Lawson Robertson, who served as coach of both the University of Pennsylvania and the United States Olympic track teams, was a participant and a coach of track since 1901.  He began his career as an athlete in New York City, winning many championships for the YMCA, and afterwards for the New York Athletic Club.  He was particularly

proficient in the dashes, pole vault, high jump, shot put, half-mile and quarter-mile races.

 

Robertson competed at the YMCA and won the all-around championship for the year 1901.  As a member of both the 1904 and 1906 Olympic track teams, he placed second in the standing high jump.  Robertson had the distinction of introducing the javelin throw to U.S. track and field after the 1906 Olympics in Athens.  From 1906-08, he was the 300-yard national indoor champion.  In 1907, he finished first in the 150-yard dash in the national indoor championships.  Robertson also held the world record for the three-legged race with Harry Hillman.

 

After retiring from competition, Robertson began his coaching career in 1909 when he coached track and field at the New York Athletic Club and afterwards, at Brooklyn College and New York University.  He was appointed head track coach at the University of Pennsylvania in 1916, and was thereafter well-known for developing quality track athletes.

 

As the Penn coach, his 1920, 1923, 1924, 1930 and 1931 teams won the indoor track national championships with his 1920 squad also capturing the outdoor track championship. During his 31 years at Penn, Robertson coached nearly a dozen world record holders including Ted Meredith, W'16 and Larry Brown, W'22.  He also served as the head coach of the Olympic track and field teams in 1924, 1928, 1932 and 1936.  In addition to his duties as track coach, Robertson spent some years as the conditioning coach for the Penn football team and taught military tactics to undergraduates.  Robertson was well-versed in this type of teaching as he spent nine years in the National Guard in New York.

 

At the time of Robertson's retirement, Dr. LeRoy Mercer, dean of the Department of Physical Education said, "Coach Robertson came to the University in 1916 with an established reputation as a track coach and added luster to his name and to the annals of sport during his 31 years as head coach.  The University has never had finer cooperation, nor more loyal support from a coach.  I know the other officers of the University of Pennsylvania join me in this statement." - excerpt from the New York Times, July 8, 1947.

           

The death of Lawson Robertson removed from the American track and field scene the man who was its outstanding coach for more than 40 years, whose penchant for the lighter side of life ran rampant in the men who ran rampant for him at Penn and around the world.  Robertson's unique standing in sport history won him a place with the select group of top coaches in the Helms Hall of Fame, and his name remains one that is still spoken with awe whenever track and field men come together.

A plaque in the name of the late Lawson "Robbie" Robertson was erected at Franklin Field in 1953 and Irving J. Feist, W’29 stated at that plaque unveiling that "... keep alive the example of a leader who saw the highest purpose of amateur sport in its relationship to education, to national character and to world understanding...Robbie's dignity, tact and perspective made him an ambassador without portfolio, of the sports world to the academic, of Pennsylvania to its intercollegiate contemporaries, of the American athlete to those of other nations."