Hoping to avoid a rash decision he might regret, Kevin Downes waited two long, challenging weeks before meeting with Mahopac athletic director John Augusta on Friday about his future. Downes had spent seven seasons as the boys' basketball coach at his alma mater but in the wake of a racially charged controversy stemming from a recent playoff game, Downes decided he could not return for an eighth.
The 42-year-old resigned, saying he was "heartbroken" by a series of racist tweets directed at the Mount Vernon team that beat his Indians 43-40 on Feb. 27 in a Section 1 Class AA semifinal at Westchester County Center.
"I did a lot of soul-searching the last two weeks and just felt like the best thing for me to do was to move on," said Downes, who graduated from Mahopac High School in 1989 and is black. "I was kind of heartbroken over all the stuff that happened — not just the comments that were made but the 200-plus times those comments were liked, favorited and retweeted (on Twitter). It was tough, and it's been tough on my kids."
Downes said the school investigated claims made by Mount Vernon players that Mahopac players had used slurs during or after the game. He said Mahopac administrators interviewed his players and coaches, Mount Vernon coaches and game personnel, including officials, and have yet to find corroborating evidence.
"That would be tough for me to take," Downes said. "I can only take the (Mahopac) kids at their word."
Downes acknowledged that he dealt with racism growing up in Mahopac in the 1970s and '80s but he said the town was culturally different now. He said racism has not been prevalent during his coaching tenure, particularly not from the people he has been associated with while coaching basketball.
"I still think there's a lot of good people there. I don't think it's everybody. Certainly, that's how people are looking at it now, but I still thought it was enough," he said. "I just felt like it would be hard to go back and feel like I was 100 percent supported."
Downes' seven seasons as coach were perhaps the most successful in program history. His team reached at least the sectional semifinals in each of the past four years, a program record. That included an appearance in the 2012 Section 1 Class AA championship game against Mount Vernon, which defeated Downes' team in three of the past four years.
Their most recent meeting was the closest of the three, a physical, defensive struggle during which emotions spilled into the stands and later boiled over on Twitter.
Eight Mahopac students were suspended for racist tweets, but Downes found the support for their messages too widespread. He felt the community expressed appropriate outrage only after the incident came under media scrutiny.
"I think what was most disappointing was not just the comments — they're hurtful and disappointing — but the lack of outrage from people until the community was in the position of being slanted by the media to look a certain way," he said. "I think that's when you saw a lot of people's outrage."
Though his resignation brings an abrupt end to his time at Mahopac, Downes does not consider this the end of his coaching career.
"I don't think my coaching career is over, at least I hope not," he said. "But if it is, I'm proud of what we were able to do. I think, in the future, if an opportunity came up, I certainly would like to be able to coach again."
"I did a lot of soul-searching the last two weeks and just felt like the best thing for me to do was to move on."