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Patron Saint

Shannon WIlliams Returned to His Roots and Turned Locke's Downtrodden Baseball Program Into Contender


Shannon Williams knew exactly what he was getting into when he became baseball coach at Locke High two years ago.

Williams, a former player at Locke and Compton College, inherited a program that had won one game in two seasons. The school had only a few pieces of usable equipment, a handful of matching uniforms and players who set their own practice schedule.

The only thing in abundance, it seemed, were the holes and weeds on the pockmarked infield where Ozzie Smith and Eddie Murray had played for the Saints before becoming major league stars.

Most who drove by the facility near 111th Street and San Pedro Avenue in Watts saw hopelessness. Williams saw opportunity.

"This is the only place I really wanted to coach," Williams said. "I went here, I live near here and I'm at home here. This is where I knew I was needed most."

Today, either photographs or a good memory are required to picture the program's state of disrepair before Williams, 26, took over. The infield, thanks to hours of work and maintenance by Williams and his players, is unblemished and manicured. The Saints, with the aid of several team fund-raising drives, are outfitted in top-of-the-line home and away uniforms. And practice, under the watchful eyes of Williams and assistant coach Cornell Somerville, is run with the precision of a powerful college program.

Williams also has turned his team into a contender. After posting a 6-16 record in Williams' first season, Locke is 10-6 overall and 5-3 in the Southeastern Conference going into today's home game against City 3-A runner-up South Gate. With seven games left in the regular season, the Saints are in position to earn their first City Section playoff berth in 10 years.

"We're not surprised we're playing well," senior left-hander Antonio Razo said. "He [Williams] teaches the game and he cares about us. He makes you think you can be somebody."

Williams, a graduate of Cal State Dominguez Hills, has become a beacon of sorts for inner-city baseball.

South Central Los Angeles once provided fertile ground for major league scouts. Willie Crawford, Bob Watson, Bobby Tolan, Murray, Smith, Chili Davis, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis are some of the future major league stars who played at inner-city high schools.

But lack of funding, coaching turnover and the absence of Little League feeder programs contributed to the area's demise as a talent producer.

Ten years ago, Diamond Bar resident John Young and some other Los Angeles-area professional baseball scouts helped start Reviving Baseball in Innercities, a youth program designed to provide youngsters with athletic and educational opportunities. Williams never played in the RBI program, but after impressing Young with his work as a coach of park league teams, he was recruited to coach RBI teams.

Last summer, Williams managed five RBI teams, including the traveling team for 13- to 15-year-olds that finished fifth in the RBI World Series in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

"Shannon reminds me of a guy who was my first roommate in professional baseball--a guy named Jim Leyland," said Young, who grew up in South Central L.A. and is the executive director of RBI. "He knows how to teach, and he's dedicated to his kids.

"He's exactly the type of young man that we hope our program produces, whether it's players or coaches."

Williams, the youngest of seven children, was raised by his sister, Blanche Goosby, who was 23 when their mother died when Shannon was 8.

"Shannon's been thinking about others ever since he was a child," Goosby said. "He was at school the day our mother died, suddenly, from heart failure. It was around Mother's Day and when I went to pick him up to tell him what had happened, he was carrying flowers that he had picked to bring home to her.

"Growing up, he was always self-motivated and focused. Never a problem. He usually doesn't have much to say, but he knows how to get his point across."

Williams was a catcher at Locke and played for two seasons at Compton College. He decided to become a coach about the same time he realized his playing career was over.

"The coaches I played for always told me that I had the qualities of a coach, but I never put them to use until I realized my own career was going to end," Williams said.

Williams enrolled at Dominguez Hills and became the Toro team manager under Coach George Wing. "I picked his brain," Williams said. "I was in his right pocket every time he moved."

Williams kept the position for four years--watching, listening and absorbing everything he could.

"Shannon was always the fly on the wall," said Wing, who is in his 11th season at Dominguez Hills. "I mean, he was always there to the point where I was having conversations with other coaches about things and I would look at him like, 'You're not supposed to be here.' He'd just smile and walk away.

"But he had insight. It was as if he was thinking, 'Someday I'm going to be doing this, and I want to see how it should be done.' "

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