HIBBING — It was a sad day Wednesday when I got a text from Joel McDonald telling me his father had passed away.
It was a punch in the gut.
It’s been an awful year to begin with, and Joel has had way too much going on with his life, then to have this happen, I don’t know anyone tougher than him right now.
As for Bob, I can’t even begin to tell you how long I’ve known him.
As a high-school student, you knew of him because of the Hibbing/Chisholm rivalry.
After that, I don’t know how many other encounters I had with him until I started working at the Hibbing Daily Tribune.
That’s when our relationship started to develop, and for 30 years, we had a mutual respect for one another.
I loved his sense of humor. Even after one of his rare losses, he was upbeat and funny.
When I heard about his passing, I wanted to reach out to some of the people who had either coached against him, with him or played for him.
I talked to Gary Addington, Larry Pervenanze and Tom McDonald.
After that, I connected with three other individuals who either worked with Bob or played against his teams.
One of those people was Lee Bloomquist.
When Bloomquist worked at the Hibbing Daily Tribune, he was assigned the Chisholm boys basketball beat.
Bloomquist, who is a talented writer, wasn’t sure what to expect when he went to his first Chisholm game.
“I didn’t know Bob at all,” Bloomquist said. “I was unsure what it was going to be like covering him. He was a disciplinarian, tough and strict on the sideline. What I found out over those seven years is he had the greatest sense of humor I had seen in a basketball coach.
“He was the most quotable coach I had dealt with. He was a gentleman. He cared about people and his players.”
In 1991, Bloomquist got to be a Bluestreak for the day.
“It was a couple of weeks before sections that year,” Bloomquist said. “I called him and asked if I could practice with them. I had lived in Chisholm as a kid, and I always wanted to be a Bluestreak. I was a bit surprised when he said I could do it.”
Bloomquist headed to practice that day wearing multi-colored, paisley shorts, knowing McDonald would never allow that.
“I knew that would set him off,” Bloomquist said with a laugh. “He looked at my shorts, pointed to
the locker room and told Joel to get him a pair of Bluestreak basketball shorts.
“That told me a lot
about him. It was a week or two before the tournament, and he let a reporter in to fulfil a dream. It was an enjoyable time.”
Their relationship grew over time.
One of Bloomquist’s daughters, who played basketball for Cherry, was hurt one night on the Roel’s Gymnasium floor.
McDonald always took the time to ask about her condition, and Bloomquist has never forgotten that kind gesture.
“He became a friend,” Bloomquist said.
During that state run, Chisholm was playing Westbrook-Walnut Grove, and the Bluestreaks were playing that 1-2-2 defense.
Chisholm was down at the half, and as Bloomquist was walking across the floor, he bumped into McDonald.
“I said, ‘Well, what are you going to do at the half?’” Bloomquist said. “He said, ‘I don’t know.’ They had a big center (Mike Rupar). He wore dark-rimmed glasses, so I said to Bob, ‘Tell Rupar to take those glasses off, quit playing like Clark Kent, and start playing like Superman.’”
To start the second half, the Bluestreaks came out in a 1-3-1 defense, which is something the team never did.
As it turned out, Chisholm won the game to give McDonald his third state title.
“I asked him what he did at the half and he said, “I told Rupar to take off those glasses and play like Superman,’” Bloomquist said. “I said, ‘No, you didn’t.’ I still don’t know until this day if he said that or not.”
I can now confirm the fact that yes, he did mention that in his halftime talk. The suspense is over.
McDonald always called Bloomquist the “Poison Pen.” He gave that nickname to me as well, plus, he always called me the “Photographic Navel,” because my camera was always hanging down in front of me. That was his way of acknowleding we were there. He always welcomed us with open arms.
“I’d go into the coaches office and talk after the game,” Bloomquist said. “There was a whole different side to him that people didn’t see. I also got to know Joel, Tom, Paul and Mike, and I see a lot of him in those guys right now, just with their friendliness.
“When they see you, they call you by name and ask how you’re doing. They never forget you. He was a fantastic guy.”
I also t talked to two former Hibbing players, Chris Liesmaki and John Retica.
They may have been rivals on the court, but they still respected the man and the coach.
Liesmaki did get a touching text from his son, Christopher, and he did relay that message to Joel.
“He texted me wondering if I heard about the news,” Liesmaki said. “After he heard it, my son said he wanted to pick up a basketball and go out and shoot some hoops. Isn’t that the truth? When you hear his name, you think about basketball.
“I don’t know any other person in his category. He was passionate about basketball. He demanded fundamental perfection. I wanted to pick up a basketball and shoot.”
Every year when the schedule came out, Liesmaki always looked for one game — Chisholm
“It was a great rivalry and even though it was intense, later in life, Bob would come over to say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’” Liesmaki said. “That was special to have him acknowledge you. He was not only a great coach, but a good person, too.”
Retica went a step further.
“On the Mount Rushmore of high school coaches, he’d certainly be up there, no doubt,” Retica said. “Bob was synonymous with high school basketball in northern Minnesota and all over the state.
“Bob was a wonderful coach and person.”
To end this, I will always rmember McDonald telling me how much he appreciated the coverage, giving our student/athletes a chance to be recognized.
I will never forget you Bob McDonald.
To Joel, Tom, Paul, Mike, Sue and Judy, and the rest of the McDonald family, you have my deepest sympathy.
He was a great man. RIP Bob.