From the Cape to the Berkshires: Reggie is the Home of Mass Track and field

New Balance Grand Prix, MIAA Championships, USATF Nationals are all on the agenda.

The Reggie Lewis Center received its biggest amount of funding after the doors to the home of Massachusetts high school indoor opened in 1995. Outgoing Governor Deval Patrick gave the go ahead for $5.7 million in state funding for the 130,000 square foot building located in the heart of Roxbury Crossing and the Roxbury Community Center campus.

The money was earmarked for renovations that included resurfacing the Mondo 200-meter banked track with the lightning-fast Super X 720 running surface. The surface is an upgrade from the Mondo X surface that was put in 20 years ago. A new scoreboard with audio and visual upgrades was also installed. There are also plans for a screen to be installed in the back gymnasium so people can see what is going on on the track. It will also be able to be used independently for replays for RCC and AAU basketball games that are played there. Landscaping in the entrance area is also slated along with new security system, upgraded plumbing and heating units and bathrooms with more energy-efficient systems.

One of the more ambitious projects includes installing an interactive hall of fame board. The plan is for the board to have a touch screen that will bring up the names of all the members of the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association's (MSTCA) Hall of Fame. People will be able to view biographies and videos of every member of the hall.

It's almost surreal that the RLC is undergoing its first major renovation considering the fact that the MSTCA struggled for more than 30 years for an indoor facility to be built for high school track athletes.

Talk of an indoor facility can be traced back to 1958 and in 1962 State Representative Harold Rosen of Dedham filed a bill that called for the MDC to construct a facility. The all-important Bill 395 was passed by the house of representatives for a track to be built in Cleveland Circle. Years passed and in 1975 Governor Michael Dukakis announced a plan for an athletic complex to be built on land in Neponset.

"I remember the the debate on this way back in the early 1960s," Dukakis said. "It was needed then and it is needed now, and I'm delighted that after all these years we're finally going to be able to go ahead with it."

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Once again, roadblocks stalled the project. In 1978, Representative John Finnegan of Dorchester planned to go to court to block construction of what was to be a $7.4 million track after he accused Dukakis of "breaking faith" with the legislature and community by directing the legislature to go ahead with the project.

Construction at the Neponset site never materialized and talks began about a facility on the Northeastern University campus. Finally, after Governor Weld nixed the Northeastern plan he and Speaker of the House, Charles Flaherty, filed a bill for a $17 million track at Roxbury Community College. Groundbreaking took place in 1993 and the track is completed in the summer of 1995.

The world-class facility has been an enormous success and the goal of becoming the home of Massachusetts High School indoor track has been met tenfold. From December through March, the facility is busy nearly every day with meets. Ten leagues have their dual meets at the Reggie, totaling 107 teams. The Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association (MSTCA) hosts the two-day Auerbach Freshman/Sophomore Invitational the biggest meet of its kind in the country, and the track has been synonymous with fast times. High schoolers are to strive for personal bests on the same track where eight world records, 11 American records and 28 national records have been set.

Behind the scenes, the Reggie is in the capable hands of director Keith McDermott and a very capable staff. McDermott, who did his track running at Mount Vernon High School in NY and Springfield College, where he still holds the school record in the 100-meter dash. McDermott competed at the club level until 1988 and then coached the sprinters and jumpers at Syracuse University, Northeastern University and Boston University.

As much as McDermott loved coaching, his true calling was in athletic administration. He was hired in 1997 and is going into his 18th year at the facility.

McDermott admits now that he had initial doubts about taking the job, but it was the never-quit attitude of the MSTCA and its years of struggling to get a track built that sealed the deal for him. "I saw the possibilities connected with the track," McDermott said. "I read about the struggle of the MSTCA to get the facility built. Any organization that could be so tenacious about getting something done is one I want to work with. (President) Frank Mooney and the entire MSTCA has been very supportive. Once I saw the passion of the (MSTCA) that pushed to get the facility built, and I'm passionate about track and field, it made it a lot easier. We were definitely on the same wave length."

