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Pasco coach steps down

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


DADE CITY -- Willie Broner Jr. has decided that 18 years as head boys basketball coach at Pasco High School is enough.

Broner, 51, has resigned as the Pirates' basketball coach, though he will stay on as athletic director.

"He's been at this a long time so obviously I'm sorry to see him go," said principal Pat Reedy, who accepted Broner's resignation on June 7. "I hate to lose him, but I understand his reasoning.

"He could have stayed as long as he liked. Obviously, though, he felt it was time."

Broner finished his tenure with a 305-200 career record. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

So ends 26 years of coaching for a veritable east Pasco County institution. Broner, a deacon at St. John's Baptist Church in Dade City, has been a part of the sporting landscape for more than three decades as a coach, player and booster.

"Oh man, I tell you, he's just a great man all the way around," Pasco football coach Ricky Thomas said. "It's hard to find a man who's done as much good as he has as far as the kids are concerned, and that's the bottom line. That's what it's all about."

Born and raised in Dade City, Broner starred in baseball, basketball and football at old Mickens High School in the days of segregation. He graduated in 1966, but his dream of attending Grambling State University seemed far off.

Then in 1968, after a teacher's walk-out, Broner was asked to coach the baseball team. He led the Wildcats to a state championship. It was the same year he got his draft notice. He and his girlfriend, Anne Doris, married before he left.

While in Vietnam with the Army, Broner was severely injured by shrapnel during an ambush in August 1969. He spent 15 months recuperating from his injuries.

The scars he suffered can still be seen when he extends his right arm for a handshake; behind his head, on his back and legs.

Broner returned to Dade City and attended then-Saint Leo College thanks to the G.I. Bill and played baseball there. Baseball had always been his first love, and he dreamed of coaching his own team.

But in 1981, when he had the opportunity to coach basketball at South Sumter High School in Bushnell, he couldn't say no. Broner studied books and quizzed local coaches to prepare himself. The next year, he was hired as Pasco High's boys basketball coach.

Broner enjoyed many talented teams during his tenure. But one of his best seasons was marred by an on-court tragedy.

On Jan. 4, 1995, Pasco basketball player Randy Bates, then 17, collapsed and died of complications from a heart defect during a game. Dedicating the season to Bates, the Pirates won 24 games and earned a berth in the Class 4A final four.

With his son, assistant coach Willie "Poncho" Broner III at his side, Broner reached his greatest milestone on Feb. 1 in a 71-53 win over Tarpon Springs. It was the coach's 300th victory.

At game's end, the varsity and junior varsity Pirates mobbed Broner on the bench at the Tarpon Springs gym, leaping up and down and chanting: "300! 300! 300!"

Broner spent the rest of the season collecting accolades and honors. The Dade City Commission issued a proclamation in his honor, and the Pasco County School Board honored him as well.

At Pasco High School, T-shirts were passed out to staff members to honor his 300th win, and Broner was presented with a commemorative plaque.

At the invitation of state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, Broner and his wife went to Tallahassee in May, where Broner was honored by the Florida House of Representatives.

It was Broner's second trip to the state capital. He went there after the 1992 Pasco football team won a state championship.

"I'm very proud of him," Reedy said. "I've known Coach Broner since I was a student, and he's always been a great role model for the kids.

"Any time you lose a role model like that, you've got to be sad. But he was a great coach, and he obviously knew when it was time to go."

-- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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