Here’s one of Terry Tracy’s favorite things—surrounded by staff members,
former staff members and longtime Atkinson Park boosters prior to the third
annual Old Park Rats vs. Young Park Rats softball game July 28 at the field Ned
Bell called West Ketchum Coliseum. By the way, the Old Park Rats won 14-2.
Front, from left, Matt Brown, Doran Key, Steve Cole, Tracy and Lori Sarchett.
Back, from left, Andy Gilbert, Chris Key, Jamie Hjort, Bob "Grandpa" Sarchett,
John Kearney Jr. and Kirk Mason. Express photo by Willy Cook
Curtain call for an original Park Rat
Terry Tracy, tireless advocate for
recreation, retires after 25 years
"But my best memory is laughing with her. That, I will miss more than
anything. Just how many jokes we shared, and how many laughs we had." —
Doran Key, park employee.
"I’ve always wanted the kids to have as many recreational opportunities as
possible." — Terry Tracy
By JEFF CORDES
Express Staff Writer
Ketchum’s Atkinson Park won’t be the same without
Terry Tracy, the city’s Parks and Recreation Director for 25 years who is
retiring Aug. 31.
She is one of the original "Park Rats," a playful
term referring to people who spent much of their leisure time at the park during
the late 1970s and early 1980s—back when Ketchum was on the verge of a boom and
nearly 50 men’s and women’s softball teams used the diamonds each week.
Terry "The Rocket" Tracy auditions for a spot on the short-lived Red Sox
"bullpen by committee," by throwing out the first ball of the local men’s
senior baseball league June 13 at Atkinson Park. Express photo by Willy Cook
Tracy played there and worked there, setting a high
standard because of her commitment to young people and her love of recreation.
The park’s summer youth recreation programs,
staffing structure, after-school activities and its modern, five-year-old,
4,100-square-foot park building are all the products of Tracy’s keen vision,
built from 41 years in the recreation and education business.
Similar programs for youth operated by the Blaine
County Recreation District have been modeled after ones originated in the valley
Her vision for Atkinson Park has been
"I’ve always wanted the kids to have as many
recreational opportunities as possible," said Tracy, who took the job only two
years after Atkinson Park was created in 1976.
She has many admirers.
"Terry Tracy has been the park," said Bob
Sarchett, who coached Tracy on the outstanding Ore House women’s slow-pitch
softball teams of the mid- and late-1970s. "What you see today at the park is
here because of her energy."
"Terry has been a tireless advocate for recreation
and kids. She has always kept the park well maintained and has taken a great
deal of pride in it. She’ll be missed," said former Ketchum city administrator
Jim Jaquet, who first hired Tracy in August 1978.
Jaquet added, "We never had to give Terry
direction. She initiates things. And she’s done more than anyone else in
providing recreational programs. Under her leadership, the park has become a
very pleasant place for kids and families."
In retirement, Terry Tracy isn’t going away.
After traveling to visit friends this fall, Tracy,
62, will return to her home in Ketchum and do what she has always done. "I’m
very comfortable in Ketchum and I’ll continue to be involved," she said.
Being involved, for Terry Tracy, means speaking out
and ruffling some feathers when it’s necessary. That’s unusual in a city
employee, but Tracy has always been a singular person.
Jaquet said, "Terry is certainly outspoken and
forceful in her viewpoints."
That, and her extremely protective attitude toward
every blade of grass at the park, in Jaquet’s words, has earned Tracy some
Her good friend Jan Wygle of Ketchum said, "Terry
has no time for people who aren’t straight up and honest and deal with reality."
But Tracy stands squarely on her accomplishments.
When she took the job in 1978, city council members
like Barry Luboviski gave her a mandate to create new programs and expand uses
of the park. Mission accomplished.
One of her proudest accomplishments is the
continuity of the Atkinson Park staff—and the fact that youngsters who have come
through the summer youth program are encouraged to take positions as staff
members once they become teenagers and go to college.
"With the continuity of the staff, the kids see
familiar faces from year to year and know what the expectations are," Tracy
said. "And we’ve always advocated older kids playing with the younger kids."
