By Tamara Gilbert
With a 658-111 won-loss record since he started wrestling, Juan Diego Catholic High freshman John Manning attributes his success to one major factor: he hates to lose.
When John lost a match when he was younger, he would have a temper tantrum, throwing his headgear around, and as his dad said, act like a “nut.” While he no longer throws fits in public, John still hates to lose and credits many of his wins to this very element.
“For me, if you wrestle a six-minute match, and you lose, it’s kind of for nothing,” he said.
His dad, Bill Manning, President of Real Salt Lake, agreed, saying John’s desire to win is what has made him such an accomplished wrestler.
“There’s one winner, one loser,” Bill said. “One of the things that has made John a great wrestler is that he hates to lose.”
Manning is the reigning state champion at his weight class in Utah, and ranks 16th in the country as a freshman at all weights, first in his weight division.
John was introduced to wrestling at the age of five. His dad was on the wrestling team of his school his junior and senior years of high school, and upon the family’s move to Pennsylvania, John started practicing with a local youth wrestling club, the Brandywine Youth Club.
John says that when he started out, he was terrible, but after the family’s move to Utah during his kindergarten year, he stuck with the sport and began with a new season, wrestling against other 6- and 7-year-olds.
The next year, when he was in first grade, his parents began putting him in novice tournaments and later in an open tournament where he competed against other first- and second-grade students. He won. By the time he was in third grade, John was competing at a national level.
“You could tell right away that he was going to be good,” Bill said. “He’s very strong, and he’s very determined, and he (is) very quick to learn new moves.”
According to John, wrestling is a physical sport, but the difficulty associated with the sport have less to do with the actual wrestling component and more to do with making weight.
At the high school level, wrestlers are allowed to compete in a weight class as long as they stay above seven percent body fat. The weight classes are in increments of seven-to-10 pounds. John generally tries to achieve a weight of 138 pounds for big tournaments and says that in order to control his weight, he has to exercise and diet a lot.
He says his dieting involves a lot of portion control, which means only eating lean foods, such as fish, chicken and eggs, and the closer it gets to a tournament, the less he eats. Bill says that as John has matured, he has been able to manage his weight well, stating that making weight involves much sacrifice. However, despite the strict food regimen he follows, a pre-match ritual for John is to eat a Kit-Kat.
“I grew such an admiration for wrestlers, because not only is it difficult on the mat, it’s also difficult off the mat,” Bill said.
Aside from the difficulties associated with making weight, there is the inherent aggression associated with the sport. There is a code of conduct between wrestlers that prohibits biting, pinching, punching and kicking. If one of those incidents occurs, the offender may receive a penalty point, or may even be disqualified.
“I’ll usually come home from big tournaments with bruises and cuts on my face, just because it’s a physical sport,” John said.
In order to get satisfactory competition, John has to travel out of state for many tournaments, his most recent being the USAW preseason nationals in Iowa.
John flies approximately 50,000 miles a year and currently holds a gold medallion status on Delta Airlines. The traveling is expensive, but Bill says that it is worth it, as he and John have been able to see the whole country.
Since John is an elite wrestler and has to travel so much, he finds that coaches often cannot come with him to all of his tournaments. In lieu of a coach, however, his dad has stepped up to that plate and often sits in John’s corner of the mat and coaches him.
The two have made many lasting memories on the trips that they have been on together, and have gotten to know one another much better, but the happiness also comes with hardship as the two butt heads sometimes over how John has performed.
“I think there were times when he would lose, and he would get mad at me or I’d get mad at him, and that made it difficult,” Bill said. “(But) we’ve had a chance to kind of work through a lot of these things.”
A memory that sticks out to both John and his dad is when he won the Eastern National Championships. Since the family had lived in Pennsylvania for a time, John was invited to that event every year, but he did not win until he was in seventh grade. Both felt pride in the fact that his persistence finally paid off with a championship win, making the victory that much more emotional.
His dad says that he has missed no more than 20 of John’s more than 800 matches. Bill says he will support John throughout high school and beyond, if John should choose to continue with wrestling in college.
With the school season starting now, Bill will no longer sit in John’s corner and coach, but rather in the stands to watch. He looks forward to this new and different opportunity he will have to watch John compete.
John, however, says that he is going to miss having his dad as his “coach.” He has grown accustomed to the father-son coaching relationship, and believes that through the countless tournaments the two have attended together, his dad knows his style well, and is able to coach him effectively.
At the beginning of each wrestling season, John says that he generally wants to quit. He believes this is because he is out of wrestling shape and finds it hard. His advice to other wrestlers is not to burn themselves out on the sport.
“Don’t be crazy about it,” he said. “Don’t make it so hard to the point that when you’re 11, you want to quit.”
John attends wrestling practice for approximately two hours a day, five days a week, and now as a result of joining the Juan Diego team, will compete with the school.
According to athletic director Chris Long, the Juan Diego wrestling team has intensified its schedule this season due to John joining the team, and will be attending two out-of-state tournaments–one in Reno, called the Tournament of Champions, and one in California, called the Roc Buchanan Wrestling Invitational.
John believes that wrestling has made him who he is today.
“It’s such a big part of my life that everything revolves around it,” he said.