Ryan McGranahan and Tom Steger left their southwest Wisconsin homes early Thursday bound for the massive protest in Madison against Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to limit collective bargaining.
McGranahan teaches social studies and coaches football and baseball at Cuba City High School, while Steger teaches science and coaches football at nearby Mineral Point.
They joined about 25,000 others — teachers, ironworkers and kindergartners among them — from throughout Wisconsin for the day-long rally, which special education teacher Lily Cary of Blanchardville described as a "civics lesson in the flesh."
The fourth day of protests against Walker's budget repair bill attracted more people from outside of the Madison area than those earlier in the week.
As word spread mid-morning that Democratic senators had fled the state to prevent quorum and delay a vote on Walker's bill, protesters continued to pile in via school buses, with student groups parading around Capitol Square.
"Bananas! Bananas! This bill is bananas!" That was one of dozens of chants led by students from Horlick High School in Racine as they marched laps around the square. Student Steven Avery led cheers through a battered black megaphone.
"We're trying to support our teachers as they support us every day," said his classmate and fellow marcher Edward Fitch.
Students got creative, with one UW-Madison teaching assistant holding a "Teaching Assistants are Sexier With Benefits" sign. A group of high-school cross-country runners from Madison held a "Runners Against Walker" sign.
Police said the protest was peaceful, although nine people were arrested inside the Capitol, a state spokeswoman said. A Madison police spokesman said Capitol Police said the arrests were for disorderly conduct.
Many districts throughout the state, including at least 16 in south-central Wisconsin, canceled classes Thursday.
Marcel Piatek, in her 20th year as a special-education teacher in Milwaukee, had planned to drive in with other teachers but ended up alone, as other teachers got spooked by a warning of discipline sent to Milwaukee district teachers by district officials. Piatek wasn't deterred.
"If we lose our bargaining rights how can we possibly attract top-quality teachers?" she said.
Some UW-Madison teaching assistants, students and faculty walked out of class Thursday morning as part of an organized rally, marching up to the Capitol just after 10 a.m. Class wasn't officially canceled but some professors did so anyway, or sent out messages that they'd be understanding of student absences.
Jake Holloway, a fifth-grader in Doylestown, got permission from his principal to attend the rally with his grandmother in support of his teacher. He said she gives high-fives to her students and keeps goldfish in the classroom, which he appreciates. He had other reasons to come, as well.
"I've never been to a strike before," he said. "This is going to be history."
— State Journal reporters Sandy Cullen and Deborah Ziff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.