It's all about the street gangs and rowdy kids who have no loyalty to schools or communities. They are teenage terrorists who will do anything to disrupt law and order, education, the establishment and society in general.
But you should know that it didn't start this year or last year or the year before that. It has been going on for decades in Chicago. Sure, a few incidents erupted between players, even cheerleaders, but the overwhelming majority of cases occurred because hot-tempered fans and juvenile delinquents chose to create havoc.
Sun-Times prep editor Steve Tucker, a New Trier graduate, recalls attending the Marshall/New Trier supersectional game at Northwestern's McGaw Hall in 1966 where a melee disrupted the proceedings. He believes it was the beginning of the IHSA's move toward the two-class system and the Public League's automatic berth in the state finals.
There could be some truth to that theory. But I am more convinced that the issue and the "troubles," as the Irish might refer to them, began after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April, 1968, and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was killed in June, 1968. That's when the West Side of Chicago burned down. That's when Detroit's inner city burned down. That's when the United States began to search for its soul.
I was living in Collinsville, Ill., at the time, covering high school sports for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. I also was a member of the Illinois National Guard, stationed in an armory in East St. Louis. When the rioting began in Chicago and Detroit and elsewhere, we were called up. We slept in the armory for a week, waiting to be sent to a trouble spot. But the call never came.
In September, 1968, I moved to Chicago to begin working for the Chicago Daily News. One of the first coaches I called was Larry Hawkins at Carver, whom I had met in Champaign in 1962 when he brought Cazzie Russell to the state finals. He introduced me to several Public League coaches, including Charlie Stimpson, Herb Brown, Harvey Hartenstein, Jim Foreman and Lee Umbles.
In those days, city schools weren't welcome places for anyone with a white skin. In fact, for years, Kansas assistant coach Sam Miranda and I were the only ones who regularly attended Public League games, even though they were played at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
Even the city coaches were scared as they attempted to keep their teams together and prevent players from being intimidated by the gangs. Hawkins walked me to my car after a game. Some coaches made sure a security guard met me when I arrived at the school. But I never experienced a single incident.
I recall many frightening moments...a student firing a weapon at Farragut, a student wielding a gun at Collins, my wife being escorted by a security guard to a washroom at King, an army of Chicago policemen covering the city finals at the International Amphitheater, students being driven to the city finals in school buses, student and fan skirmishes at several games. In some instances, games were played without any fans in the stands and others were played with no visitors.
I prefer to think that the whole issue began to turn, for the better perhaps, after the 1969 supersectional game between Hirsch and Proviso East at Hinsdale Central. Proviso East won 47-46 in a game that was filled with all the controversy of the infamous 1954 state final between Du Sable and Mount Vernon. Proviso East, led by Jim Brewer, went on to win the state title.
But Hirsch, led by Geoff Roberts, who had 17 rebounds against Brewer, led by eight points late in the fourth quarter before Proviso East, thanks to some controversial officiating, rallied to win. To this day, coach Charlie Stimpson, who later guided Rickey Green and John Robinson to a state title in 1973, believes his team should have won the game.
There is no question that the Hirsch/Proviso East game had a lot to do with the IHSA adopting a two-class system in 1972, after considerable lobbying by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, with part of the plan awarding the Public League an automatic bid to the Elite Eight.
But it hasn't dosed the fires that ignite from time to time, every year, among boys and girls. Calvin Davis, the Public League's sports supervisor, has vowed to stop the violence by instituting stiffer regulations. But he isn't the first. Bill Harden did it on his watch in the 1970s. So did J.W. Smith, Davis' predecessor.
There are many answers, many of which have been tried. Tighter security is a given. Don't allow non-school personnel to attend games. Play games at 3 o'clock, not at night. Clean out the parking lots of riff-raff who create problems after games. Bus all visiting students to games. Check for guns and knives. Don't allow anyone in the gym who doesn't have a good reason for being there. Any player or cheerleader or coach who is involved in an incident is suspended--permanently.
It may sound harsh. But if the Chicago Public Schools don't deal with the issue quickly and effectively, the next incident could become a tragedy. Then there might not be any more games at all.