Controversy surrounds local high school’s dismissal of PSU instructor

Motivation for firing still unclear

Students, parents and alumni at Portland’s Roosevelt High School are wondering why their award-winning boys’ basketball coach won’t be returning next year.

Motivation for firing still unclear

Students, parents and alumni at Portland’s Roosevelt High School are wondering why their award-winning boys’ basketball coach won’t be returning next year.

Coach Robert Key, a physical education instructor at Portland State, was abruptly let go at the end of the school year. The administration at the school won’t say exactly why they made the decision.

Key was asked to resign from his position on April 13 after holding the position for eight years. He had received numerous accolades for his work with the team, including two awards for Coach of the Year in Roosevelt’s division, the Portland Interscholastic League. Just last year, Roosevelt made it all the way to the quarterfinals of the 4A state basketball tournament.

Given Key’s successes, many affiliated with Roosevelt are confused by the administration’s decision.

Michael Verbout, a 1962 graduate of Roosevelt and a member of the Roosevelt High School Alumni Association, said students and families had nothing but good things to say about Key.

“He took the team to the state tournament, so it couldn’t have been a question of performance on the court. It’s raised a lot of questions,” Verbout said. “It’s definitely got to be a PR nightmare.”

The school’s administration has remained relatively silent regarding the reasoning for Key’s dismissal and could not be reached for comment for this article.

However, Key himself feels he knows why: He overstepped the Oregon School Activities Association’s requirements for the appropriate number of “hardship” players on his roster.

The OSAA’s hardship clause is meant to grant athletic eligibility to students who otherwise would not qualify because of OSAA guidelines regarding age or academics, for example. The OSAA’s Eligibility Appeals Board is responsible for determining that such guidelines would impose an undue hardship on the student athlete in question, given the student’s life circumstances. Oftentimes coaches take advantage of this rule purely to get better players on their teams, and Key thinks the administration may think he did so, too.

“I had six hardships. But I want to be clear: I used the hardships to give the kids a chance at college. I grew up in North Portland, in the neighborhood. A lot of times, if you didn’t go to college, you ended up in jail or somewhere that you didn’t want to end up. I wanted to make sure those kids got to college, and all of them ended up graduating or on track to graduate. Some coaches might use hardships just to try to get players on their team to win more games, but my hardships were all about getting the kids to graduate,” Key said.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would. Those kids graduated. For me, it’s not about wins and losses on the court. The wins on the court will take care of themselves. It’s all about winning with the kids; if they win at life, I count that as a win,” he said.

Key expressed dissatisfaction with the Roosevelt administration and believes that they should have been more open and engaging with him. He was let go without any attempt to understand him or get to know him. Had they done so, he said, they would have realized his motivation for repeatedly invoking the hardship clause to get players for his team.

“I wish the administration could have sat down and had a one-on-one with me. But in two years, the vice principal never did. I had the baseball team taken away from me after my first year, and I kept my mouth shut. But the basketball team…now you’re getting into my family. The two administrative people involved with the decision had both been there only two years and never made an effort to get to know me. If they had, things would have gone a lot differently,” Key said.

PSU representatives could not comment on the decision itself, preferring to leave that to Roosevelt and the OSAA. However, PSU Physical Education Professor Randy Miller did offer condolences to Key and an expression of support to him for future endeavors.

“We have given Robert Key our full support in this matter and hope that he finds a satisfactory resolution quickly. These situations are stressful for all those involved, and I have had several conversations with him offering him support and guidance,” Miller said.