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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Filming in Harrison

by Mike Masterson | June 5, 2021 at 8:17 a.m.

My hometown of Harrison has been abuzz of late as a production company began filming the faith-based movie "Running the Bases."

It's not often a film crew shows up in this community of 13,000 to fuel both excitement and the local economy.

Ace reporter Bill Bowden reported the other day on the arrival of the cameras and the start of 90 percent of the work on the family-oriented story, ostensibly for a national audience.

Just 30 minutes south of Branson in the heart of Buffalo National River country, Harrison was chosen by the writers and producers for a specific reason and with spiritual motivation in mind.

The film involves twins who play for the fictitious Harrison Hawks high school baseball team and provides an opportunity to showcase the charm and overall appeal of Harrison, according to co-writer and co-director Marty Roberts, who collaborated with partner Jimmy Womble.

Those associated with producing the film said the Harrison associated in many media accounts with an undeserved reputation for racism proved to them to be just the opposite (something I've been writing for years, incidentally).

It was the surprise of finding so many good and accepting people that convinced decision-makers to choose Harrison as its setting.

"Harrison gets a lot of bad press," said Roberts, who moved to Arkansas from Texas 21 years ago. "To me, it was about bringing a faith-based film here and showing people around the world that this is a great community, a phenomenal place to live, an awesome place to travel through. The people here are still real kind.

"I wanted to bring it to Harrison because it's personal to me," he continued. "I know the people here and I know their hearts, and the bad rap that they get is not what they deserve. I've seen what this city has had to endure." He told Bowden that he intuitively knew God wanted the film shot in Harrison.

The movie, said to appeal to all ages, is being made by Manns Mackie Studio, owned by two Black men, Ty Manns and Bishop Charles Mackie. All the better and appropriate, I say. Meanwhile, the film's cast and crew are filling 100 hotel rooms in Harrison.

The screenplay already has received several awards, the story said. And executive producer Johnny Ray Scroggins of Humble, Texas, is quoted saying the movie has strived for minority participation. "All the people we've met and worked with have been so supportive and welcoming" during an "absolutely fantastic" first week of shooting, he said.

Unintended victims

Since we've apparently decided to become a nation of victims rather than holding ourselves personally accountable for our individual choices and actions, I'd like to point out one group who truly are victims of greed and larceny.

And it's a shame those who must live with legitimate painful ailments must do so because of the actions of the relatively very few doctors who abuse their ability to prescribe medicines. I'm talking about physicians who make it difficult for their honorable counterparts to prescribe painkillers that can make all the difference in providing relief for their legitimate patients in need.

Sure, these Schedule II drugs when abused have the potential for addiction and physical dependence. But I'm talking about legitimate needs of the ailing, rather than promoting and furthering abuse.

Prime examples for me showed up in headlines the other day after two Arkansas MDs pleaded guilty and received prison terms for wrongly prescribing Schedule II controlled substances such as hydrocodone, oxycontin, oxycodone and methadone.

Dr. Cecil W. Gaby of Fort Smith, 71, got 10 years for prescribing an incredible 1.156 million such painkillers to 347 patients in only two years, an average of more than 3,000 doses each, says a news story by veteran reporter Doug Thompson.

Good grief, people. How can one person possibly swallow that many powerful opioids daily? Surely they wouldn't be peddling them.

The U.S. Justice Department said Dr. Gaby prescribed at least one opioid for 98 percent of his patients. Difficult--if not impossible--for a physician to plead ignorance of that fact. That level of overprescribing definitely falls into my description of a "pill mill."

Then there is Dr. Robin Ann Cox, 64, of Rogers who was sentenced to two years and six months for prescribing restricted opioids to patients without following proper medical practices.

When we have such abuses by even a relative few professional gatekeepers, who can blame honorable physicians for their reluctance to responsibly prescribe such powerful yet effective pain killers? That's even when their patients in serious pain could badly use the medicine for relief.

Can't speak for you, valued readers, but if I were a doctor, I wouldn't want regulators, law enforcement officers and the courts constantly looking over my shoulder each time I prescribed hydrocodone to patients who legitimately need its helpful properties.

Instead of facing such wrath, I'd likely be advising them to purchase some over-the-counter drug, knowing full well it won't be able to deaden the suffering nearly as well as an opioid.

Facility still needed

I read that powers-that-be in the city of Fort Smith remain determined to build a model community and sports-related facility for citizens and youth.

Gosh knows, after all it's been through in recent years, the town could still use one.

The three-month-long feasibility study of a facility to incorporate athletic programs includng basketball, volleyball and cheerleading along with concerts and weddings is expected to cost $30,000, at least half of which will be covered through matching grants.

A few years back, former state Sen. Jake Files was imprisoned after being convicted of money laundering and bank and wire fraud linked to a 68-acre "River Valley Sports Complex" with eight ball fields that never got built despite thousands in taxpayer funds he received.

A news story reiterated that Files, since released from prison, had an associate open a bank account for him under her name. When the money came into Fort Smith, that associate withdrew $11,900 as a check to Files' construction company. She withdrew the rest in cash and gave all the money to Files, who then put the check into his personal bank account.

Federal District Judge P.K. Holmes III called that "an egregious misuse of public trust" and said it was "theft of taxpayer funds." I prefer to call it a prime example of "public servant" greed and dishonesty run amok. A sad deal indeed for the community.

I hope this latest attempt among Fort Smith's community leaders to provide the city with an athletic park proves successful.

What's middle age?

A friend asked the other day what I considered to be middle-aged.

I pondered several seconds before responding, "I'd say about 55 would be close."

He grinned and said, "I disagree. Here's why. If the average life expectancy for males in the U.S. is about 78, that means halfway there would be 39 years old, right? That's when you'd be middle way through your expected lifetime before you even reach 40."

I couldn't argue with his logic. Yet it seems darn near bizarre to imagine 39 years old as supposedly being middle-aged.

CDs still available

For those with CD players, I still have some free copies of my CD featuring 14 timeless columns, "Rhythms of Life from a Southern Journalist," recorded in a studio a while back. Just need $5 to cover my shipping costs: 1002 West Bunn, Harrison, AR 72601.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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