WATERTOWN — There’s no doubt Kurt Robbins loves the game of soccer as he’s coached the game for decades at Immaculate Heart Central.
Yet among those 30 years as a varsity coach, one season in particular tested his coaching skills and his time-management abilities like no other.
In 2000, Robbins coached both the boys and girls varsity teams at the school, after he was called upon to lead the girls squad after the coaching position suddenly opened up.
Robbins has kept the girls coaching job ever since, while dropping the boys job. But between coaching all those years for IHC, for both the boys and girls, Robbins has accumulated more than 400 wins — in fact, 429.
“I shouldn’t say wins are not everything, I’m the most competitive guy ever to walk into here,” Robbins said. “I like to win and I like to see the kids win.”
But Robbins hasn’t been a coach that keeps careful note of his win total.
“I’m one of these coaches that say when we win it’s because of the kids and when we lose, it’s because of something I didn’t do right,” Robbins said. “So I’ve never really kept track of our record, I go game to game. I judge the success of our program by how many kids go on to play at the next level.”
In all, Robbins has compiled a 135-46-11 record coaching boys soccer at IHC, a tenure in which the Cavaliers won six Frontier League titles and forged a trip to a Section 3 final.
“I said, ‘Mike (Delaney, the school’s athletic director in 2000), I’ll coach both for one year, and then I’ll go back to boys,” Robbins said. “So I coached the boys varsity team and the girls varsity team and they were both super successful. But I didn’t see my wife, I’d see her in passing to say ‘hi.’
“It was unbelievable, I scheduled practices back to back. You would see the schedule and I’d have a game on Monday night with the girls and a game with the boys on Tuesday night. And maybe Wednesday off, and you’d have a game on Thursday and another on Friday. So I didn’t see my family too much.”
Since Robbins took over the girls program, IHC is approaching 300 wins, faring 294-74-17 in 20 seasons.
During that first season coaching the girls team, the Cavaliers won the Frontier League title and advanced to the Section 3 semifinals in Class D, where they were beaten by Copenhagen.
“That was a good year and after that we had all kinds of success,” Robbins said.
Delaney persuaded Robbins to continue to coach the girls while hiring a new coach to take over the boys team.
“They don’t pay a lot of money to coach here,” Robbins said. “And I’ve been offered some jobs at different places that amaze me how much public schools pay. But this is family, I’ve put both of my daughters through this school. And this school’s had its ups and downs, right now our enrollment’s down pretty good, but it’s starting to come back.”
Robbins has guided the girls program to five Section 3 titles and to the state final four three times, with the Cavaliers winning a state title in 2002.
That year, the Cavaliers stormed to the state final in Class C at Honeoye Falls-Lima, with the title game beginning with a burst of snow.
IHC and Allegany-Limestone played to a scoreless tie in the game and the teams were declared co-champions.
“In the championship game, five minutes into the game it’s snowing so hard you can’t see your hand in front of your face,” Robbins said. “So that was some day.”
After reaching the state quarterfinals the next season, the Cavaliers made it back to the state semifinals the next two years.
“I think it’s my job to prepare the ones that want to play at the next level and to put the best team we can on the field. We’ve been very successful with kids going to play at the next level. We’ve got a whole bunch of DI players, a whole bunch of D2 players, D3 and junior college players.”
Those players have included his youngest daughter Kaitlin, who went on to play in Division I at Syracuse University, as did Lauren Chamberlain, who is in her freshman season at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Kaitlin scored 208 career goals in her varsity career, which at the time was a state record that even eclipsed the boys’ all-time record. She now stands fourth on the girls list.
Robbins’ oldest daughter Kristin attended SUNY Potsdam and later coached girls soccer at Lyme.
“Soccer’s been my whole family’s life,” Kurt Robbins said.
Robbins grew up in Antwerp and played soccer and basketball at Indian River, playing under soccer coach Sky Weaver.
“He was a great role model, he taught me how to run a program, a good honest program,” Robbins said. “He’s just a great man, I can’t say enough about him. When I started coaching soccer, I’d basically run my program like he ran his.”
After Robbins attended Jefferson Community College, he went on to a career with New York State, but found time to coach at IHC, first as a junior varsity coach, both in basketball and soccer.
“I never thought I was going to be a soccer coach, my passion was being a basketball coach, I coached 28 years of JV basketball with Mike Delaney, which was absolutely a great experience,” he said.
The girls varsity coaching job opened up when Robbins’ friend Terry Burgess left the school to teach at South Jefferson in 2000.
“He was the boys coach and coached my son and when I was the girls coach, I coached his oldest daughter,” Burgess said.
“Terry’s like my mentor,” Robbins said. “Terry and I played together in Canada, I think the world of him, he’s one of my best friends, he’s a great coach. And we coach alike except for I’m probably a little more boisterous than Terry is with officials and things. And as far as tactical stuff, we’re pretty much the same.”
Burgess has coached girls soccer at South Jefferson ever since, but the two remain close friends.
“He’s an excellent coach,” said Burgess, who has compiled more than 400 wins himself as coach. “I’ve watched him coach basketball, I’ve watched him coach soccer, he wins with everything he coaches. He’s just very organized, he knows what he’s talking about and gets the kids to play hard. And so, he’s always been successful, whatever he coaches.”
Robbins has also coached Olympic Development Soccer at the youth level as well as in the Empire State Games, also serving a director of soccer for the games. Both he and Burgess are members of the Section 3 girls soccer committee and the pair help run state tournament sites in Cortland.
Like Burgess has done at IHC and South Jefferson, Robbins has also taken his girls teams on summer trips to Europe over the years. The teams have visited such countries as France, Italy, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
There were also two trips to Hawaii where the team visited the site of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
“We’re not just playing soccer, it’s cultural, we’re seeing stuff that it’s probably the only time in their life they’ll get to see,” he said.
Robbins literally considers the IHC community as family, a place he can find solace as needed.
“I think that’s why we’ve been so successful is we go above and beyond a little bit with those kids,” he said. “To me, it’s all family, those girls are like family to me. And how they’ve repaid me is by being respectful and when they see me, they say hello. I get calls from them all the time, we just had our alumni game and a bunch of them came back, and that’s what makes me feel good. I could care less about records or stuff like that, I never want it to be about that.”
Over the years, IHC’s faithful have traveled to attend soccer games, including some of the school’s staff.
“Sister Cecilia Marie is my scorekeeper and Sister Mary Anne, who we call Sister Kodak because she takes all the pictures, they always travel with me,” he said. “And I’m Catholic, you’re not supposed to have good luck charms, but they’re like my good luck charms.”
Two years ago, both of Robbins’ parents died, including his mom during soccer season.
“My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Robbins said. “And we had a pink-out game and my team dedicated their season to my mother. And a few games after that, we were playing Lowville.”
Robbins received a phone call early on during the game and left to be with his mom.
“And she was in and out, and they called me during the game and said ‘you better get out to Antwerp because she’s not going to make it.’” he said. “ ... And I’m sitting there with my mom and they call me on the phone and tell me they won, 1-0. But the first thing out of Lauren Chamberlain’s mouth is ‘how’s your mother?’”
He continued: “And my mom woke up and she said ‘how’d the game go?’ and I said ‘1-0’ and she said ‘oh, good,’ patted me on the arm, went to sleep and never woke up again. She passed away around midnight that night. So that was something.”
The Cavaliers reached the Section 3 final in three of the past four years, with the team losing to Little Falls in last year’s Class C title game.
This year, IHC got off to a slow start, but is now 5-5-1, having one two straight games.
“We’re playing better now,” Robbins said. “It helps when you’re winning, too.”