One thing became apparent during a recent talk with iconic John Marshall Metropolitan High School girls' basketball coach Dorothy Gaters.
She IS Marshall High School.
Even though the talk took place in an office (alongside her two great-grandsons, Tristian and Darius), several friendsformer students who were her "girls," as she called themstopped by to chat with her, trade phone numbers and/or playfully banter. (Gaters rightfully boasted about several of her former players, including one who is a retired judge.)
But if that's not enough, the innumerable awards and photos of Gaters and her team in the trophy caseas well as the basketball court that bears her namepoint to how much she is revered at the school on Chicago's West Side.
Gaterswho stepped away from coaching in 2021is a member of another group she has not previously discussed publicly: the LGBTQ+ community.
Always a part of Marshall
Any conversation with Gaters has to start with how integral she has been and is to Marshall High School, beginning with her years as a student.
Gaters remembered attending Marshall fondly, having graduated from there in 1964. ("There were 5,000 students here then; now, there are only 200. There was a large Jewish community when I went here and now it's 98% Black.") There was no girls' basketball team then, which was years before Title IX, which bans discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.
So who were Gaters' role models while attending Marshall? "I didn't have any real role models [at that point]," Gaters said. "I just watched basketball on TV, but we had a very successful boys team, even when I attended. Marshall is the first Chicago team to win a state tournament, in 1958."
And that love of basketball blossomed. "When I graduated from college [DePaul University], they asked me to come back here to teach and, shortly after that, there were intramuralsand that's when I started to learn about the game.
"When I started teaching here, I also worked at the park district. I'd go over and watch the boys play there. Basketball was always in my background. At first, I didn't know anything technicaljust that you're supposed to put the ball in the hole," she added with a smile.
"Then, I was asked to take the program as a club here at Marshall called GAAthe Girls' Athletic Association," she continued. "We only played four games our first year; we won one game and lost three. The next year we won three and lost one." This was still before Title IX was implemented.
However, Gaters did not just stick with basketball. "I [also] coached volleyball and softball," she said. "My same little group did everything so I would say, 'We did thisnow let's go to this."
Then, a pivotal figure entered Gaters' life: John B. McLendonthe first Black basketball coach at a predominantly white university (Cleveland State University, where he coached from 1966-69) and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. "That's my mentor; I call him my godfather," Gaters said. "I didn't have a godfather, so God sent him to me. He was just a great, great person."
Gaters started coaching in 1976, ultimately amassing more than 1,100 wins and collecting 10 state titles, while coaching players like Cappie Poindexter and Marie Christian. However, one of her regrets was not winning a state title with one of her most talented players: Janet Harris, who ultimately attended (and played for) the University of Georgia, "and became a three-time college All-American," Gaters said, adding with a smile, "That's my kid." She also noted with pride, "At the 1985 [NCAA] Final Four, three of the teams had players from Marshall [who were Harris, Christian and Annette Jones]"a testament to Gaters' success and skill. "Unfortunately, I couldn't go because we had our own state tournament, which we won."
Gaters also talked about her first full season of coaching, which turned out to be pretty successful and was the start of the career that ultimately led to becoming a 2018 inductee in the National High School Hall of Fame. She admitted, "I knew I didn't know a lot. I felt my job was just to manage [the players] and tell them things like, 'Don't act up' and 'Don't talk back to the officials.'"
And while Gaters has had many memorable games, the one that's the most special to her is the first state championship, which Marshall won in 1982. "Oh, yesthat's the one," she said. "Marie Christian was our point guard, but the year before we had a better team with Janet Harris. She was the best player in the country, but we lostmore my fault than theirs. The 1982 team was the 'redeem team.'"
Then in 2021, after decades of successful coaching, Gaters decided to retire.
"I do help with the boys [her great-grandchildren], as their mother works Thursdays through Sundays," Gaters stated. "And their father [had] Marfan syndrome, so I felt it was my responsibility to step in. We try to get them involved in things like karate, because their mother is not into sports." (Gaters' grandson died from Marfan five years ago.)
'My life is my business'
As for being part of the LGBTQ+ community, Gatersas alwaysis direct: "There was never anything official. I've just always traveled in my own lane, and it's the same thing now. My life is my business. It [my sexual orientation] was never an issue for me, although it may have been an issue for other peopleespecially opposing teams.
"Your kids know who they areespecially by the time they get to high school. I'm just here to get them basketball scholarships, keep this ball rolling and keep this program on topbut if a student came to me, they can talk to me, just like I would with any other student."
When asked what it's like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in today's America, Gaters responded, "I think it's easier [than it used to be], in some ways. There's not as much of a stigma to it, and I think that's because a lot of people have stepped to the forefront. They've said, 'We don't fight. We don't bite. We just want to be accepted, like everybody else.'"
She acknowledged that Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people "still have it tougher." But she also pointed out local people who she views as role models: the several LGBTQ+ members in the current Chicago City Council. "People can see that [LGBTQ+] people are industrious, smart and have great jobs. It's about what they're doing to benefit others," she said. "It's the same thing you'd expect from any other group."
As for the anti-LGBTQ+ discourse in many states, Gaters saw a certain former president as the cause. "I think Donald Trump brought a lot of this [anti-LGBTQ+ bias] to the forefront," Gaters said. "He brought a lot of negative energy, whether it has to do with race, sex, social class, disabilityjust anything. Just think: Seventy-something million people voted for him a second time. You know who this man is. You have to watch out for [those voters]."
"Win more games." That's the answer Gaters gave when asked what she would do differently if she could go back in time, knowing what she knows now.
"We had so much talent," she reiterated. "We had a very successful program. I had to do more as a coachbe more creative and just find ways to win games.
"I was always a student of the game, watching the other teams. I do that now. I've learned a lot. The kids were teaching me, they had so much talent. But it was always about the kids, and about them being successful."
And regarding how she wanted to be remembered, Gaters quickly got to the point: "I want to be remembered as someone who cared about her kids, and who wanted to bring out the best in themacademically and athletically. I've had many [college] coaches say to me, 'We love getting kids from your program; they're more disciplined.'"