PHILADELPHIA - Braheme Days Jr. made the crowd at The Penn Relays Carnival ooh and aahh, and that was just during warm-ups Friday afternoon.
The Bridgeton High School senior easily defended his shot put championship with a toss of 67 feet, 8.25 inches. Seven local high school athletes have won individual events at the Penn Relays over the years, but Days is the first to win two championships.
"I can't overstate how amazing this meet is," Days said. "I've never been to a meet as important and dear to my heart as Penn Relays."
A large crowd gathered around the shot put venue to watch the competition. The event was held near the University of Pennsylvania's soccer field. The skyscrapers of Center City could be seen. The crowd reacted with applause and cheers to each of Days' puts, including his practice attempts.
"This atmosphere is great," Days said. "No one else can compete with it. These people are passionate about throwing."
The Pleasantville boys 4x800-meter relay team also experienced the thrill of a Penn Relays victory. The Greyhounds qualified for today's Championship of America race with a gritty win in their heat Friday morning. Pleasantville senior twins Isaac (1 minute, 50.5 seconds) and Jacob Clark (1:51) ran the two fastest 800 legs of the day.
The Penn Relays is one of the world's most famous and prestigious track and field events. The 119th annual meet features many of the world's best athletes this weekend. A crowd of 39,103 watched the races at Franklin Field on a sunny Friday.
Days has been one of the nation's top scholastic shot putters since his sophomore season. He will attend UCLA in California.
Days came into Friday's event as the top seed and conceded he felt pressure.
"The first time I've felt pressure is this outdoor season," Days said. "I don't know why. Maybe because it's my last one. I felt butterflies (Friday) but I got in the circle and you have to put those away."
Days never trailed in the competition, taking the lead with his first put of 65-0.1. Chadrick DaCosta of Kingston College, a high school in Jamaica, finished second with a put of 63-1.25. In addition to Jamaica, Days beat competitors from New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Days' put was a season best by more than 5 feet. He said he's been running to lose weight so he can generate more speed in the circle.
"I've been trying to get rid of the chub," said Days, who is listed at 260 pounds. "I've been getting my jog on, trying to get that beach bod."
Days' victory ensures his status as one of the top high school track and field athletes in local history.
The other local high school athletes to win Penn Relays individual events are Bill Hartley of Southern Regional (1976 pole vault); Lou Gordon of Bridgeton (1995 shot put); Robert Jordan of Millville (1999 high jump); Paul Klemic of Mainland Regional (2000 high jump); John Richardson of Ocean City (2003 mile); and Danielle Tauro of Southern Regional (2006 mile).
After his victory, Days posed for pictures with meet officials. Even though he's headed west for college, Days made it clear how important the Penn Relays is to him.
"When I was being recruited, that was one of the first questions I asked, 'Will you send me to Penn Relays?' " Days said.
So will he be back?
"Count on it," he said.
Twins Isaac and Jacob Clark relished the competition of their 4x800 heat.
Pleasantville coach Alan Laws didn't have as much fun.
"It was nerve-wracking," Laws said.
The twins sparked the Greyhounds to a come-from-behind win. Jacob Clark passed Kyle Francis of Bensalem, Pa., in the final 10 meters of the race. Jacob just outleaned Francis at the finish line. The Pleasantville foursome of Dagoberto Arias, Isaac, Radcliffe Narinensingh and Jacob finished in 7 minutes, 47.85. Bensalem ran a 7:47.94.
Both Jacob and Francis pumped their arms and surged down the final straightaway with grimaces. It didn't look like all that fun, but Jacob said he enjoyed it.
"I love being front, but I love chasing," Jacob said. "It makes my times faster. I like competition."
Pleasantville's time was the third fastest among the 71 teams that competed in Friday's four heats. The top-12 times advanced to the Championship of America race at 4 p.m. today.
Jacob received the baton in fifth place for his anchor leg.
He caught the first three runners with relative ease. But Francis, who ran the day's fourth fastest split with a 1:52.9, never faded.
"At first, I didn't know if I could catch him," Jacob said, "but I told myself to keep staying positive and keep doing what I'm doing. I had to keep pushing my legs."
Isaac also rallied the Greyhounds. He received the baton for the second leg in 11th place and handed it off in first. Pleasantville's leadoff leg Arias handed the baton to Isaac in heavy traffic. Isaac jostled with several runners as he fought for position after receiving the baton.
"It was difficult," Isaac said of the handoff, "but I found a way to get out. I really had to work."
Isaac stayed patient. He resisted the urge to try to pass the runners in front of him as quickly as possible, which could have caused him to burn himself out.
"You have to think," he said. "You don't want to go to quick. I just ate them up."
Arias' leadoff leg for the Greyhounds was 2:01.3. Narinensingh ran the third leg in 2:05.1.
Chaminade of Mineola, N.Y., ran the fastest qualifying time, winning its heat in 7:47.08.
Only one local high school - the 2007 Southern Regional girls distance medley team - has won a Championship of America race. No New Jersey team has won the 4x800 Championship of America race since Willingboro in 1983.
The Greyhounds will compete today against schools from New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Pleasantville has pointed toward today's race ever since the Clark twins were freshmen.
Jacob admitted he had trouble getting to sleep Thursday night. Isaac said the Greyhounds should be ready to give another energized effort. Laws, the Pleasantville coach, said the Greyhounds will keep the same order for today's Championship of America race.
"For us to win," Laws said, "everybody must be at their best."
EHT sets record
The Egg Harbor Township boys ran the fastest 4x100 time of any local team. The Eagles' foursome of Calvin Rice, Adam Bynum, Steven Morgan and Curtis Fitzpatrick finished in a school-record 42.91 seconds.
Only 25 of the 569 4x100 teams that ran Friday finished with a faster time than EHT.
In another event, James Plummer of EHT threw 175-4 to finish ninth in the discus. Fedrick Dacres of Calabar Jamaica won with a throw of 225-5.
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