Tracy explained, "We hire 20 teenagers every summer
to coach, referee and supervise. And it has worked well. The older kids pass the
legacy down. They are role models not just for skills but for attitude and
knowledge of the rules of the park and the games."
She said she doesn’t have many regrets about her
quarter century of progress at the park, but Tracy said she does have two great
The first is the failure of Ketchum, despite her
repeated urgings, to acquire more property for active parks back when land was
less expensive. "I don’t think people understand how much use this park gets,"
Jaquet said, "The problem has always been the cost
of land. You have to understand that Atkinson Park serves as the park for all of
northern Blaine County."
Tracy’s second regret is the lack of a community
pool in Ketchum. "I know the residents of Ketchum desperately want a pool," she
Despite this, she has been vocal in opposition to
the then-Bill Janss Community Center, now-Wood River Community YMCA, which is
proposing a pool as part of its estimated $16 million, 95,000-square-foot size.
Her opposition is based on the project’s expense
and its glacial movement toward a resolution over the last decade.
"We don’t need to have a pie in the sky. We’re too
small a community to do what’s been proposed," she said.
So, Tracy took some action to make Ketchum city
managers think more carefully about their pledge of a $3 million matching grant
for the YMCA.
Tracy said, "I’ve felt that Ketchum needed to move
forward and that things weren’t happening. So, we (Tracy and full-time staffers
Jamie Hjort and Kirk Mason) came up with a proposal and put it into this year’s
budget as our capital improvement. I wanted to go on record with it."
Tracy’s parting shot is a smaller-scale $4.8
million proposal that would include construction of an outdoor leisure pool, a
covered building with refrigerated ice for a skating rink, an outdoor miniature
golf course and a climbing wall.
The location would be the city’s Park & Ride lot
along Warm Springs Road, where the larger-scale Community YMCA is also proposed.
"We felt a leisure pool should be an outdoor pool.
People in the summer want to be outdoors. It would take up less space on that
lot than the YMCA. And I think residents of Ketchum would support it," said
Jaquet, who retired last year as Ketchum city
administrator and will serve as Wagon Days Grand Marshal on Labor Day weekend,
sounded more of a cautionary note.
He said, "The city always has to grapple with
competing demands, and one of the things you’re always cautious about is
municipal swimming pools. You don’t want it to be a burden on the city of
You get the sense, listening to Tracy and Jaquet
outline their stances, that they’ve been staring each other down from their
respective pitching mounds within city government for 25 years. But Jaquet, a
kindred spirit, is an original Park Rat as well. He runs the pitching machine
for the kids during the summer at Atkinson Park.
Playing at a high level
Tracy’s friend Vicky Graves of Ketchum is a Park
Rat, too. A Hall of Fame scorekeeper, she has kept charts and graphs since the
heyday of local softball, 1979, when 47 men’s and women’s teams played softball.
On the scorecard entitled Vicky vs. Terry, Vicky
has a cushion.
For 100 years, in Vicky’s words, Terry and Vicky
have had a standing $5 bet prior to each major league baseball season—Vicky
taking the New York Yankees and Terry standing behind her beloved Boston Red
Sox. If the Yankees finish ahead of the Red Sox, Vicky wins the $5, and vice
Recently, Vicky deadpanned that she bought her new
condo with the $5 bets she has collected from Terry.
You can conclude that Tracy’s continuing love
affair with the perpetually contending and perennially failing Red Sox makes her
a certified, Grade A dreamer. And you’d be right.
She’s also an idealist, a fighter, a pragmatist, a
terrific athlete and a wonderful friend. All those aspects of her character have
helped Tracy play at a high level wherever she has gone, and have helped
Atkinson Park become what it is.
Paradoxically, she is a Connecticut Yankee, growing
up in Bristol near Hartford way before ESPN arrived.
She graduated from Bristol High School in 1958,
having enjoyed a wonderful program of sports at the school including varsity
sports for girls. Tracy played tennis, was on the swim team and also played
forward on the basketball team.
In the school’s strong intramural program, she was
the shortstop on the softball team. She took her cue from her father Joe Tracy,
whose passions were opera and baseball. Joe preferred the New York teams, but
Terry introduced him to Fenway Park and the Red Sox.
