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DENOUDEN: If you think there’s nothing to do in Mitchell, there won’t be

"There's nothing to do in Mitchell."

Take out "Mitchell" and substitute any other place name, and you basically have the small-town teenage anthem.

Except it's not just teenagers anymore. It's everywhere, this phrase, and it never ceases to confuse me.

The occasional, "I'm bored" or "I don't know what I want to do," sure. But mostly, finding ways to stay busy has never been hard for me. Perhaps it's because I grew up in a family where saying "I'm bored" was a surefire way to spend the rest of the day doing manual labor.

Which is why I suspect "there's nothing to do" is code for, "I'm not sure what there is to do" or "I don't feel like doing what there is."

Yes, this is a small town, surrounded by many even smaller towns. And yes, there are some options -- all-night coffee shops, jazz clubs, Olive Garden, IKEA -- that we lack.

But, nothing?

Even in the middle of a frigid South Dakota winter or a temperamental spring, nothing rings false. Take last weekend. Actually, take the whole week.

Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday, the Mitchell High School show choir put on its annual dinner theater. A full meal, plus an approximately two-hour show -- which was really good, by the way -- for $20. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, plus the weekend prior, Dakota Wesleyan University and the community joined together to put on the sprawling stage production of "Les Miserables."

Just a few weeks ago, country band Parmalee was in town, and the Area Community Theatre performed the beloved tale of "Steel Magnolias." Today, several well-known Christian musicians and groups will be in town.

And that's just the arts.

I was recently enlightened regarding the amount of options available for youth through the Mitchell Recreation Center. It offers everything from games to learning skills like how to change a tire. In that vein, sporting events abound this time of year, like March Madness, which typically results in at least one watch party. (Because even in Mitchell -- or anywhere -- we pretty much all have TVs.)

And we haven't even touched on service groups. Where social interactions leave off, community service can more than fill the gap, if you're willing.

We lament how much better it used to be -- back when movies were 50 cents, back when there was roller skating, back when little kids were cuter and all puppies were born house-trained, back when ...

And, I admit, small towns do not always cater to my demographic very well. Last spring, one of my best friends returned home for a short visit. We wanted to hang out, but what do you do at 10 a.m. in Mitchell?

Well, we tried something novel and went for a walk, which you can do in a town of any size. And then my friend introduced me to the niche sport of geocaching, where you use GPS coordinates to find hidden caches -- they remind me of time capsules -- which I may resume once the weather picks a season and sticks with it. And let's not forget Lake Mitchell, which has some nice walking/biking paths.

To a point, it's good to question, to push, to constantly seek for ways to get bigger and better, because the truth is, towns either grow or they die. Ironically, however, if we don't embrace and support what we've already got, how will we ever invite anything new?

We had one of the state's few remaining drive-in theaters. That ended last summer, in part, according to owner Jeff Logan, because business didn't demand it remain.

"Too bad it couldn't have been like that all through the years," Logan said of the final show's booming attendance. "Then we wouldn't be in this shape."

Our lone Italian restaurant closed in January 2013 because workers couldn't be found, according to management. Many Corn Palace shows see abysmal showings -- like the aforementioned Parmalee, a really talented group with one of the most popular songs on country radio right now, which sold 557 tickets out of about 2,500 available. (Which ended up being good for me, because I got really close to the stage without getting crowd claustrophobia.)

Basically, what I'm getting at, is that the more we whine about there being nothing to do, the more we ensure that soon, there truly never will be. It's what's referred to as a "self-fulfilling prophecy," and it's entirely preventable.

Luckily, events like the MHS show choir dinner theater and "Les Mis" had top-notch attendance. So there is hope. We just need to let more people know that yes, there really is plenty to do in Mitchell.

Even without IKEA or Olive Garden.

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