Friday, June 02, 2017

EDITORIAL >> District loses key leaders

A retirement party for Tony Wood, superintendent of the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, was held Friday at the Jacksonville Community Center, where former Gov. Mike Beebe saluted the long-time educator for his 45 years of outstanding service.

Some 75 well-wishers, including state Education Commissioner Johnny Key, turned out to honor Wood for helping to establish the new school district as it separated from the Pulaski County Special School District. His last day as superintendent is June 30.

Bryan Duffie, an assistant superintendent, will take over for Wood starting July 1.

Wood has led JNPSD for the last two years after stepping down as state education commissioner. He has developed plans to build a new $65 million high school at the old middle school site downtown and a new $16.5 million elementary school near Harris and General Samuels roads.

The new high school is set to open in fall of 2019. The new elementary will open in 2018. The new campuses are key for Jacksonville being released from court oversight. They are also the reason why Jacksonville fought for decades to break off from PCSSD, which didn’t build a new school in Jacksonville for at least 30 years.

The new campuses are seen as the gateway to boosting academic programs, student achievement, attracting families and rebuilding the Jacksonville community.

Wood’s bold and ambitious leadership matched the city’s vision for its brighter future. All this on a tight budget, declining enrollment and opposition from John Walker, the longtime civil rights attorney, who’s been unimpressed with Jacksonville’s efforts to transform its school system. Thanks to Wood, and his whip-smart team, the new district, and the town as a whole, is on the right course to a successful future.

His chief of staff, Phyllis Stewart, is also leaving June 30, as is Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh, who is taking a top job in the state Education Department.

They, too, deserve a lot of credit for establishing the new district. It took savvy, determination and, most of all, teamwork.

Stewart said of Wood, “The most critical traits needed in a school superintendent are integrity, experience, leadership and a true desire to serve. Tony Wood is all of those. He has built the ship and has it sailing in open seas.”

Mayor Gary Fletcher also praised Wood, “I think our city and our community were blessed that Tony Wood took the job at a time in his life when he didn’t have to take it.”

Wood was set to retire from a long career in education before signing on to lead JNPSD.

“There’s just not enough good things to say about the man. He was our first choice before the district was even formed. He will be sorely missed. I certainly appreciate the two years he gave us. The district’s on very solid footing because of his leadership and the team he brought together,” Fletcher said.

Because of the hard work of Wood and his staff, the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District will thrive under Duffie’s leadership.

Thank you, Tony Wood, Phyllis Stewart, Jeremy Owoh and former Superintendent Bobby Lester for all your contributions to public education in Jacksonville and around the state.

TOP STORY >> Smith wants chief’s case to continue

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Alderman Tara Smith, through her attorney Nate Steel, has responded to the city’s request to have Circuit Judge Alice Gray throw out Smith’s case against the city for the hiring of the new police chief, Geoffrey Herweg.

She filed the suit in mid-April. Herweg has a 2002 misdemeanor conviction of filing a false report after an off-duty accident while he was a police officer in Texas.

Steel, in his latest response filed Tuesday, said, “Mayor Gary Fletcher, with knowledge of these convictions, appointed Herweg to the office of Chief of Police for the City of Jacksonville, Arkansas. Herweg’s appointment to an office of public trust violates Arkansas law, and he must be removed.”

Steel said City Attorney Bobby Bamburg and the city are inappropriately citing state law, not Smith. In his response to Bamburg’s request for dismissal, Steel said, “Defendants inappropriately cite federal law for the proposition that their motion should not be converted, but provide no controlling authority for such an argument. The motion should be denied.”

Steel continued to insist that Smith is right in her belief that the office of Chief of Police is “an office of public trust or profit as prescribed by Article 5, Section 9 of the Constitution of the State.”

Unless the judge takes some type of action, the first hearing in the case is set for 3:30 p.m. June 19 in Little Rock.

Smith, in her suit, said that Herweg should not be allowed to hold the position because he has an “infamous crime on his record, and by hiring the chief and paying his salary the city is using taxpayers’ money improperly.

Steel, when he was a state legislator sponsored the bill that defined “infamous crimes” as a felony offense; a misdemeanor theft of property offense; abuse of office, tampering or a misdemeanor offense in which the finder of fact was required to find, or the defendant to admit, an act of deceit, fraud, or false statement.

Bamburg, in mid-May, filed for dismissal, claiming the suit was “frivolous.”

He also said state law allowed mayors in first-class cities like Jacksonville to appoint and dismiss department heads. Bamburg further claimed that the section of the state Constitution that Smith and Steel say apply in this case is only for elected officials.

Bamburg also said that Smith didn’t try other methods and steps before filing the suit. Any mayoral appointment can be vetoed by a two-thirds vote of the council. Smith never asked for the vote.

Steel said, “The Arkansas Supreme Court held that an appointed town marshal holds a public office for purposes of the Constitution of the State of Arkansas, and prohibited him from serving. The Court came to the same conclusion for an appointed marshal in a city of the second class” in a later case.

Bamburg insists that section only applies to elected officials.

Steel told the judge in his brief that “whether an office is appointed or elected is of no consequence. The question is whether the individual holds a ‘public office’ for purposes of the Constitution of the State of Arkansas. If so, the individual is subject to constitutional limitations.”

And that is what Judge Gray must decide on or before June 19.

TOP STORY >> Shooting of girl set to go to trial

Leader staff writer

A Beebe man accused in the shooting death of a 7-year-old girl will have a jury trial on Tuesday, June 13 in White County Circuit Court, Law Enforcement Center Courtroom.

Jeremiah Owens, 26, faces a felony charge of manslaughter in the death of Karma Wezowicz, who was shot on Feb. 27 at 210 S. Cypress St., Apt. D while Owens was examining a loaded gun.

Karma succumbed to her injuries four days later at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Owens entered a not guilty plea in April.

