Is It West Philadelphia Or Kingston, Jamaica?

by Frank Bertucci

PHILADELPHIA - The colors of the University of Pennsylvania are Red and Blue.

But for three days of every year, the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday of April, those colors have become Green and Gold, as Franklin Field, and the Penn Relays, becomes the home field for Jamaica's great high school and professional athletes.

It has become a national battleground, with the "USA vs. The World" relays on Saturday afternoon and the high school relays all three days, giving the crowds plenty of chances to wave Jamaican flags and the Stars and Stripes.

Last year, Jamaican teams won three girls' high school Championships of America relays and two boys' events. And then, after American teams swept the first five of the six star-studded Olympic Development relays, Jamaica won the meet's glamour event, the men's 4x400 relay, over five other teams, including two from the United States.

The Jamaican Parade into the Relays' high school Championship records began in 1964 when Kingston College won the boys 4x100 relay. The same school won Jamaica's first 4x400 crown in 1965. With wins in both sprint relays last year (Holmwood Tech, 4x100; Wolmer's Boys, 4x400), Jamaican boys have won 25 4x100 and 17 4x400 relays since Kingston's early triumphs.

The double victories last year ended a two-year shutout streak for the Jamaican boys in the four championship relays, which had been the first times since 1984 that any Jamaican boys team had left Franklin Field without a Penn Relays plaque. Jamaican boys have won the 4x800 relays 15 times and the distance medley relay four times.

The girls' high school teams have been more dominant. Since Vere Tech's 4x100 relay victory in 1979, Jamaican teams have won 23 4x100s, 14 4x400s, 20 4x800s and six distance medleys. Last year was a triple triumph, with wins in the 4x100 (St. Jago), 4x400 and 4x800 (both Holmwood Tech). Jamaican girls have had at least one relay winner every year since being blanked in 1981 (before the distance medley became a high school girls championship event).

And this year Jamaican high schools will again be at Franklin Field in full force.

So will all those Green and Gold flags...and the jerk chicken stands.