The turnout at the typically highly attended Reasor's Track Classic in Tahlequah, Okla., on Thursday was off by a half-dozen teams. An adjacent slope of grass running parallel to the track stadium was 80 percent empty on a day it is usually overflowing with cars and buses.

There were reasons — because of impending weather, the event was moved up a day, which messed with schedules, and with kids out of school this week because of the statewide teacher walkout, regrouping was made difficult.

For those like Muskogee girls track coach Angie Hillmon, the message on her T-shirt spoke volumes about the sentiment echoed around Oklahoma:

"I'd rather be teaching."

"That's my passion; that's what my degree is in," she said. "Some of the coaches here asked me, 'Would you rather be there than here?' and I was like, 'My day is in the classroom up to getting our kids 40 minutes before (the end of the day).' Their experience as laycoaches is having them their whole time."

But while classes in Muskogee and other districts were out, coaching for the most part has continued as scheduled. It may seem awkward to some that sports would continue while biology, history and algebra cease, but the extra-duty work of a coach is separate from their teaching contract.

And the OSSAA, the governing body of high school sports and other extracurricular activities, stayed committed to a postseason schedule of dates even while not mandating play continue.

The hardship has been that practice time at Muskogee couldn't be during the school day, which meant a delay in workouts that start seventh hour, extending to just before 3 p.m.

"It's really been tough. Most of my sprint relay girls are seniors and they also work and you can't start practice until after school hours," Hillmon said. "So that means we get them about 3:45, get them there and an hour and 5 p.m. they got to work. They're wanting to mentally, but physically their bodies just aren't in it."

Track, said Muskogee boys coach David Heath, has its unique issues.

"It's like I told our Muskogee Education Association president (Mike Walcutt), in terms of conditioning, if we were to lay off for two weeks and all of a sudden school starts back up, it puts everyone at a disadvantage," he said. "The OSSAA said they're not changing state and regional dates. So will kids work out on their own? Probably not, you cant be sure of it. You get out of a routine of competing, you risk injury in this sport.

"My wife has been at the Capitol marching for three days. She's marching for me. I'm here for the good of these kids."

Others feel the difficulty of being between a rock and a hard place.

"It makes for an uncomfortable position for everyone involved," said Checotah baseball coach Tom Butler. "I am glad some concessions were made, though, and I personally feel that my colleagues in OKC as well as those who are continuing to participate in extracurricular activites are truly in it for the kids."

While Muskogee has been out all week, Fort Gibson schools were out only one day and had elected several weeks ago to continue with activities outside the classroom.

"I had planned all along to go normal times so not to disrupt my team's routine and we were really supported by our administration to do what we needed to do not to ruin our season," said FGHS baseball coach Matt Ross.

Hilldale's soccer games against Poteau were canceled Thursday. Poteau is one of the districts that has shut everything down.

"We understand their reasons and respect it," said Conner Schwab, the Hornets' soccer coach. "We had practice instead of a game and we're still doing what we're doing. We'll get it made up, it's just one of those things you have to work around. We know it's hectic all the way around."

In the end, Hillmon believes it is all for the good of the kids, and that that is being done at both ends of the spectrum.

"You want to try to do what's right by kids but you also want to do right for those kids in athletics because for a lot of them, scholarships are riding on it," she said.

"We have dealt with things for years because we're teachers and we try to do it to the best of our ability, but when you don't have those funds and you see your students suffer from it, then it becomes an issue where eventually you have to speak up, and that's being done now. It's not just an educational thing, it's how you get attention to what needs to be corrected as a whole. If you have to stand at the capitol for days to do that, then that's what needs to happen."

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