David Mitchell has devoted much of life to coaching football and wrestling.
Now, however, he plans on using that time for something more important – his family.
The longtime Wharton High football coach has resigned after 14 seasons, telling his team at its season-ending banquet on Dec. 5. He finishes his Wharton career with an 83-74 overall record, advancing to the Regional playoffs six times, including twice as the District champion in 2005 and ’08.
“It was hard to do,” Mitchell says, but it is impossible to handle his current responsibilities without stepping back, he adds.
He wants to spend more time with his daughters – Angela, 30, Diana, 26 and Allison, 24. He has a grandson, Alex, he says he is dedicated to spoiling.
His mother, Helen, who is suffering from dementia, is now living with him. And his duties as a deacon at Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church, where he teaches Sunday school, require his time as well.
It his wife Amanda’s fight against breast cancer, however, which resulted in surgery last year, that has moved him away from football the most.
He was there when she was declared in remission and rang the bell, but he wants to be there more.
“My wife is the glue that kept the family together, she’s the real hero of this whole family,” Mitchell says. ”People tell me with all the time I spent coaching, I must have a good wife. And I say no, she’s a Queen.”
While he devoted a lot of his time to coaching, it was Amanda who devoted all of her time to the kids. Now, he wants to share in that, he says.
While he will remain the school’s wrestling coach – at age 59, he is still lithe enough to get on the mat to show his wrestlers the proper moves and technique — it is a job he says takes up far less time than being a head football coach, which is a year-round, full-time gig in many cases.
That he is putting family before football is no surprise to those who played for him, since he has spent more than two decades preaching the importance of family to kids he has coached.
Mitchell is known as an “old-school” coach, who accepts nothing but complete effort.
“At first, I’m going to be honest, it was tough,” says Keyshaun Sarden-Pete, a wide receiver who played for Mitchell from 2016-18. “But it was worthwhile. He is going to teach you character. If you don’t give him your best effort, he is going to let you know.”
A Leto High and Yankton (SD) College graduate, Mitchell has been at Wharton since the school opened in 1997. He was an assistant football coach back then, and was coaching the wide receivers and running backs when he was named coach in 2005 after Melvin Cunningham resigned.
His first season as the Wharton football coach may have been his best.
Mitchell inherited a 2-8 team and behind quarterback Chris Krcmar, running back Joel Miller and defensive standout Josh Jones, guided the ‘Cats to a 10-2 record and a spot in the Class 5A Region semifinals, where Wharton fell 16-14 to Lake Gibson.
Mitchell might have had a better record, and more playoff success, if not for being stuck in a district with Tampa powerhouse Plant during the Panthers’ best seasons. Some of his best teams — with quarterback Chase Litton and current NFL players Vernon Hargreaves (defensive back for Houston) and wide receiver Auden Tate (Cincinnati) — had to settle for second in the district.
Although Mitchell has resigned, he is still trying to help his current seniors land a place in college.
He also still leaves the weight room open for those who are interested. And, when a new coach is named, he says he is more than willing to occasionally help out.
“I had a lot of great moments,” Mitchell says. “I may have been a little old fashioned, but I always tried to make my players into better grown men. And, I always taught them to remember that family is more important.”
Mitchell says he will always be a coach, even if most of that effort going forward will be dedicated to his 5-year-old grandson.
Mitchell pulls out a cell phone, and looks for a video of Alex fighting with a tractor tire. “Get your hip under it,” he says to the screen, and Alex does just that before flipping the tire over.
Mitchell smiles.“I showed him how to do that.”