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Robinson Tennis Stadium Pays Tribute to Coach - Friday, February 20, 2015

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Family Makes Its Mark on LSU Sports, Robinson Tennis Stadium Pays Tribute to Coach - Tuesday, February 03, 2015

By Bud Johnson

Daphne Robinson contributed to this story

LSU tennis has come a long way, baby! In the late 1950s, the Robinson family was LSU tennis. W.T. "Dub” Robinson (1936 BACH HS&E, 1943 MAST HS&E), center in photo above, was the coach. His sons, Tom (1959 BACH H&SS, 1963 MD, right, and Johnny (1961 BACH H&SS), left, usually won their singles match and teamed up to win in doubles. Tom was the No. 2 singles champion in the Southeastern Conference in 1958 and undefeated in the SEC that year. Johnny won the SEC’s No. 5 singles in 1958. The Robinson brothers were the SEC’s No. 2 doubles champion in 1959. But their success on the court was somewhat diminished by their surroundings.

In that day, LSU’s tennis home was an asphalt surface near University High. The team dressing room was a 1930s Ag field shack behind court #3. The visiting team dressed in the U-High gym.

A state of the art stadium is being built on Gourrier Lane for the Tigers’ men’s and women’s teams. The new home for LSU tennis is as good as it gets. Six indoor and twelve outdoor courts – players’ lounges, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, athletic training facilities – plus seating, rest rooms, and a concessions area for fans. It is one of several facility upgrades designed to separate LSU athletics from the rest. The expected completion date is April.

The name on this building – W.T. (DUB) ROBINSON STADIUM – pays tribute to one of LSU’s pioneer coaches and teachers, a man whose memory is cherished by all who knew him, his family, and the current LSU administration – Coach Dub Robinson.

The indoor courts will cover approximately 75,000 square feet, large enough to house the entire department of athletics when Dub coached his boys in the 1950s. W.T. (Dub) Robinson Stadium puts LSU tennis in an elite category. Its namesake was also one of a kind.

There are countless stories that illustrate Dub’s tenacity, courage and competitive fire. This is a family favorite. His wife, Jewel, was in the hospital in Houston in 1966. Coach Robinson went out to his car in the middle of the night to put money in the parking meter. He had his trunk open when a robber stuck a gun into Coach’s back and said, "I won’t hurt you. Just give me your wallet.”

Robinson picked up his tennis racket and said, "You’re right! You won’t hurt me!”

He started chasing the guy. The robber climbed on the trunk of car and in "self-defense” shot Coach in the abdomen and ran. Robinson chased him for two blocks, realized he was losing blood, and went to the emergency room. Coach became an instant celebrity around the hospital, walking the halls and visiting other patients.

He coached Tiger tennis teams from 1948 to 1979. At his retirement, his tenure was the longest of any LSU coach in any sport. His compensation was $250 per semester. He used his station wagon to transport the team to out-of-town competition. Each team member received two shirts, two pairs of shorts, a pair of shoes, and a racket each spring.

There were only three scholarships for tennis in those days.

The Early Years

Dub was one of twenty-one children. His father had a general store and a farm in Forest, La., in East Carroll Parish, and Robinson spent a lot of time in his youth picking cotton and working in the fields. He lettered in five sports at Forest High and was the runner-up in Louisiana high school tennis singles. A teacher convinced him to work his way through LSU

He came to LSU in the fall of 1931. He survived by waiting tables in the cafeteria in the basement of Hatcher Hall. As a sophomore, Robinson won the "LSU Box-off,” a tournament open to the entire male student body. His win enabled him to get a boxing scholarship and become LSU’s welterweight boxing champion. After graduation, he was invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic boxing team in 1936. It was at the height of the Depression; Dub decided to get a job. Robinson married his college sweetheart, Jewel Meredith, LSU’s 1935 Agriculture Queen.

After teaching at Forest High School and serving as principal at Lake Providence High School, Dub came back to LSU. He directed the physical fitness program for new Army recruits from 1942 to 1945. In 1943, Coach Robinson also began teaching in the Health & Physical Education department and completed work for a master’s degree. His teaching skills and his demeanor were legendary. He taught handball, boxing, gymnastics, tennis, and health to physical education majors, and H&PE activity classes required by all majors at the time.

