Douglass senior sprinter Shani Boone had just tucked her feet into the starting blocks before the biggest race of her life, the 200-meter dash final at the Hispanic Games in New York, one of the most prestigious national meets of the indoor track season. Staring at the finish line, Boone thought about how to finish ahead of the five other competitors.
She smiled when she heard her name introduced to the crowd of around 5,000 over the public address system, only to hear the announcer stop mid-sentence.
"He looked at me and whispered, 'What school do you go to?' " Boone said of the January event. "I told him Frederick Douglass. He then introduced all the other runners and said what school they went to, where they were from, and read off some of their accomplishments."
"That was because no one knew who Shani Boone was, because she wasn't expected to make it that far," said Douglass Coach Rick Johnson, who was seated in the stands. "It was embarrassing. It was like she was a nobody."
Boone finished sixth, but only after posting a faster time than 179 runners in the preliminaries to qualify for the final, and will never forget that day. That was when Boone decided to make a name for herself.
A month later, at the Maryland 3A/2A indoor championships, she was second in the 300 and 55 dashes and ran the first leg on the Eagles' winning 4x200 relay. Largely because of Boone's performance, Douglass was the team runner-up, the school's best result since winning the state title in 1998.
Boone's emergence has been somewhat surprising. Prior to this season, Boone's personal best in the 300 was a far-from-impressive 44 seconds. But she shaved more than four seconds off that mark this past winter (39.8 seconds) and established herself as one of Maryland's top sprinters.
"All I wanted was to get three seconds faster in the 300 -- that's all," Boone said. "I never expected this."
Johnson did. The first-year coach saw Boone's potential at the team's first practice and made her push her diminutive, 5-foot-4 frame to reach speeds Boone once thought improbable.
Boone is also on the verge of running to a place few Douglass girls have reached -- a spot on a college track team. She has received a handful of college scholarship offers, including ones from West Virginia, Temple and Central Florida.
"When I first started running track, I thought being able to get a college scholarship was this big old thing that doesn't happen to a lot of people, but then I saw how hard Shani worked," said Douglass sophomore Starmena Flood, who ran the second leg on Douglass's state championship-winning relay team. "It's one thing to hear about what you have to do to get a college scholarship, but it's different when you can watch Shani. She's proof that if you work hard enough, you can get a scholarship."
The immediate future includes what Boone hopes is a successful outdoor season. She will compete in the 300 hurdles, as well as the 100, 200 and 400 dashes.
"I want to win a state title in one of my events this year, because that's my big goal now," Boone said. "It's something I need to do if I want people to remember me and really make a name for myself."