BY SUMMER BRILLS
Drake University students and Des Moines residents alike are well aware that the 2016 Drake Relays is just around the corner. What many of these people don’t know, though, is that planning for this year’s event began just days after the conclusion of the 2015 Relays.
Drake Relays Director Brian Brown has a constant vision for each year’s event. Brown first started working at Drake University in 2006 as the associate athletic director. That same year he was named the director of Relays, and since then, he has earned the title of assistant track coach alongside his wife, Natasha.
Year after year, his inspiration and vision of the event stems from his first Relays experience.
“As I walked out of the tunnel, the crowd was going crazy,” Brown said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’”
Brown said that at the end of each year’s event, planning for the following year immediately starts. Having been the director for a decade, Brown knows the importance of planning for the next event as soon as possible.
“About 10 days after the conclusion of the event, we have it set on the calendar to have an appraisal meeting,” Brown said. “In this appraisal meeting, people with very important roles in the Relays provide a written report. The appraisal meeting is the best opportunity to go through these reports because it’s fresh on our minds to capture the things that we can do better and how we can be more efficient. When we capture all the notes from the meeting, that becomes our blueprint for the next year.”
Drake Relays was founded more than a century ago and had an initial crowd of only 100 people. Today, the event is one of the most renowned track and field meets in the nation and attracts more than 40,000 spectators.
Because the event is so large, it’s too big for Brown to tackle alone. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, most of whom are part of the university’s athletic administration, the event is able to run smoothly.
Head Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield-Clubb is one of the staff members who works alongside Brown.
“Our entire athletics department administration is involved in this event,” Hatfield- Clubb said. “Even if people don’t have a direct responsibility like marketing or athletics communications, they help by coordinating volunteers or other activities. The Relays has more than 300 volunteers. So, the bottom line it that this is a huge event that takes hundreds of people to run.”
Brown also works closely with his executive committee and five subcommittees year-round to ensure the experience of the spectators is one they’ll never forget. Although he has many roles as the director, the spectator experience is an aspect he puts at the forefront.
“One of my main roles is to cast a vision of what the event should look like,” Brown said. “Each time I went to the Drake Relays, it was always something that meant a lot to me. I remember the first time I came to Relays. I was instantly hooked. Now, as the director, I’m constantly trying to find a way to create that ‘wow’ moment that excites the crowd. Each year, I want to recapture that moment for everyone that comes to the event.” Deciding which athletes compete is another important aspect that Brown determines months in advance. The Drake Relays has been known for the world-class athletes who attend and this year will be no different. Brown tracks down many of the world’s top athletes to attend the event.
“I am the one that makes all of the decisions about the elite athletes and professional athletes and personally engage their agents,” Brown said. “I really enjoy that aspect. I also research who had a good previous year, who’s currently having a good year and I review their resume to see what kind of athlete they are.”
“As we correspond through email and have a written document, I then generate a contract. Hy-Vee, the presenting sponsor of the Drake Relays, has given us a chance to go after the best in the world. It’s very exciting.”
The 2016 Drake Relays spectators can expect to see many elite athletes.
“In the world rankings, the top ten is what I look at and go after,” Brown said. “We only have eight lanes here at Drake but in most cases, six of those lanes are filled with the top ten in the world. Every event this year is going to be very special.”
After all the contributions of so many people, the sweetest part is seeing everything come together after a yearlong preparation.
“My favorite part is how our entire university comes together to put on this amazing and enormous event,” Hatfield-Clubb said. “I am looking forward to working closely with all my colleagues to pull off another amazing Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee.”
The 2016 Drake Relays will begin on Wednesday, April 27. For more information, visit drakerelays.org.