He was noted for his challenges to his students on the first class meeting and his life lessons to anyone who would listen. "If anyone can beat me in handball,” Robinson told his handball class, "you will get an automatic A and won’t have to attend another meeting of this class.” None of his students ever beat him. Few people ever did.

Malcolm Patterson, a former member of the physical education department, remembers Dub well. "Everyone respected Dub as a teacher,” Patterson said. "His speech and his mannerism commanded your attention. His intensity and skilled instruction made it impossible not to concentrate completely. Dub Robinson was the classic Master Teacher.”

Sharing His Vision

Coach was interested in young talent. Each summer for twenty years, he offered tennis lessons at LSU to Baton Rouge youth. Beginner lessons were from 7 to 8 a.m., intermediates from 8 until 9, and advanced from 9 until 10. He made $15 per student per session, which ran for six weeks, three times a week. Then, starting at 10 a.m., he taught all tournament players free.

At least three generations of tennis players got their start with Coach Robinson at the old courts behind the Panhellenic Building adjacent to Evangeline Hall. "Dad’s greatest gift as a teacher was his enthusiasm,” Tom says. "He believed he could teach anyone anything – and make them like it. Dad could take thirty students on one court and make each feel like they received individual instruction.”

He often shared his wisdom with his sons Tom and Johnny and his grandsons. "Some of Dad’s teachings, which he lived, are always with me,” Tom said. "Be a gentleman when you win; be a man when you lose. If you lose, hurt so bad that you work harder, so it won’t happen again. Prepare, sacrifice, and give your best. Bring out the best in others. Have faith in the Lord and study His Word. Always respect your mother.”

Johnny shared these memories of Dub: "I believe the most lessons learned from my Dad on tenacity were from the fishing trips we took. I never saw Dad give up on anything. His fishing trips were joyful but exceptionally challenging. He was the best lure caster in the world. If you could not negotiate around the trees in the swamp it was going to be a bad day for you and him.

It was bad for him because he would be getting your lures out of trees. He could cast under hand, sideways and every cast known to man without hanging up. I loved to see him fish.”

He often told his grandchildren, "What you do at LSU is important. But what you do after LSU is more important.” Coach Robinson’s clan certainly made their mark on the outside world.

After Tom graduated from the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans in 1963, he completed his internship and flight training in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a flight surgeon in Vietnam. He was both the Air Training Command and Military Airlift Command tennis champion and played on the USAF tennis team at the All-Service tennis tournaments. Upon leaving the Air Force, Tom completed his ophthalmology residence in New Orleans and began practice in Alexandria, La. He retired from his practice after thirty-five years. This year he was persuaded to supervise the ophthalmology residents part-time at the Alexandria VA hospital. In 1977, Tom began going to Mexico on eye mission surgery trips, four or more times a year for over thirty-seven years. His 150 plus trips have provided 15,000 eye surgeries.

Johnny, a star halfback on the1958 LSU national championship football team, played with the Kansas City Chiefs for twelve seasons. He was an NFL all star for eight seasons. He played in the first Super Bowl and was a member of the Chiefs team that won Super Bowl IV in New Orleans. He is a member of an exclusive club that won both a college and a professional national championship. After retiring from the pros, Johnny became the tennis coach and defensive backfield coach at Northeast State (now UL-M) in Monroe. He soon noticed a greater need for Monroe. He bought a large, two-story house with acreage on the Ouachita River and founded the Johnny Robinson Boys Home. With help from former LSU and Kansas City players, he created an environment for safe growth for troubled youth. He has cared for boys from abusive homes, who cannot fit into the foster care system and would otherwise be sent to adolescent reform school. For thirty-five years, he has been "Dad” to over 2,000 boys who grew up in the Johnny Robinson Boys Home.

The latest member of the Robinson clan to make her mark at LSU and beyond is Hannah Robinson, Johnny’s granddaughter. She was ranked No. 1 in Louisiana junior girl tennis for eight years and was in the top 10 in the South her senior year in high school. In 2008 Hannah was 2nd Team All-SEC and All-Louisiana. She was ITA Scholar Athlete for four years at LSU. She graduated cum laude from LSU (2010 BACH BUS, 2014 JD). She earned the CALI Award for highest grade average in legal research and writing while in law school, and she is now an associate at Kean Miller law firm in Baton Rouge.

