Many high school and college sports fans go into a bit of a hibernation this time of year.
The basketball and wrestling seasons are over and football, outside of some spring practices, still is several months away.
But April always has been one of my favorite sports months, and not just because we usually see the first signs of spring and some warmer weather.
April is Drake Relays month, one of my favorite sporting events each year.
Track and field may not evoke the same passion as those aforementioned sports, but there’s no bigger sporting event in Iowa each year than the Drake Relays.
Think about it.
The Drake Relays attract some the best from its sport in this country, collegiately and professionally. It brings in some of the top athletes in the world, future and former Olympians and future and former U.S. and world record-holders.
Name another event that does that — and has been doing that for 109 years.
The 110th Drake Relays are April 25-27 in Des Moines.
“Paul Morrison always said ... the Drake Relays have been Des Moines’ window to the world,” Blake Boldon said about the school’s former sports information director known as “Mr. Drake.”
Boldon, in his third year as the Drake Relays director, went even further.
“I would probably make that Iowa’s window to the world,” he said. “And it’s a two-way window. The world pays attention to Des Moines for those three days ... and the world comes to you.”
And, the best part, is Iowa’s high school elite get to join in on the fun.
“The heart and soul of it really are those high school kids that are there not only to compete, but to get autographs and cheer and support,” Boldon said.
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I was one of those kids more than a few years ago. Track was my sport in high school and, although I never competed on the “blue oval,” I did cheer and support and grabbed an autograph or five.
Boldon was the same as a high school distance runner in Osceola. His first experience was as an alternate on his school's 400-meter relay. It was his ticket into Drake Stadium.
“I fell in love with track and field,” he said.
Boldon went on to bigger things. He won a Class 3A state title in the 1,600 in 1998 and a Drake Relays title in the 1,500 while at Missouri State in 2003.
Now he’s back “home.”
“It’s still where I belong,” he said.
That’s why the high school portion is so important to him. He has introduced something new for the preps every year, including the “blue standards,” the 400-meter dash and expanding the 400 relay fields.
He wants even more young runners, throwers and jumpers to experience the Drake Relays while at the same time keeping it a bit of an exclusive club.
“You're not just good, you’re among the very elite at the high school level,” he said of those qualifiers. “These high school kids elevate their own expectations, their own effort at the relays ... it is something special.”
A packed Drake Stadium may pale in comparison to a fall Saturday afternoon inside Kinnick Stadium or Jack Trice Stadium for many sports fans, but I’ll take a sunny April afternoon at the Drake Relays every time.
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