Friday, May 27, 2016

EDITORIAL >> What’s next after Trump advances

To the editor:

Some final thoughts on the recent presidential primaries:

I actually feel sorry for the candidates like Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Christ Christie and all the other experienced governors who knew how to run a state, but got bumped out of the presidential primaries by Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

The entire state of Florida knew about Rubio’s credit-card fraud. Why did the “drive-by media” virtually ignore Rubio’s character flaw?

And most voters knew Cruz was born in Canada, causing widespread doubt about Cruz’s presidential eligibility. The governors should sue Cruz.

What a waste. No wonder Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. At least now Speaker Paul Ryan can see his Atlas runs for President Ayn Rand fantasy come true.

Things look worse for the Democrats. FBI Director James Comey is just waiting for his “prompt” to release information about his investigation into the Hillary Clinton email controversy.

This prompt will likely come from Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who is probably waiting for Hillary to eliminate Bernie Sanders at the Democratic Con-vention in late July.

With Sanders out of the way, Grassley and Comey can defame Hillary with FBI charges and practically guarantee a win for the Republican presidential candidate.

Even if Hillary wins the November election, the Electoral College may vote against Hillary in December. Congress may also disqualify her Jan. 6, 2017.

Gene Mason

EDITORIAL >> Salute to our Graduates

In the last couple of weeks, 1,514 young people, including 323 with honors, received diplomas from seven high schools here and began new chapters in their lives. In all, they earned $15.48 million in college-scholarship offers.

We wish them all the best in their future educational and professional endeavors.

Graduations are milestones for students, but this year as Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools merge, we are reminded of their great importance for the communities where they take place.

As graduation season ends, we thought it worth a look at how many degrees each school granted. The information illustrates the growth and struggles of our communities.

Cabot High School, the area’s largest high school, graduated 656 students, 147 with honors and 50 with high honors, who earned a combined $5 million in scholarship offers.

Beebe High School had 190 graduates, 35 with honors, with $3 million in scholarship opportunities.

Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood gave diplomas to 168, 16 with honors, who netted $1.2 million in college scholarship offers.

Lonoke High School graduated 133, which included 27 with honors, who earned $1.78 million in scholarships.

Jacksonville’s graduations will never be the same. North Pulaski said farewell to its last class of graduates, 143 in all, since it’s being consolidating with Jacksonville High and being converted to a middle school as part of a major remake of the city’s schools under the newly formed Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

North Pulaski had 23 honor grads. The class of 2016 earned $1.5 in college scholarship offers.

As North Pulaski High closes, the Lighthouse Charter School graduated its first class of seniors since it began in 2009. Many of its graduates began studying at Lighthouse as elementary pupils.

Lighthouse Charter School awarded diplomas to 60 students, with 12 honor graduates, who received $1.7 million in scholarship offers. The ceremony was held at the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock on Thursday.

Jacksonville High School, which will have a new $60 million campus downtown in three years, graduated 164, including 15 with honors, who together collected $1.3 million in scholarships.

Next year, it’s reasonable to expect that as many as 300 will graduate from Jacksonville High after North Pulaski students are transferred there. When the new campus opens, residents are likely to see even more growth in its student body.

Both schools also shed their old mascots in favor of the Titans. The Falcons and Red Devils will be long gone next school year. But what’s most important is Jacksonville will have a fresh start and a chance to grow as a community by improving its schools and civic life.

TOP STORY >> Wall St. whiz ranks nationally

Leader staff writer

It was between Microsoft and Kroger, said fifth-grader Granger Pearson, when deciding which company to write about for the national InvestWrite contest.

He went with Kroger, and it paid off as the Warren Dupree student was named the third best financial writer in the nation and the state’s top writer.

“This is a really big deal—over 9,000 students wrote essays this past Spring,” said Jessica B. Bayer, InvestWrite’s national program manager.

It is the second year in a row that Warren Dupree has had a student finish third in the country and tops in the state.

And Pearson remembers the assembly he went to as a fourth grader and saw that other student, MaShala Pugh, win a laptop, $200, a trophy and more for her third place effort.

“It got me thinking that I needed to finish first, second or at least third when I got the chance to write,” he said.

He had two chances this year, writing about Microsft in the fall, his essay was one of 10 from the school good enough to make it to the national level, but alas, no winners.

When the spring contest came around, he thought about Microsoft again. “It’s a really good company, but its focus is only on technology. Kroger, however, provides the basic needs that everyone needs. Without the needs taken care of its kind of hard to focus on technology,” Pearson said

The national prompt for the elementary division was: “Choose a company from your portfolio or a publicly traded company that interests you and that you think is a good long term investment. Describe why you selected the company and state if it was included in your Stock Market Game portfolio. Who are your company’s competitors? Compared to its competitors, is yours an old company or a new company? How does your chosen company compete with other companies? Discuss why you think it is a better long-term investment than its competitors.”

Students had to also cite their references, and the essay had to be between 300 and 800 words.

The fifth grader, who is a gifted-and-talented student who loves graphic arts and coding, said in his research, there wasn’t a lot of good background information about Kroger or how it deals with competitors – the crux of the spring essays – and he had to visit lots of websites and do a lot of reading. “But I luckily like reading, mostly factual or realistic fiction,” he said. During his research Pearson became intrigued by the founder of the company, Barney Kroger, who believed in his idea so completely that he invested everything he had.

What impressed Pearson about Kroger is that not only was it beating the stock market average, but it was also beating Whole Foods, Walmart and Target.

He also acknowledged that even though he loves writing he had no idea that he was going to have to rewrite, rewrite and rewrite the essay to get it good enough to go to New York. “I think I wrote it at least five times,” Pearson said.

He found out he had placed third in the nation at his fifth grade’s Rite of Passage ceremony last week.

“All of us who had our essays submitted to New York were told to stand up and then we were told that one of us was a national finalist and then my name was announced. It was a total surprise.”

The school and Economics Arkansas, the nonprofit group that oversees the Stock Market Game and the InvestWrite program on the state level, didn’t get word that Pearson had won until almost the last week of school. So Pearson will be awarded his laptop and some other prizes that weren’t ready for the school ceremony at the next Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District board meeting, at 6:30 p.m. June 6 at city hall.

He did get his cash award at the school gathering. “I haven’t spent any of it yet. I’m weighing my options.” He doesn’t know if he’ll invest it, but he definitely wants to do some when he’s older. “Investing is a good idea,” he said.

Once an essay was judged good enough at the school level and forwarded to the national InvestWrite competition they were scored by four additional judges who are members of the securities industry. Essays were scored in three categories: understanding the subject matter, rationale and writing style.


Now $372 may not seem like much to a lot of people, but to Barney Kroger and me it’s a life’s savings. Barney used his $372 in 1883 to open a grocery store in downtown Cincinnati. He ran his business with a simple motto: “Be particular. Never sell anything you would not want yourself.”

