“I remember growing up, we would go over to Tony (Logan)’s house. Tony had a basketball goal. We didn’t have any concrete. We just played on grass and soon it would become dirt,” recalls Carlson. “Howard (Arndt) would come over. Harold (Harris) would come over. Butch (Blades) would come over some. We just were very, very fortunate.”
Being “fortunate,” is another important theme for Carlson. In my notes from an hour-long conversation, I find the word “fortunate” five times. The word “lucky” is in there a couple of times, too.
Given his penchant for deflecting credit to others, it’s not surprising what his high school head coach, Leland Brown, says about him.
“He’s the most coachable kid I ever had. I saw him horse around one time,” remembers Brown. “Practice was over, they’d been dismissed to the showers. He was crossing the floor. There was a ball in the middle of the floor. He picked it up and hooked it to the basket.”
Carlson was a first team All-State player two years in a row. He’s Republic’s all-time leading rebounder, with 1,627. But like anyone, he could sometimes have an off night. Brown says that never phased him.
“After a ballgame…maybe he was a little off. I’d say ‘Donny, a little more difficult tonight.’ And he said ‘Coach, I just did the best I could.’ And that’s the attitude he had every game.”
For more than 30 years after his high school playing days ended, Carlson continued to share that philosophy with other student-athletes as a successful high school coach.
“I’ve often told my players, ‘Just be the best you can be,’” he says. “‘I want you to have an ego, but I want you to be humble about it. Know you’re going to win, but don’t go around telling everyone and beating on your chest.’”
Even in remembering his championship season as a senior, Carlson is hesitant to take too much credit.
“We had the guys who didn’t get to play as much. They made us better in practice. Charles Cook, Jim Ferguson, Terry Mooneyham, and others.
“You’ve got to have a little bit of talent. We were very fortunate we had a little bit of talent,” he says. “You’ve got to have unselfish players, and we had that. And maybe along the way sometimes you’ve got to have a little luck.”
For Carlson, that luck included growing up in Republic.
“I’m just so glad I grew up in a small town. Kids cared for each other. You just knew everybody and it was very fun. “
- First-team All-state (1962, 1963)
- Member of the 1963 Class M State Champions
- All-time leading rebounder at Republic (1,627)
- Four-year letterman at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State University)
- Member of the MSU Hall of Fame (inducted in 1991)
- Member of the NCAA Division II runner-up at SMS in 1967