The longtime coach of West Hartford’s Hall High School football team passed away at age 91 on Monday.
By Ronni Newton
Frank Robinson II, the father of current Hall football coach Frank Robinson III and one of the patriarchs of West Hartford’s football dynasty, died Monday at his his home in the Bonnet Shores area of Rhode Island at age 91.
Robinson is being remembered fondly in West Hartford as a man of great intelligence, and one who inspired countless young athletes and others whose lives he touched. One of the gyms at Hall was named after him in 2004.
Robinson’s 30-year career coaching football at Hall began in 1957, when he took over for a man who became the other football patriarch in West Hartford – Robert McKee – when McKee took over the football program at the then-brand-new Conard High School. Recently-retired Conard coach Rob Cersosimo played for Robinson in the late 1960s, and his own son, Frank Robinson III (nicknamed “Robbie”) played for him as well. Robinson retired in 1987 and moved to Rhode Island. Robbie became head coach at Hall in 1999.
“Coach Robinson was my greatest mentor and greatest supporter. He taught me so much as a young man and inspired my dream of becoming a coach,” said Rob Cersosimo.
Cersosimo said he last saw Robinson during the 2014 football season. “It’s a great loss to our town. He was one of the founding fathers of football in this town,” Cersosimo said. “It’s part of life, but it’s a tough part of life,” he said of Robinson’s passing.
“He was an awesome influence on my life, and words cannot even express how much I love him,” said Cersosimo.
Hall assistant football coach Steve Blanchfield paid tribute to Robinson Monday night before the Hall vs. Conard basketball game began. Blanchfield recalled the day when his sister, who was just out of college, first began teaching at Hall and had her own classroom of kids with learning disabilities. Blanchfield said that Robinson knocked on her door on the first day of school and assured her that everything was going to be okay. At lunchtime, when Blanchfield’s sister brought her students to the cafeteria and there was nowhere to sit, Robinson made the football team vacate their tables.
“In the religion I’m in we have names for people like Frank Robinson. They’re called saints,” Blanchfield said during his tribute before calling for a moment of silence.
“[Frank Robinson] was great. He knew a lot of stuff about other things, not just football,” said Rob Claflin, a West Hartford resident who played football for Robinson in the 1970s. Claflin went to elementary school at Whitman, which was located in what is now the West Hartford Police station. His brothers attended Hall when it was located in the building that is now Town Hall, and Claflin would hang around football practice and got to know Robinson long before he even went to high school.
Claflin eventually became a quarterback for Robinson at the “new” Hall High School, but said Robinson’s knowledge of sports was so great he even helped him with his basketball shot.
Claflin’s in-laws lived near Robinson in Rhode Island, and he would often see him at the beach. “One time we all dug a big hole on the beach and we were lining it with rocks, and he was there teaching us how to put seaweed in and have a real New England clambake. It was amazing the things he knew,” Claflin said.
“He wasn’t a yeller and screamer. He had a sense of humor and would get his point across, maybe with a little dig,” Claflin recalled.
Sports producer Matt Vinick interviewed Robinson in the process of making his documentary, “All in the Family,” about the unique Hall and Conard football family dynasty and rivalry. In comparing the coaching styles of the Robinsons and Cersosimos, Vinnick said, “Frank Robinson is the dean. Everyone says he’s the coaching genius of the group, that no one knows more. He changed football in the state of Connecticut by being one of the first to run the triple option offense. He brought two-platoon football to Hall.”
As people heard of Robinson’s passing, many took to social media to remember him. “Great coach, and an even better human being. I ran into him 25 years after I graduated, and he still remembered my name, number, and position on the team. He was an inspiration to so many young people, and even was in a big Hollywood movie from the 80s that they filmed at Hall. He did it all? The world is a much better place having had Frank Robinson in it. He will be missed,” wrote one former Hall football player in response to a post in a Facebook group.
Hall Principal Dan Zittoun said that there are no plans yet but it’s likely that the Hall community will do something in honor of the former coach. “I only had one brief opportunity to meet Mr. Robinson, but from everything I’ve seen he was obviously an incredible man who had significant impact on West Hartford Public Schools,” Zittoun said.
According to the Hartford Courant, a wake will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Nardolillo’s Funeral Home, 1111 Boston Neck Road in Narragansett, R.I. A “Celebration of Life” ceremony will take place at Hall High School in West Hartford on March 21, at 3 p.m.
If you have any memories of Frank Robinson that you would like to share, please add them in the comments below. If you have photos you would like to share, please email them to [email protected].
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