According to the affidavit, Beebe police were called at 8:03 p.m. on Feb. 27 to the apartment. The caller reported hearing screaming, shuffling and a gunshot.

Police arrived to see Matthew Wezowicz standing in the driveway of the residence holding his daughter. She had a gunshot wound near her right eye. She was taken to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The girl was pronounced brain dead on March 1 and removed from a ventilator on March 4.

When interviewed by Beebe police, Wezowicz said he, his mother, his daughter and his friend Owens were in the home at the time of the shooting.

Wezowicz purchased a new Taurus .38-caliber handgun earlier in the day and had it in a holster on his right hip. He said Owens was sitting next to him on a loveseat and asked to see the gun. He handed Owens the gun. Owens handed it back to him and Wezowicz placed the gun back in the holster.

Wezowicz said that a few minutes later, he looked at his daughter, who was sitting on a couch beside the loveseat. Wezowicz heard a gunshot and saw his daughter fall forward.

Owens told investigators he was at Wezowicz’s home for 30 minutes. Before he came over, he drank two 32-ounce cans of beer and took a couple of Valium pills.

Owens said Wezowicz had the gun out, and Owens asked if he could look at it. Owens said he did not know the gun was loaded.

Owens had the gun down in his lap looking at it, and the gun fired.

Police found the gun underneath the loveseat where Owens was sitting. Investigators said it appeared the bullet passed in front of Matthew Wezowicz. It went through the arm of the loveseat before striking the girl.

TOP STORY >> JNPSD gives retiring chief big farewell

Leader senior staff writer

In the same Jacksonville Community Center room where Tony Wood first met area patrons two years ago as the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District’s first full-time superintendent, friends, co-workers and luminaries on Friday afternoon gathered to see him off as he prepares to retire June 30.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson re-placed Wood, the former state education commissioner, with Johnny Key, making Wood available at the perfect time to succeed interim Superintendent Bobby Lester and help birth the new district.

At least 65 people attended the surprise sendoff, including Key, former Gov. Mike Beebe, School Board president Daniel Gray, vice president Ronald McDaniel and board members Jim Moore and Deena Toney.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher presented the superintendent with the key to the city.

Former Gov. Mike Beebe spoke of Wood’s low-key demeanor, which belied his affable, organized, informed and headlong approach to the challenge of creating the first new public Arkansas school district in anyone’s memory.

Beebe spoke of Wood’s habit of involving parents and teachers — those who would have to implement it, in creating new policy. (See editorial, p. 8A.)

“There’s been a ton of progress,” over those two years, Wood said. “We didn’t know what to expect. We were starting at ground zero.”

“I knew what had to be put in place,” he said. “We’ve got a good foundation, lots of good people to continue that effort.”

“There’s been a lot of progress made. It has truly been a work in progress. It’s going to take some time to fully materialize. It doesn’t happen in two to three years,” he said.

“We’re all in Tony’s debt,” said Gray.

Wood brought with him Chuck Stein, the former director of partnership funding and transportation and also recommended Brian Duffie as an assistant superintendent.

Duffie will be superintendent beginning July 1.

Knowing who to hire was “part of what Tony brought to the table,” Gray explained.

Among the 67 people who signed the guest book were Beebe, Key, PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess, state Facilities and Transportation director Brad Montgomery, North Little Rock Superintendent Kelly Rodgers and long-time supporters of the new district Tommy and Pat Bond.

SPORTS STORY >> Pepper’s Pond hosts retrievers

Leader sports editor

MAYFLOWER – Pepper’s Pond, on the Camp Robinson Special Use Area and owned by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, is playing host to the fifth Arkansas Retriever Challenge Super Retriever Series Event that’s happening this weekend.

Preliminary rounds started on Friday, and the competition will finish on Sunday.

The event, sponsored by the Pin Oak Hunter Retriever Dog Club, has drawn 77 top dogs from more than 15 states. Three pro teams and five amateur teams will qualify for the Super Retriever Series Crown Championship in Huntsville, Alabama.

A portion of the proceeds from the event’s registration fees will go to continuing the work and upkeep of Pepper’s Pond. Admission for the public is free.

Pepper’s Pond is a training facility for retrievers that was built by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Pin Oak HRDC in 2001. A second pond was added in 2014 after a tornado ravaged the area, according to Matt Mourot, AGFC field biologist and assistant regional supervisor over the Camp Robinson Special Use Area.

The Pepper’s Pond facility is open and free to the public.

“The tornado destroyed 26 acres around there,” said Shannon Nardi, director of the SRS series. “The whole (Pin Oak) club worked on it. It’s a very nice training facility that is one of a kind in the country. In our industry, a lot of people know about it. People who are traveling through Arkansas to events will stop and train their dog there.”

Retrievers are especially important to hunters in The Natural State in bringing back harvested game that otherwise might not be found. While bred for the job, retrievers such as American Labrador still require training before being sent out in the wild. That’s where a facility like Pepper’s Pond can help.

The pond is named for a dog that belonged to Larry McMurry, who is president of the Pin Oak club.

“He probably trained Pepper out there,” Nardi said. “She was a really well-trained, well-known retriever. Larry started the first part of the pond. The most recent work was phase 2, and we’re going to be working on phase 3.”

Nardi also notes that Pepper’s Pond is “the first area the (AGFC) has ever named after a dog.”

The Super Retriever Series event puts the dogs through a variety of field tests over three days, beginning each day at 8 a.m. and running until dusk. Nardi advises the public to bring lawn chairs and take in the trials. When entering the Special Use Area, she said, look for signs directing visitors to Pepper’s Pond, or look for a large white tent on the property, serving as event headquarters.

“They will be among the best retrievers in the country,” Nardi said. “You have to have a Master or Hunter Retriever title to participate.”

Meanwhile, Pepper’s Pond is open daily to anyone who wants to put their dog through retrieving tests.

“You can join groups that are already training or go off by yourself,” Nardi said. “There is a technical pond with areas specifically built for retriever training.”

