Friday, March 18, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Hometown boy runs for Senate

After a long day on the campaign trail, Conner Eldridge, who’s running against Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas), dropped by the paper Tuesday night to visit with the newsroom staff and meet with the nightshift workers as they prepared the paper for printing and delivery. The mailroom and pressmen aren’t used to having Senate candidates drop by, but Eldridge was in his element, shaking hands and making conversation like a local.

Eldridge is a Lonoke native and a former U.S. attorney in his thirties who comes from a prosperous family here. His grandfather, John Tull Jr., who died in 2014, served on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Clinton Administration.

Eldridge says he’s running because gridlock and dysfunction in Washington must stop. He said he’ll work to create jobs, improve schools and public safety and work to strengthen the middle class and seniors.

It’s refreshing to see someone under 50 running for Congress. He and his wife have three young sons in school.

Boozman, his opponent, defeated Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010 when Republicans took control of the Senate in an anti-Obama tidal wave. Lincoln was chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Arkansas farmers soon saw cuts to crop subsidies after she left Washington.

Eldridge, who is running as a Democrat, is a long shot in a state that’s still suspicious of President Obama, but with Hillary Clinton on the presidential ballot, nostalgic Democrats may come to the ballot boxes in droves to support her and Eldridge.

Donald Trump, a foul-mouthed, politically inexperienced money-centric liar with no policy positions who was a longtime Clinton supporter until last year, may give Republican voters in Arkansas a reason to sit out this election. That could hurt Boozman. We’ll see.

EDITORIAL >> Panthers’ win earns respect

Congratulations again to the Cabot Panthers for their stunning run to the Class 7A state championship last weekend. Their play in the championship win over Bentonville and senior sensation Malik Monk was inspiring and proved once again that defense wins championships.

Cabot ran at least four different defenders at Monk at different times in the game. The play off the ball was equally impressive. Many times, Cabot would run someone out for a double team just to force Monk to give up the ball. Once he did, the effort to get back into position was pure hustle, by everyone, the whole game.

Cabot struggled to score for much of the game, but that changed late in the third quarter, and what happened in the fourth quarter, when Cabot went on an 18-2 run, proved who the better team really was.

Once Cabot finally got on track offensively, and kept up the defensive intensity, there was no doubt which team was truly better. This was no upset. This is a great team.

The Cabot Panthers are the best 7A team in Arkansas and have earned that new plaque in the trophy case, the first one ever for boys’ basketball in school history.

Congratulations to Coach Jerry Bridges and his talented team. Here’s hoping UALR’s Trojans will do as well in their tournament.

TOP STORY >> Building named after hero

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke High School Army JROTC on Wednesday dedicated its building to Second World War hero Capt. Maurice L. Britt. The Lonoke graduate was a Medal of Honor recipient, a lieutenant governor and an NFL football player.

According to the Encyclo-pedia of Arkansas History and Culture, Britt was born in Carlisle on June 29, 1919, and was raised in Lonoke. He graduated from Lonoke High School in 1937 as valedictorian. As a 12th grader, he was elected class president and served as captain of the basketball, football and track teams. Britt’s nickname was “Footsie” because of his size 13 shoes.

Britt received an athletic scholarship to the University of Arkansas, where he played football and basketball. He was sports editor of the student newspaper Arkansas Traveler. Britt graduated from the Fayetteville college in 1941 with a degree in journalism.

He was in the ROTC program when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry in the Army Reserves, according to retired Lt. Col. Paul Brown, Lonoke High School’s ROTC instructor.

Britt was drafted into the NFL by the Detroit Lions. He played football for one season and scored one touchdown before being called to duty in the Second World War after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

He was a platoon commander in the Third Infantry Division campaigns in Africa, Sicily and Italy.

Britt was severely wounded on Feb. 12, 1944, during a fight against the Germans in Italy. He lost his right arm. Britt was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Medal of Honor.

In 1948, he gave the dedication speech for War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

After the war, Britt and his family lived in Fort Smith and worked at a furniture manufacturing company owned by his wife’s family.

In 1963, he moved to Little Rock and started an aluminum product manufacturing business.

In 1966, Britt became the first Republican in the state elected as lieutenant governor since the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. He served two terms, until 1971.

He was offered the position of district director for the Small Business Administration by President Richard Nixon in 1971, a position Britt held until 1985.

In 1986, he ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Britt died on Nov. 26, 1995, in Little Rock, at the age of 76.

The Lonoke High School Army JROTC program was established in 2010. The cadets there learned about Britt and wanted to honor him.

Lonoke School Superintendent Suzanne Bailey said, “When Col. Brown brought this dedication to the attention of the school board, they gave it their full support.”

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) spoke to the cadets about changes to guard against.

“It is an honor to have freedom of speech and an honor to own a weapon or gun. It is an honor (to have) free press and to live in a country that you can go to the church that you want to go to. They are rights that we must guard against. Those are changes we can never allow to take place. We have got to guard against that with everything in our might,” Williams said.

“There are changes that will take place that will just happen, and we’ll embrace them. But, when you start talking about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the things that made this country great, we better guard against those changes,” the senator said.

“We are built on a foundation that is not very broad but deep. We must guard those building blocks to the point that we are willing to suit up and protect those rights,” Williams continued.

“Footsie Britt did that. My dad did that landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He told me stories long before I saw ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ I believed it, but I couldn’t imagine it being that bad. He told me he got off the Higgins boat and the bodies in the water were three to four deep as he walked to the shore,” Williams said.

“These were people who said we are going to protect those rights. It’s not a game. It is a way of life we are going to protect. I ask of you young people, the most honorable thing you can do for America is to suit up and protect those rights, to be willing to stand up and give your life,” he said.

Williams said the U.S. is one of the few countries that still have the same Constitution that they started with. Most are constantly changing, but the U.S. has not changed because the rights have been held and protected with lives and we must be willing to do that again. “If I was asked to suit up today, we’d defend this great country and go back to war again,” the senator said.

Lonoke High School Principal Marc Sherrell said he has a military background and enjoys watching the program. It takes him back when he was younger.

“We need to promote and protect this program in this community,” Sherrell said.

He said the JROTC cadets are the ones in the high school’s halls that don’t get into trouble, so you don’t see them a lot. When they are over at the JROTC side, they rise up and take on the leadership role, Sherrell added.

TOP STORY >> House member target of council

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council on Thursday unanimously condemned dilapidated apartments owned by outgoing state Rep. Donnie Copeland (R-North Little Rock).

Aldermen also voted 5-4 to amend a 2009 ordinance that allows pass-through water charges by outside utilities.

Copeland’s condemned apartments are located at 1511 Nina St. He has 30 days to demolish them or bring them up to code.

Police Chief Kenny Boyd told aldermen this issue had been before them last October, and he was under the impression that the owner would update either Code Enforcement or the council about his progress on improving the property.

“Nothing has been done...One thing I want to point out is that (Parks Director) Kevin House does a really good job of bringing a lot of tournaments into Dupree Park and the backside of that property is what they see when they exit out,” the chief said.

Code Enforcement Officer Charles Jenkins said there are structural issues with the building and, according to the previous owner, it would cost $20,000 to repair its foundation.

The only change he could see, Jenkins noted, was that the bottom apartments had been cleaned and the stairwells had been removed to prevent access to the upper floor, for safety.

Jacksonville has spent $301.94 on a title search and advertising public hearings. That doesn’t include hours he’s worked on this, Jenkins added.

