As evenings go, Bobby Larkin's was not the kind that was going to make him any fonder of officials. He had fouled out of the game that night back in 1964, and the harsh shriek of whistles still rang in his ears; he was, quite frankly, looking for revenge. So it was that he waited quietly in the St. Peter's of New Jersey locker room until the two referees were undressing for their showers. "Gentlemen," he said then, nodding casually toward a small, attractive woman on the other side of the room who was talking to a player. "Don't you think it would be decent to wait at least until the boy's mother leaves the room?"
Although the officials stampeded for cover in a storm of shirts and trousers and socks, the St. Peter's players—after they stopped laughing—paid no more attention to the lady than if she had indeed been the mother of each of them. Probably less. Anne Jerene Robbins was not the mother of anyone; she was the St. Peter's team doctor—and still is.
That an unmarried, engaging woman in her early 40s should become the doctor for the then all-male Jesuit-run college in Jersey City is not so difficult to fathom if one is familiar with the way things happen at St. Peter's. The Peacocks are coached by a blustery, red-faced Irishman named Don Kennedy, who has fathered nine children and taken on a striking resemblance to Nikita Khrushchev. As a basketball coach, Kennedy is a great believer in a style of play that can best be described as organized panic. His teams, always undersized, invariably employ a full-court press on defense, while on offense they fast break so furiously that they really do run the opposition off the court. Rich Rinaldi, this year's star, is gunning at a 28.6-point clip and everybody loves the wildness of it all.
But Dr. Robbins hated basketball at first. The game was too confining, she felt, and she much preferred to race her 14-foot sailboat or challenge the Colorado River rapids on a raft. She inherited the desire to meet such challenges, she says, partially from her father, "a half-breed Indian cowpuncher," but most of all from her mother, "a former trick motorcycle rider with the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. She is 82 now and a two-fisted drinker who can belt it down with any man and still hold it like a lady."
Dr. Robbins, a surgeon, got started in basketball when a friend dragged her to a game in 1962 and she volunteered to sew up an injured Sienna player. By the time she finished, the game was over and the boy's teammates were standing around, too paralyzed to undress for their showers. Doctor Robbins quickly left the room. Shortly afterward someone suggested that Dr. Robbins should attend all of St. Peter's home games. She gave in, and before she realized it she was the team's official physician.
"I don't know how it really happened," says Kennedy today. "One minute she was sitting in the stands, the next minute she was on the bench, and one day I looked up and there she was in the locker room taping my players."
"I think when they suggested that I be the team's physician," says Dr. Robbins, "they thought I would give these quick stethoscopic examinations, maybe tape an ankle or stitch a scalp wound, and that was all. But I'm a very thorough physician. When I examine someone I examine him from head to toe."
During the first few years, Dr. Robbins approached the team gingerly. She says she knew, finally, that she had been accepted when she gave the players their hernia examinations. She had dreaded the moment, but when she told the first player in line to cough, he let out a prolonged, satisfied sigh. The rest laughed so hard they almost ruptured themselves.
Today, Dr. Robbins moves so easily among the players that, involuntarily she finds herself talking like one of them. On a recent trip in the South she became so incensed at a referee's treatment of one of the black St. Peter's players that she found herself shouting, "You're all white supremacist s.o.b.'s."
Another disadvantage of her job, says Dr. Robbins, is that her easy familiarity with the players causes them to forget at times that she is still a woman. A couple of years ago, to emphasize her point, she appeared at the University of East Carolina in a blonde wig, textured stockings and a chiffon minidress that showed "I still have a pretty good leg on me at the age of 52." When Coach Kennedy finally recognized her, he says, "I forbade her to go into the dressing room. The players would have had a fit."
This season marks Dr. Robbins' ninth as the team physician, and if she isn't dressing as a lady, she is wearing clothes the boys like. On their last road trip they made her buy a pair of bell-bottoms and an Indian headband, which she wears to games. "They keep me thinking young," she says wistfully.