The sights and sounds at the Penn Relays can befuddle, fluster, and overwhelm competitors' senses.
If harnessed properly, however, the ebullient ambience can also help athletes reach record-setting heights.
In front of more than 44,000 fans Saturday afternoon, La Salle High's 4x100-meter relay team of Chris Della Donna, Winston Eubanks, Kyle Johnson, and Charles Headen rode the wave to second place and a school record in the large- schools relay.
"Coming out here was awesome and an experience I'll never forget," said Johnson, competing for the first time at the Penn Relays. "Walking through the paddock area you just hear the roars from the crowd, it's just awesome. It sent chills through my whole body."
Last season, La Salle's relay team failed to qualify for the final. On Saturday, its time of 42.41 seconds set a school record. Franklin Township of Somerset, N.J., took the title with a time of 41.98 seconds.
Next year, Eubanks and Headen will play football at Shippensburg, where Headen will also run track. Della Donna will run at Salisbury. Johnson will be a student at Syracuse.
No matter their future locales, these La Salle seniors will always have the Penn Relays.
"This is just a really special experience," Eubanks said. "We didn't have Kyle, but last year we didn't even make the finals and ran about a second slower. But to come out here, make the finals, and be able to compete in front of a crowd like this, it's just amazing. It's an opportunity a lot of people don't get."
Quelling the queasiness
St. Joseph's Prep sophomore Miles Green didn't say he was nervous, but there was a stirring in his stomach just before he took off in the boys' 400 hurdles championship.
"I felt the butterflies when I was on the line because I knew everybody was watching," said Green, who finished ninth after being ranked 28th entering the race. "It was quiet. Then they say, 'Set!' But once the gun goes off it all just leaves your mind, and you just run."
Green's time of 54.21 seconds wasn't his best, but the experience could have been invaluable.
"It wasn't my best race because I've run 53 seconds already [this season]," he said, "but it was just humbling to run with the world's best, and next year I'll come back and be better."
"He's going to be a phenomenal hurdler," said Curt Cockenburg, who has coached the Prep since 1975. "He's a shark in the sense that he goes after people and he's not afraid of anybody. It was a good experience."
Rayan Holmes of Edwin Allen in Jamaica won with a time of 52.47.