Bleeding BLUE DEVIL BLUE
BY KEN BECK
There are sports fanatics and there are sports fanatics but going way over the top are super-duper sports lovers James and Barbara Manning, whose passion for their Lebanon Blue Devils knows no out of bounds.
James, 72, a 1961 Lebanon High grad, has missed but two Lebanon football games, home and away, since 1966, and Barbara, class of 1964, has failed to show for about 15 games (due to work and illness) during that same 48-year span. Not counting their years as students, the couple has rooted for the Lebanon gridiron squad at more than 500 contests and counting.
And that number doesn’t begin to touch the hem of their “Once a Blue Devil, Always a Blue Devil … Forever” T-shirts when you consider the Lebanon basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball and cross-country events they have observed across the decades.
And, lest we be remiss, the duo are ardent fans of Cumberland University Bulldog sports teams, and attend practically every home football, baseball, basketball and softball game. So that raises the question, which comes first: Lebanon High or Cumberland University?
“Lebanon comes first!” the couple chimes in unison from their home, which overflows with sports souvenirs and memorabilia reflecting their ardor for almost any sport that involves a ball.
“Lebanon is No. 1. I’ve always said that,” emphasizes Barbara.
“I’m lucky. I only missed two games since 1966,” said James, also lucky that he found Barbara one day in April of 1966 at the Southland Bowling Alley where she was in need a bowling partner.
Afterward he asked her, “Can I carry your bowling ball to the car?” Barbara answered, b“You sure can.”
Then he asked her if she had a date that night.
“She said, ‘Yes,’ and I thought I had struck out,” recalled James, but soon afterward he asked again, and she agreed.
After courting for five months, the Lebanon natives were wed Sept. 18, 1966. Their wedding shower cost James from seeing his Blue Devils play Carthage in an away game.
“The game was rained out on Friday night and rescheduled for Saturday when we had the shower scheduled,” he says.
Barbara recollects that they occasionally broke away from their guests to catch up with the game via a radio turned on in another room. Did we mention these two like Lebanon High football?
James’ only other miss was an away game in Shelbyville in 1979 when he had to work late. And there was one game he attended that, work be blasted blasted, could easily have cost him his job.
“I didn’t know that Barbara even liked football,” James said. “A few weeks before we married, I told her, ‘I’m going to the football game Friday night.’”
“I said, ‘I’m going too,’” said Barbara. “I saw the first game at Nokes Field in 1965 and the last game at the old stadium. ” Until Lebanon moved into their new high school and stadium in 2013, the Mannings could be found sitting in Section B, second row from the top, overlooking the 50-yard line
at every home game. The couple possesses a lifetime pass to every Lebanon sporting event, a gift from William Porter in 2009.
Still, they purchase six season tickets every year so they can carry along friends and family. Their stash of memorabilia includes football season tickets dating back to 1972.
Bobby Brown, who served as head football coach at Lebanon High from 2002 to 2010, describes their passion for sports saying, “It’s amazing. You could probably go back 40 years, and they probably have every article from ‘The Wilson Post’ and ‘Lebanon Democrat’ about Lebanon High School sports in their house. It’s not unusual to find them at Walter J. Baird football and basketball games, and they even go to some Lebanon High bowling matches.
“Wow, here are two people that don’t even have a son or daughter, and they go and support every sport-ing event that they can for Lebanon High School and Walter J., and you even find them at Cumberland University games. That is what’s amazing,” said Brown, now assistant principal and athletic director at Walter J. Baird Middle School.
These days the couple does have Manning family members for whom they can root at Blue Devil sporting events. Nieces Danielle, a junior, plays softball; Lindsay, a freshman, plays volleyball and softball; and Bailey, an eighthgrader, performs with the Walter J. Baird dance team. Friend Randy Sallis sits beside the Mannings at most Cumberland University baseball games and sees them at the Lebanon High football games.
“They’re always there,” he noted “They’re quiet. They’re not cheerers, they’re supporters. Every coach would know them when they see them. ‘They’re that couple at every game,’ but they might not know their names. They don’t interject themselves. They wear their Lebanon or Cumberland gear.
