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Daily Journal
February 16, 2022
#73-47 KDJ

Details emerge on altercation at Kankakee's boys

By Mason Schweizer

In the third quarter of Friday’s boys basketball game between Kankakee High School and Thornwood High School in South Holland, both benches cleared and members of the crowd ran onto the floor in an incident that escalated to a fight.

The game immediately was ended, and now investigations are underway as Kankakee school officials say game footage shows adults potentially striking members of the Kankakee High School boys basketball team.

Kankakee Superintendent Dr. Genevra Walters, whose son, Larenz, is a sophomore guard for the Kays, was at the game, seated in the second row behind the Kankakee bench.

On Tuesday, she described what she experienced that night while watching the game film with the Daily Journal. The incident started when a Thornwood player shoved a Kankakee player, she said. It initially led to some players meeting on the court but quickly escalated.

“The first thing that I saw was the player from Thornwood push [Kankakee senior guard] Nate Hill, and he slid back,” Walters said. “He stood up, and kind of got in a defensive stance, and once that happened, it seemed like at the same time some members of the crowd came down from the stands and attacked [a Kankakee player].

“A couple of our boys and the Thornwood boys went out [from the benches to the court], and at first I thought things were going to calm down because I mostly saw our kids and coaches pulling players back ... and I saw some Thornwood players pulling people back, too,” she added. “I feel if the people from the Thornwood stands didn’t come out, and the adults from Thornwood didn’t attack our kids, it wouldn’t have gotten that bad.”

In the video of the incident, the initial shoving of Hill led to players who were on the floor meeting near the two players, and a few players from both benches running out to do the same. As that was happening, members of the crowd also came down to the floor, where officials at Kankakee claim multiple players were pulled into the stands and assaulted by members of the crowd, a mixture of students and adults.

“One of our players was shoved, and you see players move that way, but then people from their stands went down to where the players were gathering, and that was what’s most concerning to us, was people from the crowd assaulting our athletes,” Kankakee athletic director Ronnie Wilcox said. “Not just students but also adults who weren’t just pulling kids out but actually assaulting our kids.”

The school said it is continuing to investigate the incident, in conjunction with officials at Thornwood, and are trying to identify any and all adults who struck any students.

“[Thornwood Superintendent Dr. Nathaniel Cunningham] has been really cooperative, and the one thing we agree on is students should get student consequences and adults get adult consequences,” Walters said. “Which in my mind, is that, if we can identify the adults who struck our students, to press charges against them.”

Cunningham was not immediately available for comment.

As a result of the altercation, the Kays self-imposed a penalty of forfeiting Saturday’s home game against Bloom, which took them out of the running for the Southland Athletic Conference title, and some players will be suspended for an additional game — today’s regular season finale against Chicago Vocational — sanctions the IHSA approved.

The Kays forfeited the game because they wouldn’t have been able to field a team after the one-game suspensions that were levied to members of the team who ran onto the court from the bench, an action that results in an automatic one-game ban by the IHSA.

Walters said while she understands the intent of the rule is to prioritize player safety, she also understands why members of the team ran onto the court Friday night.

“I think that there’s a lot of work we can do to help our students not be impulsive and control themselves, but at the same time I see both sides,” she said. “I understand the IHSA rule to keep everyone safe, but at same time, who would expect adults and people from the stands to come out and attack our players?

“I was shocked.”

A Kankakee native who has seen similar incidents unfold in other areas and schools, she said incidents similar to Friday’s often are looked at by society in a much different prism at places such as Kankakee, a high school with a 78.6 percent minority student population, and Thornwood High School, where minorities comprise 98.9 percent of the student body, according to Illinois Report Card.

“I grew up in Kankakee so it’s frustrating to me, period, because I see some of the same behaviors play out in somewhere like the northwest [Chicago] suburbs and the perception of what happened is very different than the perception is of what happened with us,” she said. “I’m sorry, but I do think race plays a part in it, and people don’t want to admit it, but it’s true.

“The moment a kid doesn’t make the best decision, we worry about the perception of the public and how people are going to demonize us.”

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