Now former head coach Joel McDonald, son Ayden talk end of era with Hibbing boys basketball

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The McDonald name has been a staple in the halls of Hibbing High School for over two decades. However now longtime boys basketball head coach Joel McDonald is stepping down. He shared how legacy, family, and health weighed on the decision.

“I don’t remember a winter without basketball,” McDonald shared. “I don’t think there’s ever been one and I’m going on 50 in October.”

McDonald first picked up a Hibbing Bluejacket whistle in 1997 joining Tony Harkonen’s staff as a boys basketball assistant coach. In 2000 he tipped off his first of 23 years as head coach of the boys program, but calling this past winter his last wasn’t a preseason choice.

“I hadn’t really thought about it because it’s just not a very McDonald family thing to do, to consider quitting before you need to quit or should quit.”

His decision came as somewhat of a surprise to his 18-year-old son Ayden, who graduated from Hibbing this spring of 2022.

“I never really thought that he would ever be done at the same time I was done just because he had been doing it for forever before me,” Ayden shared.

Having won the 1991 Class A state title for Chisholm High School playing for his dad Bob McDonald, the winningest coach in Minnesota prep sports history, Joel said Ayden and the Bluejackets’ 2020 state run is one of his career coaching highs.

“It would be foolish to look past our state tournament berth just simply because it had been 32 years,” Joel said. “When you’re in the family I’m in there’s been a lot of coaching and playing success, so that’s always something that you want to be able to do. But you also understand how impossible it seems sometimes too.”

While he wanted to end things on a high note, the Bluejackets fell one step short of state in the 2022 Section 7AAA finals falling to Hermantown 60-59. However with Ayden off to play college hoops at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Joel knew that that’s where he wanted to be.

“I reflect back to my dad. He coached for more than 20 years after I was done and I didn’t see myself really being able to do that, especially when you factor in all of the curveballs life can throw at you.”

One of those curveballs was a bladder cancer diagnosis three years ago. But then a check up this June came out with a positive result showing no more cancer.

“That caused me to just kind of take inventory of everything that mattered.”

Off the courts Joel shared plans to hit the gym, go to games, take a trip to Las Vegas, and even curl. Most, he said, he’ll miss the people, players, officials, and even opposing coaches, but is forever grateful for the never-ending support of his wife Carrie and entire family.

“We’ll see how bored he is during the winter,” Ayden laughed. “Obviously he’ll be watching some basketball, and I definitely respect his decision and happy for him with the great career that he had.”

“As much as basketball kind of coincides with us, there’s so much more to what we’re up to than that.”

Taking over the reigns at Hibbing will be Tom Aune who has been named the 11th boys basketball head coach in program history.