But first, please indulge me as I provide my own “Penn
THE MURPHY LEGACY AT PENN
by Walt Murphy
I’m often asked how I got started in this sport. Well, it
was all because of my cousin, Tom Murphy. This year’s Relays
mark the 50th Anniversary of Tom’s anchor leg that helped
St.Augustine’s (Brooklyn,NY) win the High School Championship
mile relay. Tom had already established himself as a star after
he set two national 600-yard records at NY’s Armory during
the 1953 indoor season, and the Lancers headed to Philadelphia confident
that they at least had a chance to win.
In the pre-internet era, it was hard to know what teams in other
areas were doing, but the St.Aug coach had heard that Rindge Tech
had been running well in the Boston area, and told his team, “You
have your work cut out for you”. The anticipation was high
for the final, but “Rindge dropped the stick early”,
said Tom. “We didn’t know that Rindge had a great anchor,
but he was probably 30-yards behind me when we started the anchor
leg. I ran about 48.4 and he ran 47.1, which was announced as being
the fastest split of the weekend, even faster than the college runners.”
St.Augustine’s won in 3:26.6, and that Rindge anchor turned
out to be Charlie Jenkins, who went on to win gold medals in the
400 and 4x400 relay at the 1956 Olympics. Jenkins also won 8 Relays
watches during his years at Villa nova(1955-1957). (His son Chip
anchored Villanova’s winning 4x400 at the 1986 Relays and
won Olympic gold after running in the first round of the 4x400 at
the 1992 Games in Barcelona).
Rindge was so upset over their loss that they raised funds to bring
St.Augustine’s up to Boston for a match race later in the
season. “It wasn’t much of a race”, said Tom.
“I remember they had a big lead, and I patted Charlie on the
back and told him ‘Have a good one’.” Rindge won
easily and set a National Record in the process! Ironically, Tom
and Charlie were teammates for a brief time at Villanova before
Tom transferred to Manhattan College. Tom had further success at
Penn, anchoring the Jaspers to the College 2-mile relay championship
in 1957(he suffered a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State’s
Willie Atterberry the following year), and winning Olympic Development
1/2-mile races in 1959 and 1960. He also won the 800 and ran on
the winning 4x400 relay at the 1959 US-Soviet Union meet, which
was held at Franklin Field. (He also made the 1960 Olympic team
in the 800).
The next member of the Murphy family to run at Penn was me. By
the luck of the draw, I had also wound up at St.Augustine’s
and, of course, had gone out for the track team, since Tom had become
my sporting idol (it was close between Tom and the Brooklyn Dodgers’
Gil Hodges). I was a long sprinter(in the loosest definition of
the term), and had plodded along during my career, running at the
Armory and Randalls Island(even Van Cortlandt Park, but that’s
another story). In my senior year, our coach told us about the Penn
Relays and that we would have to have a time-trial, which would
be held at our practice track in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to decide who
would run on the mile-relay. I finished a close 5th that day, but
the coach picked me because it was my last chance to get to Penn.
This would be my 2nd trip to Franklin Field since I had gone, along
with my brother, Pete, our father, and other family members, to
that 1959 U.S.-Soviet meet to watch Tom run. I remember it was a
dreary day and I, being the savvy runner that I was, had a huge
breakfast shortly before we were scheduled to run. Of course, I
ran about 3 seconds slower than I had at the time-trial(and lost
that breakfast afterwards), but I’ll always remember running
on the backstretch and hearing someone in the stands yelling, “Go
I wouldn’t return to Penn until 1964, when I was drawn, not
by the Relays, but by a chance to see Bob Hayes run in special 100-
and 220-yard races. Nonetheless, I was hooked for life and haven’t
missed a Relays since then, making this year’s edition my
40th straight, a streak that pales in comparison to some others.
Now back to the real “Running Murphys”. Said Tom, “Despite
my own success there, my proudest moment at Penn was sitting in
the stands in 1978 and watching my son Keith run on the winning
high school distance medley.” That would be the team from
St.Anthony’s(NY), which is celebrating its own anniversary(25th)
this year. Keith, like his dad, husky for a 1/2-miler(he played
football in the fall), ran a 1:58.0 lead-off 800 to keep St.Anthony’s
within reach of favored Trenton Central(NJ). John Gregorek’s
4:06.5 anchor brought the team from behind and they won in 10:02.5.
(See Ed Grant’s and Gregorek’s “Penn Memories”
for more on this race).
The Murphy tradition will continue this year when Keith’s
son Thomas, a junior, runs on the 4x800 relay for St.Anthony’s.
The “gene factor” is obvious on his father’s side,
but Thomas also got help from his mother Cynthia, a daily runner,
who is the sister of Paul Leary, who ran the 1200 leg(3:06.3) on
that St.Anthony’s DMR. (Bob Higgins ran 49.7 on the 400 leg)
Tom and his wife, Maureen, who has been a cheerleader for a husband,
a son, and now grandchildren(Thomas’s sister Emily also competes
for St.Anthony’s), had hoped to attend this year’s Relays,
but, like all good grandparents, will instead serve as babysitters
for Keith’s other children. But they’ll be there in
spirit, knowing that the Murphy family will once again be well represented
MORE ON TOM MURPHY
I just wanted to fill in some more details on the career of my cousin
Tom. (This tribute to Tom has been a long time coming-Walt Murphy)
In addition to being one of the top 1/4-milers in the NY Catholic
league while at St.Augustine’s H.S., he also once scored in
the javelin to help gain points for his team. While at Manhattan
College, he won the IC4A 600y in 1958 and finished 2nd in the 880y
to his nemesis, Villanova’s Ron Delany, at the 1958 NCAA Outdoor
Championships. His greatest moment as a collegian may have been
at the 1958 Millrose Games, where he anchored both the mile- and
2-mile relays to victory. In 1959, his first year out of college,
he won U.S. and Pan-American 800 titles, and was one of the stars
of the indoor circuit on the East Coast. I still remember driving
home from Madison Square Garden with my father and uncles, holding
one of the many “Cups” that Tom won during his indoor
career. It was quite a thrill for a young fan.
