Paul Mitchell, right, with his wife Catherine and J.R. Gallarza, whom Mitchell mentored as a youth. Photo courtesy J.R. Gallarza

Mitchell founded CYO basketball

By 
  • September 26, 2021

It’s been an emotional time for J.R. Gallarza, an athlete, basketball skills trainer and camp co-ordinator in Brantford, Ont.

Gallarza is still processing the news of the passing of Paul Mitchell, and the 29-year-old gets a little choked up when he considers the impact Mr. Mitchell has had on his life and the lives of so many other young players in the community.

In the Brantford, Ont., sporting community, the name Paul Mitchell is synonymous with the game of basketball. 

Co-founder of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball program in 1956, he has been a constant figure at games and tournaments in the region for decades. The local legend died at Brantford General Hospital on Sept. 10. He was 89.

With hockey being dominant sport in the region — Brantford is the birthplace of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky — Gallarza says his career and the kids he’s able to help today through basketball is credit to the legacy Mr. Mitchell built.

“He is in my opinion the father of basketball in Brantford,” said Gallarza, who came up through the CYO basketball program and earned a full scholarship to the University of the Philippines before playing semi-pro. “Without him not very many of us would get the opportunity to play and who knows what the state of basketball would be in our hockey town.”

Mr. Mitchell served as a referee for 36 years, headed the local basketball officials association and served on the executive of the Ontario Association of Basketball Officials for 12 years, including a two-year term as president from 1980-1982. The annual Paul Mitchell Invitational Basketball Tournament is one of the oldest and most well-known youth basketball tournaments in Canada. In 1991, Mr. Mitchell was recognized by the Canadian Association of Basketball Officials for his outstanding contribution to basketball and officiating.

Mr. Mitchell was also a dedicated family man. He was the husband of 27 years to Catherine Becker and prior to that, the late Jean Baran, for 20 years, with whom he had three daughters. A devout Catholic, Mr. Mitchell and his wife attended Mass daily at St. Pius X Church. He believed very strongly in serving others and giving back even beyond basketball, also volunteering at Brantford General and St. Joseph’s Hospitals. In 2015, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Volunteerism in Brantford.

“My dad loved to socialize and help people,” said daughter Lisa Mitchell-Ferras. “My dad knew everything about everything in Brantford. If you wanted to know something, my dad knew. He’d be the greeter at the hospital. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him. It’s just the way that he was.”

Mitchell-Ferras and her sisters grew up playing basketball in the CYO, and have fond memories of having their dad as a coach in those early years. Mitchell-Ferras remembers going with the family to watch her father referee every Friday evening before going for pizza as a family. Basketball was second nature for them. With his infectious energy and enthusiasm for the game, at the time she didn’t really understand how much of an impact he was making on the community, particularly through the Paul Mitchell Basketball Tournament.

“My dad was (at the tournament) every year and would go around to all the kids, especially the little ones, to make sure he introduced himself,” said Mitchell-Ferras. “He’d always have this Donald Duck voice and talk to the kids and make them laugh.”

For many children in Brantford, basketball was an outlet that kept them busy, out of trouble and opened up opportunities to connect with the wider sporting community in the city. At the last CYO event Mr. Mitchell attended before COVID-19 hit, Gallarza says he took the time to pick his brain about the sport and the history of the game in the region.

When it comes to impact and generosity, Mr. Mitchell is someone Gallarza says he hopes to emulate in the future. 

“The reason why I give so much credit to guys in the community like Mr. Paul Mitchell is because I know without basketball, I don’t know what my life would be like,” said Gallarza. “I strive to hopefully in the future make even close to the amount of impact that he made on us.”

The ripple effects of Mr. Mitchell’s service to children and families throughout the decades, his daughter believes, will continue to impact generations to come.

“So many people in Brantford volunteer to help out (in basketball) even though they don’t even have kids anymore,” said Mitchell-Ferras. “It’s just all because of my dad.”

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