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Davidson family passes Relays tradition down through generations

Photo courtesy of Ritchie Funeral Home

For Dick Davidson Jr., heading to the Drake Relays was a family ritual. “I’ve been going to the Drake Relays since I was three years old,” Davidson said. But he wouldn’t just sit in the stands and watch. His dad, Richard “Dick” Davidson Sr. was an official. For nearly 50 years, he spent the last weekend of every April volunteering as an umpire at the Relays, starting after his graduation from Drake Law School. Eventually, Davidson Jr. started officiating, taking up the mantle of a family tradition spanning three generations.

“Some of us have track in our veins and love being on the track,” Davidson Jr. said. “I’m an umpire and dad was an umpire and my grandfather was an umpire.”

Davidson Sr. was added to the Relays Wall of Honor in 2000 before retiring in the mid-2000s. 

“For dad and I, it was just a ritual every last weekend in April. We just knew where we were,” Davidson Jr. said. “When we would leave Drake on a Sunday, we always made reservations for the next year.”

Davidson Sr. passed away Feb. 11, but the memories created during his time officiating Relays will live on with Davidson Jr.

“It was really [special]. I think we probably officiated at least 10 years together,” Davidson Jr. said. “It’s really just a love of track and field.”

Carolyn Hill, Drake Relays Special Director, said that three generations of Relays officials like the Davidson family is uncommon.

“We have a handful of two generations,” Hill said. “My kids grew up at Relays. My daughter actually ran in high school here at the Drake Relays and she’s also an official now. We’ve officiated national meets together. It’s a real fun time to spend time together and do something we both love.”

According to Hill, many families turn Relays into a decades-long tradition.

“There are a lot of people who had parents or grandparents who went and they’ve gotten involved, they come every year,” Hill said. “It’s a tradition in their families to come to the Drake Relays. That’s one of the neat things about it, the connectivity that people have in coming back to Drake for that event.”

Jim Walczyk, Drake Relays Officials Coordinator, said that family ties are one of the ways that people gain interest in volunteering as an official.

“There are quite a few who get involved because their dad or their uncle or their brother or their mom had been involved,” Walczyk said. “My son is getting involved in officiating. It’s just something that they find that they can do with their parent or sibling. It’s a good way to spend some time with them.”

Like Davidson Jr., Walczyk’s involvement with Relays began at a young age. 

“I ran at the Drake Relays while I was in high school, so it goes back to childhood,” Walczyk said. “It was always a fun trip down to Des Moines and it just created a little bit better bonding with my Relays teammates. It’s always just been a strong memory for me.”

After moving to Des Moines as an adult, the Relays became a family tradition for Walczyk.

“After I was out of school, my dad and my brothers and I always came to Drake Relays and just had fun,” Walczyk said. “And then I just started officiating at Drake.”

Outside of officiating, Relays held an even more special meaning for the Davidson family. 

“[Davidson Sr.] met my mother at Drake, and just so many close friends,” Davidson Jr. said. “Every year at Relays, mom and dad would get together with eight, maybe 10 different couples who were all Drake friends. Most of them were dad’s fraternity brothers and their wives who were Drake coeds. It was remarkable, this core group of friends that continued to meet every Drake Relays. It was their homecoming kind of thing.”

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