BY ASHLEY FLAWS
When the first Drake Relays was held in 1900, only 100 people were in the crowd. Now, around 40,000 people fill the stands of Drake Stadium each year, on top of the hundreds of athletes, ranging from high school to Olympic level.
Part of the growth and success of the Relays today stems from the continued support of Drake alumni and committed attendees of the Relays who come back year after year.
Mike Jay has been attending the Relays every year since 1975 and has been the announcer for the last 13 years.
“I announce about 30 meets a year, all over the country, but none are as special to me as the Relays,” Jay said in an email. “It is a time to catch up with longtime friends that I may see only during Relays Week.”
Many of the alumni who return every year do so to reunite with old friends. Several events are even hosted especially for alumni, including the All-Alumni Tent party and several fraternity and sorority reunions.
John Miller, a 1982 Drake graduate who is currently the president of the National Alumni Board at Drake, has come back to campus each of the last 15 years during Relays Week, along with his wife, who is also a Drake grad.
Miller, who now lives in Lenexa, Kansas, said he has only ever attended the actual races twice because he spends the majority of his time catching up with friends at Peggy’s Tavern, a pub in the Drake neighborhood, and meeting up with other alumni.
“Because the weekend is short, many times we have opted to miss the events so more time could be spent sharing old memories and making new ones with friends,” Miller said in an e-mail. “Peggy’s remains an institution and being able to spend time in the back parking lot again remains a lot of fun. In fact, 30 years ago when attending, we would comment on others (who were) my age and wonder if we would still be coming back. I’m happy to say yes, we look forward to it.”
Along with meeting up with friends and other alumni, Relays Week also brings together many families. Both Miller and another 1982 Drake graduate, William Henderson, use the week to spend time with family. For Henderson, Relays has been a family event since his childhood.
“I attended my first Drake Relays in 1966 when I was 5 years old,” Henderson, who also now lives in Lenexa, in an e-mail. “My family has a long history with the Drake Relays. My grandfather, Barney Myers, was a Relays official and served as chairman of the relays in 1950. Besides being track fans, Relays Weekend has also served as a family reunion weekend for my family for many years.”
Along with Miller and his wife, their two kids are also Drake graduates.
“The four of us continue to meet each year since they graduated to share in the fun, but we all still have our friends who also attend the weekend,” Miller said. “…We just might do the same thing we have done for most of the past 37 years and hopefully the next 37.”
Relays has become a tradition for people all around the country and even the world, as alumni and track and field fans alike come together to celebrate the talent of the many athletes. Besides dedication to Drake or a love for track and field, the atmosphere of the Relays plays a large part in attracting returnees each year.
“The Relays are always electric,” Jay said. “It is a crown jewel for the state of Iowa, and not just for track and field fans.”
This year, Relays Week will start with the Beautiful Bulldog Contest at 12:30 p.m. on April 23 at the Knapp Center and will end on April 29 with the conclusion of athletic competitions. Jay, Miller and Henderson all plan to be there, just like they have been for decades.