The Irreplaceable Jim Mitchell

By Andrea Camarena

There was standing room only. After the seats were filled, people lined the walls, nearly twice over. And when the walls were full, people stood in the foyer.

The impact Coach Jim Mitchell made on the individuals in his community was shown in full at his memorial service on Friday, June 14 at Visalia Methodist Church.

From family members, to students, to athletes, to coworkers, to rival coaches and athletes, to old friends and acquaintances, people from every walk of Jim Mitchell's life came to remember and show respect to a vibrant, fun, enthusiastic and unique man.

Mitchell went on a camping trip with a friend and their sons on the weekend of July 8 at Hunnington Lake. On the morning of Sunday, Juy 9, Mitchell didn't wake up. The cause of his death is still unknown.

Mitchell made himself a staple in the Exeter community over the past nine years as head coach for the varsity boy's basketball team and as a Physical Education teacher at Exeter Union High. Mitchell's popularity exceeded the parameters of the town of Exeter. Before coming to EUHS, Mitchell was a teacher and coach at St. Aloysius in Tulare and Valley Oak Middle School in Visalia.

Through the years, Mitchell also coached basketball, tennis and even a little baseball and flag football at Golden West, Mt. Whitney, Redwood, Hanford and Tulare Union.

With all the years of experience coaching, Mitchell did not leave this world without success.

&#8220I will remember his infectious personality,” Woodlake boys basketball coach Ken Ruby said. &#8220He was a very loyal, good friend. He was the guy you want to hang out with.”

Mitchell was much more than a rival coach to Ruby. They were friends of more than 14 years. The two met at Valley Oak in Visalia where Ruby was a student teacher and Mitchell was his mentor.

&#8220People migrated towards him,” Ruby continued. &#8220He was one of those teachers or coaches that you'd do anything for and that you'd always remember.”

&#8220It was an honor to coach against him,” Ruby said. &#8220You always want to shine and beat your mentor. It's like beating your dad after all those years of him beating you at something.

&#8220He was a very intelligent basketball coach. The kids loved him and he taught them life skills.”

Mitchell was the type of coach that checked in on former athletes. The day after his passing, a former player called to update Jim on his knew job only to be informed of the unfortunate news.

&#8220Jim was always at the center of things,” said Cathy, Mitchell's wife of nearly 20 years. The couple, who met at St. Aloysus during Jim's first year of teaching, was just shy of celebrating their anniversary on Aug. 5. &#8220He always wanted all of his friends together. He has always drawn people together.”

Another former athlete, Morgan Munger, spoke at Mitchell's memorial service about the impact he had on most player's lives.

&#8220He was an easy going guy. We could talk to him about anything,” Munger said. &#8220If a player had free time during the day, they'd go to his office because his door was always open.”

&#8220He's going to be tough to replace. We never will be able to,” Long-time friend and coworker Darin Pace said. Mitchell was a large factor in Pace's hiring as the EUHS Athletic Director two years ago. &#8220Jim was a unique individual.”

Pace became friends with Mitchell 18 years ago through Pace's father-in-law.

&#8220One of the things I appreciated about him was his intellect. He knows everything there is to know about basketball. Another part is his personality and approach. When he's engaged with a student, he's really engaged.”

But what Pace says he will remember most about Mitchell was a conversation they recently had about his kids.

&#8220Jim always said his kids would be his legacy. That's what he'd be remembered for,” Pace said.

Mitchell was about to make the move to coaching boys tennis this school year in order to coach his 16-year-old son J.C. and eventually his 13-year-old son Calvin.

&#8220I have to say, they were his pride and joy,” Cathy said. &#8220He was like that from the moment they were born. He coached them and he taught them to step up in a very loving and fun way.”

&#8220This is so hard, what are we going to do without him,” Cathy said.

For those who knew Mitchell, the sentiment seems mutual, he is an irreplaceable figure in his community.

&#8220Our kids cut short a vacation when they heard about Jim. That's the kind of impression he made on them,” Exeter teacher and coach Steve Garver said. Garver's younger son, Sam, is a varsity basketball player while his older son, Brad took weightlifting with Mitchell.

&#8220Not everyone will have the same stories of Jim, but our boys had good memories with him,” Garver went on. &#8220There will be little reminders of him. Like, when I go back to school and clean out my e-mail. We used to e-mail each other baseball trivia trying to stump each other on interpretations of rules.”

As memories and stories of Mitchell have come up over the last week, his broad stretch of talent have made him standout as a renaissance man to many.

&#8220Anything he'd get interested in, he would do it and do it well,” Cathy said. &#8220He would get mechanical and perfected anything. Just like crossword puzzles, he had to be the master.”

The same went with basketball.

&#8220I've known Jim since he was at Valley Oak,” Lindsay boys basketball coach Don Perales said. &#8220He was very competitive. He always had his teams well prepared. He spent more time scouting than any other coach. We'd always see him in the stands at games. You always knew Exeter would be well prepared.”

&#8220He's a great loss to the coaching society here in the valley,” Perales said.

His talent as a coach shined when his team went to state in his early years coaching at Exeter. Now, the school is opening a memorial fund for a Jim Mitchell scholarship to be given out annually. To donate, send checks to The Jim Mitchell Memorial Fund c/o EUHS Athletic Boosters at 505 Rocky Hill Drive, Exeter, 93221.

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