Unleashed: Huskies Boost Homeless Man's Comeback
Jan. 25, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - I easily spotted Manin DuBois from across Alaska Airlines Arena, halfway up the lower bowl.
He was the guy beaming through the empty and dimly lit seating area.
"This is so great just being here!" he gushed, looking around Hec Edmundson Pavilion like he'd just entered a new world.
He was actually re-entering ours.
DuBois was the only outsider watching the Huskies' closed, shoot-around practice last week hours before their game against California he attended Thursday night. After the practice, he was the only non-Husky in the Founders' Club of Hec Edmundson Pavilion eating a pregame meal featuring prime rib.
DuBois is 27. He is engaging, articulate, insightful, and clean cut, with short, cropped hair an athletic build and a warm smile.
He is also unemployed. He is trying to bounce back from some of life's hardest lessons.
And he is homeless.
I met Manin in September inside the lunchroom of the Union Gospel Mission just off Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. The UGM is a private, faith- and donation-based organization that provides food, shelter and direction to hundreds of Seattle's needy every day of every year.
Coach Lorenzo Romar and his Huskies served lunches and chatted with some of the hardest-luck, hardest-scrabble people in the Northwest that day. The visit was one of the team's annual preseason efforts to make a difference in the community.
They have sure made a difference to DuBois.
He has worked in the shelter's kitchen -- he helped make the scones and pie Huskies guards Andrew Andrews and Scott Suggs were serving behind him on that September afternoon. He is five months into the UGM's 13-month New Creations resident program for addiction recovery. He is also now halfway through a 10-month associate's degree program at the shelter's Martin Career Education Center that is a centerpiece to its men's shelter.
DuBois is a native of Everett, Wash. He was a basketball player growing up, good enough to make summer teams like the Seattle Pirates from third through eighth grade. He told me former Husky sharpshooter Ryan Appleby, who is from north of Everett in Stanwood, launched rainbow jumpers over him when he was in fifth grade.
DuBois grew up loving the Huskies, especially Steve Emtman, Mark Brunell, Napoleon Kaufman and the 1991 national-championship football team. He rattles off the memories like they happened last month. Eventually Manin's mom Janet finally allowed him to play football. In 2002, DuBois was named to The Seattle Times' second-team All-King Country League for Class 3A as a quarterback at Cedarcrest High School in Duvall. In 2003 he played at Santa Rosa Junior College in California. DuBois described how he was a partial academic qualifier for the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), but he could not get into Eastern Washington because EWU had already filled its yearly allowance for partial qualifiers.
But then the manufacturing industry bottomed out with the rest of the economy. And DuBois bottomed out personally... He became penniless, and homeless.
With the nation's manufacturing sector booming after his year at Santa Rosa JC, DuBois said he found a job selling for Haas Automation, an automated machine tool manufacturer. He says he handled 800 accounts for the Oxnard, Calif.-based company, by force of personality and initiative. He was doing well, a bachelor in his early 20's with a good job. But then the manufacturing industry bottomed out with the rest of the economy. And DuBois bottomed out personally.
Without a college degree, DuBois couldn't find work. He became penniless, and homeless.
"I had to look myself in the mirror and accept what I was," DuBois told me that day in the Union Gospel Mission lunch room.
"I am a homeless man."
He was seated and eating in the UGM's lunch room on Sept. 22 when Romar walked by to sign a purple Huskies T-shirt one of the shelter's staffers was wearing. DuBois stood up with military-like bearing, firmly shook the coach's hand and thanked him and his team for coming.
"I'm coming to a game this season!" DuBois called out, as the Huskies headed out.
Romar never forgot him.
Outside the mission that day, at the corner of 2nd Avenue South and Washington, amid panhandlers and loiterers on the sidewalk wasting away a cloudy Thursday afternoon in September, the coach gathered his players. He relayed DuBois' from-well-to-Hell story to his Huskies, some of whom are only a years younger than this clean-cut homeless man.
The eyes of every Husky got as large as basketballs. Some shook their heads.
"Our guys can now see you can be one, two or three missed paychecks from being homeless," Romar told me that day before he drove half the team back to their normal lives on the UW campus.
`THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE WILLING TO HELP YOU'
Dr. Scott Williams was in Yakima and read my column on the Huskies' visit to the shelter the following week. The 1976 graduate of the UW School of Dentistry has had his practice in Yakima for the last 27 years.
"The thing that got to me so profoundly in his story was when he stepped up and said, `Coach, I'm going to a game this season,'" Williams told me Tuesday over the phone from his office.
"I read that and was thinking, `Union Gospel Mission? I know how much tickets cost for those games. There's no way.'"
Thanks to Williams, there was.
A donor in the Huskies' Tyee Club since 1987, Williams called the Husky ticket office and bought two tickets for the Cal game in Section 28 behind the visiting bench. He then contacted Brian Chandler, a program administrator at UGM, to ensure the tickets got to DuBois at the shelter.
Jamee Ashburn, the administrative assistant for Huskies basketball, was also in contact with Williams. She worked the logistics of Manin coming to the shootaround last week, eating the pregame meal with the players and going to the game.
After all the ground work, Williams awoke last Thursday to the ongoing snowstorm that snarled life across the western half of Washington. Then he learned UW had cancelled classes for a second consecutive day because Seattle's snow had become ice.
"Oh, no, please let him be able to get there," Williams thought.
DuBois made it. His father Mark picked him up at the shelter and drove him the five miles up I-5 to Alaska Airlines Arena five hours before tipoff. They stood about a dozen rows up from halfcourt opposite the benches watching Washington go through its scouting report on Cal on the court.
Near the end of the Dawgs' brief practice, Romar was walking along the sideline watching his players shoot jumpers when he spotted DuBois out of the corner of his eye. The Huskies' 10th-year coach entered the seating area and walked the steps to greet the man he'd remembered meeting in the homeless shelter four months earlier.
"I just wanted to come say hi," Romar told DuBois, who seemed surprised the coach came up to him during practice. "Thanks for getting here, in the snow and everything."
DuBois laughed - almost scoffed, really -- at the thought of not showing up.
"Of course!" he said, excitedly. "Sometimes you just have to go for it."
I mentioned DuBois' tickets for the game were behind the Cal bench.
"Good. Rattle Montgomery," Romar told Manin, jokingly referring to Bears coach Mike Montgomery, the dean of conference head men. "He's doesn't have a lot of patience."
How many major college basketball coaches spend time hours before a huge game against the first-place team in his conference joking with a homeless man and making him feel right at, well ... home?How many major college basketball coaches spend time hours before a huge game against the first-place team in his conference joking with a homeless man and making him feel right at, well ... home?
He's only 27. But he felt -- and sounded -- older.
"I see these guys out here, their whole future is ahead of them," DuBois said, nodding toward the players. "And they have to make good choices.
"It really is a gift to have coaches like Coach Romar to learn from."
Then he thought of where he is in his still-young life, one that has already stared down more dead ends than a 27-year old should.
"When people see you are trying to change, that you are moving in another direction, there are a lot of people willing to help you," DuBois said. "You sometimes think you are on your own.
"That was a big thing for me. I wanted to take on the world, on my terms. But there comes a point where you are not willing to listen to anyone. You stall. You make poor decisions. You really stunt your growth as a person.
"It's about not asking for help when struggles come up, wanting to be a man. Well, some things are bigger than us. It's OK to ask for help."
That's what DuBois did late last summer. He walked off Seattle's streets and into the Union Gospel Mission. Broke and jobless, he could have gone home to live with his parents in Redmond, across Lake Washington. His father is an optician there and his mother helps develop job skills in young adults with autism.
After all, it was his dad who made the somewhat heroic effort of driving through last week's ice and snow storm from the Eastside to pick him up downtown and drive him to UW.
But Manin wanted to change his life - the hard way.
"People ask me that all the time. It's as simple as this," he told me from the 10th row at Alaska Airlines Arena, temporarily a world away from his life at the shelter. "I'm exactly where I am supposed to be right now. I'm growing. This is a chapter of my life - and it's a tough chapter.
"The mission has the mentally ill screaming at you for 10 minutes. There's the smell of the place. There's substance abuse. We have guys that have been in prison, and guys there who used to be executives. There's nothing like it. It's right in Pioneer Square. There are many people there for whom relapse is part of their lives. And they can go right outside the door and get anything they want. Every day is a test. Every day down there are guys who relapse, or they leave and don't come back.
