Cookies to cameras: Gena Mitchell focuses on JHHS football

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By Robert Villanueva

On a Thursday night in September in the Mitchell home in Elizabethtown, the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies mingles with the excited exclamations of teenagers playing football on Xbox.


The cookies are some of the estimated 5,850 Gena Mitchell has baked over the past six years for members of the John Hardin High School football team.

As the mother of senior quarterback, Eli, and another son, Caleb, who now plays football at Kentucky Christian University, Gena has found herself enveloped in the sport.

“I’m probably the least football-minded person in the family,” Gena admits. “I know the game pretty well. I do get excited.”

Gena began hosting the impromptu get-togethers at her home when Caleb was in high school. JHHS football players arrive about 6:30 p.m. or so each Thursday during football season to the Mitchell home to enjoy cookies, video games and fellowship.

“We’ve always said we’d rather our kids be here so we know where they are,” she said.

The football players usually go out to eat before arriving at the Mitchell home.

When they arrive, they make their way to the kitchen where warm cookies and warm greetings await them.

“We love our moms and Kool-Aid,” one player proclaims as he enters the kitchen.

Others offer quick greetings to Gena and chit chat as they crowd around the kitchen counter and grab a few cookies each. They laugh and joke.

“I kind of have a soft spot for this group,” Gena said. “I’ve just watched them grow up so much.”

A few minutes later, the teammates retreat to the basement game room. A few players arrive late and make their way into the kitchen. Some resurface from the basement.

All the while, Gena places more baking sheets of cookies in the oven or takes sheets of cookies out. She typically bakes 75 to 80 cookies each Thursday, having prepared the dough the night before, she said.

“How are you doing, Mr. Garrett?” Gena asks player Garrett Ray as he steps into the kitchen.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Ray confesses as he takes a few cookies.
From the basement game room, high school students shout enthusiastically.

The football players filter in and out of the kitchen and the home. The next night, they will be out of the field where the plays aren’t on an Xbox.

On the sidelines, Gena will be taking photos, jockeying for a good vantage point and trying not to draw too much attention to herself.

“I’m a scrapbooker, so it just kind of evolved,” she said of her habit of taking photos of the athletes during games.

Gena starts out taking action shots of the game, but toward the end of the game, players start posing for shots, she said.

“We put them on the website,” Gena said, referring to JHHS webpage, The Gridiron.

All her support, according to her husband, Doug, is an indication of how she “invests” herself in whatever is important to the family.

“I just think she’s an incredible person, and it starts from the inside out,” he said, citing her strong faith as the reason.

Caleb recalled when his mother first started the tradition of baking cookies for his high school team. Her support, he said, has been consistent.

“She’s always been there,” Caleb said. “I could count on one hand the number of games she’s missed.”

Even now that he’s in college, Caleb still will text his mom to let her know how football practice went, he said.

Eli said his mom is dependable when it comes to support, and he feels it helps put him in a good frame of mind for the games.

“No matter what — if I play bad or play good — I know she’s going to be there,” Eli said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.