Many football coaches like to talk about their team as being one big family.
Mitchell coach Travise Pitman does that and extends that feeling of family beyond those who wear the helmets and shoulder pads.
When the Mountaineers finished their 42-20 win over Owen in Swannanoa last Friday, both teams gathered at midfield for the traditional post-game handshake. The Owen players went to their side of the field for the post-game talk from coach Nathan Padgett. When Pitman ran over to his players he motioned them to follow him off the field toward the stands where the Mitchell fans were sitting.
The players began to take a knee on the Owen track and once they were in place parents, grandparents, cheerleaders and others gathered around and listened to Pitman’s post-game speech. It was a talk full of optimism since the Mountaineers opened the season 6-0 for the first time in school history.
When Pittman’s chat ended, players hugged and talked with family members before heading off to the locker room.
“That’s something I put in last year. We enjoy having our families down there with us after the game,” said Pittman, a 1995 Mitchell graduate who had been an assistant coach with the team for 14 years before being named head coach in 2014.
“I think they need to be part of the game and I can’t get them get in touch with them during the week. I feel that’s a good time to let them hear me talk to the kids and let the kids thank their parents for what they do after the post-game speech. I think the parents love coming down there, it makes them feel like they’re part of the team. The parents love it.”
Football is a hot topic in Mitchell County as the Mountaineers have established themselves as the team to beat in the Western Highlands Conference and one that could make a deep playoff run.
Pitman played for the Mountaineers and then went to Western Carolina University where he played before eventually returned to the place he calls home. The bond he has with his players was very evident when tackle Jade Osbon waited for Pitman to end a conversation with Padgett and then gave his coach a heartfelt hug.
“Coach Pitman likes to create a bond with his football players, we’re like one of his own kids,” said Osbon, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound senior.
“He’s willing to do anything in the world for us whether we need money, shoes to play sports, anything it is. He’s willing to go the distance for us.”
Senior guard Will Atkins went a step further.
“Coach Pitman is like a second father to me, he’s always there when I need him,” Atkins said.
“I know if I was ever had a problem where I needed him I could pick up a phone and he’d be there in five minutes. No matter where he is he’s always there for us.”
Pitman said from the moment he got the job he told the kids his door would always be open for them to talk about football and other things that mattered in their lives.
“I think in today’s world where a lot of kids don’t have a father figure or they don’t have any home life, if you can be that father figure to them and they can understand that you care about them, you’ll get more out of the kid,” said Pitman, whose first team had an 8-5 record last year.
“You let them know that you love ’em and they’re willing to go on the line and give it everything they have.”
Several players who were interviewed after Friday’s game talked about the feeling of family and how great it was to have the type of fan support, especially on a rainy night.
There’s something special going on at Mitchell and everyone who backs the Mountaineers are a part of it.
Pitman has made sure of that.
Bob Berghaus is a Citizen-Times sportswriter. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Bob_Berghaus