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The Florida Times-Union

Golden legacy: In first UNF edition, Bob Hayes Invitational Track Meet highlights legend

By Clayton Freeman, Florida Times-Union,

2023-03-15
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Nearly 60 years ago, Bob Hayes brought Olympic gold home to Jacksonville.

Now, for a new generation of aspiring champions, his achievement, and his medal, will become a little more tangible.

"We're looking to expose young people to something that they've only heard about and they can only dream about," Bob Hayes Invitational Track Meet executive director Greg Coleman said, "but now, up close and personal."

As the annual track and field meet opens a new chapter in its 58th year, switching from the northwest of the St. Johns River to the city's southeast at the University of North Florida, the legacy of the Jacksonville athletic giant stands at center stage.

LEARNING ABOUT A LEGACY

For the young athletes competing at this week's event, billed over the years as the nation's largest single-day high school track meet, Coleman is planning to showcase what he calls a mobile museum to highlight Hayes' feats.

"These kids can learn a little bit more about the legacy of the legendary Bob Hayes, who he was and what he represents," he said.

A graduate of Matthew W. Gilbert High School on the Eastside, Hayes was crowned as the world's fastest man after winning the 100-meter dash in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Then, he switched to football as wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, winning a Super Bowl and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He died in 2002 at age 59.

In addition to the gold medal from the 1964 Olympics, the exhibit will include Hayes' championship cleats from Tokyo as well as additional artifacts from Florida A&M University and the Ritz Theatre and Museum in LaVilla. Hayes' daughter and grandson are also scheduled to be present to discuss the Olympian's legacy.

The exhibit will be located in the ground level portion of UNF's Hodges Stadium, and in 2023, the stadium is part of the story.

Bob Hayes history:Jacksonville's track meet honoring world's fastest man began 59 years ago

NEW CHAPTER AT UNF

For more than four decades, the meet has been the hub of annual fun, food and festivities at Raines. Now, it's moving from the Northwest Jacksonville school to the recently-upgraded national-caliber track at UNF, the same location that will hold the NCAA East Preliminary meet for track in May.

Coleman emphasized that while the site of competition is now at UNF, the meet's impact extends across the whole city. Those included Monday's volunteer workshop and dinner, still held at Raines, as well as Thursday's annual Hall of Fame induction gala at Potter's House International Ministries on the Westside.

Scheduled for induction are Gail Devers, Leander McKenzie, Edwin Moses, Brianna Rollins-McNeal, former Raines football coach Freddie Stephens and the 1968 Florida A&M 4x100-meter relay team of Nathaniel James, Major Hazelton, Eugene Milton and Jimmy Ashcroft.

The shift to the fast Hodges Stadium track, where Creekside's Christian Miller achieved the nation's fastest high school 200-meter dash time two weeks ago, has drawn increasing interest from beyond the First Coast. Coleman said that nearly 150 schools and around 2,000 athletes are scheduled to compete from Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina.

Middle schoolers compete Friday afternoon at UNF, followed by high school athletes starting on Saturday morning.

"They are talking trash already," he said. "So it's going to be a fantastic meet from a competition standpoint."

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