Friday, June 09, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville juniors lose a pair at home

Leader sports editor

It wasn’t a great week for the Jacksonville junior American Legion team. After a five-game winning streak and running its record to 5-1, the junior Chevy Boys dropped two games on Wednesday and Thursday. Jacksonville was blown out at home on Wednesday, losing 15-4 to Searcy.

On Thursday, it lost a 3-2 lead by giving up six runs in the last inning to fall 8-3 to Stuttgart.

In Wednesday’s loss, both teams went down in order in the first inning, but Searcy posted 13 of its runs in a disastrous second for the home team. The visiting team’s bats came alive in a big way, recording five singles, three doubles and a triple to go along with one hit batter, two walks and two Jacksonville errors before the half-inning finally ended.

Jacksonville got one back in the bottom of the second on a base hit by Axton Ramick and three walks. The Chevy Boys added another run in the third on a solo home run by Peyton Williams.

They made it 13-4 in the fourth inning on an error and base hits by Jaylon and Coleton McGee.

Searcy then scored two in the fifth on two walks, two singles and a double that set the final margin.

In Thursday’s game, Jacksonville overcame a 2-0 deficit against Stuttgart with three runs in the bottom of the third. Adonis Fuller walked before being thrown out on a fielder’s choice by Coleton McGee.

Robert Johnson then doubled to left-center field to drive in a run. Jaylon McGee reached on an error and Bryce Overman was hit by a pitch before Ryan Ready hit an RBI single to left field to give the home team the lead.

Neither team scored in the fourth inning, and Stuttgart’s five runs in the fifth came without a single base hit.

Randy Davis took the mound for starter Jaylon McGee, and walked three-straight batters. Peyton Wil-liams was behind the plate, and gave up four passed balls, resulting in three of the Ricemen runs.

Overman took over for Davis and walked his first batter before getting a pair of strikeouts. The second strikeout ended with the fourth passed ball, and resulted in Logan Wymer replacing Williams behind the plate. Overman then walked three more, driving in the final two runs of the game.

Jaylon McGee pitched well in his four innings on the mound. He gave up two hits and one earned run while striking out two and walking four. He also went 2 for 3 at the plate, as did Coleton McGee. Fuller, Williams and Ramick each went 1 for 3.

Jacksonville (5-3) will host Paragould at 1 p.m. today, and Sylvan Hills at 6 p.m. on Monday.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot clips Bryant

Leader sports editor

The Cabot senior American Legion baseball team split its two games this week. The Centennial Bank squad went on the road on Tuesday and lost 5-1 to Russellville, but came back home on Wednesday to defeat Bryant 3-2.

Against Bryant, pitcher Brett Brockinton stayed in command the entire game. He ran into some brief trouble in the sixth inning when the Black Sox scored both of their runs. Brockinton gave up a leadoff double to nine-hole hitter Jake East, and then walked the leadoff hitter Seth Tucker. After a strikeout of Dylan Hurt, a sacrifice fly by Logan Allen drove in one run. Another single by Brandon Hoover scored the second run and Brockinton got his eighth and final strikeout to end the inning.

He then got three-straight groundouts, one back to the mound and two to third baseman Michael Crumbly, to secure the victory.

“He was outstanding,” said Cabot coach Casey Vaughan. “When I went out to the mound in the sixth inning, he said he could get out of it. I asked again before going out in the seventh, he just exuded confidence. And obviously he knew he could handle it. It was a phenomenal performance.”

Brockinton gave up only four hits the entire game, and had just the one walk to go with his eight strikeouts.

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning. That’s when Cabot’s Brian Tillery hit a leadoff single to left field. Dillon Thomas then hit a hard line drive right to the left fielder Matthew Sundidge.

The ball hit Sundidge’s glove, but he couldn’t hang on, leaving runners safe at second and third. Easton Seidl then hit a towering shot to centerfield that bounced off the ball. Tillery scored easily, but Thomas was tagged out at home after two perfect throws on the 8-6-2 out.

The Centennial Bank squad added to its lead in the fifth inning, but also had a run negated by a call mostly concocted out of the umpire by Bryant’s coach.

Crumbly and Jack Broyles got back-to-back singles to start the inning that left runners safe on the corners.

That ended Bryant starting pitcher Myers Buck’s night on the mound. Jake East took the mound to face the top of the Cabot lineup. Caleb Harpole hit a ball that bounced just in front of the plate and stopped. Hurt, Bryant’s catcher, rounded it up, but missed the tag as Crumbly ran by him and scored.

Tillery then hit a hard, one-hop comebacker to East. The ball skipped off the top of East’s glove and right to second baseman Scott Schmidt. He fielded it cleanly, but threw wild to first base, allowing Broyles to score for the 3-0 Cabot lead.

Harpole reached second on the play and stole third base. Thomas then hit a high fly ball to deep left field, plenty deep enough to score Harpole.

Bryant’s coach, however, who had been arguing everything and made multiple trips onto the field to contest calls, had his infielders appeal to third base, and the umpire called Harpole out, negating the RBI and making it a 7-5 double play.

Vaughan then made his case, but to no avail.

“That’s the approach some people are going to take, you just have to put it behind you and move on,” Vaughan said. “We did a good job of that. I talked to the umpire as well. I think he knows he missed it, and we just kept playing.”

At Russellville on Tuesday, Cabot was held to two total base hits, and committed four errors that resulted in all five of Russellville’s runs being unearned. After a game like that, Vaughan was very pleased with his team’s performance on Wednesday.

“They had a pretty good arm on the mound, but I definitely felt like we could have got to him more than we did,” Vaughan said. “And we made some errors and gave away all their runs. That’s why I’m so proud of them for coming back here tonight and beating one of the best teams in the state.”

Tillery and Broyles had Cabot’s only hits on Tuesday. Harpole walked twice and scored the only Cabot run on a sacrifice RBI fly by Seidl.

