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Heartland's Kyle Ott (25) competes for a loose ball with Kenesaw's William Gallagher (33) during a Class D-1 state boys basketball semifinal at the Devaney Sports Center on Friday.

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History in the making

York looking for first title since 1944, while Kenesaw making first finals appearance since 1920. More state boys basketball coverage. Pages B1-B2, B7-B8

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Grant from NBC will give Malcolm theater students a place of their own

Thanks to NBC, the Maytums' chicken coop will soon have room for actual chickens.

That possibility, of course, is not why the parents and students at Malcolm High School crowded into the school’s chorus room Monday for an emergency announcement.

They came so Tami Maytum, a longtime middle school teacher who has coached the high school drama team for the past six years, could tell them the real news: Malcolm is one of 50 high schools nationwide to get a $10,000 grant for its theater program through NBC’s R.I.S.E America.

This is big news for Malcolm, a school district surrounded by cornfields on the edge of the small town northwest of Lincoln whose high school has no theater classes, no auditorium and no stage.

What it does have is an enthusiastic coach and a bunch of passionate students — nearly half the high school — who show up at school each day at 6 a.m. from August through December to practice for the one-act play competitions.

That passion and enthusiasm netted them five trips to the state one-act play competition. They've left with one championship, one runner-up finish and two third-place finishes.

Since Maytum took the job as drama coach, two students interested in pursuing careers in theater have won scholarships in theater performance.

Those facts impressed the judges of the grant program, which was created through a partnership with NBC and the nonprofit Education Theatre Foundation. 

R.I.S.E. stands for Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression and was inspired by a new network series called — not coincidentally — “Rise” that sounds surprisingly similar to real life in Malcolm.

The series, which premieres Tuesday on NBC, stars Josh Radnor (of “How I Met Your Mother” fame), who plays a teacher who takes over a school’s lackluster theater department and galvanizes the working-class town. It was created by Jason Katims, the executive producer of “Friday Night Lights.”

Malcolm was one of 1,000 schools that applied and the only one in Nebraska — and one of just a few from the Midwest — to win.

Maytum heard about the program through a friend, and the mom of a Malcolm alum who works as a grant writer helped her apply.

“I’ve never written a grant before,” Maytum said. “It was actually quite terrifying.”

Each applicant had to submit a 500-word essay and a two-minute video describing why they wanted the grant. 

That’s where the Maytums' chicken coop comes in — they have a short cameo in the video narrated by their son.

Because the school has no auditorium or stage and because it’s a small school where kids participate in lots of activities — and all those activities have to share space — all the drama program's sets, the lighting and other equipment are kept in the various nooks and crannies of a rural school.

A high school closet. The coach's chicken coop and barn.

“We have no chickens,” Maytum said. “Just set pieces.”

Maytum’s husband — her technical director when he’s not on the job as a Nebraska State Patrol sergeant — uses their shed to paint the sets.

Every morning, the students spend a part of their practice time pulling all the equipment out of the closet area at the school, then putting it back when they’re done.

“It’s like playing Tetris when you put all this back in the closet,” Tami Maytum said.

The grant money will pay for a 2,000-square-foot, steel-sided, post-frame building that will be built on school property and become home to the theater program.

There, students will be able to rehearse, design and build set pieces, and store costumes, props and lighting equipment.

Maytum said the money will pay for the bulk of the building, and volunteers will raise money and donate labor and materials to lay the concrete pad, erect the building and add electricity.

“This modest building would be a place for our theater kids to learn, grow, and dream,” Maytum wrote in her application. “We are a tiny, rural school with students who want to reach for the stars. Will you be the ladder that helps them?”

The answer, Maytum said, is "absolutely thrilling" for the school.

All students who are part of the drama program — 82 of them this year — have a job, whether they’re on stage or not. Parents are involved, kids perform for the community and are an important part of the school.

“It is extremely important,” she said. “It has been amazing to watch the numbers grow each year because the kids know no one is ever left out. They won’t sit on the bench.”

Now, they’ll have a place for their lights and their sets, a place to create and practice and learn.

And they can leave the chicken coop to the chickens.

Springing forward may delay papers

Sunday marks the beginning of daylight saving time, so be sure to set your clocks forward one hour.

Because of the time change and in a effort to bring you the latest news from the state boys basketball tournament, readers may experience a slight delay in the delivery of their Sunday Journal Star.

Florida governor signs gun restrictions 3 weeks after attack

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a far-reaching school-safety bill Friday that places new restrictions on guns, cementing his state's break with the National Rifle Association and decades of Republican thinking on gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland high school attack.

