Harold Jr. aka Coach

Published 11:13 am Thursday, August 25, 2022

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Editor’s note: Harold’s good friend, Val Johnson, wrote his column this week.

Saturday night Harold Robinson Jr was inducted into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2022. His accomplishments are too many for this column but Steve Barnes summarized them in an article on Harold Jr in the Jan/Feb 2022 Washington the Magazine. Harold’s football teams at Williamston High School were 239-89 with two state 1-A championships. The NCHSAA Hall of Fame is the highest achievement a coach in North Carolina can achieve. Harold joins legendary Washington coaches Choppy Wagner and Dave Smith in this elite HOF.

Harold Jr would be too modest to write about his career so I asked his wife, Tracey, if I might write this column as a tribute to a close friend and one heck of a coach. Franny and I were fortunate to be at Harold’s induction in Cary NC. Also in attendance were family, coaches, former players, friends from Williamston and Washington too many to list, but what a tribute to Coach Robinson.

I recently spoke with T.J. Long about his experience working for Harold Jr. Harold gave TJ his first paying coaching job in the late 1990s.  T.J. worked under Harold until 2001 when he became head basketball coach at newly formed South Central High School. T.J. is sure that Harold’s recommendation gave him the edge.  Although Harold Jr. lost an assistant, he was proud and happy when his coaches advanced their careers.  T.J. said Harold Jr was the consummate coach.  He cared so much about every coach and player under his command and he followed their careers after football.  His door was always open.  To many, Harold was a father figure. Yes, Harold Jr was not only an athletic coach but a life coach.

Butch Davis, a Williamston native, gave Harold Jr the credit for helping him to a 40-year baseball career in a 2021 article in the Enterprise. Coach Dink Mills hired Harold as his defensive football coordinator in 1975 and as his assistant baseball coach. Butch said he was a so-so baseball player and was seeing limited time on the varsity as a junior. As Butch recalled it was a game in Roanoke Rapids that changed everything. Harold Jr had a gut feeling about Butch and asked Coach Mills to start him in that game. The rest is history according to Butch. He never came out of the lineup and he helped his team win back to back state 1-A championships. Butch never forgot Coach Robinson.  Butch was a successful major league player and coach for 40 years.

As luck would have it one of Harold Jr’s childhood hoodlum friends from 10th Street, Washington, married a girl from Williamston, moved there, became the sheriff of Martin County, and with his wife had two stellar athletes for children. Amy and Keith Roaches’ sons, Kevin and Brad both played under Coach Harold winning state 1-A football championships, one in 1995 and the other in 1999. Kevin played college ball at ECU and Brad played at Catawba and was drafted professionally by the Baltimore Ravens.

Harold’s successful career at Williamston had some what ifs.  After graduating from ECU Harold applied for a job at Washington HS. The school board thought a childhood disease, epilepsy, was too much to take a chance with Harold.  Coach Mills at Williamston did though. And what a career Harold Jr. had. But it would have never happened if Coach Herman Boone, the coach at E.J. Hayes in Williamston for 10 years had been offered the head coaching job at the integrated Williamston High School. Coach Boone had nine state football championships to his credit when Williamston integrated. A young Dink Mills was selected as head coach and coach Boone as assistant head coach. Coach Boone declined the job, moved to Alexandria VA, took the head coaches job at the newly integrated HS and became a nationally known from the movie Remember the Titans. Suppose he had taken the job at Williamston. Coach Harold Jr would never have been hired.

Although Harold Jr and Tracey live on the river in Washington, he has kept his close ties with Williamston. Every week he carries retired Coach Mills out for breakfast. Just last week he told me he was going to Williamston to take the retired school secretary to lunch. He goes whenever a friend needs him.  Williamston is honoring him September 16th at a home football game, Harold Robinson Night. Coach Robinson truly deserves this honor. I am proud to have him as a friend.

Val Johnson