Lady Scots Honor Star Athlete at Tracy Wills Invitational

Teammates remember Tracy Wills as “tiny but mighty.” She was a standout athlete and serious competitor on the Lady Scots cross country and track teams, but one who had a way of always making her teammates laugh.

“She brought a lightness to all of our time together,” remembered Lesley Rhodes, who was one of the teams’ senior captains, “even when we were really exhausted and wanted to complain.”

Tracy’s teammates at Highland Park High School were stunned by her sudden death from pneumonia in 1995. The Lady Scots tied green ribbons to their shoes, wrote Tracy’s initials on the interior, and finished their season in her name.

“It just left a huge hole in our hearts and in our team,” Rhodes said. “We had to put one foot in front of the other. We knew that’s what she would have wanted us to do. We ran in her honor, from there forward.”

The Lady Scots have continued to honor their teammate each year with the Tracy Wills Invitational, the team’s only home meet of the season. The meet, which began in 1997, was held this year on March 23 at Germany Park.

Jeff Wills and his daughter Charlotte at the March 23 Tracy Wills Invitational. PHOTO: Lesley Rhodes

Tracy’s mother, Lugay Wills, credited the almost 30-year endurance of the Tracy Wills Invitational to her daughter’s coaches. They loved Tracy, who was both a devoted friend focused on helping her teammates, and a committed runner who spent her evenings at the track. 

“She was very dedicated,” Lugay said. “If she was going to do it, she was going to do it right.”

This year brought the Lady Scots full circle – two of the daughters of Tracy’s teammates ran in the meet, and Tracy’s older brother Jeff brought his own daughter to participate in the fun run for kindergarten through sixth-grade girls.

Tracy’s father came to the meet every year until he passed away, and Jeff started coming in his place last year.

“It’s an absolute honor to stand in for dad,” Jeff said. “It was super meaningful to him as well, something he carried. It was, I think, his way to each year remember and cope with Tracy’s passing and get to see old friends.”

Hearing stories about his sister, Jeff said, has helped him understand why her memory has been so impactful. Last year, he learned that Tracy put pacing her friends ahead of her own speed until she was encouraged by coaches who knew she could win.

“That’s when she really started winning a lot and really being a leader for the team,” he said. “She had that competitiveness to her, but also those soft skills, that sweet side, and was just a good friend to everybody.”

Emory Rhodes, who followed in her mom’s footsteps and is one of this season’s team captains, said she learns more about the meet’s significance each year. Coach Susan Bailey speaks with the athletes each year before competition day, keeping Tracy’s memory alive and making sure there’s a strong feeling of community on the team.

“Even though UIL calls it an individual sport, (Coach Bailey) really works hard to make sure that it’s not an individual sport,” Emory said. “Everyone has the same vision, and everyone’s working hard for a common goal.”

Making the Tracy Wills Invitational happen was itself a team effort that took the support of coaching staff and families of Lady Scots athletes. Parent volunteers helped with everything from timing to shoveling the long jump pit, Rhodes said. Proceeds from the event supported the Tracy Wills Scholarship, which awards funds annually to an HP senior who exemplifies academic achievement, outstanding character, and leadership ability.

“I want the team to be able to go out, compete and have fun,” Rhodes said. “But also, it’s special that they’re recognizing one of their own that was just as much a part of the team as they are currently.”

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