CHISHOLM -- Amid all the hoopla of Bob McDonald's 59th and final season as a boys basketball coach, as well as his nearness to 1,000 career victories, something important can easily be forgotten. His players.
Is there a team in the state that feels more pressure than the Chisholm Bluestreaks? The team needs to win six games in order for McDonald to reach 1,000 wins. He took 994 victories into Friday's season opener against visiting North Woods, and his career victory total remains at 994 going into Tuesday's home game against Virginia.
North Woods beat the Bluestreaks 67-56 in Roels Gymnasium, the bandbox that has been the scene of countless historic moments. The Grizzlies used three-point shooting, quickness and hustle to beat the taller, more experienced Bluestreaks. Darnell Goggleye hit three three-point shots and had 21 points for North Woods, while Aaron Musburger led Chisholm with 27 points and Mitch Rusten had 13.
After the game, I talked with Musburger and Rusten about being seniors on McDonald's last team.
"There's a lot more pressure, I guess, to win," Musburger said. "We definitely don't want to underachieve."
Goal No. 1 for the players is to get their coach to 1,000 victories, said Rusten.
"We want to get it out of the way as early as possible and not have to worry about it any more."
As one of the locals told me before the game, this season could be called The End of The World Tour, "because the world must be ending if Bob isn't going to be coaching anymore."
McDonald remains one of the best-dressed coaches in the game, wearing a suit and tie ... just as his players do on game days. Before Friday's game he chatted with fans and shook hands, wearing a smile. He may pose for more photos than anyone in Minnesota this winter, because everywhere he goes people want to snap a picture. At different times Friday he was asked to stand with young Chisholm students as their parents took photos that will be treasured for a generation or more.
Bob's wife Carol and sister Darlene sat two rows behind the Chisholm bench Friday -- they sit there for every game -- and their third-row seats were at the top of the bleachers on the court level. There are no seats on one end and one side of Roels Gymnasium, with a balcony wrapping around the opposite end and side.
Behind the scorer's table is a small room that is equal parts equipment room, trainers room, snack room and inspiration room. The doors and walls are adorned with handmade signs, courtesy of the coach. One sign is headlined "Some Pertinent Sayings" and includes these words: "Depend on the rabbits foot if you will, but remember, it didn't work for the rabbit."
Other signs are specific to team goals, training rules and even what to wear on your head: "Baseball caps do not constitute cold weather headgear. Show some class and be a good example."
The Bluestreaks' mood was downcast after the loss to North Woods. McDonald spent a long time in the locker room with his team afterwards.
Rusten said, "We've got to do a better job of protecting against transition and guarding the perimeter. We gave up too many wide open shots and they knocked them down. Credit to them."
McDonald did not do much smiling during the game. After the final horn, he said, "This reminds me of a movie: Nightmare on Elm Street" He was, however, smiling as he spoke.
He smiled and shook hands with all the players and coaches from North Woods, complementing them on their victory. After McDonald emerged from the locker room, I asked him about the pressure his players face this season. He has never mentioned 1,000 wins to his team, but he knows they feel pressure and he wishes they didn't.
"I've been around a long time and they don't have to placate me in any way," McDonald said. "I know what they're capable of. I mean, with this outfit, six games to me is zilch. Why put all the eggs in one basket and six games, when you're playing 26? They don't realize that and they're in a hurry. It affects them.
"I'm thankful I have kids like that. But they don't owe me anything. I think it's grand that they're playing for me. They don't have to bow to me and think they have to placate every little whim."
The players know their coach is a legend, they know how long he's been coaching and they know how rare 1,000 career victories is; according to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book, only 12 boys basketball coaches in the nation have reached 1,000.
"Obviously he's been doing the same things for 59 years and they've been producing results," Rusten said. "We've got to do what he says and listen to him and not try and question him. Because he's obviously forgotten a lot more about basketball than we will ever know.
"It's an honor to be on his last team."
--To see a photo gallery from Friday's game in Chisholm (including the back-room signs), go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 219
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,732
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
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