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For Coach Mac, teaching and coaching goes hand in hand. Longtime Fridley High School teacher and varsity boys basketball head coach Jim MacDonald has dedicated his life to supporting the students of Fridley Public Schools - both in the classroom and on the court. This fall, MacDonald will officially be inducted into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association (MBCA) Hall of Fame. This prestigious honor is given to only a handful of coaches each year. Honorees are individuals who have made significant lifetime contributions to coaching basketball.
“This induction isn’t just for me,” said MacDonald. “It’s for every student that’s put on that Fridley uniform - I’m glad that they are recognizing all the success that we’ve shared. This is a part of them and the parents who have allowed me to coach.”
MacDonald has been head coach of the Fridley boys basketball team since 1988, coaching more than 30 basketball teams. He has also served as head and assistant coach to the Fridley boys and girls track and field teams, totaling over 15 years, and Fridley football team assistant coach for four years.
MacDonald first started student-teaching at Fridley High School in 1987. Over the years, he’s taught physical education and health classes at every building in the district, but has remained at Fridley High School since 2004. In addition to Phy. Ed., MacDonald teaches a character education leadership class, which focuses on nationally-recognized character education called “Top 20 Training.” The curriculum surrounds social-emotional training to empower students to make a positive difference - life lessons that are important to students.
MacDonald takes pride in teaching these life lessons to Fridley students and athletes. Teaching students how to lead by example, even when no one is looking, are lessons that are integrated into his coaching style.
“I really want every student I teach, every player I coach, to be the best they can be,” said MacDonald. “We teach resilience, achieving goals, I want to help students as a whole person. Our students are here for a reason and I want all our kids to take something positive away.”
Assistant basketball coach Bryce Richter has taken those lessons to heart. Richter grew up in the Fridley school system and has known MacDonald since he was five years old.
“He was my gym teacher in elementary, middle and high school, and he also ran all the youth camps,” said Richter. A 2006 alum, Richter played varsity basketball and remembers MacDonald as a big motivator and excellent mentor.
“He was a huge piece to our success – he called us the Golden Boys, we were a big senior group,” he said. Richter later returned to Fridley after college, where he began to pursue his interest in coaching and reconnected with MacDonald.
“We formed that niche and friendship right away. It’s been a really fun ride and he is extremely deserving of this Hall of Fame honor,” said Richter. “Overall, he’s done a great job at keeping our basketball program stable and he always forms great bonds with the kids. We have so many alumni who return for games, summer events, helping with camps – it speaks a lot about his character and the kind of person he is.”
McDonald grew up in Two Harbors, Minnesota and credits his teachers and coaches for inspiring him to pursue his career in education and coaching.
“I will always remember how patient and kind my teachers were. They played such an important role in helping shape who I am,” said MacDonald. “I idolized my high school coaches so much - I wanted to be like them.”
After graduating from University of Minnesota-Duluth, MacDonald began working in sales, but soon decided he wanted to contribute more. Making a career change, he returned to school to earn his master’s degree in education.
When he was hired at Fridley, he said he knew it was the perfect fit. He first began assistant coaching the boys basketball team during his first year in 1987. Coincidentally, the varsity basketball coach at the time, Steve George, retired a year later in 1988, and MacDonald officially took on the role.
“I’ve lived through a lot of changes in this district, but one thing is for certain, we always stay true to who we are,” said MacDonald. “We know who we are and there is something to be said about that.”
When looking back at his coaching career, it’s not the championship games that mean the most. It’s the smaller moments and the irreplaceable lifetime connections he’s made. It’s the behind the scenes, above and beyond actions that make Coach Mac the person that he is. He still remains close with many of his former players, a special bond that began on the basketball court.
“I have so many memorable moments and so many memorable players,” said MacDonald. “Even though the state and conference championships are fun, it’s all about the relationships that you share. To me, it’s just really neat to have been a part of these student’s lives, even to this day.”
According to Activities and Athletics Director Dan Roff, he is proud of MacDonald’s legacy, “old school” coaching style, and positive impact that he’s had on many Fridley students.
“You don’t find that kind of longevity in one school district anymore,” said Roff. “You can come here on a Friday morning at 6 a.m., and you’ll find Mac with nearly 30 grads, community members, staff – playing in a pickup basketball league – that’s his legacy and influence. He’s character-strong, leads with integrity and determination to teach students to be the best they can be. This honor is well-deserved.”
As part of the MBCA Hall of Fame Class of 2019, MacDonald joins a list of legendary high school basketball coaches that dates back to 1984. He is the first Fridley boys basketball coach to be awarded this honor. Additional Fridley coaches who have been inducted into the Minnesota Coaches Association Hall of Fames include: girls basketball coaches Pat Barrett (2003) and Dave Morgan (2018), and wrestling coaches Don Meyers (1970) and Joe Frank (1994). Congratulations, Coach Mac!