Chicago’s West Side has produced some outstanding and well-known individuals through the years. Movie producer and Austin High School grad Robert Townsend, actors Andre Braugher, Stan Shaw, Steve Harris and his brother Wood Harris, and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson all call Chicago home.
Another is Dorothy Gators, the legendary coach of the John Marshall High School Commandos Girl’s basketball team.
Seven years ago, Gators, the winningest basketball coach in the state, created The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Classic National Basketball Shoot-Out. The purpose was to honor Dr. King.
Gators has more than 850 victories and seven state championships in her career. Although it is hard to get her to talk about herself, her accomplishments speak for themselves.
Gators, who’s also Marshall High School’s athletic director, is a member of five halls of fame, including the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn.
She hosted this year’s MLK classic the weekend of Jan. 19-21. Gators spoke to Austin Weekly News about the tournament, a little about herself, and of issues facing athletes today.
AWN: What led you to create the MLK tournament?
Gators: “Every year when his birthday came around I wondered what I could do. As a young girl, I saw all these terrible things going on in the south; children being sprayed with water hose, dogs being used, and this is how the Martin Luther King Classic unfolded. I wanted to do something to honor and recognize Dr. King, and the sacrifices that he and others made.”
AWN: What kind of support did you receive?
Gators: “Very little. I tried to solicit donations every year but I had a hard time getting contributions. Finally, Congressman Danny Davis loaned me his chief of staff, Mr. Richard Boykin, to raise funds for the classic. I use to raise funds using my credit cards and some how we got by. The classic started in 2001 with 10 girls’ teams and they all pay an entry fee to cover expenses. Every team gets a commemorative T-shirt. In the second year, we had 28 teams – 14 girls and 14 boys.”
AWN: Where were you born, and do you have any children?
Gators: I was born in Beulah, Miss., but I have been here in Chicago since age 7. I have a daughter and two wonderful grandchildren. My own parents worked very hard with a minimal education. My father had only a third grade education, and my mother had an eighth grade education. I value the opportunities I had to pursue my education, and our prima donnas need to be reminded not to take these opportunities lightly.”
AWN: How did you get into coaching?
Gators: “I had a teacher at John Marshall High who inspired me tremendously when I was a student. After graduating from DePaul University, I returned to [Marshall]. I also have a master degree in black studies from Governors State University, and I reside in the Western suburbs.”
AWN: What has contributed to your success over the years, and how do you pass this down to your students?
Gators: I attribute it to a lot of wonderful young ladies who would go to the wall for me and for them. I have two former players now on my coaching staff.”
AWN: What’s your view on some of the problems pro athletes face, like Marion Jones, in taking responsibility for their actions?
Gators: “You know, Marion Jones played basketball at North Carolina, helping the Chapel Hill Tar Heels win the Women’s Basketball Championship 60-59 in 1994. It breaks my heart to see our heroes in these situations.”