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Volume 69, Issue 12, Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Sports
 

Cougar '48 alum was UH's first sports hero

By Tom Carpenter
The Daily Cougar

When you crack open the stiff cover of the1946 Houstonian and leaf through the pages of a dated tome, you'll find a full page photo in the small sports section of the handsome young man with his arms cocked in the classic pose of a quarterback ready to throw the bomb. 

Long before Andre Ware, Wilson Whitley and even the legendary Bill Yeoman himself, Charlie Manichia roamed the gridiron for the fledgling University of Houston and etched his name forever in Cougar lore.

That curly haired young man with the sparkling brown eyes and engaging smile accomplished what no one else can duplicate. Manichia scored the first touchdown in UH history and became the University's first bona fide sports star when he was named the 1946 Lone Star Conference as a first-team quarterback. The talented athlete also earned a varsity letter playing basketball with Guy Lewis.


These days, Charlie Manichia, 82, lives in Beach City home with his wife of 51 years, Joyce. But 57 years ago, Manichia was the first all-conference selection (Lone Star Conference) for UH. He also scored the first touchdown in UH history.

Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar

"We wore leather helmets in those days," Manichia said with a laugh. "No face guards and it hurt when you got hit in the head. We threw the ball all over the field because we couldn't run. We weren't proficient enough. We had boys with lots of desire but not much skill."

Today Manichia, 82, and his wife Joyce live in Beach City, Texas where their home sits about 100 yards from Trinity Bay. The couple will celebrate their 52nd anniversary Dec. 22.

The Manichias moved to the small bay front community 11 miles south of Baytown about the same time Manichia and Joyce took up square dancing at the age of 66.

"We moved here 16 years ago because Charlie likes to fish," Joyce said. "He found this place during his fishing trips and we had the house built to make it easy for him to go fishing."

The Manichias will soon move to the Cypress area to be near their daughter Debbie and their two grandchildren, in part because Manichia suffered a stroke the week before Christmas in 1997 and underwent open-heart surgery.

"He made a remarkable recovery," Joyce said. "But because of the stroke at his age it's difficult for Charlie to climb the stairs (that lead to the couple's beach-style home) and take care of the yard."

Fortunately, the effect of the stroke barely affected Manichia's speech and mobility. His eyes still sparkle when he laughs and Manichia's smile remains warm and friendly. It was hard to tell if Manichia was kidding or not when he said, "I know lots of funny stories, I just can't remember them." Then he laughed and began telling stories from his life.

The 5-9, 170 pound Manichia joined the Marines after he graduated from Reagan High School in Houston where he made the Houston Press All-District and All-City team in 1938. He was one of the thousands of veterans that helped put UH on the major college map when they enrolled on campus after WWII.

Manichia downplayed his role in the war when he was stationed on the Midway Islands in the South Pacific. "It was boring. We stayed there a year chasing Gooney birds," he said.

When his unit was transferred to Maui, Hawaii, Manichia said he passed a street where a long line of sailors and Marines waited. Curious, he asked the veterans about the line.

"They were all lined up to get shots (for STDs)," Manichia said with a chuckle.

Manichia graduated from UH in 1948 with a degree in business and eventually went to work for Sinclair Oil in Houston where he retired after 25 years.

"Some people go to college and don't learn a thing," Manichia said with a smile. "I'm one of them. My degree didn't help a bit. I'm afraid you'll ask me what I learned, and I'd have to tell you if I'd learned anything I would have been an embezzler."

Great athletes pursue their passion until time stops them. Manichia continued to excel at sports after he graduated from UH. He was inducted into the Softball Legends Hall of Fame founded in 1996 by the first Northwestern Bank of Houston. Manichia also officiated high school football and basketball games for 25 years.

Today, Charlie and Joyce Manichia are active members of the Bayshore Wagon Wheel Square Dance Club and they enjoy going to horse races and traveling to Lake Charles and the Coushatta Indian Reservation casino for some light gambling.

"Our daughter Debbie claims we're spending all of her inheritance," Joyce says. "We've had a good life because Charlie lived a good life."

Manichia winced as he watched a posse of Wolverines mob current freshman quarterback Kevin Kolb.

"I watch the games but I don't have an urge to play anymore," Manichia said. "The boys have grown so much. We didn't have the weight room or training facilities they have now.

"I enjoyed going to school," Manichia continued. "I had a desire to study but it was hard working and going to school. You should enjoy your college days, but if you find you're having too much fun, you better quit ... having fun that is."
 
 Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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