Our brother Rob


Curtis Almeter

Rob, the down syndrome son of men’s basketball head coach Robert Corn, gives five to the starters Saturday night before a home game against Missouri Western.

Wednesday night, Rob Corn Jr. witnessed his father’s basketball team’s 131st win in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. The team enjoyed its best season since  1999-2000.

That means the oldest son of 23-year Head Coach Robert Corn got an opportunity he loves. To be the first one in the locker room to speak to the team, and to congratulate it on another win at home.

According to past and present players who have come through the program, nothing, not even the challenges of leading a life with Down’s Syndrome, can stop Rob Jr. from being there in support of the team he considers a family.

It has become tradition at Missouri Southern that, after home wins, Rob Jr. gets up in front of the team after the game and points out the players he thought played the best.

“The players really get into it,” Corn said. “It’s something that they really have a lot of fun with.”

When Rob Jr. is asked to give a rendition of what one of his postgame talks would be like, he says, “Awesome! Played hard and played smart,” gives a thumbs-up and claps loudly enough to make anyone in the room not ready for it jump.

“It was very cool,” former Lions point guard and all-time leading 3-point shooter Skyler Bowlin said. “Rob knows the game as good as anyone; no question about that. It always was a neat experience when he would talk to us. He always picks out the players of the game and gives us all a big hug. I will never forget those times. Win or lose, Rob was always there with a smile on his face and ready to cheer us up. I look up to Rob.

“We should all live life like he does; not a care in the world and always a smile on his face.”

Rob Jr. is 27 years old now, and has been getting to spend time with his father for the last 12 years in a way most young men, let alone those who have to overcome the challenges of severe developmental disabilities every day, rarely would get to do.

“I like to be the waterboy,” he said.

“It’s just so inspiring to see Rob because Rob is always going to have something positive to say or even just pat you on the back,” sophomore guard Marquis Addison said. “No matter how much you’re up or down, Rob believes everything is going to be all right and that we can still win.”

Over his years with the team, Rob Jr. has made and strengthened special bonds with players, assistant coaches, and most importantly, with his dad.

Corn says it is great for Rob Jr. also, saying being around the team essentially gives him 10 or more older brothers and role models at a time.

Rob Jr. says his favorite players to watch on this year’s team are “TJ, Keane, Patrick [seniors Williams, Thomann, Hester, respectively].”

Addison echoed the sentiment of brotherhood among the players and Rob, but he said he thinks of Rob more like the older brother.

“Well, with Rob, he is a part of this team so he is like a big brother to all of us,” he said.

“He’s been in this program longer than any of us. It’s great to have him around because every game day, seeing Rob just brings a smile to people’s face.

“First thing he does is hugs just about everyone he sees, and that really is special that he cares for us so much.”

As might be expected based on who his father is, basketball was a big part of Rob Jr.’s life from a young age.

A Duke University fan, Rob Jr. is particularly fond of Blue Devils Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“He was really excited when Patrick Johnson joined our staff,” Corn said, “because Patrick played at Duke and stuff.

“And Patrick has given him a couple of the team pictures, you know, kind of poster-like things that he had framed up and stuff, and Coach Krzyzewski sent Rob a real nice thing of one of the teams and he autographed it for him and stuff. Coach K has been very good to him.”

Although he loves watching Duke on TV, Rob Jr. says he couldn’t pick whether he enjoys watching the Blue Devils or Lions play more.

Perhaps the only thing Rob Jr. loves more than watching basketball and being the Lions’ waterboy is actually playing basketball himself.

More than 17 years ago, Southern alumnus, former athlete and City of Joplin Mayor Jon Tupper started Challenger Sports. The main reason for doing so, Tupper said, was to give athletes with developmental disabilities more opportunities to compete than were readily available.

“Rob played from the beginning of the Challenger program,” Tupper said. “He was one of the first to sign up to play baseball when we started. When we later started basketball, he was really excited about playing. He was always a competitor and very athletic, and knew the game well. What I remember most about Rob playing is that he always was a great sportsman. He loved helping [teach] other kids the game.”

Tupper tells a story in which he coached Rob Jr. in a Challenger tournament where Rob was his “best player.”

Tupper said he played so well in the first half of the game that at halftime, without Tupper’s knowledge, Corn told his son to pass more instead of taking so many shots.

Rob respected his father and took his advice to heart so much that he didn’t shoot the ball a single time after halftime.

“We didn’t do so well that half,” Tupper says laughing. “I told Robert after the game, I wouldn’t help him coach if he wouldn’t help me.”

In addition to the past 12 years on the bench with the Lions, ever since he graduated high school at age 20, Rob Jr. has been working full-time at Charlie’s Chicken in Joplin.

Several members of the community know Rob Jr. from his time on the Lions’ bench, and recognize him at work, where he enjoys socializing with the customers.

“You know just about every one of them that goes in there, don’t you?” Corn asks, sharing a laugh with his son.

According to a manager at Charlie’s Chicken, Matthew Lansaw, Rob Jr. is one of the store’s most well-liked and hardest-working employees.

“He maintains, like, the dining room, keeps it clean, washes the dishes, that sort of thing,” he said. “Everybody loves him. The regulars come in here all the time, he’ll walk up, give them big ol’ hugs, ask them how they’re doing, they’ll talk to him about you know, his dad, the games, what game has happened recently.

“He’s just a character, everybody loves him around here … He always comes to work in a very positive mood; he loves to do his job here. People love it, when he comes in he always puts a smile on their face.”

When he isn’t working, on the clock or with the basketball team, Corn calls his son a “routine guy,” saying he typically likes to do the same things throughout his day.

“I like to watch TV,” Rob said. “Get some rest, eat a snack and drink milk.

Corn says Rob Jr. also enjoys playing video games, and he particularly enjoys wrestling games.

“I’m 27; I can do what I want,” Rob Jr. said with a smile.

Rob Jr. says his favorite part of being with the team is getting to spend time with not only his father, but also his younger brother Scott, a senior at Diamond High School who also sits on the bench with the team when he can.

“My family is important,” Rob said.

He also said he particularly enjoyed the 2009-10 team’s trip to the conference’s postseason tournament in Kansas City, where the Lions advanced to the championship game of the tournament. Southern was beaten by Fort Hays State for the postseason tournament crown, but was one of three MIAA schools to advance to the national tournament in Division II, before being sent home in the second round of regionals.

As always, win or lose, the most important part for Rob was spending quality time with his dad and the rest of his basketball family.

“That was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?” Corn, a father with eyes full of pride, asked his son.

“Yeah, me and dad were roommates. Yes, he’s a nice man,” Rob answered.