Bill Althaus: Olympian Maurice Mitchell made me learn to love track and field
I have to make a confession.
There was a time when I felt like I was being punished when I was assigned to cover a track and field meet.
I really didn't understand the dynamics that went into putting together a successful team. I'd grown up on baseball, football and basketball – not relays, throwing events or 100-meter dashes.
But that all changed in 2007 when I met Maurice Mitchell, the greatest track and field performer I've had the honor of witnessing in my 39-year career at The Examiner.
He was undefeated all season in his specialty events – the 100, 200, 400 and 4x100 relay – in 2008 and led the Raytown South Cardinals to their first state championship with state titles in all four of those.
He was a one-man show who played to the crowd while making sure to interact with his admiring teammates.
The always fashionable Mitchell would wear sunglasses to each of his meets, and let a young admirer wear them between events. He would also wear countless, decorative twine bracelets that he would give away to fans until he ran out of the colorful gear.
When Mitchell competed, it was an event. And everything in the bleachers turned silent as he approached the starting line.
And over a memorable two-week period his senior season, fans found out he had more than talent – he had the heart of a champion.
Mitchell suffered a hamstring injury prior to the start of the Class 4 sectionals at Lee's Summit North High School and wasn’t sure if he could compete.
"I've got him today," an excited Blue Springs High School sprinter Carlos Anderson told me before competing against Mitchell.
Mitchell was limping on an injured leg, and was challenged by former head track coach Terry Scott, a former Missouri state and NCAA sprint champion, and then Raytown South sprint coach Tom Lester.
Mitchell, who sat in ice baths to calm his screaming hamstring injury between events, won the 100, 200 and 400 meters and anchored the winning 400 relay team.
"The man beat me running on one leg," Anderson said. "Man, one leg – the dude is a champion!"
Mitchell followed that performance with gold-medal showings in each event at the 82nd annual Missouri State High School Boys Track and Field Championships at Jefferson City.
Mitchell – who still owns state records in the 100 (10.42) and 200 (20.96) that he set in 2007 – didn’t break any of his own records in 2008, but he got something he cherishes even more – a team state championship.
“Not just a state championship,” Mitchell said after the Cardinals won the 400 relay to sew up the title, “but the first (track and field) state championship in the history of our school. That means more to me than any of the medals I ever won.”
Lester, who is now an assistant at Blue Springs High School, has coached and watched the best of the best in the state and says, “We might not see another Maurice Mitchell. He was a one-of-a-kind athlete – the best I've ever coached."
Mitchell went on to enjoy a highly successful career at Florida State University, winning three NCAA championships and 13 ACC titles. He was named the ACC Outdoor Performer of the Year for three straight years.
He won the 200 during the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships as a junior and senior. He also took first in the 400 relay as a junior.
He capped his career by making the semifinals in the 200-meter dash at the 2012 London Olympics, finishing fourth in his heat in 20.56. He missed the 400 final by less than 0.2 of a second.
Now he is coaching state championship girls track and field teams at Geneva High School in Arlington, Texas, where he also runs MM Next Level Training.
Mitchell is working with local middle school, high school, and college age athletes, regardless of sport, to help them get faster. Mitchell runs his athletes, including his 8-year-old son Mahari.
And 5-year-old Aviana and 2-year-old Mace are also out at the track with their dad.
The reason I'm reminiscing about Mitchell is because the Summer Games are coming up in a few days, and I had the chance to visit with him at the 2021 Missouri State High School Track and Field Championships in Jefferson City.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association invited him back to the state he dominated throughout a once-in-a-lifetime career at Raytown South to receive recognition in front of a wet and appreciative crowd.
When he ran at South, we became good friends and I jokingly called him my third son.
When we saw each other at state, he grinned, ran over to me and said, "How ya doing Pops?"
It was one of those special moments you will never forget – like his days of domination at Raytown South.
We talked about the past, the present and the future, where he hopes to make even more of an impact as a coach than he did as the greatest sprinter in the history of the state.
And I thanked home for helping me realize that track and field was one of the greatest sports on the planet. I now look forward to watching any meet, anywhere – and I have Mr. Maurice Mitchell to thank for that.
As far as I'm concerned, it's his greatest triumph.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC