After recovering from shooting, coach finds new home at Catholic school

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2022

After recovering from shooting, coach finds new home at Catholic school

Shawn Harrington coaches practice at Children of Peace School, 1900 W. Taylor St., Chicago on Feb. 18, 2022. Harrington a former hoops standout and assistant coach at Marshall High School, recently started working at the Catholic school on Fridays teaching gym class to students and leading an after-school basketball camp. It is his first coaching job since he was shot and paralyzed on the West Side eight years ago. Harrington was featured in the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams” when he was a sophomore point guard at Marshall. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Shawn Harrington talks with assistant coach Ashlee Washington during practice. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student shoots the basketball. Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Harrington gestures while explaining a drill. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students do drills during practice. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Harrington watches a student practice. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Harrington directs the students in drills. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student practices his shooting. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Harrington talks to the students about famous African Americans from Chicago. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Fridays are the best day of the week for some students at Children of Peace School, 1900 W. Taylor St.

That’s because Fridays are the days when Shawn Harrington teaches gym and coaches an after-school basketball program, navigating the gym and surrounding corridors in a motorized wheelchair.

Harrington, a former standout at Marshall High School and college basketball player, was paralyzed eight years ago after being shot in a mistaken identity incident. He was on his morning commute to his job as an assistant basketball coach at Marshall with his daughter in the car and dove across her seat when the shooting started.

Ashlee Washington, a parent volunteer who serves as an assistant coach, said her son, Otis Stroud, a 7-year-old second grader, is at basketball every week.

“He’s always asking me if it’s Friday yet,” Washington said. “It’s the biggest day of the week.”

It’s a big day for Harrington, too, he said.

“To be with kids in a gym?” he said. “That’s home. Coming here is like coming home for me.”

To make it to Children of Peace for his first class from his Oak Park home, he has to get up at 5 a.m., he said, and that first class is 3- and 4-year-old pre-K students.

“I’ve got to be awake for them,” Harrington said. “They keep me on my toes.”

Harrington stopped talking to watch the students who came into the gym for after-school basketball practice. They get a few minutes to dribble, shoot or just goof around before the drills start, he said. He uses that time to keep an eye out and, especially, compliment what they are doing right.

On Feb. 18, it was Otis, one of the smallest kids there, dribbling two basketballs simultaneously, one with each hand.

“Good job!” Harrington said. “That’s the way you do it.”

Otis kept dribbling as he walked away.

“That’s a drill that we work on,” Harrington said. “I like to notice when they are doing something right, because then they’ll keep working on it.”

He’s not afraid to get involved with the students’ academics, either, he said. He’s offered rewards to some of the older kids to get their grades up.

“I know what it takes to be a Division I athlete,” said Harrington, who led the New Mexico State basketball team in scoring, steals and assists as a junior before a knee injury ended his season. He finished his collegiate career and earned a communications degree from Northwest Missouri State.

Harrington tried to return to Marshall as an assistant coach and special education resource staff member after being shot, but found it was too much for him.

Truth be told, he said, even one long day a week at Children of Peace is draining, but it’s worth it.

The principal of Children of Peace, Lydia Nantwi, taught at Marshall when Harrington coached there. When she needed a new part-time gym teacher, she reached out to Dorothy Gaters, Marshall High School’s athletic director. Gaters suggested Harrington.

He started practice by lining them up for drills. With his whistle in his mouth under a mask, he used hand signals to communicate what the children should do: quick feet, to the right, to the left, jump up, drop to the floor.

Then volunteer assistant coach Bryan McKinney took the older students to work on setting a pick. Washington helped Harrington run the younger students through some shooting drills with the basket set a bit lower than the regulation 10 feet.

Harrington works with McKinney in the No Books/No Ball Foundation, a nonprofit created to help young people prepare to be student athletes.

He’s also teaching the students at Children of Peace the importance of active play. Some students in his classes have never jumped rope or played kickball.

“Can you imagine?” he said. “Being 10 years old and never jumped rope?”

To encourage them, he set up an obstacle course with a jump rope component, and gave extra recognition to the students who were afraid of being embarrassed but tried anyway.

“No one is going to laugh at them in my class,” he said.

That hasn’t been a problem at Children of Peace, where, he said, the students live up to the school’s name.

“They’re peaceful kids,” he said. “Mannerful. Respectful.”

Each basketball session ends with McKinney and Harrington quizzing students, offering small prizes for correct answers. On Feb. 18, in honor of Black History Month, questions touched on Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammed Ali and also NBA players. The prizes?

Face masks that said, “Respect your elders.”



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