Robinson canned after 5 seasons
In a move that signifies the end of one era and the beginning of another, Basehor-Linwood High School fired Mardy Robinson last week, relieving her of her varsity basketball coaching responsibilities.
Robinson, a coach often criticized throughout her tenure for various reasons, guided the Bobcats to a 44-62 record during her five years as Basehor-Linwood's head girls basketball coach.
Her best season on the Bobcats' bench was also her first, as the then 23-year-old Robinson guided BLHS to a 12-9 record during the 2000-2001 campaign, the school's first winning season since 1997. Her next four years were spent under .500, with a 4-17 mark a season ago representing the worst record in her five-year run.
Throughout the years the fiery Robinson wore her emotions on her sleeve every time her team took the floor. She lived and died with every call and every bucket, and was often elated after wins and downtrodden after losses.
Despite her intensity, most who played for her loved it.
"I enjoyed it because it just showed that she really cares about us," said freshman Cassie Lombardino, who earned all-Kaw Valley League honors this season. "I was shocked that it happened, because Ms. Robinson had turned the season around for us. I'm still trying to get used to the idea that we're going to have a new coach."
Although the school chose to let Robinson go, Basehor-Linwood School District director of personnel Don Swartz had nothing but good things to say about the former coach when asked about the decision.
"I think she worked as hard as she knew how to work to make it a success," Swartz said. "And we do appreciate everything that she has done. We just decided that it was time to go in a different direction."
The decision came as a shock to Robinson, who a week after the season believed the job was hers for another year. Speculation about Robinson's dismissal surfaced at the end of the dismal 2003-2004 season, but Robinson was given another year and the speculation disappeared.
This season, as a crop of freshmen breathed new life into a program that had fallen on hard times, Robinson showed more energy and excitement for the game she loves than she had in past seasons.
That resulted in a 10-11 record, including an 8-6 mark in the Kaw Valley League. Days after the Bobcats lost their final game of the season, Robinson met with BLHS athletic director Joe Keeler, as well as BLHS principal Steve Blankenship for a routine coaching evaluation.
During the meeting, Robinson said the trio talked about ways they could improve the program and began discussing expectations for next season. That led her to believe she was retaining the job. Relieved, she began working on off season conditioning programs and planning summer camps and looking toward next season.
"I don't think they ever said it out loud," Robinson said. "But I thought it was implied that the job was still mine."
A couple of weeks later, during a meeting of the Basehor-Linwood School District on March 21, a group of displeased parents attended the meeting to discuss with the board their concerns about Robinson's efforts. During this meeting, Basehor-Linwood basketball fan Pam Poe read a lengthy synopsis of why she thought Robinson should go. According to those who attended the meeting, Poe spoke for nearly 15 minutes.
Two days later, on March 23, Robinson ran into a member of the district at which point she had an informal discussion about her future. It was at that point that she realized her job was in jeopardy.
Five days later, on March 28, Robinson was asked to resign. She chose not to, and was subsequently fired.
"They gave me a chance to resign and I wouldn't because I wasn't going to quit on those girls," Robinson said. "I felt we had unfinished business and unreached potential. To be honest, with all the improvement we made and the direction the program was headed, I never thought it would actually come to that. I was given a good opportunity to make things happen here and I appreciate that. I'm just disappointed, I guess. I'm bummed out that I won't be working with these girls anymore. I finally thought we had the talent to make some noise."
She was likely right. Coaches around the Kaw Valley League have already begun to brace for Basehor-Linwood as the team to beat for the next few seasons.
"I think they're going to be one of the top two or three teams in the league next year," Bonner Springs coach Garold Baker said. "They're going to be good next year, but if they stick together they've got three solid years of basketball coming."
Although the timing of the criticism was bad, Swartz emphatically denied the fact that the protests from the disgruntled parents at the school board meeting had a part in the district's decision.
"I will vehemently deny that this decision was made because of a bunch of rabid, anti-Mardy people," Swartz said. "It wasn't because of that at all. Sometimes those kind of antics confuse the situation, but we had to make the decision that was in the best interest of the entire program, and we feel we've done that."
So what then does the best interest of the program entail? Swartz said the district would be looking for a replacement with experience.
"We want somebody with some proven head coaching success," he said. "Somebody with a proven varsity track record."
In light of the fact that Robinson's departure marks the seventh varsity program in the last two years at BLHS that will be asked to endure a new coach, Keeler said the school would also be looking to hire a replacement who would be interested in staying for a while.
"Continuity, in every aspect of education - academics, athletics, etc. - is a vital component of success," Keeler said. "We, as a team, are working extremely hard to find individuals that can provide us with the stability to help us be successful for years to come."
As for Robinson, her future is now up in the air. She has already begun searching for coaching positions at other schools, but said she may elect to take a year and step away from coaching.
"I still have a love for the game," she said. "It's hard to shake, this coaching thing."
She added that she'd likely be just as happy to be a head coach at the middle school level or a varsity assistant and that she was keeping all of her options open.
A likely last-resort-scenario would find her staying at Basehor-Linwood, teaching English in the same Room 109 that she has always been in. But that, she said, would be tough to stomach.
"If I decided to stay, it would be very difficult to stay and teach and watch someone else coach these girls who I know are going to be successful," she said.
Despite her disappointment, Robinson is relying on her faith in her Christian beliefs to keep her upbeat.
"My No. 1 priority isn't basketball nor will it ever be," she said. "My No. 1 priority is my faith. I didn't coach for wins or for parents and fans. I coached because I love the game of basketball and I love those kids. It will be good to have a change, but I'll be checking the box scores to see how the girls do every time they play."