By Andrew Johnson
FRUITPORT – Sometimes even great sports performances fly under the media radar.
As it turned out, Reeths-Puffer runner Klay Grant also had a great day, and led the Rockets to the team tournament championship, so he dominated the headlines.
But Mitchell quietly piled up the medals, taking first place in the 200-meter run, the 400-meter run, the 4×200-meter relay and the long jump.
His winning time in the 200-meter was 22.72. He won the 400-meter with a time of 50.53. His 400-meter relay team, which also included teammates Blake Haight, Camden Farrell and Cameron Weaver, had a winning time of 1:31.05, and Mitchell took first in the long jump with a 21-2 leap.
“I actually kind of surprised myself,” Mitchell said about his performance. “I did the best I’ve done this season in all my events, except the long jump.”
Mitchell’s performance was even more impressive, considering he’s been battling painful plantar fascilitis in his left foot. His Fruitport boys team was a top contender to win the tournament, so Mitchell felt like he had to come through, despite the discomfort.
“Coach was like ‘We’ve got to win, this would be our seventh in a row,’” said Mitchell about his motivation to compete, despite the nagging injury which has caused him to miss two meets already this season. “I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.’”
Despite Mitchell’s four championships, Fruitport finished with 113 points while Reeths-Puffer finished with 132. Prior to Friday Fruitport had won six straight GMAA boys titles.
“We put in all that we had,” Mitchell said about his team falling short. “All of my teammates did their jobs. We did what we could, and we had a few people out due to contract tracing, but even with them, we wouldn’t have won.”
Fruitport coach Chad Brandow shared the disappointment of watching the championship streak end, but said his team still has plenty of growth potential, and a lot of things to compete for.
“We set our goals to go out and do the best we can,” Brandow said about the city event. “We stress the city meet as one of our big meets. We’re still a little ways away, and have to get a few guys in some better shape. But Reeths-Puffer did really well and I was quite impressed with them.”
Brandow believes Mitchell is one of those guys who can do even better as the season progresses.
“Dakota has a lot more improvement that can happen,” the coach said. “He just has to get in a little better shape. But he’s a great kid and a very gifted athlete.”
If Mitchell is able to get in peak shape despite the nagging injury, he’ll have a chance to once again earn All-State honors at the MSHAA state track finals in early June– and perhaps compete for a state title in an event or two.
In 2019, as a sophomore, he was an All-Stater in the 400-meter run, the 4×200-meter relay, the 4×400 meter relay and the 4×800-meter relay.
“It would mean a lot to me,” Mitchell said about competing for individual state titles. “I’m really trying to win the 400-meter and see what I can do in the long jump. It’s make it or break it this year.”
Mitchell’s determined “make it or break it” attitude rubs off on his teammates, according to Brandow.
“He always leads by example,” the coach said about Mitchell. “When he does well, the team does well.”
Mitchell takes his team leadership responsibility seriously.
“It means a lot to me to know people look up to me, and I do what I can to help them,” he said. “It kind of makes me feel good, and makes me want to work even harder.”
Of course Mitchell is motivated by his drive for personal success, but he also wants to help his team get back to where it was in 2019, when the Trojans finished third in Division 2 at the state track finals.
“We actually discuss it quite often,” he said. “That really motivates us. We want to do well. I think this year we have the potential to place well as a team again.”