Phil Anastasia: A final Penn Relays for Seton Hall coach

John Moon
John Moon
Posted: April 23, 2010

John Moon walks in the same way. He walks out the same way.

He parks in the same lot. He sits in the same area of Franklin Field, Section SF, close to the track but far enough back to enjoy some shade in the middle of a sunny afternoon at the Penn Relays.

"This place is like a second home to an old track and field guy like me," Moon said Thursday, the first full day of his last Penn Relays.

Moon has been Seton Hall's track and field coach for 38 years. He has brought a team to this event every spring since 1972. He always watches from the same spot, with a stopwatch around his neck, a baseball cap on his head, a smile in his face.

"I love this place," Moon said. "Words can't describe what the Penn Relays mean to me."

Moon won't be back. Not as Seton Hall's coach, anyway. The school announced in February that it was dropping the men's and women's track and field programs as a cost-saving measure, a move that Moon said "blindsided" him.

Seton Hall isn't an East Coast power in track and field anymore, but the Pirates still are a highly respected program. They brought a full contingent to this meet, and their women's teams qualified Thursday for Friday's ECAC championships in both the 4x100-meter (running 45.88 seconds) and 4x400 (running 3 minutes, 38.20 seconds).

Seton Hall's men will take the track on Friday, competing in the 4x100, 4x200, and 4x400 as well as the sprint medley, and in the 4x800 Saturday.

Who knows? If the gods of track and field have any sense of justice - and if the Pirates get their baton passes just right and pop a few personal-best times - maybe Moon will get to watch one of his teams in a Championship of America final from that familiar seat on the south side of the old stadium.

"I think we have a chance," Moon said. "The guys are ready to roll."

Moon still is upbeat and optimistic even at 70, even as the coach of a program that was dropped like one of those batons during a botched handoff.

That's his nature. That's one of the reasons he led Seton Hall track and field to national prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the reasons he has lasted since 1972 on the campus of the small Catholic school in South Orange, N.J.

But these are tough times. This is his last Penn Relays.

"I get tears in my eyes when I think about it," Moon said. "I had a lump in my throat all day. Penn Relays is track and field. It's the best meet in the world, better than the Olympic trials."

Like most track and field people, Moon loves the Penn Relays for its crazy, crowded, celebratory air of inclusion - everybody from its grammar-school kids to its masters competitors, from its endless store of high school runners to its college stars, from its army of Average Joes to its loyal Olympic heroes.

"Every athlete should have a chance to run at the Penn Relays," Moon said. "There's nothing else like it. It's the competition. It's the camaraderie. It's the enthusiasm and the relationship between the athletes and the fans."

Moon has coached 71 all-Americans and 19 Olympians. His teams have won nine Championship of American titles at the Penn Relays, the last in the men's 4x800 in 2000.

"Seton Hall has been good to the Penn Relays, and the Penn Relays have been good to Seton Hall," Moon said. "You can't have a season without the Penn Relays."

Next season, there will be a Penn Relays. But there will not be a Seton Hall track and field team.

Moon has been offered a position at the school as cross-country coach, but he's not sure he's going to stay. An internationally respected coach who was the first assistant for the U.S. team at the 2000 Summer Olympics, Moon said he has other options to continue his career.

He will be back Friday, walking in the same way, and out the same way.

He will be back Saturday, walking in for the last time, and out for the last time.

"I don't want to think about that," Moon said. "I don't want Saturday to come."


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia

at 856-779-3223 or panastasia@phillynews.com.

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