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Bet ya didn't know the high-school coach with the most state titles in Miami-Dade County isn't involved with football, basketball, or baseball. Heck, the championship leader doesn't work with boys either. She's Carmen Jackson, head coach of the girls' track-and-field club at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, where she's racked up ten state titles in 11 years, including five straight since 2008. Earlier this month, Jackson's girls finished 20 points ahead of Hallandale High to claim the 3A state championships at Hodges Stadium at the University of North Florida. The win tied the Lady Bulls with Belle Glade Central Senior High for the most team championships in state history.
"Coach Jackson runs one of the best, if not the best, high-school sports programs in the state," says Carl Springer, whose daughter Yolanda is on the team. "She works the kids hard and doesn't let them have any shortcuts."
Yolanda is a senior who has run since ninth grade. "I don't know too many high-school athletes who can say they won the state title four years straight," Springer gushes. "On top of that, my baby girl is a good student. She's got a 3.3 grade point average and is going to Hampton University in the fall."
Some of Northwestern's team members have gone on to have stellar collegiate careers. One of them is Brianna Rollins, a Clemson University star who last week was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's 2013 Outdoor Track and Field top female performer.
Yet in a city where football is king, the Miami Northwestern girls' track team has gone largely unnoticed by local sportswriters and talk-show hosts. "Female sports get slighted," Jackson says. "I don't think they get enough attention. They deserve as much ink as male sports."
An alumna of rival school Miami Jackson Senior High, she took a volunteer position at Miami Northwestern in 1979 "only because my old high-school coach, Lulabelle Smith, who was coaching the Bulls at the time, asked me to," Jackson says. "At first I was like, 'Never.' But now you see where I am."
Two years later, Jackson was hired as a full-time physical education teacher. In 1991, she took the reigns from Smith. Her improbable championship run began when her team won the state title in 1999. The biggest challenge is working on the self-esteem of the teenage girls she coaches, says Jackson, who is also Northwestern's dean of discipline.
"Most of the kids we coach don't have a father at home," Jackson explains. "They are reaching out for love in all the wrong places. I battle hard with them on how to develop relationships with the opposite sex. I teach them to build themselves up."