By D. Mark Mitchell

Sports Columnist

Opelika High Freshman Conner Pruitt won the AHSAA state diving championship last weekend in Auburn. Pruitt is the first state diving champion in OHS school history, and the first to win a state swimming/ diving title since Anna Maddux and Sam Kiefer won swimming championships in 2009.
Pruitt competed against every diver in the AHSAA event. Pruitt’s final score, 408.35, was 40 points higher than the second place winner. Conner finished fourth last year as an eighth grader. Congratulations to Conner Pruitt!
Early last Sunday morning I received a disturbing phone call informing me about the death of JaKell Mitchell. After talking with Mario Mitchell, who was in Texas on business, reality set in…. JaKell (18 years young) was murdered at a party. A senseless crime that took the place at an apartment complex in Auburn.
JaKell was an incredible athlete, playing both football and basketball and also running track. He committed to play football for AU before his senior year at OHS. JaKell tore his ACL in a summer team camp before his senior year causing him to sit out of sports his senior year. Auburn honored his scholarship, however, and he enrolled in college this past fall. AU redshirted Mitchell in an effort to help him get stronger while working to get back in playing shape.
I met Mrs. Mitchell, JaKell’s great grandmother, while I was selling insurance in the mid 80’s. This relationship grew, as her grandson Mario Mitchell, played football at OHS. As the “Voice of the Bulldogs” for 35 years I find myself calling names of children that are sons of former athletes that I called out while they were playing at Opelika.
JaKell Mitchell was one of those children of a father who played while I have been broadcasting. During JaKell’s sophomore year, I started referring to him as my cousin because we share the same last name. Little did I know, JaKell and family starting calling me “Cuz”.
JaKell always called me “Cuz”. Before he graduated from OHS, Mario and JaKell presented me a shirt with JaKell’s number 9 in the middle and
the words.. “JaKell’s Cousin” printed across the back shoulders. I still have the shirt. JaKell Mitchell treated me with respect, always giving me a big ole smile and hug when we crossed paths. His smile was a “Kodak moment.” Mitchell’s smile will never be forgotten. He used proper manners, saying “yes sir” and “no sir” when answering questions.
The last time I spoke with JaKell was during the Super 7 at Jordan- Hare. Early one morning before games started, I walked out of the tunnel heading to the field when I heard “ HEY CUZ” screaming from a smiling JaKell Mitchell who was at the other end of the field . He ran to me shaking my hand and hugging my neck. It was a good feeling to see him. As he walked away, he said “I love ya, Cuz”, I replied the same. Little did I know this would be our last conversation on this earth.
It’s hard to understand why guns are used outside of hunting and law enforcement. Why would you need to carry a gun to a “party?” Canʼt you feel like a man (or woman) without a gun? Are you that insecure? !    The facts of the case are still being pieced together. A suspect has been arrested. We all need to sit back and allow the justice system to run its course.
Funeral services for Jakell will be held at Greater Peace Baptist Church in Opelika, at noon Saturday (tomorrow). Visitation is tonight at the Harris Funeral home from 5-7 p.m.
We all need to keep JaKell, his family and the family of the suspect in our prayers.
The girls and boys basketball teams are in full swing. Both teams were scheduled to play their first area game last Monday against Russell County. The game was moved to January 10 due to the death of JaKell Mitchell.
Both teams played Valley last night. The game was scheduled for today but was changed due to Jakellʼs visitation ( the results were not available at press time).
The OHS Lady Buldogs are 7-5 heading into Area play. Jaylen Snipes and Alexis Sydnor are leading the team in scoring. Snipes is averaging over 20 points per game while Sydnor is averaging around 16. This is a young team which continues to improve.
The boys are 7-2 entering last nightʼs Area game. Coach John Wadsworth’s team lost to Central and Robert E. Lee; both of whom are ranked in the top ten in class 7A.
The Dawgs are playing as a team. They are unselfish and playing well together. If this continues they could win the Area and go a long way in the AHSAA state playoffs.
You can listen to “On The Mark” radio show weekdays Monday- Friday 7a.m.-9a.m. on WTLM 1520 AM. Jeff Sasser co-hosts the local sports show with me. The show is guest-driven and centers around local sports and some news.
We interview Opelika coaches daily and coaches from other local schools. Guest hosts are former AHSAA Director Dan Washburn on Monday and Wednesday, Coach Larry Gore Tuesday, Coach Joe Wilson on Thursday and other guests like coaches Pat Dye and Sonny Smith. You can listen online at then click
“Listen live to On the Mark” or by tuning to 1520 AM.
My oldest daughter Mallory graduated from the University of Alabama last Saturday with a bachelors degree in history. Mallory wants to be a history teacher. As most fathers, I was excited and proud to see her receive the diploma from UA President Judy Bonner.
Congratulations, Mallory J. Mitchell! Your father and sister Madison are proud of you!
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the  A-O Sports Council.