Friday, April 22, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears’ confidence gets boost

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills softball team’s 5A-Central doubleheader with McClellan was rained out on Thursday, but the Lady Bears did get a big, confidence building win on Monday with a 6-5 home victory against Greenbrier.

The Lady Panthers, who are undefeated in 5A-West play and tied with Vilonia for first place in that conference, took a 5-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning with a three-run burst. But Sylvan Hills literally one-upped them in the bottom half of the inning to win the game.

“That was huge for us from a confidence standpoint,” said Sylvan Hills coach Mark Anderson. “They had won the North Little Rock tournament of champions and are sitting there undefeated in a pretty tough conference. So it was a huge win for us, especially since we’ve struggled a little bit the last couple of weeks.”

Anderson goes back to before a long, weather-related layoff before spring break to pinpoint where his team’s struggles began. A low point was being swept by conference rival Jacksonville, but the head Bear believed something was about to change after last week’s one-run loss to Batesville.

“At the first of the year, we were playing great,” Anderson said. “We got off track a little bit when we went so long without a game, and just have never gotten back to form for some reason. Then last Thursday, we played really well the whole game and then fell apart in the seventh inning and lost that one to Batesville. After the game, I could see it in their faces. They were just so disappointed in themselves. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t even have to say anything. They’re about to fix something.’ It looks like that may be the case. It’s just disappointing that we have to wait so long between games again. You’d like to capitalize on a win like that and start getting some momentum.”

In the decisive seventh, Doma’Nique Hunt hit a leadoff single before Lynlee Broadway reached on an error at second base. Brittanie Stricklin was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Joy Franco struck out looking for the first out. Cara Pozza walked to drive in the first run. Madison Shelton then hit a spinner off the end of the bat that the pitcher fielded and threw wildly to first. That scored the two tying runs and moved Pozza to third.

Storm Ellis then hit a sacrifice grounder to second base to drive in the game-winning run.

Pozza and Hunt went 2 for 3 to lead Sylvan Hills offensively.

The Lady Bears (8-8, 4-2) travel to Nashville for a nonconference game on Monday. They will make up the doubleheader with McClellan at home on Wednesday, and then host Beebe in another 5A-Central doubleheader on Thursday that will likely decide the two seed in the state tournament.

SPORTS STORY >> Late goal lifts Red Devils over SHHS

By GRAHAM POWELLLeader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills boys’ soccer team gave the undefeated Jacksonville Red Devils their toughest test of the 5A-Central Conference season Thursday night in Sherwood, but the Red Devils got a much-needed boost from an injured co-captain and scored the go-ahead goal with less than 10 minutes to play to beat the Bears 3-2.

Jacksonville beat Sylvan Hills 5-1 in their first meeting of the season on March 29 at JHS, but the Bears (4-11, 4-5) did all they could to hand the Red Devils (9-0-1, 8-0) their first loss of the year on Thursday.

The Red Devils scored first less than five minutes into the match. With 35:53 to go in the opening half, Jacksonville’s Andrew McMasters scored from eight yards out to give JHS the early 1-0 lead. McMasters’ goal was set up by a well-placed Pablo Yoste Ramos pass, and McMasters broke loose behind the Sylvan Hills defenders and scored on the one-on-one shot.

The score stayed 1-0 until the 8:47 mark. Matthew Molden scored the game-tying goal for Sylvan Hills. Before Molden scored, he collided with JHS goalie John Hall in front of the goal.

The two were going after the loose ball when they collided into one another.

Molden flipped over Hall after the collision, and so did the ball. Realizing the prime opportunity to score, Molden quickly got up and tapped it into the net, tying the match at 1-1. Jacksonville, though, regained the lead less than four minutes later.

With 4:52 left until halftime, Ramos booted a left footer into the SHHS net from 12 yards out, which set the halftime margin at 2-1 in Jacksonville’s favor.

The scored stayed at 2-1 for the majority of the second half, but an unlikely penalty kick tied it up with 15:32 left to play.

From 40 yards out, Tito Mendoza booted a penalty kick from the left side of the field that roped its way high and into the upper portion of the JHS goal, tying the match at 2-2. With the score tied late, JHS coach Donny Lantrip put senior co-captain Illijah Carter into the match for the first time with 11:48 to play.

It was the first action Carter saw this week. He’s been nursing an injury, and was therefore held out of the team’s 5-0 win over Beebe on Monday. Lantrip would’ve also preferred not to play him on Thursday, but the Red Devils needed a boost, and they got just that from their senior co-captain.

Carter chased down a loose ball in the right corner on Sylvan Hills’ end of the field. He dribbled past one Bear defender and made a precision pass to teammate Fernando Barrientos near the front of the goal, and Barrientos finished the play by plugging in the go-ahead goal with 9:47 remaining, which ended up setting the final score of the highly-competitive conference match.

“He’s a game changer,” said Lantrip of Carter. “That’s just what he is. He’s a leader of our team. I wanted to sit him. He didn’t play against Beebe and I wasn’t going to play him tonight. I had decided just to get him ready for the PA game on Monday, but he’s a game changer.

“He’s going to make things happen and we know that, and we feel more comfortable with him on the field. He’s our captain, leader. Everybody’s comfortable when he’s out there. He runs the show and he’s a big asset to us.”

With a 3-2 lead, Carter exited the match with 5:18 remaining, and the Red Devils thwarted the Bears’ opportunities in the final minutes to preserve the win. It was a tough loss for the Bears, but they played much stronger on Thursday than they did the first time they played Jacksonville last month.

“These guys are the best offensive team we’ve played in the conference,” said SHHS coach Sam Persson of Jacksonville. “These guys hurt you in a lot of ways and I thought our guys stood up under the pressure. There’s been a lot of progression and it’s not a progression in talent because we’ve had the talent.

“But it’s a progression in experience, mainly understanding what you have to do to stay in games. So, the level of focus has had to go up. The level of effort has had to go up, and understanding that your time on the field is valuable. We’re starting to play a little bit toward our talent level.”

One area of improvement that stood out to Persson was the play of his defenders, including goalkeeper Raul Trejo, who had 21 stops Thursday, not including the several occasions he cleared the ball in traffic when Jacksonville threatened.

“He started out with very little experience,” Persson said of Trejo. “He’s short and doesn’t have a lot of experience. So, that’s two strikes against you as a goalkeeper. Experience and height are two of the most important things, but he’s overcome that. He’s a great athlete. He’s our fastest guy running in practice. He runs his two miles in 12 minutes flat, and he comes out and does that every day.

“He wants to be there. He wants to be in the moment, and with the experience (he’s gained) he’s been able to come off his line quicker. That means our defenders don’t have to sweep up as much. It takes a lot of character and, I mean, he’s a great kid.

“I’m excited about his development and also the two guys at the back, Eric (Givens) and Devin (Amarsi) – by far the best game that they’ve played this season.”

As for the Red Devils, they sort of limped their way into Thursday night’s conference game. But Lantrip is hoping his crew can overcome that and finish the season as strong as they started.

