A new tradition will begin this Saturday at West High: the Eastern Iowa Track and Field Festival. Teams and individuals from across Iowa will show up and compete in hopes of qualifying for the Drake Relays later this month.
The Eastern Iowa Track and Field Festival will sound familiar to those who have attended the Drake Relays. Mike Jay, “the voice of the Drake Relays” every year for over a decade, will be announcing the festival this Saturday, April 6. Jay travels coast to coast to announce an abundance of track and field meets including the Ivy League championships, the home University of Alabama meets, the PAC-12 championships and even the University of Iowa home meets.
“I’m just glad that it worked into my schedule. It’s going to be a great meet and I think it’s going to take a couple years to really get it rolling, [and] once people see how good it is, they’re all going to want to come,” Jay said. “The theory behind it: wanting to get kids introduced to good competition early and hopefully get a Drake Relays qualifying mark, which is what it’s all about. It’s going to be great for our sport.”
The West High boys track and field head coach Travis Craig came up with the idea of hosting a track and field festival for all classes last year. Around the same time last year small 1A and 2A schools from Northeastern and Northwestern Iowa had snow piled up and were unable to run meets in their area, so they had to find other places to compete.
“[The smaller schools] started emailing us and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to get into your meet, and how do we go about doing that?’ We’re talking [schools] about three, four hours away from Iowa City,” Craig said. “We thought, ‘How can we provide an experience? These teams are willing to come this far away for this competition. How can we facilitate that as much as possible as well as provide a pretty cool event for our sized schools and our side of the state, as well?’ From there, it snowballed to getting Mike Jay announcing, having an American Idol contestant at West High that could sing the National Anthem and having sponsorships for every event.”
Thirty-one teams are scheduled to compete including Clear Creek Amana, Jesup, Central Decatur, Sigourney and Liberty.
All class sizes are welcome, but only the top 16 qualifying athletes are entered into the events in order to increase the level of competition. There will also be no team scores at the festival, so teams and individuals can focus on the main goal: qualifying for the Drake Relays. Some schools are only bringing as few as two or three athletes that qualified for the events.
“I’m super excited for this meet because it’s almost like the Drake Relays, just for Eastern Iowa,” girls track and field athlete Katie Severt ’19 said. “You have to qualify for this meet, so there will be competition that will push us to improve our times and marks. Overall, I think it will be a good experience that will prepare us for upcoming meets.”
There will be a food truck selling an array of burgers, hot dogs, milkshakes and more as opposed to having the concession stand open for food like a typical home track and field meet. Craig wanted to provide the best possible experience for everyone, including the West High parents.
“The drawback of most track meets is that parents end up working the concession stand and don’t really get to watch and enjoy the track meet; I’ve always hated that,” Craig said. “I wanted to take that side of things out of it, so I’d rather pay someone else to come and feed our people there and totally take away that responsibility from us as coaches and more importantly the parents.”
Along with a food truck, the Eastern Iowa Track and Field Festival will also hand out shirts to the top three finishers. Craig wanted to provide memorabilia that people would use and not just hang up, like a medal. Shirts will also be for sale during the meet as well.
All of the events for the meet have been sponsored by local businesses, and the title sponsor for the event is Navigate Homes. Craig began the process of finding sponsors last summer and contacted upwards of 75 different businesses before finalizing the 20 that will be participating. Each business that donated chose an event to sponsor and is announced before the event they chose.
“When that event comes up, Mike Jay is going to end up saying their name, like, ‘The Heartland Soul 400 meter run’ probably four or five times at least,” Craig said. “The school district doesn’t pay for the Drake Relays, … so to supplement that and to pay for everybody that typically qualifies or gets to go to the Drake Relays, it costs us for a charter bus and hotels and just to get them into meets somewhere upwards of $2,000 or $3,000. … [Sponsorships] takes the responsibility away from the parents from having to sell their stuff, and then they can focus on what they’re really supposed to focus on, which is the sport: track and field.”
The meet will start at 10:30 a.m. for field events, with running events starting at 11 a.m. The meet will run through much of the early afternoon, scheduled to wrap up around 3 p.m.
“Every coach is going to say their sport is the best, and I’m willing to admit that I’m okay realizing that track and field isn’t going to be the end of that; it’s going to be football and basketball and baseball — they’re king,” Craig said. “If we can have one or two days where we get to put our sport in the limelight and our sport as something that people look at and say, ‘That’s really cool,’ I’ll take it. That’s what I’m excited about just getting our sport to the forefront of people’s minds even if it’s for a few hours.”
This story was originally published on West Side Story on April 5, 2019.