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The McDonald family is a basketball family

Bob McDonald, center, with his six children Mike, Paul, Sue, Tom, Judy and Joel. (Courtesy: Mike McDonald)

CHISHOLM, Minn. (BVM) — As a history teacher and basketball coach at Chisholm High School, Bob McDonald developed an appreciation for the history of the program. A former Bluestreak himself, he made sure that those who played for him knew the legacy that had been left behind by previous players.

“Growing up in Chisholm it was a very family-oriented basketball existence,” said Joel McDonald, the youngest of Bob’s six children. “I think there was always an importance to the history of Chisholm basketball even going back to his playing days and even before for that matter. I think as a Chisholm basketball player it was something you were very aware of from the first days you walked into the gym.”

That love for history was not just instilled in Bob’s basketball teams, but also the McDonald family for generations — from Bob’s children to his grandchildren.

“Our family does a really good job of appreciating the past in general,” said Rhett McDonald, son of Mike and grandchild of Bob. “That sense of appreciation of what has transpired, that in itself our family is all about so I think that kind of trickled into basketball.”

It trickled into basketball to the point where Bob assigned his son Joel with an important task.

“He kind of designated me the family historian and the historical part is important to all of us and I think that has deep roots in who we are,” Joel said.

History is important because basketball has been such an influence on all of the McDonalds’ lives.

“We’re definitely a basketball family,” Mike said. “Not only players, but now coaches there  is no doubt about that. It gets in the blood.”

Record of the McDonald families’ all-time high school scoring, all-time wins and losses as a player and all-time wins and losses as coaches. (Courtesy: Joel McDonald)

Practically every McDonald from Bob to his youngest grandson Ayden, who will be a junior in high school this year, has played basketball at the high school level. Many of them have also coached basketball at the high school level, are currently coaching or plan to coach. 

Due to the amount of McDonalds who have been involved in basketball, Joel’s job as family historian has included calculating the family career scoring totals in high school, winning percentage as a player and winning percentage as a head coach.

According to Joel, the McDonalds have scored 30,772 points, won 1,375 games as players and won 3,290 games as head coaches.

To fully understand the history behind the basketball lineage of the McDonald family, it all starts with Bob. He retired from coaching in 2014 as a legend in the Minnesota high school basketball community. In his 59 years as a coach, 53 of them with Chisholm, he racked up 1,012 wins and only 428 losses, winning the state championship three times. Currently, he ranks 17th nationally for total career wins and is first in Minnesota state history.

From his illustrious career, the whole McDonald family became immersed in the game of basketball.

“My mom, too,” Mike said, “she ended up being my dad’s statistician and she was probably tougher on the referees than my dad was.”

Bob’s four sons, Mike, Paul, Tom and Joel, all played for him at Chisholm. His two daughters, Judy and Sue, played for the girls team. In their playing careers, they left their mark on the history books winning state championships and setting state records.

“As the last person there were a lot of bars set by them from state tournament runs, to state championships,” Joel said. “Tom had the state single-season scoring record prior to me being fortunate enough to break it. Judy and Tom were both final five finalists for Mr. and Miss Basketball so there were a lot of bars set by them.”

Throughout their playing careers, the McDonald children constantly saw firsthand Bob’s love for basketball. 

“There is no doubt,” Mike said. “I think my dad enjoyed every minute of coaching his own kids. That instilled in us a love for the game and the commitment he had towards success. I think that it carried over.” 

From there, all six of the McDonald children went into coaching. Mike has coached for 37 years and currently coaches the Cambridge-Isanti boys team. Paul coached at Vermillion Community College for 29 years. Tom is the boys head coach at Ely High School. Joel is the head coach at Hibbing High School – 10 miles from his hometown. Sue coached at Crosby-Ironton. Judy was a coach at Nashwauk-Keewatin and Fairmont.

None of the McDonald children got into coaching because they felt pressured by their father to follow in his footsteps. It was his passion for the game mixed with their own love for basketball that drew them back in after their playing days were over.

“You go into coaching because you like what the game did for you,” Joel said, “and you like the relationships you were able to establish because it and you want to keep that, build on that and help instill that in everybody you coach.”

“As a family we have dedicated our lives to coaching basketball,” Mike said.

From the second generation, the third generation grew up similarly to how their parents had. 

“As a kid, I think the safest way to put it is we were always around basketball and that was what our lives consisted of every single day of the year,” Rhett said. “I didn’t ever think about doing anything else other than coaching basketball as a kid. It was never put on me; it was never pressured. It was what we kind of do.”

Rhett is the head boys basketball coach at Duluth East High School where his sister, Kailee, is an assistant for the girls basketball team. Rhett’s cousin Tomi was the women’s head coach at Vermillion Community College. Sue’s son, Bryce, is the head coach of the boys team at Minnetonka High School and her other son, Brock, is an assistant on the Hopkins High School boys team.

Even with the third generation of coaches it all goes back to Bob. His effect on both his children and grandchildren was immense.

“He had a way of saying this is the best thing that you could ever get into,” Rhett said. “To just be around competition, athletics and being around kids is the best job you can get into.”

For the McDonalds, coaching is about so much more than winning or losing. It’s about having a profound effect on the young people you are trying to lead.

“The wins are a byproduct of those strong relationships and bonds that are going to be around forever,” Rhett said. “That in a nutshell is what I’ve taken away from my family more so than anything.”

The fourth generation of McDonalds is too young right now to tell whether they will get into coaching. However, the third generation is following the path of their predecessors and immersing their children in the sport they all love.

“They’re always in the gym,” Rhett said. “They come scouting with me, they’re on the couch when I’m watching film and they go to every single game.”

“They’re all pretty young right now,” Mike said. “We’ll have to wait and see, but there’s got to be at least a couple coaches coming up in the next generation.”

The history of the McDonalds and their love of basketball is still being written and is nowhere near being over. As a family and on a personal level, they all have a love for basketball that is embedded into the fabric of their family. They have made lasting relationships with countless people and impacted so many different lives. 

“It’s what we do and I’m proud of what we do and I’m proud of my family and what we’ve done with the game of basketball,” Mike said.

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