Every so often, one of Christine Jodrie Robinson’s former teammates from the 2001 Thomas Johnson girls soccer team will turn back the clock by re-posting a photo of them all in a celebratory pile at midfield of UMBC’s soccer stadium.
“I think my most vivid memory was all of us tackling each other at center field,” said Jodrie Robinson, a defender on that stacked Patriots squad, which beat Perry Hall 3-1 that Nov. 15. “It’s nice every once in a while to reminisce about the ending of the game and how positive it was.”
The ending was pretty positive, yes. And the game itself was definitely unforgettable — even as far as state finals go. Because, if you turn that team photo album back another page, you’d likely see a picture of Jodrie, head over heels on the soccer ball, preparing to catapult it into play.
Thomas Johnson’s girls soccer team plays Saturday in the state final for the first time since 2001. Many of the Patriots players weren’t even alive when Jodrie Robinson starred at TJ. And, for as talented, cohesive and resilient as they’ve been in making this run to the Class 3A championship game, none of them can pull off the jaw-dropping stunt that Jodrie Robinson used, repeatedly, to propel her Patriots to their crown.
But, to be entirely fair, who in the world can?
Seventeen years ago, Jodrie Robinson made a name for herself by using a handspring throw-in to launch dangerous ball after dangerous ball into the field of play. In the 4A title game, one of her throws went straight into the net after deflecting off the Perry Hall goalkeeper’s hands, and another resulted in an assist on a goal by teammate Kendall Bolte. The Patriots’ third goal that day was scored by Jodrie Robinson in a more traditional manner, off her foot from close range.
But her circus-trick throw-ins had the TJ faithful cheering wildly every time Jodrie Robinson grabbed the ball and jogged several yards onto the track that encircled the field during TJ’s restarts.
“Here’s the thing,” said former Patriots coach Chuck Nichols, who retired this spring after 38 years of coaching, “I’ve been around soccer my whole life, and I’ve watched many thousands of games, and I’ve never seen anybody throw the ball as far as she can — male or female.”
Nichols and Jodrie Robinson estimated her best throws could travel in the air as far as 40 yards.
“I was, at the core, a defenseman,” said Jodrie Robinson, now a 33-year-old, married mother of one who lives in Clarksburg. “It was nice to be able to bring an offensive threat to the team from a defensive position, because it’s not as common.”
Nothing about the threat she posed was common. The idea for her to try it came when Nichols decided to tap into Jodrie Robinson’s background as a high-level youth gymnast.
“He was like, ‘I bet you can do this,’” said Jodrie Robinson, who was a sophomore when Nichols hatched the plan. “And I’m one of those people where, if the challenge is set, I’m gonna take it.”
Nichols needed some assistance, though, considering he had no clue how to marry Jodrie Robinson’s skills as a gymnast and soccer player. He requested help from former TJ gymnastics coach Jane Ramey so they could gradually teach Jodrie Robinson the kooky kinesiology of a sequence that had her balancing momentarily on a round ball clutched between her hands.
With Ramey on board, the trio began the process in TJ’s modestly sized wrestling room until Jodrie Robinson got comfortable and moved to practicing the technique in the school’s gym.
“We got to the point where she needed more room,” Nichols said. “She threw the ball toward the scoreboard and hit almost where the ceiling met the wall, which maybe was the first one she really ripped as far as distance. That was an ‘Ah-ha’ moment. Like, ‘Oh, my goodness! What have we got here?’”
Nichols began to weaponize Jodrie Robinson’s flip-throws at the start of her junior year. By the championship season, it began producing points.
Nichols recalled how they won the county championship game against Urbana on a flip-throw that also glanced off the keeper’s mitts. Later, in a playoff game, Jodrie Robinson’s throws led to a pair of early goals against a South River team that was caught off guard by her shocking ability. While Jodrie Robinson sent throws arching toward the goal box, Nichols said his coaching counterpart was “animated and upset and yelling.”
These digital days, keeping secret a weapon like Jodrie Robinson’s flip-throws would be impossible. It would’ve been prime material for viral social media videos. Everyone would’ve been clued in when they faced the Patriots.
Still, despite the intel, stopping her would’ve been another matter, since she could airmail the ball into the middle of a scrum in front of the goal, where anything could happen. Her state-title performance put her name in headlines, which was strange for Jodrie Robinson, who even today seems reluctant to boast despite the flabbergasting nature of her prep feats.
“I’ve always been one of those that worked hard and been in the shadows, so being a star was kind of an odd thing for me,” she said. “But I would say I’ve never seen anyone who could do [the flip-throw] as consistently with speed and trajectory as I did.”
Most of Jodrie Robinson’s senior season at TJ was wiped out by a torn ACL, but she went on to play collegiate soccer at George Washington and UNC-Greensboro. She couldn’t often even attempt her trick throw in college, though, because most fields didn’t have enough room on the sideline for her to gain the momentum she needed, typically 10 or 15 feet.
Then, by the time she tore her ACL again as a college junior, she put the flip-throw behind her for good.
Today, she is a physician’s assistant at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. She and her husband, Peter Robinson, are raising Camden, 2½, to enjoy sports, even though Jodrie Robinson has happily transitioned into being a former athlete.
However, Jodrie Robinson’s name is indelibly linked to that 2001 state soccer championship. With TJ on the precipice of its first title since then, current Patriots coach Adam Weinstein isn’t playing up the history angle as he prepares his girls.
“My message is going to be: Enjoy the process,” he said. “The history thing, I think it’s cool and interesting, but my thought on the matter is: Make your own history. You can etch your own history into one of the oldest high schools in Frederick County. And it’s there forever. The last banner is up there. You can see it.”
Jodrie Robinson is largely responsible for it, so this isn’t a bad little history lesson for today’s Patriots. Even though Weinstein won’t harp on it, he appreciates the degree of difficulty for what Jodrie Robinson routinely pulled off.
All these years later, her flip-throws are still hard for most to fathom.
“I’ve never done it,” said Weinstein, an Urbana grad who, like Jodrie, was a defender in high school. “I’d break my neck.”
Follow Joshua R. Smith on Twitter: @JoshuaR_Smith.
Editor’s Note: Star Tracking is a series that features updates on the lives of star athletes from Frederick County who played sports here 10 or more years ago. If you know of a good subject for Star Tracking, contact sports editor Josh Smith at email@example.com or 240-215-8603.