“I had to make it,” said Dr. John Hall, renowned neurologist, Chairman of the Medical Council of Jamaica, on Saturday morning, as he snuck up on Donovan Davis – the legendary track coach who accompanied the first KC and Jamaica high school entrant to the world-famous Penn Relays. Dr. Hall, who accompanied the KC team as physician, had just flown in from Denver. In conversation at the time with Donovan, was Dr. Tony Keyes, who Davis had high praise for, later on. “Tony won that race for us here at Penn. And he had won many,” recalled the soft-spoken coach as he sat quietly at a table in the dark-wood stained room, high above the action at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field. Penn Relay officialdom – the Friends of Penn, was in the process of honoring the 1964 KC contingent for opening the doors, to what is now a flood of high-performance high school athletes from Jamaica.
The day before, the City of Philadelphia honored those representing the KC relay teams at City Hall; there was a reception held for KC representatives on-hand later on in the Friday evening; and on Saturday, with one eye on the field below, long-standing friendships were being rekindled, treasured old stories were being traded, and new acquaintances were being made.
Among the luminaries and friends of Kingston College, mingling in the Franklin Field Hospitality Room on Saturday, the final race-day, were: Mr. Stephen Vasciannie Jamaica’s ambassador to the United States and Mrs. Vasciannie, Jamaica’s minister with responsibility for sport, the Honorable Natalie Neita-Headley; Mr. Dave Myrie - Headmaster of Kingston College, and Mrs. Myrie; Mr. Michael Vaccianna – Chairman, Board of Management of Kingston College; Dr. Patrick Dallas – President, KCOBA Jamaica; Mr. Perry Bloomfield – President KCOBA New York Chapter; Mr. Lawrence Prendergast – President KCOBA Toronto Chapter; Mr. and Mrs. Audley Hewitt, Mr. Noel Spencer – Life Member, KCOB New York Chapter, and his wife – Dr. Patrice Miller-Spencer; Mr. Ronnie Chin – photographer and graphics designer extraordinaire; Ms. Alicia McKenley, daughter of the legendary Herb McKenley OM; and Mrs. Rebecca Grant, wife of the late Mr. Jimmy Grant – a member of the both 1964 pioneering relay teams. And throughout the entire meet, all were well looked after, by Friends of Penn Board member - Dr. Geneive Brown-Metzger.
Mr. Noel Spencer and Dr. Geneive Brown-Metzger, must be singled out for special mention. Because, the former was instrumental in approaching the Friends of Penn to get the Relay meet to officially recognize the 50 year-to-date contribution that his alma mater Kingston Collegehas made to the event. And Dr. Brown-Metzger had been working behind the scenes for many years to strengthen the link between Penn Relays and Jamaica athletics.
Hers goes back to at least as 2008, when the then eighth Jamaica Consul General to New York City, established a working relationship with the prestigious Friends of Penn Relay Carnival. That relationship facilitated exchange missions between Jamaica’s University of Technology (UTech) and the University of Pennsylvania. But the relationship between Dr. Brown-Metzger and Kingston College goes back even further. She attended St. Hugh’s High School –the sister school of The College. And so, this ebullient former Consul General, was, in the Friends of Penn hospitality box, as busy as a bee.
No wonder back in January 2012, shortly after Brown-Metzger was appointed to the Friends of Penn board, their Board-chairman Mr. C. K. Buddington said, (quote): "The Consul General has broadened our vision as to what is possible between the Penn Relays, Jamaica, and the Caribbean community, including how we could collaborate to our mutual interest. And her marketing expertise and vision of the Jamaica/UPenn relationship will be invaluable to the board".
In addition to Dr. Brown-Metzger’s, the presence of Ms. McKenely did not go unnoticed. Her father Herb, was in 1946 and 1947 the first Jamaican to run at the Penn Relays. Donning colors of the University of Illinois, in those two years Mr. McKenley was on six winning relay teams at Penn. And with his connections, Herb – a Calabar old boy, - was instrumental in helping to get that first 1964 KC team to this prestigious Relay Carnival. Of course, Herb was one of Jamaica’s first truly great Olympians.
During Saturday’s festivities, the City Council of the city of Philadelphia presented citations to the KC team representatives. And later on, coach Donavon Davis and Dr. Tony Keyes presented the Jamaica College sprint relay team with their two sets of commemorative wrist watches, for winning the classic 4 x 100 meters relay in record-time.
A little unfortunately, the only surviving member of the original winning 4 x 100 meter relay team on-hand was Dr. Keyes. “So sorry that Billy (Miller) and Jimmy (Grant) aren’t around, and that for personal reasons, Alex (McDonald), and Rupert (Hoilette), couldn’t have made it,” coach Davis reflected. Three weeks later though on May 10th, the latter two were honored in Jamaica, at the Puma-Fortis 5K run/walk.
But at the presence of Dr. Tony Keyes his ace corner-sprinter, coach Davis was well pleased. “The thing with Tony,” he remarked, “is that he’s so humble, and he leads by example.”
“Dr. Keyes,” Davis remarked, “is truly a great sportsman in every sense of the word. He respected his opponents and continues to enjoy universal admiration and respect.”
It didn’t escape how effusively Keyes, the former KC star athlete, was greeted at the meet, by Mickey Mowatt - a former bustling center-back from Jamaica College in Tony’s day at KC, and by Neville Flowers – a former nimble-footed forward from Calabar High School.
