Friday, April 08, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Merle Haggard, 1937-2016

Like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard was clearly a country singer, but his songs transcended across all lines, across all levels of America. It would be hard to find someone who didn’t know where an Okie came from…Muskogee, of course.

Haggard, affectionately referred to as the Hag, died Wednesday on his 79th birthday. He will be deeply missed by all musicians and fans.

I had a chance to spend a few moments with him at a Las Vegas casino where he had dropped and lost a few quarters. We both commiserated on the tightness of the machines, he talked a little more about this and that — just like a regular guy. But he was the one who spoke his mind often and strongly when it came to our country. He truly had a “Fightin’ Side.”

In his career he hit No. 1 on the charts 38 different times across three decades.

His connection to Cash is greater than just the music. Haggard actually served time in jail, where Cash saw him perform in the prison band and the Man in Black made sure Haggard would not be known as the Man in Orange.

Haggard, a stalwart of the Bakersfield, Calif., music scene, was a prolific songwriter as well as a singer who made you feel like his songs were just for you.

How many times have we said, “If we make it through December,” or felt the parental sadness in “Mama Tried,” the joyous mix of “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room” and the family ties in “Daddy Frank the Guitar Man.”

He sang about being a “Branded Man,” but it was hard to really put a brand on him. His music represented us all from angry to optimistic to broken hearts and true love. As wide ranging as his music was, so was his life.

His mom was asked once to sum him up and did it in one word, “unpredictable.”

“I come by it honestly. But I also plan it. I intend to be taking a different route this morning to wherever I’m going than I did yesterday morning, and I’m not gonna leave at the same time. And I’m not gonna worry about the show I’m doing this weekend till I get on stage. I just have always been that way. And you might even trick the devil once in a while, if nobody knows what you’re gonna do.”

There’s no doubt he tricked the devil and is taking his “Silver Wing” on an unpredictable route to heaven, but that’s where he’ll be cause the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too.

— Rick Kron

TOP STORY >> Ordnance unit defuses bombs

Leader staff writer

“It’s not a souvenir. Its sole purpose in life is to kill people,” said Master Sgt. John Carroll, referring to ordnances. Carroll is the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight chief at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The base EOD unit was called out last week after a Hot Springs resident found a Civil War-era explosive device while doing excavation work in Danville (Yell County).

According to reports, the man brought the item back to his home in Hot Springs and, after doing some research, realized it was a possible land mine and contacted Hot Springs Police. The department contacted the base and an EOD unit was sent out. The unit determined it was an explosive and disposed of it by detonating it at a landfill.

“Several people are upset that we took this suspected land mine and didn’t give it to a museum, but we can’t,” Carroll told The Leader on Thursday. “Liability prevents us from doing that. If we give it to somebody and someone gets killed, it comes back on us. If it’s explosive or suspected to be explosive we are taking possession of it, and we are getting rid of it in a safe and expedient method.”

“It all comes back to safety,” he said. “The safest thing is for us to make it go away. We’re gonna make it go away and what we’re not gonna do is turn it over to somebody.”

Summer tends to be a busier time for the unit because “people are out doing more. Hunting season, people go out in the woods, they start finding stuff in the woods.”

“If you have an explosive device in your home, call the authorities,” Carroll said. “Ordnance items are not good souvenirs to have.”

Carroll laid out the proper route to follow if you come across an ordnance or suspected explosive device.

First, do not touch it. “Not every ordnance was designed to go off at impact,” he said. “Some items are meant to go off at a later time. Just because it didn’t go off doesn’t mean its safe. It doesn’t mean it’s a dud. Duds aren’t safe.”

Second, mark the area off. This let’s the bomb unit know where to go when they are called out.

Third, report the item to the local authority. That could be city, county or state law enforcement.

“I can’t speak for the different agencies on how they operate, but most likely a bomb tech from one of those agencies will go out and look at it and if it’s a military ordnance they’re not supposed to touch it, they call us,” Carroll said. “We can’t take a call from any ‘Joe schmo.’ It has to be from an official agency. They would call us most likely, we have to direct them to the command post. All calls have to come from command post.”

“If we get the call, the first thing we’re going do is make sure command post is notified. Sometimes we get a call from the State Police, they’ll shoot us a text of the suspected item,” Carroll. “They know they also have to contact the command post, but they’ll give us a heads up so we know to start prepping our gear. Then they’ll contact the command post to make the official request.”

Agencies must also ask permission for the base EOD unit to respond off base.

“Ultimately, Little Rock Air Force Base is our primary mission,” Carroll said. “If we don’t have the manning due to other mission requirements, we wouldn’t be able to roll out. Or maybe there’s other safety concerns, maybe there’s lightning. I’m not going to have my guys out pulling explosives if they’re in the middle a thunderstorm where there’s lightning. Explosives, they just don’t get along very well with lightning. If it’s not safe for my guys they’re not going to roll out, not until it is.”

When the unit is given a go-ahead to respond they will gather the equipment needed, such as explosives, firearms and other classified materials that may be needed to diffuse or detonate the item. “The rest of it’s going to be situationally dependant,” he said. “There’s a primary checklist of things that will also go. We take several tools.”

The unit has to verify whether the ordnance is explosive or not. “We use some of our specialized equipment to try to find out the status of the suspected item. If it is explosive, or it’s suspected to be explosive, and we can’t verify it, you always have to err on the side of safety and assume that it is. If it’s deemed to be explosive, we can’t give it to anybody.”

“There is an inherent danger with explosives,” he continued. “If an item can be disposed of locally we will, but sometimes that’s not the best method. Sometimes you can’t find a place locally to dispose of it. If it’s something in downtown Little Rock, you can’t blow it up in downtown Little Rock. I’m going to have to transport it out of the city to dispose of it. We will transport occasionally to a safer location to do a safe disposal.”

“Our job in general, everything we do is in the interest of public safety,” he said. “Our primary mission is to prevent the loss of life or property in the safest way possible, however that may be.”

Last fall, the unit was called to Cabot to dispose of a Civil War-era cannon ball, to North Little Rock to dispose of a chain shot and to Pea Ridge to dispose of a James round. “Cannonballs, those are explosive,” he said. “The James round is by far the most hazardous.”

“A lot of people have this misconception that Civil War ordnances didn’t have explosives in them,” he said. “They think it’s just solid chunks of steel. And that is not the case. Explosives were weaponized hundreds of years ago. It’s estimated that the Chinese first stared using fireworks in the 10th Century. Explosives have been around for a minute. They just weren’t weaponized until later. By Civil War time, they were certainly weaponized.”

Occasionally the unit will be called when an elderly person has passed away and happened to have a souvenir, such as a hand grenade he may have brought home from World War I or II.

“That was allowed back then,” Carroll said. “And so, grandpa dies, and he has a hand grenade in the house. The odds are if it’s in grandpa’s old stash, it’s not armed and it’s safe to transport for us. It doesn’t mean it is, so we still have to do our typical routine of verifying its condition (before transport).”

TOP STORY >> Funeral home’s owners’ trial set

Leader senior staff writer

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on Thursday split the trial of Arkansas Funeral Care owners Leroy Wood, 84, and Rodney (Rod) Wood, 61, his son, from that of the manager, Edward Snow. Each was charged with 13 felony counts of abusing a corpse after an investigator for the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Home Directors found bodies “stacked on top of each other” and a cooler “filled beyond capacity.”

The three men operated the Jacksonville funeral home, located at 2620 W. Main St. It was shut down Jan. 12, 2015.

Leroy Wood, 87, is a Jacksonville resident. Rodney Wood, 62, lives in Heber Springs and Snow, 64, is a Cabot resident.

Piazza set an April 21 pre-trial hearing for the Woods. Among the issues to be resolved is whether the search of the funeral home, conducted by board investigator Leslie Stokes, was “out of bounds,” said former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, Leroy Wood’s lawyer.