Copeland also spoke. He clarified that the property is not occupied and apologized for a misunderstanding. He said he thought he had 90 days to come back before the council.

He said he’d tried to get several structural engineers to come out, and was finally able to get one he knew from Louisiana who is licensed to work in Arkansas to take a look.

Copeland explained that he wants to confirm the cost to fix the foundation, and noted that the $20,000 estimate was “prohibitive for investment.”

The engineer wanted to further research the property so that a plan of action could be drafted, and it’s difficult to get the bank to look at the apartments with all the notices posted on it, the owner continued.

He also said, “I have no desire to be a slum lord. I have no desire to have something that is unsightly to Dupree Park or the neighborhood. I will add that we couldn’t even go in the backyard of the property this past week because the neighbor has four pit bulls that are on itty bitty ropes and they’re constantly jumping at you.”

Copeland continued, “We want the same thing. We want a first-class, quality property. It’s looking like that property is probably going to need to come down and be leveled and something nice put in its place. But I would like to get the structural engineer’s full report before we move forward.”

Traylor asked whether Copeland offered, at the meeting months ago, to come back to the council, and the state representative said he had.

The alderman also said, “So you did know you were supposed to have already taken care of this?” Copeland answered, “Yes, sir.”

Traylor noted, “But you don’t have anything, other than something you got Sunday, three days before the meeting.”

Copeland said he needed a loan to improve the property and getting the condemnation cleared up was like “the chicken or the egg” argument.

He added that he had hoped to have more done, but had difficulty getting people to look at the building, and said he wanted an educated opinion on whether it should be razed because the previous owner is not a structural engineer. Copeland also said the property was in bad shape before he owned it.

Jenkins pointed out that he’d owned the property for over two years and the previous owner had retrieved that estimate from a professional.
 In other business, the proposal to limit pass-through charges for water to being no more than 2 percent and once per year follows Central Arkansas Water’s support of Sherwood’s request to take about 1,240 acres of service territory from Jacksonville Water Works. The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission is still mulling whether to grant or deny the request.

The ordinance is a compromise because, originally, it would have eliminated all pass-through charges. Revising the original proposal was Alderman Mike Traylor’s idea.

Traylor, who voted for the ordinance, and Alderman Terry Sansing discussed it before the vote.

Sansing voted against the measure. He explained, “I think this council mistakenly abdicated its right to set the rates for the citizens of Jacksonville, for the water commission. What we’ve got to remember is this is a public utility. It’s a public utility that’s supposed to do the best for Jacksonville.”

Sansing, who believes the council should vote on every rate increase, added that the commission had done its job, which is to secure abundant water resources for the city, and that the new ordinance would not affect the city utility’s 10-year contract with CAW.

But, “we need to look at some of the citizens things like this affect on an individual basis,” he continued.

Sansing told the council that Pulaski County Special School District-provided figures show 70 percent of the students in Jacksonville are receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

He said that means 70 percent of the city’s families are struggling. Sansing also noted that Metroplan has found that poverty in suburbs has continued to go up in Jacksonville.

“This is not a slap at the commission. I think we need to recognize that it is our responsibility to see and know what the rates are going to do and to understand our constituents and how they are affected by even small changes in rates,” the alderman emphasized.

Traylor responded by saying that is the reason the ordinance puts a cap on pass-through charges. He noted that the last rate increase passed was six cents per 1,000 gallons — about a quarter a month for an average family that uses 4,000-5,000 gallons. “It’s not a rate increase. That’s why I’m for it,” Traylor said

He said at an earlier council meeting that the utility is absorbing these increases, not passing them on to ratepayers.

And Sansing previously pointed out that the Jacksonville utility found out three months after an agreement was signed with CAW that the price would go up 35 percent over the next several years.

TOP STORY >> Future grants hang in balance

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on Friday dismissed Jacksonville attorney Mike Wilson’s request for a temporary injunction to prevent Central Arkansas Planning and Development District or the state from funding further General Improvement Fund grants.

Wilson’s attorney, John Ogles of Jacksonville, questioned him for nearly two hours about grants funded or slated to be funded through General Improvement Funds and the nature of his opposition.


Piazza also ruled against a motion to dismiss the case by defendants’ attorneys Sam Jones — for CAPDD — and Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen, representing the Department of Finance and Administration and state Auditor Andrea Lee.

The temporary injunction could be moot anyway. CAPDD director Rodney Larsen wrote to grantees on Feb. 26 that “the grant application you submitted…cannot be awarded at this time. Until the case is resolved, we will retain your application and apologize for any inconvenience.”


Wilson’s suit maintains that state General Improvement Funds are laundered through CAPDD, an unconstitutional workaround to allow state money to fund local projects.

Funding projects and groups directly by appropriation was routine when Wilson first challenged as unconstitutional both local funding and lack of specificity of purpose in a suit he won in 2005. The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2007.

Jones and Jorgensen chose not to cross-examine Wilson, offering instead to rebut Wilson’s testimony with that of Larsen, the CAPDD director. But, instead, Piazza told attorneys to set a new date to proceed to trial on the matter.

Wilson noted that, to the penny, the amount of GIF funds deposited with CAPDD in both 2013 and 2014 zeroed out, once checks had been cut to fund GIF grants that legislators had endorsed.

“Revenues and expenses were exactly the same,” he said, “in and out.” He called it a “pass-through,” language to which Jones objected.

Wilson called it proof that legislators are funding the projects as surely as if they had written and passed appropriations in General Assembly to fund them.

Wilson read to the court the information CAPDD provided at his request.

Among the things he noted was a $4,938 grant for ITT Tech, a for-profit entity wanting a 3-D printer, 3-D milling machine and supplies for an electrical engineering technology classroom.

“The rules prohibit a grant to a for-profit entity,” which ITT Tech is by its own admission, he said.

Wilson also said that the state money for these grants had to be matched by at least the same amount, something that happens only occasionally, according to records from the CAPDD.

Wilson said that authorizations and appropriations totaling $15 million were made to an entity called the Central Arkansas Economic Develop District but the state disbursed that money to Central Arkansas Planning and Developing District, and then CAPDD wrote the checks to fund the individual grants.

Wilson said he hasn’t seen any evidence that Central Arkansas Economic Develop District exists or that it is doing business as Central Arkansas Planning and Development District.

No date has been set yet for the trial.

TOP STORY >> Judge’s ruling helps new district

Leader senior staff writer

“Absent strong and well-reasoned objection” from the Joshua Intervenors within 10 days, U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. will make the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District a party to the desegregation lawsuit, he said Wednesday in court.

That means that district and the Pulaski County Special School District from which it is splitting could be considered individually for unitary status in various areas of concern, such as monitoring, facilities and staffing. “It’s possible that one might get unitary before the other,” he said.

Until now, JNPSD has operated as what Marshall termed “a hybrid” district with PCSSD. But, as of July 1 — after two years — it will no longer be a subsidiary and will be fully independent like nearly every other school district.

JNP attorney Scott Richardson said his client had long wanted to be a party to the desegregation suit and welcomed that status, and PCSSD attorney Allen Roberts said that district has no objection.

That leaves only the Joshua Intervenors as possible objectors. Other parties to the suit — the state and Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts — have been excused from the case, those two school districts because the judge has ruled they have achieved unitary status.


