For Morgan State track coach Leonard Braxton, Jack Pierce's Olympic bronze medal has historic significance.
When Pierce finished third in the 110-meter hurdles yesterday, he earned the first Olympic medal by a Morgan State athlete since Josh Culbreath earned a bronze in the 400 hurdles in 1956.
"I'm proud of Jack," said Braxton, who watched the race live at Channel 2's headquarters.
"I want to touch his medal. I take every step with my athletes. I've been on the track with them, and I know how they feel."
Pierce, 29, came to Morgan from Woodbury, N.J., in 1981 as a walk-on. He had been headed for Delaware State, but his mother persuaded him to go to Morgan even though, as Braxton recalled, "we had no scholarship money at the time."
Pierce won an NCAA Division II hurdles title, was acclaimed the outstanding performer at the Penn Relays as a senior and left Morgan as the eighth-ranked hurdler in the country.
"So he didn't exactly come out of obscurity," said Braxton, also Morgan's athletic director. "In eight years on the international track tour, he elevated his game.
"When he was at Morgan, there was a lot of play in him. He'd play a little basketball and call it track practice. The money from track and field after he left here motivated him."
Braxton and Pierce have stayed in touch. When Braxton phoned to wish Pierce good luck before he left for Barcelona, the hurdler, still 18 hours shy of his Morgan degree, said he plans to return to complete his studies.
"He wants to coach at a school," Braxton said, "and to do that he needs his degree."
Yesterday, as he watched on TV, Braxton begged for a good start. He got it, but then Pierce hit the first and third hurdles.
"From the sixth hurdle on, Jack came on strong," Braxton said. "That's his trademark. The other American, Tony Dees, edged him for second, but that's the way it's been with their rivalry -- trading off, always close."
The next few days, Braxton will have his eye on another Morgan Olympian, Rochelle Stevens, class of 1988, who yesterday advanced to tomorrow's final of the 400-meter run.
Once she realized she was the only American to gain the final, Stevens said, "OK, USA, get your cheers ready and pray for me."
Upon hearing that, Braxton smiled and said, "I'll take two thirds. Two medals of any kind, Jack's and hers. That would be great."