I remember the first time I saw Tom Mitchell...or the first time I thought I saw Tom Mitchell.
It was 1968, my first year reporting high school sports for the old Chicago Daily News, and I was covering a Catholic League football game at Gately Stadium on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
I was standing on the Brother Rice sideline when I was forced to make way for a white-haired, hard-boiled, shouting, screaming wild man whom I assumed at the time was head coach Tom Mitchell. He had something to say to every player on the field who was wearing a crimson jersey and it wasn't very complimentary.
Standing a few yards away from him was a much younger man whom I assumed at the time was an assistant coach. He barely said a word or blinked an eye.
"Boy, the head coach really gets excited, doesn't he?" I said to someone.
"Oh, he's not the head coach. He's Joe Johnston," I was told.
The white-haired fellow was Joe Johnston, Brother Rice's longtime assistant. He was a gifted line coach who, despite his age, would think nothing of going one-on-one with his teenage linemen during practice. He helped three of them to go to Michigan on scholarship.
The Quiet Man? Tom Mitchell. He will be honored Saturday at halftime of the Brother Rice/Morgan Park football game at Soldier Field. It will be part of the tripleheader that also features Mount Carmel/Curie and Fenwick/Lane Tech. A reception will follow the game.
Mitchell is being recognized for his contributions to the game. He is most deserving. In 26 years, from 1967 to 1992, his teams posted a record of 170-95-1, a .641 winning percentage. His Crusaders won a state championship in 1981 and were second in 1985.
But Mitchell's accomplishments go way beyond X's and O's and wins and losses.
A South Sider who played football at Mount Carmel, he is a gentleman who enjoyed the competitive spirit of the Catholic League but always remembered that his primary mission "was to develop kids to the best of their ability."
He said the most fun he had in coaching was the interaction with players such as Mark Donahue, Tom Coyle and Jerry Szara and assistant coaches such as Johnston, Eddie Bara, John Langdan, Eddie Staron, Dennis Duffy, Dan Jacoby, Bill Gleeson and Tom Mitchell, his son who played on the 1981 championship team and now is an assistant at the University of Chicago.
His other son Tim, who didn't play football but served as a statistician, is the Superintendent of the Chicago Park District.
"At Brother Rice, we didn't get the bulk of talented kids," the old coach said. "We had to work hard to maximize their ability. I felt I helped a lot of kids. It made my job worthwhile."
He still is helping kids. Currently employed by the Chicago Housing Authority, he is involved in youth development. "My mission is to get kids off the streets and into park district programs," he said.