Madeline Manning Builds Sports Chaplaincy

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FAITH AND DETERMINATION: Manning winning the Olympic Gold Medal in 1968.

Madeline Manning is one of the most decorated Olympic athletes in the world. With an inspirational story behind her competitive nature, she continues to excel helping young athletes.

Manning grew up in the projects of inner city Cleveland, Ohio. With a very difficult childhood, her mother was always there for her and four older siblings.

At age three, doctors diagnosed Manning with Spinal Meningitis. They believed that the little girl would not live and if she beat the odds that were stacked against her, she would never be normal. “My mother told the Lord that she would give me back to him if He would save my life. She promised to raise me up in the ways of the Lord.”

Manning slowly overcame the doctor’s prognosis, though a lot of days were a struggle while she tried to keep up with classmates. This struggle during early school years helped Manning to gain a fight and drive that remains with her today. “I didn’t realize that I was born an athlete. I had competitiveness and excitement inside of me.”

John F. Kennedy established the Presidential Physical Fitness Program a few years later while Manning was a sophomore in high school. This program consisted of a test that would compare a student’s health and fitness to others around the world. Manning not only surpassed the scores of fellow classmates but broke some of the national standards. Manning was immediately encouraged to join the basketball, volleyball and track teams.

One very special track and field event led Manning to Alex Ferenczy, the coach for the Cleveland City Division of Recreation. Manning began to train with Ferenczy shortly after the event. “Within a year I was national champion in the United States for the girl’s 440 yard dash with a new record of 55 seconds flat. I was soon placed on the United States Women’s National Team.”

While running at a meet, one of the coaches that came to clock Manning was Edward Temple, the coach for the Tennessee State University Tigerbelles. He offered Manning a full scholarship to join the legendary track team.

In 1968, a sophomore in college, Manning traveled to compete in the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Manning describes the experience as “bigger than life. It being the first Olympiad of its kind for me, we were dealing with a lot of racial prejudice. It caused the team to grow very close to stabilize ourselves and to remain focused on the reason that we were there.”

Manning remembers her mother during the event. “When I came across the line I could hear her voice over all of those people. She was screaming, ‘Thank you Jesus, that’s my baby!’’’

Manning continued to compete as a member of the United States Track Team in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games.

Throughout her competitive career, Manning began to realize that she had a passion to become an athletic chaplain. “Chaplaincy is pastoral care. You are there to take care of whatever needs that athletes have. That usually includes counseling, listening, socializing, befriending and developing relationships and then from that it opens up into ministry.”

In 1980, Manning was preparing to compete in her fourth Olympic Games in Moscow when the President of the United States boycotted the event. “A lot of people don’t realize that you can’t boycott without a team so you have to go through the Olympic trials, make the team and have a team. The message that I shared with my teammates was, ‘Just because there is not an Olympics to participate in does not mean that you stop being an athlete.’” The 1980 United States Olympic team continued to compete on tour throughout Europe.

Manning shares a similar message with young athletes today as an athletic chaplain. “I remind athletes that they were created for exactly what they are doing and this is how they praise and thank God.”

Manning stresses that it is very important as a chaplain to show the athletes that you truly care about them, which is what she teaches other chaplains through her ministry known as United States Council for Sports Chaplaincy (USCSC), which is “an educational program set up to train, equip and credential sports chaplains to serve the sports community.”

Manning will be hosting “An Evening of Thanksgiving with Madeline and Friends” Thursday, Nov. 19 at the Mabee Center in Tulsa at 7 p.m. “I am bringing in some historical Olympic legends who have set precedence in the world by their performances and pioneer work.”

There will be a silent auction of sports memorabilia. There will also be dancing, singing, music and a parade of champions. “It will have a classical touch and a high energy performance by some young people. It is going to be a fun, inspirational, entertaining evening and will be very much a time of thanksgiving. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Tickets are on sale now through the Mabee Center online at or by calling (918) 495-6000 or (800) 678-1353. For additional information, please visit

Updated 11-23-2009

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