Saturday, October 01, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits hammer Eagles in league play

Special to The Leader

The Lonoke Jack-rabbits traveled to Baptist Prep in Little Rock Friday night and picked up a much needed conference victory by a score of 33-7. It was the first game with Taggert Moore at the helm as interim coach after the resignation of head coach Doug Bost on Tuesday. The Jackrabbit offense picked up four touchdowns in the first half, while the defense held the Eagles to 23 first half yards.

“They brought the energy,” said Coach Moore. “I told them all week, just bring the energy, we’re a family. They did more than I could ever have wished for. They love each other, they love this coaching staff, the coaching staff loves them. We’re back on track.

“Coach Keith put a great game plan in. He called all the plays. He absolutely did a great job on offense tonight. Defensively, we told them if they would play disciplined, that we would be just fine. Those guys came out and played disciplined. They went right to their man, right when they had to on that triple option stuff. They didn’t try to do too much. They did their job, all eleven of them, and that’s why we had the success. All eleven of those guys worked as one tonight, and I’m proud of them for that.”

Lonoke had first possession and good field position on its 46-yard line. Quarterback Logan Dozier and Xavier Hodge carried the ball down the field, moving the first down markers three times for a first and ten on the 11-yard line. The drive was completed with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Dozier to Ethan Mulligan in the corner of the end zone. The extra point was blocked, but the Jackrabbits had the 6-0 lead with 5:24 remaining in the opening quarter.

The next Lonoke score was set up by a 40-yard scamper by Hodge to the Eagle 10-yard line. On fourth down at the three, Hodge finished the drive with the touchdown for the 12-0 advantage with 1:16 left in the quarter.

The teams exchanged punts and Baptist Prep turned the ball over on downs before the Jackrabbits next scoring drive. Again, it was Dozier and Hodge on the carries, but a nine-yard completion from Dozier to Isaac Toney gave Lonoke a first down on the 12-yard line. Hodge took it in from there for the score. The extra point was good by Mario Reyes, and the lead grew to 19-0 with 4:39 to go in the half.

The Eagles attempted a pass on the first play of their possession, but it was picked off by Kameron Cole for another scoring opportunity for the Jackrabbits. A pass interference call on the Eagles in the end zone and an offside penalty gave Lonoke first and goal on the 9-yard line. Dozier took it 3 yards, Hodge 5, and Dozier the final yard for the touchdown. Reyes was good on the point after, and the lead was 26-0 with 0:25 on the clock.

Baptist Prep put together a 47-yard drive to start the second half, but stalled and turned the ball over on downs. Luke Vaden had most of the carries on the drive.

Lonoke’s score this time came on the arm of Dozier, as he hit Cole for a 57-yard touchdown pass. Reyes added the extra point, and the score was 33-0 with 4:51 in the third.

The Eagles only scoring drive came next as Vaden and quarterback Dylan Hogan moved the ball from their own 40-yard line to the end zone. Hogan was the one to carry the ball in from nine yards out. The extra point was good by Brennan Deal and Baptist Prep was on the scoreboard, 33-7, with 10:09 remaining in the contest.

The Jackrabbits finished the night with 290 yards of offense. Baptist Prep had 167 yards in the second half for a total of 190 yards.

Hodge had 113 yards rushing, 14 yards receiving and two touchdowns for Lonoke. Dozier had two passing touchdowns and rushed for one.

The Jackrabbits will host Southside-Batesville Friday night.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears get second revenge victory

Leader staff writer

Big plays and missed tackles made for a tit-for-tat game between Sylvan Hills and Little Rock Christian that wasn’t decided until the final few minutes of the game.

The Bears scored a touchdown at the 2:46 mark of the fourth quarter to pull off a hard fought 42 to 35 victory over the Warriors.

The win moves the Bears to a 5-0 record and the Warriors fell to 1-4.

“I knew we needed to play well,” said Bears coach Jim Withrow said after the game. “I wasn’t shocked that it was close. They have a lot of talent. We just kept hanging in there.”

Meeting with the team after the game Withrow told the Bears that he was proud of them. “You are good but we want to be special. This is the best chance we’ve had in 10 years to be in the playoffs and host a playoff game. But It’s not about you, it’s about us. We need to do it together.”

There was only one punt the entire game and that was by the Warriors. Every other change of possession was either because of a score or turnover on downs.

Sylvan Hills got on the board first late in the first quarter behind runs by quarterback Jordan Washington, completed passes to Ryan Lumpkin and a 36-yard run into the end zone by Delyn Fairrow.

There was a lot of good tackling early by cornerback Fred Mackey and defensive end Cole Miller to stopped Little Rock Christian drives.

But after the Bears got on the scoreboard the Warriors came back with their own touchdown two minutes later behind runs by Ladarius Burnes and a scoring pass from Jackson Bowersock to MJ Loggins.

The Bears didn’t have an answer to stopping Burnes who had leading roles in all five Warrior touchdowns until near the end of the game when they corralled Burnes on a couple of run efforts that stopped the Warriors from tying up the game.

With the score tied 7-7, the Warriors went for an onside kick that the Bears pounced on. After completed passes to Fairrow and Jamar Stevens, Andre Collins scampered in from 19 yards out.

Tito Mendoza hit not only that extra point, but six of them through the night.

Halfway through the second quarter the Warriors tied the game at 14 behind a two-yard run by Burnes punctuated with his 39-yard scamper three-plays earlier.

Sylvan Hills found the end zone again two minutes later on 20-yard pass from Washington to Jamir Shutes.

The Bears tackling skills seemed to dissipate on the Warriors next possession as Little Rock Christian marched the ball from their own 20, scoring on a 36-yard run by Burnes where at least five Bears had a solid chance to bring him down and missed.

With the extra point kick, the score was even at 21-all.

The Bears, however, went into half time up 28-21, scoring with just 32 seconds left in the half as Washington stretched at the end of a 16-yard scamper and broke the goal line plane with the ball.

But the momentum went to the Warriors after halftime as they scored twice within minutes of the third quarter starting. On their first possession of the second half the Warriors tied the game with a 49-yard touchdown bomb from Bowersock to Henley Bland.

