Retiring ABSS athletics director George Robinson relishes time in ABSS roles

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

George Robinson had been athletics director for the Alamance-Burlington School System for 10 years before retiring from that job at the end of last week.

He saw the position evolve in many facets as an employee. He witnessed other changes since he was a student coming through area schools at Turrentine Middle School and Williams High School before the city-county schools merged.

Robinson, 53, used to be stationed at ABSS central offices on Vaughn Road, but relocated his office to Sellars-Gunn off Apple Street in Burlington several years ago. Here are a few discussion topics during a recent interview:


A different role

Robinson left his role as Cummings boys’ basketball coach to become assistant principal at the school in January 2012. “That was a tough decision to have to walk away in the middle of the season,” he said.

He had guided the Cavaliers to five state championships, but he later had his eyes on an administrative role. The job with ABSS came after Erica Turner left the role.

“Just helping behind the scenes,” Robinson said. “I tried to pick up the ball and run with it. I’m a people person so my (role) was more built on relationships. Just try to do the things that were right for the kids.”

Robinson was an insider in terms of being known in the community. He said he knew he had to return calls and address complaints because he was bound to run into people with concerns at church, the barbershop, or store.

“When you’re from here and people know you,” he said, “a lot of people got my phone number, and they don’t mind using it.”


Solutions are there

The ABSS athletics director is the contact for seven high schools and seven middle schools.

“Typically, when someone calls, there’s a concern about a child,” he said.

While complaints about playing time often came his way, he said the first contact should be at the school level with coaches. It wasn’t his role to interfere, but he said he encouraged communication because if athletics indeed is an extension of the classroom, then parents deserve an explanation – even if it doesn’t come with full satisfaction.

“Some are easy fixes,” he said. “It’s using good common sense and talking to people. This job can be solving someone’s problems. In the grand scheme, they’re not huge problems, but for the particular family or individual, it is.”

That’s why Robinson said when a coach is able to reach out and explain the situation, all parties tend to leave with a clearer and calmer picture.

He said he’ll miss the regular contact with athletics directors and coaches at the school level.

“The great thing about this job is the ADs that we have are great,” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of things that happen on their campuses that never made it this far.”

He said ADs at schools put in lots of hours.

“The one thing that I do worry about is that they’re so invested that they don’t take care of themselves,” Robinson said.


Staying straight with NCHSAA

Robinson had been the main contact with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA). Among the goals is to stay compliant with the governing organization.

There are rules regarding academics and eligibility and sometimes “we deal with a lot of gray area,” Robinson said, “that we need to make sure we’re on top of.”

There’s also the matter of keeping up with ABSS policies as how they relate to athletics. The recent rezoning of districts added another layer to that.

The biggest disappointment for Robinson, he said, was the complex situation that developed involving former Eastern Alamance athlete Kinsley Jonathan. His eligibility came into question in what became a federal investigation involving alleged human trafficking, and the Eagles ended up vacating football and basketball victories.

Robinson said for Jonathan it ultimately worked out well as he played collegiately at Syracuse and remains in the NFL as a defensive end with the Buffalo Bills.

“You need to know the high school athletic association handbook frontward and backward,” Robinson said. “As you go through things, you know what not to do. We’ve done a better job of communication, diving deep into the rule book. I really feel good about our athletics directors really understanding the rule book and applying it. …We can call (NCHSAA headquarters in) Chapel Hill if we have to.”


Important impacts

Robinson said athletics has meant so much to his career that he sees the value for the students participating in ABSS schools.

“I know what sports has meant to me,” he said. “It is a privilege (to play sports). There are certain standards you have to adhere to.”

He said he has encouraged athletics directors and coaches to regularly advise their athletes about course requirements in order to maintain eligibility.

Robinson said when he was in high school had coaches that held their athletes accountable. He said Ron Davis at Turrentine and Sam Story and Tommy Cole at Williams were among those who he gained a greater appreciation for as he became an adult.

“Now you can see what they were trying to do,” Robinson said. “The 16-year-old me didn’t want to hear that. It was like, ‘Gee Coach, you were on me all the time.’ ”

Robinson said his admiration for many of his former athletes is something he values. It’s OK to tell players that he loves them.

“I say that to guys I coached and I really mean that,” he said. “They allowed me the opportunities to do something special. It’s bigger than winning games at Cummings. I believe we turned out some good ones.”


Next to come

Todd Davis, who has been athletics director at Williams, has been named Robinson’s replacement and he’ll take the role once a new AD is in place at Williams. The position reports to Revonda Johnson, the chief academic officer for ABSS.

“I just pray that the next person who gets this job gets to build relationships,” Robinson said.