Things falling into place for Relays
Fewer high school hang-ups this year; NBC says marquee events will not be televised live
April 13, 2006, 5:00 am·
The Penn Relays begin two weeks from today, and preparations for the 112th running of the nation's oldest and largest outdoor track meet are almost complete.
It's a particularly busy time of year for Penn Relay Director Dave Johnson as he coordinates the event schedule and registration for three days of races and field events.
But he has less work to do this year compared to the last few, as the controversy over state sanctioning of the high school races seems to have been settled for the long term.
"That legwork and groundwork was done last year, and now it's just a matter of following through on paperwork again," Johnson said.
The problems arose when the National Federation of State High School Associations issued guidelines that made it difficult for schools affiliated with the organization to compete with unaffiliated schools.
Two years ago, Massachusetts schools threatened to boycott the Relays. And last year, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association insisted on a strict enforcement of these guidelines, especially those pertaining to eligibility, which threatened the Relays' ability to hold a true Championship of America relay at the event.
But by resolving those problems last year, Johnson and his staff made it much easier to organize things this time around.
"It's considerably easier in the second go-round," Johnson said. "Having done it the first time, we know where to go for different lists, and to check most of the schools in the system is a fairly simple process now."
Now that all of the major registration deadlines have passed, the size of this year's field is taking shape.
In total, there will be 909 different high schools and 239 colleges competing at Franklin Field.
Johnson said this year's group will be "similar to last year [with] probably a slight increase."
He estimated that the number of competitors increases around three percent each year, but said with "three percent a year for 15 years, you've more than doubled" the size of the field. "When you compound it, it adds up pretty quickly."
One runner who might not be in the field this year is Nicole Leach, who starred last year for West Catholic High School, located just blocks from Franklin Field at 45th and Chestnut streets.
Leach set a new record in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 57.44 seconds, and was named the Outstanding Girls' Athlete of the Meet last year.
But now that she is a college student competing at UCLA, Leach likely won't be able to make the cross-country trip this year.
Although the Bruins' Web site lists the Penn Relays as one of the team's events this season, they will not make the trip to Philadelphia. UCLA races against crosstown rival and track powerhouse Southern Cal on the Saturday of the same weekend.
Going to the tape
One big change from recent years is that the Relays television broadcast will air on Sunday, April 30, a day after the event ends. The broadcast will run from 5 to 6 p.m. on NBC, which has broadcast the Relays each of the last three years.
Those telecasts were all live on Saturday afternoons, highlighting the USA vs. the World races. Johnson said while a live broadcast was discussed, the benefit to having a tape-delayed show is that fans who attended the Relays will also be able to watch.