Little Rock Christian tried their second of three onside kick attempts and this worked in their favor, recovering the ball on the 50-yard line. On a third and nine play from the 34-yard line, Bowersock hit Burnes on a little drop pass and flew 25 yards into the end zone.

The TD and extra point put the Warriors up top 35-28. The score enthused the Warriors who looked like they were going to stop the Bears, but hard running by Washington and Fairrow pushed the ball down to the one-yard line where Collins punched it in.

Tied through three quarters and neither team making strong inroads in the early part of the fourth quarter made it clear that whoever scored next would claim victory. With less than three minutes left in the game Washington took it in from the six-yard line.

The Warriors tried to send the game into overtime, marching down the field before stalling 30 yards shy of the end zone.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS girls get win against Patriots

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville volleyball team picked up an important conference win Thursday in a 5A/6A District 4 matchup at Parkview.

The Lady Patriots took Jacksonville to the wire in an exciting five-game match three weeks ago at JHS, but the Lady Titans cut that short on Thursday.

Parkview started well, but Jacksonville finished strong. The Lady Titans won in four sets by scores of 23-25, 25-23, 25-18 and 25-15.

“On our side of the court, it was a much better match than the last time we played them,” said Jacksonville coach Savannah Jacoby. We were a lot more aggressive. We focused this week on keeping the momentum and not letting our mistakes go uncorrected and getting us down. We did a really good job of that. We didn’t play error free, but we corrected them quickly and never really let them have a lot of momentum.”

Game one ended with a bit of controversy. Parkview held a 24-23 lead and was about to serve for game point when Jacoby called timeout. The down ref heard the request and blew her whistle, but the top official did not. Jacksonville players heard it, and thought timeout had been granted. They were not ready to defend when the serve landed in fair play for an ace.

“That was a little disappointing for the game to end that way,” Jacoby said. “The R1 had not heard an earlier timeout by Parkview as well. The main thing I’m proud of is that our girls didn’t let it get to them. They just came out and played better the rest of the match.”

Each subsequent game was won by a wider margin than the previous. After winning game three and taking a 2-1 lead, Jacoby wanted to avoid a game five on the road, and issued a challenge to her players.

“I was really impressed with my girls because I told them we really need to come out strong in game four,” Jacoby said. “I felt like if we could grab the momentum early, we could put them away.”

Grab it early they did. Jacksonville got first serve and scored seven-straight points to start game four. Parkview never got back into serious contention.

Senior Elizabeth Brown served up those seven points. She also finished with seven aces over the course of the match. Rebecca Brown led the team in kills with 13, while her sister Basiah Brown finished with nine kills.

Rebecca Brown also led the team in digs with 16, while Elizabeth Brown and Lindsey Holt each had 13.

“I was really impressed with our defense,” Jacoby said. “It’s one of the better defensive efforts we’ve had this year.”

Jacksonville (5-11, 5-5) is currently in fifth place in the 5A/6A District 4 standings, but that has no bearing on postseason play.

Jacksonville and Hall High School are the only two 6A teams in District 4, and so will play in the 6A-East Conference tournament. If the tournament were to begin today, Jacksonville would be the four seed behind Marion, Mountain Home and Jonesboro, and would host West Memphis in the opening round.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot survives Southside

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers did everything coach Mike Malham said they couldn’t do if they wanted to avenge last year’s sloppy playoff loss to Fort Smith Southside, but they won anyway.

The Panthers kept their perfect record intact by beating the Mavericks 27-23 with three goal line stances on the final plays of the game in Fort Smith.

The Panthers fumbled five times. They lost three of them, including two inside their own 10-yard line, and committed 12 penalties for 115 yards. But none of that mattered when, on the second fourth down just inches from the goal line, Southside running back Taye Gatewood dropped a pitch for a loss on the game’s final play.

Cabot thought it had the game won the play before, but confused officials couldn’t decide what happened. On fourth and goal just two inches from the goal line, Cabot defensive lineman Chris Jones broke through the line and stopped running back Gatewood short of the goal line. While Cabot was celebrating, a second official ruled Gatewood had crossed the goal line, and Southside thought it had won the game.

Then the officials conferred, and a third official ruled that Cabot was lined up off sides, nullifying the play altogether, and giving the Mavericks another chance, this time from one inch away from the goal line.

That’s when the sophomore Gatewood fumbled the pitch, giving Cabot the victory.

Southside’s final drive started on its own 19, but moved all the way to the Cabot 36 without gaining a single yard of offense. A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 34. Before the next snap, Cabot was called for its second sideline infraction, which is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and another 15 yards for Southside to the 49.

The Panthers thought it had stopped the drive when Southside quarterback Graves Schmedly overthrew his receiver on fourth and 10, but another pass interference was called on Cabot, moving the ball to the Panther 36.

Linebacker Cody Nabors was called for the penalty, though his hit on receiver David Matthews was well after the ball had sailed over Matthews’ head and out of bounds.

Southside receiver Dylan Wyatt made an 11-yard catch on third and 8 for first down at the 23. Schmedly then hit Matthews for a 16-yard gain on third and 10 to set up first and goal at the 7-yard line.

Gatewood picked up 5 yards on first down and 1 more on second down, setting up third and goal at the 1.

Schmedly kept and was stopped two inches from the goal line, setting up the dramatic and confusing ending.

Early in the game, the Panthers looked like they were going to dominate. A quick Southside turnover set Cabot up in the red zone, but the Panthers would later return the favor twofold.

Cabot safety Evan Hooper picked off a Southside pass on the third play of the game and returned it 25 yards to the Maverick 15.

Barnes went 7 yards on first down. On second down, he dropped the ball for the first time, but this one resulted in an 8-yard touchdown, as Barnes dodged two tacklers after retrieving the ball and scored.

Mason Martin’s extra point made it 7-0 just 92 seconds into the game.

The Cabot defense gave up one first down on a pass interference penalty. Connor Daigle made his first tackle of the season after missing the first four games. It went for a loss and Southside was forced to punt.

Cabot took over on its own 25. Seven plays into the drive, Cabot faced fourth and 4 at its own 45. That’s when fullback Braxton Burton burst up the middle for 55 yards and another score with 4:20 to go in the first quarter.

