By John Knebels
CS&T sports columnist

No track meet contains more allure than the esteemed Penn Relays. Since 1895, some of the world’s fastest runners and strongest athletes have gathered together at the University of Pennsylvania with hopes of acquiring some hardware in the form of a gold, silver or bronze medal.

Last week, many of the area’s top athletes continued that tradition by competing in front of thousands of fans who packed the stands at Franklin Field.

“It’s special,” said Father Judge senior Tom Kehl, whose time of 4:11.07 in the mile run was a personal best and the fastest time of anyone from Pennsylvania so far this year. “It really is important to savor this. Not everyone has an opportunity to run in the Penn Relays. I’m grateful for the chance.”

Kehl finished third, but the two ahead of him were literally national-class runners. If there was ever a doubt, Kehl can now be classified among the best in his field.

In other Catholic school notes:

Cardinal O’Hara won the 4×400 Philadelphia Catholic Schools boys’ relay with a time of 3:19.35, only .28 seconds short of a meet-record time. Andrew Onimus, Corey Brown, Bob Boyle and Tyler Gallen easily sped past second-place Archbishop Ryan by more than seven seconds. However, places third through sixth (Monsignor Bonner, West Catholic, Archbishop Wood, Father Judge) were separated by a mere .62 seconds.

The Lions also placed second in the 4×400 Philadelphia Area Schools, with Onimus replaced by Brian Hamilton.

In the Catholic 4×400 girls’ event, West Catholic’s Jada Steward, Michelle Davis, Caela Wiliams and Chante Moore won convincingly. Their time of 3:54.84 was seven seconds faster than second-place Cardinal O’Hara. Archbishop Prendergast edged St. Hubert’s by .29 seconds to take third.

Behind John Malick, Wallace Spencer, Jamie Gentile and Brian Leonard, Malvern Prep won the 4×400 Inter-Academic League Relay with a time of 3:26.18.

Meghan Morton of St. Pius X in Pottstown finished third in the javelin with a throw of 43.06 meters.

One of the meet’s most exciting battles occurred in the Philadelphia Catholic Academies League 4×400 relay. When it was over, Villa Maria Academy’s Marie Elena Bolles, Erin Miller, Olivia Bolles and Emily Cable seized gold with a time of 3:53.50. Notre Dame Academy (3:54.74) and Gwynedd Mercy Academy (3:55.67) were on VMA’s heels from beginning to end.

In the javelin, Holy Ghost Prep’s Jim Budzinski took third with a personal-best heave of 62.15 meters.

Meanwhile, the grade schools were making their share of noise. None was louder than Nativity B.V.M. School in Media, where track coach Paul Fox has adopted a simple philosophy throughout his 10-year tenure.

“We want the kids to have a good experience and be introduced to a sport they hopefully will continue with through high school and possibly college,” said Fox. “In track, no one sits on the bench. Everyone is an equal part of the team and is encouraged to do their best. We don’t push anyone too hard, but the kids end up pushing themselves.”

The kids, competing in a field of 129 schools, also produce strong results.

Led by Rachel Tusar, Ciera Sampson, Alex Patrick and Ally Kirkpatrick’s school-record time of 52.03 seconds, Nativity captured the senior girls archdiocesan 4×100 title for the eighth time in school history.

When they returned to school several hours later on Friday afternoon, all of the participants, led by Principal Mary Anne Johnson, were greeted with a surprise party. Fox was not surprised.

“It’s just a part of the commitment and love I have for Nativity B.V.M. Parish and its athletes,” said Fox.

In the senior boys’ archdiocesan 4×100, St. Patrick’s of Kennett Square took first as Patrick Timlin, Alex Giarrocco, Andrew Curry and Phillip Claudy finished in 47.60 seconds. In the junior meet, Springfield’s St. Francis of Assisi won the boys’ while Coatesville’s John Paul II placed first in the girls meet.