Surrounded by family members of the 17 people killed in the shooting just more than three weeks ago, the GOP governor said the bill balances "our individual rights with need for public safety."

"It's an example to the entire country that government can and has moved fast," said Scott, whose state has been ruled for 20 years by gun-friendly Republican lawmakers.

Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed in the shooting, read a statement from victims' families: "When it comes to preventing future acts of horrific school violence, this is the beginning of the journey. We have paid a terrible price for this progress."

The bill fell short of achieving the ban on assault-style weapons sought by survivors. The gunman who opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School used such a weapon, an AR-15 rifle.

Nevertheless, the bill raises the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, extends a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns and bans bump stocks, which allow guns to mimic fully-automatic fire. It also creates a so-called guardian program enabling some teachers and other school employees to carry guns.

The NRA insisted that the measure "punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual." The group promptly filed a lawsuit to block the provision that raises the age to buy guns, arguing that it violates the Second Amendment.

The Parkland gunman "gave repeated warning signs that were ignored by federal and state officials. If we want to prevent future atrocities, we must look for solutions that keep guns out of the hands of those who are a danger to themselves or others, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans," Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.

The signing marked a major victory for the teens who lived through the attack and swiftly became the public faces of a renewed gun-control movement. Just days after the shooting, they began holding rallies, lobbying lawmakers and harnessing the power of social media in support of reform.

The governor told the students: "You helped change our state. You made a difference. You should be proud."

Scott, who said he is an NRA member and will continue to be one, said he is still "not persuaded" about the guardian program that will let districts authorize staff members to carry handguns if they complete law enforcement training. It is not mandatory.

"If counties don't want to do this, they can simply say no," he said.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died, called the new law "a start for us."

His teenage son Hunter added: "Let's get the rest of the country to follow our lead and let's make schools safe. Let's harden the schools and make sure this never happens again."

Student activists from the school called it "a baby step."

"Obviously, this is what we've been fighting for. It's nowhere near the long-term solution," said Chris Grady, a senior at Stoneman Douglas High. "It's a baby step but a huge step at the same time. Florida hasn't passed any legislation like this in God knows how long."

The bill narrowly passed the House and Senate, which formally delivered the reform package Thursday.

In schools, the measure creates new mental health programs and establishes an anonymous tip line for reporting threats. It also seeks to improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

Broward County teachers union President Anna Fusco said teachers supported the bill but not the provision that allows them to carry guns.

She said she wants Scott to veto the money for the guardian program when he receives the budget. The governor cannot veto individual items in the bill itself, but he does have line-item veto power with the budget.

The Broward County school superintendent has already said he does not want to participate in the program.

Meanwhile, the 19-year-old former student accused of the school assault went before a judge. Nikolas Cruz faces 17 counts of murder and attempted murder. In a brief hearing Friday, he stood with his head bowed as he appeared via video conference.

Cruz's public defender has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and sentence him to life in prison instead. Prosecutors have not announced a decision.

Students at Lincoln middle school walk out in protest of gun violence

Irving Middle School students staged a walkout Friday morning to honor victims of the Parkland, Florida, shooting and to protest gun violence.

Several other local middle schools have held similar demonstrations since the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said Lincoln Public Schools spokeswoman Mary Kay Roth.

Friday's walkout involved about 100 students. At about 11 a.m., the students walked out of class and gathered on the basketball courts outside the school at 22nd and Van Dorn streets, said Leirion Gaylor Baird, a Lincoln city councilwoman and parent of a student who participated.

In the 17-minute gathering, names of the students killed in Florida were read aloud and a couple of students spoke, Gaylor Baird said.

"Our parents' generation is leaving us a world of gun violence, and we don’t want it,” said one of the girls who spoke.

Following the speeches, the students held a moment of silence.

When they were done, Principal Jason Shanahan thanked them for their positive tone.

The district headquarters was aware of the walkout, which was not supported by school administration, according to Roth. Staff plan to monitor these walkouts to ensure they're orderly, but the students will incur an unexcused absence for participating.

Gaylor Baird and other Irving parents were informed of the planned demonstrations via email Thursday, she said.

Students at schools across the country plan to stage walkouts Wednesday to demand action from lawmakers on gun violence.

LPS will be on spring break next week, but Waverly High School students plan a walkout demonstration that day.

Students at Lincoln High School and Lincoln East High School have planned similar walkouts for April 20, which marks the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.