Sept 29 – Oct 5, ’05
VOL 124 NO. 33
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Guardian Angel Society luncheon features new SU coach

Father Joseph Champlin was high scorer at the sixth annual Guardian Angel Society’s Update & Lecture Luncheon. He invited the Syracuse University football team’s new head coach, Greg Robinson, to speak at the event on Sept. 21 — the middle of a bye week for the team.

Robinson grew up in Los Angeles and began his 30-year coaching career at his alma mater, University of the Pacific. He entered the professional arena in 1990 spending time with the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs before coming to Syracuse. Robinson wears a hefty Super Bowl ring on his right hand.

Robinson attended Mass at the Cathedral when he first arrived in Syracuse, and he and Father Champlin met giving the then-Cathedral rector a great opportunity to ask the new coach a favor — Would he speak at the Guardian Angel luncheon? Robinson checked his schedule and then agreed to help out.

This was the sixth luncheon and it began with a video presentation about Cathedral School and the students there. Nearly 100 children attend the K-6 school, and the Guardian Angel Society offers tuition assistance to the students, provides monies for technological advances and also provides scholarship funds for Cathedral students to continue their Catholic education at one of the three Catholic high schools in the area. Very few of the students are Catholic and they represent a great deal of diversity, most recently including children from refugee families resettled from the Sudan.

This year’s pledge of allegiance and the recitation of St. Francis’ Peace Prayer was led by Cathedral students. Father Champlin introduced the school’s new principal, Charles LaBarbera to the luncheon-goers, after acknowledging the departure of the Daughters of Charity who had spent 90 years serving the school. The sisters left Cathedral last June to allow the order to serve in other areas and to promote their charism of living in community.

A brief video depicting Robinson and his team during practice and again in the locker room was shown before the coach spoke. In the video, he leads the team in a rendition of the song “Amen.” After the luncheon audience viewed the film, Robinson admitted that he needed to work on his singing. The video was a testament to Robinson’s enthusiasm and his connection with players. Also, a good indication that he’s seen Sidney Poitier’s “Lilies of the Field.”

Robinson introduced his wife, Laura, and spoke very highly of her ability to manage their home and three children while he is busy on the football field. He said he took philosophy class in college in order to meet his wife, and once he met her, Robinson dropped the class.

He also talked about growing up one of eight children. His father, who was first a lawyer and eventually a judge, was a huge inspiration, Robinson said. His father was a prisoner of war during WWII. His plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner in Nuremburg. The elder Robinson refused to give up his wedding ring to the German soldiers. He made a vow while in solitary confinement that if he ever got out, he would go to Mass every day for the rest of his life. Robinson choked up a bit describing his father who died at age 77. He said he had “always kept his vow.”

The presentation did turn to SU football and Robinson’s hopes for his team. He said his decision to come to Syracuse was a “no brainer.”

“I knew the history of the organization, the great tradition,” Robinson said. “And I know the passion and the pride of the people of this great state. All of our kids are here with us….It’s a beautiful place.”

Robinson said he looks for high energy when he’s hiring coaching staff. “They have to have enthusiasm and spirit outside of self and be able to spread that spirit to others,” he said. The football team focuses on trust, discipline and perseverence as a foundation. One evening a week, the coaches, their wives and children and the players share a meal together.

At the end of the luncheon, Robinson fielded questions from the audience. One gentleman said, “I’m going to Florida for the Florida State [vs. Syracuse] game. Do you have any advice for me?”

“Yeah,” Robinson said, “Get there early, get down there on the sidelines and root like hell!”

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