Mike Krzyzewski is one of the most renowned names in the sports world. At 70 years old, his resume is both accomplished and remarkable. A West Point graduate, three-year letterman in basketball, Army Officer and Coach of the Duke University Blue Devils since 1980, “Coach K”‘ has found great success both on the court and off. In his 37 seasons at Duke, he has been at the helm of a basketball dynasty that few programs can match.
And yet, Krzyzewski’s accolades, records and national championships weren’t what made a difference to Steve Mitchell. It was Coach K’s kindness. It was his friendship. And, it was the way in which a coach with seemingly everything in the world at his fingertips, took the time to forever impact a single life.
Adrian Wood, of the blog Tales of an Educated Debutante, recently shared the story of Steve Mitchell and Mike Krzyzewski on Facebook. We’re happy to share it with you.
“Dear Coach K,
I’ve never met you, though you’ve walked past me many times on a stretch of beach called Pine Knoll Shores. I didn’t want to bother you, but wish I had known about your gift to Steve Mitchell. His departure from this earth has offered the story of a life well-lived. Steve was the man who sat behind you in Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium for the last 37 years and I know you miss him this season.
He did a lot in his sixty plus years. He was born with Down syndrome and his family shrugged off the doctors and took him right home. He was integrated in an era that made his parents ground breakers; school or church, Steve was there. I am a special needs mama too and with parenthood comes advocacy, their forging a path has benefited so many. You called Steve “a good friend who had some challenges.” What a gift of inclusive language.
The story goes that in 1980 the only thing Steve Mitchell wanted for Christmas was a Duke basketball ticket, not an easy score, but Steve’s brother had a construction company and was hired to renovate the new coach’s, Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, house. He asked you how one might find a ticket to buy and explained his brother’s Christmas wish.
“He can sit behind me,” you said. Did you know how life changing that gift would be?
The following season, Steve wrote you a letter saying, “Coach, I know we’re going to have another great year. I was hoping that I could sit near you again.” You said yes to a family that may have heard no far more often. He wrote you a letter every year for 37 years and this is the first season that a ticket, reserved for one Steve Mitchell, isn’t waiting at will call. Steve would collect his ticket and make his way to his seat behind you (usually with the help of his favorite usher, Fran), a tradition that was life changing for his self-confidence, according to his family. You shook his hand before every game.
Thank you, Coach K.
Mamas of special needs kids know that kindness extends far beyond team affiliation and we know that our team is the best of all. Welcome to the club. And to Steve? Godspeed, my friend and thank you.
Adrian (Amos’s mom)
Of the hundreds of stories for 2017, this was my favorite to write. ❤️”
Now, please excuse us while we cry in our coffee just a little. And then, maybe go look for a Duke Basketball game to watch on tv.
“You can see and you can listen, but you have to have moments in which you feel.” – Mike Krzyzewski