Hosted annually since 1895, the Penn Relays are the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States.
This year’s event, which takes place from April 24-26, will attract approximately 18,000 competitors from nearly 60 countries to participate in 425 events at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.
The 120th annual edition is a major milestone for Kingston College (KC) which was the first Jamaican school to take part in the Relays in 1964. KC was the dominant boys’ high school track and field team in that era, winning 14 straight CHAMPS titles.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, the school’s 440-yard relay team will be inducted into the Penn Relays Carnival Wall of Fame established in 1994 to mark the Relays’ 100th anniversary.
The team, comprising Jamaica-based businessman Rupert Hoilette, who was the opening ceremony flag bearer at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics while still in high school, Dr. Tony Keyes and the late Dr. Lennox Miller and James Grant ran 42.7 secs.
Keyes is a paediatric dentist in Washington while Miller – who won silver and bronze medals in the 100-metre dash at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics before establishing a dental practice in California – and Grant – a former University of Iowa women’s track & field head coach – both died 10 years ago.
Donovan Davis, the team’s coach, is a retired college professor who resides in California.
Two decades ago, the Toronto chapter honoured the pioneering team. Miller, James and Davis attended the event.
Kingston College Old Boys Association Toronto chapter president Lawrence Prendergast and Clive Bariffe, who held the presidency from 1994-1996, will lead a strong Canadian alumni contingent at this weekend’s relays.
“The Penn Relays are special,” said Bariffe who owns a travel agency in Ajax. “At the time KC made its debut, those Games were the only annual international event for Jamaican track and field athletes. The fan support from the large Jamaica Diaspora in the United States and neighbouring Canada is amazing. I have not been to the Relays in the last five years, so I am really looking forward to being there and to be part of the celebration that will see the 1964 KC quarter-mile relay team being among the 21st class of inductees. They blazed a trail for me and other athletes from the school to follow.”
Bariffe represented KC in the 4×400-metre and high jump events at the Relays from 1972-1974 and the University of Florida – where he graduated with a business administration and marketing degree – in the 4×400 and 400-metre hurdles from 1974-1978.
In 1978, he became the university’s first Penn Relays 400-metre hurdles winner in 50.1 secs.
Triumphant in the 1974 CHAMPS Class One 110-metre hurdles and long and high jump events, Bariffe looks forward to attending the Relays as a spectator.
“I go not only to support KC but also any team from Jamaica,” said Bariffe who led Jamaica at the second Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) Games in Trinidad & Tobago in 1973 and was a silver medal winner in the 4×400-metre relay at the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games. “That’s a good thing. Over the years, the Relays have evolved into a fierce rivalry between Jamaica and the United Sates and it’s a great feeling to be there to soak in the intense competition.”
Herb McKenley, who took part in the Penn Relays in 1946 and 1947 and was the first Jamaican to secure a college scholarship in the United States, led the way for KC to go to the event five decades ago.
“He was able to convince the Jamaican high school authorities to send a team,” said meet director Dave Johnson. “The team came here that year and won the 440-yard relay.”
Jamaica holds Penn Relays records in the men’s 4×100-metre event (37.90 secs.) and the women’s sprint medley relay (3:34.56).