A shockwave rippled across the Boston public schools’ coaching community on Wednesday morning when the Boston Globe reported that the school district’s athletics department is being investigated for allegedly misspending funds related to the purchase of equipment and supplies.
"I’m just like, 'what’s going on,'" longtime O’Bryant track and field coach Jose Ortega said during a telephone interview on Wednesday morning. "I'm just surprised. I'm so surprised."
The story says the nature of the investigations — which are being conducted by the Boston police, the Massachusetts inspector general’s office, and the Boston Finance Commission — is uncertain because a Globe public records request for a copy of an audit of spending on athletics was denied due to the fact that it is an ongoing investigation.
The story states that William Fitzgerald, the department’s equipment manager, resigned shortly after the investigation began in the spring and that it’s unclear if Fitzgerald’s resignation is linked to the investigation.
Fitzgerald was well regarded by all the coaches interviewed for this story. They noted that any known issues surrounding the ordering of equipment resulted from the fact that Fitzgerald was one person processing $3.1 million in orders for 19 high schools.
“I don’t think anyone did anything criminal, it’s just a matter of [inefficient] systems,” New Mission High Athletics Director and boys’ basketball coach Cory McCarthy said. “Bill was a good guy. He wanted to do like everyone else in America and get things to people fast.”
But McCarthy also said Fitzgerald’s ordering and purchasing process was painfully slow and antiquated and that Fitzgerald was the only person who knew how it worked.
“There’s so much room for error and only one person to blame, one guy in the athletics department and no one else can do his job,” McCarthy said. “You can’t call yourself a system if one person knows how to do a job.
“Giving the athletics department more money would not help the athletics department. Giving the athletics department more support will.”
Working out of White Stadium in Jamaica Plain, the athletics department has four administrators and one secretary.
Wednesday’s Globe story also stated that athletics director Kenneth Still will retire in October, although Still said his retirement has no connection to the investigation.
O’Bryant volleyball coach and girls’ basketball coach Gertrude Fisher said Still has talked about retiring in recent years.
“I don’t know who they are going to put in charge,” she said. “I have a feeling [the Boston Scholar Athletes program] will have something to do with it. I would imagine they would still have [assistant athletics director] Wallace [Johnson] and [athletic support coordinator] Darlene [Knight] there. I haven’t heard anything about either one of them.”
McCarthy and Fisher said they learned Fitzgerald’s fate during a coaches meeting called late last month to address how equipment would be ordered and handed out for the upcoming fall season. But they both said they didn’t realize the extent of the investigation until the Globe story was published on Wednesday.
“I think everybody is a little put back,” Fisher said of learning about Fitzgerald, who also ran the concession stand under the White Stadium bleachers. “They don’t know what’s going on but I’m sure whatever it is, it’s going to come out. I had a lot of respect for [Fitzgerald]. He always made sure the coaches got their stuff. I never had any difficulties in terms of ordering stuff and getting it.”
Despite the June meeting for fall coaches, Wednesday’s news still left some coaches worried about how they will receive their equipment for the fall. The first day of football practice is Aug. 19.
“I’m like, is everything going to be ready for us to go in August?’ ” Burke football coach Byron Beaman asked. “That’s where I am with this.”
Beaman, who is one of the most vocal leaders when it comes to finding innovative ways to turn around BPS sports, called the investigation a “huge setback.” At the same time, he was optimistic that this could also be the fresh start that the athletics department needs.
“My whole thing is I’m always hopeful,” Beaman said. “My hope is from here we can kind of straighten things out and get ourselves in the right direction. Because we have a lot of great coaches and great student athletes in the city and the slogan for BPS says ‘Focus on children’ and that’s where our focus will be.
"This is definitely a blow and a shock, but as I said, from here we’ll be able to right the ship and have it point in the right direction.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.