A pretty good philosophy as it has taken Barney’s one store and turned it into a conglomerate known as The Kroger Co. With more than 2,700 stores in 35 states under two dozen banners and annual sales of more than $109.8 billion, Kroger today ranks as one of the world’s largest retailers.

Besides the food, beauty supplies, medicine, clothes and just about everything one would need, Kroger is the “grocer” stock to invest in! I would have to say that Kroger is your best shot to fill your cart with green. Yes, it has competitors, but it sure beats them out through mergers, innovations and customer loyalty.

According to Yahoo! Finance, Kroger is selling for about $38 per share, has a PEG (profit-to-earnings growth rate) of 1.69 and an MR (mean recommendation) of 1.8. Now, an MR is an average of what the financial experts thinks, and the closer it is to one, the more they agree it’s a stock to buy, and Kroger is right there. Also looking back at its five-year growth chart, Kroger’s stock price has more than tripled!

Why is Kroger a winning stock? First, its prices are very low. Especially for having 50,000 items, that’s amazing! That’s what helps give Kroger such a good rating in the financial community. Kroger has an A+ rating from and is number one on the list of the “10 Best Super Market Stocks of 2016.” Whole Foods has a B- and Safeway, Publix and Walmart didn’t even make the list! Also, Louis Navelier with Investor Place said Kroger is turning into the Apple of grocery stores. That could be a play on words (Kroger – Apple, grocery store – fruit), but no matter it is a very astute observation.

Mergers have played a key role in Kroger’s growth over the years. In 1983, Kroger merged with Dillon Companies Inc. to become a coast-to-coast operator. In a $13 billion deal in 1999, it teamed up with Fred Meyer, Inc. and that created a supermarket chain with broad geographic coverage. Then two years ago Kroger finalized its merger with Harris Teeter stores and

When it comes to innovation, Kroger has been a pioneer. In the 1930s Kroger was the first to routinely monitor product quality and scientifically test foods. In 1972, it became the first grocery retailer in America to test an electronic scanner.

Kroger recently pioneered QueVision, that has reduced the time customers wait in line to check out from four minutes in 2010 to less than 30 seconds today. Also, the company was the first grocer to formalize consumer research, interviewing 4,000 shoppers the first year. In 2014, it listened to 9,661,855 customers. Not long ago Kroger created a process to rescue safe, edible fresh products and donate them quickly to local food banks. Others have followed Kroger’s lead.

Let’s take a look at one of Kroger’s competitors: Safeway. To begin with, it operates 1,331 stores. Recently, shareholders approved a deal to be acquired by privately held Albertsons. The combined company will have close to 2,400 stores. Sounds good, but remember Kroger has 2,700 stores. Last year, Safeway had net revenues of around $36 billion. Kroger tripled that!

And then there is Whole Foods which has a lot of items but they have one problem. Their prices are higher than Kroger, because most of it is organic, but Kroger is carrying organic foods, yet at better prices. While the S&P 500 continues to flounder at a loss of more than 3 percent year to date, Kroger is up a whopping 15, beating Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods.

The key statistic on Kroger is that it just completed its 10th consecutive year of grabbing share from competitors. In fact, Walmart lost ground to Kroger in every major market last year. According to a report just released by ADS Insights, Kroger shares are poised for a surge that would lift the stock nearly 20 percent in the next year, meaning the price could hit $45 within the year.

Barney invested his life savings in the idea of Kroger and I think I’ll do the same with my $372.

TOP STORY >> JHS grad on high seas

By LT. Robert Kearley
Navy Office of Community Outreach Public Affairs

SASEBO, Japan – A 2008 Jacksonville High School graduate is serving in Japan in the Navy aboard the only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship, USS Bonhomme Richard.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Folsom, a Jacksonville native, is a master-at-arms aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship operating out of Sasebo, Japan.

A Navy master-at-arms is responsible for training the ship’s defense personnel and ensuring security both on and off the ship.

“What I like best about my job is the ineraction with the ship’s sailors, because as security experts we’re looked to for our leadership,” said Folsom.

With more than 50 percent of the world’s shipping tonnage and a third of the world’s crude oil passing through the region, the United States has historic and enduring interests in this part of the world.

The Navy’s presence in Sasebo is part of that long-standing commitment.

With a crew of more than 1,000, Bonhomme Richard is 884 feet long and weighs approximately 40,000 tons. Resembling a small aircraft carrier, Bonhomme Richard is one of the largest of all amphibious warfare ships.

Bonhomme Richard is equipped with a mix of helicopters and attack aircraft, launchers and machine guns and an extensive medical facility with 600 hospital beds.

“The sailors in my crew never cease to amaze me with the effort they put into their daily work,” said Capt. Jeffrey A. Ward, commanding officer of USS Bonhomme Richard. “Their dedication and hard work make me proud to be in command of Bonhomme Richard and this crew.”

According to Navy officials, Bonhomme Richard sailors work rigorous hours filled with drills and training to assure that the ship is always mission ready.

“Forward deployed means always being on the go and on top of our game, as we are essentially the peacekeepers in the region and are there to keep check,” said Folsom.

Navy officials explained that the unit is highly motivated, and quickly adapts to changing conditions including a busy life of specialized work, watches and drills.

“Serving in the Navy means serving my country, something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was in high school,” added Folsom.

TOP STORY >> Charter graduates first class

By Deborah Horn
Leader staff writer

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less,” said Lynise Harrris, Lighthouse Academies chief of staff, as she introduced the keynote speaker, Lighthouse Aca-demies CEO Khori Whitaker, to Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School’s first graduating class Thursday evening.

Harris was quoting C.S. Lewis at the graduation ceremony that was held at the Argenta Community Theater on Main Street in North Little Rock.

Harris described Whitaker as someone who throughout his career had put others first.

“I’m proud to be here to share this moment,” Whitaker said in his opening remarks.

He went on to tell a story about how he lost a race as a young child and a fellow classmate told him that he had done poorly because he was wearing the wrong kind of shoes. That evening, Whitaker’s mother said, “‘It’s not your shoes, it’s you,’” he recalled.

He then told the graduating class, “It’s not your shoes, your circumstance — you have the power to achieve your dreams.”

Rachel Johnson, 2016 class president, gave the Senior Farewell, saying, “I’m really going to miss you guys…I love you guys.”

Brehanna Abraham was the first senior of the first Lighthouse graduating class to walk across the stage to receive her diploma. She was followed by another 59 seniors.

“We’re the first graduates…It will be the last time to be together as students,” said Class of 2016 Salutatorian Jodie Miller. However, it was Valedictorian Dalton Bryan who seemed to sum up the spirit of the Lighthouse experience. Bryan described himself as a kid who avoided the spotlight and didn’t know what to expect when he first started in 2009.

He said as he faced an audience that overfilled the 200-seat theater and packed the entryway, “I found a strong sense of belonging…of family” that allowed him to step out of the shadows and into the limelight.

“I am honored to be the first valedictorian,” he said.

Deveta Croutner watched proudly from the audience as her son Carson Croutner walked across the stage to receive his diploma.

