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Fourth graders Alessandra Escajadillo, Emily Hauck, Maggie Beck and Alexandria Lavelle stand by Franklin Field and smile after finishing their first Penn Relays race. They hope to compete again next year.

Credit: Anna Strong

For most Penn students, Penn Relays may be a cool thing to check out on an April Saturday afternoon. For Division I track athletes, the Carnival is one of the biggest events of the year.

But for fourth-grade runner Emily Hauck, the Penn Relays were as unfamiliar as the crowd of people surrounding her as she took her place in the paddock minutes before her race.

“She came home and told me she was running in this event, but she had no idea what it was,” said Gregory Hauck, Emily’s father. “I said, ‘Em, do you have any idea what a big deal that is?’”

Tuesday’s lineup of events featured the Catholic Youth Organization Night, featuring teams from local Archdiocesan elementary schools. This year, 115 Catholic schools sent teams to the relays, totaling 406 relay teams and 1,624 runners.

Emily’s school, Ss. Colman-John Neumann, sent one junior girls team, featuring Emily and classmates Maggie Beck, Alessandra Escajadillo and Alexandria Lavelle.

Of the girls, only Maggie and Alessandra had heard of the Relays before arriving at Franklin Field, but none of them knew what to expect.

“I was surprised because there are a lot of schools here, and I didn’t know there were that many schools!” Maggie said.

“I was really worried because our coach told us there would be spotlights on us,” Emily added.

For most of the team, “nervous,” was the best word to describe their feelings before the race.

“Walking onto the track, that was like — I was so worried that I was going to do bad,” Emily said. “Our coach told us he wanted us to get in the top nine, and we were really worried so we were under a lot of pressure.”

But once the team started running, Maggie said, it was just like any other meet.

“I felt really good, and I really went for it once I started running,” she said.

The SCJN team ran in heat 10 of 13 and placed seventh of eight in their heat. Their finishing time of 1:09.73 was a team record for the four girls. The team placed 79th out of 95 overall, and won’t advance to the finals on Friday.

“I think we’ll have a better chance next year, once we know what to expect,” Alessandra said. “I won’t be as nervous next time!”

The SCJN track team practices three times per week and selects which runners to send to Penn Relays based on their speed and their dedication to coming to practice.

Once the relay team was set, the girls said they practiced “the baton thing” most of all.

“We had a whole practice just with the baton, so we did really well on that today,” Alessandra said.

The four girls are hoping to come back to Relays next year for the chance to improve on Tuesday’s performance. But first, they have to tackle the rest of their season.

“I think all our other meets are going to be so easy compared to this!” Alexandria said.

For Emily, there’s a major incentive for doing better next year.
“We get to miss school!”

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