YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Berry Plays Winning Game of Survival

High-scoring guard has overcome childhood accident and unstable living conditions to lead Chatsworth to playoffs.


CHATSWORTH — Shayne Berry was 3 years old and already a handful when he ran into the street a few seconds before being struck by a car.

He was playing tag with other children, but the game and its outcome became unimportant when Berry was tossed 35 feet.

He suffered a fractured skull, was semi-comatose for two weeks and needed nearly 40 stitches to close a gash in his forehead. Doctors said he wouldn't make it, carefully gauging his vital signs as his grieving mother and father prayed for a miracle.

What doctors couldn't chart, analyze or predict was Berry's inexplicable survival, a stroke of surprising luck for a child born on Friday the 13th. Nor could they account for Berry's potent resolve.

Berry, a senior at Chatsworth High, points to the scar on his forehead with the same reverence as a scuba diver showing off a shark bite. The message is clear: Berry is a survivor.

When he leads Chatsworth against host Fairfax tonight in a first-round game of the City Championship basketball playoffs, many eyes will be on Berry, who averages 28.4 points and carried the Chancellors on a worst-to-first run to the West Valley League co-championship.

The extra attention and the fact Fairfax is seeded No. 2 in the tournament won't faze Berry. He has defied long odds before.

Berry, who splits time living with his mother, Deidre Bangs, and with friends, bounced around high schools until settling at Chatsworth.

He began his freshman year at Green Valley High in Las Vegas, where he lived with his father, Thomas Berry, and grandmother. But he left within a month because he missed his friends in Southern California.

He enrolled at San Fernando, but didn't play basketball because of a paperwork error. He transferred to Cleveland later that year, but was unhappy when Coach Andre Chevalier left to become an assistant at Cal State Northridge.

Berry enrolled at Taft as a sophomore, living in a Woodland Hills apartment paid for by his father.

"He set me up with TVs and furniture," Berry said. "About two times a month, he'd check on me."

Berry wasn't comfortable with the basketball program at Taft, and left for Chatsworth at the end of his sophomore year.

He continued to live alone, until his father returned from Las Vegas. Berry said that he and his father lived in a van for a brief period.

Eventually, Berry found his way to his mother's home, where he had trouble adapting to a strict and structured lifestyle. Berry often stays at friends' houses.

"After being about two years on your own, no set curfew and all that stuff, it's hard to adjust to where there are set rules," Berry said. "I still haven't fully adjusted, but I try my hardest to be there."

Bangs, a former songwriter and singer, doesn't want to infringe on Berry's freedom.

"Who am I to take it away?" she said. "He's lived on his own. He's a man now. Thank God he's strong-willed enough to be himself."

Though small for basketball, the 5-foot-9 Berry plays like a giant, consistently coming up with last-minute heroics.

At Granada Hills, a last-second heave by Berry looked so far off target that Chatsworth Coach Emad Whitney yelled at his big men to get the rebound.

Berry, off balance, said one word to Whitney as he stumbled toward the sideline: "Bank."

The ball caromed off the backboard and went in. Chatsworth won.

Against Taft, Berry didn't need to call bank in the waning seconds. With standout guard Steve Smith closely covering him, he scored from the bottom of the center-court circle, a swish from about 35 feet. Chatsworth won again.

Against Carson, he hit a similar 35-footer at the end of the first quarter.

Against Newbury Park, he didn't wait for the buzzer. He nailed a distant three-pointer in the first half, was told it was nothing but luck by a Newbury Park player, then made another a few possessions later.

"It's one of those things where he can do no wrong at this point," Whitney said. "He really and truly believes that if he has the ball at the end of the game, he's going to win it."

Chatsworth (17-8) has done more winning than losing, tying Taft for the league championship a year after finishing 1-9 in league play.

Along the way, Berry's on-court demeanor has drawn criticism from some City Section coaches who disdain his fist-pumping or, when things don't go his way, his scowling.

Whitney neither condones nor defends Berry's actions. He merely explains them.

"He takes a bum rap because he's extremely emotional," Whitney said. "Sometimes his actions on the court are misunderstood, but some of that goes back to when he was young. He's always been real fiery. And he's always been about winning."

Berry knew defenses would focus on him this season because Chatsworth's Nos. 2 and 3 scorers had graduated, and talented transfer Frank Robinson was declared ineligible to play varsity basketball.

During the off-season, Berry perfected his three-point shot by standing up to two feet behind the line.

"I knew defenses were going to extend, that I'd have to face doubles, box-and-ones, triangle-and-twos," Berry said. "Teams weren't going to let me go right up on the three-point line, so I made sure to be far behind it when I practiced."

Few teams have figured out how to stop Berry.

Then again, they have little chance. Like he has all his life, Berry figures out a way to survive. And win.

Los Angeles Times Articles