JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The pandemic wiped out the Bob Hayes Invitational track and field meet last year, but it’s racing back to the track on Saturday.
Billed as the largest one-day track meet in the country for years now, the 56th event will be held at Raines High School in its traditional daylong format. It kicks off at 8 a.m. with the 3200 meter boys and girls finals. Prelims in the other events begin after that, followed by the finals in the late afternoon.
Longtime meet director James Day said on Tuesday that he’s been excited to have the meet back. Since he retired from the school system in 1997, Day’s full attention has been on keeping the meet moving and the impact of the event growing.
“This is really a community track meet. The community’s put their hands in it and helped to put it together and helped to develop it over the years. It looks like Coach Day did a lot but all I did was a lot of pointing after I got of age,” Day said. “Those people come out of the woodwork. They come from their homes and they help to develop this track meet. And funds from the gate go back into the community, 90% of it.”
The meet was canceled last year for the first time when Duval County Public Schools announced on March 14 that all activities and events would be canceled until further notice. That eventually became a permanent break for the rest of the 2019-20 school year as the coronavirus pandemic shut things down across the country.
That was a major loss for track and field athletes, both locally and across several states. But it’s back this year and maintaining a presence throughout the week.
The meet’s companion events stretch out across a full week. There are officials workshops and a developmental clinic. The middle school track meet is held Friday.
Day said that Monday’s golf tournament at Eagle Landing, the 19th installment, drew 104 golfers. That tournament helps fund multiple scholarships.
But once the horn sounds Saturday morning, it’s all about competition.
Day said that the most notable changes come in the form of safety precautions. He said that the event has stressed the use of masks, and that all of the 120 volunteers who work the meet will be wearing them. There’s also no out-of-state schools in the competition this year.
“We involved the total community, the total city. If you see the signs a little bit around the track, the city is highly involved in this, highly involved. The total community is highly involved,” Day said. “My entire family is highly involved. We just love it. We all live for one day now. Bob Hayes runs in my house every day.”