Click here to see photos from this year’s Penn Relays

By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

The University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field was an organized mass of humanity. Grade school kids, high school students and college adults donned jerseys, shorts and warm-up suits of virtually every color. Local schools with familiar names joined visitors from venues never before heard of.

It was the 115th annual Penn Relays last week, and record-setting athletes joined together with budding track stars to undoubtedly construct yet another year of lifetime memories.

“So much hard work and dedication go into this,” said Notre Dame Academy coach and alumna Jenn Messner. “There really aren’t any losers.”

On Thursday afternoon, a casual passerby might have mistaken Messner’s team for being the winner of the girls’ 4×800 Championship of America relay.

Although the Irish didn’t win – they finished a respectable 27th out of 64 teams – the moment was clearly a career highlight for everyone associated with the school, especially the foursome of Maria Seykora, Caroline Powers, Julianne Garvey and Ayanna Fields.

Participating in the COA for the first time in school history, the Irish finished with a time of 9 minutes, 39.97 seconds. Although that might not have been considered a cause for celebration by some of the more powerful squads that dotted the scholastic radar screen, the fact that it was a team record was not lost on the Notre Dame athletes who displayed visual appreciation for their accomplishment.

“What a great experience,” said Garvey, who seems to have completely recovered from a broken toe suffered during cross country in the fall. “We’ve been running really well and have been successful in other meets. Being at the Penn Relays with so many outstanding teams is something we’ll never forget.”

The always-positive Messner seemed like a proud mother of four.

“The time wasn’t the important thing,” said Messner. “No matter how we did, we would still have been just as proud. As it turns out, we ran a strong race against some outstanding competition.”

In Thursday’s Catholic League

4×400 boys’ relay event, the foursome of Dan Fitzgerald, Mike Harrington, Tom Kehl and Gerard Smith helped Father Judge capture first place with a time of 3 minutes, 24.61 seconds. Monsignor Bonner (Nick Dolhancryk, Max Curran, Brett Shephard and Mike Ciavarelli) was exactly one-half second behind the Crusaders. Cardinal O’Hara (Tyler Gallen, Billy Morgan, Joe Sacchetti and Ricky Sheller) finished third, Archbishop Wood (John McKeon, John Robb, Pat Martinez and Kevin Shaw) fourth and West Catholic (Chris Booker, Maurice Broadwater, Osbert Bryan and Lamont Davis) fifth.

In the girls’ 4×400, West Catholic’s 3:58.84 defeated Cardinal O’Hara’s 4:01.77. Chante Moore, Michelle Davis, Mariame Conde and Jada Steward represented the victorious Burrs while Robyn Oakley, Amanda McCullough, Diane Garrison and Brittany Robinson comprised the Lions’ quartet.

The 4:05.01 time of third-place Archbishop Prendergast (Arielle Fonrose, Jasmyne Dixon, Sarah Moleski and Caitlin Chamber) barely edged fourth-place Archbishop Wood (Laura Krotowski, Kate Conville, Kerri McClay and Grace Miraca) by 1.6 seconds. Only 1.5 seconds separated fifth-place Archbishop Carroll (Danielle McCloskey, Megan Defruscio, Bridget Craskey and Alyssa Bellia), Lansdale Catholic (Christy Cardillo, Megan Gifford, Maura Gifford and Kathleen Reid)and Archbishop Ryan (Tamisha Thomas, Dorcas Sovoqui, Kayla Kilpatrick and Amber Grundy).

O’Hara’s Oakley drew some attention because of her incredible performance last year. Seemingly out of nowhere, the then-junior – the 18th qualifier in a field of 24 participants – finished second in the 400-meter hurdles. This year wasn’t as kind to Oakley, who, despite not specializing in the event since her moment in the spotlight, did her best to duplicate her former success. It wasn’t to be, as Oakley finished in a time of 1:05.93 – 4.5 seconds slower than last year.

Comparing the two experiences, Oakley acknowledged that last year was easier because no one had expected much from a relative unknown.

“The Penn Relays are a big thing,” said Oakley, who next year will run for the University of South Florida. “It’s a lot of fun to be in an environment like this. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Oakley might as well have been speaking for hundreds of other athletes.

John Knebels can be reached at