Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald has for several decades put a weekly spotlight on local male and female high school athletes and their accomplishments on and off the athletic stage, athletes who perhaps would be virtually ignored by other local media.
For his tireless efforts, McDonald in 2020 was honored by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) with its Outstanding Media Service Award. “Recipients are known for their passion, endless enthusiasm, and knack for heartfelt storytelling of the journeys of the participants, member schools and their communities,” said the MSHSL’s description of its annual award that has been presented since 2015. The first two years there was only one recipient before the award was split into two divisions: print and electronic.
McDonald (print) and retired WCCO host Dave Lee (electronic) were last year’s winners. The two would have been honored at halftime of the Class AAA boys’ basketball championship, but it was canceled due to the pandemic.
McDonald is the first Black media member honored by the MSHSL.
“It always feels good to be recognized for things that you do. Writing about high school sports for as long as I have is a nice achievement,” admitted McDonald, whose Prep Scene has been a regular weekly fixture on the MSR sports page since 1996. Unlike other media, he makes sure that each prep youngster’s name mentioned is highlighted in bold black type.
“I didn’t think I’d be writing this long,” said McDonald, a government and African American Studies teacher at St. Paul Johnson High School since 2001. He has been a Black Press member since graduating from Central State (Ohio) University, an HBCU, in 1987 with a degree in communications and journalism.
The veteran sportswriter-photojournalist first started at Insight News (1987-96) then joined the MSR in 1996.
“Al McFarlane gave me an opportunity. Tracey Williams [Dillard] gave me an opportunity,” said McDonald of the two Twin Cities Black newspaper owner-publishers. “[They] allowed me to write and take pictures.”
His father, the late Kwame McDonald, earlier blazed the path of covering Twin Cities urban prep young people that the junior McDonald dutifully followed in his own right over the years. “It makes me think about everything,” reflected McDonald, “following my dad around when I first started.
“Being with him and him encouraging me when sometimes I wanted to give up, he kept saying, ‘No, keep going. What you’re doing is valuable to the Black community.’”
At least two generations of young Black males and females, their parents, their schools and others have told McDonald of their appreciation of his featuring them in print. And the state high school league now has shown its appreciation as well.
The veteran Black sportswriter in turn appreciates the opportunity to do his job. “It’s good to be recognized for something that you’re passionate about,” said McDonald. “I’m doing something that I like to do, and that’s very important.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.