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Scholar athlete: NHS’s Ramirez has good attitude about studies, running track

Natchez High School track and field athlete Markaja Ramirez is competing in the 1-mile and 2-mile events this season. Ramirez, an A student, said her mother stresses to her that academics comes before anything else. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Natchez High School track and field athlete Markaja Ramirez is competing in the 1-mile and 2-mile events this season. Ramirez, an A student, said her mother stresses to her that academics comes before anything else. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — It’s not just the strong academics or her athletic abilities that set apart Natchez High School freshman Markaja Ramirez.

Natchez High School track coach Larry Wesley said his long-distance runner’s demeanor is a pleasure to work with. And that’s most evident by the look on her face.

“Every time I see her, she has a great big smile,” Wesley said. “She has a hungry face, a face that says, ‘I’m trying to do something with my life.’”

So far, Ramirez is off to a good start — she’s an A student who comes from a family where grades are stressed first and foremost

“My mom has always made sure me, my brother and sister know that academics comes before anything else,” she said. “Anytime Coach Wesley tells me I’m not running hard, I’ll tell him my brain is what’s going to make me my money.”

Wesley said he can tell just how important grades are, since every conversation the two have always seems to go back to her work in the classroom.

“Every time I talk to her, she says she’s been on honor roll since the sixth grade,” Wesley said.

Once practice is over, Ramirez said her mom, Keila London, doesn’t allow her to do anything else until her homework is done. In addition, her older sister, Ayanna Washington, has served as a role model for Ramirez when it comes to grades.

“She just got two scholarship (offers), one to Jackson State and one to Alcorn,” Ramirez said. “She always pushes me to be better than her in my academics.”

When she came out to run track, Ramirez said Wesley immediately stuck her with Kenya Davis as a distance runner. Ramirez competes in both the 1-mile and 2-mile runs, and occasionally in the 800-meter run. Her drive is what sets her apart the most as an athlete, Wesley said.

“She has a good attitude and loves to compete,” Wesley said. “She has all the qualities of a person trying to do her best.”

Working with Wesley has both its laid-back moments and its serious moments, Ramirez said.

“There’s a time to be serious and a time to play, and though he may fuss at you a lot, he’ll pull you to the side and joke with you,” she said.

Another standout quality that Wesley said he’s noticed in Ramirez is her desire to help solve problems when they arise among her teammates. Ramirez said that stems from her experience with her sister and younger brother.

“Whenever we have a conflict, mom tells us to resolve it among ourselves, because when we get older, people aren’t always going to be around to help you solve it,” Ramirez said. “My teammates are like family, so I remember what she tells me and try to solve it.”

Ramirez moved to Natchez with her family two years ago when her stepfather, Dale London, got a job at the Adams County Correctional Facility. He was inside the building during last May’s prison riot,

“It was worrisome,” Ramirez recalled. “They knocked out communication, so we didn’t hear from him until it all settled down and he came back to the house.”

After the experience was over, Ramirez said she received a valuable lesson that day.

“I learned that anything can happen at any given moment,” she said. “You never really know.”

For now, Ramirez said she’s focused on exceling both academically and athletically — and doing so with a smile always on her face.