Friday, May 19, 2017

TOP STORY >> Cabot Farmers Market open

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Farmers Market’s 10th season is underway, offering locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and homemade crafts.

The market is held from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Sept. 9 in the parking lot of Re:New Community Church, formerly the Bancroft building, 1122 S. Second St.

The farmers market should be full of vendors in June during peak growing season.

“I just love the fresh, locally-grown produce. Not much commercial fertilizers used. We are trying to eat as fresh as we can,” customer Joe Nixon of north Pulaski County said last Saturday.

For some sellers this was their first time at the Cabot Farmers Market. One of those vendors was Willow Tree Farms in Ward. Kathie Ball was selling red Russian kale, spinach and lettuce.

“This is home. All my friends and family live here. I wanted to contribute to Cabot’s economy,” she said.

Samantha Allen of Cabot was selling Della’s Natural Goodies: All-natural dog cookies, all-natural body scrubs, body butters and balms for people.

“They are gluten and grain free. A lot of dogs can’t eat wheat because they are allergic. I’ve been making dog cookies for 15 years. They are made of lentils, quinoa and flax seed,” Allen said.

Holmestead Farms, off Sumner Cemetery Road, had vegetables, eggs and wildflowers for sale.

Steve Holmes said he and his wife, Janet, are retired and gardening gives them time to do things together. It’s their first year at the farmers market.

“It’s a chance to meet people and other gardeners. We are not out here to make a living, we are here to make a life,” Holmes said.

Chelsea Goodman of Cabot had a table with Molly’s Farm. Her 6-year-old daughter Molly was getting 4-H experience. It was their first time at the market, but Molly went home early, because she was spending too much money at the other vendors’ tables.

“We’ve always had a garden, but never sold anything before. We sold out of radishes and turnips. We feed our family off our garden. What we sell is the excess,” Goodman said.

Many vendors though are returning sellers.

Barnhill Orchards had jams, strawberry cookies, onions, sweet potatoes and squash for sale.

Kathy Dickerson, owner of Stacy’s Fruit Farm in Austin, was selling honey, beeswax candles and muscadine jelly. It is her third year at the Cabot Farmers Market.

“I like the atmosphere and seeing my buddies from last year,” she said.

Calm and Gentle Dairy Goat Farm in Butlerville was selling goat-milk soap, fudge and taking orders for the farm’s goat milk.

Karen Bailey said, “It is nice talking to people. The money helps with goat feed and hay.”

She said over the years, she noticed more vendors and more customers.

Chuck DeSellems of Cabot was selling D’s Beez raw honey. He’s been a beekeeper for nine years.

Carman Farms had towels, scarves, candles and eggs.

Anne Carman has 100 chickens at her Woodlawn home. It is her third year at the Cabot Farmers Market.

Magness Creek Farm in Austin was also selling fresh eggs. It’s in its second year at the farmers market.

“We’ll have more produce when vegetables start producing in June,” Tonya Williams said.

“If you bring back an egg carton, you’ll get 25-cents off a carton of eggs,” she said.

Williams said she liked the Cabot Farmers Market because she enjoys being outdoors and selling.

Troy Stogsdill of Cabot was selling woodcrafts, benches and crosses.

“I’m retired. It gives me something to do,” he said.

The Cabot Farmers Market could have a new look next year. The city and the fire department are working on plans for building a new Central Fire Station next to Re:New Church. The current station is in downtown. It is small and difficult to move fire trucks in and out of traffic.

Plans are to build two pavilions for a permanent home for the farmers market.

It will be a covered structure with fans, electrical outlets and have restrooms. The plans are in the early stages and funding must be approved by the city council.

Cost estimates have not been determined.

Cabot City Beautiful organizes the farmers market. It is looking for local vendors.

The cost for vendors is $10 per Saturday. It is first come, first serve with no reserved spots. Vendors’ products must be either locally grown or made and can be sold from the back of their trucks.

To sign up, call 501-920-2122 or email

TOP STORY >> Military museum’s Heritage Day will be held Saturday

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History will hold a heritage day from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.  Saturday. Admission is free.

“Looking for something fun and inexpensive for the family on Memorial Day Weekend? Enjoy and celebrate Arkansas’ rich military heritage by attending Heritage Day at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History,” the announcement said.

A special exhibit on Arkansas’ role in the First World War will be on display all day. It was created by the Arkansas State Archives to commemorate the centennial of the First World War.

There will be American and German re-enactors of World War II soldiers.

The Dogtown Ukulele Band will perform from 11:30 a.m. till 12:15 p.m. and Crystal Gray from 12:15 till 1 p.m.

Free hot dogs and hamburgers will be served from 11:30 a.m. till 1 p.m.

The film “Injury Slight...Please Advise” will be shown at 1:30 p.m.

The museum, 100 Veterans Circle, will be closed on Memorial Day. For more information, call 501-241-1943 or email

The museum also invites people to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans Cemetery on Maryland Avenue in Sherwood at 10 a.m. Monday, May 29.

TOP STORY >> Governor launches economic program

Leader staff writer

In the final moments of Kick Start Lonoke’s celebration and action-plan presentation, Adam Starks handed Gov. Asa Hutchinson a goldfish.

As many as 200 people, who had gathered in front of the train depot on Front Street, which serves as the headquarters for the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce, applauded as Hutchinson accepted the gift from Starks, a Kick Start Lonoke organizer.

The fish represented Lonoke’s place on the national stage as one of the country’s largest baitfish production centers. Pool Fisheries of Lonoke supplied the goldfish for the event and is in fact the world’s largest goldfish producer.

Starks said, Kick Start identified the baitfish industry as one of Lonoke’s strengths that have been overlooked. The fish symbolizes the town’s economic potential and its hope for future achievements.

“I love it,” Hutchinson said as he accepted the fishbowl. Then he added, “Thank you and Kick Start Lonoke.”

He was referring to the nine-month effort of Lonoke residents, the University of Central Arkansas’ Center for Community and Economic Development, the city of Lonoke and the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce, which had called press conference to unveil their strategic action plan for growth and development for the next five years.

The event was held Thursday morning and was open to the public.

