April 18, 2018 By Ben Schueren and Patrick Murphy
In Hillsborough County, Florida, there is only one school for boys to play volleyball in the district. Coach Cookie Mitchell is a boys’ and girls’ volleyball coach at Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School. Mitchell has coached girls’ volleyball for 10 years. In 2017, Brooks DeBartolo added boys’ volleyball as a sport. Mitchell said some of the public schools in Hillsborough County don’t even have boys’ volleyball.
“Some of the teams we have to play are out of our county,” Mitchell said. “But again, since we’re a charter school, it gave us a little flexibility, and I was able to start the team. Right now, most of the teams we play are from the Orlando area or the Sarasota area.”
The distance from Orlando to Brooks DeBartolo is 90 miles away. Mitchell has coached volleyball for 15 years. During those 15 years, Mitchell said she has helped four boys’ volleyball players and more than 20 girls’ volleyball players obtain volleyball scholarships. Some of these kids may not have been able to go to college otherwise.
“We make some opportunities for them that they may not have had before because their family wasn’t able to financially afford college,” Mitchell said. “But playing the sport allowed them to have an opportunity to go to college for free.”
In their first year, middle blocker Aaron Oliphant signed to play collegiate volleyball at Warner University. Mitchell said “a lot of people don’t understand the opportunity in boys’ volleyball.”
“People don’t realize that there are so many colleges out there who are looking for players, and [there are] not enough teams really for them to scout from,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a goal of mine in the last several years to continue to train boys in the sport so we can make some more opportunities for them as well.”
Mitchell is not only turning heads in Hillsborough County but also within Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School. Athletic Director Areon Atkinson has watched Mitchell impact the lives of high school boys’ volleyball players.
“Cookie has made boys’ volleyball cool here at BDCHS,” Atkinson said. “Many of the young men look at her like an aunt or motherly figure because she expects respect and maximum effort at all times.”
Atkinson also said he considers Mitchell as “a trendsetter.”
“We are the only Hillsborough County public high school with a boys’ volleyball team,” Atkinson said.
In 2012, Mitchell received the 2012 Vanguard Coach of the Year and 2013 Western Conference Coach of the Year. But her main coaching philosophy isn’t winning awards but rather giving back.
“We give back to the community, and I have found that giving back through youth sports has been my best opportunity to help other people,” Mitchell said. “I have had people help me when I was younger and so I’m trying to do the same.”
For the boys’ team, Mitchell said her main goal for the team is “to increase awareness of the opportunities in boys volleyball and to try and help as many boys as possible receive scholarships.”