Sharing The Light – Nicholas “Nicky” Mannino

Nick Mannino

The latest addition to our line-up of Christian pool players may not be known to all, but he does have the distinction of experiencing one thing in pool that no other player has ever experienced, and most likely never will. It happened at one of pool’s most memorable events. I will leave you to discover that one thing on your own, however, as our player has elected to not reveal it in his story here.

I started playing pool when I was 14 years young. Every day after school, I would stand and look through the dirty caged windows of the Starr Street Pool Room in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I didn’t do well in school but when I watched the guys playing, I knew I could do it. The law in NY said you had to be 16 years old and prove it to play at the pool hall. One day, Joe, the house man who ran the pool room, said to me “If you bring your brother’s birth certificate with you, I will let you come in and play.”

Within one year my high run in straight pool was 49 balls. When I was 16, I moved to the Jefferson Street pool room two blocks away. They had a 5’ x 10’ table that I learned to love playing on. I would spend all of my spare time there playing money balls 1-5. We played partners, the 1 and 5 ball became partners and if you ran the rack you would get paid double from the other 3 players. It was called a “round house”. My goal was to be the best player in the pool room, and I achieved that in both the Starr Street and Jefferson Street pool rooms. I heard some of the older guys raving about a young player at the Golden Cue on Queens Boulevard. I didn’t know where that room was, but I knew that was where all the great players played. Pool was all I thought about.

Then life got in the way and I stopped playing for several years. It was 1967 and the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. I quit high school because of the riots happening at all of the city schools. I joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War and eventually received a GED diploma. I met my wife after I was discharged and got married in 1972. We lived in Queens and I started to play pool at the Golden Cue. I would match up with someone I thought was my speed or slightly better than me. At this point the big game was still straight pool. It wasn’t until my early 20s that everyone was playing 9 ball. Some of the top players would give me pointers to improve my game. I still remember who they were and what they showed me and am forever grateful to them. I played with all my heart and managed to keep my head above water.

One time I walked into the pool room and saw a group of people gathered around watching someone practice. I didn’t know then that it was Gene Nagy practicing straight pool. I’d never seen anyone play the game like him. Minimum cue ball travel, almost never hit a rail, total control! It was a bitter-sweet moment for me. I marveled at his flawless play, but wondered how I could get my game to that level. I waited until he took a break and asked him if he wanted to play. He asked me how much I wanted to play for. I said I know you can beat me, I just would like to play with you. He looked at me and paused, then said “Nah”. I continued to watch him for 20 minutes then approached him again and said how about 2 dollars plus time. He said “ok”. I know he just wanted to see how I played. We went to the back of the room to play on the best table in the house. We lagged for the break. He won the lag, so I had to break. I played the typical straight pool opening break, 2 object balls and the cue ball must hit a rail. The right back ball hits the bottom rail and comes back to the other balls. The left bottom ball goes to the left side of the table and back to the rack of balls. The cue ball landed into the jaw of the back left pocket. There was one ball that landed next to the pack that was makeable. What came next is what blew my mind. Gene jacked up then hit the cue ball 100 miles an hour, made the ball, busted the rack wide open and the cue ball backed up to the center of the table and squatted.

I’ve never seen anything like what he did –before or since. Then he runs 80 balls, bunts a ball into the rail, so I could shoot. I ran 37 balls then missed. He ran another exact 80 balls and again bunted one into the rail so I could shoot. I ran 33 balls. That’s when I realized that this was the young player the guys at Jefferson St. pool room were raving about. Not only did Gene become a mentor to me, but a lifelong friend.

I became a Christian approximately thirty-five years ago, 1-2 years before moving from NY to Pennsylvania. I was discontented with how I was living my life, between my lifestyle and playing pool constantly took away from spending quality time with my family and put a strain on my marriage to put it mildly. I confided in a close friend of mine concerning my situation and he invited me to bible study. We had both come from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn and we both went to Catholic school as children, but I didn’t know he had been going to bible study. I didn’t want to go to the bible study, although I grew up in a Catholic environment as did my friend, I was skeptical because as Catholics we never read the bible. I worked for the Post Office driving a 5-ton vehicle delivering bulk mail. I didn’t show up the first week he told me about the bible study. The next week, I was driving my truck to pick up mail at JFK Airport around 1 or 2 am and I spotted something in the road. As I got closer, I could see it was a book right in the middle of the road. I moved off the road and got out of the truck and picked up what was a bible. I thought this must be a sign that I am supposed to go to bible study. When I look back, I am convinced that God used my worldly superstitions to get me to the bible study. (Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.)

