Following acquittal, coach Luke Norden returns to dugout for Mitchell baseball

Apr. 19—MITCHELL — On Thursday evening, longtime coach Luke Norden was back in the dugout with the Mitchell High School baseball program for the first time in nearly 10 months.

Norden's return came 24 hours after he was found not guilty on all four counts of failure to report abuse or neglect of a child and misprision to a felony on Wednesday by First Circuit Magistrate Judge Donna Bucher at the Davison County Courthouse.

"I'm just extremely happy for, most importantly, my family, who has missed being out here (at the ballpark)," Norden told the Mitchell Republic on Thursday. "They're as big a part of this as I am."

Mitchell Superintendent Joe Childs confirmed to the Mitchell Republic on Wednesday that Norden is also returning to the district to teach, possibly as soon as this week.

Since October, Norden was facing those charges stemming from an alleged rape involving Legion baseball players in June 2023. Ongoing investigations halted the Mitchell Post 18 Legion season in July 2023. The six players who've been charged with crimes are considered innocent as court proceedings continue.

MHS' April 9 opener against Sioux Falls Jefferson marked the first time a varsity-aged baseball team from Mitchell took the field since June 20, 2023. This spring to date, the Kernels own a 1-4 record. Seven varsity games have been wiped out due to weather, including one against Tea Area that had been scheduled for Friday.

In Norden's absence, former Dakota Wesleyan baseball player Caleb Crist has held the interim head coach position for the MHS program this spring.

Crist handled his normal on-field coaching duties during Mitchell's doubleheader against Yankton on Thursday evening, while Norden was a vocal presence from the dugout and handled live stat-keeping responsibilities. Norden was also heavily involved with both post-game team talks.

"It was nice having some more veteran leadership in the dugout," Crist said. "It's good to see him back, and the boys are sure happy that he's back, too. His wisdom is going to help us turn this around, I think."

Norden said there's no concrete plan yet for dividing duties and coaching titles with him back in the fold.

"Me just getting out here was the most important thing," Norden offered.

"I'm not totally sure what's going to happen at the moment," Crist said. "Any way I can help, I'll be happy to do it — whether that's as head coach, an assistant coach or moving to junior varsity — it doesn't really matter to me. Whatever my role is, I'll be happy to do it."