Friday, June 17, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney hurler throws one-hitter

Leader sports editor

Monitcello’s American Legion players struggled to get their gloves on the ball, and could barely get their bats on it at all.

The result was an 8-0 victory for Gwatney Chevrolet on Wednesday in the first round of the Wood Bat Classic in Sheridan.

Brandon Hickingbotham was dominant on the mound while Monticello’s defense committed four errors that aided Jacksonville’s win.

Playing as the visiting team, the Senior Jacksonville squad jumped out to an early lead with a pair of unearned runs. With one out, three-hole hitter Caleb McMunn hit into what should’ve been an inning-ending double play after a Mike Havard single. But Monticello botched the relay, leaving McMunn safe.

Hickingbotham then singled to drive in one run, and Payton Traywick doubled to score Hickingbotham for a 2-0 lead.

Gwatney Chevrolet added another unearned run in the second after Jordan Wickersham led off with a fly ball to right field that Monticello flubbed. After two groundouts, Tyson Flowers’ grounder to third was also mishandled, allowing Wickersham to score the game’s third run.

Jacksonville went down in order in the third, but Wickersham got one base again in the fourth, this time by drawing a one-out walk. He stole second base and Caleb Smith singled for the RBI that made the score 4-0.

After a scoreless fourth, Jacksonville had its biggest inning, scoring four runs in the sixth.

The rally started with Monticello’s fourth and final error. Quentin Stallard’s one-out grounder to second base was mishandled.

Flowers drew a walk, and both runners scored on a base hit by Havard. McMunn then walked on four pitches and both runners moved around the bases on passed balls and wild pitches.

The Chevy Boys finished with five base hits. Two were by Havard, who also had two RBIs, while Hickingbotham, Traywick and Smith got one hit apiece.

Hickingbotham went the distance on the mound for Jacksonville for a one-hitter. He struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and finished with seven strikeouts and one walk.

Monticello had base runners in just two innings, the first and fourth. After an error put the first Monticello batter of the game on base, Hickingbotham picked him off at second.

The first nine batters went down in order before leadoff hitter Cade Clemons got a base hit to start the fourth.

A strikeout and groundout back to the mound followed before Hickingbotham walked the next batter to put runners on the corners with two outs.

He then fanned C.J. Lindsey to get out of the only jam of the game. The next nine batters went down in order to close out the phenomenal effort on the mound.

SPORTS STORY >> Sherwood native now coaching Razorbacks

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Soft-spoken Wes Johnson spoke with and about power Thursday in his first address as the Arkansas Razorbacks’ pitching coach.

The Dallas Baptist University pitching coach from 2011-2015 and the 2016 pitching coach for SEC champion Mississippi State, Johnson was announced Wednesday by Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. He replaces Dave Jorn, who in May announced his retirement after 14 years of coaching Van Horn’s Arkansas pitchers.

Johnson’s first coaching position was as assistant at his high school alma mater Sylvan Hills. He then head coached nearby private school Abundant Life to a state championship appearance before embarking on a college career.

Asked his pitching philosophy in Thursday’s joint press conference with Van Horn, Johnson said, “My philosophy on pitching is real simple. I like power. I try to develop it. That’s what I want. I want power fastballs. I want power breaking balls. It’s pretty simple. We want guys bigger, faster, stronger on the mound. That’s what my track record shows and that’s what I have had success doing.”

Van Horn was asked how that fit with his philosophy given Jorn had plenty of powerpitchers but also some relying on slower stuff during their 14 years that included four College World Series teams and one staff leading the country in earned run average.

“Ideally, when you are talking right-handers, we want them all throwing in the 90s unless they do something different like maybe a submariner-slider type of guy,” Van Horn said. “Lefties, if you get lefties throwing in the 90s that’s pretty good. Not many of those guys make it to college. So you have to develop that. If we get a lefty and they are throwing 85 or 87 and a couple of years after that maybe with strength and a philosophy of coaching they bump it up into the 90s, that’s a good thing.

“Bottom line, we want to get good pitchers here and develop them. I feel like if you’ve got kids that are throwing hard, that makes it harder on that hitter because they have got to make decisions a lot earlier.”

Van Horn said he liked what Johnson developed at nationally prominent Dallas Baptist and his lone year at Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs burst from worst to first, a scenario the Razorbacks would like to emulate in 2017 after the 2016 season marked the only losing season (26-29 and 7-23 in the SEC) in Van Horn’s Arkansas tenure.

“I was really impressed with what was going on at Dallas Baptist a few years back,” Van Horn said, noting Jorn has considered retirement the last few years. “His name was getting out there and I knew that I would need to hire a pitching coach down the road that Coach Jorn was going to retire shortly.”

In fact, Van Horn recalled feeling “bummed out” when Johnson left Dallas Baptist for Mississippi State “because I thought that may have been one of the guys I might have really been interested in.”

“Looking back on it he has been through the SEC and gotten to see the league as good as it has ever been,” Van Horn said. “He gained some experience there.”

Johnson didn’t look back, leaving the SEC 2016 champion for the SEC’s in 2016 and not just because the 2015 Razorbacks advanced to the College World Series and were head coached by Van Horn who has taken them to Omaha four times and took Nebraska twice to the CWS.

With Arkansas ties by birth, he’s a native of Sherwood, a graduate of the University of Arkansas-Monticello and a former pitching coach at Southern Arkansas University and the University of Central Arkansas, and married to an Arkansan, Johnson said he’s “coming home” joining the Hogs.

“And obviously you look and who wouldn’t want to come here, right?” Johnson said. “It’s the University of Arkansas, the facilities are phenomenal. You get to work for a guy that, in my mind, is going to be in the Hall of Fame of college coaches. So to me it was a no-brainer.”

Johnson decided quickly as he and Van Horn met Monday following Mississippi State’s elimination from the Super Regional the Bulldogs hosted and by Wednesday Johnson was announced at Arkansas.

Van Horn said when he first started following Johnson at Dallas Baptist that Johnson’s Arkansas heritage hadn’t reached Van Horn’s radar.

“It’s just ironic that he is from Arkansas,” Van Horn said. “That was just a plus.”

Van Horn said Jorn “did an incredible job,” but that he always anticipates “new energy” with the hiring of a new coach and that Johnson brings that and a solid reputation that his players already know.

“They have heard many good things about him, whether it’s in summer ball or playing out in collegiate leagues,” Van Horn said. “Guys that he’s coached - he’s got a good reputation. And obviously that’s one reason we got him because there are a lot of kids that want to pitch for him.”

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe splits home games

Leader sports editor

Beebe and Jacksonville split their Junior American Legion doubleheader Wednesday at Gillam Fields, and both games were lopsided. The Post 91-O’Reilly Auto Parts team had a big sixth inning in game one en route to a 9-1 win, while the Gwatney Chevrolet Juniors cruised in game two to a 17-6 win in four innings.

In game one of the twinbill, Beebe scored a run in each of the first four innings while also holding Jacksonville scoreless to lead 4-0. Gwatney scored its lone run of the game in the top of the fifth on a two-out triple by Peyton Williams that drove in teammate Jayden Loving.

