In his old life as an Oklahoma Sooner, Trent Ratterree caught touchdown passes against Florida State and forced fumbles against Oklahoma State. This seemed to mean so much to so many people in his home state.
His new life has him hunkered down at the state Capitol, organizing and advocating on behalf of the Oklahoma Education Association. He checks on the teachers who have walked out of their classrooms to protest the lack of education funding, and on the students and administrators alongside in solidarity. He also keeps tabs on legislators who are trying to manage one of the worst sociopolitical crises in state history.
Ratterree is proud of his football career. He talks about the walk onto Owen Field and his voice shivers like it was 2008, his freshman season, all over again.
But the gravity of his new reality is on a different level. It’s… Well, let him tell you a story…
“Last week at the Capitol I ran into my world history teacher from high school, Mrs. Stanford,” he said. “She teaches special ed in Mustang now, but she used to be at Weatherford. We were talking through what’s going on and I said, ‘Mrs. Stanford, you were one of my favorite teachers.’
“She said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah. You didn’t know that?’ She said, ‘No, I would have never guessed.’
“I was like, ‘I know we butted heads, but I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for you.’ “‘Really?’
“‘Yeah, absolutely. I was an ornery teenager who would just push people’s buttons. You know what? That year I had your class, you turned me into an ambitious, driven adult.’
“She kind of teared up and I kind of teared up, and we hugged. That’s what this is all about for me and for a lot of us at OEA. I am there because of Mrs. Stanford.”
Ratterree is at the Capitol, ground zero for the state’s education movement, because of Allen Boyd, the old high school basketball coach and math teacher at Weatherford who picked up the phone and called the OU football office because he thought the Sooners needed a player, even if he were to walk on, of Ratterree’s caliber.
Ratterree is at the Capitol because of the teen-aged girl he met a couple years ago while working at the Oklahoma County Boys & Girls Club in northwest OKC.
“I was sitting there trying to tutor her in math,” he said. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I think it would really help if we pulled your book out. You wanna go grab your bag and get your book out?’ The kid looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I was like, ‘Your book…’
“The kid pulled out her phone, this little Blackberry with this tiny little screen. She started scrolling through her pictures. I’m like, ‘What are you doing? Go get your book.’
“She’s like, ‘No, this is my book.’ These blurry pictures on her little Blackberry phone. That was her textbook.
“After that I realized the best way to serve these kids was maybe not working with them directly, but educating myself and inserting myself into public policy.”
Ratterree enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program at the University of Central Oklahoma. He worked as a legislative assistant at the Capitol. He accepted an internship with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. He did some policy analysis for the Oklahoma Department of Health.
All of which led to his joining the OEA last November, which, in turn, led to the work Ratterree is doing right now.
“It’s a whirlwind,” he said. “Last week I would walk by every room and every office, and every office would have about 12 to 15 teachers in there engaging their legislators. That’s unheard of. Even when you have these types of events where tons of people come, you rarely see that many people engaging every legislator.”
Ratterree is as proud of that visual as any scoreboard. Initiative is what this is going to take. Initiative, followed by conversation and understanding.
“I think it’s important to remember that everyone up there wants Oklahoma to be better,” he said. “Now, we may have different visions for what makes Oklahoma better. But we do have that in common. We all care about Oklahoma.”
Ratterree returns to work armed with that conciliatory attitude, but also with knowledge of past policy like House Bill 1017, Oklahoma’s Education Reform Act of 1990 which helped fund classrooms like his own in Weatherford.
Ratterree grew up retrieving new textbooks from fully funded libraries and taking them to classes of 18 students or fewer. It’s reasonable to expect the same for children today.
That’s Ratterree’s thinking as the walkout swells into its second week and he returns to the Capitol to do right by educators and the future of his home state.
“The competitiveness that got me on the field at OU still exists,” he said. “I don’t try to run faster than somebody or try to block harder. But that competitiveness, trust me, has helped me get where I am today.”