Friday, July 01, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Sharks shatter records in first home meet

Special to The Leader

The Sherwood Sharks continued their historic domination of the Central Arkansas Swim League last weekend, setting new pool records at home and scoring a combine 1,225 points out-point the visiting Conway Crocodiles by 793 points.

It was the first home meet of the season for the Sharks, and was also their first shot to break pool records.

The records fell early and often, beginning in the 7-8-year-old girls division, where Cecilia Porter and Sophie Gaylord both swam under the record time in the 25 freestyle, with Porter winning by .2 seconds. Porter would continue on to break the 25 backstroke, 25 breaststroke, and 100 IM. Gaylord also broke the 25 butterfly record.

In the 9-10-year-old girls division, Meredith Lipsey set a new pool record in the 50 butterfly, winning her race by 6 seconds.

In the 13-14-year-old girls division, Alaya Smith broke her own record in the 50 butterfly, and Anna Jaworski made her season debut, setting a new pool record in the 100 IM.

On the boys side, 10 year old Michael Potts broke the 50 meter breaststroke record, and his brother Joseph also broke the 13-14-year-old pool record in the 50 freestyle.

Nicholas Bromley broke the 11-12-year-old division pool record, winning in dramatic fashion by less than a second. Lastly, Thomas Heye broke the 50 freestyle, 50 backstroke, and 100 IM pool records.

The Sharks will enjoy a break from the swim meets this Fourth of July weekend, and prepare to travel to Lakewood in pursuit of their 13th consecutive undefeated season next Saturday.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney Juniors burst out

Leader sports editor

Gwatney Chevrolet’s Junior American Legion team rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win a wild one at Searcy on Tuesday. The Jacksonville squad scored all 14 of its runs in the third inning and held on for a 14-10 victory.

The Chevy Boys ran Searcy’s starting pitcher off the mound five batters into the third inning with four base hits. Relievers struggled to find the strike zone.

The inning started at the top of the lineup, where Trent Toney, Peyton Williams and Caden Sample got consecutive base hits before Foster Rash struck out. Joe Cummings then singled to drive in two runs and Axton Ramick walked, leading to the pitching change.

A pitch hit Robert Johnson before Brandon McGuire, Jayden Loving, Toney, Williams, Sample and Rash made it six more base hits in a row. Cummings then walked before Ramick and Johnson were hit by pitches.

McGuire made the second out by going down swinging, but Loving walked to drive in the final run of the inning.

Searcy’s Brandon Prafer then took the mound and struck out the next two batters to stop the home team’s bleeding.

Searcy scored two in the bottom of the third on three walks and a double that made the score 14-7. Prafer got two more strikeouts and a pop up in the top of the fourth. Searcy scored three more runs on three hits, two walks and a hit batter, but the game was called for time after four innings of play took more than two and a half hours.

Nine different Jacksonville players got a base hit, and no one had multiple hits. The Chevy Boys (13-7-1) also drew six walks and three were hit by pitches.

Williams started and threw two innings while Cain threw the final two.

Williams gave up two hits and five earned runs with one strikeout, three walks and a hit batter.

Cain allowed five earned runs on five hits, five walks, and one hit batter.

The Jacksonville Senior team (7-11) lost its sixth-straight game in the last two weeks, falling 5-0 after a going into the fifth inning knotted at zero. The last three of that losing streak have been without several starters, who have been on vacation and will return to the team next week.

Two base hits and two Jacksonville errors led to a 3-0 lead for Searcy in the fifth inning. Four-consecutive singles in the sixth inning set the final margin.

The six singles in those two innings were the only six hits allowed by Gwatney pitcher Brandon Hickingbotham. He finished with five strikeouts, one walk and allowed two earned runs.

Austin Passmore threw a complete-game, three-hitter for Searcy. He finished with nine strikeouts and three walks. He was also the only player in the game to finish with multiple base hits, going 2 for 3 with two RBIs and one run scored.

Jacksonville’s Junior team will play a doubleheader at Benton starting at 2 p.m. today. The Junior and Senior teams will host Searcy on Tuesday, with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Weeks to make international debut

Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE – This summer, Lexi Weeks will pole vault internationally for Team USA.

Now which USA women’s team the University of Arkansas freshman from Cabot vaults for will be determined July 8 and 10, at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
Odds are Weeks will vault at the North American/Central American/Caribbean 23-under Games in July in El Salvador, rather than the Olympic Games in August in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

As the USA’s top two U.S women’s vaulters under 23, Weeks and Duke senior Megan Clark have been pre-selected for the NACAC meet.

Only the top three performers advance to the Olympics, and three competitors have gone higher than Weeks this year.

Sandi Morris, a 2015 University of Arkansas grad and former NCAA Indoor champion and NCAA Outdoor runner-up, jumped 16-feet, 2-inches to win the U.S. Indoor Championships this year. Demi Payne, who just graduated from Stephen F. Austin and missed the entire 2016 season with an injured thumb, was the 2015 NCAA Outdoor champion, and has hit 16-feet. There’s also 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr, who Morris beat in the U.S. Indoor Championships, but has since turned in the highest jump in the world so far this year at 16.6.

But if one or two of the top three “slips up,” then Compton calls Weeks, the 2016 NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor champion with a personal record 15-2 1-4, and former Razorback All-American April Steiner-Bennett, 36 but an Olympian, among the capable.

“Lexi is right there with everybody behind Jenn, Sandi and Demi,” Compton said. “I think she is going to be right there in the mix with the group behind them. And April is jumping well and you never count her out. She has been there and done that and made that (2008 U.S Olympic team) in Beijing.”
Weeks likely would feel conflicted if she gained an Olympic spot at the fourth-place expense of Morris or Steiner. She idolizes both, especially Morris, who is still training with Weeks under Compton.

“It’s incredible, jumping with someone of that caliber on top of the world every single day,” Weeks said. “She is such an inspiration I look up to.”

Every young woman vaulter in Arkansas it seemed grew up admiring April Steiner, Compton’s first great UA vaulter who periodically commutes back to Fayetteville to train.

“I trained with April for about a month when I first got here,” Weeks said. “She is also someone I look up to. Training with an Olympian is incredible.”

Training for the first time ever without her identical twin sister, Tori, is “a little sad,” Lexi said.

Tori’s Razorbacks’ season concluded at the NCAA Outdoor June 11 in Eugene.

If not for her sibling, Tori would have been college track’s outstanding freshman vaulter for 2016.