Williams’ RBI triple made it 4-1Beebe, but O’Reilly’s put game one away in the bottom of the sixth with five unanswered runs. Bryce Nance got things started with an infield single to second base and JT Nicholson reached on an error at second base the next at-bat.

Nance went to third on the error, and on the same play, Nicholson got caught in a rundown between first and second and Nance scored during the rundown. The throw home to get Nance got past home plate, allowing Nicholson to advance to third on the play.

Nicholson scored on a wild pitch the next at-bat to make it 6-1 Beebe. Two batters later, Randy Smith reached on another error at second base, and he scored on a standup double to left center by Dylan Lowe.

Lowe scored shortly after on a wild pitch. Catcher Alec Matlock then walked, went to second base on a passed ball and scored on an E1 – a bad throw to first after Jacob Rogers hit one back to the mound.

Matlock’s run set the final score of game one, and winning pitcher Blaine Burge got a strikeout to end the game with runners at second and third. Burge threw all seven innings of game one, finishing with nine strikeouts.

In game two, each team scored a pair of runs in the first inning to make it 2-2 going into the second. But Jacksonville began to separate itself on the scoreboard in the second inning.

The Chevy Boys scored four runs in the top of the second and held Beebe scoreless in the bottom half of the inning to take a 6-2 lead into the third, where Jacksonville all but put the game away.

Robert Johnson led off the third inning with a walk. He stole second base before scoring two batters later on a Jacob McCaa single to left field. McCaa’s RBI single was only Gwatney’s second base hit of game two.

Trent Toney walked the next at-bat and Williams loaded the bases after being hit by a pitch. With two outs, Joe Cumming walked to drive in McCaa and put Jacksonville up 8-2.

Branden McGwire followed with the play of the day.

McGwire drove in runs nine through 12 with a monster grand slam that sailed over the left-field fence and gave Gwatney a 10-run cushion and a 12-2 lead. Before that half of the inning was over, the Chevy Boys scored two more on a two-RBI single to left field by Jonathan Smith, putting Jacksonville on top 14-2 after 2 1/2 innings.

Beebe had its most productive inning of game two in the bottom of the third. Randy Smith scored Beebe’s third run of the game on a bases-loaded walk by Matlock. Smith led off the bottom of the third with a triple. With the bases still loaded, Lowe hit a bases-clearing double to center field to make the score 14-6.

Jacksonville scored the game’s final three runs in the top of the fourth – the highlight of which was a solo home run over left field by Williams.

Jacksonville outhit Beebe 7-4 in game two, but Jacksonville had far more free bases. Jacksonville walked 12 times in game two and had three other batters reach base via hit-by-pitch. Conversely, Beebe walked five times and had two hit batters.

McGwire and Cumming led Jacksonville at the plate in game two with two hits each. Lowe was the only Beebe player with multiple hits in game two, going 2 for 2 with four RBIs. McGwire’s four RBIs led Jacksonville.

Caleb Anderson earned the win on the mound in game two. He threw the first two innings, giving up two hits and two walks while recording one strikeout. In game one, Williams led all batters, going 3 for 4 with two singles and a triple.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears win three at 7-on-7

Leader sports editor

In pulsating heat, the Sylvan Hills Bears hosted the annual Pulaski Robinson 7-on-7 Tournament on Thursday because Robinson’s field is under construction for new turf. The Bears went 3-2, losing their first and last games, and winning three in a row in between.

The Bears’ coaching staff decided to give junior backup quarterback Ryan Lumpkin most of the playing time in the first two games. Lumpkin missed offseason as a starter on Sylvan Hills’ state runner up baseball team.

“One of the things we’re trying to do with this summer stuff is build some depth,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “We played Lumpkin the whole game against Pine Bluff and he struggled. He hasn’t been here and it was just fast for him. He got better as it went along. We started him in the second game and things started to slow down for him. Jordan (Washington) finished it up and he looked really good.”

Sylvan Hills finished up its three games of pool play with a 30-19 win over LR Central.

The format gave teams seven points for a touchdown with the option of going for an eighth point with a play from the 10-yard line. Defenses could score two points for a stoppage on downs, and three points for an interception.

In the first game of bracket play, the Bears defeated Watson Chapel 26-17. The Bears’ defense only allowed five complete passes the entire game, and turned the momentum on Chapel’s third drive with an interception.

Chapel got the ball first and scored on 2 of 5 passing. The Bears were one play away from getting the ball back, but gave up a 25-yard completion on third down. After another incomplete pass, the Bears lost the Wildcats’ underneath man and he scored on a crossing route for a 7-0 lead.

It took just two plays for Sylvan Hills to answer. Washington found Young-blood for 15 yards, then hit Jamar Lane in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown that tied the game.

The Bears scored two points when it stopped Chapel on downs on the ensuing possession, but then fell behind when Chapel got three points by picking off a 40-yard pass attempt at the goal line.

The Chapel defensive back was beat on the throw down the middle, but made an acrobatic play to get the pick. In a horizontal dive, he got his hand on the ball just before it fell into the arms of receiver Jamar Porter, tipped it in the air and pulled it into his chest as he crashed to the ground.

“We told Jordan he maybe could’ve made that read a little earlier, but man, that was just a great play, probably the best play of the day,” said Withrow.

Chapel’s celebration didn’t last long. On the very next play, Sylvan Hills defensive back Anthony Duncan put the Bears back in the lead with his own goal-line interception of a 40-yard pass attempt.

Chapel’s pass was high and short and resulted in a jump ball between the Chapel receiver and the Sylvan Hills high-hurdles specialist, a jump ball Duncan won that put the Bears ahead 12-10.

Washington missed his first pass of the next possession, but connected with Jamar Lane for 17 yards on second down. On the next play, he found Payton Terry from 23 yards out for a touchdown and a 19-10 lead.

Chapel scored in four plays on the next possession to get back to within two points, but the Bears answered with the help of two dead ball penalties by the Wildcats.

The first was for taunting after a Chapel player ripped the helmet off running back Deion Youngblood. The second was for cursing at the official. Sylvan Hills only had 9 yards of offense on the 40-yard drive. Porter hauled in the touchdown pass from 4 yards out to make the score 26-17.

Chapel thought it had scored on the very next play, but the 40-yard completion was negated when it was ruled the pass was not thrown within the allotted four seconds of the snap – a sack in 7-on-7.

The Bears turned around and played Robinson without a break, and the energy level was low. Robinson won the game 30-21 to advance to the tournament championship, where it lost to Little Rock Christian Academy.

The key play was a third and 1 for Sylvan Hills while trailing 14-7. Washington rolled right as Youngblood cut across left to right.

The two were less than 5 yards apart and no defender within 10 yards. It would have been an easy first down, but Washington lobbed the ball over Youngblood’s head, resulting in a turnover on downs and a 16-7 Senator lead.