In 1960, Tom won the 2nd of his two Millrose 1/2-miles, and won
the 600y at the U.S. Indoor Championships. With a nervous family
watching the live action on TV back home in NY, he came from behind
to win the U.S. Olympic Trials at Stanford in 1:46.7, his personal
best. Heading into the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Tom was picked by
some experts to medal, but he was eliminated in the semi-finals
(along with the other Americans, Jerry Siebert and Ernie Cunliffe).
He gained some redemption after the Games when he ran on a U.S.
2-mile relay team that finished 2nd to a group of British Commonwealth
All Stars (which included Olympic 800 champion Peter Snell). The
U.S. time of 7:19.4 was ratified as a world record, since the Commonwealth
group(7:18.0) consisted of athletes from different countries. That
was the last year of competition for Tom, who like many other athletes
in those days, had to cut their careers short to start supporting
As you can see, Tom is still very involved in the sport and can
always be spotted at the Millrose Games in Section 60 at the Garden.
(Nehemiah’s 1-day performance at the 1979 Relays , where
he ran 3 great anchor legs for Maryland, is considered one of the
greatest [maybe THE greatest] in Relays history. Here’s what
I wrote in Eastern Track at the time-:”It rained during most
of Thursday’s women’s program, poured that evening while
the distance races were going on, rained off and on for the next
two days, and everyone was muttering about the unfairness of it
all, after months of anticipation for this annual spectacle. That
is, until late Saturday afternoon, when Renaaldo Nehemiah provided
his own form of sunshine.” (Renaldo had set the first of his
three world records in the 110-hurdles just two weeks before Penn).
“My most vivid memory is of my 4x400 anchor leg. Although
that day, which was cold and dreary, is remembered by so many for
the way in which I overcame huge deficits, I still remember the
agonizing pain I had once I crossed the finish line of that last
race. When I finally recovered from that 400 leg, the stadium was
completely empty. I was in so much pain, I actually thought I was
going to have a heart attack.
"As for the race/s themselves...(Nehemiah had already anchored
the winning shuttle hurdles relay @ 2:10pm) the 4x200(5:00) actually
hurt the most while I was actually running it. When I got the stick,
we were behind what appeared to be about 15-20 meters. All I know
is that I was embarrassed and just wanted to make it look competitive
to the home stretch. I figured even in a defeat, it wouldn't look
so bad if I gained substantially and then faded. When I approached
the last turn, I realized that I wasn't that far behind. Maybe some
7-8 meters. So, I just put my head down and responded to the crowd’s
frenzied state. And that's how I passed the other runners within
the last 5 meters.(unofficial split-19.4!) That one kicked my butt
physically, because I had to sprint all out for the entire race.
That's not usually how a 200 is run.
"When it came around to the 4x400 final(6:00), I was already
somewhat tired. And didn't care that much about winning. I just
wanted Maryland to look respectable. But that was going to be difficult.
Because, following the previous day’s qualifying round in
which I ran the 2nd leg, coach Frank Costello in a team meeting
decided to put me on anchor. And my teammate, Chris Person(400mh),
took it personally and was visibly upset. Although the coach and
the other members felt Chris was good, they all stated that they
would rather have me on the anchor if it was close.
"So, on race day, I'm the anchor and wouldn't you know it,
our lead-off leg, normally a 47 point runner, ran 48-49 seconds.
We were instantly well behind. And we made no gains out of the next
2 legs. When I got the stick, it appeared to me that the other runners
were almost already taking the 2nd turn and headed down the backstretch.
Angered and really embarrassed, I took the stick and sprinted a
hard as I could to make up some ground. And although I knew I was
running faster than advisable, I figured I'd hold on again until
the final turn before hitting the wall. I figured it would be okay
to lose at that point since I was so far behind. I would save face.
"But, wouldn't you know that those fans on the 3rd turn are
wild and crazy! As I was approaching the turn just trying not to
fall apart. I felt, heard and sensed the roars starting to get louder.
I even heard the chanting and the drums from the Jamaicans. I immediately
tried to respond by starting my kick just to add a last minute desperate
surge before dying. And it was if my body went numb and had no feeling.
So, I just ran harder and harder as the noise got louder. And before
I knew it, I could see (Villanova’s) Tim Dale and the finish
line about 20 meters in front of me. As I was really starting to
be overwhelmed by the pain, I dug one more time with all I had,
and surged past a fading Dale and believe I won by a couple of meters.(split
44.3!) When I finally appeared from the training room some hour
and a half later, I told myself that I would not ever feel that
type of pain again in my life. And I never ran another 400m again.
"I'm amazed that so many people actually attended the relays
that year, and continue to tell me how they've never seen a performance
like that before. All in one day. I'm just happy that I was blessed
to have been able to deliver. And to have left quite an impression
on the many who were there, and to those who wished they were there.
