Familiar faces give City new look
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.”
New Milwaukee Languages girls basketball coaches Alina and John Cunningham watch the team work out.