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers compete in first team camp

Leader sports editor

The Beebe football team got its summer practice competition underway Wednesday with a trip to a team camp at Searcy High School. Searcy, Beebe, Rose Bud and Southside-Batesville were the four teams on hand.

The format started with each team’s defense facing rapid-fire plays from the other three teams’ rotating offenses. After a break, each team faced the other three in a 20-minute scrimmage.

Beebe coach John Shannon didn’t like how his team started the day, but thought it recovered and then finished well.

“You could tell we’d been off a little while,” said Shannon. “We had spring ball two weeks ago and hadn’t had any competitive contact since then. Offensively we did pretty well for the most part. In our scrimmage with Searcy we didn’t do very well, but the other two we did.”

Beebe has almost its entire starting lineup back on offense from last year, and does return the entire backfield. The defense lost all three starting linemen, but two that played considerable minutes are returning. Those are Wade King and Cade Harlin.

“We feel like they’re going to be pretty good,” Shannon said.

The scrimmages were played just like a regular game. If an offense continues to get first downs, it stays on the field. If it fails, possession changes. Against Searcy, Beebe was stopped on downs on one possession, and fumbled it away on the other.

Against Rose Bud and Southside, the Badgers scored on every possession, including a couple of big plays.

“I thought Noah Jolly and Clinton Johnson, our two offensive tackles, did a really good job,” Shannon said. “Noah started for us last year at guard. We moved him out to tackle on the left side and he’s done well. We think they’re going to be pretty good.”

Taylor Boyce was the team’s big play threat last year as a sophomore. He returns at that position while Nathan Burnett starts at fullback. Kahlil Anthony returns at the other halfback spot and is backing up Burnett at fullback, which he played some last year as well.

Beebe threw the ball several times on Wednesday, and Shannon was pleased with both of his quarterbacks, Mason Walker and C.J. Cauldwell, if not the passing game overall.

“Our two quarterbacks, I thought threw it really well,” Shannon said. “We didn’t catch it well. I thought their throws should’ve been caught, but some were dropped. So right now I feel pretty good about both of them and their ability to throw it. Luke Oakley is probably our best receiver. He’s also playing halfback some, but he was our best outside linebacker last year and we’re going to keep him their primarily.”

The Beebe defense didn’t look as sharp as the offense came around to, but Shannon believes the major problem can be corrected in future camp sessions. Mostly what’s needed is competition for inexperienced players.

“Defensively our pursuit angles weren’t very good,” Shannon said. “We overran plays or we got beat outside for taking the wrong angle. We’re replacing our whole defensive line and giving different people opportunities, so that’s going to get better as we get used to the speed of varsity competition. I feel like the scrimmage helped us more defensively than anything else, just from facing someone else at full speed.”

The Badgers will return to Conway’s team camp, which they have been a part of the last several years, on June 13. After the mandatory dead period where coaches cannot be in contact with players for two weeks during the summer, they will return to Conway on July 12 and 19.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney Jr. wins three

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Junior American Legion team picked up three more wins on Tuesday and Thursday, running its record to 5-1 early in the season.

On Tuesday, the Gwatney Chevrolet squad swept Vilonia in a home-opening doubleheader. On Thursday, it won a strange game over the Cabot A team 6-5 in the Jacksonville Junior Invitational at Dupree Park.

The Chevy Boys jumped ahead 4-0 in the bottom of the first inning on Thursday, indicating a possible duplicate of its 21-8 win over the same team last week in the Sheridan tournament. But that wasn’t to happen on Thursday.

The Centennial Bank squad tightened up on defense and took advantage of some Jacksonville mistakes to get back into the game.

Gwatney won it in the bottom of the last inning after a series of odd occurrences. With the score tied 5-5, Ethan Gray and Coleton McGee drew back-to-back walks, and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch.

Back at the top of the order with runners at second and third and no outs, Gwatney almost didn’t pull it off. Leadoff hitter Robert Johnson failed twice to bunt, then hit one back to pitcher Austin Calhoun. He checked the runner at third and got the out at first.

Cabot coach Steven Moore then called for an intentional walk of Payton Williams, but Williams reached for a high, outside pitch and hit a weak grounder back to Calhoun for the second fruitless out. Cabot pitched to Bryce Overman. He first hit a pop fly into foul territory down the left field line, but it was dropped, giving Jacksonville new life.

Overman then hit a third-straight ball back to Calhoun. This time the pitcher had to make a stretching stab to make the stop, and instead of going to first, he went home with the throw and threw it away, allowing Gray to score the winning run.

Despite the loss, Moore was pleased with how much better his team played than in the first meeting with Jacksonville.

“They kept battling and that’s what you want to see,” said Moore. “We played much better than we did last week against them, and they’ll keep getting better.”

Jacksonville sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning, starting with Johnson, who drew a leadoff walk. Williams hit a hard grounder to third base that was mishandled. With one out, Caleb Anderson singled to drive in a run, and Jaylon McGee walked to load the bases. Ryan Ready then walked to drive in a run, and Gray singled for an RBI that made it 4-0.

Jacksonville starting pitcher Jacob McCaa struck out three batters in the top of the second, but the first one scored. Ethan Hance swung at a wild pitch for strike three, then reached base when he beat the throw to first. He stole second base, moved to third on a 4-3 sac grounder by Reid Blackwell, and scored on a passed ball.

Gwatney went down in order in the bottom of the second, and Cabot added two more runs in the top of the third. Logan Bufford hit a leadoff single, but was picked off by McCaa and tagged out on a 1-3-4-3 rundown. Blackwell and Mark Abselica then drew back-to-back walks, prompting a pitching change.

Leadoff hitter Zach Eveleth then doubled off Clay Burrows to drive in one run, and Braylen Moore scored Abselica with a sacrifice grounder that made the score 4-3.

