All for Change: Willy Manigat’s campaign for diversity in university sports

The Brock Badgers are highlighting Black student-athlete stories through a series of features as part of the University’s celebration of Black History Month/African Heritage Month in February. A list of events taking place throughout the month is available on ExperienceBU.

Brock men’s basketball head coach Willy Manigat leans back in office, surrounded by Badgers memorabilia.

His eyes look up to the wall where photographs of past Brock basketball championship teams hang, including the 2021-22 group he guided to win the University’s first Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Men’s Basketball Championship title in 30 years.

As February unfolds with Black History Month and African Heritage Month, Manigat mulls over the changing face of those Badgers’ teams.

“The representation of Black athletes in sports has evolved significantly, and it’s heartening to witness the positive changes,” he says. “If you look back at the 1991 Brock championship team and compare it to our current roster, the shift in representation of student-athletes is evident. There’s a broader recognition of talent and a more inclusive environment.”

Reflecting on how higher education institutions have evolved since his time as a student-athlete to now entering his fifth season as head coach at Brock, Manigat said he’s encouraged by the direction the world of Canadian university sport is heading.

“There’s always been Black student-athletes, but more and more, they’re getting opportunities,” he said. “The landscape has changed, especially in post-secondary education. The demographics of sports teams have shifted significantly, and that’s a positive change.”

Last year, Manigat worked with Brock Sports and Recreation to craft the message of “All for Change” as a narrative throughout Badgers’ events and initiatives in February.

The Badgers have brought back that campaign to raise money for the University’s Black/Indigenous Heritage Student-Athlete (BIHS) bursary through proceeds of an ‘All for Change’ T-shirt, designed by Manigat, and a portion of tickets to varsity home games.

The bursary aims to support student-athletes who demonstrate financial need and is not centred around athletic achievement.

“Right now, I think we’re witnessing a change in representation in sport because there’s more education, more information about sports and opportunities,” Manigat said. “I don’t have the stats, but my observations over the course of my life, optically, is that there are more and more Black student-athletes. People’s pathways to follow are becoming clear.”

Born in Montreal and raised in Ottawa, Manigat’s path to where he is now was anything but definite.

His love for basketball was sparked by the legendary Michael Jordan at a time when everyone aspired to “Be Like Mike.”

Growing up in a neighborhood where basketball dominated the streets, Manigat’s first language was French and he faced challenges due to language barriers, leading to some troubles in his upbringing.

His mother, Marie Roselie Bernadin, recognized the need for a change and enrolled him in a French immersion school with different demographics.

“She thought maybe if I went somewhere else, I would be able to then stay away from getting into fights every day,” Manigat said. “So, I was a French-speaking student that went to a school where everyone spoke English and was trying to learn French. Making friends wasn’t easy.”

Despite the difficulties, he found solace in playing basketball by himself during recess, honing his skills. This period of isolation became the crucible where his passion for the game took root, setting the stage for a lifelong journey in the sport.

“There’s no other way to put it, but I was the Black kid at a white school who plays basketball by himself all the time,” he said. “I spent my recesses just dribbling. I fell in love with the game, Michael Jordan, and then I never looked back.”

Manigat’s university basketball journey began as a point guard for the University of Ottawa before transferring to Carleton. His successful university career, finishing as an OUA all-star and national champion paved the way for a four-year professional playing stint in Canada, Germany, Morocco and Croatia.

His coaching philosophy extends beyond the court, emphasizing the significance of mentorship and the impact of positive influences in one’s life.

“A lot of times, mentors aren’t mentors that you seek out,” he said. “Mentorship comes naturally and is built through relationship and trust.”

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