“He tried to put some touch on it instead of just throwing it,” Withrow said. “There’s a fine line between lobbing it up there and firing it 90 miles an hour. He has to find that middle ground on plays like that. But that was really his only bad throw of the whole day. He played extremely well, especially his deep ball. He’s getting some calls (from Division I colleges) right now, but he’s going to have a whole lot more if he does what I think he’s getting ready to do this year.”

Withrow is encouraged by what he’s seen so far this summer in one team camp and two 7-on-7 tournaments.

“Defensively, we’re going to be better (than last year). We’re still having some confusion on underneath stuff, crossing routes. We’ll get that cleaned up and make it better. The lineman played well at Ouachita team camp. We’re going to be bigger than we were last year. I don’t know if we’re as quick, but we’re going to be bigger. We have some sophomores that are going to play and they have to get stronger, but we’re seeing that happen.”

TOP STORY >> Keeping it fresh

Jay and Judy Chandler’s booth is popular at the Cabot Farmers Market. Their cinnamon rolls and fried pies sell out fast.
Leader staff writer

“Are these your eggs?” Janice Main asks as she stops in front of a long table at the Cabot Farmers Market on South Second Street.

“They are,” answers Anne Carman as her husband, James, grabs a dozen eggs from the cooler—it has a big Razorback sticker on the side—for another customer.

At home in Lonoke County, the couple have about 100 hens of various varieties like Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Barred Rock, and they’re free range, she adds proudly.

Main says, “I like knowing the growers…I like fresh eggs.”

Their eggs, at $3 a dozen, are proving as popular as the Carmans’ pecan turtles.

The three women, including the market’s co-manager, Becky Boyett, working the entry booth, unanimously declare the turtles “awesome.”

Nearby Austin Talbert plays “Shuckin’ the Corn” on the banjo while his father, Jim Talbert, takes a break. Both are from Cabot.

Austin Talbert says he is raising money to pay for his future college education.

Besides, he explains that he doesn’t mind the early Saturday morning hours. “We like to jam,” he says.

“We try to have something for everyone,” says Matt Webber, Cabot Farmers Market co-manager, such as live entertainment or a freebie for the kids.

They often invite the Cabot Animal Shelter’s mobile adoption unit to the market.


More than helping Webber with the operation, fellow co-manager Becky Boyett says she believes in eating locally.

She, too, wants to know who grows the food she’s putting on her table and adds, “I like knowing it’s as fresh as possible.”

In order to promote their vendors’ products she says once a month they draw a customer’s name and that person wins a “giveaway basket,” which is filled with a variety of wares.

Market rules encourage Arkansas grown produce. Venders are allowed to sell third-party produce, but it must be marked so.

Price gouging isn’t allowed and neither are flea market and automotive products.

Webber says, “We’re a friendly market, and all the vendors get along.”

The Cabot Farmers Market is unique because the vendors—today’s count is 20—make the rules and set the fees.

A booth space—most consist of pickup trucks with dropped tailgates serving as storage, cash register and additional display at the rear, a much-needed covering and a long table or three—costs a vendor $5.

For an extra $5, the market will throw in the canopy, Boyett says. Much less than rental fees at most central Arkansas markets.


Jay and Judy Chandler’s old-fashioned cinnamon rolls attract a lot of attention.

“They’re a favorite,” Judy Chandler says and then adds, “So are our fried pies, our jellies…”

She says they used old recipes, like grandma’s, with real milk, real butter and yeast.

“You can taste the difference,” Jay Chandler says.

Loyal customer Lori Boever agrees.

The rolls “are amazing and you can’t beat their Coca-Cola cake,” Boever adds.

The Chandlers have been working the market for about five years while a few spaces down, Brandon Arnall, recently retired from the Air Force, and his wife, Karen, set up a booth for the first time. He has a half-acre garden at home, and his table is full of yellow squash and zucchini, cucumbers and new potatoes. His squash are five for $3, also priced less than most other farmers’ markets in central Arkansas.

Still, first-day sales are slow, he reports.

“But, hey, you build up business, right?” he asks optimistically.

A few booths over, Chuck DeSellems is selling D’s Beez Honey while Karen Bailey has a special on goat’s milk soap. Magness Creek Farm has red and white potatoes but sold out of onions by mid-morning.

James Langston, his farm is located south of Searcy but east of Beebe, grows seven varieties of tomatoes, including Bradley pink and German red strawberry.

The strawberry tomatoes really look like strawberries, says customer Duke Rex pointing to container. He loves Langston’s tomatoes and his preferred way of enjoying them: “I just slice ’em, salt ’em and eat ’em.”


The market was started in 2008 and runs from May 7 until Sept. 19. It’s open from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday.

By day, Webber is a mailman but his passion is volunteer work. He’s past president of Cabot City Beautiful, a nonprofit that organizes the market. He’s been with the market since its first day.

Webber says it was originally located next to the railroad tracks, and of course, that didn’t work.

“It was impossible to have a conversation,” he half jokes.

The market’s vendors then moved to First Security Bank at the corner of Main and Second streets.

“The bank was wonderful and a great host, but we were busting at the seams. It was a good problem to have…We really needed to move,” Webber says.

Then about three years ago, the Renew Community Church offered their parking lot as a location.

Jay Chandler likes the new location and says, “There’s more space for the vendors and more parking for customers. It’s growing and that’s bringing in more customers.”

Boyett agrees, “This location is a good fit.”

Still, Webber says the long-term goal is to find a permanent home for the market, either on city property or through a donation.

Then he adds, “A pavilion would be nice.” It would offer vendors protection from the rain and the heat.

But no matter, Webber says happily, “We’re growing.

TOP STORY >> County holds active-shooter class

Leader staff writer

“We’ve been in two incidents….We were on a construction site in Conway, and two guys got to arguing and one guy pulled out a gun. There were people running in every direction.”

That’s the way Tanya Donohue of Doyne Construction Co. of North Little Rock described one of the gun-related episodes to active shooter class instructor and Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office Detective James Hall. His response, “You’ve got to train.”

Donohue, who had attended the free three-hour class at the Lonoke County Courthouse Annex on Center Street in Lonoke, said about what she had learned, “It was awesome.”

The Wednesday class was sponsored by the Lonoke County Office of Emergency Management, and 42 people were listed on the sign-in sheet.

“We had hoped for 10,” said Rita Schmitz, Office of Emergency Management director and class organizer.

Schmitz believes that the mass shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday may have motivated people to attend the class.

Schmitz said she decided to host the class because her office is “about disaster planning, and this is part of that. People don’t think it will happen here.”

But it has happened in Arkansas—the first mass school shooting, with deaths occurring, was at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro in 1998. It was one year after a shooting at Stamps when a 15-year-old fired on a group of students, wounding two, but a year before the shooting at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo.

Time has done little to turn the tide but mass shootings have moved from the classroom to theaters, shopping malls, the workplace and beyond.

Schmitz said about the first active-shooter class, “I am pleased with the turnout.”


The audience was an equal mix of women and men, and Schmitz said she was delighted with the information Hall presented. She said the reason she asked him to lead the class was because he has had active shooter training.

During the class, Hall said, “I love it when citizens get armed, legally. It’s great.” But he cautioned the audience about open-carry weapons.

