Yes, it seems as if spring has taken forever to get here but one annual sign of the season, known formally as The Penn Relay Carnival, has returned for the 124th year.
For the next three days, Thursday through Saturday, more than 300 events will be conducted over almost 35 hours both at Franklin Field and at Moon Mondschein Field along the Schuylkill Expressway, where athletes will compete in the shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer.
The ages of the contestants range from fourth-graders to 97-year-old George Scott of Philadelphia, one of the contestants in the Masters 100 meters for youngsters 80 and older. In all, it adds up to about 20,000 athletes from more than 1,000 high schools and about 200 colleges representing eight countries, 29 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
However, there's more to the Penn Relays than just the competition. Get to Franklin Field early and go to the northeast corner of the stadium, also known as the "Woooo!" corner, where seasoned track observers react to runners making the turn into the homestretch. The carnival village outside the stadium is anchored by a Nike tent and other activities and food areas where people reunite with old friends or make new ones.
And if you can't make it to the carnival in person, the events will be carried by usatf.tv on a live webcast for a subscription fee. NBC Sports Network will have one hour of coverage Friday at 6 p.m. and then will return the next day from 12:30 to 3 p.m.
Here are some other things to know about the carnival:
Welcoming the world. For the 19th consecutive year, former Olympians and other international stars will compete in the USA vs. The World competition. The six relays this year, three each for men and women, will be the 4×100 meters, the 4×400 and the sprint medley. Once again, the homestretch duels between the United States and Jamaica, with fans of both countries yelling their lungs out, will generate plenty of goose bumps.
SEC representation. Southeastern Conference schools that used to dominate the Penn Relays have looked elsewhere for competition in recent years, but the league will have representation this week from Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. "Penn Relays is a meet we take pride in, a tradition that we love to take part in every year," Auburn coach Ralph Spry says.
Speaking of Auburn. The Tigers bring plenty of sprint power to the shorter relays, with three men – Raheem Chambers, Akeem Bloomfield and Nathon Allen – and two women – Natalliah Whyte and Jonielle Smith – having gained All-America status at last month's NCAA indoor championships. All five runners are from Jamaica.
Don't forget Houston. Houston coach Leroy Burrell, the former Penn Wood High School star, U.S. Olympian and world record-holder in the 100, also is bringing a strong sprint crew to Penn, a group that includes his son, Cameron. However, two-time NCAA indoor champion Elijah Hall may not participate, although he will make the trip to Franklin Field. Competing last year as Eli Hall-Thompson, he ran the fastest 100 in Penn Relays history – a wind-aided time of 10.00 seconds.
Jamaica is in the house. A total of 34 high schools from Jamaica will compete at the carnival. Less than four hours after breaking the 4×100 record, Calabar High broke a 20-year-old record in the 4×400 relay last year with a time of 3 minutes, 8.59 seconds — and the team already has run faster than that this year.
Welcome, New Zealand. St. Peter's School, a team from Cambridge, Waikato, New Zealand, will be competing in a number of high school events.
Loaded in the mile. Former Villanova star Angel Piccirillo, who won a record nine Penn Relays watches as a collegian, is expected to take part in the women's Olympic Development mile alongside Ajee Wilson, the bronze medalist in the 800 meters at last year's World Championships, and Charlene Lipsey, who took seventh in the same race.
Program change. The Penn Relays program still contains useful information on past performances, records and former Olympians who have competed. But the program will come with an insert that provides the latest information on schedule and updated entries and runners for that particular day.