Jacksonville’s fifth run came in the bottom half of the same inning. Ready hit a one-out single and stole second base. Justin Dennis was hit by a pitch and Gray walked to load the bases. With two outs, Johnson drew an RBI walk that made it 5-3.

Cabot scored twice in the top of the fifth as time was running out on the tournament’s two-hour time limit. Coy Lovercheck led off for Cabot and reached on an error by Ready in left field. Evan McCoy then singled before Burrows balked the runners to second and third with no outs.

Burrows then struck out Ethan Hance, but that was also on a strike-three wild pitch. Lovercheck stayed put at first after the pitch hit the backstop, but he scored when catcher Alex Moss threw wild to first base, leaving everyone safe and the score 5-4.

Gray took the mound for Jacksonville, and struck out the next two batters, but not before one more wild pitch allowed the game-tying run.

In Tuesday’s doubleheader with Vilonia, Jacksonville won by scores of 7-5 and 15-2.

In game one, Jacksonville got three runs in the second inning on four walks and two base hits. They got four more in the last inning on three base hits and two walks. Williams and Burrows each went 1 for 1 and walked twice. Jaylon McGee and Justin Dennis had the other two base hits.

After walking six and hitting another in game one, Vilonia’s pitching got even wilder in game two. The first two batters, Coleton McGee and Williams, were hit by pitches.

Overman singled for an RBI, but there would be six more wild pitches throughout the inning as those three all came around to score. Ironically, the Vilonia pitcher also struck out the side in that inning.

Gwatney added three more runs in the second inning on one base hit and four more walks. The game ended in the middle of the fourth after Jacksonville added nine more runs on five walks, three hit batters, two base hits and an error in the bottom of the third.

Gwatney finished with five base hits, nine walks and five hit batters. Coleton McGee led the way, going 2 for 2 with three runs scored. Dennis got the win on the mound, giving up one hit and no runs over three innings of work, with four strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter.

SPORTS STORY >> Centennial wins debut

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Junior and Senior American Legion teams split a doubleheader with Little Rock on Wednesday at the Cabot Sports Complex. The senior team won its season opener 5-4 over the Vipers, while the junior team lost for just the second time in five games, falling 6-0. On Thursday, the senior team played its first road game, and hammered Searcy 13-1.

The senior team scored three runs in the bottom of the third inning to take a 3-0 lead. Cabot starting pitcher Brett Brockinton threw three innings of one-hit baseball, but had to settle for the no decision after the Vipers scored three in the fifth to tie it up.

The visiting team scored again to take the lead in the top of the sixth, but the Centennial Bank squad scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to set the final margin. Michael Shepherd took the mound in the top of the seventh to get the save.

Gino Germer pitched the sixth inning and got the win despite giving up the run that gave LR the lead. Dylan Billingsley entered with one out in the fourth and pitched through the fifth inning.

Both teams managed four base hits, but four Little Rock errors aided Cabot’s cause while the Centennial Bank team committed only one.

Blake McCutchen got two of those hits for the home team while Dillon Thomas got the game’s only extra-base hit. Rail Gilliam singled for Cabot’s other base knock.

McCutchen, Easton Seidl and Logan Edmondson drove in a run apiece.

In the junior game, Little Rock took a quick lead with two runs in the top of the first inning, and added two more in each of the fourth and sixth innings.

Cabot missed prime opportunities to score in the third and fourth innings. In the third inning, Graham Turner and Jake Moudy got back-to-back base hits in the eight and nine holes. Leadoff hitter Jackson Olivi was then hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.

Blayse Quarnstrom then hit into a 5-2 fielder’s choice that got Turner thrown out at home. Austin Scritchfield struck out and Tanner Wilson hit into a 6-4 fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Little Rock’s Davis Lee and Logan Gassaway drew leadoff walks in the top of the fourth. They moved up a base on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by Alex Clark scored Lee and left Gassaway at second base. Brad Fryer singled to put runners on the corners, and the two base runners pulled off a double steal to take a 4-0 lead.

Cabot then put runners at first and third with one out in the bottom of the fourth, but again failed to push a runner across home plate. Singles by Bell and Blake Buffalo sandwiched a strikeout by Mason Griffin. Turner then hit another hard line drive, but this one went right to the second baseman, who doubled up Buffalo at first base to end the threat.

Three-straight singles by the visitors in the top of the sixth set the final margin.

Little Rock’s junior team out-hit Cabot 8-6.

In Thursday’s game, Centennial Bank piled up 14 base hits, including a home run by Thomas. A dozen of the hits were singles, while Edmondson, last year’s state tournament MVP, went 2 for 3 with a double. McCutchen, Thomas, Seidl, Brian Tillery and Jack Broyles all had two base hits. Thomas finished with three RBIs. Tillery drove in two runs while Caleb Harpole, Seidl, Edmondson and Broyles had one RBI apiece.

Shepherd started and got the win. Caleb Wilson pitched the last three and a third innings.

The senior team plays again at 7 p.m. today in Sheridan, and will be at Russellville on Tuesday with the junior team.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

TOP STORY >> Soldiers’ remains identified by DNA

Leader staff writer

Sixty-seven years after being declared missing in action, U.S. Army Pfc. Robert Elijah Mitchell of Garner is returning home. Mitchell’s remains were identified in March 2017 in Hawaii. His only living sibling, Beth Moore, was notified.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” she said.

Moore was aware that DNA from remains found in South Korea were being tested. In May 2016, she was contacted by the U.S. Army Casualty Office of Past Conflict Registration.

“They asked if I would like for them to disinter the remains and test them again,” Moore said.
In March, she was contacted again.

“When they first told me he had been identified, it didn’t hit me at first,” she said. “It had been so long since he was missing. We had waited all this time. We weren’t actually sure. We had a memorial for him.”

Mitchell joined the Army in November 1949, but less than a year later, in September 1950, when he was just 19, he was declared missing in action in South Korea. Moore was just 16 years old at the time.

