Legendary Chisholm basketball coach only regret: 'I'm 80'

CHISHOLM, Minn. - History lives in the 1920s Chisholm high school gym. But fame resides in the hall.

"We have Mr. McDonald here," say Cindy Rice, a custodian who's offered a tour to an out-of-towner of the school's literal 'hall' of fame.

In one photo Bob McDonald poses with the other Chisholm players on the 1950 Iron Range Conference district championship team.

She points to three more team photos. Now it's Bob McDonald as coach leading Chisholm to state championships in 1973, 1975 and 1991.

Hall of fame plaques hang nearby from two Minnesota coaches associations, and not far from those, a carving of McDonald's bust from 1992.

It's the kind of recognition one often gets at a successful career's conclusion. It's just that Bob McDonald never quit.

"When I played for him he was 40, now he's 80," says Tim Casey, a Chisholm pharmacist and a former state championship player. Casey never imagined his old coach would still be coaching when his own kids were grown.

In its first half century, Chisholm Bluestreaks Basketball had five coaches. Since the Kennedy administration: one.

"Yeah, you go back to 1955, that's when I started coaching," says McDonald as he enters the boy's locker room for an interview. "That was a long time ago man."

McDonald started his coaching career with brief stops in McGregor and Barnum. By 1962 he'd returned home to coach in Chisholm.

He turns the pages of a yellowed scrapbook. "Here's the 62 team I had," he says. "My first ones here."

More firsts followed, including a big one earlier this season: first high school basketball coach in Minnesota history to reach 1000 victories. "It isn't the victories that I dwell on, because that is kind of artificial," says McDonald, brushing aside the achievement. "It's the kids really that I've had getting to those; the kids won those games for me."

Chisholm's mayor, Mike Jugovich, was another of McDonald's players. Jugovich was on the court for McDonald's 500th victory. Jugovich's son Andrew was playing when the coach reached his 1000th victory.

"We're going to be losing something that you probably won't see again in coaching, because nobody stays 59 years," says Jogovich. "The kids have changed, everything's changed; Bob hasn't."

Chisholm basketball players are still required to keep hair trimmed above their ears, just like they were in the 1960s. Sideburns cannot creep below their cheekbones and suits and ties are mandatory on game days.

"In Chisholm we wanted a clean look to us," says McDonald. "We wanted a kid who looks like a high school kid. We don't want him to look like somebody who was working out north here logging."

None of McDonald's players can plead ignorance. His handwritten lists of rules hang at various places throughout the gym. Weeknight curfew is set at 10 p.m. No parties. No baseball caps during the basketball season. "Baseball is played in the spring," says the coach.

And should anyone decide a 3-point shot is more important than a 3-point-O, they know upfront that a D on a report card is grounds for dismissal from the team.

"When they get out of high school I would wish I would send them onward with a sound background in scholastics and athletics and discipline, a problem to no one," says McDonald.

The coach believes many parents have absolved themselves of responsibility for their kids' grades and conduct, "and the kids do as they please, well in Chisholm high school basketball, they don't do as they please," says McDonald.

Or they'll wish they hadn't.

More than a few Chisholm players over the years have caught themselves on the wrong end of McDonald's temper. "We don't need you trying to look like a hero out there," he bellers at a young player for an ill-timed shot from outside.

When a reporter mentions to Casey that his old coach seemed agitated at halftime in the locker room, the former player casts a knowing smile and says, "Yeah, he's never happy, completely."

What McDonald has been, is successful - and not just based on the banner on the gym wall marking his three state titles.

All six of McDonald's children were all-state, won basketball scholarships and followed their father into coaching.

Though McDonald has announced he'll call it quits at the end of this season, he acknowledges he's not completely ready to be done. "The only regret I have is I'm not younger, I'm 80. That's a regret."

McDonald's wife Carol agrees. "I don't think he's completely convinced himself that he's not going to do this again," she says.

On a recent Friday night, having completed victory number 1000 and something against rival Bigfork, McDonald wishes his opponents well. "We'll have a rematch someplace along the line here," he says, shaking hands with coaches and players.

The coach congratulates his team in the locker room on a "dandy job," then walks back onto the court where he is enveloped by young children dribbling and shooting up basketballs. The room is loud and the children gleefully squealing.

McDonald smiles. "It's like electric, you know," he says.

Soon they will be someone else's charges. Already, they are Bob McDonald's legacy.


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