Photo by Nelson A. King|Photo by Nelson A. King

Belize created history late last month by becoming the first country in Central and South America to compete in the illustrious Penn Relays in over 80 years.

“In 1937, a Panamanian team came to the Penn Relays and, since that time — until now — there has not been a team from Central America participating in the games,” James Cordice, the Vincentian-born, Philadelphia-based architect behind Belize and St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation in the Penn Relays.

The Penn Relays takes place annually, during the last weekend in April, at the Franklin Field Stadium at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Cordice, a community advocate, was instrumental in having two St. Vincent and the Grenadines high schools — The Thomas Saunders Secondary School and the St. Vincent Grammar School — compete in the Penn Relays Carnival for the past eight years.

Earlier this year, Cordice undertook a special trip to Belize, convincing at least one high school — Stan Creek — to participate in the oldest and largest collegiate athletic meet in the United States.

The 10-member Stan Creek contingent — comprising seven athletes and three officials (Principal Jeremy “Jackie” Cayetano, Assistant Principal Gregory Ovado and Head Coach and Councilman Gary Francisco — showered praise on Cordice for facilitating the historic initiative.

“Salute to our athletes!” Cayetano told a reception for athletes from St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize, at the Vincentian-owned Calabash Restaurant and Lounge on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia, at the conclusion of the Penn Relays.

“Extreme thanks to Mr. Cordice,” she added. “You are part of our family. We take this love from the Penn Relays back home.”

Ovado echoed her boss’s remarks, adding: “Today, we made history. Today, for the first time, we have anybody from Belize [competing in the Penn Relays].

“I’m totally proud of them,” added Ovado, referring to the Stan Creek athletes.

Nigel Rodriguez, captain of the Stan Creek High School team, evoked loud laughter in declaring: “Back home, I see fast runners; but, at the Penn Relays, we have jet runners.”

Though the Belizean athletes did not match up to most of their competitors in their first Penn Relays effort, they, nonetheless, gave a good account of themselves, Cordice said.

Francisco also said Cordice “gave this town and this community hope — something we haven’t received in years.

“We’ll forever be thankful for you, your heart and your passion for the younger generation,” he said.

“This was the start of what is now history,” added Francisco about Stan Creek’s participation in the Penn Relays. “Thanks for coming through.”

Stan Creek High School Principal Jeremy (Jackie) Cayetano addresses reception in Philadelphia.
Photo by Nelson A. King