“Tonight was a challenge with us sitting Pop (Carter) out,” Lantrip said, “and Giancarlo Nino’s out, Pablo Trujillo’s out, Ben (Foshee) is out for the season and he’s a starting defender. We’re banged up, but we’ll come back and get rehydrated and get ready for PA at home and go from there.”

The Red Devils and Bears won their conference games on Monday as well. Jacksonville beat Beebe 5-0 at Beebe High School, and Sylvan Hills beat J.A. Fair 6-2 in Little Rock. They’ll both play again this coming Monday.

The Bears will play a nonconference game at Little Rock Catholic and Jacksonville will play conference co-leader Pulaski Academy (6-2, 6-0) at Jan Crow Stadium.

The winner of that pivotal matchup will take over sole possession of first place in the 5A-Central. Both boys varsity matches this Monday start at 7 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot soccer tops ’Cats

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot boys’ soccer team took a 1-0 lead into halftime of its 7A/6A-East Conference game against North Little Rock on Tuesday at Charging Wildcat Stadium, and the Panthers put it away in the second half with three more goals to earn the 4-0 shutout victory and stay unbeaten in conference play.

Cabot’s first goal came less than 10 minutes into the match. Abi Brown kicked the ball from about 20 yards out on the right side of the field. The lining ball deflected off of a Charging Wildcat player that was standing about five feet in front of the goal and it bounced by the NLR goalkeeper and into the goal for a 1-0 Cabot lead.

The Panthers (5-5-2, 5-0) maintained possession for the bulk of the first 40 minutes of action and had some other opportunities to score, but couldn’t get another shot into the net. Still, Cabot held a 1-0 lead at the break.

“I thought we actually played reasonably well in the first half,” said Cabot coach Steve Porter. “We created lots of chances. We just couldn’t find the finishing touch – the one-on-one with the goalkeeper, just the final pass that was there. So I thought it was a matter of time, and I was happy to see the (first) two goals (in the second half) go in pretty quickly.”

Cabot pushed its lead to 2-0 on a lining shot from Dylan Wagnon. Wagnon booted the ball from the left hash mark on the 10-yard line and it scorched by the NLR goalkeeper to give the Panthers their two-goal cushion.

“The finish was pretty good,” Porter said of Wagnon’s goal. “Dylan strikes the ball really well.

I think that gives him eight or nine goals on the season. That’s what we expect from him. He is a good player and when you give him a little bit of time and space to line up the shot he can strike the ball really well.”

Wagnon’s high-velocity boot came with 24:59 to play, and just over a minute later, the Panthers scored again. This one came off the foot of freshman Cameron Sherman. Wagnon earned the assist on the play. He made a pass up field to Sherman, who broke away from the defense.

The NLR goalie ran out to try and stop the play, but just before he could get there, Sherman kicked the ball up and over the goalie’s head and the ball then bounced into the middle of the goal for a 3-0 Panther lead with 23:41 remaining.

North Little Rock (3-5-2, 1-4) didn’t threaten much the rest of the way, and the final score was set on a Somma Quiroa Rodas goal with 6:15 to go.

The win keeps Cabot’s conference championship hopes intact. It was also the first conference match of the season between 7A teams, giving the Panthers a head start at competing for a No. 1 state tournament seed.

“As far as playoff seeding it matters,” Porter said of Tuesday’s win, “but the 6A games count towards a conference title, which is obviously something we would like to try and achieve. So we’re in a good position right now. The big challenge will be Friday against Central. If we can do that and go to 6-0 then things look good.”

Last night’s match against Central started after deadlines. Look for scores of that match in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> LHS girls, boys get wins on diamond

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke baseball team bounced back from its first conference loss to hammer eStem Charter School 16-0 Thursday at the Lonoke Ballpark. Earlier in the week, the Lady Jackrabbit softball team made it four league wins in a row with a 4-0 defeat of Central Arkansas Christian.

The baseball game was scheduled as an eStem home game, but the Mets were unable to get a field ready after Thursday’s rain.

Playing as the visiting team, the Jackrabbits got three hits, three runs and three RBIs from shortstop Casey Martin in the blowout victory over the Mets, but he was one of six Jackrabbits that got multiple base hits.

Kameron Cole went 3 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs. Savonte Rountree and Kade Stuart went 2 for 3 while Tallon Swint and Brayden Hardy went 2 for 4.

After a four-run first inning, Lonoke went scoreless in the second and third innings before posting three runs in the fourth. The Jackrabbits blew the game open and invoked the mercy rule with nine runs in the top of the fifth.

Keith Lingo threw a no-hitter over four innings, including seven strikeouts and two walks. The win secures the Jackrabbits (11-7, 6-1) of at least a two-seed in the 4A-2 District Tournament, which also assures them a spot in the East Regional, which Lonoke will host May 5-7.

Lady Rabbit sophomore pitcher Maddie Pool struck out 13 Mustangs in Monday’s win at Lonoke. She scattered four hits and two walks over seven innings, and CAC scarcely threatened throughout the game.

The Lady Jackrabbits got two runs in the bottom of the first inning, and added another pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Madison McFadden, Jarrelyn McCall and Madison Crow each went 2 for 3 at the plate while Mary Sumner went 2 for 2 in the nine hole.

Lonoke (11-9, 4-3) closes league play with four straight wins after dropping three close games to start the season. They hosted Harmony Grove on Friday, and will play at Baptist Prep on Monday before hosting the East Regional the following week.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers sweep NLR

Leader sports editor

Two late-game deficits were erased by two huge RBI base hits as the Cabot Lady Panthers got two big wins over North Little Rock this week. On Tuesday, the Lady Panthers beat the Charging Lady Wildcats 10-8 at home, then won 6-5 Thursday at Burns Park.

The victories were a big step towards clinching the 7A/6A-East championship and a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs. The Lady Panthers have two league series left against Little Rock Central and West Memphis.

On Tuesday, Cabot trailed 8-7 in the fifth inning when center fielder Bethany Knowles drilled a three-run home run over the fence in left-center field for what turned out to be the game-winning hit.

On Thursday, it was catcher Kaitlyn Felder that drove a high fly ball off the fence in right field for a two-RBI, game-winning double.

Cabot suffered a disastrous fourth inning on Tuesday, giving up all eight runs and falling into a six-run deficit. But Cabot coach Chris Cope knows it’s never time to panic with a lineup that swings the bat like his.

“It’s everybody,” said Cope. “It’s taken all of us. Every one of them, up and down the lineup, has come up with a big hit at some point. It’s taken all of them to get us where we are now. We never feel like we’re out of it.”

Felder hit a home run in the second inning of Tuesday’s game to give the Lady Panthers a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. But eight NLR base hits and three Cabot errors led to the big deficit in the fourth.

The Lady Panthers got four of them back in the bottom half of the same inning with six singles. In the fifth, Felder walked and pitcher Lauren McCluskey singled to left with one out. Both were replaced by courtesy runners before Macee Abbott grounded out to the pitcher, moving Tracy Hanson to third. Leadoff hitter Leah Gerald singled to center to score Hanson and leave runners on first and second.

That’s when Knowles stepped to the plate for her game-clinching home run.

North Little Rock out-hit Cabot in the offensive outing, picking up 14 base hits to Cabot’s 11. Despite five errors and a walk, the Lady Panther defense played well enough to thwart many other Charging Wildcat scoring opportunities.

