Penn Relays coming, Les Keiter going

Though it may be hard to believe given the miserable weather we've had lately, the Penn Relays start a week from today. The formal countdown to the start of the 115th running started yesterday in a conference room adjacent to Franklin Field, where the first of two media sessions with a range of Relays personalities took place.

In attendance were Penn Relays executive director Dave Johnson, Secondary Schools Committee chair Tim Hickey and Penn women's track coach Gwen Harris, who is always one of the event's more effusive personalities.

Three other college coaches participated by phone: Florida men's coach Mike Holloway, Texas men's coach Bubba Thornton and Tennessee women's coach J.J. Clark.

You can listen to what all of them had to say in the audio player below. The event lasted over an hour, but each person has his or her own track.

I don't have time to go into too much depth about what was said, but it won't surprise you to hear that the Jamaican high school teams are ridiculously stacked once again. Among the best is Calabar's boys 4x100-meter team, which won the Jamaican high school championship in 39.90 seconds.

Some other notes:

- This year's television broadcast window will be Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

- Penn Relays Secondary Schools Committee chair Tim Hickey said that despite the troubled economy, "we've got more entries this year than there have ever been, and the quality is as good as it's ever been."

- Two familiar names on UCLA's women's squad will be running the 400-meter hurdles: West Catholic grad Nicole Leach and Methacton grad Ryann Krais. Krais, a freshman, was the high school girls Athlete of the Meet at last year's Relays. Leach is now a senior in Westwood and won Athlete of the Meet honors twice.

- In their respective audio clips, you'll hear Florida coach Mike Holloway and Texas coach Bubba Thornton talk about having sprinters on their teams who also play football. It's a subject that intrigues me in part because of the enormous workload on the students and in part because I wanted to know from the coaches how those athletes get recruited. The most famous recent example was Longhorns running back Jamaal Charles, who now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

- Former Penn Relays public address announcer Bob Hersh is this year's Honorary Carnival referee. You might recall that I interviewed Hersh at the end of last year's relays, and you might wonder why I put the word "former" before his title.

Hersh has stepped down from the microphone both at the Relays and internationally to focus on his work as vice president of the IAAF, the governing body of international track and field. Hersh was the voice of seven Olympic Games and nine World Championships in his announcing career.

- The other honorary referees are St. Joseph's Prep coach Curtis Cockenberg (High School Boys), Council Rock North coach Cliff Robbins (High School Girls), Michigan associate men's head coach Ron Warhust (College Men) and LSU women's head coach Dennis Shaver (College Women). You can get their bios here. The list of this year's Wall of Fame inductees is here.

- Because of the ongoing construction at Franklin Field, things are going to look quite different inside and outside the stadium. The shops and other Carnival activities will move from the north side by the tennis courts to the south side, and one lane of South Street will be closed off to vehicle traffic. The main spectator entrance will also move to the south side.

The paddock is also moving from the north side of the track to the south side, which will affect a few other things along the way. You usually see a range of teams camped out along the brick exterior of Weightman Hall at the east end of Franklin Field, but this year the paddock will stretch across that area. As a result, from what I understand, the team rest area will be in that little parking lot at the corner of 33rd and South.

The location of the finish line remains the same, however, as does the location of the press seating area.

And while I know I've said this a number of times already, the South Street bridge quite literally does not exist right now. So if you are planning to come to the Relays, you'll have to get off the Expressway or cross the river elsewhere, or take SEPTA. More information is available here.

I never met Les Keiter, but I would be remiss if I did not note his passing here on the blog in some form. The Inquirer and Daily News both posted obituaries yesterday afternoon, and the Inquirer also pulled a Frank Dolson column out of the archives.

As of the time that I wrote this blog post, the print edition stories were not yet on the website. They should be in the headlines list in the blog rail by the time you see this, though.

Those of you who watched Keiter call games or got to meet him at some point are welcome to leave your memories in the comments.