The first Saturday in May and the York Suburban Relays were synonymous for more than 50 years.
Even when the name was changed in 2009 to honor its founder, the Herb Schmidt Relays remained a part of early May. The event will mark its 53rd anniversary this year, but, the celebration will take place this month, not in May.
The Herb Schmidt Relays are moving to Saturday, April 21. This year's competition will begin at 9 a.m. at York Suburban High School.
Why the switch?
"We were losing schools because of SATs and proms, plus coaches couldn't get individual times for the runners," Herb Schmidt said. "When the relays started, it was a great fun thing for athletes to compete in before districts. Now, the coaches want their athletes to get qualifying times for districts."
Schmidt, and the people who run the relays, came up with a compromise they hope will breathe new life into the annual track-and-field carnival that attracted just 10 schools last year.
The relay concept will be retained, but in a different format -- at least on the track. Along with the traditional 400, 1,600 and 3,200 relays (the sprint medley relay, distance medley relay and 800 relay are history), there will be two-person relays for the individual events. For example, the 100-meter dash relay will consist of two runners from each school entered in different heats. The combined times of the two runners will be used to determine first place, second place, third place etc.
"All the results will be put on a spread sheet and mailed to the coaches so they'll have the times," Schmidt said. "We feel by making the change we'll be retaining the integrity of the Relays, but at the same time, qualifying times will be available for individuals."
The idea seems to be working.
Schmidt said 17 senior high schools and 10 junior high schools have signed up this year.
"We're hoping to get done around 5 (p.m.) or 5:30," he said. "And, of course, we're hoping for good weather. I remember the first year that I had the relays, we had to plow snow off the track."
A lot of runners have crossed the finish line since that time, but the 81-year-old Schmidt retains the same love he had for track and field back in the early days of the Relays.
"When I hit 50, I wasn't sure how much longer I could stick with it," he said. "Now, I'm going to keep going as long as I'm able."
Schmidt will be on hand as usual on the day of the Relays, along with his "right-hand men," Larry Ludwig and John Smith, and the many volunteers. He prefers to remain in the background and let the athletes compete and officials do their jobs. However, if a question comes up, everyone knows the man to consult for the answer.
"We're hoping this new format works,' Schmidt said. "It will give us a lot more stability."
Dick VanOlinda covers high school sports for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at dvanolin email@example.com or 505-5407.