In the quarterly status hearing, Joshua Intervenors lawyer John Walker challenged the new district’s hiring mechanism and its master facilities plan. Marshall told all parties that those issues would be revisited after the new district’s first year of operation.

Walker charged that “the people running JNPSD are all (Superintendent Tony) Wood’s friends” and predominantly white but did note half of the principals hired are black.

“Requirements of law must be obeyed,” Walker said.

Walker also said JNPSD’s hiring of certified and classified workers was proceeding too slowly for him to evaluate whether it complied with terms of the desegregation agreement Plan 2000.

Virtually all persons employed by PCSSD this year at schools that will be part of JNPSD have been notified that PCSSD will not rehire them next year — that they will have to apply for positions through JNPSD.


With nearly 4,000 students leaving the district and expected to attend schools in the new district, PCSSD needs about 300 fewer certified personnel, who have already been told they aren’t rehired. And, on Wednesday, 187 more PCSSD positions have been eliminated, which will have the net effect of laying off 100 contract workers and others who were not working on an annual contract.

Walker has consistently held that the new district is discriminating against blacks by not immediately replacing all elementary schools with new buildings.

The district’s current long-term facilities master plan calls for one new elementary school to replace two, Arnold Drive and Tolleson, west of state Hwy. 67/167.

The plan also calls for a new high school to be built at the site of the old Jacksonville Middle School on Main Street, and rehabilitating North Pulaski High School — currently in its final year as a high school — to serve as the new district’s middle school.

The other schools, many of which are located in minority neighborhoods, will receive some expedited renovations and a new multi-purpose building each.

Both the court’s desegregation monitor Marge Powell and Marshall have agreed the plan is not discriminatory, but Marshall has said he wants new buildings for those elementary schools as soon as possible.


Richardson, a JNPSD attorney, told the court that even with the newly passed millage — one of the highest in the state — the district could not afford to build all new schools now. He said the state would not participate in funding new construction for those schools because they aren’t in bad enough condition.

Because one site is on Little Rock Air Force Base, the Defense Department is expected to pay for a lot of the new elementary school.

Marshall warned JNPSD that, when the facilities issue is revisited in a year, he expects to see plans for replacing Dupree, Bayou Meto, Pinewood and Taylor elementary schools. But he “doesn’t contemplate the impossible,” he said.


Richardson told the court that there are two bases for determining if facilities are equal. The desegregation agreement requires “equality” between schools, while the Constitution requires “substantial equality,” he said.

He said equality, which would require construction of all new schools, would stretch out the time needed to comply, while “substantial equality,” which would allow remodeling plus some new construction to new-school standards, would be achieved much more quickly — a lower bar to achieve.

“Well let’s chin that bar,” Marshall said.

“I think the new district has made big strides but incomplete,” Marshall said. “Elementary schools are addressed only at the margins.”


But equitable school facilities now “does require the impossible,” he said.

Another difference is in what standard to use in determining whether or not staffing meets unitary standards.

Walker said JNPSD is using the labor-market standard. If only 8 percent of the labor market were black, by way of example, then only 8 percent of teaching, administrative and classified positions would need to be filled by black people. “Our position is that (racial) balance must be maintained,” he said.

He accused Wood and the board of exercising nepotism and favoritism in hiring.

Walker threatened to take his concerns to the Justice Department if he doesn’t get satisfaction, but seemed to agree that a year is needed to make determination of efforts to unitary status.

Walker and Richardson remain at odds on many issues.

Walker told the judge that, when he needs information from PCSSD, he goes to the appropriate department, asks for and receives the information, but that — with JNPSD — all roads seem to lead through Richardson.

“Mr. Richardson’s approach is different than the others. We are prevented from getting the information,” Walker said.


“I see grumpiness about things being done differently by the new district,” Marshall said, but no evidence that it’s being done improperly, he noted.

Marshall told Walker that JNPSD was not bound to communicate in the same manner that PCSSD had chosen and said he should direct his requests for information to Richardson.

Richardson said that, until a couple of weeks ago, there were only three central office administrators trying to comply with information requests at the same time they are hiring and trying to get ready for their first year running a standalone school district.

Marshall said both districts are going through changes this year — JNPSD is starting to educate students for the first time and PCSSD is escaping state control for the first time since 2011 and needing to elect and train a new school board.

He said the JNPSD administrators need to be focused on getting school started and to see how staffing shapes up between now and early fall.

He said discovery for the evidentiary hearing Walker seeks could be set for late fall, with the hearing on staffing the following summer.

SPORTS STORY >> Devils trample on War Eagles

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville baseball team opened 5A-Central Conference play Tuesday with a doubleheader at Dupree Park. Both games against J.A. Fair were huge wins for the Red Devils, as they beat the visiting War Eagles 20-1 in the first game before winning the nightcap 16-1.

Both games ended after three innings because of the sportsmanship rule. Fair scored its only run of each game in the first inning. In game one, the Red Devils scored four runs in the first inning before adding 16 in the bottom of the second to set the final score.

Wesley Williams threw all three innings of that game, finishing with six strikeouts. The Red Devils only had five base hits in the first game, with senior Brandon Hickingbotham leading the offense with two hits. Jacksonville walked 12 times and reached base after being hit by a pitch on five occasions.

Left-hander Cody Savage threw all of game two, finishing with six strikeouts. The Devils led 2-1 after the first inning before adding three more runs in the second to push their lead to 5-1.

Gabe Helsley and Quentin Stallard scored runs three and four for Jacksonville on passed balls. Helsley walked to lead off the bottom of the second before Stallard roped a single to left field. Jonathan Smith was then hit by a pitch and he later scored on a sacrifice fly to right field off the bat of Caden Sample.

After holding Fair scoreless again in the top of the third, Jacksonville scored the rest of its 11 runs in the bottom half of the inning – all with two outs. Williams scored the first run of the two-out rally, and runs seven and eight were driven in on a two-RBI single by Kameron Whitmore.

Javan Wakefield came in to run for Whitmore, and he later scored on a bases-loaded walk by Savage. That put Jacksonville up 9-1, and Tyson Flowers scored the next run on a passed ball.

Sample scored Jacksonville’s 11th run from third base, because of an errant throw from the Fair catcher that got by the pitcher after a pitch. Williams drove in the next run with a single to shallow center field that scored Caleb McMunn.

The next two runs were walked in before Whitmore was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, which scored Helsley and gave the Red Devils a 15-1 lead. Stallard, who walked earlier in the inning, then scored on a passed ball to end the game.

Fair used five different pitchers in the third inning alone, but the result was the same. Jacksonville had four hits in the second game, one each by Stallard, Williams, Joseph Cummings and Whitmore. The Red Devils walked 10 times and had seven hit batters.

With the pair of wins Tuesday, Jacksonville will head into spring break 2-0 in conference play. The Red Devils will take part in the Gulf Coast Classic in Gulf Shores, Ala., next week and their next conference doubleheader will be March 29 at Beebe.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers dominate Lions

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panther soccer teams earned a boys and girls sweep of perennial powerhouse Searcy on Thursday at SHS.

It was the second time in less than a week the teams had met. Cabot teams also beat Searcy in Cabot’s short-game tournament on March 12, but Thursday’s matches counted in conference standings and Cabot dominated.

The Lady Panthers hammered the Lady Lions 5-1, while the boys scored the game’s first three goals in a 3-1 victory.

Despite the lopsided final score, Cabot girls’ coach Kerry Castillo appeared frustrated most of the game.

