Faculty Spotlight: "Coach Reggie" Roberts
In 1996, Reggie Roberts was working at a vocational center for special needs adults helping them gain the skills and confidence to be productive and independent members of society. He drove a van for the center, and he recalls that every day at 3:10 pm the same song came on the radio, “Long December” by the Counting Crows. Weeks went by until one day a specific lyric caught his attention and felt like it was meant just for him - “If you think you might come to California, I think you should.”
“I didn’t have a lot of reasons to stay in Boston,” recalls Reggie. “I knew my family and friends would always be there for me, and I just had this feeling that if I go on this wild adventure across the country that something really good was going to happen.” The next day he gave his one-year notice and began saving money for his move out west.
Reggie remembers his father’s concern about him not having a job or plans for when he arrived in California. "My favorite movie is Field of Dreams," says Reggie. "And just like Kevin Costner built the baseball field without a team to play on it, I knew that if I did this, the rest would follow."
When he arrived in California, he moved in with his college roommate in Santa Cruz. Within two weeks he was working for an in-home support company and they needed someone to help with a very unique, high-needs individual. The client Reggie was assigned to care for was named James and he suffered from Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome,
a rare genetic disorder which symptoms include self-mutilation and neurological impairment.
“James became one the greatest teachers I have ever had in my life,” says Reggie. “To see what this man went through on a daily basis, the constant battle between his mind and body to stay alive -- it was crushing and inspiring. I could never tell myself I was having a bad day again.”
After five years with James, Reggie knew it was time for a change for both him and his friend. He left the caregiving position and took a part-time job coaching wrestling at Aptos High School. One day the vice principal pulled him aside because she had noticed that a group of students who were regulars in the disciplinary office had stopped being sent there - and those students all happened to be on the wrestling team. She asked him why he thought that might be the case.
“I told her that I ask the students to be the best version of themselves. And when they act out or demonstrate behavior that is less than that, I tell them that it’s not a true reflection of who they are. I believe in them until they believe in themselves.”
The vice principal invited Reggie to overhaul the student support program for the school’s highest-risk students. For 20 years he worked at Aptos High and during his tenure was named the Northern California Coach of the Year and received the KSBW Crystal Apple Award. In 2010, Reggie was honored as one of only ten California League of High School's State Educators of the Year. More importantly, he made students feel seen and guided them to more positive choices.
“I never yelled or criticized and always tried to respect every student that walked into my office or the gym,” said Reggie. “Sometimes I brought them to my office and just talked incessantly until they were so bored, they finally started listening to me. Ultimately, you just have to show every student that they matter - because they do.”
Reggie was the recipient of the same type of mentorship he exemplifies. “I was that student that showed up in the disciplinary office when it wasn’t baseball or football season. One day, my football coach found me in the office and told me I was joining the wrestling team. I was an angry teenager with a dysfunctional family -- but he saw the good person inside me and never gave up. He became the driving force behind my ability to gain a different life perspective and we are friends to this day.
When Reggie arrived at Chartwell, he felt he had found his dream job. His life’s work of 30 years has always focused on advocating for those who are facing challenges in some way or another.
My personal journey is to try and open doors that have been closed to students or to find those who may have closed the door on themselves. I’m paying it forward because thankfully an individual did that for me."
Reggie says that being at Chartwell has revitalized and reinvigorated his sense of creativity and inquisitiveness.
Random isn’t always random,” Reggie shares. “Landing here in California, finding Chartwell, could be seen as coincidental, but I know it was always my purpose.