She went to the University of North Carolina where
she played varsity tennis, mainly doubles. Her degree in 1962 was in physical
education. Tracy loved the curriculum because it was heavy in the sciences.
Her first job was teaching physical education at
Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. It was a fun college town, she said. For a
girls’ school, Vassar had just as many guys around as girls. What Tracy learned
in two years at Vassar was she didn’t want to teach PE.
So she went home to Connecticut and spent a
year-and-a-half obtaining her masters degree in guidance and counseling from the
University of Hartford. Then she made one of her most important decisions.
It was 1965, two years after the death of President
John Kennedy. The country was still influenced by Kennedy’s legacy, which
included an organization called the Peace Corps that he initiated in 1960 and
Congress approved in 1961.
Tracy joined the Peace Corps and spent what she
called "the best two years of my life," from 1965-67 setting up an athletic
program for about 1,500 youngsters in and around Merida, Venezuela.
"The day I graduated from Hartford, my parents
drove me to Springfield College where I started my training for the Peace
Corps," Tracy said. "I wanted to live and work in a foreign country, but I
wanted the security of working for an organization.
"I was very lucky—had a great assignment, wonderful
people and tremendous support. It was extremely rewarding. When I finished, dad
told me that he thought I had bought my ticket to heaven."
Instead it was a ticket to Sun Valley, but not
right away. She taught at Bristol Central High School for two years, then
decided to head west and visit a cousin who had moved from Connecticut to Boise.
First, Tracy stopped in Sun Valley.
Tracy said, "It was late August 1969. I moved into
the dorms and started working for Sun Valley. It was September, then October. I
had to keep calling my cousin in Boise telling her I’d be there soon. Finally I
made it on Thanksgiving."
Her jobs at Sun Valley ran the usual gamut,
everything from lifeguard to ski instructor to hotel reservations to inventory.
In 1971, she began a four-year stint working for Wood River High School in
Hailey as a guidance counselor.
Then, Tracy accepted a job as director of
counseling and women’s athletics at Lakeside School, a private four-year prep
school in Seattle, Wash. She would work winters in Seattle, and return to Sun
Valley in the summers to play softball.
As a shortstop with quick hands and a strong arm
for the Ore House, Terry Tracy was one of the best defensive softball players in
Idaho during the 1970s, coach Bob Sarchett said. Although she wasn’t the best
hitter on the Ketchum-based team, Tracy nevertheless excelled at hitting in the
They were great years on the diamond. Her teams won
a couple of district championships and always played well in the state
tournament, once rising as high as second place. Whether she was playing
shortstop or pitcher, Tracy always seemed in the running for Most Valuable
"I always admired Terry’s physical prowess," said
Jan Wygle, who caught for Tracy for five years on the Warm Springs Realty Ripper
Tracy said, "Playing softball was fun. We met a lot
of people. Now a lot of those same people are out on the golf circuit and we see
Her 34 years in Idaho coincide with the
implementation of Title IX and the growth of girls’ high school sports in the
Gem State. Indeed, Tracy coached the relatively new Wood River High girls’
basketball team for two years from 1979-81, and she remains the only coach to
win a district girls’ basketball championship for the Hailey high school.
She has strong opinions about women’s sports. Tracy
said, "In Idaho, on the high school and college levels they went kicking and
screaming into women’s sports but they’re probably happy they did.
"Women’s sports are still secondary—they don’t
bring in much revenue and they’re so dependent on the so-called major sports. I
still see it as a struggle, particularly the inequality of men’s vs. women’s
sports primarily in coaching, but we’ve come a long way."
It wasn’t that the athletes weren’t there, Tracy
said, but the opportunities were limited.
She was surprised, from her softball experiences,
by the quality of the athletes. Tracy said, "For a state that had few sport
programs for women, we had this major softball program all across the state.
These were really good athletes and highly competitive—not only softball
players, but golfers and volleyball and basketball players.
"That’s when I realized that these athletes were
coming from parks and recreation programs, and those programs were the basis of
In 1978, city adminstrator Jaquet, exasperated by
the lack of staying power of the city’s two previous recreation directors Gary
Strom and Rick Perry, offered the job to Tracy and requested only that she make
a long-term commitment.
