The California Relays

The year after the United States entered World War II, the Modesto Junior Chamber of Commerce, with the assistance of Modesto High School and Modesto Junior College, launched the first of what would be 67 years of premier track and field competitions. Modesto historian, Colleen Bare, writes of the launch of the relays in "Modesto Then and Now" as follows:

"Life wasn't all war and work during this period . . .The first annual Northern California Relays was held at the Modesto Junior College Stadium on May 23, 1942. Attended by more than 3,000 spectators, it was the forerunner of what became the Modesto Relays. That day, Cornelius "Dutch" Warmerdam broke the world's pole fault record at 15 feet 7-3/4 inches, a recod that stood for 15 years. The event made sports history for small-town Modesto and was followed by 31 more world records attained at successive Modesto Relays over the next 55 years."

The Relays were often a run-up to the Olympics, and many of the program covers, as shown in the slides at right, reflected those years with mention of the upcoming event. Over the years, from a high of 10,000 in attendance, the number of people enjoying the event at the junior college stadium dwindled to a low of 700 in the late 1990s. Save Mart Supermarkets became sponsors for a period and their marketing of the Relays helped boost attendance. The California Relays were also aired on ABC's fledgling cable sports network, ESPN, in its earliest years.

S&W Foods was tapped as a sponsor of the Relays at one point, but nothing could stop the inevitable decline. Eventually, the Relays were moved to Sacramento from Modesto. The current home of the California Relays is Cerritos College in Norwalk.

Tom Moore

The meet director for most of the time the relays existed in Modesto was National Track and Field Hall of Fame member Tom Moore, a former elite hurdler from the University of California. As an athlete, Moore had tied the world record in the 120 yard high hurdles in 1935. Moore's name would become synonymous with the Modesto Relays. Moore served as the starter for the first meet for all but one race . . . the high hurdles, which he won. He had his running shorts on under his uniform and hastily changed to run. But Moore did almost everything else to make the meet what it became, from adjusting the lights toward the track (rather than just the football field) to obtaining sponsorship from S&W Foods that brought notoriety to the otherwise sleepy Central Valley town. When S&W dropped its sponsorship, Moore found a new sponsor in Coca-Cola. - From Wikipedia

"Two years after his death at 88 [in 2004], organizers of the Modesto Relays have done the right thing and named the venerable meet after the man synonymous with the town and the event.

It's now the Tom Moore Modesto Relays in honor of the driving force behind the annual meet at Modesto Junior College, now in its 63rd year. Moore, who usually served as starter for races as well as meet director, would nod approvingly at the athletes gathered for Saturday's competition . . .

As a former holder of the 120-yard high hurdles world record as a Cal undergrad in 1935, Moore always saw to it that his high hurdles fields were loaded." - San Francisco Chronicle

Next: Landmarks/The Modesto Arch

Previous: 20th Century/Sports/Baseball/Del Webb Field