Drake Relays News

Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU-Oregon and Mike Jay

Memories From the Drake Relays: Kiana Phelps

Kiana Phelps-Kingsley Pearson with her Drake Relays Flag and Next Level Iowa water bottle..two treasured items!

Kiana Phelps-Kingsley Pearson with her Drake Relays Flag and Next Level Iowa water bottle..two treasured items!

Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU graduate and a freshman at Oregon is a four-time Iowa state champion and four-time Drake Relays Champion in the discus and won the state title in the shot put as a senior.  Has the State meet record in the Discus at 172-0, the Drake Relays record of162-7 and the Iowa HS All Time best at 179-7.  She competed in the discus at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships, coming away with a fifth-place finish. Top-ranked prep discus thrower in the country in 2015 per Track and Field News.

Feature photo: Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU-Oregon and Mike Jay

Drake Relays is special

to my family, because we have watched and/or participated in it for almost 60 years. My older brother, myself, and my younger brother have all had extremely close calls, and for each, the other two have been right there by their side, encouraging and providing a backbone of support and courage for them.

Just as my older brother kept me calm and focused before my last throw at my first Drake Relays, I was right there by my younger brother at state when I encouraged him and told him what he needed to do on that last throw. On that final throw, he edged first place by half an inch.

Drake Relays has always been a place of many emotional moments great triumph for the Phelps family. That’s why Drake Relays will always be home to me.

Drake is special to Iowa and track in general, because without it, track wouldn’t be the most participated sport in the state. In addition to that, Drake Relays makes Iowa one of the top competitive states in the country for track and field.

Iowa has anything that compares regarding sponsorship support, local fan support, and rich tradition, all in a community that doesn’t seem too metropolitan, yet has all the amenities to entertain. Most importantly, Drake Relays is orchestrated on a first-class basis with first class people. It’s important to Iowa track people, and it shows.

Jeff Hartwig, Bubba Sparks  and Gary Hunter

Memories From the Drake Relays: Jeff Hartwig

Jeff Hartwig 3Jeff Hartwig is a symbol of all that is good about the Drake Relays.    Hartwig is a 2 time Olympian, a 6 time US champion, the IN American record holder in the Pole Vault at 19’  8 ¼” and an 8 time Drake Relays champ, including 7 in arrow from 1995-2001.  Hartwig’s winning effort of 19’  ¾ from 2007 still stands as both the Relays and Drake Stadium record. (Sam Kendricks jumped 19-1 in 2015, but the competition was held indoors that year).

Feature photo: Jeff Hartwig, Bubba Sparks and Gary Hunter 

Every year in late April hundreds of the best track and field athletes in Iowa gather on the blue oval of Drake Stadium for the annual Drake Relays.  This event not only is a culmination of the best that Iowa has to offer in high school track but many of the world’s greatest track and field athletes have competed in this iconic event.  For me Drake holds a special place in my heart with many great memories.  Drake was always the start of my outdoor season and it was the anticipation of competing in front of the great crowds at Drake that provided much motivation between the indoor season and the time I would arrive in Des Moines.  Come rain or shine I always knew the amazing crowd would show up to watch the athletes perform.

As I have moved beyond my competitive years, I am now privileged to still have the opportunity to come to Des Moines each year as coordinator of the pole vault events at the Relays.  We have seen, Olympic medalists, World Record Holders, American Record Holders and vaulters of many other great accomplishments compete at Drake.  Each year the Drake Relays continues to be a world class event with many of the sport’s greatest performers.

Jeff Hartwig 1I am envious of the many young athletes who attend and compete at the relays.  They have a unique opportunity that I never had as a kid growing up to see some of the sports great stars.  As a high school event, the Drake Relays provides a chance for Iowa’s best athletes to test themselves against competition from all classes.  This event provides the example of what track and field has to offer across all levels and its many years of success is a testament to all the great workers, volunteers, officials and athletes who make it happen.  The Drake Relays is an event that many other meets only aspire to live up to.


Memories From the Drake Relays: Jim Duea

The Duea Family

The Duea Family

Jim Duea, as you will read, is more than a casual track fan.  He was raised in a track family.  He was a successful track athlete, a successful track coach and is now the successful Athletic Director of the ever growing Waukee School District.

