Alvin Pearsall Sr.

Alvin Pearsall Sr.

With more than 300 wins and two state titles as a basketball coach to his name, Alvin Pearsall Sr. set the standard by which all other basketball coaches after him must be judged.

The oldest of 11 children, he rarely got away from his chores to play. And there were more pressing needs at the time as well.

“I had two uncles, they were more like second fathers to me,” said Pearsall. “They would pick oranges for money. Sometimes they’d take me.”

Not that he got to keep it.

“Any money earned went to mother for the family,” he said. “If I got to keep a quarter, it was a good day.”

A three-sport athlete in high school, a chance recruiting visit by a coach for Florida Normal College –known today as Florida Memorial University – led him to college.

“He watched our game. After, he chose six guys to come tryout,” said Pearsall. “I knew I was better than any of them.”

When training camp opened, there was Pearsall on the field.

“The coach said nothing,” he recalled. “At the end of the camp, I was in college.”

He soon found work as a chauffeur for the college president. It was a chance encounter at that job that changed his life.

“I met the student who worked for the president’s wife around the house,” he said. “We talked over lunch, and later, fell in love. That was Gussie.”

After college, Pearsall landed a job at the Jackson County Training School in Marianna, nearly 50 miles north of Panama City, near Gussie’s hometown. Spotted by scouts for Cincinnati while playing a sand lot baseball game, he took off for a camp in Douglas, Georgia.

“After the camp, they offered me a contract that would send me to a farm team in California,” he said. “I turned it down. I just couldn’t leave Gussie behind. We married later, and I couldn’t ever have a better wife.”

It was 1958 when Pearsall and his growing family returned to Lake Wales. Gussie taught at Union Academy in Bartow, while Pearsall taught physical education and coached at his alma matter, Roosevelt High School in Lake Wales.

“When schools integrated in 1968-69, I went to Lake Wales High as a Driver’s Ed instructor and assistant coach,” he said. “I took over basketball from Coach Jim Lee a few years later.”

In doing so, Pearsall became the first black coach in integrated Polk County.

“It was easy,” he said. “I was outgoing and well planned. I wanted them to succeed. First, do well in school. Then, keep in shape. If they needed help, in school or whatnot, we’d get them the help.”

He said he kept his coaching philosophy simple.

“You need to have a positive attitude, to feel good,” he said. “No one can take that away but God. And we built a family. We’d go to a different churches on Sundays to help keep them on the right track. And if it came to it, I’d lose a game to get a point across. They understood – they were expected to do good. And they knew that Coach Pearsall don’t play.”

When he moved on to Bartow High School, he kept the same philosophy.

In his 27 years of coaching, Pearsall won a total of 320 games as a high school basketball coach including an FHSAA state title with Bartow and a FIAA state title with Roosevelt. In eight seasons with Bartow, his squads took eight consecutive district titles, six regional titles and four section titles, which led to four state appearances. In 1978, he became the first Polk County coach to bring a school to the then Civic Center to play in a high school basketball tournament. He also coached nationally ranked AAU teams. Pearsall is also a member of the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches Court of Legends Hall of Fame.

After ending his coaching and teaching career, he entered administration eight years later and retired after 45 years of service. His peers often describe him as a very hard working individual who strives for perfection in any challenge that comes his way, displaying a no-nonsense policy.

Throughout his career, he inspired, motivated and positively influenced many student athletes both on and off the court, encouraging them to be responsible for themselves and their actions and always urging them to get an education. His passionate love for basketball and concern for young people extended beyond his community and has spread throughout the state.

Coach Pearsall continues to reside in Bartow with his wife, have two children and three grandchildren and is a member of First Providence Missionary Church.