He joined the school in 2009 when it opened. Deveta Croutner said her son had excelled at academics while there and she felt they had plenty of support from the teachers and administration.

Twelve members of the 2016 graduating class started with the school when it first opened in 2009.

Tonight, she added, “Carson feels like he is making history.”

Many other students, like Shaylin Leon-Rivera, who plans to attend beauty school and get a business degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock before opening a salon in Jacksonville, said they felt the same.

Yahaira Lopez’s mother, Nevida Lagunas, said she was happy with the quality of her daughter’s education.

When his daughter, Jhalani Tolbert, walked across the stage, Shawn Tolbert yelled, “My baby.” He added, “I’m very proud of her.”

Jacksonville Alderman Kevin McCleary attended the graduation and said, “It’s a pretty amazing group.”

Every student in the 2016 class graduated and every student was accepted to a college, and together the students pulled in $1.5 million in scholarship money. Not bad, McCleary said.

About two-thirds of the class of 60 graduated with recognition for academic excellence, and included: 18 Beacon Scholars, 12 LHA Honor Graduates, five Magna Cum Laude, three Cum Laude, three Summa Cum Laude.

The Lighthouse schools in Jacksonville are part of the Lighthouse Academics that place an emphasis on math, science and the arts.

It has schools around the country and is a national, nonprofit, charter-school-management organization with the mission of opening and operating of schools in urban areas that have been historically underserved.

The Jacksonville student body is diverse—57 percent African American, 30 Caucasian, 9 percent Hispanic and 1 percent other—and about 60 percent of the Jacksonville Lighthouse schools are eligible for the federal free-or-reduced lunch program, said the lower grades principal Delano Whitfield.

Principal William Felton promised during the ceremony that graduating seniors would have access to a dedicated staff member during their first year of college to help with any obstacles they encountered. Finally, he said he “loved all his students but it was time to go.”

Jacksonville Lighthouse Academy was founded in November 2008 with the granting of a five-year charter by the state Board of Education. As an open-enrollment charter school, it is a public entity that is open to Arkansans regardless of residence.

Although required to meet state educational mandates, an open-enrollment charter school is governed by a local, independent board of trustees.

Mike Wilson of Jacksonville was and remains a big supporter of the school system and attended its first graduation.

“The staff has done a great job and the kids have excellent NWEA [Northwest Evaluation Association] test scores,” he said.

The first class “set the bar high” for the school system that includes about 1,000 students in three schools in Jacksonville proper and Flightline Upper Academy on the Little Rock Air Force Base at Jacksonville, Whitfield said.

He was referring to students like Unique Richardson who earned two scholarships and plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas at Conway or Carl Hall who has enough in scholarship money to cover his expenses at Philander Smith College at Little Rock.

Hall said about graduation, “It’s the best moment of my life.”

Principal William Felton said during the ceremony that he “loved all his students but it was time to go.”

Afterward, Felton held the theater doors open wide as the new graduates spilled through and out onto the sidewalk as a group for the last time. He said he was proud of the first class, then added, “A lot of these kids would have been overlooked, but here they were allowed to shine.”

SPORTS STORY >> Perserverance pays for Ashur

Leader sports editor

Almost midnight Tuesday, after the Bowie Baysox had lost a 13-inning game in Connecticut, former Sylvan Hills pitcher Ashur Tolliver finally realized a lifelong dream. It had taken 11 years since leaving Arkansas and seven years toiling in the minor leagues. Tuesday night, his minor league manager told him, in front of the rest of his Double-A teammates, that he was being called up to the big leagues.

By the same time Wednesday, Tolliver was in a Baltimore Orioles uniform, under the bright lights of Minute Maid Park, a bona fide major leaguer.

Tolliver is a left-handed middle reliever who didn’t get to pitch his first two games as an Oriole, but he took the mound Thursday night against the Astros and made it a very solid MLB debut.

He took the mound to start the bottom of the sixth inning in relief of starter Kevin Gausman. Tolliver struck out left-handed hitter Colby Rasmus swinging, got right-hander Evan Gattis to ground out to shortstop, walked right-hander Tyler White and sat down lefty batter Luis Valbuena swinging. He came back out in the bottom of the seventh to face lefty switch hitter Marwin Gonzalez and got him looking before being replaced by Mychal Givens to face righty Jake Marisnik. He bounced a line drive over the fence in right field for a ground-rule double.

“Tolliver couldn’t be reached for comment, but his high school coach, Denny Tipton, isn’t surprised by Tolliver’s arrival, however late, in the major leagues.

“I really thought he could make it just because of his work ethic, his determination and his competitiveness,” said Tipton. “I don’t know if I ever saw a fastball of 93 to 96. He was throwing in the 82-86 range in high school. I knew he was still growing and was going to add velocity, but I’d be lying if I said I thought he’d be throwing that hard. But he’s such a competitor and he’s so determined, I felt like he really had what it takes.”

Tolliver was a dominant high school pitcher for the Bears, who signed with UALR out of high school. Larger schools started recruiting him late because he was so small for most of his high school career. He hit a growth spurt his senior year up to about 5-foot-10. He’s now 6-feet, 170 pounds with a fastball consistently about 93 miles per hour and occasionally touches 96.

When the coach that recruited him to UALR left, Tolliver transferred to the small NAIA school Oklahoma City University, and continued to dominate.

In 2009, he was drafted in the fifth round of the MLB draft by the Orioles, and has remained with that organization ever since.

But there was a time when his baseball future appeared bleak, and all of that notorious determination was needed. In spring of 2012, Tolliver had labrum surgery on his throwing arm. It’s a serious injury with a notoriously slow recovery process. He missed the entire 2012 season and said it took years for him to feel like his old self.

He was back at Single-A ball in 2013, and then bounced back and forth from Single-A to Double-A four times in 2014.

There was also a broken finger and hamstring issues he had dealt with, and when he returned home to work out at Sylvan Hills, like he does every offseason, Tipton could see the struggle.

“It was tough on him,” Tipton said. “It was just the frustration. It seemed like every time he would take two steps forward, something would happen out of his control, and he’d go five steps backwards. You could see some frustration, but there was never any lull in his work ethic or anything like that. He remained determined and just kept working harder.”

He spent all season at Bowie in 2015 and began to catch the Orioles’ eye once again with a 2.91 ERA in 39 appearances. He had the option of testing free agency, but chose to sign again with the Orioles this season, and it has paid off.

He joined the Orioles spring training as a non-roster invitee, and pitched well. Earlier in this week, the Orioles traded left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz, and had Tolliver on a short list of players to replace Matusz in the bullpen.

Personnel issues played a role in the decision to call Tolliver up to leapfrog three lefties on their Triple-A team in Norfolk, Va. All three were “out of options” according to Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “Out of options” is baseball farm system lingo. Clubs can only send players that have been brought up to the major leagues back to the minors in three separate seasons. If they are called up in a fourth season, teams must either keep them on the major league roster, or put them on waivers, making them available to other teams, before moving them back down. It’s a way to keep organizations from hording minor-league talent, and of protecting players from being yo-yo’d by organizations that are manipulating payroll.