Coach Robinson was a Tiger until the end. Diagnosed with leukemia, he played in a tennis tournament and went fishing the day before he entered the hospital. He died at M.D. Anderson in December 1987.

His memory is alive with his family. Twenty to thirty family members gather each Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Fourth of July. And no celebration is complete without several stories about Coach or beloved Papaw.

Stories from the Dub Robinson File

Dub Robinson, the long-time physical education teacher and LSU tennis coach, was demonstrating the left jab to his boxing class one day. His class included his son Johnny, a star halfback on LSU’s 1958 national championship football team, who was entertaining a few of his classmates by pretending to throw a right cross to his father’s solar plexus.

Finally Dub lost his patience with Johnny, turned to his son and said, "So, you think you can hit me? Come on hit me!”

Johnny drew back, and was greeted by two quick left jabs to the jaw. Stung by the jabs, Johnny fell to the floor.

Dub moved quickly back to his students.

"Okay class,” he said, stepping over his own flesh-and-blood, "let’s move over here and I will continue this demonstration.”


Fishing was more than a hobby for Coach; it was a passion. He drove around campus with a boat tied on the top of his station wagon every day. Tackle box, rods, cokes, crackers, pork and beans, and Vienna sausages always ready. He knew every fishing spot in the Atchafalaya Swamp.

Coach Robinson’s tennis team took periodic trips to Florida to compete against Florida and Florida State. He used this as an opportunity to show his players some of his favorite fishing spots. Not all of his players were avid fishermen. On one particular outing in a Florida lagoon, a cottonmouth moccasin fell from a tree limb into the boat, unfortunately at the feet of a player who did not share Robinson’s love for the great outdoors.

As this young man frantically flailed away at the snake with his paddle, Dub, using his paddle with his left hand, calmly flipped the snake out of the boat, and without missing a beat cast his line with his right hand. It was just another day in the swamp for Coach Robinson.


Above all, Dub was an athlete who kept himself in good physical condition well into his seventies. He played handball and competitive senior tennis regularly. Whatever he did had an edge of competition. Dan Hardesty, in a column in the 1974 State-Times, quoted Coach as saying, "I hear people say they like to play tennis for the exercise. I don’t go out on the court for exercise. I play to beat whoever is on the other side of the net.”


Grandson Carey, now a physician in Roanoke, finds himself repeating a few of Papaw’s sayings:

"Two can’t eat for the price of one, unless one is a horse and the other is a sparrow.” He told me this when I was approaching marriage, when Paula and I were low on finances in med school and residency.

"You can’t hit a bull in the butt with a base fiddle!” Papaw would say whenever we missed a duck when hunting. I still don’t know what that means, but I say it routinely to my soccer teams.

"Tennis and sports will open doors for you and be a source of relationships for you the rest of your life.” Papaw was right about that. While interviewing for medical school, internships and residencies, all the other interviewers were nervous and intimidated. I had my bags packed to go play tennis with the department chair as soon as the interview was over.


Coach did not tolerate bullying. Grandson Carey remembers when he was about sixteen years old while watching his dad Tom play a match in a Southern Tennis tournament in Lake Charles against a player ranked #2 in the South.

"Dad, just getting back into competitive tennis, was in the finals, playing in the third set, and running out of gas quickly. I was cheering him on with the familiar, ‘Let’s go, Tiger.’

His opponent, while they were changing sides, said to me, ‘You need to sit down and shut up!’ Papaw was under some trees about 30 feet away and heard the exchange. The next changing of sides Papaw had moved beside me and when the opponent walked by, Papaw said loudly, ‘I am the meanest man you have ever met! Carey, you cheer on your Dad. I am ready!’ Dad won the match. The opponent never said another word. There was never a doubt in my mind that my Papaw was ‘ready’. When it came to a bully my grandfather could instantly transform into ‘the meanest man you have ever met.’”


"Papaw could make the mundane activities in life fun and even thrilling,” grandson Carey recalls. "He enjoyed seeing us challenged; and then step up to meet the challenge. Take pouring coffee from his thermos, seemingly a routine activity. No so, when riding in a car going twenty-five miles per hour, on top of the levy, dodging potholes, on the way to the swamp. Papaw would require you to pour the coffee with the cup over your lap because you were less likely to spill it when there were personal consequences. The whole time he’d cheer you on, ‘You can do it, Tiger.’ He would laugh and encourage because it brought challenge and thrill to life while just pouring a cup of coffee. That was Papaw. He added humor, challenge and excitement to the mundane of life.”


