Dave Johnson fell in love with the Penn Relays in 1968, when he was a junior in high school and attended the meet for the first time as an alternate for his school’s track and field team. Walking into Franklin Field, he says he was mesmerized by the size of the crowd.
“The biggest meet I’d been to before then had maybe 400 or 500 people there,” says Johnson, the Frank Dolson Director of the Penn Relays. “I think the biggest crowd I had ever seen at Connie Mack Stadium was when my father and I went to see Sandy Koufax pitch. To walk into Franklin Field and see as many people here for a track meet as I’d seen at the most packed times at Connie Mack Stadium was just remarkable.”
Since 1996, Johnson has served as director of the Penn Relays. Rain or shine, he helps guides each April meet from pre-production to postscript, aided by staffers, officials, and volunteers.
“You couldn’t possibly create this out of nothing,” Johnson says of the Relays. “The force that is really behind it is that it has grown organically.”
Penn Today sat down with Johnson in Education Commons in Franklin Field to discuss planning for the Relays, its international appeal, what makes the meet unique, and some of his most memorable moments.