“If I’m going to rob a gas station, I’m going to shoot you first,” he stated.

He also admitted there were problems with citizens carrying guns, whether in plain view or concealed.

Most, Hall said, have only limited training—eight hours or less.

“Pointing a gun at someone is stressful,” but he adds shooting another human being is even worse.

He strongly suggested additional professional training and getting plenty of practice.

If ever in an active -hooter situation, and you’re not the bad guy, Hall said to follow law enforcement instructions to the letter.

“When the officer comes into a situation, he doesn’t know if you’re a good guy or a bad guy,” Hall explained. “He’s going to be yelling at you and you’re not going to know what he’s saying. The officer will probably say once to put the weapon down before shooting. If you don’t, you’ll get shot.”

Hall cautioned audience members, “Don’t go out and buy a gun today just because you had this class.”

There are local classes designed to train individuals. Hall recommended the Arkansas Armory Inc. on Landers Road in North Little Rock for shooting and concealed gun classes and the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office for self-defense classes.

The Arkansas Armory offers concealed handgun carry license courses for $110.

But it’s more than just carrying a gun.

Hall also talked about personal and workplace responsibility.

“Be aware of your surrounding,” he said.

Instead of getting the cheap locks or lightweight furniture, he suggested investing a little more upfront because it could pay off big when trying to keep a shooter out and your staff or family safe. Heavier furniture offers more protection from flying bullets, and good locks can keep a shooter out.

Have a plan in place, he said.

That’s exactly what Charles Gastineau, deputy operations director, and Jason McKee, code enforcement officer, both employed by Ward, took away from the session.

McKee said there’s a “need for planning” in Ward.

Kerry Koon, with the Cabot School District, and Megan Rudder and Patsy Lassiter, both with the Lonoke Exceptional Development Center, were spending a few hours of their summer vacation listening to Hall. They were especially attentive when Hall talked about the problem with school lockdowns.

Koon said they were there “to learn how to better be prepared in the event of an active-shooter event in our facilities.”

Lonoke County Assessor Jerrel Maxwell said the class was worth his time, and it’s definitely a conversation worth having at the Lonoke County Courthouse. Like many others who attended the class, he said, “I feel like we need to put a plan in place.”

Near the end of the class, Hall showed footage from the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting in 2012. Twelve people died, and it was eight minutes before police officers neutralize the shooter.

In an active-shooter situation, Hall said law enforcement’s first edict is “to stop the killer,” and only after the threat is dead or arrested, then they turn their attention to getting medical personnel to the wounded.

Often in those first minutes, people are on their own so Hall recommended learning a few basic medical skills, he advised. Take a CPR class and carry a medical kit in case of emergencies.

In the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, there are countless stories of civilians stopping the bleeding of victims and thus saving lives.

As people were leaving the class, Schmitz offered attendees copies of the “Terrorism: Preparing for the Unexpected” by the American Red Cross. It outlines a step-by-step guide to disaster preparedness, from establishing a plan and assembling a disaster kit to sheltering in place and first aid.

The stack of brochures quickly disappeared.

Schmitz said she plans to hold the active shooter class again soon.

Cynthia Moore of Lonoke was on her way out after the class when she said she might check out a gun class but that she was definitely going back to her office at LemTrek Inc. in Lonoke with self-defense and staff safety in mind.

“First, I’m going to look at the locks,” she said.

TOP STORY >> JNPSD hires its A-Team

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District now has an “A-Team” reviewing and coordinating its curriculum for next year.

The team of curriculum specialists hired by the district was introduced at its recent school board meeting by Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Owoh.

Owoh applauded the team members, who will start July 1 combing over school data and reviewing the curriculum guides.

“We want all of our students reading on grade level,” he said as the goal of the district’s curriculum. “We plan to hit it hard. That has framed all of our hiring.”

Owoh said this team of curriculum experts has been charged with making sure that the district is covering the state standards.

“The team will develop a plan and set the instructional tone and expectations,” Owoh said. “We want to have everything in place when we meet with principals and assistant principals July 31. This allows them to pass on the information to their teachers and staff.”

He explained that reading comprehension not only affects language arts skills, but also math and science.

Owoh, who recently received his doctorate in educational administration and supervision from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, will lead the group he dubbed the “A-Team.” Members of the district curriculum team include:

National Board Certified teacher Takecia Campbell of Jacksonville will be the district’s curriculum and instructional specialist.

She is coming to the district from her assistant principal position at Indian Hills Elementary in North Little Rock. Prior to that she served seven years as the mathematics instructional facilitator at Ridgeroad Middle School. She got her start as a math teacher at Jacksonville Middle School in 2002.

Courtney Holmes, from Brooklyn Park, Minn., will be the director of special education. She was the student services supervisor for the Roseville, Minn., Area School District and before that she was director of special education certification at the University of Minnesota and has special education licenses in Minnesota and Georgia.

She got her first degree, a bachelor’s of science in special education, from the University of Central Arkansas in 1999.

Jacob Smith, who was Jacksonville High School principal this past year, is now on Owoh’s team as the director of student services. The Jacksonville resident has a bachelor’s and a master’s from Harding University in Searcy, and before taking the JHS top job was the principal at Bald Knob Middle School and was also an instructor in the Educational Leadership program at Harding.

“I will tirelessly serve the students, faculty and stakeholders of Jacksonville-North Pulaski schools,” he told Owoh when hired.

S. Ronette Metcalf of Benton will be the district’s director of gifted and talented. She is coming in from Pulaski County Special School District, where she was the gifted-and-talented facilitator for secondary schools. She also worked for 20 years in the Watson Chapel School District, serving half that time as the district’s advanced placement coordinator.

Tracey Garrison of Conway, who was a teacher and math facilitator at North Pulaski High School since 2001, is now JNP’s math coordinator. She has two math degrees from the University of Central Arkansas.

Hope Ericson of North Little Rock will be the district’s literacy coordinator. With degrees in English, middle childhood education and building level administration, comes to Jacksonville from the North Little Rock School District, where she worked at North Little Rock and Ridgeroad middle schools.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

TOP STORY >> A growing success

Barnhill Orchards lettuce fields in Lonoke County. David’s Burgers of Arkansas contracts with Barnhill Orchards, and only Barnhill’s lettuce is used on David’s Burgers.

Leader staffwriter

Donna and James Waggle of Ward make a “special trip” at least once a week to Barnhill Orchards’ Farm Corner Market near Sandhill Road and Hwy. 89 in Lonoke County.

They don’t mind the approximately 30-minute drive—if traffic’s not bad—because Donna Waggle says, “Their strawberries are awesome, sweet and juicy.”

James Waggle says they’ve tried others’ strawberries but swears, “These are special.”

Ekko Barnhill, second-generation Barnhill farmer, says, “We have people who come from around the state and outside the state who buy our strawberries.”

The Waggles don’t limit their purchases to berries, Donna Waggle says she always looks forward to their tomatoes, both red and green.

Fried green tomatoes are one of their favorites, she adds.

