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The Penn Relays

Updated on August 26, 2021
The Plaque Received for Winning their Heat.
The Plaque Received for Winning their Heat.

Last week on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, the 119th running of the Penn Relays were held at Franklin Field. For those of you not familiar with this event, for its sport (track and field) it ranks close to being the Super Bowl of events. Teams from not only every state are represented, but many many countries also send teams to this prestigious event. It is a three day extravaganza featuring some of the best runners and athletes in the world. It caters to both high school, college and professional runners.

My family has been fortunate enough to participate in the Penn Relays for the past 4 fours as two of my kids were/are high school runners and they both competed in these games as juniors and seniors in high school. For most events, there are minimum qualifying times so not just anyone can participate. You have to be decent, at minimum, to get accepted to participate. There are individual events, but for most of the festivities, as the name indicates, its all about relays. Jamaica, home to some of the best runners in the world, including the current fastest man in the world in Usain Bolt, heavily participates in this event every year. For example, 8 of the top 10high school girls 4x400m relay times were turned in by Jamaica teams

This event is so well attended, that there are hundreds of heats, with up to 15 teams per heat participating. If you do the math, that's a lot of runners. Anyone that wins their heat automatically gets a Penn Relays plaque (seen in the photo). The top times in each event come back and run in what they call, the Championship of America race, which crowns "the best team in America" for that event. That team takes center stage in the middle of the stadium to receive a huge Penn Relay trophy, along with Gold Watches.

Granted, for most schools, reaching the Championship of America heat is nothing but a pipe dream. But this event is so much more than hoping to make it to the Championship of America Race.

Have Your Ever Attended or Participated in the Penn Relays?

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The Experience

Just having the kids experience the thrill of competing at this event is worth its weight in gold. This stage is something you would dream about as a kid. I was personally able to see the effect it had on two of my kids. The first time, of course, they have to deal with the nerves. After all, its not everyday when they run in front of a huge stadium full of people. For example, my daughter ran this year on a Thursday, probably the lightest day of attendance of the three days. That being said, the stadium was packed with over 23,000 screaming spectators!!!

The thrill of walking out onto that beautiful field and track, the Public address announcer calling the action in real-time, and the crowd applauding the efforts of these wonderful athletes, is something I'd wish every high school athlete could get to experience.

Honestly, its not even about beating the field. Beating your own personal time is a thrill in itself and most schools do get to experience that as the adrenalin from this stage kicks in and causes most people to perform at their very best. Of course, you ant to win your heat, which adds more excitement and appreciation to the effort, but whether or not you finish first or last in your heat, you still got the memory of a lifetime.

To top it all off, my daughter and son got to experience something else that doesn't happen every day. They would be going onto or leaving the track, passing world class athletes and Olympians! Last year was the ultimate as it was an Olympic year. My daughter got to say hi to some of America's big name stars who were destined for the Olympics. Think about how it was watching last year's Olympic games in London where my kids were able to say, I ran on the same track, on the same day, as that gold medal winner!!! Again, just an awesome experience for the kids.

Girls 4x400m Relay Heat: Event 135

The Organizers

I want to do a shout out to those individuals responsible for putting on this great event. For those of you that are track parents, you know how long and boring a track meet can be. With the thousands and thousands of athletes competing in this event, you would think its a recipe for disaster. The organizers of this event do such a great job in running things, that it all happens like clock-work. They usher the athletes onto and off the track with such precision that in most cases, all events take off very close to their published start times, assuming the weather cooperates.

Its just a thing of beauty to watch!!


So the message I want to leave to you is the following. If your son or daughter ever gets a chance to compete in the Penn Relays, by all means, encourage them to do so. Tell them all they need to do is their lousy est, and the experience will be something they will treasure forever. I'll also say to you the parents, make every attempt to go and watch your children compete. Its not easy as it requires you to take at least one day off of work and to travel to Philly. Believe me, it will be worth it. You will be so proud of your child and so proud to be a parent, just watching them perform on this big stage. I hope you get the chance that my wife and I have had over the past 4 years. For us, it may not yet be over. My daughter will be running in college next year so she may get yet more chances to compete at this fine event.

If you've ever attended the Penn Relays, I'd love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below regardless of whether your experience was positive like mine, or the opposite.


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