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Mark Manifrang

It was love at first sight for Mark Manifrang.

The former Union High and Westminster College standout was hooked on basketball the first time he watched it in person as a sixth grader.

“When I first went to Union, I had never been to a basketball game,” he said. “They took a bunch of elementary kids up to play at halftime of a varsity game. That was the first time I’d been to a basketball game. Once I got into the gym and played in the game, that was it for me.”

ENTERING THE HALL

Manifrang’s love affair with basketball propelled the 1968 Union High graduate into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame. He will join 11 other inductees on May 4 when they enter the hall of fame during a ceremony at the New Englander.

“I was humbled by the fact that a lot of people that I’m friends with are in there,” said the 63-year-old Manifrang, who will celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary this summer with his wife, Nancy. “I felt honored, too. To be in the same company as them was humbling to me. I never looked at anything I did as being that great. It was just something I did.”

HOOK, LINE AND SINKER

Manifrang was a baseball junkie until that fateful night in sixth grade.

“I was all baseball up to that point,” he said. “I played little league. At that time, I was a big Yankees fan. After that night, I was sold. I couldn’t wait to play basketball for Union.”

The sport wasn’t overly kind to him at first.

Leon Calabrese, then the seventh-grade basketball coach, cut a skinny Manifrang from the team.

It never happened again.

“I took that and turned that into a positive,” Manifrang said. “I loved the game so much that I wasn’t going to let that stop me, so I just worked harder. I wanted to play so bad. I didn’t let it deter me from what I had to do.”

As a senior, Manifrang led the Scotties in scoring at 17.8 points a game and to an appearance in the WPIAL semifinals. He was an unanimous selection to the all-Section 20 team and was named its Most Valuable Player. He was named to the small school all-state third team.

“He was a great player,” former Union boys basketball coach Gary Trimble said. “I remember watching him play while I was a student in high school. I admired how he played. He played hard and played smart.”

SANDLOT STANDOUT

Despite falling head over heels in love with basketball, Manifrang stuck with his old flame — baseball — over the rest of his teenage years.

He helped his Edinburg club win a North County League title as a 15-year-old and earned honorable mention all-section status as a senior shortstop.

“I was probably better at baseball than basketball,” Manifrang said. “I was a natural second baseman. I played short, because no else could play the position.”

The Pirates came calling after Manifrang’s senior year, asking the recent Union graduate to try out for a minor league contract.

Manifrang politely declined and over 30 years later, he regrets not taking the Pirates up on their invitation.

“I got a letter from the Pirates for a tryout,” he said. “I didn’t go. Now, I’m thinking why didn’t I go? At the time, we had a baseball game and I didn’t want to let my teammates down. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve gone. I do regret it. Just to see how I would have stood up against that level.”

NOT SO FOND MEMORIES

Manifrang was all set to continue his academic and athletic careers at Clarion University until Ron Galbreath showed up on his doorstep.

Galbreath convinced Manifrang to become his first recruit as head coach at Westminster College.

“I remember him saying that at a banquet one time,” Manifrang said of being Galbreath’s initial recruit. “That’s one of the high marks of my career. I was going to Clarion. I already put money down to go there. He got the job in May and he came to my house. Next thing I know, I’m going to Westminster.”

After logging major minutes for the Titans’ junior varsity squad as a freshman, Manifrang was slated to see time for the big club as a sophomore before surgery on a broken finger put a damper on his season.

Ironically, Galbreath left after that season to coach Clarion and Manifrang quietly closed his collegiate career two years later.

“I didn’t have a good experience in college,” Manifrang said. “I had three coaches in four years and that kind of derailed me. I was in an automobile accident and it took me a while to recover. I didn’t have the best experience.”

HIS LIFE’S WORK

After sticking it out at Westminster, Manifrang made his way back to his alma mater to become a ninth-grade United States history teacher and eventually join the coaching ranks in baseball and basketball.

When Trimble succeeded Mike Covelli as the boys basketball coach, Manifrang was his first choice to be his top lieutenant.

“When I got the boys job after Mike Covelli, I wanted Mark to be my assistant,” Trimble said. “He was a good assistant for me. Mark gave credit when you deserved it and gave criticism when you deserved it. That was a big help for me. I could depend on him to be real with the kids. We both tried to not be phony. We tried to be fair. He always kept me honest.”

Manifrang fondly remembers the 2003 basketball team’s improbable run to the state championship game in Hershey under head coach Mark Stanley. The Scotties suffered an 80-69 loss to Scotland School.

“Those kids were special,” he said. “What I liked about them is they believed they could win. That’s half the battle. We played Kennedy in the Western Final. They went as a group to see them play the game before and they came back believing they could win that game. I was like ‘Are you crazy? There’s no way you can beat them.’ But, they believed they could.

“The state final was almost anticlimactic. I haven’t seen an atmosphere like that since then. When we walked in the place (for the Western Final), it was packed. It was electric.”

THE FAMILY TREE

Manifrang admitted coaching his sons, Jason and Brandon, may have been a bad idea.

“If I had it to do it over again, I don’t think I’d do it,” he said. “It would’ve been easier on them, but I enjoyed being around them. The bad thing about it was if someone else did something wrong I took it out on my kids.”

Over his final three years of coaching, Mark had the opportunity to coach his grandson, Jacob Jendrysik, a senior guard for the Scotties.

“It was a little different, because we don’t have the same last name,” said Mark Manifrang, who has four other grandchildren. “We were pretty good last year, so he didn’t play much varsity.”

TOMORROW: Lisa DeVite Malutic

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