Gabe Pickett couldn’t compete.
As a senior at Vestal High School, a torn meniscus prevented the jumper from participating in the Penn Relays.
But four years later, in his third visit to the event since joining the Owls in 2010, Pickett was the last member of the men’s track & field team to compete at the Penn Relays. He earned two medals, placing fifth in the long jump and fourth in the triple jump.
With the Board of Trustees’ December vote to eliminate the program after this season, Pickett was the final representative of the program to compete in the Penn Relays – a meet the Owls have competed in for almost a century – before the cuts take effect in July.
“We have a great tradition of coming out here and performing and it’s an honor to be a part of the last hurrah for the men’s program,” Pickett said.
As a freshman aiming to return strong from his injury, Pickett said his first year with the team was a learning experience – one in which he utilized feedback from coaches, kept his head down and followed instructions.
When Pickett finally got a chance to compete in the Penn Relays in 2011, he described the experience as “nerve-racking.” Now in his third trip to the event, he said this one was more relaxed and enjoyable.
Pickett has been one of the men’s team’s top performers during recent years, which included a trip to the NCAA East Region preliminaries in 2013. He said his experiences on the team have been worthwhile, and have taught him a lot – both off and on the track.
“You have to work hard
for everything you want in life because you are going to have tough days and you have to roll with the punches and keep working hard and make those bad days good days,” Pickett said.
In January, President Theobald met with coaches and two members from each cut team. Coach Eric Mobley brought Pickett with him, who argued that cutting the program limits the opportunities for African Americans at the university.
“Football and basketball are the other big programs, but their roster sizes are pretty small,” Pickett said. “Track & field has a nice balance of exercises and gives a lot of opportunities for African Americans to come and showcase their talents and skills, so getting rid of it is going to limit their opportunities.”
Pickett isn’t directly affected by the athletic cuts as he will soon graduate. Others like freshman Adam Hassan have been forced to make alternative plans for next year should they want to continue competing at the Division I level.
Hassan said he is transferring to the University of North Texas after the season. Although he will be returning to his hometown, he admits that he will miss Philadelphia.
“It’s hard because I feel like this was the first track team where I felt like I was a part of a family,” Hassan said. “The new team at Texas will not be able to replace the connections I have made at Temple.”
The Mean Green’s track & field team’s schedule does not include a stop to the Penn Relays, but Hassan said he relished the opportunity to compete at the relays as an Owl this year.
“I thought the crowd was awesome,” Hassan said. “They were all cheering and supporting the athletes that made for a very fun atmosphere.”
Although the men’s team will be eliminated on July 1, the women’s team will remain. Pickett said the cuts affect the women as well, however, as they both balance workouts and inspire one another.
Mobley, who has led both programs since 2008, is expected to return next season.
“[The cuts are] very heartbreaking,” Mobley said. “I wish it wasn’t the case, but now we have to take it in and make sure we have some good representation at the meet for our final one and just look back at all the great things that we accomplished.”
Stephen Godwin Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.