He called the search warrantless, and, along with Patrick Benca for Rodney Wood and Majorie Rogers for Snow, is contesting admissibility of Stokes’ testimony.

McDaniel said that issue was to have been resolved Thursday, but that Stokes, who has moved out of the area, wasn’t there.

McDaniel said later that the prosecution had known since October that he would challenge the admissibility of Stokes’ testimony at the pre-trial hearing Thursday.

The Woods will be tried April 25-27. Snow’s pre-trial hearing is set for May 24 and trial for June 27.

On Jan. 23, 2015, the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors levied a $10,000 fine and closed Arkansas Funeral Care by accepting voluntarily surrendered funeral director, crematory and establishment licenses from Leroy Wood. That fine has been paid, according to board Secretary Amy Goode.

According to the affidavit, employees told police there was an unusual number of death calls in January. They said the management refused to pay overtime and would not cremate or bury anyone until services were paid for in full.

The employees also claimed the Woods denied requests for additional help, equipment and overtime because they said they couldn’t afford it. The father and son were planning to open another funeral home in Alma at that time.

The affidavit lists 12 witnesses, with one being the board’s inspector and another being a Jacksonville police officer. It’s probable the other 10 are employees.

The affidavit also reads, “There is evidence of multiple bodies stored outside of the cooler over a period of time in January…Bodies were stacked on top of one another, on pallets, on the washer and dryer and on every available space they could find.

“Coffee cans with deodorizer were placed next to bodies to help with the odor in the room. The employees reported they were astonished that management refused to stop taking bodies when there was nowhere left to put them.”

Stokes first presented her report during a Jan. 21 emergency teleconference, and 31 bodies and 22 remains were immediately removed from the home.

TOP STORY >> Store attracts big crowd

Hundreds of people lined up early Wednesday morning outside the new Edwards Cash Saver in Jacksonville, eager to get their $1 silver coins and check out the bargains inside.

The cost-plus supermarket is similar to the Edwards Cash Saver in downtown Little Rock and Levy. All goods are available at the stores’ cost plus 10 percent at checkout.

The line stretched around the corner in front of the old Knight’s Super Foods store in Jackson Square, 315 S. James St.

The remodeled 42,000-square-foot store was newly painted inside and outside, with updated fixtures and a wide variety of groceries, from freshly cut meat to cage-free eggs and organic vegetables and much more.

In a few minutes, a throng of shoppers rushed into the store as if it were Black Friday, beckoned by the bright lights and white walls with new shelves and crates of daily specials inside.

Business was booming all day as shoppers filled the parking lot and 600 shopping carts and more were in steady use late into the evening.

But before all that, Steve Edwards, owner and president, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce members and city officials.

Joining him were Oral Edwards, his father and company founder; Ashley and Paul Rowton, Steve’s daughter and son-in-law; executive vice president Gary Proffitt and his wife Amy; store manger Ron Davis, Mayor Gary Fletcher and others.

Edwards told the assembled crowd, “This is a special day for the Edwards family.”

“This happened really fast,” Edwards said. “We started construction 48 days ago to make it a great place to shop. We think our timing is perfect.”

He said the company, which is based in east Arkansas and has been rapidly expanding into the Little Rock market, had long been interested in moving to Jacksonville.

“We’ve been looking at Jacksonville for a long time,” Edwards said. “When Knight’s became available, we jumped on it.”

Knight’s continues to operate stores in Cabot and Beebe.

Edwards, who was a member of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission for 16 years, said Jacksonville is poised for growth, pointing to a new high school that will be built behind the store and a SIG Sauer ammo plant going up on Gen. Samuels Road.

“The city voted to invest in itself with a millage increase” to build the new high school, Edwards said, which is why his company made a big investment in the store.

He said Fletcher and city administrator Jim Durham helped smooth the way for the acquisition. In other towns, Edwards said, a businessman might see the mayor once. “Not here. They were always available.”

Fletcher returned the compliment. “This is going to help revitalize downtown,” the mayor said. “I predict this will be your No. 1 producing store.”

After first day’s business, Fletcher might not be wide of the mark. Edwards praised Proffitt for doing a great job supervising the store’s remodeling the last seven weeks. Proffitt, who worked as a teenager for Knight’s Super Foods in Cabot, also worked for Food 4 Less and Fleming Foods, a wholesale supplier, before going to work for Edwards almost 20 years ago.

The store has 50 full-time employees and 70 part-time workers, Edwards said.

Carlos Alatreste is the meat manager and Mark Ledbetter is the produce manager.

The store does not have a full-service deli, but it has a large smoker making hot smoked ribs, chickens, pork, brisket and other meat items available daily.

The store also has a large fresh produce department along with a full selection of name-brand and private-label grocery items.

One customer remarked she was pleased with the selection of organics from salad greens to milk, half-and-half, cream cheese, eggs and canned tomatoes and tomato sauce.

In addition, she said there is a large selection of fresh produce, not to mention a huge assortment of dried herbs, spices and condiments.

The Edwards stores have become known as “The Meat People” and the Jacksonville store includes a large meat department, which features certified Angus beef.

The store emphasizes fresh meat especially because large chains like Walmart have eliminated their butchers.

Associated Wholesale Grocers in Memphis is Edwards’ main supplier. This is the seventh store in central Arkansas for the Edwards family since entering the market in 2009.

GES, Inc., the Edwards’ parent company, was formed in 1968 to consolidate a group of supermarkets. The corporation now owns 10 supermarkets since moving into the Little Rock market in 2009.

The company has four supermarkets in Little Rock, one in North Little Rock and Bryant, as well as stores in Forrest City, Harrisburg and Marianna, along with convenience stores in McCrory and Augusta. Oral and Steve Edwards, who have more than 80 years of grocery experience between them, own GES, Inc. Along with Proffitt, the Edwards family also owns Tobacco Warehouse, LLC, which operates convenience stores.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers split two with Bruins

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe Badger baseball team split its 5A-Central Conference doubleheader with Pulaski Academy on Tuesday at Gillam Fields in Beebe. The Badgers dropped the first game 9-7 before lighting up the Bruins 17-0 in game two, thanks to 15 base hits and a no-hitter from Arkansas Razorback signee Angus Denton.

In game one, Pulaski Academy (7-7, 3-1) jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead in the first two innings of play. The Bruins scored one run in the top of the first before reeling off six more in the second to take the seven-run lead.

Beebe (5-11, 4-2) didn’t get things going until the fifth inning. In that inning, the Badgers scored four runs and added three more in the bottom of the seventh to set the final score. They had a chance to win it with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but a fly out to right field ended it in PA’s favor.

“That first game, we played maybe an inning and a half of baseball, the way it’s supposed to be played,” said Beebe coach Mark Crafton. “When you spot a team seven runs off of just mental errors and you have the physical errors on top of that, it’s hard to bounce back.

“In high school baseball, sometimes you have those good comebacks and sometimes you don’t, and we just ran out of time. We had opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize on those opportunities.”

John Finley started on the mound for Beebe in game one, and pitched well, but the defense struggled to make plays behind him and it took too long for the Badger bats to get going, and in the end, the Bruins’ seven-run cushion was too much to overcome.

“I tell you, John Finley pitched an outstanding game,” Crafton said. “We just didn’t do anything offensively or defensively to back him and I hate that for him. Being a senior, his last few outings he’s been outstanding. We just haven’t given him any run production.

“We’re young and we’re kind of learning the game as we go and trying to find the right mix. Game one was a lot different than game two. The kids play completely different when they have Angus on the mound and I don’t understand that.”

Beebe played as the visiting team in game two, and Denton was given a four-run cushion before he threw a pitch. Carson McNeill hit a one-out single to center field to start the first-inning rally.

