Future AD dreamed of becoming ‘the next Vin Scully’
Mitch Barnhart grew up in Kansas City, Kan., going to games with a cassette deck and a microphone. From the edge of the bleachers, he’d call the play-by play like his idol.
“I was going to be the next Vin Scully,” Barnhart said. “I was enamored with the idea of being a radio guy somewhere.”
When Barnhart, now the University of Kentucky’s athletic director, wasn’t playing sports as a kid, he was talking or writing about them. He wrote his first sports story for a newspaper when he was 14 years old.
“I was the boxing guy; that’s mainly what I wrote, that and high school football,” he said. “No one else liked boxing, but I loved it.”
Barnhart wrote his stories on an old-school typewriter and drove them over to the newspaper office at the Kansas City Kansan or Star. The papers paid $5 for a game story. “It was awesome,” he said.
Sports also helped fill a void created by his father’s death. Barnhart was just 11 when his father, a life insurance salesman, was diagnosed with cancer. He died eight months later at the age of 36.
Sports was one of their connection points. Barnhart’s father coached him and his brother, Eric, through youth sports. During their teenage years after their father died, their grandfather stepped in, taking the boys to Chiefs and Royals games.
“Mom was really smart, she kept us busy,” Barnhart said. “She was a bookkeeper, she owned a little children’s clothing store, and then she made her way onto city council in Mission [just outside of Kansas City]. She worked hard.”
Barnhart, 59, went to college at Ottawa University in his home state, where he filled a number of roles in the school’s NAIA athletic department. He found his home in college athletics, eventually working for veteran ADs including Bill Byrne at Oregon and Doug Dickey at Tennessee. At each stop, he took on more responsibility, especially on the revenue side of the business.
He didn’t manage to become the next Vin Scully, but Barnhart has made his own impression after 17 years at Kentucky. When asked what’s next, he referenced a song by the Christian group The Afters. It’s called “Well Done.”
“I just hope people can say that about me,” Barnhart said.