When he thinks about Tom Robinson, the former associate commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association who died …
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When he thinks about Tom Robinson, the former associate commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association who died April 4, Bert Borgmann said a lot of things come to mind.
“But at the forefront is fairness and mentor,” said Borgmann, who retired as an assistant commissioner with CHSAA at the end of the 2021 school year. “He was one of the fairest men I have ever met. He had a kindness and demeanor that made him special to all who knew him.”
Robinson announced plans to retire at the end of the school year. A statement from CHSAANow.com said Robinson had several diagnoses.
Reaction to the news pf the death of Robinson’s passing was quick and followed the same thought as Skyview High School girls basketball coach Chris Kemm.
“Deeply saddened by this news,” Kemm tweeted. “Tom was a voice of reason, and absolute champion of student-athletes. Never turned away a call or back down from a good debate.”
“I most appreciated Tom's calm demeanor and ability to take difficult situations and work them in thoughtful ways to get the situation resolved,” said Northglenn athletic director Nick Kosovich. “He always had a positive outlook and always went out of this way to say hello and acknowledge you.”
"A man of integrity," said Riverdale Ridge coach and former basketball official Ray Garza. "The man was as fair and as consistent in everyone he dealt with. He saw both sides. He saw the positive. He saw the negative. But he tried to keep everything positive, no matter the situation.
"He reminds me of my grandpa, when I was an immature kid," Garza continued. "He said, 'I pick the crop I harvest.' That was Tom Robinson in a nutshell. He turned something negative into a positive. He could dress you down and still bring you back up."
Horizon athletic director Marty Tonjes called Robinson "a great man."
"When seeing him at different events, very rarely were our discussions about anything related to CHSAA," Tonjes said. "He's one of the most kind, compassionate people that I've met and will surely be missed."
“Beyond the impact Tom has made in this association, our state and nationally over the course of his 30-plus year career as a coach, teacher, administrator, white hat referee, Hall of Famer, Big 12 replay expert, husband, father and grandfather, we are all better people for having had Tom in our lives,” CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said in a statement.
Frederick High School athletic director Ty Gordon knew Robinson as a basketball official and as an athletic director.
'Tom was one of the most kind, caring and kind-hearted people I have had the pleasure to meet and work with,' Gordon said. "He was an amazing leader and advocate for high school sports across the state of Colorado."
Helping someone in need
Former Commissioner Bob Ottewill hired Robinson, who was the first African-American administrator in the association's history. During his time at CHSAA, Robinson was in charge of the officials and was the first administrator to assign a female official to work a boys basketball final four contest, according to CHSAANow.com. He also was in charge of CHSAA's sportsmanship program plus boys and girls golf.
Eagle Ridge Academy athletic director Zach Henning said Robinson was willing to help when someone was in need.
"When I first started as an athletic director, Tom was always present in our league meetings and would present himself with a smile and kind attitude," Henning said. "His knowledge of sports and CHSAA bylaws was second to nine. He was someone I could always lean on to give me a straight and honest answer and trust that he had CHSAA's and my school's best interests at heart."
Garza, who was a coach at the time, recalled his first encounter with Robinson.
"Let's say coach Garza came in with the youth mentality of yelling at umpires and raising my voice and throwing immature tantrums," Garza said. "That's not the way CHSAA wanted to be represented. Tom reminded me quickly that's not how we're going to act. Since then, I've always remembered that conversation."
The CHSAANow statement said Robinson "was an institution and a role model at the association and was widely respected throughout the entire membership for his exceptional passion and integrity."
“Tom was an inspiration in so many ways,” CHSAA assistant commissioner Bethany Brookens said in the statement. “He taught me how to play golf, he and Cleo taught us all how to have a wonderful and successful marriage, he taught me the officials' mechanics for basketball and he gave me loyal friendship and a respect for all people. An incredible, ethical, good man and mentor; I miss Tom greatly already.”
Robinson graduated from Regis Jesuit High School before attending Colorado State University, where he competed in football, basketball and track and field. He began officiating in 1969, the same year he started his teaching career at Regis. He taught math and coached several sports for 31 years before joining CHSAA in 2001.
Robinson also served time as the president of the National Association of Sports Officials and was the replay coordinator of the Big-12 Conference.
"He was an advocate for officials around the state of Colorado and always pushed athletic directors to remember the third party of any game, the officials," Henning said. "He also helped usher in further advances in sportsmanship throughout all athletics and activities in the state."
“Even from the outside looking in, Tom was definitely a person to aspire to be,” said Rashaan Davis, CHSAA’s first-ever assistant commissioner overseeing activities., in the statement “He always seemed cool, calm and collected, which is something I know I needed. So, to be a staff member now and understand that Tom laid the foundation for me being a black male working at CHSAA and to be an educator coming into this role, to be patient and recognizing all voices at this level is very powerful. I don’t think anybody did it better.
"It feels like standing on the shoulders of a giant and hopefully the work we all do will continue his legacy.”
Garza called him a tremendous mentor.
"To see the things he represented to Colorado and the nation was unbelievable," Garza said. "Even in the midst of chaos or devastation with a situation that might have occurred, he handled it quite well. He was very calm and collected and everything he did. And he was positive."
Survivors include his wife, Cleo Parker-Robinson, founder and director of Cleo Parker-Robinson Dance, and his son, Malik Robinson, executive director of Cleo Parker-Robinson Dance.
"Tom was a true icon at the CHSAA office and will be deeply missed," Gordon said.
"CHSAA and all the Colorado high schools are better to have known Tom Robinson," Henning said. "Our community lost a pioneer, a statesman and an amazing administrator."
“Throughout his life, whether as an official, teacher, CHSAA colleague, he mentored so many people making them better people,” Borgmann said. “I will miss him greatly.”
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