Michael Shepherd gave up five hits in four innings of work, including five strikeouts and three walks. Caleb Wilson threw one inning and gave up one hit and one walk.

The Centennial Bank senior team will play against at 7 p.m. tonight at Conway.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney starts 2-0

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville senior American Legion team put together a pair of wins to start its season this week. The Gwatney Chevrolet squad beat Searcy 8-3 on Wednesday, and then hammered Stuttgart 14-0 on Thursday. Both games were at Dupree Park.

In the most recent outing, Jacksonville pitching dominated the Ricemen’s lineup, giving up just one hit, that in the fifth and final frame as the contest ended on the sportsmanship rule of 10-runs after five innings.

Starting pitcher Jordan Wickersham got two outs on two pitches in the top of the first inning before struggling momentarily with control. He walked the next three batters to load the bases before striking out Mills Bethea to end the inning.

There were no such struggles in the next two innings. He again got two quick outs in the second inning and ended the half frame with a strikeout of Patrick Pewell.

In the top of the third, leadoff hitter Mike Smith made the first solid contact, hitting a deep fly ball to right-center field, where Caden Sample made a running catch for the first out. Wickersham then fanned Keaton Coker and John Hoskyn to end that frame in short order.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville offense was building a 9-0 lead over those first three innings. It started with a line-drive single by leadoff hitter Kameron Whitmore in the bottom of the first inning. Trent Toney then hit a ground ball to shortstop that was booted by Bethea.

Sample tried to bunt the runners up, but it went right to the mound and resulted in a 1-5 fielder’s choice. However, a passed ball on the next at-bat resulted in the same outcome, runners on second and third with one out. Toney then scored on a close play at the plate after a wild pitch.

With a 2-0 count, Brandon Hickingbotham hit a hard one-hopper back to the mound. Pitcher Mike Smith leaped and deflected the ball to between first and second base, resulting in an RBI infield single and a 2-0 Jacksonville lead.

In the bottom of the second inning, DeBoious Cobbs reached on a one-out bunt single. Whitmore and Toney then walked to load the bases before Cobbs scored on another wild pitch.

Sample then hit a two-RBI double to the fence in left field to make it 5-0. Three more walks combined with Wickersham getting his helmet knocked off by a pitch resulted in two more runs for the home team by the end of the second inning.

Whitmore walked again to start the third, but was thrown out on a 6-4 fielder’s choice by Toney. Sample and Hickingbotham got back-to-back singles, with Hickingbotham picking up his second RBI and leaving runners on the corners. Tyson Flowers hit a fly ball to deep right field to score Sample and give Jacksonville a 9-0 lead.

Jayden Loving took the mound for Jacksonville in the top of the fourth and got three-straight outs, including a strikeout to end it.

Jacksonville then added five more runs in the bottom half.

It started with three-straight singles by Wickersham, Caleb Smith and Cobbs, leaving the bases loaded with no outs. Whitmore then walked for the third-straight time to make it 10-0.

Toney did the same before Sample hit another single to right field to drive in two more runs before being thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

Hickingbotham followed with his third RBI at-bat of the game to set the final margin.

Ean Long pitched the fifth inning for Gwatney. He got two quick groundouts before issuing a walk. An error at shortstop and a base hit by Coker, Stuttgart’s first of the game, loaded the bases. Long then got Hoskyn looking to end the contest.

Sample led Jacksonville offensively, going 3 for 4 with a double and four RBIs. Hickingbotham went 3 for 3 with three RBIs.

Cobbs went 2 for 3 while Whitmore went 1 for 1 with three walks and scored three runs. Smith and Wickersham got the other two base hits for the Chevy Boys.

Wickersham gave up three walks and struck out four in his three innings of no-hit ball.

On Wednesday, Jacksonville got a great start on the mound by Brandon Hawkins, but didn’t begin to pull away from Searcy until the bottom of the fourth inning.

Hawkins struck out the side in just 11 pitches to start the game. He gave up a base hit in the second, but got two more strikeouts. An error put one on in the third, but Hawkins fanned two more to make it seven Ks, one hit and zero walks in three innings of work.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville got a run in the bottom of the first after a leadoff double by Whitmore was followed by two walks and a sacrifice grounder by Loving. They added another run in the second when Caleb Smith reached on an E7 and scored on a sacrifice by Toney.

Searcy scored two runs in the fourth on two walks and a base hit before Hickingbotham replaced Hawkins on the mound. But Jacksonville reclaimed the lead with three in the bottom of the fourth.

Smith again reached on an error, this time at third base. With one out, Whitmore was hit by a pitch before Toney walked and Sample singled to drive in two runs. Hickingbotham hit into a 4-6 fielder’s choice, but the grounder scored Toney for a 5-2 lead.

Searcy got one back in the sixth inning of a pair of singles, but Jacksonville answered with three more in the bottom of the sixth.

A hit batter and two walks were followed by a two-RBI base hit by Sample, and Toney scored on a fly ball by Hickingbotham to set the final margin.

Jacksonville will play a junior/senior doubleheader against Paragould starting at 1 p.m. today at Dupree Park, and will host Sylvan Hills starting at 6 p.m. Monday.

EDITORIAL >> They serve and protect

The Arkansas Air National Guard installed new leaders last weekend. We welcome them to the community and salute those who served before them.

Joseph B. Wilson was promoted to brigadier general and became the chief of staff for the Arkansas Air Guard. The other general in the Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Marc Sicard, remains as state commander.

Wilson is a Texas native who previously served as the full-time director of staff for the Air National Guard and is assigned to Camp Robinson.

Last Saturday, Col. Thomas D. Crimmins took over command of the 189th Airlift Wing from Col. Robert Ator II, who has retired. Ator commanded the unit since 2014.

Crimmins served as chief of the Air Mobility Division, 613th Air Operations Center at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, where he was responsible for the planning, execution and support of full-spectrum air mobility operations throughout the U.S. Pacific Command’s Area of Responsibility.