Lonoke chamber director Hannah Harris said, “I was very pleased with the turnout. The chamber is Kick Start Lonoke. We are working with the city for the betterment of Lonoke.”

On a personal note, she said, “I love my city, and I want to see it grow. Not just for me but for my grandchildren.”


Hutchinson described himself as an economic-development friendly governor, touting the recent Remington Arms Company expansion, an additional 84 new jobs, as good for Lonoke. He also mentioned last week’s announcement of 800 new jobs and a $410 million dollar investment in Forest City by Chinese company Shandong Ruyi Technology Group. Although the textile manufacturer will be located nearly 70 miles to the east of Lonoke, Hutchinson said, it fosters related business growth throughout the area.

The governor complimented the Kick Start group’s success.


Starks opened the event, by saying, “It is our pleasure to have you here today to celebrate months of hard work.”

He was referring to the 145-year-old city’s collaboration with UCA and the UA Cooperative Extension Office Breakthrough Solutions Pro-gram that began nearly a year ago.

In June 2016, UCA announced it had chosen Lonoke as its 2016 Community Development Institute Com-munity and would work with community and city leaders to help improve its economic climate.

The program didn’t cost Lonoke a cent.

About two months into the program, Lonoke underwent a thorough assessment and eventually six committees called Action Teams were formed. These include: beautification and recreation, branding and marketing, downtown and retail development, housing and real estate, infrastructure, and jobs and education.

It also outlined a five-year plan.

Kick Start organizer Ryan Biles said, Kick Start “volunteers did not wait until the conclusion of the planning process to being working. They have already been hard at work.”

And already Kick Start has a few feathers in its cap, including partnering with the city in writing grants for lighting on the city’s walking trail and its expansion, and the design of a new city logo by Thrive of Helena. While the city has the money for the trail, the logo is still in the works.

Also, Lonoke High School’s Environmental and Spatial Technology Lab mapped the city’s sidewalks.


Starks said, “It was an intense nine months…It’s been great to see the overall involvement.”

About 10 percent of the city’s total population, estimated at about 4,260, has been engaged in the process.

Biles, who spoke last at the event, said approximately 400 residents have attended about 40 meetings since last August, and donated their time and talent to the cause.

In a sense, it’s the community’s time to thrive, and, Starks said, “People are excited, they’re engaged and coming to the meetings. I think it’s the sign of a healthy community.”

Biles said, “Once we were a community seeking a clear path forward, we are now a town with a vision.”

Starks said, “This is not an ending but just a beginning. The work’s just now getting started.”

Members will continue on the path laid out in Kick Start’s plan and the various groups will continue to meet on a regular basis.

Within a few months, Starks said, “We’ll have a second unveiling.”


Mark Peterson, a UA Community Development professor who worked closely with the Lonoke group, said, “We’re excited about what you’re doing.”

In addition, Peterson said, “The museum is a real gem,” and they worked with Lonoke County Museum director Sherryl Miller on a plan to build on the foundation they have already have in place.

Then Peterson introduced Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee.

“We’re delighted to have partnered with UCA,” McGee said.

Amy Whitehead, UCA Community Development Institute director, told the crowd, “Lonoke is most impressive,” and its residents have been involved and supportive.


“It’s an exciting day in Lonoke,” said Lonoke Circuit Judge Sandy Huckabee.

Many in the audience echoed Huckabee’s sentiment.

Lonoke resident Vivian Brown, who owns alterations shop Sew What, said because of the Kick Start efforts, “Our future is brighter.”

Debbie Shelton, who served on Kick Start’s Jobs and Education committee and is director of Lonoke-Prairie Counties Adult Education, said about her involvement with Kick Start, “I’m working to improve the community.”

Besides she has grandchildren who are growing up in Lonoke, and she wants them to have a future in Lonoke.

Landon Pool, part of the family that owns Pool Fisheries, hung around after delivering the goldfish, saying he wanted to hear Hutchinson speak.

The he added, “I’m thankful UCA chose us.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot sees familiar foe with new outlook

Leader sports editor

Exactly one year ago, on May 20, 2016, every returning player on the Cabot girls’ soccer team set a goal to get back to where they are today – the state championship game at Razorback Field in Fayetteville in Arkansas’ highest classification. The goal is revenge and to alleviate the pain of last year’s 3-0 defeat to Bentonville.

At 4 p.m. today, the opponent is the same, and looms just as large as ever, but the key difference this year is Cabot. The Lady Panthers have had a single-minded focus on returning to this game. A year’s experience and a ton of gained confidence makes for an obviously different approach, according to head Panther Kerry Castillo.

“Their mindset is so different,” Castillo said of his players. “They were scared to death last year, just scared to death. They’re really confident this year. There may be a bit of nervousness, I guess. But I really think it’s more anxiousness. They want this game. I’ve talked about playing this game again since tryouts and really since before that. We made it our goal to finish right here a year ago. I can just tell they’re full of confidence.”

The team’s two leading scorers corroborated their coaches’ account. Junior Tristyn Edgar, who will graduate early and play next year for Tulsa University, echoed Castillo.

“Last year we were terrified to play them,” said Edgar. “As soon as the buzzer went off we were all devastated. The next week we had practice. So we started toward this last May.”

Senior Hadley Dickinson, who will be a UCA Bear next season, says the goal was set even sooner.

“I think immediately after it happened,” said Dickinson. “As soon as time ran out on the clock I knew I wanted to get back here.”

And the fact that the opponent is the same team is an even bigger motivator, according to the senior.

“We have a chip on our shoulder since they beat us last year,” Dickinson said. “It just makes us want to beat them more.”

That will be no easy feat. The Lady Tigers are 21-3, but have not lost to a team from Arkansas all season. They are 18-0 against in-state competition, and two of their three losses were the first two games of the season way back on Feb. 21 and March 3.

Those in-state games, for the most part, haven’t been close. In their 18 games against teams from Arkansas, Bentonville has outscored its opponent 87-3. The 14 7A-West Conference wins were by a combined 75-3. The Lady Tigers overall goal difference, including the out-of-state games, is 105-14.