“It’s great to have a market like this,” Donna Waggle adds. About the produce, she and her husband agree, “We love it all.”

That Monday afternoon in early June, the outdoor market was featuring huge, ripe blackberries, lettuce, eggs, squash, onions, new potatoes, cucumbers and more.

During strawberry season, Ekko Barnhill says the parking lot is always full, with as many as 150 customers a day. Of course, their cantaloupes, pecans, peaches, blackberries and blueberries are just as popular.


Rex Barnhill, who is responsible for getting the produce to the sorting/drying shed and a second generation Barnhill farmer, says family farming is great but it’s a hard way to make to a living.

“It’s very labor-intensive,” he says.

The farm was started on roughly 60 acres in 1980 after Lt. Col. Bob Barnhill retired from the U.S. Air Force. He served 28 years as a pilot and geophysics scientist.

He says he wasn’t interested in a regular job; instead, he traded his uniform for a tractor.

Bob Barnhill says both he and his wife, Carlotta Barnhill, grew up “in the country.” Her family farmed rice near DeWitt and his father was a catfish fisherman at Corning.

Bob Barnhill claims to be a world-class catfish fisherman.

The couple bought farmland in Lonoke County because the soil is a sandy loam that’s known for its ability to produce “the sweetest fruit,” he says.

Ekko Barnhill says, “Starting from scratch, our family cleared the land to plant seedling pecans and peaches.”

After which, the first vegetable plants were planted.

Carlotta Barnhill is now known as “The Chicken Lady” because she cares for about 150 laying hens.


Decades before hipsters made it cool to shop at farmers’ markets, Bob Barnhill worked the ones in central Arkansas. He still sells at three markets every week in Little Rock, while his daughter and granddaughters head to North Little Rock and Cabot to work markets.

Now just selling at the markets isn’t enough to stay in business.

As Bob Barnhill makes his way toward the small barn on the hill north of the produce shed, he talks about the importance of remaining competitive.

“You need to be savvy,” he says, stopping in front of a greenhouse next to the barn. 
Technically, he says it’s not a greenhouse but a high tunnel. It covers about one-quarter acre and allows for early and late production of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other vegetables. He has a second, smaller tunnel nearby.

“It gives you an edge over the competition,” he says with a chuckle.

Ekko Barnhill is responsible for marketing and sales so her job starts after the fresh produce is trimmed, washed and packaged or readied for market.

Even with the growing popularity of farmers markets and fresh produce, Ekko Barnhill agrees with her father. She’s been integrating technology into their operation.

For example, earlier in the day, Ekko Barnhill produced a short video starring Bob Barnhill’s granddaughter, Tori Barnhill, and the chickens.

“Our customers love it.” As well, Ekko Barnhill adds, “They want to know where their food comes from.”

Cell phones have replaced landlines, and instead of trucking fresh produce to various restaurants around Central Arkansas, Ekko Barnhill says she texts photos to their buyers. A few minutes later, the restaurateur texts back an order.

Little muss, no fuss, she says.

They sell to a number of restaurants in Central Arkansas, including The Root Café, South on Main, Community Bakery, Mylo Coffee Co., Terry’s Finer Foods, ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co., Trio’s Restaurant and they produce the lettuce for David’s Burgers.

Jack Sundell, The Root Café owner says Barnhill Orchards is one of their best suppliers.
“We love working with them…They have some of the best strawberries in the area.”

The Little Rock restaurant on Main Street also relies on their cold-weather, high tunnel crops to keep their diners happy.

“All their produce is top quality and always tastes great,” he says.

He likes their delivery style, too, saying they communicate by text and send pictures.

Today, the Barnhill family farm and orchard has grown to about 250 acres with more than half the acreage in production at any given time. It’s become one of the region’s top fruit and vegetable suppliers.

Ekko Barnhill says to this day, “All of the produce is hand-picked and hand-sorted to ensure only the very best quality produce goes to our customers. Quality produce is our hallmark signature.”


Despite their success, the family is thinking about the future and hope that all or part of the third generation will consider returning to the farm.

For now, granddaughters Tori and Madison Barnhill work on the farm through the summer while attending college.

Tori Barnhill has earned academic and volleyball scholarships to Ouachita Baptist University and will start classes this year, while Madison Barnhill goes to the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. She a sophomore.

Ekko Barnhill says, “There’s nothing like farm work to straighten a kid out.”

They usually hire a couple of teenagers to help out each summer and she says, “We tell them to leave your cell phone in the car.”

They focus on the job at hand, she says.

In addition, Ekko Barnhill says they’re reaching out to area kids though their Farm to School Partnership with Cabot and Lonoke school districts and the Exceptional Schools in Cabot and Lonoke.

She says they’re also developing a week-long summer program for kids that would allow them to participate in farm-related activities.

Already they offer farm tours to home schooled children, Scouts and restaurant owners.

“Kids think vegetables are grown behind Walmart’s,” she half jokes.

The family also feels it’s important to help the community.

They give gift baskets for silent auctions, free strawberries to Cabot’s Special Olympics, and fresh produce to local pantries like the ones at Hope’s Closet & Pantry, Renew Church and First Baptist Church, all in Cabot. They host a strawberry pick for veterans.


As proud as they are of their produce, the family is prouder of their collective military service. In all, six Barnhill family members have served a total of 117 years, Ekko Barnhill says.

In addition to Bob Barnhill’s service, his children also served. Rex, Rob, Jeter and Ekko Barnhill served in the Army. Son, John Barnhill, served in the Navy.

Rob Barnhill’s sons, Craig and Bryant Barnhill, served in the ROTC.

Last year, Barnhill Orchards was honored as Homegrown By Heroes. 

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Veterans Affairs program recognizes farmers who have served their country and are now serving the community, Ekko Barnhill says. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Bowling keeps veteran active

If you want to know the secret to longevity, watch 97-year-old Robert Hall bowl Mondays at Allfam Bowling in Cabot.

He took up bowling in his 70s and takes advantage of the special senior rate on Mondays. Hall and his wife, Doris, 89; often play with Geoff Rushton, 91, of Jacksonville. The three met 20 years ago while playing at the Sherwood bowling alley until it closed. They are not in a league and play for fun.

“We like the sociability of the group and the exercise,” Robert Hall told our reporter Jeffrey Smith.

Hall continues to live an active lifestyle. He still writes letters to the editor and hand delivers them in person.

He was born in 1918 in Thessolon, Ontario, Canada, after the First World War. He had a 30-year career in education in Michigan. He was a classroom teacher for two years, a high school principal for three years and a school superintendent for 25 years.

Hall taught for one year until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, when he soon volunteered for the Army during the Second World War.

He was selected to officer candidate school. After graduating as a first lieutenant he was sent to the Pine Bluff Arsenal as a shift officer in munitions production.

Hall was later reassigned to the chemical warfare research lab in Edgewood, N.J.

His daughter, Vicki, was a personnel director for Redmond Industry in Michigan. The small electric motor manufacturing company moved to Jacksonville, and she relocated here. The company was later known as Franklin Electric.