Crimmins was previously assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing at LRAFB and served as the base’s vice commander.

Wilson also served as the vice commander of the 189th for more than two years before becoming director of staff.

Wilson has been an officer with the Arkansas Air Guard since 1992, spending his first eight years with the 188th Airlift Wing in Fort Smith.

He has also served tours in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Also last Saturday, state Command Chief Master Sgt. Melvin McElyea succeeded Com-mand Chief Master Sgt. Asa Carter to lead the enlisted airmen of the Arkansas Air National Guard.

The state command chief master sergeant is the senior enlisted member and adviser to the commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard for the administration and command of the more than 1,800 enlisted airmen in the Air National Guard.

To the men and women of the Air National Guard, we thank you for your service to our nation.

EDITORIAL >> Millage vote in Sherwood

Residents in the Pulaski County Special School District vote Tuesday to extend its current 40.7 millage rate for 30 more years instead of 17 years. Early voting ends Monday.

This is not a tax increase. Residents will be getting the same tax bill as before if the election succeeds and Sherwood will be getting a new $66.5 million Sylvan Hills High School.

If it fails, they’ll be paying the same taxes for the next 13 years and Sherwood won’t get a new high school.

Already 714 ballots have been cast. Turnout will likely be low.

PCSSD, under the leadership of Superintendent Jerry Guess, has worked hard over the last five years to transform itself. Guess was installed in a state takeover and had to make deep spending cuts to stabilize the district’s financing.

Thanks to him and communities like Sherwood that have demanded better results, there’s hope the district can improve its campuses and boost its academics.

He’s also helped Sherwood plan for a new campus. The construction project calls for at least four new buildings, including a new gym, cafeteria and football field. The current buildings will be remodeled instead of demolished.

Preliminary designs for the school are impressive. The campus was built in the 1960s for 800 students but is accommodating nearly twice that now with a 1,450 student body.

Sherwood homeowners can rest easy: This new campus will bring in a lot of new residents, too, and help grow the community.

Guess was the first PCSSD superintendent to support Jacksonville’s efforts to breakaway and form its own school system. Without that split, PCSSD could most likely not afford to build a new Sylvan Hills High School because Jacksonville’s facilities needs were so dire.

TOP STORY >> Baby on highway as mom gets high

A Lonoke County woman was arrested Wednesday after her toddler was seen unaccompanied near Hwy. 319 at Champlin Road.

After a 911 call, sheriff deputies found the child wearing only a diaper walking around at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of nearby Baugh Chapel Baptist Church.

The boy was being followed around by a dog wearing a collar with its owner’s phone number and address. That led deputies to the child’s mother, Lindsey Moody, 24, who was unconscious in a back bedroom in her home on Champlin Road.

The sheriff’s department’s news release said she did not come to the door when deputies knocked. They entered the home and repeatedly shook her to get her to wake up.

“As she was getting out of bed the deputies could see a glass smoking device with a white powdery substance believed to be methamphetamine,” according to the news release.

The Department of Human Services took custody of the child.

Moody was arrested for first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor, felony possession of meth, possession of drug paraphernalia.

She was released on Friday from the Lonoke County Detention Center, where she was held on a $2,500 bond.

TOP STORY >> Cabot chase ends in Jacksonville home

Leader staff writer

A Jacksonville woman accused of shoplifting a cell phone and speaker at the Cabot Walmart Supercenter fled from police on Wednesday morning until crashing into a house at 1804 Neely St. in Jacksonville.

“I was watching TV in the bedroom on the other side of the house. I heard a loud boom and saw blinking police lights out the window,” homeowner Eugene Canon told The Leader. He was not injured.

Redina Green, 33, of 702 Charlotte Circle in Jacksonville was at the Walmart self-checkout registers at 5:12 a.m. and her credit card kept getting declined.

A store employee asked to see the Galaxy S7 cell phone in Green’s hand.

“Let me see if it’s worth it,” Green said.

She then walked out the door with the cell phone and a Bluetooth speaker and into her 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis.

Police were called and found the car going east on Hwy. 5 to Hwy. 367. The officer turned on his lights and siren, but Green did not stop. Green kept going on south on T.P. White Drive, reaching speeds up to 85 miles per hour. She continued on through Jacksonville streets. At Lehman Drive, she reached the T-intersection going 80 miles per hour. She lost control and went into the yard at 1802 Neely St. before making a right turn and crashing into the house on 1804 Neely St. The front half of the car went inside the house.

The officer got out of his car with his gun drawn. Green exited her car and tried to run into the house. She then laid down on the ground screaming near the accident.

Green was taken into custody. No injuries were reported.

Police searched Green’s car and found the stolen items from Walmart valued at $648. They found a clear smoking pipe with brown residue on the driver’s side floorboard.

Estimated damage to the house was $20,000 and damage to the car was $5,000.

Green was charged with felony fleeing; shoplifting and possession of drug paraphernalia, both misdemeanors.

She was cited for reckless driving, driving 21-30 mph over the speed limit, improper passing and disregarding stop signs.

TOP STORY >> Court cleared on hot checks in Sherwood

Leader staff writer

A federal lawsuit filed in August 2016 against Sherwood, its hot-check court and District Judge Milas “Butch” Hale III has been dismissed.

The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of five individuals who had dealings with Sherwood’s hot-check court, is expected to be appealed the decision to the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals.

The suit accused Sher-wood’s court of stacking the deck against defendants, who must not only make good on their bad checks but also pay thousands of dollars in hefty fines above the original checks.

The lawsuit alleged that “through a labyrinthine and lucrative system, a single check for $15 returned for insufficient funds can be leveraged into many thousands of dollars in court costs, fines and fees owed to Sherwood and Pulaski County.”