For while Lexi won the SEC Indoor and Outdoor and NCAA Indoor and Outdoor for Arkansas’ team SEC Indoor and Outdoor champions and NCAA Outdoor champion and NCAA Indoor runner-up and surpassed the Olympic standard 14-9, Tori indoors and outdoors vaulted a personal best 14-5 1-2. Tori placed third at the SEC Indoor, second at the SEC Outdoor and an All-American sixth at the NCAA Indoor.

“Every jump we ask each other, ‘How did that look?” Lexi said. “We always are encouraging each other and it will be strange not having her there. If I weren’t there everyone would say, ‘She’s had an amazing season for a freshman!”

Compton concurs.

“There are girls that pole vault for five years and never become an All-American,” Compton said.

The Weeks sisters conceivably could vault together at the 2020 Olympics, Lexi’s goal beyond what she and Compton regard as this year’s Olympic Trials bonus.

“I am not putting pressure on myself to go out and make the team,” Lexi said. “I am just excited that I can be there and compete with all the other top women in the country. I know it will help get me prepared four years from now in 2020. I think that will be my best shot at the Olympics.”

Morris doesn’t count out the freshman this Olympic year.

“She has jumped a little bit over 15 feet,” Morris said. “Let’s say she goes out and makes that same bar on her first attempt, that could make the Olympic team.”

Morris calls Lexi “amazing.”

“There are so many kids out there who have so much talent but they don’t know how to utilize it,” Morris said. “ Or they don’t care enough to utilize it. So it’s so amazing to see a kid at the very, very beginning of her college career already embracing the talent that she has been blessed with.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot, Beebe each earn one victory

Leader sportswriter

Cabot and Beebe split their Junior American Legion doubleheader Thursday night at the Cabot Sportsplex, with the Centennial Bank team winning the first game 2-1, and the Post 91-O’Reilly Auto Parts team taking game two by the final score of 5-2.

In game one, Cabot scored the only run it would need in the bottom of the first inning. Leadoff hitter Brian Tillery led off the inning with a double, and scored two batters later on a sac fly to center field by Michael Crumbly, giving Centennial Bank its 1-0 lead.

Cabot’s next and final run of game one came in the second inning. Starting pitcher Coy Lovercheck got things started with a two-out single, and Tillery was hit by a pitch to put two on for Centennial Bank. First baseman Caleb Wilson then came through with an RBI single that scored Lovercheck and put the hosts up 2-0.

Lovercheck held Beebe scoreless until the seventh inning. He struck out the first batter he faced in the top of the seventh, but leadoff hitter JT Nicholson hit a one-out triple to right field the following at-bat.

Blaine Burge then singled to left center to cut the deficit to 2-1. Lovercheck was relieved by Wilson after that, and the game ended with a fly-out to right field and a pop-up to second base.

Game two was scoreless after two innings of play, but Beebe struck first in the top of the third with three runs. Skylar Weidman walked to give Beebe its first base runner of the inning, and he advanced all the way to third on an errant pickoff play at first base.

Nicholson then hit another triple to score Weidman, and Nicholson scored the next at-bat on a Burge hit to first base that turned into an error. Alec Matlock followed that play with a single to left field.

Cabot got two consecutive outs after Matlock’s hit, but the next two Beebe batters walked to first load the bases and then score Burge for a 3-0 Beebe lead. Bryce Nance earned the RBI on the bases-loaded walk that scored Burge.

Centennial Bank answered with both of its runs in the bottom half of the inning. Gage Morrow led off the bottom of the third with a single to left field, and Jack Broyles reached on an E5 the next at-bat. Another throwing error on the same play, which resulted in the ball being hurled deep into the outfield, allowed Morrow and Broyles to score and make it a 3-2 ballgame.

Beebe, though, answered with two more runs in the top of the fourth. Weidman led off the inning with a triple to the fence in left field, and he scored on a Nicholson single to right the following at-bat.

Nicholson stole second base and advanced to third on a passed ball before scoring on a one-out single to center field by Matlock, setting the final score. Beebe relief pitcher Callie Neal struck out three of the four batters he faced in the bottom of the fourth, and after the third strikeout of the inning, the game was called because the one hour, 30-minute time limit expired.

“Man, the first game I just feel like we didn’t come out as focused as we should have,” said Beebe coach Tyler Burge, “but later on in the game we battled back and started scraping some things up. At the end of the day it was just too late. We just battled back a little too late.”

Tyler Burge did like what he saw from his three pitchers in game two.

“They threw really well,” Tyler Burge said. “We had a couple of miscues out there (in the field), but I feel like we did really well. The last guy (Neal), that’s maybe his third game to pitch and he threw really well.”

Like Tyler Burge, Cabot head coach David Smith saw things he liked from his group and things he didn’t, but Smith was pleased overall with the day his team had.

“Overall, I feel pretty good about it,” said Smith, “especially game one. With Coy Lovercheck coming in, he did a great job on the mound and then Caleb Wilson coming in and shutting it down. The one thing that we really need to keep working on and improving on is our approach at the plate.

“We struggle a little bit with that, and it showed in the first game, from innings three on. Their guy (Blaine Burge) settled in and did a great job of shutting us down a little bit there. But overall I was pleased.”

Lovercheck got the win on the mound in game one, throwing the first 6 1/3 innings and finishing with seven strikeouts. Wilson and Gino Germer led Cabot at the plate in game one with two hits apiece. Nicholson led Beebe in the first game with two hits – both triples.

Hayden Crafton started on the mound for Beebe in game two. He earned the win after throwing the first two innings. He struck out four, gave up one hit and no earned runs. Matlock and Neal pitched the next two innings to close that game.

Nicholson had two hits in game two as well, one of which was his third triple of the day. Matlock also had two hits in game two to lead Beebe. Cabot totaled just two hits in game two. Morrow singled and Austin Calhoun had a triple.

TOP STORY >> Veteran, alderman applauded

Leader staff writer

Former Alderman Lex “Butch” Davis, 71, who died in April, was honored Monday night at the Sherwood City Council meeting with a proclamation read by state Rep. Karilyn Brown.

The proclamation, signed by all local state legislators, applauded Davis for his service and leadership to Sherwood and his country.

The decorated veteran served as alderman from 1998 to 2010.

He served in the Army from 1961 to 1969 when he was honorably and medically discharged because of disabling injuries sustained in Vietnam. While in the service he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

According to the proclamation, Davis was the “personification of servant leadership, persistently gave of his time, talents and treasures to the people of the City of Sherwood, the Little Rock Air Force Base and all Central Arkansas Veterans.”

He was an inductee into the Arkansas Veterans Hall of Fame and an active and lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2935 in Sherwood. Davis was also instrumental in forming Sherwood’s annual parade saluting veterans.

