Basketball players

Young Chicago City Life Center basketball players get grim life lesson after teammate Kentrell McNeal, 15, is fatally shot – CBS Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) — On Garfield Boulevard and LaSalle Street in the Washington Park neighborhood, there is a basketball court that serves as a refuge for the children of Chicago.

As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported, street issues are forgotten once youngsters step into the gymnasium at the Chicago City Life Center, 137 W. Garfield Blvd. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re from – the goal is teamwork and winning.

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But practice on Wednesday was overtaken by an unfortunate, difficult life lesson – after the youngsters lost a teammate to violence in Chicago.

On the basketball court, Kentrell McNeal had skills.

Kentrell McNeal, 15, was killed in a shooting outside a McDonald’s in Hyde Park near 52nd and Lake Park on September 21, 2021. (GoodKids MadCity-Englewood)

“Really big hearted,” said Pastor Charles Moodie of the Chicago City Life Center. “Lionheart.”

Now the hearts of Kentrell’s teammates are heavy. They sat in the gymnasium thinking about why two Good Kids Mad City Englewood Basketball League players weren’t there.

On Tuesday night, someone shot and killed Kentrell, 15, and injured a second teammate, as the teens sat in a car outside McDonald’s at 5200 S. Lake Park Ave. in the Hyde Park area.

“It’s not normal,” said Pastor Moodie. “What is happening in Chicago is not normal.”

Moodie offers the Chicago City Life Center gymnasium to various teams as a neutral, non-gang ground.

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“Young people can come from anywhere and find a safe haven here,” Moodie said.

Young people expressed their feelings through handwritten cards to the grieving mother of Kentrell on Wednesday as they dealt with the outcome of the city’s gun violence.

“It impacts an entire community,” Moodie said. “It’s sad that this has to be part of the conversation parents have with their children.”

Aaron Washington’s 10-year-old son plays on the team. Washington was forced to have this adult conversation with his boy.

“Once he read it, when I hugged him, he looked at me – his father – and said, ‘What?’ still in shock,” Washington said, “and as we got into the car, en route to team practice, we drove in silence for a while.

Yet so many kids are numb, especially at Simeon Career Academy, 8147 S. Vincennes Ave., where Kentrell attended school. Just hours before he was murdered, someone shot and killed another Simeon student, Jamari Williams, also 15, at 83rd Street and Holland Road, a few blocks from the high school.

You don’t have to witness Simeon to feel the pain.

“My son and I will continue to have conversations about the interactions we had with these young men,” Washington said.

Terry learns that Kentrell McNeal was his mother’s only child and that she enrolled him in the basketball program to protect him.

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The team plans to finish the season and hopefully win, to honor Kentrell.