In 1983, Robert and Doris Hall bought a trailer in north Pulaski County. They spent six months in Arkansas and six months in Michigan.

They move permanently to Jacksonville in 2000, when they bought a new house.

May Mr. Hall keep bowling at least till he’s 100. And keep those letters coming.

EDITORIAL >> Court security costs money

The Lonoke County Office of Emergency Services will be hosting an active-shooter class from 9 a.m. to noon today at the Lonoke County Annex. County employees, business owners and civilians are encouraged to attend.

Then on Thursday, the Lonoke County Quorum Court will have one more chance to provide money to hire two sheriff deputies for the newly installed security checkpoints at courthouse.

Two metal detectors, purchased with a $14,167 grant, have been placed near the courtrooms. Sheriff John Staley has asked the justices of the peace for $100,000 annually to station two deputies, who would not only operate the equipment but also improve security at the courthouse.

The metal detectors were part of a security overhaul of the courthouse that also added cameras, panic buttons and reconfigured entrances and exits.

Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham has sought to improve security at the courthouse since being elected in 2010. It’s been a slow process, and in the age of mass shootings, it’s clear why added security measures are badly needed.

County officials recently gave themselves permission to carry concealed firearms, which may have convinced them that metal detectors aren’t needed anymore. But they’ve ignored the needs of ordinary citizens who deserve better protection at public places.

The cost of manning the metal detectors should have been more explicit before applying for the grant, but county officials should have expected there to be a cost to operate them.

If the county doesn’t want to pay for more personnel, then the metal detectors should be returned. The county could always reapply for the grant later.

The sheriff said his staff is already stretched too thin and can’t reassign deputies from patrol duty to the courthouse five days a week. What happened in Orlando over the weekend is a reminder of what can happen when officials don’t prepare for the worst.

Here’s hoping members of the quorum court funds the two deputies and make the courthouse more secure.

TOP STORY >> 9/11 salute to first responders

Leader staff writer

It’s almost been 15 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, and in memory of its fallen heroes, approximately 403 first responders, the Sheep Dog Impact Assistance (SDIA) announced its sixth annual Patriot Day Festival.

The Saturday, Sept. 10 event is free and open to the public, said Jeff Watts, SDIA Central Arkansas Chapter commander.

It will be held at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium at 1 Stadium Drive from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Inside the stadium, teams will compete in a 16-team, single-elimination 8-on-8 flag football tournament dubbed the Patriot Bowl, while outside, there will be family-friendly events and activities.

Sheep Dog refers to the position the military and first responders take, putting themselves between the public and crisis, Watts said.

These will include K-9 and rescue demonstrations, children’s activities, military and first-responder vehicles and helicopters.

Watts said they’re in the process of organizing and encourages others to put together football teams to compete.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Marine Corps Reserves, which will be commemorated with a special Centennial Celebration at the Patriot’s Day Festival, Watts said.

Sgt. Major Lance Nutt, SDIA’s founder and president, said, “Our Patriot Day events are the perfect opportunity for children and adults to get to know their local Sheep Dogs, the men and women who make up our military and first responder professions.”

SDIA’s mission is to engage, assist and empower injured military and first responders through camaraderie and peer support and activities such as their Outdoor Adventures and holiday programs.

The event’s proceeds will provide Thanksgiving dinners to Sheep Dog families in need.

For more information about the Patriot’s Day Festival or Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, call Jeff Watts at 501-712-5514 or email

TOP STORY >> 99-year-old WWII vet reflects

Jesse Robertson of North Little Rock, who is a 99-year-old veteran of the Second World War, was hailed as a hero and a member of the Greatest Generation by Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) on Monday.

Robertson was interviewed in recognition of his birthday as part of a project by Boozman’s staff and the Library of Congress profiling World War II veterans from around the state highlighting their military service.

Robertson, born on June 14, 1917, in Mulberry (Crawford County), spent most of his childhood on his parents’ farm. After graduating from Pleasant View High School in Franklin County in 1936, he went to Baton Rouge, La., where his brother lived and worked, until his mom had to have surgery. He worked at Sparks Hospital in Fort Smith to pay off her bill.

“I paid off her hospital bill and the next month I went into the military,” Robertson said.

Robertson recalls registering for the draft at Camp Robinson, but his high number meant he didn’t have to go in right away, so he decided to enlist in order to choose what branch of the military to serve. He selected the Army Air Force, the precursor of today’s Air Force.

Robertson was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas, for basic training.

“I was glad to get out of basic. When I went to Texas, it was January and it was cold. The wind blows there all the time. I know I complained,” Robertson said.

He completed his training requirement in aircraft armament in Denver, where he liked the conditions considerably more than Texas. He worked on B-24s. He was assigned to a unit in Boise, Idaho, to train new recruits. Robertson became crew chief and remembers traveling around the country to train new crews on the planes.

“That was during the time that Germany was shooting down a lot of planes. If they shot down one of the bombers they lost the 10-man crew along with it. They needed a lot of training for these people and they needed somebody that could fly with them. You got to train these people on the plane you need to fly. It was one thing to teach the equipment on the ground but in order to use it you need to fly and show them how to use it in flight,” he said.

He was away from the office on one training flight and it saved his life.

“The guy who worked nights had got up and walked over to the office and said he would go, so he went ahead and checked out a parachute, and got on there. They took off and got a few hundred feet in the air and plunged to the ground and burned up everybody on it,” Robertson remembers.

Robertson went to the Philippines, where he spent the remainder of the war.

“They had some planes on the ground that would try to shoot you. I had to fly with that kind of ground fire, but I didn’t have very much problem with fighter planes attacking us,” Robertson said.

After the war, Robertson traveled on the U.S.S. Cottle back to the United States. Troops on the ship had a warm welcome home when it docked in San Francisco. He returned to Arkansas and was discharged from the military and moved back to Mulberry, where he raised chickens.

Boozman said, “We can learn a lot about our history and the heroism of members of the Greatest Generation, like Jesse, who fought for freedom. Capturing their experiences of military service honors their sacrifice. I’m pleased to be able to share Jesse’s story of his service to our country especially for his 99th birthday.”

Boozman will submit Robertson’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center to collect the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.

TOP STORY >> Neighbor gets out alive from club shooting

Leader executive editor

Chris Hansen used to live in Jacksonville on Oak Street near The Leader before he moved to Orlando.

He’s the young man in the checked hat who survived the Saturday night massacre at the Pulse nightclub and has been giving interviews on TV. The Jacksonville High School graduate was shown carrying out injured patrons from the club and telling reporters his dad told him to zig-zag his way out of a firing line.

Both his dad William and his uncle Carl are veterans who know how to dodge bullets.

The shooting started around 2 a.m. Saturday. Witnesses said Omar Mateen, 29, had been drinking at the bar and came back with an assault rifle, a handgun and lots of ammunition.

“Everybody was scrambling” to get out of the nightclub, Hansen told interviewers.

