Panthers’ Mitchum brings energy to rivalry

by Mark Oliver

With the excitement of football season in the air, student-athletes all across the 501 are gearing up for the promise of a new season. However, while his Heber Springs Panthers prepare to take on longtime-rival Clinton, wide receiver Pierce Mitchum will be cheering on his team from the sidelines to begin his senior year.

“In May, I suffered a torn labrum in my shoulder while pole vaulting,” Mitchum said. “Although it was a bad tear, it could have been much worse. It has been healing on its own over the summer, and I’m now able to do many things that I couldn’t when I was first injured. Though I can’t join my team on the field for the season opener, I’m hoping to be able to play with them again soon.”

Mitchum was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 26 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by First Security Bank and First Service Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Mitchum was nominated by Heber Springs head coach, Darren Gowen.

“Pierce is a competitor, and his speed and ball skills make him an asset on both sides of the ball,” Gowen wrote in his nomination. “He is an extremely well-rounded young man who is liked by his teachers and his peers. He is courteous, responsible and motivated in class. He is a leader among the best.”  

Although he won’t be medically cleared to play in the season opener, Mitchum still expects to play an important role for his team in Week 1.

“Clinton is a big game for us,” Mitchum said. “If I can’t be on the field playing with my team, then my job is to bring the energy. Coach Gowen says that this week is all about effort and attitude. I’m doing everything I can to help our team have good practices and to be ready for a big rivalry game.”

As he continues to heal, Mitchum continues to find ways to stay in shape for his team.

“I’ve been conditioning myself every chance I get,” Mitchum said. “I’ll run in the mornings and run with the team at football practice. I lift weights as much as I can. I’m doing everything I can to be able to play with my team one last time.”

Mitchum’s injury is not the first time the senior has faced adversity. In fact, he’s dealt with personal challenges for most of his life.

“I’ve been hearing impaired since I was 3 years old,” Mitchum said. “As a result, it’s been tough for me to hear the calls while I’m on the field. Thankfully, my team has accommodated me by giving me hand signals. It helps me a lot. My disability has been a challenge for me, but I’ve never let it slow me down. I’ve learned to read lips and look my coach in the eye. If I look him in the eye, I can hear every word he says.”

After falling in the first round of the playoffs a year ago, the Panthers are focused on improving in 2016.

“Like every other team, we’re aiming for a state championship,” Mitchum said. “But right now we’re really looking at the first conference game against Lonoke. The first three games will help us get ready for that. That’s our main goal right now.”

Aside from football, the multi-sport Mitchum plays center field for Panthers baseball and has won consecutive state championships with Heber Springs’ track and field team. In the spring, the senior is even considering joining the bowling team.

“I thank God for giving me the athletic ability that I have,” Mitchum said. “I want to thank my parents for being there for me every step of the way and pushing me to be the best person and athlete I can be.”

“Pierce is a special athlete, but he is an even better young man,” Gowen wrote. “He dedicates many Saturdays each fall to working with Heber Springs’ youth football program. From coaching to concessions, the young athletes love to be with him because of his patience and encouragement.”

Off the field, Mitchum is a member of Beta Club and FCCLA at Heber Springs High School. In his community, he volunteers his time feeding the homeless and teaching the youth of the 501 about God.

“I’m a part of Young Life, which is a church group made up of mostly football players,” Mitchum said. “It’s a great way for people to come together, play fun games and learn about God. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

The future is bright for Mitchum, who committed to Arkansas State University in May to play baseball.

“I’ve played baseball ever since I could hold a bat,” Mitchum said. “It was a great honor for me to commit to Arkansas State. Because of this opportunity, I can continue toward my dream of becoming a professional baseball player.”

Heber Springs opens the season at Clinton on Friday, Sept. 2.