Grover Wills used to look at the fans filling the Durant High School football stadium’s bleachers on Friday nights and smile. On Wednesday night, the Cougars community packed the bleachers to remember Wills and his trademark grin.
The school hosted a candlelight service for Wills, who was set to graduate in May, to let his family, friends, teammates, coaches and teachers grieve together and honor his memory. Wills was shot Sunday night and later died from the injury, and the Durant community was quick to set up a special service for the popular senior.
People spoke about Wills’ life and his effect on them, read scriptures from the Holy Bible, walked around the track for five minutes — representing the number he wore on the football field — and sang songs, just as Wills was well-known for doing.
“That boy loved to sing,” Carlton Potter said. “He sang everywhere he went.”
Many wore white shirts that read “Fly High Number 5” on the front and had Wills’ last name and jersey number on the back. Wills’ senior football poster was displayed near the middle of the track, which was lined with candles. At midfield, candles were placed in the ground in the shape of the number 5 and the initials “GW.”
Everyone who spoke talked about Wills’ happy-go-lucky personality and his tendency to pick other people up when they were feeling down.
“If you had a problem, he had a solution…he would try to put a smile on all of our faces,” Andrew Deaton said.
A two-sport athlete, Wills was perhaps best known for his three years on Durant’s varsity football team, for which he played defensive back. Head coach Mike Gottman said Wills was determined to play college football and considered joining the team at the University of Pikeville in Kentucky.
“He was really excited about the challenge of going on and playing college football,” Gottman said.
The football team plans to frame Wills’ jersey, hang it in the field house and retire the number 5 for good, Gottman said.
Wills was also a member of the school’s AVID program and teacher Constance Mitchell said he consistently brought a positive, uplifting attitude to school. Mitchell said Wills, like his peers, kept a list of weekly goals. He wanted to do well in school and athletics, but he also always wrote that he wanted to make his family proud, week after week.
“We had the honor and privilege of being with Grover for three years,” Mitchell said. “He’s our family. He was kind-hearted, thoughtful, generous, loving.”
Several football players recalled how Wills would always sing and dance to pump them up. Just before the closing prayer, everyone in the stands performed one of his favorite rallying cries: “Ka-chow! Woo hoo!”
The night ended with a prayer by football chaplain Kerry Beaty, the walk around the track, a stop at the Ron Frost memorial rock and a luminary ceremony. The message of the evening was clear: though it is sad to see a life cut so short, the impact Wills had on the Durant community will not be forgotten.
“Once a Cougar, always a Cougar,” Gottman said. “Grover Wills, number 5, rest in peace.”