Special spectators at Clinton's playoff win

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Tom Miller
Saturday, October 29, 2016

CLINTON—When the Clinton High football team held Senior Night three Friday nights ago, lineman Manuel Clotaire's parents couldn't make it.

They had an issue to contend with. That issue was Hurricane Matthew.

The Clotaire parents, Frantz, a native of Haiti, and Doris, a native of Germany, live in Les Cayes, Haiti, one of the areas hit hardest three weeks ago. The Category 4 hurricane slammed Haiti with 145 mph winds, killing 546 people and injuring 438, according to the country's Directorate of Civil Protection.

The Clotaires were fortunate. Their home and ministry facilities were spared, although it was an agonizing day or two before Manny knew that for sure.

“We lost a few animals, some chickens, nothing serious,” Manny said.

So the Clotaires took a hurricane check on Senior Night.

Friday night, Manny had his own special Senior Night. Frantz and Doris were in the stands to watch their son play football for the first time. The Cougars gave them something memorable to watch, beating Arcadia 14-7 in a second-round WIAA Division 5 playoff game.

The Cougars weren't assured of a game Friday night until they won their first-round playoff game Oct. 21 against Marshall.

Manny, who speaks four languages, got up in a team meeting and told his teammates—in his fluent English—that his father and mother wouldn't get a chance to see him play unless they advanced.

Tim Pogorelski, the Cougars defensive coordinator, said the speech did the job.

“Everyone said, 'Let's win this one for Manny,'” Pogorelski said.

Pogorelski and his wife, Randi, took Manny into their home in August. Manny had first lived with Art Mueller, a Clinton veterinarian and his wife when he first came to the states before his junior season.

Mueller has done missionary work for two decades in Haiti at Frantz's technical and missionary school in Les Cayes. That connection is how Manny got interested in the United States. Manny's older brother, Daniel, also attended his senior year of high school at a school in St. Paul, Minnesota. He went to college in Minnesota, and now is working in international business in that state.

Manny wanted to come here to play football. Soccer, the main sport in Haiti, didn't cut it.

“I was a real physical kid,” Manny said. “I'd always get in trouble for that.”

But that works just fine on the football field.

“I don't think he knows how strong he is,” Pogorelski said of the 240-pound Clotaire. “He has tree trunks for legs.

“Against Marshall, he did a Reggie White move on their center,” Pogorelski said. “Their kid weighs 315 pounds. Manny got underneath him and threw the kid on his back.”

While Clotaire has adapted to the upper Midwest, the Pogorelskis also are on a learning cycle. Randi could not have children due to a bout with cancer, so having an 18-year-old in the house is something new.

“I ask my friends how they ever had a kid,” Pogorelski says with a laugh. “And if they had one, how did they have two?”

But the Haiti native has melted into the household.

Pogorelski mentions how Manny will be watching something on TV in the next room and start laughing.

“Then I have to laugh,” Pogorelski said. “He has the best laugh. He lights up the whole place.”

Pogorelski is the Clinton Chamber of Commerce president and owns Boxcars Pub and Grub downtown.

“All the women there love him,” Pogorelski said.

And Manny's love—football—has turned out well for him. He also competes in the shot put in the spring track and field season.

“Oh, I love that,” Manny said. “But it's a little chilly, though.”

He would love to play football at some level in college. He is not a citizen, however, which makes that move difficult. Pogorelski is working on that situation.

Manny likely will return to Haiti next summer. He loves raising animals and would like to go to a technical school and learn a trade.

His older brother joined Frantz and Doris to watch Clinton's victory Friday night. Manny's parents return to Haiti on Monday.

Manny will remain. He still has some football to play.

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