Coach leaves retirement to help build Manning xc program

MANNING -- Four years ago, Tom Honea and his wife Ginny moved from Asheville to Manning.  The couple had sold their home and business in North Carolina, and they were looking for a new place, a new adventure.  

Photos provided. 

Ginny's brother had a house in Manning that was available, so she and Tom moved in.
  But retirement didn't fit well with Tom, a former Marine who, in addition to running the family business in Asheville, had spent 15 years coaching football, track and cross-country in Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.

"I wanted something to do," Tom said in a recent interview with

In 2013, he decided to return to coaching, this time as a volunteer track and cross-country coach, assisting head Manning track coach Randy Stogner, who is currently president of the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association.

After a brief tour in the Marine Corps that ended in 1965, Honea coached football and long-distance running for the next 14 years.
  He started in Cocoa, Fla., then moved Western Carolina University and finally at White Oak High in Memphis, Tenn.  He was primarily a defensive backs coach on football teams at those three stops, though he also coached running while at Western Carolina and White Oak.

"I got out of coaching in 1980 and went into construction until I retired six years ago," Honea said.
  He owned that business in Asheville, before selling it in 2010.  Two years later, the couple would move to Manning.

"Ginny and I had a kitchen countertop business in Asheville for 18 years," he said.
  They sold both the business and their home in Asheville "almost simultaneously." The Honeas were close to buying some acreage in the Asheville area, but the owner wouldn't subdivide the land. 

"We asked ourselves, where are we going to live?"

Ginny's brother then stepped in with the offer on his empty place in Manning.

"We got down here totally by accident," Tom Honea said.

Honea went through hip-replacement surgery shortly after making the move south.
  He responded well to the surgery, but Manning wasn't Asheville.

"I don't fish and I don't play golf," so the then 71-year-old Honea stopped at the local high school and asked if he could volunteer to help with Manning's football and track programs.

"They looked at me kind of funny," he said. "You're how old and you want to do what?"

Honea would volunteer in both the Monarch's football program and cross country.
  He has since taken over the cross country program, and is now employed by Clarendon School District 2 as academic advisor for Manning's athletic department.

"I'm the academic advisor to 265 kids in the department," Honea said.

A native of Mississippi, Honea attended Mississippi College near Jackson. He grew up on a dairy farm in Magnolia, a small town off Interstate 55 near the Mississippi/Louisiana state line.

In high school he set records his junior and senior years in the mile.

"That was the longest distance we ran back then," Honea said.

In college he set records in the half-mile, mile and two-mile.

Honea passed his running talent to his son, Dave, who also set records while in high school in Asheville, and later at North Carolina State.
  Honea's son now teaches mathematics and coaches long-distance runners at AC Reynolds High in Asheville.  The two keep in touch, sharing coaching experiences. Three generations of Honeas - Tom, Dave and Dave's two sons -- ran the Cooper River Bridge Run two Aprils ago.

"That was a lot of fun, running it with my grandsons," Tom Hosea said.

Honea says, with a touch of irony, how, at age 75, he's "building toward the future" at Manning.

"I discovered a long time ago that math students, if they have the right body type, make good distance runners," he said. "The connection between the two is self-discipline and setting long-term goals.
  That's what I'm trying to do here is get a group of kids to come in who understand discipline and long-range goals."

Honea said he has seen progress from that effort. Manning had a very young cross country team in 2015, made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores, and this year's team will again be young, but with some experience.

"We don't have a single senior on the team, but we have some good, young kids who are good students and are beginning to understand what we're working toward," he said.

Honea said he hopes to continue coaching runners for another five years.

"As long as I enjoy it, I'll continue doing it," he said. "Moving to Manning was a stroke of luck for us."