a goal of the project.

The system director said he and the architects want the building to have a lot of natural lighting. They will also be looking at the feasiblity of using solar panels and geothermal energy.

Everyone at the meeting also seemed to embrace the idea of nearby walking trails.

Planning Commission Chairman Lucien Gillham brought up the issue of drainage, noting that some buildings have been constructed at ground level to avoid the necessity of ramps to meet ADA standards.

He was assured that, while the desire was to avoid ramps, good drainage would be factored into the plans.

Watson, the mom, added that better lighting in the parking lot and more spaces are needed, in addition to changing stations in men’s and women’s restrooms. A family restroom could be included in the design instead, she noted.

Watson was told the new library would have changing tables available to moms and dads.

SPORTS STORY >> Fans easily forget high preseason predictions

Leader sports editor

It’s interesting how situational football fans are in dealing with wins and losses. Most Razorbacks fans are happy as clams that their team just beat, nay dominated, Missouri, and they anxiously await news on what bowl bid the team will accept.

All the misery and dread that came with a 1-3 start is forgotten. Even the 51-50 home loss to Mississippi State just two weeks ago is a distant memory. Also forgotten, apparently, is that preseason hopes for the 7-5 Razorbacks hovered around nine, even 10, and for the outrageously optimistic, 11 wins this season.

But looking back, the 11-win optimists might have been right. Those eternally hopeful fans couldn’t figure out a way for Arkansas to beat Alabama on the road, but thought every other game was winnable. They were right.

With all else behind this team, it’s clear it was good enough to go 11-1. The 10-2 prognosticators thought winning at LSU was too much to ask. They were wrong. The 9-3 crowd thought, like many others all over the nation, that Auburn was a national title contender and might be too much for Arkansas. They were wrong as well.

Other than Alabama, Arkansas’ losses were to four teams it should have beaten. The only one that’s even forgivable is Mississippi State. Those first three losses were all to teams that if Arkansas had played this past weekend, it would have won, and probably easily.

But that doesn’t seem to matter now. Arkansas fans are happy things turned out so well. Despite nine-win expectations, fans were prepared for the reverse, a 3-9 finish, after the three-straight losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.

Those three losses followed a very sub par performance in a season-opening 48-13 win over the 5-7 University of Texas-El Paso. The Miners were beaten worse (52-12) by Florida International.

The problem is obvious. The Razorbacks weren’t ready to play when the season started. But that week-four overtime loss to the Aggies was more than two months ago.

The Hogs are 6-2 since then and both losses were to quality teams, though the Aggies handled the Bulldogs much more easily than they did Arkansas, and so did Alabama. Ole Miss, a team Arkansas beat on the road, also manhandled their inner-state rival much more easily than the 38-27 final score would indicate, and Arkansas should’ve beat them, too.

Again though, it doesn’t matter now. The Razorbacks didn’t meet preseason expectations, but they far exceed post-week four expectations. And that makes the situational football fan happy.

Why? Because it means there’s hope.

Hope is what really matters to the football fan. The college football fan can endure anything as long as there is hope for next year. And since Bret Bielema is only in his third year, and he’s finished his last two strongly, fans still have hope.

This is, however, his second-straight year of finishing the season with a team clearly too good to have started so poorly.

Something about Bielema’s approach so far has left the Hogs far behind lesser teams the first month of the season.

Let that happen one, maybe two, more times, and fans will stop believing in Bielema.

This mystery of hope that football fans possess is the reason Houston Nutt went from hero to villain while practically nothing changed about his approach or win percentage from the previous 10 years.

Fans suddenly realized nine wins was about as good as it was going to get with Nutt, so just as suddenly, the same things he had always done became unacceptable.

This hope is the reason why some misguided fans still clamor for Bobby Petrino, despite the spectacle and embarrassment he made of their beloved team.

They had hope, based on the previous 11-2 season; he was the one who might take the team to that only dreamt of land since 1964 of national renown.

This hope is also relative. LSU was on the cusp of firing a coach who has won a national championship because it no longer, after eight years, believed he can win another one.

It had only been four years since LSU had won one once before, and the coach that did that, after an unsuccessful stint in the NFL, had come back to the college ranks and won three more, even beating LSU is one of those championship games (2011).

This hope is why Georgia just fired a coach who, if he wins this year’s bowl game, will have recorded 10 wins for the 10th time in his 15 seasons in Athens.

Georgia’s Mark Richt actually lasted longer than most fans are willing to wait.

LSU’s only other national championship, besides the two this century, came in 1958. Fans and boosters and athletic directors will usually only give any particular coach eight to 10 years to bring one home, and that’s only if they come close a couple of times.