“They are very solid, defensively,” Castillo said. “I watched them play Har-Ber and Southside in the playoffs, and they’re good offensively, too. They’re athletic, a very good attacking team. They’re a tremendous challenge for anyone.”

Bentonville’s dominance is even more impressive considering how many players the team graduated after last year. One key player that didn’t graduate, though, is leading scorer Lauren Hargus. Even though a total of 15 different players have scored at least one goal this year, Hargus has scored more than twice as many as anyone else with 29. Senior Emma Welch has scored 14 goals and freshman Angelina Diaz has posted 11 goals.

“Watching them play, I didn’t see a lot of familiar faces,” Castillo said. “That is, except for Hargus. She’s a dangerous player. We’re certainly going to be looking for her.

But what makes Bentonville so good is, they’re the same – same every year. Same style of play, same philosophy, same characteristics. They just hone. They hone and hone until they’re really good at it.”

Sophomore Gracen Turner, who started as a freshman in last year’s title game, points out on particular things she’ll know this year that she didn’t necessarily know last year.

“They are very physical,” said Turner. “I feel like we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. So from learning from last year, we’re coming into it with a little more confidence.”

Cabot, likewise, has had an impressive season. The Lady Panthers are 23-2, and haven’t lost in more than two months. They have 18-straight games since falling 1-0 at Little Rock Christian Academy on March 8, and that game is a toss-out.

Castillo missed the game with a family medical problem, and starting goalkeeper Maggie Martin was also out.

Their 2-1 loss to Fayetteville on March 4 was avenged emphatically just six days later, 4-0, and then again on Saturday in the 2-0 win in the state semifinals. Cabot’s total goal for and against this season is 96-23.

With so few low points, the Lady Panthers have not had many moments of adversity. One came in the quarterfinals against Bryant. Cabot had dominated the action throughout, but missed several shots on goal, and then suddenly found itself in a 2-2 when Bryant scored with only 14 minutes to play.

“I think there’s always that chance for the scary moment when you just go, wow, what is going on,” said the goalkeeper Martin. “But I don’t think there’s really been any moments of doubt. There’s just been points in the season where we lost focus maybe a little bit. But right when that happened our coach was right there to point it out and get us back on track.”

Edgar leads the Lady Panthers with 33 goals this season. Freshman Kiley Dulaney has scored 21 and Dickinson has added 16.

Dickinson also leads the team in assists with 23.

“Hadley and Tristyn are such strong players,” Castillo said. You add Kiley to that, who plays much the same way. All of them can just beat two, three even four defenders. They get all the attention. But then you have girls like Gracen. She started last year but she’s a different player this year, and so dynamic. Her soccer IQ has really developed. She’s one, during the game, we can talk tactic and it’s a short conversation. She can fully grasp what I’ve told her and give me feedback.”

While the goal scorers have the star athletes (Edgar is the list of school record holders in track as well) some of the team leaders are on defense, starting with senior Joelle Long.

“She starts at center back for us,” Castillo said. “When you think of a field general, like a coach on the field, that’s her. She directs and encourages everyone else, and she does it in a way that really has the other girls’ ear. Not to say Hadley and Tristyn, who are my other two captains, aren’t like that. But Joey really has the knack because everyone knows she’s on their side. I look out there on the field during a game, at any given time, and she’s smiling. Just all three of them, really, I couldn’t ask for better leaders on the team.”

Dickinson, who transferred to Cabot after winning a state championship as a sophomore at Bryant, perfectly exemplified the team’s different approach this year to the championship.

“Last year we were really nervous,” Dickinson began. “There’s no need to be nervous this year because I think we’re the better team.”


Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE– It started at 10 a.m. and took only 88 minutes for the Cabot Panthers to win their very first baseball state championship game Friday at Baum Stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas. In a rapid-paced pitching duel, Har-Ber High got one more hit than Cabot, but the Panthers were more efficient, pulling off a 2-1 victory to open championship weekend at the U of A.

Cabot scored the game’s first two runs, and pitcher Logan Gilbertson controlled the Springdale Har-Ber lineup the rest of the way, earning the championship game Most Valuable Player Award.

This year’s seniors were coach Ronnie Goodwin’s first class that he coached all four years. He told them when they were freshmen they had the talent to win the school’s first championship, and they proved him right on Friday.

“I think I’ve coached less this year than ever before,” said Goodwin. “My assistant coaches have really done all the coaching, and these kids just know how to play ball. I’ve managed personalities and stuff like that, but the best thing I could do with this group is stay out of the way and let them play.”

Gilbertson went the distance on the mound, giving up four hits while striking out three and walking three. It was a solid performance, if not his most dominant, but he had supreme confidence in his teammates when the Wildcats threatened.

“I knew coming into it I felt like we were the better team,” Gilbertson said. “We were so ready for this. They came out early swinging it really well. I didn’t really feel any pressure. There was that one inning things got a little harry, but I knew we were going to get out of it. We usually do. Our defense has always had my back. I just have to make good pitches and let them do the work.”

Har-Ber’s last serious threat came in the fourth inning after Cabot had built a 2-0 lead. Caleb Kimbel singled and Caleb Grace popped up to third base. Lincoln Rasmussen and Mac McCorskey then hit back-to-back singles to load the bases with one out.

Jacob Williams then hit a fly ball to deep center field to score Kimbel to make it 2-1 with two outs. Leadoff hitter Blake Thompson then roped a line drive to right field, but right to Clayton Gray for the third out.

The Wildcats (21-11) scarcely touched the ball the last three innings, getting two base runners on Gilbertson walks, but never advancing anyone beyond first base.

“Once we got to about the fifth inning, it seemed like my guys just coasted,” Goodwin said. “You see teams sometimes, late games they’ll huddle up. We just kept going about our business. This team, there hasn’t been anything yet that’s rattled them. They’re just a confident group. We talk about that fine line between confidence and cockiness. We may flirt with it occasionally, but this has been a team that just doesn’t flinch.”

Cabot (26-7) got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning after Gilbertson sat down the Wildcats in just seven pitches in the top half.

The four Cabot batters all reached base, but only one run scored because of a 4-6-3 double play hit into by two-hole hitter Kyler Franks.