Knowles went 2 for 4 with four RBIs to lead Cabot offensively. Anna Beth Duncan and McCluskey also got two base hits.

On Thursday, the Lady Panthers’ biggest deficit was just 3-1, but they trailed 5-4 when they came to bat in the top of the seventh inning. Heather Hill and Hannah Montgomery each hit singles to lead off the inning, but they were still at first and third with two outs when Felder stepped to the plate.

Felder sent the first pitch towering towards right-center field, where outfielders had been hampered all game long by standing pools of water from a pre-game downpour that delayed first pitch by 50 minutes. Right fielder Hannah Lovercheck plodded through the puddles and made a diving attempt as the ball caromed off the fence.

Cabot (15-3, 10-0) outhit NLR 12-7 in Thursday’s game. Gerald and Montgomery each got three base hits to lead the way.

McCluskey got the win in the circle in both games.

The Lady Panthers have a busy schedule next week. They will play at Central on Tuesday, at home against Sheridan on Thursday and home again on Friday for another game with Central.

EDITORIAL >> Foolish tactics in legislature

Gov. Hutchinson and the bipartisan leadership of the legislature earned no style points with the manner in which they saved Obamacare’s big expansion of health coverage in Arkansas, but a mere expression of gratitude for their cunning should suffice.

The legislature pretended to kill Obamacare’s three-year-old Medicaid program with the understanding that the governor will delete his own killer provision from the Medicaid appropriation bill before he signs it into law.

See, that way the handful of legislators who had vowed to oppose anything related to the hated Barack Obama can say that they voted to end his health insurance plan for poor working men and women, while anyone with only minimal acuity knows that they actually voted to continue it.

If that sounds zany, it is because nearly everyone concluded that it was the only way to get the essential work of government done under the zaniest fiscal law in America. Back in the Great Depression, the state’s new governor got the legislature to refer and voters to pass a constitutional amendment requiring three-fourths of each house—75 in the House of Representatives and 27 in the Senate—to approve any appropriation that was not for certain purposes: Confederate pensions, public schools, roads or to defray the necessary expenses and just debts of the state and to repel invasions and insurrections. No one could be sure what all those things meant, so legislators have generally assumed that they needed 75 and 27 votes for just about every spending bill.

Hardly anyone in the legislature or the governor back in 2013 wanted to be known as going along with anything the black president with the Middle Eastern name did, including the Affordable Care Act, but many of them began to realize that it was a bonanza for Arkansas’ sickly and underserved population and that it also was a bonanza for the state budget and the treasury because it brought a billion dollars a year into the treasury and the Arkansas economy while actually reducing the payout of people’s state tax dollars. To some who never examined the Affordable Care Act to see what it actually did, like the editors at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, that seemed impossible, so they continue to say and to write that it will bankrupt the state and the nation.

To avoid the Obama association, Gov. Beebe and Republican legislators got permission from the Obama administration to merge the Medicaid expansion into the other big Obamacare feature, private insurance exchanges, and to call the thing something else—“the private option”—so everyone who voted for it could say it was not Obamacare. When that name wore out, Gov. Hutchinson made a few minor changes, got the Obama administration to say they were OK and called the whole thing “Arkansas Works.”

Some 300,000 Arkansans now have access to medical care when they get sick, either directly or indirectly because of the Medicaid expansion. When the new program kicked in late in 2013, Arkansas’ high unemployment rate began to fall, the workforce began to rise and the steady rise in disability rolls in Arkansas ended. The state unemployment report last week showed that the jobless rate had fallen to 4 percent, the lowest of modern times, and another big increase in jobs in medical care. Arkansas’ jobless rate is now the lowest rate in the South, save for Virginia, which also is at 4 percent. Not coincidentally, Arkansas is the only Southern state that adopted Obamacare, though destitute Louisiana wants to follow.

The selling point to most legislators was that if the Medicaid expansion ends, the state budget will suddenly be a shipwreck, since the state tax savings for medical institutions and in other Medicaid programs would end, Arkansas would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to bail out the state medical school, and nearly every major state program, from the public schools to higher education and prisons, would have to be cut sharply. Since Obamacare was flushing so much money into the state treasury, the legislature in 2013 and 2015 decided it could take the popular step of cutting state taxes. Without Obamacare they would have to consider restoring those taxes or making painful cuts in popular state services.

Last week, Hutchinson conceded that he was two senators short of getting the vital 27 votes in the Senate. To halt the Obamacare program, 10 unbudging tea-party Republicans were ready to vote against the whole Medicaid appropriation for fiscal 2017, thus closing nursing homes and all the colonies for severely disabled children along with medical insurance for some 700,000 children and other people who couldn’t afford the specialized medical care their maladies required. Eight billion dollars a year would suddenly be sucked out of the Arkansas economy.

Hutchinson announced that he would use his line-item veto power, which was granted to governors by the Constitution in 1874, to give the senators a chance to vote for the whole budget while hopefully saving face with bitter-enders back home and Americans for Prosperity, the big Koch brothers organization that funds politicians who agree to end government help to low-income people. A sentence was inserted into the appropriation bill to say the private option—now Arkansas Works—would end Dec. 31. Two of the 10 senators agreed to vote for the bill then, although Hutchinson made it clear that when the bill reached his desk he would use his veto pen to cross out that sentence.

The item-veto authority was not intended to allow governors to delete a sentence or a paragraph that did not appropriate a sum of money, but a number of governors have done such clever things, though not of this magnitude, and they have gotten away with it because no one sued. Hutchinson thinks he’s on safe legal ground, possibly because it might be hard for anyone to gain standing to sue him. If someone does, the courts accept the suit and the Arkansas Supreme Court is of a mind to construe the Constitution literally, we might find our government a sudden shipwreck this summer after all.

TOP STORY >> Public hearing Tuesday on I-30

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher encouraged aldermen and residents to attend a state Highway Department public meeting to discuss the widening of I-30 from 5 until 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock.

During Thursday’s council meeting, the mayor said the proposed highway project, which calls for widening the I-30 bridge from six to 12 lanes, will improve traffic congestion and safety for commuters from Jacksonville and other cities north of the river.

The public hearing will be held at the Wyndham Riverfront’s Silver City Room at 2 Riverfront Place in North Little Rock.

The mayor said the junction has become dangerous because of the way the lanes merge, forcing southbound Hwy. 67/167 drivers and commercial trucks to cross I-40, often crossing two or three lanes in a short distance, to reach I-30. The same is true for I-30 drivers trying to make Hwy. 67/167 exit.

Fletcher encouraged Jack-sonville officials and residents to voice their concerns at the public meeting. Once plans are finalized, it will be too late, and he said, “We have the most to gain…I encourage the area to get involved in this process.”

He also hopes to get the Highway Department will hold a public meeting soon in Jacksonville.

The widening project has become controversial, pitting community activists in favor of making downtown Little Rock more accessible for pedestrians against Highway Department officials and everyday commuters who are often stuck in traffic several hours a week at the junction of Hwy.67/167, I-40 and I-30.

