Scottsburg High School Girls Basketball Coach Donna Cheatham does not take any credit for her 716 career wins, making her the winningest high school girls coach and one of the top 10 winningest high school basketball coaches in Indiana history.
“The credit goes to the Lord,” Cheatham said. “I have to have a great coaching staff and players. The Lord’s blessed me in the past years.”
After more than 40 years of coaching, the blessings keep coming down on Cheatham as she will be honored on Thursday, Feb. 7 at an Indiana Pacers home game, where she will be a Hickory Night honoree. The Pacers Hickory Nights recognize legendary Indiana teams, coaches, players, and cities, who demonstrate teamwork, dedication, and determination. A banner in Cheatham’s honor currently hangs in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Cheatham’s climb to the winningest girls coach in Indiana high school basketball history had its humble beginnings. Four years after Cheatham started teaching at Scottsburg, she and Jeanie Phillips started the high school girls basketball program. Their first season was in 1972-1973, and it would be another three seasons before the Indiana High School Athletic Association would host a tournament for girls basketball.
“The girls were anxious to start,” Cheatham said.
In the days before Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, male and female student-athletes were not provided with equal opportunities. Females in identical sports as their male counterparts were not guaranteed equal chances to participate, equal scholarship dollars, equal equipment and supplies, equal scheduling of games and practice times, equal travel and funding, or equal locker rooms and practice and competitive facilities.
“We would practice in the Armory late at night before Title IX,” Cheatham said. “We had to show we could win and prove that we deserved it.”
For funding in those beginning years, Cheatham and Phillips held any fundraiser they could. The SHS girls basketball team sold soap and even worked on farms, picking up corn and bagging it for the local farmers to make money as the school did not give them any funding.
Before they could practice in the old cafeteria, the Warriorettes had to pick up chairs and tables used for school lunches and clean the cafeteria floor in order to use it. At the end of practice, the girls had to put the tables and chairs back in place for the next school day’s use. Cheatham said they did this for a couple of years. For games, the girls basketball team was permitted to use Meyer Gym, where the boys regularly practiced and played.
The Warriorettes played at home and on the road in Connersville, Columbus North, and Georgetown in those trailblazing years in the sport. They took cars, not buses, to competitions, there were no dressing rooms for female players, and the girls season were shorter than the boys schedule.
“We never had the gym,” Cheatham said. “We had to earn their respect.”
Then, the 1976 ISHAA Girls Basketball Tournament came to help legitimatize the program statewide.
“We went Sweet 16 right off the bat. We started to earn respect,” Cheatham said.
In her 43 seasons coaching at two different high schools, Cheatham was in the Final Four three times at Scottsburg High School; was the state runner-up in 1986 at Scottsburg High School; was in the Final Four in 1988 at Scottsburg High School; was the state champion in 1989 at Scottsburg High School; was the state champion in 2002 at Southwestern High School; and was the state runner-up in 2003 at Southwestern. She coached eight Indiana All-Stars and one Indiana’s Miss Basketball, coached two Indiana All-Star teams in 1986 and 2002, was asked by the United States Information Agency to coach teams in Yauonde and Cameroon, Africa. She helped dozens of her players earn college scholarships and was inducted in the Georgetown College Hall of Fame and in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Cheatham’s 1989 squad was ranked 13th nationwide by USA Today, and her 1990 team was ranked 10th in the country by Street & Smith.
Despite all the accomplishments her teams and players have earned with her as a coach, Cheatham still thinks about the losses.
“It’s amazing. I think about the ones we lost. I get a big thrill to see where the kids start to where they end up,” Cheatham said.
Not only did Cheatham have an impact on basketball at Scottsburg, but she also helped start girls sports in volleyball and softball at SHS. She coached softball for several years until her passion, basketball, became the focus. In college, Cheatham was a three-sport athlete in basketball, volleyball, and softball.
“I’ve never been against any sport. I love Scottsburg, and I love to see them do well,” Cheatham said.
After all these years, Cheatham does not show any signs of slowing down. The Warriorettes are 17-6 this season.
“I like challenges. I like to see how far I can go,” Cheatham said.