Tag Archives: Sports

A Toast to Dear Old Penn: The Toast Throwing Tradition at Football Games

By Jorge Penado, C’19
Penn Alumni Relations Work Study Student

1999_toast

Source: Penn Archives 1999

With traditions at universities around the nation being a staple of that institution’s student culture, it is undeniable that students at Penn have developed their own, cherished traditions throughout the year. Whether it’s something like Hey Day during Junior Year or the Econ Scream during Freshman year, Penn students have engaged in these traditions with the fervor that school spirit usually evokes. Though most traditions are relatively normal in the pantheon of university traditions, one of them might cause a non-Penn individual to double take: toast throwing at football games. As a tradition that roughly started in the 1970s, it has since become one of the staple events that every Penn student should participate in at least once throughout their time at the university.

First and foremost, it is important to ask a very basic question: What exactly is toast throwing? While every Penn student has at least heard of the tradition whether they’ve participated or not, it helps to establish exactly what toast throwing entails. As mentioned earlier, the tradition is known to have started in the 1970s during a time when alcohol was prohibited from Franklin Field where all football games are held. This ban on alcohol would actually interfere with another common tradition at football games where audience members would drink alcohol at the end of the third quarter when the Penn Band would play, “Drink a highball.” In this song created by G.B. Brigham, the song would close with the following lyrics, “Drink a highball and be jolly. Here’s a toast to dear old Penn!” After the final line, everyone in the audience would drink the alcohol as a “toast” for Penn. Nonetheless, the ban would prevent people from toasting with alcohol and would leave room for the new tradition to be launched by Greer Cheeseman and his friends.

Cheeseman, as the current director of the Penn Band, an employee for the University, and local Penn aficionado, retells the story of how a “toast to dear old Penn,” became a literal piece of toast “to dear old Penn.” Though the details of the tradition remain slightly vague, Cheeseman does remember where the idea originally came from Rocky Horror Picture. After some of Cheeseman and some of his fraternity brothers attended a showing of Rocky Horror, they were intrigued by the interactive nature of the show, particularly the part where the audience throws toast at the screen after the character, Frank, proposes a toast. Interestingly enough, the two held so many parallels that Cheeseman and his friends eventually got the brilliant idea to translate that at an actual football game. After some time, toast throwing would eventually catch on and spread quickly as most every Penn student now knows exactly what toast throwing at football games means.

When considering the position of toast throwing in the grander scheme of Penn school spirit, it’s clear that it definitely holds a special place in the school’s history. Cheeseman recounts how football games at the time were huge events that everybody attended to create that sense of pride in the school. It also didn’t hurt that Penn’s football team was particularly good and attracted their fair share of people. When asked how it feels to be a part of such a noteworthy tradition at Penn, Cheeseman explains that, while he’s not exactly sure how he feels, he does acknowledge that it’s rather “neat” to be a part of Penn’s history. Though football games don’t receive the same audiences now as they did back in the day, it’s indisputable that toast throwing will remain a part of the experience at football games. With students dividing their time between academics, social lives, and many other things, it’s difficult to attend every football game and participate all the time. Nonetheless, we can rest assured that the tradition won’t be dying out anytime soon as long as groups like the Penn Band, that go to most sports games, keep the tradition alive and others continue to distribute toast at every game at Franklin Field.

After almost fifty years of the tradition was introduced, toast throwing continues to excite people who are first experiencing the wave of toast fly above them for about 15 to 30 seconds at the end of the third quarter. With fans customizing their toast with a letter “P” and stockpiling stacks of toast, it definitely still evokes a sense of school spirit through such a unique tradition. Lucky enough, the toast-eating Zamboni-machine helps with the immense cleanup.

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Image: Homecoming 2018
Back row left to right –  Jason Feldman, ENG02; Kushol Gupta, C’93, BGS’03, Lisa Shapiro (Bardfeld), C’93; Greer Cheeseman, EE’77
Second Row left to right – Kelly (Naeun) Ha, C’16; Marianne Brogdale (Alves*), C’93; Richard DiNapoli, C’19; Robin Coyne, NU’12, GNU’15
Third Row left to right – Lauren Mendoza, C’15; Zabryna Atkinson-Diaz, C’19, GR’20; Jenna Harowitz, C’18
All former and current Penn Band Drum Majors
*Marianne Brogdale (Alves) was the first female Drum Major in Penn Band history.
Source: Source: Kushol Gupta, C’97, GR’03

 

Image: Toast Toss at 2018 Penn vs Bucknell Game
Source: Kushol Gupta, C’97, GR’03

Special thanks to Kushol Gupta, C’97, GR’03, for his consultation and partnership on this article. 