"Papaw’s impact on others lives is a blessing that still bears fruit today,” says grandson Carey. "Two weeks after we moved to Roanoke, Va., in 1994, I was at a stop light when a gentleman pulled up next to me and began honking and waving like we were long, lost friends. We rolled windows down and quickly exchanged, "Geaux, Tigah.”He mentioned he was a 1964 LSU graduate. I responded, ‘You may know my grandfather, W.T. (Dub) Robinson?’ He said, ‘Your grandfather is Dub? He taught my Sunday School class at First Baptist for years! I never could get an A in his boxing class!’ For the next few years we watched LSU games together. I had an instant tailgate partner; A thousand miles away and 30 years later because of a life touched by Papaw. I believe God hand picked out Papaw to be my grandfather. His humor, courage and passion for life have impacted me more than I will ever know. What an amazing blessing and gift from ‘the Author of every good and perfect gift’.


Grandson Steve Robinson is a lawyer in Houston. Here are some of his memories of his grandfather, Coach Dub Robinson.

My favorite memories with Papaw were fishing and hunting trips. But unlike most outdoor trip memories of the number of fish or ducks bagged (which there were always many), my favorite memories are of the car rides. Singing "I've Been Working on the Railroad" at the top of our lungs, stopping to pick up sugar cane on the side of the road and eating it raw, never passing a dewberry patch without stopping (one of the only things that took priority over fishing). And the jokes, Papaw could tell jokes, and he told the same ones over and over, and we always laughed, mostly because he was such a good story teller. He loved life and people and he loved the time in the car getting to his favorite fishing hole.

Papaw was a big practical joker. As a young child I remember being deep in the Atchafalaya Basin when an owl starting making the "who" sound. Papaw told me it was Indians in the swamp and that they knew who he was but didn't know me. I stood on the front of the bateau yelling "I'm Stevie Robinson!" as loud as I could, over and over until the owl stopped hooting. Another time when we were young, he told us that if you touched black eyed Susie flowers it would make you pee in the bed at night. Doubting the truthfulness my cousin and I ran our hands all through the flowers. When we woke up the next morning, sure enough our bed was wet. It wasn't until years later that he told us he had poured water in the bed that night.

Papaw always pulled for the underdog. I think it came from his poor dirt farmer family background. He had been an underdog – he only child of twenty-one to go to college. I was one of his underdogs. I was extremely ill as a young child suffering from congenital kidney disease. I was frail, had my bladder bypassed into tubes and bottles for over a year. I was not the strong invincible Robinson male similar to my grandfather (boxing champ), dad (tennis champion), Uncle Johnny (LSU and NFL football star) or brothers. Papaw knew that and went out of his way to make sure we had a special relationship. Fishing and hunting was our thing – for me the number of wins on the tennis court didn't matter. From taking me fishing as a young child with tubes and bottles coming out of my back, to checking me out of school to fish (without telling Mom), to seemingly endless daily fishing trips in the summer, to his last fishing trip after a blood transfusion when he had leukemia. We were fishing buddies and his investment of time in my life was priceless.

Papaw was a champion boxer at LSU and eventually LSU's boxing coach. He was once asked by a reporter, I guess being one of twenty-one and fighting all those brothers is what made you so tough. His quick reply was, "Brothers – oh no, it was defending myself against all my sisters!"


Grandson Matthew Robinson (Johnny’s son) is the manager of the Johnny Robinson Boy’s Home in Monroe. He shared this story.

"Papaw was always a true gentleman. He had the unique ability to make others feel good about themselves. I remember he had a group tennis lesson on the LSU campus across from the Parade Ground. I, along with several other grandchildren, was helping Papaw teach this young group. They were our age, ten and eleven years old. One of the students in particular was having difficulty hitting a simple forehand over the net. I told Papaw I couldn’t teach him and I did not think anybody could.

"Papaw came over, told the child to lay his racket on the court and pick it up like you would a skillet with water in it, and don’t spill the water. This was to teach him how to hold a forehand grip. After several dozen balls were thrown to him, he began to hit each ball successfully over the net. The child was elated that he was finally able to hit a tennis ball over the net after having no success for hours. Papaw told him that everything takes a little practice.”



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