Jesse Holt’s long legacy lives on at track meet

Special to the Miami Herald

Jesse Holt of the Annual Northwest Track & Field Classic held at Traz Powell Stadium.
Jesse Holt of the Annual Northwest Track & Field Classic held at Traz Powell Stadium.

For 41 years, Jesse Holt was the main presence presiding over the Northwest Express Track and Field Classic.

Rightfully so.

Holt founded the meet, was the man who kept the meet running year after year and, undoubtedly, was the person who loved the meet more than anyone else.

This year, Holt will not be at the meet — except in spirit. Some four months after last year’s event, Holt, age 73, died of a heart attack. Thus, this year’s meet at the Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar, starting Friday and running through Sunday, is fittingly labeled The Legacy Continues.

“My dad would always tell me ‘Go to the front, son,’ Alan Holt said. “Just like in a track meet. But he absolutely meant more than a track meet. He meant in the classroom and in life.”

Those are the values Jesse Holt taught so many kids for so long.

How dedicated was Holt to the meet and, more importantly, to the kids from all over North America, South America and from throughout the Caribbean who compete in it?

Ten days before last year’s event, Holt suffered a stroke, but there was no way he was not going to be at the meet. He showed up, against doctors’ advice, and did what he loved the most, announcing all the races and field events, making sure the kids would hear their names being blasted out over the loudspeakers.

“Here they come down the stretch,” Holt would bellow into the microphone, and when the race ended he would announce the finish with the names of the kids. For kids of age 6, or even 22, it’s pretty heady stuff hearing your name over the loudspeakers in a huge stadium.

Smiles and grins would be the end result. Those smiles and grins would be on the kids’ faces, and also on Holt’s face.

For Holt, the end result after the three-day meet was complete satisfaction and sucking on throat lozenge after throat lozenge after announcing 800 or more races.

At least year’s meet it was apparent Holt was experiencing some health problems. While announcing, he would hold the microphone with socks on his hands because his hands were cold from lack of circulation following his stroke.

Nonetheless, he was doing his best not to miss one kid’s name.

Young people were always centerfold for Holt, including his three sons and a daughter, Teri, who he and wife Claudette adopted after the death of Holt’s sister.

Athletically, his sons performed impressively. All three were quarterbacks at North Miami High.

Alan, 50, went on to become a quarterback at the University of Minnesota, going to two bowl games before being cut in the Canadian Football League. “C’mon, we all get cut eventually,” Alan said with a smile. Reggie Holt, 46, played for Wisconsin, making it to the Rose Bowl, and then played defensive back for three years with the Green Bay Packers. Darren, 43, also played football at Wisconsin, but he admitted with a grin, “I wasn’t as key as Reggie.”

Those are Jesse Holt’s children, but also count some 50,000 or so kids that have competed in his track and field meet as his children.

Like his sons, Jesse was an outstanding athlete. He attended famed Grambling University in Louisiana and sprinted against Bob Hayes and Jimmy Hines, both of whom held the title of World’s Fastest Human. Holt also played for a few years with the NFL Oakland Raiders.

As a coach, Holt mentored many, many kids (on the track and in life) and that included a handful of eventual Olympic gold-medal winners when they were about 3½-feet high. Many of those Olympians paid back by flying in to attend Holt’s annual track meet. They would show off their gold medals and let kids touch the shiny medallions and put them around their necks.

In the early days, Holt would jam about 13 of his Northwest Express athletes into his beat-up car — called The Yellow Submarine — and drive them to practice. “Totally illegal,” Holt used to tell the story. “Thankfully, the police knew who we were and what we were doing.”

Going from being an excellent athlete himself to coaching kids, Holt explained, “I took a big step up.”

With Holt’s death, was the annual meet in danger of ending?

No way.

Holt’s family has always been there, year after year, helping him put on the meet and they vow that it will always continue.

And the fact that the meet goes on, with her family all there, is a great comfort to Holt’s widow, Claudette.

“My kids are my strength,” Claudette said. “They keep me uplifted. They are my support.”

So, on Friday, when the Northwest Express Track and Field Classic opens, there will be a tribute in memory of Jesse Holt. Then all the running, jumping and throwing will begin.

As the name of the meet states, The Legacy Continues.

The Legacy Continues Meet

Where: Ansin Sports Complex, 10801 Miramar Boulevard, Miramar.

Competitors: 2,000 track and field athletes from around the world. Mainly children, but an age range from 4 to 85 years old.

Schedule: Friday -- 5 p.m. start for both track events and field events; Saturday -- 8 a.m. start for javelin, followed by other field events; track events begin at 10 a.m. Sunday – Events begin at 10 a.m.