I went to the bible study held in someone’s home. It was the first time I ever read the bible. I continued to go every week without missing a week. The people there were wonderful and loving. (Galatians 5:22 the first fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control against such there is no law, only grace.) We studied scriptures the whole time we met. I accepted Christ in my life which changed everything. It took a long time to realize that it wasn’t about me and is still difficult to be humble but we know as Christians to rely on Him in everything we do and He will guide us with the Holy Spirit. Psalms 46: 10-11 “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Living in the city was draining me spiritually. I began to pray for God’s help. Approximately a year and half later I visited my cousin in Pennsylvania for the 4th of July weekend. Her husband took me for a ride in his pickup truck through the mountains and down into an orchard. Set in the middle of the orchard at the bottom of the mountain was a brick house with a for sale sign on it. I got out to look and the door was open. I walked into a modest but beautiful interior with wood floors, plaster walls, a fireplace and 4 bedrooms upstairs. I went outside and walked to the back of the house and began to pray. “Dear Lord if you give me this house I’ll want for no other house.” My wife and I agreed to bid on the house and we bought it. It felt like a gift from God and a confirmation that the Lord was working in my life.

Becoming a Christian gave me peace of mind. (Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything let your request be made known to God through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.) During pool tournaments, I would pray while I was in the chair and it gave me peace during the game. Not only did becoming a Christian give me peace of mind, but it changed other parts of my life. I no longer gambled or hustled. My priorities changed and I valued God and family above pool.

After moving to Pennsylvania, I started to enter local events in Maryland. It was at one of those events where I met George Breedlove. George and I traveled together to the US open, Massachusetts and many other events. In 1992, I started playing on the Pro Tour at 42 years old when I should have been retiring. I still regularly visited and connected with Gene. He showed me how and when to release the stick, letting the stick do the work which made for a consistency in position play as well as a complete follow through which led to more accuracy. It brought me to another level of play.

I had many conversations with Gene through the years. One of those conversations was about God. I shared with him about my faith and becoming a Christian. In 2005, when he was in Wyckoff Heights hospital, I drove Gene’s aunt to the hospital and visited with him. During our visit he said, I think you’re right. I knew exactly what he meant. It was about accepting Christ. I drove Aunt Jeanie back home and then returned to Pennsylvania. I learned that Gene died that night, July 13, 2006. It is my hope that we will meet again. Backer Larry Gross shared at Gene’s funeral that Steve Mizerak told him he never saw anyone play the game as good as Gene Nagy. I believe that God placed Gene in my life and I will always cherish our friendship.

The best I did on the pro tour was 4th place at an event in St Louis, MO. The format was 9-ball race to 15. Much to my surprise I felt more comfortable in a longer race. I played using the techniques Gene taught me and I prayed when I was in the chair. I won my match with my Christian brother, George Breedlove, 15 to 13 and my next match with CJ Wiley 15-12. I was in the zone. After my match I walked into the hallway of the pool room and The Magician, Efren Reyes, put his arm around me as we were walking and said with a big smile “Nickeeee.” That was the best trophy I ever received.

I traveled to Hull, England in 2001 with Steve Lillis’ Gospel Trick Shots (GTS) reaching people with the word of God through the creative use of amazing pool trick shots. We visited a church and participated in a 9-ball tournament. I have many fond memories of playing artistic pool with all of the players. We traveled to Kiev, Ukraine for an event. I enjoyed the atmosphere and comradery of the guys on the Artistic tour, which were my all-time favorite events. After the tournament the people holding the event took us on a tour of Old Kiev, we had a wonderful time. Thank you, Tom Rossman and the guys. Many of the players on the artistic tour were also Christians. We would sometimes meet before tournaments to hold bible study and pray.

In 2004, I won a local tournament in Hagerstown, Maryland. I was at the top of my game and I attribute that in part to praying in the chair when I wasn’t shooting. About a week later, I traveled to Destin Florida to play in a pro 9 ball tournament. I remember Mike Davis driving me

to the hospital. I was in great pain. I had a heart attack which ended my competitive pool career. I believe the Lord had other plans for me.

The Roman Road to Salvation:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.”

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 10:13 For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Romans 10:9-11 That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe with your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture says, whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”