Any statistic or number related to girls' basketball has to be pretty impressive to catch Carolyn Jackson's eye. In her 38th season as Brainerd High School's coach, Jackson has more than 800 wins, and her program is the last from Hamilton County to have claimed a girls' state championship.
That was in 1984.
But as other teams head into the postseason next week, it wasn't her Lady Panthers' 22-4 record or even their 12-0 regular-season run through District 6-AA that brought the broadest smile to Jackson's face. While she admittedly is proud of those team accomplishments, she took a little extra time to brag on another aspect of the program she has led since the Gerald Ford administration.
For the second straight year, Brainerd High School's valedictorian will be one of Jackson's players, as senior post Tiara Boston heads the graduating class. The streak likely will reach three consecutive years with Jasmine Woods, who as a junior has a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Woods' sister Joshualyn was the 2011 valedictorian.
"I'm extremely proud of all three of them," Jackson said. "Most people say athletes aren't smart, but I think it takes a lot more to be an athlete and excel in the classroom. You have to be very organized and know how to prioritize your time to be good at both.
"The girls who play for me are naturally competitive about just about anything they do, and I've always tried to ensure that my players are doing well in school. These three girls are examples for the younger kids because they put a real emphasis on their grades and it's paid off."
When progress reports are sent out every three weeks, players bring them to Jackson to evaluate if they need extra tutoring or if they will be held out of games or simply receive a pat on the back, depending on how well they are doing.
Boston not only is No. 1 in her class, but she also is the Lady Panthers' career scoring leader with more than 1,030 points. She's averaging nearly a double-double this season with 22 points and nine rebounds a game.
"Tiara is one of those special players that come along just once in a while," Jackson said. "She has put in the effort to be successful on the court and in class."
Boston said she plans to major in physical therapy or nursing and is being recruited by Eastern Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State and Samford.
"I've always been taught that school comes before basketball," she said. "I knew in order to go somewhere in life you have to have a good education. I'm the first in my family to be the valedictorian, and I'm pretty proud of that. I never cared what anybody else thought about me; I was always proud to show how smart I was.
"To have three girls in three years from the basketball team become valedictorian says something about the importance Coach Jackson puts on school. She makes it clear that if you aren't doing what you should in school, you won't play for her."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...