Mike Mosley, attorney for Judge Hale, said the dismissal was the correct ruling and that the plaintiffs should be required to go through the natural appeal process. He also said he disagrees that any unconstitutional acts were being done in Hale’s court.

U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr., agreeing with a January recommendation from Federal Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe, dismissed the lawsuit Thursday without prejudice.

The dismissal did not address the hot-check court’s practices or its fairness, issues raised in the ACLU’s lawsuit.

The dismissal was mostly based on the Younger doctrine, which prohibits federal courts from hearing civil suits brought by people who are currently being prosecuted in state court for reasons related to the claims in their federal civil suit.

Several of the plaintiffs in the civil suit against Sherwood are still under the supervision of that court for penalties and fines related to their hot checks.

That’s why it was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be brought up again when the individuals have been released by the Sherwood court.

“The Sherwood District Court epitomizes the criminalization of poverty and the corrupting effect of financial incentives on our local courts. Not only does this ‘Hot Check’ court completely ignore the long-standing principle that a person cannot be punished because they are poor, but by using coercive practices to collect money from the poorest Arkansans, this debtors’ prison scheme generates huge revenues for the city. Revenue from the district court constitutes nearly 12 percent of the city’s budget, second only to city and county sales tax, ” the original 58-page, 11-count suit said.

Sherwood countered with a 32-page response which stated again and again that the defendants “deny each and every material averment.”

The city, county and judge stated in their response that they have “immunity, including but not limited to judicial, absolute, statutory and qualified immunity.”

From the beginning, Judge Hale said he has nothing to hide. “I have a seat to the right of me for the press to come in anytime and see what we are doing,” he said.

Leader editor Jonathan Feldman did come in and observe a hot-check session.

Brandon Lewis, 33, of Pine Bluff was the last case for the day, and typical of most of the cases observed.

His fine was set at $758 after failing to appear in court on the original hot-check charge.

Judge Hale asked him why he missed his last court date. “I had lost my job, a warrant got issued, and I got incarcerated in Jefferson County, and I start my job Friday,” Lewis answered.

The judge praised him for getting a job. Lewis agreed to pay $100 by the end of the month and continue monthly payments.

Court was adjourned. Outside, Lewis said he didn’t know about the hot-check warrant. He said in 2009, when he was living in Sherwood, he wrote a bad check for $60 at Kiehl Avenue Liquor when he bought a bottle of Grey Goose vodka.

Lewis knew Sherwood’s hot-check court is being sued, but declared Pine Bluff’s hot-check court, led by Judge Kim Bridgforth, to be much worse.

He drove away from the courthouse in a pristine Dodge Challenger with matte graphite rims to match.

Rita Sklar, the executive director of the Arkansas ACLU, said, in reference to the case dismissal, “We are disappointed that the victims of Sherwood’s unconstitutional debtors’ prison are being denied their day in court on procedural grounds, and not on the substance of our clients’ complaints.”

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Restaurants will benefit

Residents of dry areas in Jacksonville and Sherwood, including Gravel Ridge, will vote this fall to allow restaurants to sell alcohol by the drink — beer, wine and mixed drinks.

The election date will be set sometime after Aug. 1. Only people who live in Gray Township will be eligible to vote. There will be five results as the township has five precincts. Each area will decide for itself.

Gray Township is the reason why most of Jacksonville is off limits to most liquor sales. The so-called defunct township, whose boundary is difficult to identify, still carries legal weight in one regard: Its liquor prohibitions, some from more than 50 years ago, still stand.

Big-name restaurants, and even smaller independent ones, are required to get “private-club licenses” to sell drinks by the glass. Such permits are limited, hard to get and expensive. That’s how Chili’s in Jacksonville has operated for years. It’s a public place by any ordinary sense.

The upcoming election will, it is hoped, make it easier for restaurants to open in these dry areas. By voting yes, these communities stand to produce millions in tax revenue for their towns, hundreds of jobs and improve the quality of life.

Liquor stores and bars won’t be opening up if voters approve the measure because the law will require establishments to generate no less than 70 percent of their revenues from food sales.

It also won’t allow grocery or convenience stores to sell wine and beer. This vote is strictly about on-premise consumption for places that will sell more food than alcohol.

The legislature, thanks to state Rep. Bob Johnson of Jacksonville and state Sen. Jane English of North Little Rock, recently passed a new law to let cities with defunct townships to forgo the collection of signatures to get a liquor initiative on the ballot. That made it much easier to usher in reform.

Local liquor restrictions have made it difficult for restaurant operators to know exactly where the dry areas are. Most big chains probably just avoid Jacksonville and Sherwood to pursue other locations. There are plenty of places to open Red Lobsters after all.

The Gray Township border extends east to the Lonoke County line. Its western edge runs from West Maryland Avenue up Batesville Pike near the Watson Road area. From there, the northern perimeter is a straight line north of Bridge Creek Road and Macon and back east to the Lonoke County line.

The election is most likely to benefit cities, not the undeveloped areas of the township.

Hwy. 107 between Brockington Road and Jacksonville Cutoff could see development, as has long been hoped, if this vote succeeds.

That area has a few shopping-center developments that have stalled, and this may help to remedy that.

Jacksonville hopes to attract businesses with this effort, too. City leaders hope to see a restaurant row that rivals North Little Rock’s on Warden Road, which is enjoyed by lots of residents from Jacksonville, Cabot and the air base.

In five years, when the Hwy. 67/167 widening is completed, Jacksonville could look much more attractive to major restaurants.

This vote is about attracting businesses and, like the cities’ efforts to improve their schools, it is a key component of improving both communities and their competiveness.

Dr. Robert Price is leading the campaign as well as a larger urban-renewal effort in Jacksonville. Sherwood economic developer Donnie Crain is leading the charge there.

Price told the Jacksonville City Council recently, “I can tell you it is not establishing liquor stores. It applies to restaurants where 70 percent of their sales come from food sales. They will be able to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks. We’ve got to make that clear in the campaign.”

