PHILADELPHIA – Every track and field meet needs a Wall of Fame.
Or a Hall of Fame.
Or a Foyer of Distinction.
Or whatever they want to call it.
At the University of Pennsylvania Relay Carnival – the Penn Relays to the world – it’s “The Wall”
This Penn extravaganza has been raging for 118 years, dating all the way back to 1895. It’s the last-weekend-of-every-April spectacle that’s pure tradition-tradition-tradition. Was the relay baton actually invented in this City of Brotherly Love? Let anyone who thinks otherwise stand up now and state his case.
With all that glory, some of the best of it tended to be forgotten. Or overlooked. Or simply submerged in the cobwebs of history.
By 1994, the year the Penn Relays celebrated its centennial, it was time to amend the situation. And so enlightenment reigned and the Penn Relays Wall of Fame was created.
It was pure stroke of genius.
Since the Penn Relays recognizes talent on every level – high school, college, Olympic Development, Olympic, Masters, whatever – so does its Wall of Fame, whose members are enshrined on plaques installed on the red-bricked Eastern wall of historic Franklin Field.
How’s this for inspiration? The plaques are located at the exact spot where the greats of the footracing game “gather” for their long sprints to the finish line.
The Wall of Fame now boasts a population of 172; 91 individuals saluted for their personal exploits, along with 81 relay teams who did great-things-times-four for their schools and colleges.
Specially delighted at Friday night’s Wall of Fame ceremonies – staged in the Palestra, Penn’s famed basketball arena – was Andrew Valmon.
Here’s a man who has so much to cheer these days – he is the head coach of the USA men’s track and field team heading into the London Olympic Games – at the same time as he carries double chunks of sadness in all his travels.
He’s both the head coach of the University of Maryland and an alumnus of Seton Hall University. Seton Hall’s track and field Pirates have already been chopped out of existence by a can’t-see-the-big-picture school administration. And the Maryland men’s program is fighting a desperation battle for its life in the face of a cut-cut-cut administration running a football program bleeding all the other Terp teams into anonymity.
So it’s no wonder that Valmon was all smiles, for a change.
“It’s certainly nice to get some good news like this,” said Valmon. “Not too many people remember what we did, but the Penn people (led by Penn Relays director Dave Johnson) couldn’t forget us.”
The Penn people couldn’t forget that Valmon, David Jones, Barron Chambliss and Akanni Gbadsmodi battled a tough Texas team down to the wire for the “Championship of America” sprint medley title and squeezed over the line in 3:13.65, a Penn Relays record destined to last eight years.
Actually, the Texas four of John Patterson , Jason Leach, Earle Laing and Pablo Squella ran an identical 3:13.65, only to be relegated to silver medal status – by inches.
And that’s why the Texans were named to “the Wall,” too, Friday night.
It was that kind of undergraduate performance that propelled Valmon to a an international career that included two Olympic 4×400 relay gold medals and recognition as one of the most indominatable lead-off runners the sport has ever seen.
Unlike teammate Valmon, Jones, Chambliss and Gbadamosi did no such things after their days at The Hall. They hung ’em up to concentrate on finding their ways through the real world.
But they will forever be remembered for “their moment” at Franklin Field and now they are on “the Wall” for perpetuity.
Wall of Fame inductees, Class of 2012, came in all vintages, as ancient as the Mercersburg Academy mile relay team (anchored by Olympic champion-to-be Ted Meredith) that set a prep school record of 3:27.2 that would endure as a Penn record for 17 years, and as recent as Dawn Ellerbe, the South Carolina grad who won three consecutive Olympic Development hammer throw titles (1999-2000-2001), the last two with American records.
Then there was Aubrey McKithen, who in 1978 was the main man on Trenton Central High School teams that collected Penn 4×400 and 4×800 crowns, and ran second in the distance medley. Trenton’s 4×400 (3:12.2) and 4×800 (7:39.5) clocking set Penn records, too.
Then there was illustrious sprinter Bob Carty who spearheaded Manhattan College’s 4×100 (yards) and 4×220 sprint relay wins in 1951, then the trifecta of 4×100, 4×220 and 4×440 triumphs in 1952. These were the teams of (1952 Olympic 100-meter king) Lindy Remigino, Joe Schatzle and John O’Connell, too; but it was Carty who made all that gold mining a reality.
And so “the Wall” has put this added spin on so many illustrious performances over so many years registere since the first Penn Relays edition of 1895.
Proudly arrayed on “the Wall” are the earlier plaques saluting the likes of Greg Bell, Don Bragg, Lee Calhoun, Ron Delany, Herman Frazier, Larry James, Charlie Jenkins, Carl Lewis, Herb McKenley, Charlie Moore, Myer Prinstein and John Woodruff.
Their feats will thus be re-lived the last weekend of each April forever and ever and ever.
The cheers will be heard again and again and again.
Sure, track is a sport of “what have you done for me lately?” Sure, too, it’s a sport of storied performers and historic achievements. There’s more than enough room for all of them, certainly on the East red-bricked wall of Franklin Field.
Memo to directors of every other meet that’s been around a while:
Your meet deserves its own “Wall” or “Hall” or “Foyer,” too.