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A recent story about a local prep basketball phenom detailed his rough upbringing in strife-torn Englewood but noted how his hoops cred accorded him civilian status and an exemption from neighborhood gang wars.
Sports isn’t always a license to survive Chicago’s streets. Miles Turner, a senior football player at Leo, relearns how to walk after being shot five times while trying to rescue his cousin from an encounter with gang-bangers in their South Side neighborhood in October 2012.
And on Jan. 30, Marshall High assistant basketball coach Shawn Harrington was set upon by gun-toting street thugs on the West Side as he drove his teenage daughter to school at 7:45 a.m. Two bullets struck Harrington as he leaned over to protect his daughter from the fusillade.
A tragic case of mistaken identity, sure, but it doesn’t diminish the severity of his wounds. After two weeks in intensive care at Stroger Hospital, Harrington entered the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he hopes to regain the ability to walk.
News of the shooting devastated the Marshall community — Harrington is a 1993 Marshall graduate remembered as an elite if undersized point guard — and Rus Bradburd, a coach-turned-author-turned-college professor who recruited him to New Mexico State.
‘‘He was a good little player,’’ Bradburd recalled. ‘‘Any West Side guard is going to be a tough kid — that’s one of the rules — but once Shawn stepped off the court, he was a sweetheart, a genuinely nice kid. I don’t know anybody who didn’t like him.’’
After a knee injury derailed him at New Mexico State, Harrington transferred to Northwest Missouri State. He was voted MVP of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association in his senior year, averaging 13.3 points, 4.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game while earning a degree in communications.
‘‘When you recruit in the city, you always hear, ‘I’ve got to make it so I can get my mother out of this neighborhood,’ ’’ Bradburd said. ‘‘But Shawn had come back to his neighborhood and was trying to make things better. That’s rare.’’
Harrington, 38, returned to Marshall in 2007. In addition to coaching basketball, he works with special-education students as a classroom aide.
‘‘It’s a good fit for him,’’ said Dorothy Gaters, Marshall’s athletic director and Hall of Fame girls basketball coach. ‘‘He has a great personality. He’s always upbeat — he gets along with everybody. No matter how many times I’d see him during the day, he’d give me a hug or a kiss on the cheek.’’
Gaters, also a Marshall grad, has spent more than 40 years at her alma mater. She has known Harrington all his life, and she knew his mother, Frinda, who was killed when armed robbers invaded a neighbor’s home she happened to be visiting in 2003. Street violence is a sad fact of life around Marshall but by no means endemic to the area. A troubling reaction to that grim realization is one reason Bradburd is teaching creative writing as an assistant professor at New Mexico State rather than coaching basketball there.
In 2000, as the Aggies were preparing to play Cal State Fullerton, coaches learned that Fullerton guard Rodney Anderson had been shot three times and left paralyzed after being mistaken for a gang member near his home in South Central Los Angeles.
‘‘Instead of asking, ‘Oh, my God, what happened?’ or worrying about the kid’s family, we were thinking about the game and how this would affect our chances of winning,’’ Bradburd recalled. ‘‘That’s embarrassing.
‘‘Competition is good, but at the major college level, it blinds you to what’s really important. It’s disheartening how disinterested people are in what’s happened to Shawn. It’s almost like they’re inured to it.’’
Harrington himself is not. Spent after a strenuous day of treatment at the Rehabilitation Institute, he felt a burning in his abdominal muscles and a tingling in his calves and thighs. It was a welcome sensation, reinforcing his belief that the paralysis that landed him there is a temporary condition.
‘‘I was angry when it happened, and I’m glad they have a suspect in custody,’’ Harrington said. ‘‘But once I found out my daughter was OK, it was time to move on. ’A major comeback from a minor setback’ — that’s how one of my friends put it.
‘‘At the end of every season, the staff plays the team at Marshall. The staff has won every time I’ve played — about six years in a row. I told the kids they better get us this year because I’m going to be back out there next year.’’
HOW TO HELP
The Marshall High School basketball community has set up a ‘‘Shawn Harrington Recovery Fund’’ to assist Harrington with out-of-pocket medical bills and other expenses.
Any Fifth Third Bank branch will accept deposits. Checks made out to the Shawn Harrington Recovery Fund can be sent to Fifth Third Bank, 2710 N. Narragansett Ave., Chicago, IL 60639.
In addition, a benefit will be held at Marshall beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 1, with all proceeds going to the fund.