Will baton be passed back at Reggie Lewis Center?
Not until he was let go as head of the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center last month did Keith McDermott realize how deeply he was supported.
After his abrupt dismissal by Roxbury Community College, which runs the facility, both the neighborhood and the track and field community rallied to his aid. A trustees’ meeting drew an overflow crowd demanding his reinstatement. His supporters ranged from lawmakers to track coaches to seniors who use the athletic center as their gym. The people who fired him had no supporters that I could see.
Since then, the controversy around the track has only grown. At the board meeting an official of the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association testified that his group had raised $120,000 at an August 2015 fund-raiser, but had never seen the money.
That revelation prompted RCC president Valerie Roberson to call for a review by the State Auditor’s Office of the fund-raising for both the track and the Roxbury Community College Foundation. Last week, Auditor Suzanne Bump deemed the allegations more appropriate for review by a law enforcement agency, and turned it over to the attorney general. Meanwhile, state lawmakers, who have lost confidence in RCC’s management of the facility, have filed legislation to transfer it to the University of Massachusetts Boston.
RCC officials have steadfastly maintained that they cannot comment on McDermott’s dismissal, calling it a personnel issue. But the combination of the firing and the call for an investigation has left the clear impression that something was amiss at the track.
McDermott has been urged by his lawyer not to discuss his firing. But he agreed to talk last week. He said he was fired in a personality clash with the school’s senior administrators, after years of positive performance reviews. He believes the catalyst for his firing was refusing the administration’s demand to turn over the track for two weeks for class registration, at the height of indoor track season. He strongly denied that he, or anyone, has stolen money at the track.
“I have records of 173 deposits and transactions between [RCC’s] Development Office and the track that will demonstrate that all funds collected are verifiable,” he said. “I look forward to setting the record straight.”
The Reggie Lewis Track is an unusual institution. It is located at the college, but was built to serve as the premier track and field facility for the entire state. It’s not just RCC’s gym, and that has often created tension over the years with college administrators.
McDermott said that the foundation has never reached agreement with the college over how the money from the 2015 fund-raiser was to be divided. The track coaches say all of the money was to be devoted to the upkeep of the track, but that doesn’t appear to have been stipulated in writing. So the college has requested an investigation of its own foundation, while the head of the foundation claims the money is sitting in an escrow account. Criminal or not, clearly it’s a mess.
McDermott teared up when I asked about the support he has received.
“I actually cried when I heard about it,” he said. “When you think about the amount of people who came out, it just says that I had some impact. Sorry, I don’t mean to cry. I don’t cry very often. But I was in the car and I heard about it, and young old, white, black, it’s humbling.”
If the track is turned over to UMass, as expected, it’s likely that McDermott would be returned to its helm. The lawmakers pushing the transfer have practically demanded his reinstatement in the transaction. Ultimately, McDermott’s professional fate may not rest in the hands of his current bosses.
“I think at the end of the day whatever you do it comes back to you,” McDermott said. “I think things are going to work themselves out.”