Teen at matchup between CPS basketball powerhouses fatally shot outside arena

Yellow-jacketed security officers were all around the gym at Wednesday night's basketball game between Simeon and Morgan Park high schools. Chicago police officers and Illinois State Police troopers were there as well — in all more than 40 people to maintain peace.

Spectators, the players on the two teams and journalists were all searched and had to walk through metal detectors as they entered the gym.

On top of that, the game was played at a neutral location, Chicago State University, both to accommodate the crowds interested in a contest between two sporting powerhouses and to lessen the chance that the intense rivalry would turn violent.

That is what happened during a football game between Morgan Park and Simeon in September, when a melee broke out in the stands and someone later was stabbed.

And despite the precautions, it is what happened again Wednesday night. The traditional end-of-game handshake line was interrupted by a quarrel, which according to police spilled outside, where 17-year-old Morgan Park student Tyrone Lawson was shot and killed. Investigators are trying to determine whether the shooting was related to the altercation inside the gym.

The notion that, in some instances, high school sports have to be played at a neutral location speaks to the animosity between two rival schools, but perhaps more so to how deeply violence has touched city school students — as well as to the significant challenge the district faces in dealing with it.

One immediate response to the shooting is that both Simeon's home game Friday night against Julian and Morgan Park's home game Saturday against Perspectives-Calumet will be closed to the public, according to Marielle Sainvilus, a spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools.

CPS officials said security was beefed up for Wednesday's game between No. 3 ranked Simeon and No. 2 ranked Morgan Park, describing it on Thursday as "ample" both inside and outside the gym.

The altercation that began in the handshake line was quickly broken up by security inside the gym, and the two students involved in the shoving incident after the game have been suspended for their team's next regular game, according to CPS.

But people continued to scream at each other in the hallways leading to locker rooms. A short time later, Lawson, whose mother had given him $17 for admission to the game and spending money, was shot multiple times outside the gym.

Among his mother's last words to the boy was a warning that he be careful at the game.

"Instead of looking forward to prom," Lawson's mother, Pamela Wright, said Thursday, "I'm looking for an insurance policy to bury him."

Two people were in custody and being questioned late Thursday. A police source said the two were believed to have been at Chicago State's campus, though it was unclear whether they went in the gym or stayed in the parking lot. It also was not clear if Lawson was a target or an unintended victim.

Sainvilus said holding games at neutral sites is not uncommon. In some cases, it is done because the schools are far apart. In other cases it is to handle big crowds. In this case, the game was at Chicago State to handle a large crowd but also because of the rivalry between the schools.

Extra security was also on hand because of the rivalry, one that students described as tense but not necessarily bitter.

Competition between the schools' basketball teams attracts hundreds of students from other schools as well as alumni and community residents. Why the rivalry has become particularly emotional is not clear, although both schools are perennial powerhouses.

At Simeon High School, students said their basketball team's winning ways have attracted both devoted supporters and "haters." Each year, students said, when the school plays against Morgan Park High School, there is some sort of fight, shouting match or confrontation.

"It's sports mainly," said Briah Robinson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Simeon. "It's really petty."

In the past, the trash-talking and teasing started as soon as students from the schools would filter onto the basketball court, said Briana Charles, 15, a sophomore at Simeon. But now, there are threats and nasty words exchanged on Twitter and Instagram in the days leading up to the game, she said.

Students said they fear the shooting at Chicago State will mean they won't be allowed to attend big games and see their team play. "We won't have fun no more," Briana said.

On Thursday, some students at Simeon were afraid there would be retaliation over the shooting. Others were just sad about how the incident will frame their school.

"They lose and we win, so there's always beef with us," said Markus Griffin, 18. "We're a good school."

Simeon won the game 53-51.

Because of the intensity of the rivalry between Simeon and Morgan Park, Griffin doesn't even attend games between the two teams, he said. He'd rather watch from home than go into an unsafe environment.

Bridget Pollard, whose son Kendall is a forward for Simeon, said she worries about the environment her son is growing up in.

"I'm very angry about this boy getting shot last night," Pollard said. "I can't even let Kendall get out of the car to pump my gas because I'm afraid for his life."

The victim of the shooting, Lawson, enjoyed video games and the outdoors, his mother said. He loved his dog, Midnight, so much, according to his grandmother, that he gave up his bedroom for it and slept on a futon in another room.

On Wednesday, Lawson had sent a text message to Wright asking for permission to attend the Simeon-Morgan Park game. Later, she said, she drove him to the game but was worried for his safety. That night, her fiance assured her Lawson would be safe. About an hour later, she learned he had been shot.

Wright, in an interview at her home, said she and her fiance, Gregory Young, had been planning to tell Lawson on Thursday that they were getting married next week. Instead, they will bury her son and then tie the knot on Feb. 26, which would have been Lawson's 18th birthday.

Tribune reporters Patrick Svitek, Colleen Kane and Naomi Nix contributed.

smmills@tribune.com

lbowean@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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