With two outs and nobody on, catcher Denver Mullins was hit by a pitch and replaced on the bases by courtesy runner Caleb Harpole. Cleanup hitter Dillon Thomas then ripped a two-strike double to the wall in left-center field, scoring Harpole all the way from first base for the 1-0 lead.

Har-Ber was in business after a single and an E2 started the top of the second.

The Wildcats tried to bunt the runners up a base, but Cabot had the corners in tight, and first baseman Bobby Duncan was able to get the lead runner at third.

Two fly balls ended the rally, Duncan then got a 0-2 base hit to center field to lead off the bottom of the second, and Evan Hooper walked.

Eric Larsen struck out and Kyler Franks flew out to left field, but Duncan was able to score before the last out, moving to third on wild pitch and touching home after a passed ball for a 2-0 lead.

Mullins, who is a four-year starter who has been in the postseason every year of his high school career and made the semifinals once, has a unique perspective on how hard it is to win a championship.

“So much time and so much hard work has gone into this, it just seems unreal,” said Mullins. “For it to come true is just amazing. Maybe it’s going to hit me later, but right now it feels unreal.”

Mullins expected a close, low-scoring game, and his experience proved to be a good predictor.

“Yes, I did,” (expect that type of game) Mullins said. “We knew they had a good guy on the mound, but we knew our guy was good, too. So we knew it was going to be a dog fight the whole game.”

Thomas got two of Cabot’s three base hits and the only extra-base hit for either team the entire game.

Kimbel led Har-Ber, going 2 for 3 with two singles.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Turn tassels and toss hats

Graduation season is here.

As spring gives way to summer, hopes are high and celebration is nigh as students from area schools pick up their diplomas en route to the future.

After a dozen or more years of boredom and excitement, learning and dread, parties, clubs, Friday night lights and of hope and heartache, graduates will move forward to fulfill dreams—their own, their parents’ and their friends’ and their communities’.

Rule No. 1: No celebratory drinking and certainly no drinking and driving. Don’t snuff out a future full of possibilities during a careless celebration.

As Mr. Spock would say on “Star Trek,” “Live long and prosper.”

As you receive your diplomas and end this stage of your lives this weekend, know that your families, friends and communities are proud of your accomplishments.

Beebe High School graduated 215 students on Friday at A.S. Bro Erwin Stadium; 28 were honor grads. The class of 2017 netted $2.9 million in college-scholarship offers. Haley Owens was valedictorian and Kyle Roberts salutatorian.

Also on Friday, Lonoke High School had 218 students receiving diplomas, 39 of whom were honor graduates.

Next up, Cabot High School’s graduation is at 7 p.m. Friday at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock. There will be about 700 graduates with 229 of them receiving diplomas with honors.

Jacksonville High School’s graduation is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Center, where Sylvan Hills High School’s commencement will begin earlier in the day at 4:30 p.m.

Taylor Toombs is valedictorian of Jacksonville’s first graduating class with 187 students, 27 with honors.

This class is noteworthy because this is Jacksonville-North Pulaski’s first year as a standalone school district with a new mascot: The Titans. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, graduations will be held at the new $65 million high school on Main Street at the old middle school site.

Four co-salutatorians will participate in the ceremony: Joseph Cummings, Kenzie Dean, Brianna Higgins and Linzie Martin.

Jacksonville community members are invited to line up along Main Street at 11 a.m. today to cheer on the Jacksonville High graduates, who will drive down the route in buses on their way to graduation practice.

“The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District would like your support and school spirit. This is an important milestone for our seniors and for our community. It would be great if we could line Main Street with community members and well-wishers to show support for our grads. They will be the first class of the Jacksonville High School Titans to graduate. Let’s help them go out with a big bang, Titan style,” according to an announcement from the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Sylvan Hills’ valedictorian is Kaelei Atkins, with Grace Persson the salutatorian. There are 274 graduates, 108 of them who were offered $3.4 million in college scholarships.

Sherwood is also hoping for its own $65 million new high school if voters extend an existing debt service bond for an additional 17 years to fund an an ambitious project. That election is June 13.

Jacksonville Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy will graduate 64 students at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 25 at the State House Convention Center in Little Rock.

As hopeful as a new round of graduations is, state Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) has long advocated for modernizing the state’s public education curriculum to better meet the demands of a changing job market.

Instead of the old-fashioned textbook and testing approach, she’d like to see schools team up with employers and give kids skills they can use to go into the world as marketable workers.

“Just encouraging people to go to college is not the thing to do. About 20 percent of our kids across the state go off to college. The other 80 percent walk out the door and don’t have a skill and don’t have a future,” English said during a recent speech to the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce.

Those are sobering words to consider this graduation season.

May today’s graduates become leaders of industry and government and contribute meaningfully to their communities. We are proud of your accomplishments.

Congratulations to everyone.

TOP STORY >> Military spouse keeps winning streak going

Brittany Boccher of Little Rock Air Force Base was named the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year presented by Military Spouse magazine at an awards ceremony Friday.

“I had the honor of attending the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events in D.C. The program celebrates its 10th year with a focus on empowering the military spouse. It is an absolute honor to be recognized among phenomenal military spouses, specifically recognized as the Military Spouse of the Year representing more than 1.1 million military spouses of the armed forces,” Boccher said. “I’m extremely humbled and thankful for those fellow spouses and leaders in our community who believe in me and encourage me to continue my work volunteering, mentoring spouses, fighting for inclusion and equal rights and opportunities for people with special needs. It’s beyond gratifying to represent my fellow spouses and be trusted by so many of my peers to represent our wonderful military spouse community.”

Boccher accepted the award in front of more than 250 of the nation’s top military supporters. The next morning she appeared before a national television audience in New York on “Fox and Friends.”

“Brittany is one more example of just how special this OSI family really is, and we’re very fortunate to have her as one of us,” wrote Brig. Gen. Keith M. Givens, Air Force Office of Special Investigations commander, in a congratulatory email. “She is one impressive spouse, mother and volunteer.”

Boccher and her husband Adam, an Office of Special Investigations agent, have two children: their daughter, Harper, and their son, Blake.

