Leah Pemberton's signing with Florida Southern College on Friday represents the culmination of a lifetime of work and growth.
The senior shortstop made her future official in front of a crowded conference room at with her parents and coaches on hand to celebrate. With FSC being in Lakeland, there will be no tearful goodbyes for the Pemberton family, but the softball aspect of the player's decision won't be as easy.
"I'm going to work really hard and practice everyday if I want to make it on that team," Pemberton said. "I'm excited about the opportunity. I have family in Lakeland too, so that makes it a little easier."
For any player, the departure from the high school teams they flourish on is always difficult, but Pemberton is ready for the next stage of her career.
"I have memories here I'll never forget," Pemberton said. "My freshman year we made it all the way to the regional championship; I've played with great girls and made some of my best friends. At the same time, I'm really excited to take the next step."
It's a step that her lifelong coach, Mike Bell, always knew she could make. That said, it's not Pemberton's talent that Bell will remember most, it's the developments she has made in the last few years.
"She always had the talent to go this far, but I've seen her go from a talented player that maybe wasn't the best teammate to an all-out leader," Bell said. "I've coached her since she was 5, and I think that when I look at what I'm most proud of with her, it's how she has taken on becoming leader over the last two seasons."
With the Bulls experiencing a coaching change after last season, it was Pemberton's presence that helped coach Melissa Gentile settle into her spot as dugout chief this year.
"It was huge to have for me someone like her to ease the process of taking over a new team," Gentile said. "She wanted that leadership role right away and did a great job for us. Sometimes you see when a player takes that responsibility on they get overwhelmed and their performance declines, but she never did. We're just happy for her that she gets this opportunity. It's going to be interesting to see the kind of player she grows into at the next level."
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