Toby Robinson

Toby Robinson poses for a photo on the Belgrade High School football field Thursday morning. Pending school board approval at the July 13 meeting, Robinson is the school’s new activities director.

Toby Robinson has accepted the offer to become Belgrade High School’s activities director pending school board approval at the July 13 meeting.

Robinson will replace Rick Phillips, who retired last month after 11 years as AD to pursue another career opportunity in the state of Washington.

“I’m a Belgrade boy through and through. Black and green all the way,” Robinson said Thursday morning. “Raised up through here, graduated here, came back here, and hopefully I bring a lot of experiences and ideas here to this school. I’m really looking forward to this position. This is my dream job, no question about it.”

Robinson is a 1992 graduate of Belgrade High and earned a degree in education at Montana State University. He spent 13 years teaching in the Silicon Valley (a southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area in California), earned his masters degree while there, and for nine years was the AD at a middle school before returning to Montana in 2014.

Since then, Robinson has taught physical education, and strength and health classes at Belgrade in addition to serving as an assistant football and girls basketball coach. He also created a freshman strength class, which will debut this fall as the school begins its second year in Class AA following more than 30 years in A.

While there have been other career opportunities since returning to the state, Robinson noted staying in Belgrade was paramount.

“I’ve seen positions open around the state for athletic directors and this has always been my goal,” he said.

Before moving to California, Robinson was a student-teacher at Manhattan when Neil Harvey served as athletic director. It was there that he gained interest in eventually becoming an AD.

“It sparked my interest and it took me four years to get going,” said Robinson. “Over in California my principal just kept saying, ‘You got some administrator in you, you need to get going on this.’ So it took it.”

While yet to be officially approved by the school board, Robinson has hit the ground running since accepting the position last week. He’s been busy working with coaches on summer programs and is slowly setting up shop in Phillips’ former office adjacent to the Belgrade Special Events Center.

Once fully up and running, Robinson’s priority is two-fold. He wants to promote all activities in the high school, not just sports, and create more interest in extracurricular activities.

“I think a lot of people think an athletic director just worries about the sports and this and that. And the truth is a lot of the activities get swept under the rug for notoriety,” Robinson said. “Do they know that we’ve won five state championships in the past nine years in culinary. How many people know that?”

With that in mind, Robinson wants to recognize current student-athletes as well as those who previously walked the halls and competed for the Panthers.

“I want to be the world’s biggest promoter for everything we do,” he said. “I want to start a wall of fame out here just like every other high school has ... have just a walk down memory lane. It’s going to take a lot of work.”

While Belgrade has a rich history of success, the majority of school’s programs struggled in their first year in AA. Robinson was reluctant to say how long it will take for the Panthers to become competitive, but noted it depends on the commitment of student-athletes.

“It all depends on buy-in, student buy-in. We’ve got coaches in place. We’ve got people in the right spots,” he said. “We’ve got to get the kids excited about it. How do we do that? We promote them. We just got to promote things and make them seem exciting.”

Nearly half a dozen new head coaches, including boys soccer and volleyball, have been hired for the upcoming school year, and Robinson is excited about the “new blood” and “new ideas” they have.

“I was on the hiring committee for all of our head coaches and I can tell you we’ve got some great people in place,” he said. “We got some ex-Belgrade people, we’ve got some high energy people, extremely dedicated people, so we’re kind of doing a little bit of a culture shift for sure.”

That shift is already evident, Robinson added, as returning athletes have shown a renewed interest in getting better in the weight room, and coaches have seen strong turnouts during voluntary workouts.

“Coaches are just dedicated. They’re ready to go. They want to see what’s best for the kids,” Robinson said. “And the kids, I think being all kind of cooped up, are over COVID. They’re ready to get out and do stuff.”