“His group was sent in as reinforcements and, when the battle was over, they couldn’t find him,” Moore said.

A South Korean farmer had buried Mitchell, along with other soldiers’ remains.

In July 1952, search teams from the U.S. recovered the remains of those buried by the farmer and moved them to the Punchbowl, the National Memorial Cemetery in Hawaii where remains of soldiers from locations around the Pacific Theater are buried.

The remains could not be identified at the time, and they were buried there. In 1998, two sets of remains were disinterred from the Punchbowl that were thought to be him, but weren’t.

Moore and family had held a memorial for Mitchell on what would have been his 85th birthday on Feb. 20, 2016. The family wanted to remember him and have a spot ready for when his remains are identified.

“My gravesite is there and there is a spot vacant next to it,” Adams said. “I always thought maybe they’d find him.”

She was right.

“It does bring some closure. As long as it had been, I really didn’t know if he would ever be identified. I pretty much accepted that,” she said. “We did put the memorial marker there and knew if and when he was identified, we could bring him back home and we would have a place to bury him.”

The Patriot Guard Riders were on hand to unveil a bronze VA marker in his honor.
Mitchell was remembered with full military honors and his sister was presented with a flag and various medals, including presentations from the Patriot Guard, Rolling Thunder and VFW, and a flag flown over the Capitol in Washington.

Now that he has been identified, the family is planning a funeral to officially inter Mitchell’s remains at 2 p.m. June 3 at Westbrook Funeral Home and Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens in Beebe.

Mitchell was born Feb. 20, 1931, in Polk County, to Rev. Marvin M. Mitchell and Bessie J. Mitchell, who raised cotton and corn.

The family moved to the Oakland Hill Community near Bradford in White County, where Mitchell attended school through the ninth grade. The family moved to Garner, where he graduated from high school on April 28, 1949.

Mitchell left behind his parents; six brothers, Bill, Charley, Sam, Joe, Edward and Edwin; one foster brother, Paul Latourette; three sisters, Bessie Black, Katie Brown, who have both passed, and Beth Mitchell Mason Adams; and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Future of youth soccer in Cabot in discussion

Leader staff writer

Cabot Parks and Recreation will hold three public meetings for the recreational soccer program at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 8 and Thursday, June 13 and at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 20 at the Veterans Park Community Center events center.

“Cabot soccer participants have three meetings to voice their opinions on what they like and what they wanted changed,” parks director Travis Young said.

He said outside organizations expressed interest in running the soccer program.

The Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission ended its contract with the Cabot Soccer Association this month due to lack of financial transparency and personnel issues.

“The goal is to take what the Cabot Soccer Association has built and make it better for the citizens of Cabot who participate. We want to ensure youth soccer will have a program run to the quality as our other sports programs,” Young said.

He said Cabot soccer will continue to teach the basic fundamentals and skills so players can move on to competitive play.

The Cabot Soccer Association plans to appeal to the city council to renew its contract with Cabot Parks and Recreation.

If the council does not overturn the commission’s decision, the Cabot Soccer Association can play elsewhere in Lonoke County or dissolve and donate its funds to a non-profit organization.

The Cabot Soccer Association is dropping competitive travel league soccer for next season and will focus on recreational soccer.

People with questions or comments about soccer can contact Travis Young or program director Lorenzo Mendoza at (501) 605-1506, or attend the scheduled meetings.

SPORTS STORY >> Safer helmets are good start

Leader sports editor

There’s a 30-year-old, little-known country music song that opens by opining a cappella, “There may not be a Super Bowl in 2083.”

It was just a line to lead into the enduring legacy of honky tonks, and was never meant to be taken as a serious social predictor, but it could be right. Kids aren’t playing football at near the frequency as they used to, and the numbers are continuing to go down.

Sports equipment companies have lately been teaming up with organizations and coaches to try to change that. Lonoke, where football participation has been on a recent decline, is taking steps to address one key reason the decline is happening, player safety.

The Riddell sports equipment company issued a press release last week about the Lonoke football program purchasing the latest technology to help prevent head trauma for every football player in grades 7-12.

Every Jackrabbit who takes the field in the upcoming season will be wearing a helmet equipped with sensors and communication equipment that will send impact-severity data to a monitor on the sideline.

Head trauma can be difficult to detect, and the obvious aim of the new technology is to keep players from suffering further damage if a major, potentially dangerous, impact has taken place.

The not-so obvious aim of this technology is to try to stem the tide of waning participation numbers in a game that has endured a lot of bad press in recent years over the long-term negative effects of playing football.

With 2016 numbers so-far unavailable, the numbers from 2009 to 2015 aren’t good. Youth participation in ages 6-12 dropped by 291,000. In 2009, 1,521,000 kids participated in football. In 2015, that was down to 1,230,000.

Once in junior high and high school, the numbers fall even more drastically.

In 2009, there were 1,703,000 students playing organized football. That went up in 2010 and again in 2011, where participation peaked at 2,038,000. In 2015, that was down to 1,566,000. That’s almost a half million kids saying no to the United States’ most commercially successful sport, in just four years. That’s a loss of more 100,000 players every year since 2011.

Safety isn’t the only reason for that, but it is the major one. One only has to look at the sidelines on any given fall Friday night in Arkansas to see numbers are down. Reasons vary with each team.

A year before the inaugural season of the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, the old North Pulaski Falcons could not even produce enough players to field a team. Never making the playoffs since 1977 had something to do with that.

Some schools may have unpopular coaches. Some student-athletes at certain schools have said they quit because the required conditioning was too hard. There’s also the increasing pressure for athletes to specialize in one sport, despite mountains of research that says it’s better for kids to take part in multiple activities.

But the overarching issue is safety. The NFL has created its own public relations nightmare for years by taking its cue from the tobacco industry and denying there are any safety concerns at all. NFL executives would do this while former players were going public with some catastrophic lifetime injuries. Most of them were impact-trauma related. Many others were spinal and knee-related.

