Byhalia High School football player honored after death on field

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BYHALIA, Miss. — Principal James Kimbrough remembers meeting a charismatic, funny Dennis Mitchell Jr. during the first weeks of school. He recalled an interaction where he caught Dennis telling an inappropriate joke.

“Nah, Mr. Kimbrough. That’s not me. I’m not going to give you any trouble this year!” the 16-year-old told his principal.

His family says the teen never ran out of energy.

"He's spunky,” said his father, Dennis Mitchell, Sr.

“He was a good kid," echoed his sister Kiara Mitchell.

But Friday night, that spunky, energetic sophomore collapsed on the sidelines during his Byhalia High School football game in Coahoma County.

Kimbrough said coaches told him the student athlete was having a seizure. Paramedics stationed at the game sprang into action.

“Paramedics did state he had a pulse when they loaded him into the ambulance," the Byhalia principal said.

Kimbrough followed the ambulance on the seven-minute drive to the hospital. The former football coach was used to situations like this.

“I was thinking when I got to the hospital he’d be sitting up in the bed talking because I’ve had players have seizures in the game," Kimbrough said.

But this visit didn’t go as planned. The doctor came out and told him Mitchell was gone.

“That’s our number one goal besides teaching their kids and ensuring they're learning, is ensuring they make it home to their parents. To have to tell a parent their child (is dead), I have no comfort," he said.

“We gonna get through this in the best way we can," Mitchell Sr. said.

Dennis's father wasn’t at the game. He raced to make it from Memphis to Clarksdale. But his son had already passed when he arrived at the hospital.

Now, he wonders if schools do enough to protect student athletes.

“I’d do more due diligence on my part as far as taking him to the doctor, making sure what’s really going on," Mitchell Sr. said.

His sister sees it differently; she finds peace on the field.

"He was doing what he loved to do, is play football. That helps it sit well with me," Kiara Mitchell said.

Kimbrough said all Mississippi student athletes have to see a doctor and pass a pre-season physical. He said doctors did not indicate any issues with Kimbrough's health.

The school has set up a donation fund to help the family with funeral arrangements. You can drop off donations at Byhalia High School or mail or drop off donations to the Dennis Mitchell, Jr. Memorial Fund at Citizens Bank, 8077 Highway 178, Byhalia, MS 38611.

Mitchell's funeral has been set for 10 a.m. Sept. 1 at the Byhalia High School gym.

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