January Community MVP: Rob Keane, Tolland

By Reid L. Walmark 

Rob Keane, of Tolland, has been coaching youth sports long enough to have played a role in plenty of memorable achievements by his players and teams. Keane, 51, has been coaching basketball and baseball since his college days.

One of his most memorable experiences came four years ago with his Tolland boys 8th grade travel basketball team. Down by a point in the final seconds of a tournament semifinal in New Jersey, Keane called a timeout, a play was drawn up and the team broke the huddle.

The shot last second shot went in and the berth in the final was secured. It wasn’t the first dramatic victory by one of Keane’s  teams, but he says it stands out because of what happened in the huddle. Not an ounce of ego, doubt or disharmony from the team. The players instinctively grasped their roles, and they encouraged each other as they headed back on to the floor.

“Piece of cake,” one player said.

Keane is the Month’s Community Most Valuable Person for his volunteer work and for helping to teach teamwork and citizenship to his basketball and baseball players for all these years. ,

That buzzer-beater in 2013, Keane said, might represent the prime “aha” moment in his career. “It was a nice culmination of what they were: teammates first,” Keane said.

Keane recognized that young teenagers in such pressure situations wouldn’t ordinarily respond with such poise, confidence and maturity. What he preached and emphasized all came together; it’s what coaches dream can happen if all the lessons are absorbed. In this instance, each felt important. Without everything done perfectly — inbounds pass, decoy targets, screen-setters, final pass to the shooter — the basket wouldn’t have been made.

“I was amazed,” he said. “They just supported each other.”

They won the championship by 30 points.

“I get as much enjoyment from a kid getting his only hit of the season as I do [in watching] the star [all season],” said Keane, president of the Tolland Basketball Club since 2007.

“My philosophy is to build good teams and to build good people. We teach values and sportsmanship.

“We’re not screamers and yellers but we’re not ‘everyone gets a trophy,’ either. The kids must enjoy playing.”

Keane, who is a development officer for the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation, played basketball and baseball at Tolland High School (class of 1983). He returned to youth sports at age 16 as a recreation basketball official on weekends. Keane continued officiating in college, at Eastern Connecticut (1987), deciding to become a coach, too.

He has coached his four sons in both sports, as the head coach or an assistant, starting with his oldest, Corey. Keane has served on the Little League board for 17 years. He has coached at different levels of both sports.

During some seasons, he has coached two travel teams but with little overlap because scheduling games has been part of his duties. Still, when he has been late to practice due to work responsibilities, his wife, Susan, has been able to run the show until his arrival.

His start with his sons each came at age five or six with tee-ball, most often progressing to recreation hoops before travel.

“He is passionate about helping students via sports,” said Dave Vasquenza, a local AAU coach and former classmate of Keane’s.

“Rob is an active advocate for children and a supporter of causes that make a difference in the lives of others,’’ Vaszquenza said. “His leadership roles and various multi-sport coaching positions, spanning decades, have positively affected countless people.”

In selecting an assistant coach, or finding teams for whom to serve as an assistant coach, Keane has sought a shared philosophy, namely in teaching the same values and using a similar coaching system.

A tribute to Keane’s coaching comes from Corey’s desire to follow in his father’s footsteps but at a higher level. Corey is an assistant baseball coach at Quinnipiac after having assisted high school and American Legion teams.

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