Dr. Leroy Walker, the first African American president of the United States Olympic Committee and first Black man to coach the Olympic track team, died Monday, April 23 in Durham, N.C. Walker, 93, was a real pioneer in track and field and attended a number of Penn Relays. He was the legendary track coach at North Carolina Central University. He was also the chancellor at NCCU.
Dave Johnson, director of the Penn Relays, remembers Walker as a person who was recognized not only as a great coach in track and field, but also in education. Walker was a special person.
“He was a real gentleman of the sport,” Johnson said. “Obviously, after being a track coach, he was so respected he became the chancellor at North Carolina Central. I don’t know many coaches who would be afforded not just that honor, but respected so much that they become a chancellor of a university. It just shows the level to which he was regarded.
“He became our college referee back in 1967. He was either college or the carnival referee from 1967 through this year. So, that’s an enormous loss. He had a position of authority at the Relays for the better part of 45 years, which is an amazing long run.”
Walker had an impressive coaching career at North Carolina Central. He started coaching at North Carolina Central College for Negroes in 1945. He sent athletes to the Olympics from 1956 to 1980. He brought the Eagles regularly to the Penn Relays. NCCU put on quite a show at Franklin Field. In 1972, he had a tremendous sprint medley team, which featured Jeff Horsley, Julius Sang, Larry Black and Robert Ouko. The Eagles also had a great 880 relay team that included Horsley, Black, Sang and Mel Bassett. Lee Calhoun was one of his best athletes. Calhoun won consecutive gold medals in the 110 hurdles in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.
Walker had two relay teams and four athletes, Norm Tate, Edwin Roberts, Black and Calhoun who were inducted into the Penn Relays Wall of Fame. He coached eight Olympians, 30 national champions and 80 All-Americans. He provided his expertise as a coach and consultant for several foreign Olympic teams from 1960 through 1972. In 1976, his trailblazing efforts led him to become the first Black U.S. Olympic head track and field coach.
Walker held several key positions in track and field. He was the chairman of the AAU men’s track and field committee from 1973-76. He was the coordinator of coaching assignments for the AAU and TAC from 1973-80. He was named TAC president from 1984-88 and was chosen as the senior vice president for sport of the Atlanta Committee for Olympic Games. He was also the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1992-96.
Herb Douglas, 90, the oldest African American Olympic medalist, really admired Walker’s accomplishments. Douglas, who grew up in Pittsburgh, but now resides in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia, was an honorary Penn Relays official in 2007. In 1942, he ran on Xavier (La.) University’s 4x100-meter relay team, which won the Championship of America. It was the first time a Black college won a major event at the Penn Relays. Douglas finished his college career at the University of Pittsburgh. He won the bronze medal in the long jump in the 1948 London Olympics. Douglas, like Walker, is one of real groundbreakers in track and field.
“Well, needless to say I thought Dr. Walker was one of the real innovators of track and field,” Douglas said. “He coached at North Carolina Central. They were one of the best colleges to ever participate in the Penn Relays. He was the coach and later the chancellor (1983-86) of an African American school. He exhibited what an African American schools and universities could produce. He produced the best track and field guys in the country.
“There are very few coaches in Division I schools who have eight Olympians to win gold medals. I know he was one of the best and very much a leader not only on the field, but off the field as well. Academically, he was prepared. He guided his guys to be academically prepared when they left North Carolina Central.
“He was the one who helped me start the Jesse Owens Awards. He never left my side for 20 odd years. He was always there on the board and assisted me.”
In addition to being a great track coach and educator, he was a good athlete at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Like NCCU, Benedict College is one of the oldest Black colleges in the country. Walker lettered in football, basketball and track and field as a collegiate standout.
Walker was a member of 17 Hall of Fames, including NCCU’s Alex Rivera Hall of Fame. The Leroy T. Walker Physical Education and Recreation Complex on the campus of NCCU is named in his honor.
