Dolores Shadd Fought Injustice As A Black Woman, Coach, And Umpire

Dolores Shadd, back row far right, and her Red Dragons basketball team in 1945.

In the present day, the issue of under representation in coaching and officiating, especially when it comes to BIPOC women, is pervasive.

Born in Detroit, and later living in North Buxton, Dolores Shadd, was a unique example of a Black woman in coaching and officiating in the 1940s and 1950s.

Her mother was from Dresden, the site of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Shadd’s community of North Buxton was founded in 1849 as a safe community for escaped and freed slaves. Both locations are considered the end of the Underground Railroad in what is now Chatham-Kent, Ontario.

Through her role in sport, Shadd fought injustice directly and indirectly.

Although she coached many sports in Buxton including baseball, soccer, and volleyball, her time coaching basketball in Detroit was notable.

In the 1940s, Dolores Shadd attended Wayne State University in Detroit to study to be a teacher. 

During that time, she coached five basketball teams including the Red Dragons, a team strictly composed of Chinese Americans, and the Mexican Spitfire, a team made up of Mexican athletes.

The Red Dragons played out of the Neighborhood House, a centre in Detroit’s Chinatown aimed at supporting underprivileged youth. 

According to the dissertation research of Ornella Nzindukiyimana from Western University, “it is suggested that Shadd and the Dragons
represented a solidarity against racial prejudice though community creation. Whether done directly or indirectly through sport, it was a way to combat through sport.” 

“Dolores and the Red Dragons withstood the colour bar, their friendship given strength by overcoming injustice,” it was said in the 1989 National Film Board documentary Older Stronger Wiser directed by Claire Prieto, which featured Dolores Shadd.

Shadd’s sport involvement didn’t end there. She also served as a baseball umpire for the Buxton men’s baseball team. Shadd’s presence as an umpire pushed gender roles and stereotypes of the era. Shadd lived as an advocate for justice and she seemed to revel in pushing back against the sexist ideas of those in sport.

“I remember we went off to Charing Cross and I could hear this man fussing
something about us, but I couldn’t hear it. It didn’t sound nice anyhow. We got the team lined up and I said ‘OK, batter up.’ And wow, he hit the ceiling. Buxton was supposed to send an umpire; they had their rules. And they didn’t send an umpire. So, one guy said, ‘Miss Shadd now—’ [the first man interrupted] ‘No! I don’t want no woman umpire.’ The [one guy] said ‘she teaches in […] high school, I think you better stay out of her way.’ And I said, ‘Please let me in so that I can pull him out and kick him out of the park!’ Because he was swearing, and I didn’t—you know—I didn’t allow that in the park. So anyhow, he got back. So, after that game, when the boys went anyplace, they had a female umpire; and that was fun.”

Dolores Shadd
Dolores Shadd

Shadd’s advocacy was not limited to sport. She was passionate about farming and feeding people while serving with the Associated Country Women of the World and as Women’s Director (District 6) of the National Farmers’ Union.

She advocated for local farmers as a source of food sustainability stating “the multinationals using our food as a weapon against third world countries. If we ourselves could distribute our food and not let the multinationals use it, we could wipe famine off the world in about two days and there’d be no need for anyone to starve.”

In Chatham-Kent, Shadd’s influence on sporting world as a Black woman, coach, and athlete is a little told story. Her impact on the farming community has been well documented, and saw her inducted into the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1990.

Sport and agriculture. Dolores Shadd took on two corners of society dominated by white men, then, and now. Historically, there is no other way to define Shadd than as a feminist icon, a role model, and a trailblazer.

Perhaps it was the teacher in her, but Shadd also had a unique talent for making connections between different areas of life to help others learn, and master their trades.

For example, on a trip to Kenya in 1977 representing the Associated Country Women of the World, Shadd managed to combine her passions of sport, agriculture, and education.

“I went to a village and I thought, ‘now what in the world am I going to talk about, what am I going to say, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do,” she explained in a video about the National Farmers Union

“So I said, you know what, take those sandals off and come on out here. And I drew a line. I taught physical education and health so we’re going to learn how to run, we’re going to learn how to win a race. On your mark, get set, get those hips up!” she added about interacting with a group of youth.

“So we spent the day in physical education and health, and they thought, how in the heck is she going to work that into farming? Well that’s easy. I’ll call the government and ask them to send the last Olympic film that I saw to me, so I can show the children in Africa that they can make the Olympics. They’re farmers, but they have something to offer. Yes, I’m using my physical education to help the people learn farming.”

It’s clear that Dolores Shadd saw the potential in all people. 

This was recognized when Shadd became the first recipient of the Chatham-Kent YMCA International Peace Medallion in 1988 and was one of the first five women to be recognized as local Women of Excellence.

She saw athletic potential in oppressed groups, she saw opportunity to move the gender lines forward, she saw ways to feed people, she was able to raise a family, and educate youth.

Dolores Shadd passed away in 2013, but her legacy, and the importance of her little told coaching, officiating, and sports involvement, continue to live for women, the BIPOC community, and locally in Chatham-Kent.

By Ian Kennedy

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