Move from Raines to UNF will help take Bob Hayes track meet to ‘next level’

Iconic event has been held at Raines since 1968

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Calling it a tough and emotional decision but the right one for right now, Greg Coleman said the decision to move the area’s most iconic track and field meet from Raines High School to UNF was necessary to take it to the next level and beyond.

Coleman, the executive director of the longtime event, said numerous factors played into the decision to uproot the event from its Northside home and relocate it across town.

The facilities at UNF are one of the best in the country and the experience for athletes is far beyond what they could have at a high school venue. And the unexpected death of race director James Day last year forced the brain trust of the meet to reevaluate everything to keep the event humming along.

As for being a permanent change from Raines to UNF, Coleman said the board of the Bob Hayes track meet will discuss that in the future.

“As we finished last year’s meet, we immediately begin to do some due diligence to see how we can make this meet better, how we can take it to the next level,” Coleman said. “Obviously, there’s no secret that we know that we’ve had some problems. We know that Raines is slated for a rebuild at some point in the future. And when that happens, and when that facility comes back online, we will definitely revisit that.”

Coleman said that before Day’s death, Day had conversations on how to push the event to a bigger stage. One of those visions was to have UNF, which has hosted the state high school track and field meet multiple times as well as NCAA regional championships, serve as host.

Once billed as the largest one-day track meet in the country, Day sought to return the Bob Hayes to that level that it enjoyed during its heyday in the 1980s, ‘90s and early 2000s.

“Coach Day and [his widow] Mrs. Yvonne have attended several championships here and discussed the vision of possibly one day hosting the Bob Hayes here at Hodges Stadium,” said UNF deputy athletic director Ervin Lewis. “Well, the time has finally come. We are humbled and we’re grateful for the opportunity.”

While Day left the framework in place for the meet to continue, Coleman, a Raines High alum who played 12 years in the NFL and competed in the Bob Hayes event when he was in school, said that it still meant some tough conversations had to happen after his death.

“We all knew that we faced some challenges at the Bob Hayes track meet for a number of years. And some of those reasons were blind to a lot of you because of the tenacity and the relationships that James Day had in place,” he said. “He did some things that were so unusual, very few people had the ability to tell him no.”

The Bob Hayes event was held at Matthew Gilbert, Northwestern and Douglas Anderson during its early years before moving to Raines in 1968. Day took over race director duties. The meet, named after the iconic Hayes, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Pro Football Hall of Fame selection who grew up in Jacksonville, held its 57th event last March.

“I’m looking at this as an opportunity for our students at Raines and other students abroad to get exposure,” said Raines principal Vincent Hall. “They indulge in opportunities of exposure and the experience that they’re going to get here at UNF. So, I am in full agreement with this opportunity because it is all about the students.”

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.