I was always motivated by the "Wow" theory. And on that
day, I guessed I 'Wowed' them.”
(Taking a well-deserved break after setting the American Record
marathon in London last weekend, Deena took time to send along her
“Penn Memories”. A clarification in her 2nd story. The
Cold Molson Party
was a wonderful post-meet get-together [which sadly ended about
six or seven
years ago] where athletes could unwind after they were done with
racing. Occasionally, when the party ended, some would participate
“beer-relay”, and one or two actually did get naked
in the final year-Walt
Murphy [proud winner of a medal in the “Masters” division-beer,
“Oh, Penn Relays! There are so many memories. Here
is one "clean" and one "not so clean".
"Clean: I was racing the 5000m(she won in 1993). It
was a cold night; cold enough that I wore a long sleeve under my
racing singlet. My grandmother and her twin sister (might
I add that they are 4 feet 4 inches tall) live in Philadelphia and
I had spent the last three days with them. With the chilly
conditions, I didn't expect them to come to the races.
"The gun went off and we came by what would eventually be
the finish line. People were chanting my name. Each lap around,
more and more people were chanting...Deena...Deena...Deena! Wow!
How exhilarating. I crossed the finish line and looked up
into the stands. My little grandma and her twin sister came
busting through the crowd of rowdy men to give me a hug. Little
ladies-big influence! They had the entire section chanting
my name. Ten years later, I still have people coming up to
me and telling me they sat near my grandmother at the Penn Relays
and how she recruited them to cheer for me.
"Not so clean: This is my more wild side... At the Molson
party (I can't remember the year) There was no way to make my way
up to the Keg. The yard was packed like sardines! Yes, smelly
and all. Well, I caught on fast. Runners from Auburn
were in charge of the keg at the time. I needed a connection.
"War Eagle" I yelled (despite the fact that I was
a proud Razorback). Before I knew it, I was in front of the
keg with a cold, frothy beer in my hand. Well, that is where
it started. The entire party started parading down the street
toward the track. I was thinking...Let's keep "business"
out of this. Didn't we settle who's fastest earlier this weekend?"
Naked Relays! Oh boy! Ugly enough to witness drunk,
scrawny, male distance runners attempting to race each other at
1am, but they pinned numbers to their skin(WM-Another Razorback
who shall remain nameless-for now)! I couldn't believe what
I was seeing. Good thing most of the details are foggy from too
much beer. These parties were the wildest memories of college.”
(Philadelphia native won Olympic gold in the 4x100 at the 2000
Games in Sydney)
“Growing up in Philly was fun. There were a lot of
fast kids in my neighborhood, and some of my fondest memories are
racing on my block. The first time I competed at the Penn Relays,
I was in the 4th grade at Robert E. Lamberton Elementary, and we
took second in the Shuttle relay. I also competed in Jr high for
Lamberton. Then I competed for Overbrook High my junior and senior
year. Then on to TCU(after two years at Odessa JC).
The greatest moment for me was when I was the Most Valuable athlete
of the meet(1990). It was my Junior Year at TCU and I anchored
the 4x100 and 4x200m relays to victory. Another highlight came the
next year, when I beat Raghib "Rocket" Ishmail, James
Jett, James Trapp, to name a few, in the 100m. (The “Rocket”,
who had gained fame at Notre Dame on the football field, was apparently
disqualified for a false start, but Drummond, showing early signs
of his “showmanship”, led a good-natured “protest”
and officials allowed Ismail to run. Drummond also led off TCU’s
winning 4x100 in 1991)
“Penn is one of the most energized meets in the states.
The crowd reminds me of some of the major meets in europe.”
(Bob has been coming to the Relays since the mid-1950s and has
only missed a
handful since then. He gave up his role at Penn as fan and split-timer
year to fill in for the ailing Jack “Legs” O’Reilly,
the long-time “Voice
of the Relays”. Bob had good training for the announcer’s
job at Penn,
having worked in that role at many Olympics, World Championships,
Games, and countless other U.S. meets.)
It Is The Penn Relays
- IT IS the middle of spring, when the morning’s chill slowly
yields to the sun, which gives warmth but never heat.
- IT IS the camaraderie of friendship, renewed annually in the
seats, in the restaurants, at the parties, and even on the telephone
and the internet, in the anticipation leading up to it and in
its reliving after the fact.
- IT IS the magical moment on Friday afternoon, when the young
men of Arkansas, Georgetown, Villanova, Michigan, and of other
schools that dare to challenge tradition, walk from the paddock
to the starting line to begin the Distance Medley Relay, the most
perfect race in the most perfect meet in the most perfect sport
- IT IS the exuberance of youth on Thursday afternnon and Saturday
morning, the unrestrained outpouring of the energy of thousands
of boys and girls, propelled by excitement and fear, as their
adrenaline level peaks and they strive to reach the limit of their
potential as they run a lap on a track that they will never forget.
- IT IS the passion, the rhythm, and the soul of the issland of
Jamaica, pulsating throughout the hallowed stadium, embracing
everyone and relaxing its grip only when, as darkness descends
on Saturday evening, the surrounding streets are finally clear.
- IT IS, to those who truly understand it and feel it, a defining
experience that can transform a sporing event into a quasi-religious
ritual, which nourishes our intellect, stirs our emotions, and
provides an incentive to live and rejoice in life by confirming
our capacity for exhilaration.
- IT IS the Penn Relays.
