At the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame Induction last month, I was talking to then-inductee-to-be and recently retired boys basketball coach Larry McKenzie.
I began telling him the story about the first time I ever saw him. Of course, I was ceremonially interrupted by those who wanted to extend their congratulations to the six-time state champion.
I didn’t get to finish the story. In this column, I will finish the story.
In the mid-1980s I was on winter break in St. Paul from Central State University (Ohio) visiting my best friends Craig Henderson and Ricky Davis. At the time they were students at the University of Minnesota and pledging fraternity. The fraternity was Kappa Alpha Psi, an organization promoting leadership and brotherhood among Black men.
They were in their pledge gear, and we decided to go bowling. Craig and Ricky told us that they were instructed to stay home as ordered by their “Big Brothers.” We decided to go anyway.
We were bowling and having fun when, suddenly, Craig and Ricky, dressed in their pledge gear, went silent. They told me that their “Big Brother” was bowling a few lanes over. Our first thought was to sneak out, but eventually Craig and Ricky decided to venture over to his lane.
Not realizing it at the time, the “Big Brother” they were going to talk to was McKenzie. They talked for a few minutes and upon conclusion of conversation we immediately left.
The next time I saw him was as an assistant boys basketball coach at Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School. The Patriots, under Head Coach Efrem Smith, finished third in the Class 3A state tournament in 1998.
Smith left after that season to focus on his ministry. McKenzie took over as head coach.
The rest is history!
McKenzie went on to lead the Patriots to consecutive four Class 3A state titles from 2000-2003, and led archrival Minneapolis North to Class 1A championships in 2016 and 2017.
He was the first African American to be inducted into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014 and was part of the recent Minnesota State High School League and Minnesota High School Basketball Hall of Fame classes.
Whenever I saw McKenzie, I always remembered the first time I saw him. I even tell the story in more detail to friends. Oh, Craig and Ricky did become members of Kappa Alpha Psi.
McKenzie was even a leader of young men then. And in retirement, he will continue to be a leader of young men.
Good job, Coach.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.