If you’ve ever been to the Penn Relays, you know the animated international crowd is central to the experience.
No matter how old they are or how far they travel, the tens of thousands of fans who flock to Franklin Field every year for the event are united by a passion for track and field and the thrill of the competition.
It's the crowd — waving a rainbow of flags and bringing contagiously vibrant energy — that truly sets this event apart from other similar competitions.
One part of why the Relays attract such a diverse group is the broad range of competition.
Over the course of the three days, events are open to entrants of all ages from all over the globe, from elementary-age students through college athletes — even races limited to those 80 and older. It's one thing to go as a general track fan, but it's a separate affair to watch a friend or family member compete.
For Valerie Scott, from Winter Park, Fla., this was her second consecutive year at the Relays supporting her son Ian.
“When we’re in the area, we’ll always stop by just because it’s so much fun,” she said. “Walking into Franklin Field, the atmosphere is awesome.”
Also supporting his son was Tom Leonard of Malvern, Pa. Although it was just his first time at the Relays, he understood all the hype surrounding the event, especially at this year’s historic running.
“It’s a remarkable experience with the tradition, you can see why it’s been around 125 years,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable venue.”
Despite the fact that most of the teams racing come from local states, those from other countries aren’t lacking in support at all.
Some of the fastest teams come from Jamaica, and there are times the yellow, green, and black flags outnumber the familiar red, white, and blue.
Among the Jamaican fans in attendance this weekend were Lawrence Donovan and Dezine Anderson.
Currently living in New York, Donovan is a former Penn Relays athlete himself from New York Tech. For the past 20 years, he has been returning to the Frank amid thousands of his countrymen to cheer on the younger runners.
“It’s awesome, I come every year just for the fun of it,” he said. “[I support] just any team that says ‘Jamaica’ on the back.”
Even for those who haven’t had the honor of running in the Relays before, the supporters recognize and respect the gravity of competing on this stage.
Clutching an newly autographed poster from Olympian Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Anderson could be found standing and cheering her heart out all day long for the teams from her home country.
Now residing in Delaware, she has been coming to the Relays since 2015, but has been following track, especially on the local level, for much longer.
“When I was back in Jamaica, we have Champs, and then after Champs is the Penn Relays,” Anderson said. “So we go there, then come here.”
Like Donovan, she cherishes the Relays as a time to cheer for her national team, especially when such high-profile athletes compete so close by.
The feeling of national pride is felt the most during the famed USA vs. the World races, where the stadium is at the point of eruption with national pride as the all-star runners fly down the track, fueled by the cheers of their respective compatriots.
The Penn Relays are much more than a series of races. The fans who journey from near and far to take part in the excitement are just as iconic as the competition itself, providing that unique atmosphere that keeps people coming back year after year.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.