By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
Amsterdam boys basketball's Robbie Sherlock is leading a double-life.
On the hardwood, the senior does his best tough-guy act. With the smallish Running Rams lacking a true big man, the 6-foot-3 Sherlock is the team's de facto center, forcing him to constantly bang -- and push, shove, scrap and claw -- with the behemoths of the Big 10, like Troy's 6-foot-9 Javion Ogunyemi or Schenectady's 6-foot-7 Darius Macon.
He is the Rams' tough guy, playing on a bum left ankle and a foot still smarting from a torn tendon suffered during the football season. It is his toughness that allows himself to will his way to feats on the basketball court, like when he outjumps Ogunyemi for the opening jump ball against Troy. It is that same toughness that often leaves Sherlock gimpy after games -- like after the same contest against Troy, which ends for Sherlock with him crawling off the court on all fours after his ankle gives way late in the fourth quarter.
After that early January game, Sherlock leaves on crutches, but Amsterdam head coach Tony Orapello laughs off the idea he will be without the senior for the team's next game.
"Oh, he'll play," says Orapello. "He always plays."
He does -- of course -- registering eight points and a team-high seven rebounds in the team's next game just four days later.
As Sherlock goes through his battles in the paint, Costa and Margaret "Peg" Lazarou watch from the bleachers at Amsterdam High School. A star at AHS in any sport he tried in the early 1940s, Costa loves to watch the games; meanwhile, Peg enjoys the games, but mostly just wants her grandson to avoid injury, a desire carried over from watching Sherlock play football.
"She hates it if I hit the ground," says Sherlock. "She covers her eyes."
That nervousness exists on two levels. First of all, she wants her grandson happy and healthy; second of all, she needs his body able to help around her house with the chores that need to get done.
That's where Sherlock's second life comes into play, in which he is just a kid trying his best to take care of those who helped to take care of him.
-- -- --
Peg retired from teaching music in the Greater Amsterdam School District more than 20 years ago. Looking back, the now-84-year-old says the months immediately after that decision were miserable ones for her. While Costa could fill any amount of free time he had with his golf habit, Peg says filling her newly-found idle time was far from easy.
So, as recently-retired people in New York are wont to do, a move to Florida was made. But after a few months, Peg was sure the change was not taking and the snowbirds migrated back North.
Not long after the move back to Amsterdam, what to do with her time quickly became apparent.
"Robbie was born and I said, 'That's it; I'm taking care of him,'" she remembers.
So, Peg sent her daughter, Christine, back to her job at GASD and watched over Robbie -- an only child -- each day at his house. When he got a bit older, the situation stayed the same, but the location changed to the home of "Munna" and "Poppy," the grandparents' affectionate nicknames.
"I took care of him pretty much every day until he went off to kindergarten," says Peg. "We've been bosom buddies for a long time."
-- -- --
During this past football season, each game seemed to either bring along a new ailment or exacerbate an existing one for Sherlock. The change of sport has done no favors for Sherlock, as the undersized-for-his-position senior catches sharp elbows each contest and probably takes more abuse on the court than on the gridiron as a wide receiver. The pain from the hits has caused Sherlock to adorn his body with nearly all of the protections from his football season; beneath his basketball uniform, the senior wears pads on his chest, hips and thighs.
Sherlock's pains are put into perspective each day, though, when he heads over to his grandparents' house. Always a constant visitor to their home, Sherlock's trips to see his relatives grew more frequent during the past six months or so, as his grandparents have needed some help around their home. Peg's battling arthritis, which has resigned her to using a walker -- "Ester," she's named it -- to get around, while Costa is a few months past a gall-bladder surgery and a few weeks from an upcoming operation on his hip. Both sometimes require Sherlock's help moving around the house, as the 18-year-old makes things just a bit easier for each.
So, Sherlock heads over to their home several times a week to spend time with the pair and do the chores Peg asks of him. Usually there is a list waiting for Sherlock when he gets to the house, mostly asking him for help with moving this or setting up that.
"But there's always something I can do, even if it's not written down for me," Sherlock says.
In the summer, Sherlock stayed with his grandfather for about 10 days, sleeping in the house with him and taking care of the 85-year-old while Peg visited a daughter in California. In October, Sherlock repeated the exercise with his grandmother, often staying with her to help her along while Costa was in and out of the hospital around the time of his surgery.
"Now, he just drops in when he can, every now and then," Peg says.
"Just to see how we're doing," Costa adds.
The one place Sherlock does not want to see either of them: At the doctor's office.
Earlier this week, there was an opportunity for Peg and Sherlock to take part together in a therapy session -- Peg for her arthritis, Sherlock for his left foot and ankle -- but Sherlock missed the session to do homework ... or something.
"That would have been fun: Therapy with your grandmother," Sherlock says, laughing.
-- -- --
Sherlock has a few more months at home, playing basketball for at least one more month before heading to the baseball diamond to finish out his high school athletics career. That Sherlock plays the same three sports as his grandfather -- who was raved about in a 1944 article in the Recorder as "Amsterdam High School's One Man Sports Show" -- is not a coincidence.
"That worked out nicely," says Sherlock, who watches sports on TV with his grandfather on most visits. "I think he influenced me to play those sports -- so did my dad -- but my grandfather was a big football player, big into basketball and a big baseball guy, and I looked up to him when I was little and I wanted to be like my grandpa."
Now, in some ways, it is grandpa and grandma -- sorry; Poppy and Munna -- looking up to Sherlock, as he helps and tends to them, like they once did for him. The times when Sherlock now gets to help them is a lot of things, but one thing they are not is a burden.
"They've helped take care of me since I was born, so I feel good when I help them. It's nice to be over here, have a meal, watch some sports and talk about anything," Sherlock says.
"We're just very blessed and very fortunate that he's the kind of person he is," says Peg. "It's very obvious to us that he cares for us and would do anything we ask of him to help us."
The grandparents' current request is that Sherlock not look too much to them about where he will go next year. Sherlock says "it is tough" and that he feels "conflicted" about possibly going away to school -- and away from them.
"They tell me not to base my decision on them, but it's tough because I want to be close to them," Sherlock says.
The reason for that is simple. Despite a lot of the time he spends with his grandparents ending up with him being put to work, Sherlock's answer is without hesitation when asked why he squeezes in so much time at their home into a busy schedule.
"I just like spending time with them," he says. "I just feel really lucky that I have two grandparents that I can talk to about anything and that are still here."