Her road to the Department of Defense award included her second-straight Little Rock AFB Military Spouse of the Year award, followed by winning at the Top 18 regional level and then at the Air Force branch level.

Her platform is special needs families. She has a son with Down syndrome.

“It’s important to me to see those programs improve, because I believe there’s always room for improvement in any program,” she said.

She says it’s important to garner relationships outside the gate and to build that community that supports Little Rock air base.

“I tie in my work with the Down syndrome community with the base in the exceptional family member program and try to really marry those two together,” she said.

“I can tell you the Military Spouse of the Year program as a whole has really made my voice heard over being Brittany Boccher that’s just pounding at the door because I want a therapeutic special needs swing for children versus saying,” she said.

“‘I’m Brittany Boccher. I’m president of the spouses club and I’m Military Spouse of the Year, and I really want to see this get done.’ It’s just really provided me the voice. I already had the foundation and the platform, but it’s opened those doors for me.”

“There are so many outstanding Air Force spouses who are dedicated to making exceptional changes in our military community,” Brittany Boccher said early in the competition. “To be recognized among them is an honor in itself and to be awarded the overall Air Force Spouse of the Year is an absolute privilege which I humbly accept.”

Boccher, a self-proclaimed “seasoned Air Force spouse of 11 years,” along with the other five Military Spouse of the Year contenders submitted profiles of themselves for judging. Many of her 2016 accomplishments significantly improved the lives of others.

She is president of the Little Rock AFB Spouses Club, which increased participation by 800 percent resulting in the club stocking the on-base food pantry to maximum capacity, providing backpacks for more than 300 military children, collecting and packaging more than 75 care packages for deployed troops, and supporting the school by purchasing physical-education equipment and assisting in the building of pollinator gardens.

Boccher participated in the signing of House Bill 1162, the Retired Military Tax Cut in Arkansas. Its passage creates tax relief for military retirees beginning in January 2018.

She is the founder and director of the Down Syndrome Advancement Coalition “Tank Filled Life” project, educating and advocating for individuals with Down syndrome. The coalition partners with active Down syndrome organizations in Arkansas on behalf of Down syndrome families, including the Bocchers.

She teamed with base officials to build a playground with accessible therapeutic swings supporting children with physical disabilities.

Boccher holds a bachelor of science degree in community- health education and kinesiology and a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and management, which enabled her to establish two personal businesses and mentor and encourage nearly a dozen military spouses on becoming small business owners.

“I’m thankful for those who believe in me and encourage me to continue my work mentoring spouses, fighting for inclusion and equal rights and opportunities for people with special needs,” she said. “It’s beyond gratifying to represent the Air Force and be trusted by so many of my peers to represent our wonderful military spouse community.”

Boccher also owns Brittany Boccher Photography and is co-owner of Mason Chix apparel. Both companies support the advancement of Down syndrome treatment, research and neuro-developmental therapies, as well as other military spouse entrepreneurs.

“I’m extremely proud, but most of all I’m thankful for the opportunity to share this with my family and be an example to my daughter of how one person can make change happen,” Boccher said.

TOP STORY >> Administration finds itself in bunker mode

Leader executive editor

Bombshells at the beleaguered White House keep going off about every hour, which now include allegations of obstructing FBI investigations to spilling top-secret intelligence to the Russians.

President Trump’s troubles worsened last week when he fired FBI director James Comey for continuing his investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, who were cordially invited to the White House last Wednesday, the day after Comey’s dismissal.

Trump wanted to stop the FBI investigation of Gen. Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser who was suspected of being a Russian asset.

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump ominously told Comey during a meeting.

Comey wrote two pages of notes of their conversation after he returned to his office, which he had done before involving sensitive investigations. He is said to be ready to testify before Congress.

Trump says he might have tapes of their conversation. If true, Congress needs to subpoena them.

More troubling revelations involve Trump discussing top-secret intelligence about ISIS threats with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. The Russians were gleeful during their visit and must have forwarded the information to Vladimir Putin as soon as they returned to the Russian Embassy.

Trump carelessly gave the Russians pieces of intelligence that Israel shared with us after their agents infiltrated ISIS in Syria. Why pass the information to the Russians, who are aligned with Assad, Hezbollah and Iran in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Why were the Russians allowed into the White House with cameras and listening devices when the U.S. media were kept out of the Oval Office? Did they hope for an update on the FBI investigation into the collusion with the Russians?

The Russians, who know nothing about our system of checks and balances, must be disappointed as the FBI continues to investigate the White House. The Russians wouldn’t allow that in their country, where the regime’s enemies wind up dead with alarming regularity.

Our congressional delegation remains silent on the latest revelations, leaving it to former Gov. Mike Huckabee to defend Trump on the pro-Russian Fox News channel. His daughter, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is also a staunch defender, although her job may be the most difficult in the administration after press secretary Sean Spicer, who appears to be on his way out.

Sanders and Spicer, along with several other aides, turned up the volume on their TV Monday night while they screamed at each other as they fought over Trump’s intelligence leak.

The White House gets smaller as a shell-shocked staff tries to contain the damage. The stunning revelations are bound to get worse as a determined press pursues leaks and tips from the White House, the FBI and others.

I said press and not high-falutin’ media because 95 percent of the stories that have rocked the White House were first reported in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and others.

Trump also discussed jailing reporters when he met with Comey. As an experienced law-enforcement official, Comey took the notes for his own protection and to document the assault on our democracy. He will speak out against foreign and domestic subversion.

Trump’s troubles mean his legislative agenda is now doomed. Health-care reform is stalled in the Senate. There is no budget or a border wall.

We are in the middle of a constitutional crisis, the worst since Watergate, but the Founding Fathers knew that without eternal vigilance, our democracy would come under fire.

We are being tested, but thanks to our Constitution, the people will prevail.

TOP STORY >> Summer reading

Leader staff writer

It was more of an impromptu twirl than a pirouette, but no matter, Brie Ritchie of Cabot managed to express her delight with the children’s offerings at the Cabot Public Library through dance.

Her mother, Lori Ritchie of Cabot, interpreted Brie’s spin by saying, “She loves the library. She loves story time.”