“I was on the edge by the bathroom … kind of facing the bar, and as the gunman came in, he was shooting towards the dance floor, so it was easier for me to get out,” Hansen said. “After a couple shots, you just hear the ‘bang, bang, bang’ and you’re like, ‘OK, this isn’t the song. This is reality.’ And you hear the screaming and you see the blood and the guy next to me falls over … and you see those in the VIP area going down … and then that’s when I go down and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to crawl out of here’ … I wasn’t running … I’m not gonna be a moving target.”

It may have been sacrilegious for a Moslem man to drink alcohol, especially during the holy month of Ramadan at a gay club on Saturday night, but Mateen, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Afghanistan, blended in with the crowd since it was Latin night at the Pulse.

Look at the selfies Mateen posted on social media before the shooting. You could find those pictures on the Internet early Sunday morning even before the cable news channels put them on the air.

He did not seem out of place at a gay bar, which may be the reason why security guards didn’t stop him at the door.

Plus it was late. It was last call at the bar when he went outside and brought in his weapons from a rental van. Everybody was ready to go home, but not Mateen.

He massacred 49 people and injured more than 50 others, although doctors warned Tuesday that the death toll could rise.

He shot at half the people inside, killing about as many as he had injured, 90 percent of them Hispanics.

It appears Mateen frequented the club and, according to survivors, had looked for male companionship. A male dating site app was found on his phone.

His father, Seddique, says Mateen was not gay, but in Moslem culture, homosexuality is worse than murder. It’s as if the old man would rather have his son remembered as a terrorist than a closeted gay man.

“He was a homosexual and he was trying to pick up men,” one club regular said.

Mateen updated his profile on a gay dating app, but apparently most people he met said he was weird and belligerent and tried to avoid him.

He’d been married twice and may have told one of his wives that he planned an attack at the Pulse.

How did a Moslem man who’s been on the FBI’s watch list buy an arsenal of weapons and ammunition? He bought his assault rifle from Port St. Lucie Shooting Center, which is owned by a retired New York policeman who posted anti-Moslem views on Facebook.

The irony of an Islamophobe selling Mateen the weapon responsible for the biggest massacre in U.S. history isn’t lost on law-enforcement authorities.

Here’s a man who went to Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage and may have befriended a Florida man who became a suicide bomber in Syria.

Mateen’s background should have disqualified him from owning weapons in this country. His suspicious activities came to the attention of the FBI, but it didn’t consider him a terrorist threat.

Before police moved in on him at the club, Mateen proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call. ISIS became a convenient cover to hide his sexual orientation.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe Junior Legion squad hands Bears their first loss

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe Post 91-O’Reilly Auto Parts Junior American Legion team didn’t score in all but one inning in their game at Sylvan Hills on Monday, but Beebe’s eight-run first inning was enough to hand the junior varsity Bears’ extended summer team its first loss of the summer, winning 8-5.

Miscues, walks, five base hits and three Sylvan Hills errors led to Beebe’s eight runs in the top of the first. Shortstop JT Nicholson and third baseman Blaine Burge both walked to start the game and O’Reilly’s three-hole hitter Mark Clairday singled to drive in Nicholson for Beebe’s first run.

Another walk loaded the bases, and two more runs scored on a couple of passed balls. More walks along with timely hits with runners in scoring position followed, helping Beebe (4-4) to its eight-run cushion.

“Timely hits,” said Beebe assistant coach John Finley. “I think we had five base hits in the first inning, and all with runners in scoring position. I thought we played pretty well. We went up there with an attitude, like we did last week against Maumelle.

“We went up there and we wanted to get on base. We wanted to get the timely hits and they finally did that, and we executed today.”

Sylvan Hills did what it could to get back in the game. The JV Bears (6-1) scored two runs each in the bottom of the first and second innings, and added their final run in the third.

The Bears scored their first two runs without a hit. Gage Taylor got Sylvan Hills’ first hit of the game in the bottom of the second with a double to right field. Jacob Galiano walked the next at-bat, and both runs scored one batter later on a Korben Wiggins single to right center.

Wiggins was thrown out at second on the play trying to stretch the single into a double, but the two-RBI hit was enough to cut Beebe’s lead to 8-4. Jason Neeley scored the last run of the game.

Neeley reached base in the bottom of the third on a fielder’s choice at second base. He advanced to second on a base hit, then to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a passed ball with two outs and Galiano at the plate.

Neeley’s run set the final score. The Bears had other opportunities to score as the game progressed, but could never push another run across the plate. In the bottom of the sixth, Sylvan Hills loaded the bases, but Beebe relief pitcher Quint Roberson struck out the next batter he faced to get out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, the JV Bears had runners at second and third, but a pop-up to Beebe catcher Alec Matlock ended the game.

“We had a couple of opportunities,” said Sylvan Hills summer league coach Matt Presson. “We had the bases loaded, runners on second and third, we have to get those hits. Those timely hits, we’ve got to make sure we get those. But, it’s tough to battle back from an eight-spot.

“When you don’t make plays, you don’t throw strikes – that’s what happens. But I’m still proud of them. They fought hard, they stayed in it and they didn’t let it get them down.”

Randy Smith earned the win on the mound for Beebe. He threw the first four innings before being relieved by Roberson with one on in the bottom of the fifth. Finley said Monday’s game was probably Smith’s best outing of the summer on the hill.

“Randy pitched exceptionally well,” Finley said, “probably the best outing he’s had all year, except for his pitch count was a little high. It was right around 100. And then Quint Roberson was right around 60 through three innings and he threw well.

“He got into a jam there in the sixth and seventh innings, but we got out of it without any runs, so it was a good deal.”

SPORTS STORY >> Blue Jays draft second local kid

Leader sports editor

The Toronto Blue Jays now have two local pitching prospects in their organization. A year after Beebe’s Griffin Glaude was made an undrafted signee of the Blue Jays, 2012 Sylvan Hills graduate Connor Eller was taken in the 22nd round of the 2016 MLB draft.

Eller reported to the Blue Jays’ instructional league in Florida on Monday.

Glaude made a huge jump through the ranks last year when he was promoted from the Gulf Coast Rookie league to the Dunedin Blue Jays, a Single A-Advanced team. Glaude dominated the NAIA as a pitcher for Lyon College, and continued to dominate in Rookie League level minors. The promotion to Dunedin skipped two levels on the minor league rungs, but he only saw two innings of work with the club.

He was assigned to the Blue Jays’ Single A-Short Season team in Vancouver last week. Their season is set to begin on Friday.

Glaude, a 5-foot-9 right-handed relief pitcher, carries a cumulative minor league ERA of 2.64 into his second season of professional baseball. He has made 17 appearances, thrown 30.2 innings with 40 strikeouts and eight walks.

Glaude was ecstatic about the leapfrog promotion last year, and is taking the assignment this year in stride.

“Of course, any time you move up in the system it’s exciting,” said Glaude. “The ultimate goal is to keep rising, though. It’s been a great experience all around to be able to play against great players from around the world.”

Eller, a right-handed pitcher who recently graduated from Ouachita Baptist University, dominated on the mound the last two years for the Tigers.

He had few college offers out of high school, and signed with Crowder Community College in Neosho, Mo., before going to OBU.

