Teacher, Coach, Mentor, Friend. Knoxville teacher Eric Robertson was so many things to so many people, but he shone with the same light in all of those roles.
Robertson, 28, died unexpectedly while playing basketball on Monday night. An “outstanding” collegiate and professional basketball player, Robertson lived with his family in Knoxville for four years.
Robertson is survived by his wife Jerica and young son Luca James. Originally from Huntsville, Alabama, Robertson taught Spanish at Powell High School.
He was also an assistant basketball coach for Grace Christian Academy in Karns. The school announced his death to students Monday night.
Powell High School principal Chad Smith said Robertson was at the beginning of a “very promising teaching career.”
Robertson was hired in July and made a difference right at the start of this school year.
Smith said Robertson has a natural ability to connect with all types of students — athletes, non-athletes and performing arts children alike.
“He had a wonderful smile, that’s what I think we all came up with,” Smith said. “He was always talking to everyone and everyone and it’s the smile. He reached out to students in a way that others could not.”
Being a tall man himself, Smith often looks over the heads of everyone in the hallway at Powell. But with 6-foot-4 Robertson there, Smith could also proudly watch him stand above all.
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“It was always comforting to see those big smiles coming down the hall,” Smith said.
Smith said Robertson’s willingness to hone the skills he learned during his years dedicated to basketball came through in the classroom. He mentored other new teachers and wanted to be the educator he could be.
“It means a lot to see a young professional teacher smiling and enjoying his work,” Smith said. The students noted Robertson’s enthusiasm and genuine concern for his job.
After Knox County’s spring break, Powell planned to host a basketball tournament as a fundraiser. The winning team of students would compete against a team of teachers.
Smith said the students were looking forward to partially playing him to see him dunk.
Basketball was one of Robertson’s joys in life. He led his team to three straight championship games at Lee High School before playing four seasons of college basketball.
A No. 15 for the Chattanooga Mocs, Robertson scored 12 points in the team’s 2016 Southern Conference win.
Robertson started all 35 games that season as a senior. He then played professionally in the British Basketball League for the Leicester Riders for two seasons, winning the league title both years.
Leicester released a statement on Robertson’s death, saying he was an “amazing team-mate, a pleasure to coach and a firm fan favourite”.
After returning from England, Robertson began working as a Spanish teacher at Sacred Heart Cathedral Middle School. Sacred Heart released a statement saying Robertson died playing basketball.
Robertson’s many friends and teammates shared memories on social media, recalling his “contagious smile” and bright light as a person of faith.
Memory after memory focused on his love of life and love of his family.
The Powell community was “devastated” by Robertson’s death, Smith said. Knox County Schools sent a crisis response team to the school to provide counseling to the many students affected by the loss.
“It was a hard day. And we will continue to lift up the Robertson family in our thoughts and prayers, and he will always be a Powell Panther,” Smith said.