The National Football League Draft — taking place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for the first time — certainly has made headline news for its lengthy set up; its impact on neighborhoods and traffic; and the economic benefit it will have in this city of Eagles fans who bleed green.
Generally this time of year, however, all eyes are on a different elite athletic event that fills the grandstands at Franklin Field on the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia.
The venerable Penn Relays, a three-day event also known as the Penn Relay Carnival, begin Thursday — this year in sync with the draft’s opening-day events for the public.
Billed as the largest track and field meet in the U.S., the relays feature 300 events that will draw roughly 15,000 athletes from around the country and the world. Athletes generally represent teams from high schools, colleges, and track clubs.
Roger Reina, Penn’s senior associate athletic director, is coordinating this 123rd running of the relays. As always, the events will be staged at Franklin Field, which was built to host the event when it debuted in 1895.
In addition to team relay races, field events, and a decathlon inside the stadium, vendors court fans outside the stadium, selling food, street fair trinkets, and items sports enthusiasts would enjoy.
“I think it’s the celebration of community that really brings out the best of the Penn Relays. ‘Sports Illustrated’ has it on its bucket list of sporting events you must go to in your lifetime,” Reina said of the fanfare and excitement associated with the annual tradition.
“Thirty Olympic gold medals were produced in Rio from athletes who had competed in the Penn Relays,” noted Reina. At least two of this year’s potential NFL draft picks have expressed their fondness for their time spent on the track at Franklin Field prior to excelling on the gridiron, he said..
Top engineers have brought the relays up to speed technically, and that proprietary software — specifically designed for the events — will ensure competitors clock in accurately and results will be tabulated instantly.
Reina, who served as head coach for the Quaker men’s wrestling team for 19 seasons, was recognized as its most successful coach in its 101-year history. Asked how his wrestling experience as a coach and champion wrestler himself ties in with the track and field scene, he pointed out that the first collegiate wrestling tournament in the country took place next to Franklin Field at Weightman Hall in 1905, a decade after the start of the relays.
“It’s a great honor to be involved with the Penn Relays and to continue my association with the university through athletics,” he said.
Parking and public transportation options
Parking will be free in South Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park and the Wells Fargo Center after 3 p.m. Thursday and all day Friday and Saturday. You can take SEPTA to Penn’s convenient University City stop via regional rail, while the Broad Street Line and Market-Frankford Line assist via the 30th and 34th street stops.
Penn Parking: Here is information on the many garages around campus. Please note that these garages are used by more than Penn Relays personnel, and will be busy during the three days of Penn Relays.
Campus Park and Ride will run its normal shuttle service from its location on Warfield Street to the hospitals across the street from Franklin Field. Campus Park and Ride is open 24 hours a day and runs shuttles every five minutes in the morning with an on-call system for pickups.
SEPTA: Franklin Field is very accessible via Philadelphia’s mass transit system, SEPTA. The University City stop is just steps away from Franklin Field as well as the Mondschein Throwing Complex for select field events, and 30th Street Station is also just a short 10-15 minute walk to Franklin Field.
UBER: Uber is the official rideshare app for the 123rd running of the Penn Relays. An exclusive pickup and drop-off zone will be located at the corner of 33rd and Walnut streets to offer convenient service to Penn Relays fans.
Schuylkill River Trail: The Schuylkill River Trail is an extensive recreational path that runs along the Schuylkill River and provides great access to several points of interest in the Center City and University City areas. The trail links the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the South Street Bridge where patrons can cross to access Penn Park and Franklin Field.
Information provided by University of Pennsylvania