Denton reached on an error at third base the next at-bat. Finley followed with a double to drive in McNeill and Johnathan McGhee drove in runs two and three with a single to center field.

McGhee advanced to second base on a passed ball and scored two batters later on a two-out single by Alec Matlock, which put the Badgers up 4-0. Beebe’s most productive inning came in the top of the second. The Badgers scored six more runs in that inning to push their lead to 10-0.

Nine-hole hitter JT Nicholson led off the second inning with a bunt single, and he advanced to second base on the same play because of an errant throw to first. Leadoff hitter Hunter Naramore was hit by a pitch the next at-bat, and McNeill singled after that to load the bases.

Denton was then plunked on the first pitch of his at-bat, which gave him an RBI as Nicholson scored for a 5-0 Badger lead. Finely followed with a two-RBI single to left field that upped the Beebe lead to 7-0, and McGhee and Bryson Halford walked the next two at-bats. Halford’s walk was with the bases loaded, which allowed CJ Cauldwell, Denton’s courtesy runner, to score for an 8-0 BHS lead.

Blaine Burge drove in the next run with a 6-4 fielder’s choice, and Nicholson made it 10-0 with a two-out single to right field, scoring McGhee. Beebe added a pair of runs in the third and fourth innings before putting three more across the plate in the fifth to set the final score of game two.

Halford walked to lead off the fifth and Matlock reached on a dropped fly ball in right field the next at-bat. Halford advanced all the way to third on the dropped ball and Matlock went to second on the same play. Halford and Matlock scored shortly after and Beebe scored its last run of the night on a sac fly to left field by Denton.

Pulaski Academy’s Jacob Andersen reached on an error at shortstop in the bottom of the seventh to give the Bruins a base runner, but Will Hart popped into a 1-3 double play to end the game early because of the sportsmanship rule.

Denton finished the no-hit outing with nine strikeouts and just one walk. McNeill led Beebe at the plate in game two, going 4 for 4 with four singles. Finley was 3 for 3. Nicholson was 2 for 3 and Naramore, Denton, McGhee, Halford, Matlock and Hayden Crafton had one hit each in game two. Denton led Beebe with three hits in game one.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers dominate Cat relays

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot High School boys’ track team dominated the competition at Thursday’s Wampus Cat Relays at Conway High School. The Panthers racked up 143 team points to win the boys’ meet, which was 25 points ahead of Conway’s second-place total of 118.

Only two other schools broke 100 points in the boys’ division. Parkview finished third with 105 points and Bryant finished fourth with 101. Little Rock Central was fifth with 44 points. Sylvan Hills’ boys finished eighth out of the 12 teams competing Thursday. The Bears totaled 23 points – three more than ninth-place J.A. Fair.

Ten of Cabot’s points were scored by junior Matt Stanley, who won the high jump with a height of 6-feet, 4inches. It was an inch higher than Greg Mitchell of Little Rock Central, who cleared 6-3.

Cabot teammate Jarrod Barnes won the long jump by nine inches Thursday. His winning jump was 20-feet, 10.5 inches. Kolby McNeal of Parkview was second with a jump of 20-feet, 1.5 inches.

Cabot’s Brandon Jones won the discus throw with a toss of 148-feet, 5.25 inches, which was more than five feet further than the second-place throw.

Teammate Rocky Burke won the boys’ pole vault with a height of 12-feet, 6 inches, and Cabot’s Braxton Burton was second in that event with a vault of 11-feet.

Mark Odom edged Parkview’s Amari James in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 14.75 seconds. For Sylvan Hills, Nathan Burd placed second in the 1,600-meter run with a time of 4:48.38. Conway’s Toler Freyaldenhoven won that race with a time of 4:16.51.

The Panthers had several second-place finishes as well. Cabot’s 4x800-meter relay team of Jack Moore, Stuart Nickell, Gardner Howze and Greyson Kaufman finished second behind Conway with a time of 8:37.39.

Cabot’s 4x100 relay team of Alex Roberts, Brandon Whitley, Rocky Burke and Connor Daigle took second behind Parkview with a time of 44.30. Britton Alley was second in the 400-meter dash with a time of 51.38, and Odom was second in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.47.

In the girls’ meet, the host school edged Bryant for the top spot in the team standings.

Conway won it with 161 points. Bryant finished with 144.5 team points and Sylvan Hills was third out of the 11 teams competing, finishing with 81.5 points. Cabot was fifth with 62.5 points.

The Lady Bears claimed the top two spots in the girls’ shot put. Sa’maya Farmer won the event with a toss of 33-feet, and teammate Raigen Thomas finished second with a throw of 31-feet, 7 inches.

Two more Lady Bears earned first and second place in the discus throw. Sierra Towles won that event with a throw of 101-feet, 10.5 inches, and Jayla Bell finished just behind her with a second-place throw of 98-feet, 1.5 inches.

Cabot’s Casey Gore finished second in the 1,600-meter run. Her time of 5:31.10 was just behind Lauren Campbell of Conway. Campbell finished in 5:27.61. In the 300-meter hurdles, Sylvan Hills’ Makayla Smith took second with a time of 50.17 seconds.

Haley Hood of Bryant won that event with a time of 46.16.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS beats SH for first time since ’08

Leader sports editor

Before this season, the last time the Jacksonville softball Lady Red Devils beat Sylvan Hills was 2008. They did it twice on Tuesday 11-7 and 4-1, and in so doing, staked an early claim to an outright 5A-Central Conference championship, and a number one seed in the state tournament next month in Harrison.

If the Lady Red Devils hold serve and win out in conference, which they should do since only the bottom tier teams in the league are left on the schedule, it will be Jacksonville’s first conference championship in softball since 2004.

“I’m just proud of them,” said Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk. “They have had this one (Sylvan Hills) circled since day one. They didn’t play their best in that first game, but they played hard and they bounced back from the mistakes, just like they always seem to do. But I like the games like the second a lot more. It’sa lot less stressful without all the errors.”

The two teams combined for a whopping 11 errors in game one, including seven by Jacksonville. Five of those came in the second and third innings and led to three unearned runs for Sylvan Hills (7-6, 4-2).

Jacksonville scored first in the bottom of the first inning on an error by Sylvan Hills. Allison Seats singled to start the game, stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Bailey Holt.

Seats was still at third after Emily Lovercheck drove a pitch into the ground right in front of home plate for a 2-3 putout, but scored when catcher Cara Pozza’s pickoff throw from home to third missed by Joy Franco.

Franco reached on an error by JHS shortstop Kinley Burrows to start the second inning. Doma’Nique Hunt then pushed a bunt past pitcher Kym House for an infield single.

Jacksonville (12-2, 6-0) almost got out of the jam without allowing a run. Lynlee Broadway hit a line drive back to House for one out, and Franco was stranded too far off the bag for the 1-4 double play.

But two more JHS errors allowed Hunt to score.

Madison Shelton’s ground ball to third was mishandled by Lovercheck, who still tried to make a late throw to first. That was on target, but was missed anyway by Brianna Loyd. Hunt moved to third on Lovercheck’s throw, and scored on Loyd’s miss to tie the game.

Broadway hit House with a pitch to start Jacksonville’s three-run second inning. Madeline Smith moved House’s courtesy runner, Megan Davis, to second with a sacrifice bunt. Loyd singled to put runners on the corners and Burrows singled to score Davis. Three batters later and with two outs, Holt ripped a line drive to right-center field for two RBIs.

Sylvan Hills’ first two batters got on base via two more Jacksonville errors in the third, one by Burrows and one by House. Storm Ellis scored Pozza with a sacrifice grounder and Franco drove in Tristen Goodson with a base hit to left field that pulled the Lady Bears to within 4-3.

Sylvan Hills took its first lead of the game in the top of the fifth. Pozza hit a leadoff single and Goodson reached base on a sacrifice bunt when House made an ill-advised and unsuccessful attempt to get the lead runner at second.

