Alumni Spotlight: Mitch Pantzke finds his niche, makes his mark
From an early age, Mitch Pantzke had two things: a love for sports, and a very unique set of skills.
He did not have quite the level of skill he would’ve liked when it came to actually playing the sports he loved. Therefore, while Pantzke still enjoyed playing sports, he realized his success in sports would have to come in another format. Fortunately, his skills were applicable.
What Pantzke had was an incredibly creative mind and a great eye for design and art. What he did next was spend years molding both his talents and his passion for sports, eventually opening up a unique post-high school avenue, one that would take him places and give him opportunities that he never would have imagined.
Pantzke, the son of Brian and Lisa (Boraas, who along with her husband and Mitch’s stepdad, Rob, are teachers at Little Mountain Elementary), was just starting middle school when he started to eye his potential path.
“My mom told me from a very young age that I would be a graphic designer,” said Pantzke. “She started me on that path.”
Now, just more than 10 years removed from his time at Monticello High School, the ‘07 graduate finds himself producing creative designs for some of the world’s greatest athletes, and the country’s biggest athletic programs.
Pantzke currently works as a freelance graphic designer, with a handful of full time clients under his belt, including the Outdoor Channel, West Virginia Football, FSU Basketball, and multiple National Football League and Major League Baseball partners. He also worked with Wisconsin’s Men's Basketball for the duration of March Madness.
He made his way here via a unique path. Despite the early interest in graphic design, it wasn’t until college that he was able to start taking courses that taught him true graphic design skills.
However, he was still able to start laying the foundation for his craft during his time in the Monticello School District. Pantzke took all of the traditional art classes offered, both enjoying them, and finding great success.
“Those were the only A’s on Mitchell Pantzke’s report card,” Pantzke reported with a laugh.
While MHS offers classes more specifically suited for his career now, Pantzke said he still benefited greatly from the traditional classes.
“Traditional art is the foundation of any artist’s background. It helps you develop that eye, that look,” said Pantzke. “Those core classes, and those core teachers, influenced me and helped me out a lot.”
One of the other things that really guided Pantzke to his eventual career was the strength of Monticello athletics, helping to nurture his passion and giving him the chance to witness it in others.
“That lit the fire, no doubt,” said Pantzke. “That fandom for sports started 100 percent in Monticello.”
From Monticello, Pantzke went to the University of Wisconsin Stout where he majored in graphic design. There were some bumps in the road early, but as he grew more proficient, his love for the art continued to grow. His first big “aha moment” came late in his college career, when he created a graphic of a Miami football player and sent it his way. The athlete loved it so much that a few weeks later, Pantzke received a package full of Miami Hurricanes gear and swag.
“I was like ‘this is it,’” he said. “I knew something this cool could correlate to my life [and what I want to do].”
The MHS graduate has had a number of breakthrough moments in his career, and has already produced a prolific portfolio. He spent six years doing graphic design in the corporate world before becoming a freelancer, and he has worked with numerous famous athletes and had many popular pieces. But if looking for a signature design, or moment, in Pantzke’s young career, it would be difficult to not pick one of his most recent.
The designer was sitting at his home in Baldwin, Wis. in early March when star NFL receiver Antonio Brown’s photographer reached out. Rumors had been swirling for months about where Brown would be playing football next season, and his photographer was about to let Pantzke in on the details, hours before the rest of the world would find out. Why? Because Brown wanted Pantzke’s help in telling the world.
The photographer told Pantzke that a decision had been made, and that Brown would be going from Pittsburgh to the Oakland Raiders. Pantzke had 45 minutes to produce a creative of Brown in a Raiders uniform. If Brown liked the work, he’d use it to make his announcement on social media.
Pantzke, who was fortunate to be at home when he received the message, sprinted upstairs to his home office, where he spends nearly 12 hours on weekdays, and occasionally weekends too, and went to work. Working through his Adobe suite programs, largely Illustrator and Photoshop, he turned the piece around as efficiently as possible, swapping Brown into a Raiders jersey, and giving the background a feel that could come from the Oakland Coliseum.
Brown loved it.
One of the most talented, if mercurial, receivers to ever play the game of football messaged Pantzke back, with a simple message. “You’re the GOAT [Greatest Of All Time].”
Shortly thereafter, Brown posted the image on his social media, with Pantzke’s signature watermark attached. The original tweet was shared nearly 40,000 times. It was also reposted by marquee accounts across the nation, and even used as the background for the lead in on Sportscenter the next day. Pantzke said it’s realistic that the image may have received hundreds of millions of impressions by the time the frenzy over Brown’s news was all said and done.
For a kid that grew up watching the dominant Magic hoops teams of the 90s, this was his state championship game winning basket, or his 40-yard touchdown to send the crowd into a frenzy. It was his moment.
“Honestly, it’s all about that reaction from the fans, and the passion it sparks in people,” said Pantzke, noting that he “absolutely” loves what he does.
To Pantzke, that’s what it’s all about, and it’s the message he wants to pass on to students in the Monticello community.
“Find what you love, and pursue it,” said Pantzke, adding that he believes having the drive and dedication to work hard is one of the single biggest assets that kids can take with them into the post high school world. “If you put your mind to it, and actually put in the work, you can accomplish anything.”
Pantzke said he has received messages from numerous potential clients as his portfolio continues to blow up following the Brown creative, but that he’s thrilled with the partnerships that he currently has and that he sees himself continuing down this avenue for as long as he can.
“I’m in a really good spot right now,” said Pantzke. “Being my own boss, having my own business … this is the dream.”
To see more of Pantzke’s work, follow him on Twitter at @_Pantzke.