Manley's Blog

Toms River North Coach Dave Mitchell Passes Away

Posted in Uncategorized by mattmanley on December 17, 2009

I received news this morning that Toms River North coach Dave Mitchell passed away Wednesday afternoon at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. According to North assistant Joe Mahon, Mitchell was diagnosed with lymphoma about three weeks after the regular season ended, at which point he was transferred from Community Hospital in Toms River to Columbia Presbyterian. He had checked himself into Community on Nov. 18, the day after the Mariners lost to Toms River South in the Group IV final. Mitchell was 49 years old.

There is no concrete news on memorial services at this time.

That’s about all I know for sure. I spoke with Mahon today, as well Lee Webb, the father of senior captain Todd Webb. Both were stunned, saddened very reflective toward a man that both admired. I also received a text message response from Toms River East coach Ted Gillen, who was very close with Mitchell. Here are some of their thoughts.

“We’re all stunned. I know it’s hit Todd pretty hard. He was with coach Mitchell for four years on the varsity team and he spent every day with him during the fall of the last four years. Todd learned more about the game from coach Mitchell than anyone and to hear the news last night was devastating for Todd. I’m devastated. He was a great coach and a first class guy all the way. We’re going to miss him.”  – Lee Webb

“During the middle of the season, he told me, ‘I’m really sick.’ Obviously we didn’t know the extent of it, but after the season, as soon as the Toms River South game ended, he just kind of took a deep breath a and told me, ‘all I want to do right now is go check myself into the hospital and take care of myself.’ I think I talked with him once over the phone, but that was the last time I ever saw him.” – Joe Mahon

“Besides being a great coach and a fantastic teacher, he was an even better person. He touched so many people through teaching and coaching and everything else that he did. He did it all with caring and class. A great human being, a great man and a great friend, who’s missed already.” – Ted Gillen

“I met with the kids in school today we sat in Jerry Klimek’s classroom, where we always had our team meetings. It was supposed to be for counseling, but we ended up just sharing stories. He’s been their coach, a lot of them for four years now, but I don’t think they knew what kind of man he was and I think they all learned a little bit about him. I told them, ‘You have know idea how proud he was of you guys.'” – Mahon

From talking with Mitchell over the course of this past season, I can tell you that he was indeed especially proud of this group. He was a very honest man and he would be very frank if he was displeased with his team at any point, but a vast majority of time, he had nothing but kind and sincere things to say about this group, both as individual players and individual human beings.

Mitchell had a very difficult last few months. He lost his father at the end of the summer, just before the season started. Just before Mitchell’s father died, his mother was in a severe, but not fatal, car accident. During the Shore Conference Tournament, Mitchell arrived late to his team’s semifinal game against CBA because he was taking his father-in-law to the hospital.

“I think the kids really got a glimpse of what kind of person he was this year,” Mahon said. “They saw how hard his father’s death hit him and they honored that every game by wearing those arm bands. He went through a lot for this team and his family, and I think everyone appreciated him for that.”

My last conversation with Mitchell was the night of the loss to Toms River South, which was the night before he checked himself into the hospital. I left a voicemail message for him because I wanted to talk about the game and I didn’t necessarily expect him to call me back that night, knowing he had lost a tough game. Dave was always good about returning my calls and keeping me informed, but no one would have blamed a coach in his situation to wait until the next morning. And I think no one would expect a man in his state to call some reporter who just wanted to know how the game went that night.

Mitchell called me back shortly after I left the message and he sounded exhausted. I had know idea what kind of shape he was in, and that’s the way he wanted it. He was a very humble, reserved guy who would hate to draw attention to himself. I thought something was a little strange about that conversation because sometimes coaches have that exacerbated sound in their voice after a tough loss, but this one was different. Mitchell didn’t sound upset with his team. He said it was a great game, one of the best he coached in, and that he was proud of his kids. Again, no one would have blamed him if he did not call me that night, but the gesture speaks volumes of the pride he took in the team and the time he spent teaching and coaching them.

