ELY – The Vermilion Community College gymnasium was packed this past Saturday as hundreds of area fans turned out to watch men’s basketball coach Paul McDonald command the sidelines on his home …
ELY – The Vermilion Community College gymnasium was packed this past Saturday as hundreds of area fans turned out to watch men’s basketball coach Paul McDonald command the sidelines on his home court one last time, when the Ironmen hosted Rainy River Community College.
All on hand knew it was the end of an era. Well-wishers hugged McDonald and congratulated him as he went through his pre-game routine with the officials, the opposing coaches and his own players. VCC Provost Shawn Bina presented McDonald with a token of appreciation before the tip-off and the crowd responded with thunderous applause.
McDonald had announced his retirement last winter, after 29 years serving as the men’s basketball coach, instructor and athletic director at VCC. Part of one of the most iconic basketball families in Minnesota and the upper Midwest, McDonald’s teams amassed 14 of the last 17 MCAC Northern Division championships and 15 Ironmen have earned NJCAA All-American status while competing under McDonald’s steady guidance.
McDonald has been with the Ironmen for all 29 of his years at the college level, and has been a leader, mentor and instructor at the campus. VCC reached the NJCAA National Tournament in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2006 and enjoyed 18 seasons of 20 wins or more.
Despite a winning tradition, for McDonald it was as much about service and leadership as it was about victories on the hardwood. McDonald served on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota State High School League, helping to guide and advise one of the largest high school sports and activities associations in the U.S. When he was not coaching in a game, McDonald still found ways to contribute to high school and college sports in Minnesota, working as a well-respected basketball and football official in both the high school and college ranks. The Minnesota Community College Conference, established in 1967 and known later as the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, was fortunate to have McDonald in several leadership roles, including his service as MCAC men’s division president through March, 2018.
McDonald is a Chisholm High School graduate and was an integral part of the 1973 and 1975 Bluestreaks state championship teams. Upon graduation, McDonald accepted a scholarship to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, competing in the Big Eight Conference, taking on the likes of Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Oklahoma State, among others.
After lettering as a Cornhusker freshman, McDonald transferred to South Dakota State University where he earned both All-Conference and All-Region accolades in his career. McDonald still holds the individual record for consecutive free throws made by a men’s basketball player at SDSU.
Many of McDonald’s milestones have been chronicled during his decades-long career, including several benchmark wins along the way leading to stories from journalists such as the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse.
Just as important, McDonald influenced hundreds of young men seeking to advance both their athletic and academic careers, using VCC as a stepping stone to four-year college programs that have recruited dozens of former VCC student-athletes coached by him.
Nine former players went on to win scholarships at the NCAA Division I level, with several more suiting up at NCAA Division II, Division III and NAIA programs across the country.
McDonald’s success has, by now, become a family tradition. His father, the legendary Bob McDonald, served as the head coach at Chisholm High School and is the all-time high school wins leader in Minnesota. Upon his retirement in 2014, Bob McDonald’s record stood at 1,012 wins and 428 losses across a remarkable 53 seasons of coaching in Minnesota high school basketball.
While the 2018-19 basketball season marks the final chapter in Paul McDonald’s coaching career at Vermilion, he will continue his work and service to Ely and northern Minnesota as the newly-elected Fourth District Commissioner on the St. Louis County Board. He assumed that office in January, replacing his longtime friend, the late Tom Rukavina.
At the conclusion of the Vermilion-Rainy River contest, friends, fans and followers gathered at Zaverl’s Bar in Ely in celebration of not only an amazing and influential coaching career, but also the next chapter of service by Paul McDonald to the Iron Range of Minnesota.