Coach motivates her girls, both on and off the court Dorothy Gaters, center, coach of the girls' basketball team at John Marshall Preparatory High School, smiles while giving her players a pep talk at a game. Marshall won the game, giving Gaters her 1,000th career win (AP photos)
Coach motivates her girls, both on and off the court
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The coach leans forward, her hands pressed on a table in a room off the gymnasium. 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." ''Box out." ''No fouls."

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.

Gaters later explains: "Sloppy play is never enjoyable. Sometimes I'll be like, 'I hope this game is over soon. I can go home and watch some real basketball.'"

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 that has seen more than its share of hard times. They understand this and also how much Gaters cares about them and their futures. 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' attention to detail and her competitiveness have led her teams to eight Illinois state titles and 23 city titles.

A few of her players have gone on to play professionally, including Cappie Pondexter, a WNBA All Star and Olympic gold medalist.

"She's the first coach who really taught me the game of basketball," says Pondexter, whom Gaters first saw play in a YMCA recreational league and then helped hone her talent. "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, 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 recalling the seemingly endless 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, remembering 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 or 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, and 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."

Gaters liked basketball, even played a bit herself. But she didn't know much about coaching, so she watched the boys' coaches carefully and took in any games she could find.

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 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 with one of its lifetime achievement awards 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?

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COMMENTS (103)
  • Morgan-Arm
    1/12/2015 - 10:12 a.m.

    I think that the coach is a very good coach and tries hard to encourage her students and make them better kids.She helps them with school work and gives clothes to the ones who need it. She also puts there schoolwork first and that is very important. You have to have good grades to play on a team.

  • km1999bieber
    1/12/2015 - 01:04 p.m.

    Even though basketball is important to the coach the player said "school before basketball" because in order to play basketball you must have good grades and school is just as important as basketball. So doing school work and basketball is important .

  • AB200lblue
    1/12/2015 - 01:04 p.m.

    If you don't have a education then you can't play basketball so that why she said that. Basketball is in important but education is first.

  • meredithkirbo
    1/12/2015 - 01:23 p.m.

    This is truly amazing i personally think that is wonderful, I love the enthusiasm in this coach on how she puts school before sports.She wants the best for her players and if some of the do not have any clothes she gives them clothes. She encourages them to to there homework. She wants the best for them as in she wants them to grow up and have a great life, get good grades,get into a good collage etc.... other coaches do not even care about grades they just care about winning,

  • Hayleyg-OBr
    1/12/2015 - 01:45 p.m.

    I would never make it to 1,000 games! I've played basketball for three years. It sounds like the coach is really strict. I remember in the first year I played basketball, one of the coaches were really stict and yelled at the girls that were doing perfectly fine. Thats probably why they got first place in the championship. I played against them in the championship. I think that the players said school before basketball because basketball games or practices aren't ussually in the morning unless it's on the weekends.

  • mydog123
    1/12/2015 - 01:54 p.m.

    The reason the girl said ''School before basketball'' is if you dont have good grades in school you cant do basketball. So you have to do school and your grades and then worry about basketball.

  • gbaby01
    1/12/2015 - 02:02 p.m.

    i would love Dorothy Gaters as my basketball coach!She supports her team and tells them what to do.Instead of bringing them down by telling them what they're doing wrong she encourages them by telling them what they're supposed to do encouragingly.

  • NoahMurr15
    1/12/2015 - 02:08 p.m.

    To have good grades and have a good education is important. If you don't have the grades you won't be eligible to play. School is before all sports.

  • calebbeast111
    1/12/2015 - 02:24 p.m.

    This article is about this coach teaching her team how to be discipline and how to play basketball. Her team knows that she can take them somewhere. The coach will yell "I can't wait for this game to be over so I can go home and watch some real basketball".

  • OliviaV-3
    1/12/2015 - 07:28 p.m.

    This article was about a girl's high school basketball team in Chicago. They have a very intense coach who aims for the students to succeed on and off the court. The coach, Gaters, has won many games and is an effective coach who manages to be tough on her players and have them still love her. She was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame because of how far she has got in coaching. I liked this article because it shows that it does not matter where you come from, you can always make something of yourself.

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