When the 2020-2021 Eastern Alamance boys varsity basketball season ended in February, a 13-year run of having a member of the Mann family suit up for the team ended, too.
Jordan, 2012; Jacob, 2016; Hayden, 2018; and Evan, 2021 all wore the number 12 jersey during their time at Eastern Alamance, just as their father, Derek, did at the school when he helped lead Eastern Alamance to a state championship during his senior year in 1991.
The story behind every member of the Mann family sporting number 12 started after Eastern Alamance lost to Southern Durham in the Final Four of the state playoffs in 1989. Derek Mann’s childhood friend and neighbor, Philip Smith, who was a senior in 1989, wore number 12. So, when the Eagles lost, Mann decided to switch from number 24 to number 12 the next year, to both honor his friend and keep himself driven to finish what Smith started.
“Then, as my boys came up playing sports, when I was coaching on the team, I always made sure they wore number 12,” Derek Mann said. “And as they [started playing] with other organizations, if they could wear number 12, they did. Then, definitely, when they got to Eastern then it was a no brainer they were going to wear it.”
Jordan Mann, now a basketball coach at Eugene Ashley High School in Wilmington, was the first son to wear the jersey number, something he said he looked forward to all his life.
“It was really cool moment to finally get an Eastern Alamance Eagles number 12 jersey after growing up and seeing my dad's up in his house…So to be the oldest and to finally do that was very special,” Jordan Mann said.
Jacob and Hayden Mann played together for two years on varsity – the only two Mann brothers to play on the same teams. Jacob wore number 12 during that time and Hayden took it over when Jacob graduated.
“It kind of worked out perfect in high school, because we were both at that right time,” Jacob Mann said. “It was like playing in the backyard again, we kind of clicked on another level and it was definitely special to do it on that stage especially where my dad went and my older brother and younger brothers went.”
Hayden echoed this sentiment, calling the time spent playing with his brother was a highlight of his time at Eastern Alamance.
“Playing alongside [Jacob] was probably the best part of my basketball career,” Hayden Mann said. “Definitely special to say the least, I wish I would have appreciated a lot more then than I do now.”
Each of the Mann boys described being able to play at the same school and wear the same number as their father as “special.”
Although Derek Mann won a state championship, his sons are certainly not short on accomplishments, either. Jordan Mann won a conference championship, Jacob Mann won conference player of the year and, along with Hayden, reached the Final Four of the state playoffs. As a freshman, Evan once hit a game winner in a key playoff game.
Derek Mann said he is far prouder of each his sons’ accomplishments in the Eastern Alamance number 12 jersey than he is of all his accomplishments at Eastern. Witnessing his sons play, and achieve so much, made him “prouder than when I was on the free throw line at the state championship.”
But there is someone who might be more proud of the Mann boys than their father is: their grandmother – Margaret Patton – who the boys call “Neena.” For years, Patton’s life has revolved around her grandson’s sporting events.
Patton never missed a game, but not just Eastern Alamance games. No, Patton attended every single one of her son’s and grandson’s games – no matter the sport – from little league to high school.
“Seriously, there were times when I was in high school, Jacob was a middle school and then Hayden would play rec league and she would to go to all of those games. She would somehow make it work,” Jordan Mann said. “If one of them had a game at, like, 5:30 and I played at 7:00, she would go from the Mebane Recreation Center then go straight to Eastern Alamance…”
Derek Mann said his mother attended one of his games when she was sick with pneumonia. Patton also put off hip surgery until the end of a basketball season, choosing to live in pain rather than miss seeing one of her grandsons suit up for Eastern Alamance.
Patton kept her grandsons stats and, during this past season, was designated as a driver, which allowed her to watch Evan play during his senior year.
Watching Derek and his team win the 1991 state championship was “one of the coolest things” Patton has ever seen. “My son said that I personally didn't score any points but, personally, I think I scored every point,” Patton said.
Eastern Alamance basketball has become so ingrained into the dynamic of the Mann family – in 2012, Derek Mann planned his wedding around his son’s games – that the fact that, for the time being, there will be no more Mann boys on the court next year will be strange for everyone.
Derek Mann described the end as “bittersweet.” Jordan and Jacob both said it will be very “weird.” Patton said she cried this year at the end of Evan’s final game.
“It’s definitely sad knowing that it’s the end of an era,” Hayden Mann said. “Nobody with the last name ‘Mann’ will be wearing number 12 for quite a while.”