Belle Vernon coach's family bonds through basketball

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Ed Manfredi decided to come out of retirement and accept a position as an assistant girls' varsity basketball coach at Belle Vernon, it wasn't much of a surprise to those who know him best.

“It's actually completely unsurprising,” Manfredi's oldest daughter Christina said with a laugh. “He might have said he was retired, but he never really was.”

His youngest daughter, Jess, echoed the sentiment.

“He honestly cannot talk about anything other than basketball,” she said. “He can't not be around it.”

The father of three daughters, Manfredi's girls know him best not only because he's their father, but also because they share the same passion for sports.

Christina, Michelle and Jess were each multi-sport stars at Serra Catholic who played basketball and soccer.

Christina later served as an assistant coach at Serra, while Michelle played basketball at Niagara University, then professionally in Europe.

Jess just finished her freshman year at Chatham University where she played both soccer and basketball.

She also is the seventh-grade coach for Metro USA basketball, the local AAU organization in which Ed serves as director of player development.

Time was at a premium while the girls were growing up. With all three simultaneously playing sports, family vacations were wherever the next tournament was located.

“Whether it was basketball or soccer or softball or whatever, we made a vacation out of it,” Christina said. “We went to the amusement park or whatever was close. That was part of the fun.”

Piling into the family car for a long road trip was something the girls looked forward to. Ed said it may not have been the most traditional method, but the family bonded while on the road.

“We never talked about the game,” he said. “It was an opportunity for me and my wife (Judy) to get close to them in the long car trips. That's my best memory is getting closer as a family.”

As time went by and each daughter began to go her separate way, they made sure to keep each other a priority.

When Jess was a senior at Serra, she did not see Michelle, who was living in Georgia, for eight months. Then one day at Jess's basketball practice, Michelle showed up to surprise her and watch her play.

“She walked into practice and I double-taked, and I just started bawling when I saw her there,” Jess said.

In addition to family bonding, sports also instilled in the girls important attributes like discipline, teamwork and a strong individual work ethic.

Christina, who is 30 and the mother of a toddler, is a litigator for the WilmerHale firm in Washington, D.C.

Michelle, 28, is traveling and working in the Mediterranean.

And 19-year old Jess recently finished her freshman year of college with a 3.9 grade point average.

“I always felt that sports taught them how to play the game of life,” Ed said. “You put the hard work in and you get something out of it.”

After retiring as Brentwood High School's assistant athletic director in 2011 and as Serra Catholic girls' soccer coach following the 2013 season, the 60-year old Manfredi — who also was an assistant basketball and track coach, and junior high and middle school coach at Brentwood — couldn't pass up an offer to join the staff of his friend of more than 20 years, Belle Vernon head coach Lisa Fairman.

“Coaching for me is fun, I never saw it as work,” said Manfredi, who has an agreement with Fairman that attending Jess's games will take precedent if there is a scheduling conflict. “I'm always learning. The day I don't want to learn the game is the day I retire.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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