Price said, “This is our No. 1 objective out of 13 to bring economic development to the city.”

The next 12 principles of Jacksonville’s renewal plan are increase the design and number of public gathering places; develop and endorse economic and social programs to improve the quality of Jacksonville downtown development; improve citywide high-speed internet; improve, increase the number of downtown parks, green spaces, walking and bike paths; redesign street traffic flow, parking and streetscape; work with the Jacksonville Historical District to improve use of unattractive and under-used properties; redesign public utilities to be more attractive and underground; generate more available capital to help implement planned improvements; recruit new and specialized business to Jacksonville downtown; collaborate with the new Jacksonville school district to improve graduation rates and expand post-secondary education; collaborate with the Jacksonville chamber on implementing the master plan, and develop a mixed-use approach to housing.

Let’s hope liquor by the drink passes, and may the next 12 also come to fruition.

TOP STORY >> Robert Hall: Veteran, educator, letter writer

Leader executive editor

Robert Hall, 98, died last weekend in Jacksonville after his health deteriorated in recent months. He was an opinionated letter writer, an unabashed progressive who believed government should provide opportunities to poor and middle-class families like his own and help them become productive citizens.

Hall, a child of the Great Depression and a World War II veteran, was a soft-spoken gentleman, a longtime educator in Michigan, where he’d been a teacher, principal and school superintendent for 30 years. He was stationed at the Pine Bluff Arsenal during the Second World War and had family ties in Arkansas.

He’d divide his time between Arkansas and Michigan during his retirement years, but lately he stayed in Arkansas as travel became more difficult for him. But he stayed busy: Reading and writing letters to the editor and bowling in Cabot every Monday. He began bowling in his 70s.

He, like millions of other veterans, benefited from the G.I. Bill, which helped him get his master’s degree in 1951.

He went to Central Michigan University in 1937 after he borrowed $50, graduating in 1941. He repaid the loan with his first check from the Army, which he joined in 1941. (See obituary, p. 4.)

Hall was born on Dec. 23, 1918, when Woodrow Wilson was president, and he lived under 18 other presidents. Hall met President Truman, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and John Kennedy, when he was running for President in 1960 and Hall was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in 1958.

Robert Hall was strictly old school, a class act. He’d never insult anyone, but it upset him how far our values had declined, especially the loss of civility as politicians double-talked their way into office and picked our pockets while they were at it.

He was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the last election and supported universal health care because he knew politicians and insurance companies would mess up health care if they could get their hands on it.

One way to achieve universal health care, he wrote in one of his letters, “would be to cover all ages of the population under the current Medicare umbrella....The one option I would strongly object to would be to return control of medical services content back over to insurance companies!”

He often visited The Leader, bringing neatly typed letters to the editor with him while his wife, Doris, stayed in the car. The well-written letters, mostly about the plight of the middle class against big-money interests, reminded you of a long-gone era, when even high school graduates were expected to write and think clearly.

Today, when one-third of the nation is functionally illiterate — they cannot write a complete English sentence or make out a check and whose Facebook rants pass for deep thought — rereading Hall’s letters reminds you how much our country has changed.

His letters could have run as newspaper editorials: They were well-researched, cogently argued and made you root for the little guy, who was a victim of a rigged game against giant financiers who bought elections and received special favors in return.

He wanted banks and campaign financing regulated. “When representatives in Arkansas or Michigan receive huge sums of campaign money from Wall Street banks or the Koch brothers,” he wrote, “they are strongly obligated to favor Main Street in vital legislative matters. Our interests can only be considered if they do not conflict with their benefactors. Or democracy (of, by and for the people) becomes a plutocracy (of, by and for the elite).”

“Congress needs to shed its reluctance to stand up against the big money interests and re-enact the Glass-Steagall Act that served this country so well for some 60 years!” he wrote in another letter.

If you heard him read these words in his flat Midwestern accent, you would hear a voice from an era when most people lived in isolated hamlets as he did, when radio was the new medium of mass communication and people still believed they could do better than their parents.

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

He was selected to officer candidate school. After graduating as a first lieutenant, he was sent to the Pine Bluff Arsenal as a shift officer in munitions production. Hall was later reassigned to the chemical warfare research lab in Edgewood, N.J.

Hall served four years in the Army staying in the United States for the entire war.

“I worked on flame throwers and fuels. The object was to increase the oxygen consumption of the fuel of the flame thrower,” Hall said.

“The Japanese would use caves as bunkers. The flamethrowers worked efficiently burning up the oxygen and they would suffocate,” he said.

Hall’s connection to Jacksonville started when he visited his daughter, Vicki. She was a personnel director for Redmond Industry in Michigan. The small electric motor manufacturing company moved to Jacksonville and she relocated here.

The company was later known as Franklin Electric.

He was a member of the McDonald’s Walmart Coffee Clutch Friends in Jacksonville, which met almost daily at 3 p.m. He was the oldest member, but there were several other World War II veterans in the club, including the late T.P. White. They were a self-effacing group, and sitting with them was like going back in time, maybe as far back as the 1920s and ’30s when they were growing up. Nobody raised their voice or argued and everyone’s viewpoint was respected.

He called last month to say he wouldn’t write any more letters. He hadn’t been feeling well, but he wanted us to have a collection of his letters and reminiscences.

When we visited him at his home that evening, he looked weak and didn’t have much of an appetite.

He and his wife, Doris, who is 90, were still bowling on Mondays at Allfam Bowling in Cabot until a few months ago. They took advantage of the special senior rate from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. when games are $1.49 each instead of the regular $3.29 per game before 4 p.m.

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

Bill Allen, Allfam’s owner, was sad to hear of Robert Hall’s passing when we called him on Monday.

“He was one of my special customers,” Allen recalled. “He was here to exercise and visit with friends. He bowled three games every week. He always wore his World War II veteran’s cap. We honored him on Veterans Day. We need to celebrate what he accomplished.”