“This proclamation recalls his magnificent life,” Brown said at the meeting.

Davis’ wife and family accepted the proclamation.

In other council business:

After debating for about 20 minutes, Sherwood aldermen approved the use of a metal façade for the new library.

The material will be used on a portion of the front and most of the back and sides where glass, or glazing, is not used.

Since the council re-vamped its construction ordinance after some aldermen disagreed with the metal façade choice Witt Davis used, all exterior building material not specifically approved in the existing ordinance must come before the council.

When Alderman Mary Jo Heye asked if the metal product was a cost-saving measure, the architect said it actually cost more than brick.

“If we used brick across the building instead of this metal the library would not be as thought provoking, cutting edge or forward looking,” said Alan New, the Taggart representative.

Resident Kyle Johnson was honored by the Sherwood Fire Department for his actions, which saved the lives of a young boy and an elderly woman when a fire broke out in their apartment back in April.

Recent Lisa Academy North High School graduate Jenny Finch, who also served as the vice president of the Mayor’s Youth Council, was presented with a $500 check to help with her college expenses. She was awarded the funds for her outstanding leadership both at school and as a member of the youth council.

Aldermen approved a conditional use request for the storage facility at 7225 Hwy. 107 to rent U-Haul trucks and allow the vehicles to be parked outside the storage facility’s fence after hours, if necessary.

The mayor suggested it is time to have a workshop to discuss funding possibilities for the completion of Maryland Avenue.

She said she knew there had been good discussion at the last few street committee meetings and that it is now time for the entire council to brainstorm.

Aldermen were in agreement, but no date was set.

TOP STORY >> New district celebrates its independence

Leader senior staff writer

Friday was Independence Day, but not the independence of this nation from Great Britain in 1776, that’s Monday, the Fourth of July.

But Jacksonville-area residents officially won independence from the Pulaski County Special School District at 12:01 a.m. Friday after 30 years of taxation without much representation.

If you think of it as the birth of the new standalone Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, the gestation period was about 30 years — a long and difficult labor by any standard.

Not everyone involved lived long enough to see Jacksonville with its own school district, but the struggle has passed from person to person and generation to generation.

A school district of its own has long been seen as the key to improving education for local children and as the answer to the long-stagnant growth of the area. Airmen and others moving to the area have often opted to locate in Cabot, Austin and Ward rather than send their children to the troubled PCSSD, embroiled in civil rights litigation.


“Now we’re totally separated,” said Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher. Every thing that happens now is about us. It’s our responsibility. We’re not the sidecar anymore,” hooked to PCSSD.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said School Board President Daniel Gray, who’s been among the navigators in the final run-up to a stand-alone district. “A lot of people put a lot of work into it. Truly this is just the beginning, there’s lot of work ahead. Now we can take care of our kids in our community.”

Six weeks from now, the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District will throw open its doors to students for the first time on Aug. 15.


A lot has happened to get to this day.

Former State Rep. Pat Bond and later her son Will Bond got laws amended to help make it possible.

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess and Joshua Intervenors attorneys app-roved language in the desegregation suit settlement that made a Jacksonville district possible, and then about 95 percent the people of the Jacksonville and north Pulaski County area voted to breakaway from PCSSD and have their own district.

A 7.6-mill property tax increase then passed by a much narrower margin—money with which to build a new high school and an elementary school.

Architects Witsell, Evans and Rasco was hired to begin planning those schools with the help of Baldwin and Shell Construction.


Asbestos abatement will begin soon in the old school buildings at the site of the future Jacksonville High School, expected to open in August 2019.

Bobby Lester came out of retirement to guide the appointed school board through the early stages of detachment from PCSSD. Lester laid out a schedule of dates and deadlines to be ready for the new district to stand alone this year, beginning now.

Following its election, a permanent school board hired Tony Wood, the former state Education Commissioner, as its first superintendent.

Wood began that job exactly a year ago, he said Friday.

“I came in on a Wednesday morning a year ago today,” Wood said Friday.


“It’s really comparable to a garden,” Wood said. “Each and every day you water, weed and nurture it, and see some growth. But go away and come back and look at the tremendous change.”

“Take stock of accomplishments of this group, the school board, with support of the community,” he said.

The district has a long-term facilities plan. It has passed two millages, drawn up attendance zones, extensive board policies and a parent-student handbook.

“We have employed 402 people,” Wood said, “through sheer effort that had to be brought to bear — especially in this county.” He said the board still needs to hire 28 more certified employees—mostly teachers.

Most districts have a minimal turnover from year to year, perhaps 10 percent, but JNPSD, starting from scratch, had to interview and vet enough people to fill about 450 jobs.

Hiring and student assignment to the various elementary schools had to satisfy the desegregation requirements.


“Now we’re starting to look at isolated details of being prepared to welcome kids back in six weeks,” he said.

Wood, seated in his office at the administration building — formerly the Jacksonville Police Department — pointed to the changes in that building since the city made it available to the district.

“There are just a lot of moving parts,” Wood said.

Receiving and rebranding 78 school buses from PCSSD, creating logistically sound bus routes, separation of property — books, computers, desks, for instance — financial transfers and the sale of school and support buildings by PCSSD to the new district.

We need to write PCSSD a check for those buildings, Wood said, about $10.3 million.

The positive thing has been the community support and hiring the professionals, but the challenge is the lack of having a history and having data.

While the district’s salary schedule is extremely competitive with area districts of similar size for new and less experienced teachers, at the top end it stops thousands of dollars a year short of competing with PCSSD.

Wood and the board say they would like to pay better at the top end, but lacking the history, they can’t commit to salaries that they may not be able to afford.

“Some challenges that await are not going to occur until school starts,” Wood said. “Looking at the capacity at different school sites—even with enrollment figures and with work on routing and transportation—some adjustments will probably need to be made.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

EDITORIAL >> North Metro heads south

(This editorial was the winner in last weekend’s Arkansas Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest in the large weekly category. The editorial appeared here on Sept. 19, 2015.)

North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville is in turmoil after two of its top administrators resigned when its Louisiana owners reinstated a doctor who was believed to be drunk on the job.

State Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) stepped down last week as the struggling hospital’s chief executive officer after he demanded the resignation of Dr. Tracy Phillips for allegedly drinking on the job as well as sexual misconduct.

Phillips initially complied and agreed to resign, but then, according to Farrer, he pleaded with Farrer’s superiors at Allegiance Health Management in Shreveport and was given back his job.

Farrer was fed up, and quit immediately, saying the doctor was likely to harm a patient and, “I could not in good conscience be a party to that. It’s a shame that one doctor could ruin it for everyone.”

