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Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016

Chaffee native's book tells story of area high school basketball

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Pictured is the cover of Mike Mitchell's book.
SIKESTON - Southeast Missouri high school basketball fans, and Scott County Central fans in particular, are quite proud of the tradition of small town hoops in this area.

Mostly, past glory is relived through story-telling at the coffee shop. Now they will have a book to reference in case those memories get a little fuzzy.

The book, titled "Show-Me Kings," chronicles the exploits of legendary high school coach Ronnie Cookson and his record 12 state championships at Scott County Central, but it also involves other top high school hoops stories in the area.

Underneath the title is the heading, "Bootheel Ball, The Cookson Clan, & A Run-and-Gun All-Star Show."

Mike Mitchell, a 1984 Chaffee High School graduate and long-time fan of area high school basketball, penned the book.

"I always had an idea of writing a book about something," said Mitchell, 39. "I went to journalism school at Mizzou and worked television for a while and did some writing -- nothing like a book though. A light bulb went on one day when I thought about what Ronnie had done, with the 12 state titles in his career, I just thought that was a story that deserved a wider audience."

Mitchell, who now resides in St. Louis the last three years, said he has no connections to Scott Central other than growing up and watching them play in junior high. He also played against Cookson's teams as a member of the Chaffee Red Devils basketball team.

Mitchell said one of his inspirations to write the book was the 1980 Scott Central team that easily rolled to a state title by record margins.

"I think the thing I was most interested in when I was in junior high watching the 1980 team defeat Slater with 6-11 Joe Klein by 42 points," said Mitchell. "I think that had to be one of the most convincing and amazing performances in high school basketball history in the state.

"Especially considering that same year, Charleston won the 3A title and Cape Central won the 4A title and in the Christmas Tournament that year in Cape Girardeau, Scott Central won the tournament. So they were in effect, the Missouri state champions. I don't think there's many small school performances that can equal that one."

Cookson had a 634-131 record in 25 seasons at Scott County Central from 1971 through 1995.

Mitchell began work on the book in early 2003 and finally completed it in late 2004. His first interview was none other than Cookson.

"I did not know Ronnie Cookson at all until I decided to write this book," said Mitchell. "I wrote a letter to coach Cookson in December of 2002. I told him my idea that I wanted to write about Bootheel basketball with a big focus on Ronnie and what he did at Scott County Central. A couple weeks later his wife called me and said they'd be glad to cooperate in any way possible.

"They gave me all their archives and old newspaper articles that they had saved over the years. My first interview I did for the book was in February of 2003 with Ronnie at his kitchen table in Morley. We sat down and spoke for a couple hours."

Mitchell had remembered Scott Central's accomplishments throughout the early 1980s but still he needed to research facts.

Perhaps the most trying time of the book was combing through archives at the Southeast Missouri State University library.

"I spent hours and hours going through microfilm at the library at Southeast and digging through all of Ronnie's archives and reading various books on Missouri high school basketball history," said Mitchell. "I did 50 interviews for the book and probably had between 75 and 100 hours of recorded conversations. I logged all those transcripts and probably looked at basketball box scores starting in 1951 all the way up to 1995."

While transcribing that many conversations took its toll, Mitchell also said the chance to meet the former players and other coaching icons, including Cookson's brother Carroll, made it all worthwhile.

"I think that was one of the most satisfying parts of the whole experience was sitting and talking to Ronnie's former players and Carroll's former players," said Mitchell. "It was very obvious that they still think of their high school basketball experience and what it still means to them to this day."

Mitchell of course had some help along the way.

To add some spice to the book, the Standard Democrat, formerly the Daily Standard, supplied Mitchell with photographs from Scott Central's championship runs.

"The publisher, Mike Jensen, gave me some background on Sikeston and Scott County history," said Mitchell. "He said, 'whatever we find in the Daily Standard and Standard Democrat archives, feel free to publish it in the book.' We published 22 pictures in the book and I think 21 of those are from the Sikeston paper."

Mitchell started the book and didn't realize how big it was going to be. He even turned down a job offer to continue his writing on the book.

"I started this book and worked on it off and on part-time for about a year, and then it became clear to me that it would take more time than I had thought," said Mitchell. "I work for General Electric Health Care here in St. Louis and they offered me a position in Chicago but I turned it down and said I'm going to take a year off and finish this book."

Mitchell's book is already being sold online at www.showmekings.com or at the toll-free number (866) 308-6235, ext. 136 which is the number of Lacey Gunther/Booksurge Publishing.

A third way to get the book will be Saturday in Chaffee as Mitchell will have a book signing party at Big E's Tavern at 3 p.m.

Mitchell said it's all you can eat chicken and fish dinner for $5. The event is open to the public.

"This Saturday will really be the formal kickoff," said Mitchell. "We've invited a ton of people and really just opened it up to all the communities in the area to come down and get a chance to see the book. We'll be signing autographed copies of the book. A lot of people that I interviewed, along with Ronnie, will be there."