Basketball season will make history with first female coaching a Peninsula District boys team

Posted: November 27, 2023

As the Peninsula District basketball season opens this week, coaches will get a first look at their teams, gnash their teeth at early miscues and aim to make the post-season playoffs.

They'll all be in the same situation and Warwick Boys Basketball Coach LaTasia Robinson will be right there, too, representing what she calls "the evolution of the game." Warwick hosts Bethel November 28 at 7 p.m. under the guidance of the first female to coach boys basketball in district history.

There's no need to make a big deal about gender roles, Robinson emphasized, adding that basketball is basketball and in 2023 coaching, refereeing and front office roles include everybody.

"I'm not doing this for looks; I'm not doing this for attention," Robinson said. "I'm just solely doing it because I care about the kids and trying to give them a different look as far as making their lives better by using the game of basketball because I have. And regardless if it's a girl or a boy, basketball - we still play the same sport."

Evolution is an apt description as the sports world is seeing more women in different roles in both men's and women's sports at all levels. Robinson has coached girls and then boys for the past 10 years, and was promoted to the varsity head coaching job at Warwick from the JV head coaching position in August.

"I'm definitely very excited about this opportunity not only for her, but for the school as well as the Peninsula community," said Warwick Athletic Director Chad Smith.

Robinson has played basketball all of her life, learning from and still very close with her brother Andre, who is 12 years older and played for Coach Ben Moore at Warwick. She played at Heritage High School, graduating in 2008 as part of the Group AAA state championship team that was the first Newport News girls team ever to win one.

Robinson received a basketball scholarship to Virginia Union University where, as a defensive specialist, she received all-Central Intercollege Athletic Conference Freshman Team honors and played for four years. With her degree in criminal justice from VUU, Robinson went to work as a juvenile detention specialist working with young men and women at the downtown Newport News facility.

She started coaching girls first with her coach at Heritage, Mike Gardner, and then boys as head coach of Heritage's JV boys team for two seasons before coming to Warwick as JV head coach last season.

Coming from a single-parent home in the Southeast Community, Robinson said she used basketball as a means to go to college and return to her community in a contributing role.

"Working at juvenile detention was for me to give back in a sense because I know their situations and know how they grew up," Robinson said. "Just to let them know and reassure them that the choices that you make can help you or hurt you. Just helping the at-risk youth make better decisions and choices to try to get out from down where they were coming from.

"I tied that together because I had people back then who were mentors in my life ... Just trying to blend those two in has helped me with my background being a criminal justice major."

Robinson went to work full-time with Newport News Public Schools as an instructional assistant in Warwick's special education program along with coaching this year.

As she starts her first varsity season, she's receiving constant support from her mother, brother, fellow coaches and school community. Robinson's mentor is Eric Scott, who first hired her to assist with his Heritage boys team, and Warwick Girls Basketball Coach Vanessa Starks has been very involved in getting Robinson acclimated. Former Heritage teammate Bonae Holston is one of her assistants.

"All in all, I've always had this vision," Robinson said. "And so basically it's just me putting the vision onto the basketball court."

Her coaching style centers around relentless defense and an up-tempo pace honed through conditioning. Warwick is in a rebuilding phase with a bunch of new players, which will allow her to mold them under her system.

Robinson's ability to get players motivated to play for her was one of the reasons Robinson was hired, Smith told the press at the time.

Junior guard Amari Levisy played for Robinson the past two JV seasons, one at Heritage and one at Warwick. She's tougher on her players than most boys coaches, Levisy said, and there's really no difference playing for her.

"She makes sure that we always stay focused and always locked in, always getting the job done," Levisy said. "We're trying to change the narrative here at Warwick for basketball. We haven't had a lot of success in the past years, so we're trying to bring that back to Warwick for the basketball program."

Her passion and love for the game are her calling card and she "wears her emotions on her sleeve," according to Robinson. She uses the sport to teach life lessons because basketball - any sport - correlates with life.

"This generation of kids doesn't know that it's like right now for life," Robinson said. "I try to prepare them for that ... I try to give them tools that they can use to survive out here in this world we call life."

Menchville High Boys Basketball Coach Lamont Strothers, who played in the NBA and was a Division III All-American at Christopher Newport University, is a lifelong friend of Robinson's family.

"You've got to have passion first and then everything else will fall into place and that's what's happened here," Strothers said. "She's displayed that passion for the kids that she works with. You can tell that by how the kids respond to her. So then after that passion, the ultimate goal is to do your best and enjoy doing what you do.

"And she's going to always do her best and she wouldn't be where she is if she didn't enjoy what she's doing."

Smith is excited about the energy Robinson is bringing to a new era of Warwick basketball. This includes breaking gender barriers, but more importantly he would like to see the Raiders make the Class 5 Region B playoffs as they transition from Class 4.

But there's no denying the bigger picture as a NNPS alumna forges a new career pathway.

"She's providing an opportunity for people to get into professional coaching," Smith said. "I don't think that students really understand that not everyone is going to go to college and have the opportunity to play. But if they know the game and know how to work with people and to execute game plans, they can become coaches. And that's a pretty good profession."