By Dave McCallum
On December 5, John Mitchell followed through on a promise he had made to his daughter Faith, taking her to pick up out a Labrador puppy. Nothing unusual about that you say, but there’s more to the story.
Faith Mitchell, although only in the eighth grade at Milford’s Central Academy, has run in the past four years at the Cross Country Coaches National Youth Championships with the Seashore Striders Running Club in various Midwest locations.
“The bet was if she made All-American I would get her a Labrador puppy,” John Mitchell said.
Faith felt this year’s event in Shelbyville, Indiana, was the place to win the bet. “Training was so hard for the nationals, but I was confident that I could do it this year,” she said.
The 13-year-old finished the 4000-meter course in 15:23.13 – good for seventh place in the girls’ 13-year-old division and 17th out of 225 runners in the combined 13-14-year-old division – well within the criteria to earn All-American honors.
“After I caught my breath,” she said. “I looked at my dad and asked him if I got my puppy and he said ‘Yes’”. The new family member’s name is Shelby, short for Shelbyville, where she accomplished the feat.
Earning her All-American status was just the icing on the cake for a stellar cross-country year for Mitchell, who also earned All Kent County, All-Henlopen Conference and All-State honors despite not yet being in high school.
Because of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) ruling which allows all eighth graders that compete in non-contact sports, Mitchell was allowed to be a member of the Milford High School cross country team.
Lance Skinner, the first-year Milford girls cross country coach, suspected he had a good runner on his hands after Mitchell had successful sixth- and seventh-grade campaigns at Central Academy.
“I told her that if she stayed committed that the sky was the limit for her,” Skinner said. “She has the body frame, the mental strength and work ethic. There are things that she can work on, but she’s a natural runner.”
Skinner found out the potential Mitchell had when she won the first race she competed in – a scrimmage at Killens Pond State Park.
“We set goals for everyone on the team – not just Faith,” said Skinner. “Like with everyone on the team, the first thing for her was cutting down time at practice. Once she dropped that (time) consistently, the goal became making the all-time leaderboard.”
For Mitchell, there was one name on that list that she wanted to eclipse first – her aunt Amy Mitchell, who recorded a time of 21:22 in 2006.
After besting her aunt, Mitchell continued to climb up the Buccaneer list to fifth – where she stayed for about a month-and-a-half, Skinner said.
But, on October 29, the Milford school record of 19:20 set by Molly Bliss in 2011 fell at the Kent County Championships at Brecknock Park when Mitchell completed the 3.1-mile course in 19:14 cementing her place on the All Kent County squad along with Buccaneer teammate Brianna Thompson and Alex Herber.
The Henlopen Conference Championship was next up on November 2 at Killens Pond State Park where both Mitchell and Thompson helped earn All-Henlopen Conference spots with fifth and eighth-place finishes, respectively. Mitchell posted a time of 19:46 and Thompson came in at 20:36.
The only thing left for Mitchell and her Buccaneer teammates was the DIAA State Championship on November 9 back at Killens Pond.
“We really didn’t think All-State would happen, but we said let’s put it up there as a goal (for Mitchell) and see what happens,” Skinner said.
The soft-spoken Mitchell and her teammates did not disappoint as she finished eighth in the individual girls Division I competition with a time of 19:36.40. In addition to her eighth-place finish, Mitchell finished 21st overall in the combined Division I/Division II standings putting her in line for an All-State spot, which she received when a committee of D-I and D-II coaches named her to the Second-Team All-State squad.
As for the team, the Buccaneers placed sixth out of 18 D-I. In addition to Mitchell’s stellar performance, Thompson and Herber finished 22nd and 26th, respectively. Jorja Willey, Kassidy Willey and Anna Hatfield rounded out the Milford scoring.
“Our goal for Faith is to see her progress to one of the top runners in the state and run in college,” said Skinner, who mentioned there are three former Buccaneers (Deja Rodriquez-Santiago, Emily Holstein and Holly Tesoro) running collegiately. “We have a lot of talent on the team, but we’re also looking for good talent that we know is walking around our hallways (Central Academy and Milford High) because the big picture is, we want the team to be successful.”
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