CHISHOLM – When Larry Pervenanze received a job promotion last year, one of the changes was very small: He slid one spot to his left on the home team bench in the Chisholm gym. The aisle seat is on a row of blue plastic bleachers, where the previous occupant sat for 53 years.
Pervenanze was an assistant coach under Bob McDonald for 12 years, and when McDonald retired after the 2013-14 season, he made it clear that he wanted Larry to take over as Chisholm’s fourth boys basketball coach since 1923.
McDonald won more games than any coach in any sport in Minnesota history and is a member of the National High School Hall of Fame.
Did somebody say pressure?
“Yeah, I think there is pressure. He’s a legend,” Pervenanze (pictured) said before the Bluestreaks played host to Hibbing last week. “Being able to be with him for 12 years as an assistant, the stuff he taught me, it was a lot. It was fun being around him, and all his knowledge from 60 years of basketball.”
McDonald’s teams had a well-known identity: Short haircuts, players in jackets and ties on game day, relentless defensive pressure. None of that has changed under Pervenanze, but other adjustments have been made.
“I think Larry wanted to put his stamp on the team, with what they do and how they do it,” said McDonald’s son Joel, who has been the Hibbing coach for 17 years. “They play more man (defense) than they ever did. They run different plays.”
Hibbing defeated the Bluestreaks 93-69, giving Chisholm a record of 9-14 this season. It’s a young team and Pervenanze is optimistic.
“I have four seniors but only two played last year. We’re young,” he said. “We have 10 freshmen and they’re getting a lot of playing time, especially four of them. But now one of them is out with an injury. I’ve got three of them that are playing a lot, and one junior, one sophomore. The future looks good. Hopefully in the next couple years we can bring Chisholm basketball back.”
Bob McDonald, not wanting to cast a shadow over his successor and the program he led for so many years, does not attend boys games in Chisholm. He’s a regular fan at Hibbing girls basketball games to watch his ninth-grade granddaughter Abbey (Joel’s daughter) play on the varsity team. Joel also has a son, Ayden, who is in sixth grade.
“There’s still a presence that he has in the program, even though he would be the first to tell you that he’s totally left it up to Larry,” Joel said. “He doesn’t come here much. I think about a month ago he came to watch my son play over here, and I think that was the first time he was in the gym since he retired. It was really cool being able to walk back in here with him for the first time, and it was really special that he was watching my son play.”
Bob McDonald sometimes attends practices in Hibbing and assists Joel’s team when he can. He also likes to surprise Joel’s family by dropping off treats at their house.
“He keeps busy by running to the bakery every day, and running to the deli every day, and dropping donuts and bread and salami and candy off at my house when I’m not there,” Joel said. “So I come home and there’s a bag of goodies waiting for me in the doorway. And if I ate everything he dropped off I think I’d be about 300 pounds.
“He’s finding ways to keep busy during the day and he ends up at our practices quite a bit. He just kind of hangs out on the side, works with some guys every now and then; maybe they’re on the side, not shooting a true jump shot, so he’ll grab them and lecture them a little bit, trying to get that out of them.”
Pervenanze is almost an outlander in Chisholm, since he grew up six miles away in Buhl. His high school teams (he graduated in 1984) played against Chisholm every year, and he has vivid memories of Bob McDonald as an opposing coach.
“The 1-2-2 press is the thing that comes back to me,” he said. “You knew it was coming and he emphasized that. Even when I came on board (as assistant coach) he emphasized the 1-2-2 press. We switched around, went to a 3-2, but the 1-2-2 was his bread and butter.”
Pervenanze, who works for the city of Chisholm public works department, laughs about a Buhl native coaching in Chisholm.
“For a Buhl guy to come over to Chisholm? Who woulda thought it? And then to become a coach here? I would have never dreamed of it.
“When the position came open, my sister-in-law said, ‘There’s an assistant boys basketball job open. Why don’t you apply for it?’ At the last minute I applied and I was basically the only one who put my name in.”
Joel McDonald coached against his dad’s teams for many years, and the father won more of those games than the son did.
“There were a lot of games, I’m sure, when it was just a matter of him outcoaching me,” Joel said. “He just seemed to make the right adjustment at the right time and he seemed to find a way to get our guys to panic a little bit. That was kind of his M.O., so to speak, to get that out of a lot of opponents, regardless of where they played but particularly here.”
Pervenanze now sits in that first seat on the bench, shouting many of the same instructions that have been heard in the Chisholm gym for half a century, in a voice that’s not quite as deep as Bob McDonald’s famous baritone.
“Larry definitely has his stamp on it,” Joel McDonald said, “and it’s really cool that there are some things that still remain from the regime that was here forever, it seemed.”
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