Manning of Rocky Mount was one of the coaches working with youth participating in a Catawba College Basketball Camp during the week of June 13-16. Wearing his Harlem Globetrotters' shorts and t-shirt, he spoke to the 8-14 year-olds and his message was education first, basketball second.
"Before I loved this, I had to make good grades," he told the youngsters gathered on the floor of the gym. He then reflected back on how his grades affected his chances to attend college on a basketball scholarship.
"I had 10 basketball scholarships offered to me when I was in high school and I chose Catawba. But, I do more than just play basketball. I play the piano, the flute, the guitar, the organ – almost every instrument and I practice every day. And do you know what? Practicing an instrument helped me get better at playing basketball."
Until this January, Manning was a sixth and seventh grade math and music teacher at Rocky Mountain Prep Middle School in Rocky Mount and high school basketball coach. Last fall, the father of one of the players he was coaching told him that he knew the coach of the Harlem Globetrotters and encouraged him to apply for the team. Manning traveled to New York and spent an "intense and strenuous" week trying out. He made it, becoming, he said, the first player who ever had made the Globetrotters' team after his first tryout.
"I was overjoyed," Manning said. "And fortunately, I was able to use my leave time from school to go on the road with the Globetrotters beginning in January. That was God there. I call that mercy."
Manning also expressed gratitude to his grandmother who raised him, Mary Shipman. He credited her and hard work for much of the progress he has made on life's journey.
This academic year, Manning, who recently was Teacher of the Year at his school, will take a hiatus from teaching to play all year with the Globetrotters. He will be one of the more than 40 Globetrotters playing on the two travel teams.
"My Globetrotters' name is Cobra and my Globetrotters' number is 32," Manning told the youngsters gathered in the Catawba gym. He added, with a smile, "I'm not the best player on my team, but I will be soon. I have two ears and one mouth and I listen, and I learn from my older teammates. They mentor me. We play basketball and we have fun!"
He mentioned several Globetrotters' players who mentor him, including Special K, Flight Time, and Big Easy. With the assistance of a couple of the team coaches and youth in the camp, he even demonstrated a play that the Globetrotters use called the 'Bam Bam.'
He encouraged the campers to find a mentor to help them in their own lives. He told the young basketball players that they needed to crawl before they walked. "You've got to learn to discipline yourself," he said. "When your parents get onto you about your homework or your grades, what are you going to do? Get it done! Work harder."
Manning ended his pep talk with the campers by saying: "Everybody has a chance to be a Globetrotter – even a girl. Anything is possible. To do this, you must make good grades, keep a positive attitude, listen to your parents and show respect."
Another Catawba College Basketball Camp is scheduled for July 5-8. For registration information, contact Coach Bill Haggerty at (704) 637-4473.