Cole Park Grapples With Crime | WBEZ
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Cole Park Grapples With Crime

Chicago's Cole Park has a rich basketball history. But the park, located in the Chatham neighborhood, has struggled with crime. Since a Chicago police officer was killed across the street from Cole Park a few months ago, security is now in place by the basketball courts. But many question whether it's enough.

Named after the famous crooner Nat ‘King' Cole, the park is a city block beginning at 85th and King Drive.

On a weekday afternoon teenage boys play basketball on the court next to the field house.

A Chicago Park District security guard now sits in a white SUV, across the street from where Chicago police officer Thomas Wortham was killed back in May.

LYLE: Before Officer Wortham was murdered we had approached the park district about security issues. We had a shooting here a month before the two young men got shot. We had had two different shootings when there were young people on the basketball court.

Alderman Freddrenna Lyle says those nonfatal shootings happened in the spring. In response, the park district put locks on the basketball rims to subdue the violence.

Wortham served on the advisory committee of his childhood park. Lyle says she still has a letter on her desk that he wrote asking for security. After his death, the security came. But the second basketball court is still locked.

The improvements aren't enough for Lyle.

LYLE: It is imperfect, at best. The South Side alderman says the park is under-resourced and under-staffed. The park district declined to comment for this story.

But Cole Park still attracts families – from the basketball to the pee-wee little leagues to seniors walking the trail. A sweaty 20-year-old Brand'don Anderson takes a break from hooping. He likes the new security.

ANDERSON: Before it was a little kind of reckless. There's an incident with guns with guns up here. Someone brought a gun and the police had to come up here a couple of times. Of course fights, immature stuff.

Located in the black middle-class Chatham.

Cole Park became a popular place to play ball in the late 1970s and 1980s. Guys would trek from all over the city to look for a good pickup game.

Chicago MC Common ostensibly gives a nod to the park in one of his songs.

Noah Cannon couldn't wait to play on the big court at Cole Park when he was a kid.

Cannon is currently the head basketball coach at Leo High School on West 79th Street. His 1990s memories include watching basketball players who are now household names – like Doc Rivers, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Garnett.

But Cannon says the heydays have waned.

CANNON: I think the decline of Cole Park contributes to some of the problems. If you look at Cole Park now, you can see how the grass is. The basketball rims are not kept up the way it's supposed to be. And more importantly, too, I think some of the guys say my age aren't coming back like when it was when we were growing up. The guys that are my age now, 32, 33, was coming up there to talk to the kids that was 14, 15 years old. Just telling them about Cole Park. Some of the rules some of the things that was going on when we was there.

Cole Park Trina Wilson is with her 11-year-old son who's about to play a baseball game. She never lets him frequent the park alone because of the park's problems.

WILSON: These young boys think…they ain't got no home training – that's what it seems like. They need something to do. And that goes back to what Alderman Lyle wants for the park – more programs and recreational activities in the tiny field house.

Despite the troubles, Lyle still plans to hold her basketball tournament at Cole Park later this summer.

Music Button:  Tsutchie, "Absolute", from the CD Samurai Champloo: Playlist, (Victor Japan)

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