The joy of helping groom young players keeps `old school' coach Robbie Robinson, 71, in the game.

`Mr. Softball of Pasadena'

Arundel At Play

Recreation and local sports in Anne Arundel County

April 13, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Robbie Robinson is unlike many recreation softball coaches.

Robinson, who coaches teams in three different age groups in the Green Haven softball program, doesn't do so to help his children or relatives. He's not married, and he has no children.

He also doesn't run those teams to funnel talent to a high school program he likes.

Some who know Robinson says he is the definition of an old-school coach. And that's fine with him.

"I'm out there for the girls to have fun," Robinson said. "I keep telling the girls that they keep me going. If it wasn't for them, I don't know where I'd be."

Robinson, 71, started the Green Haven softball program 28 years ago, almost by accident, he said.

He was serving as a member of the Green Haven Improvement Association in 1977, when a group of girls came to him with a request to play softball. The Pasadena community had no youth team or program, and Robinson asked the association to sponsor a program in name only for the next year.

The association agreed, and the program began in 1978 for girls 12 to 14. Robinson coached, despite minimal experience in the sport and working full time as a firefighter at the Green Haven fire station, and everything took off from there.

Robinson has coached Green Haven softball teams ever since, finding it, he said, a joyous experience. Like this spring, he often has guided more than one team at a time. This spring, he has teams playing in the 10-to-12, 12-to-14 and 14-to-17 age groups in Anne Arundel County leagues.

"He's like Mr. Softball of Pasadena," said Ron Mox, an Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks sports supervisor. "He's from the old school, when they thought it was important to get out there with the kids and teach them responsibility and teach about the game. He makes champions, he makes athletes, he makes responsible people."

Robinson said he has learned that the key to coaching is keeping things simple. He often invents gimmicks to make players understand how to master a certain skill.

For example, Robinson recently coached a girl who couldn't seem to get the hang of standing in the batter's box, always facing the pitcher rather than standing sideways to the mound.

So he began asking her to walk around the umpire and skip into the box as a way of facing the correct direction. Although it appeared strange, he says, it worked.

"You have to encourage them to do things," Robinson said. "I often get girls who haven't played. You have to encourage them to play."

Robinson helps players in many other ways. He regularly offers rides to anyone who can't get to games, which is usually a large number of players.

Robinson, who retired from firefighting in 1992, spends plenty of time with the teams.

He's typically at practices or games six nights a week throughout the spring.

Robinson won't let players pay fees for much of anything. Instead, he pays almost all of the fees the team must pay out - it's about $3,000 a season, he estimated. That doesn't cover meals he buys for players to celebrate various milestones.

The expense doesn't bother him, he said.

"That's not what I'm in it for," he said. "There're a lot of kids that can't pay. There're some who can, but if they can't get a ride, I'll pick them up."

Coaches of teams that compete against Robinson's have respect and admiration for how much he cares about and works with his players.

"You never hear anything negative [from him], and he stays constantly positive and constantly supportive," said Dana Sutphin, a coach whose daughters have played on Davidsonville Athletic Association softball teams for 14 years, often competing against Green Haven's girls. "You can't state anything else. All over his face and his mannerisms, you can see his love for the game and the girls."

Valerie Rhodes coaches another Davidsonville team, an under-14 squad that tied for first place with Robinson's team in the same division of the county recreation league last spring.

Robinson wasn't upset when the teams played to a tie in the season's final game, and his reaction impressed Rhodes.

"The game could have gone either way, but he told me he was glad it was a tie because it was a good game," Rhodes said. "He's there for the girls. He's there for the love of the game."

Win, lose or draw, Robinson continues to emphasize the importance of safety, sportsmanship and fun.

"I tell them, `If you win, you win,'" Robinson said. "But if you lose, you're big enough to accept it. I'm [just] trying to help the girls."

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