Lamaria Washington: Earned. Not Given

by Ashley Toussaint

Growing up in Miami’s Historic Overtown neighborhood, Lamaria Washington learned at an early age how to adapt and overcome. Lamaria is from the infamous Swamp, a cluster of concrete slabbed apartment complexes and low-income housing that spans four city blocks.   She and her family are close, very close. Her parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, and cousins all lived in the same complex. While Lamaria played outside with her siblings and cousins, the elders watched over them. Lamaria’s grandmother is the rock of the family. And her grandfather would eventually be the one who uncovered her amazing talent. “Growing up in Overtown was fun, but dangerous at the same time,” she recalled. A threat of violence, gang culture, and drugs constantly loomed over her neighborhood. One day in 2012, Lamaria heard gunshots near her home. Sadly, those shots took the life of her uncle. Even more tragic, Lamaria saw her uncle’s body lying in the street that day; a life-changing moment for her and the entire family. 

Later that year, her family moved 50 blocks away, to Liberty City, a neighborhood in the Northwest section of Miami. It was a chance for the family to gain a fresh start. A new neighborhood also meant, a new school and a new beginning for Lamaria. She enrolled in the neighborhood middle school Charles R. Drew. It did not take long before the teachers and staff to realize how special she was. Just two years prior in the 4th grade, she began to run track, back in Overtown for Main Attracksion Track Club. Her grandfather coaxed her into it. He always talked about how when they played together, she could outrun him. Immediately, he recognized her talent. In her first year, she ended the season ranked as one of the top 50 runners in the nation. Her coach had placed her in the middle-distance races, but Lamaria loved the sprints. After one season, she quit. 

Once Lamaria arrived at Charles R. Drew Middle, she tried out for dance and loved it. Like most things, she excelled. By then, running had become a distant memory. However, she started to yearn for the competition. Her dancing experience was fun, but there was no platform for her to compete. And Lamaria Washington might be the most competitive and driven young person you will ever meet. 

Lamaria has always excelled, no matter her circumstances. No challenge has ever been too great. In the face of family tragedy and misfortune, she found a way to press on. From as young as 8 years old, she walked herself 1 mile each way, to school. She was always on time, never missed school, and always made straight A’s. After a three year hiatus, she wanted to be challenged again. So in the 8th grade, Lamaria decided to go out for the school’s track team. This time, instead of running midstance, she tried out for the sprints. She was an instant success. Lamaria was not only the fastest girl on her team but ended up winning the Miami-Dade County Middle School 100 meter champione. It was at the Championships that she caught the immediate attention of legendary coach of Miami Northwestern Senior High School’s Carmen Jackson. Miami Northwestern is nationally recognized as a sports powerhouse and track dynasty. In 2019, Northwestern’s Girls track team won its 11th consecutive Florida State High School Championship. They are arguably one of the most dominant high school sports programs ever. The state of Florida produces world-class talent in track, year in and year out. And Miami Northwestern is the mecca. 

Lamaria Washington has been an integral part of continuing Miami Northwestern’s track and field legacy. During the 2020 outdoor track season, she broke a long-standing meet record and ran a personal best at the Louie Bing Invitational Classic (Miami, Florida) with a blistering 11.82 in the 100 meters. Still early in the season, a few weeks later she ran another personal best at the Sam Burley Invitational (Miami, Florida), this time it was in the 200 meters with an impressive time of 23.76. Not to mention, she was a member of the state champion 4 x100 meter relay team. And then COVID-19 put a hard stop on the season. After getting off to a record-setting season, her junior year was snatched away. Miami-Dade County Schools decided to cancel all sports and extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year. Lamaria, along with countless student-athletes nationwide, had been robbed of the opportunity to showcase her talent. Nonetheless, she had capitulated herself to the national spotlight, even with a shortened season:

Lamaria Washington – Junior Year Top Performances, 2019

1st Place |100 meter – 11.82 Louie Bing Invitational (Miami, Fl) 2/15/2020 

*10th in the nation 

2nd Place |200 meter – 23.76 Sam Burley Invitational (Miami, Fl) 3/7/2020

*3rd in the nation 

1st Place | 4×100 meter relay – 45.91 Louie Bing Invitational (Miami, Fl) 2/14/2020

*2nd in the nation 

Lamaria Washington (left) crossing the finish line at the annual Louie Bing Invitational at Traz Powell Stadium, 2/15/2020

Without question, Lamaria had set herself up to be highly sought after by college track programs from all over the nation. The little girl from Overtown and Liberty City is on to something big. Let’s not forget, Lamaria also excels in the classroom. She currently maintains a 4.0-grade point average and has met all her high school graduation requirements; in just three years. Instead of being discouraged by the shortened track season, she focused on her researching her college options. Even though she ran some of the fastest times in the country, she didn’t receive any offers from any colleges. Not a word, not a sound. So Lamaria took matters into her own hands and began to reach out to colleges on her own. 

