Coach motivates her girls, both on and off the court
The coach leans forward. A basketball game is about to start. She is silent for a minute or two. Her players shift uncomfortably.
When Dorothy Gaters finally speaks, her message is familiar and firm. As usual, it's about fundamentals.
"Move your big feet."
If they don't do that, she doesn't hesitate to take it up a notch on the court.
"You're embarrassing yourselves!" she tells them. She is the same, even when they're winning handily.
That candor might be hard for the members of the girls' basketball team at John Marshall Metropolitan High School to hear. But they listen. They know this is a woman who can take them places.
For 40 years, Gaters has brought respect and pride to a West Side Chicago neighborhood school. The area has seen more than its share of hard times. The players understand this and also how much Gaters cares about them. And that's whether they end up playing basketball after high school or not.
"Just do something. So that you can be self-supportive, help your family. And set an example for those who are going to follow you," the coach tells her players.
They call her Ms. Gaters or often just "G."
This current crop of players helped Gaters reach her 1,000th career win in November. The victory placed her among an elite group of coaches at any level of basketball.
Gaters' tams have won eight Illinois state titles and 23 city titles.
A few of her players have gone on to play professionally. One is Cappie Pondexter. She is a WNBA All Star and Olympic gold medalist.
"She's the first coach who really taught me the game of basketball," says Pondexter. Gaters first saw her play in a YMCA league. "I credit it all to her, my humble beginnings."
Pondexter starred at Rutgers University. But she is far from the only one Gaters helped get to college. And that is among the coach's proudest accomplishments.
In fact, her players must regularly bring in academic progress reports or report cards for her to check.
"School before basketball," says Tineesha Coleman. She is a junior who hopes to play in college.
When asked what Gaters is like, former player Rhonda Greyer, now 33, ponders the question.
"She's a sweetie pie," Greyer says, quickly adding, "Off the court. OFF the court!"
She laughs, as does Pondexter when they recall the many laps her team ran on the track above Marshall practice Gym 12. The gym has since been named for Gaters.
"I wasn't a troubled kid. My problem was focusing on basketball so much," Pondexter says. She remembers how Gaters would call her mother if Pondexter skipped class. In her case, the punishment would be to lose gym time.
But though Gaters is tough, it is a tough love. Her former players say they recall a coach who occasionally took them to movies. Sometimes they would go out for burgers and fries.
They note how Gaters has quietly provided a coat, clothing or shoes for a player who needs them.
Gaters started coaching in 1975. She understands how one can learn and succeed, in big ways. The Mississippi native grew up in Chicago. She says she took on the Marshall girls' team, fresh out of DePaulUniversity, because "no one else wanted to do it."
She won her first state championship in 1982.
Now, tucked amid the memorabilia in her office is a photo of Gaters shaking the hand of President Bill Clinton. They are at the White House. She was honored for her work with young people in 1998. Another photo shows her being inducted into Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2009, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame recognized Gaters. It gave her a lifetime achievement award for high school coaches.
The 68-year-old coach says she thinks about retiring. But some are doubtful she'll leave anytime soon.
Assistant coach Gwen Howard smiles and rolls her eyes playfully at the thought of the coach retiring.
"Please! I think this lady would do this forever if she could."
Critical thinking challenge: If basketball is so important to Ms. Gaters, why did one of her players say School before basketball?