Ellis then sacrificed the runners into scoring position and Franco got two more RBIs with a base hit down the third-base line.

But in the seventh, Jacksonville began hitting the ball hard and it was Sylvan Hills’ defense that fell apart. After a fly out by Mackenzie Rodgers, House was hit for the second time and Smith singled. Sylvan Hills coach Mark Anderson then shifted his fielders around, swapping fielders in right field, center field and third base.

On the very next pitch, Loyd reached on an error at third and House scored on the play. With runners on the corners, Burrows put down a perfect squeeze bunt that scored Smith and left everyone safe and still one out. Zylah Richardson then slapped a running base hit to right field to load the bases. Seats then doubled to the wall in left field for an 8-5 Jacksonville lead.

Holt singled to drive in another run and Seats scored on another error by Sylvan Hills, this one at second base off Lovercheck’s bat. Rodgers then doubled to left on her second at-bat of the inning to drive in JHS’s final two runs.

Sylvan Hills set the final margin in the sixth when Madison Shelton hit a two-run home run after a Broadway single.

Holt led Jacksonville in game one, going 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

There were no earned runs in game two. Jacksonville’s defense improved and Loyd pitched a gem in the circle for the Lady Devils.

The game was scoreless until Jacksonville scored three runs in the top of the third on two walks, two Sylvan Hills errors and a hit batter. Another unearned run scored for Jacksonville in the top of the fourth after Seats reached on an E6 and Lovercheck singled to drive her home.

Sylvan Hills scored its only run in the bottom of the fifth. Broadway reached on an error by Richardson in left field, and scored two batters later on a base hit by Shelton.

Loyd gave up four hits in seven innings and no earned runs. She struck out three, walked three and hit one batter.

Shelton led the Lady Bears offensively on the night. She went 3 for 6 with a home run and three RBIs.

Seats went 3 for 6 with a double, three RBIs and four runs scored in the two games combined.

SPORTS STORY >> Hillside Bears win twice in crazy twinbill

Leader sports editor

On a night when coaching meltdowns and drama outside the field of play almost overshadowed the game itself, the Sylvan Hills baseball team pulled off an important sweep of Jacksonville at Dupree Park on Tuesday. In doing so, the Bears staked their claim to sole possession of first place in the 5A-Central Conference. They entered Tuesday’s varsity doubleheader, which they won by scores of 6-4 and 4-2, tied with Pulaski Academy for first place, but the Bruins split their doubleheader at Beebe on Tuesday.

Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows, already somewhat perturbed by what he felt was bad officiating in game one, lost it in the early goings of game two, and was ejected for his over-the-top objection to balls and strikes, which included kicking dirt on the umpire.

Play was stopped on several occasions after the ejection as umpires had fans removed from behind the outfield fence and from the grandstand.

“It didn’t even feel like a baseball game there for a while,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “I was just proud of my guys because they never seemed to get too distracted by it. I think, at one point, we had what I would call a lull. But we never got too caught up in all that other stuff that was going on.”

Jacksonville scored first in game one and had momentum when a delayed interference call took a run off the board and abruptly ended the inning.

Kameron Whitmore hit a leadoff single and was standing at third base with two outs when Brandon Hickingbotham hit the first of three-straight singles off Sylvan Hills pitcher Nick Fakouri. Hickingbotham was on second when Javan Wakefield singled to left field. The ball came close to hitting Hickingbotham, but the field umpire made no call. Hickingbotham came around to score to put Jacksonville ahead 2-0. Tipton protested that the ball did hit Hickingbotham, and after a conference between umpires, Hickingbotham was ruled out, the run was taken off the board and the inning was over.

The scored stayed 1-0 until the top of the fourth inning when Sylvan Hills posted three runs. Fakouri hit a leadoff single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Zack Douglas. Carson Sanders then singled and Ryan Lumpkin nailed a two-run home run over the fence in left field for a 3-1 Bears’ lead.

Jacksonville answered right back in the bottom of the fourth. Caden Sample walked and Wakefield singled to put two on with no outs. After a groundout by Cody Savage moved the runners into scoring position, Trent Toney hit a two-RBI single to tie the game.

Jacksonville then committed three errors in the top of the fifth to give up two runs on no hits.

The Red Devils (5-11, 3-3) were able to get one back in the bottom of the sixth when Wakefield and Toney walked and Wakefield scored on a base hit by Caleb Smith. Sylvan Hills set the final margin with a run in the top of the seventh. Mackenzie Seats scored on an RBI base hit by Carson Sanders, and Seats then closed the game in the seventh.

Fakouri threw six innings for Sylvan Hills. He allowed four earned runs on eight hits with no strikeouts and four walks. Sylvan Hills (12-3, 6-0) committed one error. Seats walked one and fanned one in his inning of work.

Brandon Hawkins went the distance on the mound for Jacksonville. He also gave up eight hits and four earned runs and walked four, with five strikeouts.

In game two, tensions started running high in the top of the first inning when Hickingbotham was called out on a borderline high strike-three call to end the half-inning. They got worse in the bottom of the first when catcher Wakefield tossed what he thought was a clear two-out strike three back to the mound and started running to the dugout, only to have the umpire signal ball and call the players back onto the field. Fakouri, the batter at the plate, then hit an RBI single to center field for a 1-0 SH lead.

Then in the top of the second, Smith was called out on a breaking ball chin high and Burrows came unglued, resulting in his ejection.

The Bears added a run to their lead in the bottom of the second after Ty Flowers flubbed a routine grounder by Sanders, and pitcher River Hunt hit an RBI single with two outs.

Sylvan Hills made it 3-0 in the top of the third on back-to-back doubles by Seats and Fakouri. Whitmore then saved a run and ended the inning when he threw out Fakouri’s courtesy runner, Kyle Clayton, at home after a single to right field by Lumpkin.

Wakefield kept his monster night going in the top of the fourth with a leadoff home run, making him 4 for 4 with a walk, two RBIs and three runs scored on the night. He was later called out on another controversial strike three for the only at-bat in both games combined he failed to get on base.

Savage replaced Hickingbotham on the mound with one out in the fourth after a double by Bryce Allen and an error in left field by Smith. Savage got leadoff hitter Michael Coven to pop up to second base, and Mike Havard made a running catch at the wall in center field to get JoJo Craft for the final out and get the Red Devils out of another jam.

Sylvan Hills then scored its final run in the bottom of the fifth. Seats singled before going all the way to third base on consecutive wild pitches by Savage. Fakouri hit a hard grounder to third where Caleb McMunn made a nice play to freeze the lead runner and get the out at first. Savage then fanned Douglas, and was almost out of the jam when Lumpkin got the run in with a single to left field.

Jacksonville scored the final run in the top of the seventh inning on a walk by Smith and an RBI double down the right-field line by Sample.

Burrows didn’t want to talk much about the umpires, but said his team will bounce back.

“I just told them sooner or later something is going to break our way, and we’re going to start getting these breaks instead of them all going against us,” said Burrows. “We’re going to keep working like that’s what’s going to happen. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep working like that’s what’s going to happen.”

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot gets easy sweep of Patriots

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot baseball team got a 7A/6A-East sweep at Marion on Friday. In the first game of the conference doubleheader, Cabot, led by ace pitcher Chase Kyzer, held the Patriots scoreless en route to a 5-0 win, and in game two, the Panthers’ bats lit up the hosts on their way to a dominant 24-4 win.

The first two innings of game one were scoreless. Cabot (10-5, 3-1)

scored three of its five runs in the top of the third. Brett Brockinton led off that inning with a double to right field and Logan Gilbertson advanced him to second base with a sacrifice bunt.