The Halls often played with Geoff Rushton, 91, also of Jacksonville who was from Great Britain. The three met 20 years ago while playing at the Sherwood bowling alley until it closed. “Lane 5 was their special lane,” Allen told us. “Eventually he had to go to a lighter ball, and you can’t knock down as many pins. We’ll miss seeing him.”

“They called them the Greatest Generation for a reason,” Allen said.

TOP STORY >> Building boom for district

Leader senior staff writer

The hardest part — financing — of building two new schools for Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is all but done. The board has authorized the sale to Robert W. Baird and Co., the low bidder among four with an interest rate of 3.24 percent, with board president Daniel Gray signing off on the sale before leaving on vacation and board secretary-treasurer Carol Miles expected to sign as early as Tuesday. Neither was at the Monday meeting.

“This is the fun part,” said Scott Beardsley of First Security Beardsley Public Finance.

Now the district can move forward building a flagship $62 million Jacksonville High School on the rise behind Crain Ford and overlooking Hwy. 67/167, and a new elementary school on General Samuels Road to serve the zones currently sending students to Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

Designs by WER Architects have been approved nearly to the point of construction documents, with Baldwin and Shell serving as the general contractor.

The new $16 million elementary school should be ready for students by August 2018 and the high school a year later.

Superintendent Tony Wood says the district has about $101 million for construction and renovation, including $4 million in roofing and HVAC improvements to the Jacksonville Middle School, and a multipurpose building each for Murrell Taylor and Bayou Meto elementary schools.


Bids for construction of the high school are slated to be opened July 17 and bids are currently out on the elementary school.

More than 90 percent of the affected patrons voted to create the new Jacksonville-area district, but when it came time to vote on the 7.6-mill increase that financed this $46 million bond sale, it passed only about 55 percent to 45 percent.

In addition to that, the state match on qualifying construction provides another $29 million and the last installment of state desegregation money added $10,151,673.

A second-lien bond slated for fall of 2018 will provide another $10.5 million.

A $4.5 million cash transfer from PCSSD, part of the division of assets, is already in the bank and the district has $3 million available from the sale of the $15 million bond issue.


The closing and transfer of funds is set for June 15, with $45,575,349 to the construction fund and $53,545 in the bond fund, both at Bank of the Ozarks.

Construction of new and improved schools was a condition of Jacksonville getting its own district and is central to the district getting out of the ongoing desegregation lawsuit.

The meeting also was the last regular board meeting before Wood retires. Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh becomes Arkansas Education Department deputy commissioner for educator effectiveness and licensure, and Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart retires to take a job with Baptist Prep.

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) awarded state citations to the three for the pivotal role they played in helping the new district to and through its first year.

The citation noted Wood’s 45 years of outstanding service to education of Arkansas students and thanked him for being instrumental guiding the new district to success.

Stewart was also cited for 45 years of service including stints as chief of staff for the state Department of Education and the JNPSD. In Stewart’s absence, former interim JNPSD superintendent Bobby Lester accepted her citation.


Johnson noted he was the fourth representative, dating back decades, to help create a Jacksonville district. Pat Bond followed by her son Will Bond, and Mark Perry preceded Johnson.

Jacksonville Senior High Principal Gail Biggs presented each of board members with a framed remembrance of the district’s first year in existence.

She said the district’s first graduating class wanted to recognize the board members for their tireless effort — putting their money where their mouth is — and said board member Jim Moore ought to have an office at the high school, he spent so much time volunteering there.


The board recognized Angela Sprow of Bayou Met0 Elementary as the district’s first teacher of the year, with John Birmingham of Bayou Meto Elementary recognized as elementary school teacher of the year, Deborah Lutz as middle schoolteacher of the year, and Katie Roberts as the high school teacher of the year.

The board agreed to pay the parent involvement facilitator at each school a $600 stipend in the future.

The number of students served free breakfast nearly doubled this year to 2,406 per day and lunches increased by 645 per day to 2,454.

The JNPSD transportation department will be one of six school districts to receive recognition as one of the safest bus fleets in the state.


The district received a $23,543 grant from the National Association of Pupil Transport, with which it bought and installed hardware to will allow tracking on 45 buses, that will track where students load and unload o a district bus.

Parents will be able to see where their students got on and off the bus and parents and staff will be able to see where their bus is and when it will arrive.

Current ridership is 2,684.

The board approved a proposed budget of expenditures, which must appear on the school ballot in September, unanimously.

As prepared by Beardsley, the estimated $44,651,049 budget will include about $23.4 million would be for salary and benefits; $8.4 million for instructional expense; $4.1 million for maintenance and operation; $4 million for bonded debt payment, $3.9 million for pupil transportation; $415,000 for other operating expense and $357,000 for dedicated maintenance.


Even though school is out for the year, five students were expelled. Three are expelled for this year and will return on probation at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.

The fourth student was expelled until January 2018 to return then on probation, and the fifth student is expelled through the next school year and can return on probation for the 2018-19 school year.

TOP STORY >> School district hoping voters approve plans

Leader senior staff writer

If patrons of the Pulaski County School District vote for an extension of the current debt-service millage next Tuesday, they will wake up the next day with the same tax bill — 40.7 mills — but with $66.5 million for a new Sylvan Hills High School and other improvements, Linda George, one of the get-out-the-vote organizers, said.

The difference is that the debt-service tax will be collected for 30 more years instead of for 13 more years.

Early voting started Tuesday (when 162 votes were cast) at two sites — from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through Friday at the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Monday at the Pulaski County Regional Building at Markham and Broadway in Little Rock.

Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for 62 precincts at 33 locations, according to information on the website.

Elections to fund construction bond issues have proven difficult to pass in recent years, but “I’m very optimistic,” said George, a former PCSSD teacher and principal.