Tracy said, "I’ll give you two years."
Her pay was minimal. She was full time at $850 a
month from May 1 to Oct. 15, and part time at $500 a month from November to
March. That put her annual pay at about $7,600. She’ll retire Aug. 31 at
Her resources were few. The park budget in those
days barely broke the $30,000 mark. In contrast, this year’s budget request for
parks is $465,688.
"We had nothing. Rick (Perry) was gone. Strom was
gone. No one knew anything about the park. There weren’t guidelines or programs.
There wasn’t continuity," said Tracy.
Immediately, she hooked up with Hemingway
Elementary School to begin youth programs. "We started soccer that fall, in
1978," said Tracy. "We started with 18 Hemingway kids. To keep them interested
in soccer, we had to promise that the other half of the program would be flag
Although the tennis courts and all three ball
diamonds were in, and wooden snow fences had been replaced by chain link when
Tracy started her job, equipment was skimpy and often improvised. Her only
helper was maintenance man Steve Cole.
"We had one riding lawnmower and one push mower. I
remember Steve and I, and Carol Levine when she came on, we used our own cars to
drag the infields. We managed somehow, but we were going all the time,
especially with 47 teams and that included two divisions—two!—of women’s
softball alone," she said.
There are no adult men’s or women’s softball
leagues these days, only 11 coed teams playing one night a week, so the pressure
is less on the eight full-time staffers in the summer. But 25 years ago, it was
a relentless succession of game after game, even day games with the women’s
Hard work yields its own rewards, though. Tracy and
her devoted staff relieved the stress with drinks at the now-departed, fondly
remembered River Street Retreat tavern.
Having taken the park job in Aug. 1978, Tracy
started to work immediately on improving the park itself and expanding the
programs for children.
Two months later, in Oct. 1978, Don and Stan
Atkinson donated $1,900 for park landscaping. Tracy and Cole started planting
trees—trees that are mature today, providing shade.
In summer programs, youth tennis was a mainstay
from the start. So was youth baseball.
Chick Donaldson, one of the softball league’s
sluggers and prime movers, coached an All-Star baseball team at the park. One
day Tracy asked him, "What happens to the kids who don’t make the All-Star
team?" The answer? They didn’t play.
"So we started our Recreation Little League," said
Tracy about her experiment in the democratization of Atkinson Park baseball.
It’s been hugely successful. Jaquet said, "The Rec
Little League is one of the best things that has happened at the park."
Tracy said the summer youth program has added golf,
basketball, soccer, and arts and crafts as years have passed and tastes have
"We tinkered a little and made adjustments here and
there," she said. "As the kids showed there was a demand for something, we added
Her pursuit of land acquisition was less
"Whistling is the wind," is Tracy’s description of
her 25-year argument for land acquisition for active parks.
At one point she tried to recruit an influential
backer in Bob Rosso, a proponent of individual sports who spearheaded the Blaine
County Recreation District’s successful drive for the valley’s bike path and
cross-country ski trails.
"I tried to get Bob interested in active parks. He
would say to me, Terry, this whole valley is a park. And I’d say, Bob, you can’t
play soccer on the side of a hill. That doesn’t allow you to play team sports,"
You can imagine how delighted Tracy was when, in
1981, Simplot Industries donated a 1.5-acre property near the park tennis courts
to the Blaine County School District, and the district turned it over the city
of Ketchum to be used for additional park land.
Community School students volunteered to lay 60,000
square feet of sod in Sept. 1982, supervised by Tom Denker of Evergreen
Landscaping, and the field was playable by 1983—bringing the total amount of
Atkinson Park land to 16 acres.
"I don’t know what we would have done without the
Simplot field," said Tracy.
The new Simplot field was used mainly for soccer in
the summer and, starting in 1995, for ice skating in the winter. The field’s
uses turned out to be the major ingredient in the creation of Atkinson Park
building, now five years old.
And, once again, it was Tracy’s energy that
realized Ketchum’s first year-round recreation building.
In many ways, a survivor
Tracy, as a softball player, retired and un-retired
frequently. But it wasn’t like she was wedded to the softball diamond. She
cultivated many interests away from the field.
