By Jean DePlacido
---- — There will never be another athlete like former Beverly High great Robbie Robinson.
That can be said with virtual certainly, since Robinson holds a record that will never be broken since the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association changed the rules stating that high school athletes can only play one sport per season. Back in the 1940s, however, that wasn’t the case, and Robinson did it all, setting a Beverly High record for most varsity letters in his three years there. In the 1945-46 school year alone, he earned five varsity letters in football, golf, basketball, track and baseball.
Robinson, who lived in Ipswich, passed away on Christmas Day after a sudden illness. He was a member of the first class inducted into the Beverly High School Sports Hall of Fame back in 2003.
Two people who knew Robinson well were in that same Hall of Fame Class: ex-BHS football star Sandy Kessaris (Class of 1949) and former football player and highly successful coach, Bill Hamor (Class of 1959).
“Robbie played a few years before me and was one of the greatest athletes Beverly ever had,” said Kessaris, a halfback on the undefeated 1948 Beverly football team who went on to play at Brown University. “He did it all. It’s so hard to believe he played five sports in his senior year.
“He was my idol; besides being a terrific athlete, he was a real nice man. Whenever I’d run into him, he’s ask what I wanted to do and then open up the trunk of his car. He always had a football in there, and he’d throw passes to me. Football was everything to him.
"I always told him he was the best of the best. I can’t believe he’s gone; he called me recently just to say hi.”
Kessaris said that back in the '40s, athletes didn’t usually go to college, but rather had to get a job to help their families. Beverly football coach Charlie Walsh was instrumental in establishing a scholarship for student-athletes; Robinson was the second recipient, and later Kessaris was selected.
“Back then, very few of us went to college, so that scholarship was very important,” said Kessaris, who now lives in Wenham.
“Robbie was a great punter in college. I remember after our undefeated '48 season we took a train to Florida to see a bowl game. We got on a bus, and it stopped where Robinson was playing with (the University of) Missouri, because Walsh wanted him to meet the team. That was an honor for all of us, even though we were going to a different bowl game.
"I remember Robbie showing me a picture of his Missouri team, and Harry Truman was in the picture. I think he was a senator from Missouri at that time.”
Friends always knew where they could find Robinson at Hurd Stadium: down in the end zone by the refreshment stand. He loved to follow Beverly High and seldom missed a football game.
“Bobby will be missed as an individual, as well as one of the greatest ever to come out of Beverly,” said former Beverly High athletic director LeRoy "Red" Hutt. “As a little kid, I caught some of his passes at Hurd Stadium when he wanted to practice. He came from a wonderful family and was not only a great quarterback but a real leader.”
Robinson was named to the All-North Shore Football Team in 1944 when he was only 15 years old. He received the Beverly Sports Club Scholarship after wrapping up his high school career by completing 10 of 21 passes for 143 yards in his school's Thanksgiving Day game against Salem.
Moving on to Tilton Prep, Robinson then played football at the University of Missouri for two years before transferring to Georgia Tech, receiving full academic and athletic scholarships. There, he played in the Gator Bowl as a sophomore and in the Orange Bowl in 1952 for the undefeated Yellow Jackets.
Robinson also served in the U.S. Air Force as a first lieutenant and later worked for Bostik, as well as running the family business, Robinson’s Homemade Ice Cream in Ipswich. He had most recently been the golf pro at the Candlewood Golf Course in Ipswich for many years.
One of Robinson’s claims to fame was he could do something with a football that amazed people: throwing a football behind his back 45-50 yards. It was a feat he performed on television and also did it at Madison Square Garden.
“I saw him do it 10-12 times,” said Hutt, who knew Robinson for 70 years. “Nobody else could do it.”
“I’d say 50 yards or more, and the throws would be pretty accurate,” Hamor added.
“There’s no question he was one of the greatest athletes to come out of Beverly High (who) went on to have an outstanding college career at the highest level. He used to come over to train at Hurd Stadium and Cooney Field when I was a 7- or 8-year-old kid, and I definitely admired him. I’d catch some of his passes, and he paid attention to me.
“This news is a shock. I saw him at the football games this fall; he was always there on Saturdays and supported Beverly High football through the years when Charlie, Roy (Norden) and I coached. We’ll miss seeing him around the stadium ... but I’m glad we had him for as long as we did.”