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Cokey's career nears final buzzer

Robertson coaches final game tonight at Hagerstown's St. Maria Goretti High

Robertson coaches final game tonight at Hagerstown's St. Maria Goretti High

February 29, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

HAGERSTOWN - There was a time when Cokey Robertson wondered if he would ever clean up in the world of high school basketball.

He did and more than even he probably would believe.

On Thursday, before the sun was up over an empty St. Maria Goretti campus, the longtime coach was roaming the halls of the Gael Center with a rolling cart filled with solutions and tools. Clad in jeans, sneakers and rubber gloves, he stood in the foyer of his home away from home, washing the windows.

"I'm just subbing until (the school) gets someone to fill in this job," Robertson said while he looked for streaks. "We are going to have a lot of people here for the weekend, you know."

The Gael Center was getting a royal makeover fit for a king. And why not? The King was doing the work.

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The weekend will be all about the 70-year-old Robertson, who will be coaching the final home game of his 34-year stay at Goretti tonight against Bishop Walsh. The final curtain on his 48-year coaching career and the very job that revived Robertson's beliefs and passion will fall next week at the Baltimore Catholic League tournament.

Robertson is stubbornly fighting against the timeline, though, as he continues to believe his show will go on.

"No. I haven't thought of it. There's still another game," he said in his gravely voice. "We are still trying to get things right. We haven't had a run of three straight wins all year. We have to keep things in perspective. This is going to be the last time for a lot of guys. Some will never play again after this, and for some, it will be the last time in this gym.

"And then, for some, it will be the last time they coach."

It has been difficult for many to consider that this will be Robertson's final bow at home. He admits he has received notes and greetings from former players and students who say they will be at this game. It's all for the man who became a local coaching icon through what actually was a second chance.

Robertson remembers questioning his coaching ability after leaving Hagerstown Junior College. He was equipped with a love of basketball - the game, the teaching and the competition - but was without an outlet.

Then came the opportunity at Goretti.

"In the spring of 1973, they brought the boys in to meet with me," Robertson said, thinking back to the first time he set foot on the Gael Center floor. "I remember talking to them and telling them what I planned to do. I never forgot that team. They were very special. It was very uplifting to me. Back then, I was leaving a game I love so much, and I didn't want to do that. The support here was overwhelming, and the kids were hungry. It filled a huge void."

Robertson returned the favor. He filled the competitive void at Goretti by providing the school with a basketball program that put it on the map. The Gaels didn't duck any opponent and faced some of the best teams and players in the Baltimore-Washington area in order to spread the word.

Robertson's style

Along the way, Robertson's record and passion grew with Goretti's reputation. He is the second-winningest coach in Maryland high school basketball with a record of 779-514, second only to the 1,274-192 mark owned by legendary Morgan Wootten of DeMatha.

Robertson did it in a style all his own. He did it with a precise offense that promotes teamwork. He has a gruff demeanor but is nurturing at the same time. He has been a passionate teacher and wily strategist. He has taught boys to be players and competitors in both basketball and life.

For 34 years, he has paced up and down in front of the Gaels' bench, giving signals and instructions with his trademark towel over his shoulder. His strut and intensity are a cross between a banty rooster and Mick Jagger on stage.

That intensity won't die when he turns the page on this part of his career.

"Sometimes I look 70 and I act 70 and I have some chips, but I still have so much love and passion for the game," Robertson said. "I've been able to get involved in the Catholic league in Baltimore, but I feel bad because I'm too far away. I hope to get involved with things close by. I like to keep teaching and I'd like to get involved and be in the gym, but I don't know if I want the pressure of being the guy. Now I will have time to do things, though. I have season tickets for Maryland basketball since they have been in the new building and have never used them. There is a lot of basketball left for me to see."

Memories

Goretti basketball and the course it takes will definitely change once Robertson leaves, but the memories will stay forever.

"I think I helped here," Robertson said. "I do think the success helps. The athletes learned the ups and downs of it all. Not everything goes well when you play, and in life. It will be sentimental at my last practice and when I'm cleaning out my things but, hey, I'm going to be walking away from something that I have a lot of passion for and I don't know how I'm going to fill the void."




Cokeyisms



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