“The first time I attended and/or ran the Penn Relays was
in 1972, my junior year of high school. I had the flu but
insisted on running with our 4x400 relay. After what seemed
an endless time in the paddock, we were lined up against the wall
of the stands as the races ahead of us proceeded. Some guy
leaned over the rail waiving a wad of bills and said, "Hey
White Plains, I have a big bet going on you." He, no
doubt, remembered the great White Plains team of 1966, which won
two Championship of America races in one day.
"Not long after, someone dressed in maroon and blue, the colors
of the University of Pennsylvania, came over to me and said, "Coach
Tuppeny is watching you." As I didn't know who "Coach
Tuppeny" was, it didn't make me nervous that the Coach of the
University of Pennsylvania, Jim Tuppeny, might care how I ran my
race. I think I had a split in the high 50s or low 51s, no
doubt throwing cold water on Coach Tuppeney's interest and certainly
losing the bet for my friend in the stands.”
(Won 9 Relays watches at Villanova from 1969-1971[3x2-mile, 4-mile,
dmr]) In 1967, the first year that Penn enjoyed a synthetic track,
Jim Jackson (Boys,NY) and Marty Liquori(Essex Catholic,NJ) were
two of the hottest preps around. Jackson had anchored Boys to the
Penn distance medley title in 1966, and had a 35-yard lead on Liquori
when he got the baton in 1967. Liquori went after his rival, going
through the first 1/4-mile -- it was still a 440-yard track at the
time -- in about 61 seconds, while his coach, Fred Dwyer, yelled
“I guess Freddie didn’t want me thinking I had gone
out too fast”, said Liquori, whose previous mile best was
4:13. The ruse continued through the next two laps. When Marty heard
3:13 (or thereabouts) for the 3/4-split, he thought, “Oh,
man. I better start kicking.” Kick he did, running 4:04.4
to win going away and leading Essex to a National Record of 10:05.6.
Jackson, who had gone out too fast, faded to 5th, but came back
the next day to lead Boys High to the 2-mile relay title. Liquori’s
split would stand as the fastest at Penn for 30 Years until Ireland’s
Garreth Turnbull ran 4:02.9 for a 1600 anchor in 1997.
Marty recalls his Villanova days at Penn--
"I remember taking styrofoam cups and taping then together
so I could step on them with my spikes and be able to jog in the
pen which was asphalt. It was always a battle with (head clerk)
Henry Mancini to see how late I could check in. The great story
about Jumbo Elliott (the legendary Villanova coach) which i realized
recently was not a one time occurrence is....he would tell a runner
he knew was a nervous type to wear their running clothes in case
someone got injured. Then about 30 minutes before the race he would
tell them they were running (which Jumbo had planned on all along).”
(Editor of the Harrier)
“My first Penn was in '63 (I was in HS watching my team run)
so this year will be my 41st straight. There are too many "favorite"
races but one that jumps to mind was the HS DMR in '67, when Marty
Liquori of Essex Catholic flew past Jim Jackson of Boys on the anchor.
Jackson went out too fast as he always did, and died. I covered
the HS races that year for the defunct LI Press and, being young,
wrote something like Liquori passed Jackson like a Ferrari passing
"Biggest crowd w-o-o-o-o-o-o(the “woo index” rates
outstanding performances)... I think Jim Spier and I (we gave ourselves
the job of rating the woooooos) once gave the all-time honor to
the John Marshall anchored Villanova 4 x 800(1982)... but maybe
that's been surpassed by now.”
(“Sully” anchored Michigan to a win in the men’s
distance medley in 1998.
Now an assistant coach at Illinois, he will have to follow his new
the Drake Relays next weekend.)
“I think the history that Michigan has at Penn was what made
the meet special for us. I believe we have the third most Championship
of America trophies in the history of the Penn Relays(He’s
right-Villanova 88, Penn 54-1/2, Michigan 38). And we were reminded
of this every year when we scoured through the program looking for
past results and pictures of Michigan athletes.
"But looking at the results also made us realize how long
it had been since we had won a Penn relays title. Prior to 1998,
the last Championship of America that Michigan captured was the
1980 Shuttle Hurdle Relay and the last DMR that we won was way back
"In addition to the history, the atmosphere always inspired
me to have great performances. From the crowds hollering as you
are catching teams out front of you; to the anxiety and anticipation
of getting out on the track as you are crammed in the pen right
before your race; to trying to find a place to stride out behind
the stadium; to sneaking back to the track well after dark for the
"last" relay of the carnival; it all adds up to make the
Penn Relays the most electrifying meet in collegiate track and field.
"Winning the DMR in 1998 was a dream come true for me. For
3 years I had run on DMR's and 4x1500's and every year we finished
2nd, 3rd, or 4th. It was extremely frustrating to come so close
to that trophy and those watches. The most frustrating loss was
probably 1997. I was making my comeback off of achilles surgery
in the fall of 1996 and was finally starting to round into shape
around Penn Relays (I had started the season with a 3:54 1500m leg
at the Texas Relays). I got the baton about 20-30m behind (Seneca)
Lassiter and took off after him. But instead of Seneca pushing the
pace, he slowed down on the third lap and let me back in the race.
I was still not as fit as I normally would be at that time of year
and the effort of trying to catch Seneca had taken it's toll on
me. Seneca took off with about 250m to go and just dusted me. I
was happy with the effort but disappointed at having to watch Arkansas
do yet another victory lap, this time at our expense.