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Alumni Profile, Campus Life, Jorge Penado, C’19, Penn football, Student Perspective, Traditions

High Jump Wars: The Empire Strikes My Lower Back

Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95

A year ago, I decided to try high jumping again after a 17 year break. I may be crazy, but I’m no fool – I spent a month beforehand doing extra conditioning. High jumping is not something you inflict on your body without some kind of prep. I did jogging, strengthening, and lots of stretching. And still, after my one high jump practice, I spent three full days walking like a penguin. A very sad, uncomfortable penguin with lower back issues.

The plus side: My body remembered much about the high jump. The rhythm of my run was still there. The actual takeoff required more strength, which could be obtained with additional training.

The minus side: Oh, my legs. Oh, my back. Oh, my abs. Oh, my feet. Oh, my goodness.

Post practice ice on the ankles. Just like old times.

Post practice ice on the ankles. Just like old times.

I wanted to give it another go, but my body first needed to recover. Beyond that, I knew it needed much more conditioning before I could even think about jumping again. With that obstacle in place, and the semester getting busier, the idea became more and more distant. Until now, a year later. I remembered how much I enjoyed that practice, which had been quite promising despite the aftermath. I loved meeting the jumpers on the team, including Kristen Judge, C’12, with whom I now share the outdoor record (Annie Holland is coming for both of us – she is currently jumping 5’ 7” and is only a sophomore). I smiled at the idea of competing one more time, with friends and family to cheer me on at my first track meet in close to two decades.

With Kristen Judge, C’12, my co-outdoor record holder in Women’s High Jump at Penn.

With Kristen Judge, C’12, my co-outdoor record holder in Women’s High Jump at Penn.

But first things first. Whatever shape I am in, it isn’t good enough for high jumping. I knew that I would have to start building habits that would bring me closer to real preparedness. First, running. If I could do that consistently, then I would add strengthening to the mix. All along the way, there would be serious stretching. When all three of those were up to my own satisfaction, then and only then would I be ready to find some way to actually practice jumping again. Finally, once I could regularly get myself over a good height in practice, cleanly, I would register for a local meet in the Master’s division.

In January, I started running a mile in the mornings, and did it consistently. For context, keep in mind that I was (am?) a high jumper. I used to run from my mark to the bar, take off, land on a soft mat, and voila. To me, a mile is long distance. The distance runners fascinated me – I’d say, “You can run 3.1 miles, without stopping once! Just completing that impresses me, but you also do it fast!” They would reply, “You can jump over my head! With no assistance! How is that humanly possible?” The entire team was one big mutual admiration society.

Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field Mutual Admiration Society - the Juniors, Spring 1990.

Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field Mutual Admiration Society – the Juniors, Spring 1994.

So, I was doing well with my little mile runs, but winter 2013 threw two hurdles my way: snow and ice. Not running on those, no sir. To slip and break myself would fall well outside of my detailed conditioning plan. But I didn’t want to lose the progress I had already made. What were my options? I remembered a conversation between two guys I know (one of whom I profiled in January) regarding their fitness program, which includes jumping rope. Eureka! It’s far more boring to hop in one spot than to run outdoors, but it’s great cardio, it’s a fast warm up, and it’s better than nothing. Side benefit – post-running or jumping rope, my long stretching sessions have already brought results. Might I stretch with a goal in mind? Dare I dream of getting back into a split? I haven’t done one since my high school dance team days, but why not try? Just for kicks, let’s add that to the list. I’ll try not to hurt myself.

So, fellow alumni, *if* my preparation continues to go according to plan, I hereby aim to accomplish the following in 2013 before the end of the outdoor season this summer:

1)      Compete at a meet in the Master’s High Jump. Maybe I’ll put red and blue on one shoe to honor my Penn days, and white and gold on the other for my high school. (Go Bison!)

2)      Get into a split for the first time since 1991.

Let’s see how I do. Will you be rooting for me?

(Read Part I, High Jump Wars: A New Hope)

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High Jump Wars: A New Hope

Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95

Field event training (high jump, long jump, shot put, discus, javelin …) isn’t like training to run. Running you can do almost anywhere. Field events, on the other hand, generally require certain, key equipment. And most apartments in Philadelphia just don’t come equipped with that sort of thing. So, after that last high jump competition for Penn during my senior year, I assumed that this part of my life was over.

