HBCUs perform well at Penn Relays

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By Mekhi Abbott
Special to the AFRO
mabbott@afro.com

Howard University’s Sean Wray arrived at the Penn Relays with high expectations and then he delivered with a phenomenal performance during the college men’s long jump, capturing a gold medal with an event-winning leap of 7.33 meters (24 ft, ¾ in). 

He won the event on his third of five attempts in the pit at Franklin Field on April 26.

“Going into the meet I was focused on executing technique,” Wray said. “ Regardless of the results, I was going to be happy as long as I executed.”

Norfolk State long jumper Rodric Cox-Cooper executed too, finishing runner up with a jump of 7.25 (23 ft, 9 ½ in). 

Wray, a two-time Mid-eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) long jump champion, finished second in overall distance if you include the April 27 college championship section. For Wray, he said, it means more being able to represent HBCUs at a historic meet like Penn Relays.

“I’m honored to be able to use my talents to showcase the type of talent HBCUs have… It definitely means more to win and represent HBCUs,” he said. “HBCUs don’t get enough recognition and there is an overall stigma where people think are less than or aren’t on par with Power Five programs. It feels great to challenge that stigma.” 

This marks the third year in a row that a Howard Bison won an event at Penn Relays. Last year, Darci Khan took home a gold watch after winning the women’s 100-meter hurdle championship. In 2022, Howard University graduate and All-American Jessica Wright won her first gold watch after winning the women’s 400-meter hurdles. In 2023, she repeated as the Penn Relays 400-meter hurdles champion.

Howard University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Tennessee State University (TSU) and Saint Augustine’s University all participated in the Penn Relays. Those schools competed against other NCAA Division I universities such as Clemson, Penn State and Navy.

On the women’s side, Nyla Ward of Norfolk State finished second in the women’s long jump and Howard’s Ija Mumford finished in third. Joidon Battle of NCCU finished runner-up and TSU’s Elaina Housworth finished third in the triple jump. 

“HBCUs have a lot of talent to offer, and it’s just time that we stepped up and showed what we can really do,” Mumford said. “As the years have gone by, more and more HBCUs have decided to come to Penn to compete and that just shows that we can compete with any other Division I/Power 5 school. 

“All I’m going to say is be on the lookout for the MEAC and Coastal Athletic Association  because it’s getting very competitive with some very talented athletes!” 

On the track side, Norfolk State senior Kai Cole finished first in the preliminary rounds of the men’s 100 meter dash with a time of 10.29 seconds. Howard’s Ja’leak Perry also made the final with a time of 10.49 seconds. They finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the men’s championship final on April 27. 

Five HBCU athletes made the final in the men’s 110-meter hurdle championship – three Howard Bison and two North Carolina A&T Aggies. NCAT’s Jason Holmes finished second with a time of 13.43 seconds. Howard’s Samuel Bennett finished fourth, Zach Hawkins finished sixth and Otto Laing came in ninth. NCAT’s Thomas Smith took home seventh just breaking under 14 seconds with a time of 13.98. 

Howard’s women’s 4×100 team finished third with a (44.30) behind Ohio State (43.92) and TCU (44.05). The Bison’s quartet included graduate Kailei Collins, junior Tiffani-Rae Pittman and rookies Aiyana Gray-Williams and Mackenzie Robinson. 

During the women’s 4×400 meter college relay on April 27 three HBCU relay teams finished with top-four performances.

 Saint Augustine’s finished as the runner up while Norfolk State and Coppin State finished third and fourth. 

Saint Augustine’s actually holds the Penn Relay record in the event with a time of 3:33.97, set in 1999. 

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