Legacy of Bob Hayes Invitational continues to grow at new venue

For the first time, the Bob Hayes Invitational will be held at UNF's Hodges Stadium. (2023 WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new venue, but with all the traditions of the past.

That’s the plan for this weekend’s 58th Bob Hayes Invitational Track and Field meet. For the first time, the meet will be held at UNF’s Hodges Stadium, one of the premier tracks in the country.

“Being at UNF, one of the finest facilities in the country gives these young people an opportunity to be exposed, to be recruited,” said Greg Coleman, who took over as the meet’s executive director last March. “I can remember many years ago when I ran into Bob Hayes track meet, or even when I got a chance to run outside of the city of Jacksonville, to run in great facilities and see what was possible. It gave me hope.”

Coleman went on to run at Florida A&M and then played in the NFL. He has fond memories of running in the Bob Hayes. Now he’s running it. And he’s trying to build on the tradition of the past.

“Still drinking from a fire hose, because this is my first full year as executive director,” Coleman said. “Carrying on the tradition of my former mentor, coach, meet director James Day and those other founding fathers. We’re building on what they have given us, when they pass the baton. And our job is to build and create. And when it’s time to pass the baton, these young people will always be in a better position than they were yesterday.”

Coleman said that nearly 150 teams and over 2,000 athletes are registered to compete from all across the southeast. They dream of coming to the Bob Hayes to get noticed.

“A lot of young people are using this vehicle of track and field as a launching pad to continue their education,” Coleman said. “I think corporations and companies know that athletes sometimes make some of the best employees, indeed citizens. So that’s what we’re doing with selling hope. We’re selling potential, we’re selling opportunities for young people. And that’s what excites me more than anything else.”

A Hall of Fame induction will precede this year’s meet at Potter’s House International Ministries on Thursday. Some big names in the world of track and field will be inducted including hurdles legend Edwin Moses, sprinter Gail Devers and the 4x100 meter relay team from Florida A&M that broke the Penn Relays record, James Ashcroft, Major Hazelton, Nathaniel James, and Eugene Milton.

The meet is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Hodges Stadium. The move to UNF was met with some resistance from some traditionalists, but Coleman says the meet has a history of moving to bigger venues as it has grown.

“Bob Hayes grew up in the east side of Jacksonville over at Matthew W. Gilbert,” Coleman said. “Then the meet moved to Douglas Anderson, migrated from that to Northwest Jacksonville and Raines. This is a community event. This is not (about) one particular neighborhood. This is a community event that kids can learn about the historic value of what Bob represented.”

To that end, a mobile museum will be on display at the track meet with some historical artifacts from Hayes’ career, including the gold medal he won in the 100 meters at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

“And not only this medal, but we also have the cleats that Bob wore in Tokyo to win at 100-meter dash as well,” Coleman said. “Some of the other artifacts from Florida A&M, from the Ritz Museum here in Jacksonville. So these kids will get a close-up close and personal view of Bob Hayes, they’ll get a chance to talk with his daughter, his grandson will be here. So we’re looking really to expose young people to something that they’ve only heard about, and they can only dream about, but now up close and personal.”

About the Author:

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.