At 28-years old, he’s an old rookie. But he came up through the minor leagues with several of the current Orioles, and having familiar faces on the team is a big help.

Tipton, who has been in communication with Tolliver since the call-up, thinks he’ll adjust just fine.

“He’s had to learn a lot in a very short period of time,” Tipton said. “It’s been a whirlwind for him, but I know he can handle.”

His debut indicates Tipton is right.

SPORTS STORY >> Hard work aids transition for Panthers’ DI infielder

Leader sportswriter

Cabot High School graduate Heather Hill did so this month with a 4.1 grade point average, but she isn’t just a standout student. Her play on the softball field in her four years as a Lady Panther shortstop was just as impressive.

Hill, a University of Southern Mississippi signee, had the type of high school senior season one would expect of a Division I signee. She led the Lady Panthers in every major statistical category at the plate and continued to be the same vacuum at shortstop that she’d been the previous three years.

One of the things that make her story unique is she hasn’t been playing softball for as long as most softball players her age. She was a lifelong baseball player up until eighth grade.

It was at that point she decided to give softball a try, but said the transition wasn’t an easy one to make.

“It was challenging,” said Hill, “especially getting used to hitting and the different trajectory of the ball. It took a while. Really, I think it depends on what you’re used to as far as which sport is harder, but the transition was definitely a difficult thing.”

When Hill made the switch to softball, though, she went all in, like she did with baseball. She started playing travel softball her first year doing it, and that gave her a head start on advancing her game and was also a good way for her to get noticed by colleges early.

Hill stood out as a freshman shortstop for the Lady Panthers, and received her first scholarship offer early into her sophomore season. During the summer between her sophomore and junior year, she verbally committed to Mississippi State, but during the signing period her senior year she withdrew that commitment from the SEC school because of what she said involved a lot of weird circumstances that took place leading up to the signing period.

It wasn’t very long after that she decided to sign with the Conference USA school in Hattiesburg, Miss.

“I really loved the campus,” Hill said of Southern Miss. “I got there and it felt like home. Everybody was really nice and I absolutely loved the coaches. I got to meet a lot of the girls and it just seemed like a place where I’d really fit.”

As far as scholarships, unlike football and basketball, baseball and softball teams are much more limited with the number of athletic scholarships schools can give out. So having a 4.1 GPA has helped Hill pay for other college expenses that may not have been covered otherwise.

“She puts as much time into softball as she does in the classroom,” said Cabot softball coach Chris Cope of Hill. “I don’t know when she sleeps.”

Like most incoming college freshmen, Hill said she isn’t sure what field she wants to pursue in college, but has an idea of what she’d like to do once she graduates.

“My major right now is undeclared,” Hill said, “but I’ve really thought about doing something later along the lines of sports medicine or sport coaching – something in that area. I’m not really sure yet.”

It isn’t a surprise that Hill’s first thought about life after sports involves staying in it one way or another. When first approached for this story, Hill was at a hitting lesson, and that same day, Cope said he was sure he’d hear from her soon about coming to the softball field and getting some extra practice in.

Her work ethic is where any collegiate coach would prefer it to be, but it’s not all work to her. She doesn’t put that much time and effort into her game because it’s a chore. She does it for the genuine love of the game, and the enjoyment she gets from playing it.

“I try to do something pretty much every day,” Hill said. “It’s kind of been like that always, even when I was younger, because I just love doing it – everything really.”

“She’s a very coachable kid,” Cope said. “She’s one of those kids you have to tell to go home. If you don’t, she’s going to stay there all night and work at it. She’s put in the time and effort to make it where she is right now.”

During her time at CHS, Hill played a pivotal role in the program’s turnaround. When she was a freshman, the Lady Panthers were 14-14, and Hill led the team that year in home runs, RBIs and runs scored, and tied for the most hits with 34.

The next year, her sophomore season, the Lady Panthers finished with a 15-12 overall record and Hill had another good season. But her junior year, the Lady Panthers exploded onto the scene, finishing the season with a 27-5 record and runner-up finish in the Class 7A state tournament.

That 2015 season, Hill was second on the team in hits (39), RBIs (37) and batting average (.429), and first in runs scored with 36. This past season, Hill finished with 40 base hits, eight home runs, 41 RBIs, 39 runs scored and a batting average of .588.

The team finished with a 22-4 record. Its season ended in the quarterfinals of the state tournament, which was sooner than the Lady Panthers would’ve liked, but for the third year in a row the team won a conference championship and Hill and the rest of this year’s group of graduated seniors, who were freshmen during Cope’s first year as head coach at CHS, have played a significant role in boosting the program into what it is today.

“She came in with a strong freshmen class that year,” Cope said of Hill. “We started with eight and then we ended up with six seniors this year. She’s been a big part of the group and she’s been a big part of the success for our program. From her freshman year to now, she’s almost a career .500 hitter. She’s .588 this year and at one point she was at .650. She’s a tough out.

“They got something started. Their freshmen year we were .500. Our second year we were 15-12, and then 27-5 and 22-4. So they’ve built something and hopefully we can continue to do that and they were a big part of that.”

Hill leaves Cabot with quite the resume. She earned All-Conference honors every year she played at Cabot, and has been an All-State selection the past two years. In addition, she was selected on Tuesday to play for the East All-Star team later this summer in what will officially be her final high school softball game.

All in all, Hill had a good run at Cabot, and said she’ll look back on her time as a Lady Panther shortstop very positively.

“It was a great experience,” Hill said, “because we got to see how much the work that we put in paid off, because we have improved so much over the last two years. It was just good to see it pay off, and realize that we could really compete with all the teams in Arkansas that for all this time have been really good.

“Even though it didn’t end the way we wanted to, it was a really great experience.”

SPORTS STORY >> Ex-Trojan gets reins of ladies’ basketball

Leader sports editor

While one Jacksonville program got some long awaited leadership and stability, another continues in flux.

The Jacksonville Lady Titan basketball team finally has a head coach, and she comes with a successful pedigree as a player. Marian Kursh will take over her first program after working as a graduate assistant at Arkansas Tech, and an assistant coach at eStem Charter and Ramsay Junior High, a feeder school to Fort Smith Southside.

Kursh is the third candidate to verbally accept the position, but unlike the first two, confirms she is in it to stay.

“It’s a done deal,” said Kursh on Thursday. “I’m extremely excited. I feel like this is a great opportunity with Jacksonville becoming its own district. I’ve had the opportunity to play and learn from such an incredible coach in Joe Foley, and I believe I’m ready to make my own impact in coaching like I did as a player.”

Kursh won a state championship in high school at Fort Smith Northside before signing with UALR in 2008. There she was on four-straight conference championship teams under Foley.

After graduation, she worked as a GA at ATU before returning to Little Rock, where she worked at eStem while finishing her master’s degree.

Kursh still lives in Fort Smith and will begin the relocation process soon. She plans to meet with returning players in early June.

