Quakers Of All Ages Penn Track & Field Embarks On Eighth Year With Young Quakers Program... Virtually

PHILADELPHIA – Every year since 2013, the University of Pennsylvania track and field teams have joined forces with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships in a program called Young Quakers Community Athletics (YQCA).

YQCA establishes athletic teams with students from Penn’s University-Assisted Community Schools in West Philadelphia and engages them with Penn’s varsity teams.

The program was founded in 2012 with the men’s lacrosse team and James H. Greene, Jr. Head Coach Mike Murphy, working with the Comegys University-Assisted Community School. Boys’ lacrosse quickly grew to girls’ lacrosse and eventually co-ed track and field.

Today, YQCA serves 4th-8th grade students from four schools: Comegys Elementary, Hamilton Elementary, Lea Elementary, and Mitchell Elementary.

Back in 2013, the connection with track and field came to life with Huey Elementary, linking 44 Huey students and 30 Penn student-athletes. Today, the program works with Lea, Comegys, Hamilton, and Mitchell schools with sessions designed to give students a taste of several track and field events before specializing.

“We were approached because track and field is such a great sport to go well with the (YQCA) program and have a large amount of students involved,” said Steve Dolan, the James P. Tuppeny/Betty J. Costanza Director of Track & Field/Cross Country. “The great thing about track and field is there really is something for everyone, whether you’re jumping, sprinting, running distance, or throwing; it’s a great sport that doesn’t take a lot of equipment.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Young Quakers would come to practice in historic Franklin Field and even have the opportunity to qualify to compete and represent the program in the 4x100 and shorter relays on the infield at the Penn Relays.

“Being a part of Penn Relays is an awesome experience for our students and our schools,” said Paige Lombard, Associate Director of YQCA Program and former Penn women’s soccer captain in 2015 and 2016. “There is a lot of school pride! They love to be able to go watch their Big Quakers run, then have their roles reversed and have the Penn athletes cheer them on in their races.”

“There is a lot of school pride! They love to be able to go watch their Big Quakers run, then have their roles reversed and have the Penn athletes cheer them on in their races.”

As the program evolved, it afforded the opportunity to create the Young Quakers Track league. Hosting other local schools at Franklin Field, the Young Quakers were able to compete in events such as the: 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, mile, 4x100, long jump, and shot put.

It also evolved in the eyes of Dolan, who said he has continued to see the initiative taken by the Penn student-athletes.

“The thing that has been really great about the program is the evolution of the students on our team taking it on, becoming the real leaders and coaches of it. Now, it’s really a student-led initiative where our team is the Big Quakers coaches and the ones making it happen which is exciting.”

In all of the programs, each of the teams has what is called ‘Big Quaker Captains’ like senior distance runner Niamh Hayes, who helps come up with weekly practice plans and communicates them with the rest of the volunteer members.

“As Big Quaker Captain I do my best to provide support and guidance to the Big Quakers,” said Hayes. “In addition to being Big Quaker Captain, I also work on the Evaluation and Research team for Young Quakers. I mainly focus on collecting qualitative data from focus groups and surveys that we administer across participating partners.”

This year is set to look much different for the YQCA program, making the move to virtual over the summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This fall, we’ll still be holding the same weekly track sessions, just over Zoom instead,” said Lombard. “It’ll be a mix of physical activity and mentorship. We’ll do our best to use breakout rooms to continue to use the mentorship model where Young Quakers and Big Quakers are able to pair up and connect in smaller groups.”

The Netter Center has been working through the virtual programming since the pandemic started earlier this year, and with trial and error has been quite successful. YQCA will even take another step forward this fall, hoping to send sports equipment to the homes of the Young Quakers to encourage them to continue to participate.

“We’re hoping by getting equipment to their homes, it’ll motivate them to sign in and get physically active with us,” continued Lombard. “But, hopefully, it will also give them the resources to be physically active when they are not in session with us as well.”

Although a different platform, the difference the Penn student-athletes make to the Young Quakers is priceless.

“I don’t know if the Penn athletes fully recognize their impact except for in some special moments, but the Young Quakers are always looking up to their Big Quakers, not only as athletes but also as college students,” said Lombard.

“I think this program is a win-win,” followed Dolan. “The Young Quakers are having the opportunity to work with college-aged students and it can be very inspirational. And the opposite is true too, I think our team benefits a lot with the opportunity to teach young people and to give back through sport, as well as grow and appreciate all the things they have here at Penn.”

"I think our team benefits a lot with the opportunity to teach young people and to give back through sport..."

The track and field program embarks on their eighth year with the Netter Center this month, and the excitement can’t be measured.

“I think we have the largest group we’ve ever had from Penn track and field excited to get involved this year,” said Dolan. “It’s going to be great.”

“I am personally very excited for this upcoming year,” said Hayes. “I'm excited to see some familiar faces, even if it is on a computer screen.