Jefferson sprinter Dante Price (center), shown competing in last year's Gazette Relays, is the defending Class AAA champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes. This season, Price owns the state's top times of 10.75 and 22.02 seconds in those events.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 78th installment of the Gazette/Friends of Coal Relays will be held this weekend at Laidley Field featuring many of the same teams and following the same format that it has for decades.And maybe that reliability is what keeps those teams coming back.The meet will begin at 4 p.m. Friday and will run through early Saturday evening, following the guidelines of the state meet, which will be held on May 3 at Laidley.Gazette/FOC Relays meet director Jim Crawford Jr. said he has seen many of the same faces taking advantage of the opportunity to compete against a large field and to prepare for the state's premier track event."A lot of coaches have been coming here for eons," Crawford Jr. said. "A lot of them I can remember from a long time ago and some of them I can remember from when I was in high school. A lot of guys that competed then now are coming back as coaches."Last year, around 50 boys and girls teams showed up and approximately 1,100 athletes competed and Crawford Jr. said he expects the totals this year to be roughly the same.As far as favorites go, they should be easy to identify and one needs look no further than the Jefferson boys.The Cougars have won four consecutive Class AAA championships at the event, but they are not alone in terms of repeating as Point Pleasant (boys Class AA), and Doddridge County (boys and girls Class A) each won their second titles in a row at last year's Gazette Relays.Point cannot defend its AA title, however, since it has moved up to Class AAA status this school year.
Only Gahanna Lincoln, Ohio (girls Class AAA) and Berkeley Springs (girls Class AA) were new winners a year ago."I think Jefferson is looking good judging by their performances so far and they'll be favored this year as well," Crawford Jr. said of the Cougars boys squad. "Cabell Midland will be right on their heels. Jefferson and Buckhannon-Upshur look like top teams [in girls Class AAA] and Gahanna, Ohio, they're always very competitive. They have good sprinters and relays."Doddridge is likely to be tough to beat as well, as the boys come No. 1 in RunWV.com's power rankings and the girls are listed at No. 2.While the meet offers a large field, Crawford Jr. admitted it is a little harder to attract an abundance of Class A teams, although the ones that do make it tend to be the cream of the crop."It's hard to get a whole lot of Class A teams here, but there ones that are here are the ones that will be in contention in the state meet," Crawford Jr. said. "They get a good idea before regionals about what they're looking at around the state." Inevitably, some coaches won't show off everything this weekend and instead will hold out some premier competitors.
This strategy may be good in terms of rest, but Crawford Jr. said those who miss this weekend's event lose a key opportunity to take part in a state-like meet against state-like competition."I think it's important because it's so different from the one-day, regular format that most meets usually follow," Crawford Jr. said. "The running events with trials and finals, that's a big thing to get used to in addition to the runners and competition."Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, email@example.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.