Jamaica has a rich history of producing some of the world’s best track and field athletes from world record holder Usain Bolt to the respected five-time Olympian Don Quarrie. With the upcoming 117th running of the Penn Relays, avid Jamaican track and field supporters will make their presence felt once again at the annual carnival.
Since 1995, Team Jamaica Bickle (TJB) has been providing support for Caribbean athletes, particularly Jamaicans that compete at the Penn Relays.
The organization’s services extend to 650 Jamaican students and coaches and a delegation of 100 from Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent & The Grenadines. Representatives from Grenada will join this year’s group of beneficiaries.
“It’s not just about preparing these children for a track meet or a race, it is about preparing them for life,” said Irwine G. Clare Sr., founder of TJB. “Our mission is “to prepare our youth for greater service on the global stage.”
In 1999, TJB became the first Jamaican organization to be a participating sponsor at the Penn Relays, resulting in the Jamaican flag becoming the first foreign flag to be flown at the Penn Relays.
This year has great significance as Jamaica celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain.
Assisting TJB to further its mission is the recent election of Jamaica’s Consul General, Geneive Brown Metzger, to the Penn Relays Board of Friends.
"The Consul General has broadened our vision as to what is possible between the Penn Relays, Jamaica, and the Caribbean community, including how we could collaborate to our mutual interest," stated C.K. Buddington, chairman of the Penn Relays.
With a major presence on the field, Jamaica has well represented off the field as well. The TJB Village is the hub for all TJB activities at the Penn Relays.
Athletes, coaches and volunteers gather each morning for meals by the village while sponsors, media, friends and well-wishers converge to start the day.
In addition, TJB offers a hospitality room at an area hotel, stocked with Jamaican favorite foods including ackee and saltfish, callaloo, jerk chicken, fish, curry goat, and hardough bread to name a few.
“I have always loved track and field since I was younger and actually had an opportunity to be in the relays while at Hamilton Middle School,” said Yeadon resident Carlene Bowen.
As Co-Chair of TJB Philadelphia alongside James Cordice, Bowen “started volunteering (with TJB) at the tent for 2-3 days, serving the food and whatever was asked of me.”
She joined the organization four years ago, managing its community forum.
On Friday, April 13, TJB will host the 18th Annual Fundraising Reception and Award Ceremony at PECO Energy located at 2301 Market St.
Jamaican Olympians Grace Jackson and Bertland Cameron will attend to honor Trinidad & Tobago Olympian Edwin Roberts and international track coach Derek Thompson.
For tickets to the reception and more information on TJB, visit www.teamjamaicabickle.com.
Despite having written this column for more than ten years, it is still very difficult to approach the last weekend of April without my thoughts turning to the Penn Relays Carnival. You cannot be from my era without having fond memories of time spent at Franklin Field to watch this spectacular track and field event. It was special when I was in high school and it remains very special today.
Each year that I have written about the Penn Relays, I find myself repeating many of those activities indigenous to the event, including. the section in which I have sat for many years; even the same seat. This section, the “horseshoe curve,” is that end of Franklin Field leading into the finish line for Relays events. It is famous in the world of Penn Relays afficionados. Many of us called this area, “Riggy’s Corner” in recognition of the many runners who tightened up or acquired rigor mortis, a term given to such runners by spectators. Today’s all-weather track is in stark contrast to the cinder track it replaced. Back then, I rose to my feet and watched like everyone in the stadium when Morgan State University runners took the track, particularly in what was then known as the mile relay.
The Penn Relays were more than just running and jumping. Those who were around in the ’50s and ’60s will always associate the Penn Relays Carnival with engaging in “a party over here and a party over there;” to Relays participants, “big fun” was endemic to this weekend, back in the day.
I am in no way suggesting that Penn Relays participants do not engage in parties today. I hear people telling others where they will be hanging out after the Relays, but little talk about parties the evening before. I am out of the loop and do not know where they go or their activities. Most of what I hear involves partying at downtown or neighborhood clubs. Furthermore, the dysfunctional and violent behavior displayed by too many of our youths and adults, as well as stricter rules with regard to consuming alcoholic beverages, has altered the world of today’s partygoer. Penn Relays partying for my generation was quite different, mainly because it took place in the environment that I call back in the day.
