Every year, Parsippany coach Walter Bleuler showed the boys and girls 4x400s the Penn Relays plaque he’d won while running for North Bergen High School in 1967. He always gives the same speech, “Those two days in my senior year in high school are what I’ll remember the most.”
But this year, his wife Joanne Bleuler had taken the plaque in preparation for his retirement dinner, so all he had to offer were the words. As usual, before Penn Relays began on Thursday, Bleuler told his wife, “This is going to be the year.” And as usual, she responded, “You say that every year.”
But this time, Bleuler was right. Parsippany won its heat of the 4×400 in 3:28.73, and Bleuler — who is retiring after more than 25 years as the head coach — was presented with the Penn Relays plaque on Saturday morning.
Even Bleuler hadn’t dared to expect it. Neither had the quartet of Red Hawks runners: juniors Christian Hulse-Carr, Malik Francis (51.82) and Josh Crawford and senior Peter Hernandez.
“(On Friday) we talked about it, and decided we didn’t want to die, we didn’t want to be destroyed by the other teams,” said Hernandez, who attends Morris Tech. “It was basically going in for a crash and coming out with a victory. Just because we weren’t seeded high, or weren’t as fast as everyone else here, it didn’t mean we were out for the count.”
The Red Hawks had to come from behind to earn their coveted prize. Hernandez got the baton in third place but immediately started to gain ground.
He closed the gap by the midpoint, and when he handed off to Crawford for the anchor, Parsippany was even with Springfield Gardens (N.Y.) and Walter Johnson of Bethesda, Md.
Said Hernandez, “My job was to catch. His was to go.”
Crawford (51.88) was determined not to repeat his experience from a year earlier, when he grabbed the baton and dashed off far too fast, only to fade by the end of the lap. Instead, he waited, even after getting passed by Springfield Gardens anchor Jason Jeangilles. When he saw Jeangilles’ shoulders drop, Crawford knew it was time to kick.
“I knew he was going to get tired,” said Crawford, who also anchored Parsippany’s 4×400 at Penn Relays last spring. “I wasn’t nearly as nervous this year, which is great. Everybody kept telling me to have fun, so I did.”
St. Jago of St. Catherine, Jamaica, won the Championship of America in 3:11.73.
St. Elizabeth Tech (3:13.28) of Santa Cruz, Jamaica led the qualifying field, and finished second in the final. Union Catholic, the top New Jersey school, qualified eighth (3:16.26) and placed eighth in the final.
Mendham’s quartet of Christian Kildal-Brandt (49.86), Ian Graham, Malcolm Montilus and Dylan Heraghty were the quickest from Morris County, finishing sixth in its heat and 39th out of the 535 total entries in 3:22.94 — behind Calabar of Kingston, Jamaica, the No. 3 squad overall. Randolph was right behind the Minutemen, seventh in that heat.
Though Parsippany’s time was 148th overall, and not close to the school record, the boys met a goal set before they were born.
“When I first started (coaching at Parsippany), they looked at me like I was a cuckoo bird to bring them to Penn Relays,” Bleuler said. “We finally made it to the big dance after all these years. I said, ‘What you did today, you’ll never forget for the rest of your life,’ and that’s what this is all about.”