Saturday, March 12, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville loses big to Greenbrier

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville baseball team struggled to find the strike zone in the first two innings of Monday’s second round of the Red Devil Classic against Greenbrier, and the visiting Panthers used that to their advantage and cruised to a 14-4 win over the tournament hosts at Dupree Park.

Greenbrier scored the game’s first 11 runs, seven of which came in the first inning. The Panthers started the game with a leadoff blooper to shallow right field, and the next four batters walked.

The third of those four walks gave Greenbrier cleanup hitter Wyatt Brewer an easy RBI and scored the game’s first run. After the fourth-consecutive walk, Jacksonville changed pitchers, but the next batter reached base after getting hit by a pitch.

That gave Greenbrier a 3-0 lead, and the fourth run came on an infield single to second base. Another hit batter with the bases loaded and an infield single to shortstop gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead, with the top of the order coming up.

A sacrifice fly to right field resulted in the first out of the inning, but the Panthers scored on the play to up their lead to 7-0. Two more walks were issued in the inning, but the Red Devils didn’t give up any more runs.

After a scoreless first inning for Jacksonville, the Panthers added four more to their side of the board to further their lead to 11-0. The Red Devils answered with three runs in the bottom half of the inning – all with two outs.

Wesley Williams got the two-out rally started with a walk, and went to second base thanks to an errant pickoff throw to first base. Caleb Smith singled to the left-field gap the next at-bat and drove in Williams for the Red Devils’ first run.

That brought leadoff hitter Tyson Flowers to the plate, and he came through with a bloop single down the right-field line and Smith scored all the way from first base. Mike Havard then singled to the gap in right-center.

Flowers scored on the play, but Havard was thrown out at second trying to stretch the single into a double, which resulted in the third out of the inning. Each team scored a run in the third inning.

Catcher Javan Wakefield scored Jacksonville’s run in the third. He reached base after being hit by a pitch with one out. He then advanced to second base on a passed ball before stealing third.

First baseman Brandon Hickingbotham walked before Wakefield scored on a sac fly to center field off the bat of second baseman Trent Toney. Toney’s sacrifice was the second out of the inning, and Caden Sample flew out to left the following at-bat to end the third.

Greenbrier added two more runs to its side of the board in the top of the fourth before holding Jacksonville scoreless in the bottom half of the inning, and the game ended at the end of the fourth.

The Panthers outhit the Red Devils 9-4. Jacksonville gave up eight walks and hit four other Greenbrier batters. Greenbrier gave up three walks and hit one JHS batter. Jacksonville also had four errors in the game, while Greenbrier had one in the four innings played.

Six different Panthers got at least one base hit Thursday. Flowers led Jacksonville (1-3) with two hits – both singles. Havard and Smith also singled for the Red Devils.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears win final two at own tournament

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills softball team went 2-1 in the Taylor Roark Memorial Tournament it hosted last weekend at Sherwood Sports Complex. After opening the tournament on Friday with a 4-2 loss to Texas High from Texarkana, Texas, the Lady Bears beat Maumelle 4-2 and beat conference rival Beebe 7-5 to close the tournament on Saturday.

The tournament was played on a strict time limit, which didn’t allow many games to go the full seven innings, and Sylvan Hills posted a four-run fourth inning to earn a comeback win over Maumelle on Saturday morning.

The Lady Bears got four of their six base hits in the game in the decisive fourth, starting with a leadoff double by Storm Ellis. Taylor Yeoman then singled to center field to score Ellis. Joy Franco then doubled to score Yeoman and tie the game.

Maumelle did much of the rest of the work for the tournament hosts. Lady Bears Damo’Nique Hunt and Lynlee Broadway reached on back-to-back errors, with Franco scoring when Broadway’s shot to left field was dropped.

After a strikeout, Broadway was replaced on the base paths by Anna Snyder. Anna Sigler put down a perfect bunt for a base hit that loaded the bases. Cara Pozza reached on a 5-2 fielder’s choice that got Hunt thrown out at home.

Tristen Goodson then walked on four pitches to score Snyder and set the final margin.

Maumelle made it interesting in its last at-bat. A one-out single and a two-out double was followed by a bases-loading walk, but Broadway got the next batter to pop up to left field to get out of the jam and preserve the victory for SHHS.

Franco was Sylvan Hills’ only player with multiple base hits. She went 2 for 2 with two RBIs.

Broadway gave up five hits and four walks in four innings of work. She struck out one and both runs allowed were unearned.

Roles were reversed against Beebe. Sylvan Hills posed a six-run first inning and had to hold off a Beebe comeback attempt.

After Beebe scored a single run in the top of the first, Sylvan Hills exploded in the bottom half. Pozza started the rally with a leadoff double to center field. Goodson singled to put two runners in scoring position.

Ellis then singled to right field to score Pozza and Goodson and give the Lady Bears a lead they would not relinquish.

Franco singled and Hunt reached on a Beebe error at shortstop that also allowed a run.

Broadway made the first out on a pop up to short. Sigler then walked to load the bases.

Another Beebe error off the bat of Snyder allowed all three base runners to score and left Snyder safe at second with a 6-1 SH lead.

A third Beebe error left Pozza and Snyder safe at first and third, but Goodson flew out to center field to end the rally.

Beebe scored one run in the second and three more in the third to pull within one run. Beebe scored three runs in the top of the third on one hit, two walks and three Sylvan Hills errors to make the score 6-5.

That’s how it stayed until the bottom of the fifth when the Lady Bears got a leadoff single by Goodson, a sacrifice by Ellis that advanced the runner, and a base hit by Yeoman.

Sylvan Hills won despite eight errors. Beebe committed five. Only four of the game’s 12 runs were earned.

Ellis pitched for Sylvan Hills. She gave up four hits and one earned run with one strikeout and two walks in five innings of work.

Faith Rose was in the circle for Beebe. She allowed eight hits and three earned runs with one strikeout and one walk.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers upset Tigers for first title

Leader sports editor

HOT SPRINGS – Hardly anyone gave them a chance, but the Cabot Panthers proved them all wrong Friday at Bank of the Ozarks Arena. That’s where the Panthers upset heavily-favored Bentonville 59-49 to win the Class 7A state championship.

Bentonville scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to take a 40-33 lead with seven minutes left in the game, and Cabot dominated the rest of the way.

