CHICAGO (CBS) — At Garfield Boulevard and LaSalle Street in the Washington Park neighborhood, there is a basketball court that functions as a safe haven for children throughout Chicago.

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

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But on Wednesday, practice was preempted by an unfortunate tough life lesson – after the youngsters lost a teammate to Chicago’s violence.

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 Sept. 21, 2021. (Credit: GoodKids MadCity-Englewood)

“Real big heart,” said Pastor Charles Moodie of the Chicago City Life Center. “Heart of a lion.”

Now, Kentrell’s teammates’ hearts are heavy. They sat in the gymnasium reflecting on why two players from the Good Kids Mad City Englewood Basketball League were not there.

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

“This is not normal,” Pastor Moodie said. “What’s going on in Chicago is not normal.”

Moodie offers the Chicago City Life Center gym to various teams as neutral, non-gang grounds.

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

On Wednesday, the youngsters expressed their feelings through cards written to Kentrell’s grieving mother as they processed the outcome of the city’s gun violence.

“This impacts a whole community,” Moodie said. “It’s sad that this has to be part of the conversation that parents are having with their children.”

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

“Once he read it, when I picked him up, he looked at me – his dad – and said, ‘What?’ still in shock,” Washington said, “and as we got into the car, on our way to the team’s practice, we rode in silence for a while.”

Yet so many children 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 fellow Simeon student Jamari Williams, also 15, at 83rd Street and Holland Road – blocks from the high school.

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

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

Terry is told that Kentrell McNeal was his mother’s only child, and she signed him up for the basketball program, to keep him safe.

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