Standing barely five feet tall, 84-year-old Herman Mancini is
hardly an imposing physical specimen. But he's an expert in
getting athletes to toe the line.
As chief clerk of the Penn Relays, the oldest and biggest relay
meet in the U.S., Mancini is responsible for sorting the meet's
12,000 runners into neat packets before sending them onto the
track for their races. This year's Penn Relays, held April
22-26, were the 60th in which Mancini participated. As he
prodded the colossus toward timely completion from his perch on
a metal platform five feet above the crowded paddock in
Philadelphia's Franklin Field, Mancini, a gregarious man with a
perpetual tan and white cottony hair, said, "We are never behind
schedule. I won't let it happen."
Mancini and his 20-person staff work to create order from the
turbulent flow of human traffic into the cramped, multisection
paddock. The uniqueness of the Penn Relays is in its inexorable
tide of competition, from high school to college to open
categories. Mancini keeps those human waters coursing onto the
track by imposing his own athletic socialism: No one runner is
more important to him than the entire show.
Dave Wottle found that out in 1973, the year after he won the
800 meters at the Munich Olympics. He and his Bowling Green
(Ohio) State teammates had come to Philadelphia one day after
setting a U.S. citizens' record in the four-mile relay at Drake
University in Des Moines. "I was trying to get psyched up for
the race and concentrating on what I had to do, and I remember
somebody telling me I couldn't wear my hat on the track," says
Wottle, now dean of admissions and financial aid at Rhodes
College in Memphis. "They didn't tell me I couldn't wear it at
the Olympics, so they weren't going to tell me I couldn't wear
it at the Penn Relays."
Mancini refused to let Wottle out of the paddock. "If I let him
wear a hat, someone else will want to wear a sombrero," Mancini
says. In an unusual move, meet director Jim Tuppeny overruled
Mancini, and Wottle got to wear his hat, but Villanova beat
When Mancini began at the Penn Relays, in 1938, he officiated
the hammer throw. Four years later he was promoted to assistant
clerk. Back then the small number of competitors allowed
registration to take place on the track's infield. Athletes had
space to warm up, much as they do today at the Drake Relays or
Tennessee's Sea-Ray Relays, the other premier relay meets, which
have far fewer participants than Penn. Now, Penn runners must
loosen up on the crowded sidewalks outside Franklin Field, and
once in the paddock, they don't even have room to stretch.
"That's just part of the Penn Relays--getting pushed around in
the paddock," says Joetta Clark, a three-time Olympian who
competed as a New Jersey high school runner and later for
Mancini became top assistant clerk in 1949 and took over as
chief in 1966. By then the clerking area had moved to its
current home at the head of the track's first turn. Mancini's
assistants arrange runners into their various events, check them
for the proper spikes (one-eighth inch) and attire and send them
toward Mancini, atop his command post in front of the final
paddock. With his back to the track, he shouts orders into a
bullhorn: "Face the wall. Leadoff man, move out. Follow the
leader. Hey, you, get in line. Follow the leader. Number 2 man,
move out." He rarely watches a race.
In 1972 Mancini and his wife, Ida, moved to Plantation, Fla.
When he was 65, he began jogging to lose weight and developed
into a champion runner in his age-group. His running career was
curtailed by open-heart surgery in 1992, but Mancini remains fit
by jogging three miles a day.
He also maintains a full officiating schedule. In addition to
the Penn Relays--from which he receives no salary and to which
he pays his own way each year--he was an assistant clerk at last
year's International Paralympic Games in Atlanta and works at
meets in Florida. One of his grandfathers lived to be 105, so
there is little indication that Mancini will slow down anytime
"I enjoy it so much," he says. "They could ask me to do a kids'
meet, and I would." And you can bet the kids would run on time.
Michael Bradley, who lives in Drexel Hill, Pa., attended his
first Penn Relays in 1970, at age eight.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Mancini marked his 60th Penn Relays in his familiar paddock perch. [Herman Mancini holding relay batons]