“James makes a calendar every year for all the games. Going to a ball game almost every single night—that’s their perfect week.
“James is almost like a packrat when it comes to memorabilia. He has stats, newspaper articles, he catalogs them,” Sallis said. “In high school football, if Lebanon is not in the playoff brackets, they will pick out the best playoff game and go, not to root for anybody, but just go to the game.
James estimated that he and his wife have seen 80 percent of Lebanon High basketball games since they were married. The only school sport they have never observed is golf.
The pair began attending Cumberland football games in 1990 when the university started back its football program. “We see all the home games and a few of the away games and about all their home baseball games,” said James.
“I will walk back and forth from the baseball and softball games,” Barbara said. “Now we’re going to some Cumberland University soccer games. We enjoy it but don’t know anything about it.”
“We know when they score,” said James, who played basketball for Lebanon High in his prep days. “I’ve been lucky enough to bowl two perfect games and make a hole in one at golf,” shared James, who spent 40 years at Precision Rubber as a scheduler and expediter.
“I’m not an athlete, just good at watching,” said Barbara, who worked at Hartmann Luggage for 26 years.
James, who began attending Lebanon football games with his father in the late 1940s, has been a sports fanatic since childhood. He recalls once spending his haircut money for bubble gum and 120 baseball cards. The result was a whipping. He still has some of those cards but is not sure if it was worth it.
One of his favorite articles of Lebanon football memorabilia is a pennant from the 1965 season that belonged to his father. While James was serving in the Army in Panama, his dad penciled in the score of every game of a season that went unblemished but for a final game loss to Sparta.
Barbara too has a memento of the 1965 season, a gift passed along by her mother.
“My mother caught a little football thrown into the stands by cheerleaders at the 1965 Clinic Bowl when Lebanon played Donelson. And then 25 years later she caught a little football when Cumberland University started back its football program. I wouldn’t take anything for this football,” she says of the Clinic Bowl souvenir.
James and Barbara have an barchives filled with newspaper clippings, sports book and magazines and Lebanon High football programs that date back nearly 50 years. They also love baseball’s Atlanta Braves, the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and the NBA Boston Celtics.
Pennants on the walls, team towels on their couch and stickers and magnets on their fridge reflect those favorite teams. However they do come to a rare parting of paths when it comes to college football.
“I’m a Tennessee fan. He’s a Vanderbilt,” said Barbara.
The couple proves to be big tailgaters, especially before Lebanon football games. Barbara favors packing fresh tomatoes, roast beef sandwiches, chips, sausage balls, pecan sandies, peanuts, Snickers, Three Musketeers, M&Ms and Dr Pepper.
Another Lebanon High alumnus who has seen the friendly faces of James and Barbara over decades at
Lebanon sporting events is veteran “Wilson Post” sports editor Tommy Bryan.
“James and Barbara Manning are fixtures at Lebanon High athletic events. They watched me play football in the mid-1970s, and they watched my son Taylor (class of 2014) play. I’ve seen them at track meets, baseball and softball games, volleyball games and cross country meets,” said Bryan.
“They exemplify what it means to be ‘true blue.’ Rain or shine, win or lose, James and Barbara are there supporting the Blue Devils. They attend every pancake breakfast, yard sale, car wash—anything that the LHS athletic department puts on you can count on the Mannings to be in the front row.
“Barbara was in attendance at the very first game played at what became Nokes-Lasater Field, and she was there for the very last one when Lebanon beat Portland in 2011.
“The term ‘great’ gets tossed around way too much in this world, but the Mannings are great fans and even better people,” Bryan said. The Mannings find it difficult to explain their fanaticism for all things sports related to Lebanon High, but agree that football is their favorite sport.
“Why? I don’t know. We just love Lebanon. Winning gives me joy. I just love to support the kids. I think they deserve it,” Barbara said.
Concludes James, “I guess I would feel lost if I didn’t go to then ballgames on Friday night. We’ve been all across the state from Bristol to Memphis.”
But their favorite place to watch their favorite football team play?
Well, by now you know that answer is obvious.