Bobby Joe Duncan drove in the game’s first run with a two-out single to center field, and Duncan scored the next at-bat on a triple to right field by catcher Denver Mullins. Eric Larsen drove in the third run the next at-bat with a single, giving the Panthers a 3-0 cushion.

The game remained 3-0 until the top of the seventh, when Cabot added its final two runs – again, with two outs. Gilbertson went to first after being hit by a pitch. He stole second base with Blake McCutchen at the plate, and McCutchen drove him in with a single to left field.

Duncan walked the following at-bat, and Mullins reached on an error at second base. McCutchen scored on the play, giving Cabot its 5-0 lead. Michael Shepherd came in to relieve Kyzer in the seventh, and he retired the side, striking out the first and third Marion batters looking to earn the save and give the Panthers the game-one win.

“Kyzer threw the first six innings and then Michael Shepherd came in and just did a fantastic job against the heart of their order to close that game out in the seventh,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin.

Kyzer didn’t necessarily have his best game on the mound Friday, but found a way to get it done and the defense played well behind him, giving up just one error in the seven innings played.

“This week he didn’t have his best stuff,” Goodwin said of Kyzer. “He was really, really fighting some things, but at the same time, pitched kind of like a high school pitcher should pitch – win without your best stuff.

“For us to grind out six innings when he was kind of fighting some things a little bit, which is going to happen as a pitcher; that was huge for us. And then Shepherd coming in, boom, boom, boom – throwing strikes – that was big for us.”

Cabot’s bat’s boomed throughout game two. The Panthers racked up 19 hits in the second game and scored at least four runs every inning.

Cabot scored four runs in the first inning to lead 4-0. Marion scored two of its runs in the top of the second before the Panthers added six more to their side of the board in the bottom half of the inning to lead 10-2.

The Patriots went scoreless over the next two innings, and Cabot scored 14 in that two-inning stretch – eight in the third and six in the fourth. Marion’s final two runs came in the top of the fifth, and once the top of the fifth ended, so did the game because of the sportsmanship rule.

“I don’t like seeing that score,” Goodwin said, “because I don’t want people to think we were trying to run the score up. That’s just not what we do. We’re not about that. So we did clear the bench in that game.

“It was one of those games where pitchers just had a hard time finding the strike zone, really on both sides. We walked six and they (Marion) walked 10 – a little smaller strike zone than we were used to seeing.”

Gilbertson started and earned the win on the mound for Cabot in game two, and the head Panther liked what he saw from the junior hurler, who threw the first four innings of that game.

“Really our pitcher (Gilbertson) was throwing fantastic,” Goodwin said. “He really, really pitched well. He pitched better than his (stat) line shows. He threw four innings for us and really competed on a tough night to pitch, if you will.”

Duncan led Cabot at the plate in game two, going 4 for 4 with three runs scored. McCutchen and Larsen each had three hits in that game. Mullins was 2 for 2. Jake Slunder also had two hits and Rail Gillam, Davis Wofford, Braden Jarnigan, Brockinton and Logan Kirkendoll had one hit each.

In game one, McCutchen, Duncan, Mullins, Larsen, Slunder and Brockinton accounted for Cabot’s six hits. On the mound, Kyzer struck out four batters and gave up just three hits and two walks in his six innings of work. In the second game, Gilbertson struck out seven batters and gave up just two hits and four walks in four innings.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers, Lady Bears place well at RHS

Leader sports editor

The Cabot boys weren’t at full strength, but managed a third-place finish out of 26 teams in the Cyclone Relays last Friday in Russellville. On the girls’ side, the Sylvan Hills Lady Bears took eighth out of 25 teams for the highest placement of local schools. Conway and Bryant finished first and second respectively in boys’ and girls’ meets.

The only Cabot athlete to win an even was junior Britton Alley, who won the 400-meter dash with a personal best 51.23. Beebe’s Keishun Davis finished sixth at 53.01.

Sylvan Hills’ Anthony Duncan won the 300-meter intermediate hurdles with a time of 40.66. Cabot’s Mark Odom finished fourth in that event and Beebe’s Logan Archer was seventh.

Odom ran a personal best 11.14 to take second place behind Van Buren’s Caleb Christensen in the 100-meter dash. Duncan took seventh in that event and finished eighth in the long jump with a leap of 19-9.

Odom won the 110-meter high hurdles at Cabot last Tuesday, but did not participate in that event at Russellville.

Three days after winning the shot put in the Walmart Invitational, Cabot’s Brandon Jones took second in Russellville after Conway’s Austin Norris beat his previous best by almost 10 feet, with a winning throw of 152-feet, 6-inches. Jones threw 142-5.

The Panthers’ 4x800-meter relay team of Jack Moore, Greyson Kaufman, Landon Vaught and Gardner Howze took second behind Conway. Howze also ran a personal best 10:31.57 to finish sixth in the 3,200.

Cabot’s 4x400 team finished a close second behind Bryant. Alley, Vaught, Rocky Burke and Conley Hillegas finished with a time of 3:32.21.

Beebe’s John Paul Savage took sixth and Sylvan Hills’ Nathan Burd seventh in the 1,600. Savage also finished eighth in the 800-meter race.

Burke took third in the pole vault with a jump of 12-6. Cabot’s 4x100-meter relay team of Alex Roberts, Brandon Whitley, Connor Daigle and Hillegas took fourth.

Cabot coach Leon White thinks the boys’ team may end up being a bit stronger than he anticipated at the beginning of the season.

“It’s still kind of hard to say, but we’ve got some guys out we weren’t sure would be coming,” White said. “Today we didn’t have our high jumper Matt Stanley, and Mark Odom didn’t run his best event. And I didn’t think we necessarily had a great day. Gardner Howze is making the biggest improvements right now. No one that scored for us really came all that close to the best they could do. Stuart Nickell had a PR in the 3,200, so he’s getting closer to the points for us.”

On the girls’ side, Sylvan Hills’ Sa’Maya Farmer set a new school record and finished second in the shot put with a toss of 34-6, 20-inches short of the winning throw by Tylee Sysavanh of Springdale, but more than three feet further than her nearest 5A competitor.

In an odd turn of events, Lady Bear Makayla Smith triple jumped the exact same distance as Farmer’s throw to tie the SHHS record and finish second. Her teammate, Erykah Sanders, finished seventh with a jump of 32-6.

“They’re all starting to buy in to what we’re selling,” said Sylvan Hills girls’ coach Grover Garrison. “You’re going to see a lot of growth from our freshmen real soon. They’re all sleepers.”

Smith also finished sixth in the 100-meter hurdles, and ran the second leg of the Lady Bears’ second-place 4x100-meter relay team that included Aliya Hatton, Sanders and O’Shayla Muldrow.

Casey Gore ran a personal best for the Lady Panthers and finished second in the 800 with a time of 2:23.47. Sylvan Hills’ Chloe George took sixth in that event and Gore also finished fifth in the 1,600 with a time of 5:40.30

Cabot’s Samantha Nickell took fourth in the 3,200 with a time of 12:24.47, just three days after running a 13:11.20 in that event at Cabot.

Sylvan Hills will compete Thursday in the Conway Invitational. Cabot is splitting its team on Thursday, with some competing at Conway and some at the Vilonia Relays.

SPORTS STORY >> Searcy rallies past Sylvan Hills

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Lady Bears gave up an early 4-2 lead and three runs in the bottom of the sixth to drop an 8-5 decision at Searcy on Friday.

The Lady Bears (7-4, 4-0) scored in the top of the first before giving up two runs in the bottom of the second. They then posted three runs in the third, but that lead evaporated in the bottom of the same inning when the Lady Lions scored two runs.

The game’s first run came after a leadoff single by Cara Pozza. Tristen Goodson sacrificed her to second and a drop moved her to third on the same play. Storm Ellis then singled to drive in the go-ahead run.

Searcy took the lead on a single by Katelyn Thomason, a triple by Jordyn Dawkins and a sacrifice fly by Sara Grace Weaver.

