photo by VONDA NORWOOD
Van Buren coach Merrill Mankin (standing, center) talks to the Lady Pointers during a timeout at Springdale. Mankin announced his retirement from coaching and teaching.
The Northridge seventh grade girls basketball team completed their season undefeated. Coach Jerry Don Brasuell and the basketball team presented a plaque to Northridge principal Lonnie Mitchell. Team members include Cassidy Cooper, Jentry Myers, Emily Phomsopha , Leigh Wilkinson, Jessica Swayne, Jenna Wheeler, Kera House, Brooklyn Tucker, Alyssa Kroth, Mckenzie Dipboye, Destiny Lambert, Rylee Ryan, Kayleigh Evans, Mikelle Porter, Taylor Teague, Callie Pixley, Heather Hudson, Olivia Schnakenburg, Taylor Brooks, Torie Jones, Skylar Martin, Rachel Hilmer, Angel Earnhart and Katie Lockhart (manager).
Merrill Mankin, who led the Van Buren girls basketball team to two 6A semifinals, has resigned after eight years as Lady Pointers coach.
Mankin, who has taught social studies and driver’s education while at the school, will also retire from the district at the end of the school year.
“He has been a great asset to our athletic program,” Van Buren athletics director Randy Loyd said. “He built Van Buren girls into a winner again. Merrill’s reputation speaks for itself. He has won state championships (at Southside) and he had a winning program at Charleston. He has done everything he can do to build up our program.”
Mankin will now have more time to follow one of his passions — bass fishing.
“I’ll have more time for that when school is out,” said Mankin. “After 38 years of coaching I’m mentally and physically tired. So I thought it was time to retire.”
Mankin has a career record of 850-392 (68.4 winning percentage). He coached boys and girls teams in Texas and at Charleston, then girls only at Southside (261-86) and Van Buren (89-130). His first job was in Foreman right out of college.
“I’ve been fortunate to be a lot of good places, including Van Buren,” Mankin said.
His biggest success was at Southside, where he led the Lady Rebels to two state titles (1996 and 1998) another championship game appearance (2001) and four conference titles (1994, 1996, 1997, 1999). He stepped down in 2004 and for two years was girls basketball and tennis coach at Chaffin Junior High.
While at Charleston for three years, he led the Lady Tigers to the 1993 Class A semifinals before taking the Southside post. He also coached the boys and won two conference championships with both teams. One of the big rivals for Charleston was against Loyd when he was at County Line.
“When we were coaching against each other, we had a great rivalry and that was based on mutual respect,” Loyd said. “When he called me (in 2006) and said he had interest in the job, I then knew exactly who I wanted as coach. He gave us eight great years.”
At Van Buren, the Lady Pointers made four straight state tournament appearances from 2009-12. The last two were semifinal berths when Van Buren was in 6A.
His best Lady Pointers squad was the 2012 team that finished 21-10 and reached the semifinals and lost to Russellville. Playing in the 7A/6A-Central, four of his losses were to Cabot, the 7A champion, and North Little Rock, a 7A semifinalist.
“We were a good team and we played in a tough conference (7A/6A-Central) that got us ready for the state tournament,” Mankin said.
After the 2012 class graduated, including Times Record Player of the Year Kirby Blake, the Lady Pointers struggled moving back into 7A and won just one conference game in two seasons.
This year, Van Buren started four underclassmen, including two freshmen.
“He started a really young team this season – two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior,” Loyd said. “But you could see the improvement that was made in conference season. There is no question the future looks better for Van Buren girls basketball and that is because of Merrill Mankin.”
Mankin said he feels he has left the program in good shape for the future.
“There are some good players coming up,” Mankin added. “I know the record didn’t show it the last two years, but those kids we had never quit and they got better. I think teams knew by the end of the season that they had to play well to beat us. Our program has come a long way.”
Loyd said the school has recently posted the position on the school’s website but added that he does not expect to look at applicants until next month.
“We won’t be looking at candidates until after spring break,” Loyd said. “We will see who has applied and who is interested and we will go from there.”