Nothin’ but a Winner

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 12, 2004

Reggie Mantooth is no stranger to championship venues.

As a child, he had the opportunity to be a part of many successful youth programs and it escalated from there. As a teenager, athletics began to build a foundation for his future, which helped develop the philosophy he uses to succeed today.

Over the past 10 years, he has served as Fort Dale Academy’s athletic director and boys and girls basketball coach, leading his teams to numerous area titles, Final Four appearances and state championships. He attributes his achievements to the guidance he was given from his coaches throughout the years.

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&uot;I was fortunate enough to have some good coaches growing up and good coaches in college,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;I don’t know that I ever decided I was going to coach until I got to college. Some of the coaches I had there had big influences on me. Larry Chapman, who still coaches at AUM, has probably been the biggest influence on me as a coach.&uot;

Early Years

Mantooth, 36, grew up in Montgomery and attended Dannelly Elementary School. He began playing recreational league sports at an early age and found much success.

Like many young children, Mantooth played football, basketball and baseball; not knowing that basketball would end up being the sport he would build his profession around later in life.

&uot;I grew up in a real good neighborhood,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;The Little League fields and the YMCA were within walking distance, so we could pretty much do everything right there when we were growing up. It was a great area to grow up as far as athletics being available to you and being able to do things. We could walk all summer long.&uot;

During his Little League days, Mantooth was selected to All-Stars every year he played. He said success on the baseball diamond was common.

&uot;Our young teams were always successful, especially baseball,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;I guess there’s further to go in baseball. We always had success in baseball growing up. We competed in the state tournament and All-Stars every year

Mantooth continued to play city league baseball as a teenager and had the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series when he was 16.

On the hard court, Mantooth played for the Montgomery YMCA. Each year, his teams advanced to the state tournament, but were never able to claim the title.

&uot;We didn’t fare very well each year, but when our group moved up to junior high is when we had a lot of success.&uot;

When Mantooth entered junior high school at Cloverdale Junior High School, he began focusing more on his basketball game. His dedication on the hard court would later prove to be worthwhile.

&uot;Cloverdale for a long time was one of the best basketball junior high schools in Montgomery,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;It was real competitive. There were 10 junior high schools in Montgomery, so you played each school a couple times.&uot;

As a freshman he helped lead his team to the city league championship and a runner-up finish in the junior high state tournament with a loss to Phenix City.

&uot;Back then, that was a real big accomplishment,&uot; Mantooth said.

Also during his freshman year, Mantooth began planning his future in basketball.

&uot;I just kind of felt I was better suited or a little better player in basketball,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;I began working harder figuring basketball would be my way of playing in college.&uot;

Mantooth also played youth league football serving as a tight end and defensive end.

High School Days

Mantooth began his high school basketball career at Jeff Davis High School. Following a mediocre year on the hard court, he opted to transfer to St. James School where he finished out his high school career.

&uot;One of my good friends was the head coach at St. James,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;We were successful.&uot;

During both his junior and senior seasons, St. James advanced to the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 1A state playoffs. His junior year, Mantooth helped lead his team to a 17-7 record only to be upset in the first round of the playoffs.

&uot;I wasn’t the main go-to guy my junior year,&uot; Mantooth said.

St. James followed up its 1985 season with a 19-4 record. Fayetteville upset the Trojans to end their state championship run.

For his performance on the court, Mantooth was selected as the Montgomery Basketball Player of the Year. The 6-foot-3 perimeter player finished his senior season averaging 22 points and nine rebounds per game.

&uot;It was something I felt was a big accomplishment especially in Montgomery where there were a lot of good players,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;It was something I was proud of.&uot;

Mantooth hung up his football cleats in high school, but remained a mainstay on St. James’ baseball team. As the Trojans’ first baseman and an outfielder, he helped lead St. James to the state playoffs both years.

His senior season, Mantooth batted over .400 with a couple homeruns helping lead St. James to a 16-6 record and the area title. For his success, he was chosen to join fellow players from Montgomery, Wetumpka, Prattville and the surrounding areas to play in the Lions Club East/West All-Star game in Selma.

Before graduating in the spring of 1986, Mantooth signed a full basketball scholarship to play for Mel Hankinson at Samford University after being recruited by several colleges including, Birmingham-Southern, Spring Hill, Columbus College, Belhaven and the University of New Hampshire.

&uot;Samford was close to home, I liked the campus and the environment and felt like at that time it was the best place for me,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;I liked Birmingham, I liked the coach and thought it was the best place to go.&uot;

College Bound

During his first and only season at Samford, Mantooth saw limited playing time at guard.

&uot;We had a very young team,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;We started the year with one senior that was kicked off before the season started, three juniors, four sophomores and our incoming class of five freshmen. Two of the juniors got hurt during the season, so we were basically a real young team playing in a competitive conference.&uot;

Samford competed in the Trans American Conference during Mantooth’s season with the team. He had the opportunity to travel throughout the U.S. playing teams such as Mercer, Georgia State, Florida Atlantic, Stetson, Arkansas Little Rock and Texas San Antonio.

&uot;It was a great experience,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;We flew a lot of places playing teams up in Texas and Western Kentucky. It was a real good experience for us freshman that hadn’t been a lot of places playing.&uot;

Samford finished 8-18 that season and underwent a lot of changes at its conclusion.

