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OL Park District stalls citizens’ full court press for hoop removal

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  An Oak Lawn trustee’s proposal to remove basketball hoops from all village parks was not well-received Monday by park district commissioners.

  “I didn’t get a good vibe from the board,” Trustee Carol Quinlan said after Monday’s park board meeting. “I’m not very optimistic.”
  Quinlan was one of approximately 30 residents who live near Little Wolf Park to attend the meeting. She asked commissioners to consider removing the hoops following an Aug. 14 fight at the park that led to two arrests.
  The fight took place at about 9:20 p.m. near a foot bridge that connects Little Wolfe Park with walking trails that stretch to the rear of Richards High School.
  Stephen Hyde, 18, of Oak Lawn, and Hexadore Randall, 19, of Chicago, were arrested and charged with battery after they were picked out of a lineup by teenagers injured in the melee, police said.
  The duo said the fight was racially motivated and broke out after a group of white teens used racial slurs, according to police. They said they were walking the trails adjacent to the park when they encountered the white teens, who shouted racial slurs before hitting them, police said.
  The white teens offered a different version of events. Two teens told police they were punched in the face while another said he was jumped, according to reports.
  Quinlan said problems have been ongoing throughout the summer and residents are concerned about the potential for more fights or mayhem.
  “It was not an isolated case,” Quinlan said. “I am not exaggerating at all.”
  She added that the park no longer attracts families or younger children. Instead, older teens and adults from outside Oak Lawn play basketball at the park, 109th Street and Laramie Avenue.
  “Mothers are not coming with their children. I think that we’re bringing in an element that’s from outside Oak Lawn,” said Quinlan, who lives near the park.
  She said she receives complaints routinely from residents who do not feel comfortable at the park. Those who use the basketball courts park on both sides of Laramie Avenue, shout profanities and litter in the park, Quinlan said.
  Police Chief Mike Murray met with Park Director Maddie Kelly recently to discuss park security, he said at Monday’s meeting. Murray and Kelly discussed increased lighting at Little Wolfe Park and the possibility of clearing dense brush and foliage that has grown along the paths.
  Murray added that there have been more than 300 police patrols at park since the Aug. 14 incident. No other confrontations have occurred at the park in the past month, Murray said.
  Park commissioners said they would consider Quinlan’s proposal at a future meeting when a full board was on hand. Commissioner Mary Margaret Wallace did not attend Monday’s meeting.
  Park Commissioner Donna McAuley said “safety is a concern for all of us,” but was hesitant to remove recreational opportunities from the parks. She added that recreational equipment is added to parks after the district receives feedback from residents.
  Kelly also was tentative about taking down the basketball hoops.
  “We hate to take out any recreational amenity in any park,” she said.
  Commissioner Gary Callahan said inappropriate conduct in the parks is not solely associated with basketball. He said the district’s skateboard park, near 89th Street and Ridgeland Avenue, has drawn inappropriate behavior from some teens who use the facility.
  Quinlan asked commissioners to consider removing the nets for a six-month trial period. If they are removed permanently, the courts could be replaced by sand volleyball courts, she said.
  Some residents who attended the meeting were unhappy with the park board’s failure to make a decision on the issue.
  Dennis Zator said park commissioners are ignoring a safety issue.
  “They’re doing it their way,” he said.
  Jim Durkin, who also lives near the park, said removing the basketball hoops was a “simple fix.”