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.