Enter my former Team Captains, Ruthlyn Greenfield-Webster, Nu’92 and Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, who have been slowly brainwashing me into considering Masters level competition, for athletes 35 and over.

If you’ve seen this, you know I was a walk-on to Penn Varsity Women’s Track & Field, and spent four years competing as a high jump specialist. Even years later, I could easily visualize every moment of my high jump approach. It’s something I did repeatedly, for months in a row, every year from 7th grade through college. Nothing you’ve done that many times in your life ever really leaves you. However, what my mind can do and what my body can do are two different things. How different? After nearly 17 years, I was curious.

Late this past fall, when I ran into Assistant Coach Tony Tenisci (who was coaching here when I was on the team), I mentioned the evil influence of Ruthie and Dee and I asked whether I could access the high jump pit some time to see what I could still do. He surprised me by inviting me to come practice with the current crop of high jumpers.

Tony! Wow, was it trippy to practice together again. So many memories.

I have been physically active via an intriguing array of activities since my student days, but I haven’t done anything remotely close to high jumping since the spring semester of 1995. I did take 3rd place in a limbo contest last year. At least I knew that my back was still flexible. Still, shimmying under a bar is far less taxing than throwing yourself over one.

Outdoor Heptagonal Championships at Navy, Spring 1995. That’s my Mom. Though we’re in shadow, you can still make out the smiling, stick figure high jumper she drew with a Sharpie on her event T-shirt, along with an arrow pointing to “PENN.”

When the day came, I called my Mom before practice since I wanted her to hear from me while I was yet uninjured. I popped into the Training Room to get my ankles taped, and then crossed over into The Bubble, our indoor training annex (which looks and smells exactly as you remember it, former teammates).

Once inside The Bubble again, I spent a few minutes just walking around, taking it in. I spent so much time in here, so long ago. My very first high jump practice  at Penn took place in this room; first the coaches laughed, then they proceeded to spend the next four years fixing me. After my trip down memory lane, I threw down my bag and leapt onto the pit. Ahh.

It’s a Sealy Posturepedic morning, yeah!

There were other athletes in the room, and that’s when it hit me. Other athletes. When I’m in here, I’m reminded that I, too, am an athlete. Whatever my body does over time, that status will never change because I earned it. I will always be proud of that.

I warmed up and stretched, and then saw Tony walk in. When he saw me, both of us broke out into enormous smiles. This was going to be fun. After a big hug, he introduced me to several members of the team. I could tell he was really proud. “This is Nicole Maloy, school record holder in the High Jump,” he said to each one. “I bet you were BORN in 1995! Ha ha ha!” he said to one of the hurdlers.

She was defiant. “No I wasn’t!”

“OK, when were you born?”

She hung her head. “1992.” Oy.

After more warming up, Tony had me find my mark, a.k.a. identify my starting spot. Then he asked me to try my approach – no jump, just the run and the takeoff. It’s a strange mix of speed and direction changes, different for every jumper. I revved up, ran my “J,” did my takeoff, then looked at Coach. He was smiling. He looked at the other jumpers and said, “See? It’s always in your body.” Well, now. That was encouraging. Then he looked back at me and cocked his head.  “You used to do this,” he said, as he put his arms out in front of him.

I laughed. “You remember.”

Doing my ritual pre-High Jump dance during warmups.

I had decided to actively tone down the pre-jump ritual for my return since I was sure it was not entirely necessary (frankly, though, the urge to let my arms go up was almost overwhelming). Next up: five-step drills, where we would actually jump, but without the speed of a full approach. Rather than put up the bar, Tony tied a rubber cord between the standards. I realized how brilliant this was later, as it kept us from having to reset the bar every 30 seconds like we had to do way back in my day. These kids today, they don’t know how good they have it!

After a few five-step approaches, it was time to jump. I felt myself getting nervous, then stuffing it away and focusing, the way you do. It was time. I felt like I should have brought theme music for this moment.

The best possible meaning for “I’m heading for the bar.” Starting a five-step approach drill for my first high jump attempt in close to 17 years.

Over for a split second at about 5’2” or 5’3”. This was unexpected. Then, of course, I came right down on it. Still, not bad for an old lady on her first day back.

Poof!

