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.”
‘Hell on wheels’
There has been no official announcement from the school that Pervenanze will become only the fourth boys’ basketball coach in Chisholm since 1923; for now, it remains an expectation.
That’s a fact, by the way: Harvey Roels, 1923-55; Belluzzo, 1955-1961; and McDonald, 1961-2013.
Since the Bluestreaks already play in Roels Gym, what are they going to name in honor of McDonald, the winningest coach in Minnesota history?
For now, there’s a seat in the balcony behind the basket dedicated to Darlene, Bob’s wife of 43 years who died from cancer in 1997. She kept stats (including plus-minus before it was popular) and still found time to get on officials.
“The Bergan brothers [Matt and Dan] were not her favorites,” McDonald said. “Darlene used to really get on them. One night, Matt looked at Darlene and scratched his nose with his middle finger. Darlene got all upset. I thought it was kind of funny.”
McDonald claims to never have been assessed a technical in six decades of coaching. That doesn’t mean the lack of a short fuse.
Chisholm mayor Mike Jugovich played for McDonald in the late ’80s. His son, Andrew, is a sophomore this season.
“He had mellowed out some by the time we got there,” Jugovich said. “But if you talk to the guys from the ’70s … he was hell on wheels.”
Press, press, press
Mike Kochevar was sitting in the back row of the balcony at the time line Friday night. He scored the winning basket for Chisholm when it upset mighty Melrose 53-52 in the 1973 Class A title game.
The visitor wanted to confirm McDonald’s habit of getting on players loudly “at halftime.”
Kochevar smiled and said: “He wouldn’t wait until halftime. He came halfway out on the floor to meet you when he took you out.”
Kochevar now has long hair and a beard. “I’m sure Bob wouldn’t approve, even today,” he said.
“It didn’t have to be a crew cut,” McDonald said. “But the hair had to be short. That’s still the rule.”
The zone press always has been a staple of McDonald basketball. The crew cuts and full-court pressure were so famous that Hibbing legend Kevin McHale has said he still has nightmares of being chased around Roels Gym by five Chisholm guys with short hair.
When the Bluestreaks were at their best, McDonald took heat for the game-long press that would lead to 70- or 80-point victories.
“We’ve been on the other side, and I never say a word,” he said. “If we deserve to be beaten, we will be.”
On Friday night, Chisholm had pressed its way to a 60-14 lead at halftime against Northeast Range of Babbitt. McDonald offered his players this message:
“We have a big lead at halftime. That’s not our problem; it’s their problem.”
The final was 94-33, putting McDonald at 998 victories.
An adept painter
McDonald lives in Hibbing these days in the home of his second wife, Carol. They had a date as juniors in high school for the prom, much to the chagrin of Carol Robitaille’s boyfriend, Robert Tiburzi.
“He was playing it cool for the prom at the time, and Bob asked me, and I said yes,” Carol said. “Robert was so mad. He said, ‘OK, go with him, but you better be home by midnight.’ ”
Carol and Tiburzi would get married. He died in 1993 when a Northwest commuter flight crashed in Hibbing, killing the 18 people on board.
In 2000, Carol wound up sitting by happenstance next to McDonald at church. She used his high school nickname, “Spit,” and they started talking. Eventually, they were married.
“What are you going to do with him without a basketball team?” Carol was asked.
She shook her head and said: “I don’t know. He has his oil painting; Bob’s a great painter. And there are grandkids playing basketball. I think he’ll be OK.”
One of those grandkids, Joel’s daughter Abbey, was just moved up to the Hibbing varsity as a seventh-grader.
“She’s adept at the game,” Bob said.
Among the McDonalds, that’s considered a rave review from their basketball patriarch.