A Coaching Legend
Brooks Smith recalls legendary high school coach Maxie Robinson.
Farrar: Brooks Smith continues to rediscover Richmond's sports history and today, Brooks, you're going to talk about a legendary high school coach.
Smith: Coach Maxey Cleveland Robinson was a long-time coach at Armstrong High School in the city of Richmond. To understand his greatness, I think you have to understand his school. Armstrong, of course, has been around for a hundred years. Interesting to me that its roots are with Rawls and Morse Manley's Colored Normal School, which was the first school in the city for freed black children after the Civil War.
A couple of years ago, I did a piece on Manley based on some of his original papers that happened to be preserved in the special collection of the Richmond Public Library. But here was a school for freed black children that in the early 20th century was turned over to the public school system and then in the days of segregation, became the first all-black school, high school, in the city and for a time, the only, until Maggie Walker was built in '38. So you go from a school that was designed to liberate these children and then they were forced into a segregated system, but within the segregated system, you had incredible traditions and rivalries.
One of the most famous is the Armstrong-Walker Classic, this classic football contest held the first Saturday after Thanksgiving for forty-one years, drew more people than any other sporting event in the city and it was akin to our, I guess, Army-Navy game for the city of Richmond.
Farrar: And how many years did he coach?
Smith: Maxey coached for forty years and he got into coaching, he actually was an Armstrong alum; he went to Virginia Union University and then came back to Armstrong to teach history and at the time when he started teaching in '33, there was no football team because of the depression there been cuts in the budget, so some students and he petitioned and raised the funds to start the football team back up. Started with football, then he turned to basketball and then he took up track and baseball too, so he was a coach of all sports, and his accomplishments are entirely singular.
He took the Armstrong Wildcats to thirteen district titles in football and basketball, five state championship titles and two National Negro High School finals, in '41 and '64.
Farrar: And he had quite a legacy off the field as well.
Smith: He did, and there's something profound about coaching kids, of course, this opportunity to impact lives in an exponential way; among Maxey's proteges were Arthur Ashe, who participated in a summer baseball school; a fellow named Dr. Wes Harris, who is a Richmonder who ended up in the top post at NASA, but I think you need look no further than Maxey's own kids. He had four children; his daughter Jewel was the first black student to be admitted to Gaucher College; his daughter Jeannie distinguished herself as a public educator in Washington, DC; his son Maxey, Junior became the first black news anchor in the country on ABC's World News Tonight in 1978, and his son Randall is a Harvard law school graduate and internationally-recognized human rights activist, so Maxey did well by his students and by his players, for sure.
Farrar: Anything to add?
Smith: Well, I'll just say that there's probably no such thing as a great coach without a great rival, so coming next week, you'll hear the story of Maxey's long-standing rival at Maggie Walker High School, Stretch Gardner.
Farrar: We'll look forward to that. Brooks Smith, rediscovering Richmond's sports history, talking today about Maxey Robinson. Thanks, Brooks.