It is a fascinating spectacle that attracts thousands of athletes from hundreds of different schools from all across the nation. It entices celebrities to descend upon Philadelphia for almost an entire week.
It is the Penn Relays, and from April 26 through April 28, the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field played host to what was the event’s 118th year of existence.
While participating in the Relays is certainly not all about winning, those who do often say they feel like they hit some sort of a lottery.
“When I heard my name, I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s me. They just announced my name at the Penn Relays,” said Archbishop Prendergast sophomore Julianne Groshon. “It’s something that I will never forget as long as I live.”
Groshon heard her name — and those of her three teammates — because Prendergast captured the Catholic League 4×400 for the first time in school history. The foursome’s time of 3 minutes, 57.36 seconds included inspiring performances by underclassmen Sara Dever, Lauren Lamoureux, Groshon and senior Evan Dangerfield.
Cardinal O’Hara (Allison Sharkey, Marissa Cicione, Kiersten Martin and Taylor Godsey) finished second in 4:01.5, a mere five-tenths of a second quicker than the St. Hubert’s quartet of Meghan Forsythe, Chrissie Homont, Kelly Hooven and Teresa Ortiz. Throwing in fourth-place West Catholic (Jada Steward, Azia Henry, Troi Murray and Jaz Booker), three of the top four finishers (Prendergast, Hubert’s and West) had been slated for closure after this year but, to their significant relief, survived extinction.
“We definitely enjoyed everything more than we would have,” said Steward, a senior. “Everybody was happy to be a part of this.”
Although his days of running competitively are well behind him, Al DiMarzio still has a special connection to the Penn Relays. Before he graduated from Devon Preparatory School in 1975, he had participated in the esteemed exhibition as both a junior and senior.
Also a former Catholic Youth Organization coach at both Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Callistus parishes, DiMarzio says he will always remember the “thrill” of “being among so many great athletes” and seeing thousands of fans in the stands.
“I can’t remember too clearly how we did, but as for the experience, it was great,” he said. “It’s not surprising that (almost four decades later) today’s runners feel the same way. It’s special.”
For the Catholic League boys, La Salle High School stole the spotlight. After their distance medley relay team of Andrew Stone, Mike DeCandido, Jack Magee and Tom Coyle placed a phenomenal third in the nation at the Relays’ Championship of America race with a school-record time of 10:10.76 (this after barely qualifying in the preliminaries as the 17th and final entrant), the Explorers garnered gold in the 4×400 relay.
Stone led off with a blistering 50.1 leadoff, and after Coyle and Magee set up DeCandido, the senior anchor didn’t disappoint as he legged home in 3:24.64, just ahead of West Catholic’s 3:25 (Eric Jones, Blaise Schieler, Todd Townsend and Bobby Stone). In a spirited battle for places third through eighth, Archbishop Ryan finished in 3:28.6, followed by Father Judge (3:29.8), Monsignor Bonner (3:30.2), Roman Catholic (3:30.8), Cardinal O’Hara (3:31.4), and St. Joseph’s Prep (3:33.6).
Coyle later labeled the experience “indescribable.” Without question, win or lose, countless athletes couldn’t agree more.