From seven down, the Panthers exploded for an 18-2 run over the next 3:44. Cabot junior Jarrod Barnes started and ended the run. His old-fashioned 3-point play pulled Cabot (21-9) to within four with 6:34 remaining. His 3-pointer gave the Panthers a 51-42 lead with 3:16 to go.

“He’s an athlete,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “We bring him off the bench but we really consider him a starter. He had a phenomenal night.”

Cabot also did a number on the Tigers’ senior and Kentucky signee Malik Monk, holding Monk, who averaged more than 30 points per game, to just 19. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard went 0 for 11 from 3-point range, and 2 for 12 overall in the fourth quarter.

“The game was won in the second and fourth quarters,” Bridges said. “I think in the second quarter they wore down. They got tired. I think our guys believed that, that they weren’t in as good a shape as us. And I just told them in the fourth quarter, just turn it up. Step it up. This thing ain’t over. We can do this, and they responded.”

After Barnes’ 3-pointer that pulled Cabot to within 40-36, Monk dished to post player Ty Robinson to put the Tigers back up 42-36. Cabot then reeled off 15-straight points. Hunter Southerland hit a 3-pointer and Monk missed at the other end. Barnes then drained a 3-pointer to tie the game and force a Bentonville timeout with 5:19 to play. The break failed to stem the Panther tide.

After another Bentonville miss, Barnes got two offensive rebounds after misses and scored on the third attempt to put the Panthers up 44-42. Southerland then stripped Jordan Hemphill and hit Bobby Joe Duncan for a layup.

Monk missed a long 3-pointer and Garrett Rowe came down with the rebound. After starting the transition, Rowe also finished it, taking Duncan’s pass in the paint and dropping it in for a six-point Cabot lead with 3:57 remaining.

Bentonville (21-10) turned it over and that’s when Barnes’ three put the Panthers up by nine.

The lead reached as much as 11 and Bentonville was never closer than seven the rest of the way.

Things didn’t go well for Cabot from the opening tip-off. The Panthers had three turnovers before they had a shot attempt, and Bentonville scored the game’s first nine points.

But Cabot didn’t panic and the bench came through big in the last half of the opening quarter. Chandler Casteel came off the bench and provided a spark on the boards, and Logan Gilbertson hit a big 3-pointer after five Cabot misses. Gilbertson’s shot pulled Cabot to within 13-5, and the Panthers closed the quarter on a 7-2 run to trail 15-9 at the end of the frame.

“That was a lot like our Springdale game a week ago when we were down 11 at the half,” Bridges said of his team’s poor start. “I just wanted them to keep playing and keep grinding through. It’s these guys and a little bit about what we do in the offseason. These guys work hard.”

The Panthers controlled the action in the second quarter. Matt Stanley opened the frame with a bucket on the inside, and Cabot made an effort from that point to feed the 6-foot-8 forward.

Barnes blocked a Hemphill shot and Gilbertson scored at the other end to make it a two-point game 91 seconds into the second quarter. Bentonville then scored five-straight to go back up by seven, but Cabot answered with a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the game.

The run started with a 3-pointer by Barnes that made it 20-16. After a stop, Stanley put back a Duncan miss, and Bentonville turned it over leading by two.

The two teams traded two turnovers each before Duncan fed Stanley inside, and he tied the game with 2:50 remaining in the half.

Monk fired from about 28 feet on the next possession and missed, and Gilbertson nailed his second 3-pointer of the game to put Cabot ahead for the first time, 23-20 with 2:20 on the clock.

Each team scored just once from that point. Hemphill went the length of the court and scored just seconds after Gilbertson’s three, and Stanley got another bucket off an assist by Duncan to send the Panthers into intermission with a 25-22 lead.

Monk’s 19 led all scorers. Robinson added 13 for the Tigers.

Barnes led Cabot with 17 points while Stanley finished with 13. Both Panthers had a team-high six rebounds. Duncan had six points and 10 assists.

Friday, March 11, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Districts free at last

The state Board of Education announced this week that it will release the Pulaski County Special School District from state supervision after five roller-coaster years. Patrons in PCSSD, including Sherwood, will elect their own school board later this year in hopes of rebuilding the district’s depleted resources following the departure of Jacksonville and much of north Pulaski County, where residents recently passed a millage increase that will pay for new schools and other improvements.

PCSSD will celebrate its release from state oversight with another try at a millage increase, which district voters have rejected for decades. Jacksonville residents approved the 7.6-mill increase only after they were allowed to split from the county district. Sherwood will now redouble its effort to leave PCSSD and one day put before the voters a similar package that Jacksonville passed last month.

Jacksonville now has the resources to purchase its old schools from PCSSD with the current 40.7 mills and plan for the future with the higher millage set to go into effect as soon as next year to pay for a new high school, elementary school and much more.

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board on Monday voted to sell $15.365 million in construction and facilities bonds with the previous millage. Two-thirds of the proceeds will be used to purchase area school buildings from PCSSD by July 1, the official JNPSD detachment date, and also make needed improvements.

The $10.8 million purchase will include the Jacksonville and North Pulaski high school buildings, the old Jacksonville Middle School building and elementary buildings, including Arnold Drive, Tolleson, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood, Warren Dupree, Bayou Meto and Homer Adkins, as well as the bus barn.

The money to secure those bonds comes from JNP’s share of the annual September renewal of the current 40.7-mill property tax. The bonds to build the new high school and elementary school, secured by the 7.6-mill tax increase approved by Jacksonville-area voters Feb. 9, will be sold in May 2017.

That bond sale is expected to help fund the $80 million building program to the tune of about $46 million.

It’s anticipated that the state will pay about 55 percent of the cost of approved construction and repair of academic spaces.

The new district is also putting together an impressive management team, starting with Superintendent Tony Wood, Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh, Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart and the hiring this week of Bryan Duffie as the district’s assistant superintendent for support services and Kevin Martin as director of technology.

This is a school district PCSSD and perhaps Sherwood can one day emulate.

TOP STORY >> Early voting is underway

Early voting for three runoffs in Lonoke County begins Tuesday. The polls will be open through next Saturday and Monday, March 21.

March 22 is Election Day.

Those who cast Democratic ballots in the primary will not be eligible to vote in the Republican runoffs of coroner candidates Carla Horton and Karl E. (Eddie) Pennington, Dist. 4 justice of the peace candidates Claud E. Irvin and John Howard and Dist. 13 JP candidates Bob Morris and Kenny Ridgeway.

On the coroner race, voters should know Pennington dropped out because he took a new job in Little Rock that would keep him out of the county most of the time. His name appeared on the primary ballot because it had to by law, since he withdrew after the certified list was submitted to the Lonoke County Election Commission.

