Room 101 at Chisholm High School is where Bob McDonald says he did his best work. He spent nearly 40 years teaching history and social studies there.

Room 101 at Chisholm High School is where Bob McDonald says he did his best work. He spent nearly 40 years teaching history and social studies there.

His classes in the 93-year-old school building were part history and part life lessons, and he spread his wisdom to generations of Iron Rangers.

"He's like your textbook coming to life," said Mark Rahja, a Wayzata resident and 1982 Chisholm graduate.

"I think my calling was to be a shepherd of sorts," said McDonald, 80. "I always believed that I can do a young person a service by showing them the road to scholastic achievement and having strong behavior. Those are big things you need to succeed in society.

He did a little bit of teaching just down the hallway, too, in Roels Gymnasium — and across gym floors throughout Minnesota.

McDonald is Minnesota's only basketball coach — and one of just 13 high school coaches nationally — with 1,000 career victories.

His team is 10-4 this season, giving him a career record of 1,004 wins and 424 losses. Over the past half-century, his teams have won three state championships and been to the state tournament 12 times.

Last month, McDonald, in his 59th season coaching basketball and 53rd with the Bluestreaks, announced this would be his final year on the sideline.

"The basketball is just the frosting," he says with a shrug. "Now, academics, having a strong moral code and having good behavior, to me, is the meat and potatoes of life. I think every kid has to realize that scholastics are far more important to your well-being than athletics. If you put athletics in the forefront, you'll have a warped kid. If you put athletics first, and many people do, and have the belief that a kid should be bailed out scholastically because of what they can do athletically, well, I've never held to that premise."

McDonald, who taught and coached in McGregor and Barnum before returning to his hometown in 1961, retired from teaching in 2000 but has continued to coach.

These days, he jokes that the school's new media center is in an addition to the school building that eliminated a long stretch of hallway he used for indoor track practice back in the day.

He points to the computers and electronics he sees everywhere and says he likes the old-fashioned way of communicating: talking face to face. He calls himself more of a chalkboard-and-eraser kind of guy.

On the basketball court, his coaching style always has been firm, but fair. He sets expectations for behavior, shirt-and-tie attire, cleanliness and well-cropped hair. For decades, players on his teams sported crew cuts and knee-high socks. These days, it's short hair up top — though not crew cut — and still knee-high socks down below.

"People know the Chisholm basketball team is in the building when they see all the suits, shirts and ties," said Mitch Rusten, a senior post player and team captain this season. "It's really hard not to buy into what he's teaching and preaching because he's had so much success for all those decades. He doesn't care if you're the best player on the team or the worst. He'll bench you or dismiss you if you break the moral code and the behavior guidelines he expects from you. I know of people who have broken his rules and been thankful in the end because they learned a lesson or two and are better people because of it."

McDonald says he understands kids because he's been there — even if it was so many decades ago.

"I know what young people are going through because my life was sort of a mess at their age," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press ( "I struggled. I suffered. I can relate."

In 1933, McDonald's mother, Mary Perkovich, became pregnant while still in high school. The father was O.J. Belluzzo, her boyfriend and a standout basketball player at Chisholm. The family sent Perkovich to New York to give birth, then she returned to the Iron Range. Her son was raised by his grandmother and later took the surname of McDonald when Perkovich married Ray McDonald.

Belluzzo, his father, later became Chisholm's basketball coach and activities director. McDonald's past has helped shape his message to this day.

"I don't butt into the family situations here, but I know if I can get them into my fold, these kids will have a chance in life and maybe I can do them some good," McDonald said. "All I want is for them to have a chance at success.

"I've had parents come to me and tell me they wish their sons would have played for me. It's not because we've had success on the court; it's just the other things that make it important and special in belonging to a group. It makes them feel good about themselves. Maybe all it takes is a kid getting a rebound or scoring a basket for them to find the confidence to go take on the world."

Life isn't always easy in the Iron Range, where economic opportunity isn't what it used to be. McDonald doesn't let kids use that as an excuse.

"I tell them, 'Yes, you have a tough life, but you've got to come together and strive to rise above the negativity,' " he said. "In a way, society gazes at them askance because of something that goes on at home. We have divorce situations here, and kids are exposed to quite a bit of drinking. We're a lower-economic area. We do well in a sense, but we don't set any examples of wealth and influence."

Rahja, a high school and college basketball official in the Twin Cities, said his life was at a crossroads after his parents divorced as he was entering high school, and McDonald became an enormous presence.

"I was in ninth or 10th grade, staring at the fork in the road and trying to decide which path to take," said Rahja, a childhood friend of McDonald's third son, Tom. "They took me into their home and made me one of the family. I stayed with them quite a bit. My mom and dad were both still in town (and) so appreciative of the McDonald family influence on me. We had curfews, we had to wear hats in the winter and we were held accountable. He was fiery at times, but he's also your friend."

Basketball was McDonald's own ticket to a better life. He earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Michigan, and that kept him out of the draft for the Korean War, a conflict that affected him greatly because Chisholm lost two soldiers in action. He stayed one semester at Michigan before returning home to play at Hibbing Junior College and then attend Minnesota-Duluth.

After working six years at McGregor and Barnum, he returned to Chisholm to teach and coach. Belluzzo, his father, the Chisholm activities director, urged the school board to hire him.

"It never left O.J. that he was my actual father," McDonald said. "He must have spent every waking hour trying to figure out a way to get me from Barnum to Chisholm. It's fate, really, when you think about it. Maybe the Good Lord was in on it, too."

McDonald passed his love of basketball on to his six children: Mike (a 1975 graduate), Paul ('76), Sue ('80), Tom ('82), Judy ('84) and Joel ('91). All six were all-state players. All six went into coaching.

Mike, who played on two Chisholm state championship teams, coaches at Cambridge-Isanti High School; Paul at Vermilion Community College, Tom at Ely High School and Joel at nearby Hibbing High School. Sue and Judy are out of coaching now.

"I look with pride at my children; they are a description of what I am," McDonald said. "If I had kids that were abject failures, I would look at myself and say I didn't do enough and that I was a failure, too. They work with kids like I work with kids."

McDonald said he is stepping down as Chisholm's coach on his own.

"I could have continued; there was no pressure to quit," he said. "I've been around too long for that. I'm at the age where I'm getting spread too thin. 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."

With 17 grandchildren, he'll have plenty of games to see.

Larry Pervenanze, McDonald's assistant for the past 13 seasons, hopes to be his replacement next season and become just the fourth coach in Chisholm history since 1923.

"Even though kids have changed through the years, he hasn't," said Pervenanze, who now runs the popular Saturday morning basketball program that McDonald made a town staple. "That's what's made this program great. Basketball isn't No. 1 with him. It ranks third behind school and family. It's been an honor to sit next to him all these years."

It will be strange in Chisholm not seeing McDonald courtside during a basketball game. He has coached players' fathers, and their fathers' fathers. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this town of 5,000 who hasn't been affected by him.

"My basketball journey has never been about the wins and losses," he said. "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. They've been just grand."