PHILADELPHIA — Coach Alan Laws of the Pleasantville High School boys track and field team stood in the stands afraid to say anything or even move as the Greyhounds ran toward history Saturday afternoon at The Penn Relays Carnival.
But Laws couldn’t stay still or silent any longer after Pleasantville anchor Jacob Clark began the gun lap in the lead of the high school boys Championship of America 4x800-meter relay.
Laws jumped up and shouted, “Is this really going to happen? Is this really going to happen?”
“People were looking at me like I was crazy,” the coach said.
The Greyhounds 4x800 team of Dagoberto Arias, Radcliffe Narinensingh and identical twins Isaac and Jacob Clark won the Championship of America race in 7 minutes, 40.71 seconds — the fastest high school time in the country this spring. Westfield of Chantilly, Va., the defending champion, finished second in 7:41.84.
Pleasantville is the first local boys team to win a Championship of America race in the 119-year history of The Penn Relays.
“We didn’t do this for us and our coach,” Isaac said. “We did this for Pleasantville, the whole Cape-Atlantic League, for all of New Jersey.”
Only one other local high school — the 2007 Southern Regional girls distance medley team — has won a Championship of America race. No New Jersey high school had won the 4x800 Championship of America boys race since Willingboro in 1983.
Laws said Friday that each of the Greyhounds had to be at their best for Pleasantville to win Saturday.
Arias led off with a personal-best 1:58.17 800 leg. Isaac followed with a 1:49.57 leg — the sixth-fastest high school boys split in relay history. Narinensingh ran 2:03.82, and Jacob anchored in 1:49.17 — the second-fastest high school boys split in Penn Relays history. Only U.S. Olympian Alan Webb (1:49.1 in 2001) has run faster as a high school athlete at Penn.
The Greyhounds mobbed Jacob after he crossed the finish line. Pleasantville then moved to the awards platform on the infield at Franklin Field. They stood on the platform and held the meet’s prestigious wagon wheel trophy above their heads.
“It’s amazing,” Isaac said. “You feel like you just got a gold medal at the Olympics. Words can’t explain it. We did it.”
The Penn Relays Carnival is one of the world’s most famous, prestigious track and field events. A crowd of 48,871 watched the races Saturday afternoon, which featured world-class athletes from the United States against their counterparts from around the world in the USA vs. the World relays.
“The world is here,” Laws said. “This is the Super Bowl of track and field.”
But while the crowd roared at the performances of Olympians, the Greyhounds relaxed on the grass outside the stadium. The 4x800 race began at 4 p.m., one of the meet’s final events.
“I felt bad for them,” Laws said. “They didn’t see any races.”
The Clark twins and Arias are seniors, and Narinensingh is a sophomore. The twins and Arias grew up racing each other on the playground of the Washington Avenue School. The twins are headed to South Plains College, a junior college in Texas that is a national power in track and field.
Saturday’s 4x800 race featured 12 teams from New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. A total of 71 teams entered Friday’s heats trying to earn a spot in the Championship of America race. The Greyhounds ran the third-fastest qualifying time Friday.
The Greyhounds huddled in the paddock before Saturday’s race. They couldn’t help but notice the crowd.
“I just wanted to stay focused,” Arias said.
As talented as the twins are, Arias runs a key leg.
“It’s like a car,” Laws said. “We have two engines in Jacob and Isaac. But the engines don’t start without the starter. I told Dagoberto we needed him (Saturday).”
Arias struggled somewhat in Friday’s heat. He got caught in traffic and ran a 2:01.3 leg. But he started fast Saturday.
“I just stayed with pack,” Arias said. “That was my key. I said, ‘If we’re in the pack (at the end of his leg), we got this.’”
Arias handed the baton to Isaac in seventh place. Isaac almost immediately gave the Greyhounds the lead.
Narinensingh ran the third leg. He was by himself for most of his 800 leg.
“When I got the stick, I said to myself, ‘Don’t be nervous,’” Narinensingh said. “Just run like you’ve run the whole year. I just imagined somebody next to me.”
Troy Sevachko, Westfield’s third leg, caught Narinensingh in the final straightaway. The Greyhounds were in second place five meters behind Westfield when Jacob got the baton on the anchor leg.
“There was a lot of pressure on (Narinensingh),” Laws said. “But he held his ground.”
Jacob took the lead on the first turn. He ran the rest of his leg with Westfield anchor Nathan Kiley (1:50.90 leg) on his shoulder.
“I didn’t want to sit,” Jacob said. “I wanted to go and take the lead. I wanted to see if (Kiley) would go with me.”
Isaac watched his brother run from the infield.
“I was like, ‘We got this, we got this,’” Isaac said. “I was saying, ‘Keep pushing, keep pushing.’”
Kiley pressured Jacob on the final backstretch and the final turn. Neither move worked. Jacob held him off and sprinted across the finish line to the cheers of the crowd.
“I felt him, but that motivated me to keep moving,” Jacob said.
Few local teams have the connection to The Penn Relays that Pleasantville does. Laws is from Philadelphia.
Pleasantville’s win came 30 years after Laws anchored the West Philadelphia High School 4x400 team to victory in the 1983 Championship of America race. The Clark twins have been pointing toward Saturday’s race since they were freshmen.
Laws said he has flashbacks to his Penn Relays win every time he walks in Franklin Field.
On Saturday, Isaac, Jacob, Arias and Narinensingh created the memory of a lifetime for themselves.
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