The library’s Reading Program kicks off Monday, June 5, even more reason for the pre-schooler to celebrate.

Lori Ritchie said, “We bring her to the library because it gives her a chance to socialize, to listen to other adults’ voices and to learn to follow instructions.”

While Brie continued to dance her way through the children’s section of the Cabot Public Library, a staff member walked through the room with an armful of books. At the sight of the little girl, she just smiled and continued on her way.

Brie was there for the Thursday morning story time, along with her mother and father, Joseph Ritchie, and her younger sister, Isabella.

Joseph Ritchie said, “This library isn’t intimidating (like some) but it’s very comfortable. The staff is helpful and always willing to answer questions.”


A few minutes earlier, the girls had been playing on the library’s fixed iPad stations, and Lorie Ritchie said as Brie sat on her lap, “We feel very welcome here and come every other week.”

She said she is also considering involving her older children in a summer program or taking advantage of their free tutoring services..

Kathleen Frankl Ashmore, newly named Lonoke/Prairie County Library System interim assistant director and Cabot Public Library branch manager, said, “We want people to feel comfortable,” and as a matter of fact, she said, “Our heaviest participation is moms, dads and grandparents,” bringing in children.

So the Cabot branch, the newest in the Lonoke/Prairie County Library System, goes out of its way to cater to their needs, offering about 40 children’s program each month.

With summer vacation just around the corner, she said, it’s time for the library’s Summer Reading Program.

“Each year, the Summer Reading Program has a theme. This year’s theme is ‘Build a Better World,’” Ashmore said.

The program will offer classes on gardening, recycling, animal care, Lego Club, Toltec Mounds, Makerspace, 4-H and more.

For example, there will be programs about the importance of bees in the environment and in food production and a look at the Cabot Rock mystery. The decorated Cabot Rocks are found unexpectedly and might be found anywhere around the city, Ashmore said.

“They are little rocks that you can pick up and take home…They make people happy,” which fits in nicely with their summer reading theme.

“Whether literal or metaphorical, we hope that we inspire you to build a better world,” according to the library’s summer program brochure.

In addition, all the Lonoke/Prairie County Library System’s branches, including Cabot, Carlisle, England and Lonoke, are offering the Build a Better World program, with registration starting this Monday, May 15.

The summer reading program starts Monday, June 5.

More information about this program, go to your local library’s Facebook page.


In the main section of the nearly two-year-old Cabot library, people browsed the books while Shannon Lievsay, a construction worker who lives in Cabot, signed onto their free WiFi.

“I don’t have WiFi at home and this saves my (phone) data…The staff doesn’t mind, and they are great,” he said.

In fact, Deborah Moore, Lonoke/Prairie County Library System regional director, encourages library visitors to take advantage of the free WiFi, computer and online services.

“We want people to come in to use our Internet. We encourage it,” Moore said.

The library system has had public-use computers since 1996, but Moore said, “We don’t mind if you bring in your own device.”

Many of their users are high school and college students, who come in and spend the entire day working and researching information; others are looking for jobs — Moore said many big companies now insist that perspective employees fill out their employment applications online, and many are self-employed individuals who need to access the Internet.

“Some just want to check their Facebook page, and we’re OK with that,” Moore said.

User numbers are up at Cabot’s library. Last year, 107,078 visitors walked through its front doors and while the various adult, teen and children’s programs they offer totaled 478 last year, their online services and connection was a big part of their draw.

In addition to an extensive genealogy department, Cabot offers English as a Second Language and crafter classes, lectures, book signings, dance, just to name a few of their activities geared toward adults.


The Cabot library provides teens with their own space and they have their own Advisory Board, plus there are movie showings, a 3D printer, and there are clubs like Minecraft and Pokemon.

“We offer job prep and (employment) skill building to teens,” Moore said.

Ashmore said, “The teen room is usually packed. They use it to study, tutor each other, play video games on their devices. It’s a safe place for them, and it’s not intimidating.”

They encourage teens to explore the library this summer.

If the staff can get teens to use the library and its services then they’re more likely to come back when they have their own children or grandchildren.

Of course, they still have books, magazines and videos that can be checked out.


Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said, when he took office in 2011, “it was bought to my attention by the library board that their stats had doubled over the last five years. That meant the library was in big demand.”

But he added, “They needed more space so we put forward a bond issue (in 2013 that extended the city’s one-cent sales tax) that would provide the funding to build a new library.”

The city put its money where it’s need was, and Cypert said, “If it was important to our residents, then it was important to the city.”

So the city built a 4,000-square-foot branch at 909 W. Main St. at a cost of $2.6 million, and it owns the building and land, and continues to financially support the library.

“It’s a good investment and it improves the quality of life in our town. Since then (when the new branch opened), they have only continued to grow.

Recent library system numbers support Cypert’s claims.

Across the Lonoke/Prairie County Library System, to which the Cabot Public Library belongs, Moore said, “Our numbers are up.”

Last year, the system’s total visitors count, including their branches at Cabot, Carlisle, England and Lonoke, totaled 173,195 and their programs totaled 619.

Across the system, their numbers were up in 2016 over 2015. Circulation was up 15 percent; registration was up 78.8 percent; computer usage was up 34 percent; reference usage was up 76.5 percent; and visits were up 19 percent.

This year’s numbers also seem to be on the rise, Moore said.

Cabot is the largest branch in the system and accounted for more than half of last year’s total visits and nearly four-fifths of its total programming.

Moore said the system attempts to stay in tune with the needs and desires of the general public, because, she said, “We want to be a vital part of the community…People want to better their lives, and we want to give them a chance to pursue that goal.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers shut out Fayetteville, earn title rematch

Leader sports editor

FORT SMITH – A long wait to get back to the Class 7A state championship game is finally over for the Cabot girls’ soccer team. The Lady Panthers played tremendous defense and defeated Fayetteville 2-0 in the semifinals at Southside High School on Saturday.

That has earned the team a rematch with Bentonville (21-3) in the state championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at the University of Arkansas. The Lady Tigers are the defending state champions after beating Cabot 3-0 in last year’s title match.