"So 1998 was the last chance for me. I was a 5th year senior,
fit and ready to run despite battling some plantar fascitis. I only
bring up the plantar fascitis because I remember real vividly that
it seemed unusually tighter that day as I did my last stride out
before the race went off. “ (After lead-off man Don McLaughlin
fell)--”I never actually saw Don fall, but I saw him drag
his lanky frame up off the track after the recall. I turned to Jay
Cantin who was running our 800m leg and told him to get ready to
take over the 1200m duty if Don was too shaken up to restart. Don
had 1:49 speed so I wasn't too concerned about switching the two
of them there on the line. But Don went straight back to the line
so I prayed that he would forget about the fall and just get caught
up in the racing. And that is exactly what he did. Don ran a great
leg(2:56.9) and handed off to Brian Thiesen (aka "champ")
who had transferred the year before from Central Michigan University.
Brian was a 110 and 400m hurdler who happened to run a mean 400m
leg. I can't remember what Brian split that day(it was 46.9), but
it was the most aggressive I remember him ever running for us on
a relay. Brian handed off to our All-American, Jay Cantin. Jay had
high school credential of 3:42 and 1:49 coming into Michigan and
this day his talent shone through like never before. Jay held his
position through the 800m leg(1:48.9) and handed off to me in 4th
place, 30m down on Seneca Lassiter....again.
"I had won the NCAA indoor mile earlier in the year so everyone
knew that I was fit and back running more like my old self. So I
was somewhat surprised that Seneca chose the same strategy as the
prior year. I was slowly gaining ground in the first 800m of the
race and then Seneca slowed the pace again in the 3rd lap and I
caught him coming into the bell lap. I remember hearing the Michigan
crowd sitting by the 1500m start chanting "SULLY, SULLY"
as I came by them. And I had one of those feelings that you don't
get very often. The one where I ABSOLUTELY KNEW I WAS GOING TO WIN.
I stayed as patient as possible and then with about 150m to go I
swung wide and kicked as hard as I could. Seneca went with me for
a few metres and then I broke clear down the homestretch(split-3:55.5).
I remember about 50m from the line thrusting the baton in the air.
Some people after the race looked at it as being a cocky gesture
on my part. But anyone who knows me knows I am not a cocky person.
For me, it was an unconcious reaction to those previous years’
frustrations of close finishes. I have a great respect for Seneca
and all of the great Arkansas relay teams, so to beat them at the
Penn Relays really helped to complete my collegiate career at the
University of Michigan. That race will always mean more to me than
any NCAA Championship or All-American plaque that I won simply because
of the great history of the Penn Relays, and the great friends that
I had to share that success with.”
(In a classic “David vs Goliath” race, the University
of Connecticut upset
Arkansas to win the men’s Distance Medley in 2000)
“I remember two days before heading to Penn our DMR was milling
around the track after practice and I said to Coach (Greg) Roy,
"You know, we really could..." I trailed off at the end.
We all knew what I was thinking but none of us wanted to actually
say it. The thought of beating Arkansas, of actually winning the
Penn Relays, was still very much a dream. The same four guys had
finished 4th indoors at NCs in the DMR so we knew we were good but
we were all local kids and not nearly on the level that the Arkansas
guys were on.
"The race couldn't have played out any better; Our first two
legs (Kevin Jensen-2:56.0 and Haven Barnes 46.9) kept us in the
race and our 800 guy, Elliott Blount, ran the fastest split(1:47.6)
and gave me the baton side by side with Sharif Karie. Karie got
the baton behind me and beat me indoors and was the HS mile national
champ when we were seniors in HS (his PR was 14 seconds faster than
mine in HS) and I was very much aware of who he was and what he
had done. I was content to let Sharif lead and take my chances with
a kicker’s race and, after a first 800 of 2:06, it became
evident that he too thought he would win in a kick. The slow first
800 allowed about six other teams back into the race and with 600
to go things were bunching up. I made sure to stay up front, either
in the lead or on the leaders’ shoulder, covering every move.
"With just over 200 meters to go I went. The last 200, because
of the slow start, was pretty much all out. Coming off the turn
I glanced back and Sharif was right there, on my shoulder. As my
legs began to lock up I concentrated on one thing only- getting
to the finish line. Eventually, after what felt like a five minute
one hundred meters, I hit the line with Sharif .03 behind me. Neither
one of us were able to gain more than an inch on each other in the
"The race was won with 215 meters to go when I made my move.
If Sharif had gone first, he probably would have won. I remember
looking up after we won and seeing my teammates running straight
at me from the paddick area. They were in a full sprint and I could
barely stand up. They grabbed me and basically pulled me on a victory
lap. It was such a euphoric feeling to have actually won. I remember
feeling like everything was in a haze, but part of that was probably
because we had just closed in 54 seconds and my legs were screaming
at me to stop running. To this day, that was the most amazing win
I've ever been a part of. Although I was running well before the
race, the win gave me a lot of confidence. That season my PR improved
from 3:50 to 3:39. I won Big East, New Englands and IC4as and qualified
for the Olympic Trials.”
(Webster ran two incredible anchor legs for Kennett Square Consolidated-PA
the early morning high school mile relays in 1960 and 1961. Getting
far behind each time, he ran splits in the 47-second range to bring
home first. He finished 6th in the 440-yard dash at the 1961 U.S.
Championships and finished the year with a best of 46.5(y)! He later
the winning sprint medley team for Villanova at the 1963 Relays.)