TOP STORY >> Funeral home is guilty in abuse of corpses

Leader senior staff writer

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on Thursday dismissed five counts of abuse of a corpse against Leroy Wood and his son Rodney Wood, the majority owners and operators of Arkansas Funeral Care LLC in Jacksonville, but the judge accepted guilty pleas to the five counts by the company.

Neither man received a jail sentence. A fine of as much as $100,000 may yet be assessed against the company. The amount of the fine is scheduled to be set at 9 a.m. May 19.

The five counts were among 13 in all filed by the county. One has been settled and the others are currently being litigated in civil court, according to Pulaski County Deputy Prosecutor Tonia Acker.

The manager of the funeral home, Edward Snow, is scheduled to go to trial on the same counts June 27-28, after a May 24 pretrial hearing.

In a statement submitted by Leroy Wood, he said he was away from the business Jan. 2 through Jan. 12, 2015, because of illness.

“I only entered the building for a few minutes on Tuesday, Jan. 6 to join Ed Snow in the front of the business to terminate Mike Jones for suspected theft of property from one of our client’s loved ones,” according to the statement.

“While there, I did not ask about operations, volume, staffing, capacity or how to make up for the loss of Mike Jones from those assisting with the actual handling of human remains,” he wrote.

“I did not call or otherwise attempt to supervise or obtain additional staff to assist Ed Snow and his crew. I did not know the funeral home was experiencing a record level of volume that week.”

Wood said that he returned to work Jan. 12 to discover the cooler was filled beyond capacity and additional remains were stored outside the refrigerated area.

He implemented a second shift for cremation, called several other mortuaries, one of which agreed to help with storage and cremation, and he cut the heat off in the work area, ventilating with cold outside air.

“My family and I are deeply sorry that this negligence on the part of our company occurred and regret the pain it has caused,” the statement concluded.

The defense had been prepared to challenge the legality of the search by investigator Leslie Stokes of the Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, saying the warrant under which it was exercised, was “out of bounds,” according to Defense Attorney Dustin McDaniel.

The corporation pleaded guilty to abuse of a corpse in connection with James Cummings, Debra Prolow, Janice King, Raymond Heathcock and John Loveless. Acker read an assessment of the bodies discovered at the time, saying they were variously decomposing, with skin slippage, leakage and discoloration.

According to affidavits, “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.”

Employees told police there was an unusual number of death calls in January 2015. They said management refused to pay overtime and wouldn’t cremate or bury anyone until services were paid in full.

The employees also claim the Woods denied requests for additional help, equipment and overtime because they said they couldn’t afford it.

“It’s not very often we charge a corporation,” prosecutor Acker said. “The families suffered a lot.”

TOP STORY >> Bonding 50 years

Leader staff writer

Fifty years ago, Tommy Bond started his consulting engineering company in an old ordnance plant shed next to a small airfield off Gregory Street in Jacksonville.

“It took a lot of cleaning and fixing up,” Bond recalled.

“My dad, cousin and I each put $500 to start the company in 1966,” said Bond, who had moved back home from West Memphis. “I was working for the city of West Memphis, which was one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, but so was Jacksonville.”

In Jacksonville, some of his high school buddies like Tommy Dupree were into construction and development, “so I thought I could get some work,” Bond said.

Bond added that he was working for a consulting engineer and thought he’d be part of that firm. “But he kinda let me know that I wasn’t part of the plan. But then I thought, ‘Well, if I’m bringing in work for him, I can bring in work for me.’”

Two years later, Bond built a new building for his fledgling business over on School Drive. “It’s still there as a Head Start facility now,” he said.

“I was fortunate that an old friend, Pete Smith with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was requiring every county in Arkansas to complete a water-sewer study. Since there are 75 counties in the state, he thought if I tried I might get a few counties. I got seven. Had to go city council meetings in each of the counties in a month’s time to talk to mayors and aldermen about the study,” Bond recalled.

He said the plans cost the counties between $20,000 and $30,000. “A lot of money back then. But it gave us some money, and I used it to buy out my cousin, and when my dad died, I inherited the rest of the company and have been sole owner ever since.”

Bond admits that, like some other firms in the area, he considered sharing the company by giving employees shares. “But giving stock is a misrepresentation, plus I’ve found employees would rather have money,” he said.

Bond Engineering is now one of the premier consulting firms in the state. How did it happen? By Bond following the advice he got years ago—a crop grows best in the shadow of the landlord. He has his survey crews come in at 7 a.m., the office crew at 8 a.m.

“We do that because the survey crews do like to jabber so we get them in and out into the field,” he quipped. And Bond comes in with the surveyors and stays until the last employee goes home.

His son, Will, one of Bond’s three children, said, “If I had to say one thing that my Dad has taught me that might be more important than any other lesson I have learned from him is the importance of hard work. I don’t think he said that to us so much—we just watched him do it. Leading by example. I am proud of growing up the son of a small business owner.

“Over the years we’ve worked all over the state,” Tommy Bond said, “but as I’ve gotten older I’ve pulled in and done less chasing. Once we worked two almost identical projects, one in Denning (Franklin County) and one here in town and charged about the same but after recovering the cost of going back and forth to Denning it was like we were just giving the money back to them.”

“Most of our business now is word of mouth,” he said.

But business has not always been strong or booming for Bond. “In the 1980s, we had no business. Those were the years when interest rates hit 20 percent or more. First thing to go in a recession is development. The good news is it’s the first thing to bounce back,” he explained.

He also said there’s less work now.

“It’s hard in Jacksonville. There’s very little development. The schools have destroyed our town,” he laments. “The last two or three generations that have gone through will not let their kids go to school here.”

He hopes the new school district will break the chain, but he knows it will take a few years.

It was his wife, Pat, who helped pass legislation when she was a sate representative that allowed Jacksonville to form its own school district.

“But her being a state representative, let’s just say it wasn’t my idea,” he said, laughing. Bond said former Rep. Mike Wilson was term limited and asked Pat if she was interested. “She’s always been involved in the community and everyone knew her and education was one of her passions.”

Bond and his firm have had a hand in most of the major projects in the Jacksonville area and have worked on hundreds of developments and projects through the years. His top three accomplishments, according to Bond, are the Lonoke-White Water Project, the Arkansas Game and Fish Sports Shooting Complex in Jacksonville and the drilled wells and water transmission lines from Lonoke to Jacksonville.

“There was a lot of controversy when we did those 40 years ago, and they are still supplying water to Jacksonville, and the last time I looked Lonoke had not become the Sahara Desert as some said would happen,” Bond said of the water project.

The Lonoke-White water project was the firm’s largest in dollars, details and construction. “It assures us of a good water supply and water choices for decades to come. It pumps about 4 million gallons a day and will probably be expanded in about five years. It’s good to have two or three different water sources.”

Bond said the water project was designed to provide an economical supply of water. “When we first started working on the project, we predicted it could provide 1,000 gallons for 75 cents. It’s actually doing it for 69 cents a gallon.”

He said the sports shooting range was most satisfying for him “It was a good project, good for the city and brings people into the area that spend money.”

Interestingly, the range adjoins close to 400 acres of undeveloped land that Bond and his friends hunt in.

