Jim Robarts – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Basketball Coach, 1969-2018
Archbishop Rummel HS/East Jefferson HS
Upon learning of his selection to the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, legendary high school basketball coach Jim Robarts sounded most appreciative.
“Never in my life did I ever think something like this would happen to me,” he said. “I cannot begin to tell you how much this means to me.”
While his induction into the Hall of Fame means a lot to Robarts, the coach has meant even more to generations of high school athletes whom he mentored for 46 years, including 39 seasons as a head coach.
That lengthy career began with a three-year stint at Jesuit High in Shreveport (now Loyola Prep) and concluded with a one-year stint at Shaw. Sandwiched in between were 19 years at Archbishop Rummel and 15 years at East Jefferson as well as one season at Haynes.
A graduate of Loyola University, Robarts also attended Jesuit where he gave prep sports the ole high school try. “I tried out for basketball and was cut. I tried out for baseball and was cut. I tried out for football and was cut.”
Seeing a familiar pattern, he turned to coaching instead, putting his trust in Kevin Trower, a state championship basketball coach at Jesuit who had coached all three major sports for about five decades.
“He taught me how to coach and what to coach,” said Robarts. “He emphasized the little things.”
His long tenures at Rummel and East Jeff provided Robarts with a lifetime of highlights, including five landmark efforts.
In 1972 at the state Top 28 Tournament in Alexandria, Rummel advanced to the Class 4A finals against Woodlawn-Shreveport, which featured 7-foot-1 Robert Parish, the No. 1-rated player in the nation and a future Basketball Hall-of-Famer who won multiple NBA championships with the Boston Celtics.
In preparation for Parish, Robarts had one player standing beneath the goal with a broom to acclimate his players on how to shoot against a taller man. The practice was effective as Rummel managed to foul Parish out of the game in the fourth quarter. However, despite several potential game-winning shots in the final seconds, the Raiders couldn’t connect as Woodlawn triumphed 50-49.
In his next two trips to the Top 28 in Lake Charles, close games tilted his way.
In a memorable 1977 final against a 41-0 DeRidder team playing before a home crowd, Rummel stunned the Dragons 52-48 to finish with a 31-4 record. The core of that team returned in 1978 – the Raiders’ lineup featured an all-state player at each position: 6-11 center Dean Carpenter, 6-4 forward Wade Blundell and an uncanny shooter in point guard Barry Barocco.
The loaded Raiders rattled off 33 straight wins to reach the state semifinals. After surviving a serious scare against Carroll of Monroe, 52-51, the Raiders routed Fair Park 83-64 for a second consecutive title and a perfect 35-0 record. A win to open the next season enabled Rummel to complete a 50-game winning streak.
Robarts completed his stay at Rummel in 1988, moving about a mile down the road to East Jefferson. In 1993, a standout guard from Bloomington, Ind., moved south with his father. Neil Reed received overtures from schools around the city, but he ended up attending East Jeff.
With Reed earning all-metro and all-state MVP honors twice and averaging 24.7 and 24.3 points, Robarts directed the Warriors to back-to-back state semifinal appearances (1994 and 1995).
Robarts coached at Haynes and did some volunteer coaching at Rummel and St. Martin’s before returning to the bench as head coach at Shaw in 2011-12. But the rigors relative to crossing the Mississippi River Bridge twice daily combined with games and practice took their toll on a man who has endured eight operations to the back and neck.
He coached 1,095 games and finished with a career record of 714-381, a mark that enabled him to be elected to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches Halls of Fame.
Now retired he lives in Metairie with his wife of 55 years, Mary Ann. They have three children and seven grandchildren.
Robarts is 77. “A real good number,” he says. “Because ’77 was my first state championship team.”
Rummel named its gymnasium floor after him in 2015. A wall in that gym lists all of the school’s district and state championship teams. Two state and four district championship teams – the last in 1985 – played for Robarts. The Raiders have not laid claim to another title since.
Story submitted by Bill Bumgarner of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.