“Just because we’re not playing to our potential,” said Castillo. “I thought we played much better in the second half. We made much better decisions with the ball, even though we scored fewer goals.”

The Lady Panthers (9-1, 1-0) took a 3-1 lead into halftime, despite taking far fewer shots than the home team. Most of the first half was played on Searcy’s end of the field. Cabot held Searcy scoreless last Saturday in a 1-0 game, and the Lady Lions came out Thursday going all in on offense. But when the goals didn’t come, it left openings for Cabot to create quick scoring opportunities.

Searcy (4-2, 0-1) got a clear shot from the middle of the field about 15 yards out, but it careened off the top bar of the goal. Cabot cleared on the rebound, and Tristyn Edgar found herself with the ball behind the entire Searcy defense.

She scored easily in the one-on-one situation against the Lion goalie and gave Cabot a 1-0 lead six minutes into the game. It was the first of four goals for Edgar, who had a hat trick by halftime.

“They were bringing everyone up to force the issue on offense,” Castillo said. “That left things open for us. Tristyn is so fast they couldn’t recover, and she’s going to win that one-on-one nine times out of 10 at least.”

Searcy tied the score on a penalty kick with 19:02 left in the half.

Edgar beat Searcy back again less than two minutes later but was called off sides. A minute later Gracen Turner missed a shot wide left.

With 9:20 to go in the first half, Edgar took a pass from Hadley Dickinson, split two defenders and dribbled past a third before scoring her second goal.

With three minutes left in the half, Cabot goalie Maggie Martin made a diving save to keep the Lions from tying the game, and Edgar got behind the defense one more time with 36 seconds left in the half. She again beat the goalie easily to complete the hat trick and give the Lady Panthers a 3-1 lead.

No one scored for nearly 30 minutes of the second half. Dickinson finally broke the drought with a hard shot from 20 yards out right into the middle of the goal for a 4-1 Cabot lead. Dickinson also got another assists in delivering a perfect pass to Edgar to set up her fourth and final goal with 3:25 remaining to set the final margin.

The boys’ game was scoreless until nine minutes left in the first half. Cabot (2-4-2, 1-0) got a great opportunity with 10:30 to go, but Dylan Wagnon’s shot caromed off the cross bar. Just 88 seconds later, however, Abi Brown scored from a harsh angle on the left side of the goal, squeezing the ball into the upper right corner for a 1-0 Cabot lead with 9:02 left in the first half.

That was the only goal of the first half, but it didn’t take Cabot long to add to the lead in the second. Wagnon scorched a shot hard enough from about 25 yards out that went in despite hitting the Searcy goalie’s forearms.

The Panthers made it 3-0 with 13:55 to go on a mistake by the Lions. Searcy was only trying to clear after a Cabot threat, but cleared the wrong way, hitting an approaching Cameron Sherman in the legs and caroming into the goal.

“Searcy has won like six state championships, but they’re down this year,” said Cabot coach Steve Porter. “That was just a simple mistake. He tried to clear inside and you can’t do that. So that was just a lucky goal for us, but overall I think we played a good game.”

Searcy (2-4, 0-1) scored with six minutes remaining after Porter began freely substituting.

SPORTS STORY >> JLC sprinters win at Bryant

Leader sports editor

Conway, Bryant and Parkview swept the top three spots, in that order, in the boys’ and girls’ division of the Bryant Hornet Relays on Tuesday, but the Cabot boys made an impressive showing with 65.5 points and a fourth-place finish. Conway won the boys’ division with 85 points, Bryant had 73 and Parkview 71. Lake Hamilton finished with 60 to round out the top five, while Beebe and Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School tied for 10th place out of 23 teams with 30 points each.

Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter dominated the boys’ shortest race. Senior Wolf Jordan McNair did what he’s done numerous times in his career and won the 100-meter dash. He ran it in 11.04 seconds, and was just 4/100s of a second faster than his sophomore teammate Robert Whitfield.

McNair also finished third in the 200-meter dash, a race crowded with several local athletes. Malvern’s Andre Jones won the event with a time of 22.70 and North Little Rock’s Kennedy Lightner was second at 22.91. McNair was the only other competitor to finish under 23 seconds at 22.98. Russellville’s Josiah Woodard was fourth and Parkview’s Bryce Brown took fifth. Whitfield took sixth for Lighthouse while Cabot’s Britton Alley was seventh and Beebe’s Keishun Davidson rounded out the top eight.

Despite having the top two individual times in the 100-meter dash, the Wolves could only manage sixth place in the4x100-meter relay. Hamburg won the event with a time of 43.08. Parkview was second and Cabot took third.

The Panthers won the 4x400 relay by more than two seconds with a time of 3:31.08. Beebe was sixth, posting a 3:36.86. Cabot and Beebe teams placed third and fifth respectively in the 4x800.

Beebe senior Connor Patrom won the 400-meter race. His time of 49.84 was 6/100s ahead of Marquez Rushing of Hamburg. Alley took fifth in that event with a 51.46.

Cabot senior Mark Odom finished second in the 300-meter hurdles. His time of 40.63 was just behind Hamburg’s Lorenzo Watkins’ 40.55. Odom was also third in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 15.16.

Amari James of Parkview and Watkins, both also seniors, finished ahead of Odom at 14.82 and 14.86. Odom also finished seventh in the high jump with a leap of 5-10. Andre Jones, the defending Class 5A state champion who transferred from McClellan to Malvern, won the event with a jump of 6-5.

Gardner Howze, a sophomore, finished fourth in the 1,600-meter run with a time of 4:46.30. Defending 7A champion Toler Freyaldenhoven of Conway finished first at 4:28.41 while Conway Christian’s Bennett Pascoe was second and Charlie Terry of Bryant was third.

In the 3,200-meter race, 5A-Central cross-country champion Gus McCoy finished third overall behind a pair of Bryant runners. John Carder and Cole Watson were first and second at 10:43.01 and 10:46.42.

McCoy was one second behind Watson while Cabot sophomore Blake Scott took seventh at 11:01.58.

Freyaldenhoven also won the 800 meters by five seconds while Beebe’s John Paul Savage took seventh place with a 2:09.00.

Cabot’s Brandon Jones was fourth in the discus throw while Beebe’s Reese Anders was fifth.

Rocky Burke and Braxton Burton of Cabot finished third and fifth respectively in the pole vault. Nick Johnson of Lake Hamilton and Matthew Standridge of Caddo Hills were well ahead of the field, jumping 15-6 and 15-0 respectively. Burke cleared 12-6 Burton 11-6.

No local girls’ team finished in the top 10. Cabot finished 11th of 23 teams with 26 points. Sylvan Hills finished 13th with 14 points.

Cabot’s Tristyn Edgar was eighth in the 100-meter dash behind defending 6A and Meet of Champs champion Jada Baylark of Parkview.

Cabot sophomore Casey Gore took second in the 1,600 with a time of 5:27.65. Erin Woodward, a Little Rock Christian Academy senior, won with a time of 5:21.23.

The Sylvan Hills relay teams showed well. The 4x100 team finished fourth, the 4x400 team finished fifth and the 4x800 team took seventh.

Cabot didn’t place in the 4x100, but the 4x400 team was fourth and the 4x800 team finished second behind Lake Hamilton.

Sylvan Hills junior Chloe George was sixth in the 800.

