Penn Relays Week entered the starting blocks on Monday, April 23, at Benjamin B. Comegys School in West Philadelphia, featuring students in the Young Quakers Community Athletics program. Young Quakers, an after-school initiative operated by the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and Penn Athletics, partnered with USA Track & Field to present the RunJumpThrow event, which taught students from Comegys, Lea, and Hamilton elementary schools the fundamentals of running, jumping, and throwing, alongside athletes from Penn’s track & field teams; USA Track & Field and Penn Relay alums Mark Everett and Erin Donohue; and Independence Blue Cross’ Blue Crew.
“It is terrific to be here at an elementary school in West Philly,” said David Johnson, the Frank Dolson Director of the Penn Relays. “So many kids have started at the Penn Relays not when they were in high school, not even middle school or junior high school, but when they were elementary school kids.”
Elementary- and middle-school students participating in RunJumpThrow moved from station to station in the Comegys schoolyard, each stop instructing a unique track-and-field skill.
Founded in 2012, Young Quakers connects Penn’s athletes with elementary school students in West Philadelphia, introduces students to new sports, and provides them with the skills of those sports, as well as mentoring and academic assistance. The program started with lacrosse and has grown to include track and field. Rita Hodges, assistant director at the Netter Center, said the students visit Penn’s campus to practice on the Franklin Field track and the lacrosse field at Penn Park.
Comegys Principal Rauchaun Dupree said the Young Quakers program supports students by giving them a chance to be physically active and participate in sports they usually would not have access to.
“We don’t have a gym so it’s difficult to promote health and wellbeing when you don’t have a place for them to really exercise, so the program bridges the gap for us,” she said. “Lacrosse is something that these students in this neighborhood would never have been exposed to.”
Rachel Stremme, a junior middle-distance runner on Penn’s track & field team, has been involved with Young Quakers since she was a freshman. She started out as a volunteer before moving into a leadership position this year.
“I want to work with kids in the future, and I also really enjoy track and field, and this is something I can do to give back and teach kids how to do something I love to do,” she said. “It’s also a really good volunteer opportunity. It gets me out of Penn’s campus and into West Philadelphia.”
At the Penn Relays on Thursday, Stremme will take part in the distance medley relay, and some of the Young Quakers will be there to cheer her on. Students from Comegys also qualified to compete in the middle school boys and middle school girls 4x100 at the Relays on Friday, and students from all three elementary schools will be participating in the 4th-6th grade Shuttle Run.
Seventh-graders Darryl Johnson, 13, and Jahniyus Filer, 13, said they enjoy running with Young Quakers and the various opportunities the program provides.
“I like that we have a chance to try things out,” Darryl said. “Like before, I never knew what lacrosse was and now I play it like almost every day.”