On Saturday, Cabot scored once very early and once very late. In just the ninth minute of the game, three players combined to cover almost the entire length of the field to set up the lead-taking goal.

Cabot senior Alexis Dang took control from a Fayetteville player well into the Lady Bulldogs’ offensive side of the field. She made a long pass to senior Hadley Dickinson at midfield.

She dribbled by one defender and passed to junior Tristyn Edgar several yards up ahead. Edgar ran right by one defender to create a one-on-one with goalkeeper Gracie Cape.

The University of Tulsa signee was a mismatch for Cape, and scored easily with 30:51 left in the first half.

It became mostly a defensive struggle the rest of the way, but the Lady Panthers created many more opportunities and more shots and shots on goal.

The Lady Panthers (23-2) had 12 shots on goal, to just four for Fayetteville (17-5-1). One came dangerously close to tying the game with about 20 minutes to go, but it bounced off the crossbar and the Lady Panther defender Joelle Long was able to clear it out.

Just a couple minutes later, Cabotsophomore Gracen Turner weaved through several defenders and got open for a one-on-one shot, but barely missed wide.

Freshman Janessa Aguirre scored the Lady Panthers’ final goal with about four minutes to go.

She also took a pass from Dickinson in the middle of the field, and beat a defender to set the final margin.

“Fayetteville is an extraordinarily difficult team to break down,” said Cabot coach Kerry Castillo. “They’re solid fundamentally and they’re very physical. But we have some great players, too. And I know they’re looking forward to getting another shot at Bentonville.”

Bentonville and Cabot both went 14-0 in their respective conferences. Saturday’s championship game will be the first meeting between the two teams this season.

The Lady Tigers beat Fort Smith Southside 5-0 in the quarterfinals, and then beat Springdale-Har-Ber 1-0 to get to the championship game.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers leave no doubt in semifinal

Leader sports editor

BENTONVILLE – After a season series split that consisted of a one-run game and an extra-innings game, there was nothing close about the semifinal rubber match. When the Cabot Panthers met the Bryant Hornets for the third time Saturday in the Class 7A baseball playoffs, it was all Cabot.

The Panthers pummeled the Hornets 14-4 in five innings to earn their ticket to the school’s first-ever appearance in a baseball state championship.

The 7A-Central champion Panthers (24-7, 13-1) avenged that one conference loss with an offensive outburst of 16 base hits in just five innings.

“When you look at the hits column, at 16-10 it felt a lot closer than the score indicated,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin. “They have such a good program. There wasn’t an easy out for us in that whole game because their approach is so good. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for them. But our kids, though, they could taste it today and they played well.”

Bryant actually scored first in the top of the first inning. After taking the lead, the Hornets still had the bases loaded with one out, but pitcher Brett Brockinton struck out the next two batters to keep the deficit to one run.

Cabot then went right to work offensively. Blake McCutchen and Clayton Gray hit back-to-back singles to start things off. They were still standing on base with two outs, but freshman Houston King singled to drive in both base runners. King then scored when Bobby Joe Duncan’s grounder to shortstop was mishandled. Giving Cabot a 3-1 lead.

Brockinton held Bryant scoreless in the second, and the Panthers quickly added three more runs. With one out, Kyle Franks started a four-straight hit rally with a single to right field. McCutchen doubled, Gray singled and Mullins doubled to make it 6-1.

Bryant scored two runs on a triple by Matthew Sandage to make it 6-3, but the Panther bats were relentless, and the Hornet defense began to crack.

Duncan reached on another error to start the third, and Evan Hooper was hit. Duncan scored on a sacrifice bunt by Frankes, and McCutchen singled to drive in Hooper for a 9-3 Cabot lead.

A Panther error and two singles made it 9-4 in the top of the fourth, but Cabot added four in the bottom half. Dillon Thomas hit a leadoff single and King walked.

Duncan’s sacrifice bunt turned into a single when he pushed it past the mound on the third-base side. Hooper then singled to score Thomas and King. Franks walked to load the bases again, McCutchen then singled to score Duncan and Hooper for a 13-4 lead.

Michael Shepherd held Bryant scoreless in the top of the fifth, and Cabot put an end to the game in the bottom half by going up by 10 runs.

Thomas hit a leadoff double and was replaced by Ty Cyr. Duncan and Hooper drew one-out walks, and Larsen got the game-ending RBI base hit with a line drive to left field.

“This is my first group I had four years ago,” Goodwin said. “I told them Cabot is going to be in one of these and win one of these championships one of these days. The only question is, are you going to be here to see and am I going to be. Now we’re a step closer with one more game.”

McCutchen went 4 for 4 with a double, three runs scored and three RBIs. Gray went 3 for 4 with two runs and three RBIs. Everyone with an at-bat got at least one hit, and Goodwin feels good about the way his whole lineup is swinging it.

“Top to bottom, McCutchen is the cataclyst at the top there” Goodwin said. “The two freshmen, Gray and King, they’ve been fearless as freshmen. When you watch them play, if you don’t know who they are you don’t think they’re freshmen. Denver has been a staple as a four-year starter. Dillon is leading us in hitting.

“There’s just so much depth to our lineup. Getting Eric Larsen back who hasn’t been here all year, I mean, there’s an eight-hole guy who was our cleanup last year and led our team in RBIs.

“You got guys like Duncan and Hooper in front of him with some speed. So, you know, if we can get traffic we’ve got guys that score guys from first and we’ve got more speed that we’ve ever had.”

Senior pitcher Logan Gilbertson pitched in the quarterfinals and didn’t play on Saturday, but despite not playing, called the win the highlight of the season.

“Bryant beat us earlier, so it was nice to come out and put it on them like that,” said Gilbertson.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot set for first baseball title game

Leader sports editor

Cabot High School has never played in a baseball state championship game, but that will change on Friday when the Panthers take on Springdale-Har-Ber for the Class 7A championship at 10 a.m. at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

The Panthers broke the school record for wins in a season three games ago, and enter the Friday morning contest with a record of 14-7.

While it’s the first championship appearance for Cabot, it doesn’t come as a surprise to many on the team, including head coach Ronnie Goodwin, who started at Cabot High School the same year as his senior class.

