After 59 years, final buzzer for record-setting high school coach

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Minnesota's winningest boy's high school basketball coach is preparing to take his last season shot.

The Pioneer Press carried a career retrospective on Bob McDonald, 80, who is in his last season at the head of the program at Chisholm High School on the Iron Range. This is the 59th season that McDonald has coached, and the 53rd with the Chisholm Bluestreaks in his home town. In November, McDonald announced that the current season would be his final one.

Over the past half-century plus, McDonald was a four-time Minnesota coach of the year and the national coach of the year in 2008. He took the Bluestreaks to 11 state tournaments, winning titles in 1973, 1975 and 1991.

Last December, the Northland News Center in Duluth broadcast the story of McDonald's 1,000th win, when his Bluestreaks beat Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 61-55. That milestone made him the first – and only – boy's basketball coach in Minnesota sports history to notch a nice round thousand in the win column. His son Joel, Hibbing High School’s head coach, choked up in a post-game speech after the landmark win as he congratulated his old man, who also teared up.

Despite the record career victories, McDonald made it clear in the Pioneer Press profile that athletics always came second to academics in his playbook. He retired from teaching in 2000, but kept coaching because he found his work with students to be so satisfying.

"The basketball is just the frosting," McDonald said. "My basketball journey has never been about the wins and losses. Basketball was an aid to the academics. It makes me proud to see the life victories and successes of the people around me. The idea that I would think of myself as a great coach absolutely repels me. It's the people I've had a chance to work with."

Last February, the Hibbing Daily Tribune reported that McDonald missed his first game in 52 years after he was injured in a car accident that left him with four broken ribs. Being away from his team clearly bothered him more than his injuries. “I miss not being with them big time. I have a fond affection, like all coaches do, for the kids," he said at the time.

McDonald worked with three generations in Chisholm and his hundreds of players included his own children. All six were all-state players, and they all went into coaching. Mike coaches at Cambridge-Isanti High School; Paul at Vermilion Community College, Tom at Ely High School and Joel at Hibbing. Daughters Sue and Judy are out of coaching now.McDonald said one of the reasons he's retiring is that he wants to spend more time with his 17 grandchildren.

"I could have continued; there was no pressure to quit," he said. "I have grandchildren that I want to watch play. Watching them is a primary concern of mine. I missed watching some of my kids. I don't want to miss the grandkids play."

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