If he were to win the runoff, he couldn’t take the job.

Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners Director Justin Clay and Legal Counsel Tim Humphries say a vacancy of nomination would exist and couldn’t be filled by the party unless the candidate had passed away, been inflicted with a serious illness, moved out of the county or filed for another office.

If there isn’t an election for coroner in November, the current coroner would “hold over pursuant to the (state) Constitution,” the officials told The Leader last week.

People eligible to vote in the three runoffs are those who cast Republican ballots, nonpartisan ballots or didn’t vote in the primary.

Early voting sites are ReNew Community Church at 1122 S. Second St. in Cabot and the Lonoke County Courthouse Annex on North Center Street in Lonoke.

The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Monday, March 21.

Residents can cast their ballots at every regular polling site on March 22.

TOP STORY >> Storms drench, do little damage

Leader staff writer

Central Arkansas received more rain from the large storm system that wobbled through Arkansas Tuesday through Friday than the area received all through January and February.

For the first two months of the year, the area had received about 5.6 inches of rain, down about 1.5 inches from the 30-year average.

But rains over the last four days dropped more than 6 inches of rain, causing minor flooding, accidents and school delays.

The rainfall on Tuesday was record-breaking. The area received about 2.2 inches of rain, nearly one-third of an inch more than the 1990 record of 1.97.

As a safety precaution, Lonoke delayed school openings for an hour Wednesday. “We have so many low-lying roads in the area, we wanted our bus drivers to have more visibility to determine road safety,” explained Amanda Rather, the district coordinator. “Everyone arrive safe,” she said.

More than 10 inches of rain fell in parts of southwest Arkansas, resulting in significant flash flooding. Minor flooding is occurring on rivers, such as the lower White, Cache, Saline and Ouachita Rivers. While widespread heavy rain is over, another system will arrive from the Plains on Sunday and will more than likely trigger severe, but scattered, storms in the afternoon and evening. Large hail and damaging winds are expected when these storms flare up.

High-water issues (flooding of homes and roads) could continue for several days, and water will remain high for several weeks on area tributaries, mainly in the southeast half of the state.

Beebe Mayor Mike Robert-son, along with the city’s fire and police chiefs, posted this weather warning on the city’s website, “With the increasing water level due to continued heavy rain and runoff from other areas, and the very likely potential for additional heavy rains over the next several days, the City of Beebe recommends that residents in the Winwood Subdivision consider and make the necessary arrangements to evacuate the area should the need arise. Specifically, the areas of Tori Lane, Birchwood and April Lane, as these are prone to flooding.”

Beebe code enforcement officer Milton McCullar said Friday that flooding had not affected houses in the subdivision this week, but water covered Tori Lane on Thursday. It had receded by early Friday afternoon.

Cabot Police Sgt. Keith Graham said they hadn’t had an increase in accidents because of the weather. “It has been a really normal week, even with the rain.”

Cabot Director of Operations Eddie Cook said no roads had to be closed and touted the city’s drainage projects as the reason. He called this week’s record rainfall a “non-event.”

Supporting the “non-event” statement, Capt. Carl Minden of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said there were 14 accidents this week compared to 25 during the same week in 2015. The county’s road department closed Sayles Road earlier in the week, and Valentine Road was still barricaded on Friday afternoon.

April Kiser of the Jacksonville Police Department forwarded an email from Capt. Joseph McCollough to The Leader. He wrote that there hadn’t been an abnormal number of accidents in the city, but “we have responded to assist the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office on a couple of vehicles submerged in ditches outside of the city limits off of Graham Road.”

Jacksonville had closed the one-lane bridge on West Main Street by the Tara Mount subdivision, but it was reopened Friday afternoon, and Dupree Park was flooded “as normal,” according to Public Works Director Jim Oakley.

Sherwood also closed its section of West Main Street leading to the one-lane bridge from Jacksonville Cutoff. Public Works Director Brian Galloway said the city fared pretty well. But crews did have to close Trammel Road under the railroad bridge near the Roundtop Filling Station and bring to one lane a section of Jacksonville-Cato Road in Gravel Ridge. All the water had receded by Friday afternoon though.

As for outages, there were none in The Leader’s coverage area Friday afternoon.

Sally Graham, with Entergy, said in an email, “The storm that came through on Tuesday night took out some poles in Lonoke and crews worked all day Wednesday to restore power, and we finished up with restoring power Thursday. We also had an outage at the air force base on Tuesday due to the storm, which we were able to restore.”

Also on Tuesday, a tree fell on an Entergy power line near North First Street in Jacksonville. It broke two poles.

Power was rerouted, as wires in 6 feet of water were de-energized. A post on Entergy’s Facebook page stated that the broken poles and four others would be replaced with stronger ones that will withstand impacts better in the future.

Tori Moss of First Electric Cooperative said the utility “experienced minimal outages in our Jacksonville district due to recent rain. We did not require additional crews to restore service to our members.”

Rick Kron contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Leader sweeps awards

Leader staff writer

Not only is The Leader the best editorial newspaper in its category, it is also the best in advertising, too.

The paper won the general excellence Sweepstakes award Friday at the annual Arkansas Press Association Better News-paper Advertising banquet. The Leader garnered 17 awards in all: the Sweepstakes award, six first-place honors, three second-place awards, five third- place finishes and two honorable mentions.

General Manager John Henderson, who won a number of awards in the contest, said, “We are very proud to receive this honor from the APA. It just further shows that we are the best large non-daily newspaper in Arkansas. We have now won the general excellence, or sweepstakes award, eight out of the last nine years.”

Publisher Garrick Feldman said, “I’m proud of our outstanding team of award-winning professionals.”

The Nebraska Press Association judged the entries.

The Leader won first place in best use of spot color in its AR Care Customer Appreciation ad developed by graphic designer Clay Knupp and Henderson. “Sometimes less is best. The minimal use of the blue color makes this stand out,” said the judges.

The paper also took first in the adverting special section (general, newsprint) category with its LRAFB 60th Anniversary tab produced by Creative Editor Christy Hendricks, Knupp and the Leader sales staff. “Very nicely put together with lots of information and pictures. A great piece!” according to the judges.

Another first place award was won for best use of clip art in a Crafton’s We Feel Lucky ad by Knupp and sales representative Susan Swift. The judges said they really loved this one.

