Carmen Jackson: 2015 Mike Byrnes Outdoor Coach of the Year
By Steve Underwood
On June 21, at our New Balance Nationals Outdoor in Greensboro, Miami Northwestern head coach Carmen Jackson received the 2015 Mike Byrnes Outdoor Coach of the Year award. This story appeared in the meet program, but not on our website until now. Congratulations, Coach!
Photo from NBNO: Coach Jackson is presented the award by NSAF Executive Director Jim Spier.
In an age where more and more athletes and parents seem to think specialized coaches are the only way to go, prep team coaching legends like Carmen Jackson are proving it’s possible to continuing to excel at the highest level within the structure of a high school track and field program – producing individual state champions, national championship contenders and winning team titles with large groups of student athletes.
Earlier this spring, Coach Jackson guided Miami Northwestern’s girls to their 7th consecutive state title (the past 4 in Class 3A after 3 in 4A) and 10th in the past 11 years (13 overall). With 155 points, they surpassed their all-class meet scoring record from 2014 by one; her 2011 squad still holds the 4A mark, too.
As someone who works not with a selective group of elites, but rather each year’s group that comes her way, Coach Jackson knows that the greatest success comes from the holistic impact that can be made on athletes from diverse backgrounds – something she first learned under her youth track club coach in the 1970s, Carol Hardeman. “She spent countless hours, and years with me and many youth, developing us into becoming young female athletes … I learned through her that a great coach must be concerned about all aspects of a kid’s life, to produce positive experiences in their life through sports.”
Coach Jackson continued to be blessed with great coaching mentors and role models in high school and college – which not only were a boon for her future coaching career, but for her own success as an elite athlete as girls’ and women’s track and field was first booming. She was a sprint star for the first state champions in Florida history, Coach Lula Bell Smith’s Miami Jackson squad in 1975. “My high school coach was an extension of my club coach, because of their similar coach styles. They had the same vision for female athletes, coaching the total athlete and meeting each of our individual needs academically, as well as athletically. Each of these women brought out the best in me, by pouring their vison and morals into my life. They inspired me to always give it your all and whatever you start you will finish strong.”
Then it was on to Jackson State, where she met her male mentor, Coach Martin Epps. “He was all I needed to develop into the female coach I am today,” she said. “He was the missing piece in my puzzle … He nurtered me as a father would a daughter. I lost my father at the age of 7, so I needed that male figure to see me through my college years.
“He taught us to be women on a mission. He added the strength I need to be a well-developed athlete. All of these significant people help create who I am today, as a coach.”
Coach Jackson said her past two teams have set records in part because of the further development of the program’s sprint core. “For the past five or six years, we have done well in the field and the middle distance races (800m, 4x800 relay). We normally come out of the field events with a lot of points before the track finals start, with the points from the track not having been as strong as it has been these last two years. The last two teams have been more developed overall in many events.”
For coaches trying to guide programs like Miami Northwestern, the challenges of overcoming the constantly escalating distractions of social media and other things that student-athletes juggle are immense. One of the results of these distractions and evolving society is that student-athletes and parents often want it all, right now. “In my early years, these athletes and the parents trusted the vision of the program,” she said. “I was able to slowly bring the athletes around to become that great successful student-athlete … But I notice that there is now more ‘hurry-up, push’ for the athlete to reach that great status right away.
“Many people are thinking they need personal trainers to reach their goals, when all is needed is commitment, goal-setting, and hard work to maximize their potential in the sport. Much focus has been lost across the country with student-athletes, wanting a lot for nothing.”
But Coach Jackson and the Miami NW Bulls are still exceling. “In life, anything worthwhile comes with great challenges. A good coach plays an important part of kids’ lives, where you are the mentor and sometimes the only mentor. We must always remember when the challenges come, to focus through the adversities for the sake of our youth – practicing quick amnesia in their daily faults and finding ways to bring out the best in each individual. Patience, passion and really loving kids can bring about true success in any program. Lastly, building strong relationships with the student-athlete can assure their return to give back to the program.
“My proud moments come from student-athletes being able to leave here with the opportunity to open more doors of success from the sport of track and field – by getting a college education and sometimes going the military track – and to see them develop and mature into better individuals.”
Finally, Coach Jackson is extremely grateful for the assistant coaches and those parents that do support the vision – starting with the school’s administration. “They allow me to work my program through my vision, providing me with resources for the student-athlete to be successful. It’s not enough for me to mention my outstanding coaching staff. They are never recognized enough for all the work and long hours they put into this program. They are very committed, hard workers and, lastly and most importantly, trustworthy. My coaches are constantly attending clinics, workshops, and conferences, to stay abreast with the sport. This has brought about many, many years of success here. Most of my parents are very supportive and positive towards the program.”