The Legendary Coach O – Women’s Basketball

Believe It.

Overwhelmed, tears of joy pouring down his face, Coach Frank Orlando smiles. It had been six long years since his girls had won a state championship, and now here they were. Through the winless seasons, injuries, and illnesses, Coach Frank Orlando still found a way to inspire his girls. That’s his legacy. This year, their joy in winning is their gift to him.

Thirty years earlier, Frank Orlando was unemployed. He had recently been terminated by Warren Woods Tower. A month into his new job search, Orlando recalled a conversation he had had with former Science Department Chair Gene Menton five months prior. Menton suggested Orlando should apply for a coaching job at (DCDS). With very little options and two young daughters to feed, Orlando applied for the job. After three hours of interview, Orlando was informed that DCDS had two coaching vacancies, one for girls’ basketball and the other for baseball. He accepted both positions. He had never coached girls’ basketball. As a new coach, he called his first team meeting. Five girls showed up. Orlando doesn’t remember all the details of his first exchange with his new team. But, he will never forget his exchange with team captain Susan Morrow after the meeting. The conversation went as follows:
Morrow: “Do you like coaching basketball?”
Orlando: “Yes, I do.”
Morrow: “Do you like coaching girls’ basketball?”
Orlando: “I haven’t before, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Morrow: “Do you like losing, Coach?”
Orlando: “No! I can’t say that I do.”
Morrow: “Then you better get used to it.”

It’s safe to say he never did. At the conclusion of his first season at DCDS, the women’s basketball team tallied a five-win season, more than they had won in the previous season and double the number of wins in the programs history. The average margin of defeat was no longer seventy points, but instead forty. It was the beginning of the program’s progression. Each season after that was marked by improvement. More girls joined the team. Two more wins than last season. One more win in the state tournament.

The biggest turning point for the program came in 1986. DCDS faced reigning Class C State Champions Detroit St. Martin de Porres. De Porres was comprised of one future Olympian and four other division one prospects. No special attention was given to the game. The media had predicted a blowout. They had every right to do so. De Porres, Deidra Charles, entered the contest with an undefeated record. DCDS trailed most of the game by twenty points.

During the second half of the game, 20 slowly turned into 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, until it was a one-point game with twenty seconds left on the clock. Charles scored. De Porres led by one with eight seconds left on the clock. DCDS dribbled the ball down the court. Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Allison Ebrough was fouled at the buzzer. One to tie. Two for the win. De Porres called a timeout. Orlando chose an unconventional approach with his player. He didn’t blatantly remind Ebrough to follow through with her free throw. He chose a fatherly anecdote to calm her nerves. His words of wisdom were, “Shooting free throws is just like playing golf.” Ebrough was baffled by the strange analogy. He continued, “Just don’t be short.” When she finally understood the joke, she laughed. She no longer felt like she was shooting free throws for win, but just shooting a simple free throw like she did every day in practice. She rattled the first one in. Tie game. She swished the second. Country Day had just beaten the number one team in the state! At the time, that was the biggest win of Coach O’s career.

Later in the same year, the women’s basketball team earned their first district championship. The following season they advanced further and won their first regional championship. In 1988, the women’s basketball team advanced to the quarterfinal before losing to the Harbor Beach. In 1989, they made it all the way to the Class C State Championship.

On December 2, 1989, DCDS women’s basketball team played for the state championship at Grand Valley State University. Before the game, Frank Orlando nervously paced back and forth on the sideline. Bullets of sweat dripped down his new suit jacket. At the time, he never expected to be playing for a state championship. He team anxiously awaited his arrival in the locker room. Senior captain Peggy Evans approached him and asked, “Coach, what’s wrong?” Orlando confided in her, “Peggy, I’m nervous.” Evans responded with a reassuring, “Sit down coach, I will take care of it.” She didn’t lie. Evans scored a state record 47 points in the state championship game. She led her team to a 71-59 victory over Saginaw Valley Lutheran. Orlando described the feeling as unbelievable blessing from God. In the midst of his celebration, he thought about his first senior captain, Susan Morrow. Her voice echoed in his mind. “All we ever wanted was respect.” Eight years later, they had finally earned it, although it would be six years later before they returned for another title.

In the seasons that followed their first championship, DCDS consistently earned winning records. DCDS as a whole had expanded also. In 1994, DCDS transferred from Class C to Class B. The leap from Class C to Class B provided additional competition for the Yellow Jackets. Even after the leap DCDS continued its newfound winning tradition. Exactly six years later, DCDS went on to win its second state title by defeating Grand Rapids West Catholic 44-32.

In May of 1998, Frank Orlando was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Orlando’s diagnosis sidelined him throughout the baseball season and a great part of the basketball season. Orlando underwent chemotherapy treatments every four to six weeks. On the days he didn’t have chemo treatments, he was at practice coaching his team. There weren’t any expectations for the season. No one expected them to compete at all, let alone win. After all, the team’s beloved coach was in and out of practice, fighting for his life.

Instead of giving up, they decided to fight alongside him. As a team, they made weekly visits to his house and conducted daily practices on their own. The team as a whole was resilient. The team was led by senior captain Jasmine Thomas, who was instrumental in the 1995 state championship. The 1998 team was the first team in DCDS history to go undefeated and to win a state championship. They demolished Grandville Calvin Christian 57-23 in the state championships. Orlando postponed several chemotherapy treatments in order to coach his girls throughout the playoffs. Orlando’s competitive spirt was the true driving force behind the 1998 season. To many, what may have seemed like the end of his career marked a new era for the legacy of the program.

From 1998- 2004, DCDS appeared in a record eight consecutive state finals. They won six state championships in that eight year time span. Starting from the 1998 season until 2010, Orlando accumulated a total of ten state championships. But the next championship would not immediately follow the 2010 season.

A six year drought of not advancing to the state championship had become uncommon. Throughout the drought, Orlando continued to motivate his team with the belief that one day they would return. On March 21, 2015, Frank Orlando won yet another state championship. The DCDS Yellow Jackets defeated Haslett 49-41. In doing so, Orlando tied Lofton Greene for the most state championship in state history, eleven state championships apiece.

When asked to describe the DCDS basketball program in one word, Orlando chose the word pride. Pride refers to both pride in the program and pride in the game of basketball. Orlando always taught the girls to be gracious in both victory and defeat. Players were always respectful to the game and to the other team. He never boasted about his accomplishments. He refused to let the girls gloat, and he refused to let them give up. His only expectation was that his team always played hard.

Throughout nearly forty-eight years of coaching, Orlando maintains that the emphasis was never on winning. It was about people. More specifically, it was about girls maturing and becoming women in society that were caring, loving, and supportive. Orlando embodies each characteristic through his unique coaching style. He was never in it for personal gain or accolades. Orlando genuinely cares about all of the girls he mentored. In every coaching decision he ever made, he supported his girls.

As of 2015, Orlando’s extensive coaching resume includes 26 district titles, 23 regional titles, 15 state finals appearances, 11 MHSAA state titles, and an accumulative coaching record of 720-110. Orlando is grateful for every milestone he’s ever reached, but the people who have helped him get there are what matter the most to him. When asked about how he would personally write his own legacy, Coach Orlando simply says, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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