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Last Updated: June 2, 2003

Memories from Penn
Ed Grant

Mr. "New Jersey Track"
This year marks the 25th anniversary of probably the greatest relay achievement in New Jersey high school history, the amazing double scored by five Trenton boys within a period of 15 minutes at the 1978 edition of the Penn Relays. And it might well have been a triple, but for some confusion on Trenton's part as to the order of running in the distance medley relay. The saga began about 9:50 a.m. on Saturday morning when Trenton won its section of the large-school qualifying race in 7:39.5, a meet record. The runners were Andy Bing (1:57.0), Fred Gore (2:55.5), Darrell Jeffress (1:55.2) and Aubrey McKithen (1:51.8).

The Trenton boys were on the track again just two hours later with Ron Singletary replacing Bing in the lineup. Gore led off in 49.6, Singletary blasted the race open with a 47.0, McKithen ran 48.2 and Jeffress closed in 47.4. The result was another meet record of 3:12.2. (Both Trenton times were also state records, the 3200 mark still stands).

Then came a five-hour lapse before the 3200 final. This is a very crucial period of the day, for many teams over the years had trouble coming back in the 3200 final until the trials were changed to Friday a couple of years ago. But Trenton was in top form and literally coasted to a 7:49.8 victory, Jeffress putting the race away with a 1:53.5 on the third leg. (Remember that clocking).

There was only two races scheduled between the 3200 and 1600 finals, the college championship and IC4A 800-meter relays. The program lists one 10 minute interval and two of five minutes between the four races, but a Trenton Times reporter actually clocked the difference at 14 minutes. (Of course, each boy got a little more time than that so each of the three repeaters probably did get the full 20 minutes).

Apparently unfazed by the short break, the Trenton boys practically repeated their morning trial in the 1600. Gore opened in 49.8, Singletary again split the race apart with a 47,2, McKithen weighed in with a 48.2 and Jeffress, who had put out the most in the 3200, understandably slowed a bit as he ran 47.9 for a total time of 3:13.1, only two-tenths off the former meet record of 3:12,9, set by Woodson of Washington, D.C., in the 1977 trials.

Now about that distance medley (WM-This is the race won by John Gregorek and St. Anthony's). Trenton had qualified for the meet running the race in the usual order, 1200-400-800-1600 . So the boys went to the line with this in mind: Gore to handle the opening three laps, then Singletary, Jeffress and McKithen.

Just when they discovered their mistake is uncertain, but it probably was after the leadoff men were taken to the line. Gore simply had to accept the change and responded with a 1:55.4, still two seconds slower than Jeffress was to run in the 3200 the next day. Singletary had his fastest carry of the weekend at 47.2 and then came the problem. Jeffress was, after all, a 440 man by trade (he would win both the Golden West and IPI races later that year). He was obviously OK at 800/880, but didn't have a clue how to run the 1200.

Always a fast starter, Darrell barrelled out from the exchange zone and was probably 50 yards ahead by the time the St. Anthony's man got the stick. He all but doubled that running the first two laps in 1:56, but then paid the penalty, needing 71 seconds to get through the final lap. This enabled St. Anthony's to close the gap to what it had been after two carries (and a little bit more) and the Long Island team had its ace in the hole: the great John Gregorek. McKithen ran to form, clocking 4:15.8, but Gregorek passed him on the backstretch of the final lap and brought St. Anthony's home in 10:02.5 Just how fast would Trenton have run with the proper order? Well, we have an idea of what Jeffress would have done from his 1:53.5 the next day. Gore was a 4:16.3 miler by season's end, and it is not unreasonable to put him somewhere around the 3:02.3 turned in for Bergen Catholic by John Malone. Trenton might well have become the first high school team to break 10:00.