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Marvellous Mo

It’s been a long, fun ride for the inimitable head of high school sports

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/12/2015 (1588 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Call him a con man, a hustler, a hero or a Manitoba Sports Hall of Famer. Call him words that can’t be printed in the paper: Morris Glimcher’s heard ’em all.

Mostly, though, folks just call him Mo — and by this time next year, maybe they’ll have to call him somewhere warmer. Palm Springs, maybe, or Arizona. Because in June, after 40 years at the helm of the province’s high school sports authority, the unflappable Mr. Glimcher will sign off on his last set of papers.

The paperwork, he groans. That’s one part of the gig that’s grown since 1975. Everything has to be accounted for now, every dime explained and justified.

That’s the work, though. And over the last couple of years, the work of overseeing high school sport, of keeping funding flowing and 50 different provincial championships chugging along, has weighed more heavily on his shoulders. He wanted to retire "while the timing was good," he says, go out on a high note.

For years, he’d cared for his ailing mother, Ida. After she died in August, he figured it was time to rediscover life as Mo Glimcher, to relax and visit old sports buddies somewhere sunny in the winter. For so long, he’s been tied to a high school sports calendar that packs to bursting around that time.

Not, to be clear, that he minded the seasonal grind. "For me, high school sports was a passion, not a job," he says, though the past tense seems worth noting.

At first, Glimcher wanted to fade out quietly. But the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association’s board insisted on heralding its executive director’s departure with a news release earlier this week, which sparked a slew of media mentions. Glimcher was, uncharacteristically, shy about the attention.

But why? For more than 40 years, he’s been a regular media fixture. He’s hosted provincial championships on TV, and been splashed in the paper talking about everything from sports to life with Crohn’s Disease. In 1982 he even battled publicly with the province over bingo revenues.

That fight ended only when then-NDP lotteries minister Larry Desjardins called him up and said, bluntly, that it was time to stop.

Retirement is different, though. More personal, maybe. But after word went out, and the tide of emails surged to flooding, the spotlight felt okay.

"It’s out there, so there’s no going back," he says. "It feels good. I feel like I put in a lot of time and energy, and I think we accomplished lots over the years."

What a long, strange trip it’s been, for a Jewish kid from the North End. Glimcher’s parents, Holocaust survivors from Poland, arrived in Winnipeg with little more than the change in their pockets. They worked hard to build their two sons a stable life in Canada; Glimcher’s dad, Don, ran a corner store at Cathedral and Aikins, in the days when storekeeps extended credit to their first-name-basis neighbours.

That meant that Glimcher rarely saw his father, who spent 90 hours a week at the shop. It didn’t seem so bad at the time. "That’s what it was," Glimcher shrugs.

Sports? That was almost accidental. Glimcher was never an athletic kid, and through the 1980s sports reporters cracked wise about his weight — things you "probably can’t use" today, Glimcher laughs. But his best friend shot hoops for the St. John’s Tigers, and Glimcher would hang on the sidelines during practice. One day, the Tigers coach — iconic basketball builder Bill Wedlake — roped him into helping out. At some point, between preparing equipment and filling water bottles, Glimcher realized if he wasn’t destined to be a player, he could darn well manage those who were. In fact, he was a natural.

At the University of Manitoba, Glimcher managed the junior Bisons basketball team. Later, he oversaw a slew of sports for an early provincial organization, then snagged the top gig at the MHSAA. By then, he’d fallen in love with the sport community, with its good-natured ribbing, with the way it made him belong to something.

Executive director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, Morris Glimcher, is retiring after 40 years at the helm.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Executive director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, Morris Glimcher, is retiring after 40 years at the helm.

Soon, sports also became a gateway to the world. The first time Glimcher left Winnipeg was when the St. John’s basketball team went to Moose Jaw; the first time he boarded a plane, when the junior Bisons travelled to the Canadian championships in Edmonton. It was a thrill, given his background.

Glimcher would log many more miles. There were trips to Sweden, Finland, and the United States. In the early 1980s he took a pivotal role with the International Bandy Federation, which led to a surreal visit to Soviet-era Moscow, where he was guarded by hard-eyed KGB agents and fell asleep at the Bolshoi ballet.

In a Siberian village, he once traded a stack of jeans for a small army of matryoshka nesting dolls, which line his house today. A grand adventure.

Back home, his parents were skeptical. Typical Jewish parents, he says with a laugh, they were anxious to see him go back to school to be a lawyer.

But as his status in the community grew, their pride did too. It took full flight when then-Lt. Gov. Pearl McGonigal met them at a synagogue dinner. "Are you Morris’s parents?" she exclaimed. This, in front of a table filled with their peers; yeah, Glimcher laughs, his mom must have been beaming from ear to ear.

That’s Mo Glimcher for you, though, he acknowledges he has a knack for leaving an impression. He fondly remembers the time veteran CJOB broadcaster Bob Irving, in an award nomination letter, praised Glimcher as "pushy, but not too pushy." That quality, he muses, helped him do the job.

With media, he used to make rounds of the bustling Winnipeg Tribune and Free Press newsrooms of the 1980s, to deliver doughnuts and harangue beat writers for more coverage. (This approach, it should be noted, was often effective.) With coaches, he’d buy a couple rounds of beer to soothe disputes over tournament seedings.

Meanwhile, with school administrators, he cultivated a reputation as something of a pit bull for funding.

"It’s for the kids," he always told himself.

He would fall back on that mantra more often as the years wore on, and purse strings tightened. Over time, Glimcher muses, his job became more oriented around defending high school sports as an essential part of education: a chance to keep kids off the street, stay healthy and stay present.

At this, Glimcher was remarkably effective. That’s where the colourful designations come in: con man, hustler, wheeler-dealer. He’s been called all those things, in person and in the paper. But he kept the money coming in for high school sport, both from private sponsors and public coffers. That’s what mattered.

"I’ve had to promote it more, and push it more, than earlier on," he says. "Without a doubt. But I would do it. I would go to meetings of the school boards and the trustees, and the superintendents, and I would push. Because I think it is important. Some may not like me, and that’s life. I can handle that."

Because Glimcher will admit it — he’s afraid. As high school sports wrestles with a world in constant change, no issue feels as urgent as the cold, hard numbers of fiscal reports, and what gets cut when those numbers don’t add up. How much could a budget be trimmed, if you cut out school buses to shuttle sporting kids?

"Funding is one that I’m scared of," Glimcher says. "It’s going to get more and more pay-as-you-go. It’s going to become more like the club system, and that kind of worries me... I fear that school divisions look at ways of cutting funding, and say ‘we’re not going to do this.’ "

Well, now that fear — and that challenge — must pass to his successor. The MHSAA has already struck a committee to hire the next Mo Glimcher, if such a person can truly be found. On his way out, Glimcher thinks, there are three short values he hopes will be passed down with the job.

"Listen to people, be objective, and be nice," he says. "In a lot of cases (people) want someone to listen... they deserve that. They deserve the respect to listen. They might not be happy with the decision, but at least show them the respect. I think I’ve learned that over the years."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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