WEST ALEXANDRIA — After 32 seasons of coaching, Darcy Robinson will walk away from the Twin Valley South Softball program. She will be leaving a program she started in 1983 and has been the only coach for in its history.
Along the way, Robinson’s teams tied a state record, won a district title, and saw three perfect games.
Her softball teams may have never won a conference title, despite coming close multiple times, but Robinson will retire achieving a far less superficial version of success. This type of success is not found in records and achievements on paper, but over a life time of being a role model. In her 32 years at the school she has been a part of thousands of teenage lives. Teenagers who walked through her doors where she was both an educator and coach, whom she impacted in a way that wins and losses, or conference or district titles, could never accomplish.
“As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized there is a lot more to it than wins and losses, yeah I’m competitive as the next person and I hate to lose, but I like to think you start seeing the bigger picture. Are we developing good athletes? Good people? Are kids learning life lessons from wins and losses?” Robinson said of her time as coach.
She continued by saying coaching and teaching went hand in hand: “Honestly to me I look at sports and coaching as an extension of the classroom. For me I just looked at it as opportunity to teach kids. In basketball especially I enjoyed practices more than games. You were there working with kids, teaching them the game, helping them understand the game and its concepts. I guess that’s the part of coaching I loved most, teaching; that and getting to know the girls in a deeper way beyond the classroom setting and becoming part of their lives.”
Not only did she coach softball for 32 years, she was also the health and wellness teacher at the high school. But her involvement doesn’t stop there. She spent 21 years as a varsity basketball coach, and four more coaching on lower levels. And don’t forget about the three seasons she spent as volleyball coach, even if she might.
For Robinson her success can be defined by a scrapbook currently siting on a coffee table at her house, one that was given to her by Ali Robertson, a senior on this year’s team. Robertson went through 32 years of yearbooks to gather a picture of every single softball team in Twin Valley South history.
“Thirty-two years is a long time to do something and she affected so many girls during that time, so I thought she deserved something to show her how much she was appreciated,” Robertson said of making the book. “She teaches her players more than how to be better softball players. She teaches us to become better people. I am who I am partly because of her and I’ve learned things from her that I will keep with me my entire life.” This is something Robertson said she is not alone in, as evidenced by the number of responses she received when making the book for the long-time coach.
There were only two constants for those teams in all the yearbook photos, Robinson and the words “Twin Valley South.”
Robinson said she believes the thing she will miss most from her 32 years isn’t winning a game, but having day-to-day interactions with her students and players and seeing them grow.
“Especially those who weren’t the best athletes, to take them from not being very good and seeing them grow not only with their skill level but having more confidence in themselves and being competitive — seeing them mature like that over the course of four years was pretty rewarding,” she said.
The early days of the program were rough; Robinson said most of the girls on her first team had never seen fast pitch before.
“They had never seen fast pitch at all. I remember the first kids who wanted to pitch, we had to show them how to hold the ball to pitch, we had to show them everything.”
However, Robinson said, the team began seeing better athletes and they became a competitive team.
“We started getting pretty competitive within three or four years. It helped because we had good athletes and people who were coachable. What you find out with fast pitch softball is that if you have someone who can pitch, you can be competitive and we had a few good pitchers come along early that helped a lot,” she said.
Robinson was close to multiple titles but the team fell one game shy of grabbing the elusive league title several times, including 2012 as the most recent example.
For Robinson, however, those near misses don’t matter now, something she believes changed partly with age and the passing of her mother 11 years ago.
“As much as I feel I had an effect on athletes’ lives, so many of them touched my life. Whether it is goings the extra step for me or seeing them grow and change and I guess knowing I had a small part in that is pretty satisfying. It is rewarding to think hopefully down the road we’ve got athletes who have become good citizens, good moms, good wives, in a family setting, if I had anything to do with that, to make them more responsible, more passionate about what they do, that’s what I feel good about,” she said. “And that really has nothing to do with the game, it has nothing to do with wins and losses, I guess if I had 20 banners in the gym or 20 trophies in the trophy case maybe that would have been the thing I walked away with, but I don’t think so. It would still be the people I’ve been able to influence and also the fact they have influenced me too. Many of them have made me a better person.”
Robinson, who grew up in Defiance, “kind of stumbled” into Twin Valley South.
While attending Defiance College she only knew one thing, she wanted to coach.
“I don’t remember making a decision to become a teacher,” she said. “They kind of put in the physical education program when I went into college because I wanted to coach, I knew that part, so when they put me in there I was like ‘Okay I can do that.’ I knew a long time ago I wanted to be a coach because I played and I had good coaches. I wanted to be one as well.”
Robinson took a position at Twin Valley South after a stroke of luck when Bruce Jones, a man she interviewed with for a different school district, called and offered her a job as a health teacher and volleyball coach at newly formed Twin Valley South. (Robinson’s first year with the school was the first year after Tri-County North and Twin Valley South split). She started the softball team the same year and has been there ever since.
She has now lived in West Alexandria longer than anywhere else in her life, even Defiance, where she grew up and was a star athlete at Defiance High School. She then went on to play both basketball and fast pitch softball at Defiance College.
Robinson is now a member of both her high school and college halls of fame. While at college she became the first woman in school history to record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career, according to the school’s website. She also threw the first pitch in Defiance College fast pitch softball history and was the school’s female athlete of the year in 1983.
Robinson saw the evolution of sports, especially female sports, over the course of her career. Her freshman year, her basketball season was a once a week, intramural session that only lasted an hour because scholastic women’s basketball was not offered. Her sophomore year was the first year the state of Ohio offered interscholastic women’s sports.
Robinson spoke of the earlier days of interscholastic female sports: “I was fortunate to be on the very edge of being able to play in scholastic sports. What’s interesting about it now is my experience outside of school was none, there was no travel ball there were no other teams to play on, it was just pick-up games in the neighborhood to get yourself ready.”
Staying in the same small town for so long allowed Robinson to have a chance to coach parents early in her career and their children later in her career. In fact Kelsey Shafer’s (a freshman on this year’s team) mother Susie, was a member of the first team Robinson coached. Coaching multiple generations will always be special to Robinson.
“One of the best things about coaching in the same place for a long time is getting to coach the children of former players and teach them as well,” she said. “The kids in junior high this year were the first where if their parents went to South I taught them. There were always a few but now it was like everyone. To have the opportunity to coach children of former athletes has been really cool.”
Robinson did win a conference title as the girl’s varsity basketball coach in the 1989-90 season when the Panthers were co-champions with Arcanum.She was also the conference coach of the year for 89-90 the season.
The three perfect games were thrown by Emily Froment, two in the same season. She was the star pitcher during the district final run when they lost to Parkway 1-0 in the regional semis.
Robinson holds a state record both as a player and a coach. On May, 5, 1978 Defiance High School scored 57 runs to set a state record for runs scored in a single game. On April, 16, 2002 Twin Valley South scored 57 runs to tie the state record set by Robinson’s Defiance High School team.
Her retirement doesn’t mean she still won’t be seen at games, but for Robinson, perhaps the hardest thing about walking away will be attending the games as only a spectator — after all she is breaking a 32-year habit.
If you happen to run into Robinson at a game next year don’t ask her how many conference or sectional titles she owns, ask her how many teenage lives she has impacted. Even if she doesn’t know the exact number, it certainly adds up to being more valuable than any number of conference titles could ever add up to.