Mitchell induction a family affair
Lewisburg’s William J. Mitchell passed away on January 9, just a few months short of his induction into the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s (TSSAA) Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
The 35th Annual event took place at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro Saturday afternoon where family members of Mitchell came from all over the country to honor a man who officiated football and basketball for over 50 years.
“My dad was such a humble person he would of course be honored, but he wouldn’t make a big deal of it because this was his everyday thing of just contributing to the community and his family, especially his TSSAA family that he loved,” Mitchell’s daughter, Jerrie Henry said.
Those being inducted at this year’s luncheon along with Mitchell were the late Ernest Chism, administrator from Germantown; Ellis Haguewood, administrator from Memphis; Walter “Bud” Bales, coach from Knoxville, James Counce, coach from Dyersburg; Sylvester Ford, coach from Memphis; the late Doug Hall, coach from Nashville; Marvin Williams, coach from Whiteville; James H. Reed, official from Shelbyville; and Gary Dutton, contributor from Loudon.
“Just to be among such men and women that have gotten this honor, of course it was an honor for me,” said Henry, who accepted the award on her father’s behalf. “I wish my father was able to accept, but things don’t always work as we would like.”
“I know my father is looking down on this and I am humbled and glad he is among those who have gotten this distinguished honor.”
Former Director of Schools for Marshall County Roy Dukes, a close friend and TSSAA Hall of Fame inductee in 2005 presented Henry with the Hall of Fame medal at the ceremony and talked about his early relationship with Mitchell.
“When I was in high school at Jones High School, he continued to encourage not only me, but every student athlete in the school to be the best they can be,” Dukes said. “He encouraged not only African-American athletes, but Caucasians students too, he wanted every person, every teacher to show that everybody was somebody.”
Mitchell’s legacy as an official on the field and court was magnified greatly by his work off the playing field, working tirelessly as a coach, sponsor and mentor to the youth and as leader in the African-American community.
“I think Willie would be crying right now, not because of selflessness for him, but he would be crying because somebody thought enough of him to see what he had done,” Dukes said. “He just wanted to help somebody every day, every hour, and every second.”
Mitchell, who owned a construction company, was honored by the NAACP in 2002 with the Award of Excellence and received the George W. Turner Award in 2003 that is given to a prominent black educator and administrator.
The Cornersville native was also instrumental in the formation of the Middle Tennessee Athletic Association that was once the sole governing body for African-American sports before desegregation.
Mitchell also worked as a college scout and was a driving force in garnering scholarships for many young men, especially to Grambling University where Mitchell’s late son William Robert Mitchell attended school before going on to play in the NFL with the Washington Redskins.
Mitchell developed a close relationship with College Football Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson that created a path to a higher education for many young African-American student athletes.
Dukes also officiated alongside Mitchell for many years and spoke about the respect he garnered throughout Tennessee.
“It’s amazing he could touch so many lives,” Dukes said. “It wasn’t just Marshall County, we would go to places like Winchester, Columbia and so many other places where people would say ‘Hey Mr. Mitchell’----he had talked to those young people about staying in school and they did.”
Mitchell was also a three-term Lewisburg City Councilman and on June 11, 2011 he was honored with the proclamation of Willie J. Mitchell Day.
In 2013, Mitchell was awarded the Lewisburg Citizen of the Year and a statue of Mitchell was dedicated at Jones Park, adjacent to the Marshall County Board of Education complex in 2015.
“He kept so many young people from falling overboard, meaning helping them from falling astray,” Dukes said. “His legacy still lives, his legacy will go on and on and on.”