By Aishwarya Kumar Lakshminarayanapuram
Next to a toy truck and a bowl of vending machine-friendly nickels and quarters on her desk, Corry Irvin keeps a half dozen photos of her Whitney Young Dolphins winning the 2013 state title and a paper that says, “Don’t quit until you make an impact on the future of women’s basketball.”
The mom of three young sons and the coach of 15 teen girls won her 400th game on January 12 and became only the 11th woman in Illinois girls’ basketball history to achieve this feat.
But she has no plans to leave the sport behind.
“I’d like to go for another 400!” she said.
After the matchup against North Lawndale, which ended with a layup by point guard Kiara Lewis, she smiled at the scoreboard. It read 61-51.
Her secret to success?
“My main [values] are to have high expectations, to put the players in those positions to meet those high expectations, and to strive and work hard throughout,” Irvin said.
Irvin, a 6-foot-3 former point guard for Fresno State University, would “make each team strive and earn their respect and success so they know that it is not given to them because of past success,” said Amanda Thompson, a former Atlanta Dream and Whitney Young point guard.
Coaches, players, teachers and fans talk about how Irvin balances her time between her 2-, 3- and 5-year-old sons and a court full of teenagers without taking time off for herself.
“Her kids are always at the game alongside her, and so she knows she can focus on her ‘children’ on the court,” said Joyce Kenner, principal of Whitney Young.
Known for shouting instructions while running up and down the court, Irvin occasionally still gets upset with referees over bad calls and with players over their mistakes.
“She is a lot less frustrated now,” said Dorothy Gaters, the head basketball coach at Marshall Metropolitan High School, who reached her 1,000th career win last season. “She is calmer now because she has come to the realization that there will be good plays and bad plays, and she cannot control everything that’s happening on the court.”
Irvin tries to develop her players’ “basketball IQ” off the court, which has helped them perform better on the court, said Jonathan Mandeldove, the head girls’ basketball coach at Al Raby High School.
She is known for talking her players through academic and personal troubles.
“Once you’re a part of this family, you’re a Dolphin forever,” said Dee Hawkins, a former Whitney Young point guard who played for Virginia Tech University from 2010 to 2014.
She even looks to her old protégés for inspiration.
“I usually talk to former players [such DePaul starter Chanise Jenkins and former WNBA star Amanda Thompson] or watch tapes of old games to see what new techniques I can try to make it click with the current team and that has helped me a lot in the past,” she said.
Gaters, who has watched Irvin grow as a coach, said she was somber when she interacted with opponents.
“She doesn’t talk, definitely not to me,” Gaters said with a smile. “We just shake hands at the end of the game, mutual respect and that’s it….She is well-prepared, she knows what she is doing, she is tenacious.”