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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Hall of Famer Shama Broner has the Pasco Pirates in the state softball final four.
By IZZY GOULD
Published May 6, 2007
DADE CITY - Coach Shama usually catches freshmen off guard.
They've heard of her. They know she played softball. They even know she was pretty good.
"They don't really know about her until they start racing, " longtime assistant Lisa Herndon said. "She beats them all. Then they find out she's a Hall of Famer.
"They don't know what that Hall of Famer means."
Arguably the best softball player to come out of Pasco County is rising through the coaching ranks.
Pasco High coach Shamalene Broner - known in her playing days as Shamalene Wilson - has led the Pirates to Wednesday's Class 4A final four.
Broner, 32, was a three-time All-American at Florida State and inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2002. She finished her high school career with a .653 batting average and struck out only twice in her final two seasons.
Now she's getting credit for her skill as a coach.
Those who know her best aren't surprised.
"Shama has a quiet confidence in herself, " Florida State coach JoAnne Graf said. "She had that on the ball field up here. Every year I saw her go through school she just got more mature and more confident."
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Shama spent most of her life in Dade City, where she grew up in a single-parent home. She describes her mother, Cecilia Wilson, as a disciplinarian who held more than one job to get by.
Shama latched on to her oldest brother, Van Wilson, when she wanted fatherly advice.
Her elder by two years, Van taught her about life.
"I looked up to him, so he knew he couldn't make a mistake, " Broner said, staring at her feet. "Van was the man of the house."
Van taught Shama how to catch and throw and drilled her with grounders and popups.
Tired of Shama tagging along at the ball fields, Van forced her out of baseball when she was 11 or 12. She reluctantly gave it up, then turned to softball.
Shama went out for Pasco High's softball team and found a temporary home at third base before moving to her natural position at shortstop.
Shama was a four-time All-Sunshine Athletic Conference selection, making All State her final two seasons. She also won MVP honors at the state's North/South All-Star game.
The Pirates reached the state tournament her senior season, but were quickly ousted in the region quarterfinal.
Despite her success, Shama was not highly recruited out of high school.
She caught the eye of a Florida State assistant at a tournament in Tennessee with her club team. Graf, the Florida State coach, attended a few practices and games on the advice of her assistant. An official visit resulted in a scholarship offer. Shama accepted, unaware some of her toughest lessons were to come.
The first lesson was leaving home.
Shama had never left Dade City, so moving to Tallahassee was a revelation.
"I lost my mind, " Broner said. "I was like a little kid at a carnival, just excited."
Of course, she was homesick and phoned her mother daily.
Softball also caught her off-guard.
Graf immediately moved Shama to left field and had her switch her natural batting stance from right to left, to take advantage of her speed by slapping or shag bunting her way on base.
"We put her in the outfield because of that speed, " Graf said. "In the infield it was kind of wasted. Someone had to hit it perfectly to have it drop around her."
The pressure to change would have forced many to fold. Not Shama, who often thought back to her childhood.
"I knew going into this I wanted a better life than my mom had, " she said. "That was my motivation."
Shama started all four seasons at Florida State and earned All-America honors her final three seasons. She batted .402 and led the nation with 69 stolen bases as a senior and was later inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
Where does she stand all-time at FSU?
"She's definitely in the top five, " Graf said. "I would go as far as to say the top two or three. She's that good. And I've had a whole lot of them. She could do everything."
Shama spent two years playing for a professional softball team, the Georgia Pride. She was named defensive player of the year her final season.
She walked away because she wanted to start a family. So she returned to Dade City and began teaching. She married Poncho Broner in 1998. She applied for the Pasco softball job in 2000, then again in 2002 and coached her first season in 2003.
Shama's family can be found hanging somewhere around the field. Her kids - Kobe, 5, and Kiara, 7 - are often running around or hanging on a net at the tennis courts.
Shama's mom still comes to work the concession stand or keep an eye on the kids. Kobe and Kiara always come out and celebrate in the post-game celebration at the pitcher's mound.
"They're always coming up after the game wanting to know if we won, " Shama said. "They're great kids."
Poncho holds down the microphone in the press box, calling batters or reading announcements. He also coaches the Pasco basketball team and teaches at the school.
When the Pirates win, he's sure to blast the Florida State fight song.
"If he ever gets out of teaching I'll put him in radio, " Shama said.
Shama couldn't sleep after Tuesday's 5-2 victory against Groveland South Lake thrust Pasco into the final four.
She and Poncho dissected the game, then went to bed just after midnight. She woke up at 3 a.m., then got one more hour of sleep before another long day.
None of her teams had ever gone this far.
Regardless of her personal accolades, this might be her most satisfying venture.
Pasco is two wins from a state title, two wins from immortality.
"(Reaching the final four was) a great feeling, " Shama said. "I don't know if anyone other than us expected us to make it this far. ... You just try to steer them in the right direction. They get out there and play. You don't realize it until years later. They listen and pay attention."