Area staple has big role in NCAA tournament
Tom Manning won Willoughby South’s one and only state championship in wrestling.
In 1988, he took home the 112-pound Division I state medal.
In college, he won a Mid-American Conference championship at Kent State and qualified for the NCAA Division I Tournament. He was the school’s athlete of the year as a senior.
Manning eventually became coach at Kenston, where for about a decade the Bombers had great success. The school won two district titles and produced two state champions in Ricky Deubel and Matt Moran.
He stepped down in 2006, and spent a few seasons as a volunteer assistant at Kent State. Manning said coaching will always be in his blood. He’s still certified, and that allows him to help out at Kenston, where he used to teach, but these days is now on the school’s board.
On occasion, he lends help to Deubel, who’s now the school’s wrestling coach.
“Oh yeah, I’ll pop my head in to see if he needs anything,” Manning said. “Sometimes, he’ll reach out to me.”
There’s also another role in wrestling he’s happily embraced.
It’s one that’s allowed him a premiere opportunity behind the scenes this weekend at Quicken Loans Arena for the March 15-17 NCAA Division I Wrestling Tournament.
Manning will be the crew chief for the multitude of scorers tables at the tournament. In Las Vegas terms, he’s basically the pit boss of the tournament.
“I’m basically the eye in the sky,” he said. “We’re going to be on (ESPN) in prime time for the semifinals and finals. We can’t have screw ups. I’m confident because we have good
people in place. I’ve got an all-star team.”
The role entails supervising each crew so that everything goes smoothly. Scores of matches must be precise. There can’t be a mixup with mat assignments.
Each day the number of tables decreases, so it’s Manning’s job to decide which crew stays. On March 15, there will be eight tables. The next day six, then three for the morning/afternoon session March 17 and one for the national championship matches.
Manning’s staff of table chiefs are picked by him, and are individuals he’s known for a while.
“I’m confident everyone will do well, but I want to see the cream of the crop,
and that might be a tough one to decide,” he said.
Helping run tournaments is nothing new for Manning. He did that for years as Bombers coach for the long-standing Kenston Invitational Tournament. When he left Kenston in 2006, and joined Kent State’s staff voluntarily, he was approached by assistant Mid-American Conference commissioner Jeff Bacon to run the tournament when it was held at Kent State.
Manning’s guidance produced a smooth tournament, and Bacon took notice. The MAC wrestling tournament two weeks ago at Central Michigan was the 10th Manning helped run.
When the NCAA announced
Cleveland had been awarded the 2018 D-I tournament, the MAC stepped in as the host conference. Bacon didn’t wait long asking for Manning’s assistance.
“I was in, no questions,” Manning said.
It will be a busy week for all involved. The three-day event is sold out, and a Fan Festival is set for each day at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. Manning knows he and his staff must be ready. He’s confident the tournament will run smoothly on his end, but there’s always nervous anticipation.
“The finals are always the most nerve-wracking,” he said. “Everyone will be watching.”
Tom Manning talks with officials before the March 3-4 MidAmerican Conference Wrestling Tournament at Central Michigan.