Leader Blues

Friday, March 12, 2010

SPORTS >> Spring fling under way just in time

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

It’s been a long, cold, snowy, icy, miserable winter, folks.

But those perennial indicators that spring is just around the corner are beginning to emerge. For us, that means the onslaught of spring sports.

There’s something for everyone in the spring. Baseball takes center stage, but there is also everything from track and field to soccer to my personal spring/summer favorite, racing.

This past weekend was a bit of a transition for me. I took a trip north to cover the Lonoke girls basketball team in the semifinals of the 4A state tournament in Highland/Ashflat/Cherokee Village — I guess the name depends on what side of the road you’re standing on. Sunday, I got to enjoy a sunny day at the racetrack for Beebe Speedway’s annual car show and play day.

Though this winter proved to be one of the most frigid and messy in a long time, it still did not manage to dampen enthusiasm for basketball around here. It was nice to visit the different district, regional and state tournaments and see big crowds at all of them, even for the mid-afternoon games.

And my travels across the state over the past month turned up some memorable sights. One of my favorite things to do on these long trips is observe local businesses to see how they vary from one area to another. If I had to choose a winner, I suppose I would pick an establishment called “Hillbilly Mobile” located in, you guessed it — Cave City.

Man, first watermelons, then electricity and running water, now cellular telephone service. It’s a good time to be a Cave City resident after all.

I didn’t have to go very far to see the strangest sight of the new year, however. At Beebe Speedway’s play day on Sunday, I was caught off guard by a van pulling up to the pit gate that looked exactly like the van from the old A-Team television program.

You know, the black with red diagonal stripe across the back.

At first I thought, hey what an interesting way to liven up an old van. But when the driver got out wearing an A-Team T-shirt, complete with the slogan from the old show across the back, I began to fear for my safety. That dude apparently digs the A-Team in a big way. Oh well, I pity the fool who takes things too seriously.

The season ended up a bit anticlimactic for two of our better teams, the North Pulaski boys and Lonoke girls. I wasn’t there to witness the heartbreak for the Falcons in their overtime semifinals loss to Wynne, but I did see what none of us believed would happen, the Lady Jackrabbits failing to reach the finals for a fourth time.

The big question brewing after that game was if Cara Neighbors’ charging foul on what might have been the winning shot was a good call. Questionable, but Prairie Grove was called on back-to-back charging fouls in the third quarter. That seemed to stop momentum for the Lady Tigers and allow Lonoke to get back in the game, so I don’t think there was any intent on the officials’ part to affect the outcome.

I just think most officials around here are not very good. Coaches can’t say that, at least not on the record, but I assure you my opinion does not come from a deserted island.

However, those Searcy Lady Lions came through and gave us a reason to make the trip to Hot Springs today for the 6A state finals. It’s one final game indoors before we hit the parks and racetracks.

There is a lot for us in this area to look forward to this spring. Sylvan Hills always emerges as a top contender in baseball, and the Bears could be playing with a chip on their shoulders this year after falling to Central Arkansas Christian in the semifinals last year.

In softball, Jacksonville always has a top-notch team. Several of our area schools have excellent track and field programs, and soccer, well, what can I say about soccer?

The heptathlon should be another good one. Searcy’s Kristen Celsor, who will also start for the Lady Lions today in Hot Springs, will be back to defend her crown, but it will be interesting to see if young Cabot junior Ariel Voskamp will emerge as a top-three contender this year.

Voskamp caught a lot of people by surprise last year with a top-twenty performance as a sophomore against a contingent of strong senior and junior talent. With another year of experience and growth, Voskamp could turn out to be another big heptathlon success story in the area.

Contestants from schools in our area have won three of the last four heptathlons. That is a little misleading, however, as Celsor and predecessor Whitney Jones, who won in 2007 and 2008, both represented Searcy. Maybe Voskamp can add a little school diversity to that mix with a victory for Cabot.

And if you like auto racing, this year should be a dandy. There are more special shows on tap in this area than I have ever seen. The MSRA late models, my personal favorite, are back at I-30 Speedway and Beebe this year, and Beebe will host the USCS sprint cars.

Get ready for a Tim Crawley spanking of epic proportions in that one, but what local sprint fan doesn’t enjoy watching the old Crawl-daddy whip those old timers and young hopefuls?

By the way, Jacksonville’s own Mary Capps won the car show for hobby stocks at Beebe with a paint scheme featuring kids’ handprints in florescent colors on a white car. Leave it to the Capps family to do something special with limited funding — her husband Steve is a notorious tightwad.

I can say that because we’re friends, or, at least we were before this column came out — sorry, Speedy.

So get out those bleacher chairs, have the antacid ready to negate the effects of those Frito chili pies and get ready for another round of outdoor spring sports. And if you take grandpa to the races, please make sure his dentures don’t fall out of his mouth whenever the trophy girls appear.