She has been a long-time fan of the popular old sitcom Golden Girls. Takes one to know one – or four.
Now, four, that is a special number when discussing Laila Brock.
It was 25 years ago when Brock rocked the Pennsylvania track world, winning the 1996 state championships in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes and 4 x 100 relay, running the anchor for Wash High.
It was the Prexies second straight gold medal for the 4 x 100 relay team.
That was four state championship gold medals for Brock, an unthinkable accomplishment at that time – any time really.
The combination of the four races won had never been accomplished by any female sprinter in the 23 years that the PIAA contested its championships. It is doubtful anyone would even attempt to pull that combination of races off these days, as with preliminary and semifinals it requires 10 races in two days under the old format.
Brock earned 40 team points for the Prexies. The five additional points captured by Tam Nixon, who placed fifth in the 100-meter dash and eighth in the 200-meter dash, gave Wash High the state team championship – edging Lewisburg (43) by two points.
The Prexies became the second girls’ team from the WPIAL to capture a state team crown. Farrell won the title in 1988.
Brock and Nixon teamed with Nena Vallee and Dana Bryant to win the 4x100 relay. In 1995, Brock, Vallee and Bryant teamed with Autumn Wilson to win the same relay.
“That day was the highlight of my high school athletic career,’ Brock said. “It makes me feel old to know it was 25 years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long.”
The golden memories remain vivid and special because she got the chance to accomplish her feats with family – Nixon and Brock are cousins – lifetime friends in Vallee and Bryant and her beloved coaches Guy Montecalvo, Tom Stock and Bill Britton.
“That is so special and precious to me,” Brock said. “It was exciting and just a cool experience.
“We were prepared mentally and physically to accomplish what we did that day and weekend. I think the two years of hard work, focus and discipline helped me so much the rest of my life in terms of confidence and understanding that if you truly work as hard as you can, focus, and believe, you can accomplish what you set out to do. It carries over into life.”
Brock, who recently married Joel Acie, has risen through the ranks of collegiate sports and currently serves as vice president of sponsorship sales and operations for Pitt Sports Marketing through JMI Sports. She leads the on-site sponsorship team, working closely with the Pitt athletic department staff to create partnerships to enhance the Pitt athletics brand.
Prior to joining JMI Sports, Brock was a member of the College Football Playoff’s senior staff, serving as the Senior Director of Operations and Logistics.
During her tenure at the CFP, Brock was responsible for creating innovative brand activations for CFP’s official sponsors through live events. She spent the early part of her career in a variety of leadership roles on the Orange Bowl Committee. While there she developed several hospitality programs that have become standard practices among postseason bowl games and NCAA championships.
The Golden Road
Montecalvo said Brock’s journey in becoming a great track champion was a little different than most.
She did not start participating in track until her freshman season. The results in her first two seasons were marginal but encouraging. It was after her sophomore season that Brock decided she wanted to excel, she wanted to be a champion, she wanted to be special.
“Typically, there would be something seen that would suggest the individual had the potential to be a great sprinter,” Montecalvo said. “She decided after her sophomore year she wanted to be special.
“She got herself into the weight room and committed to it. She’d get on the track and do her workouts. She really improved her strength. We’d be practicing football in the fall and Laila would be out on the track working out. She understood the work and sacrifice needed to be great. Her ultimate success was a by-product of her belief and her work ethic.”
As a junior in 1995, Brock won the WPIAL 100-, and 200-meter dashes and anchored the 4x100-meter relay which turned in a best time of in 50.8 seconds. Her time of 12.2 in the 100 set a record. She followed that with capturing the gold medal in the 200 in the PIAA Championships, setting a state record of 24.92 seconds. Brock anchored the state champion 4x100-meter relay team and was a silver medalist in the 100-meter dash.
A number of track coaches and followers thought Montecalvo and assistant coach Tom Stock and Brock were attempting something unattainable, winning the 100, 200, 400 and anchoring a relay team in the WPIAL, and particularly in the PIAA Championships.
“Tommy and Guy put the whole thing together and Laila followed the plan,” assistant coach Bill Britton said. “Laila followed a regiment and she resolved herself to doing what was laid out for her. She was an incredible force, a presence.
