Mitchell takes unusual path in athletics

It’s the road less traveled.

Oak Harbor High School senior JJ Mitchell’s path of athletic participation is the opposite of most.

Young athletes generally dabble in a variety of sports and then narrow the list as they grow older. Mitchell took a different approach — instead of shedding sports, he added two.

After specializing in soccer for a number of seasons, Mitchell joined the Wildcat tennis and basketball teams for his final school year.

“I realized I never would have the chance to play high school sports again,” he said. “When I go off to college, I don’t want to have any regrets.”

This is an unusual track, especially for someone of Mitchell’s talent in soccer.

He is a three-year varsity letter winner and two-time, first-team All-Wesco player with another season remaining. Several small colleges have shown interest, and most athletes in Mitchell’s situation would continue to focus on one sport to maximize their chances of landing a college scholarship.

Not Mitchell. He realizes athletic scholarships are rare and wants to go to a school because of its academic offerings and not because he is invited to play soccer.

“I knew going into my senior year I would judge a school by its academics; that is what I value the most.”

Mitchell, who owns a perfect 4.0 grade point average, said he most likely will attend the University of Washington or Gonzaga University.

He started playing soccer when his family moved to Oak Harbor when he was 4 and was hooked right away. He tried Little League baseball and youth football, then went solely to soccer in middle school. He played soccer year round, mostly with Northwest United out of Mount Vernon when not competing for Oak Harbor High School.

He did play basketball and football his freshman year, but dropped the sports in favor of soccer.

Mitchell said he hadn’t picked up a tennis racket since first grade but was always “intrigued” by the sport.

“I would walk by the tennis courts after soccer and it looked like fun,” he said.

In spite of his lack of experience, he developed into one of Oak Harbor’s top players, surprising himself on his level of success.

“It was a step-by-step thing,” he said. “First, I hoped to make varsity. Then I figured I’d be a doubles player.”

He worked his way to second singles and eventually placed third in the Wesco North tournament and seventh in district, earning all-league honors.

“With little or no experience in tennis, he capitalized on his athletic and competitive abilities to win matches,” tennis coach Horace Mells said.

Mitchell’s success was “an amazing accomplishment for a first-time tennis player with little or no experience,” Mells said. “(This) led me and other coaches within our league to wonder, ‘What if?’”

“Tennis is probably my favorite high school sport, now,” Mitchell said.

It was also Mitchell’s first individual sport.

“I like it because it is all on you,” he said. “There is no one to blame but yourself.”

In basketball, Mitchell gives the team a jolt of energy when he enters games, according to coach John Weston.

“JJ has had a significantly pleasent impact on the team; his competitive edge has been a great example for the other ball players,” Weston said. “He has been able to bring his varsity experience from other sports and translate it easily onto the basketball court.

“What he lacks in basketball skills and/or experience he makes up for it with athleticism, competitiveness and natural leadership.”

As much as he enjoys tennis and basketball, he doesn’t regret the years he played only soccer: “I was able to develop my skills and make some lifelong friends,” he said.

One of the reasons he chose to play three sports this year was to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

“When I go off to college, I won’t know anything; it will be a new experience,” he said. “Trying new things now will help me go through that process in college.”

Mitchell is one of the top reserves on this year’s basketball team. (Photo by Jim Waller)

Mitchell is one of the top reserves on this year’s basketball team. (Photo by Jim Waller)

Mitchell earned all-league honors in his first year of tennis. (Photo by John Fisken)

Mitchell earned all-league honors in his first year of tennis. (Photo by John Fisken)