The Penn Relays, the nation’s oldest track and field event, canceled amid COVID-19 concerns

The Penn Relays in 2009 (Flickr Commons photo)

By Donald Hunt

PHILADELPHIA — Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletic at the University of Pennsylvania has announced that the 126th annual Penn Relays┬áhas been cancelled.

This is the first time in the history of the races that the event has been canceled.

In its place, Penn will endeavor to host a substitute track meet at a later date in late May or early June.

“Based on the current novel coronavirus pandemic, we cannot host an event in late April without putting our participants, spectators, officials, volunteers, and staff at risk,” M. Grace Calhoun, the T. Gibbs Kane, Jr. W’69 Director of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Pennsylvania., said in a statement. “We remain hopeful that the recent measures put in place by many health organizations, government officials, and academic institutions will curtail the spread of this disease.

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“The University of Pennsylvania has hosted the Penn Relays for 125 consecutive years through the World Wars and other world-wide health issues. This spirit of perseverance and resiliency will continue as we plan for a track meet later when the health and safety of our community is more certain.”

The track meet will be a regular Penn Relays format. The three-day meet will be reduced into a one-day event designed provide the opportunity for youth, high school, and open runners to persevere and enjoy a competitive and festive atmosphere which they might have missed this spring.

“No one associated with the Penn Relays has ever wanted to see a cancellation,” Dave Johnson, the Frank Dolson Director of the Penn Relays, said in a statement. “While participating in the meet as an athlete, coach or official remains a bucket list goal for many, the event has long served as an annual homecoming for families, friends, teams and social groups. Without the Penn Relays, springtime in Philadelphia will not be the same. We will be back for the 2021 Penn Relays on April 22 through 24 at Franklin Field, when we hope to see brighter days and be reunited with Penn Relays family.”

Donald Hunt is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.