Martin’s PAT was wide, leaving the score 13-0.

Cabot’s defense held again, and another punt gave the offense the ball on its own 6. That’s when things began to go awry for the Panthers.

On third and 5 from the 11, Barnes dropped the shotgun snap and Southside covered it at the Panther 2-yard line.

One play later, Gatewood plunged it in to make it 13-7 with 51 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Cabot started the ensuing drive on its own 20, and Barnes fumbled again on the second play, resulting in the Mavericks starting on the Cabot 7-yard line.

Two plays gained just 3 yards, but the home team got a little luck on third and goal. Jones knocked the ball into the air, but it came down in the hands of Maverick receiver David Matthews.

Southside also missed an extra point, leaving the score tied with 10:32 left in the half.

Cabot then drove from its own 20 to the Southside 15, but a holding penalty moved it back 12 yards, and the Panthers ended up missing a 32-yard field-goal attempt.

The defense held when Easton Seidl, who had moved from linebacker to down linemen, got his second sack of the half on third and 5.

Cabot again started on its 20, and again drove deep into Southside territory. And once again started going backwards once it got to the red zone. An 18-yard touchdown run by John Wiens was called back for holding, and Barnes was sacked twice, the last giving the ball over on downs at the Southside 36.

Cabot went 80 yards in six plays to start the second half. Collin Thames had broke free and was all alone down the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown reception four minutes into the third quarter.

The two teams traded possessions. Cabot stopped Southside on fourth and 10 at the Panther 31. Cabot then gained just 6 yards before punting. Eric Larsen drilled a huge punt that put Southside on its own 22, but an illegal block on Cabot forced them to do it again. This time the kick was short and the return was long, and the Mavericks started at the Cabot 33.

It took seven plays for them to score and tie the game at 20-20 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers got two first downs to the Southside 42, but two sacks and an incomplete pass forced the Panthers to punt again. The Mavericks finished the ensuing drive with the go-ahead field goal.

Cabot’s game-winning drive started with another pass from Barnes to Thames, this one for 47 yards to the Southside 33. Austin Morse went 10 yards on the next play, and Barnes went 10 more two plays later to the 11.

After Adam Flores went 3 yards, Barnes kept to the right for an 8-yard touchdown run that put Cabot up for good.

Hooper got his second interception on the third play of the next drive, but Barnes and Morse fumbled the handoff exchange on the very next play to set up Southside’s final drive.

Southside put a stop the Barnes’ dominance on the ground, but he threw for a career high 233 yards by completing 7 of 10 pass attempts. Wiens caught three of those passes for 109 yards, while Thames caught two for 92.

Cabot out gained Southside by a wide margin, racking up 383 total yards to just 182 for the Mavericks.

Cabot (5-0, 2-0) is back home next week to take on Conway, while Southside (2-3, 0-2) will travel to North Little Rock.

Friday, September 30, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Arkansans fight against hunger

Arkansas Governor

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation.”

In Arkansas, one in five people are food insecure. One in four children face hunger and forty percent of senior citizens are uncertain of the next time they will receive a nutritious meal.

Although Arkansas’ food insecurity rate declined slightly from 19.9 percent in 2014 to 19.2 percent in 2015, there is still much to be done.

These statistics represent Arkansas’s children, parents, grandparents and friends – they are our neighbors. Let’s set aside our differences and rally as a state to make an impact in someone’s life.

Throughout September, Arkansans from near and far made donations to the Great Arkansas Food Drive. Many used the “Be Neighborly” smartphone app that allows people to purchase and donate pre-filled grocery bags to one of six Arkansas hunger relief organizations.

September is over, but each of us can continue fighting hunger by donating to local food drives, using the “Be Neighborly” app or offering a helping hand to those who are in need. As we close out the month and enter the fall, I urge all Arkansans to continue looking out for each other, especially within our communities.

As a state, we are incredibly fortunate. Our economy is growing, our unemployment rate is low and our students are being better prepared for what lies ahead of them. But sometimes we forget to appreciate the simple and great importance of daily meals.

Having lived through the Great Depression, my parents knew the struggle of hunger. As a child, I remember eating simple foods like cornbread and all kinds of stew that my parents had been raised on.

My family was fortunate to always have just enough to go around, but we were continually mindful and careful to share our bounty with neighbors.

Those experiences taught me the importance of doing all we can to aid and assist those who go hungry. Hunger should never be the norm.

What we do in Arkansas matters. Together, let’s unite in the fight against hunger and support our neighbors in need.

EDITORIAL >> Jacksonville celebrates

Festiville in Jacksonville is from 9 a.m. till 7 p.m. today in Dupree Park. The event will include hot-air balloon rides, live music and performances, a barbecue contest, festival foods, carnival rides, a volleyball tournament, a petting zoo and kids zone and much more.

Residents should flock to Dupree Park and rally around their community focused on the future and funnel cakes.

The city has a lot to celebrate. The old Jacksonville Middle School site, not far from where today’s festival is underway, has already been bulldozed and cleared so that a $60 million high school can be built there by 2019.

Jacksonville’s new school district hasn’t wasted anytime and plans to build at least two new elementary schools, one to replace Arnold Drive and another to replace Pinewood and Warren Dupree.

But the education renaissance is just one aspect of Jacksonville’s resurgence. The improvements to Hwy. 67/167 will also boost the city’s image and accessibility, and make it more appealing for business development.

The highway work, which won’t be completed in 2022, includes making the road six lanes to Hwy. 5 and replacing the overpasses at Redmond Road, James Street, Main Street and Vandenberg Boulevard. A new overpass will be built at Gregory Street, making crossing the highway more convenient.

The access roads — T.P. White Drive and John Harden — will be made one way like in North Little Rock and most of Sherwood. The Russian roulette yields for traffic headed onto Hwy. 67/167 will be gone once the roads are made one way, which will make it a lot safer and keep traffic moving.

There will be less congestion at North First Street and Vandenberg Boulevard, one of the worst intersections in the state, after the project is completed.

Keep all this progress in mind when you stroll through the park today at Festiville.

TOP STORY >> CabotFest held next Saturday

CabotFest is next Saturday downtown.

