Former MSR columnist hailed as ‘quintessential great man’

Kwame McDonald
Kwame McDonald

Kwame McDonald honored for making women sports a priority

The Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership has renamed its annual award after the late MSR senior columnist Kwame McDonald. McDonald, who died in 2011, was honored for his longtime coverage of women and girls in sport at the 29th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day celebration February 5 at the Minnesota History Center.

The day was instituted by Congress in 1986 to honor female athletic achievement at all levels. The first celebration took place in 1987 to honor Flo Hyman for her athletic exploits and work for equity in women’s sports. Hyman, a U.S. Olympic volleyball player, received the honor after she died of Marfan’s Syndrome in 1986 while competing in a volleyball tournament in Japan.

“He [McDonald] is another pioneer, another champion in the cause of equity that all of us have benefited from,” said Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to the MSR after his proclamation presentation. “It’s fitting that he is properly being honored today.”

Augsburg College’s Jennifer Jacobs and Kelly Anderson Diercks, both members of the award selection committee, commented on the renaming. “We were honored and excited to give Kwame the naming rights to the award. He has been around forever and always cared for women and girls in sport,” said Jacobs, an assistant athletic director and assistant volleyball coach. “It is our honor to give it to him.”

Anderson Diercks, the school’s associate athletic director, admitted, “I personally did not know Kwame. I had the amazing opportunity to hear other people talk about how important it was to see him at the events they played at. There were a lot of [girls and women sporting] events when no one was covering [them]. To have someone who felt it was a priority and made it important, that really goes a long way.”

Event emcee Lynnette Sjoquist in her introduction called McDonald “the Godfather of Twin Cities sports. [He] had major influence on the progress of minorities in local athletics.”

Mitchell McDonald
Mitchell McDonald

His son Mitchell McDonald, a St. Paul Johnson High School teacher and MSR prep sports columnist, accepted the award for his father. Mitchell told the audience that he keenly feels the impact Kwame had on his life but didn’t know that so many others also were impacted as well.

“I don’t know how many people he helped,” he said. “They come to me virtually every day saying, ‘Thanks to your dad.’”

“He always did the stories you don’t hear about — I being one of them,” said Jacobs, who Kwame wrote about when she played high school volleyball in St. Paul and then went on to become one of the most decorated volleyball players in Minnesota State Mankato history. “He knew us and knew our names. He followed us all through college. I love him.”

Many afterwards talked to the MSR about Kwame McDonald’s influence in their lives. “He was just a great friend,” said Sjoquist. “It isn’t just what everybody says, it’s what everybody experienced. He was always there. He was always encouraging.

“Years after I played for the [Minnesota] Fillies,” said Sjoquist, “he was always open and willing to talk about sports and encouraging and supportive. He has been a pillar for the community for a long time.”

“I think this is a great way to keep alive Kwame’s spirit and to forever recognize all the work that he had done to lift up girls and women in sport,” noted Minnesota State High School League Associate Director Lisa Lissimore.

“Kwame has done so much when it comes to race relations here in Minnesota,” and not just covering women and girls in sport, said local Black baseball historian Frank White. “People don’t know that he coached a women’s [basketball] team for many years.

“I think one of the things that gets lost in all of this [that] people really don’t know [is] that Kwame [and several others] got the Minnesota Twins to desegregate spring training back in the ’60s. I don’t know that we can ever say thank you enough to Kwame McDonald,” White said.

“He’s been honored quite a bit, but I don’t know if you can honor somebody enough because he has done so much for girls and women in sport, and for everything in the community,” said McDonald’s longtime friend Billy Petersen, who coaches St. Paul youth baseball. “He’s just a wonderful guy.”

Mitchell McDonald reiterated that his father “always fought for women to be equally represented in athletics. He always fought for everybody. I’m finding out more and more what an amazing person he was, and what he did.”

“Kwame was a forefront and the bedrock” of women sport coverage, said Sjoquist. “He was and is instrumental in continuing to push for coverage for girls and women in sport. Kwame was exceptional. He was the quintessential great man.”

“He told me that when he passed away I would be collecting a lot of stuff for him. He is still right,” concluded Mitchell. “I hope to carry on what he started.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.