Karl Mitchell may have been known to many as Byrd High School’s boys lacrosse coach, but to those within the sport, he was tied to much more than only one school.
Mitchell, who died suddenly Friday at age 48, spent the better part of the last two decades as a spokesman and flag bearer for a sport he loved and worked feverishly to expand.
“Everything that is lacrosse in Shreveport is because of Karl Mitchell,” said Loyola head coach Matt Volentine, who played against Mitchell and coached with him this summer. “He started the team at St. Paul’s that became Loyola, and then he built Byrd. He pretty much built lacrosse in Shreveport.”
Though Mitchell wasn’t a faculty member at Byrd and lacrosse has yet to become an LHSAA-sponsored sport, Mitchell always worked through school channels, according to Byrd principal Jerry Badgley.
“He wanted the lacrosse team to be a Byrd lacrosse team,” Badgley said. “It was just like any other sport at the school. The kids have tremendous respect for him. He’s respected all over the state in terms of lacrosse.”
Mitchell played high school in lacrosse in Baltimore, a hotbed for the sport, and played collegiately at The Citadel.
He formed the state’s first high school team, a group sponsored by St. Paul’s, in 1995 and coached at Loyola before starting Byrd’s program in 2001.
“I call him the Godfather of lacrosse in this area,” said Byrd assistant coach Michael Pabst, who coached the last nine seasons with Mitchell. “He’s been the only coach a generation of Byrd players have known.”
Mitchell’s largesse and influence on area lacrosse extended to the college ranks.
“Karl was actually part of my interview process with Centenary,” said former Gents head coach Michael Brand, now the head coach at Texas State. “I think he was a big reason why I was hired. After speaking with him and a group of people, he recommended that they hire me. He had a lot to do with it.”
Mitchell, Pabst and Brand all worked to build a youth lacrosse program to supplement the lacrosse-playing high schools in the area.
Part of Mitchell’s legacy was realized this spring, when CABOSA had a more-than-solid turnout for its middle school league.
“We went from basically no middle school teams to having 12 play this spring,” Pabst said. “He definitely was the man about youth and high school lacrosse here. It was great being able to coach with him and to see how he would motivate and get these kids to play.”
Mitchell’s passion for lacrosse was consuming.
“I asked him how he ever got any work done,” Pabst said. “He was always learning. He’d pick coaches’ brains from other regions. High school coaches, college coaches. He was always trying to better himself. Being around someone like that makes you want to be better.”
Mitchell’s drive was evident from adults to the players he coached. His relationships were as well.
Mitchell coached both of his sons, Brooks and Ian, at Byrd, balancing the feelings of a father with the requirements of a coach.
“My senior year was the first year we had the Louisiana Lacrosse League,” said Conner Jenkins, who played two seasons for Mitchell. “In the semifinals of that tournament, we were up at half and we got down some after half. Toward the end of the game, he pulled us all over on the sideline and said, ‘Guys, I wasn’t planning on telling y’all this game, but I’m going to have to tell you now. Whenever Ian was young, he said. ‘Dad, I want to grow up and win the Louisiana state championship.’ The end of the game diminishes the story, because we didn’t win, but it was pretty incredible to see someone care as much as he did. That really did stick with me. He loved his son very much. he pushed him hard, but he did love that boy. It was wonderful to watch.”
Mitchell is survived by his wife, Nia, his sons and daughter, Valentina, who will be a sophomore at Byrd.
Services are pending.