April 2024 Volume 20

Penn Relays acknowledges 60 years of Jamaican participation

Reprinted from Jamaica Gleaner
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Members of the crack Kingston College track and field team who competed in the Penn Relays in 1964 a week after the North Street-based school had won the annual Boys’ Championships for a third consecutive year. The athletes (from left) are Lennox Tulloch, Alex MacDonald (captain), Rupert Hoilett, Tony Keyes, Jimmy Grant and Lennox Miller. Tulloch competed in the triple jump then known as the hop-step-jump. Miller, Keyes, Hoilett and Grant ran in the sprint relay.

With this year’s staging marking the 60th year since a Jamaican team made its debut at the Penn Relays, associate director Aaron Robison said he is open to finding ways of furthering the meet’s relationship with Jamaican track and field.

The Penn Relays holds the distinction of being the oldest and largest track and field event in the United States. The annual meet is hosted by the University of Pennsylvania at the historic Franklin Field stadium.

What began as a modest local sporting event in 1895, quickly blossomed into an international carnival of athletics. In fact, several of track and field’s relay protocols like batons and exchange zones were first used and standardised at the Penn Relays.

Jamaica’s first participation came in 1964, where a Kingston College (KC) relay team of Jim Grant, Rupert Hoilett, Tony Keyes and Lennox Miller won gold in the 440-yard relay final with a time of 42.7 seconds.

KC, who had also won Boys’ Champs that year, opened the door for several other Jamaican teams to compete at the Penn Relays.

“So in 1895, it began as just a simple relay carnival between Penn and a handful of other schools that were here in the local area, as well as members of the Ivy League,” Robison said. “In the early 1960s is when Jamaica first attended. Then later in the 1960s and into the 1970s and 1980s is when they began to add not only the college women, but also the scholastic girls. And then that brought us to where we are now.

“So it’s continued to evolve, it’s continued to grow, and then for probably the last 25 years, it’s been thousands of high schools that come every year from 12 to 15 nations. Most notably Jamaica brings quite a large group from the high school, college, and pro levels.”

Jamaica’s history with the Penn Relays is a storied one and Robison said work is being done to further cultivate the relationship between the two.

He was recently in Jamaica to watch the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships (Champs) and has been engaged in conversations with Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association president Keith Wellington and CEO of Team Jamaica Bickle (TJB) Irwine Claire.

TJB is an organisation that provides hospitality services to Jamaican and other Caribbean athletes that compete at the Penn Relays.

“I am always very open to such things. It is a big part of the reason why I came down to Champs this year. I want to continue to have open dialogue on ways we can continue to explore further collaboration. I have a great relationship with Keith Wellington, who is the president of ISSA, who has been really great to me and, in addition, Irwine Clare with Team Jamaica Bickle. We talk often.

“There is certainly open collaboration in seeing how can we continue to grow and provide opportunities for Jamaican high school kids to be able to come and see the United States, to see Pennsylvania, to see the Penn Relays and to see what a track and field event looks like here in the United States,” Robison said.

The Penn Relays gets under way on April 25 and runs to April 27, with the three-day athletics carnival being shown live on FlowSports and FloTrack.

Robison said for this year, he will be looking forward to seeing the high school finals as some of the best junior athletes across the world will compete for the high school championship.

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