Alan Laws sprinted into history and heard the roars of The Penn Relays Carnival crowd 30 years ago.

Laws anchored the West Philadelphia High School 4x400-meter relay team to victory in the 1983 Championship of America race.

The cheers he heard that day in Philadelphia echo in his mind every time he walks into Franklin Field for another Penn Relays.

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Today, the 47-year-old Laws returns to the world-famous meet with a relay team he hopes can wow the crowd.

The Greyhounds 4x800 team of Dagoberto Arias, Radcliffe Narinensingh and identical twins Isaac and Jacob Clark will try to qualify today for Saturday's Championship of America race.

"We want to make it to the Championship of America and be with the best of the best," Isaac said.

Laws' West Philadelphia team is still remembered around Franklin Field. The Speedboys - the school's appropriate nickname - were the first Philadelphia school to win the 4x400 Championship of America in 42 years.

Before the Speed Boys' victory, Penn Relays followers thought Philadelphia 4x400 teams were cursed. The crowd chanted "West, West" and "USA and USA" when Laws crossed the finish line.

"I always have flashbacks when I go (to Franklin Field)," Laws said. "It's one of the highlights of my career, of my life."

The Penn Relays gives high school athletes a chance to compete in the same venue as world-class athletes. It's akin to a high school football team playing a game before the Super Bowl. U.S. Olympic gold medalists Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross are expected to compete Saturday.

The event is more than a track and field meet, however. It's called a carnival for a reason as the streets around Franklin Field are jammed with fans and competitors.

"It feels like the Olympics," Isaac Clark said. "There's so many people there. It feels like everyone in the world is watching you. You're in the spotlight."

The Penn Relays serves as a reunion for Laws. He sees plenty of former teammates and competitors. Many of them still wear their high school letter jackets to the meet.

"The jackets don't fit any more," Laws said with a laugh. "Going back home is everything. It's a beautiful thing."

Only one local high school relay team has won a Championship of America race. The Southern Regional girls finished first in the distance medley in 2007.

The Pleasantville boys qualified for the 4x800 Championship of America Race in 2006. Laws son, Alan Jr., ran on that Greyhounds team, which ran the fastest time in the heats but dropped the baton and finished 12th in the Championship of America.

No New Jersey team has won the Championship of America 4x800 since Willingboro in 1983.

"Just making it to a Championship of America race is hard enough, but to win it is even harder," Laws said.

But these Greyhounds believe they have a legitimate chance to win. Twins Jacob and Isaac emerged this winter as two of the nation's best high school middle distance runners. The Greyhounds ran 7 minutes, 45.55 seconds indoors this past winter - the fastest time in New Jersey and the second fastest time in the country, according to high school track website

"The goal is to win," Laws said. "We don't want to settle for just making it."

The twins grew up in Pleasantville with Arias. The three raced each other on the playground of the Washington Avenue Elementary School. Arias has known the twins so long he can do what almost nobody else can.

"I can tell them apart easy," Arias said. "They look different to me."

Narinensingh is a sophomore. His older teammates made him carry their spikes when he was a freshman.

"Not anymore," Narinensingh said.

Pleasantville will be one of 75 teams to compete in four heats today. The Greyhounds race at 9:40 a.m. The 12 fastest heat times advance to the Championship of America at 4 p.m. Saturday. Centennial High of Las Vegas is the favorite.

The Clarks first raced at the Penn Relays as freshmen.

"The first time I saw (Franklin Field) I was like, 'This is a big stadium. How many people are going to be in there?' " Jacob said. "I won't lie. I was scared."

The twins admitted when they first arrived at Pleasantville they didn't know much about the meet's history or importance. Laws filled them in.

Now more experienced and sure of themselves, the Clarks, Arias and Narinensingh hope this weekend to create for themselves the memory of a lifetime just like their coach did 30 years ago.

Contact Michael McGarry:


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