“I’ve told them since they were in ninth grade they had a chance to be in one of these,” said Goodwin. “I knew we had the talent, it was just a matter of if we put it together. So far we’ve done that pretty well.”

One player that has started nearly every game in his and Goodwin’s time at CHS is back catcher Denver Mullins. He’s the team’s lone four-year starter. A Crowder College signee, Mullins has a unique perspective on the differences between this year’s team, and others in recent years that haven’t achieved the same level of success.

“We have a lot of talent, but especially a lotof experience with the talent,” said Mullins. “My freshman year, we had about as much talent, but not the experience or the chemistry these guys have. Chemistry is a really big deal. Most of these guys I’ve played with since I was four or five, so we’ve been playing together a long time. We’ve been aiming at this a really long time and it’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication.”

The Har-Ber Wildcats (22-9) were the three seed from the 7A-West, and had to win three games to get to the championship game. They saved ace right-hander Blake Adams in the first game against Central six seed Fort Smith Southside.

Har-Ber carried a 6-1 lead into the sixth inning, but gave up a six spot and had to rally for a 10-7 victory.

Adams then pitched in the quarterfinals against North Little Rock, and went the distance in a 5-3 win. Again, Har-Ber had to come from behind. NLR got three hits and a walk to go with a Har-Ber error to score all three of its runs in the bottom of the first inning.

From that point, Adams held NLR to just three more hits over the final six innings.

That led to a semifinal matchup with Fayetteville, a team the Wildcats split with in the regular-season. Left-handed pitcher Blake Benson went the distance in that 8-1 victory, throwing five innings of shutout baseball until the Bulldogs finally scored in the sixth.

Adams is just a sophomore and Har-Ber coach Ron Bradley is clear that he thinks his team is the underdog, but doesn’t see any disadvantage to having a sophomore going against a senior on the mound.

“With everything Blake has done for us this year, he’s not really a sophomore anymore,” said Bradley. “He’s more like a junior. He’s come through for us time and again all season long. But I don’t think there’s any question Cabot is the favorite. With their record and what they’ve accomplish this year, I think they’d have been a one seed in either conference. So it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us.”

Of the 11 Wildcats with plate appearances in the playoffs, only one is hitting below .300. Seven-hole hitter Mac McCroskey leads the team in the state tournament, hitting .500. The Wildcats have piled up 32 base hits in three playoff games, including six doubles and three triples.

Adams is also the team’s leading hitter, batting .384 this season. McCroskey is batting .371 for the season. Cleanup hitter Caleb Kimbel was hitting .190 halfway through the season, but is at .304 now.

“He’s hit about .450 for us since about the midway point,” Bradley said.

Goodwin expects to see the sophomore Adams, but he’s happy with how his team has been swinging the bats lately. Cabot got six hits against Catholic ace Noah Fowler in the quarterfinals. On Saturday, the Panthers piled up 15 base hits in just five innings of their 14-4 win over Bryant.

Leadoff hitter Blake McCutchen went 4 for 4 with two doubles, three RBIs and three runs scored in the semifinal blowout. Clayton Gray went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and Dillon Thomas went 2 for 4. Everyone who stepped to the plate in that game got at least one hit.

“From top to bottom we’ve put a lot on a lot of players,” Goodwin said.

Cabot played most of the season without three starters, but had different people step in as needed. Caleb Harpole played center field while UA signee Evan Hooper recovered from an injury. Last year’s starting second baseman, Bobby Joe Duncan, missed much of the season after an injury in basketball. Eric Larsen, last year’s cleanup hitter, didn’t return until near the very end of the year, and Brodey Schluter filled that gap at first base.

Sophomore Kyler Franks performed so well at second base in Duncan’s absence, Duncan moved to first base when he returned.

Houston King and Clayton Gray are two freshmen that have carved out spots in the starting lineup for themselves.

“That’s why we call it a team game,” Goodwin said. “We just kind-of say next man up. We’re swinging it really well. Larsen was our cleanup last year and he’s in the eight hole. We start a lot of seniors, but Dillon Thomas is a junior and he’s leading us in hitting. If you would have told me at the beginning that Bobby Duncan would be at first base, I would’ve said no way. It’s been a team thing. These guys just don’t flinch.”

Thomas leads Cabot with a phenomenal .426 batting average. Mullins is hitting .371 while McCutchen and King are at .367.

Cabot has experienced several close games this year in the rugged 7A-Central Conference. The conference season started with back-to-back one-run, extra-innings wins over Conway and Little Rock Central. There would be two more extra-innings games and four more settled by two runs or fewer.

The Panthers only lost one, 3-1 to Bryant at home a month after beating them 3-2 on the road.

“I’ve always told them, win or lose, one-run games make you better,” Goodwin said. “Because we competed against such good teams, I know we’re prepared for it. They’ve been a resilient group.”

Goodwin expects Har-Ber coach Ronnie Bradley to hand the ball to Adams, and Goodwin will answer with Logan Gilbertson, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who has signed with UCA.

He was the team’s No. 2 last year behind ASU signee Chase Kyzer, and has embraced the role as the go-to guy for the team this year.

“I didn’t really think of it as a burden,” said Gilbertson. “It was just one of my responsibilities to help out the team. My plan was to be the guy to take over the innings for sure.”

Gilbertson has pitched masterfully all year, but because of so many close games, senior Michael Shepherd has ended up with the most wins in conference play as a relief pitcher.

Senior Brett Brockinton has been the No. 2 starter in league play, and the whole staff will be available if needed on Friday.

There are always a few extra distractions for a championship game, and spring sports teams deal with the added distractions of end-of-the-year tests, graduation and graduation preparation. The head Panther has some sound advice for his team, and believes this squad has the maturity and experience to take heed.

“Just be where your feet are,” Goodwin said. “It’s what we’ve talked about all year. We have to have the mindset that it’s just the next game on the schedule. There are going to be a lot of things out there, distractions of different kinds, so what can we control? We can control what we’re doing in this moment. It’s still 60-feet, 6-inches from mound to plate, and 90-feet bases. We just have to prepare like we have all year, try to stay as even keel as possible and just be where our feet are.”