The National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA) community is mourning the loss of Manny Bonilla, an assistant coach at Quinnipiac University who passed away on Sunday, Feb. 5 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
"Manny had a tremendous impact, not only on the student-athletes and staff at Quinnipiac but on the sport as a whole," commented NCATA President Dr. Renee Baumgartner. "He cared deeply about the about integrity of the sport as it developed and shared his expertise, especially in tumbling, to shape the format as we know it today. We will all miss his warm smile and will honor him as we continue to grow and develop acrobatics & tumbling."
A member of the Quinnipiac staff since 2012, Bonilla was a key component of the rampant rise of the Bobcat acrobatics & tumbling program. Bonilla, a seasoned gymnastics and acrobatics coach with decades of experience, contributed mightily to Quinnipiac's NCATA Semifinal appearances in 2012, 2014 and 2016 alongside the program's NCATA Tournament Championship berth in 2013.
"Manny's excellent coaching standards were pivotal in building Quinnipiac's program," added Quinnipiac head coach Mary Ann Powers. "He understood the concept of building a strong foundation based on progression, technique, conditioning and a healthy psyche. Manny also understood that a confident athlete and the building of confidence would produce dynamic and lasting results, both in the name of sport and in developing leadership skills that go beyond the game."
Bonilla was born on Mar. 8, 1978 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and competed for the men's gymnastics team at Southern Connecticut State University. After graduating, Bonilla became a gymnastics coach at the University of Bridgeport before joining the Cheshire Acrobatic Training School (C.A.T.S.) in Cheshire, Connecticut.
During his time as a coach and manager at C.A.T.S., Bonilla worked with young gymnasts from ages three to 17, facilitating the adoption of acrobatics and tumbling into the C.A.T.S. competitive team program. As a result, Coach Bonilla introduced acrobatics and tumbling to hundreds of student athletes, serving as an extensively impactful ambassador to the sport.
"He loved that our scoring system was based on science, and that excellent execution required safety," Powers continued. "Manny was proud that a new sport was giving a genuine opportunity to so many women who had no home at the collegiate level and providing a way to utilize their athleticism. He loved that he was a pioneer for both the NCATA and Quinnipiac, and most importantly that acrobatics and tumbling afforded him the opportunity to empower women in sport."
On Sept. 12, 2015, Bonilla participated in the Fifth Annual "Closer to Free" Bike Ride, completing a 100-mile trek two years after his diagnosis. In 2014, Powers and the Quinnipiac acrobatics & tumbling team formed "Miles for Manny", where members of the Quinnipiac A&T team would combine to walk one mile on their hands for each donation provided to the foundation.
"Manny was the gold standard for athletes of all ages," concluded Powers. "He was keenly aware that not every athlete could be a superstar, but he made every woman he coached feel like one. He simply brought out the best in everyone he worked beside or with. In the words of Mia Hamm, he kept putting gasoline in their tank and found the right moment to light their fire. He was a humble, passionate, dedicated, patient and honest coach who loved developing the whole student-athlete."
Coach Bonilla is survived by his wife, Kathy, his parents, his son, Ohanis Manuel Bonilla, daughter Aylanie Sujey, sister Sujey Pichardo and niece, Nailah Pichardo. "Miles for Manny" will be restructured, at Coach Bonilla's request, to become a foundation to further empower women in sports. Additional information is forthcoming, but interested parties are welcome to contact Coach Powers (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make a donation in honor of Coach Bonilla.