He’s now 6-2, 195 and was recently named to the All-Great American Conference First Team after a stellar senior season on the mound. One of his biggest strengths is endurance. He threw 95.1 innings this spring, including a 10-inning outing that ended with a 2-1 win over Oklahoma Baptist. He had a 3.40 ERA with 90 strikeouts.

His junior year, his first at OBU, was even better. Eller had a 9-2 record with a 2.58 ERA in 93 IP, with 72 strikeouts and 20 walks. He was named the GAC Pitcher of the Year.

Also pitching in the minors from Sylvan Hills is Ashur Tolliver and D.J. Baxendale. Tolliver had a brief stint in the Major Leagues with Baltimore at the end of May. Since being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, he has made three relief appearances with 0.00 ERA.

Baxendale is a starter for Double-A Chattanooga. He is 6-6 this season with a 3.23 ERA.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney Seniors take down Paragould

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet Senior American Legion team came from three runs down to post a 4-3 victory over Paragould last Friday at Dupree Park. The Chevy Boys were hitless for six of seven innings, and got just two hits the entire game. But a few walks and a critical Paragould error was enough to lift the home team to its third win of the year.

Paragould jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Three base hits and a walk led to the pair of runs. That lead stretched to 3-0 in the top of the third on one hit and one error.

Gwatney tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, starting with a leadoff walk by Kameron Whitmore. Trent Toney then hit a grounder to second base that was mishandled, leaving everyone safe. Caleb McMunn singled to drive in one run and put runners on the corners.

Brandon Hickingbotham hit a deep fly ball to right field to drive in Toney.

Caden Sample grounded out to first, and Jordan Wickersham hit an RBI single to right field that scored McMunn and knotted the score at 3-3.

The winning run came in the fifth inning. The rally started with a one-out walk by Whitmore. He moved to second on a wild pitch. Toney sacrificed him to third base and he scored the winning run on a passed ball.

“Well we won the game but we didn’t hit it very well,” said Gwatney manager Bob Hickingbotham. “We’re going to have to hit better than we did.”

Brandon Hawkins started on the mound and threw four innings. He gave up three earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts and two walks. Mike Havard threw the final three innings. He held Paragould scoreless, giving up two hits with two strikeouts and no walks. He retired the final eight batters in order.

Earlier in the week, the Gwatney Chevrolet Junior team dropped two games in a tournament in Sheridan. The younger Chevy Boys blew a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning to lose 7-5 to Smackover on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Benton hammered Jacksonville 11-2.

Smackover scored four runs in the sixth inning on no base hits. Jacksonville recorded one out before a hit batter and four-straight walks scored two runs. A passed ball and a sacrifice fly scored the final two.

Smackover’s first three runs came without a hit as well, as the Buckaroos’ summer team got just one hit the entire game. Three walks, a wild pitch and a sacrifice grounder led to the first two runs of the game for Smackover. The third run came in the second inning on a leadoff walk, stolen base, sacrifice and wild pitch. Smackover got its lone base hit in the third inning but did not score.

“We didn’t do anything but give that one away,” Hickingbotham said.

Jacksonville finished with seven base hits. Whitmore and Toney got two hits apiece to lead Gwatney offensively.

Jacksonville got four hits in the loss to Benton.

SPORTS STORY >> History-making freshman

Leader sports editor

University of Arkansas freshman Lexi Weeks has already experienced an historic six months. On Monday, she turned her sights to making more history as she prepares for the United States track and field Olympic trials.

Weeks just got back from Eugene, Ore., where she made history for the third time this year by becoming the first freshman to ever win the NCAA Outdoor national championship in the pole vault.

In three weeks, she will try to become the youngest-ever female pole vaulter from the United States to become an Olympian.

Weeks, a 2015 graduate of Cabot High School, is still five months away from her 20th birthday. She spent her entire high school career, along with twin sister Tori, breaking state and national high school records in the pole vault. But even that high school success didn’t prepare her for her surprising collegiate dominance.

“I had no idea, honestly,” said Weeks of her unprecedented success.

She admits that before the season, she would’ve been happy just to qualify for nationals. “My first goal was 15 feet, next was to just make it nationals,” Weeks said. I just wanted to be there for the meet. I had no idea at the end of this year I’d have two national championships.”

In her first-ever collegiate meet back in January, Weeks cleared 14-feet, 9-inches, which was the required height to qualify for the Olympic trials, to win the indoor Razorback Invitational.

She is undefeated as a collegiate in indoor and outdoor competition. She is the only freshman in NCAA history to win a pole vault national championship, and the only one to win both indoor and outdoor. The same is true for her two Southeastern Conference championships.

With no freshman ever achieving such success, Weeks was able to cruise through her early achievements without much pressure. By the end of the season, that had changed. There was pressure going into the outdoor championships.

The Razorback Women desperately wanted to rebound from a disappointing second-place finish in the 2015 outdoor championships. They had won the 2015 indoor title and were favored to take outdoors as well, but fell short.

Weeks knew she would be a critical part of that achievement of turning that around this season.

“I did feel pressure,” Weeks said. “I went into the meet ranked No. 1, so my teammates and coaches expected a lot from me. I think, through the whole indoor season and SEC meets, I gained of lot of experience and I was able to handle the pressure.”

Tori Weeks has always been a driving force for the ultra-competitive Lexi. For the most part, Lexi Weeks stayed a couple inches ahead of Tori, but the results were close enough to keep the competition fierce. Tori even eclipsed Lexi’s high school national indoor record last summer, though Lexi regained it several weeks later.

That driving force continues. In any previous year, Tori’s heights this year would have been considered phenomenal for a freshman. She finished second in the SEC indoor championships and placed sixth at nationals, but had a disappointing outdoor finish.

On Monday, only Lexi and 2015 NCAA national champion Sandi Morris remained at the UA training center as they prepare for the trials.

Morris, who graduated from Arkansas last year, won the United States Indoor championship this year with a jump of 16-3, and continues to train at the UA’s Randal Tyson Track Center.

“She is great,” Lexi said of Morris. “She’s so encouraging. It’s nice to practice and train with one of the best vaulters in the world. Now it’s just her and me training together since we’re both going to trials.”

Morris is considered an almost-shoe-in to get one of the three spots on the Olympic team. Another is 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr.

They are the only two American jumpers to clear 16 feet this year, though both were achieved indoors.

Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin, who was injured most of this collegiate season, also cleared 16-0 indoors last year, and has a personal record of 15-1 outdoors.

She returned from her thumb injury to finish third in the USA indoor championships behind Morris and Suhr.

Two others, Megan Clark of Duke University and Alysha Newman of the University of Miami, have cleared 15-feet this season.

“I think Sandi Morris and Jenn Suhr are the heavy favorites, but that third spot is going to be up for grabs,” Weeks said. “I’ll probably have to go 15-6 or something like that. I’m going to have to PR for sure.”

The Olympic trials run July 1-10 at the University of Oregon. The women’s pole vault qualifying round is July 8 and begins at 1 p.m. CST.

The pole vault finals will begin at 12:30 p.m. on the final day of competition.