Emotions set in as Robertson's final game approaches

February 29, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

Skip Chambers and Carol Brashears each spent time watching some basketball on Wednesday.

They stood in St. Maria Goretti's gym, heads turned and eyes locked on the action. Still, the bleachers were collapsed against the wall and there were no players firing jumpers.

This game was in each of their minds - personal flashbacks and memories they collected over more than a quarter of a century watching the handiwork of Goretti coach Cokey Robertson, the Gaels' legendary coach who will be working the sidelines in the final home game of his 48-year coaching career tonight.

"This is all so emotional," said Brashears, Goretti's athletic director. "For the first two weeks (after Robertson announced his retirement), I couldn't do anything without crying. There is going to be a void. I thought it was as if I was grieving and I thought I got it all out of me. I want this to be a celebration."


Even all the balloons and confetti in Washington County would have a tough time making tonight's home finale against Bishop Walsh feel like a visit from Publisher's Clearinghouse Prize Patrol.

It will be the end of an era. It will be a day that everyone knew would happen, but didn't want to believe it would actually come.

For Chambers, it also will signal his last home game as Robertson's assistant coach - Cokey's right-hand man sitting at his left side. It was a 25-year ride which was a joy, an education and an honor.

"It's kind of sad," said Chambers, staring out at one of the foul lines. "I've been here for 25 years, but it doesn't seem like it's been 25 years. I said that when he left, I would, too. I'm going to miss it."

For Brashears, it is a 30-year association that started with her as a teacher before signing on to be Robertson's assistant athletic director. She assumed the AD's job nine years ago.

"I don't think what Cokey has done for this school can be measured," Brashears said, staring out at the same foul line. "It goes on far beyond what he has done on the basketball court. It's Goretti and Cokey ... you can't say the one without the other one being mentioned right away."

Robertson has been Goretti's ambassador through basketball. He helped put the small Catholic school in Washington County on the Maryland athletic map in the Baltimore Catholic League against schools 10 and 20 times Goretti's size. He's won titles, the biggest in 1987 with the help of Rodney Monroe.

He did it by becoming the second most winningest coach in state history, next to DeMatha's Morgan Wootten.

And he did it by presenting the game his way.

"We went at it with the philosophy of doing it the right way," Chambers said. "We tried to make the kids players and citizens. I think we have done that. A lot of kids want to come here and play and I think that says something for us."

Robertson's reputation precedes him in the Catholic private school circles. Brashears admits the reason the school's annual Mid-Atlantic Invitation Tournament continues to flourish is because it seems like Robertson only has to pick up the phone to get the out-of-state teams to come.

But it was also because Robertson made clear the way he wanted the game to be played, especially in an era when free-styled offenses and high scoring players are the rule.

"He's old school," Brashears said. "His teams are always prepared. I feel as though he has a game plan for every game that if it is executed correctly, every one of them would be a victory. The court is his chess board and he makes all the moves to get it done.

"He has a style that a lot of kids don't like. Personally, I don't want to watch NBA games, but I like to watch Cokey's teams play. His style presents itself as what basketball is supposed to be and how the game should be played."

It has worked for Robertson over the years because he invites his players to play.

"The biggest thing I learned from him is the ability to keep kids playing hard, even after losses," Chambers said. "He gets them to do it all the time and it is more than just the Xs and Os of the game. He puts the right player in at the right time all the time ... and I don't know how he does it. He's a master. Plus he is able to get every player in a game. That helps us in practices because every kid comes in looking to be ready to play. He always says the best talent doesn't win, it's the best team."

Once Robertson stops coaching, Brashears said she probably will miss her conversations with the coach - especially since they are usually done pacing up and down the court while he sweeps the floor. It truly makes the Gael Center "The house that Cokey built ... or at least cleaned."

And for it all, when the actual game hits the floor tonight, there will be a short ceremony to thank Robertson for all his years of service to the Goretti community.

"I want a lot of people to be there and I want to give them all the chance to just say 'Thanks Coach,'" Brashears said. "This is a celebration of what one person can do at a small school. It's all in the way something (like a basketball program) is built. One person can make a huge difference at a small school."

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