Pozza drew a leadoff walk in the fourth and Goodson singled with no outs to put runners on the corners and start the Lady Bears’ three-run rally. Ellis grounded out to second, but Pozza scored on the play. Taylor Yeoman then singled to score Goodson and give Sylvan Hills a 3-2 lead.

After a Joy Franco strikeout, Doma’Nique Hunt reached on an error that also allowed Yeoman to score for a 4-2 Lady Bear lead.

Searcy tied it on a single by Reagan Feltrop, a triple by Maegan Pistokache and a sac fly by Gabby Tipton. The Lady Lions took the lead in the bottom of the fifth with back-to-back no-out singles, followed by a sacrifice bunt and then a base hit by Pistokache that made it 5-4 Searcy.

Hunt hit a leadoff double for Sylvan Hills in the top of the sixth and Madalyn Hogue took her place on the base paths. She moved to second on a groundout to shortstop by Lynlee Broadway, and moved to third on a sacrifice by Anna Sigler. Madison Shelton then hit a routine pop up to second base, but it was mishandled and Hogue scored to tie the game.

The Lady Lions then scored three runs off three hits, an error and a walk in the bottom of the sixth. Sylvan Hills went down in order in the top of the seventh to end the game.

Searcy out-hit Sylvan Hills 12-7 with Pistokache going 4 for 4 with a triple and four RBIs. No one for Sylvan Hills had more than one base hit, and Ellis led in production with two RBIs.

Broadway threw five innings for the Lady Bears. She gave up nine hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Ellis threw the sixth, giving up three hits with no strikeouts and a walk. Pistokache threw all seven innings for the Lady Lions, giving up three earned runs with six strikeouts.

SPORTS STORY >> Walk-off LHS slam ends rout of Devils

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke baseball team jumped out to an early three-run lead in Friday’s nonconference game against Jacksonville, and the Jackrabbits reeled off eight runs in the bottom of the fifth to end the game early with an 11-1 win over the Red Devils at the Lonoke Ballpark.

Lonoke (7-5, 3-0) scored the game’s first three runs in the bottom of the first inning to lead 3-0. The game remained 3-0 until Jacksonville (5-9, 3-1) scored its only run in the top of the fourth to make it a two-run game.

Lonoke, though, put it away in the bottom of the fifth with eight runs scored, the last four coming on a two-out, walk-off grand slam to left center by Jackrabbit junior  shortstop and University of Arkansas commit Casey Martin.

“I was really proud of our guys,” said Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery. “The last couple of games we just kind of made a lot of mental mistakes and had some things that we’ve had to overcome. We played a good White Hall team (last) Monday that kind of gave us a good thumping.

“We made a lot of mistakes. We made them work early in that game and then they had one huge inning on us like this, and we kind of let things snowball on us. We were battling against Riverview (last) Tuesday – same thing. We jumped on them a little bit and then we kind of just had a couple of mistakes that let them back in the game.

“So I was proud of our guys today for coming ready, getting a good three runs up on the board and playing some good defense behind it.”

Lonoke loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first on an error at third base, a walk and a hit batter. The first run was scored on a Kade Stuart sacrifice fly to right field, giving the Jackrabbits a 1-0 lead.

Stuart’s sac fly was the second out of the inning, but catcher Gabe Rooney and designated hitter Tallon Swint hit back-to-back singles to drive in Lonoke’s next two runs.

In the top of the fourth, Jacksonville catcher Javan Wakefield started things off with a single to left center, but Wakefield went to second base on the same play as the ball got by the Lonoke left fielder.

Kameron Whitmore walked the next at-bat and Tyson Flowers walked two batters later to load the bases with two outs. Leadoff hitter Caleb Smith was then hit by a pitch to send Whitmore home and cut the Lonoke lead to 3-1.

Jacksonville threatened the next two innings, but couldn’t score, and Lonoke put it away in the bottom of the fifth. Martin hit a leadoff double to start the inning, and he advanced to third on a 5-3 groundout by Savonte Rountree.

Stuart hit an infield single to third base the following at-bat, and Rooney followed with a sac bunt that left everyone safe and scored Martin because of an errant throw to first. Stuart scored Lonoke’s fifth run on a wild pitch, and Kameron Cole drove in runs six and seven for the Jackrabbits with a two-out single to left center.

Caleb Horton and winning pitcher Haven Hunter reached base the next two at-bats to load the bases, which brought Martin back to the plate, and with a 2-2 count, Martin sent the next pitch over the fence in left center, which ended the game because of the sportsmanship rule.

Lonoke outhit Jacksonville 8-3. Martin and Cole led the Jackrabbits at the plate. Each went 2 for 3, with Martin adding four RBIs and three runs scored. Hunter, Stuart, Rooney and Swint accounted for Lonoke’s other four hits.

Wakefield, Caleb McMunn and Mike Havard had the Red Devils’ three hits.

Hunter pitched all five innings for Lonoke, finishing with three strikeouts.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville stays calm, wins tourney

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils overcame the loss of one of their key starters and a 7-4 deficit in the championship game to come back and beat Searcy 8-7 and win the Gregory Polaris Lady Red Devil Invitational softball tournament on Saturday at Excel Park.

Jacksonville also beat Mayflower 5-4 and Glen Rose 13-1 earlier in the day to play Searcy for the tournament title.

Starting pitcher and first baseman Kym House suffered an injury late in the win over Glen Rose when she was tagged hard at third base on the base of the skull. That left Brianna Loyd to finish the tournament in the circle, but Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk considers both players starting pitchers.

“Brianna doesn’t hit her spots as well (as House) but she’s got a little more heat on her pitch, I think,” said Hawk. “So there are advantages to both of them. They’re a good one-two punch for us.”

Things couldn’t start much better for Jacksonville in the championship game. Jacksonville leadoff hitter Allison Seats cranked Searcy pitcher Maegan Pistokache’s third pitch of the game over the fence in straightaway center field for a quick 1-0 lead, but the Lady Devils added three more before the inning was over.

Bailey Holt singled to right field on the next at-bat before the next two batters grounded out. Pistokache then began struggling to find the strike zone. She walked Loyd, Payton Mullen and Kinley Burrows in a row to drive in another run. Jordan Moody then singled to right field to score the next two for a 4-0 Jacksonville lead.

Loyd walked the first batter she faced in the bottom of the first, but followed that with two strikeouts and a weak fly ball to second base to end the inning.

Jacksonville got two on with one out in the second but failed to score when Pistokache fanned Loyd and Mackenzie Rodgers.

Loyd struck out the side in the second, but not until the Lady Lions scored four unearned runs to tie the game.

After a strikeout to start the inning, Searcy got a walk and a single, followed by another strikeout. A grounder to short should’ve ended the inning, but Mullen mishandled the throw from Burrows to load the bases with two outs.

Loyd then walked a run home, and Reagan Feltrop doubled to drive in two more. An error in the outfield then allowed the tying run.

Moody squeezed in a base hit among three strikeouts for Jacksonville in the top of the third, and Searcy scored three more in the bottom half of the inning on three singles and two walks.

Jacksonville tied the game in the top of the fourth, scoring three runs after Seats, Holt and Emily Lovercheck hit consecutive singles to start the inning. Those three hits scored one run. After a pop up to first base, Loyd singled to drive in Holt and Mullen drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 7-7.

With time running out in the fifth, Jacksonville got the winning run. Zylah Richardson hit a leadoff single, followed by another hit from Seats.

Earlier in the day, Jacksonville and Glen Rose were tied at 1-1 through three innings and Jacksonville led 2-1 after four before the Lady Red Devils exploded in the fifth.

Mullen scored when she and Madeline Smith hit back-to-back triples to break the tie in the fourth inning.