Mike Wilson, his hunting buddy, the attorney and former state representative, calls Bond one of the top two or three duck hunters in the state. “I don’t have to tell you who’s No. 1,” laughed Wilson.

Bond, who used to hunt deer, squirrel and just about any other wildlife, focuses mostly on ducks these days. “It’s just Pat and I now, and she’s not real fond of what I shoot and kill. But Wilson, Jim Peacock and others are always willing to take the ducks.”

In fact, Bond said he’s the shooter and Wilson is the caller. “My job is to have plenty of bullets and shoot a lot.”

Bond, who has been married to Pat for 56 years, has three children and five grandchildren, and spends most of his free time now at soccer and baseball games.

Their son, Will, who followed his mother into the state House of Representatives, lettered in baseball at Vanderbilt University. “He’d probably love to be a baseball coach somewhere, except for the pay.”

Will recalled, “My Dad was always supportive of me. He did not like baseball much, and it was my passion. He and Mom came to almost all my games, even though I am sure it felt like punishment to him. It was not uncommon for him to sneak in a nap while sitting in a lawn chair.”

Then he added, “I have been incredibly blessed with great parents. I cannot imagine a better Mom or Dad. I did not work for my Dad at all until the summers after I started college. He made sure that I would always want to go back to school.”

“I worked construction and read water meters for him one summer. He was kind enough to order me long sleeve shirts and long pants as my uniform. When it’s 105 degrees in July, and you’re in long polyester pants and shirts and boots, well, it will get you ready to go back to studying.”

And a good education is important to Will Bond.

“I remember once when I was in college I wanted to drop Western Civilization because it was hard, and I was not doing well. Dropping the class would have caused me to finish the semester with 13 hours instead of 16 hours. His first questions to me was ‘Will they send any of our tuition money back if you are taking fewer hours?’ I said no. He responded that if I dropped that class then as far as he was concerned I was dropping out of school and needed to come home immediately. He made it very clear he was not paying for me to drop classes.”

Trouble was that Will had essentially already told the professor he was dropping and had not completed some of the work—like the all-important midterm. “I knew better than to argue or attempt to negotiate with my Dad. I had to go to the professor and beg for some way to make up anything and everything I had missed. One 30-page research paper later, in addition to a lot of hard studying, and I passed the class,” he recalled.

It made his dad proud.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits drop league game to CAC

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits dropped their first conference game of the season and dropped to second place Monday with a heartbreaking, 7-6, extra-inning loss to Central Arkansas Christian at the Lonoke Ballpark.

The Mustangs scored twice in the top of the eighth on two Lonoke errors. Casey Martin took the mound in the eighth and walked the first two batters. He then got a pop up to first base and got the lead runner at third on a fielder’s choice. But two errors at shortstop by Dalton Smith allowed both runners to score and give the Mustangs a 7-5 lead.

Lonoke got its first three runners on base in the bottom of the eighth, but was only able to get one run across the plate.

Haven Hunter hit a leadoff single and CAC intentionally walked Martin, who has hit walk-off home runs three times this season. Savonte Rountree drew another walk to load the bases.

CAC’s Blake Fairchild took the mound for the Mustangs, and Kade Stuart hit a sacrifice fly that scored Hunter and moved Martin to third. Rountree held up, but later stole second on defensive indifference, leaving two runners in scoring position with one out.

Fairchild then struck out Gabe Rooney and Tallon Swint to preserve the lead and the win for the Mustangs (9-5, 6-0).

There was no score until the top of the third when the Mustangs posted a pair of unearned, two-out runs after Martin bobbled a ball at shortstop.

The lead grew to 5-0 in the fifth on two hits, three walks and a hit batter, but the Jackrabbits charged back to tie the game, scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth and one in the seventh to force the extra frame.

Kameron Cole led off the fifth inning with a walk and Caleb Horton doubled. Hunter popped out in foul territory and Martin was intentionally walked. Rountree then singled to score two runners and leave two on. Stuart reached on an error at shortstop that also allowed Martin to score. Rooney then singled to score Rountree and pull the Jackrabbits to within one run.

Rooney and Swint each reached on errors with no outs in the seventh, and Smith drove in Rooney with a sacrifice grounder that tied the game at 5-5.

Lonoke out-hit CAC 7-6, but got little opportunity for the middle of its lineup. CAC intentionally walked Martin three times, and walked cleanup hitter Rountree twice.

Lonoke (10-6, 6-1) struck out 14 times, seven to starting pitcher Hunter Corbell. Braden Quesinberry threw two and two-thirds innings for the win and Fairchild faced the last three batters for the save.

CAC struck out 16 times. Rountree started on the mound for Lonoke. He gave up four hits and three earned runs while striking out 10 and walking three.

Ethan Holland struck out one batter to finish the fifth and Martin threw the last three innings to take the loss. He gave up no earned runs while fanning five and walking two.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville softball wins three in a row

Leader sports editor

The Lady Red Devil softball team lost its opening game of the Beebe/Cabot Invitational 11-0 to Cabot on Saturday, but have since reeled off three-straight wins, including an exciting finish to a 1-0 victory over Searcy at Dupree Park on Monday.

Against Searcy, the two teams were tied 0-0 when Jacksonville came to bat in the bottom of the seventh. Five-hole hitter Mackenzie Rodgers worked the count to 2-1 before ripping a line drive deep to left field.

Searcy’s left fielder made a tremendous play just to get her glove on the ball, but did so just as she ran into the fence. Her momentum carried her over the fence as she lost control of the ball, ending the game on a walk-off solo home run by Rodgers.

“Mac just crushed that ball,” said Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk. “It was a dead line drive about 10-12 feet off the ground. They were playing her deep so she was able to get to it, but it was such a scorcher it just didn’t stay in her glove.”

It was also a fine performance by JHS pitcher Kym House and the Red Devil defense. Jacksonville beat Searcy earlier this season in another exciting, but totally different, game.

The Lady Red Devils rallied from a 7-2 deficit to win 8-7. Searcy hit the ball hard in that game and Jacksonville committed several errors in two innings to fall into the hole.

On Monday, Jacksonville had two errors and the Lady Lions only had one hard base hit off House.

“They had a couple of bloop base hits over third and shortstop, and one hard line drive to center field,” Hawk said. “Other than that, Kym pretty well kept them off balance, and we played good defense. That’s the key. You have three or four errors behind you and all of a sudden you’ve got five, six, seven runs on the board.

“I was glad we played in a game like that where we had to just hold serve until something happened.”

Right after dropping the game to Cabot, Jacksonville bounced back with an 11-3 win over Perryville, which had just lost 5-4 in extra innings to Lake Hamilton.

Rodgers got the ball rolling for Jacksonville in that one as well. She hit a two-RBI single in the top of the first inning to put the Lady Devils up for good. Jacksonville added an unearned run in the second inning before exploding for eight in the third.

Payton Mullen and Bailey Holt each hit doubles off the wall down the third-base line. Rodgers also doubled to drive in two more runs. House and Emily Lovercheck singled and three other Lady Devils walked in the inning.

Jacksonville then beat 5A-East Batesville 5-2 in the final of the consolation bracket. All five runs came in the first two innings.

