By RAYMOND PARTSCH III
For the LSWA
Robin Fambrough has had access to athletes since she was six years old.
Fambrough’s father, Harold Vincent, was a commercial meat salesman that sold goods to restaurants and entertainment-sporting venues around the greater Louisville, Kentucky, area. Vincent occasionally had to visit the venues during weekend events, if there was an emergency. When those moments occurred Vincent would bring his young daughter with him.
“When you are a young child, and your dad hasn’t seen you that week and maybe mom needs a break, your dad turns to you and says ‘come with me,’” Fambrough remembered.
From watching a University of Louisville player shoot free throws at the Jefferson County Armory (the former part-time home gym for the Cardinals), to standing near the concession stand for games at Freedom Hall to getting a chance to feed a carrot to a horse at one of the stables at famed Churchill Downs, Fambrough got behind-the-scene access to athletes on a variety of levels.
“To be standing there, and 20 to 30 feet away there is a Louisville player shooting free throws — that was one of the coolest things ever to me,” Fambrough added.
Fambrough would eventually leave her native Kentucky, even though her distinctive bluegrass accent did not, and through a combination of work ethic, tireless dedication, immense talent and even more humility, she became one of the most respected and decorated sports journalists in Louisiana history.
After a year’s delay due to the pandemic, she will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a 2020 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism. The Induction Celebration is June 24-26 in Natchitoches.
“Through my entire high school career and into college and even beyond it was always about the bigger picture for her,” former LSU All-American and Capitol High star Seimone Augustus said. “Robin saw my situation at LSU, but saw it for more than that. She saw the impact on women’s basketball and the culture here at LSU. When you read any of her stories you can feel that passion.”
Born in Louisville in 1957, Fambrough grew up a self-described “gym rat” as she spent that precious time with her father on business trips, but also at the local high school (Shawnee High) where her parents were part of the booster club. That meant even more games to watch in person for Fambrough.
“Until I was old enough to work at the concession stand — I was that kid that was always at the games, playing under the bleachers for football or going to basketball games four nights a week.”
Fambrough would go on to attend Jesse Stuart High School (Class of 1975) and joined her high school newspaper staff. Fambrough, though, didn’t believe she was all that great back then — and still doesn’t.
“I don’t think I ever was a great writer,” Fambrough said. “I still don’t always think that. I just worked very hard but always had a love of sports.”
Fambrough would attend Western Kentucky University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology and a minor in folklore, while working for the school’s newspaper, yearbook and as well in the sports information office.
Her first job out of college was as a general assistant in the Sports Information Department at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, where she would spend two years sharpening her skills being involved with all sports, including covering the emergence of female sports.
“I remember on Monday mornings I would get an updated football defensive depth chart from the coaches,” Fambrough said. “If the game didn’t go well that weekend, that wasn’t always an easy task.”
From there she quickly made the transition from sports information to newspapers without having to leave Thibodaux as she joined the staff of The Daily Comet, where she would work from 1981-84.
In those early years, Fambrough felt “that she was growing into” becoming a sports reporter.
Fambrough, and her husband, Kevin, relocated back to her native Kentucky where she worked as a freelancer for a year and as a part-time desk clerk at YMCA before the family moved to Hollywood, Florida, where she did several tasks (TV listings, sports clerk, and writer) at the Sun-Tattler. Fambrough also worked part time in the camera store at a local mall while also giving birth to her daughter Megan Fambrough Kurtz.
The family moved back to Louisiana and Fambrough spent more than two years working as a freelancer at The Town Talk in Alexandria and then The Advocate. In November 1990, The Advocate hired Fambrough full time as a general assignment reporter-desk clerk. A year later she would become the prep writer — a post she has held for nearly three decades.
“Almost right away Robin took control of what we did and what we needed to do with our high school coverage,” said longtime Advocate Executive Sports Editor Butch Muir. “There never was a time that she wasn’t on top of what we were doing. That was a huge asset.
“She genuinely cared about what she was covering,” Muir added. “If Robin said that we need to do this then I knew we needed to be there.”
“My thing has always been there is so much going on, let’s try to cover as much as possible,” Fambrough said. “I just always thought let’s try to do this and do that. Give as much coverage as possible.”
It didn’t take long for Fambrough to work herself into the local high school sports scene. Her secret? She was never flashy, was always sincere and had a natural ability to make both coaches and players feel comfortable talking about everything from a last-second buzzer beater to a player suspension.
“I was eight or nine years old and I was in a free throw competition here in Baton Rouge,” Augustus said. “I was getting ready to head to regionals and she wrote a little story on me traveling to the regionals. It was my first time being interviewed. Period. It was like ‘yes or no’ answers, but she was very warm and generous. She made me comfortable.”
“She never was intimated by being in the locker room or on the field,” said ESPN football analyst Marcus Spears, whose high school career at Southern Lab was covered by Fambrough. “She always reported what was said. She always respected the craft of athletes. If Robin didn’t write about it then it probably wasn’t important.”
Fambrough also developed a reputation of placing the spotlight on non-traditional sports such as cross country and track and field that are sometimes overshadowed by football.
“Football is king here, but I also had a pretty good kinship with my basketball coaches because of where I was from and my love for basketball,” Fambrough said. “I would also make it a point to reach out to the other sports and a variety of schools inside and outside of Baton Rouge. The first event I covered at The Advocate was the Catholic High Invitational Cross Country Meet and that left an impression on me.”
“I remember assigning a freelancer to cover a baseball game one time,” Fambrough added. “The baseball coach jokingly told me that he nearly had stroke because no one had ever gone there to cover a game.”
Fambrough also cultivated a reputation of having a personal touch that helped her tell the stories — the most memorable and difficult ones imaginable.
“It’s just her demeanor, calmness, and approach,” legendary Glen Oaks basketball coach Harvey Adger said. “She has a way to make you feel so warm the way she approaches her questions. She always has a calming effect and you’re not going to find anyone that works harder than her.”
That touch was evident when it came to the passing of former Glen Oaks basketball star Ryan Francis in 2005 to gun violence.
“I don’t have any biological children myself, but Robin realized how close Ryan was to me,” Adger said. “The way she nurtured me through that time — because it was a traumatic time for me — was amazing.“
In the past three decades, Fambrough has become one of the most well-regarded sports journalists in the state.
Fambrough has been honored as the LSWA Division I Prep Writer of the Year a record five times, inducted into the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame and was the LSWA’s first female president.
Those accolades have referred to Fambrough as a trailblazer — a label she is not comfortable with.
“I just feel like I am a writer,” she said. “I like to tell stories. That is one of the labels other people want to give me. I guess I am okay with it. I remember years ago there was this very sweet gentlemen who ran this high school press box. I asked him where to sit and he told me wherever I liked. I then heard him saying excitedly, ‘We have our first female sports reporter.’ For me, I just want to do my job. I think most women do.”
So what is the secret to her success? Follow three simple rules.
“Be present as much as possible, be engaged, and be sincere,” Fambrough said.
Now, Fambrough is preparing to receive yet another honor — induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“It is very humbling that I would be in this position,” Fambrough said. “I love the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, but when I think of hall of famers I think of athletes. I am not Red Smith. I am the high school writer from Baton Rouge who goes to work.”