The partying spirit began on the Friday afternoon of Penn Relays weekend, when people traveled to Philadelphia using any means necessary. Quite often, the main mode of travel would be to flash the thumb and hitchhike. Not everyone was fortunate enough to hook up with a friend to have a roof over his or her head. I can recall cases where one person rented a hotel room and ten or more people would sleep there. One of the most popular low-end hotels where people stayed on this weekend was the Essex, at 13th and Filbert streets. With so many young people together, impromptu parties were not uncommon. I recall friends who came to Philadelphia for the Penn Relays but never attended the events, as they spent most, if not all of their time at the Essex Hotel partying. I even recall circumstances where people had to sleep in their automobiles; still they found ways to party. They did not seem to mind, as the time spent at the Relays and the time spent dancing the night away did not leave much time to sleep.
To my knowledge, there was little or no drug use back then; if there was drug usage, it was done very discretely. Fighting and unruly behavior were minimal. No, there was not total innocence, as Thunderbird wine was the drink, not necessarily of choice but what was consistent with one’s finances. If you did make it to a party on the Friday before the Relays, it was either a house party or a cabaret, but usually Friday night was for cabarets. The Imperial Ballroom at 60th and Walnut streets was one of the major places to party. Times Auditorium at Broad and Spruce was another popular place to party before the major Saturday Relays events. A University of Pennsylvania-sponsored dance on campus, also on Friday evening, was attended by many Black Relays partygoers. We attended these affairs all dressed up and danced to the favorite dances of the times; such as the stroll, cha-cha, mambo, slop, bop, strand, twist and the famous “slow drag.” These cabarets or dances were generally wild affairs on these Friday evenings before the biggest day of the Relays. Partygoers who awakened with headaches often did not show up until early afternoon. Whether you arrived at Franklin Field early on Saturday or later in the day, the signs were evident that a party was “in the air” for that evening. Serious partying was associated with and characteristic of the Penn Relays, back in the day.
Today, most people attend the Penn Relays to watch the track and field events. This was true in the past, but a large number attended as an extension or the beginning of partying. Just think back to your heydays at the Penn Relays and I am certain you will recall the large numbers who attended to simply “profile,” watch and flirt with young ladies and make contacts for an unforgettable evening. If you think the young ladies were out in force during yesterday’s Relays, nothing compared with those at the Penn Relays back in the day. Back then, young ladies purchased special outfits just for the Relays. Some purchased these instead of an Easter outfit. They wanted to present themselves in a way that separated them from the crowd. Not only were they appealing, but they had the class that most mature males from the past desired in young ladies; something that has disappeared from our current generation.
Most of my friends who have regularly attended the Penn Relays over the years have long abandoned the walks under the grandstands observing the sights. Age has a way of changing one’s view of life. So, most of them do as I have done for many decades; they sit in their reserved seats of the past, and pay attention to the track and field events. Preparation for going out on the town later that day has become a figment of their imaginations; even their imaginations have lost the creativity associated with fun they used to experience, back in the day.
If you recall, the fun and spirit of the Penn Relays became more intense as the sun began to set on a long day of events. As someone who attends the Relays each year, it has been many years since I witnessed the rivalry between the fraternities, and in some years the sororities, as they sang their favorite songs. Clearly, it was impossible for partying not to have been in the air. Many of us left the relays “ginned up” from this singing, while carrying this partying spirit home. We showered; got dressed up; went out to house parties; and did not return home until late on Sunday morning. Even though such parties were by invitation, word got out and seemingly everyone attended these “mystery parties.” There were so many parties you never stayed at one for more than a few minutes. While there were dances this Penn Relays weekend, I believe they paled in comparison to the dances and house parties many of us experienced. Partying is a “mind” thing now, but was true reality, back in the day.
