Zeke Francis was known for his bushy white beard, and it inspired the logo for the event named in his honor. [Facebook image]

Girls and boys ages 5 to 14 are invited to the third annual Zeke Francis Youth Invitational Track Meet, which is back after a year off during the pandemic. The event is named after the late Grand County community member, Zeke Francis.

Zeke graduated from Grand County High School in 1965. As a student he played football and baseball, and he also wrestled. Later he returned to the school as an assistant football coach and a certified track official; his wife, Maralee Francis, taught, and still teaches, drama at GCHS, and their eight children all attended the school.

Zeke passed away in 2008. His youngest child, Jacob Francis, organizes the youth meet in honor of his dad, with the goal of promoting the sport of track among kids younger than high-school age and supporting the GCHS track program. The meet is free this year; all donations and proceeds will go toward the GCHS track team.

“Their budget isn’t very big, and there’s not usually very many sponsors for track,” Jacob said of the track program. In the past, he said the Zeke Francis event has helped fund the purchase of items like new starting blocks, foam rollers, and stopwatches for the track team, as well as a hydrocollator unit, which is a device for heating up hot packs for warming up athletes’ muscles. Other equipment the track program might need includes high jump pads, which must be certified and can cost thousands of dollars, and cameras and timing systems for judging competitions. For some high school state competitions, students can’t qualify unless they’ve been judged using a timing system with a camera, Jacob said. He knows a lot about the sport: he’s currently on a Division I track team at Southern Utah University.

“We all did sports,” Jacob said of himself and his siblings growing up. “We also all did track.”

Jacob is pursuing a degree in education at SUU. His wife will be the cross country coach at Grand County High School this year, and he plans to complete his student teaching requirements at Grand County High. He said if there’s a job opening and they can find housing, he and his wife would like to move back to Moab. He would be glad to foster more opportunities for young kids to participate and get interested in running and in track.

“I didn’t have the opportunities in Moab when I was little to run track,” he said. In northern Utah, where his wife is from, Jacob said there are youth track programs; in Cedar City, he has helped to coach summer running and track programs for kids as young as 6.

“I would love to get the running community in Moab a little bit bigger and better,” Jacob said.

Events at this year’s Zeke Francis Meet include a 50 meter run with, and another without, hurdles, for kids ages 5 to 8. For kids ages 5 to 14, there are runs at 100, 200, 400, and 800 meters. A 1600 meter run will be open to kids ages 9 to 14. Kids ages 5 to 10 are invited to join the standing long jump competition, and kids from 11 to 14 can compete in the long jump. A softball toss competition will be open to kids ages 5 to 14.

“At the end of the meet we always try to do an adult race,” Jacob added. In past years, several of his siblings, who all currently live outside of Grand County, have attended the meet and joined in the race. This year, only one of Jacob’s brothers is able to make it, but the adult race is open to any adults in attendance.

“Just something fun for the parents at the end of the meet,” said Jacob.

Winners of the kids’ events will receive medals, and all participants will receive ribbons. There will be a small concession stand, and one of the over 20 local sponsors will provide lemonade. All the sponsors are listed on event tee shirts which will also be on sale at the meet, featuring the meet logo: a silhouette of a bushy beard and mustache.

“He had a beard until the day he died,” Jacob said of his father, adding that he and his mother had never seen Zeke without it. “He was known for his bushy white beard; we wanted to do [the event] in his honor, so we thought it would be a fun logo.”

Event Information

What: Zeke Francis Youth Invitational Track Meet

Where: Grand County High School, 608 South, 400 E

When: Saturday, July 31 at 8 a.m.

This event is free. Register at https://jabobf13.wixsite.com/track.

For more information, visit the Zeke Francis Youth Invitational Facebook page or email Jacob Francis at jabobf13@gmail.com.