Paul Morrison
©Drake Athletics

Memories From the Drake Relays: Paul Morrison

Paul Morrison ©Drake Athletics

Paul Morrison
©Drake Athletics

Paul Morrison graduated from Drake with a degree in journalism in 1939 and briefly returned to his hometown of Cedar Rapids to work for the The Gazette.

Upon his return from World War II he resumed his position with The Gazette before being hired as the first full-time director of the Drake News Bureau on Dec. 15, 1945. He later would serve as the athletics business manager before beginning a lengthy run as sports information director.

Morrison retired from his full-time position with Drake in 1986, and has continued to serve the university by volunteering his time in the athletic department as historian and consultant.

Morrison, commonly referred to as “Mr. Drake” was inducted into the 2014 Des Moines Register Iowa Sports Hall of Fame

Morrison, 99, will be attending his 80th Drake Relays this year.

“The Drake Relays is Drake’s window to the world. Barnum and Bailey use to say their circus was the greatest show on earth but they wrong because the Drake Relays is the greatest show on earth.

“I attended my first Drake Relays in 1934 to watch my high school team – Cedar Rapids Washington – compete. I can remember watching Jim LuValle (eventual 1935 NCAA 440 yd. champ) anchor UCLA to the first of two straight mile relay titles at the Drake Relays. We didn’t get UCLA to attend the Drake Relays often so that was unusual in itself.

“I didn’t know at the time that I would eventually be attending Drake as a student. I watched UCLA win the mile relay again as a freshman at Drake in 1935, sitting on the east side of the stadium. It was a really hot Saturday and I remember my lips got sunburned.

“Back in 1961 sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics, became the first woman ever to compete at the Drake Relays. She wandered through the stadium looking for a dressing room. At the time, the Relays did not have regularly scheduled events for female athletes. So, there was no women’s locker room.

“People can’t believe that now. When we developed women’s track at the Relays, it was the turning point.”

“I would rank the 1951 Drake Relays as my all-time favorite because that was the year five runners led Drake to three titles in the 440 yard, 880 yard and mile relays in a period of 95 minutes and Jim Lavery anchored them all.

“Jim Ford, Ray Eiland, Jack Kelly and Lavery set a Drake Relays record in the preliminaries of the 880-yard relay (1:25.5) on that Friday. Fans were excited for Saturday’s session since the Bulldogs were in the finals of the 440, 880 and mile relays.

“Ford, George Nichols (who ran for North High School), and Eiland gave Lavery a slim lead when he got the baton to anchor the 440 and he outran Iowa’s anchorman to the tape in 41.7, giving Drake its first ever victory in the 440-yard relay in Drake Relays history.

After setting a record in Friday’s prelims, Drake was favored to win the 880-yard relay final and didn’t disappoint with Lavery winning by five yards in 1:25.9 – the school’s first 880-yard relay win since 1913.

The final event of every Drake Relays is the John L. Griffith University mile relay. Oklahoma and Texas A&M were the favorites. Ford led off for Drake followed by Eiland and Kelly. They ran well but Oklahoma had a five-yard led over Lavery at the final exchange.

Lavery cut the deficit to nothing on the first curve, hugging Oklahoma’s Jerry Meander’s heels. The Sooner responded and clung to the lead into the final curve. Behind the roar of the crowd, Lavery turned it on, took the lead and powered over the finish line, nearly three yards ahead.

It was an unforgettable moment. Lavery joined his teammates in celebration. It was the first mile relay victory for Drake since the first Relays in 1910. The 3:15.0 time was third fastest in Relays history.

The crowd stood and saluted the five athletes who had given Drake its biggest day ever in its own relays.

Lavery would go on to compete for Canadian Olympic Team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.