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Brighton’s TRACK overtakes Roxbury’s Reggie for Boston’s Grand Prix

Peter Roby
Brighton’s TRACK overtakes Roxbury’s Reggie for Boston’s Grand Prix
Students compete in the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association Division 2 State Relays Jan. 22 at the Reggie Lewis Track. Peter Roby photo

Boston hosted the world’s top track and field tour this week for New Balance’s Indoor Grand Prix. For its first 24 years, the elite pro event was held at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center (RLTAC) at Roxbury Community College. But that run is over, likely never to return to Roxbury.

The 2023 edition of the games is was held at New Balance’s year-old facility, the TRACK, an indoor multi-million-dollar sports arena in Brighton.

“I don’t think the Reggie will ever get back the New Balance pro meet,” former RLTAC director Keith McDermott said of the Boston-based shoe company’s signature event.

After a mid-pandemic relocation to a different New Balance venue in New York, the homecoming will instead showcase the company’s Boston Landing development built around its TRACK facility. In anticipation, a countdown clock on the Grand Prix’s website ticks down behind the text: “Back in Boston.”

Acknowledging the Reggie’s uncertain future, an internal Roxbury Community College committee has been drafting a “Blueprint for the Future” for more than 10 months. The plan, informed by two public listening sessions, identifies capital spending needs of $10 million. Led by Charlie Titus, a senior statesman of Boston athletics, the committee’s report was released on Feb. 6.

“The leadership of the college has to embrace that this is an elective effort,” said McDermott, who is optimistic about RCC President Jackie Jenkins-Scott’s lap with the baton.

“This is a co-ownership,” he said of the commonwealth’s and RCC’s shared stake in the building.

The inaugural Indoor Games in 1996 took place before the Reggie finished its first year in operation. McDermott’s predecessor, David Frazier, was still in charge. The two were once colleagues at Northeastern University, just a short jog down Tremont Street from the Roxbury Crossing track center. Each winter thereafter, top athletes, including Olympic medalists and record-holders, visited Malcolm X Boulevard to compete.

For Seekonk track coach Frank Mooney, that was the point.

“We knew if we could bring the top athletes in the country to the Reggie Lewis, and our kids could get in there, this would be a great thing for them to see and feel that they too eventually could maybe be in one of those positions,” said Mooney, a former head of the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association (MSTCA).

This year, those track stars will visit Brighton’s Guest Street, where a newly built athletics village positions the shoemaker’s global headquarters next to the Mass Pike and a new commuter rail station. The Bruins and Celtics practice nearby.

There, the TRACK is already lining up major meets for the years to come. In 2024, it will host the NCAA’s Division I championships — a mark the Reggie never made.

“We put a bid in to host the NCAA Division I meet,” said McDermott. “We didn’t get it, but they said they liked our proposal very much.”

At only a day old, the Brighton facility was already making history: New Balance’s All-Stars — a women’s relay team — seized an as-yet unratified world record (10:33.85 in distance medley relay) that had been set at the Reggie in 2015. Two months prior to the TRACK’s launch, a Nike team reset that record in Spokane, Washington, stymying the symbolism of the relay record’s handoff.

A beloved athletic center

Hosting the Grand Prix and its predecessors throughout the last three decades, Roxbury Community College earned an international reputation. And through these major events at the Reggie — NCAA D2 and USA Track and Field championships among others — RCC formed rewarding partnerships for its students.

“The building is used by the community, and obviously it’s used by the college kids too,” said Mooney. “It’s a nice mix of high school, national meets, college, RCC teams, the community.”

McDermott recalls, “We had those commercial runs utilizing RCC broadcasting. They prepare a 30-second commercial, and we are able to convince ESPN to run that for us for free. Students from Roxbury Community College were hired as part of ESPN’s crew.”

Before the TRACK opened, the Reggie’s capacity, parking and transit access were unparalleled. It was especially valuable for large meets relying on ticket revenue.

“There’s not too many places that they could go,” said McDermott. “Harvard, you can probably fit about 1,200 people in there. BU, you can probably fit about 500 people in there, standing.”

With seating for over 4,000, “The Reggie was pretty much the only show in town,” he declared.

Viewing stands at-grade with the track form a uniquely exciting competitive environment, he noted.

“It’s a good viewing section. The crowd gets involved. As athletes, you get a little more pumped up,” said McDermott, a former long-jumper.

Regularly running high-level meets, the building’s staff gained a reputation for operational excellence. The team developed instructions for efficient event staff orientation.

Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center Assistant Manager Kamilah Rowe and
Manager Sherman Hart. PHOTO: PETER ROBY

“The staff is actually tremendous here: very welcoming, very professional. [We] get things done very quickly,” said Reggie manager Sherman Hart, a Boston running fixture who coached at Northeastern and UMass Boston.

Over a period of time, we got this nice smooth-running operation. Our goal was to make sure the kids had a positive experience,” said Mooney.

“Most of our staff, if they weren’t track folks, they were really trained,” said McDermott.

Hart continued, “We do our utmost to try to make every event a great event, no matter what it is, no matter who it is. This is a forgotten place, because it runs so well. We are making everything work, and people don’t think we need help.”

Responding in 2021 to the Reggie’s state audit — its second in an eight-year stretch — the administration of then-RCC President Dr. Valerie Roberson concluded it is “unable to host private external events during the high school track season.”

This interpretation of state law prioritizing access to the facility for state track meets reserves the field house for public use, even when empty.

Mooney calls that interpretation “nonsense.”

For decades, Mooney and McDermott were more adaptive than that, accommodating private track meets at the Reggie while placing the kids first.

The Reggie’s future

As to whose events it will host going forward, large private organizers are out, and their top athletes, public relations machine, international audience and facility fees will follow.

Global Athletics and New Balance declined Banner interview requests for this story.

“My fear is that it’s going to become just the high schools,” McDermott said.

Hart said, “The high schools built this; the MSTCA built this facility.”

The MSTCA’s essential role in the statewide track’s origins remain eternalized in the field house. A wall of honor there elevates record holders from Massachusetts high schools alongside America’s best. It is named for the late track legend Bob McIntyre, a founder and executive director of the group.

McIntyre, says Mooney, poured “every ounce of energy in his mind, in his body to make sure we had this thing built.”

Fortunately, Boston’s running population has near-limitless demand for indoor track venues in the winter.

“The demand for a place to run is just tremendous,” says Mooney.

“There’s enough need out there for an indoor track facility, that we don’t need to be an island out by ourselves,” McDermott agreed.

“Now that New Balance has taken some of the heat off of us, we can focus now on the high schools,” said Hart, sounding a hopeful note.

“You do lose some revenue by not having New Balance,” he acknowledged, “but I think you can make that up in other ways.”

Leading the Reggie today, Hart is pursuing non-track community and corporate events, alongside plenty of track meets and local graduations. Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health holds its convocation there in May.

With new venues opening up, Hart remains optimistic about the future of track and field in Boston and confident about the Reggie’s place in it: “We are still going in the right direction,” he said.

New Balance, Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, Roxbury Community College, track and field