I had to cover a different game that night and could not go to the TR North-TR South game, and at the end of the night, I really wished I had gone to Neptune because of just how great of a game it turned out to be. With the news of Mitchell’s passing, I wish I could have been there for different reasons now. I had the utmost respect for Dave, both professionally and personally and it’s pretty clear that everyone who came in contact with him felt the same way. I’m going to miss speaking with him next year.

My heart goes out to Dave’s wife and children, the rest of his family and friends, as well as the Toms River North community. He will be deeply missed.


6 Responses

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  1. Art Collier said, on December 18, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    A fitting tribute Matt, as good as any I’ve ever read. Thank you for taking the effort to properly honor a great guy. Coach Mitchell will be missed by many throughout the shore.

  2. Dan Cowan said, on December 18, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Very fitting. As a former athlete he always stood by my side supporting me and putting the confidence in me to do my best…owe a lot of my 2003 season to him.

    I talked to one of his nephews, services will be Monday from 3 – 7 at Anderson Campbell in Toms River with a memorial service at 5.

  3. John Prudhomme said, on December 20, 2009 at 3:46 am

    Matt, thank you for this. Dave was the quiet friend that everyone could rely on in high school. He loved sports like all of us and he always had a kind word and a friendly smile. If I had a bad baseball game, he would always make a point to stop me in the hall or see me in class and say something motivating or comforting to me to make me forget about it and get pumped to improve. And I always kept tabs on him during soccer season.

    After all these years, you lose touch with the friends you had in school. And to hear that someone like Dave left us so young, makes us all realize how short life really is. Dave will be missed on earth and welcomed greatly in heaven.

  4. lee webb said, on December 21, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you Matt for providing all of us with your thoughts and the thoughts of a few others who knew Coach Mitchell. He certainly was all that you said and more. He was respected by everyone that came to know him. I for one am glad I can say I knew Dave personally and I saw first hand all the many great qualities he had .

    As a parent to one of his players for the last 4 years, I could not have asked for a better person to help mold and guide my son through his high school career. I am certain my son will take what he has learned from Dave and continue to live by his examples.

    I will always remember that Friday afternoon on Novemebr 13, 2009 in the middle of a nor’easter storm, Toms River North was in the central jersey group IV state final vs Rancocas Valley. North had played one of the best matches I had ever seen them play and North won in over time.
    After the match, Coach and I and a few others were the last to leave the field, both savoring the moment…and I thanked him for bringing home the championship for our boys, and he responded as only Dave could…” no, thank you for the honor of allowing me to coach your boys”…
    now knowing what Dave was going through physically at that time is truely a testament to his character.

    Thank you Dave, I know you will continue to live in our hearts and minds for the rest of our lives.

  5. Amy said, on December 23, 2009 at 1:03 am

    I just want to say how sad I am to hear of such a wonderful man and father taken too soon from this earth. Mr. Mitchell was always good to my daughter including his wife and kids. My daughter was best friends at one point with his daughter and my heart is broken to find out about this. I hope he is at peace with his family in heaven now. For me and my daughter life will not be the same without this man in it and I hope to all will be well with the family. He may be gone for now but not forgotten.
    Amy & Vicki

  6. Michael said, on June 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    This month marks 20 years ago I graduated from Toms River North. Mr. Mitchell was my teacher in High School. I owe graduating to him, he was the best teacher I ever had. If it was not for him, I probably would of never graduated. I have often thought about him over the years since graduating. I decided to look him up to try and re connect with him, and to my shock I found out that he had passed away in 2009. He was a great person, a great teacher and coach. I remember skipping lunch period many times just to hang out with him and talk sports. Even though I just came across this 5 years later, I am extremely sorry to hear of his passing. Mr. Mitchell impacted and touched many people through out the years.

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