Lee Mitchell has been coaching soccer at Alta High for 31 years, and has built a powerhouse with both the boys and girls programs. Deseret News girls soccer writer Sarah Thomas caught up with Mitchell this week and posed the following questions.
Q: How did you get started in soccer?
A: There was no youth soccer when I was young. There was club soccer in the high school and there were adult leagues. When I was 12 years old, I began playing with my ward in an adult league. They would beat me up, and I loved it. At Olympus, I played on the club team as a sophomore and then in adult leagues.
Q: How long have you been coaching soccer at Alta High?
A: I am the only soccer coach Alta has ever had. I was teaching (health and PE) at Indian Hills Middle School when they sanctioned boys soccer in 1983, and I applied for the job at Alta High. Three years later I moved to teach at Alta. Girls soccer was sanctioned in 1989 and I applied for that job. I have been teaching now for 34 years.
Q: Real Salt Lake has been in Utah for eight years. How has having a professional team impacted the high school game?
A: Having Real Salt Lake here has done a lot because kids are seeing a higher level of soccer. It is similar with the women's college teams and the high school girls getting to see them play at that level.
Q: What changes have you seen in girls sports specifically in the years you have been coaching girls soccer?
A: I was recently looking at a video tape of games from 1989. It is amazing how much the skill level has changed since then. There used to be a few great players and everybody else. It isn't that way anymore. It is also amazing how much the involvement has grown. In 1989, we had a varsity team but no JV. Maybe 30 girls tried out. Now, we average 60 girls trying out. And it is the same for the boys' team too.
Q: Kealia Ohai (Ms. Soccer in 2009) was a fantastic player for Alta. At the time. Did you ever think she would be national team caliber?
A: Kealia was a very special athlete. Not very many people make it that far, but she had the skill and desire. Others, like Katie Larkin, have been close to that level. I try to travel to see those kids play. I went to North Carolina to watch Kealia and to Portland to watch Derek Boggs (Mr. Soccer in 2011). I have a couple of kids playing for Utah State (Natalie Norris, Jackie Tillotson and Lauren Roundy) and BYU (Taylor Campbell and Michele Murphy), so I will go watch that NCAA game.
I have been blessed to coach such talented players, and what they are doing now makes me very proud.
Q: What kind of affect do you anticipate the opening of Corner Canyon High School will have on Alta soccer?
A: Hopefully not too much affect in the negative. There are good players everywhere, and I am sure eventually they will have kids that would have been at Alta that we won't get to work with. But, we will have other great kids playing for us.