Like many of you, I mainly see old friends at funerals. Thankfully, there remain groups from the past, mostly in their twilight years, who maintain relationships by coming together on Penn Relays weekend to continue glimpses of partying from the past. I have joined some of these groups of old friends at someone’s home, always with track and field enthusiasts and primarily males, to engage in modified versions of old-school partying. There is no dancing, just eating and telling stories about the Relays of the past; stories of the things associated with the Penn Relays that will be with us forever; reflecting on how we partied and partied, before, during and after the Penn Relays, back in the day.
It didn’t take Sam Ellison very long to establish himself as a terrific distance runner for Villanova’s track and field team. In fact, Ellison was quite impressive running the third leg (800 meters) of the distance medley to help the Wildcats capture the Championship of America crown at the Penn Relays last year.
That was a big day for Ellison, who was just a freshman. He’s looking forward to competing at Franklin Field this week. Ellison should be one of the top local attractions.
“I think the Penn Relays is one of those Philly traditions,” Ellison said. “It offers a kind of atmosphere that you can’t find anywhere else. A lot of people come out and watch. The stadium is always packed.
“When you’re out there competing, it’s kind of surreal, especially for us Villanova athletes because we have our own cheering section. We still have the records for the most Penn Relays titles. It’s a pride thing and the longer you’re here the more you realize how important it is. It’s real exciting.”
Marcus O’Sullivan, Villanova track and field head coach, has watched his sophomore distance runner develop over the last year. O’Sullivan feels Ellison has just scratched the surface in terms of his ability.
“Sam is a tremendous individual,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s top notch. He’s first class. I love having him on the team. He’s making tremendous progress. He split a 46 at William & Mary on our 4x400 (meter relay) the week before in Miami.”
Ellison recently won the 800 meters at the Hurricane Alumni Invitational at Cobb Stadium in Miami. The former Upper Dublin High standout had a personal best time of 1:49.04 in the 800 meters. This was the second time he improved his time in the event. Ellison had previously clocked a time of 1:49.35 at Penn State.
“I’ve been kind of focusing on that event this year,” Ellison said. “I’ve tweaked my training a little bit to be sure I was strong enough for the event. It’s really starting to pan out. I’m looking to get down around 1:47. I’m capable of doing that right now. I just have to run the right race.”
Ellison plans to participate in the distance medley again at the Penn Relays. He could also run on the 4x800 meter relay team.
Ellison had a great scholastic career in track and field. In 2009, he guided Upper Dublin High to a third place finish at the state championships in the indoor and outdoor meets. In 2010, Ellison was selected as the Suburban One American Conference Athlete of the Year.
Ellison is interested in having a career in journalism. He has written several sports articles for the school newspaper. He lives in Dresher and attends the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas near 63rd and Lancaster Avenue where his mother (Patricia), father (Roy) and sister (Simone) are members. They will be following his exploits at the Penn Relays.
“My mom and dad will be coming to the Penn Relays,” Ellison said. “I don’t think Simone will be able to make it. She goes to Howard (University). She’ll be able to watch it online. I really appreciate all the support.”
Michael Turner didn’t start throwing the shot put until four years ago. However, it didn’t take Tuner very long to emerge as one of the best shot putters in the Public League as well as the state.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Engineering and Science senior placed second in the Public League championship and captured first place in the district meet. During the winter, Turner did quite well throwing 52’11.50 in the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association state championship meet.
“As of right now, 52.11 is my best distance,” Turner said. “I did that at the state championship meet at Penn State. I placed seventh.
“It wasn’t until my junior year that I realized how well I was doing. As a freshman and sophomore, I had just average marks. It wasn’t anything phenomenal. This really helped me. I’m looking forward to all the spring meets right now.”
Turner has worked extremely hard during the indoor in preparation for the spring. He had been throwing the shot put in the high 40s. His distance has continued to improve in recent weeks. He has a chance to participate in the Penn Relays next month.