The Remax ad in the LRAFB 60th anniversary tab netted another top award. The ad was created by graphic designer Lisa Tigue and Henderson. “Love the layout, the great layers, the great cropping and placement,” the judges said.

The Leader took another first with the best Real Estate Classified Display ad created by Tigue and Publications Manager Matt Robinson. “Very clear headlines and easy to read,” commented the judges.

Another first place award won was in the employment classified display ad category with its Des Arc Nursing LPN ad. “Good use of a photo and boxes to keep it organized and simple,” the judges said.

The paper won second-place awards in the special section cover-magazine category with its Cabot library grand opening tab cover produced by Henderson, Hendricks and photographer David Scolli; and second for its Greystone Nursing Dietary Aide in the employment classified display ad. Tigue and Swift designed the ad.

Third-place honors went to Knupp and Swift for their Cabot Zonz Kidz Spotz in the best use of spot color category and for their Crafton’s Storewide Explosion ad in the best use of process color category.

Hendricks netted a third-place award for her 2015 Home, Lawn and Garden tab cover in the category of special section (magazine cover).

Knupp and Swift took third place in the most original idea competition with their Crafton’s “The Tax is on Us!” ad.

The pair took another third in the best single supplement category with their Michele Phillips ad.

Honorable mentions went to Henderson and Tigue for their Community Theater Costume Rentals in the Best Single Ad (10 inches and under).

Knupp and Feldman also received honorable mention in the Best Single Ad (half page and over) category with their Knights – 4th of July Sellathon.

TOP STORY >> Fresh start in Jacksonville, PCSSD

Leader senior staff writer

The sudden release of the Pulaski County Special School District from fiscal distress and state control means that both the mother district and the fledgling Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District detaching from it will get a fresh start in the 2016-17 school year.

While JNPSD continues hiring, prepares to buy existing school buildings from PCSSD and works to blend two high schools into one by the start of school, the state Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved Education Commissioner Johnny Key’s recommendations that PCSSD, along with the Helena-West Helena school district, be released from fiscal distress and take back control from the state.

The state board placed PCSSD in fiscal distress in 2011, in part for its declining end-of-year legal balance (carry over) and for lack of transparency and accountability on purchasing.

The state fired PCSSD Superintendent Charles Hopson and replaced him with Superintendent Jerry Guess. Guess, with the blessing of then-Commissioner Tom Kimbrell, disbanded the seven-member elected school board that, along with predecessors, ran the district into the ground.

From then until now, the state education commissioner has served as a one-man school board — first Kimbrell, then Tony Wood (now JNPSD superintendent) and now Key, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s appointee.

PCSSD also has a citizens advisory board that makes recommendations to Key.

That will continue until after a new PCSSD school board is elected on Sept. 20 and that board receives school board training. Then PCSSD is again in charge of its own destiny.

With the departure of about 4,000 students from the Jacksonville-North Pulaski area, PCSSD adopted a seven-zone configuration from which to elect the seven-member board.

Guess said Thursday that running the district with the loss of income from taxes on property now in the JNP attendance area — as much as $40 million a year, he said — would create a big challenge, as would the negotiated loss of about $20 million a year in desegregation payments from the state after next school year.

About a month ago, Guess said those were big obstacles and he thought the state should control of PCSSD for another school year. After the vote Thursday, he said he works for Key and the board, and they had spoken.

Meanwhile, the JNPSD transition team is working to blend two existing high schools into one by the start of next school year.

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski high school transition team has received about 60 suggested combinations for school colors and 80 different mascot recommendations for the new school to form when Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School merge.

That merger will happen with the opening of the new district in August.

More than 300 community residents responded to the survey, according to Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh.

Among the most popular colors so far are Jacksonville’s red and white, North Pulaski’s maroon and gold and a combination, red and gold, Owoh said.

North Pulaski’s falcon, Jacksonville’s red devil and the mythical phoenix are among the top mascot recommendations.

The principal of both high schools, students from each, parents and administrators comprise the transition team.

Owoh said the team would meet with business leaders before making a recommendation to the board, probably at the April meeting.

The two school bands have already been practicing together.

In addition to selecting school colors and mascots, the timeline for the switch is undecided. If it takes effect with the start of the new school year, the district must move quickly to order fall sports uniforms and select the mascot, according to Owoh.

Some have suggested leaving the changes and buying of new uniforms until the new high school opens for the 2019-20 school year, which would defer the cost as well. Others like the idea of making the change to coincide with the district’s new standalone status this coming school year.

The transition committee is reaching out to community and civic organizations for suggestions and ideas not only for new school colors and a new mascot but also for general ideas on how to make this transition smooth and successful.

Community members are encouraged to contact Owoh by email at or by phone at 501-519-3648 or contact Jada Ellis by email at or by phone at 501-246-0621.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Red Devils run-rule Harding Academy

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville softball team improved its record to 2-1 in dominant fashion Monday with a 14-4 mercy-rule win over Harding Academy in a nonconference game at Dupree Park.

Harding Academy’s Alexa Golden singled in the game’s first at-bat, and scored an unearned run on a pair of infield errors two batters later. But Jacksonville pitcher Kym House struck out the next three batters to get out of the top of the first, and the Lady Red Devils answered with seven runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a 7-1 lead.

Jacksonville leadoff hitter Allison Seats was hit by a pitch to start things off and two-hole hitter Zylah Richardson singled the next at-bat.

Two batters later, cleanup hitter Mackenzie Rodgers was hit by a pitch and House walked the following at-bat. All four base runners eventually crossed home plate to give Jacksonville a 4-1 lead and the Lady Red Devils’ next three runs came with two outs.

Bailey Holt started the two-out rally with a double and advanced to third base on a passed ball. Brianna Lloyd singled to drive in Holt and Emily Lovercheck walked the next at-bat. That brought Seats back to the plate, and Seats gave the Lady Red Devils their 7-1 lead with a double.

House struck out the next three batters she faced in the top of the second – all looking, but Jacksonville went three up, three down in the bottom half of the inning.

Harding Academy went scoreless the next two innings, and Jacksonville added to its lead in the bottom of the fourth. The Lady Red Devils scored five runs that inning to take a commanding 12-1 lead.

Lovercheck reached base after being hit by a pitch to start the inning and she scored the next at-bat on a triple by Seats. Richardson then drove in Seats with a single and Rodgers hit a two-run home run two batters later.

House singled the next at-bat and Jacksonville’s 12th run came off the bat of Holt two batters later. Holt hit a ground ball to third base, but the throw to first was off, allowing the Lady Devils to score and take the 11-run lead.

