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Baseball played the Mitchell way

Mitchell Legion manager Luke Norden waits for the start of a June 28 baseball game against Brandon Valley at Cadwell Park in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Win or lose, youth baseball players in Mitchell play the game the right way, mandated by head coach Luke Norden.

Norden is in his 11th season of coaching baseball in Mitchell and believes he has developed a calmness around the game, which is infectious among his players.

"The calmer that you can be as a coach, the calmer your team is going to be in certain situations," Norden said. "One thing I've tried to do is to not make any game bigger than any other game."

After more than a decade with the Mitchell programs, Norden has no intention of setting coaching aside anytime soon.

"The No. 1 reason I do this is to see the game played the right way," Norden said.

Norden began coaching the Mitchell High School baseball team in 2004 shortly after graduating from college and still looking for a permanent position as a teacher. Norden took over the head coaching responsibilities with the Post 18 Legion team in Mitchell in 2007 after former head coach Kent VanOverschelde stepped down to focus on his head coaching responsibilities with the Kernel varsity football team. Norden had been an assistant with the Legion team prior to taking over as head coach.

After graduating from Dakota Wesleyan University, where he played baseball for the Tigers, Norden wanted to get a teaching job right out of college. Former DWU coach Andy Neisius talked Norden into applying for the open high school baseball coaching job, which Norden started prior to taking a full-time fifth grade teaching position at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary in Mitchell in the fall of 2004. He continues to teach in that position, and also is the eighth-grade football coach in Mitchell.

VanOverschelde said Norden brings a passion for the game of baseball and for the way it should be played.

"Luke is less concerned with winning a losing games and more concerned with the way the game should be played," VanOverschelde said. "That is the hallmark of what he has done with Mitchell baseball. He is hands on with the development for Mitchell baseball from the teener teams on up."

The vision and brand of Mitchell baseball is something that Norden has worked on improving over his time with the program, according to VanOverschelde.

"When you go around Mitchell baseball at any level you see the Mitchell hats with the M," VanOverschelde said. "It was part of his vision to put Mitchell baseball under one focus and it's symbolic of the direction of the program."

Norden, who lives in Mitchell with his wife Amy, is 362- 219 combined between high school and Legion. He has coached two state title teams -- high school in 2006 and 2009. The 2014 Legion team is starting to gel, having just come off a strong tournament win in Fargo, N.D./Moorhead, Minn., last weekend. The team is currently 18-10.

The 2006 high school championship team in Mitchell won the last 12 games of the season and continued the next year strong by winning its first 19 games. Norden said he doesn't know if any Mitchell team will ever be able to equal the feat of winning 31 in a row.

One member of those 2006 and 2007 teams was Jason Schmidt, who played for Mitchell baseball on the high school and Legion teams from 2003 to 2008.

"We worked on all of the fundamentals every day and I assume nothing has changed," Schmidt said. "It wasn't always about the physical aspects of the game, but the mental aspects as well. He taught us how to react to certain situations."

Schmidt said Norden's focus on the fundamentals helped shape him into the player he was in college. Schmidt went on after playing for Mitchell to the baseball program at Mount Marty College. Now living in Emery, Schmidt plays for the Dimock/Emery amateur baseball team.

Through all of the successful seasons and those that finished short, Norden has preached a philosophy of doing things the right way on the baseball field.

"I don't want our team to be one of those that doesn't show up or doesn't respect the game," Norden said. "We want other teams to say 'I wish our team was more like Mitchell's team.' "

Norden, 33, has seen the times change off the field for what high school athletes have to deal with, including the advancements and pitfalls of social media and cell phones in each player's pocket.

"I can only imagine what a coach, who has been doing this for 20 years, must think," Norden said of what today's players are dealing with. "I'm not that old, but I'm a lot older than the kids. It gets to a point sometimes that you just have to remind the kids that some of those things are not as important as they may think."

On a road trip two years ago, Norden said the phones and social media with his players had become an issue. Norden said his team was strong that year, but changes needed to be made.

Norden had a meeting with his players at the Fargo/Moorhead tournament that year, and allowed his players to voice their opinions on what needed to be done to make the team more successful. One of the things decided was Norden would have each player put their cell phone in a shoebox when they came off the bus before games.

"For the remainder of the season we did that," Norden said. "I wasn't punishing the guys, but they needed an understanding of what's important. Our season changed after that meeting and we had a great run."

Norden hasn't made the phone policy a permanent rule for Mitchell baseball, but instead felt that that team needed that to change its perspective.

"You have to take every group of kids a little bit differently," Norden said.

One of Norden's fondest memories of coaching was a Legion state tournament victory over Rapid City in 2009. Post 18 topped Post 320 34-5, in a game Norden said his team just couldn't make an out.

"Some of the kids now still talk about that and they weren't even around at the time," Norden said.

Norden said continuing to coach Mitchell baseball for three or more decades into the future is not out of the question.

"We recently played a couple of games against teams with a coach well into their 60s," Norden said. "That should be the goal."