McDonald family celebrates a long tradition of basketball

This story was originally written for the Isanti-Chisago County Star.  


As two basketball teams run into the Duluth East High School gym and begin to warm up, the head coach of the Duluth East team crosses to his opponent’s bench and sits down next to the Cambridge-Isanti head coach. They sit together and begin to talk basketball, something they have been doing for the last 26 years.

The two separate, and the game begins. Duluth East defeats Cambridge-Isanti with a final score of 73-51.

Mike McDonald has been coaching the Cambridge-Isanti High School basketball team for 26 years, but for the first time, the opposing coach is one of his own sons.

“It doesn’t happen too often where a father gets to coach against his son,” Mike said.

Mike's son, Rhett, is in his first year as head coach of the Duluth East basketball team. Both men agree that they come from a basketball-loving family.

“My dad was a coach, my family was a basketball family. From the time probably I could walk, I have been shooting a basketball,” Mike said.

“I don’t remember not playing,” Rhett chimed in.

According to Mike, he has three brothers who are high school or college basketball coaches and a nephew who is an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth. His father, Bob McDonald, still coaches the basketball team at Chisholm High School in northern Minnesota.

This is not the first time that a McDonald has coached against another McDonald. Bob and Mike have played against each other multiple times over the years, the last time being in 2005. Rhett got the chance to play against his grandfather in a scrimmage early in the season.

Rhett McDonald

“That was pretty different,” Rhett said. “It was weird to be honest with you. Similar to what today was.”

Rhett has often helped work with the Cambridge-Isanti basketball team in the off-season.

“Rhett has a connection with all of us here,” Mike said.

Not only was Rhett facing off against his father, but also his younger brother, Kyle, who is a sophomore on the Cambridge-Isanti team.

“It was weird to see him on the other side, cheering against me,” Kyle said.

“It was tough,” Rhett said. “You know, usually when you win a game you feel good, but I have never felt so bad after a win in my whole life.”

While coaching against each other was difficult, coaching together comes much more naturally. Coaching techniques are often talked about and compared in the McDonald family.

“A lot of the stuff that I do has been something that he has done in the past,” Rhett said.

Comparing notes has come to a pause, since the McDonalds learned they would be facing off during the season.

“Last couple of months, Rhett has gone a little silent with me, hasn’t given up as much information as he used to. Nor did I offer a whole lot either,” Mike said.

Despite the loss, Mike McDonald remains ever proud of his son.

“What he did today was not surprising to me,” Mike said. “We’ll look forward to doing this again next year.”

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