The Austin YMCA honored a Chicago legend Friday with their 1st Annual Dorothy Gators Awards of Excellence celebration, named for one of winningest basketball coaches in the nation.

Marshall Basketball Coach Dorothy Gators was honored Friday at a dinner and awards ceremony at the Garfield Park Golden Dome, 100 N. Central Park. Gators has coached the Marshall High School girls basketball Commandos to seven Illinois state titles and has amassed more than 850 wins during a 30-year career.

Austin YMCA Director Dale Kelley said the award was given in Gators’ name because of her contributions, not just in women’s sports, but as an educator and mentor to young people.

“We decided that we needed, in the community, to honor someone, and what better person to honor than Dorothy Gators,” he said. “We knew her legacy, and most of the girls who played for her have been through the Austin YMCA. It’s just a pleasure to honor someone like Dorothy Gators.”

Kelley said the Dorothy Gators Award in Excellence will be given annually to other outstanding individuals contributing to the community.

Some of Gators’ friends, family and former Marshall players attended the Friday evening event, including Kim McQuarter, who played for Gators in the 1980s, and is currently the head coach for Malcolm X College women’s basketball team.

“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing,” said McQuarter, who in 2003 was named coach of the year by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). “Because of her and what she taught me, I’m able to give that knowledge to my players.”

As the Commandos’ coach, Gators has led the girls team to more than a dozen city championship. Her players have gone on to play internationally and in the WNBA.

Gators is recognized nationally as one of the top coaches in all of sports, but she remains humble about the recognition.

“Over the years you get kind of used to it, but you’re always very appreciative that people want to honor the things that you’ve done, especially something that’s involving kids,” she said.

Gators is most proud of the player’s successes off the court. She said many players still see playing professionally as their ticket to success.

“Regrettably they do,” she admitted, “but I try to keep them grounded. It gives them a lot of hope, and sometimes that’s what they need to get into college. If they have those lofty goals, that’s great; just as long as they get that [diploma] because they will realize at some point that the WNBA is not the panacea that the NBA is in terms of money and job status.”

Gators indicated that she has no plans to stop coaching anytime soon, joking that some of her competitors often hope otherwise.

“The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” she said. “I have some really nice kids, and it seems like every year I get a group of freshman in who want me to promise that I’m going to stay until they graduate. As long as I enjoy it”I still do enjoy it”I’ll keep coaching. If I feel that I’m not being effective or if it’s a chore for me to coach or go to work, I know I do not have to do that.”

Editor’s note: Proceeds from Friday’s inaugural event will help fund the Austin YMCA girls basketball team trip to the Amateur Athletic Union girls tournament in Orlando, Fla. For more information, call Dale Kelley 773/287-9120.