Sat | Sep 23, 2023

American coach loves Jamaican atmosphere at Penns

Published:Saturday | April 22, 2023 | 12:52 AMHubert Lawrence/Gleaner Writer
Jamaican track and field fans turn out in large numbers to enjoy the Penn Relays.
Jamaican track and field fans turn out in large numbers to enjoy the Penn Relays.

The best performance at last year’s Penn Relays (Penns) by a United States team in the girls’ 4x400 metres came from the Bullis School of Maryland. Bullis return to Penns next week with fine teams in the 4x100m and the 4x400m, and with a coach who loves the atmosphere created by the Jamaican presence inside Franklin Field, the Philadelphia home of the relays.

“Penns is cool,” coach Joe Lee said in a February interview with the online athletics Website MILESPLIT. “It’s just like the whole vibe of the place. You’ve got the horns blowing. You’ve got the Jamaican flags and I’m always the antagonist, you know, in a fun way. I’ll be in the middle of like hundreds of Jamaicans and I’ll shout, ‘USA, USA’ and it’s like ‘Jamaica, Jamaica’, so I love that kind of atmosphere. I think it’s good for our sport. Our sport needs it because it’s the energy and excitement. I think it’s a time when our country can come together because whether it’s Bullis, whether it’s Union Catholic, or if it’s back in the day, Long Beach Poly, we get to cheer for the American team,” he enthused while listing the US schools who have challenged Jamaican supremacy at Penns.

“For the Jamaicans,” said the man who was a teammate of Jamaican 400-m ace Greg Haughton at George Mason University, “it’s the same thing. They don’t care if it’s Holmwood High or Vere Technical. They don’t care if it’s Hydel High. They don’t care if it’s St Jago High, they’re just going to cheer for their country.”

The Bullis aggregation will go to Philadelphia with the fastest US high school time in the 4x100m at 44.67 seconds and the number-two time in the 4x400m, three minutes 37.98 seconds. The 44.67 by Bullis at the Florida Relays splits the top two Jamaican 4x100m times – 44.33 by Hydel High and 44.77 by Edwin Allen. The Bullis 4x400m season’s best would have captured fourth place at the ISSA-GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships behind Edwin Allen High, 3.31.78, Hydel, 3.34.57 and Holmwood, 3.36.46.

The fastest US team is the Montverde Academy at 3.37.28 with a quartet that includes Michelle Smith, who won the under-20 400-m and 400-m hurdles for the US Virgin Islands at the Carifta Games in The Bahamas.

“Is it more challenging for us over here because the weather is different in April over here on the East Coast as opposed to over in Jamaica? Yes, it’s more of a challenge, but I don’t let them use that as an excuse. Make no excuses. It is what it is. Let’s go out there and try to win,” he declared to MILESPLIT.

During his decade-long sojourn as Bullis coach, his team has crept closer and closer to the top of the 4x400m results, placing fifth in 2016 and third in 2018 and 2022. “Hopefully this year we can turn it around,”he projected, “but if not, we will never stop coming to the Penn Relays to compete and try to win. It is fun.”