In the fifth, five of the first six batters reached base with four singles and a walk to score two runs. Smith then hit a single to drive in another run, and an error on the play allowed another runner to cross the plate for a 6-1 Jacksonville lead.

The Lady Red Devils then scored seven runs in the sixth inning to put the game away.

It started with a leadoff single by Richardson, followed by a two-run home run by Seats. Holt then reached on an error and scored on a double by Lovercheck.

The next two Jacksonville batters struck out, but both reached safely on a passed ball and a wild pitch. Mullen was then hit by a pitch and Smith cleared the bases with a three-run triple. Another error on Richardson’s at-bat allowed Smith to score and set the final margin.

House threw a two-hitter and gave up no earned runs over five innings. She struck out seven and walked no one.

Against Mayflower, Jacksonville trailed 3-1 going into the fourth inning before posting four runs for the win. Lovercheck hit a leadoff single and Rodgers homered to tie the game.

House reached on an error and everyone was safe on Mullen’s fielder’s choice grounder. Loyd’s grounder to first got Mullen thrown out at second and left runners on the corners with one out. Burrows then grounded to third and House was thrown out at home.

With runners on first and second with two outs and the score tied, Richardson slapped a single down the third base line for one RBI, and Seats singled to right for another and a 5-3 lead.

Mayflower scored after a leadoff triple in the sixth, but never threatened again.

House threw all seven innings, giving up seven hits and three earned runs while striking out six and walking zero.

“These girls were behind in every game and they just stay even and calm,” Hawk said. “They just don’t get rattled and that’s important. We had a couple of horrible innings in this tournament. They’re just able to put it behind them and move on.”

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Much ado about little

Today’s vaunted special session of the Arkansas General Assembly is looking more and more like much ado about very little. Gov. Hutchinson yesterday dropped his ballyhooed managed-care act from the call for the session, which is supposed to consume three or four days this week.

All that is left for legislators to do, besides the Senate routinely confirming a bunch of the governor’s Republican appointees to innumerable little state boards, is approve a reauthorization of the Medicaid portion of the Affordable Care Act, which you know as Obamacare.

That reauthorization would have been routine without the governor’s fumbling with some largely cosmetic changes to the Obamacare program so that legislators can claim never to have voted for any part of President Obama’s health reforms and also without the disaster of his managed-care campaign, which left legislators, mainly the governor’s own Republican acolytes, vexed or confused. More about that in a moment, and much later.

Hutchinson yesterday morning punted the managed-care issue to a later—perhaps a third or fourth—legislative session in late spring, summer or fall. But Hutchinson is absolutely right. Legislators must reauthorize Medicaid insurance for poor working adults and then fund it. If he and they fail, Arkansas will find itself, like Kansas and Louisiana, in a budget crisis of biblical proportions: a quarter-million people without medical insurance, shuttered hospitals and clinics around the state, Arkansas’ great university medical system reduced to a shadow of itself, state services slashed across the board, the state’s economy shorn of nearly a billion dollars a year in capital, the burgeoning job market badly afflicted.

All the legislature has to do this week is rubber-stamp the governor’s minor revisions of the “private option,” the name Republican legislators attached to the Medicaid expansion in 2013 so that people would not see it as Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 called for states to expand Medicaid, the 1965 program for indigents with medical problems, to cover poor working adults, but in a split decision the U.S. Supreme Court said states had to be given the option of approving or rejecting the program. Arkansas and 30 other states took it, but Republican legislators who voted for it have been catching hell from conservative groups like the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity for embracing the dastardly Obama.

Gov. Hutchinson is trying to give them some cover by tweaking it and calling it “Arkansas Works” instead of “Private Option,” which foes have persuaded the public is actually Obamacare. Hutchinson may not have known what he was doing when he affixed the name, which must remind TV addicts of “House of Cards” of the villainous and conniving President Frank Underwood. President Underwood began a program called America Works, which was to replace Social Security and the rest of the country’s social safety net with a mandatory work program. Hutchinson named his Medicaid switch Arkansas Works to suggest to conservatives that it would encourage slackers on the medical rolls to find a job. The new tag serves the governor poorly, at least with the TV crowd.

Although many Democratic legislators he needs to pass the bill are unhappy with some of the tweaks, which might cut off many needy people from medical help, in the end they will give him the simple majority he needs to pass the bill. Everyone will go home and come back to the Capitol in a week for the annual fiscal session, where the really critical decisions will be made. An appropriation of funds for Arkansas Works and the entire Medicaid program for the aged, blind, disabled, poor and disabled children, the mentally ill and all the rest will require a nearly impossible three-fourths vote in each house, at least according to the common interpretation of the Constitution (we think a simple majority would and should suffice). If it fails of passage, everything collapses this fall and the governor will find himself in an impossible jam. All of us will be there with him.

A word about the governor’s (presumably) temporarily abandoned managed-care program. To claim conservative credentials in this whole fight, Hutchinson said he would like to take a few parts of the huge Arkansas Medicaid program, much of it the work of Gov. Mike Huckabee nearly 20 years ago, and turn patients in those programs—mentally ill and disabled people—over to managed-care insurance companies and see if they couldn’t chop the costs dramatically. Managed-care companies do that by reducing payments and services for which they will pay enough that they can still make a good profit from the government payments.

Sometimes that doesn’t have the desired effect. When the Bush administration in 2003 changed the Medicare law to encourage people to buy managed-care policies instead of getting simple Medicare coverage, rather than less, it wound up costing taxpayers 17 percent more, and the federal deficit soared. Obamacare reduces that giant loss by shaving the managed-care subsidy a little.

Many Republicans and Democrats thought the governor’s managed-care plan was risky or else too bewildering, and party leaders urged him Monday to take it out of the session and leave it for another day when he could sell it or abandon it. It was jeopardizing Arkansas Works. Yesterday, he did. Hutchinson admirably has tended to yield to such political prudence.

Get the little job of reauthorization done this week and get out of town. Gov. Hutchinson needs to be at his political best next week, when truly desperate decisions have to be made. — Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY >> Hospital opens new units

Leader staff writer

North Metro Medical Center will hold a ribbon cutting at 1 p.m. today and an open house from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at its new cardiovascular center. The public can also tour the cardiac catheterization lab and the remodeled sleep lab.

The Jacksonville hospital opened the vascular center last month. The center offers exams and procedures used to diagnose and treat heart conditions.

The vascular center’s physician is Dr. Sadeem Mahmood, and Sarah Brown, Ph.D., is its nurse practitioner.

Mahmood practices at North Metro, St. Vincent’s Infirmary and the Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock and the Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff.

The cardiovascular center does heart assessments with stress tests and ultrasounds. The clinic monitors the electrical activity of the heart and provides treatments for abnormal heath rhythms.

Doctors can determine if a heart is skipping beats or pausing with a patient complaining of chest pain.

The center can also treat medical conditions related to veins.

North Metro Medical Center has remodeled its sleep center. The lab is used to monitor and diagnose patients with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can lead to circulatory problems such as an enlarged heart.

North Metro Medical Center has also added a cardiac catheterization lab. The cath lab allows doctors to insert a thin hollow tube into an artery in the wrist or the groin and go to the heart. A dye is then released allowing physicians to see how the heart is working and to look for blocked arteries with live X-ray images on a computer.

Stents and pacemakers can be installed at the cath lab.

Chief nursing officer Annalee Haley said the cardiovascular center provides diagnostic services for early intervention and prevention of major cardiovascular events.

“In our community, we have a high incidence rate of diabetes and heart problems. Patients shouldn’t have to travel to Little Rock for definitive care,” Haley said.

North Metro Medical Center CEO Michael Randle said there are additional plans in the works at the hospital.

Randle said the hospital is moving acute-care services to the newly remodeled wing on the second floor by the end of June. It will have additional 13 beds for a total of 40 beds.

