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In Relay-ted News

This week in Philadelphia thousands of track and field athletes will gather to compete in the Penn Relays, the largest event of its kind in the United States. Since 1895, athletes from across the country and the globe have traveled to southeastern Pennsylvania on the last weekend of April to test their speed and agility among elite competition.

Estimates are that this year’s festivities will bring approximately 17,000 athletes and 115,000 spectators to West Philadelphia.  The action is taking place at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, located at 235 S. 33rd Street in University City, Philadelphia.

The event includes competitions for high school students, college students, Olympic hopefuls, and special Olympians.  If you're not able to make the trek to Philly, you can follow the results on twitter @pennrelays.

One of the more popular events in recent years is the USA vs the World relay. This year's will be taking place at 12:30 pm on Saturday and broadcast live on NBCSN. There will be 4 x 100, 4 x 200, and 4 x 400 races, in both male and female divisions
The event attracts a wide variety of participants, including 100 year old Ida Keeling. As the New York Times reports, Ms. Keeling has been running most of her life and is not about to let the century mark slow her down.  Stories like these are what make the event memorable, and no doubt each one of the 17,000 athletes has a unique tale of obstacles and triumphs, all of which will come to a head in their events this weekend.  As those speeding athletes careen around the Franklin Field track this weekend, they may appear from a distance to be little more than blurs of track shorts and singlets, but wise spectators will know the blood, sweat, and tears we can't see are what really propel them. 


Hats for the Hatless

The Washington Post recently reported on a heart warming story about an organization dedicated to getting sports uniforms and equipment to underprivileged children.

Max Levitt founded the Silver Spring, MD area Leveling the Playing Field in 2013.  Levitt said, "I wanted to start something on my own, to hopefully change a systemic problem.” Leveling the Playing Field 
takes donations of gently used sports equipment, uniforms, and caps, and makes them available to groups such as Dynamic Works Program Support, a D.C. area youth sports organization run by Kevin and Tondrea Giles.

Said Mr. Giles: "In my mind I’m saying, ‘God, you are faithful'...This is almost unbelievable. You cannot overstate how much this is needed.”

Youth sports participation has increased in some areas in recent years. However, as Michael S. Rosenwald reports, "There is a concern that the uptick appears limited to children in higher income families." 

He continues, "A 2014 study by the University of Florida showed sports participation rates for children among families earning more than $100,000 per year is 33 percent. For those below $25,000, it's 15 percent."

Many of the life-long lessons imparted by team sports can be lost to young people who don't have these opportunities, and this can in turn create a self-perpetuating cycle, in which the very people who would benefit most from the structured atmosphere of team sports are the people who don't get the chance to participate.

This comes amidst reports that
youth sports participation on the whole is dropping. Rosenwald tells us, "More than 26 million children ages 6 to 17 played team sports in 2014, down nearly 4 percent from 2009, according to a widely cited survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Total sports played have plummeted by nearly 10 percent."

Many factors are suspected to be behind this trend, including a focus on sport-specialization, increasing economic stratification, and the pull of screen-based entertainments such as tablets, cell phones, and video games. Rosenwald finds much of the fault with the parents of youth sports, who often often pressure their children to focus on winning and competing at ever higher levels, even when this means the young athletes get less satisfaction and ultimately quit sooner.

Still, few dispute the net positive impact sports participation can have on development, and the many parents, coaches, teachers, and administrators involved will continue to strive to give as many kids as possible the best experience they can. The more kids who have the sports team uniforms and equipment they need, the better experiences they will have, and ultimately the more growth their communities will have as a result of their experiences. 


One Steph Back, Two Stephs Forward

The market long dominated by Nike is suddenly in a three way arms race between the Kanye-power of Adidas and the ascendance of alien-cum-basketball player StephenCurry for Under Armour

A story out from ESPN reported on the way Nike botched their wooing of Steph Curry, clearly not valuing him enough as a potential spokesman that they didn't put much into their presentation. As Ethan Sherwood Strauss reports, "In the meeting, according to
Dell, there was never a strong indication that Steph would become a signature athlete with Nike. 'They have certain tiers of athletes,' Dell says. 'They have Kobe, LeBron and Durant, who were their three main guys. If he signed back with them, we're on that second tier.'" 

And that's only part of the story. From recruitment by a low profile teammate, to the fashion sense of his baby daughter Riley Curry playing a key role, Strauss' article is a fascinating read from top to bottom. Under Armour and the shoes and basketball uniforms they sell stand, along with the Golden State Warriors, as entities smart enough to be ready for the opportunity Steph presents, but still very lucky to be the ones benefiting from it. 

As Business Insider reports“Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said in April that he wants to build a $1 billion basketball brand around Curry."  Whether this represents a real crack in the dominance of Nike or merely a blip, only time will tell. 
With reports out recently on the genius of the silicon valley start up thinking fueling the Warriors rise, it's worth pointing out that nobody but nobody could have predicted the historic run the Warriors are currently on, and the corresponding spike Under Armour sales that would follow the rise of it's leading brand ambassador. 

As the Warriors close in on a record-setting 73 win NBA regular season, sports apparel executives from the big 3 manufacturers are surely already scanning the horizon for the next low risk, high reward signing that can catapult their brand in the public eye. In the mean time, any basketball uniform is going to look good when the player wearing it does stuff like this