Melvin Bratton is grateful for his life and his success as a star running back at the University of Miami followed by a stint in the NFL that included playing in a Super Bowl.
Now, he can take time to be thankful and look back.
That’s what he is doing this week as he attends and helps out at the 40th annual Northwest Express Track and Field Classic being held at the Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar.
This is the same meet Bratton competed in some 40 years ago. It is also the same meet that has made a lifelong impression on him. Unhesitatingly, he says it has molded him, at age 50, into the man he is today.
And he gives much of that credit to meet founder and organizer Jesse Holt.
“His passion for kids is incredible,” Bratton said. “He has been a father figure to so many young men. He has been a father figure to an entire village. Coach Holt has changed my life tremendously, and he has given so many children the right starting point in life.”
Bratton remembered far, far back to one of the first times he met Holt, now 72. That’s when Bratton joined the Miami Northwest Express Track Club coached by Holt.
“We hated to be scolded by him as little kids — we even feared him some,” Bratton said. “But he was teaching us all the right things. It helped us.”
Bratton gave an example of Holt’s passion.
“There were 13 of us on the Northwest Express team and he would pick each of us up and take us to practice and then take us home in this old, old car,” Bratton said, laughing. “The car was yellow and the 13 kids called it the Yellow Submarine.
“It was so illegal. We had 10 or so kids crammed into the car sitting on top of each other.”
These days, the Northwest Express Track Club consists of nearly 300 kids.
As always, the Northwest Classic Meet is the highlight of the year for the team.
“The meet is so, so important,” said Bratton, who won two state titles in track at Miami Northwestern High. “They should do it all over the country. It’s the Super Bowl of little league track.”
And Bratton knows about Super Bowls because he played in the 1990 Super Bowl for Denver in a 55-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Which was more important to Bratton — the NFL Super Bowl or Jesse Holt’s Super Bowl of track?
“I’ll definitely say the track meet and what Jesse Holt does is just as important,” Bratton said. “It was a starting point in life. So much of what happened to me wouldn’t have existed without this meet and Jesse.”
One time Holt wanted to take his rag-tag group of kids to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a national meet because he felt they had earned it. The team and coaches boarded a Greyhound Bus and traveled to the meet, 21/2 days there and 21/2 days back.
To this day Bratton has both fond and not-so-fond memories of riding on a Greyhound bus, but concluded, “The experience was unheard of for kids from the inner city of Miami.”
However, it’s memories like those that makes Bratton want to be associated with the annual Northwest Track Classic. It’s not payback. It’s love.
And Bratton had a unique way of showing that love this year.
Holt had told Bratton that he wanted something different to serve at the concession stands during the meet this year.
The solution: Bratton comes from Atlanta, which is pretty good sausage country.
So when he flew down for the meet, he packed 50 pounds of frozen sausage into a suitcase and somehow got it through luggage and TSA and onto the airline.
“It was a little strange,” Bratton said, “but for all that Jesse Holt, his track club and this meet has done for me in my life, it’s my blessing to donate and transport 50 pounds of frozen sausage on a plane to him.”
▪ The Jamaican contingent continued to impress in Saturday’s competition. Kobe-Jordan Rhooms, 16, of Jamaica won the boys’ 16-17 triple jump by jumping 12.07 meters. The meet concludes Sunday with events beginning at 10 a.m.