Harding Academy’s highlight of the game came in the top of the fifth. With one out, Lady Wildcat two-hole hitter Audrey Laird hit a three-run homer to straightaway center, which cut Jacksonville’s lead to 12-4.

The Lady Wildcats didn’t score the rest of the inning, and Jacksonville invoked the mercy rule in the bottom of the fifth. Lovercheck was hit by a pitch for the second-straight at-bat to lead off the inning, and Seats followed with a well-hit ball to left field, but it was right at the left fielder for the first out of the inning.

Lovercheck went to second base on a passed ball and Richardson advanced her to third on a bunt that left both runners safe. Kinley Burrows also bunted the following at-bat, but no one covered first on the play, leaving all runners safe again and the bases loaded.

On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Lovercheck scored on a passed ball and Rodgers hit a fly ball to left field that was caught. Richardson was a few steps off the bag when the catch was made, but she hustled back and touched the bag before racing home and ending the game because of the 10-run differential.

It was a good win for the hosts, but Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk wasn’t pleased with the mistakes his team made at certain points in the game.

“We had some routine ground balls that were bobbled, a routine ground ball and bad throw to first,” said Hawk. “There were a couple of those – a base-running error. It’s a fundamental fact if the ball’s hit to the outfield and you’re on third base you don’t come off the bag, and the girl comes off the bag about three or four steps. If she hadn’t have had speed I wouldn’t have been able to send her.

“With Mackenzie up to bat, the odds of her hitting it to the outfield are very high and she needed to just stand right there.”

Though Hawk didn’t like the mistakes his team made, there were plenty of positives to take away from the game as well.

“They were patient at the plate,” Hawk said. “Their pitcher was keeping them off balance. She was a little slower than what they’ve seen this year. We were aggressive on the base paths. They stay upbeat and when they do make an error everybody kind of pulls together, circles the wagons.

“They stay upbeat and positive. We had an inning where we went three up, three down and they just come right back out and go at it. They’re competitors. They really, really compete. They love the game, they know the game and it’s really fun watching them play when they’re clicking.”

House earned the win in the circle. She pitched four and one-third innings and finished with nine strikeouts. Richardson led the Lady Devils with three hits – all singles. Seats went 2 for 3 with a double and triple and Rodgers, House, Holt and Lloyd had one hit each.

SPORTS STORY >> Long road back for CHS coach

Leader sports editor

When Cabot coach Jerry Bridges took over the CHS program, it was an unlikely union. Bridges had been highly successful as a young coach, winning two state championships at two different schools, but had walked away from the court of play to become an administrator. Cabot had not been in the state tournament for 31 years. Bridges had not coached for three, but it worked.

Bridges coached in the 2001 state final at Fort Smith Southside before leaving coaching.

“It’s tough at Southside and it just wore on me,” said Bridges. “I needed a break. I needed a change and I thought, let’s look at this. I was at an age I thought, give it three years and if you don’t like, if it’s not for you, I could still get a good job out there.”

Cabot was not a strong program, but it offered a sort of familiarity that Bridges found attractive.

“I don’t know if this was a good job right then,” Bridges said. “But it’s central Arkansas, closer to home. It paid well, and I thought it was a similar job to Caddo Hills, but just on a bigger level. It was appealing to me at the time that they were talking about building a facility. I just thought at that time in my life, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Then Cabot athletic director Johnny White had a very short list of candidates he wanted to pursue, and knew Bridges needed to be coaching.

“I knew when Jerry was AD at Mountain Home, that wasn’t where he was supposed to be,” said White. “We had talked some over the years, and he had said some things that told me, he needed to coach basketball.”

White’s intuition was right.

“I quickly found out (at Mountain Home), man, you were born to coach and be in the gym. It was like riding a bike. I just got back on it and started going,” Bridges said.

Coaching has changed in many ways since Bridges entered the profession more than 25 years ago. He built a reputation in his first career of being one of the more fiery coaches out there. While he still preaches, teaches and demonstrates intensity, he has calmed somewhat. But the job itself hasn’t gotten any easier for him.

“It’s not easier,” Bridges said. “Coaching now is not easier than it was when I first started. This run helps make it better. A lot of the pressure I bring on myself.

“This is where I’m at. The losing hurts more than the winning makes you feel good. But when you make a special run like this one here, it does make it all worth it. Alright. This is a young man’s profession. I do believe that. I don’t know how many more years I have in me. It’s a challenge I have to face. I hope they’ll have me around again next year anyway. I’m not ready to quit yet. But I know I’m at the end-ward part of my journey.”

Out on the practice floor, Bridges returns to the line of thought.

“This is why I do it,” Bridges said. “This is it. They drive me crazy, but they keep me young. Every one of them will tell you I’ve chewed on them at one time or another, but I love these guys. You build these relationships. You have an impact. It makes you feel good when they come back and see you.”

There’s also one other source of steadiness, perspective and power in the head Panther’s life. And it’s evident when she enters his office, especially right after a loss – his 3-year-old granddaughter Hanlee.

“She’s good for me,” Bridges said. “Hanlee’s my medicine. You’ll get me emotional but she’s been good for me. I think if you talked to a lot of other people they’ll tell you, too. She’s helped me in a very positive way. You never realize how a little thing can have so much power. That makes us tic right now, that little girl.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers answer Bryant in overtime

Leader sports editor

The Bryant Hornets erased an eight-point deficit in about two minutes to force overtime, but the Cabot Panthers prevailed 50-47 in the semifinals of the Class 7A state tournament Saturday at Panther Arena.

The win punched Cabot’s ticket to its first-ever state championship game, which will be at 8:45 p.m. Friday at the Hot Springs Convention Center against Bentonville.

With 2:48 remaining in regulation, the Panthers held a 43-35 lead and appeared well on their way to that first championship appearance. But Bryant clamped down on defense and held the Panthers scoreless, and tied the game with 47 seconds left on two free throws by point guard Calvin Allen.

“I think you had a team on the other side that was wanting to win as bad as we wanted to win,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “Both teams D’d up and that’s what that was about. I’ve said ever since this thing started, whoever wins this will be the one that plays the best defense.”

Bryant upset 7A-West champion Fayetteville in the quarterfinals, hitting 11 of 19 from 3-point range. The Hornets were only able to attempt 11 against Cabot, and made just two. The perimeter defense forced Bryant to attack the basket, where inside defenders drew five charges.

