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Hall of Famers credit others for success in achievement

HALL OF FAME: Former Mississinewa three-sport standout Mike Mitchener gives his induction speech during the 2018 Grant County Sports Hall of Fame ceremony Sunday at the YMCA. Mitchener,a 1985 Ole Miss grad who was also a standout college and professional baseball player, talked about the triangle of strength, which included his high school baseball coach Rick Atkinson (left) who presented the hall of fame plaque to his former player.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

When Mike Mitchener learned he would be inducted into the Grant County Sports Hall of Fame, it made him reflect on the road he traveled to get there.

Mitchener, a 1985 Mississinewa graduate and standout three sport athlete for the Indians, was one of nine individuals along with two teams named as part of the Hall of Fame's 2018 induction, the 10th annual for the institution.

And Mitchener wasn't alone in divulging during his acceptance speech the keys that allowed him to become not only successful in his athletic endeavors but also life in general.

Every one of the inductees needed hard work and dedication to their respective crafts to attain the levels of success they achieved, but there was certainly more that went into the trip.

Mitchener earned a full-ride scholarship to play basketball and baseball at Armstrong State in Savannah, Georgia. He played basketball for just one season but went on to have a stellar baseball career, being amongst the Big South Conference's leaders in both home runs and pitching saves as a freshman. As a sophomore, Mitchener led all of NCAA Division I and broke a long-standing single-season record with 98 RBIs in a 62 game season.

Eventually Mitchener would forgo his senior season at Armstrong and was drafted in the third round of the 1988 Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago White Sox.  

Mitchener and most of the inductees made it clear, the journey to athletic success and high achievement was as much as about different people in their lives as it was about their dedication.

"I started thinking about what it is an is athlete made of...but I kind of started thinking about the triangle of strength," Mitchener said. "Three points on a triangle, one of the strongest shapes in geometry. Point number one for my family, two coaches, three teammates."

Mitchener took time to share some of the important lessons he learned from his dad, mom and sister, all at different points in his life. In attendance were four different men who coached him through his high school and college careers. One of his high school baseball coaches, Rick Atkinson, escorted Mitchener to the podium and presented him with his hall of fame plaque.   

"Those four people encouraged me to be good at what I did. It didn't matter whether I was playing baseball, basketball or football, go out and be the best that I can be," he shared. "I floated back to what my dad told me, find out who it is, find out who is better than you, then watch them. Emulate them. Practice harder than they do. You'll get past them and once you get past them, don't stop there. Find somebody else. It worked."

Mitchener mentioned a long list of his high school and college teammates, and even some competitors from his days at Ole Miss, that helped mold his career. 

"If you don't have a good team around you, you're not going to be successful," Mitchener said. "I saw some of the guys from Marion that I played with a long time ago, Dave Gandee, Ben Burnau, great, great people. Those people bring out the best of an athlete."

Burnau, a 2013 Grant County Hall of Fame inductee, was in attendance representing his high school teammate, Anthony 'Tony' Thompson. The duo led Marion's baseball team to the 1984 state championship. Thompson was drafted by the New York Mets in 1984 and reached the AA level before retiring in 1987.

Burnau took time to speak to some of he and Thompson's former teammates who shared what made Thompson a special player.

"Everyone of them said he was very humble man, a leader by example and always the best player on the field," Burnau said.

Thompson wrote part of Burnau's speech and said it was because he had "great coaches and great teammates."

Retired Oak Hill swim coach Mark Yordy, who started the Golden Eagles swim program in 1983, shared his nervousness about leaving the interview for the job as a young man, wondering what he'd gotten himself into.

Yordy was asked point blank by former Oak Hill coach Jim Law if he got the job, could he build winning program?  

"There are two answers to that question, yes and no. I wanted the job so I thought I should say yes, so I did," Yordy said. "When I walked out of there I was almost sick to my stomach, because I thought if they give me this job what am I getting into?"

What Yordy did was build Oak Hill into a small school swimming powerhouse, recording more than 600 dual-meet wins combined for both boys and girls teams at a better than 88 percent winning percentage in both.

But Yordy wasted little time in deflecting some of the deserved praise for founding and building Oak Hill's swim program. 

"If you read any famous person's biography I think that you will find there are many, many significant people along the way who have helped these people shape their lives," Yordy began his speech. "I'm not famous and I don't plan on writing a biography, but I would have to say the exact same thing. I have had so many people shape me as a person and shape me as a coach. There are so many people that have helped build the Oak Hill swim program that in many ways this award is an award for Oak Hill swimming and not for me."

Yordy went on to say how fulfilling and satisfying his tenure had been and hopes he'll still be able to have the ability to help others accomplish their goals and "write their stories."

"Looking back almost 40 years later, I realized the answer to the question was no I can't, I can't build a winning program," he said. "I needed many, many people to come along beside me and help me....I was very fortunate that I had those people.

"The support I received from the school, the administration and from the parents really was quite unique and very, very special," he added.