Kursh’s assistant is also brand new to Jacksonville, but not the area. Asiah Scribner was a star player at Lonoke High School before becoming teammates with Kursh at UALR.

She played for all three of Nathan Morris’ state runner-up teams from 2007-’09, and will be a tremendous asset to Jacksonville, according to Morris, who is still acting AD at Lonoke but has accepted the superintendent position at Two Rivers, and will start that position in June.

“Jacksonville got a jewel in Asiah Scribner,” said Morris. “I’ll tell you this, I’d give her anything I could find for her if I could. She’s that kind of person. She’s smart. She knows the game and she’s a hard worker. In fact, I talked to her (Thursday) night, and I told her I have a new dream job. In 10, 12, 15 years, whenever this new era I’m coming up on runs its course, I want to be her assistant. She’s going to make a fine coach one day.”

Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson said the experience of learning from Foley was a big key in the decision to hire Kursh, as well as Scribner.

“Coming out of that program, you know they have the discipline it takes,” said Wilson. “We’re trying to build a basketball program here with consistent success. It’s going to take some time, but I think (Kursh) has the background to do it. UALR was nothing when Foley took over that program, and that’s who she learned from.”

While girls’ basketball is set, the football staff suffered a huge setback on Thursday when it found out that offensive coordinator Jim Stanley had accepted the head ninth grade position at Sylvan Hills. Stanley had been prominent this offseason installing the double-wing offense his teams ran when he was head coach at Gosnell and Vilonia.

His position was in jeopardy once the interview and hiring process officially began under the new district’s administration. There weren’t enough P.E. positions available at the high school and middle school for the number of coaches with that certification. Head coach Barry Hickingbotham researched the situation and found out Stanley could be grandfathered into an elementary P.E. certification, which was still available at Bayou Meto. Hickingbotham and Stanley went to the Department of Education to have it added to his teaching certificate last week, but more roadblocks awaited. Coaches believed Stanley would be officially hired at the most recent school board meeting, but he wasn’t on the agenda.

The head coach says he had Stanley on the agenda for the next meeting, but found out Thursday he had accepted the position at SHHS on Tuesday.

“It’s nothing negative,” said Stanley about his departure. “There were financial considerations, and family considerations – nothing negative about it at all.”

The loss of the offensive coordinator follows the loss a few weeks ago of the defensive coordinator, who was also not retained, officially, because there was no teaching spot available for his certification.

Stanley says uncertainty about the Jacksonville position played no part in his decision to leave.

That leaves only head coach Hickingbotham and defensive backs coach Larry Burrows officially on staff as the program embarks upon its first year as its own district and first year of 6A competition after being at 5A the last four seasons.

One other assistant coach has been hired but has not yet reported. Brian Eagle, a Cabot High School and Arkansas Tech graduate, will be coming from Warren as a football, and likely baseball, assistant. There are still three football positions officially open, though Wilson and Hickingbotham both say there are strong candidates for two of them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Zero tolerance for meth houses

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert and the city council last week heard a concerned resident complain about an alleged meth house on Barnwell Drive near Central Elementary School. The mayor reassured her the city will not tolerate drug activity anywhere, especially near schools.

“There are at least five meth houses in my neighborhood and one across the street. The police don’t seem to be doing anything, and I don’t feel safe,” Candi Potter told the mayor and aldermen during the council’s community input section.

“You know it’s a meth house when cars are lined up at all times of the day and night. I’ve even picked up a meth pipe in my front yard. Something needs to be done,” she said.

Potter spent about 10 minutes giving details about problems in the neighborhood. She pleaded, “Please tell me what I can do.” She said Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley has been to the area and made some arrests.

The mayor responded, “We’ve listened, we hear you, and I’m going to give you my cell number. You can call 24/7 if you see a problem and I’ll get the police to check it out. I’ll get something done.”

Police Chief Jackie Davis said his department is aware of some of the activity in the area and has increased patrols. He wasn’t sure about the particular house Potter was referring to, but sat down with her after the meeting to gather additional information.

The mayor suggested forming a neighborhood watch or having a town-hall style meeting with him and the police in a place where neighbors would feel safe to discuss the problem.

The mayor added that fighting drugs has been a tough issue. “We’ve been looking at the budget and the cost of getting a drug dog or setting up a drug task force,” he said.

Much more needs to be done to fight drugs in our communities, but above all, law-enforcement must make a concerted effort against drug making and drug dealing anywhere near our schools. Those should be serious felonies with longterm consequences for lawbreakers.

EDITORIAL >> Sports, water park opens

The Cabot Sports and Aquatic Complex held ribbon cutting ceremonies Saturday morning, although the water park opens officially to the public on Thursday.

The facilities at 1245 Bill Foster Hwy. were constructed with a $13.5 million bond issue approved by voters in 2013. Residents approved a total of $42 million in bonds for improvements to make their community better.

Saturday’s events introduced the public and several local officials to the facilities.

John Crow, the former parks department director who has been named recreation superintendent in Fayetteville, told The Leader last week, “I will miss working with the awesome and dedicated team we had assembled for the parks and recreation department.

Thank you, John Crow, for your service to the community. Let’s also welcome Travis Young as Cabot’s new parks director, who is certain to carry on Crow’s legacy.

Young is taking on not only the completion of the sports complex and the aquatic park but is now overseeing $5.5 million expansion of the Veterans Park Community Center.

“The finishing of the current projects will be seamless transition due to the fact that I’m very familiar with the contractors, architects and engineers,” Young said during an interview with The Leader.

“I believe that Cabot has a lot to offer. The citizens stand behind all the parks and the programs. I’m very excited about the future. Our previous parks director John Crow has done a great job getting us to where we’re at today. I would like to continue that process moving forward,” Young said.

“My vision for parks and recreation is to provide services to the citizens and community at Cabot. What we provide is what the citizens want,” Young said.

“People are going to say, ‘Wow! That is what we want to do. We want this facility to look new for years to come,’” Young said.

Thanks also to Mayor Bill Cypert, the Cabot City Council and the Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission for their forward-looking agenda. They have invested in their community, which will reap the benefits for decades to come.

See you at the pool Thursday!

TOP STORY >> Hospital sees recovery

Leader staff writer

“We are back doing what a real hospital does for a community,” said Dr. Tracey Phillips, North Metro’s chief medical officer.

“We are in a very, very good position and expect to be stable within a year,” Phillips said.

CEO Michael Randle echoed that belief. “We are headed in the right direction and offering some services that the area hasn’t seen in seven to eight years.”

But as Phillips and Randle praised the hospital, the parent company, Allegiance Hospital of North Little Rock, was having a $45,000 lien placed against it for nonpayment of unemployment taxes.

Court records show that the delinquent amount had not yet been paid.

Phillips and Randle visited The Leader offices last week to address concerns about pay problems for the emergency-room doctor and rumors that Phillips had resigned.

Both Philips and Randle scoffed at the resignation rumors. “Why would I resign? I just moved my clinic up here,” the doctor said.

