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Former Gaels players praise Cokey

Rodney Monroe calls Robertson "the best coach I've ever had"

Rodney Monroe calls Robertson "the best coach I've ever had"

February 29, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN -- If there ever were an excuse for Cokey Robertson to bask in his own glory, Friday night was it.

More than 50 of his former players, dozens of family members and friends, and a crowd full of fans turned out for his last home game, eager to celebrate the coach who put St. Maria Goretti's varsity basketball team on the map.

But Robertson wasn't thinking about his 697 career wins at Goretti as much as he was thinking about No. 698.

"We have a game to play," Robertson said during halftime of the junior varsity game. "That has to be our first focus."

It was a typical response by a far-from-typical coach, according to some of his former players who attended Friday's game against Bishop Walsh, won by the Gaels, 51-36.

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"He was a great, tough coach who taught us how to play team basketball," said Rodney Gibson, No. 2 on the Gaels' all-time scoring list.

Gibson, who played for Robertson from 1997 to 2001, praised his former coach for having the will to put the small Catholic school in the mighty Baltimore Catholic League, which routinely churns out Division I prospects.

"We played DeMatha and other teams down there that had so much talent. And Coach wasn't scared to put any of them on our schedule," Gibson said.

Rodney Monroe, the Gaels' all-time leading scorer who went on to play for N.C. State and had a brief stint in the NBA before playing overseas, called Robertson "the best coach I've ever had."

Monroe, who traveled from his home in Charlotte, N.C., for Friday's ceremony, said Robertson was passionate, experienced and respectful of his players.

"To find all three of those in a coach is really, really rare," Monroe said.

Other former players praised his commitment to the game, his ability to motivate and his demand for excellence.

"Playing for him was a battle. He definitely expected a lot out of us," said Chip Chambers, whose father, Skip Chambers, also was honored Friday after his last game as the school's junior varsity coach.

Andy Thomas, who played for Robertson from 1978 to 1982, said his coach's demands made him not only a better player, but a better person.

"After you leave the team and graduate and go out into the real world, you realize what he taught you. The commitment and dedication carry over, and those things aren't taught as much as they used to be," Thomas said.

Robertson said he appreciated the praise, though his mind never seemed far from the game Friday night.

After brief chats with his former players, he sat down to watch the junior varsity game.

When the ceremony honoring his 34 years at Goretti was over, he quickly walked to the scorer's table and threw his signature red towel over his shoulder in preparation for the game he was about to coach.

He said he has "no idea" what he will do now that his coaching career is over, but his wife, Char, said they probably won't ever fully leave the game.

"It's sad knowing we're not going to spend every Friday night here anymore. This is a family in this gym. But we've got seven grandkids, and most of them are either playing or will be playing. We'll be in a gym somewhere."

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