I had no idea what to expect on this day, but what meant the most to me was that Tony took it seriously. He was very thoughtful and deliberate about what I should do, how much I should do, and when I should stop, given how long I’d been away. It felt great that he treated me not like a visitor, but like an athlete who had earned his respect. Thanks for that, Coach.

Q&A With Tony, The Day After

What was it like to work with a former team member again after so many years?

When I looked up and saw Nicole on her mark and approaching the high jump bar…it was like no time had passed. She looked the same and ran the same way she did as a 19 year old student athlete! It was like the past had come back to me.

What did the experience mean to you as a Coach?

That when you have an athlete like Nicole, even after 17 years away, she still loves to high jump and treasures her experience as a student-athlete enough to recreate it again at the Master’s Level.

Anything to add?

Only that Nicole will be really sore this morning and that she will have touched muscles in her body that have been dormant for 17 years. That will be interesting for her!

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Athletics, Memories of Penn, Nicole M.

Q&A with a Track & Field Master-Part II: Dee

Author: Nicole Maloy, W’95

(For my previous Q&A with World Masters Track & Field competitor, Ruth Greenfield, Nu’92, check out Part I). 

Today, Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, is a Communications Specialist at Widener University in Pennsylvania, and serves as a freelance sports/events consultant. But I remember her as the athlete with whom I shared the high jump pit for two years as my teammate on Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field. When I was doing my plyometric training, sprints, short-approach jumping drills, and literal attempts at greater heights, there she was. The difference was, when I was done training or competing for the day, she was on her way to work on another event.

Deirdre was a pentathlete indoors, and a heptathlete outdoors. The former includes the 60m Hurdles, High Jump, Shot Put, Long Jump and 800m; the latter replaces the 60m Hurdles with 100m Hurdles, then adds the Javelin and the 200m Dash. So, yeah, I’m feeling a bit inadequate right now. She is trying to convince me to join her in competing again in the Master’s division (35+). Lord help me, I might be swayed. Stay tuned…

Here we are at an indoor meet back in the day.

Q&A with Dee

4 years Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field, Senior Co-Captain

Pentathlon, Heptathlon

Why did you join the track team at Penn?

I was successful in track at St. Francis Prep High School in Queens, NY and I was recruited by many colleges. I intended to continue competing, and I chose Penn over Dartmouth and Cornell, where I was also accepted.

High jumping at the Colonial Relays during her high school days. Even then, she wore the red and blue!

Why did you stay on the team for as long as you did?
Good question! I loved the sport and my teammates, and I couldn’t imagine not being a part of the team. I never thought about quitting, I always wanted to train harder, achieve more and see what I was capable of doing.

(Note: Deirdre was also President of the Penn Irish Club, and was involved in the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project.)

What was your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at Penn?
At the end of my junior year, I blew my knee out in a freak long jump accident at the Ivy League Championships at Yale.

(Side note: I was there, and the sound of her scream is still echoing in my head. I just want the readers to understand the severity of the injury and the pain she was in so you can have some context for her recovery and subsequent return to competition).

I had knee surgery in May and wore a cast for two months. I was running again by October, hurdling by December, and ready to compete again by January.

I had my ups and downs that indoor and outdoor season. At the Indoor Championships at the Naval Academy, I hit a hurdle in the first event of the Pentathlon and finished last in the event- in a fog. However, I ended my Penn Track career at the Outdoor Championships at Princeton with a fifth place finish in the Heptathlon and a personal record in the 800m. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. I had been through so much, and I had accomplished a lot. And, I didn’t have to run an 800m race ever again!

Your favorite Penn Track & Field memory?
The Penn Relays, of course! I competed in them during my high school years, and then as a Penn Track member it was so awesome to have that event take place on our home track. It was great fun to be a part of the meet, to watch amazing competition and feel the energy of the crowd. I remember walking on the track one day, and there were some older guys walking ahead of me, talking about the “ghosts” on the track and their days running at the Penn Relays. It is true. Thousands upon thousands of people have raced and competed at Franklin Field, each with their own stories of success, defeat, and pride at having competed at the famous Penn Relays.

And the people – my teammates and the alumni of both the men’s and women’s teams. I have made such wonderful friends, and we will always have the bond of being part of such a storied athletic program. My coaches Betty Costanza and Tony Tenisci are life-long friends and mentors, and Charlie Powell, the head men’s coach who just retired, is someone that I admire immensely.

Deirdre competing for Penn as a junior.