“The Penn Relays, Franklin Field, represents the premiere
track event of the year. For decades, it has been more than a track
meet, it represents a culture, as it is properly named a carnival.
If there was one track meet you wanted to do your best, it was the
Penn Relays. There is no venue like Penn, no crowds, no excitement,
the "Wall", no more anticipation to perform for the greatest
fans in track and field....the roar!!
"After 40 years it's difficult not to try and be intellectual
or rationalize about the races. I try to avoid that and recall the
events as clearly as I can remember. I was guest speaker at my high
school alumni meeting and asked this same question and it was difficult
to explain what I felt and to recall the events. It wasn't unusual
for me to be behind in relay races or open races for that matter,
because the majority of the time I ran from behind, but further
behind in the relay races. I never calculated what distance
was too far or whether I could do it or not. Those types of thoughts
never entered my mind. Actually, the first year at Penn(1960), I
was focused on watching my teammates and when my turn came to get
the baton I wanted to run the best I could and try to win.
"To this day, I don't remember much, but it did seem to happen
quickly and I walked away. However, there is one thing I do remember
and that was the roar of the crowd. The famous Penn Relay crowd
that electrified the stadium and cheered me to victory.
"My senior year(1961), I remember getting a new pair of shoes
the day of the race. They were Adidas 9.9's, white with blue stripes(school
colors). The box was so light I didn't think there was anything
in it. The kangaroo skin was so soft and smooth, it felt like a
glove around my foot. With these shoes, I felt I could run
with the wind.
"As I recall, I think this year there was cool rain, but the
excitement warmed the chill. Things were different, because
I believe I was expected to win regardless of the circumstances.
Thus, I didn't want to disappoint my teammates, coach, parents
and everyone that supported me, nor the crowd that embraced me the
year before. It was like an instant replay.”
“UNCLE” MARTY STERN
(“Uncle” Marty, who grew up in West Philly, led Villanova
to 20 Relays
titles(3-men, 17-women) during his time as head coach).
“My father, who went to Penn, took me to my first Penn Relays
in 1939 when I was 3 years old, and I haven’t missed too many
since then. I didn’t start running at Penn until I went to
West Chester--we won the State Teachers College race at Penn 3 years
in a row(1956-1958). I coached at a number of high schools in the
Philadelphia area, but all I ever wanted to be was the head coach
“I would always sit by the Villanova group in the South stands,
where the sun never shines, and watch Jumbo (Elliott) and his pals.
All those Irish businessmen would come on Friday in their hats and
coats and leave after watching the distance medley at around 3pm.
I watched everything Jumbo did and noticed how well his athletes
acted and how well they dressed. When I finally got to Villanova,
I wanted to sit in the sun with the Jamaicans, but I sat where Jumbo
sat, where it’s freezing and you can’t take proper splits.
“Of all the races we won, every single one was the biggest
thrill at the time. And we always had the same routine, a prayer
before and after each race. One of the more stressful Relays was
in 1991. I had made an early (and apparently unpopular) decision
to have Cheri Goddard(Kenah) run on the 4x800 in place of Michelle
Torelli, who I didn’t think was running well. (Torelli had
led off the winning team in 1990). None of the women would talk
to me in the days leading up to Penn. We had our pre-race prayer
90-minutes before the 4x800 and went back up into the stands. Bennett,
who was good friends with Torelli, was still mad at me, and I was
moping. Finally, I called Bennett over and said, ‘Who’s
better, you or Nikita Beasley(Florida’s dangerous anchor)’?
She reluctantly agreed that Beasley was better. ‘If you have
a 6 meter lead when you get the stick, can she beat you? She quickly
said ‘No!’. I told her, you pick any three runners for
the team. She picked Torelli, who had warmed up, Goddard was OK
with the decision, and we won the race! It taught me that it pays
to listen to your athletes.”
(From E.T. at the time-”On the opening leg, Irene Ruopoli(2:10.0)
gave Villanova a slight lead...Sonia O’Sullivan(2:04.4) took
back the lead(from Florida)...and handed off with a 7-meter lead.
Michelle Torelli(2:09.5) extended the lead slightly over Florida
and Georgetown....Beasley, along with Steffanie Smith, went out
in about 55 seconds to catch up to Bennett. Beasley made a move
for the lead on the final backstretch, but Bennett(2:05.6) held
her off and pulled away for an “easy” win, the 4th in
a row for the Lady Wildcats, and the 7th Relays watch in 7 tries
for Bennett. Kathy Franey also won 7 watches while at Villanova)
(Arkansas men have won 36 Relays titles under coach McDonnell)
"The fan interest is what makes Penn Relays. The Penn Relays
is a happening and it's a special event. It's more than a track
meet in my book. The atmosphere is great and the fans have such
great knowledge. They understand track. They're just as interested
in the college races as they are the high school races and that's
what I lilke about it.
"There have been many good memories up there, but the one
stands out the most is when Joe Falcon kicked down Mount Saint Mary's
and set the world record for the distance medley. We were supposed
to be running for second that year, because Mount Saint Mary's had
four Olympians on their team and nobody was supposed to beat them.
We not only beat them, but broke the world record too."
(WM- That team of Reuben Reina, Charles Williams, Robert Bradley
Falcon ran 9:20.10 in 1989 and is being added to Penn’s Wall
of Fame this
(Arkansas women’s coach)
"The Penn Relays was introduced to me by one of my former
assistants (a Wash. DC guy) who always claimed it was the greatest
show on earth. A few years later we had a very competitive crew
in the distance relays and was extended an invitation to run in
the Championship of America...it was greater than anything that
was ever described to me (the crowd, the paddock, the atmosphere
outside the stadium, and the unbelievable competition in every event).