Adding to the alarm, the hospital’s head nurse, Deb Bostic, also resigned on principle and criticized Allegiance’s competence. “I don’t believe they have the ethical and moral standards to run this hospital. They do not have the capacity to run a hospital,” she told The Leader.

The community’s faith in North Metro has never been weaker in large part to the bungling executives at Allegiance, who have so far refused to explain why a doctor believed drunk while handling patients was allowed to keep his job.

The problems keep piling up for Allegiance, and it’s not the first time a doctor at North Metro has raised unwanted attention.

Back in April, The Leader’s Rick Kron reported that another North Metro doctor, Jeffrey Summerhill, had been hired despite his problematic past, which included drinking on the job and improperly handling prescription drugs. Summerhill admitted to the state medical board that he had a drug problem after being accused of “being under the influence of alcohol while practicing medicine and he has exhibited excessive and intemperate use of scheduled medication and alcohol, and has endangered the public health, safety and welfare.”

Kron also reported that emergency-room doctors weren’t being paid on time, and the hospital switched its insurance providers without notifying employees, and that North Metro even owed the city more than $20,000 in past-due water bills as recently as last year.

Allegiance executives claimed the hospital’s payroll company was to blame for the late checks, but Allegiance’s top executives run the payroll firm.

Another questionable practice that’s come to light is an insurance company, also controlled by Allegiance, selling health plans to North Metro employees, which may well be a conflict of interest.

An Allegiance hospital in Hattiesburg, Miss., was found to have fraudulently received Medicare reimbursements for services that weren’t needed. A whistleblower is set to receive $3.5 million for tipping off the federal government to that activity.

These are all bad signs that North Metro is rudderless while in Allegiance’s care.

Farrer’s predecessor, Cindy Stafford, was fired soon after Kron’s story last spring. She was a nurse who knew how to manage a hospital. She was always available for interviews and explained in detail how the hospital was beginning to improve. Perhaps Allegiance should reinstate her, but why would she come back?

Allegiance bosses probably thought they could blame Stafford for the problems. If so, they failed. The community knows that Allegiance is ultimately running things at North Metro.

She, too, blasted Allegiance after her dismissal.

Stafford was replaced with Farrer, a key member of the House of Representatives and a physical therapist. It was a savvy promotion that lent North Metro desperately needed credibility.

Farrer thinks the hospital’s problems could force it to close someday. “I took the job of CEO to save the hospital and to help keep 350 people employed,” he told us.

Farrer knew what the public would think if another inebriated doctor was found working at the hospital. What if on-the-job drunkenness harmed patients?

For Allegiance, though, these troubled doctors are probably a bargain and paid less than what their more distinguished colleagues earn in Little Rock at UAMS, Baptist Health or St. Vincent’s, or at Unity Health in Searcy.

For now, North Metro’s chief financial officer, Mike Randle, an accountant who graduated from Grambling State University in 1991, has taken the reins. He hasn’t returned The Leader’s calls to explain his new role or how he can clean up the frat-house atmosphere at the hospital.

Construction on a new medical complex across the street is set to begin within months. That may be too much competition for North Metro. The developer should find a way to include an emergency room if Allegiance fails.

Jacksonville and Cabot city officials and our state legislators should be discussing backup plans if North Metro does close. Its emergency room serves both communities, as well as Little Rock Air Force Base. They should talk to paramedics and emergency responders about what it will be like when they have to drive to St. Vincent’s in Sherwood or Baptist North in North Little Rock. Survival rates will decline, along with both cities’ images.

TOP STORY >> Funeral director is found innocent

Leader senior staff writer

It took a jury of eight women and four men about an hour late Tuesday afternoon to acquit former Arkansas Funeral Care director Edward Snow, 61, of Cabot, of eight abuse-of-corpse charges in Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s court.

Abuse of a corpse is a Class C felony, and Snow faced up to 80 years in prison and $80,000 in fines if convicted.

The defense rested without calling witnesses.

The jury was left to determine whether or not the apparent neglect of eight corpses at the Jacksonville funeral home rose to standard of abuse of a corpse and if so, whether Snow or owner Leroy Wood and his son Rodney were ultimately responsible for actions taken.

Leslie Stokes, then an investigator for the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, found corpses in various state of decay when she entered the business in early January 2015.

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

“Coffee cans with deodorizer were placed next to bodies to help with the odor in the room.”

Wood, 87, of Jacksonville and his son Rodney, 62, of Heber Springs, accepted a plea agreement, avoiding both prison and a fine, although the business was fined $50,000.

Snow declined a plea deal that would have included prison time.

In closing statements, the defense attorney Lee Short argued that neglect does not meet the standard of abuse of a corpse, while Pulaski County Deputy Prosecutor Tonia Acker, armed with gruesome 8x10 color photographs, argued that’s exactly what it is.

Under Arkansas law, it would be abuse of a corpse were handled:

“In a manner offensive to a person of reasonable sensibilities” (including) without limitation the dismembering, submerging or burning of a corpse.

Short added that it requires an affirmative action on the part of the person alleged to have committed it.

He argued that failing to cremate, embalm or bury a body is not such an affirmative action.

TOP STORY >> Mother recalls end of horror

Leader executive editor

(This column from April 18, 2015, was the winner in the large weekly category at last weekend’s Arkansas Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest.)

“They have said, ‘Come, let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.” Psalms, 83:5

My 89-year-old mother spoke on Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday at the assisted-living facility in Florida where she lives. She spoke for 10 minutes about the horrors of the concentration camps, as did another survivor, a man who is a couple of years older than my mother.

There are several others at the residence who survived Auschwitz, but they no longer talk about the past. My mother still remembers the names of the concentration camps where she was imprisoned, first Auschwitz, then Frankfurt, Ravensbruck and finally Bergen-Belsen. “The past is with me every day,” she says.

She was there on April 15, 1945, when the British army entered Bergen-Belsen in northwest Germany. I told her that Wednesday was the 70th anniversary of her liberation, when she was 19. At first she didn’t believe me, and then she added up the years in her mind and said, “That’s right.”

Bergen was the first camp liberated by the Western allies, who were stunned when they found thousands of people dead from hunger, overcrowding, hard labor, typhus and other diseases.

An estimated 35,000-40,000 died in Bergen-Belsen, many of them executed by orders of Josef Kramer, the commandant, who had the vicious look of dozens of serial killers you see in the news all the time. Kramer was tried and hanged in 1946.

