‘A true pioneer’: How late Fremd coach Dave Yates will be remembered throughout Chicago area

“He was girls basketball,” Nazareth coach Ed Stritzel said. “I know there were shootouts before him, but you talk about Chicago basketball, and it was Dave Yates. He loved it. He loved promoting the game.”

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Fremd coach Dave Yates passed away Tuesday at age 54.

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Written on the board before every Fremd girls basketball state playoff game was a powerful yet concise phrase: “We over me.”

That phrase encapsulated the character of the team’s coach, Dave Yates, who’s known in the Chicago area for his selflessness.

“Everyone was so invested,” senior guard Ella Todd said. “We wanted it so much for him because we were all so grateful for everything he’s done for us.”

Yates died Tuesday at 54 after battling brain cancer. In April 2023, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and four children.

In his 18 seasons at Fremd, Yates went 425-137, including a state championship victory in 2020, two second-place finishes (2015 and 2016) and a third-place finish last season. He enjoyed growing girls basketball in the Chicago area. Despite his cancer diagnosis, he remained committed to his team and coached every game last season.

“He was girls basketball,” Nazareth coach Ed Stritzel said. “I know there were shootouts before him, but you talk about Chicago basketball, and it was Dave Yates. He loved it. He loved promoting the game.

“He’s going to be remembered as a true pioneer of girls basketball in Illinois and sorely missed.”

After most Fremd games, Yates would watch the film as soon as he got home. His assistants would receive texts early in the morning because his mind always thought about his team and how it could improve.

Though his teams had similar characteristics in that they played smart and tough, he designed schemes to fit individual teams.

“He cared so much about our teams and our success,” said Hersey coach Courtney Ludois, who was a Fremd assistant under Yates for five years. “[His players] trusted him and knew he cared about them.”

When Ludois was interviewing for the Hersey job, Yates wrote her a letter of recommendation and advocated for her to get the job, even if it meant they would be conference adversaries. Yates was a competitor who wanted to win but wouldn’t hesitate to help others.

That altruistic nature led him to create the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase. Fremd hosts the tournament every December. Yates would talk to people about who the rising players in the area were to ensure their teams would be at the showcase and play in front of college coaches.

He wanted everyone — not just his team — to have a chance at exposure.

“He wanted the best players to get recognition,” said Lisa Jordan, a Prep Hoops scout. “It wasn’t only about his players. It was about basketball in general.”

It didn’t stop with shootouts. Yates was constantly communicating with college coaches.

“I would get texts from him like, ‘Hey, I’m at this clinic, and this coach is here, and I’m telling him about your player,’ ” former Hersey coach Mary Fendley said. “He wasn’t just helping out his girls. He knew of a college coach and thought one of my girls would be a good fit.”

On May 4, Yates was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. With 425 wins and a state championship, it was a foregone conclusion he would be inducted. But his modesty prevented him from reveling in his accomplishments. He focused on his team instead.

“He’ll flip it on you, and all of a sudden, he ends up complimenting you when you’re just trying to congratulate him,” Fendley said. “I don’t think he ever spent a second being like, ‘I wonder if I could ever get to the Hall of Fame.’ He was just in the moment and doing what’s best for his girls.”

He always wanted the attention focused on the girls.

Fremd wanted to win a championship for its coach but fell short against eventual state champion Loyola in the Class 4A state playoffs. The Vikings knew Yates was fighting his cancer while dealing with the stress that comes with coaching.

Seeing his fight made the girls more appreciative of their team. They rallied around their coach.

“That entire run … we knew how much we wanted it for him,” Todd said. “It wasn’t about us anymore.”

But for Yates, it was always about them.

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