“We now have the right fit of people at the hospital. It’s a tight-knit unit,” Phillips added.

He did say that a doctor did resign over billing issues with Global Physician Network of Shreveport, La., the company that pays the emergency doctors at North Metro Medical Center.

Phillips said the director of GPN, Sam Huckabee, had resigned and some pay sheets fell by the wayside.

“There were some days we called and no one knew who the director was,” Philips said. “I had to bark some, but GPN has a new director and everything seems to be fine now.”

One of the principal owners of GPN is Rock Bordelon, who owns Allegiance Health Management, which houses and provides phone service for GPN.

He is also one of three owners of Allegiance Hospital of North Little Rock, and his Allegiance Health Management firm managed the hospital before he formed his other company to buy it.

The director of the Arkansas Department of Workforce Service had the $45,325.26 lien (plus filing fees) filed in Pulaski County Court on April 1. It is the fifth lien the unemployment division has filed against the hospital owners over the past five years.

The hospital also owes state and federal taxes. “We are reaching the point of being able to start working on those back issues.

Phillips called the money issues “paying for the sins of the past.”

He said the hospital has gone from admitting 16 to 17 patients last October to 179 patients this January.

“It was a record January,” Phillips said.

Randle said the hospital is focused on providing quality care to Jacksonville, the air base and surrounding area. “All the surveys prove we are offering good care.”

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville to upgrade server

Leader staff writer

With a government email system teetering on the brink of failure, Jacksonville City Council members added an emergency clause to and unanimously approved replacing an aging server during its regular meeting Thursday.

The clause allows for waiving of the competitive bid process and for the purchase of computer engineering, equipment, hardware, licensing, software, installation and warranties, and training and access for department personnel.

It also authorizes Mayor Gary Fletcher to enter into a contract with ClearPointe at a cost of $88,091.

The city’s information technology director Scott Rothlisberger told the aldermen that the current server, which is about eight years old and handles as many 10,000 emails a day, had possibly 60 to 90 days before it failed.

“It’s the most important server the city has…If we lost the server right now, we would be in trouble,” Rothlisberger said before the vote.

That means the city’s 300-plus email mailboxes could possibly shutdown and information be irretrievably lost.

After the meeting, Rothlisberger said the new system would be installed within the next 30 days, and it would save the city about $200 a month.

Mayor Fletcher tabled a request to set a public hearing regarding the street name change of Commerce Drive to SIG Sauer. It will be moved to the city council’s next meeting.

Alderman James Bolden III was absent from the meeting.

Because of Memorial Day, Fletcher said scheduled trash pick up service will be delayed by a day. For example, Tuesday’s service will happen on Wednesday. City offices will also be closed.

After screening a short Jacksonville Fire Department recruitment film, “Fire and Rescue, Jacksonville, Arkansas,” the entire room broke into applause.

The six-minute video was produced by Mark Evans of Mark Evans Films of Jacksonville for the Fire Department at no charge.

Evans is a Jacksonville Civil Service commissioner and also produced the city film, “Soaring Higher, Through the Eyes of Mayor Gary Fletcher.”

Fire Chief Alan Laughy said, “I knew it was going to be good because he did such a good job on Mayor Fletcher’s video, but it was better than I could have imagined. I think it will help with recruitment.”

He said his department isn’t short on personnel, but he is planning ahead for the need of possible replacements.

Fletcher said the city is blessed to have someone who is able to produce a film of such high quality.

There are plans for Evans to produce more videos for the city in the future, and “Fire and Rescue” is available online for viewing at:

In other business, the city council unanimously approved the minutes from the April 21 meeting, as well as this month’s consent agenda, which included monthly reports from Animal Control and the fire, police and engineering departments.

Members unanimously approved the reappointment of Art Brannen to the Board of Adjustment, with the term set to expire Feb. 5, 2019, and the reappointment of Lauren Fowler to the Civil Service Commission, with the term set to expire April 1, 2022.

Before adjournment, Alderman Kenny Elliot reminded his fellow council members of the Boys and Girls Club of Jacksonville’s annual Sports Banquet and Fundraiser that will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Jacksonville Community Center at 5 Municipal Drive.

Tickets are $50 and Elliot said anyone who wanted to buy a ticket, could call him at 501- 982-5887.

TOP STORY >> English taught to immigrants

Leader staff writer

For a few minutes, El Zócalo’s Monday morning class pauses its lessons to discuss their desire for learning English, and for each student the reason for participation is slightly different.

Herman Ndah was an accountant in Cameroon, his native country, but since coming to the United States, his work options narrowed considerably. He is currently working at Wendy’s restaurant, and although math is universal, his country’s native tongue, French, isn’t.

English, he says, will allow him to communicate with clients and make him more employable.

El Zócalo Immigrant Resource Center teacher Kelsey Reville has been meeting with a group of about 20 — from about 10 different countries — for about 10 months at the Esther Dewitt Nixon Library at 703 W. Main St. She says, “Not speaking English is a big barrier, even with a college degree or training, employment opportunities can be extremely limited.”

Limited English skills impacts almost every area of their lives, and Reville says, “Their reasons for being in the class vary, like shopping, going to restaurants or understanding the news or weather.”

Yong Graves, originally from Korea, wants a little more independence and Maria Rodriquez, from Mexico, wants to be able to talk with her kids’ teachers.

Reville’s goal is to teach her students basic words and phrases that are needed in everyday and practical situations.

Her students, who have immigrated from around the globe, are quick to pick up language basics although Reville only speaks English and Spanish so students seem happy to help one another with translation and meanings.

“It works,” she says about the mix of students.

The nonprofit depends heavily on the donations of individuals and organizations like Mason & Co. Realty of Jacksonville.

Owner and Principal Broker Len Mason says the company has been sponsoring the Jacksonville class and plans to continue doing so.

“We buy supplies and whatever else the instructor needs,” she says.

As an immigrant who left Laos for America when she was a young teenager, Mason understands firsthand the importance of these classes.

“Our community can really benefit from this type of class. It teaches immigrants basic English, and it prepares them for employment,” she says.

As importantly, “It allows them to better communicate so they can interact with others.”

Without a fundamental ability to speak American English, Mason says, “Many immigrants can feel isolated or may stay home.”

Mason took advantage of the educational opportunities available in this country and earned a college degree before opening her own business.

She’s now living the American Dream and says about sponsoring the class, “I am paying it forward.”

Sometimes just speaking the language isn’t enough, says Hatsumi Goldman, formerly of Japan. Some Americans make it difficult for non-English speakers in a variety of ways, including pretending not to understand a question or request.

That can make the process of learning and speaking a new language doubly “hard,” Goldman says.

That’s just one of the reasons that Reville says she tries to create a “welcoming atmosphere” where her students can build their confidence inside, as well as outside the class.

In Spanish, El Zócalo means “town square,” reflecting central Arkansas’ philosophy of promoting a “dignified life for immigrants” and fostering a “community-wide understanding through education,” according to the group’s website.