Lonoke is taking the right steps to do everything it can to ensure the safety of its student-athletes, but most schools can’t afford what Lonoke got. Lonoke schools spent $52,000 on 180 units, which comes to about $290 per helmet. To buy just one from Riddell would cost $549.

It remains to be seen whether this new technology will curb the decreasing numbers. It’s also unclear if it will even reduce injuries. Finding out sooner that there has been head trauma doesn’t stop the trauma. But it does, at least, keep the player from returning to the game with an undetected injury.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot sweeps at Sheridan

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s junior American Legion teams got the season started last weekend in Sheridan. The team known simply as the “junior team” went 3-0 in three day of play while the team called “The A Team” went 0-4.

The junior team opened play on Friday with a 7-1 victory over the tournament host, Sheridan, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning and never trailing. Logan Bell pitched four innings and got the win on the mound while Tanner Wilson closed out the final two innings.

Jackson Olivi was the game’s only player with multiple hits. He went 2 for 4 and scored two runs, while Wilson recorded three RBIs on one base hit.

The early game on Saturday against Searcy wasn’t as easy. Cabot had to come from behind after Searcy scored a run in the bottom of the third inning. The Centennial Bank squad didn’t score until the fifth, but posted seven runs in the last three innings for a 7-3 victory.

Olivi took the mound with two outs in the first inning, and stayed there until two outs in the bottom of fifth. Cabot too the lead with two runs in the top of the fifth, then added two more in the sixth, giving Olivi the win in relief. Hunter Price pitched the final two and a third for the save.

Graham Turner led Cabot offensively. He went 3 for 4 at the plate with one run scored and one RBI. Blayse Quarnstrom went 2 for 3, including a triple. He also scored two runs in drove one in. Austin Scritchfield went 2 for 4 with a double and scored a run.

In the second game on Saturday, Cabot hammered Arkadelphia 15-2 after again falling behind 1-0 in the first inning.

The Centennial Bank team only recorded nine hits, but showed patience at the plate in drawing 13 walks. Scritchfield led the offense in that win, going 3 for 4 with two runs scored. Price went 2 for 2 with two runs scored and an RBI.

He also got the win on the mound after pitching the second and third innings. Cabot took the lead for good with five runs in the second. A

fter a scoreless third, Cabot posted six runs in the fourth and four more in the fifth.

The A team opened with a 7-4 loss to Sheridan on Friday. On Saturday, it gave up big numbers in an 18-2 loss to Texarkana and a 21-8 loss to Jacksonville. Things got better on Monday, but it suffered another loss, this time 6-2 to Clarksville.

Brian Tillery played well throughout the tournament. He went 4 for 9 with four runs scored and three RBIs while stealing four bases. Austin Calhoun also had a good tournament. He went 3 for 6 and walked four times for a .700 on-base percentage.

The junior team resumes play today with its home opener at the Cabot Sports Complex. The Centennial Bank junior and senior teams will play a doubleheader against Little Rock starting at 6 p.m.

The A team plays tomorrow through Sunday in the Jacksonville Junior tournament. The first game of that tournament will be between The Cabot A team and Jacksonville at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney Jr. goes 2-1 in tournament

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville-Gwatney Chevrolet junior American Legion team bounced back from a season-opening loss to win its final two games of the Sheridan tournament over the weekend. Both teams struggled to find the strike zone in the opener, a 13-5 loss to Sheridan.

The two teams combined for 18 runs, despite just one hit apiece. Four Jacksonville pitchers issued 14 walks, while Jacksonville walked eight times.

Clay Burrows got Gwatney’s only base hit in the fourth inning. Payton Williams was then hit before Sheridan walked four more batters.

On Saturday morning against Clarksville, Gwatney came from behind to win 6-5. The game-winning run scored in the sixth. The rally started when Alex Moss was hit by a pitch to lead things off. He moved to second on a sacrifice by Robert Johnson. Burrows then singled and Williams doubled to drive in Moss for the winning run.

Earlier in the game, Burrows scored in the first inning after back-to-back base hits by Burrows and Williams. Bryce Overman then reached on an E7 that scored Burrows.

Axton Ramick got a leadoff walk in the second inning for Jacksonville. With one out, Johnson singled and then Burrows singled to score Ramick. The next two batters struck out, but Johnson scored on a wild pitch before the inning ended.

In the fourth inning, Burrows drew a two-out walk and scored on a triple by Williams, who then scored on a passed ball to tie the game.

Burrows went 3 for 3 and scored three runs in the win. Williams went 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs.

Later on Saturday, Jacksonville cruised to a 21-8win over Cabot’s A team in five innings. Jacksonville scored twice in the top of the first inning, but fell behind by giving up three in the bottom half.

After a scoreless third, Gwatney took the lead for good with four runs in the third inning. Leading 7-6, Jacksonville put the game away with a 14-run fifth inning.

Ethan Gray started the huge rally by getting hit by a pitch. Johnson walked and Burrows singled for an RBI. Williams then doubled to drive in two more runs to make the score 10-6. Overman walked before Jaylon McGee singled, and Ramick made the first out with a grounder to shortstop.

Caleb Anderson walked for an RBI, as did Justin Dennis and Adonis Fuller, who was hitting for Gray after the team batted around. Coleton McGee and Burrows were then hit by pitches before Williams and Overman walked to make the score 14-6.

Jaylon McGee then singled and Ramick reached on an error at third base for a 16-6 lead. Randy Davis and Logan Wymer, batting for Anderson and Dennis, drew back to back walks for an 18-6 lead.

Ramick and Davis scored on wild pitches and passed balls while Fuller’s sacrifice scored the final run.

Anderson pitched two and two-thirds innings for the win. Burrows threw two and a third. Overman went 3 for 3, scored five runs and record two RBIs. Williams went 1 for 2 with four more runs batted in. Jaylon McGee went 3 for 4 while Ramick was 2 for 5 at the plate.