There will be live music and performances on two stages throughout the day and the cricketing-spitting contest starts at 5 p.m. Admission is free.

The main act is country band Ricochet as the headliner for this year’s festival. They’ll take the stage at 4:30 p.m.

The Oklahoma group released its debut single 20 years ago in 1996, “What Do I Know” with their follow up single, “Daddy’s Money” reaching No. 1 on the Billboard County Singles Chart for two consecutive weeks.

The second stage will feature performances by Cabot Public Schools students from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. followed by local bands to 5:45 p.m.

The CabotFest pageant will be held at 10 a.m. at Cabot Freshman Academy, 18 Spirit Drive.

More than 90 vendors have signed up for CabotFest. Applications are available at the chamber’s website,

The cricket-spitting contest is back with three age divisions. A spit-off is scheduled at 5 p.m.

The carnival will start on Thursday, Oct. 7 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Armbands for Thursday and Fridays nights are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate.

On Saturday, the carnival will operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Cabot Lions Club will hold a pancake breakfast fundraiser from 6 till 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 8 to kickoff CabotFest.

The breakfast will be in First Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall. Tickets are $5 and $2 for kids under 10.

Proceeds will help buy eyeglasses for local school children and adults; assist local applicants with vital glaucoma and cataract surgeries; provide vision screenings at local daycares, preschools, churches, health fairs and the Lonoke County Christian Clinic, as well as supporting the Cabot Lions Scholarship Fund.

Guests are asked to bring their old or unused eyeglasses to be recycled for the less fortunate.

Cabot’s AARP chapter will have a bingo booth at CabotFest from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. at Regions Bank, 102 South Second St.

Each card will cost 50 cents, and prizes include gift cards, dog grooming, cologne and more. People will be able to sit and rest while playing.

“This is our largest annual fundraiser, and the proceeds are used to fund a college scholarship for a deserving Cabot High School graduating senior,” according to the announcement.

Beebe and Ward are also holding fall festivals.


The 20th annual Beebe Fall Festival will be held from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Beebe Ballpark.

The free event will have live entertainment, vendors, the Miss Beebe Fall Festival Pageant, carnival rides, an antique car show, a kids zone, food vendors, a duck-calling contest, a chili cookoff and more.

To register as a vendor, or for more information, call the chamber at 501-882-8135 or email


Ward’s Harvest Fest will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Ward Chamber Building, 80 W. Second St. The event is free.

There will be hayrides, a petting zoo, games, an outdoor concert, a cake walk, bounce houses. Food and concessions will be available for purchase.

TOP STORY >> Top students are recognized

AP Scholars with Honor, front row from left, are Layne Burchfield, Lexi Robertson and Sharidan Mitchell. Back row from left are Kyle Ashcraft, Colin Thompson, Benjamin Cameron and Michael Fredricks.
Special to The Leader

The Cabot School Board on Sept. 20 approved the 2016-2017 budget of $92.8 million. This is a $1.5 million increase from last year’s budget of $91.3 million.

According to Superintendent Tony Thurman, the highest increases in the budget over last year were in the certified and classified salary fund, debt service fund, and food service fund.

Enrollment is 10,330 students for this 2016-17 school year, which is an increase of 240 students from the 10,090 students enrolled in 2015-16.

“There isn’t any real way to gauge the large increase this year, but there has been an increase in the number of starter family homes available recently. There are good options for affordable housing and when you combine that with a school district that is well known across the state, that could be a strong reason behind the increase,” Thurman said.

Thurman also said that there has been a large number of transfer requests from the Jacksonville area, but the district could not accept those students for this school year.

The board meeting was standing room only as the district honored National Merit Semifinalists and AP Scholars.

For the 2016 AP exams, Cabot had a total of 83 AP Scholars, some of whom have already graduated.

To be considered an AP Scholar, students must score a three or higher on at least three AP exams.

An AP Scholar with Honor is awarded to students with an average score of 3.25 on all AP exams, in addition to scoring three or higher on at least four AP exams. 

To achieve the highest honor, AP Scholar with Distinction, students must average a 3.5 on all AP exams and score at least a three on five or more AP exams. 

AP Scholar with Distinction Joseph Sepulveda
The board also accepted a $5,000 check from the Cabot Country Cruisers to benefit the district and the “PE4life” program.

After the AP Scholars and their families left, the board heard updates and presentations from Cabot High School, ACE, Southside Elementary, Ward Central Elementary, Westside Elementary, Central Elementary and Stagecoach Elementary.

Administrators and teachers shared their school’s vision with school board members and answer questions.

TOP STORY >> Support needed for ball

Leader staff writer

The Navy Operational Support Command at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock is seeking sponsors of businesses and organizations for the Navy Ball being held on Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Little Rock Air Force Base’s Hangar 1080.

Logistics specialist Kirk Williams with the Navy Ball committee said $1,700 more is needed to help pay for the cost of a deejay, catering and souvenir glasses.

The ball is being held in celebration with the Navy’s 241st birthday. The ball was established in 1996. Williams said she expects 150 people to attend. North Little Rock Police Officer Tommy Norman will be the guest speaker. Sponsorships range from $50 to $1,500. Tickets for the public to attend are $60 per person and $30 for a child under the age of 15 years old. Crafton’s Furniture and Main Gate Storage have purchased sponsorships.

“The purpose of the Navy Ball is to honor those who have died in action and are missing-in-action. It is to show leadership to those who are in the Navy. It is also a time to reflect on the year, what we have accomplished as a Navy component. We want to show presences of our Navy in Arkansas and honor our retirees at the annual event and to have pride in our Navy. We invite our community to celebrate with us, our Navy’s 241st birthday. We are here to protect the world on land, water, air and sea,” Williams said.

Williams said when many people think of the Navy, they think about the U.S.S. Razorback submarine at the Arkansas River. She said the Navy Reserve has 150 reservists stationed at Camp Robinson. They have drill one weekend a month and serve two weeks a year. The reservists support naval bases and fleets outside of the United States.

“We help where we can and in areas where we are specialized,” Williams said.

They will fill in when someone is away on leave.