Cabot’s Caytee Wright finished seventh in the shot put and Ashley Odom was eighth in the pole vault.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot splits with Searcy

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panther baseball team split with Searcy in the first 7A/6A-East Conference doubleheader of the season Thursday at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Field in Cabot. The Panthers lost the first game of the twin bill 6-4 before breaking a 3-3 tie with four unanswered runs in the seventh inning of game two to win 7-3.

In game one, Cabot (4-2, 1-1) couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start. The Panthers scored all four of their runs in the first inning and led 4-0 until the top of the fourth, when the Lions scored five runs to take the lead for good. Searcy (5-1, 1-1) added an insurance run in the top of the sixth to set the final score of game one.

It was a competitive game, and that competitiveness carried over to game two. The Panthers, playing as the visiting team on the scoreboard, trailed 2-1 heading into the fifth inning.

Cabot loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the fifth with Eric Larsen at the plate. Larsen came through with a clutch two-RBI single that scored teammates Jake Slunder and Blake McCutchen and gave the hosts a 3-2 lead.

Searcy answered with the game-tying run in the bottom half of the inning to make it 3-3 entering the sixth. Neither team scored until the top of the seventh, when Cabot scored the remainder of its runs.

Catcher and three-hole hitter Denver Mullins hit a one-out double to right-center field to start the rally, and on the same play, Mullins advanced to third base because of an errant throw to second from the outfield.

Brian Tillery came in to run for the Panther catcher, and Larsen was intentionally walked the following at-bat. Second baseman Bobby Joe Duncan then came to the plate, and with runners at the corners, Larsen stole second.

Searcy catcher Andrew Stanley came up throwing to second, and as he did so, Tillery took off for home. Stanley’s throw to second was a bit high and to the right of second base, and the ball deflected off of shortstop Hayden Bowman’s glove and rolled into shallow right field.

Tillery scored on the play to give Cabot a 4-3 lead and Larsen went to third on the same play. Duncan then hit into a 4-3 groundout for the second out of the inning, but the hit drove in Larsen to give the Panthers a two-run lead.

Dylan Thomas reached on an error at shortstop the next at-bat, and Braden Jarnigan singled to right center the next at-bat. With runners at the corners and two strikes on Logan Kirkendoll, Jarnigan purposely got caught in a rundown. As the Searcy infielders were trying to get Jarnigan out, Logan Edmondson, Thomas’ courtesy runner, took off for home.

The Searcy second baseman turned to throw for home, but lost his balance trying to make the transition from focusing on Jarnigan to Edmondson, and as he fell to the dirt, Edmondson crossed home plate to give Cabot a 6-3 cushion.

“That is a first and third play that we run,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin of that play. “With two strikes on the hitter, the odds of him getting a hit obviously decrease significantly. It’s a play we call force balk early break.

“We hope the pitcher balks. If he doesn’t balk, it’s his job to stay in the rundown as long as he can and hopefully this guy (at third) can score when we get all of the attention on that base runner between first and second.

“I’ve run that play for four years in high school baseball and I think that’s the first time we’ve actually called it and run it to perfection. But yeah, it was a designed play. With a lead, you just try to put a little pressure on them and see if, you know, they’ll give you another one. Just trying to steal one there with two strikes on the hitter is all we were doing.”

After that play, Jarnigan stole second base, and then Kirkendoll hit a routine ground ball to shortstop, but the throw to first was dropped, and Jarnigan scored on the play to up the Cabot lead to 7-3.

In the bottom of the seventh, pitcher Michael Shepherd, who took to the hill in the sixth inning in relief of Brett Brockinton, struck out the first two batters he faced, looking. He then plunked Lion leadoff hitter Luke Dixon before two-hole hitter Jacob Rose hit into a 4-3 groundout to end the game in Cabot’s favor.

Shepherd didn’t give up a hit (just the hit batter) in the two innings pitched, walked just one Searcy batter and finished with two strikeouts in the winning effort.

“Michael Shepherd was huge in the game,” Goodwin said, “coming into a tight game right there. He came in in a tie game and kept it tied for us to take advantage of opportunities in the seventh inning. Brockinton pitched well, got us through five innings.

“Our pitching was outstanding. We made a couple of 0-2 mistakes we shouldn’t make, but everything that happened today I feel is fixable, and it’s only five, six games into the season. It’s about playing your best in May and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Each team had five hits in game one. McCutchen, Kirkendoll, Larsen, Duncan and Brockinton combined for Cabot’s five hits. Searcy’s Austin Allen earned the win on the mound in that game. He threw the first six innings of game one, finishing with a game-high six strikeouts.

In game two, Larsen, Caleb Harpole, Mullins and Jarnigan each had a hit for the Panthers, with Larsen adding two RBIs.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers prove them all wrong

Leader sports editor

People continue to call the Cabot Panthers’ 59-49 win over Bentonville in the Class 7A state championship game last Friday an upset, and rightly so, in a certain sense. No one gave the Panthers much of a chance against the Tigers, who boast one of the nation’s top recruits in senior sensation Malik Monk. There’s little debate about Monk being the best high school player in Arkansas, but neither should there be any doubt that Cabot is a better team than Bentonville.

But the Cabot doubters didn’t come along for the state championship game. Not many gave the Panthers much of a chance to beat Springdale. Along press row at Panther Arena, at least two reporters declared Cabot’s season finished when the Bulldogs went on a second-quarter run that gave them an 11-point halftime lead.

One person leaned over to the local sports editor and declared, “welcome to the 7A-West.”
Confused and wanting clarification, it was explained to the local sports editor that the 7A-West was much, much stronger than the Central and East, and that Springdale’s blowout of Cabot, which seemed to be underway, was always and predictably inevitable.

Not only did Cabot surprise the 7A-West admirers, but so did Bryant. The Hornets beat Fayetteville in the other quarterfinal game, leaving Bentonville as the only 7A-West team in the semifinals. And Bentonville itself got all it could handle from West Memphis in its quarterfinal game after the Blue Devils beat Springdale Har-Ber in the first round.

That same local sports editor ran into an old acquaintance he hadn’t seen in a few years, a radio analyst and message board owner, and was told, very matter of factly, “y’all (as if the reporter was part of the Cabot program) are going to get killed.”

It was further iterated that the 7A boys’ game was a complete mismatch and that Cabot had no one who could possibly matchup with, and/or stop Monk.

No one person did stop Monk, but the Panthers collectively guarded and frustrated the 6-foot-4 Kentucky Wildcat to-be into his worst performance this season, and proved all the cocksure prognosticators dead wrong. 

Before the game, Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said he hoped to hold Monk to his average while holding every other Tiger below theirs. That’s what had worked for Fayetteville and that was the advice Fayetteville coach Kyle Adams gave Bridges.

Monk’s average was 30-plus. He scored 19. He went 0 for 11 from 3-point range and 2 for 12 from the floor in the fourth quarter, primarily because he rarely took an open shot.

Cabot defenders were picking him up 25-30 feet from the basket, and sometimes more than one. Monk regularly dribbled by the first man out on him, but always found another defender or two, or more, cutting off his pathways to the basket.

After the game, Monk, to his credit, was gracious and accommodating, and even upbeat, to the throngs of media and fans vying for a moment of his time. He told reporters that Cabot didn’t do anything his team had not seen before, but credited the Panthers with executing their plan better than the Tigers did theirs.

He was right.

It’s said so often it sounds like a cliché, but Cabot’s victory was indeed a total team effort.