Dr. Keyes, joined by his wife Geraldiene, their son and his wife and his grandson, all relished the occasion. “It has been a nice little weekend,” he was heard to say appreciatively, at the conclusion of it all.
Dr. Keyes who ran a blistering third-leg to pull things back after receiving the baton in the pack, received both track and football scholarships after his 1964 and 1965 exposures at Penn Relays. He took up a football scholarship at Michigan State University and then went on to dental school at Howard University. In so doing, he is an excellent example of what the exposure from participating in the Penn Relay Carnival can do for Jamaica high school athletes, who have their sights set on a professional career. It was fitting therefore that minister Natalie Headley-Neita, broached the matter of Jamaica high school athletics forming a bond with academia at the University of Pennsylvania – a prestigious Ivy League institution.
But back to coach Davis. “I never took a Physical Education (P.E.) class in my life,” revealed the unassuming KC mastermind, who beginning in 1962, coached KC to the first four of the school’s fourteen consecutive high school track & field championships. “I was what you’d call, a self-made coach, who read widely and took bits-and-piece methods, from successful world-renowned track athletes and coaches,” Davis noted. “In those days, we didn’t have any money to acquire high-tech training equipment,” Davis recalled. “And so, I had to adopt training methods which utilized what we had around us in Jamaica, like mountainous jogging trails for stamina and beaches running for resistance.”
Donovan, who now resides in Mountain View, Northern California recalls some of the training methods that he brought to KC. “I studied the methods and work-outs of several track and field specialists. For hurdles, I read The Hurdler’s Bible written byWilbur L. Ross; for middle-distance training methodologies I studied Jim Ryun’s – the first American to run the mile under four minutes, and Peter Snell – New Zealand’s three-time Olympic champion.” And for sprints, Davis was impressed by the make-do approach of Bob Hayes – the only athlete to have won an Olympic gold medal (Tokyo 1964), and a Super Bowl ring (Super Bowl VI – New Orleans). “Hayes would train on dirt-roads in his native Jacksonville, Florida using light poles as his markers for alternating sprints and walks,” Davis pointed out.
Davis is not only self-taught, he is also self-made. “I worked as a porter for five summers on the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR). I was stationed in Winnipeg, and plied west to Vancouver, and then east, to Montreal and Toronto.” Industriously, he recalled, “I saved my wages, and lived off tips.” And with such a background, he instilled in his charges, the need for hard work and discipline. “All the guys were hardworking, especially Billy (Lennox Miller),” the great coach recalled. “They gave me no trouble whatsoever.”
Davis down-plays his contribution, instead, deflecting praise to his volunteer coaching-staff. “I had a cadre of KC old boys as assistant coaches, behind me.” And right off the bat, Donovan could recall those who assisted him as coaches:
Foggy Burrowes - motivator and the first man to broach the topic of KC breaking the 110-point barrier; William Goldsmith – weight-trainer extraordinaire; Billy Hall – shot putt and discus; Audley Hewitt – triple and long jump; Lloyd Keeling – hurdles; Peter Luke – pole vault; Patrick Robinson – starts, sprints and baton-changing; Frankie Tenn – motivation; George Thompson – hurdles; Dr. Keith Young – hurdles; and Ossie Vernon – high jump.
"This (coaching at KC), was the most gratifying job I ever had. It gave me the opportunity to give back to an institution that had given me so much. But most important, it allowed me as teacher, track coach and sports master, to become an integral part of the lives of so many young men - many of whom are among my closest friends today,” said the University of Saskatchewan graduate. “It was mostly fun - the only job that on reflection, brings a smile to my face, a shake of the head, and sometimes, a muffled chuckle,” mused Davis, who is establishing a scholarship at KC, in his own name.
And there was the team physician on the inaugural trip to Penn Relays fifty years ago – Dr. John Hall, a world-renowned physician. He is credited for correctly diagnosing `Billy’ Miller’s injury, which was expertly treated by Youngster Goldsmith. “We didn’t have much time,” Dr. Hall recalls with a twinkle in his eyes, and a disarming smile which beguile his success in his chosen field of medicine. “In the space of three hours, we had to get him ready for his 4 x 400 meters relay leg.”
When the KC team travelled to Philadelphia back in 1964, they got acclimatized and worked-out at the near-by Villanova University. It was a little sad therefore, that just a few days after this Penn Relay meet, Villanova University alumnus, Olympian, and one-time 100-yard world record holder Frank Budd, whom coach Davis, Dr. Keyes and Dr. Hall, fondly remember, passed away. Budd had set the 9.2 world-record in 1961 in the Amateur Athletic Union championships at Downing Stadium on Randalls Island in Manhattan, New York.
Finally, at this the 120th running of the Penn Relays, I found myself in the swirl of track and field luminaries – a swirl in which I hardly belonged. I am therefore grateful to Dr. Keyes for inviting me to be a part of his honoring.
One of my most memorable days in sports, is Champs-Saturday 1964 at the National Stadium. Earlier on that Saturday morning, as the build-up to the show-down between `Billy’ (Miller) and Tony was reaching fever-pitch, I recall visiting with Tony. His lion-hearted words fifty years ago, are still fresh in my mind today: “Any ‘ow `Billy’ get-up any likke funny-way.” And there he stopped. I had a hunch as to what was going through his mind at the time. But, as fate would have it, Billy got off to a flier. And that was that.
The brave may fall, but never yield!