“Tommy and Guy never backed down from the plan or their belief in Laila. To see that all come together was incredible. I couldn’t believe she did it. There was a lot of joy that day.”
Stock said he never once doubted Brock would pull the feat off. He also did a lot of talking with her, spent most of the championship day under the tent with her as she attempted to steal some rest.
“It was Laila’s effort and fortitude that I believed in,” Stock said. “I have never seen anything like it. She was tireless in the weight room and her work ethic was beyond belief.
“The 400, in my opinion, is the toughest race. Laila was cramping up some. It was hot. We knew exactly what we were doing because we knew what kind of shape she was in and the mindset she had.”
“We put so much into it that we were totally focused on winning the relay again,” said Bryant. “And in doing so, we wanted to put Laila in the best position to not have to run anyone down on the anchor leg. That was our mindset, try to set a record and make it as comfortable and easy for Laila.”
Bryant, Nixon and Vallee put Brock in the lead and she stormed home, securing the gold medal.
Ironically, Brock won the 400, where she broke the state record with a 55.50, and was walking to the medal stand and was called to the track for the relay.
No rest for the weary.
“The relay team had great camaradery,” Brock said. “We believed in one another and the team. We worked hard, but we also had fun and joked with one another. We would do anything for one another and the team.
“It was a fantastic experience.”
Nixon said it was Brock’s 100 percent effort at all times and sheer determination that made her a great champion.
“She pushed us through her own effort,” Nixon said. “We were not going to be denied that state relay championship. The girls knew what it would take to repeat. The coaches knew what it would take to do it. They had every team scouted and knew who ran what and in what times.
Vallee was a gymnast most of her young life. She had to adjust to track and juggle the sports so she could get her workouts in.
“I came from a completely different background athletically,” she explained. “We came together as a relay team and we had Laila leading the way. The second year, there were no nerves. In our minds there was no doubt we would win the relay.
“There’s a lot of work to it, we spent so much time just on hand offs and position of the baton. And then to watch Laila do what she did, turning the corner in the 400. She crushed it.”
Still the One
It was early April and Brock was on a family walk through her neighborhood with her husband and their dog, Bailey, when they came upon what Brock described on her Facebook page as a “very elaborate hop-scotch game” that she was “obligated to try out.”
Athletes always enjoy a challenge.
As she began, hopping on one leg was required and then jumping forward five times in succession. It confirmed the champ still had it in her.
Brock finished up the course by marching, doing jumping jacks, walking backward, twirling around three times, hopping on one leg and then – to her best part – running forward to the finish line. She had a good laugh and a nice workout, considering her heavier breathing than normal.
“She still has it,” chuckled Nixon, who had watched that video. “Make no mistake.”
Lions and Panthers
Brock earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and mass media research, as well as a master’s degree in counselor education from Penn State.
She was captain of the Nittany Lion women’s track and field team, was a member of the 1997 United States Jr. National Track and Field team, and qualified for the United States Team in the Junior Pan Am Games. She earned a trip to Cuba, was selected as a USATF Junior All-American in the 400-meter dash and was selected as a member of the 1998 All Eastern College Athletic Conference Division-I Championship, Women’s indoor Track and Field in the 400-meter dash.
Despite her Penn State background, she found her way to Pitt.
The Panthers’ athletic leadership did not hesitate to bring her on board a few years ago.
“We recruited her, zeroed in on her,” said Christian Spears, deputy athletic director/chief operating officer for the University and Petersen Events Center. “(Athletic Director) Heather Lyke and I knew she was the right person.
“Laila was an unbelievable fit. From a logistical standpoint she has done it all. Laila has made so many connections and dealt with so many conference commissioners, coaches and bowl representatives. She is able to work and flourish with people at every level. She understands Pittsburgh, she’s lived here and she has an ability to connect with people because of her personality.
“She is an amazing person.”
Her professional success was predictable, according to her coach.
“The kind of work ethic she displayed in the classroom and in track usually reflect later in life,” Montecalvo said. “That’s why team sports are so important in the learning of cooperation, selflessness, loyalty, sacrifice and learning to be successful. Laila understands that and exhibits that in her professional life.”