Ira Dunsworth made his Drake Relays debut in 1950 as a 15-year-old sophomore at what was then Davenport High. 

The combination of a cinder track and about 3 to 4 inches of snow resulted in sloppy conditions for Dunsworth and his teammates in the two-mile relay. 

"It was a quagmire by the time we ran in the afternoon," Dunsworth said. "I never ate so many cinders in my life."

During the past seven decades, the Quad-City Sports Hall of Famer has seen every condition imaginable at America's Athletic Classic — cold, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine.

Regardless, the 84-year-old Dunsworth keeps coming back. 

This weekend marks his 70th consecutive year at the Drake Relays. 

He ran at the state's premier track and field meet three years in high school for Davenport High and in college for the University of Iowa. He was a spectator his first year at Iowa because true freshmen weren't eligible for competition.

As a coach, he took Davenport Central's program there for more than three decades. He was on the Drake Relays high school jury of appeals for 26 years. And since 2004, he has served as the high school boys meet referee. 

"It has been unreal to be a part of this for that long," Dunsworth said. "It has been a nice ride and a lot of fun. You feel privileged to be able to do it.

"It has been a great situation because I get to see all the kids, specifically the local kids, and get to come over and congratulate them."

Dunsworth has stored away a multitude of memories.

He remembers seeing Parry O'Brien shatter his own world record in the shot put in 1954.

In a torrential downpour, he saw a 19-year-old Dave Sime hand Abilene Christian's Bobby Morrow his first loss in more than 30 100-yard dash races with a time of 9.4 seconds in 1956. Morrow won three Olympic gold medals later that year.

He witnessed brothers Curtis and Marvin Mills leading Texas A&M to a world record in the 880 relay out of Lane 8 in 1970. 

He recalls watching nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis run here in the snow ... and win. 

"There have been so many great athletes and teams come through here," he said, "and it just continues to get bigger and bigger.

"They started bringing in the elite athletes and the high schools started adding more events. It really has taken off."

Sponsorship has ballooned. The stadium has undergone a major facelift. The old cinder track has gave way to a Mondo Super X surface, the same used in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. 

There are 34 events in the high school division (17 each for boys and girls). When Dunsworth came here in 1950, there were 12 events — none for girls.

Dunsworth didn't medal in his first year as a competitor at Drake, but he anchored the mile and two-mile relays to second-place finishes as a junior. Then in 1952, he anchored Davenport to victory in both of those relays.

"That was a big thrill to win here my senior year," he said.

Dunsworth was on Iowa's victorious distance medley relay in 1956.

As a coach at Davenport Central, his athletes captured 35 Drake Relays titles and 20 runner-up finishes. The Blue Devils won the 400 relay at Drake four straight years, 1981-84. 

Dunsworth remains a fixture in track and field across the Q-C. Central has hosted an invitational for the past 23 years in his name. 

"In my mind, he's an absolute legend," Central activities director Brian Ehlinger said, "but his personality isn't like that at all. When he comes to a track meet, he's just one of the people there. He treats everybody exactly the same.

"You wouldn't know how many state championships he's won being around him because he's humble beyond belief."

Dunsworth served more as an assistant starter at meets in Davenport last year. He's been in the press box as a spectator this spring.

"When he was regularly starting meets, he was still coaching kids like he always did," Ehlinger said. "It didn't matter the school. If he saw something, he'd pull a kid aside and start coaching him. He knows the sport inside and out."

Because of that, Dunsworth has formed a connection with many of the top-tier runners in the metro. When those participants make it to Drake, they've had a familiar face to greet them on the starting line.

"I'd always tell the local ones, 'Do good now. Remember to represent eastern Iowa well,'" he said. "You just try to relax them a little bit. It is definitely a fun situation."

How long will Dunsworth's iron man streak last at Drake? His health will determine that, he said. 

"It all depends on how I feel and what the weather is like," he said. "Even if I'm not working, I can go as a spectator."

Rain is in the forecast for Thursday and Saturday. Still, it won't match what he encountered as a teenager in his first trip here.

"The only thing not to like about the Drake Relays is the miserable weather," he said. "There have been more nice days than bad days, but you definitely remember the bad ones."


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.