We quickly got our heads handed to us by Villanova, Georgetown,Providence,
and Wisconsin. Upon my arrival in Arkansas, the first thing I saw
in John McDonnells office was the Penn Relay" wheels"(the
coveted plaques that are presented to each winning team)...I vowed
then to eventually win one...it took awhile(the Lady Hogs won the
dmr in 2000, the 4x1500 in 2001)...but I was so proud to stand with
the girls and hold that trophy overhead...we still recruit and train
with the idea of bringing home another.
(Texas women's coach--she's making great progress from her tragic
late last year and will be at Penn!)
On what makes Penn Relays special to her and her program ...
"Penn Relays is just a phenomenal event. As an athlete and
as a competitor, it is the definition of sport. It is much more
than a track meet...it's an event. The memories I have of Penn Relays
last a lifetime."
On one race or meet that stands out over the years ...
"There is one race that still stands out to this day. I still
tell this story all the time. When I was at Florida in the early
90s, there was a relay for little kids that they used to run on
the track instead of the infield like they do now. I remember one
team had a little boy running to handoff to a little girl for the
last leg of the relay. Well, the little girl took off running for
the finish line before the little boy reached her. He kept chasing
her anyway, all the way until they both reached the finish line.
There, they hugged like they won the race. That is one of my favorite
memories of Penn Relays."
On whether there was any doubt she would make it to Penn Relays
"Actually, I never thought about going to Penn until the week
before Texas Relays. One of my goals was to stand at Texas Relays,
but the week leading up to that, it came to me that getting to Penn
should be my next goal. There was a strong impression in my heart
that I needed to be at Penn. It just didn't dawn on me until the
beginning of April."
(As mentioned in the “Murphy Legacy”, this is the 25th
St.Anthony’s win in the high school distance medley. John,
now an assistant
coach at Brown, anchored that team and also anchored the Georgetown
that won in 1982, breaking Villanova’s 16-year winning streak
in that event)
“I had run the 2-mile in 1977(he finished 4th), but we were
a group of starry-eyed kids going in there the next year. Trenton’s
Aubrey McKithen, who would be my roommate during our freshman year
at Georgetown, had a big lead on the anchor, but I just took it
one lap at a time and was able to catch him”(with a 4:06.5
anchor). St.Anthony’s time of 10:02.5 estblished a meet record.
“One of the reasons I chose Georgetown was to help bring
the program to the next level--Villanova was already established.
Villanova’s streak was daunting, but we thought we could beat
them in 1981.”(Gregorek actually had the lead with a lap to
go before being overtaken by Sydney Maree, who extended Villanova’s
dmr streak to 16.).
“The next year, coach (Joe) Lang was so positive and had
us mentally prepared.” (Ross Donoghue, who had transferred
to Villanova from St.John’s, was given a 30-meter lead as
the anchor leg began, but within two laps, Richmond, Arkansas, and
Georgetown had caught up to him.)
“I had no intention of going by Ross when I caught him--I
wanted to make sure I had a kick left. With 200 to go, I just put
my head down and took off, passing Donoguue down the final stretch.
Winning that race ranks right up there with making the Olympic team”(1984-steeplechase).
(Aubrey McKithen ran the 400 leg for the Hoyas). “I credit
my coaches, Don Buckley(St.Anthony’s) and Joe Lang(Georgetown),
with making the whole Penn experience a fun one. It helped take
the pressure off the races themselves. I love the history and tradition
of Penn and the fact that I’ve been able to bring my 11-year
old son the last three years.”
(Mr. “New Jersey Track”)
"This year marks the 25th anniversary of probably the greatest
relay achievement in New Jersey high school history, the amazing
double scored by five Trenton boys within a period of 15 minutes
at the 1978 edition of the Penn Relays. And it might well have been
a triple, but for some confusion on Trenton's part as to the order
of running in the distance medley relay.
'The saga began about 9:50 a.m. on Saturday morning when Trenton
won its section of the large-school qualifying race in 7:39.5, a
meet record. The runners were Andy Bing (1:57.0), Fred Gore (2:55.5),
Darrell Jeffress (1:55.2) and Aubrey McKithen (1:51.8). The Trenton
boys were on the track again just two hours later with Ron Singletary
replacing Bing in the lineup. Gore led off in 49.6, Singletary blasted
the race open with a 47.0, McKithen ran 48.2 and Jeffress closed
in 47.4. The result was another meet record of 3:12.2. (Both Trenton
times were also state records, the 3200 mark still stands).
"Then came a five-hour lapse before the 3200 final. This is
a very crucial period of the day, for many teams over the years
had trouble coming back in the 3200 final until the trials were
changed to Friday a couple of years ago. But Trenton was in top
form and literally coasted to a 7:49.8 victory, Jeffress putting
the race away with a 1:53.5 on the third leg. (Remember that clocking).
