Vermont Visionaries: BJ Robertson, Blueprint Basketball | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont Visionaries: BJ Robertson, Blueprint Basketball

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Published November 15, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 2, 2022 at 8:02 p.m.


BJ Robertson at Burlington High School - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • BJ Robertson at Burlington High School

In an effort to give kids a chance to play basketball during their schools' off-season, BJ Robertson created a multifaceted program that includes camps, clinics, personalized training and 36 Amateur Athletic Union teams.

Blueprint Basketball began in 2019 and serves up to 300 kids a year. Players in kindergarten through 12th grade come to Chittenden County from across Vermont and even from New York to participate. Four of the five girls on one AAU team this fall traveled more than an hour each way to get to practice.

They learn more than the game, Robertson said. "With sports, it can put you through a lot of different times — fun times winning championships to maybe having a losing season. The highs of the highs and the lows of the lows," he said. "But I think it teaches you a lot in life."

Robertson, 38, remembers his own highs and lows on the court with equal clarity. As a sixth grader at Lyman C. Hunt Middle School in Burlington, he was striving to qualify for the A team, but he didn't make the cut. So he worked hard to prove himself and joined the A team in seventh grade. In eighth grade, he got his first slam dunk during the last game of the season. It's a story he often shares with his players.

"The crowd went silent. They weren't expecting me to dunk the basketball, so they all got quiet, and they were shocked at the same time," Robertson said. "My point guard, who passed it to me, was jumping like we won the championship."

Robertson became an all-star player for Burlington High School, and his team won the state championship in 2001, when he was a junior. Awarded the title Mr. Basketball in his senior year, Robertson is one of 11 players in the school's history to score more than 1,000 points, with 1,412 during his high school career. He ranks third for the most points scored in a season.

He was recruited to play at Saint Michael's College, where he became an all-star player. After college, he played for the Vermont Frost Heaves, a professional team, from 2006 to 2009.

Robertson said out of all of his accomplishments, "Winning the championship was my favorite one just because it was a team effort. All the individual accolades, it wouldn't have happened without the team." His father, Beverlis Robertson, was the assistant coach at the time.

The BHS gym holds a lot of Robertson family memories. Robertson's older brother Manny's team won the state basketball championship his junior year, too. BJ Robertson was the team's ball boy.

"It's very nostalgic always coming in here," Robertson said during an October interview in the gym, the place where things have come full circle. An assistant BHS boys' basketball coach from 2013 to 2017, Robertson has been named head coach and begins the job this month, just after Blueprint Basketball's programs have ended for the year.

He won't be working in the old gym, though. The closure of the school and its planned demolition due to contamination by carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, means the team needs to find another venue.

Other high school coaches value the off-season training that Blueprint Basketball provides. Mark Pfaff, the girls' basketball head coach at Mount Mansfield Union High School in Jericho, has several players who participate in Blueprint each year. Robertson's positive demeanor creates an upbeat atmosphere for kids to learn, Pfaff said.

"We tell our kids that from December to February, everybody is doing exactly the same thing. You're all practicing four days a week," Pfaff said. "The time to get better, if you're serious about the game, is when our season stops in the spring and summer. We call that the 'improvement season.'"

Eighth grader Emma Danaher, who attends Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School in Essex Junction, said the best part of joining Blueprint has been "growing so much as a player with skills, ball handling, shooting."

Eighth grader Alexis Menard-O'Neil, who attends Mater Christi School in Burlington, said, "I like the energy that the practice brings. And I like the way that [Robertson] coaches and the style of it."

BJ Robertson coaching at Blueprint Basketball - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • BJ Robertson coaching at Blueprint Basketball

To run Blueprint programs, Robertson has enlisted two dozen coaches, including his father. His younger sister, Brittany Sandlin, has led fitness training classes, and his own three sons and nephews all play in the program. He relies heavily on his partner in business and in life, Cara Caswell, who coordinates the behind-the-scenes and administrative demands.

"My dining room table, I call it 'Blueprint Headquarters,'" Caswell said.

"Cara and I have a lot of conversations at home about what Blueprint is," Robertson said. "We're a family. Things aren't going to be easy in life, and same thing on the basketball court. How do you get through and persevere through hard times? Mental toughness," Robertson said. "Not just to be great basketball players but to be great people. In our house, we always say, 'It's bigger than basketball.' And it is."

Robertson hopes to find a permanent home base for Blueprint Basketball, ideally a large facility with two or three courts. Currently, practices are held at a rotating list of gymnasiums in Chittenden County, including at Saint Michael's College, Lyman C. Hunt Middle School, Edmunds Middle School and a handful of churches.

