Written by Bob Rakow
To hoop, or not to hoop? Two of the six area communities have eliminated public outdoor basketball courts and some Oak Lawn residents are clamoring that their village do the same. Photo by Jeff Vorva Removing basketball hoops from Little Wolfe Park in Oak Lawn hasn’t garnered significant support from park district officials, but it’s a move other area communities have made to combat unsavory behavior.
Oak Lawn Trustee Carol Quinlan has called on the Oak Lawn Park Board to remove the basketball hoops at the park, 107th Street and Laramie Avenue, following an Aug. 14 fight that led to two arrests.
She said the fight was not an isolated incident. Instead, it’s not uncommon for large groups of older teens and adults to use the court and park their cars along both sides of Laramie Avenue. The activity has deterred area residents from using the park, which also features a playground, she said.
Basketball courts were removed several years ago in Evergreen Park and Palos Hills. The Chicago Ridge Park District, meanwhile, is considering moving courts out of Freedom Park—the home of a splash pad—and relocating them in another park in the community, said director Kevin King.
The Chicago Ridge Park District has received occasional complaints regarding conduct at the Freedom Park basketball courts, but nothing too serious, King said. Plans call for hoops to be added to Menard Park where an existing court is frequently used, he said.
The Freedom Park courts are in bad shape and repairing them is not a worthwhile move, King said.
Basketball courts were removed 20 years ago from all Evergreen Park parks after residents cried foul over the behavior of those using the courts, Mayor Jim Sexton said. Parks in Evergreen Park are located close to residential areas, and homeowners complained about the foul language, littering and public urination that occurred near the courts, Sexton said.
The courts were transformed into sand volleyball courts, the mayor said.
Basketball courts were removed in Palos Hills several years ago as well after some residents complained about after-hours use and the conduct of some players, said Palos Hills Ald. Pauline Stratton. The courts, which were located on 103rd Street, were the only ones in the city.
“I did want them to stay. I was definitely in the minority,” Stratton said. “I’m of the opinion, let the kids be occupied.”
Basketball courts still can be found in Worth and Hickory Hills parks.
The Worth Park District has a scaled-down basketball court at Penny Park, Home and Normandy avenues, and has experienced only minor problems, Director Carlo Capalbo said.
“We don’t see too many problems with it,” Capalbo said. “We get heavy usage. At the same time, the park is respected.”
Quinlan was one of approximately 30 residents who live near the Little Wolfe Park to attend last week’s park board meeting to request the removal of the basketball court. Her comments that many of the players are from outside the community have led some to brand her a racist, she said. Several of her neighbors, however, support the move, Quinlan said.
Quinlan is directing anyone who contacts her about the issue to call the park district.
That’s what residents should have done when they first recognized a problem at Little Wolfe, Oak Lawn Park Board President Sue Murphy said.
The district was unaware of problems at the park other than the Aug. 14 fight until Quinlan raised the issue at the park board meeting, Murphy said.
“This is the first time we’ve heard of incidents over there,” Murphy said.
There have not been additional incidents at the park since the Aug. 14 fight. Police have significantly stepped up patrols at the park since the melee, Police Chief Mike Murray said.
Murphy added that the district cannot prevent people from using its facilities.
“Parks are not private property,” she said. “This is not a gated community. People can play where they want in public places.”
Murphy reiterated that safety is the district’s primary goal.
“We do need to monitor the situation,” she said.
Murphy said the park board will consider the request to remove the hoops at Little Wolfe.
“We’re open to it. It’s not fallen on deaf ears,” she said.
She added that she expects residents to address the issue at the board’s Oct. 21 meeting. She said residents should present a petition to the park board calling for the removal of the basketball court.
The Aug. 14 fight took place 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.