“I thought for the most part this game, we did a good job of defending their three,” Bridges said. “I know they didn’t shoot near as many as they did when we watched them play Fayetteville. That’s one thing I stressed. Another thing is, with their quickness, if we’re closing out hard, they’re going hard to the basket and you have to be willing to step in and take a hit. And this guy right here (putting his hand on Logan Gilbertson’s shoulder) will step in front of a train. I just credit our whole team and our defensive effort the whole game.”

After a fourth quarter in which 16 of the 18 combined points scored were from the foul line, Bryant made it a 10-0 run by scoring the first two points in overtime, also from the foul line. Kevin Hunt hit the free throws with 2:55 remaining to put the Hornets up 45-43.

Cabot’s Matt Stanley answered with a basket while being fouled. It was Cabot’s first field goal since Gilbertson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer that ended the third quarter with Cabot leading 35-33. Stanley missed the free throw, but took a charge at the other end to give possession back to the Panthers. Jarrod Barnes missed a driving attempt, but Hunter Southerland was there for the rebound and putback, giving Cabot a 47-45 lead with 1:25 remaining.

The Panther defense drew a five second count on Bryant with 1:17 to play, and Southerland gave Cabot a four-point lead with 38 seconds to go.

Bobby Joe Duncan made another huge defensive play on Bryant’s next possession. After knocking the ball out of bounds, Duncan tipped Romen Martin’s inbound pass back into Martin’s hands before he could step onto the playing court, giving Cabot possession with 27 seconds remaining.

Bryant fouled Barnes, who missed two free throws three seconds later, but Martin also missed on Bryant’s end and Duncan got the rebound and was fouled. He made one of two with 10 seconds to go. Bryant scored with four seconds left, but Cabot didn’t have to inbound the ball as time expired.

“I think it’s something special,” Bridges said through emerging tears about the team’s first run to a championship game. “I’m sorry. These kids work hard. I’m very demanding. I’m sure if I left they’d tell y’all some good stories. But I love these kids. I tell them, just like everybody remembers their first kiss, you win that first championship, everybody’s going to remember you.”

Duncan led Cabot (19-9) with 12 points while Gilbertson added 10. Allen led Bryant (22-8) with 12. Hunt and Martin each scored 11 and Braylon Steel added 10 for the Hornets.

“This is a great place, from our administrators on down,” Bridges said. “Everybody works hard. We’ve got good kids willing to work hard and overachieve. I hope all of Cabot will come down and pack the arena. Our kids will be ready. We know what’s on the other side, but we like our team, too. So let’s go see.”

SPORTS STORY >> Stellar Cabot defense faces biggest test

Leader sports editor

The focal point for any team when it comes to playing the Bentonville Tigers is obvious. It’s to figure out how to deal with Kentucky Wildcat signee Malik Monk. It will also be the focus of the Cabot Panthers when they face the Tigers at 8:45 p.m. Friday in the Class 7A state championship game at the Bank of America Arena in Hot Springs.

Monk, a 6-foot-3 two-guard, is a pure shooter and pure scorer with incredible athleticism. He’s averaging more than 30 points per game, but the Tigers have not proven invincible this year.

Their overall record of 21-8 might be a little deceiving. Five of those losses were to out-of-state teams with their own highly-ranked prospects played in very unfamiliar places.

One of the three in-state losses was a game Monk missed, a 58-57 loss to Fort Smith Southside. The other two losses were to Fayetteville, who won the 7A-West.

The Bulldogs beat Bentonville 60-55 at home on Jan. 29, and beat them 78-76 at BHS on Feb. 26. So it wasn’t hard for Cabot coach Jerry Bridges to find out whom to seek for advice on playing Monk and the Tigers.

“I talked with coach (Kyle) Adams this morning,” said Bridges on Monday afternoon. “I talked to him for whatever he could give me. He shared some things I’ll keep between us rightnow. But one comment he said was, their goal was to keep him to his average, but don’t let the other ones get theirs. Because if you watched him here, he’s going to shoot enough to score 50 or 60. And so let’s hope he’s not shooting 40 percent or better. Because if he is, we’re in trouble.”

Monk, who transferred from East Poinsett County High School in Lepanto after his freshman year, has been one of the top-ranked recruits in the nation since that year.

The Tigers routed Cabot two years ago in the second round of the 2014 state tournament, and Bridges said then that he was the best sophomore he’s ever seen. After watching him last week in the state tournament he hosted, his opinion of Monk’s ability has not waned.

“I said this on the radio earlier today and I’ll say it again,” Bridges said. “I coached against Joe Johnson, Corliss Williamson, that Parkview team that had five DIs. At this stage of his career, he’s more talented than they were. Is he going to be a better pro than those guys, I don’t know that, yet.

“Look here,” Bridge said, standing on the court at Panther Arena about 10 feet behind the 3-point line. “He can get this shot any time, and he can make it enough to where you can’t just wait back there (pointing at the top of the key). He’s a phenomenal talent.”

Jordan Hemphill can also get hot from outside, and did so at an opportune time when Bentonville was on the ropes against Van Buren in the semifinals. The Tigers won that game in overtime after Van Buren missed an uncontested layup at the buzzer.

Two of Cabot’s key players were also key players on the 2014 team that lost to Bentonville. Garrett Rowe and Hunter Southerland have been strong leaders for the Panthers this season. Rowe suffered an ACL tear before the season began, and was back on the court in four months. Southerland has been the steadying force for Cabot.

This game could be viewed as a redemption of sorts for them, and for junior Bobby Joe Duncan, who joined Rowe and Southerland in the starting lineup last year, when the Panthers were beaten badly, 71-44, by Fort Smith Northside after getting snowed in at the hotel in northwest Arkansas with nothing to do for days.

“That situation was not ideal, but Northside whipped our tail,” Bridges said of the weather-hampered state tournament last year. “We’re better than that, than what we showed from last year. Bentonville, we were young and we were happy we won that first game. I know they were better than us, but they shouldn’t have done that to us. We’ve been whipped pretty good twice the last two years, and that’s what we talked about. Let’s go redeem ourselves. Let’s show people we belong.”

Cabot has no one that can match the scoring potential of Monk, but it has prided itself on its ability to defend all season.

EDITORIAL >> Coroner’s race is complicated

The Lonoke County coroner’s race last week taught a civics lesson to even the savviest residents and political observers.

In a twist, the candidate who had dropped out before the ballots could be edited actually received the most votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff.