“I’m ecstatic,” Turner said. “I’ve been doing my own research. I have to throw it 54 feet to qualify for the Penn Relays. I want to do it in the next couple weeks. I’ve been practicing as hard as I can. I’ve been trying to do as much as I can so that I can hit the qualifying mark.”
Ray Womack, Engineering and Science head coach, has been very impressed with Turner’s skills. Womack has noticed how much Turner has accomplished in a short period of time.
“This was his first year that I was able to get him with the track team all year long,” Womack said. “This was his first year doing indoor track. Right now, you can see the improvement. He did well last year, too. He came in second in the Public League championship and won the districts. He works on his game. He helps everybody else. He’s a good athlete and a good student.”
Turner has been doing very well on and off the field, his main interest residing in the classroom.
“I’ve been focusing on academics,” Turner said. “I’m looking at Indiana University (of Pennsylvania). I’ll be studying pre-engineering. I’ve been focusing on honor courses since my sophomore year like physics, chemistry, high level math and engineering. My hope is to go into bio-engineering, but I may go into mechanical engineering.”
Throwing the shot put and working on his studies has Turner moving in the right direction.
Charles Knight remembers how exciting it was as a senior at Germantown High School running in the Penn Relays. Knight will never forget running in front of those huge crowds at Franklin Field. It was certainly a highlight of his scholastic career.
“Our coach Bill McMahon would only let the seniors run,” said Knight, who now goes by Charles Knight El. “The only thing I could do was wait until my senior year. I was just hoping he would let me run that year. I know it was a big time thing. It was a chance to run for the school. We had a good (mile relay) team. We had some good sprinters — Kerry Streets, Mike Dupree and Eddie Lowe.”
The Bears certainly did have some outstanding sprinters. In 1971, they won the Public League mile relay championship at the Penn Relays. Germantown had a winning time of 3:24.5. In preparation for the country’s major track and field carnival, the Bears participated in other meets.
“It was exciting running at the Penn Relays with all those people down there,” Knight said. “It was a good experience. But you know we also ran in the Martin Luther King Games before the Penn Relays. That was big meet at that time. The other thing, I ran for the Philadelphia Hawks in the summer time. So, I was well prepared for the competition.”
High school track and field was really special during the ‘70s in the Public League. The league had a number of great teams such as Bartram and Overbrook. Knight was the Bears’ most versatile performer. Germantown defeated Bartram, 34-31 to win the Public League track and field championship his senior year. Knight was a big reason why the Bears won the league title. In the championship meet, he won the 120 high hurdles and 440-yard dash.
“I had to run against Wayne Matthews from Bartram in the quarter,” Knight said. “I think we were one point ahead. Mr. McMahon put me in the 440. That was really something for me. I ran the 120 high hurdles. It was a close meet. Wayne Matthews was a great runner. I was able to win the quarter. I think that helped us a lot. But I think Kerry Streets winning the 100-yard dash was really big for us.”
Knight graduated from Germantown High in 1971. After that, he spent 24 years in the Navy. He’s a retired Navy chief. He’s married and lives in Suffolk, Va. On December 3, 2011, his brother, Steffen Knight organized a special night for him at the Platinum Grille in Chestnut Hill. He also started the Charles Knight (EL) Track Scholarship.
“I had a great time that day,” Knight said. “I came in there and saw Mr. McMahon and all those people. I had a lot of family and friends there. They started a scholarship fund. It’s nice to be able to help somebody go to school. We can give some money to students who need help to pay for books.”
Knight’s track and field prowess will be able to make a difference in the lives of young people from Germantown.
With less than 100 days until the Olympic Games, a record number of athletes and countries will compete at the 13th edition of USA vs. the World at the Penn Relays on Saturday, April 28. With teams around the globe eager to ready their squads for the Olympic Games, no fewer than 21 countries will be represented at the premier relays event in the world.