&uot;We had an awful year,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;Our coach resigned under pressure and of my five freshman classmates, three of us transferred out. We kind of all felt the same. It had been a long, losing year and I knew Coach (Larry) Chapman at AUM and felt like I needed to come back home.&uot;

Mantooth was redshirted the first season he played for Auburn University Montgomery. The Senators won the District 27 conference title, but lost the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) small-school national championship game in Kansas City that season with an overtime loss to Grand Canyon College. AUM finished the season 32-3.

&uot;That was probably the best year there’s ever been at AUM,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;Probably one of the best small college teams ever.&uot;

Orlando Graham, who was selected in the second round of the 1988 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat, led the Senators in their run for the National Championship. Graham was the first player selected in the draft from Alabama that year.

The following season, AUM again won the conference title and advanced to the 32-team NAIA National Tournament. The Senators won their first round game, but were eliminated in the second finishing the season with a 24-7 record.

The Senators finished 18-11 after being defeated by No. 1-ranked Birmingham-Southern in the championship game of the conference tournament.

Mantooth still holds the AUM school record for most consecutive free throws with 27.

Foreign Experience

During his senior season at AUM, Mantooth and his teammates had the opportunity to play in a basketball tournament in Harleem, Netherlands near Amsterdam. During the 10 days in the Netherlands AUM played four games against teams from Germany, Russia, Belgium and Spain and lost all four.

&uot;It was a great experience as far as getting to play international basketball and getting to see the different sites.&uot; Mantooth said.

Coaching 101

Mantooth graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1991, but stayed at AUM after Coach Chapman offered him a graduate assistant job on the basketball team.

&uot;I planned on majoring in business and didn’t have a plan to become a coach when I was going to school,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;Finance was something I was fairly good at and decided to major in that. When I got closer and closer to graduating, I decided that maybe that wasn’t what I wanted to be doing after all, especially when I got the opportunity to coach.&uot;

Mantooth’s mind was made up after coaching an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team that same year. He helped lead the team to several state tournaments throughout that summer and found his calling.

&uot;We were real successful and kind of got the bug,&uot; Mantooth said.

The following season, Mantooth was again offered the graduate’s position; only this time his duties exceeded the previous year.

&uot;By that time I was more like a fulltime assistant coach,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;I was doing everything the other coaches were doing as far as recruiting and scouting. So I just scaled back on the graduate classes. By that time I had made up my mind to get into coaching.&uot;

For a third time, Mantooth was offered the graduate assistant position at AUM and accepted. He remained on staff through December before accepting the job of head boys basketball coach at Fort Dale Academy.

&uot;It was the right time and the right situation,&uot; Mantooth said.

National Title

After his first two seasons at Fort Dale, Mantooth and Greenville resident Drew Bass coached an AAU team made up of high school players from throughout south Alabama including former Auburn University and current NBA star Chris Porter, who played for Abbeville High School.

The team found success throughout the entire summer and capped off its season by claiming the National Championship in Orlando, Fla.

&uot;It was a great experience, especially for the players,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;At that time, we knew Chris Porter was a great player, but we didn’t know he would end up being All-SEC and lead Auburn to the SEC title.&uot;

Fort Dale graduate Tyson Barganier also played on the team.

Eagle Country

Mantooth took over Fort Dale’s basketball program in the middle of the season and led the boys to the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) Class AA state championship game where they lost to Autauga.

&uot;When I was an assistant at AUM I thought I knew all the answers,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;When you get to be a head coach, you look for somebody to give you advice. It was different moving from an assistant on the bench to head coach. It was a big difference.&uot;

In 1994, Mantooth took over the girls basketball program and has continued coaching both over the past nine years. He led the Lady Eagles to his first-ever state championship as a coach in 1996. FDA also claimed the girl’s titles in 1999 and 2004 and back-to-back boy’s titles in 2003 and 2004. FDA’s boys also finished runner-up in 1999.

Mantooth’s coaching success hasn’t gone unrecognized. The Alabama Sports Writers Association recognized him as the AISA Boys Coach of the Year in 1998, 2003 and 2004 and the Girls Coach of the Year in 1999.

&uot;I feel very fortunate to have the success we have had at Fort Dale,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;A lot of it is a testament to the players we’ve had. You’re only going to be as good as the players you have.&uot;

Throughout his career, Mantooth has compiled a 403-122 record and led his teams to 17 area titles and 12 Final Four appearances to go along with his five state championships.

Mantooth said winning both the AISA Class AAA boys and girls titles this past season was the best year he’s had while at FDA.

&uot;Winning two championships has to be the top,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;It’s something that you don’t ever think can really happen. It was definitely a special year winning both championships. The whole year was great. It was an amazing year.&uot;

After winning both championships, Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon honored Mantooth by declaring March 31, 2004 as ‘Reggie Mantooth Day’. He said having support not only from FDA fans, but the City of Greenville has made his career even more special.

&uot;I’ve really enjoyed it here,&uot; Mantooth said. &uot;Everybody I think knows that I’ve grown up here as a coach starting here at age 25. Being here for 10 years you learn a lot coaching wise and are able to build your program.&uot;