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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

“Mamma-jamma” Teachings of an Olympic boxing coach

Head coach Al Mitchell began his amateur boxing career in 1960 and retired 43-1 at the bantam weight class. He served as the U.S. Olympic Team’s head coach in 1996 and as an Olympic technical advisor in 2004 // Brice Burge/NW

Al Mitchell is not your typical boxing coach. Instead he is a fighter, whose coaching techniques and styles combine a blend of past trainers and his own personal philosophy.

“He is a hell of a trainer,” said Damon Allen, one of the USOEC boxers. “If anyone knows anything about boxing, it’s Coach Al.”

Mitchell has been a coach for the USOEC boxing program since 1989, training national champions, Olympians and boxing legends like two-division world champion Vernon Forrest and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dave Reed. In addition to his coaching at NMU, he has coached the 1996 American Olympic Team and served as an assistant for the 2004 team, run a youth boxing program and help coached China’s national boxing team.

“Coach resorts to results,” said USOEC boxer Fidel Cervantes. “He always says he has over 300 national champions and all these medalists. There’s no way to argue that.”

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Those results come from Mitchell’s importance of stressing details, defense and values in his coaching. Unlike other coaches who focus on offense and strength, these core fundamentals are an integral part of everyday training, Mitchell said.

“If you don’t go to school, you don’t go to (fights) and you don’t get to practice,” Mitchell said.

Each one of his coaching attributes proves his dedication to his fundamentals, because even though Cervantes said there is no way to argue with results, the respect Mitchell shows to his athletes and predecessors through his everyday style. He is often heard saying “mamma-jamma” instead of using profanities and wears a fanny pack because it’s what his former coaches used to do.

“When I was a kid, I used to have a coach named Mr. Goodman – I never did find out what his first name was, bless his heart. He would always use mamma-jamma when he was mad because the old-timers never cussed,” Mitchell explained. “They all had fanny packs, too, to hold their keys and important things and I never lost any of those things either.”

And, while these personality quirks are often misunderstood, the commitment to defense is one of his proudest accomplishments. According to Mitchell, none of his protégés have had long-term effects of boxing’s typical injuries, and many have gone from the USOEC program to be teachers, principals and coaches.

“None of my guys are walking funny,” Mitchell said. “If you preach the defense, they will have a long career. The offense will come as they become better boxers, but the defense wins the big (matches).”

One of Mitchell’s favorite things about the USOEC is the commitment to education. The coach has traveled all around the world and has seen the effort that other countries have dedicated to learning.

“These kids need education. I go to other countries and see them speak three, four or five different languages, even some 16-year-olds that speak seven languages. I’m very fortunate to help these kids with their education; and it’s not just me, but all (the USOEC coaches and staff),” Mitchell said.

Mitchell will continue to coach the USOEC boxing team before taking a coaching stint with the China national team during spring break, but will return to his main responsibilities soon afterwards.

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