What were your main activities and interests between your graduation from Penn and competing in the Masters division (including but not limited to sports)?
I was always surprised to hear from fellow athletes who stopped running once their competition days were over. I never stopped. I couldn’t imagine that. It was so ingrained in me and had been such a big part of my life for so long, that when I would be sitting at work and 3 p.m. would roll around, I always felt like it was time to head out to Track practice.

The year after college, I took up rowing. I learned to scull at the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club. A recurring feeling that would come over me while doing a 10 mile row and watching runners race up and down Kelly Drive was: I’d rather be running! Plus, tipping my single scull and falling into the murky Schuylkill River didn’t help matters.

Rowing lasted for about a year, and then I started playing Ultimate Frisbee. I could not throw at all, but I could RUN. I joined a summer league team through the Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance, and I had a blast. It was tough, but so much fun. I played Ultimate for ten years, and in my career played at the Club level with Women’s and Mixed teams. I played in 3 US Championships, three World Championships (in Vancouver, Hawaii, and Germany), 3 Swedish Championships and numerous tournaments throughout the US, Canada and Europe. It is through Ultimate that I met my husband – an Ultimate playing Swede that I met at a beach tournament in Italy, south of Lecce. We met in 2001, lived in Salt Lake City until the end of 2002, and then in Sweden from 2002 – 2009.

Throughout this time I continued to run, and I competed in races from 5K to the half marathon. I have also continued weight lifting and I have really fallen in love with yoga. And Swing Dancing, did I mention Swing Dancing? I did this for several years in NYC and when I lived in Barcelona, and it is something that I really want to get better at.

Ultimate Deirdre

What prompted you to start competing in the Masters division? What did it involve?
I have always thought about competing again in track but never really knew how or where. (I actually didn’t think I would ever STOP competing in track, so it was inevitable to start up again.) Playing Ultimate was a big time commitment, not to mention work and then kids. But after moving back to the USA two years ago from Sweden, I got reconnected with many Penn teammates. Ruth Greenfield, Nu’92, was very active with Masters Track, and I was inspired by her participation and great success. She kept encouraging me, and others, to take it up again, and finally, I did.

What are your strongest memories of your first competition as a Master?
I have only competed in a handful of track meets so far. My first meet was the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships in June at Widener University. As a former heptathlete, I can do many events. The easiest to just step back into though, besides the running events, is the shot put. I showed up and there were about fifteen men and one woman there ranging from ages 25 – 70 competing, with their shot put shoes, measuring tapes, and all the typical paraphernalia. There was a nice camaraderie and lots of encouragement among the participants. I was very nervous, but I did fine – and actually surprised myself that my form and strength is still there (actually, I feel stronger physically after having had children).

It was also a great surprise to run into two former Penn Men’s Track athletes who are also very active and successful on the Masters Track circuit: Jason Costner, W’92, and Mohamed Ali, EAS’92. It was nice to hear them cheer me on when I very bravely ran the 400m.

And to top it off, after my first meet, I was ranked #1 in the US in my age group in the shot. That was a thrill. I know that several of my teammates would rocket to the top of the rankings if they started competing again.

At her first Masters Outdoor Track meet in May with fellow Penn Track & Field alumni, Jason Costner and Mohamed Ali.

In which events do you currently compete or plan to compete?
I really want to high jump and long jump again, but, even though I still run, it will take a lot to prepare my body for that kind of impact and to get used to doing it again. The muscle memory is still there though. I have tried high jumping, and it feels natural to do it. I just need to take it slow! I also want to run all of the events up to the mile and see how I do in each. And I will continue shot putting as I really want to see how much I can improve.

Your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at the Masters level?
In December, I competed in my first meet of the indoor season. My goal was to throw over 30 feet in the shot put – and I did! I also ran the 800m. Like many heptathletes, I dreaded running the 800m as the last of seven events. Although I am slower now, I feel that I am mentally stronger, and I really pushed myself and kept focused. I look forward to running it again, and I aim to whittle my time down over the season.

How does being a mom affect your life as a competitive athlete? How have your children responded?
The other day, my four-year old daughter said to me, “You are the best mom in the world, and the best shot putter in the world.” Alert the presses! My kids know that I love track and field, and my seven-year old son has been to many track meets and has watched a lot of them on TV – especially when we were living in Sweden and they were on TV all the time. He watched Usain Bolt run at the Penn Relays two years ago. This past summer, he participated in his first track meet, and he racked up the medals and had a great time. He “practices” throwing hammer, javelin, and shot put in the yard. I am excited for both my kids to come watch me compete at a meet this winter, and I think that if I went head to head in the 800 with Gavin, he would beat me. In fact, his favorite event to run is the 800m – so he has the advantage.

