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For his exploits as a player and coach in the sport of basketball, retired Wilson sports figure Bill Robinette merits acclaim as a sports legend in his native state of West Virginia.
The 74-year-old Robinette, a former head men’s basketball coach at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College and the head coach of numerous sports at Fike High, traveled to Beckley, West Virginia, last Saturday to be inducted into the West Virginia Family/Friend Honors Walk at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center before an overflow turnout in excess of 1,000.
Robinette was among 87 personalities enshrined in the sixth induction ceremony (the first was in 2009). The latest class included former Wake Forest University basketball great Mark Cline and acclaimed Marshall University baseball coach Jack Cook.
The inaugural class listed former University of West Virginia basketball great and NBA executive Rod Thorn, former Duke University basketball great Howard Hurt, former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Lonnie Warwick, Lewis D’Antoni, the first inductee and former head coach at Marshall and assistant NBA coach who died at age 103; record-setting Marshall baseball coach Tex Williams, former West Virginia and NBA basketball sensation Jerry West; heralded West Virginia and NBA basketball player Rod Hundley, Willie Akers, West’s teammate at West Virginia and professional player with ABA Cleveland Pipers; Fred Wyant, former West Virginia and NFL Pro Bowl quarterback and NFL official for 27 years; Johnny Frye, Duke starting guard from 1957-61; and famed high school basketball coach Paul Greer.
West Virginians, said Robinette, regard Thorn as the greatest high school basketball player ever and he is remembered for drafting Michael Jordan in 1984 during his tenure as general manager of the Chicago Bulls. Thorn, who went on to various executive roles with several NBA teams and the league itself, was the featured speaker for the occasion.
A GOOD PLAYER
Tongue in cheek, Robinette assured he won’t forget a ceremony that lingered nearly five hours, but assured: “I really, really appreciated it. I was a little bit surprised. I knew I had been a good player but not a great player.”
Robinette was informed of his selection by Legends chairman Williams.
“Seeing people like you just brings back fond memories for genuine great people who crossed my life while growing up in West Virginia,” Williams wrote. “You have always been one of the people who was always so consistent with your first-class demeanor for the mutual respect for others.”
Gene Miller, a mutual friend, commented: “Bill Robinette and his family was the nicest and highest respected family ever in our area.”
Robinette’s West Virginia fame is linked to Mullens High School, Morris Harvey College (now University of Charleston) and Marshall.
At Mullens, Robinette averaged 17-18 points per game as the second guard and was proclaimed Double A All-State in 1962.
AT MORRIS HARVEY
At Morris Harvey, an NAIA school, Robinette started for the basketball team his freshman year. His sophomore year brought a new coach and he was relegated to the role of sixth man. The 6-foot-1 center responded by becoming the first non-starter to claim the George King Award as the most valuable player.
Two of Robinette’s Morris Harvey teams traveled to Kansas City for the NAIA national tournament and, as an assistant coach, another team made the trip.
Robinette explained his time at Morris Harvey provided his career high and low. Tops was starring for a team that reached the national semifinals and the low was losing in the semifinals to the eventual national champion.
Logan Junior High, described by Robinette as a great sports town, marked the debut of his coaching career --- where he was involved in football, basketball and track. The possessor of a major in physical education and a minor in biology, Robinette returned to Morris Harvey, where he spent three years as an assistant basketball coach. The came a six-year stint as a basketball assistant coach at Marshall.
Robinette, who married his wife, Sue, in 1968, heard of the Atlantic Christian job while at Marshall.
“You hear all kinds of things when you’re in coaching,” Robinette quipped.
As the successor to Ben Pomeroy, he functioned as the Bulldogs head coach from 1977-84. Robinette was proclaimed conference coach of the year in 1981-82 and directed AC to a winning record in 1982-83.
“The (Carolinas Conference) was a pretty tough league,” Robinette noted, “and it was probably even better a decade earlier.”
ON TO FIKE
He left AC and headed to Fike High, where he coached from 1984-1995. There, he was the first girls soccer and volleyball coach.
“I was scared to death,” Robinette admitted. “I didn’t know how I would do.”
He was later “drafted” into the position of head boys and girls tennis coach by Principal Tom Stott, now deceased.
“It seemed every time a coach would leave, they would find me,” Robinette said.
Robinette was also the Fike head junior varsity football coach and had stops at Elm City Middle, Goldsboro Middle, Goldsboro High, Springfield Middle and Northern Nash High. He retired but became available to help coach and scout for current Fike head boys basketball coach Brent Secrest.
Robinette joked that he was probably the worst baseball coach ever at the middle school level but, at Goldsboro High, he was an assistant coach for Charlie Stevens’ team that seized the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship.
HIS BOOK DISPLAYED
The West Virginia Legends program is connected with Artie Museum, the state’s sports museum. A campaign has been launched to build a new museum.
Robinette enters the hall not only as a basketball player and coach but as an author. His book about deceased legendary coach Harvey Reid, who compiled more than 800 wins while coaching in Wilson County for Frederick Douglass, Elm City and Fike, will be displayed in the museum.
The recognition comes at a grief-marred time in Robinette’s life. He lost his wife in 2015 and his daughter, Lisa, last November. Both succumbed to cancer.
“My career as a player was very rewarding,” Robinette reviewed. “I played on such good teams.
“I liked the different parts (of his career). In some parts of it, I would have liked to have been the head coach. But I stayed and coached whatever they wanted me to coach.”