In the first few moments of the game, it looked like the radio host might be right. Cabot turned the ball over three times before it got a shot off. Monk’s first two baskets were huge two-handed dunks; one in transition off a turnover and one off dribble penetration in the halfcourt set. Just like that, Cabot was behind 13-2 five minutes into the game. But Logan Gilbertson and Jarrod Barnes came off the bench to provide a huge spark for the Panthers.

They combined for five-straight points and Matt Stanley added another basket to quickly cut the deficit to 13-9.

Bentonville was an overall taller team than Cabot, but the Panthers’ inside game was stronger. The Tigers’ shortest player is listed at 6-feet, but most, even the 6-foot-6 Asa Hutchinson (grandson and namesake of the governor) rarely battled inside.

Bentonville’s 6-5 center Ty Robinson was effective enough offensively, but he could not defend the 6-8 Stanley, and the junior transfer from Vilonia led the Panthers offensively in the second quarter when they turned the game around for the first time.

Stanley scored eight of his 13 points in the second as Cabot turned a 15-9 deficit at the start of the quarter into a 25-22 lead at halftime.

But Stanley was hit with three quick fouls in the third quarter and was taken out of the game as Bentonville reestablished control. Stanley wasn’t the only Panther to pick up fouls quickly in the third. The first six fouls of the quarter, and eight of the first nine, were called on Cabot, and Bentonville was in the bonus less than halfway through the period, before Cabot had shot a single free throw.

Bentonville took the lead back, 36-33, by the end of the third, and scored the first four points of the fourth to take a 40-33 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

With Stanley stuck on the bench, Cabot had to find a different way to turn things around in the fourth quarter than it did in the second.

Despite giving up four straight to start the fourth, Cabot began to find its way again in the waning moments of the third. Gilbertson took a charge with about a minute left in the third, but Cabot didn’t capitalize. Bentonville tried to hold for the last shot, but Sebastian Zulch came off the bench for only a few seconds at the end of the third, and made a huge play. He perfectly timed and executed his double team as he and Barnes harassed Monk into a backcourt violation that led to a free throw by Stanley to end the quarter.

Once Cabot got down seven with seven minutes to go, things changed dramatically. Cabot got hot from the floor. Barnes hit two 3-pointers and Hunter Southerland made one, and the Panthers went 5 of 6 from two-point range the rest of the way.

The fourth quarter can only be called a rout. Cabot outscored Bentonville 26-13, but the Tigers’ last seven points were basically after the winner had been determined.

From seven down, Cabot went on an 18-2 run, including 15 in a row to take a 51-42 lead with three minutes left.

No one at the time would’ve said the game was over at that point, but in retrospect, it was. Bentonville was gassed. Most of the team appeared to be waiting for Monk to do something, and Monk was primarily relying on, or perhaps settling for, long jump shots.

Fatigue was setting in and after being kept out of the lane all game; it was almost all he could rely on. He did crash the boards hard and it got him a couple of offensive rebounds and putbacks late in the game, but that wasn’t going to be enough to mount a comeback.

The better team had prevailed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Runoff voting is underway

Early voting is underway for three runoffs in Lonoke County and will continue through Friday and Monday with Election Day on Tuesday.

We previously reported that early voting would be open Saturday, but Lonoke County Election Commissioner Chuck Eick said Tuesday state law does not allow early voting on Saturdays for runoffs.

People who voted in the Republican primary, used a nonpartisan ballot or didn’t vote can vote in the coroner race between Carla Horton and Karl E. (Eddie) Pennington, who cannot accept the job even if he wins because he dropped out of the race, though not soon enough for ballots to be changed.

If Pennington, who did not campaign at all but earned the most votes in the March 1 primary, comes out on top in the runoff, the current coroner, Cheryl Thomas, will serve for another two years until a regular election is held.

Thomas was appointed to fill the term of her husband, who died while in office. Appointees are ineligible to run.

Horton has worked for the State Crime Lab and several funeral homes.

Bob Morris and Kenny Ridgeway are in a runoff for the Dist. 13 justice of the peace seat, which was held by the late Larry Odom, who died last year. Both are solid candidates who will bring a lot of experience to the quorum court.

Morris almost got the 50 percent of the vote in the primary that’s needed to avoid a runoff. He netted about 46 percent. He’s a successful business owner and is known for his work with the Community Theatre of Cabot.

“I’m elated at the opportunity to be of service to the county — all the citizens of the county,” he told The Leader after the primary.

Ridgeway is also well known in the community. He said he’s confident that, no matter who wins, residents will be well served. They’ll be “in good hands,” and Morris is “a good man.”

Claud E. Irvin and John Howard are also facing off for the Dist. 4 JP seat.

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 early voting polls will be open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today through Friday and on Monday.

TOP STORY >> U.S. Senate hopeful stops in Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

About 20 people listened to Conner Eldridge, who is running as a Democrat against Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) in November, outline his platform during a fundraising reception Tuesday at Chopsticks Inter-national Center in Jacksonville.

Eldridge grew up working on a family farm in Lonoke, off Hwy. 70. He graduated from Lonoke High School, then Davidson College in North Carolina and the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville.

He was U.S attorney for the state’s Western District for five years and, before that, worked for Summit Bank in Arkadelphia from 2004-2010.

Tuesday was his 13th wedding anniversary, and he has three sons, ages 3, 5 and 8.

The candidate compared the actions of those in Washington to his youngest boys, fighting over a toy and pretending to agree on who could play with it first.

Eldridge said senators are supposed to listen to their constituents and represent them.

Washington is broken by partisanship, the candidate argued. “Our politics are completely messed up, and we’ve got to do something different, and that’s why I got in this race,” he continued. “Everybody’s supposed to sit down and work together to solve problems.”

Eldridge also pointed out that this is his first time running and the incumbent has been in Congress 16 years and passed four pieces of legislations, to rename post offices.

The candidate says he’ll be “a stronger voice for our state, work hard every day to get things done for people in Arkansas, to be passionate, to be full of conviction and to go really make a difference on real issues that matter.”

Eldridge said the amount of money in politics should change because it’s buying things that shouldn’t be bought.

The candidate was asked whether he would support raising the federal highway tax. He said the government needs to spend money on infrastructure but needs to find a way to do that while dealing with long-term budgeting issues.

There is no perfect solution, he noted, but those from both parties should pick the best one for any situation, he noted.

Eldridge was asked what he would do about lobbyists and answered that he’d tell them “no.”

The candidate also ex-pressed confidence in his chances of winning the race because, he says, people are frustrated, want change and the presidential election will bring more voters to the polls.

TOP STORY >> Military museum annual banquet

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History’s annual fundraiser and auction netted $15,000 for the beloved nonprofit.

It was held Saturday at the community center.

Museum Chairwoman Joan Zumwalt said, “The Night at the Victory Canteen” banquet is the museum’s biggest fundraiser of the year. It enables the museum to pay its basic bills. A golf tournament is held in the fall. There are things the museum cannot spend Jacksonville Advertising and Promotions money on.

“It is a big boost for the museum. The community has always been very supportive. We are very appreciative of our supporters and the community at large,” she continued.

“We are having more visitors at the museum. They are amazed at the collection and exhibits we have. We can compare with any other museum of its kind. It is also a history of Jacksonville too,” Zumwalt noted.

Museum Director Danna-Kay Duggar said the fundraiser keeps the lights on and the doors to the museum open.

