"The kid … must have been the actual kid used to sell drugs in the area. So once he rolled up on the bike, [the gunman] hit the jackpot, because he grabbed the little boy off the bike and took all his stuff. Once he got him, he told everybody to run. Once everybody started running, he shot the gun in the air.

"Then you could hear the bullets pop, popping off the dumpster and like the last shot, that's the one that hit me in my back and I just felt myself being paralyzed instantly."

That night, members of Mitchell's extended family went to see him in the hospital. Several who coached with him and his cousin Charmon Vaughan, now a Clippers assistant, said Mitchell tried to prepare them to take over the Pop Warner team.


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"He was letting us know what we had to do, because he felt that he wasn't going to live," Vaughan said. "Our older cousin [Alfred Cotton] was like, 'Well, no. You're going to be coaching. You're going to survive this and you're going to be right out there coaching with us.'"

Seven months later, he was.

"This is what he thrives on, this is what keeps him going every day," Vaughan said.

Mitchell said coaching on the high school level is all about teaching, a lesson he learned early from Wrenn, and he can do that as easily from his wheelchair as he could on his feet. He has always relied on his hands more than his feet to demonstrate, something he picked up at a coaches' clinic in the mid-1990s.

"Other than that," he said, "I've just been blessed with being able to say something to a child and him getting halfway to what I'm talking about, so I can say, 'Move your feet back a little bit, sit down a little bit, move over a little bit' until they get it right. Instead of me just sitting there trying to explain it, we just do it over and over again until we get it right."

One lesson Mitchell has instilled in his players is that he doesn't want to hear the words, "I can't." Mitchell has high hopes for the Clippers who, with a 6-4 record, just missed the playoffs last fall.

Muhammad said seeing Mitchell on the field every day motivates the players to work harder.

"When I look at him, I can't say, 'I can't,' so I'm going to do it. Even if it's the hardest thing in the world, I'm going to do it," Muhammad said.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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