For once, it’s not what the youth sports coach did while serving as the leader of young men that has landed the board of one Chicago youth sports league in hot water. It’s what he did before he was a coach.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets, six board members of the Hegewisch Babe Ruth league resigned after receiving significant media attention and criticism for their decision to allow a convicted killer of a Chicago police officer to serve as a volunteer coach.
The coach in question is Dean Chavez, who was part of a group of teenagers who allegedly beat Chicago police officer John Matthews to death in 1988 on the city’s South side. Chavez was just 19 at the time but was sentenced to 27 years in prison for his part in the attack. He was eventually paroled in 1999 and volunteered as a board member and coach as a way to reconnect with the sport he loved before his incarceration. When they became aware of his involvement with the league Matthews’ relatives complained to other league officials and Chavez promptly resigned his role on the board and as a coach.
Yet that didn’t quell criticism of the remainder of the board, leading to the six resignations en masse on Wednesday night.
While the sudden firestorm might seem to be understandable to most, the board members who resigned insist they were caught out by the criticism, particularly because the entire community understood about Chavez’s past.
Mike Zivat, a board member for three years until his resignation Wednesday, said Chavez’s history was widely known in the community.
“I admit that the board maybe should’ve removed him sooner, but the whole community knew about Dean,” Zivat said. “Police knew. Firemen knew. I admit fault, but so should the whole community.
“I played at that league when I was little. I grew up there,” he said. “I just felt like someone ripped something out of me when they told me I couldn’t be on the board again. I just feel kind of violated that a family could come in there and dictate what goes on in this community.”
That defense, quite understandably, held little water with the Matthews family, which continued to insist that Chavez should not be allowed to work with children, and that serving the league was a “privilege, not a right.” The Matthews family won out in the end, with Chavez gone as well as the board members who had defended his role.