In addition to building speaking skills, Reville and her organization help immigrants understand the services that they might take advantage of, such as educational opportunities or opening a checking account.

It might also include navigating the health-care system or reporting a crime. “These can be big obstacles,” she says.

El Zócalo Immigrant Resource Center also operates a Food and Clothing Pantry, offers Life Skill Education classes and distributes a Community Resource Guide.

For more information about the El Zócalo Immigrant Resource Center, email, call 501-301-4652 or visit

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Sports should be about the game, not the antics

Leader sports editor

In professional sports, there have recently been two high profile shots to the face that were matters of wide discussion. A couple of weeks ago in Major League Baseball, Texas Rangers shortstop Rougned Odor landed a vicious straight right to the jaw of Toronto’s Jose Bautista. A few days ago, Lebron James caught an incidental tricep to the lip from teammate Tristan Thompson.

The big difference? Bautista barely flinched from a waylay punch while James flailed himself 15 feet backwards and crumbled to the floor from contact less severe than most men experience wrestling with their nephew.

In postgame interviews, Bautista said it would take more than Odor’s punch to knock him down. James, of course, explained his reaction was completely natural to getting hit in the face.

If that’s James’ natural reaction, his sheetrock man is wealthy. No telling what his bathroom looks like in the aftermath of he and his wife bumping heads brushing their teeth.

James also said he wasn’t trying to sell a call, and he’s likely telling the truth. It’s probably more accurate to say he was giving the referee his cue. It certainly looked so when the official instantly started passing out technical fouls like a Shriner does raffle tickets.

People like James, Manu Ginobili and Chris Bosh have turned the NBA into America’s EUFA.

Those who continue to insist the NBA doesn’t utilize officiating to sway outcomes just isn’t being honest. It’s probably true in most professional sports, but the NBA has been rather brazen about it for about 30 years now.

Another recent case is Draymond Green’s obviously intentional kick to Steven Adams’ sensitive area. The NBA upgraded the foul from a flagrant 1 to a flagrant 2, but decided not to issue a suspension, despite the fact that a flagrant 2 usually does involve suspensions. In fact, NBA’s rules say plainly that a flagrant 2 foul is an automatic ejection.

They say they don’t want to alter the outcome by suspending a player, but in truth, that’s exactly what they are doing. Following protocol is not meddling. Not following protocol is meddling.

They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to give the appearance that they don’t buy Green’s obvious lie, while not actually doing anything about it.

They most likely started contemplating the ratings of an Oklahoma City vs. Toronto championship series.


The personal antics that take away from the game is not just in professional sports. This high school baseball season in Arkansas has featured a drastic and disturbing uptick in coaches storming the field and showing out.

Of course, they were all about umpire calls. In a few cases the objections were legitimate, but the visceral outbursts never were.

In most cases witnessed, however, the objections weren’t even legitimate.

And since it is high school baseball, we are, literally, talking about a kids’ game.

If coaches want to be the center of attention, let them learn standup comedy or how to juggle. But let high school baseball be about the kids and the game.


Since we’re on baseball, and we’ve disproportionately razed the NBA, let’s take look back at the Odor vs. Bautista incident. The whole thing started with last year’s playoff bat flip after Bautista hit a go-ahead, three-run home run against the Rangers in one of the weirdest, most emotionally charged baseball games ever played.

It was an epic bat flip, and Texas retaliated earlier this season by throwing at and hitting Bautista.

The issues are multiple and complicated. First, that bat flip last season was acceptable. Any play that has a major impact on a game, especially a playoff game like that one, can and should be celebrated spontaneously without retaliation.

A bat flip in game 42 with a score of 6-0 – that may indeed disrespect the game. Last summer in an international game, a Cuban leadoff hitter reached base on a bunt in the eighth inning with his team ahead 12-1. The No. 2 hitter was on the ground after the next pitch, and rightfully so. That’s the sort of thing that used to, and should, warrant a brush back.

But a bat flip, or any kind of spontaneous, unrehearsed celebration of a meaningful play, should be fine. It’s no different than the way pitchers throw air punches and scream towards the heavens when they get a big strikeout.

Bautista’s teammate Josh Donaldson recently brought the issue back into the spotlight with his rant after being thrown at twice during last weekend’s series with Minnesota. In game one of the series, Twins bench coach Joe Vavra chided Donaldson, a man with a well-deserved reputation as a hard-nosed player, for not hustling out of the box on an infield grounder.

In game two, Donaldson hit a home run on his first at-bat, and looked a little too long for the Twins’ liking into their dugout (purportedly directly at Vavra) during his home-run trot. He was thrown at twice later in the game. The second of which, thrown by Phil Hughes, who has the lowest BB-per-nine-innings ratio in MLB the last two years, flew behind Donaldson.

Furthermore, when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons came out to ask why two-straight pitches at the AL MVP doesn’t even get a warning, he was thrown out.

Afterwards, Donaldson berated the way baseball handles such things, and he’s right.

“They say they’re trying to protect players. They make a rule that says you can’t slide hard into second base. They make a rule to protect the catchers on slides into home. But when you throw a ball at somebody, nothing’s done about it. My manager comes out to ask what’s going on and he gets ejected for it. That’s what happens. I just don’t get the point,” Donaldson said.

The beanbag culture in MLB is tired, outdated and overused. High and tight for every little perceived offense is becoming the norm, and it accomplishes nothing.

SPORTS STORY >> Weeks twins face tough Preliminary

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE — The NCAA West Outdoor Track and Field Preliminary meet, the meet that Division 1 coaches loathe, has an additional cause to be disliked.

Rain is forecast for the entire Thursday through Saturday that the meet operates in Lawrence, Kan. The NCAA East Outdoor Preliminary is Thursday through Saturday in Jacksonville Fla., and both act as gateways to the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 8-11 in Eugene, Ore.

Each meet starts with the 48 top entrants in each event and through competition concludes with a top 12 in each regional clashing as 24 in each event at the NCAA Outdoor.

The formula is the same in both preliminaries, but it appears the conditions won’t be for Lawrence and Jacksonville.

Rain and rain delays can prove an unfair disadvantage in performance, particularly in highly technical events like the pole vault that includes four Razorbacks women. Three of the four, including freshman NCAA Indoor champion and All-American Lexi Weeks, her twin sister, All-American Tori Weeks, and Ariel Voskamp – are all from Cabot.

“The way it looks, we ought to call it the Thunder and Lightning Invitational,” UA women’s coach Lance Harter said. “It just makes you test your kids farther than you need to. Obviously you want to get through this as unscathed as possible, as healthy as possible so we can go on to the National meet and truly lay it on the line. If we are running races at midnight in Lawrence because Mother Nature calls, there is nothing you can do about it.”

Even when you have a pair like the Weeks sisters, who are ranked first and fourth in their event, they’re vulnerable to be knocked off by others ranked in the 40s because the conditions can vary so much.

“That’s the scariest event,” Harter said of when bad weather hits. “A 6-hour pole vault session with the chance of weather changing is quite substantial.”

