There’s something you should know about Robin Cooke. Those tough-love coaches? She isn’t one of them.
“You have to be nice to each other,” Cooke told her girls at a Croton-Harmon High volleyball practice one day last month. “I just took every single one of you from the game yesterday and told you what you did good. If you needed some help, I told you that. But didn’t I tell you nice things? You need to be as nice as me.”
“Because somebody was being nasty and I don’t like that,” Cooke said, flashing back to the moment. “I like nice. For me, it was always about being nice to people and getting more out of telling them what they did good.”
Cooke will be dining out Wednesday, attending a banquet and ceremony at Lake Isle Country Club in Eastchester that will salute a coaching career at her alma mater that is notable for 500-plus wins dating to 1974 and the power of positivity.
She will be one of four inducted into the Westchester Sports Hall of Fame. Her plaque will hang with the 227 others inside the County Center. Her speech will surely give thanks to the two JV coaches/assistants who spent much of this distance run by her side, Brenda Dunne and then Chris Rudner, and all those Tigers who have played for her.
“It’s a big honor and an even bigger surprise,” Cooke said. “… I try to keep a really low profile, very low. I usually go with just that it’s the kids and I was really, really lucky to be working at a school with such great girl athletes.”
Diane Swertfager calls the Montrose mom of four “a classy coach.” The 24th-year Hen Hud coach is the one who nominated Cooke, having known her since Swertfager played at Pleasantville.
“From all ages, she’s helped to progress the sport,” Swertfager said. “I think a lot of us are indebted to her because of the progress of where volleyball was and has come along. And she continues to coach. I admire her. I’m lucky to have her as a friend.”
Cooke, who also used to run a club team, is in her 39th season at Croton. She’s the owner of a 581-137 bottom line, with 19 league titles, 13 sectional crowns, three regional titles and two state championships, in 1998 and 1999, in Class C.
“She was able to recognize our individual strengths and make us work together,” said Katie Skipper, known as Katie Martucci when she starred on those teams that ruled the state.
“We did a lot of team stuff. We had to do team dinners. On the weekends, we had a curfew. We had sleepovers. One year we had to do Halloween together because she didn’t want us out and about on the street.”
This latest season didn’t get off to a smooth start for Cooke. She missed the first match last month after being taken by ambulance from her doctor’s office to Hudson Valley Hospital Center in Cortlandt Manor.
“They thought I had a heart attack,” Cooke said following a two-day stay.
“Somebody said to me, “It’s terrible.’ I said, ‘Terrible? I lived.’ My doctor called the ambulance and I am OK.”
Tests eventually showed just an irregular heartbeat.
“I feel very lucky,” Cooke said.
Cooke grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, attending Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School where she’s now a physical education teacher. She played field hockey and volleyball, ran track and was a cheerleader in high school, then ran track at Loras College in Iowa.
She took over Croton volleyball at the age of 21. The program had been more informal. Cooke said there were “play days” in the winter against other teams. So varsity play for the Tigers began the same time she did in ’74.
“I knew volleyball, but I didn’t know how to coach,” Cooke said. “We were 6-3 and that was pretty good for not really knowing what I was doing. And then the next year, we did a lot better. And the following year, we won the league. It just grew from there.”