CHISHOLM, MINN. – O.J. Belluzzo was the star basketball player for the Chisholm team that finished as runner-up in the 1932 state tournament. The blog Minnesota Hoops went back in time to determine mythical Mr. Basketballs for the state and chose Belluzzo for that season.
Belluzzo’s girlfriend, Mary Perkovich, became pregnant later that summer. As was the norm in 1933, Perkovich simply went away for a time, going with a friend to stay with a relative in New York to wait for the baby to be born.
“Several months later, she came back with the bundle,” Bob McDonald said. “It was me.”
McDonald, 80, is in his 53rd season as the coach of the Chisholm High Bluestreaks. He coached a half-dozen seasons before that at McGregor and Barnum, and is two shy of 1,000 career victories.
“Romance has been the key to my career,” McDonald said. “I got my first job in McGregor in 1955 because the coach ran off with the milkman’s wife. I got the job at Barnum because the coach ran off with a high school senior.
“And I had the inside track when the Chisholm job opened in 1961, because the basketball coach stepping down was also the athletic director making the hire: O.J. Belluzzo . . .
“I was raised by my grandmother [also named Mary Perkovich]. I was just ‘little Bobby’ to the neighbors for a while. I took the last name of Ray McDonald, the man my mother had married.”
Mike Perkovich, Bob’s uncle, also was much involved in his upbringing. And it was another uncle, Paul Perkovich, a Marine captain stationed in New Guinea, who got little Bobby started as a basketball nut.
“He sent home a foot locker in 1944 with two items in it: an M1 carbine and a basketball with lace stitches,” McDonald said. “There was a telephone pole in the alley behind the house. We attached a basketball rim to the pole and I spent hours, year-round, shooting baskets with that lace-stitched ball.”
Bob’s practice earned him a scholarship to Michigan, but he was homesick and came home after a semester. He played at Hibbing Junior College with the great Dick Garmaker, later a Gophers and Minneapolis Lakers star, and still has his players run drills called “Garmakers.” He then went to Minnesota Duluth.
The basket on the telephone pole behind 417 5th St. in Chisholm would serve as target practice for generations of Bluestreaks, including six McDonald children: Mike, class of 1975, followed by Paul, Sue, Tom, Judy and finally Joel, class of 1991.
McDonald and his wife, Darlene, raised the family in that house, which Bob still owns.
The McDonald kids were all outstanding players. Judy was a star on the 1984 Chisholm team that won a girls’ state title. Mike was on two championship teams in 1973 and 1975. Joel was the star of the 1991 Chisholm team that won Bob McDonald’s third state title. Joel scored 1,157 points that season and 3,292 for his career, both state boys’ records at the time.
On Tuesday, Joel will be coaching Hibbing against Chisholm. Bob is sitting at 998 victories, and games against three of his sons have contributed 45 to the total: Joel (17) at Hibbing, Tom (19) at Ely and Mike (nine) at Cambridge.
McDonald will get to 1,000 victories and several more this winter. Wherever he finishes, it will stand as the Minnesota record … and near the top for high school coaches nationally.
He is stepping down at the end of this season, not for health reasons, not for a lagging passion for the game, but for what Bob says in a sense of fairness toward assistant Larry Pervenanze.
“I always had run the little kids program on Saturday mornings,” McDonald said. “To me, that was the key to our success … to see those kids coming up through the program. Larry’s running that program now. He should be in charge.”