For generations, the Woodward Relays had April to itself. It was the only local meet in town with a few rare exceptions until the Whitman Viking Invitational became a staple April meet in 2006. But the April calendar has been getting more crowded in recent years, and on Saturday April 14, 2018, Montgomery County schools hosted an unprecedented four invitational track meets up and down I-270.
"Any time a school can host an invitational - there is a lot of work that goes into it - I think it's good to support the home schools," said Quince Orchard head coach Seann Pelkey, who attended the Jim Vollmer Invitational at Watkins Mill High School on Saturday. "We've gone through a number of years where it was hard to get the coaches to host anything. And so the fact that we have a wealth of meets to host, it's always going to be a good thing."
In his 46th consecutive year of putting on the Woodward Relays, Greg Dunston admitted his disappointment with the heavy concentration of meets within ten miles of his own. He explained that he could not go a week earlier because Georgetown Prep was still on Spring Break, and that the Walter Johnson High School athletic director, Tom Rogers, who scheduled the Viking Invitational two miles away, thought that the Woodward Relays was the following week. Viking Invitational meet director, Steve Hays, stated that he wanted the Viking Invitational to be this weekend to allow performances to potentially qualify for the Penn Relays.
As a retired MCPS teacher and coach, Dunston was particularly disappointed that only two MCPS teams, Springbrook and Sherwood, attended this year's Woodward Relays.
"That's real disappointing," said Dunston, "but I understand a lot of them want to go to Jim Vollmer's meet. They want to go to Viking Invitational. Very few I think are going to the Bullis meet and that's a long meet so we're just going to try to run as efficiently as possible and try to get out of here at a decent time."
Sherwood head coach, Dan Reeks, explained that part of the reason that he remained loyal to the Woodward Relays was his friendship with Dunston, but he stressed that he also loved the Woodward Relays.
"We wanted another relay meet to get more kids into the meet," said Reeks. "I like the meet! So I'm going to stick with it."
A Date for Watkins Mill
Watkins Mill High School has an enthusiastic head coach who wants to host meets. Bryant Adams wants to host signature invitationals in cross country and track in addition to the county championship meet in track and the regional championship meet in cross country. Being relatively new to the meet hosting scene, it was impossible for Adams not to infringe on some other meet in the area.
"Three years ago, I actually tried my best to avoid them [Woodward, Viking, Bullis]," said Adams. "They were, believe it or not, a week prior to my meet and the week after my meet. So the first year, it was just me on that weekend. Then in year two, I bumped up against Woodward and this year we're all on the same weekend which is...a great day. It's a great day for track. It's 80-something degrees. We all got good turnouts this year."
Adams was right about that. The Watkins Mill parking lot and stands were packed. The Jim Vollmer Invitational had a good draw of teams from north of Rockville and Prince Georges County, which did not necessarily rob the target team pool for the Bethesda meets.
"This year we've grown a little bit more," said Adams. "Year one: fifteen teams. Year two: we had twenty-two. This year we came out with 33 teams...This year we got a lot more PG schools. That's where I'm from. I ran down there with a lot of the coaches that came up and they wanted to come up and support."
Bullis Invitational Blows Up
"Woodward," "Vollmer," and "Viking" are meaningful words for those of us ingrained in the Montgomery County track community, but there is no denying that the Bullis School was the center of the high school track universe, or "twitterverse," for the weekend.
The Bullis Invitational has seen exponential growth since the nicknamed "Bullis Ice Bowl" in 2015, which saw just a handful of teams competing in frigid weather. The second year jumped to about thirty teams, then seventy, then about one hundred teams in 2018. The explosion in growth is in part due to backing by the National Scholastic Athletic Foundation.
Said Bullis head coach and meet director Joe Lee, "The NSAF - those are the ones that put on New Balance Nationals - what they do is they'll choose a few meets around the country to get behind, to promote, to support, to send athletes to. So they chose us last year, and they saw some growth potential in us so they backed it."
"To be a select meet I think there are only four or five in the country. That's pretty cool to have one right here in Montgomery County, and so we're proud to partner with them and it's something that I think draws even more people out to the DMV, which as we know has great track and field."
The meet was very long by design. The Bullis staff tried to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for athletes and fans. Parking was more than manageable, food options were eclectic, and the atmosphere was electric at times with live action on a jumbotron screen and a PA announcer who kept everyone informed.
"I think people are looking for a quality meet that really caters to the needs of the athletes, the coaches and the fans" said Lee. "...What we try to do is keep the meet fun. That's why we have the music. We allow the kids on the infield. We do some of the fun things like the throwers relay. We just try to really make it an enjoyable event because if you're going to be out here for twelve hours, you might as well have a good time."