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Healthy balance creates success

USF catcher Allen Shirley had to make the toughest decision in his life right out of high school. The South Sumter High School graduate had to choose between his two sports loves – baseball and football.

“Baseball was my first dream,” said Shirley. “In kindergarten while other kids were thinking of being policemen and firemen, I was dreaming of being a baseball player.”

Three years later Shirley is a “quiet leader” for the team, leading the Bulls with a .425 batting average, and he is a “solid player,” said coach Eddie Cardieri. In fact, Shirley used those two qualities to attract the Bulls in signing him.

“He came to one of our camps, but we knew of him in high school,” said Cardieri. “The No. 1 quality that won Shirley a position was his ability to throw as a catcher.”

Shirley chose USF because he knew he would have a good chance of becoming a starter quickly.

“I love football as much as baseball,” said Shirley. “But I don’t regret my decision to stay with baseball.”

Although he doesn’t play football, he does manage to catch his former high school’s football games in his hometown of Webster. “There are thousands of people (at the games),” said Shirley.

“There isn’t much else to do in Webster. There are two gas stations and a post office. There is no mall, and if you want to eat, then you have to drive to another town. We have a flea market that is twice as big as the town itself.

“Webster is more of the Alabama or Georgia type of setting. I like the kickback atmosphere.”

Shirley’s laid back attitude sets him apart from other athletes. “I’m not much of a hobby person. I’m really kind of a boring guy,” he joked.

Away from the diamond, Shirley prefers to hang out with three or four friends because he isn’t a group person. When he is not doing his homework for his pre-med program, he enjoys watching movies, playing cards and spending time with his high school sweetheart and new wife Desa-rae Shirley, whom he married last August.

As substantial as his love for baseball is his quest for academics. Shirley is pursuing a 10-year orthodontics program and excelled in academics in high school. In fact, Shirley was one of 10 athletes selected to a Gatorade all-state team for both athletics and academics.

“I was also the salutatorian for my class,” Shirley said. His best academic advice is “don’t fall behind, and don’t let homework pile up.”

The love for education runs in his family.

While his dad Rick is South Sumter’s superintendent, his mother Denise is a sixth grade math teacher. His brother Ryan, a baseball and football player for South Sumter, is likely to end up a USF athlete and follow the path of his older brother.

In addition to his academic awards, his baseball accomplishments include becoming all-state and all-county. In football, he was an all-state strong safety and Defensive Player of the Year for Division 2A. But he was most proud when his town newspaper, the Daily Commercial, named him Defensive Player of the Year.

Despite leading almost every statistical category in the beginning of the season, Shirley said he pays almost no attention to numbers.

“Looking at stats can be a jinx,” he said.

“I had an eight-game hit streak going. Then we had a TV game, and the announcers came at me talking about stats and stuff. That night, I didn’t hit.”

In spite of an early injury, Shirley is grateful for his success.

“I’m just glad I was able to start off the year playing well,” he said. But then Shirley broke his hand and missed 2 1/2 weeks of play.

“The broken hand set him back a little,” said Cardieri. “But he has a chance to move on (in the pros). He blocks balls well and makes good decisions. Good hitting catchers are scarce in pro ball.”

Contact Mary Goodman at oraclesports@yahoo.com