INDIANAPOLIS – They said it was a sports story. That’s what they said.
This family at Decatur Central, they have Division I athletes all over the place. The Tracy family. That’s their name. The kids play football, basketball, baseball. They run track. They wrestle. Every last one of them will get a college scholarship.
Sounds good to me, so let’s go to a Decatur Central football game. They’re at Roncalli this past week, one south-side powerhouse playing another. Let’s sit in the visiting stands with Mr. Tracy. Let’s sit there with Mrs. Tracy. Let’s sit with Uncle Larry and all the brothers and sisters and cousins. Let’s figure out this sports story.
And let’s figure out – and I mean, figure out quickly – that this isn’t a sports story at all.
It’s a story about family, about parenting. It’s a story about academics and hard work. It’s a story about some great kids, but great kids don’t just happen. Someone shows them how.
* * *
But if this were a sports story …
It sure would be a good one.
Decatur Central is an outstanding Class 5A football team with multiple college recruits, including quarterback Bryce Jefferson, but the three biggest talents are named Tracy. And the roster is a sight to behold, so much Tracy, all in a row.
No. 11, Tracy. No. 12, Tracy. No. 13, Tracy.
The first time I see No. 11, Tyrone Jr., he’s running onto the field before the Hawks’ game Friday at Roncalli. The 6-1, 175-pound junior has six scholarship offers, including Iowa and Northwestern. He visited Michigan State last weekend and will be at Indiana this weekend. Tyrone heads for teammate David Rouse and leapfrogs him. Rouse is standing up straight. He’s 6-3, 270 pounds. Tyrone flies right over him.
Soon he’s flying down the field. Tyrone catches a short pass from Jefferson, runs through one tackle, spins out of another and sprints to the 15 – where he makes a vicious cut toward the middle, eluding three defenders and making a fourth fall down. He coasts in for a 35-yard touchdown.
As this is happening, his mother is grabbing the closest person and squeezing the stuffing out of his shoulder – OK, it was my shoulder. Until her son reaches the end zone, Laverna Tracy is screaming, “Go, Tracy! Go, Tracy!”
Laverna is wearing a T-shirt that has four words on the back: “Rise up ‘Tracy boys’ ” Along with those words is a picture of three Decatur Central players. No. 11, No. 12 and No. 13.
No. 12, Larry Tracy III, is a 5-11, 165-pound sophomore who led the Hawks with 112 tackles and five interceptions as a freshman. He’s leading again this season, but suffered a broken foot two weeks ago and is out for the year. He’s cousin to Tyrone and…
No. 13, Kenneth Tracy, who could be the best of the bunch – but he’s a freshman so he waits his turn. As it is, the 5-11, 165-pounder scores every fifth time he touches the ball. He has 40 touches this season; if you can’t do the math, ask Kenneth. Kid’s a walking calculator.
Did I say Kenneth could be the best of the bunch? Well, maybe. Unless it’s the youngest of the Tracy kids, Javon, a seventh-grader. He’s just 5-3 and 115 pounds, but his growth spurt is coming, and his speed and balance are absurd. He scored 15 touchdowns this season for Decatur Middle School.
They’re this good, this young, because they have good genes and great coaching. Their fathers – Larry Jr. is Larry III’s dad; his brother Tyrone Sr. has the other three – have coached them since they were a bunch of 3-olds playing flag football.
Hilarious, football at that age, unless it’s a Tracy kid.
And then that 3-year-old is chop-stepping and backpedaling and doing all those things their dads taught them in the yard, running around cones. At age 6 they were playing in pads and making form tackles. That includes another cousin, Miles Tracy, now a 6-4 junior basketball player at Cardinal Ritter.
“Every year, get better,” Tyrone Sr. says. “I don’t care if you’re all-state one year. Be an All-American next year.”
I’m raising my eyebrows. All-American? Tyrone Sr. sees it.
“That’s just a figure of speech,” he says.
But the academics, I say. Your standards there really are that high.
“Higher,” he says.
* * *
They’re sitting at a table. Dinner’s coming – homemade chicken pot pie, and it smells so good – but they’re not eating. Not yet. Not at Tyrone and Laverna Tracy’s dinner table.
