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CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Mason City High School Spanish teacher Sally Berding high-fives students as they run the relay race during the Special Olympics pep rally on Friday.

Mason City High School sends off cheerleading, basketball teams bound for state Special Olympics (with photos)

MASON CITY | Mason City athletes bound for state competition this weekend were sent off with an assembly at the high school Friday morning.

Mason City High School’s Unified Cheerleading/Dance Team and competitive 3-on-3 basketball team will participate in the Special Olympics Mid-Winter Tournament in Iowa City March 9-10, according to a news release from the school. 

Special Olympics Iowa allows athletes to come together as they celebrate fitness, courage, respect and inclusion.

Unified Sports teams, such as the cheer/dance team which the school says was made possible by Best Buddies, which provides one-on-one friendships and group activities, joins approximately the same number of students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to encourage relationships and healthy lifestyles. The cheer/dance team began in 2016. 

Mason City’s squad this year includes Lauren Lunning, Emma Stiles, Izzy Day, Lucy Roberts, Candie Eliason, Emily Lunning, Marissa Pope, Kinzie Johanns, Sydney Sullivan and Bailey Erickson. Paige Braun, Madison Braun and Katie Lorence were recognized for their contributions to the team.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Mason City students and faculty compete in a volleyball game Friday during the Special Olympics pep rally.

Three basketball teams from Mason City were sent to the regional competition, and one earned first place and a spot in the state tournament: Dalton LaCombe, Kyren Harris, Chandler Ott, and Tyler Bell. They are coached by Pete Jean-Pierre and Dawn Hensley.

Special Olympics athletes at Mason City can also participate in bowling and track and field. All seniors participating in Special Olympics are able to earn a Mohawk Letter in recognition of their hard work, determination and spirit.

Seniors who received letters are:

• Kamila Clark -- bowling, basketball, track and field and cheer. She said her favorite part about Special Olympics is “being part of a team and feeling included.”

• Lauren Lunning -- bowling, cheer, track and field.

• Harris -- basketball.

• Bell --  basketball, bowling and track and field.

• Will Finley -- track and field.

• Ott -- basketball.

Sarah Zehr and Day, a member of the cheer/dance squad, were presented with the Buddy Pair of the Year Award, which is given to the most involved Best Buddy pair who demonstrates what a true friendship looks like.

They were recognized for the time they spend together -- at lunch or during pride time at school, and outside of school.

Friday's assembly marked the high school's 28th annual Special Olympics pep rally. School officials say Mason City was the first district in the state to honor its Special Olympians in such a manner. 

Photos: Mason City High School Special Olympics pep rally

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Mason City students and faculty compete in a volleyball game Friday during the Special Olympics pep rally.

US says it will hold N. Korea to its promises ahead of summit

WASHINGTON — The White House tried to swat away criticism Friday that the U.S. is getting nothing in exchange for agreeing to a historic face-to-face summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said North Korea has made promises to denuclearize, stop its nuclear and missile testing and allow joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. But questions remained over exactly what North Korea means by "denuclearize" and what the U.S. might be risking with a highly publicized summit that will build up Kim's stature among world leaders.

"Let's not forget that the North Koreans did promise something," Sanders said, responding to a reporter's question about why Trump agreed to a meeting — unprecedented between leaders of the two nations — without preconditions.

She added: "We are not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea."

Still, the White House indicated that planning for the meeting was fully on track.

"The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the World. Time and place to be determined," Trump tweeted late Friday.

The previous night's announcement of the summit marked a dramatic turnaround after a year of escalating tensions and rude insults between the two leaders. A personal meeting would have been all but unthinkable when Trump was being dismissed as a "senile dotard" and the Korean "rocket man" was snapping off weapons tests in his quest for a nuclear arsenal that could threaten the U.S. mainland.

North Korea's capabilities are indeed close to posing a direct atomic threat to the U.S. And the wider world has grown fearful of a resumption of the Korean War that ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.

The prospect of the first U.S.-North Korea summit has allayed those fears somewhat. The European Union, Russia and China — whose leader spoke by phone with Trump on Friday — have all welcomed the move.

North Korea's government has yet to formally comment on its invitation to Trump. South Korea said the president agreed to meet Kim by May, but Sanders said Friday that no time and place had been set.

The "promises" on denuclearization and desisting from weapons tests were relayed to Trump by South Korean officials who had met with Kim on Monday and brought his summit invitation to the White House. Trump discussed the offer with top aides on Thursday. Some expressed their reservations but ultimately supported the president's decision to accept it, according to U.S. officials who were briefed on the talks and requested anonymity to discuss them.

Still, some lawmakers and foreign policy experts voiced skepticism about the wisdom of agreeing to a summit without preparations by lower-level officials, particularly given the lack of trust between the two sides. North Korea is also holding three American citizens for what Washington views as political reasons.

"A presidential visit is really the highest coin in the realm in diplomacy circles," said Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, adding that Trump "seemed to spend it without getting anything in return, not even the release of the three U.S. captives."

Some say Trump could be setting himself up for failure amid doubts over whether Kim has any intention to relinquish a formidable atomic arsenal that he has made central to his personal stature and North Korea's standing in the world. 

Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official experienced in negotiating with North Korea, warned there is a disconnect between how the North and the U.S. describes "denuclearization" of the divided Korean Peninsula. For the U.S. it refers to North Korea giving up its nukes; for North Korea it also means removing the threat of American forces in South Korea and the nuclear deterrent with which the U.S. protects its allies in the region.

"The fundamental definition of denuclearization is quite different between Washington and Pyongyang," Revere said, noting that as recently as Jan. 1, Kim had vigorously reaffirmed the importance of nukes for North Korea's security. He said that misunderstandings at a summit could lead to "recrimination and anger" and even military action if Trump were embarrassed by failure.

"There is good reason to talk, but only if we are talking about something that is worth doing and that could be reasonably verified," said former Defense Secretary William Perry, who dealt with North Korea during President Bill Clinton's administration. "Otherwise we are setting ourselves up for a major diplomatic failure."

The White House maintains that Kim has been compelled to reach out for presidential-level talks because of Trump's policy of "maximum pressure."

"North Korea's desire to meet to discuss denuclearization — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump's strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working," Vice President Mike Pence, who has visited the region, said Friday in a written statement.

Iowa House votes to stop most ‘food shaming’ in schools

DES MOINES — Legislation to keep Iowa school children “full and focused” won unanimous approval in the Iowa House this week. 

Supporters said the bill would end most “food shaming,” or denying school lunches to children whose parents who owe the school for those meals, was approved 96-0.

House File 2467 “is good for the children of Iowa,” said Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids. “It makes clear to all public schools that current and future Iowa children will not be shamed because their parents are behind in payment.”

The bill establishes guidelines for schools to deal with parents who owe money for school lunches.

Schools will be prohibited from posting names or otherwise identifying students whose parents owe money for school meals. In some cases, schools have required those students to sit together at table separate from classmates, do chores to pay for meals or deny participation in school activities, lawmakers said.

Ensuring that students eat is important, Running-Marquardt said, because “we know that if a child is hungry, it affects their ability to learn.”

Although the bill was approved unanimously, Running-Marquardt said it isn’t perfect but has started a conversation “about feeding all Iowa children, regardless of their parents’ failure to pay.”

“We are the breadbasket of the world, and we can, and I know will, someday reach the point where we have better tools to use for school lunch debt and no longer use food as a leverage for payment,” she said.