Track community loses a legend: Former Raines coach James Day dies unexpectedly

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – James Day, a longtime coach and one of the founders of the prestigious Bob Hayes Invitational track and field meet, died unexpectedly on Saturday night.

Day, or just Coach, as he was often called, was 89. Day was set to speak and present an award during the African American Coaches, Game Officials and Athletic Association during its awards ceremony Saturday but became ill during the event.

“He had that voice if he asked you to do something it was hard not to do it,” said Association president, Mathis Daniel. “He just that type of leadership voice. That deep voice like Lou Rawls, he would just make you proud being a game official. He was a good man. A real good man.”

Day’s career was filled with numerous accolades. He began working as an intern under Earl Kitchings in 1956 and wound up staying plugged in to high school athletics ever since then.

Day was named Raines’ track and field coach in 1966 and led the Vikings to state runner-up finishes in 1973 and ‘74 before his first state championship in 1976. His second title came in 1989.

Day retired from coaching and teaching in 1997 and segued full-time into work on the Bob Hayes Invitational track and field meet, and at Edward Waters College. Day became the Tigers’ athletic director for a period of time before retiring in 2003.

“The loss of this Hall of Fame legend is felt not only in the Track and Field Community. His reach was so wide that he touched athletes in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association as well as within the halls of academia,” the Bob Hayes Invitational Track and Field meet said in a statement.

“We certainly will miss Coach Day, as no one can ever replace this Legend of a Man, but we will do what he taught us which was, “Do what’s best for the young people.”

Day was inducted into the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in Rochester, Minn. in 2015.

Greg Coleman, who played under Day at Raines, will take over as chair of the Bob Hayes Invitational. The 57th event will be held March 19 at Raines.

Coleman said “as long as there is a breath in me” the prestigious track event will continue.

Day’s passing continues a challenging time for former Raines coaches and players. Former Vikings player Kenny Burrough, who went on to play in the NFL, died last week. Former Raines coach, teacher and athletic director Jimmie Johnson died last month.

Day was also one of the first-ever finalists in the Pinnacle Award category of the Jacksonville Image Awards which were created by News4JAX, CW17 and Graham Media Group to honor achievements in the local Black communities. The Pinnacle Award recognizes those who have achieved professional accomplishments throughout an extensive career and are role models for others to attain similar success. You can watch his story in his own words in the video above.

If you’d like to participate in the James (Coach) Day Memorial Scholarship Golf Tournament, you can do so by following this link. The 20th annual event is March 14 at Eagle Landing Golf Club.

A celebration of Day’s life is scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. on Monday, March 7 at Central Baptist Institutional Church, 524 W. 3rd St. in Jacksonville.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.