One last lap: Bill Wilson's legacy recognized looking ahead to the future
By Bryan Cooney, Treasure Coast Newspapers,2023-05-28
Rain or shine, the recognition of a local legend was going to take place Thursday night at the Citrus Bowl.
The track at Vero Beach High School was a place Bill Wilson pushed kids to reach goals they never thought imaginable through love and sometimes tough love.
As the school begins big changes on the horizon with its sports facilities, the Wilson family was able to do one final lap around the track at halftime of Vero Beach's spring football game as a "Last Lap" honoring the impact Bill Wilson had on the Vero Beach community in his time as a coach and mentor and with what is to come in the future.
On Monday, the Indian River County School Board officially announced donations of over $1.5 million dollars that will go toward the construction of a brand new track in Bill Wilson's name at the Jimmy Graves Complex that will begin this summer on the site across from the Citrus Bowl.
Leading the procession around the track that Wilson coached Vero Beach's runners to earn back-to-back state championships in 1989 and 1990 was Bill's widow Kathryn Wilson and daughter Yolanda Wilson Lucas, who like so many in the Wilson family have been educators in Indian River County.
Wilson Lucas, currently teaching physical education at Osceola Magnet School, is eager for her father's legacy to continue impacting lives and for the development of children to take place at a place Bill Wilson loved to teach.
"It'll be amazing," Wilson Lucas said. "He did so much for the community and a lot of people here in Vero. It'll be a great honor to keep his legacy going."
Thursday's final lap around the track brought back current and former Vero Beach track and field competitors along with people Wilson inspired during his lifetime of teaching and coaching at Gifford, Vero Beach and Sebastian River High Schools.
Vero Beach athletic director and head football coach Lenny Jankowski had his team participate in the moment and the connection between the football and track and field teams at Vero have always been close dating back to Wilson's years as the head track and field coach and assistant football coach under legendary head coach Billy Livings.
As the ceremony was scheduled to be done following the football team's spring game against Heritage, storms threatened to not allow it to happen.
A decision to have the lap take place at halftime to make sure the Wilson family could have one last walk and avoid the rain was what Jankowski called poetic with Bill Wilson surely looking down on the field keeping the weather away.
"From a coaching standpoint to a personal standpoint, the impact his family continues to have is pretty awesome," Jankowski said. "(Bill's) legacy will just move across the street and he'll be recognized and thought of for everything that has to do with Vero Beach High School track and field. The legacy lives on and that's what (Thursday) was all about to bring awareness to that."
The hope is for the facility to host big events including the annual Bill Wilson Relays that have been hosted by Sebastian River High School since 1996, postseason high school track and field meets as well as meets for the local community and the state.
Vero Beach High School has not hosted a track meet since 2015 with the last renovation of the Citrus Bowl unable to include modifications for the track surface to meet specifications to host events. For Jankowski, with the school to soon have the capability to do so will be something Bill Wilson would have loved keeping the sense of community in mind.
"To have a project like this certainly has taken a collective effort and specifically our track program the last eight years has been neglected," Jankowski said. "I just talked to a couple of our freshman girls on the team and one was talking about she had set personal records throughout the season but her mom had never got to see her race because she's working and with meets being 1-to-2 hours away for our kids. That pulls at your heart strings. It'll be great to be able to host meets here."