From the Fringe...
We as basketball fans, have always been blessed when it comes to success, fun and excitement on the Hi-Line. For as long as I can remember, and long before I was born, basketball, the winter, a gym and a ball, those things are a way of life around these parts.
And though basketball season is still off in the near future, this next one, and every one after that, just won’t be the same.
On Monday night, I learned of the passing of Charlie Robinson. If you’re a high school basketball fan, that name is all I need to say. But for many of you who might not follow high school basketball as closely as I do, Charlie was the head girls coach at Chinook High School. And for the past 40 years, he’s been a basketball coach all across Montana, and especially on the Hi-Line.
And while Charlie ranks as one of the most successful high school basketball coaches in Montana High School Association history, having coached boys and girls teams to nearly 900 wins in a career which went from Outlook to Dutton, to Kremlin-Gildford, Rudyard, Chinook and the bench at Northern Montana College, his legacy is so much more than the victories, or even the games.
For me, for as great as Charlie was for basketball, especially in our neck of the woods, his legacy is his personal touches he brought to the game. His legacy is the hundreds and hundreds of student-athletes he coached, and countless more students he taught in the classroom. To me, Charlie Robinson was an educator, of basketball, school and life, and in the modern era of high school athletics, as sports become more specialized, the kind of coach Charlie Robinson was, the impact he had on so many lives and the things he believed in and stood for, are becoming more and more rare.
In fact, when I sat down to do an update story on Charlie last winter, he wanted to talk more about education, more about life and more about impacting young people off the basketball court than he ever did on it. The fact that Charlie impacted and educated students, not just basketball players was clearly something he was very proud of, and in the win-at-all-costs modern era of high school athletics, I don’t know if the message Charlie carried throughout his brilliant career is quite as clear today.
“I’ve always felt it was important to educate kids, as a coach,” Robinson said. “Being an educator has always been a priority for me, both in the classroom and on the basketball court.”
For me, that’s what Charlie’s legacy will be, as an educator first and a coach second. And I would be remiss not to mention the type of family man Charlie was. He put his wife and his children, two very good friends of mine, front and center, no matter how deeply involved in coaching he was. I can’t remember a single conversation with Charlie where he didn’t mention his wife, whom he loved so much, or what his children were up to. He was extremely proud of his family, and again, coaches finding time to even have a family isn’t always easy, but Charlie always seemed to make it work.
But make no mistake, Charlie was also one of the greatest coaches to ever stalk the sidelines in Class C basketball. His record, his resume and the thousands of players who played for him speak to that. Charlie was simply one of the most brilliant high school basketball coaches in Montana history and that fact can’t be disputed.
I didn’t ever get to play for Charlie, and that’s something I will forever regret. But I did, especially over the last 15 years, get to become very good friends with him, and that is what makes writing this column, and even thinking about the upcoming high school basketball season, so hard. I can’t imagine what a District 9C tournament is going to be like without him. Right now, I don’t think any of us can. I just know it’s going to be hard, because Charlie represented everything we’ve come to love and adore about high school basketball in this area. And what Charlie represented, what Charlie did for high school basketball in this area, what he did for so many kids over so many years, none of it will ever be able to be replaced. Though the game of Class C basketball on the Hi-Line and in Chinook will go on, the void Charlie has left will be there forever, along with the impact and the legacy he also leaves with us.
I’d like to take this moment to offer my deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Charlie’s wife, to his children, to every one of his family members, to his current Chinook team and to the countless people who have had their lives touched by him.
And I’d also like to say goodbye to my friend. I’ve interviewed Charlie hundreds of times, and had hundreds more personal conversations with him over the years. And in probably every one of them, I referred to him as a legend. I’ve put that word in print many, many times, and I don’t think he was always comfortable with that term. Well, comfortable or not, Charlie, you are a legend, and you will be missed more than you can possibly know.
The game of basketball will go on, gyms will be filled with young student-athletes learning to play and succeeding this winter and for years to come. But on the Hi-Line, in gyms around the District 9C, this February when the 9C tournament arrives in Havre, and for as long as Class C basketball continues on in Montana, without Charlie Robinson, it won’t quite be the same. Not ever again.