Sports are such a big part of our family, and it is natural for all of us to be active. We go watch Pappa play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, mom run a 5K, Gavin play soccer, and Violet swims. We will see if they become Track & Field athletes, but if they don’t, it won’t be for lack of exposure.

Deirdre with her husband and two children.

What advice do you have for other women/former college athletes who might be interested in competing again?
Remember in high school (or middle school) when you first started doing track and this whole new world opened up to you? You would go and hang out with your friends at track meets, compete in the 55m, the 200m, the triple jump, the shot put (for a laugh) and then run a relay or two? Master’s Track has that vibe. At the meets I have been to, people run multiple events and throw in a field event for good measure. I swear, I am pretty sure this one guy did run ALL of the events at my last meet.

It is a lot of fun, and you would surprise yourself at what you can still do. I know for me, I still have a competitive streak and I want to do my best and keep getting better. But in Masters Track, I am only competing against myself and my own times. The other competitors are very friendly and supportive, and it seems like a close-knit community. Find a Masters Track club in your area, or just show up at meet. If you are not sure what to do, just jump into the 55m dash for a start. Don’t forget to stretch!

And since there are fewer competitors, the meets don’t take all day as they do in high school and college. You can get a few races in on a Sunday morning and then be home in time for lunch.

Anything to add about your experience with Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field?
I am very proud to have been a member of the Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Team. We worked hard, all year long, and it was a huge commitment. After I graduated, I wanted to stay involved with sports, and I have worked primarily in the sports and event industries. I am a huge sports fan, but Track will always be my favorite.

Anything to add about your experience competing in Track & Field in the Masters division?
It will help with motivation to find some people to train with. I recently started working at Widener University and have become friendly with the track coaches. I have been able to attend some of their practices and get a few training and throwing tips. It is a great feeling to head down to the track and be around the athletes.

Two gold medals from her first master’s track meet. Nice job, Dee!

Again,  to read an earlier post “Q&A with World Masters Track & Field” competitor, Ruth Greenfield, Nu’92, check out Part I).

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Athletics, Class of 1993, Nicole M.

Q&A with a Track & Field Master-Part I: Ruthie

Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95

(To read Part II of the interview series with Track & Field Masters competitor,  Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, go here).

When I joined Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field in the fall of my Freshman year, Co-Captain Ruth Greenfield was a positive voice in my ear, and a stellar example of what any collegiate scholar-athlete would want to be both on and off the field. Well, ladies and gentlemen, she’s still got it.

Triple Jumper Ruthlyn Greenfield-Webster, Nu’92 wins 2nd place in her division at the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships.

Ruth Greenfield-Webster, a married mother of two in Yonkers, NY, now works as a Registered Nurse and a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant. And, in her spare time, she competes at the national and world levels in the Masters division of Track & Field.

Wait, what?

Track & Field “Masters” are athletes aged 35 and over (30-34 gets you “submaster” status), and who, to put it simply, just aren’t done yet. I became more and more intrigued by this phenomenon and Ruth’s involvement in it first because, let’s face it, it’s pretty awesome. But second, because I qualify. Gulp. Might I find myself high jumping again one day?

Two of my own former Track & Field Captains say yes but, as they both compete now, they are biased and not to be trusted. Still, what is it like? This, Part I of II, is Q&A with Ruth, who still holds the #2 spot in Penn’s record books for both the indoor and outdoor Triple Jump. Part II will feature Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, who remains among Penn’s top 10 in both the Pentathlon and the Heptathlon, which consist of five and seven events, respectively. For anyone who’s not clear on that, we’re talking about 5 or 7 events in one track meet.

Ruth during her Penn days, right around when she broke the Indoor & Outdoor Triple Jump Records. Number 1, indeed!

Q&A with Ruthie
4 years Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field, Senior Co-Captain
Triple Jump, Long Jump, 400m Dash, 4x400m Relay

Why did you join the track team at Penn?

I was recruited out of Mount Vernon High School (New York) by Coach Betty Costanza. I had also been competing at the Penn Relays as a high school athlete so I had grown to love the campus and the track. After visiting Penn my senior year of high school and spending some time with the coaches and the track team, I decided that Penn was the best fit for me, both athletically and academically, as the U. Penn School of Nursing was the #1 nursing school in the country at the time.