Allison Seats doubled, Holt and Lovercheck singled, House reached on a strike-three passed ball, Rodgers reached on a fielder’s choice that got no one out and Mullen walked before Batesville recorded an out in the game.

In the second inning, holding a 3-0 lead, Seats hit a leadoff home run to center field. Holt followed with a single and later scored on a base hit by House.

Batesville got at least two base hits in each of the first three innings, but Jacksonville’s defense was stellar. The Pioneers were held scoreless until the fifth inning when they pushed across their two runs.

Jacksonville was scheduled to play Benton-Harmony Grove at home on Tuesday, but that game was rained out. The Lady Red Devils will face Bauxite on Monday. The Lady Miners, who were the Class 4A runners up last season, won the Beebe/Cabot tournament after rallying from a 6-3 deficit to beat Cabot in extra innings.

SPORTS STORY >> Power can’t lift Cabot to first place

Leader sports editor

The Lady Panther softball team continued to hit for power in the annual Beebe/Cabot Invitational on Saturday, but a lack of timely hits and three errors in the field cost it the tournament championship.

Cabot pounded out five home runs in three games on Saturday. But the Lady Panthers lost the championship game 7-6 to Bauxite in eight innings.

Cabot hit three of its five home runs Saturday against the Lady Miners, but two errors allowed two unearned runs, including the tying run in the bottom of the sixth after Cabot held leads of 5-1 and 6-3.

The Lady Panthers had a prime opportunity to take the lead and likely win the game when it got runners on second and third with one out in the seventh.

Then in the extra inning, Cabot got its automatic runner to third with one out. But in both situations, a strikeout with one out was followed by easy fly balls to thwart the threats.

Bauxite won the game in the bottom of the eighth with textbook execution. The leadoff hitter sacrificed the automatic runner to third, and the next batter singled to drive in the game- and tournament-winning run.

It was Cabot’s first loss in eight games, but it was still mostly good news on the day.

The Lady Panthers shut out their first two opponents by a combined 26-0, beating Jacksonville 11-0 to open tournament play, then hammering Lake Hamilton 15-0 in the second round.

Cabot took advantage of eight base hits and six Jacksonville errors while Lauren McCluskey threw a one-hitter over five innings. She only struck out one, but the only hit she allowed was a slap single down the third-base line by Zylah Richardson.

Heather Hill went 3 for 3 with three RBIs, including a solo home run in the first inning.

Against Lake Hamilton, Cabot scored 14 runs in the bottom of the first to put the Lady Wolves away early.

Hannah Montgomery highlighted the inning with a grand slam. It was her second at-bat of the inning and made the score 12-0. Montgomery also threw a no-hitter over three innings with five strikeouts and no walks.

Hill went 5 for 6 at the plate in the tournament, and walked five times.

Cabot (13-3, 6-0) faced North Little Rock in a huge 7A/6A-East Conference game on Tuesday after deadlines. They will give the return match to the Charging Lady Wildcats on Thursday. Look for details of both of those games in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Sprinters lead CHS to second track win

Leader sports editor

The Panther track team got its second win of the season on Friday, taking first place in the Lake Hamilton Invitational by a wide margin over the rest of the 20-team field. The Panthers rallied 94 points to second-place Conway’s 69. Lake Hamilton was third with 68 while Bryant and Vilonia rounded out the top five with 57.5 and 46.5 points respectively.

Beebe also had some strong performances, scoring 34 points to finish 10th.

Most of the Badgers’ points came in the sprints, which were run straight into strong winds of about 15 mph. Senior Badger Connor Patrom edged out Cabot’s Britton Alley by .1 second in the 200-meter dash, finishing with a time of 22.96. Patrom’s sophomore teammate Keishun Davidson took third to give Beebe 16 points.

Patrom also took second in the 100-meter dash run into even stronger winds, and probably would have won the event if not for the -5.0 wind factor. In heat four, Palestine-Wheatley’s Antwan Dawson ran an 11.58 against a -3.6 wind factor. Patrom ran an 11.61 in heat five against the -5.0.

Those two sprints gave Beebe 24 of its 34 team points.

Cabot’s Conley Hillegas took third in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.57 against a -3.6 wind factor.

Alley won the 400-meter dash for the Panthers with a time of 49.90.

The wind was a big factor in the 110-hurdles as well. Conway’s Kevon Holder beat Cabot’s Mark Odom for the first time this year with a time of 15.34. Odom’s 15.70 was almost a full second slower than his best time this year of 14.75, but it was run against a -4.4 wind factor. Beebe’s Trip Smith took fourth in that event.

Odom won the 300 hurdles with a time of 39.69, easily beating Holder’s second-place time of 41.51.

The Panthers took first place in the 4x400-meter relay. Rocky Burke, Austin Swackhammer, Hillegas and Alley beat their own seed time by 2.6 seconds and beat Bryant by .06 seconds to win the event. Beebe’s team of Patrom, Davidson, Logan Archer and John Paul Savage finished fourth.

Cabot’s 4x-100-meter relay team finished third in an exciting race. Benton, Maumelle and Cabot each finished within .37 seconds of each other. Alex Roberts, Brandon Whitley, Connor Daigle and Hillegas finished with a time of 43.55.

Cabot placed sixth in the 4x800 relay.

Brandon Jones won the discus throw for the third time this year, hurling it 143-06 to win by more than five feet.

Jarrod Barnes finished second in the long jump with a leap of 21-feet, 9-inches. He also finished fourth in the triple jump with a leap of 43-10.

Burke took fourth in the pole vault with a jump of 13 feet while Braxton Burton was seventh at 12-6.

“It was a pretty good meet,” said Cabot coach Leon White. “We didn’t have our high jumper Matt Stanley with us and he would have definitely scored. But Conway didn’t have their good distance runner there either so everything probably evened out. I think we’re going to have a good shot at winning conference. I don’t think we’re going to get them in much better shape between now and then. They’re in pretty good form. State’s going to be tough because those West teams are so deep.”

The Lady Panthers finished in 10th place out of 16 teams with 20 points, but wasn’t at full strength. Sophomore Casey Gore took second in the 1,600-meter race with a time of 5:27.65. She also finished fourth in the 3,200 meters. Caytee Wright scored six points with a third-place finished in the high jump at 4-10.

The Panther teams will travel to Heber Springs on Friday.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears triumph over NLR

Leader sports editor

5A-Central leader Sylvan Hills had last week off from conference play, and replaced its regularly scheduled doubleheader against North Pulaski with a pair of wins over 7A-East teams. On Friday, the Bears hammered out a 13-3 win over Little Rock Central before beating North Little Rock 1-0 in nine innings on Saturday at Sherwood Sports Complex.

On Monday of this week, the Bears won a 21-run affair, 14-7 on the road at Sheridan.

Saturday’s game featured all the intensity expected from the old rivalry game. Sylvan Hills had just four hits in regulation while Sylvan Hills pitcher River Hunt threw a two-hitter over eight innings.

The Bears got two of their hits in the sixth inning but missed a prime opportunity to take the lead. Michael Coven hit a leadoff double and JoJo Craft followed with a single to put runners at second and third with no outs.

