HARDIN – Mariah Robinson’s “day job” is playing point guard for the Murray State Racers. But that’s not all the basketball nowadays for the 5-8 senior from Beaver Dam.
Robinson moonlights as coach of a team of high school-age boys from Hardin Baptist Church. The team competes in the the Purchase Area Church League.
The boys asked Robinson, who had recently begun working as a youth leader at the church, to be their coach. At first, she wasn’t sure they were serious.
“And then, the next week,” she said, “they were like, ‘Coach, we need to practice. We have games coming up in like three weeks.’ And I said, ‘You really want me to coach you?’”
They really did.
“All right, you’re going to have to respect me,” she told them. “I’m a woman, but I’m your youth leader, and your elder, and I really know what I’m talking about.”
Indeed she does. Robinson came to MSU after an impressive career at Ohio County High School that included All-State and all-region honors, Third Region tournament MVP selection and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen semifinals in 2008. At Murray State, she has scored more than 1,000 points.
She has found a niche working with the Hardin team, which goes by the nickname Huskers, like the fictional Indiana high school team in the movie “Hoosiers.”
“It’s been very interesting,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, working with high school guys. I was kind of skeptical at first, thinking, ‘I don’t know if they’re going to trust me and believe that I really know what I’m talking about.’
“But they’re very respectful and very disciplined, which makes it so much easier to coach and fun to be around them.”
The team is made up of boys ranging from 14 to 18 years old. The church is near the border of Marshall and Calloway counties and draws its membership from both counties. Likewise, the team is made up of students at both Marshall County and Calloway County high schools.
“It’s definitely kind of intimidating having her as a coach,” admitted Mike Hall, 15, a freshman at MCHS. “She is a great player and she makes a great coach, too. It’s just awesome getting to play for her and getting to know her.”
Robinson has help from Nick Newcomb of Benton, who played golf for Murray State. Newcomb manages the team when an MSU conflict keeps Robinson from being present for games or practices.
Robinson has been impressed with the serious attitude of her players. Some of them, she said, are talented enough that they could play for their high school teams.
“We have some that haven’t played a lot, or haven’t played maybe at all,” she added. “But they have all adjusted. Our boys are very dedicated to getting better. With them it’s not, ‘Well, I’m bored and I’m not playing for the high school team so I might as well do this.’ They actually take it seriously. It’s not just another activity to do.”
Robinson has worked at summer basketball camps at her high school and at Murray, but admitted she wasn’t sure what to expect coaching a boys team in competition.
“It’s definitely something different,” she said. “This is guys. It’s a lot different. I like coaching them, because they’re a lot less emotional [than girls]. But they still are very passionate about the game.”
She says she’d like to coach at the middle or high school level after graduation.
“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “Hopefully, that’s going to be an opportunity in the near future.”
Racers coach Rob Cross gives her his unqualified endorsement.
“I know she’s enjoying it right now,” Cross said. “She would certainly be a great coach, at any level but especially at the high school level where she could have such a positive impact. She’s just a really, really good person.”
The relationship with her players has yielded some enthusiast fans of Racer basketball. Some of them got a little carried away at a recent game, Robinson said.
“They were being a little rowdy,” she said. “I told them to chill. I said, ‘I don’t care if you have fun. But remember, you’re supposed to be glorifying God in all this, so make sure you’re doing the right thing.’
“They’ve gotten better,” she said, but added, “They’re still fun to watch.”
Robinson has been fun for Murray State fans to watch during her career in a Racer uniform, as well. She has found a second home – and now, some very special “family.”
“If I don’t come back to Murray after I graduate,” she said, “I’m really, really gonna miss those guys.”