Anne Frank and her sister died from typhus in Bergen a few weeks before liberation. “One day they simply weren’t there anymore,” one survivor recalled. Victims died from typhus 12 days after they showed their first symptoms.

My mother was too weak to walk after her liberation, and she remembers seeing corpses all around her. But she insists she never lost her faith in God. She heard the birds singing outside the camps and daydreamed about seeing them someday on the other side of the fence.

In her short memoir of surviving the camps, she writes of hearing the British approaching Belsen and the German guards running away.

“The next day, April 15, Sunday, I was lying down — I couldn’t move. We didn’t have food; I felt very weak. I heard the girls saying they will be here soon. We will be free; we will be liberated soon. When I heard that I said, my God, don’t let me die now. Maybe it is true; maybe the Germans left.

“So, a few hours later, early afternoon, the big miracle happened. I saw the first tank with the soldiers. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of the British army liberated Bergen-Belsen, the death camp. The girls who could walk, they jumped on the tanks. They were crying and laughing and hugging each other. I was just lying on the ground. I was happy and sad, and the truth is, I didn’t understand the whole thing.

“I was there a couple of hours, then I thought I should move from here because it is spring. It can rain, then what will I do? So slowly I started to crawl and I got in the warehouse. There was lots of clothing — the SS uniforms, the long winter coats with fur linings. I lay down on that and I was lying and thinking. I was so mixed up with my feelings. I was very weak. I didn’t know how long we didn’t eat. I think I fell asleep for a little while.

“All of a sudden I heard a man’s voice. He asked in Hungarian, ‘Is anybody here?’ I got scared. I didn’t see him because I was lying down. I was afraid to answer. Then he said, ‘I want to help you.’ Then I answered. I said, ‘Hurry up, I am sick.’ I told him I am in the left corner of the room. He found me and he came closer. He asked my name and from where I came. I told him and he said where he is from Hungary. His village wasn’t far from Nyirtura, where I was born. I looked at him and noticed a Star of David on his uniform’s arm. He explained to me he left Hungary illegally and went to Palestine and from there he voluntarily went to the English army — that was the International Jewish Brigade. They went to fight and they defeated the Nazi monsters together with the allies.

“I was so amazed. The first soldier, the first liberator whom I saw, was a Hungarian Jew from my part of the country. He felt very sad about what he saw. They saw many terrible camps, but Bergen-Belsen was one of the worst.

“He gave me a piece of chocolate and some cookies. It was a lifesaver to me.

“He asked me about his mother. He told me her name and asked if somewhere I was with her. But I wasn’t. He heard what they did in Auschwitz.”

He thought his mother was also sent to Auschwitz like my mother and her family. They all perished in the gas chamber soon after they arrived in the most notorious death camp, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered.

“He left,” my mother continues in her memoir, “and soon I heard the microphone, the loudspeaker in every language. Attention, Achtung, Uraga, Pozor — then in Hun-garian, ‘Figelem, Figelem. Attention, Attention. All the prisoners in Bergen-Belsen who suffered so much, you are all free now. The British army has liberated our lager.”

Three weeks later, on May 5, 1945, a group of black American soldiers entered Mauthausen concentration camp as Patton’s Third Army swept through Austria and into Germany.

My father and his cousins were among the survivors. He passed away almost eight years ago, having outlived most of the Nazis, as have my mother and another survivor who is 84 years old.

In November 1944 in Budapest, Hungary, when this survivor was only 14, a group of local Nazi thugs took her away, along with 19 other children from a so-called Swedish house that enjoyed the protection of the Swedish government.

The children were to be shot on the banks of the Danube, their bodies tossed into the river. They stood at the river when a couple of men working for the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg drove up in a car and told the fascists to let the girls go.

The Germans went along with the Swedes who offered asylum to the persecuted, but the men at the river were local Nazis. The 14-year-old girl heard the Swedes call out her name and she ran toward the car and escaped with the men, while the other children were murdered and thrown in the river.

A monument honors those victims, along with hundreds of empty shoes they were forced to take off before they were killed.

Raoul Wallenberg rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews and is honored at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. The Soviets kidnapped him after the Red Army entered Budapest in January 1945. He was executed in Moscow a few years later.

“Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.”

(Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)

TOP STORY >> French medals for vets

Leader staff writer

A dozen Second World War veterans from Arkansas, including one from Jacksonville, received the French Legion of Honor medal during a special ceremony Monday at the state Capitol rotunda in Little Rock.

Honorary Consul of France Beatrice Moore presented the Legion of Honor medals, the highest medal presented by the French government.

Receiving the French Legion of Honor Medals were Wilmer Plate of Jacksonville, Coy Buford of Stephens, Alice Beatty of Conway, Kenneth Evans of North Little Rock, David Huckabay of Paragould, Alvin McCarn of Mountain View, Russell Salento of Bella Vista, James Siler of Bradford, Kenneth Smith of Searcy, Chester Treadwell of Clinton, Elzer Tucker of Lowell and Earnest Yarbrough of White Hall.

Plate, 97, told The Leader, “I’m highly honored to receive the medal. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Tears came to my eyes when I remembered some of things that happened.”

Plate, a bomber pilot, recently published an autobiography, “The Storm Clouds of War,” about his combat experience flying B-24 Liberators during the war.

Plate, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, flew 31 missions with the 489th Bomb Group’s 10-men crew over Germany and France from May 30 to Sept. 27, 1944.

Two of those missions were on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when their plane returned to England with 300-plus holes. It did not fly again.

Plate was wounded in an aircraft crash in October 1944 in England when returning from a mission delivering fuel to Gen. George Patton’s advancing army.

One of Plate’s memories of France was during a mission seeing the French citizens rush to the bomber when they unloaded supplies. The French greeted them with handshakes and hugs.

Plate had grown up as a farmer and at age 25 needing employment he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. He already had experience flying small civilian planes.

Plate got out of the service in August 1945. He returned in 1947 enlisting as an aircraft mechanic. He retired from the Air Force Reserves in 1971 after a 30-year career.

He and his wife, Helen, moved to Jacksonville in 2008 to be near family. They were together for 71 years until she passed away in 2011.

Plate was awarded many service medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.

Moore, the honorary consul, said, “The French authorities decided to give the Legion of Honor to all Americans veterans who fought in at least one of the three major campaigns for the liberation of France. Today we must remember all the World War Two veterans and the unique comradery between French and American soldiers.”

“These veterans today were just 18 to 25 years old when the landed on Omaha Beach. They were just kids and most were farmers,” Moore said.

She said France is free because of their bravery and that France honors their sacrifice and remembers their comrades who died in battle.

