Winning an event at the historic Penn Relays Carnival at Franklin Field in Philadelphia for a track and field athlete is like a college football player going home with the Heisman Trophy.
There’s no bigger prize in track and field than the famed plaque a 4×400-meter relay team receives for winning their race at the 125th version of the Penn Relays.
Recently, four young ladies from St. Dominic Academy took to the track among the tens of thousands of others who arrive in the City of Brotherly Love with the hope of collecting a slice of track and field history.
In its storied track and field history, St. Dominic Academy has only won at the Penn Relays in 1995 and 2003, so securing the plaque – also called by some as “the wheel” – is a rare prize.
But the members of the Blue Devils’ 4×400-meter relay all believed that they had a chance to secure a piece of history by winning at Penn, although they had no idea it had been 16 years that the Blue Devils had won at the Penn Relays.
“We had the potential for some fast times,” said Kayla Sullivan. “We hoped that we could be the ones to do it this year.”
“It was on our minds,” said Milani Bethel. “We wanted to get on the track to see how well we could do.”
“We were speaking about winning,” Suhayla Johnson said. “We wanted to leave it all on the track.”
The newcomer to the relay was Megan Dunne, who gained recognition and notoriety as a soccer player.
“I had never been there before,” Dunne said. “I just imagined it in my mind.”
Yes, it marked the first time ever that the four athletes ran the mile relay together.
But they shrugged off the nerves of competing in front of such a giant crowd and the enormity of the moment, running at an event that had been held yearly for a century and a quarter.
Sullivan took the baton and ran the first leg.
“They start calling the teams, name by name,” Sullivan said. “The adrenaline starts to flow and the crowd is so much fun. Incredibly, I heard my teammates in the stands cheering. Individually, all of us had done well, but we had never run together as a relay.”
Next up was newcomer Dunne.
“Once I saw Kayla go out, I knew we had a chance,” Dunne said. “When I got on the track and saw how many people were there, I said that this was insane. I said, ‘Where am I? This is definitely not Lincoln Park.’”
Then there was Johnson.
“It was definitely exciting,” Johnson said. “I had no nerves. I just wanted to give the baton to Milani in a good spot and let her finish it off.”
By the time Bethel received the baton, the Blue Devils were way in the lead.
“I think we were all really prepared this time around,” Bethel said. “I had so much adrenaline going for me. I wasn’t nervous at all. My teammates put me in a good position to win.”
The Blue Devils won the heat with a time of 4:06.18. It wasn’t good enough to break the school record, but it was good enough to defeat runner-up Townsend Harris of Flushing, N.Y., with Hackensack third and Middletown South fourth.
When the race was over, the girls were presented with their plaque, their wheel, their trophy from the famed Penn Relays.
“I had no idea that we would get that wheel,” Dunne said. “I thought we would get a nice pat on the back. It was really cool receiving that.”
“I thought it was like a dream come true,” Bethel said. “Being able to bring home a wheel from the Penn Relays? It’s amazing.”
“Honestly, when they handed that to us, I was in shock,” Johnson said. “I knew we would get a gold medal, but to get the plaque was unreal. I was shaking holding it.”
“I was in shock,” Sullivan said. “I asked everyone, ‘Did we really do this?’ It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Coach John Nagel knew that his relay had a chance to receive a historic trophy.
“They’re good,” Nagel said. “They perform. It’s nothing more complicated than that. I thought we were in play. They looked like they were ready to go. Other teams were nervous. These girls are performers. They work hard and do what’s right.”
And they posted the fastest time for the school’s 4×400-meter relay since 1983.
“The jury is still out,” Nagel said. “This group could be the best ever and that’s saying a mouthful. But it’s all about how they practice and how well they conduct themselves.”
And there will be the constant reminder of greatness, like the one achieved in 1995 and the one accrued in 2003. This 2019 version will always be remembered for being the next ones to bring home the greatest prize awarded in track and field.
“We had no idea it had been that long,” Johnson said. “I think not knowing made it all better.”
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com. This week, Jim addresses the New York Giants’ draft. You can also follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.