(Image from the Pahokee Chamber of Commerce website.)
Considering Pahokee, Florida, has a population of about 6000 people and it’s perched on the edge of Lake Okeechobee, “football,” probably isn’t the first word to come to mind when you first hear about the place. Throw in the locals’ nickname for it, “The Muck,” and I’m willing to bet that pigskins are even less likely to seem a part of that at first blush.
However, that’s where Baltimore Ravens linebacker Pernell McPhee grew up. So did wide receiver Anquan Boldin, also of the Ravens. As did quite a few other NFLers. Is there something in the water?
More likely, there’s something in the sugar cane fields.
According to a piece titled, “The Chase,” by Eric Adelson which ran on ESPN.com in 2007, no fewer than 28 graduates of Glades Central High School made it to the pro football league in the previous 29 years.
So what’s their secret? Maybe it’s that they chase and catch rabbits in the cane fields. Yes, I said catch rabbits. As in, with a stick or with their bare hands. In the muck. Running after a small, oval object, that can cut and run on a dime and then tries to squirt out of your grasp in the ooze. How’s that for a perfect training technique?
But, it isn’t all fun and games. It’s also a survival skill. The sale of those hides often goes to supplement the family income. The median income in these parts was $26,731 as of the 2000 census.
Pernell McPhee states in a Baltimore Sun article, “The Muck ain’t no joke. You have to be careful and watch your back because they don’t play down there. You got to be tough to make it out of there. I’m blessed.”
It sounds like those guys down there are quite literally running for their lives.