But Arkansas fans are right to keep hope in Bielema alive. On the whole, 7-5 is unacceptable for a team as good as this one. But if he can remedy whatever the cause for bad starts, and continue to finish strong, there will be long unseen success for Razorback football.


A live, nationwide spoken-word opinion piece was given during halftime of Sunday’s New England Patriots-Denver Broncos game that is cause for rebuttal. Bob Costas, who is usually very thoughtful, lost his head when he declared Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of his generation, beating out Peyton Manning.

He rightly gave credit to Manning for his unparalleled professionalism and humility, but ultimately declared Brady the greatest because of his better playoff win percentage and three super bowl wins.

But if you’re going to give one guy points for professionalism, you must dock the other for a lack of it. Peyton’s own little brother also has more playoff wins and super bowl rings, but no one would argue that Eli Manning is better than Peyton.

And every singe super bowl win Brady has is marred in a cheating scandal.

The Patriots, and Tom Brady, cheat habitually, and have for more than a decade. It is the most tainted legacy in sports, and posterity will not be kind to their memory.

Manning is greater than Brady. The difference in each man’s incredible talent is negligible, and Manning is not a cheater.

SPORTS STORY >> Nettleton sweeps Badgers

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe Badgers and Lady Badgers each lost their nonconference games at Nettleton last week.

In those Nov. 24 games, the Beebe girls stayed within striking distance of the undefeated Lady Raiders, but lost for the first time this season by the final score of 51-43, and the Raiders won the boys’ game 59-45.

In the first game, the Nettleton girls (4-0) nearly doubled the Lady Badgers (2-1) on the scoreboard in the opening quarter, leading 15-8 after one. The second quarter was more balanced, but Nettleton outscored Beebe 8-7 to take a 23-15 lead into halftime.

Beebe outscored Nettleton 13-10 in the third quarter, which cut the Lady Raiders’ lead to 33-28 at the start of the fourth. The Lady Badgers went on an early run in the fourth quarter and got within one of Nettleton’s lead, trailing 35-34.

Though the Lady Badgers never got the lead in the fourth quarter, the game stayed within two possessions up until the final two minutes, and the Lady Raiders were able to pull away and win by eight.

The biggest difference in the girls’ game was that the Lady Raiders had 39 foul shots and Beebe was limited to 16. Though it was the first loss of the year for the Beebe girls, it was a good test, according to BHS coach Greg Richey.

“It was a good road contest for us and hopefully it’s something we can take and improve on some of the weaknesses that we had during this game,” said Richey.

Taylor McGraw led Beebe with 16 points. Katie Turner had eight points, Hannah Camp five, Kassidy Elam four, Hannah McGhee and Gracie Anders each had three, and Allie Lane and Kierston Miller added two points apiece.

Neither team got off to a good start shooting in the boys’ game, but Nettleton had a better showing in the first quarter, and led 12-3 after one. By halftime, the Raiders’ lead grew to double digits, leading 35-19.

Beebe, though, showed some fight in the third quarter, and with about three minutes left in the period, the Badgers (0-2) cut the Nettleton lead to eight points. That was as close as they’d get the rest of the way, though, as Nettleton soon got its lead back to double digits and kept Beebe from making another run in the fourth quarter.

“We cut it to eight with about three to go in the third, we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said Beebe coach Ryan Marshall. “We had such a slow start; we just dug ourselves in a hole. It’s kind of been our Achilles heel in these first few games – just the slow, slow starts.”

Marshall said his team’s offensive execution, patience and defense all played a part in getting the Nettleton lead down to single digits in the third quarter.

“I thought we had stretches where we ran our offense real well,” Marshall said, “and were patient, to get a good shot, and we defended pretty well in the third quarter – got some back-to-back stops. Then we were able to go down and score after stopping them two or three times as opposed to getting out of it.”

Austin Moore led Beebe in scoring with 22 points.

SPORTS STORY >> Panther shooting suffers in SHB loss

Leader sports editor

The Cabot girls’ basketball team suffered a terrible shooting night on Friday, resulting in a 32-20 loss to Springdale Har-Ber in the Pulaski Academy Thanksgiving Classic.

The Lady Wildcats controlled the pace the entire game, but Cabot still led 14-13 at the end of the first half. Har-Ber won the first quarter 8-6, before Cabot answered with its best period of the game.

The Lady Panthers couldn’t even get half of that total in the second half, scoring just three points in each of the last two quarters. Har-Ber’s lead was just 20-17 at the end of the third period, but a 12-3 run in the fourth allowed the Lady Wildcats to pull away.

Cabot made just 8 of 45 shot attempts for an 18-percent effort from the floor, and free-throw shooting was even worse.

The Lady Panthers were just 1 of 9 from the foul line for 11 percent. Cabot made 3 of 18 3-point attempts and 5 of 27 from 2-point range.

