By Barrington M. Salmon & Ann A. Walters
News Americas, PHILADELPHIA, PA, Sun. April 25, 2014: As has become customary at the Penn Relays, the eyes of the world and the more than 109,000-plus people who made it to Franklin Field in Pennsylvania, were on Jamaica – specifically Kingston College.
The 120th edition of the relay carnival marked the 50th anniversary of Jamaican schools’ participation in the relays. Perhaps only those from Kingston College expected the team to win but at the conclusion of the relay carnival in 1964, the names of Alex McDonald, Kenneth (Tony) Keyes, Lennox Tulloch, Rupert Hoilette, Jimmy Grant and Lennox (Billy) Miller were emblazoned in the annals of the carnival’s storied history.
The Kingston College team won the 4×110 yards race and came second in the mile relay. In the 4×110 yards victory, KC broke the 21-year record held by Brooklyn High School, with a time of 41.7 seconds.
Patrick Dallas, recently installed president of the Kingston College Old Boys’ Association, came to Philadelphia as part of a Jamaican VIP delegation to mark the 50th anniversary festivities.
Among the events honoring KC was a flag-raising ceremony of the KC flag, which like the Jamaican flag, will be flown at all subsequent Penn Relays in perpetuity; presentation of a proclamation by Philadelphia city officials; installation of the 1964 into the Penn Relays Hall of Fame; and recognition at ceremonies spread over the three-day event.
“For me, there are several highlights but the single most important one for me was the raising of flag ceremony,” said Dallas, owner of two technology companies in Kingston, Jamaica. “Seeing our flag go up and knowing that the flag will be going up every year was a touching moment for me. It made me proud to be a part of such a great institution.
“The team didn’t just enter to make up numbers, we came to win. We were hosted at City Hall where the City of Philadelphia recognized the role that KC has played in opening up the way for other Jamaican schools. To hear them speak of the greatness of Jamaican athletes, speak, almost with envy that Jamaican schools come there and beat them all the time elicited a feeling of pride.”
More than 22,000 athletes from track clubs, colleges and high schools around the U.S. and 60 countries competed during the three-day competition, site of America’s oldest and largest international track and field competition.
More athletes compete at the Penn relays than at the Olympics and during the more than 35 hours of competition, there were 425 events run, one every 5 minutes.
Cooler than expected weather and a brief downpour did little to dampen the ardor of the tens of thousands of Jamaicans who came from all points on the compass to support their country at the relay carnival in Philadelphia. A number of Jamaicans proudly dubbed Franklin Field the city of Kingston for the duration of the relays.
The extremely loud and raucous vocal support for athletes performing at every level – high school, collegiate and professional – was extraordinary. Spectators screamed, exhorted teams and individuals to the finish line, jumped up and down in their seats and showed their national pride.
Green, black and gold dotted the landscape inside and outside of the stadium as visitors sported track suits, T-shirts, bandanas, scarves, sneakers, earrings, T-shirts, shades and an assortment of running gear.
The excitement and national pride spilled outside of the stadium onto the grounds. The Grace Kennedy proved to be the most popular spot and at one point several hundred people stood in and around the tents listening to the thumping, heart-pounding reggae riddims, dancehall and American popular music. Visitors formed a large circle where the hardier souls danced, while those around them snapped pictured and videotaped the proceedings. Meanwhile the DJ encourage passersby to sample plantain and banana chips, soup and natural coconut water.
Again this year, Nike occupied a large tent with a potpourri of hands-on sports-related activities. Accompanied by their own brand of bracing, pulsating up-tempo music, prospective shoppers and the curious strolled around the tent. Shoppers could have the unique retail experience while searching for Nike sneakers, T-shirts, customized socks, shades, shoe laces and other paraphernalia. Many were Jamaica-themed with the flag’s color predominating.
On the final day of competition, Jamaica College scorched the track to register a Penn Relays High School Boys record of 39.72 seconds in the 4x100m. Jamaican high schools swept all three of the Championship of the Americas titles with St. Jago grabbing a victory in the 4x400m and Calabar stamping their superiority on the 4x800m race. JC’s win was one of the fastest 4x100m races ever run by a high school boys team, while the eight fastest times run in this year’s event fell into the top five all-time. In all, six Jamaican teams in the race finished in front of the two American teams s in the race.
This was Calabar’s second win in the event and first since 1985, making the team the one with the second longest break between wins.
