For the past 18 years, girls and boys basketball teams from public and private high schools all across Illinois have trekked to Marshall High School, 3250 W Adams St., for the MLK Dream Classic tournament. 

The tournament is the brain-child of Marshall High School’s award-winning coach Dorothy Gaters, who said that she wanted to create something that would honor Dr. King’s legacy, provide a platform on which her players and players from other schools might catch the eye of college recruiters, and bring together communities that might otherwise never cross paths. 

The three-day, which takes place from Jan. 19 through Jan. 21, tournament overlaps each year with Martin Luther King Day. The tournament’s 2019 sponsors included Nike. Last spring, Gaters starred in one of their ads.

This year’s lineup included teams from the West Side, other parts of Chicago, Chicagoland suburbs, parts of downstate Illinois and even neighboring states. Players came from as far east as Michigan City, Ind. and as far north as Milwaukee.  Aside from Marshall’s own basketball teams, the West Side was represented by teams from North Lawndale and Austin. 

During an interview a day before the tournament kicked off, Gaters avoided singling out any team in particular, saying that many teams had great players.

“We just have a lot of really good teams, both on the boys and girls side,” she said. “We have girls’ top teams from Indiana.”

Gaters said that she appreciated the sheer diversity of the tournament, which, she felt, was a fitting way to honor King’s legacy.

“This is a very diverse tournament,” she said. “We have a private school, we have suburban schools, we have public schools. It’s truly diverse.”

While many teams already had players signed to top schools like Notre Dame and Harvard, none of Gaters’ players have been signed yet. 

“We hope that, as the byproduct of this tournament, coaches will come out and see the tremendous amount of talent that’s going to be displayed and hopefully our kids will get the attention and scholarships,” she said.

Gaters added that she hopes the tournament will have a positive impact on area young people, in general. 

“We want them to have sense of direction,” Gaters said. “[King and other civil rights activists] gave their lives so that young people can live a better lives. Hopefully, we can get some of the kids to redirect their energy into more positive goals.”

The coach said that the tournament featured more activities than the games themselves. The tournament’s health initiative offered blood pressure tests, information regarding teen diabetes, as well as financial aid advice. 

“Each year, two students from Marshall receive an MLK scholarship,” Gaters added. “And that’s based on their academics and their character.”

The winner of the tournament was announced after this story went to press. The article will be updated online once that information is released. 


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...