For more information about the Navy Ball, call Willliams at 501-457-7775 or

Thursday, September 29, 2016

FEATURE STORY >> Heartfelt nod to the queen

Special to The Leader

“I’m the queen!” says Savanna Grier, waving her arms.

She’s at lunch with a slice of pizza in front of her, friends and teachers around her and a huge smile on her face. Savanna is the life of the party. Which is why it isn’t surprising that on Oct. 7 Savanna will be crowned Beebe High School’s homecoming queen.

“Everybody knows Savan-na,” Kelly Landers, one of Savanna’s teachers, said. “She talks to everybody. I think she’ll make a good queen. And she already thinks she’s a princess anyway.”

Savanna is a senior at Beebe High School, and like every other teenage girl would be, she is ecstatic about buying her dress, riding in the parade, and being crowned queen. But unlike every other teenage girl, Savanna was born with Down syndrome.

In addition to her disability, Savanna is no stranger to hardship, as she endured the loss of her mother after a fatal car accident in 2012.

But that doesn’t stop her from being the most loved and popular girl in school.

“She is popular. In a good way. The very best way,” Landers said.

No one is quite sure who was the first to nominate Savanna for homecoming queen, but the idea first came up during a senior mentoring meeting.

Beebe High School Principal Scott  Jennings isn’t at all surprised about this. He said the senior mentoring class has completely changed attitudes on campus.

“It’s a strong group of leaders. They are doing things to make things happen. They’re not just wishing things would happen,” Principal Jennings said.

Regardless of where exactly the idea started, the school was quickly on board.

Garrett Grier, Savanna’s twin brother, is a tight end and linebacker for the Beebe High School football team.

He said that he was working at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes table at Club Rush when he first heard the idea.

“One of (the senior mentoring students) came up to me and they were like, ‘Have you heard about it yet?’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about?”

Grier quickly learned that students were campaigning for Savanna to be elected homecoming queen. The students also wanted Grier to escort Savanna when she was crowned at the school’s pep rally.

“That would be really awesome. Because obviously she’s my twin sister and I love her, and that would just be awesome if I got to walk with her my senior year,” Grier said.

After he heard about the campaign, he went right to his dad and stepmom, Brian and Teresa Grier, to ask for their approval.

“And they were fine with it, as long as it wasn’t going to be rigged. That was people’s biggest concern, that the voting would be set up,” Grier said.

Savanna’s family wanted her to win, but they wanted students to actually vote for Savanna.

“And they did,” Grier said.

Savanna was easily voted into the Top 12, with a lead of about 100 votes. From the Top 12, students voted for three senior maids and one queen. The results came back and Savanna had been elected Beebe High School’s homecoming queen.

Not only that, but she had won by more than 300 votes.

When the homecoming results were announced over the intercom, teachers said there was screaming in the classrooms and a general sense of excitement throughout the school.

“Everyone was stopping her in the hallway congratulating her. Students were late to classes,” one of her teachers said.

The campaign itself is a testament to how much Savanna is loved. Students didn’t have to make posters or convince students to vote for Savanna, they just had to simply mention the idea.

People on campus thought it was about time they gave Savanna a crown.

Grier said he and others posted a few pictures on Instagram and mentioned their idea on Twitter, and from there the campaign just took off.

“You know, when I post a normal picture on Instagram, I get maybe 60 or 70 likes. But if Savanna’s in the picture with me, I’ll get like 290,” Grier said.

“Twitter, Snapchat, Insta-gram. It was everywhere. It’s nice to hear of social media being used for good in a high school,” Landers said.

If one thing can be said about this homecoming election at Beebe High, it’s that hardly anyone was surprised Savanna won  or surprised the senior class would be so selfless in their endeavor.

“I was a little surprised, but not really. Savanna represents the school well. She competes in Special Olympics, and she’s at all the football games. She knows everybody, and she talks to everybody. She likes to socialize. Don’t you, Vanna?” said Landers, one of her teachers, as she smiled at Savanna.

Another one of Savanna’s teachers, Susan Edwards, mentioned some of her initial concern about the election.

“I asked someone, ‘Are any of these girls going to be upset if they don’t win?’ and I was told that every girl on that ballot was selfless enough to not be offended if Savanna won,” Edwards said.

“This class has major character,” she said.

“The girls who made it to the Top 12 felt that it was an honor just to be in the Top 12. And when the Top 4 came out, I was like, yes, they deserve it, out of everyone that I know,” Grier said.
Senior Homecoming Maid Ashton Warner couldn’t be happier about Savanna being elected queen.

“I thought it was really sweet. I thought it was a really good representation of how our school is, because the people at our school are really all friends. Even though there are different groups or cliques, I feel like we’re really supportive of each other,” Warner said.

“It was easy for all of us to come together and support it,” Warner added.

The three senior maids elected are Abby Moore, Delaney Daniel and Ashton Warner. Moore and Warner are both co-captains of the cheerleading team, and Daniel plays soccer and is a member of student council. All three girls have been elected to the homecoming court once before.

As for being elected to homecoming, Savannah says she is excited. She already has a white suit picked out to wear to the pep rally, and she plans to go shopping with her stepmom Teresa and her Aunt Kelly to pick out a dress to wear when she’s crowned at the game.

“We’re going to make a day of it,” Teresa said.

Everyone seems to think that Savanna will make a great queen. “She’s very authoritative,” one of her teachers said. “That’s what happens when you have six brothers.”

And her brothers, especially her twin, love her.

“Savanna’s always been the center of attention. Everyone loves her. Like we’ll be walking in a store and someone will be like, ‘Hey Savanna!’ and I won’t even know who that person is,” Grier said.

As expected, Principal Jennings is very proud of his students. “They put the needs of Savanna over something that normally happens, and it just speaks highly of our school,” Jennings said.

“She’s absolutely the sweetest and most wonderful thing and we’ll miss her when she’s gone,” Jennings said.

Out of everything said about Savanna, her teacher Susan Edwards said it best: “She’s always been our Queen.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

TOP STORY >> Austin cop named officer of the year

Leader staff writer

Austin Police Officer Joshua Chaplin couldn’t see into the burning van, but he heard the screams.

Without thought to his own life, he realized there was only one course of action, so without hesitation Chaplin took a deep breath and leaned his entire upper body into the van.

