ELY — His coaching career at Vermilion Community College in the rear-view mirror, Paul McDonald was honored this month as an inductee into the MCAC Hall of Fame.
McDonald earned the recognition just months after retiring from his post at Vermilion but he was nominated by Mel Millerbernd — the volleyball coach and athletic director at Rainy River — for reasons that go far beyond coaching.
“During his 30 years at Vermilion in Ely, Minnesota, McDonald was a great leader and role model for other NJCAA professionals around the league, region and nation,” the MCAC said of McDonald in a press release. “The Chisholm native served as the MCAC Men’s Division president for 16 years and had significant service as a member of the NJCAA Region XIII leadership and MCAC Executive Committee. His expertise extended beyond the hardwood, as McDonald also served as the Vermilion Ironmen offensive coordinator in football and as the Vermilion golf coach for four seasons.
“In basketball, McDonald was MCAC Coach-of-the-Year on 10 occasions and coached 17 All-Americans in his tenure. He also served as a instructor in sport management and physical education at Vermilion. Many sports fans from around the Arrowhead also noted McDonald’s role as an official in basketball and football in the Minnesota high school ranks.”
On the nomination and induction into the Hall of Fame, McDonald said he was very humbled.
“I had a very heartwarming talk from Mel and from others at our conference and to be chosen for this was very fulfilling,” McDonald said. “Being appreciated by my peers and being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a very special feeling.”
Wearing multiple hats at Vermilion and with the MCAC, McDonald said he was always happy to take on new projects when given the opportunity.
“It’s one of those things that you have to take the chance to do when you work in a small organization or a small school. These spots open up and I go for it because I’ve always had that mantra of helping kids. If they needed someone to help with football or golf or they needed someone to teach this class or they needed someone on this committee, I knew it was going to be for the betterment of everyone.
“I did a lot of things over the years, a lot of good stuff. And I had a lot of help from other good people in Minnesota and the surrounding areas.”
Arriving at Vermilion in the late 80s, McDonald didn’t think he would be with the Ironmen for long, but it wasn’t long until he decided that he wanted to stay in Ely.
“When I first started, I thought it would only be for a couple of years and then I would climb the ladder of success to somewhere else. Fortunately, my ego didn’t get in the way on that and after a few years I realized that the people there were second to none. It sort of became my calling to use the opportunity I had to help kids succeed and help boys become men.
“It felt natural and I’ve enjoyed each and every minute of it. I know I’ll continue to bleed blue and gold for the Ironmen.”
As a mentor for young students and athletes at Vermilion, McDonald said he quickly learned to look past the wins and losses on the court.
“It’s about the success stories and even the failures to me. You’re teaching them life skills through competition and athletics and that just builds them into better people. It’s important to show someone that you care and that you’ll be there to help them when they need help. Respect goes both ways in this case. Fortunately, I had a lot of success and with success comes a lot of fun.”
Still, after 30 years, some were wondering how McDonald could hang it all up after his father Bob McDonald coached at Chisholm for 53 years
“I’d have to coach 24 more years to be where my dad was,” McDonald said. “It really put it into perspective for me that what he accomplished was truly, flat out amazing.”
Not quite making it to 54 years, Paul McDonald is still very pleased with his own 30 year career. Moving on to a new position on the St. Louis County Board and refereeing dozens of high school basketball games a year, McDonald will still be wearing quite a few hats around the Range.