Not to outdone, Jamaican high school girls earned quality victories as well. On Friday, the Edwin Allen girls team won two Championships of Americas finals in the 4x100m and the 4x400m. The wins represented one of the best years for Jamaican high school teams in recent years.
At the Team Jamaica Bickle (TJB) encampment downstream from the stadium, a steady stream of athletes, coaches, athletic and government officials, visitors and supporters enjoyed the camaraderie. Caribbean athletes over the course of a week ate three square meals provided by volunteers.
Irwine Clare who along with Blaine Stoddard created Team Jamaica Bickle, basked in the praises and congratulations for 20 years of service to Jamaican and other athletes. The pair saw the correlation between nutrition and peak performance, understanding that the athletes would and could only go as far as their resources will carry them.
Jamaican athletes were also arriving in the United States no guarantees of housing, food or assistance, all of which had a sometimes deleterious impact on their performance. And so Team Jamaica Bickle was born.
So for the past two decades, TJB has provided meals, housing and hotel accommodations and other amenities to Caribbean athletes and officials for the duration of the Penn Relays.
“The sense of national pride and patriotism that we see makes me proud,” said Clare to a crowd before an awards ceremony at the TJB podium. “Sports make us feel like family. During Champs in Jamaica, there were no reported homicides. There’s a direct correlation. Sports have a way of bringing people together. We have to build, fortify and maximize on this.
“We raise money, we beg money from you. What would better help us is if everybody contributed money. I know all of want (our athletes) to do well. Without the resources, we would not be able to extend this tradition. Respect due to Kingston College. That’s why we’re able to boast about beating American teams.”
Vincent Hosang, who along with his wife, Jeanette founded Royal Caribbean Bakery and Caribbean Food Delights in New York, oversaw an operation that provided about 650 athletes with three meals a day for the duration of the relay carnival, said Clare. In addition, Clare added, TJB welcomed Jamaican and West Indian students who are attending colleges in the area to come eat and enjoy the companionship of fellow athletes and countrymen and women. Hosang said last year that he’s spent well over $1 million out of his own pocket since Team Jamaica Bickle began catering to athletes and officials.
As TJB activities moved on around him, New Jersey resident Horatio Fenton stood watching in awe.
“The whole thing is just that I’m proud to be Jamaican,” said Fenton. “I’m coming back next year. And I plan to invite a friend of mine from Miami. This is something I’m sure he’d appreciate. People are coming from everywhere, not just the East Coast but the West Coast too. I’m just very proud of my heritage.”
At TJB’s award ceremony, Clare, Natalie Neita-Headley, and other presenters gave gifts and trophies to members of the Jamaica College relay team; and to Devaughn Baker, the team’s anchor was named by Penn Relays organizers as the High School Boys’ Athlete for Relay Events. The Edwin Allen High School Girls’ 4x400m team was also honored.
Edwin Allen won the 4x100m race, copped the mile Relay in the second fastest time ever at 3:34.76 minutes and came second in the 4x800m race. Monique Spencer, who ran on both victorious relay teams, was named the Most Outstanding Female, and Jaheel Hyde of Wolmer’s, winner of the 400m hurdles, was named Most Outstanding Male.
Edwin Allen coach Michael Dyke stood in the background watching the presentations.
“It was an excellent performance,” said Dyke, who has coached the team for more than 20 years. “I encourage the girls to be good students and to be very disciplined. Discipline is always a key factor.”
Dyke said his charges overcame, among other challenges, a late night flight into New York and unfamiliar conditions to excel in their races.
“From years ago, they were inspired by (Herb) McKinley and by Michael Frater and Usain Bolt. I honestly don’t know if it’s the food and water (which makes them perform so well.) The young ladies are motivated by champions,” he said.
Neita-Headley, a Minister who holds portfolio responsibility for Sport in the Office of the Prime Minister, spoke of her pride.
“I want to first extend my congratulations to K.C. on 50 years of participation and to Team Jamaica Bickle’s 20 years of support, ensuring that athletes are cared for, fed and given transportation and room and board,” she said. “I also want to highlight my pleasure for coaches, administrators, parents and schools who sacrifice so much to get the athletes here.”
“This is the pride of a people. Jamaicans are proud, very proud of that small island, even when you’re abroad. There’s something about us: We’re naturally talented, confident and there’s very little we think we can’t accomplish if we set our minds to it.”