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Coach a strong leader in good times and bad

The son sat with his father in the waiting room of a hospital in Slidell, La.

He impatiently watched the clock. He checked it over and over.

Bruce Sheffield was there for his mother, 75-year-old Betty Sheffield, who in a nearby room battled for her life against the lethal combination of emphysema and pneumonia. But he also couldn't help but wonder what was happening back in Citrus County, where the Lecanto boys squad he coached from mediocrity to the state rankings in one season was running in the district championships.

"I was on pins and needles all day," Sheffield said.

Sheffield's mother survived what he described as a "touch-and-go situation," but she remains hospitalized. Visitors can see her 10 minutes every two hours. The prognosis isn't good. Doctors have said she might not last another six months. Back here, the son worries. The family lives in Mississippi, and right now they couldn't feel any farther away.

"It's been really tough," Sheffield said. "I just got the news the other day that her condition hasn't gotten any better. Being as far away from home as I am is really hard. I don't really know what's going on."

The son grieves. The son consoles. Sheffield's father, William, is struggling with the harsh realities of the situation.

"My mother did everything for him," Sheffield said. "She cooked and cleaned and all that stuff. Being apart from her has been difficult."

Sheffield has a wife and five kids (three are foster children). He is Lecanto's dean of students. He coaches three sports. He is grateful to have so much going on, because quite frankly, at a time like this he knows it's good to have other things to think about.

"My father taught us that you have responsibilities family, job and stuff like that," Sheffield said.

Lecanto's rise to prominence this season (the Panthers are ranked sixth and will compete in Saturday's Class 2A state meet in Tampa) has given Sheffield a much needed boost.

"If I didn't have something to divert my mind, I'd be thinking solely about my mom," Sheffield said. "She's in the back of my mind all the time, but I'm the kind of person who wants to do my job. One of the reasons I came back was because I knew the kids needed me."

And vice versa. "They," Sheffield said, "have helped.

Sheffield will watch the clock again Saturday. This time the coach will be with his team, but you can bet mom will be on his mind.

_ Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337 or online at