The first year that McDermott started at the Reggie, he looked at the possibility of hosting the NCAA Div. 1 Championships. He didn't it that year, but the Reggie hosted the Div. 2 meet in 2000. "We had put together such a strong proposal selling the facility that the NCAA felt pretty that it would be a good location for the meet," McDermott said.

The Reggie is also hosting the USATF Indoor Championships this March after holding them from 2003-2009. There was a time when the center hosted every major track championship in the country. "I want to get back to that," said McDermott.

McDermott Wants to see an endowment in Bob McIntyre and Frank Mooney's honor. McIntyre led MSTCA in fighting for a track facility for high school kids. "Frank Mooney cares so much about the facility. If we need something money related, lobbying or to call somebody, I just have to pick up the phone and Frank is 'Sure, Ok. I'm on it.' People like to do things for you and name things for you after you're dead and gone. I'd like to do it a lot sooner.".

McDermott has kept the underlying dream for the Reggie alive. It's the high school kids who come first and foremost. That attitude proliferates through the staff and MSTCA.

"If you run indoor track in the state you're going to run here - from the Cape to the Berkshires," said McDermott. "These kids appreciate it. They're used to running in hallways to train. When I ran track and when you ran track there were no facilities like this."

McDermott realizes the Reggie experience can be a little overwhelming for young high school athletes competing for the first time so the staff and MSTCA members including Mooney, Tommy and Michael Meagher, Chris Lane and Lou Tozzi make it as stress-free as possible. The MSTCA, officials association and McDermott have gone as far as banning certain officials from working the meets for not treating the kids with respects. A banning is a rare occurrence but it has happened.

"You're not to going to treat these kids badly," McDermott said. "When you walk into this building, we want it to be a great experience. The athletes love coming here. It's like a home for them."

The MSTCA and Reggie staff is very adept at putting on meets as a collective effort. "We can do a meet in 2-1/2 hours that someone else will do in four or five hours."

McDermott would like to see an endowment set up in long-time advocate Bob McIntyre and Mooney. McIntyre led the MSTCA in fighting for a track facility for high school kids alongside Mooney. "Frank Mooney cares so much about the facility," said McDermott. "If we need something money related, lobbying or to call somebody, I just have to pick up the phone and Frank is 'Sure, Ok. I'm on it.' People like to do things for you and name things for you after you're dead and gone. I'd like to do it a lot sooner."

Roxbury Community College has benefitted greatly having the center on campus. The RCC is a perenial power in both men's and women's basketball and has had numerous national champions and All-Americans in track, along with every other sport. Many of the athletes go on to four-year colleges on scholarship. The college, too, is on board with the Reggie's use for high school track and lauded Governor Patrick.

"We are grateful that Governor Deval Patrick awarded the College these funds to renovate the Center," said Roxbury Community College President Dr. Valerie Roberson. "Roxbury Community College is the only community college in the state that has such a unique facility with the legislative mandate to serve all Massachusetts high school track programs. The Center is an integral part of Roxbury Community College and the larger community and the timely renovations reflect the transformation of Roxbury Community College that is underway."

The 12th Annual Reggie Lewis Center Golf Tournament is also a big event, though held at Framklin Park on July 17. 110-meter hurdle legend Renaldo Nehemiah competes as does Olympians Harvey Glance and Ben Fields. Monies raised help defer the cost of summer camp at the Center for kids.

The Center will also be hosting the prestigious New Balance Boston Grand Prix Invitational on Feb. 7. Among those competing are Mary Cain, Galen Rupp and Jen Suhr. There are also local high school runners in the mile races including Olivia Lantz of Manchester Essex and Nick Carleo of Newburyport.

Olympian Shalane Flanagan, who attended Marblehead High, has competed in the New Balance Meet in past years and has always been a fan favorite with adults and kids alike.

"Shalane represents what can happen running here locally and where you can go," said McDermott. "It gives these young kids dreams. 'Geez, that could be me some day.'"

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