Stylin! Competing in the 800m run for Mount Vernon High School.

Why did you stay on the team for as long as you did?

Participating in sports (particularly track and field) has always been a part of who I am. The Penn Women’s Track Team was essentially a second major for me. I arrived at U. Penn with two goals in mind… to succeed at obtaining a degree in nursing and to succeed as an athlete in the sport of track and field. Even when it got tough and it became difficult to juggle both, it never crossed my mind to quit. That was a self-imposed “non-option.” I loved it too much! (Note: Ruth was also involved in the Penn Gospel Choir and Friars Senior Society.)

Your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at Penn?

There were multiple proud moments: breaking the indoor and outdoor school records in the Triple Jump, being a 4-time Heptagonal (Ivy League) Champion in the Triple Jump, being the recipient of the University of Pennsylvania Althea Gibson Award for athletic excellence which I received at graduation in 1992, and being invited to the 1992 Olympic Trials in the Triple Jump!

What’s your favorite Penn Track & Field memory (if different from the above)?

All of the above! But if I had to pick one…it would be breaking the school records!

Reunited and it feels so good! Ruth and her two daughters with current and former members of the Penn Women’s Track & Field coaching staff at the 2010 Penn Relays.

What prompted you to start competing in the Masters division? What did it involve?

While I was playing volleyball in the league in NYC, one of my friends discovered that, in addition to our love for volleyball, we also shared a history as track and field athletes. He then told me about “Masters Track and Field.” I had never heard of that division. I thought my track and field life was finished in 1992 when I turned down the invitation to the Olympic Trials and that unless you were an elite athlete, track and field was over after college.

He asked me to go to a track meet with him (he was in his early 40s and had competed in it 10 years prior). I hesitated at first because I didn’t know if I had the time to dedicate to it (I knew I couldn’t just do it as a hobby…I would want to REALLY train). I was also working full time, had my 2 young children, and was running my business. But like a true competitor, I see everything as a challenge. I did not want to back down from what I saw as a “challenge,” so I went out and bought some cheap spikes the day before the meet, did a few bounds in my front yard, and went to the local track meet the next day.

I competed and later discovered that I had jumped well enough to beat that year’s National Champion’s jump by 2 feet. I was really shocked that I was still able to jump so well, so it was a no-brainer after that as to what my decision would be. My friend became my coach (he was also a Triple Jump specialist in his youth) and I started to train with the intent of becoming a serious competitor.

What are your strongest memories of your first competition as a Master?

After that initial meet, my first real meet (post dedicated training) was at the Armory (New Balance) Track & Field Center in NYC! I will never forget walking on to the track, standing on the runway, twirling around and looking up at the rafters and saying to myself, “I’m home!” with a huge grin on my face.

Good gracious, look at that height. Outdoor Nationals, 2010. For context, this is nearly 20 years after her graduation from Penn.

In which events do you currently compete or plan to compete?

I started out with the Triple Jump and Long Jump, then figured I might as well do the 60m Dash & 100m Dash since I’m sprinting in training anyway. I was never trained as a short-sprinter at Penn, so that took a lot of guts and I was infinitely nervous before each meet. But I had to come out of my comfort zone. After my left knee surgery in 2008, I dropped the Long Jump (that leg was my take off leg for the LJ, but not for the TJ). After a 2 year recovery period, I wanted to go back to having 3 events, so I decided to add the 200m Dash to my 100m Dash and TJ events. Like I said before, I love a challenge, and I especially love to challenge myself! So currently, I compete in the 60m Dash, 100m Dash, 200m Dash, and TJ.

What was your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at the Masters level?

Again, there are a few! My near-American Record in the TJ in the W35-39 age group (I missed it by a mere 1 inch at the age of 39). Individually, I’m most proud of my National Champion titles and #1 U.S. rankings, as well as my World Championship Silver and Bronze medal titles and Top 10 World rankings in the TJ. As part of a team, I’m most proud of my World Champion title as a member of the U.S. 4x100m Relay team.

How does being a mom affect your life as a competitive athlete? How have your children responded?

It’s been interesting juggling it all. When I started competing again, my children were ages 4 and 8. I took them to the track to train with me because I had to. At first, they pouted and resisted, but after a couple years of accompanying me to the track to train and to my track meets, they began asking to train with me and wanted to compete as well, so that’s what we did. Both of my daughters have won racing and jumping events in their youth divisions and they are very excited and anxious to continue pursuing training and competing in track and field. Of course, I’m on cloud 9 because having my children compete in the sport that I have such a passion for has always been a dream of mine (even before I even had children). The fact that I can compete AT THE SAME TIME they’re competing is a tremendous bonus for me and I feel truly blessed!

