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Dill plans suit against rink board

January 07, 1998

Dill plans suit against rink board

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

The former executive director of the city-owned ice rink said he plans to file a lawsuit against the nonprofit group operating the rink.

Dill said he plans to file the lawsuit because his children aren't allowed to skate for free despite an agreement to that effect.

He said the suit will ask that he be reinstated as a volunteer ice hockey coach and that he be given a written apology for a notice posted at the rink in November.

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Dill said the Washington County Sports Foundation's board reneged on a deal under which his children would have skated for free at the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds.

The deal among five or six organizers was made during a construction meeting in the latter half of 1996 in exchange for their help in getting the $2.3 million rink built, according to Dill and Michael Clifford, a former board member.

The agreement was noted in the minutes of a construction meeting for the rink, Dill said.

"Those claims have been turned over to our attorney, Russ Robinson," said William M. Breichner, foundation board chairman and a Hagerstown councilman.

"I know of no one that gets free skating at the rink," said Breichner.

"I've read all the minutes I have available to me and I can't find anything. They may have said that, but I don't know if it's legal or binding," Breichner said.

Clifford said the deal was that immediate family members of the organizers could skate for free at the rink for the rest of their lives. Clifford said, however, he pays for his family to skate because he wants to put money into the foundation's coffers.

Former board chairman Matt McIntosh and current board member Norval Higdon also participated in that deal, Dill said.

McIntosh said he doesn't remember anything about a free skating deal and Higdon said he wasn't involved in the rink in late 1996.

As for his coaching hockey, Dill said Breichner told him he could no longer coach.

Breichner said he does not remember telling Dill in November that he could no longer coach.

That same month, a note posted at the rink notified patrons, volunteers and employees that Dill had no official say at the rink, Dill said.

"He insulted my children, myself," Dill said.

The notice, signed by Breichner, said "Mr. Walter E. Dill Sr. does not serve in any official capacity with the Hagerstown ice rink. This includes any and all volunteer activities. Therefore, he is not authorized to issue any orders, instructions or advice on behalf of management."

Breichner said the board decided in December that Dill could no longer coach, and that the November notice was posted because Dill had overstepped his bounds.

In one instance, Dill interrupted skating activities of paid customers for a figure skating demonstration in early November, Breichner said.

Dill said he had obtained prior permission from interim rink manager Michael Griffith to hold the demonstration. Griffith wasn't at the rink that night and those in charge were unaware the demonstration had been planned, he said.

Breichner said he was unaware prior permission had been obtained.

The legal maneuvering comes at a time when Dill seems to have few ties to the rink he inspired.

Dill lobbied city officials to put up $1.2 million in taxpayer money to help finance the rink's construction, which took about eight months.

Now, even the street sign for the driveway leading up to the rink, named Walter Dill Drive, is missing.

Dill claims board members removed the sign, but Breichner said the sign was stolen and will be replaced.

"You just don't turn your back on someone who has done so much," said John Benisek, a Williamsport parent who is involved at the rink.

Benisek said the man who once handed $75 to a needy 8-year-old to buy a new hockey helmet is being treated like "dirt."

"I know he's got a rough edge. I think anybody that's got the determination to do a tough job is that way," Benisek said.

Clifford, who works with Dill at First Data Merchant Services, said Dill has been "ostracized" from the rink.

"There still are a group of people who look to Walt as the father of the rink. Just because there's a new generation doesn't mean the father should be put out to pasture yet," Clifford said.

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