Team USA will battle against teams from Jamaica, Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Kenya and Morocco. This year’s relays include the men’s distance medley, women’s sprint medley, men’s 4x100 meter relay, women’s 4x100 meter relay, men’s 4x400 meter relay and women’s 4x400 meter relay.
Penn Relays veterans Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross and Carmelita Jeter will once again headline the U.S. women’s squads as the trio has its sights on London gold in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. Richards-Ross is fresh off her world indoor victory in the 400, while Felix is a two-time Olympic silver medalist and three-time world champion in the 200. Both women are still weighing a possible 200/400 double in 2012, and Felix could even drop down to the 100. The duo will also be joined by their teammates from the gold medal winning World Championships 4x400 meter relay squad, Francena McCoroy and Jessica Beard.
Jeter was named the 2011 Jesse Owens Female Athlete of the Year after winning gold at the World Championships in the 100 meters and doubling up with silver in the 200 meters. With a personal best of 10.64 in the 100 meters, Jeter is the second-fastest women in history. Three members of the 2011 World Outdoor champion 4x100 meter relay also will be in the pool for Philadelphia with Jeter, Felix and Bianca Knight.
Middle distance training partners Phoebe Wright and Erica Moore are great assets for the sprint medley relay lineup. Wright was a six-time Penn Relays champion during her career at the University of Tennessee, and Moore won her first international medal with a bronze at the World Indoor Championships.
The women of Team USA will face stiff competition from the best of the world. Three of the four women from Jamaica’s silver 4x100 meter relay team, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson, are also set to compete, and Shericka Williams and Novlene Williams-Mills both ran on Jamaica’s second place World Outdoor 4x400 meter relay team. Pryce enters 2012 as the defending Olympic champion in the 100. Jamaica will once again be bringing their 800 meter heavy hitter Kenia Sinclair, who split 1:57.06 for 800 meters in last year’s sprint medley relay.
While the USA vs. Jamaica rivalry is a crowd favorite, the U.S. women will also have to watch out for Great Britain. All four of the members from the winning World Indoor 4x400 meter relay team are scheduled to compete, including former American Shana Cox, now running under the Union Jack.
On the men’s sprint side, Team USA is lead by veterans Walter Dix, Angelo Taylor, Justin Gatlin and Lashawn Merritt. Dix is the current world silver medalist in both the 100 and 200 meters and has already run a windy time of 9.85 in the 100 meters this year. Brining more 100 meter talent to the team is Gatlin, who in 2003 and 2012 World Indoor 60 meters champion. Olympic champion Lashawn Merritt ran to silver in Daegu in the 400 meters and also anchored the winning 4x400 meter relay team. In the 4x400, he will be joined by his world championship relay teammates Taylor and Bershawn Jackson.
Bernard Lagat will lead the men’s distance medley team with an impressive line-up assembled from a group that includes Jeshua Anderson, Khadevis Robinson, Nick Symmonds, Russell Brown and Leo Manzano. Lagat is fresh off of his third World Indoor title in the 3,000 meter and set an indoor American record in the 5,000 in February.
The biggest international star will undoubtedly be 400 meter world champion Kirani James of Grenada. James will be joined by countryman Rondell Bartholomew, who took sixth at the World Outdoor Championships. However, the two men will have to make up a lot of ground for their teammates as they were the only sprinters from Grenada to run under 46 seconds in 2011.
The Jamaicans are the defending world and Olympic champions in the 4x100 meter relay. Gold medal Nesta Carter will lead the 4x100 crew while Jermaine Gonzales and Allodin Fothergill competed on Jamaica’s third place World Outdoor 4x400 meter relay and will be on the track at Penn.
Other nations to watch include the Bahamas in the 4x100 meters as well as Kenya and defending USA vs. the World champions Morocco in the distance medley relay.
Taylor Ellis-Watson will be participating in a number of different events at the Penn Relays this week. Ellis-Watson, former Springside School (now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy) star, runs for the University of Pittsburgh’s track and field team, a school that regularly comes to the Penn Relays.