The museum receives some money from the city, but the fundraiser dinner and auction are still necessary.

The nonprofit has one full-time employee and one part-time employee. The rest are volunteers.

“We are grateful for the money from the city. We always wanted to stand on our own. It will always be a goal for us,” Duggar said. “We still have exhibits that we are building.”

The fundraiser had a silent auction and a live auction with auctioneer Larry Biernacki.

The evening wrapped up with musical entertainment. The Bombers performed Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with Miss Greater Jacksonville Kelli Collins singing with the group.

Collins and Mayor Gary Fletcher sang Johnny Cash and June Carter’s
“Jackson(ville).” Fletcher also sang Kenny Rogers’ “Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and Roy Orbinson’s “Pretty Woman.”

Alderman James Bolden belted out Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.”

The group’s finale was “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead. It was described as an anthem that sums up Jacksonville and its new school district.

The museum, 100 Veterans Circle, opened in May 2005. It is located on the site of the old Jacksonville Ordnance Plant.

The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Special arrangements can be made for groups of 10 or more.

TOP STORY >> Fifth graders perform Shakespeare

Leader staff writer

To be or not to be…outstanding.

That was the challenge posed to a group of fifth graders from Warren Dupree Elementary who participated in the Shakespeare Scene Festival at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Thursday.

Their response was outstanding, according to the director of the two-day event, Kim McAbee.

“The goal of the Shakespeare Scene Festival is to demystify the study of Shakespeare. Shakespeare often intimidates people, and theater can all too often seem stuffy or unapproachable. We want to make performance fun for all audiences in the hopes that the event inspires a love of both Shakespearean literature and the theater,” the professor explained.

The Warren Dupree youngsters spent more than a month reading “Julius Caesar” and another month developing and practicing their own version – “The Politically Incorrect Julius Caesar.”

Among the changes to Shakespeare’s version, the conspirators, including Brutus, were women. Darth Vader made an appearance, as did political candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

McAbee said, “The fifth-grade performers are always a highlight of the festival. In addition to being a fantastically engaging and funny performance on its own, these young students managed to serve as models for the middle and high school students at the festival, setting a high bar for all in attendance.”

Michaelle Malvin, 11, who played Brutus, said, “It was fun. I was a little nervous at first when we got on that big stage at the university, but I got used to it.” She said she loved playing Brutus but wouldn’t want be him in real life because “bad karma caught up with him.”

Grainger Pearson, 11, loved his role as Caesar. “I was the star,” he quipped. He said he was nervous when the class first arrived at the theater. “But then I got nervous and then not so.”

Pearson said, when he and his classmates first started reading “Julius Caesar,” he was not really interested in it. “But I got hooked quickly and wanted to read the whole thing.”

Tristyn Armstrong, 10, had multiple parts, including the street cobbler, Brutus’ house-husband Porter and Darth Vader. He enjoyed his roles, saying, “I got to be angry, to show different emotions. It was very exciting.”

Armstrong said he came to understand the relationship between Brutus and Portia in the real Shakespeare.

“I get it now. Portia wasn’t good under pressure. If she was she might have been able to stop Brutus,” he noted.

Andrew Bauer, 10, also had a number of roles — from playing the prince from “Romeo and Juliet” to Decius, who was in the gang that attacks Caesar, and the soothsayer who tries to warn Caesar.

The fifth graders decided to open the play with a scene from “Romeo and Juliet” where the Montagues and Capulets are fighting and the prince has to give them a warning. “Instead of Capulets and Montagues, we had Trump and Hillary supporters,” explained Bauer, who admitted the group forgot a line or two “but the audience gave us an A.”

Rachel Crow, 10, played one of two students who were “color commentators” during the play.

She dressed in a Thing One outfit saluting Dr. Seuss and Read Across America Week. In reading the play, Crow thought, “This will be exciting but also a little hard and Brutus seems to have a lot of parts.”

She really liked the garden scene in the fifth-grade version where Brutus is talking aloud, deciding whether or not to help kill Caesar. “We had Darth Vader come in and bring Brutus to the dark side. It was cool,” Crow said.

Ciara Greene, who played Thing Two and was the other commentator, said it best with one of her lines from the play and about the play, “It’s all about warnings. You know, where things, especially bad things, happen in threes. There’s murder, blood and guts.”

The fifth graders were the third group to perform Thursday, following Horace Mann Middle School and the Episcopal Collegiate School.

Like Warren Dupree, Horace Mann developed their own play using select lines from nearly all the Shakespeare plays.

“But they had scripts,” said Pearson, “We knew all of our lines without scripts or cue cards.”

The Episcopal group stayed true to the Shakespeare form, performing selected portions of Act 1 of “Much Ado about Nothing.”

“It was good to watch them before we performed,” said Crow. “We picked up some tips of what to do and not to do from watching them.”

All the young actors agreed that speaking loudly and clearly were the key to their outstanding performance.

McAbee said the Warren Dupree troupe “wonderfully tied together the themes of Julius Caesar with the current presidential election, making Shakespeare’s Roman play especially timely. Most impressive of all, the class was beautifully prepared: they had mastered their lines, projected their voices and made excellent use of the stage space.”

Professor Roslyn L. Knutson of UALR’s English department, started the Shakespeare Scene Festival in imitation of a program at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The festival got fully underway on the UALR campus in 1998 with classes from three high schools, one junior high and one elementary school.

TOP STORY >> Huckabee, Rubio — now what?

Leader executive editor

Donald Trump, the billionaire real-estate developer and entrepreneur with a checkered past and raucous political rallies, is rapidly moving toward the Republican presidential nomination with a string of primary victories yesterday and on Super Tuesday.

As expected, Trump knocked Sen. Marco Rubio out of the race after a humiliating loss in Florida. Hillary Clinton should now cruise to her nomination after defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders in five states Tuesday. He, too, must be thinking about quitting.

Arkansas politicians who endorsed Rubio for president are rethinking their preferences again after favorite son Mike Huckabee fell flat even before the first round of primaries.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Republicans when the presidential season kicked off last summer. State officials had hoped Huckabee would win Arkansas’ Super Tuesday primary — the date was moved up long ago in hopes it would benefit the former governor — but Huckabee’s ill-fated run faded quickly as Trump scooped up evangelical voters in the early primaries and had no trouble winning in Arkansas.

Huckabee’s carefully worded endorsement of Trump in Arkansas may have helped the frontrunner, who is said to have Huckabee on a short list of possible running mates, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008) and Dr. Ben Carson, who has dropped out of the race and endorsed Trump.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was among the first to endorse Rubio after Huckabee dropped out. Other Arkansas officials who endorsed Rubio include Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin; state Auditor Andrea Lea; U.S. Reps. Steve Womack (R-Rogers) and Rick Crawford (R-Jonesboro), along with the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate.

Rep. French Hill (R-Little Rock) has not made an early endorsement, maybe because he’s a former banker and knows how to count: Trump has had a huge lead in the polls for months and is well ahead in the race for delegates.

Arkansas officials must now decide if they want a brokered convention to stop Trump from getting the nomination. They could endorse either Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, although it’s probably too late, or throw their support behind the flamboyant businessman, who is remaking the party into a white nationalist movement 36 years after Ronald Reagan insisted the party would thrive only if it became more inclusive.

No wonder traditional Republicans, including those in Arkansas, are nervous as they watch Trump’s often-rowdy rallies turn violent, which are certain to drive black and Hispanic voters from the party and into the arms of the Democratic nominee.

