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home : sports : sports
February 16, 2020

2/10/2020 4:18:00 PM
Robinson athletics honoring past this month
Sports Editor

Two chances to honor and celebrate some of the best athletes and coaches to come through Robinson High School as well as their accomplishments will take place later this month.

On Feb. 14, RHS will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the RHS boys' basketball team's state championship victory from the 2009-10 season.

Members of the team, coaching staff, cheerleaders and adminstration will be recognized that night prior to the RHS varsity boys' basketball game against Red Hill. The junior varsity game tips off at 6:15 p.m. that night and introductions will begin immediately following that contest.

Meanwhile, the first set of inductees of the Robinson Hall of Fame will be held Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Five members have been chosen for the inaugural class following an extensive nomination and selection process.

"This is something I talked about doing when I started as AD," RHS Athletic Director Kelly Brookman said this past fall. "After we retired Meyers Leonard's jersey, it sparked the want to do something to recognize all the quality athletes and coaches we've had at RHS. I thought a Hall of Fame would be a great way to do it."

Prospective members to the RHS Hall of Fame can range from former athletes, coaches, teams and/or friends of/contributors to RHS and RHS athletics.

Three former RHS athletes and two former RHS coaches will be enshrined into this first class, which will look to add members every year.

To be considered for induction, athletes must have graduated at least 10 years prior to nomination and all members of teams should be graduated for at least 10 years. Coaches must have been employed by the school district for a minimum of five years, while any "friend or contributor" must have served in that role for at least five years.

All applications were reviewed by the selection committee, which included Brookman, former RHS Athletic Director Terry Roche, Booster Club Co-Presidents Charissa Smith and Nikki Kelly, School Board President Bill Sandiford and RHS Principal Victoria McDonald.

Each inductee will receive a plaque that includes a Hall of Fame letter which is similar to a varsity letter that athletes receive during their high school careers. A plaque will also be added to the wall outside of the RHS gym with all the Hall of Fame inductees' names on it.

This year's inductees are former RHS coaches Terry Roche and Deb Whipkey and former athletes Daniel Midgett, Don Smith and Tim Sparks.

Terry Roche

Roche is probably most well-known for his successful stint as football coach at RHS. In his 21 years at the helm of the Maroons (1985-2006), Roche's teams posted a record of 122-87, making the playoffs 10 times. Included in that were four Apollo Conference championships, three trips to the state quarterfinals and two berths in the final four, including a runner-up finish in the 1991 season.

However, that is not all Roche did at RHS, as he also served as golf coach for several years and was also an assistant basketball coach for both boys and girls for a few seasons.

In addition to coaching, Roche also served as athletic director at RHS for 29 years and was transportation director for 20..

He is also a member of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Illinois High School Athletic Directors Association.

A former rival coach was quoted as saying: "In all situations, coach Roche endeavored to do the right thing, even though this was often not the popular thing to do. He had the commitment, conviction and courage to do what he thought was in the best interest of Robinson High School. His integrity is unquestioned."

Meanwhile, a former player also spoke highly of Roche, saying: "Coach was a huge part of my life not only as a young athlete, but throughout my life. I have looked up to him from day one and I know he is still there for myself and my family today. He was more than a coach, although he was a Great one, he was a leader. We would have tried to run through walls for him. He built teams not just players. He made us better than we were and made us want to play for not only him but our teammates, our families and our community. We were good together, but he made us realize we could be great together. I - and I speak for most of all my old teammates as well when I say this - we will be there for coach for the rest of our lives and he and Mrs. Roche are incredible people. They loved us and we love them!"

Deb Whipkey

Whipkey was another jack-of-all-trades during her time at RHS (1977-2011), but had her most success as golf coach.

Although she also served as volleyball coach (77-80), softball coach (84-85) and girls' basketball coach (85-89), Whipkey spent the most time as golf coach, as she was at the helm of the program from 1985-2011.

During her time as golf coach, her RHS teams posted a dual match record of 299-153, while also claiming five regional championships and having two golfers qualify for the state tournament.

A former colleague of Whipkey's said: "Deb Whipkey led every group she coached with grace and dignity. She had respect for her players and they respected her as a coach and as a mentor."

One of her former players was quoted as saying: "Coach Whipkey is a pretty impactful person on my high school career. She provided a sense of family. She had the ability to connect with athletes and students on a level where she never had to raise her voice. She as able to get you to compete but stay focused. It was never about technical errors, it was more about how you were viewed from the outside. You just never wanted to disappoint her and there was a sense of love and guidance that extends beyond the golf course and high school sports."

Daniel Midgett

Major Daniel Midgett is being recognized not only for his achievements in high school athletics, but what he has accomplished after high school.

A member of the United States Army since 2008, he is a two-time Bronze Star Medal winner, a two-time Meritorious Service Medal winner and a three-time Army Commendation Medal winner, while also receiving the Army Achievement Medal, Valorous Unity Award, Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Medal and NATO Medal among many other commendations.

In addition, Midgett finished fourth in the All-Army Combative Tournament in 2009, then won the tournament in 2012.

A former coach of Midgett's was quoted as saying: "Daniel Midgett's hard work and dedication to his sports is outstanding. The energy he brought to practice on the field and on the mat everyday was unmatched. His devotion to the country is phenomenal."

Don Smith

Arguably one of, if not the greatest athlete to don a RHS uniform, Smith - who also served in the United States Navy from 1952-56 - is the only RHS athlete to earn All-State honors in two sports in the same year.

Smith was a First Team All-State football player during the 1950-51 school year, while also being named Third Team All-State in basketball.

During his junior year (1949-50), Smith led the state in scoring in football with 155 points, which included 24 touchdowns and 11 extra points while rushing for 1,117 yards in 118 attempts.

On the basketball court that season, Robinson finished with a 21-7 record.

Then in his senior year (1950-51), He was runner-up in state in scoring with 156 points on 21 touchdowns and 30 extra points, along with 984 yards rushing in 118 carries.

During the basketball season, RHS went 29-5 and the Maroons advanced to the Elite Eight in the old one-class system.

A former teammate said: "There is little doubt that Don Smith was probably one of the greatest athletes in RHS history, the only two-sport athlete to earn All-State honors in the same year."

Tim Sparks

Another two-sport athlete, Sparks holds the longest-standing record in RHS track history. During his senior season in 1965, Sparks set the school shot put record with a throw of 59-5.25, which still stands 54 years later.

A former teammate of Sparks - who also played football for four years - said: "I was at that track meet, I believe it was at Charleston Regionals and it was his third attempt. He was a great guy and gave me a lot of advice as I came up through school."

Meanwhile, another contemporary said: "He seemed 10 feet tall, but was truly a gentle giant."

All inductees will be recognized at halftime of the RHS varsity boys' basketball game against Marshall Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Immediately following the game there will be a reception in the gym on the third court for all the inductees, their families and anyone from the public who would like to attend.

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