Basketball, Gangs, & Guns

If you haven’t seen it already you might want to watch this new ESPN documentary about Benji Wilson, the Simeon High School basketball star who was raised in Chatham, played for Robert “Hope” Reid in Ida B. Wells, and shot in a freak 1984 accident. There’s great archival footage, some surprise appearances, and an amazing interview with Wilson’s killer.


Leave a comment
  • I wrote this several years ago but it is reverent to the story

    A Day Like No Other

    The dark November dawn was still an hour away as we left Orland for the
    south side ghetto. Our last sight of the white world was the little joint on 111th
    in Mt .Greenwood where we stopped for coffee and the Sun Times every morning.
    This was usually our last chance to be normal people for the next nine hours.
    Staring at us from the front page was the picture of a kid we had talked to just the day before. I knew then it would be quite a day. But, never imagined what we were driving into as we turned onto Vincennes for the run to 83rd street.
    We parked on Steward Ave. behind the old gym and walked past the urine stained walls
    Into the tunnel where a hundred scurrying creatures marked our passage from the gym to the basement locker room and up the graffiti tagged stairs to the main floor. Even at 6:30 the phones were ringing off the hook every desk a buzz with sound. I answered the closest phone, and said hello. It was the voice of our District Superintendent (AIO ) today and he told me he was sorry “Did He Die “I asked and he said yes? At that moment Channel 7 pulled up to the front door.

    A bus load of kids got off the bus from 79th. As they began crossing the street
    One kid said something and the entire group just stopped right in the middle
    Of Vincennes Ave and begin to cry several passed out right there and had to be carried into school and it wasn’t even 7:00 yet .All along the sidewalk this kept happening
    again and again. By this time several TV crews were filming the total breakdown of
    An entire school in living color. This was great copy to the press but they were
    Real people to me caught in an urban tragedy beyond reason.
    By now the teachers began to arrive most heard the horrible news on their
    car radios en route. I do not think anyone could comprehend the next 4 hours
    Or realize the effect it would have on us. Some of us never even signed in that day
    The overwhelming human need we faced began before we even took our coats off.
    Benji was shot on the sidewalk by the parking lot fence the day before at high
    noon on a sunny day. All the kids knew somebody who had been shot, that was just
    part of life on the South Side in 1984.Everyone in that small tight school knew
    Ben as a fellow student, or teammate, when he died in the wee hours of the morning
    It came like a shattering punch to the gut.
    Fifteen hundred students in a state of shock and grief so real emotions ran from
    suicidal to homicidal and some of us weren’t in much better shape ourselves.
    We saved a school that day, and found in ourselves a strength which even today
    leaves those of us still left with a pride and almost reverent meaning to the word
    faculty. All while the kids could cry and we couldn’t. I don’t know how many
    people the Board of Education employs as grief councilors, or psychologists,
    Or social service workers in general .But I do know none of them showed up
    at Simeon that day. We were on our own, which was the way it always went
    anyhow. Seventy faculty and staff began working like a machine to save the kids.
    There was Lonnie the auto shop teacher who stopped fifty hard eyed boys who formed a war party from going over to Calumet to look for the shooter.

    the Library became a triage for those who fainted on the first floor.
    up stairs on the second and third floors it was worse students were tackled as they
    tried to jump so they could be with benji .
    At 11:00 we all went into the gym for a memorial service. Mel the
    Newly elected Treasurer of the CTU, and former faculty member
    came home in our hour of need and was a rock. We actually made him
    go up on stage with the other dignitaries. Our Principal gave one of the
    most inspired speeches I ever heard, so did Ben’s Mother. The bravest kid I
    ever saw was the student council president of Calumet High School who came
    to tell us his school felt the same way, the shooters were calumet students.
    Then we all went home.
    On the way home my buddy and I didn’t say much to each other. Friends
    And relatives called to say they saw us on TV.It was all over the news that night and in the days to come commentary flowed from the talking heads like they knew
    what they were talking about. Only one reporter in this town earned any
    Respect from us that day Verner Saunders ordered his cameramen to stop
    As he helped me pick up a girl who passed out she wasn’t the only kid he
    helped in those horrendous first minutes.
    As time passed things began returning to normal. By Christmas kids were
    Laughing and goofing around again. The shooters were in jail, basketball
    Season had begun and life went on. Our principal, a serious man, wrote
    A letter to us describing how he felt. The teacher’s lunchroom was still
    as segregated ever but, there was a change in us. We all became
    gang haters. No more looking the other way, no more excuses some of them actually
    moved on, others got their asses kicked. It came back through the grapevine that the gangs had no part in the murder, which was true. And they wanted everybody to know it.
    Even the worst gang bangers walked quickly past the school without stopping.
    It became far too hot for them.
    Much later those of us who were there began to talk about that ordeal.
    Where did we get the strength to did so deep into our faith and training
    To help hysterical kids who wanted to die. Our principal called us
    “ Magnificent “.we just called ourselves , Teachers

  • In reply to rbusch:

    Dear rbush, what do you think about what Ben Wilson's killer said about how the shooting happened?

  • Well as we all know prison is full of innocent people, just ask them.
    I was at Simeon before,during,and after that horrible day.I was not
    on the sidewalk when it happened..But there were several versions
    of who bumped who and what was said.
    there was a story about a different tall Simeon student who
    had an encounter with a lady friend of one of the killers
    and that is why he had the gun.We also heard they were at Simeon to sign up for the driving range.and had the gun in case they ran into this other kid.
    Blaming the victim for what happened is classic . I actually
    saw Ben and the girl going out the door to lunch the day he was shot
    Mary Mitchell obviously did little or no research on what happened
    and for her to even hint it might have been justifiable is beyond any reason. .

  • Thanks for this beautiful and moving account of the day Ben Wilson died, from the perspective of the adults. I was a high school sophomore at the time, one year younger than him. Danny Bridges, another CPS student, was brutally murdered by serial killer Larry Eyler just before Wilson's death, so 1984 was a scary time to be a teenager in Chicago.

  • Thank you for the kind remarks.
    Mary Mitchel's column in the Sun Times today makes me want to scream
    she writes about the movie then goes into her explanation of the crime.
    Her story is pure fiction written 30 years later by someone who was not there and has not clue one of what really happened.
    Ben Wilson had a temper but he was no bully,Mitchell decides that
    the shooter was only defending himself when he shot Benji.But she forgot
    to mention why he had a gun, and why he was cutting school.I can assure
    you nobody was picking on poor Mr.Moore whose inclusion in the
    video made me sick to my stomach.He is sorry but Ben Wilson is dead.

  • fb_avatar


Leave a comment