Arkansas men’s coach Chris Bucknam also has long loathed this meet but vows to say little about that now because like Harter, he knows their SEC triple crown teams, both won the SEC Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor titles this 2015-2016 academic years, and Harter’s Outdoor Razorbacks nationally rank No. 1 and Bucknam’s No. 5, can only compete full fledged for a NCAA Outdoor Championship if they advance those they project to advance through Lawrence and maybe then some.

“I don’t have anything else to say other than that from the very inception it was problematic,” Bucknam said of the Regional meets redundancies and hardships, including running the 10,000 meters so close to the NCAA Outdoor 10,000. “They have changed rules during it. It used to be four regionals, now it’s two regions. The 10K had an exception and rightfully so but somehow somebody got in there and decided the 10K ought to be included but not the decathlon. To me it’s fraught with agendas from different people on the committee. It’s unfortunate, but we have to get through it.”

Bucknam takes 31 qualifiers in 41 events to Lawrence after being limited by SEC rules to a 30-man roster at the SEC Outdoor in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Since a 12th place in Lawrence is as good as a first advancing to Eugene, winning isn’t this week’s primary objective, though Bucknam and Harter say their elite athletes’ approach must somehow remain focused to win rather than coast.

“We instruct them,” Bucknam said. “Don’t get coy. Don’t get cute. Treat it like a final. You can’t score points sitting at home. You have to treat it like a final. Worry about the rest and recover after that which will be a good thing if we can.”

Among Bucknam’s 31 and Harter’s 23 are some athletes not likely to advance by ranked performances thus far.

“The plus side is that young group gets the chance to compete and have one more chance for success,” Bucknam said. “So that’s the silver lining, I guess.”

A major drawback concerns sprinter Marqueze Washington, ranked third and ninth in the 200 and 100-meter dashes and integral on the Razorbacks’ second and 11th ranked 4x100 and 4x400 relays, must run in Lawrence to advance to Eugene rather than rest his hamstring injured during the SEC meet.

“Marqueze is getting better,” Bucknam said with fingers crossed. “Hopefully we are at full strength.”

Razorbacks women Dominique Scott, 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Payton Stumbaugh, 100-meter hurdles, and Lexi Weeks, pole vault, rank No. 1 in the West for their events with Taylor Ellis-Watson, 400-meter dash, and Jessica Kamilos, 3,000-meter steeplechase, both No. 2.

For Bucknam’s men, NCAA Indoor champion Clive Pullen rates No. 1 in the triple jump and NCAA Indoor champion Jarrion Lawson rates No. 2 in the long jump while Andrew Ronoh, 10,000 meters, and the 4x100 relay rate No. 2.

SPORTS STORY >> Bear bats hibernate as Magnolia blooms

Leader sportswriter

FAYETTEVILLE – Sylvan Hills outhit Magnolia in the Class 5A state championship game Saturday afternoon at Baum Stadium, but the Bears couldn’t get the timely hits when they needed them, and the Panthers scored two runs in the fourth inning and one each in the fifth and seventh to win 4-1.

Sylvan Hills finished the game with eight hits to Magnolia’s six, but the Bears (28-7) left nine runners on base while the Panthers (22-6) left six stranded.

“That’s what I told them,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “We didn’t get hits at the right time and they got the hits back to back. It seemed like every inning we had guys in scoring position. We just didn’t get the hit.”

The game was scoreless after an inning of play, and Sylvan Hills pushed its only run across the plate in the bottom of the second. Five- and six-hole hitters Ryan Lumpkin and Carson Sanders each reached base to start the bottom of the second. Lumpkin reached on an infield hit to shortstop and advanced to second base on the same play because of an errant throw to first.

Sanders then bunted down the third base line, but the sacrifice turned into a single as Magnolia failed to retrieve the ball in time. Panther winning pitcher Matt Goodheart struck out the next batter he faced, but Sylvan Hills designated hitter Kyle Clayton followed with a 4-3 groundout that drove in Lumpkin for a 1-0 Bear lead.

The game stayed 1-0 after three, but the Panthers’ two runs in the top of the fourth gave them the lead for good. Magnolia three-hole hitter Parker Ribble led off the inning with an infield single to shortstop and cleanup hitter Caleb Ward walked the next at-bat.

First baseman Thomas Prince laid a sacrifice bunt down the third base line to advance the runners, and catcher Dayton Dickson drove both runs in with a one-out single to left field, giving Magnolia a 2-1 lead.

Sylvan Hills left two on in the bottom half of the inning, and the Panthers added their next run in the top of the fifth. Magnolia loaded the bases to start the inning. It did so with a leadoff single by eight-hole hitter Brooks Lynch and a pair of fielder’s choice bunts by Alex Fogo and Goodheart.

Sylvan Hills tried to get the lead runner out on both bunts, but Lynch was safe on each play. With no outs, two-hole hitter Jay French hit into a 4-3 double play, but the contact allowed Lynch to score from third and increase Magnolia’s lead to 3-1. Bears’ relief pitcher Mackenzie Seats then struck out Ribble to get out of the jam.

After a scoreless sixth, Magnolia added its insurance run in the top of the seventh. Lynch led off the inning with a single to center field, and advanced to second on a 5-3 groundout the following at-bat. Tipton then chose to intentionally walked leadoff hitter Goodheart to put runners at first and second, and French singled to right field to drive in Lynch.

The final scoring play was a close one. Catcher Nick Fakouri, who started the game on the mound, made the catch from right fielder River Hunt and made the tag as Lynch raced by, but the ball came out of Fakouri’s glove.

It looked as if Lynch may have missed the plate as he slid wide to try and avoid the tag, so Fakouri retrieved the ball and tagged him again. The home plate umpire called Lynch safe, ruling he touched the plate on the wide slide.

Tipton vehemently protested the call to the home plate umpire and was ejected shortly after.

“I thought he went wide trying to miss the tag,” Tipton said. “I didn’t think he touched the base at home plate. So at a certain point, you know, I’ve got to fight for my kids.”

Although that play didn’t work out in the Bears’ favor, their inability to get the timely hit is what hindered them most on Saturday.

“We can’t make excuses,” Tipton said. “We didn’t get the hit. We had chances. When it comes back down to it we’ve got to get the hits when they count.”

Goodheart threw all seven innings for Magnolia. He finished with five strikeouts and one walk while giving up the Bears’ eight hits. Fakouri pitched the first 3 1/3 innings for Sylvan Hills, finishing with four strikeouts, three hits allowed, two walks and two earned runs.

Seats pitched the rest of the way, allowing three hits, two walks and two earned runs while recording two strikeouts. In the field, Magnolia had three errors. Sylvan Hills had none.

Ribble and Lynch led the Panthers with two hits each. Dickson led all batters with two RBIs. Sanders and Seats led the Bears with two hits apiece. They each went 2 for 3. Michael Coven, JoJo Craft, Lumpkin and Zac Douglas accounted for the Bears’ other four hits.