Roberto Allen is the head boys’ varsity basketball coach at Withrow University High School in Cincinnati. His Tigers team has had a very good year, and he’s proud of his players’ accomplishments. But much of his work, his heart work, takes place off the basketball court.
Coach ‘Berdo’ makes it clear, “I absolutely love basketball. It’s changed my life.” And it’s other lives – those of his players - that he takes great responsibility for. “The challenges that our kids have is that they have to grow up so early. Many of my boys come from a dysfunctional family where they have to behave as an adult as a kid. You know, to raising their siblings, to controlling a house while their mother is at work.” There aren’t many fathers taking part in the players’ families, so the teens have tremendous responsibilities and they’re really “not allowed to be kids” because of circumstances.
Coach Allen always allows his personal at-home time to be interrupted by an urgent phone call from a team member, often late at night. “Those calls range from domestic violence phone calls – I may have to intervene with a mother or father or boyfriend, or mother vs. son situation, where the mother is arguing with her son, and I have to be the male role figure to calm that situation down.
I get calls sometimes when my boys can’t sleep at night because their anxiety is on a high due to a loved one dying, or a close friend being shot. Or they just have so many thoughts about their future that they give me all types of phone calls.”
If you listen to Coach Berdo’s voice and tone in our complete podcast interview, it’s obvious that he is not annoyed by late night calls. He actually considers it a privilege to try and help these teens grow into confident adults with a positive future. It’s a mission of sorts. “I believe you have to be honest with our youth to get them prepared for the real world. I believe if you shelter kids, you hinder their growth. I go the extra mile for my kids because somebody did it for me. And I know that if I don’t do it, they have a high probability of going out there and being negatively influenced by guys that don’t have their best interest at heart.”
Coach Roberto fully realizes that he is a role model and sometimes even fills a dad gap for those players without fathers in the picture. “Due to how I carry myself. Due to the advice that I provide. Due to how I love on them. Due to me preaching to those men as if they were my child, some of my guys give me that title,” …Dad.
An honor he cherishes.
All the extra that he does takes a willingness to think of others above himself. He minces no words. “It’s a big sacrifice, man. I’m obsessed with being a head coach. I think you’ve got to be a little crazy to be a head coach. But I’m obsessed with helping young people. I’m obsessed with being a leader and that I take this responsibility very, very seriously. And I’m committed and dedicated and I’m willing to sacrifice things in my personal life for me to fulfill my role as a leader in the lives of these young people.”
In our complete podcast interview just below, Coach shares about the two key people who influenced him as he was growing up with disfunction. “I didn’t have a father. My mother was an alcoholic and drug addict.” He shares how those two men provided him with support “to keep going and stay the course” at the same time that many of his peers “went the wrong way.” His friends are “great guys, but the ‘street’ got them.”
Like a number of school coaches, Coach Berdo is paid once a year. Typically, a coach in this category might earn something in the neighborhood of $5,000, for the year. They aren’t reimbursed for recruitment trips. And they certainly don’t get paid for phone calls late at night. The only compensation for the extra mile is knowing you’re making a difference in a teenager’s life – and that pays life dividends far above cash.