The initial gun of the Cherry Blossom Invitational fired, and runners dressed in sweatshirts and raincoats flew off their marks. They jogged while they laughed over fumbled batons, and the participants confused any observer who had missed the loud-speaker announcement.
The event: the alumni 4x400 meter relay, which inaugurated the beginning of track and field’s senior day.
“It’s great for the alumni,” Ohio coach Sarah Pease said. “(They) are super supportive. We’ve got people here from the 1960s this weekend.”
The meet is also Ohio’s only home meet of the season. It functions as a way to bring alumni back to campus as well as to honor its future alumni who will run their final home meet.
“This is the first event we’ve hosted,” Pease said. “It’s nice to have the alumni back. It’s really exciting that they’re in town (and) came to watch the game.”
Each Ohio graduating senior was honored Saturday with a short biographical announcement that played as their family or friends escorted them in their walk down Goldsberry Track.
What ensued was a seven-hour affair with over 30 total action-packed events. The relatively small meet only hosted nine teams, but each event yielded full support for the Bobcats from the stands.
Though a variety of student and parental observers in the bleachers filed in and out throughout the day, the Athens meet maintained a consistent crowd in support of the Bobcats. Despite the high energy felt from the stands, it was not enough to stop other Ohio runners from screaming in motivation for their teammates throughout the afternoon.
Pease said the support as a result of senior day and the comfort that comes with competing at home really benefitted the team, as it is not a recurring opportunity or a thing the team takes for granted.
“We’re on the road a lot,” Pease said. “It's nice to be home, get a little extra rest (and) just drive to the track instead of traveling.”
Pease continued and said the lone home meet serves more than just senior and alumni runners. Unlike some away invitationals, all members of the Ohio Track and Field team have the opportunity to compete in at least one event, as transportation and scheduling are non-issues.
Ultimately, Pease said she was happy the team had the chance to compete where they feel most at home. She said the change of pace was truly beneficial for them across all events.
“Sometimes track meets are kind of empty,” Pease said. “For them to be able to compete at home and have friends, family and alumni watch us do our thing, it was pretty cool.”