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Shawn Harrington of 'Hoop Dreams' fame is back on the court, teaching young players

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Shawn Harrington of Marshall High is one of the high school stars in Steve James's 1994 documentary "Hoop Dreams." He went on to play Division I basketball at New Mexico State and later returned to Marshall on Chicago's West Side as an assistant coach. He was driving his daughter to school on January 30, 2014, when two people shot them in their car at a stoplight. Shawn Harrington shielded his daughter from gunfire, but he was left paralyzed. He's the subject of a 2018 book, "All The Dreams We've Dreamed." And this week, Shawn Harrington began to teach a younger age group at Children of Peace Catholic School. Coach Shawn Harrington joins us now from Chicago. Coach, thanks so much for being with us.

SHAWN HARRINGTON: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

SIMON: What did it feel like to be back on the court, in the gym?

HARRINGTON: It's like home. It's fun. It felt like I haven't missed a beat.

SIMON: As I understand your story, you once tried to return, and it was difficult - felt you weren't ready. What's different now? What's happened?

HARRINGTON: There's a lot more, I guess I can say, normalcy and independence to my life. I took the time to take care of myself. When I went back initially, I think I went back too soon. And my body, physically and mentally, just wasn't ready for it.

SIMON: What's it like working with grade schoolers?

HARRINGTON: The most difficult part was getting the - getting to remember the kids - so many different names.

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah.

HARRINGTON: ...At that part - at that time. So just - you know, finding a way to have fun with kids is - it's pretty simple with me.

SIMON: Do the children you're working with know your story, do you think?

HARRINGTON: Some of the older kids have but not much of the younger kid - every once in a while, they'll ask, coach - why I'm in a wheelchair. And I just kind of - if we have time during the class, I just kind of relate the story into a way that they can understand. I don't go into detail about the shooting. I just tell them that the coach had an incident and why I can't walk.

SIMON: Yeah. Coach, tell us about your book, please.

HARRINGTON: It's called "All The Dreams We've Dreamed," written by Rus Bradburd. And Rus Bradburd is a Chicago guy. He's a former coach of mine. He was the coach that recruited me to New Mexico State University. And the book just basically - it covers my story from the day I got shot up to recently, maybe about two years ago. So it's basically my road to recovery, along with some of the young men that I taught along the way that we lost to the violence here in Chicago.

SIMON: Yeah. Those are young men you remember.

HARRINGTON: Yes, yes. The book details the lives of six kids that we lost. All but two of them had graduated from Marshall. They were Marshall graduates. Two of them were actually students at the time. But Marshall was their safe haven for a lot of these kids. They knew when they were inside of these walls, they were safe. And once they graduated, some of them - they all went on to college. They all left Marshall with a plan. But, of course, everything doesn't always go according to plan.

SIMON: Can basketball, sports and, for that matter, you know, the arts, dance - can they be a special place for children to hold onto in this world?

HARRINGTON: Oh, without a doubt. Sports and all extracurricular activities - it builds character. It builds discipline, lifelong friendships. Sports paid for me to get two college degrees. My family wouldn't have been able to afford for me to go to college, so I was able to use sports in that way. So I share that experience with the kids also, the importance of getting an education and using that to broaden their horizons, to get kids to see that there's more to life ahead of them than the South and West Sides and North Sides of Chicago. And because you are a good student or you can play sports within the team concept, you can use those tools to broaden your horizons and continue the education.

SIMON: Shawn Harrington is a coach at Children of Peace Catholic School in Chicago. Coach, thanks so much for being with us. Nice to know you're back in the gym.

HARRINGTON: Thank you for having interest in sharing my story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARY LATTIMORE'S "WE WAVE FROM OUR BOATS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.