Names Behind the Games: Whitney Mitchell
By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer
October 24, 2011

This is way too much of a coincidence, Ive often thought.

Over the four-plus years Ive lived in New Orleans, whenever Ive met someone with a child who attends school in the area, they invariably say something to me like Oh, you work for the Hornets? Thats great. The Hornets just visited my kids school recently.

After hearing this same general piece of information numerous times, I initially wondered how it could be possible that virtually every parent Ive met in the Big Easy has experienced a Hornets Day at their childs school. Then I spoke to Whitney Mitchell of the teams community-relations department.

As it turns out, theres a very logical explanation behind why seemingly every NOLA mom and dad knows first-hand about the organizations presence in local schools. During the post-Hurricane Katrina era of the franchise, the Hornets have visited roughly 99 percent of the metro areas public primary schools, through a combination of reading, fitness and educational initiatives.

Since joining the Hornets full time in 2007, the LSU graduate and former Tigers track scholarship athlete has played a prominent role in helping the team make a widespread and hands-on impact in the community. For example, the Hornets host an annual youth-leadership program (known as YLA, for Youth Leadership Academy), for a total of roughly 80 students in grades 8 through 12. Many of the teenagers view Mitchell as a role model and mentor, causing some to periodically text-message the New York City native for advice.

I think the majority of New Orleans might have my work phone number, the personable Mitchell said, laughing. Kids will hit me up with questions, or some will (text), What are you doing? because they just want to talk to someone.

Through a vast array of programs such as YLA, the Hornets are constantly in the news for their ongoing community projects, but to Mitchell, many of the teams most important efforts occur when there are no media members around to document it.

The biggest problem a lot of kids have is that people come into their lives, make all of these promises, but then you never see them again, Mitchell said. One thing that motivates me personally is to never work on any of these programs without keeping in touch with kids, no matter what. I was fortunate enough to have both of my parents around while growing up, but you realize how many kids are out there who dont have that.

I like to be kind of that cool older sister, a smiling Mitchell continued while describing her mentoring role, where I can talk to kids about certain things, but I can also tell them which things are bad (that they should avoid).

People often say that New Orleans is the smallest big city in the United States, partly due to the unusually high number of social connections there are locally, as well as how close-knit families tend to be in the area. From the Hornets standpoint, that personalized atmosphere of New Orleans is something that works to the franchises advantage. The Hornets have become so familiar to many local schools, in fact, that theyve already hosted multiple trips to home games.

If you havent gotten a ticket, a book, a player visit or an invitation to some type of event we hosted, then there is something wrong, a grinning Mitchell explained of contact with area schools. When we go to schools now and say, Whos been to a Hornets game? and we think were talking about something theyve never experienced or seen before, the kids will say, Well, weve all actually been to one before.

My favorite memory as a Hornet is the playoff journey during the 2007-2008 season. That experience was the first time I had ever been in an arena during any type of playoff game. The feeling from the charge of excitement the fans gave was amazing. I felt like even I could make a clutch baseline three if the team needed me.

I have the opportunity to connect with the next generation of New Orleans through various scholastic programs we have in place in and around the metro area. Most days I feel like a year-round Santa Claus being able to give rewards to young people who are working hard toward their futures.

Any given day, theres a strong chance my chair in the office will be empty. From learning how to drive a 10-speed bus, to picking up hundreds of frozen turkeys or making stops to connect with administrators at various elementary and middle schools, having a solid work day at my desk is a privilege Im not afforded much, especially during the season.

I interned at the NBA league office over the summer of 2006 and knew thereafter that I wanted to continue my experience working in basketball. After moving back to New York post-graduation from LSU in 2007, I applied and landed a job interning with the Hornets in the game presentation department while carrying a full-time job at Clear Channel Radio. After a hard-working fall, I transitioned into a full-time position with the Hornets in the Community Relations Department and Ive been with the team ever since!

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