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Tracksters will attend Saturday’s meet to show team solidarity

DIXON – Saturday morning, the Dukes and Duchesses will make their own demonstration of solidarity.

After Dixon School District teachers picketed outside their respective schools Thursday and Friday, the boys and girls track and field teams will be well-represented at Saturday's Sterling Gold Medal Meet at Westwood.

They can't practice, let alone compete, per the teachers strike. But they'll wear their uniforms and watch the first meet of the indoor season as a team.

"It's a good thing. We're coming together and keeping the family together," said Roy Hummel, who hatched the plan Tuesday night with some of the other seniors and shared it with the rest of the team during Wednesday's last official practice. "We're not standing up and striking along with the teachers. We're just trying to keep up team morale."

No bus? No problem. The Dukes and Duchesses will carpool. While boys coach Bruce Luther appreciates his team pulling together, he worries about how it will be perceived.

"To be honest with you, I have mixed feelings," Luther said. "I hope they're going over there as good will and to enjoy the meet. I hope it doesn't cause any concern or send the wrong message."

His distance runners are using a phone tree and social media to coordinate practices, in the meantime.

"They're a pretty tight-knit group," Luther said.

The team used its already-paid-for time slot at Westwood for practice Thursday. While the distance runners are pounding the pavement, sprinters and leapers are ponying up cash to train at Westwood.

"We're willing to put down our own money," Hummel said.

Per IHSA by-law 2.140, no team may participate in sports while its school personnel are on strike. But within that law is a clause that practice may take place if approved by the school board, and the Dixon board approved last Wednesday night.

The other stipulation is coaches must meet the provisions of By-law 2.070, which states the qualifications of coaches.

Aside from being shifted indoors, the practice schedule has gone unchanged for baseball, softball and soccer. Soccer coach Mahmoud Etemadi does not teach, nor do softball head coach Chris Jones, any members of his staff, or baseball head coach Sam Gallucci. But first-year baseball assistant Jason Mead does. 

And he's not wired for idle time.

"He would love to be coaching the kids," Gallucci said. "He's ready to come back, and I know he will just as soon as it's possible."

The boys tennis team doesn't begin practice until late next week.

Technically, Luther could run practices. After 22 1/2 years of service in the police department, he taught 5 years at Dixon High School. Last year, he accepted the position of Colonel Justice at the Whiteside Career Center teaching law enforcement.

"I went to [the Dixon people] and explained my situation," Luther said. "They were very supportive and still wanted me to be part of the Dixon family."

That's why he's showing solidarity in not running practices. Similarly, standout distance runner Simon Thorpe picked up a sign and picketed with his father and cross country coach, Evan, on Thursday. He and others won't be at Westwood on Saturday.

"If they aren't cool with it, or if they have family members who are teachers or with the school, we completely support them," Hummel said.

Somewhere in between is girls standout Brittany Schwarz, who will attend the meet. But she, along with Shana Drengenberg, ran a route past the picketing high school teachers to show their support.

"We're rooting the teachers on," Schwarz said. "We definitely need some leadership to make sure the team is still on track and we can accomplish our goals."

Former Erie-Prophetstown teacher and coach Brandon Woodward is in his first year teaching social studies and coaching the girls team at Dixon. There were rumblings of a potential strike last year in Panther country.

"There was a lineup for something like this, but it never happened," Woodward said. "I'm new to the scene, and I'm just kind of riding things here. We're very optimistic, and want to get back to work as soon as possible."

All the Dixon coaches echoed that sentiment, as did athletic director Jon Empen.

"We just want this thing to get resolved so all of us can get back to work," Empen said. "We all want to get back to work as educators."

First events by sport

Baseball – vs. Rock Falls, 4 p.m. March 18

Boys track and field – Sterling Gold Medal Invite, 9 a.m. Saturday

Boy tennis – at Jefferson, 4:30 p.m. March 25

Girls soccer – at Auburn, 6:30 p.m. March 12

Softball – vs. Amboy, 4:30 p.m. March 14

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