Rubio, once the future hope of the Republican Party, called it quits only weeks after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush abandoned his misbegotten campaign. Bush and Rubio will probably rally around Kasich, who easily won his home state yesterday. But the race is now down to Clinton and Trump.

Prominent Republicans around the country are saying they will not support Trump. Many of them have said they’re no longer Republicans.

Mike Jackson, chairman of AutoNation, the large chain of car dealerships based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., sounded downbeat just hours before his state’s primary.

“The unthinkable is about to happen in the home state of a very popular former governor, Jeb Bush, who is now out of the race,” Jackson said. “A sitting senator who won election with very strong numbers is about to be defeated by Donald Trump for winner take all, 99 delegates.”

The fight will continue perhaps until the Republican convention in Cleveland, but long after the presidential election is over, GOP elders will ask themselves who stole their party and how will they ever get it back.

SPORTS STORY >> Weeks is first freshman champ

Lexi Weeks became the first freshman ever to win an NCAA pole vault championship.
Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Though their indoor track and field teams finished No. 2, there is nothing second best about how Arkansas Men’s coach Chris Bucknam and Arkansas Women’s coach Lance Harter regard their Razorbacks.

For Harter’s women, freshman Lexi Weeks of Cabot became the first freshman to win the NCAA Indoor pole vault, clearing a personal record 15-2 1-4.

Doubtless, the Weeks twin sisters, Tori Weeks vaulted 14-1 1-2 and scored three sixth-place team points in addition to Lexi’s 10 for first, become the first freshman twins scoring All-American points in the women’s vault.

Lexi Weeks becomes the fourth vaulter coached by Arkansas’ women’s vault coach Bryan Compton that vaulted to a NCAA championship.

Sandi Morris, the best known of Compton’s national champions and now vaulting professionally, vaulted 16-2 to win at the USATF national championship and will represent the U.S. at the World Indoor Championships.

“You have two freshman pole vaulters that’s always kind of a wild card,” Harter said. “But the Weeks sisters, they acted like they were fifth-year seniors. ‘What’s the big deal? Let’s do what we have been doing all season.’ They and coach Compton have such a great bond. For Lexi to win it as a freshman was just incredible.”

Harter’s SEC Indoor champion women, nationally ranked No. 4 behind Oregon and the Florida and Georgia teams they defeated at the SEC Indoor in Fayetteville, finished second with 50 points, just three behind the Oregon Ducks they outpointed to win last year’s NCAA Indoor in Fayetteville, while Georgia was third with 45 points.

Those exceeding expectations in supporting roles were as highly praised by their coaches as were their champions.

“I think every kid got back a lifetime best,” Harter said. “It was absolutely amazing. To have that many entries and each one hit a lifetime best that’s a tribute to the athlete and also a tribute to the coaching progressions that you always want to be at the top of your game for the most important meet of the year. I was really proud of that. We just kept scoring across the board.”

Harter said Arkansas established the momentum the first day with Taliyah Brooks, Payton Stumbaugh, scoring an All-American seventh in Saturday’s 60-meter hurdles and Alex Gochenour placing second, fifth and sixth in Friday’s pentathlon to become a team’s first trio of pentathletes to score at the NCAA meet, Harter said.

Also Taylor Ellis-Watson doubled brilliantly with a 51.51 second-place 400-meter dash time and anchoring Arkansas’ second-place 4 x 400 relay and Arkansas’ 11th-seeded distance medley relay, anchored by Jessica Kamilos for the mile, placed fifth.

Among his men, Bucknam lauded sprinter Kenzo Cotton placing in both the 60 and 200-meter dashes, Andreas Trajovski netting fifth in the long jump and freshman Carlton Orange netting sixth in the 800.

“Absolutely our guys gave it everything they had,” Bucknam said. “Obviously as a coach I am really proud of that. Last year indoors we were second in the SEC and third at the NCAA, so it feels awfully good to have won that SEC championship and have that national runner-up trophy.”

SPORTS STORY >> Jumping Jeff takes second, also sprinting

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills graduate Jeff Henderson fell well short of his best effort, but still finished second in the long jump in the United States Track and Field Indoor Championships this past weekend in Eugene, Ore.

Henderson, who has also been spending time this year doing private workouts for NFL teams interested in giving the speedster a chance to prove his mettle on the gridiron, competed in two events at the elite level for the first time in his career.

The 5-foot-10 Pan-Am games winner in the long jump, jumped 8.05 meters, or 26-feet, 5-inches for second place. The jump was more than a foot and a half from his personal best of 8.54 meters (28-feet, 1/4 inches) and 14 inches short of Marcus Dendy’s winning jump.

Henderson only used four of his six allowed attempts, deciding to pass on his final jumps in order to focus on the 60-meter dash, which he was running for the first time at a national championship event.

Henderson turned in the fourth-fastest time in the event with a 6.58-second run, but it was in his preliminary race.

That time qualified him for the semifinals, where he ran a 6.70 and failed to qualify for the finals.

Marvin Bracy won the finals with a time of 6.54. Henderson’s 6.58 would have been good for second place in the finals.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS ladies beat Pioneers

Leader sports editor

Catcher Allison Seats scored the game’s first run and then drove in the next three to help lead the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils to a 6-1 road victory over Batesville on Monday in Independence County. The game was originally scheduled for Dupree Park in Jacksonville, but weekend weather made the home field unplayable. Jacksonville showed no negative signs of traveling in beating the traditional 5A-East power.

“From top to bottom we had a solid hitting lineup,” said Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk. “The effort overall was very good throughout the whole lineup.”

Seats drew a leadoff walk to start the game in the top of the first inning, and Batesville’s pitching didn’t improve much from there. Zylah Richardson followed with another walk before Kinley Burrows sacrificed the runners into scoring position. Mackenzie Rodgers then walked to load the bases and Kym House hit a sac fly to right field to score Seats.

Conversely, House took the circle for JHS in the bottom of the first inning and struck out the first batter she faced. She then got two pop ups to set the Lady Pioneers down in order.

A pitch hit Jacksonville’s Brianna Loyd with one out in the second tostart a four-run rally. Emily Lovercheck got the game’s first base hit with a single to left field, bringing Seats back to the plate. She fell behind 0-2 in the count before stroking a three-run home run over the fence in left field to put the Lady Red Devils up 4-0.

Richardson followed with a single and stole second base. She moved to third on a passed ball and scored on an RBI groundout by Burrows.

Rodgers and House got two-out singles to follow, but the rally ended with a deep fly ball out to center field by Payton Mullen.

After a scoreless third, Batesville got on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning on two base hits, a single by Destiny Keister and an RBI double by Ashley Gould.

Jacksonville (3-1) added the final run in the top of the sixth. Loyd hit a leadoff single to center field, and advanced to second with an error at the same position. She moved to third on a groundout to second base by Lovercheck, and scored on a groundout to the same spot by Seats.

Seats went 2 for 3 with a home run, a walk and four runs batted in. House went 2 for 4 and Jacksonville compiled nine base hits.

House blew through the Batesville lineup. After one strikeout in the first, she fanned two in the second and the side in order in the third. She finished with a four-hitter that included 10 strikeouts and zero walks.

Jacksonville hosted its conference opener yesterday with a doubleheader against J.A. Fair, and will host Maumelle on Thursday in a nonconference matchup.