One season into his college athletic career, Mitchell Brown decided his future needed to look a bit more like his past.
Thus the former Polk County standout is leaving Winston-Salem State, where he had a successful freshman cross country season, and transferring to Gardner-Webb, where he will be part of the Bulldogs’ cross country and track and field programs.
In his debut season at WSSU, Brown earned Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s cross country runner of the week honors in September and placed third in the season-ending CIAA Championships, earning all-conference honors. But the lack of a track program at the school and the search for an environment similar to that of Polk County led Brown to look to continue his college career elsewhere.
“I was led to leave WSSU because of four main reasons,” Brown said. “(One) I didn’t have the coaching or the team I was seeking at the college level, (two) the campus life was not very positive at all, (three) without track I feel like a part of me is missing. I truly love cross country but track is definitely my new favorite after missing out. (Four) As a Christian, I needed the environment again that I had with FCA bible study Wednesday mornings and then the normal FCA gatherings on Friday morning. It’s truly an environment that I thrive in.
“At Polk County I had a family within the team. The bond between Jacob (Wolfe), Sean (Doyle), Coach (Jenny) Wolfe and I was unbreakable by our senior year. I don’t expect to find a team similar because you really can’t. You don’t come across guys like Sean Doyle and Jacob Wolfe too often. We were all selfless for each other. We ran for each other – that was the bottom line. I didn’t train to win state for myself, I trained to win state for Sean, Jacob and Coach. At WSSU I had nothing close to that, and running didn’t mean near as much.”
Brown didn’t intentionally seek to be closer to Polk County, but that will be an added benefit of his transfer to Gardner-Webb. Assuming he satisfies all academic requirements this spring at WSSU as expected, Brown will be eligible to compete this fall for the Bulldogs.
Wrapping up his ninth season at Gardner-Webb, head coach Brian Baker led the Bulldogs to a seventh-place finish in last fall’s Big South Conference Cross Country Championships and a sixth-place showing at the Big South indoor championships earlier this year.
“The things that really pulled me to Gardner-Webb were definitely Coach Baker and the school in general,” Brown said. “Coach Baker is the type of coach I want without a doubt. It was one of those situations where I knew that he could take me where I need to be as a runner. After sitting out for the indoor season I realized my goals and my dreams, and I knew that at WSSU those would not happen.
“The school has a such a positive Christian environment. When I was visiting, you could just look around and see smiles everywhere. Even the maintenance workers seemed to be extremely happy. The small-town feel definitely hit home for me at Gardner-Webb. Being right in the middle of Winston-Salem was just a huge transition for me and it didn’t go over too well.”
The move to Gardner-Webb will also mean a transition from Division II competition to Division I and a move to a highly competitive Big South Conference. Campbell had two All-American cross country runners in the fall, though one of those, Amos Terer, will graduate this year. Terer also earned All-American recognition during the indoor track season.
Brown is ready for the challenge.
“Last season was a very successful one as far as placement,” Brown said. “I finished third in the CIAA and qualified for NCAA Regionals. The transition was easier, in my opinion. The 8K never scared me. I went into it just as another race and it went well with that mentality. I’ll be the first to admit that the CIAA is not a very competitive cross country conference and transferring to the Big South Conference will be a totally different ball game for me. Being at the DI level will, of course, make things more difficult, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“I have big expectations. I plan to remain in my exercise science major to go toward getting my Doctorate of Physical Therapy, which will be more than a challenge itself. As far as running goes, I don’t want to say too much and get ahead of the game, but I know I do want to put my name out there on my Runnin’ Bulldog debut and make a statement from the start. This summer will take a lot of hard work in order for me to do so. Sean and I plan on training together this summer as much as we can – this will make things easier on the both of us.
“I’m excited to start competing this fall and cannot wait for August to come around.”