The iconic track meet that has been held for nearly 60 years at Raines High School in Northside is now at the center of controversy as the school administration moves to move the annual meet to the name of the hometown Olympian Bob Hayes.
Calling it a tough and emotional decision but the right one for now, longtime event executive director Greg Coleman said the decision to move the track and field meet to UNF was necessary to bring it to the higher level and beyond. Coleman recently took over as competition manager after longtime manager, coach James Day, died unexpectedly last year.
According to Channel 4, Coleman named many factors that contributed to the decision to uproot the event from its Northside home and move it to the other side of town. Traditionally, residents of the nearby community would join those from across the state to watch the high school athletic competition. A former professional athlete himself, the former Raines alum and former NFL athlete said that always meant tough conversations had to happen.
“As we have finished last year’s encounter, we immediately begin to do our due diligence to see how we can improve this encounter, how we can take it to the next level,” Coleman said. “Obviously, it’s no secret that we know we’ve had problems. We know that Raines is slated for a rebuild at some point in the future. And when that happens, and when that facility comes back online, we will definitely be back to it.
Coleman said that prior to Day’s death, Day shared how he wanted to push the event to a bigger
This vision included hosting by the UNF, renowned for its facilities which have hosted competitions as well as the NCAA regional championships.
“Coach Day and his wife Yvonne have attended several championships here and discussed the possibility of one day hosting the Bob Hayes here at Hodges Stadium,” said UNF assistant athletic director Ervin Lewis. “Well, the time has finally come. We are humbled and grateful for this opportunity.
Longtime friend and colleague of James Day, “coach” Nathaniel Farley, said that while he knew Raines had his issues ranging from concessions to parking, he never heard Day say he wanted the beloved athletics meeting is moved.
“I knew he wanted more, but I never heard him mention a move.” Both were members of the Athletic Association of African American Coaches and Game Officials and Farley was also named to the Bob Hayes Track Meet Board of Directors before his death, but never had the opportunity to ‘be installed.
Other community members see the move as more than just a change of location.
“We have seen the dismantling of black institutions in Jacksonville over the years. The School Desegregation Plan, which incorporated schools in Jacksonville, placed the burden of school desegregation on the black community of Jacksonville. The bottom line is that White Jacksonville did not consider Jacksonville’s black schools “good enough” to educate white children, nor good enough for white children to graduate. Yet it was normal for black children to graduate from a high school named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan,” said historian Rodney Hurst.
During its lifetime the Bob Hayes Track Meet was held at Matthew Gilbert, Northwestern and Douglas Anderson in its early years before moving to Raines in 1968 where Day took over as Race Director.
“I totally agree with this opportunity because it’s all about the students.” said Raines manager Vincent Hall.
From social media to concerned citizens, the outrage continues.
“If we allow the Bob Hayes Track Meet to move from its roots in the black community to White Jacksonville, it is because we are NOT prepared to do anything, including raise HELL to keep it on ‘our side’ of the city,” Hurst said.
The event is named after Bob Hayes, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, former Dallas Cowboy and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who held his 57th meeting last March.
Hurst hopes the community will wake up and see it has something to stand up for by defending the revered athletic meet that remains at William M. Raines, a historically black high school built for the community after segregation.
“Bob Hayes IS you, me, Matthew Gilbert, Out East, the Northside, Raines and Bob Hayes IS black and shiny. Bob Hayes IS NOT UNF,” Hurst said.