When Todd Neuendorf was hired to be the Mitchell High School boys basketball coach, he had vivid memories of coming-as a player and coach-to a raucous and full Corn Palace to play tough Kernel teams.
After losses in 52 of the last 53 games and a 28-point performance at Watertown on Tuesday, it may be hard for some to envision a return to the glory days, even for those who long for them the most.
Despite being 0-10 this year, the wins are coming. Mitchell has improved during the past year and with three seniors and five juniors, the evolution is going to continue.
There is not a person in Mitchell that wants to win more than Neuendorf, but more importantly, he wants to find a balance in doing so. Some coaches land on opposite ends of the winning-versus-fun spectrum. During a December pep talk to his team prior to practice, Neuendorf expressed his philosophy.
"It's important to have fun," he said then. "But if we're going to be there and they are keeping score, we might as well try to win."
Mitchell's leading scorer is a 6-foot-6 freshman Caden Hinker and starting point guard Ben Helleloid is a sophomore, and Neuendorf also has a hand in helping develop the youth program.
The underclassmen have helped foreshadow the future if the young players continue to develop on the court and in the weight room.
After his first game with the Kernels last season, Neuendorf found losing had become acceptable, but since then, he has begun to change that thinking. When the Kernels enter their locker room at the Corn Palace, miniature Mitchell championship banners line the locker room walls as a reminder of past successes and future goals.
In the last-second loss to Huron in the season opener, the disappointment on the faces of players was obvious. It was apparent once again following a near upset of No. 1 Sioux Falls Lincoln last week, more evidence that Neuendorf's competitive culture is trickling down to his players.
"It's a privilege to be on a basketball team and get to play in front of people," Neuendorf said. "People are paying to watch you play. It's not a right. ... We're trying to get to that point."
When Hinker made a layup to take the lead on Lincoln with less than 3 minutes to play, the Mitchell student section, almost in unison, put down their phones, rose to their feet and stood on the bleachers. It was a rare moment where the crowd came alive for the Kernels this season, but it was obvious they were yearning for more of those moments.
"People are still (at the Corn Palace), they're just wearing blue and it's DWU stuff," Neuendorf said. "It used to be black and gold. They still have it in their closet, they're just looking for a reason to pull it back out."