After 34 years, Robert Stratton will be home in time for dinner.
Stratton, the only activities director Hanover High School has ever known, will depart June 27, ending a career in public education that began as a teacher and coach at John Rolfe Middle School in 1979. His next career move? Stratton will take over the AD position at The Steward School in far western Henrico County July 1.
“Steward has no lit athletic facilities outside, so going home for dinner is something I’m looking forward to,” Stratton said during a sit-down interview with the Herald-Progress.
Stratton was at ease and very reflective as he looked back on the events of the past 34 years, and the people who influenced him along the way.
“I was fortunate to go to Henrico High School when it was grades 7-12, and to play for Don Colley, for Guy Davis, for John Brown; those people were pillars of Central Region sports,” Stratton noted.
Colley was Stratton’s baseball coach for three varsity seasons. In two of them, the Warriors played in the state tournament semifinals, losing each time by a single run.
Four years, and a college degree later, Stratton returns to Henrico County, beginning as a teacher, coach, and department chairman at the then-new John Rolfe Middle School. A year later, he’s on the Henrico-Hanover Middle School Athletic Council. After three years he moved to Mills Godwin High in 1982, and found many familiar faces.
“To be able to go to Godwin and be on a staff with 17 coaches and teachers that taught me at Henrico, that was part of the reward where Bob Stratton went, ‘wait a minute, I’m being placed with people who’ve been instrumental in my life.’ And from that point on, I’ve never wanted to let any of those people down,” Stratton said.
Stratton’s meticulous attention to detail, work ethic, and deep desire not to disappoint, has left a monumental impact on Hanover County Public Schools. After a nine-year stint at Godwin, which included time as assistant baseball coach, he received what he and other colleagues believed to be the right opportunity. Though it would mean leaving Henrico County, where he had been a student, teacher or coach for nearly 20 years, the position was too good to pass up.
“For me to leave, that was huge,” Stratton emphasized. “But to go to Atlee, be an assistant football coach, a department chair, later assistant athletic director, assistant baseball coach, that was a fun experience, because I was able to build that from the ground up.”
The Atlee experience, coupled with Rolfe and Godwin also being new schools, left a label of sorts on Stratton as a builder, but he has tried to stay very level-headed about that reputation and its results.
“With John Rolfe, out of college and wet behind the ears, then with Godwin, both were situations where you watched, observed, and learned how to do things the right way. At Atlee, we made a lot of mistakes. We were rushing to open Atlee and not thinking of the consequences of those students coming from Lee-Davis, from Patrick Henry,” Stratton remembered. “We stepped on some toes and probably did some things that caused some animosity between the county schools.”
Stratton learned these lessons well, and waited for the opportunity to do it better. But first, he was called to add another expertise to his administrative repertoire: caretaker.
He spent two years as AD at Patrick Henry at the turn of the century, Stratton confident in knowing why that stop had to be made.
“Dr. [Stuart] Roberson [former School Superintendent] wanted to find out, ‘is this a guy who can go in and just listen, observe, and then move things forward,’” Stratton said.
In 2002, Stratton received a crown-jewel opportunity, to help open Hanover High School.
“To be hired here a year before this building opened with Dr. [Carol] Cash, who has one of the greatest visionary minds in education I’ve ever been around, to work with her every day saying we are going to build the culture of this building, for a year to do that, then watch over the past 10 years from where we started to now where we are…when I walk out the door June 27, that’s the ultimate experience as an educator,” he said.
Stratton chose activities director over an assistant principal position because the former would be a part of the year-long preparation to open the school, the latter wouldn’t come on board until two months before the school opened for classes. It was a shrewd move, taking advantage of a career filled with many strengths catered to opening a facility, but also with a price. Coaches stay late, teachers stay late, but usually for stretches and not for nine months straight.
That’s the job of a school AD.
“From 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., I’m director of athletics, in charge of custodians, in charge of maintenance, in charge of building rental. Then at 3:30, you start a second job and now you’re in charge of every athletic team, with practices, games, coverage, officials, transportation. I can do it, but after 34 years I don’t know what it’s like to go home,” Stratton noted.
Now, he’ll enjoy the best of both worlds, continuing his administrative career at The Steward School, but also enjoying some nights at home.
He’ll also keenly follow the progress of his Hanover successor, as football coach Josh Just hangs up his whistle to become the second activities director in Hanover history. Stratton remembers hiring Just as an interim coach for 2005.
“I told him, ‘Josh, you’ve got to trust me.’ I knew Josh Just was the man for that job. We went 0-10. We went through the interview process, and I hired an 0-10 football coach. But the rest is history. I’ve always been a person where when we’ve had an opportunity here to promote within, we would. We hired a young staff when we opened and I wanted them to know when a position was open, the staff knows we’d be looking internally to fill it,” Stratton explained.
This strategy helped the culture of Hanover develop quickly in just a few years, and began to pay off dividends in the classroom with test scores, and on the playing fields. Just coached Hanover football to four regional titles in six seasons. The softball team won the state championship in its third year of existence. And, fittingly, Stratton’s era ended with the former baseball coach handing the Group AAA state championship trophy to his Hawks after their 2-1 championship victory over Great Bridge on June 9.
Stratton thought his leaving Henrico County was difficult in 1991 to help open Atlee. He readily admits, emotionally, that leaving Hanover after 22 years will be difficult.
“When I walk out the door, it’s going to be difficult. I hope that people will look back at me and say ‘he did it the right way.’ In education, and in sports, you can’t please everyone. For people to look at where Dr. Cash and I started with this building, to where Dr. Gresham and I are now, that the people who’ve come into this building, when they left, I hope they can only say that Bob Stratton made a difference in this building and impacted the lives of their children and this community,” an emotional Stratton said.