Fair, equal reporting was long-time sports writer’s knack

As journalists we take pride in always finding the story and then telling that tale to the public in the fairest and best way possible.

One of best I knew at doing just that was my father.

Two decades ago, Bill Mitchell got his first opportunity in sports journalism as a part-time reporter for The Leader and State Register. His beat was the western side of Sussex County, including the Woodbridge, Seaford, Laurel and Delmar school districts. And it was an instant fit.

Eventually replacing John Painter as The Leader and State Register sports editor, dad continued to cover local sports for nearly 20 years. And, after The Leader and State Register was acquired by Independent Newspapers, Inc., he took on new beats as well.

First it was with INI’s Sussex County Post, writing about sporting events in the Indian River School District area. Eventually his duties expanded to include filling the sports pages in the Milford Chronicle and The (Harrington) Journal. And he covered those areas with the same passion he had for his first gig in the field as a part-timer. It’s part of what made him great at the job.

Bill Mitchell, left, and former major leaguer Harold Baines at a recent golf tournament at Hooper’s Landing in Seaford. Special to The Chronicle

Bill Mitchell, left, and former major leaguer Harold Baines at a recent golf tournament at Hooper’s Landing in Seaford. Special to The Chronicle

My father knew what makes local sports so important.

Quite simply, it’s that they bring entire communities together. For instance, no matter what turmoil unfolded in the small town of Delmar, on Friday night everybody put aside their differences and went to cheer on the Wildcats football team. And there’s not many in Milford who can’t tell you where they were back in 2008 when the Buccaneers of the gridiron brought home a state title. Those are just two of so many examples.

Thing is, everybody knows about local football teams. Not to mention, writing about a winning team is easy… The tricky part of the profession – one I sometimes struggled with when I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps some 12 years ago – is finding out what would make people care about the struggling squads. Those that just couldn’t get over the hump despite putting in the same dedication as the teams and individuals experiencing success.

Bill didn’t have that problem. Within seconds of talking to a coach, player, event organizer or whatever, he instantly knew exactly the story that needed to be told. The one that could make even a 0-10 team seem every bit as important as the 10-0 squad. Then he shared that story with his readers.

That’s not to say that every story had to be about a heartwarming topic. There are always times when we have to cover controversial issues, but when that happened, he made sure to do it in the best and fairest way possible.

Through good times and bad, I like to think that as local sports journalists we become part of the community if we are doing our job right. When my father retired from his full-time sports editor positions five years ago and handed the reigns to me, it was quickly evident he had done his job very well. Every day I was in the field at least one person, and oftentimes many people, asked me how he was doing. They genuinely cared.

Dad passed away on Oct. 8. He was 67 years old. He is survived by my mother and his wife of 42 years, Gerry, my brother Greg and his wife Beth, and me. We’ll never forget how much he loved and cared for each and all of us. And while most everyone reading this might not technically have been his family, I know he enjoyed your company too and I like to think he is fondly remembered by most of you as well.

One final thing. Along with his family and friends, good conversation and pretty much anything sports related, my dad loved the game of golf. If you are so inclined, check out thefirstteeofdelaware.org. There are many ways to help, whether it be by monetary donation, donating equipment or lending your time. He would like that.

VIEWING:

The viewing will be Friday, Oct. 14 at Cranston Funeral Home, 300 N. Shipley St., Seaford from noon to 2 p.m. A short service will follow at 2 p.m.

From the Milford Chronicle Sports Desk

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