City councilors are calling for Boston high school students to have greater access to the state-owned Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury amid reports that some track athletes have to practice in school hallways while teams from more affluent suburban districts use the center.
On Wednesday, the council unanimously approved a resolution from City Councilor Erin Murphy to “encourage conversations” between the state and the city about granting Boston public school athletes “the ability to reclaim practice time” at the center.
When the center opened in 1995, the city and state had an understanding that the “Boston community would benefit first on use before surrounding suburbs did,” Murphy said during the meeting. But, she said, that commitment has waned.
“As the years have passed, the ability for Boston Public School student-athletes to have access to optimal practice times has eroded,” Murphy said. “Suburban school districts, [from] what we’ve been told, have complained that their students are getting home late from practices and meets, so they’ve been able to claim all time from 3:30 p.m. on.”
That means Boston students can only practice there from 2:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m., even though many haven’t finished their school day yet, Murphy said. There are no school buses available to take runners to the center for practice, she said.
“So it’s pretty heartbreaking,” Murphy said. She referred to a recent article in the Dorchester Reporter, which noted that the indoor track team at TechBoston Academy in Dorchester “practices by running through hallways, up and down stairwells, and through doorways.”
Roxbury Community College, which owns the center, said in a statement Friday that it is “committed to upholding the legislated purpose of the Reggie Lewis Center ... to meet the growing needs of the public high school track community, RCC, and the community at large.”
The center’s management team meets every year with athletic directors statewide to “solidify the high school track schedule,” including practices and meets, the college said.
“This is a collaborative process, and the schedule is not finalized without consensus,” the college said. “We value all the constituencies served by the Reggie. We will always listen to feedback — and if there are options to increase Reggie Lewis Center use in the future, we’ll move forward with those opportunities. That being stated, we are currently committed to executing the schedule that was finalized through collaborative efforts this fall.”
City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who cosponsored Murphy’s resolution, said during Wednesday’s meeting that the issue speaks to the “systemic racism” faced by many Bostonians.
“This is it,” she said. “You put programs in place, then you have a so-called community process, and then you ... come to some sort of agreement, and then systemically, money talks. And we see it here.”
When the center opened in 1995, it was praised as a tribute to Reggie Lewis, a Boston Celtics star who died in 1993, as well as an overdue investment in state athletics and a much-needed asset for the Roxbury neighborhood.
But nearly 30 years later, what was once a state-of-the-art facility has lost its luster, the Globe reported earlier this year. While the initial vision of the center was to keep it open and accessible to all, some said they have recently felt shut out.
The issues boiled over in 2016, when the RCC fired the center’s longtime executive director, Keith McDermott. The college didn’t explain why McDermott was terminated, but his supporters believed he was penalized for his unwavering support for keeping the center widely open for Boston’s youth and for community groups.
Soon after, then-Attorney General Maura Healey, now governor, launched a probe into the college’s alleged mishandling of $120,000 raised by the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association at a center fund-raiser. McDermott was cleared of any wrongdoing.
A state audit in 2021 showed that RCC improperly charged public high school track leagues nearly $100,000 for use of its track from 2017 to 2019.
Some community members have said that McDermott’s termination and the resulting turmoil shut them out of the center’s programming altogether.
Hassan Ahmed, a Boston schools attendance supervisor and cofounder of Boston United Track and Cross Country Club, said in February that staff rejected his club’s requests to use the facility for evening practice.
The center’s founders “promised that all Boston kids would have a chance to practice there, and the chance to use it as a safe haven,” said Ahmed, an English High School graduate and national track champion. “That mission statement is gone.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.