“I’m really excited to come back,” Ellis-Watson said. “Of course, I’ll have a chance to see my family. I’ve been running on the track since I was in eighth grade. I’m excited. We should do really well. I should be running the 4x400, 4x200 and 4x100. So, we’re all excited. We have some really good relays.”
Two weeks ago, Ellis-Watson helped the Panthers’ 800-meter relay to a top-10 finish at the Florida Relays. The team finished ninth with a time of 1:37.07. Ellis-Watson ran with Xauddina Whittington, Jonnique Lawrence and Cambrya Jones.
Ellis-Watson has strong indoor season to help lay a good foundation in the spring. As a freshman, she finished fifth in the 400 meter dash prelims at the NCAA championship meet.
Ellis-Watson earned All-American honors. She ran a season-best 52.75 at the Collegiate Invitational. That was the sixth best time of the indoor season. In addition, she captured a gold medal in the event at the Big East Championships.
“Indoor went really well,” Ellis-Watson said. “It was really good for me as a freshman. I made it all the way to the nationals. I think we’re going to be even better during the outdoor season. We’re excited about the regionals, nationals and Big East Championships.”
Ellis-Watson feels the Penn Relays helps them prepare for league and national competition down the road.
“It helps a lot,” she said. “Everyone always runs fast times at the Penn Relays. It gets us excited for the Big East especially because it’s going to be in Florida where it’s nice and hot. We’re hoping the Penn Relays will give us a big thrill.”
Ellis-Watson had a great high school career. She was chosen as the 2011 indoor and outdoor state track champion. She received All-American honors and took fifth place at the 2011 indoor national champions. Ellis-Watson had a great time running as a scholastic standout at the Penn Relays. Now, she’s returning as a sprinter with the University of Pittsburgh.
The Penn Relays will have some of the best high school teams from California, North Carolina, Jamaica, Zimbabwe and the Bahamas. The country’s long time track and field carnival will have a number of outstanding local high school teams and athletes competing at Franklin Field on Thursday, April 26, Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28.
Swenson has one of the best Public League track and field programs. The girls should be well represented at the Penn Relays. Swenson has a fine 4x400 meter relay team. The school has five terrific sprinters with Tichina Rhodes, Amani Nesmith, Imani Harris-Quillen, Jamila Davis and Amy Hicks.
“We have some real good kids on the relay teams,” said Dean Lent, Swenson head coach. “They’ve been running pretty well. We won the indoor state meet. It was a big jump up for all of them. They all did well during the indoor season. Hopefully, everything will carry over into the outdoor season.”
Several of these athletes also participate on Swenson’s 4x100-meter relay team. The school won the 4x100 and 4x400 meter relays at the Jack Armstrong Invitational in Abington. In the 4x100 meter relay, Swenson finished with a winning time of 48.18. In the 4x400 meter relay, they captured first place in this event with a time of 3:55.15.
Swenson has a pretty solid boys’ 4x100-meter relay team. The team includes Tyrief Melfah, Jay Hardy, Haneef Hardy and Niager Mathis. They won the 4x100-meter relay at the Jack Armstrong Invitational.
Paul Robeson has a solid 4x400-meter relay team. They have a number of great athletes such as Quadaisha Newkirk, Erin Allen, Braxton Spriggs, Mercedes Johnson and Kevia DeLorme.
Ceaira Brown, Overbrook High’s 800 meter runner, will be one of the featured scholastic runners. Brown won the 800 meters at the Jack Armstrong Invitational with a time of 2:17.16.
Jadia Steward, West Catholic’s brilliant sprinter, won first place in the 100 meters at the same meet with a time of 12.10. Steward also won the 200 meters with a time of 25.14.
Eric Futch, Penn Wood High star, is one of the top sprinters in the Philadelphia area. Futch recently won the 400 meters and 300 meter hurdles at the invitational meet. He clocked a 48.92 and a 37.15 respectively.
It should be an interesting three days of track and field at Franklin Field.
Bill Cosby had to listen to the roar.