I will be attending my 48th Drake Relays this spring.  It’s an impressive number, but there are many that can say they have attended that many or more.  What makes that number a little more impressive is that I’m only 52 years old. There aren’t many that can say they have been to the Drake Relays in all but four years of their life.  My father can.  He will attend his 77th Drake Relays this spring just a few weeks before his 79th birthday.   My son has been to 22 Drake Relays in his 27 years.  Track and Field is an important part of our family and “America’s Athletic Classic” has been and will continue to be at the top of our priority list.


My family’s ties to the Drake Relays began in 1928 when my grandfather, Ben Duea, competed in his first Drake Relays as a high jumper and sprinter for Iowa State Teacher’s College coached by Art Dickinson.  My grandfather went on to coach several Drake Relays champions while at Valley Junction in the 1930’s and Fort Dodge in the 40’s and 50’s.  A generation later, my father, Jim Duea Sr., pole vaulted and sprinted for Dickinson led Iowa State Teacher’s College teams at the 1958, 1959 and 1960 Drake Relays.  His fondest memories of the Drake Relays are not of competing, but are of the 14 Drake Relays champions he coached at Ames High School.  I was fortunate to compete at Drake beginning in 1982 running for legendary Ames boys track coach John Sletten and ran my last race in 1987 for Chris Bucknam’s Northern Iowa Panthers.  I coached the WDM Valley boys at thirteen Drake Relays.  My son, Ben Duea, medaled at Drake for Waukee, ran for Simpson College and now heads the Ames Boys track program.


For almost a century, a least one and as many as three Dueas have been an athlete, a coach or just a fan at every Drake Relays.  And I’m confident that streak will continue for years to come.


It’s a given in our family, a tradition.  As I think of what is most important to me about the Drake Relays, the word “tradition” best describes it.  There are so many traditions that make up the Drake Relays.   Some traditions are part of the event itself while other traditions have been formed as a result of the Drake Relays.


For me, Drake Relays tradition starts with the coveted Drake Relays medal.  I proudly display my grandfather’s 1928 and 1929 Drake medals in my office.  Those medals, although a little more tarnished and aged, look the same as the medal my son won in 2008 and has the same design as the medals they will award this spring.  The size of the medal has varied through the years, some with a ribbon, some without, but the medal design is a constant.


The meet dates are a tradition as well.  Always the last weekend in April which lends itself to another Relays tradition: the weather.  Everyone has a story about the weather at the Drake Relays and unfortunately for most, it’s not about how nice it was.


The Drake Relays program is a tradition that could be considered a history book in track and field.  Every event champion’s name and school from every year the event was contested is found in the program.  Every athlete (masters, professional, collegiate, high school and elementary) that competes at the Drake Relays is listed in that year’s program.  Almost all of the legends in Track and Field history competed at the Drake Relays at some point during their career.


The announcer is a tradition that sets Drake apart from all other meets.  The iconic voice that electrifies the crowd with a descriptive and informative call.  From the great Jim Duncan to Tom Kroeschel to the current voice of the Drake Relays, Mike Jay, the relays announcer adds entertainment value not found at other big meets.


But most important are the thousands of traditions that began and continue each year as a result of the Drake Relays.  Fans with the same seats every year, where a team sets up camp, travel and lodging arrangements, parking spots, lunch plans, practice routines, and reunions are repeated every year because “its just what you do at Drake.”


Everyone has their own favorite Drake Relays memory or story.  I remember the proud feeling watching athletes I coached step onto the victory stand to be announced.  I remember Jim Ryun running for Kansas in 1969 and my dad helping me to try to get an autograph (I was 5 years old). I remember warming up in the Drake Fieldhouse right next to Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.  My favorite memory was in 1994 watching Olympic champion Carl Lewis run the 100m Dash in wet and frigid conditions after snow accumulating in lanes 7 and 8 hindered high school teams in the 4×100 prelims just a few hours earlier.


My son’s, my dad’s and my grandfather’s memories and stories are surely different than mine.  But everybody that has been to the Drake Relays has one.  That’s what makes it so special.  That’s what makes it Drake.