Not until they finish their homework.
“Family work time,” is what Kenneth, the freshman, calls it.
Kenneth is sitting with Tyrone and Javon, and they’re not eating until homework’s done. Oh, you say you don’t have homework? Mom’ll see about that. Decatur Central has an online portal for kids – and parents – to check assignments, grades, more. Not that her kids would try to fool Laverna Tracy.
Not anymore, anyway.
Tyrone tells me about the time he wanted to go to a party. Problem was, his parents didn’t know the kid throwing it. Tyrone knew they wouldn’t let him go.
“My friends asked me to the party,” Tyrone says. “That way I can tell my parents, ‘You know who’s inviting me.’ But my parents are really smart. They found out. They find out everything.”
They’re taking honors classes, these Tracy brothers. So are their cousins, Larry and Miles. They’re making A’s and B’s. Doesn’t matter the sport – a Tracy doesn’t play if one grade falls below a B.
As a sophomore Tyrone was the varsity’s starting point guard, but at midterms his physics grade dipped into the C-range. Only when he lifted it to the B-range was he back on the court.
Larry, a state champion wrestler in elementary school, was in seventh grade when his parents, Larry Jr. and Erica, benched him with a C in math. Kenneth was in fourth grade when he brought home a C in language arts on his midterms.
“My parents warned me,” Kenneth says. “If a C showed up on my (nine-week) report card, I wouldn’t play sports that year.”
Kenneth’s report card came. No C in language arts. No B, either.
* * *
Tyrone and Larry Tracy, the dads in this story, wanted more for their children than they had as kids. That bar was low.
Their mom died during childbirth with Tyrone, so Tyrone and Larry were raised by their grandparents in the unforgiving Haughville neighborhood on the west side.
“We didn’t have much money,” Larry Tracy says. “But we didn’t know that. We were raised with dignity.”
Granddad worked at the old International Harvester metal foundry. Grandma stayed home, kept them in sports, kept them out of trouble. Larry was a 5-7 linebacker on the 1983 Washington team that played for the state title. Tyrone was a star at Ben Davis – still holds the record for longest run, a 97-yarder in 1985 – and then at Fort Hays State in Kansas. Set all kinds of records as a return man. Went into the Fort Hays State Hall of Fame in 2011.
Today, Larry Tracy Jr. is a captain with the Indianapolis Fire Department and owns BHB Real Estate Group. Tyrone Tracy Sr. drives for FedEx and owns Tyrone’s Lawn Service. They don’t have just one job, see. They have two. And they coach their kids.
“The most important thing we can give them,” Tyrone Sr. is saying, but his brother finishes the sentence …
… “is time,” Larry says.
Larry’s wife, Erica, is an assistant vice president for a mortgage company. Tyrone’s wife, Laverna, has worked 14 years at Engineered Machine Products and earning an accounting degree from Indiana Tech. She spends one day a month with her church group reading with inmates at Marion County Jail II on Washington Street.
This is the example. This is what those Tracy kids see. The oldest is Charles Turner V. Laverna is his mother, but don’t make my mistake and refer to Tyrone Sr. as Charles’ “stepdad.”
“We don’t do ‘step,’ ” Tyrone Sr. says.
So, Charles Turner. As a kid, Laverna told him it would be difficult to excel in school, sports and band; pick one. He picked band, wrote a 26-part drum-line show as a senior, goes to IUPUI, is a budding business mogul at age 20. He goes by “@PresidenTurnerV” on Instagram because, he says, “I dream big – my parents taught me that.”
On the field below us, Kenneth Tracy – the freshman who pops in ear buds between classes so friends can’t distract him from his academic focus – is outrunning the Roncalli secondary for a 27-yard TD reception. Uncle Larry is clapping. Now he’s turning to me.
“Between (the three of) us,” Larry says, referring also to Tyrone Sr. and Miles Tracy’s father, Tony, “we have seven boys and they’re all in honors classes. They’re going to college, not court or juvenile school. That’s unheard of, to have that many minority boys doing that well across the board.”
Unheard of? Let’s change that. This isn’t just a sports story – there’s more to the Tracy family, more we need to hear.