Deirdre and Ruth in 2010.

What advice do you have for other women/former college athletes who might be interested in competing again?

If the thought even crosses your mind to start competing again, please reach out to those of us who are currently competing. It can be very daunting to try to figure out how much time it will take to train and compete and how to incorporate training and competition into what is usually an already busy adult life that’s filled with work, family, and other obligations. We understand! We’re living it! And we can tell you, it’s not impossible! And… it sure is a heck of a lot of fun! Anyone that’s interested in competing in Masters Track and Field can visit websites such as: http://www.usatf.org, http://www.usatfmasters.org, http://www.masterstrack.com, http://www.nationalmastersnews.org, and http://www.world-masters-athletics.org for more information.

Anything to add about your experience with Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field?

An AWESOME group of coaches and an AWESOME team of AWESOME women who became my family away from home! That experience has helped me to become the strong woman I am today. There’s nothing you can tell me that I can’t do!

Anything to add about your experience competing in Track & Field in the Masters division?

The health benefits go without saying. But there’s just something about this sport. Even at this level, the camaraderie and feeling that regardless of where you are (nationally and internationally) we are one big family, is ever-present. You develop friendships that extend beyond the track and field. And the experience of constantly being around dedicated, motivated, and kick— people is PRICELESS!

See Part II, Q&A with Penn Track & Field alumna Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94 on January 13!

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Alumni Profile, Athletics, Nicole M.

Penn Men’s Basketball: The Dunphy Rollout Edition

Author: Stephanie Y., C08

Penn Men’s Basketball fans can always count on The Red and Blue Crew to bring clever rollouts to the games. It looks like the students had a message for Fran Dunphy, Temple’s head coach, at the Penn vs. Temple game.

The rollout at the Penn vs. Temple Men’s Basketball game reads "Dunphy: We mustache you a question, but we'll shave it for later. #NoShaveNovember.”

The rollouts can be quite competitive and mean-spirited sometimes, but The Red and Blue Crew keeps it tame and tasteful when it comes to Coach Dunphy. Dunphy was head coach of Penn’s Men’s Basketball from 1989 to 2006. He won 10 Ivy League titles in his 17-year career at Penn before he went on to be head coach at Temple. He did so much for the basketball program at Penn, and he will always be a legend in the Palestra.

The next Penn Men’s Basketball game is on Wednesday, December 7 at 7 PM! Hope to see you there when Penn plays Delaware in the Palestra. Go Quakers!

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Stephanie Y.

Basketball is Back!

Author: Jonathan Cousins, SEAS’14

They say that you never know how much you miss something until it is no longer there.  Well, in the case of Penn Basketball, I realized just how much I had missed an hour before game time.  I realized that I was going to get to go to the Palestra, the cathedral of college basketball, and watch Penn and Temple in a Big 5 matchup.

That would have been enough, as I and many of the Penn fans felt we had no business being competitive in this game.  But, that’s why you play the games. Penn fought as hard as I have ever seen them against a bigger, more talented Temple team.  Tied at halftime, and with back and forth swings throughout the second half, the game had an atmosphere of spirited competition that was rarely there last year.  Last year’s Harvard game was amazing, but the Big 5 brings out something special in the Palestra.  There is nothing like having the arena split half and half, with every shot, miss, turnover, and foul drawing half praise and half objection.

Zack Rosen had another big game, scoring 27 points (Courtesy: University of Pennsylvania)

There was a strong internal temptation to make a statement about the officiating, especially at the end of the game, but I will let others do that, at least in public forums.  My focus is on the atmosphere.  The other night, the Palestra was loud and proud, and hopefully, the experience will keep Penn students coming back for more.  There is understandable disappointment after the loss, but, from my perspective, the atmosphere of Penn pride could not be beat.  Keep it up Penn students – we need your voices all season.

Looking forward, this game gives me hope.  Temple is a better team than Harvard, who everyone is predicting to run away with the Ivy League title.  Whether we end up winning or not, we can play with any team, and I hope to see good efforts in each and every game. This experience is what I have been missing ever since Spring Break last year. Finally, it is back.

Here’s to a good season. Go Quakers!

You can read more about the game here.

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Filed under Jonathan C., Student Perspective