O’Brien: Can basketball players help end the violence?

SHARE O’Brien: Can basketball players help end the violence?

It leaves a deep scar on a city when the top-ranked basketball player in the country is shot and killed near his high school. The shame and shock of Ben Wilson’s death in 1984 will likely stain Chicago for several more generations.

Things haven’t been any better recently, the names are just less famous. Current or former basketball players are regularly among the hundreds shot and killed in the city every year.

One thing is finally changing. The city’s high school basketball coaches have stepped up their efforts to help the problem. Coaches United Against Violence was created after former Marshall guard Timothy Triplett was shot and killed in April of 2015.

The group held its most effective and inspired event so far at Breakthrough Urban Ministries on the West Side on Saturday. Players from 12 high schools took part: Vocational, Clemente, Curie, Foreman, Lane, Lincoln Park, Marshall, Perspectives-MSA, Perspectives-Calumet, Robeson, Von Steuben and Westinghouse.

The morning began with a video message from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up near Augusta and Damen, less than two miles from Breakthrough.

“What an amazing event,” Krzyzewski said. “Remember that you must act as role models. Off the court understand you are very visible at school and in your community.”

That was the overall message of the event. The coaches believe that if the basketball players set the right example, the rest of the school will follow.

Attendees were invited to write the names of friends and family members lost to violence on a large board in the gym labeled “We Remember.” There were more than a dozen names listed by the end of the event.

“I grew up on the West Side,” former UIC coach Howard Moore said. “I lost a lot of friends and some family members to violence. I challenge you, I beg you, when you leave here today make a positive impact.”

Marshall assistant coach Shawn Harrington, who was shot last year, stressed education.

“Ten years from now it won’t matter who was the most popular, who had the new Jordan’s when they came out,” Harrington said. “All that will matter is who was smarter.

“He’s a nerd, he’s a geek. Welcome those words with open arms. In ten years they will call you boss. Embrace your education.”

The players broke up in to smaller discussion group after the speakers. Coaches Against Violence is proving to be more than just an idea. The group hosted a basketball league this past summer and seems intent on making a dent in the city’s violence epidemic.

“Basketball brings this big city together,” Harrington said.

Maybe, with the help of Coaches United Against Violence, basketball can also help Chicago start to heal.

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