“We brought on a new surgeon and are looking to open a gastrointestinal lab and wound healing center,” Randle said.

Randle said North Metro is considering opening a primary care clinic staffed with two physicians.

“We are looking to expand services and are actively recruiting new physicians,” Randle said.

He said another new physician is a doctor who specializes in renal care and treatment of kidney diseases.

TOP STORY >> Edwards opens new store in Jacksonville

Workers on Monday put up a new Edwards Cash Saver sign in Jackson Square Shopping Center in Jacksonville, where Knight’s was located.
GES, Inc., owner and operator of Edwards Food Giant and Edwards Cash Saver supermarkets, are opening a new Edwards Cash Saver at 9 a.m. today at the old Knight’s location at 315 S. James St. in Jacksonville.

The remodeled interior, which has 42,000 square feet, features new equipment, lighting and d├ęcor.

The Jackson Square Shopping Center is getting a facelift, and all parking lot lighting will be improved to guarantee a comfortable and safe shopping experience.

Because this is a Cost Plus supermarket similar to the Edwards Cash Saver store in North Little Rock, all goods will be available at the store’s cost plus 10 percent at checkout.

This is the seventh store in central Arkansas for the Edwards family since entering the market in 2009.

Supervising the final touches for the remodeled store this week were Steve Edwards, owner and president; his son-in-law, Paul Rowton, and Gary Proffitt, vice president of operations.

Bob Childers, from Harrisburg, is director of meat operations.

Although the store will not include a full-service deli, it will have a large smoker making hot smoked ribs, chickens, pork, brisket and other meat items available daily.

The store will also have a large fresh produce department along with a full selection of name brand and private label grocery items.

The Edwards stores have become known as “The Meat People” and the Jacksonville store includes a large meat department. It also carries the finest meats at great prices, featuring certified Angus beef, Edwards said.

Edwards said the company had been looking to expand in the Jacksonville area for several years and negotiated with the Knight family to buy their supermarket as well as the Jackson Square Shopping Center, where the store is located. Knight’s continues to operate in Cabot and Beebe.

He said all company associates are excited about the Jacksonville location and look forward to the grand opening.

Edwards said a big plus for the company was the recent announcement of the new school complex being built and the commitment of Jacksonville’s residents to invest back into their community.

He also spoke about the recent news of the SIG Sauer ammo-manufacturing facility and their investment in the city.

GES, Inc., an Arkansas corporation, was formed in 1968 to consolidate a group of supermarkets. The corporation now owns eight supermarkets since moving into the Little Rock market in 2009.

The company has three supermarkets in Little Rock, one in North Little Rock, as well as stores in Forrest City, Harrisburg and Marianna, and convenience stores in McCrory and Augusta.

Oral and Steve Edwards, with more than 80 years of grocery experience between them, own GES, Inc. Along with Proffitt, the Edwards family also owns Tobacco Warehouse, LLC, which operates convenience stores.

The supermarkets and convenience stores operate under the Edwards Food Giant and FG Express banners. “We continue to improve our stores and add new departments in order to protect our markets and better serve our customers,” Steve Edwards said.

The company traces its roots back to 1959, when founder Oral Edwards started his career in the grocery business as an assistant manager in Millington, Tenn. He next moved to Kennett, Mo., in 1961 as a store manager.

In 1962, he became part owner of a new store. He loaded up his family for the third and final time and moved to Forrest City in east Arkansas, where a new Liberty Supermarket opened there in 1962.

By today’s standards, Edwards said, it was a small store, but it was huge for that time. Forrest City became home for Oral and Christine Edwards and their children, Steve and Susan.

The business grew from there as locations opened in Harrisburg, Marianna, McCrory, Augusta and Little Rock-North Little Rock and now Jacksonville.

TOP STORY >> Schools open Aug. 15 in new district

Leader senior staff writer

At least 30 years in the making, Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District doors will finally open to area students Aug. 15, according to the 2016-2017 school calendar unanimously adopted Monday night, but much remains to be done.

For instance, the new district will need 40 to 50 school bus drivers, and despite great concern by PCSSD drivers that they wouldn’t be hired by JNPSD or that transportation would be outsourced, so far the district has only 16 applications.

Superintendent Tony Wood said that if he and the other administrators aren’t confident by early June that they’ll hire enough drivers, other options such as increasing compensation or hiring a management firm or outsourcing could be considered.

Wood said current compensation is essentially the same as it is at neighboring districts, including the Pulaski County Special School District.

The board set two public meetings for April 21 at the Jacksonville Police Department public safety room at 1400 Marshall St., one for elementary attendance zones, the other for colors and mascots.

A meeting will convene at 6 p.m. that day to consider proposed changes to elementary school attendance zones. It’s a thorny question, Wood has said, and not everyone is going to be satisfied.

Some parents found the proposed changes disruptive to their youngsters, and Wood and the board have said they want to accommodate parents where they can, but that factors such as building capacity, population distribution, racial mix and the desegregation requirements, plus cost effectiveness, all come into play.

Wood says he wants to keep neighborhoods together and create zones that won’t have to be redrawn after Tolleson and Arnold Drive elementary schools are combined in a single new school.

Across the six JNP elementary schools, there should be a capacity surplus of 520 students next year, but they have to be balanced by geography and race.

Bayou Meto elementary enrollment is only 7 percent black, but after proposed rezoning, that will climb to 21percent, still the lowest minority enrollment among the schools, with the highest black student prevalence next year of 71 percent for Murrell Taylor and 69 percent for Tolleson.

It is anticipated that when Arnold Drive and Tolleson open in one new school, the enrollment will be 407, with 46 percent of those black students.


Since the new district will have a single high school and a single middle school, attendance for those schools is district wide.

The current attendance zone map and the map of proposed zones have been posted at under “News,” as is the 2016-2017 school calendar.

The district must choose mascots and colors for one high schools and one middle school.

At 7:15 p.m. Monday, April 21, the public can weigh-in on the three current suggestions for school mascots and school colors for Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville Middle School, their variants or other suggestions.

Wood expects a vote on those issues to be on the agenda for the May 2 school board meeting.

The transition committee facilitated by Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh recommended three alternatives:

A: Red and gold for both middle school and high school, with the Phoenix or Firebirds for the mascots.

B: Red and White for both middle and high schools and a Red Devil mascot with an option of gold trim.

C: No change in colors—red and white for the high school, maroon and gold for the middle school; with the high school mascot continuing to be Red Devils, and for the middle school, the Falcons.

The board emerged from executive session to hire 30 employees, 26 of them certified.

Licensed employees hired include:

Jamee Blasinggame, middle school math; Sarah Booth, middle school social studies; Michael Boyd, middle school English and language arts; Cherie Brown, middle school science, and Larry Burrows, head baseball coach.

Gregory Chamber, middle school math; Grace Evans, middle school social studies; Lydia Hardin, middle school science; Barry Hickingbotham, head football coach, and Sarah Hoffman, middle school math.

Evelyn House, middle school English language arts; Brandon Hoyt, middle school science; Don Lantrip, K-12 special education; Reggie Nalls, middle school science, and Lamont Page, middle school social studies.

Amber Reynolds, middle school social studies; Monica Ring, middle school math; Katie Roberts, secondary math; Sonya Ross, middle school math; and Jacob Smith, director of student services.

Emily Wells, secondary math; Kathy Williams, middle school English language arts, Jerry Wilson, athletic director; Wood, superintendent, Angie Wright, middle school language arts; Richard Wrightner, elementary, fourth and fifth grade.

Among classified employees, Stewart was rehired as chief of staff. Others hired include Paul Spencer Mayfield, director of maintenance, John Sparks, director of transportation and Clint Walker, director of child nutrition.

The school calendar was set in cooperation with PCSSD, Little Rock and North Little Rock districts. Barring weather and makeup days, the 2016-2017 school year ends May 26.