"It takes time. Over these years I've been coaching, I've realized things don't just happen right away just because you want them to," Robertson said. "My plan B is to make my plan A work. So even if plan A doesn't work at that time, I can go to plan B, C or D. But eventually, I'm going to get to plan A."

The AAU program costs $475 in the fall and $975 for the spring/summer session. If the fee would prevent a player from participating, their family is encouraged to email Blueprint Basketball. Visit blueprintbasketballvt.com to learn more.

Where to Watch a Game This Winter

COURTESY
  • Courtesy

Want to take your kids to a basketball or hockey game? The NBA and the NHL don't play in Vermont, but the state's colleges host plenty of NCAA action November through February. College games are fun to watch and much more affordable than the big leagues.

Middlebury College

Admission is free to all of Middlebury's regular season games. Winter spectator sports that might be fun for families to see include ice hockey, basketball, squash, swimming and diving. There's something to watch nearly every weekend, and events are staggered so spectators can often catch multiple sports in the same day.

Head men's ice hockey coach Neil Sinclair said there's a men's or women's home ice hockey game every Friday night and Saturday afternoon when the college is in session. This year, the men's team will be led out onto the ice by two Youth 10 hockey players from the Middlebury Amateur Hockey Association during home games.

"In terms of a family looking for things to do in the middle of January, it's a nice outing. There's no fee to get in. It's all free. There's a concession stand in the rink," Sinclair said.

Find the composite calendar of events at athletics.middlebury.edu.

Saint Michael's College

The Colchester liberal arts college offers winter opportunities for watching ice hockey and basketball. Home ice for the Purple Knights is C. Douglas Cairns Recreation Arena in South Burlington, and admission is free.

Basketball tickets cost just $7 for general admission, $5 for seniors and non-Saint Michael's students, and $3 for kids 12 and under. Head men's basketball coach Eric Eaton said nearly every Saturday home basketball game is a league game doubleheader, where fans can see both the men and the women play for the price of one ticket.

"We have a ton of Saturday home games this year," Eaton said. "There are concession stands, and sometimes they have contests during halftime for kids. We see a lot of families in the stands."

Learn more at smcathletics.com.

University of Vermont

It's great to be a kid at UVM athletic events, where promotions cater to junior fans throughout the season. UVM's beloved mascot, Rally Catamount, is having a birthday celebration during the December 11 men's ice hockey game at 4 p.m., followed by a postgame "Skate With the Cat." Young fans can meet some of Rally's closest friends and enjoy the dress-like-a-Catamount station, face painting and a bounce house.

On January 7, the women's ice hockey game at 5 p.m. will be free for kids 12 and under and feature giveaways and a postgame skate with the team. Admission to the women's ice hockey game on January 20 at 6 p.m. is $2 and free for kids 12 and under.

On January 22, the 1 p.m. men's basketball game celebrates Youth Day. Kids 12 and under receive a free team poster and can get autographs after the game. On February 4, women's basketball celebrates National Girls & Women in Sports Day by giving kids 12 and under the opportunity to learn about game-day operations. Email rallycatamount@uvm.edu to apply to be junior marketing director, junior production assistant or junior videographer.

Other kid-focused opportunities at UVM athletics include creating a Catamount Shout-Out. This is an opportunity to be on the hockey rink video board by sending the Catamounts a good-luck message during a game. To be considered, parents should email a 10- to 30-second horizontal video of their child or children to rallycatamount@uvm.edu. Kids 12 and under can also email that address to become an honorary captain, who leads the hockey teams onto the ice before a game and stands with the players during the national anthem. Join Rally's Round Up club to receive exclusive opportunities and stay up to date on all things in Catamount Country at uvmathletics.com. You'll find information on how to buy tickets, as well.

Northern Vermont University

Families can swim, exercise and catch a game at NVU's Lyndon and Johnson campuses. Both have pools and fitness centers and offer 10-visit punch cards starting at $40.

Admission is free to the men's volleyball games at the Johnson campus and to the men's and women's basketball games at both locations. Saturday games start at 1 and 3 p.m. Weekday games start between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.

"It's an opportunity to see some high-level NCAA athletics for no charge," said Greg Eckman, director of athletics and recreation for the Johnson campus. Eckman recommends the January and February games. "We do a lot of halftime events, whether they're giveaways or educational opportunities," he said.

The Johnson campus offers a three-hour-long Friday "Kids Night Out" on December 2 and again in February and April. For $15 per child, families can drop off their kids to play in the sports athletic complex that encompasses the pool and the multi-gym's sport turf field. Visit lyndonhornets.com and nvubadgers.com to learn more.