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Will Robinson

The Road To Detroit

After earning his college degree in 1937, Robinson took a coaching job at the Central Avenue Recreation Center in Pittsburgh. He coached basketball in the YMCA league, taking his team to the national championship. He also arranged practices for the New York Rens, a hall-of-fame, all-black professional basketball team that barnstormed around the country (no professional league would accept an all-black team). Through the Rens, Robinson met many of the black stars of the day, including Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson, and honed many of his coaching skills. Robinson moved to Chicago and worked at a YMCA before beginning his high school coaching career in 1943 at Chicago's DuSable High School, where he coached basketball and swimming.

In 1944 Robinson, at the age of 33, began a 26-year stint in Detroit as a high school coach. Robinson arrived in Detroit a year after violent race riots that had resulted in the death of 25 blacks and nine whites, and racial tensions were still high. Robinson had been encouraged to go to Detroit by the Chicago school superintendent who believed that Robinson had demonstrated the ability to work with both blacks and whites. The second black in the school's athletic department, Robinson coached basketball and football at Miller High School for the next 13 years, winning six championships despite having neither a gym nor a home football field.

After a stint at Cass Tech, in the early 1960s Robinson began coaching at Pershing High School, where his teams won the state basketball championship in 1967 and 1970. Five players from the 1967 team, including Spencer Haywood and Ralph Simpson, went on to play professional sports. Robinson became a coaching legend, winning 85 percent of his games during his time as a coach in the Detroit school system. He also worked on the side as a scout for the Detroit Lions, becoming the first black professional sports scout. Most of the schools were still segregated, and Robinson's job was to cover all the black colleges in the South, where he discovered future hall-of-fame cornerback Lem Barney at Jackson State in 1967. Yet, because he was black, many opportunities passed him by. In 1969 he was promised the University of Detroit coaching job, but the school pulled out at the last minute, much to Robinson's disappointment.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyWill Robinson Biography - Struggles Of A Black Athlete, The Road To Detroit, First Black To Coach Division I