Dorothy Gaters may have retired in 2021, after 46 years of coaching the Marshall High School girls’ basketball team, but she isn’t calling it quits. The legendary coach is still the high school’s athletic director — a position she’s held since 2004. And she’s busy with another role.
“I have two great-grandsons and I want to be available to help them grow up,” Gaters said during a recent interview with Village Free Press. “I just want to do something to really help out more of my family. I have given enough to basketball.”
Gaters is the winningest high school basketball coach in the history of the state, with more than 1,100 victories. From 1981 to 2019, Gaters led the Commandos to 10 Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state championships in three different class divisions.
She’s been inducted into multiple halls of fame, including the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, to name a few.
Gaters was introduced to basketball while attending Marshall as a student and an avid observer of the high school’s boys’ basketball games (the high school didn’t have a girls’ team when Gaters attended in the 1960s).
After graduating in 1964, Gaters eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education at DePaul University. Gaters’ first experience as a coach started with the Girls Athletic Association for their interscholastic basketball program. She established an amateur team shortly afterward.
“I was a fan of the sport, so I kind of forced myself into it,” Gaters said. “When I became a coach, I started to study it.”
Marshall offered Gaters a girls’ basketball head coaching position in 1975, three years after the U.S. Department of Education enacted Title IX — the civil rights law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex and that helped paved the way for women’s participation in many school sporting activities. Gaters also got a job teaching physical education at her alma mater.
“When we first started, we had nothing,” she said of her early coaching days. “We started to sell M&M’s to get uniforms and shoes. Anything the kids needed. And we used those same resources as the team got better through the years. We used those resources to purchase buses to go out of Chicago to play against suburban talent.”
Throughout her career as the head coach, 17 of her former players have been high school All-Americans and five of them have played in the Women’s National Basketball Association. Twenty of those athletes have played professionally overseas.
“She was the type of coach that never backed down,” Marshall assistant coach Gwen Howard said. “She always expected the best from her players, because she gave them her best.”
Howard played for the Commandos from 1976 to 1980. She joined the coaching staff as an assistant in 1991.
“It just made me want to tag along and suck up the energy that she had,” Howard said. “I’m not sad that she’s leaving, because I know how hard she has worked to get to where she’s at today, along with her accomplishments. I am extremely proud of Coach Gaters. She has put in so much time and effort to accomplish what she set out to do.”
“She set the tone for Marshall and all of the coaches that are privileged enough to know her on a close basis,” Lindblom Math and Science Academy girls’ basketball head coach Sergeant Dan Lawson said. “It’s not about the game solely, it’s about teaching kids. She helped me tremendously as my mentor. She has been an inspiration for the Garfield Park community and everyone who knows her.”
Could the young Dorothy Gaters envision all of this success?
“I never expected this in my wildest dreams,” the legendary coach said. “I couldn’t have imagined that our program would’ve been as successful as it has been. The number of kids who have gone off to college and many of them are doing wonderful things. I could not have imagined we would accomplish as much as we did.”