High School Basketball

West Jessamine pays tribute to fallen classmate

John Clay
John Clay

Without scoring a single point, Randy Troyer had just turned in the game of his life.

West Jessamine's senior guard had locked up Hazard's Josh Whitaker, holding the Bulldogs star to one second-half field goal as Troyer's Colts rallied for a 51-40 win in the first round of the National City Boys' Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena on Wednesday.

Afterward, however, Troyer was remembering someone lost.

"He had a real fiery nature," said the senior. "If you scored a (soccer) goal, he'd be up in your face, yelling for you, encouraging you and stuff. To lose him like that. He's like the cornerstone of our team, our community and our school.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet, to be honest."

Troyer was talking about the letters R.R. written in ink on his shoes.

R.R. for Ryan Robinson.

"Even at the funeral, it was kind of surreal," Troyer said, "just thinking, 'He's my buddy, and he's not going to be back anymore.' "

Troyer halted, a bit choked up, his eyes a bit wet, just for a second.

It's been an emotional and unthinkable last two weeks at the high school of 1,040 students in Nicholasville.

On March 10, Robinson, a 17-year-old junior and star soccer player, died at the University of Kentucky Hospital two days after being diagnosed with an aggressive strain of the staph infection known as MRSA.

Later that night, the West Jessamine Colts beat McCreary Central to win the 12th Region title and earn the school's first trip to the boys' state basketball tournament.

"We had several players that were close to Ryan," Robert Hammonds, West's third-year coach, said Wednesday. "He was just a tremendous student-athlete at our school, and it was a tremendous loss for the whole community."

"We played on the soccer team together," said Jonathan Rehner, a senior forward who scored 10 points Wednesday. "Just Thursday, before he went into the hospital on Saturday, I saw him at school."

After he was first diagnosed with the flu on that Friday, March 6, Robinson's condition rapidly deteriorated. By Sunday, he had been diagnosed with MRSA, a fast-moving infection resistant to antibiotics. By Monday, Robinson was in critical condition at UK. He died Tuesday afternoon shortly after being taken off life support.

That night, with the players penning R.R. on their shoes, or writing "In Memory of Ryan Robinson," the Colts defeated McCreary Central 47-42 to win the region.

"You had the lowest of the lows, one of your teammates and classmates passing away, and the highest of the highs, winning the region championship and getting to go to Rupp," said Troyer.

The Colts admitted they were nervous in Rupp on Wednesday. They fell behind 30-24 at the half and trailed 37-26 with 5:19 left in the third when Whitaker nailed his third three-pointer, bringing his point total to 17.

That would be Whitaker's last field goal. Having stepped up the second half to assume defensive duties on the Hazard star, Troyer, with help from his teammates, held the 6-foot junior to one free throw the rest of the way.

Asked about the comeback, Colts star Jarrod Polson pointed at Troyer and said, "It started with this man."

Yet the high is never far from the low. Who can imagine a sudden and cruel human loss, followed so closely by a celebrated group accomplishment?

"(It makes you) appreciate each other and appreciate what we've been able to accomplish," said Hammonds. "But then again, you realize how precious life is."

"It's amazing how many people he knew," Rehner said of Robinson. "We went to a memorial, and there were hundreds of people that I didn't even know. It just shows his personality, of how outgoing he was."

And someone not to be forgotten.

"You know that he would want you to keep going, that he would want you to keep playing," Troyer said. "He would be up in the stands, yelling and screaming and going crazy, too. We feed off that."