MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Bob Manning hasn’t ejected many players or coaches in his four decades of officiating. But the 91-year-old recently made the decision to toss himself—from refereeing basketball.
The Mahopac resident said he simply couldn’t keep up with the fast pace of the sport.
“They would start the fast break and were all going past me before I got to half court. So, I felt I was cheating the girls,” Manning said. “They gave me a party and I retired.”
But Manning still does have both a whistle and well-functioning right thumb that he continues to put to good use.
“I’m still doing softball and volleyball,” he said.
The Gloucester, Mass. native got his start behind the plate in 1975, not far from where he played as a youth.
“I was a catcher,” he said. “I tried out at Holy Cross and didn’t quite make it. Those kids were pretty good.”
Nonetheless, he took his degree to Sears-Roebuck and made the most of a little reverse outsourcing.
“I was a store manager in El Salvador,” Manning said of the small but densely populated Central American country.
His first days left him in a state of culture shock. Driving into town the first time, he recalled a large group of people crowded around his car at an intersection.
“‘Go home,’ they yelled,” Manning remembered. “So, I turned around the car. That was my introduction.”
Eventually, he settled in.
“I met some wonderful people,” he said. “They are hardworking people, and I enjoyed my time there.”
Central America also got Manning his first look at softball. A friend had a team, Manning did the catching, and a few years after returning in 1970, he suited up to umpire men’s and girls’ softball.
In May, Manning umpired a perfect game thrown by Mahopac sophomore Shannon Becker.
“That perfect game that Miss Becker from Mahopac threw,” Manning said, “it was a thrill to umpire.”
Short of perfection, the everyday can be just as uplifting.
“I went into the supermarket the other day and a girl that I umpired from high school remembered me,” he said. “I was very pleased.”
Of course, the biggest downside inevitably angles his way from the dugout.
“The manager in the dugout,” he said with a laugh, “they’re going to call every pitch.”
Manning does give coaches some wiggle room for high and low pitches but none for inside and out. At the same time, the toughest call is also about vantage point.
“You got to be in the right position to make the call at the plate,” he instructed.
Either way, Manning is all ears before moving on.
“You don’t get into any big arguments, but you listen to what they have to say,” he assured.
That approach gets a bit more play in the men’s leagues in which he’s umpired in Mahopac, Somers and Yorktown, and he knows to let it roll off his sleeve.
“You’ve heard everything if you’re an umpire,” Manning said.
Once, however, an unhappy player did follow him to his car. He remembers being startled when the bat was loudly dropped to the ground to get his attention.
“That was pretty rough,” Manning said.
Even so, he has only one ejection on his resume, and the more typical excess doesn’t really cause concern for the woman he calls, “his gift from God.”
“No, they just like to talk and basically that’s it,” said his wife, Loretta.
Understanding that “boys will be boys,” the former Mahopac school teacher draws attention back to the generations of young people he has helped shape. Good sportsmanship, having fun and developing as an individual is what he stands for, Loretta said.
His wife of 23 years is also relieved that he has chosen to stop running the floor on the basketball court and has cut down the number of games. Her continued support is easy to quantify, too.
“If it makes him happy, it makes me happy,” said Loretta.
He’s in no position to argue either.
“I think the friendships that have come from this game are what I’ve enjoyed the most,” Manning said.