One hoop to be removed from Oak Lawn park near brawl site
By Nick Swedberg Correspondent July 14, 2014 9:20PM
Updated: July 15, 2014 2:09AM
In an effort to combat problems, including what one official called “potty mouths,” the Oak Lawn Park District Board on Monday night voted to remove one of two basketball hoops from a playground that became the focus of resident complaints after a nearby brawl last year.
One hoop and backboard at Little Wolfe Playground, at 107th Street and Laramie Avenue, will be taken down, and park officials will explore the possibility of replacing the remaining hoop with an adjustable version so that younger children are able to use the equipment.
The court at Little Wolfe touched off controversy among some residents, including Oak Lawn Trustee Carol Quinlan, who claimed last year basketball hoops attract people from outside the community who cause trouble.
Tearing down the hoops was proposed after a fight broke out at the Wolfe Wildlife Refuge, where a brawl ignited in August 2013 between a group of black teens and a group of white teens, resulting in several injuries.
“That park, when it was redone, was made for tots,” Park Commissioner Sue Murphy said. “The basketball hoops next to it, with the bad language, I can see where there would be a problem.”
Removing the one hoop will eliminate fullcourt games at the park. Officials plan to revisit the layout of the park, which has been tailored to younger children, in the coming months.
The park board’s measure passed 3 to 2 Monday night.
One of the dissenting commissioners, Gary Callahan, expressed concerns about removing viable equipment from a district facility.
“It’s a very sad situation when we’re talking about maybe reducing or taking away recreation because of people and their potty mouths,” Callahan said.
Then-board president Sue Murphy said in November that the board might look at the issue again within two months.
After Monday’s vote, she said the delay was due in part to the full board not being present at several meetings over the winter and spring. They also waited until the season made basketball playing more imminent before making a decision on the fate of the hoops.
During a park board meeting in November, several commissioners asserted that removing the hoops would push the problems to other parks in Oak Lawn.
Shortly after that fall park district meeting, village resident Tom Stefanos said that reducing crime was the only reason for the public outcry to take down the hoops.
“It has nothing to do with race,” Stefanos told the SouthtownStar in November. “It has nothing to do with people coming in from outside the community. It has to do with criminal activity.”
Callahan said he was pleased with Oak Lawn police’s efforts to keep the parks problem-free after the upsurge in complaints from residents last year over the “situation” at Little Wolfe.
“Whatever that perception was, the police department has been phenomenal,” he said.
The park district has maintained a partnership with the Oak Lawn Police Department for years to provide an extra bicycle patrol of their parks.
Commissioners chose to remove the hoop at the northern end of the court, which also is closest to nearby homes.
Basketball hoops for teens and adults still are available at other Oak Lawn parks.