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Monday, November 2, 2009

Cecil Watkins: A Great Friend of the Game

When I started at the NBA league office back in December of 1980, Cecil Watkins was right at my side. In a matter of minutes, we bonded and I could tell, I had met a man who was as sincere as he was connected, a man who knew the game and loved the game. Cecil was the Assistant Director of Officiating and ran the Pro-Am basketball program that was the major lifeline to identify, train and cultivate NBA officials before they would be game tested in the CBA and, eventually, the NBA.

Cecil hailed from Westbury, NY (Long Island) - home to a regular supply of top level basketball talent, a real hoops hotbed. Great players like Joe DuPree and Richie Gilkes attended Westbury HS but which was a pipeline to the St. John's University Redmen.

Appropriately, retired St. John's Coach Lou Carnesseca, a Hall of Famer, will speak at Cecil's service to be held today in Garden City, NY.

Like Lou, I really loved Cecil Watkins. He was "good people" and we always found time to catch up, talk St. John's hoops and, sadly, lament about the current situation with fond memories of days gone by, BIG EAST championships and sold-out games at Madison Square Garden.

I remember one BIG EAST tourney when Cecil asked me to join him at the BIG EAST finals when St. John's defeated Boston College and Billy Goodwin hopped up on the rim at the Eighth Avenue end of the Garden with a "We Are St. John's" sign propped up on his lap. Cecil had some sweet tickets that day and I remember how happy I was to witness that big day in SJU basketball history.

I will miss Cecil a lot, but I will smile today with a keen knowledge that he led a great life and his family - wife Valierie and kids Keri and Kari - should be very, very proud of their husband and father.


Cecil Watkins Gave Back to the Game and the Community

Cecil Kenneth Watkins passed away on Saturday, October 10, 2009, due to complications from pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Valerie Morgan Watkins, daughters Kara Watkins Tillman and Keri Watkins, sisters Caroline Townes and Ruth Ross, sisters-in-law Dorothy Watkins, Shirley Mack and Ruby Rolle, brothers-in-law John Mack, Anthony Rolle and John Townes, son-in-law Emmanuel Tillman, granddaughters Amadia Tillman and Elysia Tillman, and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews and friends who will miss him greatly. He was preceded in death by his brother, LeRoy Watkins, Sr., sister, Henrietta "Mazie" Smith, and nephew, Michael Velazquez.

Cecil was the President and CEO of the National Pro-Am City Leagues Association, Inc., a national organization that develops both players and referees for the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Governor and Boys Basketball Chairman of the New York Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and an active board member for several organizations. During his 18 years with the NBA, he served as Director of Community and Special Programs and as an Assistant Supervisor of Officials. He was also a co-founder and former executive director of ELMCOR Youth & Adult Activities, Inc., a community service organization serving East Elmhurst, Corona and Jamaica.

He was respected nationwide for his knowledge and leadership in sports and community recreation. His efforts were largely responsible for providing countless inner city youth with positive outlets to express themselves and grow through their participation in sports. In recent years, Cecil was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Adelphi University and selected as a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Mannie Jackson-Basketball's Human Spirit Award. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame for NYS Basketball, NYC Basketball, ELMCOR and Adelphi University.

Most importantly, he made a difference in the lives of so many people. Cecil was a gentle giant who transformed communities with his uncanny genius and touched the hearts of those who knew him with his candor, his humor and his generosity.

Adelphi President Robert A. Scott on the passing of Cecil K. Watkins '75, M.A. '86, 07 (Hon.) "Adelphi University mourns the passing of its distinguished alumnus and long-time friend, Cecil Watkins. His boundless good will and commitment to youth and sports had a tremendous impact on the lives of many people. The University will deeply miss him and will continue to honor his extraordinary efforts. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Valerie, daughters Kara and Keri, and the entire Watkins family."

Adelphi Associate Dean and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Robert E. Hartwell on the loss of Cecil K. Watkins '75, M.A. '86, '07 (Hon.) "Cecil Watkins had an incredible can-do approach to life which enabled him to provide life-changing experiences for many. Respected nationwide for his knowledge and leadership in sports and community recreation, we are proud that he is a member of the Adelphi University Athletic Hall of Fame. We shall never forget him and he will always have a place in this program and in our hearts."

*** and wrote:

Mr. Watkins was the governor and boys basketball chairman of the New York Metropolitan Amateur Athletic Union, a youth sport organization dedicated to the promotion and development of amateur sports programs. The basketball programs are designed to initiate, stimulate, and improve opportunities for amateur basketball competition and to promote and develop leadership, sportsmanship, fitness, and athletic excellence.

As evidence of Mr. Watkins dedication, Fox said, "On Monday, even though he was extremely ill and had just finished treatment, Cecil tried to come to the executive board meeting but was too sick to make it up stairs, so I went downstairs. He said to me, '
Just tell them that I tried.' That's the kind of man that he was."

Watkins was also the president and CEO of
National Pro-Am City Leagues Association, Inc., a not-for-profit community service organization that specializes in developing and administering turnkey sports league programs and high visibility sporting events in major urban and suburban areas across the country. In addition, the organization is widely recognized as a premier venue for youth and adults to acquire professional experience and employment in all aspects of sports administration.

Mr. Watkins was respected nationwide for his knowledge and leadership in sports and community recreation. Prior to his current leadership roles, Mr. Watkins held various positions, including director of recreation of New York City's Department of Parks & Recreation, director of community and special programs for the National Basketball Association, and served in the Army as a recreation specialist for two years. He established the prestigious Ray Felix Summer League, which evolved into City-Wide, a nationally recognized summer basketball program in New York City. He co-founded the Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities, Inc., a human service agency serving Corona, East Elmhurst, and Jamaica in Queens, New York. In the past 36 years, he has secured more than 1,800 scholarships for student athletes from the New York metropolitan area.

Mr. Watkins had received more than 100 awards, including the Basketball Congress International Commissioner of the Year Award, Boy Scouts of America Recognition Award, and Queensboro President Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a member of the Adelphi University Athletic Hall of Fame and New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.

He earned his B.A. and M.A. in sports administration and management from Adelphi University and is survived by his wife Valerie and two children, Kara and Keri.

NY Post writer Peter Vecsey wrote:

Lou Carnesecca, former NBA referees Lee Jones and Ronnie Nunn, Queens borough president Helen Marshall and 10 other speakers from the countless tributaries of Cecil Watkins' particularly giving life will honor him Sunday (3 p.m.) at The Center for Recreation and Sports at Adelphi University, mourning one of its most distinguished alumni.

There are those who apparently make a difference and then there was Watkins. He altered the reality of thousands, whole communities, with his supernatural aptitude for providing inner-city youth outlets to express themselves and grow through their participation in sports.

Watkins, 79 when he died Oct. 10 from pancreatic cancer, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Adelphi in '07, was selected as a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Manny Jackson Human Spirit Award) and he was inducted into the HOF for NYS Basketball, NYC Basketball, ELMCOR and Adelphi University.

Valerie Morgan and Cecil were married 46 years. After his most recent award, she asked him how he wanted to be remembered. He said: "As someone who loved, cared and gave back to the community."

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