By Luke Whitehouse
“The sport I was begging to have back a few months before, was now the only reason I dreaded waking up in the morning.”
Riley Robinson penned in her letter to the Hope for Athletes initiative Instagram page.
This initiative was started by former division III Volleyball player Amanda Dahlman in hopes to promote mental health awareness within athletics. It began during the COVID-19 pandemic, as every athlete had their sport taken from them in some capacity.
Robinson grew up in Adams, a small town in Western Massachusetts, where she began her basketball journey back in third grade.
“She started playing house league and youth travel ball in third grade,” her father Bill recalled. “And then every year thereafter she was a part of it.”
The sport of basketball did not find Robinson by accident. Bill has been a coach for over 30 years, and her two older sisters, McKenzie and Samantha, both played as well.
Even with basketball surrounding her, following in her sisters’ footsteps wasn’t always the plan.
“Riley never wanted to play basketball,” Bill said. “I said, ‘That’s fine, but you have to do something. But she decided to give it a shot.”
Giving it a shot, Robinson began to fall in love with the game as she aged – playing on multiple travel teams to prepare herself for when high school hoops came around she was more than ready.
She led Hoosac Valley High to back-to-back Massachusetts state championships and was an integral part of both teams.
Basketball was something that had become so normal to Robinson from that day back in third grade when she started house league.
The sport she loved would have to wait, though, as something unusual happened in the beginning of 2020. COVID-19, swept through the world, decimating many normalities, and forcing everything to essentially shut down. Sports were canceled, in-person learning was paused and at one point most of the country was in quarantine, where people couldn’t even leave their house. Although COVID-19 began in early 2020, its deadly nature caused many restrictions that continued into the fall when the new school year began.
For Robinson, it was the start of her first year at Springfield College, which was also her first year as a member of the Pride women’s basketball team. Despite some restrictions still in place, she was eager to get started on her college basketball career. However, this came with many uncertainties.
“[Our first-year class] just woke up everyday so confused,” Robinson recalls. “We didn’t know what would happen that day…would practice get canceled or not.”
Her teammate, and fellow first-year at the time, Jaelen Daubon remembers these times vividly.
“It just felt like we were going in this endless circle,” Daubon said. “Just practice, practice, practice [over and over.]”
As Robinson pointed out, she and many of her other teammates started to feel a bit of anxiety towards everything. COVID did this to many, but during college, something that was new to Robinson, it hit even harder.
Then, as the season went on, with only practices and no games, her thoughts began to change.
She put in her self-written letter to ‘Hope For Athletes.”
“I would go to practice having the mindset that I didn’t belong, that I was incapable of this next level.”
This doubt began to creep even more into her mind, as she saw three of her best friends quit basketball to focus on academics. Robinson, a physical therapy major, began wondering if she, too, should do the same.
“I was just worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle basketball and academics,” Robinson said. “I was just like, ‘I don’t know, at this point, if it’s worth it.’”
She began questioning everything as she entered her sophomore year. During this tough time, Robinson went to the people she knew best: her parents.
“We try to support her and her decisions, and try to point out all the vantage points,” Bill said. “I said, ‘Look at everything. You’ve been playing this game your entire life. And it’s okay, you’re gonna have to give it up someday. Maybe today’s the day, but let’s think of this.’”
After thinking it through, she decided to go for it. And with as much support her parents gave her in that decision, so too did her teammates and classmates Daubon and Kayla Madden.
“[Hearing] the girls in my grade, like Jae and Kayla, were thinking some of the same things I was and deciding to stay with it was huge,” Robinson said. “For me, it was like, if I have them, then I can do this too.”
And after all of this, she wrote down the one thing she had lost.
“I am more than what I do. I became so involved with the thought that I wasn’t good enough that I forgot about the girl who has given the last decade to this sport. I didn’t give her enough credit.”
It wasn’t until the Pride’s postseason run when everything came full circle.
“I’d say I had sort of an epiphany last year at Ithaca,” Robinson recalls. “When we won the [Round of 32] at the buzzer, I remember turning to Jae and Kayla saying: ‘We deserve this. We earned this.’”
Looking back, she also recalls the main thing that circled in her mind — from almost putting down the basketball for good, to advancing to the Sweet 16 on a buzzer-beater.
“It finally hit me..this was worth everything.”
Robinson has continued to be a part of the basketball program, playing a key role in the team’s pursuit of another successful season. She hopes that her story can inspire other athletes to be the best version of themselves, on and off the court.
Photo: Luke Whitehouse / The Student