Cheatham impacts through scholarships, character

Cheatham impacts through scholarships, character
Posted on 02/09/2019

With 716 career wins, Scottsburg High School Girls Basketball Coach Donna Cheatham not only impacted state history records as the winningest girls high school basketball coach, but she has impacted the lives of dozens of student-athletes in her coaching career of more than 40 years.

“I like to think I teach more than basketball,” Cheatham said. “God gives you a good perspective for others.”

For Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame member Melinda Sparkman, Cheatham’s trailblazing girls basketball program in the 1970s gave Sparkman the opportunity to go to college and taught her about the importance of having character. Sparkman received a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I scholarship to Indiana University, where she helped her team win the Big Ten Conference and make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament.

“Playing basketball for Coach Cheatham has impacted my life tremendously.  It gave me the opportunity to attend college with a full ride to Indiana University. Without that scholarship, I would not have been able to go to college,” Sparkman said. “The biggest influence from playing for [Cheatham] was becoming a Christian. She was instrumental in showing me the way.  And lastly, she is a lifelong friend. I am so proud of her basketball career accomplishments but most proud to call her a friend.”

Along with starting a girls basketball program, Cheatham, Jeanie Phillips, and GeNe Spinks helped create other girls sports programs at Scottsburg, including volleyball and softball. Cheatham and Phillips, who graduated from Georgetown College, helped Lorna Conder receive a college volleyball scholarship. Conder was a member of the SHS volleyball team, who won sectionals in 1981.

“Getting a scholarship was my ticket to college. I seriously doubt college would have even been on my radar if not for the scholarship,” said Conder, who a teacher at Scottsburg Middle School. “Coach Cheatham and Phillips played a big role in that. They attended the same college, Georgetown College, and knew the head volleyball coach at that time. They contacted her and put in a good word for me before I tried out. I also give huge credit to my high school volleyball coach, Sheri James.  If it wasn't for her getting me interested in playing volleyball to begin with, I would never have had the opportunity.”

On and off the court, Cheatham teaches student-athletes about the game and life. She carries her personal beliefs as a Christian into everything she does in her life.

“I get a big thrill to see where the kids start to where they end up — solid people, good mothers,” Cheatham said.

In Patty Clancy’s life, Cheatham taught her to work hard to be the best version of herself. Clancy received a NCAA Division I college scholarship to Ball State University, where she scored more than 1,000 points in her college basketball career. She was selected to the 2019 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team. Clancy is a teacher at Vienna-Finley Elementary School, and Clancy’s daughter, Kady, a sophomore at Scottsburg High School, plays for Cheatham on the Scottsburg Warriorettes varsity basketball squad.

“Playing under Coach Cheatham has impacted my life greatly. The four years of playing high school basketball under Coach Cheatham allowed me to be successful at the college level, on the court and in the classroom. She inspired me to be the best basketball player, teammate, and person that I could be,” Clancy said.  “She demanded perfection and wouldn’t settle for anything less. I respected her so much as my coach that I wanted to do my very best day in and day out.”

Not only did Cheatham push her players to work hard and become the best they can be, but Cheatham also taught her players to keep moving forward and not fret.

“One thing I will always remember about Coach Cheatham is that she taught me how to persevere through tough times. That no matter hard life can be — the sun will always come up tomorrow,” Clancy said. “I will never forget all the hard work I put in, the life lessons she taught, and wonderful memories I have because of Coach Cheatham. She is and forever will be my favorite coach.”

It is a lesson Cheatham still teaches today.

“Take care of today. It makes tomorrow easier,” Cheatham said.

With a focus on the future, Cheatham continues the work she started more than 40 years ago, building better players and building better people.

“I tell my players to make every moment,” Cheatham said.

The future includes SHS junior Jaylah Mays, who recently committed to the University of Illinois Springfield, a NCAA Division II college, to play basketball.

“Playing basketball under Coach Donna Cheatham has significantly impacted my life. She has such a knowledge and passion for the game and never fails to share that with people,” Mays said. “She always puts God first, and she has always believed in me and my abilities. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to play for her. I have worked as hard as I can for her so far in my high school career, and I am going to continue to do so.”

Cheatham’s legacy goes beyond her Indiana Pacers Hickory Night banner, recognition, and state records. Cheatham’s legacy spans to the dozens of student-athletes she has inspired to a better life in the last four decades.

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