Fa­mil­iar faces give City new look

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - Mark Ste­wart

The call couldn’t be ig­nored.

Dee Dee Pate and Alina and John Cun­ning­ham were go­ing about the busi­ness of life when they were brought back to where their hearts have been all along.

Pate, the for­mer Mil­wau­kee Wash­ing­ton star, had a good thing go­ing at Mil­wau­kee Bay View. She’d won 38 games in two sea­sons and wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily look­ing to leave, but Wash­ing­ton ath­letic di­rec­tor Mar­lon Boyd struck a nerve.

“She said I don’t know if want to leave Bay View. I said home is call­ing and home gets first pri­or­ity over ev­ery­thing,” Boyd said. “Pur­golder to Pur­golder, the pro­gram needs you.”

The last time the Cun­ning­hams were on a high school bench was at the end of the 2012-’13 sea­son when each de­cided to give up coach­ing jobs to watch their son play in high school. Nei­ther was look­ing to get back into the high school game, but bas­ket­ball has a way of bring-

ing folks back, es­pe­cially ones who love it like these two.

“We eat, drink, sleep bas­ket­ball, so we can do this all day,” Alina Cun­ning­ham said.

The bas­ket­ball gods spoke dur­ing the off-sea­son. and the re­sults were moves that will be worth watch­ing this girls bas­ket­ball sea­son.

Pate has gone home to Wash­ing­ton, the school she led to state cham­pi­onships in 1995, ‘96 and ‘97. The Cun­ning­hams, mean­while, have taken over at Mil­wau­kee Lan­guages af­ter com­pet­ing against each other for years when Alina coached at King and John at Madi­son.

The hires were two of the most in­trigu­ing coach­ing changes of the off­sea­son, moves that will give the City Con­fer­ence’s pre­mier divi­sion a new look. King has had the run of the Gold Divi­sion in re­cent years, but both Pate and the Cun­ning­hams hope to change that.

“I don’t think there are go­ing to be any nights in the con­fer­ence where you can take the night off and not play your best game,” John Cun­ning­ham said.

The coach­ing changes came about dif­fer­ently.

The Cun­ning­hams were only re­cently hired at Lan­guages to re­place Gary Hu­ven, who coached the team to the 2015 Divi­sion 3 state fi­nal. Pate’s re­turn to Wash­ing­ton got an as­sist from an­other Wash­ing­ton great, Brian Garner. Garner, who like Pate is in the Wis­con­sin Bas­ket­ball Coaches As­so­ci­a­tion Hall of Fame, coached the team last sea­son and let Boyd know that he wouldn’t be coach­ing much longer.

Boyd knew whom to call. Two years ear­lier he was in­ter­ested in hir­ing Pate, but she’d just taken the job at Bay View. This time the tim­ing was right and the ap­peal of coach­ing her alma mater was too much to pass up.

“It’s a great feel­ing be­cause this is home and I’m able to in­spire and mo­ti­vate the young ladies to be suc­cess­ful,” Pate said. “We’re just fo­cused on re­viv­ing our legacy and our tra­di­tion.”

The Cun­ning­hams weren’t look­ing to get back into coach­ing, but af­ter the Lan­guages job opened, they re­al­ized it would be an ideal op­por­tu­nity to take their hus­band-wife combo to the high school ranks. For the past few years the two have coached their daugh­ter’s club team.

With their daugh­ter in the eighth grade, they thought the job would be a good op­por­tu­nity to coach her in at the high school level as well.

“It’s a ter­rific school. It came open at the right time,” said John Cun­ning­ham, who han­dles the of­fense while his wife takes care of the de­fense. “We’ve been think­ing about coach­ing to­gether since we did it in AAU.”

Pate and the Cun­ning­hams are tak­ing over teams that have a nice blend of youth and tal­ented up­per­class­men.

It should be fun. And not just at Lan­guages and Wash­ing­ton, but in the rest of the City’s Gold Divi­sion as well.

“You’ve got Ru­fus King, you’ve got River­side,” Pate said. “They’ve got some ex­cep­tional play­ers over there as well. Just be­ing able to match up and coach against some of the re­ally great coaches is go­ing to be a chal­lenge.”

ANGELA PETER­SON/ MIL­WAU­KEE JOURNAL SEN­TINEL

New Mil­wau­kee Lan­guages girls bas­ket­ball coaches Alina and John Cun­ning­ham watch the team work out.

Pate

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