By Colleen Kane, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:04 PM CST, January 19, 2013
For all of Simeon's victories on the basketball court, the program's most famous story is one of loss.
The 1984 shooting death of Ben Wilson, a Simeon forward then considered by many to be the best high school basketball player in the country, resonated last week as Chicago and its high school basketball community dealt with another shooting death.
Tim Bankston still feels pain, nearly three decades later, when he remembers the loyal, playful friend and teammate he lost. He says he would give up his basketball success and his Class AA state championship for 10 more minutes with Wilson.
Bankston is now the boys basketball coach at Thornton Fractional North. He said that while he believed Wilson's death near Simeon was an isolated incident, he now fears constantly for his players and his son, who attends a high school in Indiana.
"I just try to tell my kids to be alert," Bankston said. "If you see a fight on the streets, go the other way quick, because after the fight there's going to be shooting.
"(My son is) a freshman, and I worry all the time when he goes to games and stuff like that about something like that happening. I'm always on edge. I'm on pins and needles."
As police were sorting out details of Wednesday's death of 17-year-old Morgan Park student Tyrone Lawson outside Chicago State University after a basketball game between Simeon and Morgan Park, parents, administrators and coaches were left this week wondering how to protect the kids.
Two men, brothers Michael McNabb, 32, and Stephen Gilbert, 29, were arrested Wednesday night and charged Saturday with first-degree murder in Lawson's death.
"We do need to get together as a basketball family in the city of Chicago," Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. "We all need to come together to see what we can do to help (stop) violence. … I lost a lot of my friends due to violence. I wish we could all come together to stop it. These games are a family event. I don't think that should be changed."
Arisa Johnson, president of the Simeon booster club and mother of Simeon guard Jaylon Tate, said the group is meeting Tuesday to work on ideas for speaking out about stopping teen violence. She thinks well-known athletes and coaches could help draw attention to the cause.
"Looking at the number of people who are attracted to these (athletic) events and these venues, they have some power here. There's a voice here," Johnson said. "There may be some opportunities there to get some messages across, to reach some people and have a sounding board."
No time to panic
The Wilson and Lawson incidents are hardly the only violence to touch Simeon, Morgan Park and other Chicago teams.
In 2006, Simeon basketball players were attacked while boarding their bus after a game at Morgan Park. In September, the Morgan Park-Simeon football game was postponed after a fight broke out in the stands at Gately Stadium and one person reportedly was stabbed. On Wednesday, there were words and shoves exchanged in the postgame handshake line.
On-the-court incidents also have popped up over the years. On Thursday, Hyde Park and Kenwood players got into an argument during their game after a hard foul by a Kenwood player. Hyde Park players left their bench but there was no physical fight, Chicago Public Schools spokesman Frank Shuftan said.
Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said he tries to prevent such incidents by insisting his players keep the game in proper perspective. But he also was quick to say the gun violence that touched the Public League on Wednesday is a societal problem, not a basketball problem.
Slaughter, whose daughter attended Wednesday's game at Chicago State, thinks it's something from which the basketball community can learn.
CPS said it suspended two players one game each for their roles in the postgame altercation at Chicago State and closed the next Simeon and Morgan Park games to the general public and to media. Shuftan said Hyde Park's principal suspended for the team's next CPS game all players who left the bench during the incident. None of the five players on the court were suspended, Shuftan said.
According to Shuftan, the Public League will make crowd control adjustments as needed for other games and he said communications regarding sportsmanship and mentoring are being sent to athletic directors and coaches.
CPS will review future neutral-site games, including the Simeon-Young game on Jan. 26, set for Chicago State, and the Public League tournament semifinals and final. Slaughter said he is waiting on word about the Simeon game, but he hopes the public will be allowed to watch.
"My hope would be that we would continue forward," Slaughter said. "My personal opinion is that this is not the time for us to go into a panic. This is a time to look at this and be reflective.
"Wherever the game is going to be played, people would like to see it because it's the best of Chicago. We have to continue to show we have good kids who are doing good things and are going on to higher education. We need to show that because we have an entire group of young people who aspire to be that."
Keeping an eye out
Bridget Pollard drives her son, senior Kendall Pollard, everywhere she can — school, games, shopping, restaurants. Johnson asks that Tate check in with a text message every 30 minutes when he's out with friends.
The mothers of the Simeon basketball players went to CPS high schools and remember when the Wilson tragedy "affected the whole city," Bridget Pollard said. They now live on the South Side and do what they can to protect their sons from similar danger, but they know their sons' safety involves more than that.
Shuftan said CPS principals must ensure the games at their schools have proper security plans in place. That includes screening fans properly, ensuring that students are supervised and adults sign in to the game.
Johnson and Bankston said they hope the adults in the teenagers' lives can make a difference.
Johnson acknowledged the players should be held accountable for their actions, but also suggested the coaches and referees need to recognize when a game is getting too heated.
"If they are that in tune and in touch with what's happening during the course of the game, they can see something building," Johnson said of officials. "They will step in and be responsible and make sure they address it so it doesn't get out of hand."
Bankston wants it to start at home.
"We need to get these young parents and get them some parenting classes so we can discontinue the cycle of ignorance," Bankston said. "I think that's where it starts. Get some community resources for these kids."
Mike Helfgot contributed to this report.
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