Only four Cabot players scored, with senior forward Anna Sullivan leading the way with 11 points. Leighton Taylor scored five while CoCo Calhoon and Haley Sobczak scored two points apiece for the Lady Panthers.

Karrington Whaley led Har-Ber (4-0) with 14 points while Jacie Higgins scored 10. Rachel Odiina and Khanni Shannon scored four points each to round out the scoring in the game.

The Lady Panthers dropped to 2-3 on the season with the loss. They host Springdale High School at 6 p.m. Friday in the opening game of a boys’ and girls’ doubleheader.

The annual Cabot Pre-Holiday Classic begins on Monday with Nemo Vista girls and Benton boys taking on Vilonia. The Cabot teams begin tournament play on Tuesday with the girls facing Little Rock McClellan and the boys facing Catholic High.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke girls dominate Shirley

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke ladies had an easy time of it Monday in the first round of the St. Joseph Invitational tournament in Conway. The Lady Jackrabbits tried out a few new things, and still hammered the Shirley Lady Blue Devils 61-20. Scoring started slow. Neither team scored for two minutes and Lonoke led just 2-0 halfway through the first quarter. After that, Lonoke began to dominate.

“We were shaking the Thanksgiving rust off,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris after the game. “We were running a brand new offense that we just practiced one time. The scoring wasn’t where we’d like it to be, but I thought the effort was there.”

The new offense wasn’t needed a lot. Most of Lonoke’s points in the first half came off steals and Shirley turnovers. The Lonoke defense was so dominant early. The Lady Blue Devils only managed to get seven shots off the entire first half, and only two in the second quarter. Lonoke forced 14 Shirley turnovers in the second quarter alone, to just two field goal attempts.

After the slow start, Lonoke pulled out to a 10-3 lead that could’ve been much more if not for several missed layups. Lonoke senior Jarrelyn McCall was fouled after a steal with two seconds left in the first quarter. She inbounded the ball under the Lonoke goal. Her pass found sophomore Keiunna Walker in the middle of the lane for a jumper at the buzzer that made it 12-3.

The struggle to score ended there. McCall hit a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the second quarter, then got a steal and two free throws just 40 seconds later. Another Shirley turnover was followed by a Lonoke miss and Shirley rebound, but Ashlyn Allen got a steal and layup to make the score 19-3 with 6:26 on the clock.

Morris called off the full-court press at that point, but his team’s half-court defense continued to create steals and force turnovers.

Walker got a steal out of the half-court man and hit an easy layup with 5:40 left in the first half. Allen followed that up with back-to-back steals, but Lonoke only converted once, making the score 25-3.

Shirley made its first shot attempt of the quarter with 4:37 left in the half to make it 23-5, but Lonoke closed the half with a 10-0 run to go into intermission leading 33-5.

After the break, Morris switched his team to a zone defense the rest of the way. The Lady Blue Devils only managed five shot attempts again in the third quarter, but made all five of them, including two 3-pointers and one 3-point play.

Lonoke got many more opportunities to run its new half-court offense in the second half and continued to score well. Meaning Shirley’s best offensive quarter of the night still left it trailing by 39 points at 57-18.

“We’ve got a girl (McCall) running the baseline the whole time,” Morris said. “We’ve got Keiunna out at the top of the key and if she sees an opening she’s got the green light to get in the lane and score. They both were pretty effective tonight. Shirley’s down, but we played with good intensity. Somebody might ask if you’d rather have practiced, but my thing is, let’s go play this 4:30 game, get some work in and get home to get ready for a big conference game the next night.”

McCall and Walker each scored 18 points to lead the Lady Jackrabbits, while Allen added 14. Allen, a senior post player, was challenged by Morris after the loss to Heber Springs, and the head coach is pleased with her initial response to that challenge.

“She was challenged after the last game to step up,” Morris said. “She’s a senior and we need a presence in the middle. She’s not as big as the post people we’ve had in the past, but she’s played bigger tonight than she has been, so I’m very pleased with her effort.”

Lonoke played at Southside-Batesville last night in a 4A-2 Conference game. The Lady Southerners were on the wrong end of a huge upset in their first league game at Stuttgart, but Morris still considers it a dangerous game.

“They’ve won or shared the junior high district the last three years,” Morris said. “I think it’s just a chemistry thing going on with them right now. They don’t have enough basketballs to go around. But that’s a very talented team and it’s a huge challenge for our young team early.

“I know this, win or lose that one, we’re going to be a better team in January than we are right now. We’re very young and we’ve got a lot of kids still learning the ropes. We’ve got three conference games before the break that we’ve got to get through. After that I’m excited to see how we can compete.”