700 wins, in one man’s career, in one sport, majority at one high school.
Central School’s boys’ basketball coach, Tony McDonald never considered winning 700
basketball games. His first win as a basketball coach for Allentown High School, which is
now Central High was in 1979 against Pensacola Christian High School. McDonald’s
boys lost the very next two games in a row. He did consider those two loses and
questioned whether he was going to get fired.
Win or lose, McDonald has had an amazing journey as a high school basketball coach.
He can’t name a particular favorite player or the highlight of his own coaching career; he
loved all his athletes and enjoyed every game he was blessed to be on the sidelines
“I guess the most disappointing thing about my career has been not ever making it to the
Final Four,” McDonald shared. In the same conversation though he speaks about all the
friends he has made through the game. As McDonald looks emotionally downward
thinking about his career, “I’ve met so many people, made so many good friends in
players, fans, parents, officials, and coaches.”
Recently as Central hosted the Baker Gators, a high school where McDonald spent a
short part of his teaching and coaching career supporters of the Gators who arrived to
watch their team play the Jaguars immediately wanted to know if McDonald was still at
Athletic Director Tim Nash, who has been by McDonald’s side for the past 25 years, can
enlighten such an inquiry when others ask about McDonald. “Other coaches know that he
is going to have his team ready to play and play hard,” said Nash.
“McDonald can get the most out of his players, he can take an average player and make
him great. He can take a player with limited talent and make them good, “Nash added.
And for those times when students who have a desire to be a part of Central Basketball
and physically may not be able to participate on the court, McDonald has found them a
place to be a part and belong. They have served as team managers, statisticians, and
sometimes even felt so important that they thought they could call themselves the
infamous offensive plays that McDonald is known for.
When ask how he wants to be remembered as a coach, McDonald cannot articulate an
answer. He really doesn’t have to, 700 wins along with an uncountable number of
students who have been impacted by his career says clearly enough.
Central High, a very small rural kindergarten through twelfth grade school often struggles
to have enough athletes for any sport. Central doesn’t have the benefit of being in an area
where they could have business partnerships and or financial support. Many families live
as much as 50 minutes away from the school. There is no local gas station, anywhere to
grab a quick bite before or after a game or no way for most athletes to go home after
school and return in time for extracurricular activities. But it is the school where
McDonald’s heart is, a school where he has spent the majority of his own life as a child
and as an adult.
Allentown High School, which consolidated with two other rural schools 30 years ago, is
where McDonald graduated from and where he played his own high school basketball.
He then played junior college basketball before he went to serve his country. After that
he returned home, to the same school and the same gymnasium.
For many Central School has changed a lot, it has grown academically as well as adding
sports programs. However to those who love the Jaguars, Central is still considered a
basketball school. A school where traditional homecoming activities are designed around
Jaguar basketball and regular spectators get very upset if someone takes their claimed
seat in the gym.
While at Central McDonald has experienced what many in the rural farming community
consider vast improvements, but to McDonald the one thing of his coaching career that
he has witnessed change the most is not in the building or the program but in the athlete
himself or herself. “The game just doesn’t seem as important now to kids. When I started
you didn’t have to ask an athlete to work on his or her own skills independently or spend
extra time in the gym. Used to you couldn’t keep them off the court but now, actual
practice time is all many really want to put into the game,” McDonald said.
Assistant Principal Daniel Baxley, who played his high school basketball career for
McDonald stated, “Coach McDonald provided great advice when I was a teenager and
still does so to this day.” Such advice that many have heeded, whether it result in extra
running for a turnover in a game and even face-to-face motivational speeches it is advice
that definitely came from the heart of Coach Tony McDonald.