“Today, more than ever, we need our two nations to stand together, because there is another war in front of us,” the honorary consul said.

First Dist. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) and Second Dist. Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.)read the names of the honorees. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin also attended.

TOP STORY >> Paper does it again

Leader staff writer

“Aggressive reporting at this paper leads to aggressive editorials,” the judges said as The Leader was named the best large weekly newspaper in the state by the Arkansas Press Association.

Besides winning the General Excellence award (best in state) now eight out of the past nine years, The Leader garnered 30 other awards at the annual state press convention in Bentonville on Saturday. The paper took 14 first-place awards, including top honors in editorial writing, sports writing, investigative reporting, photography and design. The paper also won eight second-place honors, seven third-place awards and one honorable mention.

More than 30 weekly newspapers submitted over 1,000 entries that were judged by members of the Nebraska Press Association.

Publisher Garrick Feldman took home the top prize in the news/political column category and the general interest column competition. Judges called Feldman’s political column, “Apocalypse in age of horror,” “Dynamite! Well written.” Judges said his general interest column about his “Mother recalls end of horror,” a “great column about your mother’s remarkable life and everything she survived.”

Editor Jonathan Feldman took first and second place in editorial writing with his thoughts on North Metro Medical Center and former Lonoke County Assessor Jack McNally.

Commenting on the North Metro editorial, the judges called Jonathan Feldman’s writing a “strong stand on a most important issue. Lots of details give the reader clear understanding and backs the editorial’s bite.”

“Wow! So much dirt aired on the editorial page,” the judges said about the Jack McNally piece. “What an indictment on Arkansas politics. No doubt this paper’s editorials are consistently a must-read!”

Reporter Sarah Campbell took top honors with her coverage of a local funeral home and its legal issues. Fellow reporter Rick Kron took second with his ongoing coverage of North Metro Medical Center.

Judges called Campbell’s series “well researched and written.” They said Kron’s hospital articles were “interesting stories” and added, “hope I don’t need medical attention in Arkansas any time soon.”

The paper’s senior staff writer John Hofheimer took first for his in-depth coverage of the formation and growth from infancy of the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

Sports editor Ray Benton took home blue ribbons for sports news, sports column writing and best sports page. Judges call his news story, “Twins finish first, second by one point,” an enjoyable read. Judges said it was a “neat story about the girls and the family lines in the event. Well written and the visuals added depth to the story. Very nice.”

Benton’s sports column “Alleged killer squandered unique talent,” was called great by the judges. “Best of a talented lot by the writer,” they said. The judges said Benton’s sports pages had “great photos and he had consistently clean, good-looking pages.”

Kron took first place in the humor writing category with his column about the calls the Butterball turkey line gets every year. “A very funny column. It makes me appreciate my mother and grandmother’s fine cooking on Turkey Day,” the judge said.

The Leader also took first and third place in freelance writing with articles that were written by Little Rock Air Force Base members Kaylee Clark and Regina Edwards.

Clark’s article, “Taking it to the woods,” was called excellent by the judges. “Great lead that sets the stage for the remainder of the article. Wonderful use of visual language. Solid writing,” the judges said in making their selection.

“Cancer stories tug at the heart. Very relatable,” the judges said of Edwards’ article, “Shut up and color.”

Photographer David Scolli scored blue ribbons with his single news photograph of a fatal fire and his single sports action shot of a Cabot quarterback.

Judges said Scolli’s news photo of a father and son embracing after a fatal fire told the “story of grief and heartbreak. A great shot.”

Judges called Scolli’s sports photo “great timing to capture an awesome play.”

Creative editor Christy Hendricks took first with the best graphic design portfolio. “Great photos and good use of type to make main packages standout even more,” the judges said.

Reporters Jeffrey Smith, Hofheimer and Campbell teamed up to take first in the coverage of business and agriculture by submitting a variety of articles. Judges liked the reporting because it showed enterprise and was not run-of-the-mill ribbon cuttings or new business stories.

Other awards received by the newspaper staff included:

A second place award to Smith in the news story category for his article, “Judge leaving bench for his upcoming trial.

Kron took third and received an honorable mention in the feature story category for his articles about a baby born in an ice storm in the parking lot of North Metro hospital and a mother getting to hear her deceased son’s heart again after it was successfully transplanted into a young woman.

Sports writer Graham Powell netted second place honors in both sports news and sports feature writing. Judges called his sports news story about a girl grappler a “really unique story that was put together well.

Not only did Garrick Feldman take the blue ribbon in the general interest column category he also garnered a third place plaque for his column, “Lehoczky: A class act and witness to history.”

Scolli also scored second place finishes in the single feature and single sports action photograph categories.

Smith, who works as a reporter and photographer, grabbed third in the single feature photograph with his photograph of a color run.

The newspaper placed third in competition for best front page.

Hofheimer, Campbell, Smith and Kron, as a team, took third place for education coverage and were third in tourism coverage.

They took second place in health and medical coverage.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney Juniors win big over Bears

Leader sportswriter

The Gwatney Chevrolet Junior American Legion team cruised in their game against Sylvan Hills Monday night at Mike Bromley Field in Sherwood, scoring eight runs in the first two innings en route to a 12-2 win.

Six of Jacksonville’s 12 runs came in the first inning, and all six came with two outs. Trent Toney singled the second at-bat of the game for the first hit of the night, but went back to the dugout the next at-bat on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Caden Sample.

Starting pitcher Foster Rash then walked before Axton Ramick delivered an RBI single. Joe Cummings and Robert Johnson reached base consecutively before catcher Jayden Loving and Isaiah Cain followed with back-to-back RBI singles, giving the Chevy Boys a 6-0 lead.

After Rash and Jacksonville’s defense held the Bears off the board in the bottom half of the inning, Gwatney added their next two runs in the top of the second. Sample got things started that inning with a one-out triple, and Rash followed with an RBI double that put the Jacksonville juniors up 7-0.

Ramick then flew out to right field for the second out of the inning, but Cummings followed with an RBI single to drive in Peyton Williams, Rash’s courtesy runner, giving Jacksonville its 8-0 lead.

The junior varsity Bears scored both of their runs in the bottom of the third. Sylvan Hills’ first run of the night came on an RBI triple by Dylan Smith. Gage Taylor hit into a 6-2 fielder’s choice two batters later, and advanced to second base on a wild pitch with teammate Payton Terry at the plate.

Terry then hit a two-out triple to left field, scoring Taylor and cutting the Jacksonville lead to 8-2. After Terry slid into third base, lightning struck nearby and put the game to a halt at 6:30. Play resumed 47 minutes later, but a 6-3 groundout the first at-bat after the lightning delay ended the third inning with the score 8-2.