The event was over in a few minutes, but Chaplin’s heroism saved a man’s life and earned him the Lonoke County Officer of the Year award.

Still, for Chapin being named Lonoke County Officer of the Year by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was a complete surprise.

“I had no idea of this until my chief, (Austin Police Chief) James Kulesa, contacted me to let me know…I’m humbled by it, but I asked, why me? There are a few hundred officers in Lonoke County who deserve it as much as I do,” he said.

In addition to his service to the Austin Police Department, Chaplin is a senior airman with the Air National Guard and repairs body damage to the Air Force base’s C-130s.

He is an Austin resident, and he’s single.

Kulesa told Chaplin a few days ago about the honor and posted information online, but he made a public announcement about Chaplin’s distinction at the Monday night Austin City Council meeting.

It was one announcement Kulesa said he was “proud” to make.

“This is a prestigious award and well deserved by Officer Chaplin,” he said.


Kulesa said he nominated Chaplin, a part-time officer who has been with the department for about 18 months, for the award for a number of reasons.

“He saved a man in a vehicle fire,” Kulesa was referring to a delivery van that was possibly struck by lightning on the morning of Dec. 23, 2015, on Hwy. 67/167 in the northbound lane near mile marker 24.

When Chaplin arrived, the van’s doors were locked, and it was engulfed in flames and smoke was spreading across the highway. Because the smoke was so thick inside the van, Chaplin couldn’t see the driver from outside the van, he just heard his screams.

He wasn’t thinking about the danger of the situation or his own personal safety.

“I didn’t feel any fear, I just went with it,” he said.

Chaplin used his baton to break the passenger’s side window and then took a deep breath and leaned into the van. Basically, he was blind using his hands to find the driver.

“We were feeling for each other,” Chaplin remembered.

Fortunately, the driver escaped with no injuries.


Austin resident Dennis Williams was on a Ride Along with Chaplin that day and took some dramatic pictures of the van.

To remind himself of the incident, Chaplin saved his burned and now useless baton, and he said at the time of the fire to a reporter, “This is part of my job. It’s what I signed up to do.”

Kulesa says Chaplin’s role at the department goes way beyond hero, and he said he is “a proactive officer and community orientated. He does a great job, no matter what he does.”

When Kulesa posted the announcement about the Officer of the Year honor on the department’s Facebook page, Chaplin soon began raking up likes — 168 so far.

While the kudos are appreciated, Chaplin said, “I will continue to do what I do every shift I work till the day I am no longer a police officer.”


Chaplin was honored by the distinction but said, “It is my opinion that almost every officer in the county deserves this. If there was a way I could cut the award up and give everyone I know a piece, I would.”

He credits the entire department’s teamwork and city officials for his success.

“I will say the great leadership and information I get from the Chief, and a few of my fellow officers, has led me to where I am now,” Chaplin said.

Kulesa said the award was doubly sweet because the Austin Police Department is small, with only four full-time officers including the chief and 13 part-time officers.

“We’re not a large department and do the best we can with what we have. All these guys do an outstanding job, and the award is good for the entire department and its morale,” Kulesa said.

The chief said he also appreciates the public recognition of law enforcement officers across the state by the attorney general’s office.

Law enforcement personnel render “support and assistance whenever and wherever needed. Law enforcement is and always will be a team effort,” Kulesa said.

According to the state attorney general’s office, officer selections for the 2016 Outstanding Law Enforcement Officers of the Year awards must have “performed admirably in the line of duty within the past 18 months.”

One officer from each of the state’s 75 counties is selected, and from there, the numbers are whittled down to five regional winners.

The overall state Officer of the Year will be selected from the regional winners.

County and regional winners were selected by a panel consisting of city, county and state criminal justice professionals, and the county and regional Officers of the Year will be honored at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Summit to be held Wednesday, Oct. 5 at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.

The 2016 Arkansas Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year will be announced by Attorney General Rutledge at the luncheon.

TOP STORY >> Sworn in early in Beebe

Leader staff writer

The Beebe City Council appointed Derrek Goff and Lee McLane to the city council on Monday to fill the remaining terms of two vacated aldermen seats.

The council voted unanimously on the resolution Alderman Matt Dugger put in motion since there are three months remaining in the year.

Goff fills the Ward 2, Position 1 seat that was vacated by the death of Alderman Becky Short on Sept. 8. Goff is social studies teacher at Cabot High School. He was running unopposed for the seat in the November general election.

McLane fills the Ward 1, Position 1 seat. The position was vacated by Alderman David Pruitt, who resigned on Aug. 22. Pruitt pleaded guilty on Aug. 2 in White County Circuit Court to a misdemeanor charge of violating state election law after voting twice during the primary election. Pruitt was ineligible to run for re-election.

McLane, who owns and publishes The Beebe News, was running unopposed for the seat in the November general election.

Goff and McLane were sworn in by City Attorney Scott Bles and immediately started working for the city.

The city council held a moment of silence and a prayer for the passing of Short on Sept. 8 and for police officer and firefighter David Nelson on Sept. 24. Nelson worked for the city of Beebe for the past 38 years.

Alderman Tracy Lightfoot presented a portrait of Short to hang in city hall.

Mayor Mike Robertson informed the council that the city purchased a 40 by 180 foot parcel of property across from city hall this month for $2,900. The vacant land neighbors the walking trail and property already owned by the city.

The council approved keeping the city’s millage rate at 1.8 mills.

Aldermen approved an ordinance increasing the number of dogs residents are allowed to have from three to four dogs.

The council approved an ordinance to close South Cherry Street from East Idaho Street to one block southeast of East Georgia Street. The property owner of block 14 requested the closure. The street was platted on the city’s map but was never built.

“I don’t see a reason why we would build a street there,” code enforcement officer Milton McCullar said.

Aldermen approved the city to tear down a house on 705 W. College St., and place a lien on the property. The property owners have been issued a warrant for failing to comply with the condemnation resolution.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Titans hurt as Hurricane comes

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titan football team suffered a variety of setbacks in last week’s loss to Searcy, but also showed a resolve that could do the team well as the season progresses, especially with the kind of challenge that is coming this Friday when the Titans host Jonesboro.

