November 2013 Volume 10

We Just Went to Run: A Penn Relay Pioneer remembers

Ray Ford
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Had it not been for a late entry application filing, this year’s running of the Penn Relays the 118th, would have marked the 50th anniversary of the first ever high school track team from Jamaica, to make the sojourn to the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.  Instead, the talent-laden relay squad from Kingston College had to literally cool their jets in Kingston until April 1964, to make their first appearance at the world-famous relays. And what a grand entrance that was?

“From the times we were running back in 1963,” remembered Dr. Tony Keyes, one of the three surviving Kingston College Penn Relays pioneers recently, “we knew we were ready.” Besides Dr. Keyes, the other members of that KC track squad to depart Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport for Philadelphia, via Miami, that spring, were Alex McDonald (captain), Jimmy Grant, Rupert Hoilette, Lennox Miller, and Lennox Tulloch. And it was a grand sent off, as quite a number of KC students, KC old boys and unaffiliated well-wishes rode out to the airport to mingle with the team members dressed smartly and uniformly in their grey trousers, black Oxford-laced shoes, purple blazers, white shirts and new Fortis silk ties. “When that team picture hit the Jamaica Gleaner, people were calling us the Drifters,” recalled Tony, the ace corner sprinter.

“A lot of people mistakenly thought that it was the Olympian Herb McKinley who was behind us going,” Keyes noted. “But it was all due to our sports master and track coach Mr. Donovan Davis,” say Tony, whom he is still in contact with to this day. “He was the mastermind, making all the contacts and pulling all the strings,” says Keyes of his soft-spoken, easy-going high school track & field coach. “Herb, because of his Olympic fame and his U.S. experience through his years as a student-athlete at the University of Illinois, was more or less our chaperone. But Donovan was the man.”   

But as promising and talented as these Kingston College athletes were, the trip had to be financed, and there was no government funding in place. So in came a prominent and wealthy KC old boy, Mr. Eli Matalon. “Well, I think Donovan sold the idea to Matalon, from two standpoints. First, this KC track talent needed to be exposed. And if they did well, the glory would come back to the school and to the island,” surmised Tony. “So Matalon, out of his own pocket, paid our airfares, lodged us in the downtown Philadelphia Hilton Hotel located at Walnut and Spruce, and covered all our meals. It was so fitting that he could make the trip with us, in order to witness first-hand, the product of his backing.”

The squad travelled up to `Phili’ mid-week, a few days before the meet and got settled in. Then they had to find somewhere to work-out and get acclimatized. Herb McKenley had a contact at the near-by Villanova University, who was the track coach. At practice, the team met Frank Budd who was an Olympian, NCAA sprint champion, and the world’s fastest sprinter in 1961, until Bob Hayes came along.

Unlike today where thousands of Jamaicans flock to Philadelphia, come Penn Relays time, Keyes remembers a small cadre of KC old boys who had driven down form New York to support them.

At Franklin Field on the Friday, the team arrived to find conditions very cold and damp, and of course, much unlike conditions back in Jamaica. 1964 marked the second year since Championship Sports in Jamaica had left the grass/dirt track of Sabina Park for the modern rubber-type track at the National Stadium. To be greeted at the Penn Relays with a cinder/dirt track, was going to be different for the men from North Street.

Another feature at Franklin Field was that the warm-up area for athletes, called the bull-pen. Unlike the open field at the National Stadium in Kingston, it was very cramped. Nevertheless, and amazingly, on that Friday morning, the 4 X 100 yards relay team consisting of Grant, Hoilette, Keyes and Miller, in cold damp conditions, breezed through their heat, with the fastest time. Later on the same day, Grant, McDonald, Miller and Hoilette secured their berth in the 4 x 400 yards relay final. But the buzz at Franklin Field was this unknown, off-shore sprint team running in alien conditions, which clocked the fastest time in the 4 x 100 yards heats.

“The Friday night, because of the good time that we ran, we felt very confident. But we were so focused on the job at hand, that we did not get a chance greet the well-wishers,” said Keyes. “We just went to run.”

Then came the marquee 4 x 100 final on Saturday at about noon. The questions were: Could the men from North Street hold their nerve? And was their fastest time the day before, just a fluke?
From his vantage point at the third leg, Tony remembers Jimmy Grant getting off to his usual flier. “But he came up hard on Rupie,” Keyes remembers, “and there was a little fumbling. Rupie ran hard, but by the time he reached me, we were back in the pack - no closer than in fourth place.” I asked Dr. Keyes if he was nervous. “Not really,” he responded. “I just knew in my head what I had to do.”

Keyes with his short strides is to this day, some say, one of the greatest corner-runners in the annals of Championship Sports. And that skill came in handy at Franklin Field that Saturday afternoon.  “I just waited until Hoilette hit my mark, and then, after a near-perfect exchange,” Keyes recalls, “I was off.”

