Security Tight Throughout Penn Relays 2013

Security lines at Penn Relays 2013.
By Barrington M. Salmon and Ann A. Walters

News Americas, PHILADELPHIA, PA, Sun. April. 28, 2013: Tighter security manifested itself inside and outside of the stadium with a heavy presence of police officers and security personnel at the just-concluded running of the 119th Penn Relays in Philadelphia, PA Saturday.

More detailed and methodical searches of bags and belongings and law enforcement keeping a watchful eye on just about every aspect of the event were part of this year’s reality at Penn 2013. But the relays went off without a hitch.

Penn Relays Media Official Chas Dorman said late in the afternoon Saturday that he was not aware of any major security breaches.

“All week, we were talking about no large bags or backpacks being allowed into the stadium,” he said. “We’ve been trying to limit what people bring in and I haven’t seen any issues all week. People have been complying. Some people have come to us saying bags were unattended. Everyone understands why we do this. We’re responsible for 110,000 people and have to keep them safe as they enjoy the day.”

Dorman said the university had sent out more than 50,000 emails, with information about the enhanced security procedures, distributed advisories in the 10 days following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and used social media, including Facebook and Twitter to get the word out.

Maryland resident Sheron Leigh, who walked into the stadium with Richard Noble, said security officials at the gate took the drawstrings of her small knapsack.

“When I got there, they said I can’t have a bag with a drawstring. They didn’t say why. Maybe they thought I was going to hang myself,” she joked.

Leigh, however, added that the extra steps taken for security reasons didn’t bother her.

“It helps that they caught the bombers. And you know in a place this size, anything could happen,” she said. “It would have been helpful if we’d known beforehand.”

Noble agreed.“I don’t have any problem with security but I would like to know why they took the drawstrings. They told us to leave the bag or the string,” said Noble who said he’s has been a fixture at Penn Relays for many years.

Fun to be Found All Around Franklin Field

Activity around Franklin Field stadium was as busy as on the field inside. Nike occupied a large tent which housed the Penn Relays Speed Burst, where passersby could get advice from coaches and world-class athletes on how best to fly out the blocks. Sensors and cameras measured their efforts and videos captured each attempt, a Nike analyst explained. Sprint phenoms Allyson Felix, Jamaican-born US sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross and two-time 400m Hurdles Olympic champion Felix Sanchez stopped by to coach some participants on the finer points of their techniques. Sanchez’s time on Friday was the top time for male participants on the leader board.

Accompanied by loud, pulsating up-tempo music, prospective shoppers and the curious strolled around the tent. In the back, shoppers could pick up Nike sneakers, T-shirts, customized socks, shades, shoe laces and other paraphernalia. Many were Jamaica-themed with the flag’s color predominating. Next door, a DJ livened up the proceeding with smooth reggae sounds and he constantly reminded passersby that they could sample plantain and banana chips, soup and natural coconut water.

Athletes and visitors lounged in the grass, some played with a Frisbee, others tossed a football.

Not to be outdone was Grace Kennedy. Grace Kennedy executive Noel Greenland was succinct in explaining why a tiny island-nation of only three million has such a large footprint on the track and field world stage.
“Three things make us excel,” said Greenland, senior vice president for Grace Kennedy Money Services. “God has blessed us and we have recognized God’s blessings; Jamaicans have a passion for Jamaica; we’re proud people, love our country and seek to excel; and we’re giving – willing to give to anyone who comes.”

Grace Kennedy was one of Penn Relays’ major sponsors and provided meals, transportation and other support to Jamaican athletes, as it has done for the past 19 years.

“This is great seeing athletes … and giving them a good experience,” he said. “Penn Relays has grown tremendously. There are more schools, more countries and more participants. One reason for doing this is to say thank you to Jamaicans, Caribbean people and others around the world.”

Greenland’s colleague Andrew Collins agreed.

“Penn Relays is an opportunity to experience Jamaican high school athletes in international competition,” added Collins, Marketing Manager for Grace Foods, International. “We support anything that is in the best interest of the development of Jamaican athletes. We support Team Jamaica Bickle (TJB) which provides nutrition for all Caribbean athletes.”

At the TJB tent across campus, a steady stream of athletes, coaches, officials and others enjoyed meals provided by volunteers. Vincent Hosang, founder of Royal Caribbean Bakery, and his daughter Sabrina, oversaw the operation, providing 700 athletes with three meals a day for the duration of the relay carnival.

He said he had to install hot and cold water, buy a generator and run electricity to make sure that his phalanx of volunteers could provide the meals for the athletes. Hosang was self-deprecating as he explained his role.

“I contribute just a small slice of this,” he said. “If people didn’t support my business, I could do this. God has blessed me and I’m happiest when I’m giving back.”

Hosang has spent well over $1 million out of his own pocket in the 19 years since Team Jamaica Bickle began providing meals, transportation and other amenities to Jamaican and Caribbean athletes.

Natalie Neita-Headley, a Minister who holds portfolio responsibility for Sport in the Office of the Prime Minister, was effusive in her praise of the competition.

“I was very pleased with the results. Jamaica performed with distinction,” she said. “It was amazing to see the numbers of supporters in the stands in green, yellow and black. It was a great Diasporic indicator that clearly Penn Relays is the Jamaican relays. I was happy for the warm weather and elated that as a group, the student/athletes and teams did so well. As a country, we’re showing that we continue to dominate and that in 49 Penn Relays’ 119 years, we continue to play a pivotal role.”