In last week’s 27-12 loss, the Titans went into the game with one starter on the bench, lost another in the first quarter, and another in the fourth. They were their own worst enemy with more than 200 yards in penalties, and got one phantom holding penalty that negated a huge play that would’ve put the team on the brink of tying the game late in the third quarter.

“You know it was about as ugly a game as you could see, but I’m proud of the fight our kids showed in it,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “I think we had 20 penalties, and I’ll take 19 of them. We had guys out of their usual positions just trying to patch together something that worked. So I’ll take 19, but that one. I’ve watched the tape, and it’s not there.”

The penalty at question was a holding call on third and 1 with Searcy leading 20-12, a play Jacksonville gained 18 yards to the Searcy 12-yard line. Instead of first down in the red zone, Jacksonville faced third and 14 from 43, and ultimately turned the ball over on downs.

Searcy put together a drive and scored early in the fourth to set the final margin.

“I don’t want to come down too hard on officials because of being an official myself,” Hickingbotham said. “But that one was pivotal. That, to me, was a swinging point in the game.”

Hickingbotham benched one undisclosed starter for the game for disciplinary reasons. Quarterback Rowdy Weathers left the game in the first quarter for an injury to the same shoulder that benched him last year. He will definitely miss this week’s game at Jonesboro, and likely more.

“He could be finished,” Hickingbotham said. “That’s a blow to us. But I thought we were able to regroup at halftime and make some positive things happen. We’re going to try to build on that.”

Harderrious Martin took over at quarterback after Weathers went down, but he’s also a full time defensive player. In the second half, tailback Shawn Ellis carried some of the load at quarterback.

“HD has to play defense for us, and he was tired,” Hickingbotham said. “I thought Shawn did some good things, and we’re going to try to have them both ready.”

Jonesboro comes to Jacksonville with perhaps the most explosive offense in the state. The Golden Hurricane have scored at least 41 points in every game, and have scored more than 60 in three of four. The defense has been porous, but it hasn’t mattered. Jonesboro is undefeated despite giving up an average of almost 38 points per game. And most the games haven’t even been close.

Jonesboro is averaging 59.7 points per game after beating Batesville 65-41, Conway 41-38, Catholic 69-34 and Mountain Home 63-38.

“They have a receiver who will be the fastest guy we’ve seen this year,” said Hickingbotham. “They have 300-plus at both tackles. They have 270 and 280 at guard. To say it’s going to be a challenge is an understatement. But we’re looking forward to that challenge.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers try to avenge playoff loss

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers are coming off a key win in their 7A-Central Conference opener on Friday. They will now try to carry that success with them in their first league road game.

The Panthers travel to Fort Smith Southside for the first time ever as a conference opponent. The two programs have a storied history going back to the late 1990s. They have met twice in state championship games, going 1-1 against each other. More recently, Southside knocked Cabot out of the state playoffs in last year’s quarterfinal round, coming to Cabot and defeating the favored Panthers 35-25.

The newly named Mavericks (formerly the Rebels from the schools’ founding in 1965 until this season) have eight starters back from that offense that piled up the points in the playoffs last year, and five back on defense.

“They have most of them back and they whipped us pretty good, so we’re going to have to play awfully well,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham.

Southside lost its first two games by wide margins, but have rebounded to win the last two, including last week’s conference opener at Conway, 23-20.

“They started with two of the better teams in the state in Har-Ber and Greenwood,” Malham said. “There’s no disgrace in losing to those two, especially that early. Southside is big and they have some speed. We sure can’t make all the mistakes we made last year and expect anything different than what we got.”

Cabot was called for six procedure penalties, fumbled a punt and had a punt snap sail over the punters head in last year’s game.

While Southside has most of its offense back, Cabot has almost everyone back on defense, and the head Panther thinks they’re better than a year ago.

“When you get them all back you should be better,” Malham said.

Connor Daigle started practicing with the team last week, and will be on the field for the first time this season. He started at safety last year, but is currently working at linebacker.

“We’re looking at him at linebacker and moving (Easton) Seidl to the front,” Malham said. “We think that could make us stronger on the defensive line. That’s where we’re practicing them this week and we’ll see how it works out.”

SPORTS STORY >> Former Red Devil making good on a second chance

Leader sports editor

Saturday was more than a homecoming for former Jacksonville Red Devil Anthony Fields. When his team, Trinity Valley Community College from Athens, Texas, played Arkansas Baptist College at Little Rock’s Quigley Stadium, it was more of a triumphant return – proof of Fields’ turnaround from the lovable goof-off who almost blew the opportunity his talent afforded him, to the hard working and studious defensive lineman now garnering attention from Division I football programs.

Coaches and fans knew by the time Fields was in ninth grade he possessed rare talent on the football field. They also knew he was in constant danger of throwing it all away. By the end of his sophomore year, it looked like he had.

Fields was academically ineligible and was not allowed to play his junior year, the year most college prospects make themselves known to college coaches.

Instead of giving up, Fields decided to make that year the beginning of his turnaround.

“Not playing that year, it was just like a light switched on in my head and I knew this wasn’t funny anymore. I was just kind of there. I was just cool with everybody and everybody loved me. I just wasn’t taking care of business, always joking around. Everybody was passing, and here I was, back there goofing off. I just realized I had to get my act together.”

Fields wasn’t even almost eligible after his sophomore year, and it took lots of make up work and summer school to become eligible for his senior campaign. But he was way behind in the recruiting process, and his name wasn’t out there. By season’s end, no offers had come forth. Late in the school year, Trinity Valley Community College took notice ofFields on film, and invited him to the Athens campus for a visit.

TVCC head coach Brad Smiley was impressed.

“In Texas, we can only have 10 guys from out of state, so you have to be really something for us to give you one of those spots,” Smiley said. “When you look at some of the other guys we’ve had here from out of state, you see that real quick. Jarrod Evans was one of them that just set the touchdown record at Virginia Tech. Derrick Willey is breaking receiving records at Texas Tech. Davonte Fields is going to be the ACC defensive player of the year at Louisville, the No. 2 outside backer on Mel Kiper’s draft board. So we’re very picky about who gets those 10 spots, and Anthony meets the criteria.”