"There was only two races scheduled between the 3200 and 1600
finals, the college championship and IC4A 800-meter relays. The
program lists one 10 minute interval and two of five minutes between
the four races, but a Trenton Times reporter actually clocked the
difference at 14 minutes. (Of course, each boy got a little more
time than that so each of the three repeaters probably did get the
full 20 minutes)
"Apparently unfazed by the short break, the Trenton boys practically
repeated their morning trial in the 1600. Gore opened in 49.8, Singletary
again split the race apart with a 47,2, McKithen weighed in with
a 48.2 and Jeffress, who had put out the most in the 3200, understandably
slowed a bit as he ran 47.9 for a total time of 3:13.1, only two-tenths
off the former meet record of 3:12,9, set by Woodson of Washington,
D.C., in the 1977 trials.
"Now about that distance medley(WM-This is the race won by
John Gregorek and St.Anthony’s). Trenton had qualified for
the meet running the race in the usual order, 1200-400-800-1600
. So the boys went to the line with this in mind: Gore to handle
the opening three laps, then Singletary, Jeffress and McKithen.
Just when they discovered their mistake is uncertain, but it probably
was after the leadoff men were taken to the line. Gore simply had
to accept the change and responded with a 1:55.4, still two seconds
slower than Jeffress was to run in the 3200 the next day. Singletary
had his fastest carry of the weekend at 47.2 and then came the problem.
Jeffress was, after all, a 440 man by trade (he would win both the
Golden West and IPI races later that year). He was obviously OK
at 800/880, but didn’t have a clue how to run the 1200. Always
a fast starter, Darrell barrelled out from the exchange zone and
was probably 50 yards ahead by the time the St. Anthony's man got
the stick. He all but doubled that running the first two laps in
1:56, but then paid the penalty, needing 71 seconds to get through
the final lap. This enabled St. Anthony's to close the gap to what
it had been after two carries (and a little bit more) and the Long
Island team had its ace in the hole: the great John Gregorek. McKithen
ran to form, clocking 4:15.8, but Gregorek passed him on the backstretch
of the final lap and brought St. Anthony's home in 10:02.5
"Just how fast would Trenton have run with the proper order?
Well, we have an idea of what Jeffress would have done from his
1:53.5 the next day. Gore was a 4:16.3 miler by season's end, and
it is not unreasonable to put him somewhere around the 3:02.3 turned
in for Bergen Catholic by John Malone. Trenton might well have become
the first high school team to break 10:00.
(Track and Field News’ H.S. editor lives in California, but
has become a regular at Penn)
“I first came to Penn in 1988. If you remember, that was
the year a western contingent of T&FN staffers came to the meet,
including Scott Davis, Garry Hill, and myself- the first time for
each of us. I have missed two years since then (both pre-'94
and not by my choice), so Penn has become a "must" stop
in my yearly track travels.
"I suspect my reason for coming the first time was that it
was one of America's great relay meets and I had never been to an
in-season meet on the East Coast. All my eastern friends had
kidded me for years to come and see a "real" meet. And
it gave me a chance to see much of the prep talent on the East Coast,
which in those days did not travel around the country as much as
today. And of course, once you have experienced Penn, it draws you
back. It isn't so much that it is great track, but it is the
overall experience of the weekend-- the "iffy" weather,
the big crowds, the noise, sunbathers in the upper deck on the warmest
of days, and the general celebration of the first warm weekend in
the area. "Spring hasn't begun until Penn is run".
"Hightlights and memories abound even though I am a piker
in number of years in attendance compared to my Eastern brethren.
Probably the best was in '88 when I ran in that "historic"
media relay as the eastern and western factions of T&FN faced
off. I ran 2nd leg against Walt Murphy and handed off to our
speedster, distance-runner Rich McCann. Quite embarrassing
however was getting "smoked" by a young girl from the
Penn SID office (and the rest of the field too). And who can
forget the roar from the crowd as the "whales", Bob Hersh
and Scott Davis battled down the stretch with Bob attacking Scott
with his baton when Scott inched by him near the finish.
"And it is the renewal of friendships for another year of
track, first in the press box on Thursday and Friday and then for
the annual Friday night dinner at the Sheraton and more recently
in the back room at the White Dog. Often, it is the only time
I see some of my eastern friends who do not come west, even for
the biggest of meets.
"And for me, a lover of fine wine, it is extra special to
get together for dinner with Arnie Shiffrin at the currently-hip
Philadelphia eateries on Thursday and Saturday nights. We
always have great food and wine to celebrate Arnie's birthday and
we still commiserate over the fact that William Reed (Arnie worked
with him at Central) never reached his potential. Of course, being
honored as an Honorary Meet Referee in 1988 is special and I have
proudly worn my Penn watch everywhere since then.
"However, I have begun to have a dread as each year's meet
approaches. Other than the miserably cold weather my first
year in '88, my ventures east have been met with generally nice
weather, even getting me down to a t-shirt some Saturday afternoons
when the sun, slowly creeping up through the press area, finally
reaches our "timers" row. I feel the odds are building
that I will encounter cold weather again and I don't think I can
bring enough clothing to keep this soft Southern California body
from low 40s weather.”
(A fan from Australia sent this note to Relays Director Dave Johnson)
“My husband and I attended the Penn Relays in 1991 when we
were students at the University of Pennsylvania studying for our
Master of Laws. My husband was an Australian national level sprinter
and a keen follower of athletics so this really was one of the highights
of our year in the United States. The atmosphere at the Penn Relays
is extraordinary. The crowd was spectacular, cheering the local
school students with the same excitement and vigour as they cheered
Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell. I had never seen anything like it
before and the only thing I have seen that quite beats it is two
Olympics! My very best wishes to you all for the 2003 Penn Relays.
I only wish that I was close enough to attend again and to bring