Don Robinson led the New Tyrol Trojans to state swim titles for two decades. However, most of us remember this stand-out high school coach more for his daring than for his drive, and more for his compassion than his coaching.
Sure, our Illinois high school had its share of superstar swimmers, and Don Robinson possessed the skills to groom these young athletes for greatness. But his personal character made more of a splash in our lives than his leadership at swim practices or meets.
Don Robinson had a serious stutter, a full-blown speech impediment, but that never stopped him from climbing onto a diving block to shout encouragement or exhortation, as needed.
I still remember one winter afternoon, when Coach Robinson tapped me on the shoulder, as I climbed out of the pool after practice.
“M-m-may I have a word, please?” he asked.
I followed the coach to his pool deck office, clutching my arms around my dripping swimsuit and wondering what I had done wrong.
“I noticed you p-p-poured on the p-p-power in p-p-practice,” Coach Robinson said.
That was his style. And you can bet I poured it on the next day too.
The humble coach built a model swim instruction school.
During his Trojans tenure, Don Robinson led the boys and girls swim teams to county and state titles. He also built a nationally recognized community swimming instruction program that still exists.
As students, we lined up to volunteer as his swim instructors. We didn’t earn a single dollar for plunging into the homemade chili, served in his own home during a team-wide gin rummy tournament – which he always won, hands-down.
Thank you, Coach Robinson.
This Thanksgiving, as we consider with gratitude the many blessings in our lives, I cannot forget this solid role model of leadership. Don Robinson demonstrated how to leave handicaps behind and press forward towards important goals.
Don Robinson passed away more than 15 years ago, but his legacy still stands – from the still-overflowing trophy room to the character of those he coached.