Allegany Communications Sports

It’s still difficult to comprehend that Mark Manges has died. I understand we all die. But Mark Manges? I’m aware of all he was battling. I certainly can’t imagine it, but I was aware of it. The thought just didn’t enter my mind, though my heart and prayers were always with him.

On August 17, 1977, one day after Elvis Presley had died and after 45 minutes of being in the fetal position sucking my thumb after my mother had dumped me off and left me in my new dorm room at Ellicott Hall at the University of Maryland, there were three loud knocks on the door, and from the other side I heard, “Freshman! Open this door!”

What new hell is this, I wondered; and when I opened the door, there stood Mark Manges, the starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate for the Maryland Terrapins.

Mark Manges had won the day once more …

“Heard you were here,” he said.

“I am,” I said.

“Good,” he said emphatically. “You’re gonna love it. Now come upstairs to my room and I’ll get you started.”

Get me started he did, as we went upstairs where I met basketball player John Bilney and watched some Sanford and Son reruns with him and Mango (Mark liked it when somebody called him Mango). Then, later that afternoon, he took me to a mixer on LaPlata Beach.

In just a matter of a few hours, I had gone from being a frightened freshman to party chum of the Big Man on Campus. Life was good.

Now don’t get me wrong — Mark and I had not been tight by any means. He was three years older than I was, and when you’re that young, that’s a significant gap. But we had known each other for most of our lives, as our parents had all been friends forever, yet even though he was the The Man at Maryland (Boomer Esiason before Boomer was), I had just arrived on campus and he took the time and had the consideration to go out of his way, after football practice for a top-10 football team, no less, to welcome me to and to make me feel at home on campus.

And you know why? Because I went to Fort Hill High School just like he did. And I was from Cumberland, Maryland, just like Mark Manges was. And Mark Manges loved Cumberland, Maryland with all of his heart.

He was the greatest athlete I ever saw, and he was the biggest star I ever knew. But these are the times and the moments, and the deeds that I hold truest to my heart about Mark Manges.

Athletically, he was the best all-around athlete we’ve ever seen around here; we all know that — two-time All-American in football and All-American his senior year in basketball; plus, a great long jumper, triple jumper and 440 man in track.

Steve Trimble, who is the most beautiful athlete I’ve ever seen, came close to Mango, but Mark gets the nod because of basketball. He was the best basketball player I’ve ever seen from our area.

He was recruited by Lefty Driesell and Maryland, among many others, to play basketball in college, and once he chose Maryland for football, Lefty told him he was still welcome to play basketball for the Terps.

The first touchdown pass he completed as the freshman starting quarterback for Fort Hill was to John Alkire. The first touchdown pass he completed at Maryland was to John Alkire.

He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated when he led the Terps to an undefeated season and a Cotton Bowl berth. His likeness was on billboards and television ads all across the Mid-Atlantic region. He was a joy to behold, be it football, basketball or track; and he was a damn good baseball player as well.

He could do anything on the field, on the court, on the track, on the diamond, whatever the arena might be. But to me, the most endearing facet of Mark Manges was his friendship and his loyalty — to his family, his friends, to Fort Hill, to Maryland and to Cumberland, Maryland.

When Mark and his wife Janey moved back to Cumberland, they bought a house on White Avenue, the street on which Mark grew up. He served Fort Hill as the chairman of the We Are Fort Hill Committee. He served on the executive board of the Dapper Dan Club of Allegany County. He was co-chairman of the Greenway Avenue Stadium Capital Improvement Fund and was an analyst for the Fort Hill football games on WTBO Radio.

As an athlete, he was the most confident person I ever saw, and he not only took everybody’s best shot, he smiled as he walked away from them after giving back some of his own. He was modest, though, about his success and his accolades. In fact, he was ever self-effacing about his Sports Illustrated cover.

He was the best all-around athlete here that we have ever seen and will ever see again. He was the very best at all he did.

Yet he was a homebody and the most eager and loyal friend anybody could have. He loved his family. He loved Fort Hill High School. He loved the University of Maryland, and he loved Cumberland, Maryland.

Mark had many words; words for anything and everything. Yet his deeds are what reflect his passion, his devotion and his love for our community.

During the 2011 Dapper Dan Banquet, Manges, as one of the keynote speakers, told the young athletes and award winners in attendance, “Moving on does not mean leaving behind. Never forget where you come from.”

Mark Manges did not leave us behind. He came back and he did his best to make us better. And we are better because he came from here and he is one of us.

We will miss him — his life, his passion, his devotion, his crooked grin, his loyalty and his friendship — a very great deal.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT