This weekend was set to be one of the busiest of the year for the city of Philadelphia, where thousands of high school, college and professional athletes would descend onto the University of Pennsylvania campus and head into the hallowed stadium of Franklin Field.
The reason for such an occasion? The historic and prestigious Penn Relays. The three-day spectacle of a track & field meet dates back to the 19th century, beginning with the first-ever Penn Relays in the year 1895.
Last year marked the 125th anniversary of the Penn Relays, and now, for the first time in its (almost) 126-year history, the Penn Relays are canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than risking the health and safety of the hordes of athletes, spectators, officials, volunteers and staff, Penn Relays officials canceled the meet on March 16.
In its 125-year history, the Penn Relays have seen three different centuries’ worth of history. The Penn Relays still occurred during both world wars. There were Penn Relays all throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and even during the Great Depression. The University of Pennsylvania had its famous weekend of races every year.
Found on the Penn Relays website, an article regarding the cancelation went into more detail about how the Penn Relays has always been flexible to change and continues to do so.
“The Penn Relays has adapted to worldwide conditions in the past. The meet was altered in 1917 and 1918 when several colleges, including most Ivy League institutions, curtailed their track programs during World War I. During World War II, travel restrictions reduced participation and spectator attendance while gas rationing was in effect in 1943 and 1944.”
It took a worldwide pandemic and a swift national mandate for proper social distancing to actually cancel the Penn Relays, but even still, race organizers are doing what they can to have the event this year.
The goal, according to the University of Pennsylvania — as reported by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Adam Hermann — is as follows: “If the school is able to plan a substitute track meet, it would be a one-day event rather than the Penn Relays’ normal three-day schedule.”
The plan would be for a single-day event in the summer, presuming large gatherings will be allowed to reopen at that point. The odds of that happening still seem to be low at this point in time, but there is still plenty of wishful thinking to be had.
Aside from planning the shortened Penn Relays later in 2020, the race organizers also provided the option of redirecting your 2020 Penn Relays ticket to the 2021 running. There was also the option of getting this year’s ticket entirely refunded, but the window to choose has since passed back in March. If you were hesitant about your decision, odds are it has already been made for you.
The University City section of Philadelphia will remain quiet this weekend instead of filled with the raucous and joyful sounds of a collective track community screaming their hearts out for each other. However, the history and countless years of memories from previous runnings of the Penn Relays are sure to be remembered with an even greater fondness.
The same way that this past Monday brought about nostalgic feelings of the Boston Marathon, this weekend’s wave of remembrance and joyous photo album retrievals of the Penn Relays will be sure to hit home just as strongly for the track and field community.