Legendary Coach Dorothy Gaters
To kick off March Madness and Women’s History Month, CHM content manager & editor Heidi Samuelson writes about Dorothy Gaters, a history-making basketball coach.
Coach Dorothy Gaters, c. 1992. STM-034072572/Chicago Sun-Times
The 2023 Illinois High School Association (IHSA) girls’ basketball 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A state final tournaments are being held March 2-4 in CEFCU Arena in Normal, Illinois. You can’t talk about the history of high school basketball in Illinois without including legendary coach Dorothy Gaters.
Gaters coaching John Marshall High School in a loss to George Washington High School in the Girls’ Basketball Public League Championships at the International Amphitheatre, 4220 South Halsted Street, Chicago, February 18, 1991. ST-40002324-0032, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM
The winningest high school basketball coach in Illinois history, for more than 45 years, Gaters coached at John Marshall Metropolitan High School in the East Garfield Park community area on the city’s West Side. In 1972, Title IX became federal law as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Although girls’ high school basketball teams existed in Illinois since 1895, it was only after Title IX that the IHSA allowed girls to participate in interscholastic basketball contests starting in 1973, with the first state tournament in 1976.
Girls basketball Coach Dorothy Gaters with Cappie Pondexter (left) and teammates, c. 2000. STM-034702326/Chicago Sun-Times
There was no girls’ basketball team at Marshall when Gaters was a student there, graduating in 1964. It was shortly before completing her degree in physical education from DePaul University that she formed an Amateur Athletic Union team called the Debs, which played for a few years in the city—the extent of her own playing career.
West Head Coach Dorothy Gaters of Chicago talks with her team before the start of the Girls McDonald’s All American Game at the United Center, March 30, 2011. STM-020503925, Scott M. Bort/Chicago Sun-Times
Gaters took the job at Marshall in 1975, building the program when very few Black women were coaching in public school leagues. As head coach, Gaters earned a record-setting 1,153 wins, with 217 losses. She led Marshall to state championship victories 10 times, in 1982, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1999, 2008, 2018, and 2019, and 24 city championships. She coached 17 high school All-Americans and five former WNBA players, including Cappie Pondexter, two-time WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury.
Marshall’s coach Dorothy Gaters talks to her players during a game on January 14, 2020. STM-89026892, Kristen Stickney/Chicago Sun-Times
In addition to coaching at Marshall, Gaters served as an assistant coach at the US Olympic Festival in 1986, helping the South win a gold medal, and the WBCA Girls’ High School All-America Game in 1992. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 and the NFHS National High School Hall of Fame in 2018. Though no longer coaching, Gaters still works as the athletic director at Marshall High.
Marshall coach Dorothy Gaters accepts a trophy during a ceremony honoring her 45-year career, c. 2020. STM-103811426, Kristen Stickney/Chicago Sun-Times
- Listen to a 2016 oral history interview with Dorothy Gaters that was part of CHM’s collaborative, youth-conducted oral history project with Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a community-based organization that provides social services on Chicago’s West Side
- Watch the film Forty Blocks – The East Garfield Park Oral History Project, which was made by Breakthrough youth with their filmmaking mentors and includes Gaters’s interview
- See more images in our Chicago Sun-Times collection of area high school basketball championships