Wow! This is all soooo mind-blowing! The first time in our lifetime that we are all witnesses to a pandemic, sweeping across continents. It has changed life as we know it and now it’s right here in our backyards and it has put a monkey wrench into the Penn Relays.
The 2020 Penn Relays canceled is the headline across the country, notifying Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians and other Caribbean-American people across the diaspora “fi tan a unnu yawd” (stay home)! The Division of Recreation and the Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Pennsylvania officially announced on March 16 that the cancellation is due to the evolving coronavirus threat to the public. The online report said University of Pennsylvania officials expressed concerns about putting participating athletes, spectators, officials, staff and volunteers at risk.
The announcement came after the Jamaican government issued a travel ban for all Jamaican students scheduled to attend and compete in what was to be the 126th anniversary of the Penn Relays. Dr. Christopher Tufton, Jamaica’s minister of health, made the official announcement on March 9, and at that point several online articles reported that the relays would go on as scheduled on April 24–26. As previously stated, days later this all changed. The Penn Relays were canceled after 125 years of competition.
The Penn Relays started way back in 1895 and the Jamaicans have been competing for 52 years. Many other Caribbean countries such as Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana competed annually at the track meet.
“I’m glad they decided to cancel this event because you and I both know if the Jamaicans are not competing Penn Relays would never be the same,” stated Sonia Wright a dedicated Jamaican Penn Relay attendee for the past 10 years. “I will miss cheering for my favorite Caribbean teams,” she sighed. “I always wave my Jamaican flag and add my voice to the thundering roar of the majority Jamaican spectators in the stands ‘JA-MAI-CA, JA-MAI-CA!’”
Wright’s knowledge of the event goes back about 30 years because she has been following the events since her high school years. She explained that prior to competing at the Penn Relays, Jamaican athletes competed at a similar track meet in Kingston known as CHAMPS. This occurs the week before the Penn Relays. She also stated that prior to immigrating to the United States CHAMPS was the place to be. Most athletes who were not happy with their performance at CHAMPS see the Penn Relays as a second chance to step up their game and redeem themselves.
“It is disappointing that both CHAMPS and the Penn Relays have been canceled. Despite all of this I will continue to have nothing but admiration for all of the Caribbean athletes who represent our island homes so well,” said Wright.
Irwine Clare, CEO of Team Jamaica Bickle said it best: “Our athletes are our ambassadors.”
Members of the Team Jamaica Bickle organization provide food, transportation and lodging for the Caribbean athletes during the Penn Relays. In order for this operation to be successful, volunteers from several islands along with our African-American brothers and sisters work tirelessly to provide adequate support for the athletes.
Michelle Neil, the chairperson of Team Jamaica Bickle Philadelphia, thanked the dedicated longtime volunteers and the newcomers who have already stepped up to the plate to support the athletes who were scheduled to come to Philadelphia.Neil pointed out that: “Team Jamaica Bickle has been a success for over 25 years because of our volunteers. We could not have done this without them. We are family! They have been so committed and dedicated to the cause of supporting our athletes, our ambassadors.
“That being the case,” she said, “I just want to say a big thank you to all of you, for your willingness to give freely of your time and talent over the years and we look forward to seeing you next year at Penn Relays 2021. In the words of Jimmy Dugan, “Of course, it is hard being a volunteer for Team Jamaica Bickle. It is supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. Hard is what makes Team Jamaica Bickle Volunteers great!”
We must all remain hopeful and continue to pray for each other during these challenging times.
Peace and Blessings.