HCS mourns the loss of a teacher, coach, friend
Randy Garrison and Joy Haynes
Hartselle City Schools and the community lost a teacher, coach and friend in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Hartselle Junior High School special education teacher and assistant softball and volleyball coach, Robin Halbrooks Riley passed away at Cullman Regional Medical Center at the age of 30.
Riley had been on vacation with her family in the previous week and came home not feeling well, thinking perhaps she had a stomach virus, according to family members. She had sought medical treatment, but after becoming dehydrated, she was admitted into the hospital. Conditions worsened later in the week and she passed away Saturday morning.
HHS head softball coach Christy Ferguson said the loss was quite a blow to the team and the school system as well as her other family and friends.
“This situation is hard to grasp now, but we will be keeping her family in our thoughts and prayers,” Ferguson said. “She had a major influence on everything she was a part of, and she was full of love. She was always a part of HHS softball, so it’s hard to imagine a season without her.”
Riley was a hometown girl who grew up in Hartselle. She graduated from Hartselle High School in 2003. During her high school years, she was a player on the state championship softball teams as a freshman, junior and senior. According to a fan attending the state championship game, Riley made a remarkable game-changing defensive play in the outfield during her senior year.
After high school, Riley attended the University of West Alabama receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school.
She married Joey Riley in 2008 and they made their home in Hartselle, just down from where she grew up on Kyle Road. Riley and her husband finalized adoption of their sons Trey and Justice July 6. Their daughter Madison is only 7 months old.
She began her career as a special education teacher at HCS and returned to her love of softball as an assistant coach in 2007. She enjoyed another state championship win in 2014 when the Hartselle Lady Tigers brought home the blue trophy once again.
She also served as an assistant coach on the seventh grade volleyball team.
The softball and volleyball teams are trying to think of a way to honor Riley with an emblem on their uniforms, according to Ferguson.
“Her teams are wanting to have something on their uniforms in memory of her, but we haven’t picked exactly what that will be yet,” Ferguson said. “The softball team is also considering putting the words she ended every post-game talk with, ‘good job,’ somewhere in the locker room where it will be one of the last things they see when they leave. Hopefully we can also put some sort of banner out on the field.”
According to HJHS principal Dr. Robbie Smith, Riley worked with multi-need students, handling several students with different needs at one time.
As a co-worker, Smith described Riley a positive person who brought a lot of humor to any situation.
“One of the things I most admired about Robin was she embraced whatever she was doing,” Smith said. “Every student she taught became one of her own kids. She felt the same way about the girls she coached, she loved, pushed and praised them. Both here students and her players were considered part of her family.”
Dr. Vic Wilson mentioned that his daughter Emma was not ready to move to Hartselle when he became superintendent. She was going to stay in Hoover with her older sister and mother to play volleyball during her senior year.
“Robin asked Emma to come to a work out with the team and see what she thought,” Wilson said. “Emma came and practiced with the team and afterwards when she went into the locker room, Coach Riley already had a locker with her name on it. That changed her mind, and she was ready to come to Hartselle. That was the kind of coach Robin was.”
Ferguson said Riley was taken at such a happy time in her life.
“Robin was living the dream that she had always wanted,” Ferguson said. “Less than a month ago the adoption for their sons had gone through just a few months after the birth of their daughter. You could tell over the past year and a half how much she loved being a mother. Everything was falling into place for her.”
Sunday evening 350-400 people gathered at the Hartselle High School softball fields for a candlelight service. Her team members released luminaires in her honor. HJHS teacher Kyle Woodard spoke of the faith Riley had and shared with those she came in contact. Ferguson said her faith was something she readily was willing to share with her athletes.
“She was quick to share her faith, prayers and values with her girls,” Ferguson said. “That was the way she lived her life- showing love and spreading positivity to everyone.”
Ferguson said Sunday night’s vigil allowed Riley’s impact to continue.
“I know that people there heard something they needed,” Ferguson said. “On Robin’s living room wall, it says “Faith, hope and love,” which she displayed in her life. The vigil reminded everyone that we may not understand what’s going on right now, but we can still have faith and hope. Her love and her impact is still going even though she’s gone.”