In the top of the fourth, Jacksonville scored the remainder of its runs. The inning began with four-straight walks. Ramick’s gave him an easy RBI as Caleb Anderson scored for a 9-2 Jacksonville lead.

After Ramick’s walk, Cummings singled to straightaway center field to drive in two more runs. Sample and Williams scored on the play, putting Jacksonville on top 11-2. The final run of the inning came on a two-out, RBI single to left field by leadoff hitter Kameron Whitmore.

Cummings scored on Whitmore’s RBI hit, and Jacksonville held Sylvan Hills scoreless in the bottom of the fourth to end the game on the 10-run sportsmanship rule.

Rash earned the win on the hill for the Chevy Boys. He threw the first three innings before being relieved by Sample at the start of the fourth. Rash gave up just two hits in his three innings of work, striking out two and walking only one batter. Sample gave up no hits in the fourth inning, and had one strikeout and one walk.

Jacksonville had eight different players get a base hit Monday – Whitmore, Toney, Sample, Rash, Ramick, Cummings, Loving and Cain.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot prevails at Jacksonville tournament

Leader sports editor

Cabot-Centennial Bank knocked off defending tournament champion Conway on Sunday to claim the first-place trophy in Jacksonville’s FDH Investments Senior American Legion Classic.

The Cougars scored two runs in the top of the first inning thanks to two hits and two Cabot errors, but the Centennial Bank squad scored five in the fifth inning to take a 6-2 lead that was also the final score.

Cabot needed a little help getting to the championship game after losing in pool play to Magnet Cove 9-8 on Friday. But Searcy, who Cabot beat 8-0, upset the Black Cats 9-6 on Saturday. That created a situation where all three teams in the pool finished 1-1, and Cabot got the tiebreaker by virtue of fewest runs allowed.

“I like how our guys bounced back,” said Cabot coach Casey Vaughan. “We had a bad inning. We lost it. That’s just baseball.

“We came out today a little flat, but we got a couple of big-time hits, got our guys jacked up and were able to finish it off.”

Logan Gilbertson started on the mound for Cabot. His first inning was his worst, but neither run was earned. After starting with a strikeout, Josh Walker singled to left field. Gilbertson got Christian Hamilton to hit into what should’ve been an easy, inning-ending double play, but the throw from third to second sailed into right field, leaving runners safe at first and third.

Cleanup hitter David Beck then bounced a double off the fence in right field to score Walker and leave runners in scoring position. Gilbertson then struck out Eli Davis on a breaking ball in the dirt, but the throw to first was wide, leaving Davis safe at first, Beck safe at third and scoring Hamilton.

A wild pitch turned into a break for Cabot. Beck tried to score when the ball got past Logan Edmondson, but it careened off the bottom brace of the fence and back towards home plate. Edmondson scooped it up in plenty of time to toss to Gilbertson for the second out of the inning.

Brian Dumas then grounded out to end the bad opening frame for the Centennial squad.

Cabot (6-9) got one back in the bottom of the first when Easton Seidl singled to left field to score Edmondson, who had singled earlier in the inning.

The score stayed 2-1 until Cabot’s big fifth inning, and Seidl got that one started as well with a leadoff single to right. Gavin Tillery grounded to second base for what should’ve been a double play, but the ball was missed by Walker. Koleton Eastham singled to shallow center field to load the bases for Gino Germer, who had taken over on the mound for Gilbertson in the top half of the fifth.

The left-hander pulled a line drive to the fence down the right-field line for a three-RBI, stand-up double that gave Cabot a 4-2 lead.

Jack Broyles walked with one out, and Brian Tillery reached on an error at shortstop to load the bases again. Edmondson then hit a two-RBI single that scored Germer and Broyles and set the final margin.

Gilbertson threw four complete innings. He gave up only three hits and no earned runs, but had to settle for the no decision.

Germer got the win in three innings of relief. He gave up one hit and no runs. He was also good at the plate the entire tournament. He finished the three games at Dupree Park going 5 for 9 with a double and five RBIs and four runs scored.

“He’s one of the unsung heroes for us,” Vaughan said of Germer. “He’s one of those guys who keeps his mouth shut, plays baseball the way it’s supposed to be played and he’s having a lot of success.

“I really feel like the whole team is playing at a high level right now because we’re playing as a team. We weren’t doing that early and it’s been fun watching the transition and seeing the success they’re starting to have.”

Cabot hosts Morrilton at 6 p.m. tonight at the Cabot Sportsplex. The Centennial Bank Junior team will host a doubleheader with Beebe at the same place and time on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Jumping Jeff rests for Trials in Eugene

Leader sports editor

Two years removed from winning the United States Outdoor Championships, and almost a year since winning Gold in the Pan Am Games in Toronto, world-class long jumper Jeff Henderson prepares for the biggest meet of his life when he hits the runway on Saturday and tries to become a member of the United States Olympic team.

The U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field begin Friday, and the men’s long jump qualifying round starts at 11:45 a.m. in Eugene, Ore.

2016 has already been a whirlwind year for the 2007 Sylvan Hills graduate and resident of McAlmont. After years spent as an IAFF supported athlete, he finally received a sponsorship contract from Adidas after winning the Pan Am Games. It wasn’t an NBA superstar level contract, but it does pay Henderson $70,000 a year to wear Adidas apparel when he competes.

He has also been on a tour of sorts through the NFL, visiting several training facilities and working out for teams interested in his speed. He has had multiple workouts with the Kansas City Chiefs, who seem to be the team most interested.

Henderson hasn’t jumped the distances in 2016 that he did in the two previous years. He’s only competed in two major events this year, and has been around 26-feet in both of them. He jumped more than 28 feet to win the Pan Am Games.

Henderson declined an interview so he could remain focused on training, but his coach, 1984 Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner, was available, and has no concerns about Henderson’s short distances in recent meets.

“There were a couple factors involved in that,” said Joyner. “He had put on weight to go around to these NFL teams. He was up over 195 pounds. They were also meets where we weren’t as concerned as much with winning as we were working on some new techniques. We’re focused now. We have our game plan, and he is, as the old saying goes, back down to his fighting weight.”

For the final week leading up to the trials, Henderson is on what Joyner calls “active rest”. The tough part of training over and his body is gathering strength for the big event.

“It’s not a case where he’s doing nothing but resting,” Joyner said. “It’s just that the grind is over. He’s doing light exercise, eating right, focusing mentally. It’s just at this level his body has to be rested to be at full strength. That’s just the nature of it at this elite level.”

