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Mitch Haskins

Hall of Fame Motivator

By Steve Dallape

“Athletics teach you how to cope with failure, how to deal with success, and realize that you can’t do it all by yourself.”

You would think that a man with a storied basketball career like Athletic Director Mitch Haskins would have been born dribbling a basketball. But, actually, he never even touched one until he was eight years old. “I was born back in the Ozark Mountains, at the end of the road,” he jokes. “If you came there, you were either a revenuer looking for a moonshine still, or you were dead lost.” But in 1953, a severe flood struck the area where they lived. Three solid days of heavy rain devastated their farm fields and livestock. “There was no way to continue to make a living, because we lost the crop and the cattle,” Mitch remembers. His father had two brothers who were living in Michigan at the time, working for the Dow Chemical Company. So, the family packed up their belongings and moved north to join them, eventually settling in the city of Midland. It was here that young Mitch was first exposed to organized sports, and he would never be the same again. It was in Midland that he first got his hands on a basketball, and he recalls spending winter days in the family’s garage, swinging at a baseball attached to a rope hung from the rafters, learning to hit from both sides of the plate. After four years in Midland, his dad decided to answer a calling he had been hearing for some time and could no longer resist. He became an ordained minister and started a church, the congregants of which at first consisted of his brothers, some fellow Ozark Countians, and other friends they had made in Michigan.

“After a year or so, [my father] realized that the people going to church there had a lot more education than he did, and he felt like he needed to go back to school and get some more religious education and training,” Mitch relates. So, the family packed up and moved again, this time to Oakland City, Indiana. “The next day after we hit town, he enrolled in Oakland City College in their Religious Education department,” he remembers. Haskins played high school basketball in Oakland City, and then followed his father to Oakland City College, turning down a chance to attend Indiana State. His mother was working second shift to earn extra money while his dad attended classes full time, and as the eldest child, it fell on Mitch to help care for his two younger brothers and baby sister. One might say that Mitch made a huge sacrifice by not going to the larger school. But to Mitch, it was not even up for debate, it was simply what needed to be done. “It was necessary for me to be around,” he states matter-of-factly. “We all worked, everybody worked. We didn’t have much of a choice.” After college, Haskins embarked on the career path that eventually led him to Meridian. He coached basketball in Charleston, Missouri for three years, where his teams won a state Championship, were runner-up once and finished fourth another year. He then went on to Saint Louis University for two years, and then to a large consolidated high school in Indiana for three. There, his teams went undefeated in their first 26 games, before losing in the state tournament, one game away from the final four. They also won their conference championship all three years Mitch was there. From there, Mitch moved on to Rend Lake College, where he had much success over his twelve-year tenure, setting the stage for his eventual move to Meridian. Several years prior, Mitch had made the acquaintance of a man who was retiring from professional football, and going back to school to get his superintendent’s endorsement. They stayed in touch over the years, and when Haskins was at Rend Lake College, his friend became the superintendent at Meridian, bringing Mitch aboard as Athletic Director and Dean of Students/Transportation Director. “He said, ‘I think we’ll do it for a year, and I’ll get a chance to be a college president, and you can be the Athletic Director,’” Mitch recalls. “He was right – one year, and he left. I met a girl, and I’ve been here ever since,” he says with a chuckle. That girl was Benay Childress, long-time cheerleading coach and herself a fixture here at Meridian. Over his long, distinguished career, Mitch has earned many awards and accolades, and accumulated a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps the most important nugget he has gleaned is that you don’t get named to nine different halls of fame, both as a player and a coach, all on your own. “It’s nice to be recognized for your efforts, but you’re only as good as your teammates or your players,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to have had really good players as a coach, and surrounded by some good teammates as a player.” He knows that athletics are more than merely extracurricular activities, but rather an integral and important part of a complete, comprehensive education. “Athletics teach you how to cope with failure, how to deal with success, and realize that you can’t do it all by yourself,” he states. These are all important lessons to learn, for success on and off the field. “We don’t talk about ‘I’ around here,” he says. “We talk about ‘we’ – it’s what ‘we’ do, it’s how ‘we’ play, it’s how ‘we’ accomplish our goals.” As a coach and a player, Mitch Haskins has accomplished many goals alongside a host of players and teammates. But he is not anywhere close to finished. This year, he will take his team to Indianapolis to play against rival Cairo before an Indiana Pacers NBA game. “It’s a growing experience, an opportunity for them to see something other than what they see every day, and know that people live in a different type of environment and have different goals and aspirations than what many people here have.” His hope is that his players will see that they need not be governed by their preconceived notions of limits, that they too can hit from both sides of the plate, graduate from college, win a state championship, or positively and profoundly influence the lives of many others just like them. In short, to live lives worthy of their own wonder, no matter their beginnings. Maybe a little something like a kid who began life in the devastated backwaters of the Missouri Ozarks all those years ago.

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