With only Robin Benjamin returning from last year's record-setting 4x400-meter team, the Central High Falcons of Seat Pleasant, Md., were not expected to repeat as Penn Relays girls' champions.
When Benjamin took the baton 12 yards behind the anchor runner for Vere Tech of Jamaica today, there were still a lot of skeptics among the 13,875 watching at Franklin Field. Benjamin knew, however, that things were under control--and they were.
Benjamin ran the fastest 400 meters of her life, 53.6, to win by two yards as Central was clocked in 3:42.1, a meet record and the fastest high school time ever run in the East.
"No, I wasn't really worried when I started out, because we ran against them last week and, even though they switched legs today, I knew they weren't going to get any better," Benjamin said. "People thought we wouldn't be as good this year, with so many changes in the team, but we thought we'd be better."
The Falcons were better because all four ran to the limit of endurance. When it was over, they helped each other stagger off the track, except for Sabrae Hilliard, the third runner, who had to be carried. Hilliard was spiked earlier in the 4x100, where a botched baton pass left Central sixth, but she insisted on running the big one later.
"Everybody gave it everything," Benjamin said. "When it was over, I felt like crying. But there will be a party tonight."
Paulette Turner led off in 55.6, followed by Paula Bryant in 55.8 and the courageous Hilliard in 57.1.
Central was the Washington area's only winner today. H.D. Woodson, expected to challenge for the boys' 4x100-meter title, was victimized by a dropped baton on the first handoff. Despite that mishap, Woodson clocked 43.7, the fourth-best time among area schools. It took 42.4, however, to qualify for Saturday's final.