by Frank Bertucci
PHILADELPHIA - The Penn Relays is a great equalizer. When you come to the line for a race your opponents could be Olympians, NCAA champions or a very fast team that may represent a community or junior college.
Just look at last year's lineups for the Championship of America 4x200- and 4x400-meter relays. Florida was in both finals, and won both. LSU and Mississippi State made it a trio of Southeastern Conference teams in the two finals.
And, of course, Lincoln University, from Lincoln University, Pa., was there for both championship events. The Division III track power, winners of last year's NCAA team outdoor championship (the school's seventh national track title), finished sixth in both finals, but proved it belonged on the same track with those better-recognized teams.
Leading off both relays for Lincoln was then-sophomore Bobby Young. His opening leg of 46.8 seconds had his team with the leaders in the 4x400 relay; Lincoln finished in 3:08.41.
"I'm still running leadoff," Young said. "The coach told me that you have to be in it to win it."
With Young leading off, Lincoln should be in good shape again this year. He won the 400 at last year's D-III championship meet in 45.95 seconds, and was named the meet's Outstanding Male Athlete. He also finished second in the 200 (21.09) and led Lincoln's second-place 4x400 relay (3:09.86).
As a senior at Mt. Pleasant High School in Providence, RI, Young thought he'd be going to Mississippi State. But an assistant coach of his Junior Olympic team suggested taking a look at Lincoln, which is a 45-minute drive southwest of Philadelphia, just over the Maryland border.
"He said that if I didn't like it I could transfer after a year, but I fell in love with it," Young said. "It's like in the middle of nowhere, so you can only study and work."
When Young looked around at the starting line for those finals last year, he saw those maroon Mississippi State uniforms.
"I was looking for them," he said. "I was a little nervous at first. We were the no-name school in the race. It made us a little more pumped up. The Penn Relays is a very important step for us. We want to get back to that Championship of America. We want to get to that pedestal."
Young finished second in the 400 at this year's indoor NCAA Division-III championship meet and says, "I want to show my talent at Penn. I want to go pro after I graduate."
But first he'll have two more years to bring Lincoln onto its biggest stage, right up there with those big-name SEC schools, including the one he turned down for Lincoln.