The path for many first-generation college students can be very challenging. Usually, there is no one to guide them because no one in their family and few in their communities has done it before. Also, student-athletes are at the whim of their high school coaches to get them the exposure and access to colleges. Miami Northwestern track athletes usually sign much later than most. However, instead of waiting idly, Lamaria wanted the opportunity to pursue her options.

Young athletic talent like Lamaria come and go in Miami. The city is stacked with world-class athletes, but very few have the total package. Lamaria Washington has Ivy-League smarts and Division I talent. She can write her own ticket; on or off the track. It finally became apparent, when she began to receive acceptance letters from Louisiana State University, Howard University, Louisville, Nova Southeastern University, Clark Atlanta University and Spellman College, just to name a few. She had completed countless applications, put great effort into her college essays and countless hours of research. It paid off. Soon after, Lamaria began to reap the benefits of her accomplishments on the track as well. Athletic scholarship offers began to roll in from schools such as the University of South Florida, Howard University, Tennessee and Penn State. Lamaria wanted to have options and they were finally right in front of her.

This fall, when school opened, Lamaria found herself in a peculiar situation. She entered her senior year with a flawless grade point average. There were no more academic courses available for her at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. She had passed all her AP exams. She had all her credits for graduation. And the track season was months away. Lamaria felt like she needed more, but the school was not equipped for her. A few weeks into the school year, an incident took place involving Lamaria and another student. According to Lamaria, she was uneasy and not pleased with how the situation was handled by the adults involved. She didn’t’ feel supported. At that moment, Lamaria knew that something had to change. The proverbial writing was on the wall. Lamaria was no longer happy at Miami Northwestern. Three years of hard work and commitment to one of the greatest high school track programs in the land was hanging in the balance. And she still had one more season left.

But where would she go? 

This was unfathomable, no one ever left Northwestern. With 11 consecutive state championships, Lamaria was walking away from a guaranteed state title. Was she actually going to walk away from it all. Would she go to local rival Miami Southridge or maybe even Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas? These schools were loaded with talent and by adding, Lamaria, they would become legitimate contenders for the state title.  

After weeks of deliberation, she did what she felt was best for her. Lamaria decided to part ways from Miami Northwestern. She decided to take her talents 131st Street and the corner of Northeast 8th Avenue. It’s track team is lead by another great coach. He has a proven record of getting the most potential out of his athletes. His program is on the rise and he has built a family around Lamaria. He brought a struggling program out of the ashes. Coach Enrico Knowles is a local legend in his own right and is the head coach at North Miami Senior High School. His technical approach to everything just might be what Lamaria needs to take her fast times to the next level. She is already the top 10 sprinter in the nation. And coach Knowles is convinced that he can get more out of her. Coach will have his work cut out for him. Lamaria has set some pretty big goals for herself this year; to run 11.4 in the 100 meters and 23.3 in the 200 meters. 

Lamaria Washington stands back to back. Left: ( The past) Her former blue Miami Northwestern uniform draped with her state championship medals. Right: (The future) Her new green North Miami uniform.

Her newfound optimism is driven by her anticipation for a fresh new start to her senior track season and her college prospects. Within a few weeks at North Miami Senior High School, she was offered her first full track scholarship to the University of South Florida. More interestingly, Lamaria has considered attending a Historically Black College or Unversity. There has been a recent trend of elite high school talent signing with HBCU’s; which is at one point the only place that black college athletes could compete until school was legally integrated during the 1960s and 1970s. Only time will tell. Lamaria enters her senior year, ranked #1 in the 200 meters according to Mile Split USA. A ranking that she truly deserves. From the very beginning, she has worked hard, for it all. Even when things look easy, she still earned it. Because where Lamaria is from, nothing is given. 

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