Karl E. (Eddie) Pennington did not campaign at all after bowing out when he took a job outside Lonoke County. By law, he cannot become coroner even if he wins the March 22 runoff against Carla Horton, who came in second ahead of Kenny Fraley.

Early voting starts Tuesday.

If Pennington wins the runoff, the term of the current coroner, Cheryl Thomas, will be extended for another two years. Thomas was appointed by the governor after her husband Mark died in office last year. She is the owner of Thomas Funeral Home in Cabot.

As an appointee, she is not allowed to run for another term.

Pennington may have won because he drew the first position on the ballot. That’s usually a lucky break for candidates, except if they drop out and it’s too late to change the ballot. Worst things have happened: People have voted for dead candidates, which would have been unfortunate, especially had it happened in a coroner’s race.

Voters can be forgiven for going to the polls not knowing the latest news on the coroner’s race. We did have races for president and U.S. Senate, as well as heated contests for the legislature and quorum court.

People who turn up for the runoff are going to be more informed about who they are voting for, but let’s hope Pennington doesn’t win again.

Horton has worked for the State Crime Lab and several funeral homes. She’s got the experience to get the job done. Pennington and Fraley should endorse Horton.

EDITORIAL >> Welcome, Judge Bailey

Judge Rita Bailey was elected last week to preside over the newly formed Jacksonville-Maumelle District Court. Having easily defeated Democratic state Sen. David Johnson from Little Rock, she will take over in January from Judge Robert Batton, who is retiring after almost 40 years on the bench.

Because of a change in the election law, registered voters get to vote for all district court seats in the county in which they live, and judge candidates only have to live in the county to run, not in the district.

That means Bailey, who lives in Cammack Village, likely won with help from her supporters in the Little Rock area and Wrightsville, where she is district court judge.

The new rules make sense. After all, anyone in the county could one day have to appear in district court, which mostly handles misdemeanors and traffic tickets. Bailey will bring a fresh perspective to the Jacksonville court. “I’m elated, totally thrilled,” Bailey told The Leader on election night.

She will bring her ebullient personality to a court where defendants deserve respect and confidence that their rights are respected and upheld.

Bailey has shown her impartiality in the Wrightsville court and should bring that same judicial fairness to Jacksonville and Maumelle. Congratulations, Judge Bailey.

In another judicial race, Cabot District Judge Joe O’Bryan will have to face Clint McGue in a runoff Nov. 8. McGue garnered more votes than the judge and John Flynn, the third candidate, but not more than the 50 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff.

McGue has been city attorney in Ward for more than 20 years and has extensive legal experience to qualify for the job. He has the temperament to serve the people of north Lonoke County well.

O’Bryan was arrested last summer for third-degree domestic battery. He was suspended by the State Supreme Court while the case was pending. Although the charges were dropped, it seemed like an opportune time for O’Bryan to retire from a high-pressure, often-thankless job that he has held since 1990.

But he chose to run for yet another term. This race will not be decided for another eight months — a good reason to move judicial races from early March to fall.

TOP STORY >> Judge’s son seeks musical fame

Rita and Leland Sullivan dance on Friday night to western swing music played by The Ward Country Playboys. Above, Luke Erwin plays guitar.
Leader staff writer

Local country musician Luke Erwin of Lonoke County is looking to head west in pursuit of a music career.

Erwin, a 2011 Cabot High School graduate, can be heard performing Friday nights at the Ward Country Dance off Hwy. 319 in Ward. He said he tries to play three times a week.

On Saturday, Erwin played with the Round Up Boys at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla.

The 23-year-old is a senior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He is studying history and set to graduate in May.

Erwin took guitar lessons when he was 13, but quit. He said he was around 17 when he went to the Grand Ole Opry and saw Chuck Mead playing. Erwin said, if Mead could do it, so could he.

He started learning to play the guitar again and taking lessons from Mike Hickman of Austin. Erwin said his dad, Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin, played the piano, and his mom, Gail, was a drummer in a band.

He was a freshman at ASU-Beebe when he first went to the Ward Country Dance. Rockabilly legends Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers were playing that night.

Erwin talked to the band, and keyboardist Kern Kennedy took him under his wing. The young man started playing with Kern Kennedy and the Kampground Express and Hazel Sheets and the Famous Four. Gigs at nursing homes and senior centers honed his skills, and Kennedy taught Erwin how to play the piano.

“I play by ear. I can’t read sheet music,” Erwin said.

He then filled in for The Ward Country Playboys when they needed a guitarist and singer to play at the Ward Country Dance. He says he’s enjoyed doing that ever since.

“I started listening to The Temptations as a little kid. In junior high, I got into classic country with George Strait and Merle Haggard. Kern (Kennedy) got me turned on to western swing. It is like jazz with cowboy hats,” Erwin said.

Ace in the Hole and Asleep at the Wheel are two western swing bands Erwin gave as examples of the genre.

“Western swing takes more talent, too, because the music is more challenging to play. The genre is dying out. There is hardly anyone playing it anymore. I hope to move to Fort Worth and play in Texas and Oklahoma. I sense the music is more accepted there,” Erwin said.

“If kids would listen to western swing, they would love it. People from ages 8 to 80 can get up and dance to it. The country genre has changed from rock to hip hop and rap influences. I like the traditional, but country has to change to remain popular with the times,” he noted.

Erwin said he has played at the Silver Moon clubs in Tupelo, Miss., and Newport; and Stickyz Rock and Roll Chicken Shack in Little Rock. He also played with Sonny Burgress at a private party for Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson at South on Main restaurant in Little Rock.

Erwin also plays every other Tuesday with Kern Kennedy’s band at the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center.

His main focus is writing songs. Erwin said he’s lost count of the songs he’s written.

And “Today I Start Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard is one of his favorite songs.

Carl Farmer and Lou Peppers of McAlester, Okla., drove to Ward Country Dance on Friday to hear Erwin perform. The retirees travel to six states to go dancing. They heard him playing two weeks ago at the Fiddlers Winter Convention in Wagoner, Okla., and talked with him after the show.

“He shocked me. He was good. He can sing. I think I floored him when he saw me here,” Farmer said.

Ward Country Dance owners Rita and Leland Sullivan spoke very highly of Erwin, too.

“He can write a song. He’s got talent. He just needs his big break,” Rita Sullivan said.

Leland Sullivan said, “Luke has great stage presence.”

“Luke is very well mannered. He is a good, all-around true-blue American cowboy. Luke dresses the part and is cute. He is funny and has a good sense of humor. He is something special,” Rita Sullivan added.

