The high school basketball season is brand new on the Hi-Line. And while stalking the sidelines is nothing new to legendary head coach Charlie Robinson, the man who is only one of seven coaches in Montana boys basketball history to earn over 500 wins, he is in a brand new place.
This past year, Robinson, who enters his 38th season coaching high school basketball went from coaching the North Star boys to the Chinook girls. And while Robinson has 559 wins in boys basketball to his credit, coaching girls hoops is nothing new to him either, despite the new location.
Robinson has 242 career wins in girls basketball and he led the K/G Kougars to the 1994 Class C state championship. And while the move to Chinook was an emotional one, the switch to girls basketball and the new challenges that await him have Robinson more than a little excited.
“I’m excited to be in Chinook,” Robinson said. “And I’m very grateful that the people in Chinook have given me this opportunity. I can’t say enough good things about this situation and I’m really looking forward to coaching the girls program here.
“As for moving back to girls basketball, there’s certainly differences in the game of basketball when it comes to boys and girls,” he added. “But it’s also a situation I’m very familiar and comfortable with. When Montana changed the seasons years ago, and the boys and the girls started to play at the same time, it gave coaches who coach boys basketball the chance to still be around the girls game. Teams travel together and watch each other play, so over the years, I’ve still been around the girls game, and I’ve been around the girls teams in the district (9C). So it’s very interesting and exciting to be in Chinook with the girls program.”
And the Sugarbeeters are lucky to have a coach like Robinson at the helm.
The last few years, Chris Daniel has done an outstanding job coaching both the boys and girls in Chinook, but with Robinson coming over from North Star, it allows Daniel to focus on the boys team, and gives a talented and up-and-coming Chinook girls team a chance to learn and grow under the tutelage of a coach who’s already done it all in Montana high school basketball.
Robinson coached 21 total years on the Hi-Line, with 16 at K/G and the last five at North Star, coaching both boys and girls basketball at different times during that stretch. Not only did he lead the K/G girls to the state championship in 1994, but he also took the K/G boys to the Class C state title in the spring of 1999. Robinson also has experience at the college level, working as an assistant on the Northern Montana College men’s staff under then head coach Jay Pivic from 1985 to 1989. Robinson was also inducted to the MHSA Hall of Fame in 2004.
“Chris (Daniel) did a great job with the girls program,” Robinson said. “He did an excellent job of bringing this program along and I’m hoping to come here and continue that. I want the Chinook girls to have their turn to enjoy success in the 9C and so far, this has been a very positive experience and I’m really enjoying this change."
And as for moving back to girls basketball, Robinson said the transition has been a smooth one, especially with a Chinook team which has plenty of returning talent mixed with some strong under classmen.
“The first thing is, I wanted everyone to understand that my mind set is, I coach basketball,” Robinson said. “It’s not about coaching girls or boys. Yes, there’s differences with size and strength, but overall I want our girls to understand they aren’t playing girls basketball, they are girls playing the game of basketball.
“Beyond that, I want to come here and instill confidence in this team,” he added. “I want them to believe they can compete and win, and of course, the most important thing is, I want this team to have a positive experience playing high school basketball.”
And over the years, Robinson’s teams have certainly had positive experiences. Even last season, he took an undersized and overlooked North Star boys team to the brink of reaching the Northern C Divisional tournament. The Knights fell to Chinook in a District 9C challenge game.
And that’s always been Robinson’s main focus, getting the most out of his players and building teams who are ready to play their best basketball come tournament time. And there’s no doubt he’ll do the same with the Chinook girls.
But while he’s excited about being in a new place in his already incredible coaching career, change isn’t always easy, and he says not being at North Star, where he was for so long, was an emotional and difficult time for him, but that he and his family have made the most of the situation. Robinson is not just coaching the girls team at Chinook, but also assisting Daniel with the Chinook boys as well as teaching part time at Chinook High School.
“It was a difficult situation for myself and my wife,” Robinson said of changing schools. “But we’ve taken this opportunity and made it into a very positive one, and everyone in Chinook has been so good to us. We are really thankful for the opportunity to be here in Chinook, and we are so excited about it.
"The girls have been great too,” he added. “Coaching changes are never easy on kids, but the girls have been very upbeat and enthusiastic and they’ve adapted to all of the changes very well. Everything so far about this change has been very positive and I’m having a lot of fun.”
And Robinson will continue to have fun in his new role. But there will also be emotional times ahead. Especially when the Beeters and Knights meet on the basketball floor this season. But like everything else associated with his new position, Robinson is taking a positive outlook towards the games he’ll coach against the Knights in the future.
“The first thing is, I hope they (Knights) have their worst game of the season when we play them,” Robinson joked. “But in all honesty, this was a very emotional move for me. I have strong ties to a lot of kids there, kids that are still playing there and I still want them to have success, because the kids at North Star, former players from both K/G and North Star, they have all impacted my life and been so good to me, so I want all of them to continue to have success in whatever they do. I’ve gotten e-mails and text messages from alot of former players, both boys and girls, and a lot of people have been so great to me about this move, wishing me well and wishing me luck. So there will always be those strong bonds I’ve formed there over the years.
“But I also realize things change and I’ll always remember the good times there and not dwell on any of the negatives about leaving,” he added. “But I do hope when we play them (Knights) we play well and we beat them. I’m sure our kids will be very fired up to play them and they’ll be very fired up to play us.”
One thing that is certain, Robinson is definitely fired up about his new coaching job. Even after 38 years and getting to the highest level of success a high school coach can achieve, more than once, Robinson has the passion and enthusiasm for coaching high school basketball, and now the Black and Orange of Chinook will benefit from all of that passion.
“Again, this has been a very positive situation and I’m just very thankful to all of the people in Chinook for giving me this opportunity,” he said. “This first two weeks of practice has been very exciting and positive, and I’m looking forward to trying to help this Chinook girls team have as much success as it can possibly have. And I’m really looking forward to this season.”