Mackenzie Seats struck out and Nick Fakouri and Ryan Lumpkin popped up in the infield to waste the opportunity. Carson Sanders hit a leadoff double in the seventh but that was also followed by a strikeout and two infield pop-ups.

In the bottom of the ninth, Fakouri hit a leadoff single to left and was replaced by courtesy runner Cameron Flippo. Lumpkin put down a sacrifice bunt, but North Little Rock bobbled it and everyone was safe. Sanders bunted the runners to second and third and Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton called for the squeeze to get the game-winning run.

Flippo beat the throw, but North Little Rock catcher Blaine Miller blocked Flippo’s slide by stepping on his inside leg. Flippo was called out, which drew protest from Tipton, but the call didn’t change.

“The rule is, a runner must have a path to the plate,” said Tipton. “He didn’t just sit down and block the plate, but the way he did it could’ve been ruled that he didn’t leave the runner a path to the plate. I’ve never run up there in protest and have an umpire say, ‘you know, you’re right’. So I didn’t expect to get the call. But in a situation like that, with it being the game-winning run, you have to say something.”

The whole controversy went away on the very next at-bat.

Kyle Clayton pinch hit for Bryce Allen and hit a blooper in the gap between shortstop, left field and center field. All three fielder’s converged on the ball and all three ran into each other, letting the ball drop and allowing Lumpkin to score the game winner.

On Monday, Sylvan Hills fell behind 4-0 in the first inning to the Yellowjackets. They took the lead with five runs in the top of the third, but gave up two in the bottom half of the same inning to fall behind again. A five-spot in the top of the fourth gave the Bears the lead for good. After giving up a run in the bottom of the fourth, Sylvan Hill scored four more in the top of the sixth to set the final margin.

The Bears (18-4, 6-0) got 17 base hits, walked five times and had four batters hit by pitches.

Craft went 1 for 2 with a triple in the fourth inning. He was hit twice and walked once. Seats went 2 for 3 with a double and was hit once. Fakouri went 3 for 5. Lumpkin went 3 for 4 with two doubles. Sanders went 2 for 3 and walked twice. Allen went 0 for 1, but walked twice, was hit once and scored three runs. Hunt led the team offensively, going 4 for 5 with two doubles.

Against Central last Friday, Sylvan Hills took advantage of the Tigers’ inability to throw strikes to score seven runs in the first inning on one base hit.

The first time through the batting order, Seats recorded the only out, a line drive right to shortstop.

The rest of the lineup reached base on four walks, two hit batters and two errors. Coven doubled to clear the bases on his second at-bat to make it 7-0.

Fakouri homered to lead off the second inning. Doubles by Allen and Coven were followed by a Craft triple in the third. In the sixth, Craft was hit by pitch, Seats doubled and Fakouri drove in both runners with a single to left.

Central scored one in the third and two in the fifth.

Coven and Fakouri each got two base hits to lead the Bears in that win.

Sylvan Hills is off until next Tuesday when it hosts Beebe in a big 5A-Central doubleheader.

TOP STORY >> Feuding cities in hip-hop sendup

Leader staff writer

“Sherwood’s hot, Sher-wood’s hot. Jacksonville can go ahead and hate, hate,” goes a line in a parody produced by a Little Rock group that promotes Sherwood, but slams Jacksonville too.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Young, who is in the video, said it was a community project for Leadership Greater Little Rock. “They came in last fall to learn about the city and then surprised us when they said they were going to produce the video. It’s so well done that people think we had it done and spent money for it, but we did neither,” the mayor said.

Besides the mayor, and the Little Rock group, the video also features City Clerk Angela Nicholson and city matriarch Amy Sanders.

Young knows there’s grumbling about it, but “I thought it was well done and the group had fun doing it. And don’t we have more important issues to worry about, like the water issue between the two cities.”

She said the chamber of commerce had the video up on its website about a week ago, but took it down and then it seemed to resurface on another site before it was taken down again. She said most of the comments she’s gotten have been positive, but it has upset some people and officials in Jacksonville.

Even though the video is no longer available, it is still circulating through e-mails and attachments.

It was sent to Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher about a week ago. “I saw one produced on El Dorado that was very classy and told my staff we needed to do one like that. It made you want to go to El Dorado. Then about five hours later I get the Sherwood one. What can anyone say? The video speaks for itself,” Fletcher said.

Another line in the video shows Sanders as a police officer making a traffic stop to the words, “We got our cruisers pulling over losers.” That got a number of negative comments.

Not only does it rap, “Sherwood’s hot, Sherwood’s hot, Jacksonville can go ahead and hate, hate, hate” three or four times in the three-minute-plus video take off on a Taylor Swift song, “Shake It Off,” it also makes two references to its bigger neighbor, declaring Sherwood has Gravel Ridge and that it is working on loosening liquor laws to provide the city with more revenue.

Sherwood and Jacksonville battled over the annexation of Gravel Ridge about a decade ago. Jacksonville voted to annex the community and then Sherwood did the same.

A third vote of just the Gravel Ridge residents gave the community to Sherwood.

Both cities have also been working together and separately to loosen antiquated liquor laws that have made 90 percent of Jacksonville dry and 50 percent of Sherwood dry.

Jacksonville has had trouble generating a sustained drive to get enough signatures to vote on overturning the laws. Sherwood apparently is further ahead in its efforts.

The video was filmed in numerous areas of the city, including city hall, the fire department and a drinking establishment.

Of the 22 comments posted with the video when it was on, most were negative.

Among the comments on the site, good and bad, were:

Delia Vaught Rains wrote, “My hometown. Love it.

L wrote, “Slamming another town to build you up only showed how low class you are.”

Previously Proud Resident wrote, “So many professional ways to show off the city and this is the only thing that we can come up with?”

KR wrote, “This represents the absolute worst about Sherwood.”

Amanda wrote, “Cute video.”

TOP STORY >> Report card grades schools

Leader staff writer

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles examining the state-issued report cards on area schools.

As bad as the state report cards were last year for Jacksonville-based schools, the report released Friday shows an even grimmer picture. Four schools fell by a letter grade; four stayed the same and only one jumped up a letter.

All state schools are graded (A-F) by the state.

Among Jacksonville schools, only Jacksonville Middle School, saw an improvement, going from an F to a D. It had a score of 190, a full 11 points above an F.

Staying the same were Bayou Meto with C and a score of 225, dead center in the C category, Tolleson Elementary with a C and a score of 225 also; Warren Dupree with a D and a score of 180, one point above an F; and Murrell Taylor with a D and a score of 206, four points from a C.

Dropping a letter grade were Jacksonville High School, going from a C to a D with a score of 197, about the middle of the D category; Pinewood Elementary going from a D to an F with a score of 179, one point away from a D; North Pulaski High School, going from a C to a D with a score of 205, five points from a C; and Arnold Drive Elementary went from a B to a C with a score of 236, four points from a B.

All Jacksonville schools were listed as either needing improvement, needing improvement priority (the middle and high schools), needing improvements focus – met (Taylor Elementary).

The school report cards are part of a 2013 law requiring an easy-to-comprehend system that parents and others could understand.

What the state produced was report cards for each school averaging 18 pages each full of information, often conflicting, and no clear summary or explanation of the grade.