These same two teams will meet again at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at Dupree Park in the Gwatney Chevrolet Junior American Legion Invitational.

The tournament starts today when Vilonia faces Sheridan1 at 5:30 p.m. Clarksville takes on Sheridan2 at 7:30 p.m.

Game two on Thursday is between Stuttgart and Searcy. On Friday, Clarksville takes on Cabot while Sheridan1 faces Searcy.

Games will start at 10 a.m. on Saturday with Sheridan1 against Stuttgart. Sheridan2 plays Jacksonville at 12:30 p.m. Stuttgart plays Vilonia at 2 p.m. Jacksonville vs. Clarksville at 4 p.m. Sheridan2 plays Cabot at 6 p.m. and Vilonia plays Searcy at 8 p.m.

The top four teams in pool play will play Sunday at 1 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.

The top two teams will then play for the tournament championship at approximately 5:30 p.m.

EDITORIAL >> Kids can eat this summer

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance summer-meal program for kids is underway in Cabot and Beebe, and starts on Thursday in Lonoke and on Monday in Jacksonville.

Kids ages 6 weeks to 18 years old can get free breakfasts and lunches most of the summer. To find a summer-meal site, visit


The following Jacksonville schools will serve breakfast from 8 a.m. till 9 a.m. and lunch from noon till 1 p.m.

• Dupree Elementary, weekdays June 12-30;

• Jacksonville High School, weekdays Monday through June 23;

• Jacksonville Middle School, weekdays Monday through June 30;

• Pinewood Elementary, Tuesdays-Thursdays June 6-29.

• Westside Elementary, weekdays June 1 to July 29. Breakfast from 7:30 to 8 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.;

• Ward Central Elementary, weekdays Thursday through July 29. Breakfast from 7:30 to 8 a.m. Lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.


• Lonoke Elementary, weekdays Thursday through July 30. Breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. Lunch from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.


• Beebe Primary School cafeteria, weekdays now through Aug. 4. Breakfast is from 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch is from 11a.m.-12:30 p.m.;

• Stoney Ridge Place, Thursdays, June 8 to July 27. Lunch only from noon to 12:30 p.m.;

• Lunnie Park, weekdays from now through Aug. 4. Lunch only from 11 a.m. till 11:30 a.m.;

• Antioch Community Church on Mondays June 5 to July 24. Lunch only from 11:50 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.;

• McRae City Park on Wednesdays, June 7 to July 26. Lunch only from 11:50 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

EDITORIAL >> Progress Continues

The $200 million Hwy. 67/167 improvement project from Redmond Road in Jacksonville to Hwy. 5 in Cabot is moving forward, perhaps more slowly than we’d like, but steady progress continues. The massive work will not only improve traffic here but will usher in an economic boom along the highway and beyond.

About 150 people turned out last week at the Jacksonville Community Center to review and discuss plans with state Highway and Transportation Department specialists for widening Hwy. 67/167 from the Main Street overpass to the Vandenberg Boulevard interchange — the last of a four-phase project from I-40 to Hwy. 5.

This phase will improve 2.25 miles of Hwy. 67/167, including interchanges at Main Street, James Street, Gregory Street and Vandenberg Boulevard at a cost of $122 million. The work is slated to begin in 2019 and set for completion in 2022.

Preliminary work has begun on the segment from north of Vandenberg Boulevard to Cabot. The Thursday meeting was to discuss the final link — and perhaps the most challenging — from the Main Street overpass to the Vandenberg interchange.

The widening project — from two lanes north and two south to three lanes each direction — began with the section from I-40, past McCain Boulevard and Kiehl Avenue to just south of Redmond Road and was completed a while back.

The second phase, beginning at the Redmond Road interchange and running just north of the Main Street overpass, is well underway and should be done sometime next year.

The widening requires replacing bridges and overpasses along the way, changing the alignment of on- and off-ramps and the conversion of T.P. White and John Harden frontage roads between Main Street and Vandenberg Boulevard to one-way frontage roads.

In addition, the Highway Department will spend slightly more than $25 million on the long-planned third Cabot interchange on the northern side of the city, which is covering $10 million of that cost with funds raised through its 2013 bond issue.

The new interchange is where Hwy. 67/167 intersects with Hwy. 38. Manhattan Road and Bridge Company of Tulsa was awarded the $25.5 million contract.

All in all, these highway projects are as impressive as the Big Rock interchange, the last major work in west Little Rock. It’s our turn now.

TOP STORY >> Southern Oaks sets Reopening

Southern Oaks Country Club at 701 Foxwood Drive in Jacksonville will celebrate its grand reopening from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Friday.

Food, games, special guests and music will be provided. Door prizes will also be given away. The party is open to the public.

Southern Oaks Country Club, in business since the mid-1970s, is being revitalized by a group of investors with interest in keeping the club open. The investors elected a new five-member management board to oversee the operations of the club and activities provided by the club.

Jon Johnson is chairman of the board. Larry Wilson, Jacob Short, Dustin Cole and Chev Ergle complete the new board members. All board members live and work in Jacksonville.

Southern Oaks is a private golf and social club but membership is open to the public.

“There has been some misconception about membership. We are a private club whose membership is open to the public. We have a fine course and everyone is welcome to join,” Johnson said. Membership forms are available in the clubhouse.

A remodeling of the bar area is almost complete and should be ready for the summer season. These updates will improve customer service and the functionality of that space, Johnson said.

The golf course superintendent, Bo Brocchus, and his crew are busy getting the greens and grounds in good shape.

Volunteers have been doing landscape work on the grounds, painting and revitalizing the inside of the building, mowing, weed-eating the golf course and assisting employees with their duties.

The pro shop is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily, except on Mondays.

For more information, call 501-982-7508.

