I conclude Black History Month with a salute to two women who have gone above and beyond their duty to help raise generations of girls through sports in the Chicagoland area. The first of these two women is Dorothy Dawson: former teacher, Dean and assistant principal of Dunbar High School in Chicago. The second is Ms. Dorothy Gaters, Girls Basketball Coach at John Marshall High School, Chicago.
I first met Dorothy Dawson in 1963 while a student at Dunbar Vocational High School. Mrs. Dawson taught physical education and swimming. She was a very no-nonsense person and most of us were afraid of her. Her program was a physical one and she promoted good health through exercise, sprints, basketball, volleyball, and track.
It was no surprise that Mrs. Dawson would go on to become the Dean of Girls and, as such, had only to show her face or raise her voice in the halls for them to clear out without anyone so much as actually encountering her person or seeing her.
Ms. Dawson was a pioneer of women’s track and field, organizing a program for girls at Dunbar before the sport became recognized. She sent many girls to college on full scholarships through her program of track and field. Many of them went on to successful careers after graduating from her alma mater, Grambling University. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Illinois Coaches Hall of Fame and served as the president of the Illinois Association of the U. S. Track and Field Association.
Dorothy Dawson has held numerous positions in the USA Track and Field Association (USATF) and she has received numerous awards. Among them: The Frank Sevigne Award; Robert Giegengack Award; USATF President’s Award; and she was a delegate to USA Track and Field’s Constitutional Convention in 1979.
Mrs. Dawson retired from teaching in the Chicago Public School System in 1997 after 35 years, yet, last I heard, she continues to serve as a member of Dunbar’s local school council and volunteers as a resource for USATF.
As an endnote: I returned to Dunbar as a teacher before Mrs. Dawson retired and I was able to spend many years there as her colleague. I became as friendly with Mrs. Dawson as anyone who reveres a role model can become. She was never “Dorothy” to me or even the familial “Dawson”. It was always Ms. Dawson. As a young teacher, I practiced a no-nonsense style of discipline by emulating Ms. Dawson or treating problems the way I believed she would.
On behalf of the many students she personally drove to college, sent money for tuition and books, or cared for enough to “roll the dice”! Thanks, Mama D.
Everyone in Chicago knows who Dorothy Gaters is. She’s the winningest Basketball Coach in history (boys or girls), having coached Marshall High School’s basketball program to more than 960 career victories and 8 State Championships. She is a member of 5 Hall of Fames including the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association in Nashville Tennessee. Coach Gaters has been honored for her work with youth at the White House in a ceremony hosted by then President Bill Clinton.
Though many universities have courted her in an attempt to lure her away from Chicago and Marshall High School, Ms. Gaters has turned them all down, opting to stay where she feels she is most needed. Coach Gaters and Marshall High School have produced 18 high school All-Americans and 5 WNBA Players including former Rutgers Big East Player of the Year, Cappie Pondexter.
This past January Coach Dorothy Gaters sponsored The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Classic National Basketball Shoot-Out at Whitney Young High School where more than 66 teams gathered to play in more than 35 games over three days. The event has grown from her initial start-up in 2001 of 10 local girls’ teams coming together to showcase their talents in honor of Dr. King’s birthday.
Both boys and girls teams compete throughout the weekend and civil rights era music and Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech are played over the loudspeakers.
Thanks, Coach Dorothy Gaters for inspiring youth across America.