Park Rats in general had a tendency to spend so
much time playing ball at the park that, by July, camping and hiking in the
nearby hills seemed like unattainable vacations in paradise.
Tracy was never like that. Golfing became a
passion, one she shared with her friend Jan Wygle. "Terry is a steady player, a
great golfer, like she was a softball player," said Wygle. "She loves movies and
music, and she loves South Africa and traveling places."
Always with a book, Tracy loves to read as well.
She lost her fluency in Spanish over the years, but she wants to regain it in
retirement. But Tracy doesn’t do everything well.
Wygle and Tracy have taken a couple of river trips
together including one memorable voyage in a two-man inflatable kayak along the
Main Salmon. Wygle had to keep reminding Tracy that kayaking isn’t a team sport.
"Terry isn’t the best partner in a rapid because
she always wants to discuss things instead of just doing it," said Wygle with a
laugh, conjuring up the image of pitcher Tracy summoning her fielders for a
meeting at the mound in a tough situation. "She prefers to be the captain, even
if she has no idea what she’s doing."
But when push comes to shove, Tracy usually knows
what she’s doing.
Take, for instance, her bout with breast cancer 10
years ago and a subsequent fight with colon cancer. She continued working, but
underwent six months of chemotherapy at St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise. Now she
considers herself a cancer survivor.
"I really believe it’s all about attitude," said
Tracy. "I was always positive—never said ‘why me?’ I knew I was going to beat it
from Day One. And I had a great support group of friends."
The one thing that bothered the straight-shooting
Tracy about the cancer experience was when people avoided the subject or treated
her differently, knowing Tracy had cancer.
Wygle had the proper way of dealing with it, Tracy
said. That was with humor. "Jan heard that one in nine women have breast cancer,
so one day she said to me, thank you, thank you, Terry—you’re our softball
Her cancer having stabilized in the mid-1990s,
Tracy embarked on her major bricks-and-mortar achievement. Before she retired
she wanted to replace the tiny, outdated park storage shed and office with a new
The shed had outlived its usefulness. It was a
small garage, stacked to the gills with landscaping equipment. The cramped park
office was in the back, between the Collier Brothers garage and the chilly rest
When it rained during the summer youth program,
kids poured into the garage to stay dry. Their options diminished, they tried to
avoid scraping themselves on the heavy equipment.
"People were afraid to come in," said Tracy,
remembering many years when parents timidly wandered through the bowels of the
garage, looking for someone to register their child in an activity, until the
parents finally pleaded, "is anyone here?"
Then, the winter ice rink appeared.
They laid the ice on the lower soccer field in 1995
and the outdoor rink became a smashing success. But, in the cold weather, the
children had nowhere to go and warm up indoors.
"We got to the point where we said we needed a
facility," Tracy said. "And the building came about because of the ice rink."
Jaquet said, "Terry was the one behind the
building. She got the architect to donate his services, and she developed the
concept and she pushed for the funding—just so the city could have a year-round
The new building turned out to be a
4,100-square-foot, two-level facility with a large multi-purpose room, an
expansive storage shed and offices. It’s been in use since the summer of 1998.
The building fits the park well, and it seems like it’s been there forever.
Some derisively called it "Terry’s Condo," but it
was much more than that. It became a home away from home for the 700-plus kids
in the park’s summer activities program.
Those strong programs will continue. The city is
currently interviewing applicants for her job and expects to have a replacement
by September. Jaquet said, "Terry will be missed, but she has an excellent staff
and I don’t think our programs will miss a beat."
No one appreciates the building more than the park
staff, a group that has showed remarkable stability over the years due to
You might also call it friendship.
Tracy has many friends. When she goes home to
Connecticut to visit her 95-year-old mother Helen, she gets together with her
high school friends. She visits friends in North Carolina and Florida.
The best testament to Tracy might have come from
Doran Key, a faithful park employee who has pushed lawnmowers and mown grass at
Atkinson Park for it seems like forever.
Key said, "Obviously the park will never be the
same without Terry’s presence there. She has done so much.
"But my best memory is laughing with her. That, I
will miss more than anything. Just how many jokes we shared, and how many laughs