The actor and comedian tried to explain what the Penn Relays meant to him after decades of visits when his point was made by the sound of nearly 20,000 fans cheering on the runners at Franklin Field as another race came down to the wire.
“Listen. Listen to the crowd,” Cosby said on Friday. “What you heard are the voices. If you add another 50 years, those people will remember the time they were here.”
The four Princeton men who became the first Ivy League team to win a distance medley relay since 1961 will sure remember the 2012 Penn Relays. The Oregon women who won for the first time at the sport’s oldest relay event will have that experience forever etched in their memories.
In the women’s 400 relay, Texas A&M won in 43.87 seconds. Tennessee won the women’s sprint medley relay in 3 minutes, 43.79 seconds and Penn State took the men’s sprint medley relay title in 3:18.47.
All the winners came away with a moment to savor on the second day of the 118th running of the famed track and field meet.
“I was at every one,” the 74-year-old Cosby quipped.
He saw a bit of history on his latest visit.
Oregon won the 6,000-meter relay in 17:29 for its first Penn Relays women’s championship. Lanie Thompson, Alex Kosinski, Anne Kesselring and Rebecca Friday dominated early and easily held off runner-up Georgetown.
Oregon held about an 80-meter and 15-second lead by the time Friday took the handoff for the anchor leg.
“I saw that we had a pretty big lead, but I didn’t want to take any chances,” Friday said. “I started off strong, and the goal for me today was to finish the last 200 (meters) strong. I still did that, even though we had a pretty good setup from the girls.”
Ducks coach Vin Lananna called the victory a worthy reward for the long trip east.
Kosinski was so excited she asked if she could take the press conference placard with her name on it.
Just another keepsake to go with the watch awarded to every winner.
Even Cosby owns a pair of Penn Relays watches — accessories treated like gold medals by any competitor who’s stepped foot on Franklin Field.
Cosby was on hand to fire the starter’s gun for the elementary school shuttle relay events. Bundled up in a grey Penn sweatshirt and sweatpants on a chilly, windy day, Cosby smiled and warmly shook hands with every small child — even as they were likely unaware the man wishing them luck was one of the all-time great comedians.
“I ran here in the middle of this field and I remember how excited I was and how important I felt,” Cosby said. “I still remember it and I’m 75 years old. I identify with these kids. It is an honor and a privilege to me.”
Cosby, followed around by a documentary film crew, was set to return Saturday to start the high school relay races.
Known for his stand-up act, social activism and the hit TV series “The Cosby Show,” Cosby is a Philadelphia native who played football at Temple.
His deep city roots are one reason why he returns almost every year.
“It’s clean. There’s no violence,” he said. “Well, there is violence, the starter’s gun. And the boys and girls elbow each other and knock each other off. I’ve seen some pretty rough moments. But there’s no violence.”
Always stressing education, Cosby would have been pleased to see Princeton win the men’s DMR in 9:42.5. Indiana was second and Binghamton third.
“This is truly one for the history books,” Princeton coach Steve Dolan said.
Joe Stilin, Tom Hopkins, Michael Williams and anchor Donn Cabral led the Tigers to their second Penn Relays championship in two years after taking the mile relay last year. No Ivy League school had won the DMR since Yale in 1961.
“I figured if I could stay comfortable and keep a last gear or two for the last 200 meters, then I’d have as good a chance as anyone,” Cabral said. “This is awesome. I didn’t get to do it in high school, so I’m getting my money’s worth in college. “
While the high school and college events are the heart of what the Penn Relays are all about, Saturday’s “USA vs. the World” relays gets the event on NBC and should fill Franklin Field.
Some of the biggest names in U.S. sprinting, including Justin Gatlin, Walter Dix, LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor, Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix, will compete in the six-race showcase, the biggest one before the London Games.
Gatlin compared the relays to the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
The stars can’t wait to stretch their legs in front of an appreciative crowd.
“It gives the fans what they want to see and gives them a taste of the Olympic games,” Dix said. — (AP)