TVCC is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation in JUCO, and has led all junior colleges in Division I signees in four of the last five years. The Cardinals began this season at No. 3, and spent one week at No. 1 before losing 30-29 to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.

The competition is fierce, especially for the out-of-state players. Smiley recounts a story from offseason that involved Fields and a teammate, that speaks to the JHS alum’s current mindset.

“In camp, I had to sit him down with a big old offensive lineman who had some big time FBS offers, and just tell them, hey look guys. The way things are working out (with the out-of-state roster spots) per position, you guys are battling to get one of those last two spots going into this last scrimmage game. And I tell you what, all Anthony did was go out and become better. He proved to me, hey, you can’t not have me on this team. The other guy just bolted. Couldn’t handle it. Those Big 10 and Big 12 schools that offered him, they were asking me where this guy went. I just told them, you know what, got a guy here that just straight beat him out.”

Fields’ talent was on display on Saturday for the many family members, friends and former teammates and coaches that went to see him play.

The Cardinals annihilated Arkansas Baptist, leading 56-12 at halftime and winning 63-18. Fields finished with four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry.

“He’s very quick, very explosive,” Smiley said. “Last week we had a couple of DI coaches at our practice, and afterwards one of them came in and said, ‘coach, who is No. 56? They can’t block him on the pass rush.’ That’s his forte right now. There are a few things we’re still working on with him in the run game, using his hands and learning that technique. But that’s all he needs to become a dominant player.”

Smiley wasn’t aware of the severity of Fields’ academic difficulties in high school, but he has seen part of the maturing process.

“I’ll be honest with you, he farted around a little bit his first semester here, too,” Smiley said. “He learned a lesson from that and he’s gotten serious about academics and that’s going to be huge for him on the back end. If you’re not academically eligible (for Division I) coming out of high school, you have to get your associates degree before you can play DI football. With the way he’s excelling in the classroom now, that’s huge because everybody is looking for defensive linemen. That’s a position that everybody always needs, so it could be a great situation for him.”

Fields, the son of Michelle and Gregory Fields, redshirted his first year at TVCC, and then suffered a setback when he broke his wrist in fall camp. He was able to recover and play in the first game this season, but aggravated the injury in the season opener and missed the next two games. He returned the week before playing Arkansas Baptist, and forced a fumble in a big win over Blinn College.

Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham took over the Red Devil program Fields’ senior year. He and former assistant Brian McDermott drove Fields to his visit to TVCC.

“I’m just so proud of him because he was able to do what so many kids don’t do,” said Hickingbotham. “With him, like with most of them, it’s not an ability problem. It’s a motivation problem. Too many of them never get that. Anthony figured it out and changed his direction. He was going the wrong way and he recognized it. His ability got him a second chance, and he was smart enough to start doing what he had to do to take advantage of that. I always felt like he was a DI talent, and he’s on his way.”

Fields is not all about football. A lifelong musician who began playing piano and singing in church at about 12 years old, he performed with the TVCC concert choir last spring.

“They gave me a little scholarship money to do that,” Fields said. “I played piano for them and sang a little bit. I probably won’t be able to do that this year. Last year I was redshirting and spring semester isn’t as demanding. But I’m going to be focusing so much on football this year, I won’t be able to do it.”

He’s majoring in Kinesiology and wants to become a coach once his playing days are finished, whether that means after graduation or a possible professional career. He now carries a 2.7 accumulative grade-point average, and that’s only because of the lackluster first semester. He’s been above 3.0 the last two semesters.

At the end of this semester, he will be 15 hours from his associate’s degree, and could be moving on if the right offer comes through.

Texas Tech is currently the only FBS school showing serious interest in the 6-foot, 270-pounder, but Division I schools like Alabama-Birmingham, North Texas and Texas State are also interested.

If the right offer doesn’t come, Fields plans on staying in Athens.

“My dream is, I’ve always wanted to be a Razorback,” Fields said. “They haven’t showed any interest yet. I want a big-time offer. If I don’t get it this year, I’m staying at Valley and I’ll be able to take some electives and get ahead in the classroom.”

EDITORIAL >> McNally wears prison stripes

Former Lonoke County Assessor John (Jack) McNally was sentenced Friday to six years in state prison after pleading guilty to lying about his previous federal theft conviction when he filed to run for election in 2010.

He was also sentenced for credit-card fraud while he was the assessor and for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He will be eligible for parole in one year.

McNally was convicted in 1986 for stealing thousands of military uniform jackets from a government contractor he worked for, which made it illegal for him to run for public office.

That conviction also should have disqualified him from working for the city of Cabot as a code-enforcement officer, another government job he held where he was also accused of theft.

When Eddie Joe Williams became mayor, he fired McNally and probably hoped that would be the end of it. But McNally hitched a ride on the Tea Party-fueled tidal wave of 2010, when Republicans wrested all but one county office from Democrats.

McNally needed a paycheck, which is why he ran for assessor. He was unsuited and totally unprepared for the job and defeated longtime Assessor Jerry Adams only because of party identification. McNally’s victory and time in office was a farce.

During his first campaign, McNally got into a scuffle with former Cabot Alderman Odis Waymack during a town-hall forum for candidates. Both men were convicted of disorderly conduct. At the time, we were stunned that Waymack, who is legally blind and is in his 80s, was equally blamed for the altercation.

Waymack’s conviction should be overturned and his $200 fine refunded now that it’s clear McNally is a fraud and a thief. Waymack deserves credit for standing up to a bully.

Lots of people must have known about McNally’s criminal record, but because they kept quiet, the public’s faith in government is further weakened at a time when cynicism and lack of trust about public service and elected officials are rampant.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham is trying to rebuild that trust. He asked the judge to sentence McNally to 10 years.

“In January 2011, McNally raised his hand and was sworn in as assessor. McNally knew he was a felon. He knew it was a lie and that he wasn’t supposed to be there. Voting is sacred. He hurt thousands of people who voted for him. He did it repeatedly until he was defeated,” Graham said.

McNally was led away in handcuffs after Friday’s court hearing and began serving his six years immediately.

It’s a victory for good government.