“There might be someone listening right here one night and, with the right exposure, he will make it. If he can get that one song produced, it will get his foot in the door,” Leland Sullivan noted.

Erwin will be playing with Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers and Charlie Rich Jr. on May 20 at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock.

The local musician added that he’s looking for bookings and wants to start a new group.

TOP STORY >> Early voting next week

Early voting for three runoffs in Lonoke County begins Tuesday. The polls will be open through next Saturday, March 19 and Monday, March 21.

March 22 is Election Day.

Those who cast Democratic ballots in the primary will not be eligible to vote in the Republican runoffs of coroner candidates Carla Horton and Karl E. (Eddie) Pennington, Dist. 4 justice of the peace candidates Claud E. Irvin and John Howard and Dist. 13 JP candidates Bob Morris and Kenny Ridgeway.

On the coroner race, voters should know Pennington dropped out because he took a new job in Little Rock that would keep him out of the county most of the time. His name appeared on the primary ballot because it had to by law, since he withdrew after the certified list was submitted to the Lonoke County Election Commission.

If he were to win the runoff, he couldn’t take the job.

Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners Director Justin Clay and Legal Counsel Tim Humphries say a vacancy of nomination would exist and couldn’t be filled by the party unless the candidate had passed away, been inflicted with a serious illness, moved out of the county or filed for another office.

If there isn’t an election for coroner in November, the current coroner would “hold over pursuant to the (state) Constitution,” the officials told The Leader last week.

People eligible to vote in the three runoffs are those who cast Republican ballots, nonpartisan ballots or didn’t vote in the primary.

Early voting sites are ReNew Community Church at 1122 S. Second St. in Cabot and the Lonoke County Courthouse Annex on North Center Street in Lonoke.

The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through next Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Monday.

Residents can cast their ballots at every regular polling site on March 22.

TOP STORY >> Bonds used to purchase old facilities

Leader senior staff writer

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board on Monday hired the second assistant superintendent, filled more administrative positions and authorized its superintendent and public finance agent to apply to sell $15.365 million in construction and facilities bonds.

That application is to the state Board of Education, where bond approvals are usually authorized.

Of the proposed bond sale, two-thirds of the proceeds would be used to purchase area school buildings from the Pulaski County Special School District by July 1, the official JNPSD detachment date, and make needed improvements.

The $10.8 million purchase will include the Jacksonville and North Pulaski high school buildings, the old Jacksonville Middle School building and elementary buildings, including Arnold Drive, Tolleson, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood, Warren Dupree, Bayou Meto and Homer Adkins, as well as the bus barn.

The money to secure those bonds comes from JNP’s share of the annual September renewal of the current 40.7-mill property tax.

It will be used to buy Jacksonville High School and the other buildings, as well as purchase new or used furniture or fixtures. Any remaining funds will be used for constructing, refurbishing, remodeling and equipping school facilities.

The bonds to build the new high school and elementary school, secured by the 7.6- mill tax increase approved by Jacksonville-area voters Feb. 9, aren’t slated to be sold until May 2017.

That’s when the extent of the state’s commitment to partner financially on construction of the new high school, the new elementary school and remodeling, refreshing or adding to all other district school buildings will be known.

It’s anticipated that the state will pay about 55 percent of the cost of approved construction and repairs to academic spaces.

That bond sale is expected to help fund the $80 million building program to the tune of about $46 million.


The board unanimously approved the hiring of several administrators and the extension of Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh’s contract and duties.

Owoh, already assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, is now additionally charged with oversight of the district’s desegregation efforts.

His contract was extended through the 2017-18 school year.

The board approved Superintendent Tony Wood’s recommendation to hire Bryan Duffie as the district’s assistant superintendent for support services.

Duffie, who holds a Ph.D, has been superintendent of Jonesboro’s Westside Consolidated School District since 2010 and was previously a Westside principal.

He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Arkansas and his doctorate in 2010 from Vanderbilt University.

By hiring Christopher Johnson as Jacksonville High School assistant principal for the upcoming school year, the board finished hiring all principals and assistant principals for the district.

Johnson, a 2005 University of Arkansas at Little Rock graduate, earned his master’s degree from Arkansas State University in 2012 and an educational leadership degree from there in 2014.

Johnson has been assistant principal at J.A. Fair High School since 2013 and, prior to that, was a teacher, coach and dean of students in the Little Rock School District.

Also hired was Kevin Martin, director of technology. His contract is effective in mid- March and through the end of the 2016-17 school year.

For 11 years, until 2015, Martin was network/systems administrator for the North Little Rock School District. He is currently IT director at RichSmith Development.

He has an associate’s degree from Arkansas State University-Beebe.

Wood said, beginning Saturday, the six elementary school principals would interview and screen teacher applicants. He said the process could involve three screenings being held before the principals make recommendations to Wood, and he does the same to the board.

“There’s been a lot of response,” Wood said, “and I’m pleased with the quality of the applicants.”

As for redrawing attendance zones, Wood said it was “an unfolding story.” He said he had hoped to have that completed by now and ready for a public forum. Now he said he hopes it will be ready in April. “We’ve got to match up population with attendance zones and capacity of the elementary schools,” he said.

Not only do parents and students need to know, he said, but it’s important in order to draw up bus routes.

Beardsley, the financial adviser, said some JNPSD patrons were concerned, having received tax bills that appear to say the money would go to the Pulaski County district. The bill omitted the designation “North,” he said. He also said he had checked to be sure that those funds were in fact headed to the Jacksonville-North Pulaski district.


The district is currently accepting applications for:

Teacher/coach middle school, teacher/coach for various high school sports, teacher/head coach for various high school sports, teachers K-2 and grades 3-5;

A special education director (second posting), lead high school counselor, elementary and secondary school counselors, middle school math, science, social studies and language arts teachers;

Lead high school counselor, art teachers K-12, special education teachers K-12, secondary math and science teachers, school bus drivers and a diesel mechanic.


Rick Kron, one of the instructional facilitators at Warren Dupree Elementary, invited the board to see the school’s fifth graders participate in the annual Shakespeare Scene Festival on Thursday and Friday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Dupree was the only elementary school invited to perform and has been invited for the past three years.

This year, the students read and discussed Julius Caesar, then developed their own 15-minute version entitled “The Politically Incorrect Julius Caesar.”

“What I love is how the students take ownership and outperform many of the middle school and high school student groups at the festival,” Kron said.

Kron is also a reporter for The Leader.