If anyone knows what it takes to peak at the right moment, it’s Joyner. Not only an Olympic champion himself in 1984, he also trained his late wife Florence Griffith-Joyner, who won three Olympic Gold Medals and set two, still unbeaten world records in the 1988 Olympics. He is also older brother to two two-time Olympic heptathlon champion and world record holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Joyner was a star athlete at Lincoln High School in East St. Louis before going to Arkansas State University and winning six NCAA triple jump championships, three each in indoor and outdoor competition.

He says Henderson is at that same level of talent that he, his wife and sister were.

“He is the best pure athlete I have trained since my wife,” Joyner told The Leader in a previous interview.

Joyner knows Jeff’s distances so far this year probably won’t land him a spot on the team, but he’s confident his charge is peaking at the right time.

“We’re not worried about winning,” Joyner said. “This is not the Olympics. This is just the trials. We want top three, but it’s probably going to take jumping up around 28 feet to get top three. But he’s ready to do it. He’s the best long jumper in the world. He just has to focus and get it when it counts. Those meets earlier didn’t mean anything. This is the biggest event of his life and he’s ready. Right after it’s over, there will be an even bigger one waiting.

“As kind of an Arkansas guy myself, I’m proud he comes from Arkansas, and I hope the people of central Arkansas will rally around and support him. They might just have an Olympic champion.”

SPORTS STORY >> First gridiron Red Devils unite

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville High School class of 1951 had its 65th reunion Saturday at Taylor Farms, and included in that group were two of the remaining members of the first-ever JHS Red Devil football team.

The football program at JHS began in the fall of 1948. The Red Devils’ roster that year was around 30 players, not bad numbers for a first-year program during that decade. But only one player on the team had ever played football before that season. As expected, the lack of experience led to a tough inaugural season for the team and first-year coach Fred Higginbotham.

Two members of that team were on hand at Taylor Farms on Saturday, and two others who joined the team in 1949 and helped make up the first group of senior Red Devil football players were as well.

Original members were Bill Arrington and John Parks. Roy Huddle and Harold Sneed joined the team as juniors.

“We had one young man named Ed Tompkins who played football before,” said Arrington, a sophomore running back/quarterback on that first JHS football team. “Coach Fred Higginbotham, from Ruston, Louisiana, was our coach. He never coached before, so we started out fairly slowly.”

The Red Devils tied Bismarck 7-7 that first season, but didn’t come away with any wins in the eight games they played. The second year, the team showed signs of improvement, winning two out of 10 games.

In the third year, however, Arrington and the rest of the JHS seniors led the team to a 7-1 start, and the Red Devils finished the 1950 season with an impressive 10-2 record.

Getting a 10-win season in the program’s third year isn’t too shabby, but it took a lot of work and effort to get there. There were no home games for Jacksonville on Friday nights in 1948. The first home games were played where the old JHS playground used to be, a very hard and unforgiving surface.

Then the first stadium was built to host JHS football games shortly after. That stadium is now the junior high football field. It’s a stadium and program the Red Devil players literally helped build, and just getting to practice day in and day out also took some effort.

“Each day after school was over, all of us walked about the two miles to the practice field and then we had practice,” Arrington recalled. “But then again we had home games since we had a field. A lot of us worked to put up the fence, the lights and all those things, so we could have a football team.”

A lot of teaching was involved in practice sessions that first year, along with a lot of drills to both teach and get the players in shape.

“We did a lot of drills,” Arrington said. “Coach Higginbotham was a hard-nosed football coach – took nothing off anyone and got us in real good shape. I can still remember one practice session; we always did a lot of exercises. Some of the guys were goofing off during the warm-up practice drill, (coach Higginbotham) said, ‘You’re gonna do one more. One more time.’

“Every time he said that, in my mind I said if he makes us do it again I’m going to quit. I didn’t come close to quitting because he made us do it again another 10, 15 times, but I wasn’t even close to quitting because you didn’t enjoy the practice but we certainly enjoyed the games enough to continue playing.”

It was a feeling the majority of the JHS players shared, and the tight-knit group stuck through the hard times. The hard work didn’t pay off right away, but it certainly did that 1950 season.

“I don’t remember anyone ever quitting,” Arrington said. “Surely (there were some that) did, but I can’t remember if they did. It was kind of like this class (’51), it was really a close group. We had guys that kidded a lot, had a lot of great people. If you couldn’t take kidding you had no place.

“We have (class) reunions at least every five years and they’re considering they may want to have it every year. So it is a very close class, and that makes a difference.”

Parks was a right tackle during his JHS playing days. Sneed played at the other tackle spot and also at end on Higginbotham’s five-front defense.

Huddle was a fullback and Arrington a full-time halfback by his senior year. Arrington was later inducted into the JHS sports hall of fame and is also in the Ouachita Baptist University sports hall of fame.

Arrington was actually offered a Major League Baseball contract with the New York Giants out of high school, but instead wanted to go to college, where he lettered in five sports at OBU – football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and track and field.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of great teammates, a lot of fun,” Arrington said. “I was fortunate enough to go on and play college football. I coached for nine years before I went back and finished my college degree, and I was a university professor after that.”

In 1950, Arrington was one of the leaders in the JHS backfield under Higginbotham’s modified T offense. Though it was a run-oriented offense, the Red Devils did pass quite a bit out of that formation, keeping the offense more balanced and, as a result, opposing defenses honest.

Arrington split time at quarterback with Joe Barnwell in the fall of ’48, but shifted to halfback by his senior year and Barnwell took the snaps full-time throughout the very successful 1950 season.

“The first year, Joe and I both were quarterbacks,” Arrington said, “and they moved me to halfback and Joe took over as quarterback – tremendous arm. He couldn’t throw it long, but very accurate for 30 yards down. So we threw the football quite a lot.”

Barnwell threw it well, throwing for double-digit touchdowns in 1950.

“I don’t believe we ever split anyone out,” Arrington said of the offense. “We probably should have, but they didn’t have the wide-open formations that they do now. Naturally, if we were running well, we’d kind of stay with whatever was working. Coach Higginbotham was good with that.”

It was a unique experience for the first football players to ever play three full seasons at Jacksonville High School, and a lot of good memories were made during that span, and going out with a 10-win season was a good way for the class of 1951 to leave their mark on the school and the Red Devils football program, and Arrington said it took a lot of good guys and a good coach to get them there.

“It was tough the first year because, naturally, you’re always the underdog and we were very inexperienced,” Arrington said. “After that, though, we were competitive – a lot of good guys, and a good coach. Coach Higginbotham did a great job.”