She said supporters have met with teachers at the Pulaski County schools and had parent meetings and the atmosphere has been supportive.

“Nobody’s asking ‘what about me,’ Sylvan Hills is that crowded. When they look at numbers — this school was built for 850, but last year nearly 1,400 kids (registered for high school),” George said.

She said patrons throughout the district might wake up on Tuesday and decide to go to the pool, while Sherwood-area residents might decide to go to the pool, but go vote first.

George said Sherwood’s population grew 41 percent between 2000 and 2014.

“When you expand the high school, you help a growing city accommodate what’s coming,” she said.

Some of that was annexation of the Gravel Ridge area, but there have been several housing developments built with six more going in.

Although not mentioned specifically on the ballot, most of that money would be used to expand the Sylvan Hills High School. Currently the ninth graders are diverted to a “freshman campus” at the old Northwood Middle School.

The district may use the surplus revenues produced each year by the debt service millage for other school purposes.

A similar debt-service millage extension election for Little Rock School District in May lost with about 65 percent against, 35 percent for.

That’s a district that was taken over by the state, which dismissed the school board and fired a popular superintendent.

Opponents there charged the new tax would have been taxation without representation.

This is not the case in PCSSD, which was taken over by the state in 2011 but has emerged from fiscal distress and has an elected school board again.

In May 2015, a PCSSD millage increase vote to fund construction lost approximately 3-1. That would have increased the district millage from 40.7 mills to 46.3 mills.

In the fledgling Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District in February 2016, amidst the excitement of patrons who voted by more than 90 percent to have their own school district, a millage increase to fund a building program was in doubt until the final precincts were counted. That increase was approved 55 percent to 45 percent.

George noted that PCSSD couldn’t finance a bond election, but that individuals, banks and businesses contributed not only in the Sherwood area, but in Little Rock and North Little Rock.

“Having good schools in Sherwood affects all of central Arkansas,” she said.

SPORTS STORY >> Jumping into wedding plans

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE - Wed-ding planners customarily don’t accompany track and field teams to the NCAA Outdoor Championships. But maybe this one should as the Arkansas Razorbacks women’s team defends its national championship Thursday and Saturday at the NCAA Outdoor meet in Eugene, Ore.

Lexi Weeks and Tori Weeks, the sophomore All-American pole vaulting twin sisters from Cabot, each have summer wedding dates.

Tori, the two-time NCAA Indoor All-American and 2017 SEC Indoor champion and 2017 SEC Outdoor runner-up, plans July 8 to marry Seth Hoggard of Cabot in Cabot.

On Aug. 12 in Cabot, Lexi — the 2016 NCAA and SEC Indoor and Outdoor champion, U.S. Olympian and 2017 SEC Outdoor champion — plans to marry Derek Jacobus, a decathlete for the Razorback men’s team and who is also competing in Eugene.

The nearly inseparable twins will serve as each other’s maid of honor.

“It’s awesome,” Lexi said. “We have done everything together since we have been born. It’s fun just to be sharing life’s moments together and just to get to do something as big as this together.”

Tori matched her sister awesome for awesome.

“It’s awesome,” Tori said. “We weren’t expecting to be planning two weddings at one time. I have been dating my fiancĂ© for five years and she has been dating hers for maybe a year and a half. We weren’t expecting to be doing this in the same summer with all this track going on. It’s crazy. But it’s also really exciting.”

And on the back burner both assert with each among the favorites to win Thursday’s vault, and key, along with 2017 NCAA Indoor All-American teammate Desiree Freier, to scoring team points as Coach Lance Harter’s No. 2 defending champions enter underdogs to host Oregon.

“Right now the focus is track with the national meet coming up,” Tori said. “We are just trying to focus on track right now.”

Ditto for Lexi.

“I definitely have been doing wedding planning on the side,” Lexi said. “But I’m trying to put it as far to the side as I can to focus on my track right now.”

If either daydreams of wedding bells, their vault coach, Bryan Compton, surely will chime in to keep them on track.

Including Sandi Morris, the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and former Arkansas NCAA champion and 16-5 USA Outdoor record-holder and innumerable Arkansas champions before her, Compton produces quality vaulters like Henry Ford produced cars. The Weeks sisters and Freier assembled a 1-2-3 SEC Outdoor pole vault in Columbia, S.C.

“Bryan is so calculating how everything is done,” Harter said. “He gets more consistency out of the vault by far than any of his peers that coach the event.”

Out of Tori Weeks, Comp-ton coached one of the greatest seasons ever compiled by a freshman including then lifetime bests 14-2 1-4 and 14-5 1-4 indoors and outdoors. It would be remembered as one of the best but for Lexi compiling THE best freshman pole vaulting year in history winning both NCAA and SEC Outdoor titles and three times surpassing 15-0 including 15-5 to be the USA Championships bronze medalist and joining Morris representing the U.S. at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

However for the 2017 indoor season, Lexi paid a price for her extended summer while Tori reaped rewards from extended rest.

“Lexi had a long, long year,” Harter said. “A lot of people talk about the post Olympics blahs.”

Especially a college freshman propelled from Cabot to Rio and back to Fayetteville.

“I got back from Rio the day before classes started last fall,” Lexi said. “So I had two weeks off training and then I got back to it.”

While Lexi by her 2016 standards struggled early indoors, Tori blossomed. Now even Lexi’s form regained outdoors, they compete other back and forth like Cabot days when each held national high school records.

“It’s kind of fun that she wins this meet, I win the next meet,” Lexi said. “We are just pushing each other every meet, every step of the way.”

Tori had a fresher start for her push.

“I was able to take about two months off after Outdoor Nationals last year and that’s made a difference,” Tori said. “I think I’ve gotten stronger this year and that’s helped a little bit and maybe I’m a little bit faster.”