After the race, sports master and track coach, Donavan Davie told Tony that his leg was the reason why KC won the relay. “I just kept passing one man after another. And by the time I got the baton to Billy, we had a slight lead.” And as usual, when Miller dips and sucks in air, it’s usually all over. And on that Saturday at Franklin Field, it was. The only downer was, Miller pulling up a yard or so before the finish, but still had enough to hang on. The dramatic photo of Miller grimacing, one hand on his hamstring and the other holding the baton aloft sort of symbolizes all that is good about Kingston College - `The Brave May Fall but Never Yield.’ But there was more work left to be done. There was a 4 x 400 yards relay to run.

“Missa G (Youngster Goldsmith) did a marvelous job on Billy to get him ready for his leg in the 4 x 400 final,” said Tony. There was not an alternate 400 leg runner to replace Miller, and so the heavily bandaged Miller had to run. He did well enough to help the team get second place in that mile relay final. “And if it wasn’t for Billy’s injury, we would have won that race as well,” surmises Keyes.

Meanwhile, `Bongo’ Len Tulloch had one good jump in the hop step and jump, but it wasn’t enough to bring him a medal. He also was selected as an alternate for the 4 x 100 relay. “Len though,” as his Merle Grove sparing partner recalled, “was nevertheless in the thick of things. And he too basked in the glory.” 

The contingent then drove up to New York City where Mr. Davis’s mother was living at the time. There they did a little shopping and site-seeing, before returning to Kingston, Jamaica knowing well that they had blazed a trail for their beloved Kingston College, and for Jamaica.
KC returned to Penn Relays in 1965 without Alex McDonald who had taken up a track scholarship at the University of Michigan, and Lennox Tulloch. They were replaced in the squad by Gregory Ramsay and Colin Green. The 4 x 100 yard relay team unchanged from their initial outing, sped to a second victory. And the 4 x 400 with one replacement in Gregory Ramsay, won their race also.

But for Kingston College, the year 1964 made a high water-mark. Because not since 1922 when Jamaica College did it, had a school won Champs, Sunlight, Manning and Oliver Shield, while sharing cricket’s Spaulding Cup with Clarendon College. The school was winning Champs for the third straight year, and responsible for breaking 6 of the 13 records that fell. And in Manning Cup the ’64 team scored a record 44 goals while conceding only two. Not to go unnoticed either, were the academic exploits of Delano Harrison and Paul Robinson, winning the Independence and Centenary scholarships respectively.

The Penn Relays first run on April 21, 1895, was the first of its kind and remains the world’s most prestigious. Today, forty-nine (49) years after the first Jamaica team visited and on its 118th outing, Penn Relays is for the most part a `Jamaica Carnival’ bringing Jamaicans mainly from up and down the eastern shore board of the United States and further inland, and even some from Jamaica itself, to have fun, while cheering on athletes from Jamaica-based high schools and tertiary institutions.

“On Saturdays – the final day-running of the event, 75% of the estimated 50,000 spectators who fill the stands, are Jamaicans,” wrote Derrick Wright KC ’70. The entire fun-filled Penn Relay weekend at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, is now a Jamaica expose’, bettered probably only by the annual Labor Day Parade held in Brooklyn, New York every September. It’s as if the University of Pennsylvania located in west Philadelphia is taken over by mouth-watering Jamaican cuisine, throbbing reggae music, and national colors of black, gold and green, worn in various trend-setting attires. Jamaica could not get better publicity, even if they paid the Jamaica Tourist Board to put on a campaign. “The Jamaican crowd in the stands is a sight to behold,” noted Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie after this year’s April running. “It’s a symbol of unity reminiscent of independence celebrations and dancing in Half-Way Tree during the Olympic Games,” the Ambassador added.

And so Kingston College, in 1964, exposed itself as a track & field powerhouse, to the world. Every man who was part of that team had scholarship offers from major universities in the United States. But in 1965 four of the original Penn Relay team accepted scholarships to Division 1 universities in the US. Lennox Miller - track to University of Southern California; Rupert Hoilette – track scholarship to the University of Southern California; Jimmy Grant to Eastern Michigan University; and Tony Keyes - track and soccer, but chose soccer at Michigan State University.

Three of the original members of the 1964 team are now deceased. They are Dr. Lennox Miller, Olympian (silver 1968), and bronze (1972) both in the 100 meters, and specialist dentist. Jimmy Grant a Jamaica Pan American Games representative and head track coach of the women’s team at the University of Iowa. And Lennox Tulloch, who remained in Jamaica to start his own business.  Also deceased is Mr. Youngster Goldsmith the strength coach. But their feats and their contributions to Kingston College will live with us forever.

The three surviving members from that original 1964 team are Rupert Hoilette, Alex McDonald and Tony Keyes. Hoilette, a Jamaica Pan Am Games representative and businessman, resides in Kingston, Jamaica; Alex McDonald also a businessman live is Jamaica. And Dr. Tony Keyes is a pediatric dentist in Washington, D.C. The track coach and the visionary behind this grand achievement Mr. Donovan Davis, is a retired college professor who now residing in California.

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