TOP STORY >> Golf tournament helps Lions Club

The Jacksonville Lions Club annual golf tournament will be held Saturday, June 16 at Southern Oaks Country Club.

Sponsors and team registrations are needed.

Proceeds will help provide vision and health care to people in need and other community-service projects. They help fund the club’s annual scholarship for Jacksonville students, which it awarded recently to Jacksonville High valedictorian Taylor Toombs and Allison Seats.

The golf tournament format is a four-person scramble. Lunch will begin at 11:30 a.m., and the shotgun start is set for 1 p.m.

All of the money raised will be used to support blind and visually-impaired people.

Registration is $100 per person and includes balls, greens fee, cart and unlimited on-course beverages. Mulligans and skirts will be available for $5 at registration. The deadline to register is June 13.

Sponsorships are also available for $700, $300 and $150.

The major sponsorship for $700 includes a team entry fee, free lunch and eight Mulligans (two per player), unlimited on-course beer, soda and water, the sponsor’s name on two large banners, the beverage cart and all printed material and the Lions Club’s website, as well as a hole sponsorship.

A $300 sponsorship will put the sponsor’s name on two large banners, a hole and printed material including the club’s website.

For $150, sponsors can have a sign placed on a course hole.

To become a sponsor, or for more information, call Dianne Williams at 501-912-4343 or email, or Bobby Lester at 501-680-0815 or email

The Lions Club is also seeking donations of products, merchandise or gift cards from area businesses to use as door prizes. Those contributions can be mailed to Jacksonville Lions Club, P.O. Box 112, Jacksonville, Ark. 72078.

The Lions of Arkansas Foundation is a 501-C3 organization, which means donations are tax deductible.

Lions Club International is a secular, nonpolitical service group founded in 1917, has over 46,000 local clubs and more than 1.4 million members in over 200 countries around the world.

It is best known for its work to help the blind and people who need eyeglasses, vision screenings and eye surgery. The club’s headquarters are in Oak Brook, Ill.

The Jacksonville Lions Club is also looking for new members. It meets at noon on the first and third Wednesday of the month at the Bar-B-Que Shack, 1000 Hwy. 161.

TOP STORY >> Farmers market in Sherwood has several vendors

Leader staff writer

The crowds and the breezes under the Sherwood Farmers Market Pavilion at Sherwood Forest ebb and flow as late afternoon turns into early evening on Tuesdays.

About 13 vendors shelter under the 5,000-square-foot open air cover and many offer samples to entice potential customers, estimated at 300 over a three-hour period.

The breeze “is lovely,” says shopper Elizabeth Scesniak.

The Sherwood Farmers Market is inside the Sherwood Forest complex at 1111 W. Maryland Ave. and is open Tuesdays from 4 until 7 p.m. until September.

Jerry Hamilton, who is working a booth for Hardin Farms of Grady and Sheridan, reports brisk sales, as do Susan and Anna Franko, a mother-daughter team working the Humble Crumble Bakery booth.

Hamilton says, “It’s going great.”

Susan Franko recommends the cinnamon rolls, adding, “They are famous.”

Even without her prompting, the bakery’s homemade rolls, lemon poppy seed bread, granola and Susan Franko’s own Mexican salsa are going fast.

They say the crowds come in fits and spurts, and believe they see more right after the market opens, then around 5 p.m. and again around 6 p.m. Perhaps as people get off work they stop by, Susan Franko says.

Although the market has been open for the past five weeks, it’s a first visit for Scesniak and her husband, Gene, and their little Bichon Frise, Carmel, who seemed to enjoy the natural setting as much as other shoppers’ attention.

The market is dog friendly.

“It’s clean, and the hours are perfect. We will definitely be back,” Elizabeth Scesniak says before turning to Hardin’s table that included early garden offerings like kale, lettuce, leeks, a variety of spring squashes and almost ripe tomatoes. There are also homemade pickles and pecans.

The 13 vendors are a mixture of arts and crafts, while others offer fresh produce. At the moment, there are more arts and crafts vendors like Simply Sonia of Jacksonville, says Korey Malloy, Sherwood Forest and Farmers Market manager.

But Malloy believes that will change because it’s still early in the growing season, and once farmers have more to offer, the number of produce vendors will grow.

Weekly booth rental is $15 per space inside the pavilion.

Malloy says Sherwood used to have a farmers market, but it fizzled out a couple of years ago, but he believes the pavilion and the other amenities gives them the opportunity to make it successful.

Markets like this are a popular trend, and Malloy says he researched what’s working at other markets, besides, he adds, “People like fresh and like to talk to the farmer who grew their food.”

As well, he says, “We have room for growth, but I’m pleased with the way things are going so far. It’s fantastic.”


David Killebrew, Sonia’s husband who is working the booth, also believes the market will pick up as word of its existence spreads and as more vegetables, fruits and berries begin to ripen.

Nonetheless, Killebrew says about the customer traffic flow, “It’s been pretty steady.”

Malloy estimates he’s seeing about 300 shoppers each Tuesday.

The Roots and Refuge near Jacksonville has a booth part farm produce, offering fresh eggs, and part homemade offerings, such as breads. Its farm is near Jacksonville.

The booth is operated by farm owner Jessica Sowards and her 11-year-old son, Jackson Whitaker, and she reports good sales.

Sowards is also a Sherwood Farmers Market board member, and she says about the location and the hours, “It’s wonderful…The facility is beautiful, and I believe the farmers market will continue to grow as we move into the farm season.”


In addition to the farmers market, Sherwood Forest is hosting Food Trucks in the Forest every other second and fourth Thursday of the month.

“We want people to be able to enjoy a variety of cuisines and the atmosphere here,” Malloy explained.

There are picnic-style tables for diners, as well as a variety of central Arkansas food trucks, Malloy hopes to provide entertainment for the diners.

For more information about the Sherwood Farmers Market or the Food Trucks in the Forest, call Korey Malloy at 501-835-8909 or visit