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McDonald Reflects During Closing Days Of 35-Year Officiating Career

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2023 - 11:29 AM


Paul McDonald.

Paul McDonald isn’t going anywhere. He’s just hanging up the whistle after 35 years as a high school football and basketball official. The 66-year-old Chisholm native, longtime Ely resident and member of the most famous basketball family in Minnesota officiated his final football game during the 2023 Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium, and the 2023-24 basketball season will be his last in that sport.

He has seemingly done it all, beginning with playing on two state championship basketball teams in Chisholm coached by his father, Bob McDonald. Paul was also a state champion in the discus in high school, and his basketball playing career continued at the University of Nebraska for one year and South Dakota State for three years.

He was a high school coach at Cotton and Tower-Soudan and he spent 29 years as the men’s basketball coach at Vermilion Community College in Ely, where he won more than 500 games before retiring in 2019. He also was a faculty member, assistant football coach and athletic director at the school.

The 1976 Chisholm graduate was part of state championship basketball teams in 1973 and 1975. He got his start in officiating by working men’s league basketball games in Chisholm. He was in eighth grade.

“My dad’s team was the perennial champion,” said McDonald, whose brothers Mike (Cambridge-Isanti), Joel (Hibbing) and Tom (Ely) are veteran high school basketball coaches.

“Mike and I reffed with another guy, and he was the only one smart enough to figure out that at five bucks a game the abuse wasn’t worth it. I called a foul on a guy and he accused me of nepotism. I didn’t know what that word meant so I looked it up in the dictionary and then I got mad. But then he said, ‘I’m helping you work on your vocabulary.’ ”

McDonald continued officiating those games through high school and worked some intramural sports at South Dakota State. As a retired official he will remain in his role as a football officials coordinator and will work as an MSHSL observer of basketball officials. He stays busy as Fourth District Commissioner on the St. Louis County Board.

McDonald has countless memories of his officiating career.

“It’s been a crazy involvement,” he said. “With the weather, we’ve seen it all. You look at the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met. That’s the part I’m going to miss the most. And not people yelling, ‘McDonald! LensCrafters just called! Your glasses are in!’

“I’m at a place now when I walk onto a field or a court I do believe the majority of people are happy to see me,” he said. “That’s a good time to exit, and going out with a Prep Bowl is as good as it gets.”

The Prep Bowl was the second state championship football game of McDonald’s career, along with four basketball championship games and many state quarterfinal and semifinal games.

His crew members this year are Davis Lamppa and Kyle Lamppa of Virginia, Aaron Donais of Babbitt and Mike Pope of Ely. The Lamppas have officiated football with McDonald for about 20 years, Donais for around 10 and this is Pope’s third year with the group.

Bob McDonald never officially worked as an official, but “he did every day in practice, blowing the whistle,” said Paul. He said one of the biggest compliments he ever received came from his father after Paul worked a section final basketball game in Hibbing.

“He said, ‘Paul, I’ve got to tell you something. You’re a damn good official.’ I thought, now there’s a compliment. That doesn’t happen all the time. I always prided myself on knowing the rules, both as an official and a coach. And realizing this is about the kids.”

That’s always been McDonald’s calling card: It’s about making sure the kids have the best possible experience and games are called with integrity and respect.

“You try to help people,” he said, “and that’s what I did during my career in education and officiating.”

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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