Ron Agostini

Sacramento won't let Relays' legacy fade away

Switching off a machine, in this case the California Invitational Relays in Modesto, doesn't happen with a meeting and a headline.

The process becomes more difficult when the event isn't canceled. The Relays and sponsor Save Mart Supermarkets have transplanted the meet to Sacramento next May, so the unfinished business is confined to the town the Relays leaves behind.

Modesto, the steward of "The Biggest Little Track Meet in the World" for 67 years, still must complete a few duties. It's sobering work for a city that lost its signature sports event, but the bow must be placed on what was a tradition-steeped package.

Notice how I've avoided one of the most overused terms of today's culture -- "closure." All right, at least I tried.

Regardless, I'm delighted to report the Relays will not drop the ball on the permanent tribute to the late Tom Moore, the meet director from 1945 to his death on the eve of the 2002 meet.

Moore, one of track and field's most loyal friends, was the lifeblood of the Relays. A former world-record holder in what used to be called the "high hurdles," Moore chased down the funds, contacted the athletes, handwrote the press releases, started the races with his Smith & Wesson and, when it was over, threw a great party.

In the late 1990s, the Relays subsisted without a sponsor. Moore, his successor Gregg Miller and the Friends Of The Relays literally went door to door to keep alive their meet. The budget melted to barely $30,000, yet the Relays somehow continued until Coca-Cola and Save Mart rode to the rescue.

But it was Moore, the man the superstars couldn't reject, who refused to let the Relays die. It is his spirit that must be remembered by future generations.

Modesto Junior College, in tandem with Relays officials, agrees.

Last spring, MJC President Richard Rose and school track coaches -- working with Relays officials -- OK'd a tribute to Moore at the stadium. The concern this week was that the project would drift into oblivion, a forgotten matter for a departed show.

Not so.

"It will happen, and it will be paid for by the Relays," Miller said. "We are not going to forget our commitment to Tom and, really, for all the people over the years who gave so much of their time and effort to this great meet."

Miller has planned to dedicate a rock-mounted plaque featuring the impression of Moore. It probably will be located near the stadium's main spectator entrance, though that issue hasn't yet been settled.

We always hoped a statue of Moore, his starter's gun held high, would be the final honor. That said, we're not particular. As long as it's appropriate and it gets done, we won't quibble.

Here's another way to remember Moore and the Relays: Support its reincarnation in Sacramento.

Miller says local high school athletes will be invited, not unlike recent years at MJC. There will be youth races, along with youth volunteers.

"If they want to help or run, the door is open. We want them with us," Miller said.

Another change: Miller, Bill Moorad, Lynn French and Relays assistants also will financially manage the meet for the first time in more than a decade.

"It's a little scary, but we're going to take the risk," Miller said. "It won't be nearly as satisfying as being in Modesto, but the meet will still be breathing. I don't give up easily."

It was announced last week that the Sacramento Sports Commission chose the Relays over the Visa Championship Series meet held last May in Carson. That's true but there could be new developments. In the end, the Relays and the Visa event might be merged to become a larger new meet in Sacramento.

Miller also said the barbecue competition-food carnival, a companion event to the Relays in recent years, will continue near Cal State Sacramento's Hornet Stadium. But this time, it will be funded separately from the track meet.

Sadly, the meet goes on without Modesto. Its legacy endures, however, as will Moore's.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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