The report cards are for the 2014-2015 school year.

Dr. Laura Bednar, deputy superintendent for Pulaski County Special School District, said, “If we can’t explain the letter grades then it is an issue, and we can’t explain it.”

She said the grades are “very confusing and difficult. You just can’t use one type of test score to grade schools or students.”

Even though Bednar has problems with the state-required letter grades, she does agree that the district has plenty of room for improvement.

According to the state Education Department the report card is a summation of how well students are performing in math and English/language arts on state exams; how well students are meeting annual educational growth requirements; whether or not there are large achievement gaps between race and gender, and graduation rates.

The report cards, according to the state, do not reflect how well an individual student or teacher is doing and does not look at things schools may be doing right that aren’t in the graded categories.

Grades are assigned to schools based on points scored in major areas of measurement such as performance and growth. To get an A, a school must have 270 or more points. An F is anything under 180 points.

PCSSD spent almost $4,000 more per student than the state average in efforts to educate the students, but according to the state report cards, that extra expenditure has garnered Jacksonville mostly sub-par grades.

The two high schools have a graduation rate roughly 15 points below the state average and most groups of students are not up to the state average or the state required level of proficiency.

North Pulaski High School, which is in its last year as a high school, had 71.6 percent of its class of 2015 graduate. Jacksonville High School was at 66 percent, meaning one-third of the class did not graduate.

Bednar said what makes things worse is that all that parents or prospective school patrons will see when they go online is that letter grade and not all the good things going on behind it or in spite of it.

TOP STORY >> Strawberry Festival

Leader staff writer

The 14th annual Cabot Strawberry Festival has moved downtown this year with more space to grow. The event presented by the Junior Auxiliary of Cabot will be held on Friday and Saturday. Admission is free.

The Strawberry Festival was moved from the Veterans Park Community Center to downtown due to the $5.2 million expansion of the community center and construction of the banquet hall.

Junior Auxiliary of Cabot president Maggie Cope said, “We are excited that it is going to be downtown. Strawberries are a big part of Cabot. We hope it becomes a large event showcasing the strawberries that we’re proud of.”

“I really want to see it grow. Cabotfest kicks off the fall and Strawberry Fest is at the start of spring. We are very appreciative of the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission for helping fund the festival,” Cope said.

Barnhill Orchards, the Cabot Patch and Holland Bottom Farms will be selling fresh strawberries on Saturday. The Junior Auxiliary will be selling $4 strawberry shortcakes.

Festivities begin on Friday night with the one-mile fun run at 6:30 p.m. and the Run for the Berries 5K Glow Run at 7:30 p.m.

The fun run entry fee is $15. The glow run early registration fee is $25 and $35 on Friday.

The Glow Run route runs from Fred’s store to Central Elementary and back.

Monroe County will perform on stage from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday. Cabot High School agriculture teacher Corey Ruff is the lead singer.

On Saturday the festival runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The City Hall parking lot is the location for the entertainment stage, strawberry farmers, food trucks and some vendors. The carnival and additional vendors will be found along North First Street behind City Hall.

Saturday’s entertainment includes the Greater Little Rock Area All-Star Jazz Band, Glamakus, Cabot Junior High South Forensics, singer Dixie Hardin, Junior High North Forensics, magician T.J. Davidson, Page and Company Dance Academy, Carla’s Dance Company, Limelight Academy, musician Jon Atchison and closing with Tragikly White.

In all, there will be 80 vendors. Seven food trucks will serve food including tornado-shaped sandwiches, duck bites, Mexican food, barbecue, turkey legs, fried fair food favorites, crawfish, catfish, fried pies and fudge.

The carnival will run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The Strawberry Festival is one of the Junior Auxiliary of Cabot’s biggest fundraisers.

The Junior Auxiliary helps needy children in the Cabot School District with shoes, clothing and food.

The Junior Auxiliary sponsors 12 annual service projects in the schools. Last year the Junior Auxiliary helped 157 children during Christmas with clothes and toys, according to Cope.

TOP STORY >> Joint forces gather here for exercise

Leader senior staff writer

In a wide-ranging interview Friday, Col. Charles E. Brown Jr., commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, discussed a pilot program on curbing violence, encouraged the business community to hire veterans, discussed the current joint forces exercise with foreign partners and announced the first-ever Arkansas Military Expo and open house set for Sept. 17.

“We are the most combat-tested force in the world,” said Brown, who is also base commander. The colonel noted the U.S. has been fighting and supplying continuously for 15 years now in the war on terrorism, Operation Iraqi Freedom and other conflicts.

Currently, C-130s, crews and maintainers from Sweden, New Zealand and Australia are based for about 17 days at Little Rock Air Force Base in a joint exercise with planes and crews from the 19th Airlift Wing and 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers at Fort Polk, La. They will share terminology, procedures and tactics that will help them in “no-kidding” situations.

For the second consecutive year, there will be no air show featuring precision jets like the Thunderbirds because construction has left the runway too short for their takeoffs and landings. But, Brown said, “we will have unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) from Fort Smith, which I don’t think anybody in this area has seen and some of the sniper-course folks from Camp Robinson.”

Camp Robinson is the sniper-training center for Army National Guardsmen.

The Arkansas Military Expo and open house will include all facets of the military, the colonel said, including citizen soldiers—reserve and National Guard units--active air force, civilians and contractors, he said.

“We want to ensure the state knows, the central Arkansas community understands the benefit of the only active-duty base in Arkansas, plus what the others bring to the fight,” Brown said.

Operation Green Flag Little Rock, planned by the 34th Combat Training Squadron at Little Rock AFB, will include 100 airmen and four C-130s from Sweden, New Zealand and Australia, along with about 40 Nevada National Guard airmen, 4,200 partners in the Army down at Fort Polk and 200 Team Little Rock members, according to the colonel.

“We run a mini-war here,” said Maj. Jon Feucht, director of operations.

They will collaborate with the 61st Airlift Squadron and three LRAFB aircraft during this exercise in tactical airlift.

In his pitch for hiring veterans, Brown called his airmen a priceless resource, with those living on base accounting for about 20 percent of the Jacksonville population.

“When you look at what our airmen are asked to do at such a young age—with the level of responsibility placed upon them—take a risk on hiring them even if what you see on paper as their job description doesn’t directly correlate with what you need in your company,” Brown said.

“When you read he’s trained in changing engines or doing a rebuild on a Humvee—he didn’t know how to do that before he came into the Air Force. The fact that he’s a specialist now shows he is dedicated, disciplined, loyal and trainable,” Brown said.

The commander called the airmen “The F-98.6” — they are the most valuable component of the Air Force.

He said Operation Green Dot is a prevention program that teaches airmen to recognize precursors to violence, including domestic and sexual abuse, fist fights, alcohol, peer-on-peer violence and to educate them on non-confrontational interventions.

Not only is there a human toll to such violence, but also every time the Air Force loses an airman to some sort of violence, it denigrates readiness, the commander said.

“It’s a retention mechanism,” Brown said. “It causes a breakdown in trust.”

He said he could replace a Humvee almost overnight, but all of the training that goes into making an airman could take years to replicate.