"There is a lot going on there."
Yet DuBois' is holding his head high. He was that day in the shelter's cafeteria in September when I first met him. And he sure was inside Alaska Airlines Arena last Thursday.
"I really believe I am there to change my life," he said of the Union Gospel Mission. "Plus, I've started the 13-month recovery program -- and I'm going to finish it. Because you know what: I want to change.
"It's a blessing to be in the program."
`IT WAS SOMETHING I FELT I HAD TO DO'
Thanks to Huskies athletics, DuBois is getting help from people he still has never met.
Husky fan Howard Sorenson of Snohomish also felt compelled to act after reading my column on DuBois and the Huskies' trip to the mission in September.
"I was mesmerized," Sorenson wrote to me.
He soon contacted the UGM and also sent tickets plus money for transportation and refreshments through the shelter to DuBois.
"I later got a very nice hand-written letter from Manin thanking me for the opportunity to go to the game," Sorenson wrote in a message to me Wednesday.
DuBois told me how grateful he was for these tickets - and for people ensuring they got to him at the shelter. That in itself is no easy task. Mere phone messages for residents at the UGM rarely reach their intended people amid the daily battles people there face.
Once Williams read about DuBois' hope, he felt an obligation -- from 140 miles away.
"Sometimes it's God talking so loudly that even I can hear him." - Dr. Scott Williams
"Sometimes it's God talking so loudly that even I can hear him," Dr. Williams said.
"It was something I felt I had to do."
Williams grew up with his father and grandfather as "raging Cougars fans" but adopted the Huskies as his team as an 8-year-old. That was because Washington's were the only team whose highlights were on local television each week back in the 1950s and `60s.
He graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, and sheepishly admits to then attending one year of graduate school at ...
He almost spat out the words.
"That's where I met my wife," he said of Jan, his spouse for the last 39 years.
"Yes, we have a mixed marriage. I keep working on her. With years of therapy she's almost converted," Williams joked.
He graduated from UW's dental school in 1976 and has been a donor to Husky athletics through the Tyee Club since 1987. He comes to Huskies games when his schedule - and the road conditions through Snoqualmie Pass - allow. Like DuBois, Williams played ball growing up but said he gave it up early in his high school career because of injuries, and realization.
"I told Jan, `I'm just having a vicarious thrill knowing what Manin is doing right now,'" Williams said. "He's been a great athlete. I mean, I was a good athlete in my dreams."
I thanked him again for making Manin's hope to be with the Huskies a reality.
"Truly," Williams responded, "the blessing was all mine."
He also echoed what many around UW feel about its basketball coach that does far more for his community than what we see on the court.
"Lorenzo Romar, he's going to win a lot more games at Washington, of course. But if he never wins another game, to me he's still going to be one of the best coaches the Huskies have ever had," Williams said.
"The real `good guy' in all of this is Lorenzo," Sorenson wrote me in an e-mail, "but we already knew that."
DUBOIS' NEXT CHALLENGE: A BACHELOR'S DEGREE
I tried to call Manin at the Union Gospel Mission Wednesday morning to see how he liked last week's Cal game, a thrilling one inside a raucous arena that Washington lost at the buzzer.
"Manin escorted someone to the hospital," UGM Public Relations Manager Sharon Thomas replied. "So I have to leave a message."
DuBois is five months from his long-awaited associates' degree through the UGM's education center. He isn't planning on settling with that.
"I am thinking about getting a four-year degree. I'd like to end up in coaching. Maybe run quarterback camps," he told me while watching Romar coach the end of that shootaround last week. "It's always fun being around individual, one-on-one coaching because you don't have to worry about playing time.
"I don't exactly know what my choice is going to be," he said. "But it's going to be a good one."
Since I've met Manin I've tried to express some kind of compassion for what he's battled, how he's endured.
And each time, he hasn't wanted anything to do with that.
"Anyone can change," he told me on his day with the Huskies.
He was finally getting to refer to the homeless shelter from the outside - if only for one day.
"My experiences there, I wouldn't trade it for anything."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.