Maria Mangram took over the reins as head coach for Brunswick Highs girl’s basketball team 10 years ago for the 2009-2010 season. Now she has over 200 wins as a head coach averaging roughly 20 wins a season, something not every coach gets to achieve.
She gets to do it at her alma mater and credits her former coaches, teammates, and parents for helping her along this process.
Growing up here in Brunswick, she played for the Lady Pirates herself and was a coach’s daughter. He pushed her daily, and with that effort, she went to Fort Valley State University to play basketball.
While the WNBA was in her sights, a freak accident in intramural basketball led her on a different path, one she knows was truly meant for her. She didn’t think about coaching until she was a student assistant.
“That’s when I really realized I wanted to be a coach,” Mangram said. “I think I can do this. So I just went from there. I ended up coming back home in 2005, and that was my first year coaching with Nadine Thomas. After growing up and learning, God makes no mistakes, and he puts you where he wants you to be placed. At that point, I didn’t know, but now I thoroughly understand that overseas, and the WNBA was not the place for me. God wanted me to come to Brunswick and build this program, and that’s just kind of what I’ve done.”
During her time as a Lady Pirate, Mangram had three different coaches, and all three pulled out a side of her she didn’t see. Despite having coaches that pushed her, early on, Mangram’s dad drove her to be better and work hard even when she didn’t want to, which included many trips early morning trips to the gym on Saturdays.
“I think that made me a better student of the game,” Mangram said. “When I got to college playing point guard, it made me see things a little differently.”
Lonnie Bartley ran a tight ship at Fort Valley, and Mangram credits him for teaching her how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Mangram and her team won four straight SIAC champions, a feat no other Wildcat team has done.
“He really pushed me to where I was uncomfortable like he put me in an uncomfortable state, where I had to learn to survive,” Mangram said. “We had to battle day in and day out. So that’s when I learned how to compete on a daily basis at that level. He had no such thing as a starting five. It was whoever was getting it done at that moment, that’s who was going to play.”
Two-hundred wins is a big accomplishment, but coaching to Mangram is far more than that.
“People look at coaching and only see us out here on the court. They don’t see us in the trenches, like when we’re in here late nights trying to figure it out. In the locker room, tears are falling; everybody is passionate about what we’re doing trying to get 25 girls to be on one accord.”
With a decade under her belt, Mangram has learned a lot and that a lot more comes with being a coach than just what happens on the court.
“People don’t see all that coaching that falls under the word coach. So many people don’t understand that to some of these girls I’m a mom, to others I’m a big sister or auntie, so I just tell them you never know because they all come in with different baggage. You never know what someone else is going through until you’re with them every single day.”
Being a coach for Mangram is taking what an ordinary coach does and going above and beyond. Her counterpart and Brunswick High boys coach, Chris Turner, said he’s never seen someone work as hard as Mangram does.
“She works hard at what she does, and she spends more time with those girls more than any other coach I’ve been around,” Turner said. “She put the time into it and was a really good player that played at a high level. She’s a natural when it comes to being a good coach.”
With Mangram being a former Lady Pirate herself, she said it’s important to her to make her alma mater proud.
“To me, I’m more passionate about Lady Pirate basketball because I was a Lady Pirate,” Mangram said. “I played here, and this is my alma mater, so of course I don’t want my own alma mater to look bad.
“It just means more because this is my alma mater, and I played here,” Mangram said. “That in itself is what makes it special because I was a Lady Pirate. We have a thing we say, Lady Pirates, for life, and so that’s just one of the things it just comes with the territory. Like I’m a Lady Pirate, and I’ve been one for life, and now I’m with y’all, and I ’m trying to make y’all Lady Pirates for life, and I think that in itself makes it more special.”