Tori and Lexi both vaulted 15-0 at the SEC Indoor. Most presumed them 1-2 for the NCAA Indoor.
However there are many great women collegiate vaulters out there and the greatest days aren’t guaranteed even to the greatest. Alabama’s Lakan Taylor, Baylor’s Annie Rhodes, Kentucky’s Olivia Gruver and Akron’s placed first through fourth. Tori and Freier, both 14-1, were fifth and sixth. Lexi, 13-7, tied for seventh.

Three pole vaulting All-Americans would be unprecedented for any other women’s program, but for the Weeks sisters it was a letdown.

“All three of us did place at nationals which I think any other team would have been excited about,” Tori said. “But I think we were expecting one-two or a higher placing.”

Before their wedding vows this summer, both vow NCAA improvement in the great outdoors.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney beats Sheridan

Leader sports editor

The Gwatney Chevrolet Junior American Legion team ran its record to 5-1 so far this season with a 4-2 victory over Sheridan on Saturday morning in the Jacksonville Junior Invitational at Dupree Park.

It turned out to be the last day of the event that was supposed to conclude on Sunday. Heavy rain brought an end to the tournament during the 12 p.m. game on Saturday, but Jacksonville finished it 2-0 after beating Cabot’s A Team 6-5 on Thursday.

Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows wasn’t pleased with how his team performed on Thursday, but the win over Sheridan was much better.

“We played well against Sheridan,” said Burrows. “We had a couple mistakes, but they were just baseball plays. They were mental things where we knew better like we did that whole game against Cabot. They were good Saturday.”

Gwatney scored first in the bottom of the second inning. Bryce Overman hit a leadoff single and stole second base. Caleb Anderson then singled to put runners on the corners, and Axton Ramick hit into a 6-4 fielder’s choice that scored Overman. After a 5-3 groundout by Ethan Gray, Justin Dennis was hit by a 0-1 pitch. Adonis Fuller then hit a grounder to third that was mishandled, resulting in Ramick coming around to make the score 2-0.

Sheridan got a two-out base hit in the top of the third that eventually came around to score, making it 2-1. After holding Jacksonville scoreless, the visiting Yellowjackets tied the game in the top of the fourth. Sheridan threatened to make a big inning of it, with the first four batters reaching base, but only one run scored.

A single was followed by a walk, but Anderson picked off the runner at first base. Another single drove in the tying run, and another walk put two runners on with one out. But Anderson got the next two batters to fly out to get out of the jam.

Jacksonville then scored twice in the bottom of the fifth as time expired. Clay Burrows drew a leadoff walk. Two batters later Overman was hit by a pitch. Ryan Ready then walked to load the bases with one out, and Ramick got his second RBI with another sacrifice. Gray then singled to drive in Overman and set the final margin.

Burrows, Overman, Anderson and Gray each had one base hit to account for all Gwatney’s base knocks.

Anderson started and pitched the first four innings for the no-decision. He gave up only three hits while striking out one and walking six. Gray pitched the last inning. He gave up one hit with one strikeout and no walks.

Jacksonville’s junior/senior doubleheader scheduled for Monday at Sylvan Hills was also rained out. The next game is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at Searcy.

It will be the senior team’s season opener. After that, both teams will be back home for a junior/senior doubleheader against Stuttgart at 6 p.m. Thursday. They close out the week with a home doubleheader against Paragould on Saturday. The junior game is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. with the senior team to follow.

SPORTS STORY >> Centennial Bank team loses first

Leader sports editor

The Cabot senior American Legion team lost for the first time this season when it traveled to Sheridan on Saturday. The home team, made up mostly of members of the two-time defending Class 6A state champions, rallied from deficits of 3-1 and 5-3 to beat the visiting Centennial Bank squad 6-5 in 10 innings.

Brody Schluter pitched six innings and took the no decision, but his performance drew praises from Cabot coach Casey Vaughan, a Cabot High and Centennial Bank alum who just completed his fourth season of college baseball, and his first at the Division I level at Arkansas State University.

“People had told me this could fill up the zone,” said Vaughan. “We didn’t have him last year, so I was just astonished at how good of a pitcher he is. He’s low velocity, but he’s got three or four pitches he can throw for a strike whenever he wants. He did a great job of keeping batters off balance.”

Cabot’s defense wasn’t as solid as usual. The Centennial Bank team committed four errors, including one that resulted in the game-winning run in the bottom of the final inning.

Pitcher Gino Germer took over with two on and no outs in the ninth inning after Sheridan had tied the game. The southpaw struck out two Sheridan batters and then got an infield pop-up to keep the home team from scoring the winning run in the ninth.

But in the 10th, Germer walked two before a sacrifice bunt turned into an infield single that loaded the bases with no outs. The next batter hit a grounder to second base, where Michael Shepherd fielded the ball for Cabot.

Shepherd had been used exclusively as a pitcher throughout the high school season, and his rust in the infield showed. With the infield playing in, Shepherd made a difficult stop look easy, but his throw home was high, allowing the winning run to cross the plate.

“We had some guys doing some other things so we didn’t have our full roster of guys,” Vaughan said.

“For the lineup we had, with guys maybe a little out of place and playing against the 6A state champions, I don’t think it’s a knock on these guys at all. We had a chance to win it. A couple walks and a bad throw got us in the end, but I thought these guys played great,” the coach said.

Schluter and Caleb Harpole led the way offensively, both with two base hits, making up four of Cabot’s seven total. Logan Edmondson, Koletan Eastham and Jack Broyles each got one base hit apiece.

Schluter pitched six innings, giving up seven hits, four total runs but only three earned. He struck out three and walked two. Dylan Billingsley pitched two and one-third innings. He gave up two hits and one earned run with two Ks and two walks.

Cabot (2-1) traveled to Russellville to take on the Cogswell Motors team at Arkansas Tech University on Tuesday. The Centennial Bank squad will host Bryant in a junior/senior doubleheader tonight at the Cabot Sports Complex. The junior team’s first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. The senior team will follow.