By: Dale King Contributing Writer
The Pearl City neighborhood and its environs in Boca Raton have racked up lots of firsts in just over a century of existence.
It was Boca’s first platted district, laid out in 1915, 10 years before Boca Raton became a city. It was the first region settled by migrant workers who toiled in the fields during Boca’s agrarian past. It’s home to three of the city’s oldest houses of worship, including the oldest, Macedonia AME Church, which marks its 100th anniversary later this month.
So why shouldn’t this small, but significant area also establish the first Pearl City basketball team? Just leave it to Charles Cocklin, a minister of Macedonia Church and founder and CEO of the Breaking the Chains Outreach Ministry. Through his faith and hard work, he brought together 31 youngsters age 7 to 17 who’ve been hitting the hardwood every summer Sunday evening through July, taking on hoop teams like the Deerfield Condors and other squads.
The Pearl City team just completed its summer season with an awards ceremony July 30 at the city’s Recreation Center. “We distributed honors for Most Valuable Player, Best Leader, Most Improved Player and Most Spirited Player.”
Cocklin has gotten lots of help setting up and running the games. Students from the Florida Atlantic University chapter of Progressive Black Men, members of the National Council of Negro Women and Sisters Inc., among other volunteers, pitched in.
The busy man of faith had already created the Macedonia chapter of Breaking the Chains Outreach Ministry. “The sole purpose is to create a better way of life for all by empowering youth, strengthening families and building stronger communities.”
“Our heart is for at-risk children, the elderly, the homeless and the needy,” he noted. “By catering to their needs and introducing programs dedicated to specific problems, we believe we can make a difference in their lives.”
Cocklin’s wife, Kellye, and daughter, Rahkell, both serve as directors of the Outreach Ministry.
The Pearl City basketball team has been playing its games this summer in the “Gathering Place” at First United Methodist Church on NE Mizner Boulevard. The chamber is mainly a gymnasium, with a scoreboard, buzzer and public address system. One of the FAU students broadcasts the play-by-play for the crowd.
Emilda Desir learned about the basketball team through social media and saw that it lacked something important – a cheerleading squad. So, she set one up.
“I have been a cheerleader for little league and in recreation leagues since I was 6,” she said while watching her squadron carrying out spirited moves and offering vigorous cheers. At half-time, the young ladies showed their abilities with a series of enthusiastic moves at center court.
Emilda said she was directed to see Charles about putting together a cheering squad. “I told him I would take care of it. I wanted to work with the kids.” The cheering coach is a senior at FAU and is also marketing director for the National Council of Negro Women. She plans to pursue a career as a pediatrician.
Coach Austin Harris, a member of the Progressive Black Men at FAU, has been working with the Pearl City kids a little over a year. He said he sees basketball as a “way to keep youngsters out of trouble, and to teach life lessons. Some of these children are here because they don’t have a positive male role model.”
They find guidance in the coaches, staff and other volunteers.
Harris said the players get a lot of encouragement from their elders. “You have to put your best face forward. We keep them encouraged. We tell them never to put your head down and never quit.”
Sitting courtside on a recent Sunday night was Howard Frieberg, one of the first donors to the team. He said he was standing near Cocklin at Office Depot one day and overheard the story about how the team came together. He didn’t know Charles at the time, but soon located him and signed on to assist.
“Charles has been giving his time to help kids of the inner city,” said Frieberg. “They get a direction in life. It could either be this or the streets.”
Frieberg knows something about close-knit communities, having managed apartments in New York. He now lives in Boca, but has a rental unit in New Jersey.
When asked who’s in charge of the Pearl City league, everyone points to Charles Cocklin. In turn, he credits God for getting the job done. With his usual touch of humility, he points out: “There is no community without unity.”